Rob Bell: Tapping into the Biggest Issue Facing Evangelicalism Today

There a lot of issues facing today’s evangelical church – We’ve seen heat over issues like homosexuality, political affiliation, non-hierarchical ecclesiology, postmodern epistemology, and more. But perhaps the biggest issue facing us in the coming years will be the deconstruction of our understanding of Hell. Instead of retreating into “This is a forbidden subject” as many of us do, we need to deal with it frankly and honestly, fixing our eyes squarely on the Scriptures and our hearts with the Spirit of God.

Rob Bell’s new book has caused a firestorm, especially after Justin Taylor wrote a scathing blog post about it in The Gospel Coalition’s website. Taylor wrote his critique based on this video to promote it:

Scot McKnight, a good friend and mentor of mine, wrote this to Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today:
Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.
The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke -- and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity's provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.
I look forward to engaging in a civil discussion about the nature of “Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived” (as the subtitle of Bell’s book reads), because in my dealings with young college students this is the BIGGEST ISSUE that keeps them from even approaching a conversation about Jesus Christ.


Byron Harvey said...

To this point I concur, Bob: we do need to suspend final judgment on Rob's beliefs until the book comes out. I try to be pretty tolerant of the idea of allowing a person to explain himself so that we understand what he's really saying before we jump to conclusions, so point well-taken. That said, when you watch the blurb, it seems to me like Bell has boxed himself into this corner with his language: at worst, he's a universalist heretic; at best, he's morphing into a Brian McLaren-esque "say something provocative, then backpedal, then (perhaps) get defensive when he gets called out for his equivocation".

Change the issue and try this on (and I paraphrase): "we've been taught that the center of the gospel is that Jesus is God, come in the flesh, and that He died as the sole sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Really? Can it be true that Jesus is actually God come in the flesh?" Of course, a person saying that could come back and affirm orthodoxy, in which case he's just trying to sell books, but it just comes off as, at worst, a precursor to heresy, and at best, a cheap way to sell books.

Now, Greg Boyd (for what it's worth, though I'm not sure how much that is) writes, "Rob Bell is not a universalist, and I've read the book", so perhaps it's not as bad as some would make it out to be; again, let's wait and read the book. But regardless, Bob, the other concern I have is that Rob Bell's take isn't going to change the truth. Sure, let's engage with the Scriptural text, look at Scripture afresh, etc.; that's all well and good. But if the young people you are dealing with say that it's the biggest thing keeping them from considering a conversation about Jesus, the possibility that there would be an eternal hell for those without Christ (Gandhi, et al), if they've come to that a priori conclusion, then the issue isn't going to be solved regardless of what Rob Bell's (or Bob Robinson's, or Byron Harvey's) take is, because if they've decided that God must meet them on their terms, and that they are qualified to define God according to their own particular tastes, then those issues are far deeper than the take of one particular hot young preacher.

Bob Robinson said...

I think that Greg Boyd has it right when he says, "Rob is first and foremost a poet/artist/dramatist who has a fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought. Rob is far more comfortable (and far better at) questioning established beliefs and creatively hinting at possible answers than he is at constructing a logically rigorous case defending a definitive conclusion."

This might be offensive to those of us in the Reformed/Rationalistic camp, where doctrines need to be articulated succinctly with acceptable language in the right categories, but that's more OUR problem than Bell's problem.

So, if I move from the camp of those in need of doctrinal clarity at all points and into the camp of asking the difficult and provocative questions that my students are asking, I have absolutely no problem with someone asking the kind of question you pose. Isn't that the kind of question that a true apologist in a postmodern setting has to ask, with gentleness and respect?

Bob Robinson said...

The young people I am dealing with are not necessarily coming to an a priori conclusion, but have legitimate objections to the Christianity that they've encountered that is more interested in determining who is "in" and who is "out."

Their experience has cut them off from the person of Jesus who proved that "Love Wins."

Someone posted this sermon from Rob Bell on Scot McKnight's blog:

Rob Bell: "Love Wins"

Byron Harvey said...

OK, I can buy your analysis of the young people's critique of our overemphasis on "who's in, who's out", if indeed that is the case. I'm not as sold on it being "our problem" that we seek what I'd call a reasonable (in line with reason and Scripture) defense of his doctrinal propositions. If he's wading into doctrinal territory, as he is, then he needs to engage in that wading in terms more theological than aesthetic. If you're going to take on a doctrine as essential to orthodoxy as he is (for this work surely touches not only on the literal nature of hell, but on issues such as the holiness, goodness, and love of God, among other things), then it's not enough to just "hint at possible answers", even if he is a great communicator (and he certainly is).

PuzzlingChristian said...

Let's wait and see Rob's explanation but I think it will cause even more controversy and confusion

Robert Winkler Burke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
caucazhin said...

Anyone who supports gay marriage has lost their minds completely !!!
END of STORY !!!