Five thoughts on the Rob Bell controversy

1. To those who think they know what the word Evangelical means and feel that all of their congregation believes the same as they do.

Ecclesiological labels don't work anymore.

2. To those who present a firm theological response on every subject.

There is a difference between having a good memory for bible verses and understanding the big story.

3. To those who want to reject people who have genuine 'life' question.

Ignoring important questions does not make your views more correct.

4. To those who spend time trying to defend a religion.

Deciding that someone is OUT of the orthodoxy does not mean they are.

5. To those who want to destroy a man in order to destroy an idea.

You can be wrong even if you were right.

- Posted from my iPhone


doug said...

1. To those who think the word Evangelical can mean 29 different things and that everyone in the congregation can pick whichever one fits their viewpoints.

Good luck.

2. To those who present an open theological response on every subject.

Scripture memory is a good thing. God's Word is intended to be hid in the heart to avoid sin - Psalm 119:11

3. To those who want to reject people who have genuine 'life' questions.

Don't. Questions are good. But questions regarding heaven, hell and salvation are not multiple choice in their answers.

4. To those who spend time defending the same truths Jesus did.

Keep doing it, but do it humbly. You are right only based on the fact that Holy Scripture is right (and that the Holy Spirit provides discernment).

5. To those who want to equate defending the truth with destroying a man.

Don't. Being right is not a license to kill. But being wrong is a license to deceive. You can't judge a motive you don't know.

Kate Kelly said...

I'm surprised and dismayed by the knee jerk reaction from many high profile church leaders, the way to disagree with someone is not a dismissive tweet but a PRIVATE e-mail letter or phone call.
To dismiss him so publicly and judge him so harshly, many of them before having read the book in full, is disgraceful. I'm not saying I always agree with RB but I've gained so much from his books, always thought provoking and such a great base for discussion. The flippant way his character has been assassinated makes me sad. It also makes me wonder whether he is secretly thinking 'thanks for the free publicity' !!
Really looking forward to reading the book......

MrLuke said...

@doug - "3. To those who want to reject people who have genuine 'life' questions.

Don't. Questions are good. But questions regarding heaven, hell and salvation are not multiple choice in their answers."

This is exactly the mindset that it seems Rob Bell is trying to tackle in his new book - to ask the question "is it so simple?" and examine the evidence rather than trot out things like "the bible says so" when sometimes it really isn't so clear if your honest.

doug said...

People who don't know Christ can and should ask whatever questions they want. From the slightly doubting to the unaware to the harshest critic, Jesus invites people to ask, to come to Him, to learn from Him. His question is appealing because He says he's humble and gentle. It wouldn't be a stretch to paraphrase Jesus as saying, "Come on over, let's have some coffee. Ask any question you want. I don't bite, and I think you'll come away refreshed." Oddly enough, this invitation, found in Matthew 11, comes on the heels of Jesus pronouncing judgement on cities where they had an opportunity to believe, but didn't. In essence, He's saying... even after all the things you've seen Me do, you still don't believe... the message that you learn-ed people aren't getting is the same message little children do get. Stop making it so complicated.

Unbelievers are supposed to question things, and believers need to be ready with an answer. There's no assumption that the questions are themselves simple. Often they're not, and there's a spiritual battle going on for understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). The combination of being wise, humble, learned and ready is a difficult one, but a necessary one. So the issue, I believe, is not the simplicity or complicatedness of the question, but rather the readiness of the answer. For a believer, the "evidence" of hell and judgement is clear, it is simple. We're not talking about issues like gifts of the Spirit and a woman's role in the church; issues that have been debated back and forth for decades, each side pointing to the Bible verses they believe support their position. We're talking about the core issue of salvation, heaven and hell. A theme throughout the Bible, one that Jesus spoke of with great clarity, and one that Old and New Testament books contribute to consistently. If you're suggesting these issues are not clear, and that over the centuries the church of Jesus Christ has wrestled with these as believers ask honest questions to the validity of heaven, hell, or judgement, then we are on two completely different tracks, because I would not agree with that premise, and I think church history would support that. It's like saying, after all these years, we got this part of it wrong, so let's re-examine it. Again, a question regarding this topic from a non-believer is invited. A question regarding this topic from a believer is, I believe, suspect.

So when you say things like "trot out things like 'the Bible says so,' " it adds the kind of characterization that suggestions "hey, buddy, it's not that simple." I say it is, for the believer, not on the authority of my words, but on the authority of the words of Jesus. The kinds of questions Rob Bell asks appeals to natural rationale, and they are the kinds of questions that have been asked for years, as many before him and many after him will go down the "how could a God of love...." path seeking answers. It's not that the questions are bad, but a matter of who is asking them and where the answers will come from. Indeed no one has read the book, but we have Rob's other materials and messages as context, and, moreover, we have THE book, the Bible, that does provide clear answers to these questions.

So when someone says the answers to heaven, hell and judgement are not multiple choice, they can do so based on what the Bible clearly teaches. If the Bible is, in response to that, characterized as unclear or not the ultimate authority, this discussion will go on forever. Not everyone who brings up the Bible is "trotting it out." The Bible actually *does* say so on this and many other matters. That does not mean that our answer to an unbelieving inquisitor is so simply stated, but it does mean we do have, and have had, answers to the questions Rob Bell is bringing up, and we've had the answers, in some cases, for a very long time.

