This is in light of a recent series of posts that I did on the attributes of God and my struggle to understand how God can create people with the intention of sending them to Hell. There was a book recently published by Rob Bell which deals with this issue, and is said to go way off the deep end on the topic. I have not yet read this book, although I intend to, and so my views expressed in this post are simply based upon previous exposure to Bell's works and a one hour interview I watched of him talking about the book. Also, this post was originally an email amidst a conversation, as will be further seen as you read it, so please be aware of this as you start.
I believe in limited atonement, simply because when I read the Bible there are too many verses I would need to completely ignore in order to believe otherwise. However, there are also those verses (like the Ephesians one [Eph 1:10]) that cause me to struggle. Not that they cause me to doubt limited atonement (well, at times they actually do, but I know I could never embrace it, especially on the basis of a few verses, because I would need to rip half my Bible out in order to do so) but they do cause me to wrestle with what these verses mean in light of limited atonement.
I feel that this is what Rob Bell is doing as well. The interesting thing is that he ONLY talks about these “difficult” verses and entirely leaves out the other verses (although he at times hints at them). I question whether he has fallen into the unlimited atonement camp, or whether he still firmly believes in limited atonement but thinks that it will be helpful in the stream of Christian thought to “reopen the box”, so to speak, on limited atonement, not for the purpose of uprooting or overthrowing it, but rather for the purpose of further understanding and comprehending it.
Last thought on all of this, the last paragraph may more properly state where I am at this point than where Rob Bell really is, and perhaps I am simply projecting my thoughts onto him. I have found “answers” in other areas, such as predestination, which are satisfactory enough to handle those passages which seem to support and those which seem to deny predestination, and I see that all of them, in fact, are in line with this doctrine. However, I have not yet found an “answer” sufficient to explain the texts “for” and “against” limited atonement. I have placed answer in quotes because the “answer” to predestination is, in fact, the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, which is in itself a mystery. I firmly believe that the “answer” to limited atonement is also a mystery, but I have yet to find it, or having heard it I have yet to recognize it as such. This is my current search, for the mystery of God which allows him to be both loving and wrathful; just and merciful; righteous and patient with wickedness; kind and punishing (not in the Fatherly sense, but rather in the judicial sense). I have not yet found this mystery that allows these things to be held in tension…even though I firmly believe that they can and should be held in tension, because this is God.
So there, I didn’t really feel that I concretely expressed that, so I just wanted to let you know where I am really at, and perhaps this is why I struggle to throw the towel in on Bell because there is a part of me that wants to believe that he is in the same place, that he has not entirely left evangelical Christianity, but is rather wrestling with a difficult topic and will, at some point in the future, come to reconcile them and perhaps lead us to a greater understanding of the mystery of God (which must include limited atonement).