I’m not really going to answer that question, posed in the title. But, I have your attention now! My desire here is not to enter the original debate. I have not read this red hot book, referenced below, I probably will though, when they drop the Kindle price. My desire is to first lay out what’s happened. Then I have a response at the end. I haven’t really entered the theological debate, more intelligent people have done that already.
For several weeks now the internets have been aflame with discussions and arguments surrounding the every trendy Rob Bell. Bell has a new book coming out, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell released a marketing video, selling his book. You can watch it below.
My response to this video: I can’t help but see how trapped Bell appears in viewing God solely through his own cultural experience. Bell seems to actually reform God into a god confined to our western culture. Now that’s just theologically lazy.
Within moments of this video hitting the internets, several Christian leaders sounded off. The loudest were, Justin Taylor and John Piper. Well, they were the loudest because so many people retweeted and posted links to their posts.
Taylor wrote a thoughtful blog post on his Gospel Coalition blog. He titled it, Rob Bell: Universalist? He’s since added a couple of updates at the bottom. Please read it, it’s a really good post!
Piper’s initial contribution was simple, he tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell.” Then he linked to Taylor’s post above. Obviously this has been intrepreted to mean that John Piper is bidding Rob Bell a farwell, from Biblical Christianity. That’s what I understood it to mean.
Now, I’ve been a fan of Piper’s writings/teaching for quite a while. If you don’t like Piper, that’s fine. Write a blog post, and send me the link. I’d love to discuss it with you, at your place. The greater theme of this post is NOT for contending with any single individual, other than Rob Bell, and the collective of those who have drawn the theological line in the sand. Because Piper’s track record is sound and I’ve vetted his theology, I would say that I stand with him, theologically. His love for Christ, the Word, the Church (which is synonymous with Christians), unbelievers, and the whole of creation is clear. But his love for honoring and glorifying God, above all, is one of the most understood characteristics of John Piper. To be succinct, John Piper desires God. So for me, with this view of Piper, to hear him state his farewell to Bell, makes me take notice. That was quite a definitive thing to say. It has the feeling of the present continuous tense. Piper is bidding a farewell to the process of Bell’s journey away from, or out of, Biblical Christianity. To me, it has the feeling that Bell is not lost, but loosing. As though Bell’s theology will damn him, but he can still be corrected and repent. You generally bid someone farewell, on their way out the door, not once they’ve arrived at their new destination.
You all know, by now, that a few weeks ago I had back surgery. If you didn’t, now you know. During the days that followed, important people on both sides of the issue continued to engage the discussion, and a few even slung some arrows. When March rolled around, I stopped seeing the debate fold out before me. (I’ve been fasting from social media during March, 2011.) Last week, Rob Bell was a guest on Martin Bashir’s program, on MSNBC. The video of that interview is below.
This interview is many things. It is the first time I’ve seen content on MSNBC that has any value to me at all. It is the first traditional journalist, who has earned my respect, in a very long time. This video causes me to be willing to watch other reports by Bashir. He did his research. He read up on the hot topics. He didn’t just read a few contentious responses to Bell, he read some history on the subject of rejecting hell, from within Christiandom. Bashir fought for sound theology, better than the great majority of those who may have been invited as guests, to disagree with Bell. As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but pause and rewind one statement made by Bashir:
“Here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian Gospel for you! And it’s perfectly palatable.”
Wow! This journalist, on an extremely liberal cable network, sums up Rob Bell’s doctrine. I’m not sure if anyone could have done it better.
My pastor emailed a link to the Martin Bashir video to a few people within our church who would value the continued discussion. Then a link to a very good review of Bell’s book, by Doug Wilson, was included in the email thread. There was a small exchange. You all know that I was yearning to engage in the discussion, but I was flat on my back, hopped up on pain meds. So I simply read what they said, waiting to join the discussion when I felt better. I feel better.
One paragraph of Wilson’s post jumped off the screen at me.
“‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10, ESV). A denial of the wrath of God is therefore a denial of propitiation (which is bearing the wrath of God), and this in its turn is a denial of love as biblically defined. This means that to deny the reality of Hell is to deny the love of God which saves us from the wrath of that Hell, and to deny the love of God is the first step in creating our own little microcosm of that Hell, which Rob Bell is engaged in doing.” (I changed the Scripture reference to ESV.)
Having gone to a liberal Christian college (APU), the most important thing I walked away from my experience there was hit upon by Doug Wilson. His mentioning of his father’s teaching about “soft teaching that creates hard hearts, and… hard teaching that creates tender hearts.”
