Rob Bell’s video and marketing of his upcoming book Love Wins has made some huge waves. I’ve seen it posted on facebook and blogs everywhere. Bell does his little artistic media blurb he does so well, asking questions and leaving you. . . confused. Many, such as Justin Taylor, have inferred he is a universalist and wholesale condemn him as a heretic. On the other hand, Greg Boyd, who actually read the manuscript, has responded emphatically that Bell is not a universalist… but then seems to backpedal a bit saying it can leave you with the impression he is. Read Boyd here. I noticed the book is endorsed by Eugene Peterson, who is not a universalist as far as I know, but again that’s not saying alot.
I find this firestorm over Bell all very interesting, but generally disappointing. First, in Rob Bell because he is so unclear. This is unfortunately typical of him; he’s great at asking good questions, but not so good at giving answers. And to top it all off, he’s fine with that. I disagree with many things Bell says and does, but so far it seems to me he is roughly evangelical. What would disappoint me more is to find he really has left orthodoxy to become a universalist, something that has yet to be discovered – which leads me to disappointment with his critics:
Many seem to be jumping the gun to label Bell a universalist so early, when they really haven’t even read his book and assuming things from his marketing ploys that are so vague. Attributing a belief to someone which they haven’t claimed then attacking them for it? That’s just quarrelsomeness. What’s worse, it makes the critics look foolish to those watching this (The NY Times even noted the controversy) and sheds poor light on everyone who does believe in hell. There aren’t very many of us! Why make it harder than it already is to persuade people that there is a hell and they need a Savior from it? They see this as rabid fundamentalism at its worst, not the Gospel of God’s love that saves us from eternal wrath.
What is Bell trying to say? Maybe he is a annihilationist, or of the “new hope” theology, or something else. Who knows? What’s disturbing (if Boyd’s article is any clue) is a read through the whole book may leave you with the same question. This is the paralyzing problem with Christianity in the West today (especially the Emerging church strain of which Bell is a part). On difficult issues we no longer take strong stands, but become increasingly more vague. The Bible has answers for difficult issues. In fact, it has all the answers, especially on life after death. In a time when our world is as pluralistic and confused as ever, this is the time to know what God says and say what God said.
Anyway, if anything good can come out of this hellish debate, it brings more attention to the biblical doctrine of hell. Too many of us believe in hell, but live as though it doesn’t exist – we don’t tell people on the path there to switch paths and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or thank God every day for saving us from there. Many good men are speaking and writing about it; hopefully it will help wake up the church to its reality. For example, Al Mohler’s article analyzing the desire to “Do Away With Hell” is a great read.
Bell’s book comes out in a few more days yet. We’ll see what happens. I just hope and pray those involved will speak to make Christ exalted and come to the truth of His Word.
Last night I went to an event at SDSU called “Islam 101” by a local Muslim leader and thinker. I thought it would be educational and maybe I could get a chance to talk about Christ with someone there, so I went. I guess a few other Christians had the same idea. Except not so much the educational part, and not talking about Christ like Christ would.
The lecturer was certainly biased toward Islam (big surprise right?), and in the process misrepresented several things about Christianity in the comparison. A few Christians in the audience interrupted him in the middle of his speech to correct it, ending up in a lot of shouting and arguments spurting up on and off throughout the lecture. In the end, the Christians looked like ignorant, rude wackos; the Muslim scholar looked like a kind, besieged genius.
I’m not judging the hearts of these Christians. But that’s how it looked. I could go on about the errors the lecturer made (he made many), but that’s expected. I don’t expect glaring behavioral error to come from followers of Christ.
How does this happen? That the message of love is said without love? That the most rational and logical message of all religions is made to look ridiculous in the mouths of its very representatives? How can representatives of the best message in the world make it look like the worst? I was very discouraged by the whole episode. I took away a few lessons though:
1. Christians must let the message of Christ permeate them with all the love that it is. God loved wretched people enough to die for them. For us. If we love God, turning all our affections on Him, then we must love others. And sorry but loving someone isn’t shouting at them, not listening, and trying to win an argument. The best way to love someone is to share Christ, but to do so in a way that isn’t Christ-like defeats the purpose.
2. We need to learn how to have wisdom in evangelism. Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 1016). Yes people must know, but there is appropriate times, places, and ways. You don’t go into Wal-Mart and stand on a shopping cart shouting the Gospel even if they don’t know Jesus, and you don’t rudely interrupt a lecturer telling him he’s wrong, even if he is. In wisdom, you can look for a truly opportune time; as in this case, for the Q & A at the end, at least, or come up with another lecture event to address the issue.
3. Ignorance of Christianity. The way they defended the Bible was bizzare. The lecturer said that Lot was a prophet yet slept with his daughters, while in Islam, prophets are always moral. They answered by saying “Lot wasn’t a prophet” and emphasized that (which may be true, the Bible never calls Lot a prophet). But, honestly there were other prophets and men of God in the Bible who did mess up. It’s more forthright to admit it and say the Bible is simply honest with people’s failures; it doesn’t condone evil, but reports it honestly as an example; it also often includes God’s judgment and their repentance.
4. Ignorance of other faiths. They also made some attacks on the Quran and Islam that were easily answered by the speaker. They were left with a “just so” argument as the speaker went into Arabic and linguistics. I don’t know who’s right, but we have got to be better informed than that if we want to dispute with a Muslim expert over his own religion. Is attacking a religion even the way to get anything done? Paul didn’t go attacking polytheism in Acts 17, but used to to proclaim the excellencies and greatness of Christ. I wish more Christians took their faith seriously enough to study it. Many have never read the entire Bible, much less memorize it as many Muslims have for the Quran.
But ultimately grace sums it all up. If Christians cannot remain gracious when speaking of God’s grace, it turns into hypocrisy.
“Let your speech always be graciousness, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4.6