Monday, March 28, 2011
Recently, Rob Bell has been in the news for his new book Love Wins. It has drawn a lot of criticism for his ‘new’ views on several key topics. My question is- has he a mistaken understanding of Lamentations 3:31-” For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.” ? What do you think about Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”?
First things first, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t even read an exerpt. I actually have never read anything by Rob Bell. I had never heard of him (I know, try to breathe through your mouth) before I came to Southwood. Upon my arrival I had people pull me aside to ‘feel me out’ on the subject. Was I PRO or ANTI Rob Bell. I guess because he is a controversial guy so many assumed that birds of a feather flock together and I would probably endorse him because he was ‘edgy’. (Aside: I don’t consider myself ‘cool’, ‘edgy’ or really ‘controversial’. I might say things in a way that gets the grey matter swirling, but for the most part I really don’t have any ‘out of the box’ or personally controversial views. I like to take views to their logical conclusion and then ‘pick the scab’ in order to get us all to think.) Apparently, a few people at Southwood have been grieved by the use of his Nooma videos. Again, I haven’t seen them, but I’ve heard mostly good things, with some smattering of ‘concerns.’
So, back to Rob Bell. I saw a picture of him last week. He looks cool. I think I’d like to have coffee with him. He appears to be the kind of guy who could order sushi correctly and also probably greet the Asian waiter in a native tongue. He looks edgy. He probably shaved off his soul patch when I was considering growing one. That was my first impression.
Next, I did read a very pointed interview that he did on the subject of his new book, “Love wins” and in the interview he didn’t precisely and clearly state his beliefs about hell or some type of second chance theology. So, to be fair to Rob let me say this: that’s not helpful. I think we have a responsibility as theologians to clearly say what we are saying. We can ‘explain’ and ‘disclaimer’ first, but at the end of the day we need to be willing to state our beliefs. Now this may be a particulalr passion of mine as a Presbyterian (We LOVE theology!) but I think it is a mark of Orthodoxy. The history of the church with her councils and creeds points us to the pastoral need of clearly stating our beliefs. When my son was little he asked us a question from the backseat of the car, “Is grandpa a Christian, yes or no?” Helpful. Apparently, even at my son’s young age he was suffering under the weight of his Presbyterian father’s propensity for disclaimers on the subject.
I just want to ask Rob that kind of backseat question: Is there a literal Hell? Are there people there? Is it eternal? Yes or No. I think that would be helpful.
Secondly, Who is Rob Bell again? Now listen, in terms of fame and notariety I am lint in Rob Bell’s bellybutton. I get that, but stop for a second, really, really stop. Who is Rob Bell? The way Treasury agents are trained to evaluate counterfeit bills is through training on the precise marks of legitimate U.S. currency. We need to point people to the truths of Scripture that are abundantly clear and then when you pick up “Love Wins” or whatever else you will be equipped to read with a discerning eye. This should have been a portion that you wrote in the margin, “no..no…no….good try Rob—- I appreciate the sentiment, trying to emphasize the Love of God, but one attribute of God at the expense of others is a bastardization of His character not a matter of emphasis!”
We should be reading books by people with whom we disagree. We SHOULD. We should always find ourselves sharpened, honed and more thankful for truth at each turn of the page. In reality we don’t need to wait for R.C. Sproul to respond to Rob Bell we should be fine with 2,000 years of Church History speaking pretty clearly. I do know there is a correct place in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ for polemics on this subject and I hope that some will post links to good and balanced reviews of Rob Bell’s book on Knots, but please let us keep the spirit of the writing charitable and helpful.
One other thought and I ‘tweeted’ this last week. I’m not sure, but I think that Satan may enjoy tweaking the evangelical church through Rob Bell as much as he enjoys tweaking Rob Bell’s theology. It’s amazing how quickly we will canibalize each other in the church. The venom that we spew in blogs, emails and internet posts is impressive. If Rob Bell had abandoned his views about the existence of hell I think he probably re-embraced them recently, but hell looks more like blog posts, former friends and podcasts than Satan with a pitchfork. Love might ‘win’ but not in our dialogue. Yikes.
Final thought, and this is pastoral with regard to Southwood, if indeed Rob Bell has abandoned the historical orthodox belief that hell (gehenna, perdition, etc.) is literal, eternal, perpetual and those in it’s midst are irredeemable and lost forever or that salvation is, in some form or fashion, universal, not in it’s sufficiency, but in it’s efficiency, then he is teaching false doctrine in areas that are not matters of emphasis or preference. These are core doctrines that strike at the heart of Christianity. Those who have had concerns about Southwood using Rob Bell’s material in the past may or may not have been justified, but any further use of Rob Bell’s material at Southwood will come with a very healthy disclaimer. We NEED to use, study and learn from the best of any gifted teacher whether they be orthodox, unorthodox or pagan. We also might cherry pick specific thoughts, quotes or ideas from a myriad of sources as we cultivate a worldview informed by common grace, but not limited to it. I might quote Rob Bell in a sermon. I also might quote Lady GaGa. I also might quote Pope John Paul or John Calvin. We need to stand with others where we can stand, but also clearly define where we stand so that our agreement in one area is not mis-perceived as an endorsement of all areas. All truth is God’s truth, but we also need to be discerning Christians who are always clearly communicating where we can stand with others and where we must walk away.
Below is a link to a review of the book on the Gospel Coalition website:
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