If anyone is wondering, I did have a post up at the end of last week about Rob Bell and (on a completely unrelated note) Ephraim the Syrian which I took down after it seemed to be attracting attention from a spurious auto repair website. However, I am still definitely interested in all the hullabaloo surrounding Rob Bell’s new book and its purported “universalism.” To get you up to speed, here’s an article by Brian Bennett, my colleague at the Mediation blog, as well as other thoughts by Brian McLaren (who brings some much-needed humour to the occasion) and the ever conciliatory Scot McKnight. As all of these commentators note, all the cries of “heresy!” are based on a book no one has even read yet.
However, the concept of Christian universalism has been on my mind lately, and specifically how it applies to someone like Hans Urs von Balthasar who, along with his Protestant contemporary Karl Barth, is often accused of holding it as a doctrinal position. My first introduction to Balthasar was in fact a short book called “Dare We Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved’?” which traces the concept of apokatastasis or universal restoration from its biblical roots through Origen (who got in a fair amount of hot water for implying that the Devil could be saved) and Maximus the Confessor to the present day. Balthasar’s answer is, yes, we should hope “that all men be saved,” in fact it is the very structure of Christian hope: a hope against hope that God will restore all things, not just save a few people here and there. But I also want to note that the full Christian tradition of apokatastasis is not just about who “gets into heaven.” It’s about John 3:16 – God so loved the cosmos… the ‘cosmic’ implications of Christ’s work of redemption/salvation.
Also important in considering Balthasar in this respect is how universality is always tied up for him with the specificity of Christ. Christ’s historical, material existence is “universalized” by the Church in its worship life and mission. This is a pretty interesting, ecclesially rooted basis for a “theology of culture” and, especially when paired with Balthasar’s strong emphasis on love and beauty, offers some great ways forward for “catholic” (ie. “universal”) theology.
How this relates to what Rob Bell is about to say is anyone’s guess… we’ll find out soon!
This picture is pretty awesome… it beat out a picture of Michael Landon from “Highway to Heaven” as the best thing to accompany this post: