More Bell?

I want to reiterate a point I made in a previous post.  I have not read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and at this point I have no plans to do so.  Yet ironically, here we are again talking about Rob Bell’s book which is the cover story for this week’s Time Magazine.

This is one of the most intriguing moments of heresy I have encountered as a pastor and probably the very reason Paul told Titus that when it comes to the heretic or the divisive person, renounce him once or twice and then move on (Titus 3:10)!  We are saying way too much about Bell’s book, which if I can be critical here, is probably not really worth all the fuss.  Without reading it I can speculate that Bell’s hermeneutic in Love Wins is probably distinctly post-modern; which allows for conflicting statements to be equally true (which in most worlds is illogical).  This means his book is probably full of contradictions.  If you saw the MSNBC interview, the anchor exposed this well.   I would allege that Bell allows for questions to masquerade as conclusions (which in most worlds is called agnosticism).  Thus, his book in the end says nothing.  As a post-modern, for Bell, truth is not only conflicting, but it is relative and solely empirical.  In his article, Jon Meacham shares that the seed of Bell’s view of Hell may have been based in a difficult family experience.  Not surprising since it seems that his Christology in Velvet Elvis is based on a tacky piece of art in his basement.  Because he is revisionist, Bell’s book probably takes church history and tradition, and every semblance of theology that is born from it, haphazardly questions it, and then allows for it to be easily scrapped, or at least rewritten beyond recognition.  Meacham alludes to this later point by noting that Rob Bell is an N.T. Wright devotee which makes him prone to read the texts and “where appropriate, to ask whether an idea is truly rooted in the New Testament or is attributable to subsequent church tradition or theological dogma.”  This is an article for another day, but to give some leverage to my point here I ask simply, “who determines when it is appropriate” and “who in and of themselves has the right to say to 1500 years of church history - to hell with you!”  Obviously Wright and Bell feel at liberty to do so, and if you have ever read much of their work, sadly you will concur with my assessment.  I am a Wright fan, but his sense of liberty with the historical theology quill frightens me at times.

If I am wrong in what I allege to be true of Love Wins, please correct me, but most leopards cannot easily change their spots.   

My point here is this, and the TIME Magazine article demonstrates it splendidly, the problem here is not with Hell, nor is the problem with Bell.  Nothing about Bell on Hell should surprise us.  The problem with Bell was there long before he brought us a revision of Hell.  Did Rob Bell suddenly become unorthodox?  Was he ever evangelical?  In the TIME article, Meacham speculates that Bell’s Hell is so controversial to evangelicals because “it comes from one of their own.”  Surely Meacham is the only one who believes this to be true, that Bell was ever evangelical in the same breathe as Mohler or Piper, whom he quotes in the article.  If Bell was evangelical, then I must be mistaken at the meaning of the term.  Yet, at what point on the Nooma ride did we not feel that something may be wrong?  How in the world did we invest a small fortune in artsy videos that were cool but said nothing and books that had clever titles but led to no conclusions, and not have a clue that Rob Bell wasn’t theologically like the rest of us?  If Love Wins is anything like Velvet Elvis then the book is lacking decent Biblical scholarship and any sort of respectable hermeneutic.  When we watched his videos and read his books, did we really think that such loose hermeneutics would lead us to orthodox ends?  Why didn’t we watch the first Nooma and read Velvet Elvis and discern that this is going nowhere, and if it is going nowhere the end will not be good?  I did.  Lifeway didn’t.  Did it really take John Piper and Justin Taylor to suddenly point this out to us in a blog?  If it did, the problem is not so much that Bell is unorthodox, the problem is that the church has so forsaken its doctrinal moorings that it fails to be discerning.  At some point Bell traded orthodoxy for art and many of us fell for it.  These are the reasons why the circus is still so stinking popular - it is the year of the sucker.

So what about Bell?  As far as I’m concerned, I think orthodox fellows have said their piece, now move on.  Quit criticizing Bell and return to sharing the gospel.  Stop sharing what we don’t believe about Bell and his Hell, and share with the world what we do believe about the rest of it.  Let’s make sure that we do not mistake critiquing Rob Bell with sharing the gospel.  Although related, they are not the same.  Sometimes the message is lost in the debate.  Hell is not important because Rob Bell got it wrong.  Hell is important for much bigger reasons than Rob Bell.  So what if we get everybody straightened out about the orthodox evangelical position about Hell?  How many people will go to Hell knowing that we are dead set on there being one, but having no idea how to avoid it?  Is this all about Hell, Bell, or Jesus?  Hell is important, as Meacham rightly points out in his article, because if we suddenly scrap Hell, there is a whole lot of other bits of Biblical literalism, Christology, and doctrine that we can trash along with it.  Hell is worth talking and writing about, don’t get me wrong.  We need to defend the idea that there is a Hell that people suffer within it.  Why?  It is worth the press simply because God said in His Word that the place is real.  But at some point we need to move away from giving so much attention to heresy and return to stating orthodoxy. 

Historically the church has dealt with the heretic in one of two ways.  The church either burns him at the stake, or it sits down to craft a beautifully compelling statement that returns us to the gospel.  Burning the heretic never gets us to the gospel.  Let our Reformed bloggers learn from history here!  What gets us to the gospel is not heretics ablaze, but rather wonderful, affirming, clear statements of the gospel built on the systematic gathering of critical passages.  Some of the greatest moments of church history are when heresy has provoked us to simply return to the gospel and communicate it clearly to the masses.  When the heretics questioned Jesus, the church gathered at Nicaea and made sure that the world knew, when we talk about Jesus as the Only Begotten Son of God, “this” is what we mean.  Perhaps it is time to do it again with Hell.  Let’s make it clear to the world that we are not here to burn Bell, but rather to clearly state the gospel.


David Skinner said…
Amen. Very well put. The church must grow in it's discernment, but even more in proclaiming the Gospel.
RevRossReddick said…
I'd be interested in your definition of post-modernism, because you seem to have a polemic against it. I would argue that "conflicting statements" are in fact Biblical, and it may very well be that paradoxes are a sign of spiritual maturity and not illogical.

Sure, Bell does a lot of question asking...but
I think questions can function as a claim. And, you do too... :)

I ask simply, “who determines when it is appropriate” and “who in and of themselves has the right to say to 1500 years of church history - to hell with you!”

Clearly, that question serves as a claim: you think a revisionist hermeneutic is redonkulous. A valid claim, but you got their by the question. Bell does make claims.

I think Meacham is spot on in his assessment. It might not be true for Ridgecrest or yourself, but I would venture to say that the majority of my more evangelical brothers and sisters LOVED Bell 6 months before this book was released (and also considered him on par with Piper et al). Within 3 weeks after the book is released, their primary project was (and still is) to distance themselves as far as they can. From their perspective, yes "he was an evangelical" and yes he did "suddenly become unorthodox." Example: A week after Love Wins was released SBTS held an hour long panel with Mohler and others about the book. Why the feverish reaction? Why the hubub in more evangelical circles? It was a big enough deal to warrant a TIME article, right? That sort of immediate response denotes a desire to separate from Bell.

In my reading, Bell's project is to make people aware of traditions and churches whose only way of evangelism is via fear tactics regarding the afterlife. He is trying to reach people who have been so psychologically harmed by "church,"they would never imagine God having a place for them in the redeeming love we have in Jesus. Bell could care less about the controversy his book has ignited. The book has already done, in his opinion, what it was meant to do; it has reached people who thought there was no place in the church for them.
Brian Branam said…
Ross, gotta iPhone it here,so this will be short and broken but I feel the need to respond.

Paradox exists, no denial. There is some positive with pomo, but philosophically it is doomed to implode. It allows for a to also equal non a which is illogical not merely paradoxal. Consistently holding to this as a rule is dangerous, furthermore relative truth found in Pomo conflicts severely with the Bilble.

Make no mistake, with Bell this is not a Hell issue, but a gospel one.

And yes, I have always seen Bell closer to McLaren than Mohler. Surely I am not alone in this.

Ross, read something conservative and call me in the morning :). Love ya bro.
RevRossReddick said…
Thanks for the quick response Brian. I guess I'm just less fatalistic about the societal shifts that are taking place. I'm not as good with the deductive logic and philosophy stuff, but the issue will continue to be that those with a postmodern world won't feel the need to apologize for A equaling non-A. I think they would say, A is in the range of Christian interpretations, and non-A is in the range of interpretations, and we can both be faithful with those different interpretations, as long as we are bound to Christ in doing so.

Regarding conservative views; I'm no hater. I love people for who they are and take what they believe to be their version of what it means to be faithful. But I'm not, and will never be afraid to push people to really understand OTHER interpretations. If that's liberal, then I am what I am....

Tell you what, let me know of a short book you think I should read, and I'll pick one for you. I'm game if you are.

I believe there is ultimate Truth, I'm just less convinced that any of us has a corner on that market, save our Lord. For what it's worth...

Looking forward to the rest of the Hell stuff...Glory to God!
Brian Branam said…

I am not "fatalistic" in the sense that I think that pomo makes no contribution, in fact I think pomo gives us an interesting context in which to share the gospel and point out some of the beutiful paradoxes we experience in this life and in the gospel. However, I do think some of its presuppositions about truth are flawed and will in the end leave people hopeless and searching.

As far as questions as conclusions - while one can certainly prove a point by asking a question - it is generally done so pointing out something certain. I think Bell, and many writers of the same strain, offer questions as conclusions and I mean to say that they offer uncertainties as the only certainty. I think this is dangerous because it is a bad epistemological position. How can one be sure that nothing can be known for sure? The position in itself is a fallacy.

Books? Short? Hmm. If you are wanting to brush up some philosophy or ideas about truth, how about something Francis Schaeffer? If we are going into something Biblical like innerrancy I have a long list here, nothing short. What would you suggest?

Gal. 2:20
RevRossReddick said…
Yeah, fatalistic was a bad choice of words, but I see your point. I think the whole "questions as conclusions" critique is largely a caricature of folks like Bell. Part of a good debate is being able to state the other's position in a way they would say "Yes, that is what my claim/belief/position is." And I'm pretty sure Bell wouldn't say the only thing we can be sure of are uncertainties. Nor would he say nothing can be known for sure.

I know enough about epistemology to understand that questions are not the enemy of knowing. Quite the opposite seems to be true.

As far as books go, something that argues for inerrancy would definitely stretch me; I wholeheartedly disagree with the entire idea. For you, I'd suggest "The Great Emergence" by Phyllis Tickle. She'll give a new perspective on post-modernism. Cheers!
Brian Branam said…
Ross, how about Inerrancy, Norman Geisler. I will start reading your book soon.

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