Though the debate rages on I think we’ve calmed down about the Rob Bell firestorm. I followed the whole thing closely as I find it quite enthralling, and I wanted to offer some observations and clarifications.
I know that many of my readers are not Rob fans, and please know I’m not trying to make you into one. I’m not saying all of them, but I do think Rob has contributed some valuable insights I’d hate for people to miss simply because they disagree with him. I’ll be starting with some of the good things that have come up:
- Does Rob say that God isn‘t punitive (a natural conclusion if all go to heaven)? No, but Rob emphasizes that God is punitive for a purpose. He punishes for the purpose of transformation and restoration, not for simply expressing his burning anger. I think this is a huge point to make – God punishes with redemptive intention. One thing I do know about God – he is always moving towards restoring and redeeming.
- A common complaint is “if God saves all then why bother evangelizing?” This exposes a deeper belief – that Jesus only came to hand out heaven tickets and therefore has nothing else to offer. I’ve seen far too many people have a dramatic and beautiful encounter with Jesus that’s left them changed. Addictions healed, heavy burdens lifted from broken shoulders, emotional torment taken away – this is the gospel (or maybe better stated – part of it). Jesus has much for our desperate world other than a ticket out, and this a huge point worth making. That’s why Bell keeps saying the gospel is good news NOW – it is! I know I treat people more lovingly. I know I don’t carry around shame from my past informing everything I do because I’ve been forgiven now. Evangelism isn’t merely trying to fatten heaven’s numbers but offer people Jesus’ healing now – and this is a worthy critique.
- Finally, I think Rob has rightly pointed out that we misinterpret many passages to be about heaven and hell. Long before this controversy started I had a post sitting in my drafts folder about this very subject – how we mistakenly made the terms “Kingdom of God” and “heaven” interchangeable. I’m not saying the Bible never addresses people’s eternal fate – merely that it doesn’t mention it as often as the Baptists & Fundamentalists say it does. I think Rob has rightly pointed out that how we see the world is very different from the Biblical writers and it would do us good to not transpose our ideas into the Bible (ex: we use the terms “eternal” and “salvation” differently from Jews 2000 years ago).
Here’s the other side to the story:
- This, unfortunately, has shown the world how nasty Christians can be – especially to each other. If Time Magazine picks up on this and makes it their cover story – then millions have gotten a peak into our bedroom brawl. This is true for both progressive and conservative Christians – both have blood on their hands.
- Rob contradicts certain scripture – some may have a problem with this but I’ve long believed Scripture doesn’t present a unified doctrine. Rob continually points out Scripture that discusses the restoration of all things to God and this doesn’t jive with other passages about wrath. What I’m trying to say is that this controversy has shown that our Scripture is not what we say it is – and so it means we’ve got some explaining to do. I’m gonna catch flack for this and likely start a debate I don’t have the energy to get into.
- One final negative thing that has come up. In every interview I’ve seen Rob has had to continually field questions and accusations and offer a defense. That makes sense considering what he’s implying. However are we really saying that we only care about what we perceive are your faults? Is that all Rob is? Almost no one has asked Rob “positive” questions. What does that say about us? I think it heavily shapes the way we interact with people.
I wanted to say more but this post is at record length. Ultimately I think it’s been a good thing for Christians to begin talking about heaven and hell. I don’t mean it’s good for everyone to consider universalism, I’m merely saying we needed to have a solid discussion on the matter because it isn’t as black and white as the Romans Road we’ve been presented – which is an idea that’s dominated Christian thought for a century.
What are your thoughts on things I’ve raised? (And please, I’m not interested in discussing universalism, so please don’t tell me how much you hate Rob – do you think the clarifications I made are valid?)