MrLuke said...

Doug - I do understand where you are coming from and all, but with this:

"A question regarding this topic from a believer is, I believe, suspect."

Why is it suspect? Is it so hard to accept that believers might not have been taught properly or fully enough to understand these issues and questions? To have just been told "because the bible says so" without being shown or taught where and maybe more importantly *WHY* it says so?
I don't think it's a fair statement to say that it's suspect if a believer questions these topics in the same way unbelievers do if they haven't been shown or taught in such a way to help them understand the answers.

"A theme throughout the Bible, one that Jesus spoke of with great clarity, and one that Old and New Testament books contribute to consistently ... and I think church history would support that."

I'm not suggesting there is no "hell" in my previous comment, but rather the nature of the afterlife, how souls are handled and dealt with isn't so simple.
Recently I have been looking into these doctrines, and at Church History and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and the Early Church Fathers and finding that even in the earliest days of Christianity, the matter of hell and its nature etc has been questioned, with some of the major leaders of the time having a partial universal theology until around the 3rd/4th Century!
Also, looking at afterlife in the OT isn't much use since there isn't a concept of hell, just Sheol - the shadowy place of the underworld. But if you look at Rabbinic traditions of Gehenna in Jesus' time when he was speaking, the concept is a temporary place.
Would Jesus be talking in context of what Jewish people understood when mentioning Gehenna, or using it in a completely different way without much clarification he has changed the meaning? I'm not presuming the answers, just trying to faithfully search scriptures and historical context to see for myself what I can find.

doug said...

We may disagree on what is driving this questioning. My concern goes far beyond one man and one man's book, as I believe and am fully persuaded that wider acceptance and toleration are behind the questioning of core doctrine.

You continue to characterize folks like me as uber-simplistic to the degree that I think the answer for every issue is "just go to the Bible, it says so in there." I don't believe that, and I think it's good to wrestle with things so that someone is fully persuaded in their own mind.

But that's not what's happening with Bell and others. They are changing the questions, and then answering the questions they changed. This is not the same as what you're describing as people who have not been taught or fully understand these issues. We agree on that, and much grace should be given lest we fall into the category of knowledge puffing up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Rob Bell, and many in the Emergent Church movement, are highly educated, well read people who understand (I believe, I hope) the enormity of their responsibility as they teach and lead others to follow and live out what they are saying.

By no means am I saying Rob Bell has nothing good to say. I've watched and been moved/blessed by many of his Nooma videos (Everything is Spiritual comes to mind).

But I have a responsibility when anyone, and in particular, someone of his stature and influence, starts bringing into question things that the Bible teaches clearly. Narrow is the way, and few there be that find it. The road to hell and destruction is broad. This is not a negotiable concept by making a plain reading of the Bible. But to dig deeper, understand how God dealt with the children of Israel, the differing fates of the two thieves beside him on the cross, Paul's warning and judgement against the false teachers in his day. By these examples we are exhorted and commanded to uphold the truth of the Bible. Rob is reopening this as a man who knows the Bible. This is vastly different from a newborn believer or someone who has not been taught.

I'm not suggesting you haven't listened to the promo video for his new book, but to examine it is to see Rob putting some basic questions to the side to answer what he deems as the real question "What kind of God would do this?" On what authority does he presume that to be the greatest/most important question? It's like he's saying, all those other questions you've had and all that stuff you've been "caught and taught" (also purposefully chosen language) are secondary to the question I raise as primary.

It's the combination of the question and who is asking it that troubles me. But because many people like Rob Bell, they will agree with him that this can be the most legitimate question without even thinking through all of the other important things and scripture he is tossing aside to get there.

MrLuke said...

I apologise if I have implied you (or anyone else) is uber-simple in their thinking or approach. It's just been that kind of answer has been the one given to me by many people over the years when asking about some of the bigger questions.

All I am aiming to do is research until I feel persuaded in my own mind on the issue, because quite honestly, I never have been.
So whether Rob Bell is asking the right questions or is going a little skewiff with theology, I'm not *too* bothered about as long as there are other "big players" in the Christian world ready and prepared to tackle the onslaught of new interest in this subject and the questions that will follow. I just hope that they will be as prepared as I'm trying to be to be able to answer these questions adequately to the unbelievers.

So regardless of what Rob Bell's book says in the end, I will look forward to reading it just to at least get an idea of another argument being presented, which will no doubt shape peoples questions from now on about hell and God.

doug said...

If I tell you an apology is unnecessary, it might indicate that I don't appreciate it. I do appreciate it, but I also want you to know that I take nothing you've said personally or as an attack.

I often do not respond by sending a link to someone else's take on something, but I think the link below goes to something that is balanced and well-written.

Let me know what you think of it.

MrLuke said...

doug - that blog makes some good points, especially about the privately messaging someone about a public issue. I also can see what he means by the video questions teaching, as they are very leading, but then that's the point isn't it? Obviously Rob Bell has a bias towards what he thinks on the subject, else he wouldn't have written a book and if the promo video for that book didn't lean slightly in that direction, then what would be the use?

Thing is though, whatever you want to read between the lines on with this video, we're not going to know the fully story and all his ideas/theology until the book is released to be read in full. And I for one am waiting until then to make up my mind fully on what Rob Bell is or is not saying.