I witnessed that en masse! I heard a theme, over the course of 3 years, coming from the mouths of those from liberal traditions; “My (perceived) needs were met.” Which raises up church leaders who demand that the church meet needs, and feed the hungry. Eventually, that has become their Gospel. Just spend a week reading my Facebook Newsfeed, of all those liberal friends all grown up. The few conservative leaning Christians I knew from APU, emanated a VERY different theme; “I was transformed.” This happened within my subgroup, I admit. But that subgroup was in the School of Music and the School of Theology.
I’ve never wanted my perceived needs met. Because I’m damaged goods; spoiled by my own sin, my perception of my own needs is broken too. Only a God, set apart and unaffected by my sin, and any other sin, can perceive my needs, and meet them. Then he changes me.
Richard Mouw, of Fuller Theological Seminary, even chimed in. (I believe he’s one of the endorsements on the book.) Of course he supports the book. Unlike many of the other voices I’ve mentioned, Mouw defends Bell’s controversial claims, yet says that he and Bell are not universalists or hell-deniers. All this, in spite of Bell’s own claims in the book, denying the existence of hell. An interesting statement by Mouw, excusing Bell’s style, I think…
“But he is a creative communicator who likes to prod, and even tease us a bit theologically.”
Curious. I wonder if supporters of Rob Bell would use that same description of someone like Mark Driscoll? Or would they be more harsh, highlighting that Driscoll simply loves sounding cool, or focuses on his shock value? Some have gone on record to lump in the dramatic likes of Pastor Mark, with this debate. I’ve seen his name dropped several times. Interestingly enough, I don’t believe that Driscoll has gone on record directly responding to Rob Bell. He did toss up the closest thing to a response, by simply reintroducing his past teachings on hell, here. I suggest that this adds weight to the truth surrounding Bell’s false-teaching. Rather than stirring the pot.
Is hell relevant? Is the idea that hell is a real place, and real people will go there, important to Biblical Christianity? I believe it is. In the area of “closed handed issues” reside a few theological issues that must be agreed upon. Within the broad term of “Christian”, most agree upon the fundamental “closed handed issues”. I don’t want to debate those issues here. But issues like which songs to sing in a worship service on a Sunday morning are “open handed”. We can disagree on that one, and still be brothers in Christ.
I do not believe that you can purport that hell is not real, and that no one will go there, and be a Christian.
The drama continues. Just this morning I read of a Methodist pastor, in North Carolina, who was fired because of his apparent support for Bell’s theology, as laid out in this same book. The pastor simply wrote his support for Bell’s book, on his Facebook page. Now, I do not know if this is simply one of a long list of questionable theological statements made by this pastor. I have almost zero information about that. But even Methodists in North Carolina are taking some kind of issue with Rob Bell’s false-teaching.
Within the thread of email discussion, my pastor, Aaron Carlberg says…
“What’s sad is that this really could spark some good discussion about what the Bible teaches verses what man feels. Everyone is throwing around the labels while missing the discussion about the purpose and place of hell.
Too many people think God is just like them and that God reacts like them…rather than believing that God is totally different. That He is ALWAYS good, ALWAYS righteous, and ALWAYS knows better than we do. We need to learn to trust God especially in light of the Scriptures that teach the reality of Hell, rather than come at it thinking “if I were God, I wouldn’t have a place called Hell.”
We are not God…
…Thank God for that.”
Without hell, I do not believe that God’s love has any value at all. If there’s nothing for God to save you from, what’s the value in Him saving you? Depravity IS the human condition. We ALL sin. The presence of sin means that we are ALL hell bound. But God chooses to change the circumstance. God chooses to save. Do we deserve it? Hell no!
My reaction to Rob Bell’s shaking the tree of doctrine, is first of anger, but then I end up sad. I’m sad by all the people he’s leading away from truth, and ultimately God.
But I am encouraged because none of this is new. Rob Bell hasn’t stumbled upon some new idea. False-teachings have been attacking the Church from the very beginning. The Gnostics fought for attention from the earliest days. Not too much later you have Arius, and his followers denying the Trinity, with his offspring among the likes of JW’s, Mormons, and even Islam today. Much later, you have Arminius reintroducing yet more works-theology, one of the philosophical underpinnings of the Reformers leaving the Catholic Church all the way back with Luther.
Honestly, Bell’s indirect exchange with the likes of Justin Taylor and even Driscoll in the past, reminds me of the exchanges between Calvin and Servetus. Of course, that didn’t end well. I’m NOT suggesting that relationship as a model to be followed, BTW. (Oddly, Servetus was right on paedobaptism, but wrong on the Trinity.)
Hell is real. We deserve to go there, because we sin. God chooses to save some. I’m grateful that He even saves one. I’ve done nothing to deserve it, yet God has saved me. I didn’t do anything to merit it. The merit lies with Jesus, who persevered and conquered death. It’s Jesus’ spilled blood that covers my sin, and makes me right with God.
A friend just shared a link to The Resurgence’s compilation post, detailing this whole hoopla quite well.