Normally I enjoy listening to Bill O'Reilly - when he sticks to political themes. However, the otherwise erudite commentator strayed into theological waters too deep for him the other night. The topic: Is there a hell? Mr. O'Reilly, a card-carrying Roman Catholic, argued for a limited hell, unfortunately confirming the universalism inherent in post-Vatican II theology. His view, though, may best be labeled "semi-universalism" as he does not want to admit all to heaven, especially the notoriously evil dictators known to slaughter millions. Thus, Hitler was up for serious judgment, as were others of his kind. Yet when one came to Gandhi the rules shifted. The God he was taught to believe in was far too merciful to exclude this sterling example of peace and goodwill. Thus, Gandhi was almost certainly 'in.'
Mr. O'Reilly made several theological mistakes in his assessment of hell. Eternal punishment or eternal life is not based on behavior, even the worst of it. It is based on the presence or lack of genuine faith in Jesus. "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25b). Although it may be difficult for him to accept, any sin may be forgiven if repentance is genuine. No one wants to think about a Hitler or Stalin being in heaven given the atrocities they committed. Of course, we don't have to worry much in their case since evidence seems to point heavy in the direct of unbelief for both of these men. Nevertheless, if we go the route of Mr. O'Reilly and concede heaven for good behavior, then the entire argument of Romans itself fails (not to mention the doctrine of justification as revealed throughout scripture.) Abraham is not saved based on works, but faith. Thus our commentator has made a rather egregious law-gospel error of the first rate. Furthermore, although men such as Gandhi may be seen in the eyes of the world as virtuous, they are still far from perfect, a standard demanded by the Almighty for those wishing to attain heaven's glories by their own efforts. Gandhi required forgiveness for his sins the same as you or I. Unfortunately, from what we know of him he seemed to have respect for Jesus, but does not appear to have embraced him as his savior. While God alone knows the eternal fate of mankind, we are not given much faith evidence in his case to allow for great hope.
I am disappointed in Mr. O'Reilly's universalistic views, but even more disappointed that as a man of faith educated within the church he would not know better. Then again, may we assume that many modern post-Vatican II Catholics share the same convictions? Mr. O'Reilly remains content to ignore the clear witness of Holy Scripture in favor of his rationalized argument based on personal wish. When our Lord Himself declares that He is THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life, we are hard-pressed to look the other way and pretend He means something else. Still, this is what Mr. O'Reilly has done and in the process has become a universalist, embracing a dangerous false teaching as old as the church itself.
Although I have yet to read Rob Bell's book Love Wins, it seems that Evangelicals are far from immune to the same problem. Perhaps one of the readers here has information on his book and can comment.