While I was enjoying my day at the 2011 ETS Northwest Regional Meeting it appears that Rob Bell was declared the greatest of contemporary heretics. At least that is what I gather from the legions of blog posts, subsequent comments, and tweets that were written in response to this promotional video by Harper Collins for Bell’s forthcoming book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
As I gather it the drama began when Justin Taylor wrote a blog post (see here) asking if the video shows Rob Bell to be a universalist. For those who are unfamiliar with universalism it is the belief that God will eventually “empty hell” and everyone will be saved. There have been many people who have been accused of this ranging as far back as Origen and even in the last century as regards Karl Barth.
I have two thoughts on universalism: (1) I do agree that it is a dangerous doctrine, mostly because I don’t see much evidence for it in Scripture. (2) I sympathize with those who want it to be true. Who wants anyone to face eternal punishment? I don’t. That being said, I trust God is good and righteous. God will not make a mistake in his judgments and God is not obligated to any one of us in how he determines the fate of the humans he created.
Anyways, I should get back to Rob Bell. Kevin DeYoung, another personality associated with The Gospel Coalition, wrote a less detailed but similar post questioning Bell (see here). John Piper tweeted something that made it sound like Bell had died (here). Of course, this resulted in all kinds of fun. People who love Bell went crazy attacking the evil Calvinist and the monstrosity known as The Gospel Coalition (remember, The Gospel Coalition has people like Tim Keller and Charles Mahaney….i.e., not everyone in this group is a fighter). Those who follow Taylor, DeYoung, and Piper loyally defended their orthodoxy against Bell’s heresy.
AND YET WE KNOW ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK!!!
Remember, this video has to grab your attention. It is designed by people who do marketing. People who do marketing have a job to do: sell things. Well, someone at Harper Collins is a genius!
Taylor says he has read a few chapters, but that isn’t the full book. Tom Batterson, a book seller, says he has read the whole book (read here). He is convinced that a lot of people will be eating humble pie soon.
I think we all should be eating humble pie, now! Jesus said that the world would know us because of our love for one another. Oops.
Now if Bell is a universalist then I don’t blame Taylor, DeYoung, or others for taking him to task. But we don’t know anything right now for sure. I think Christian charity demands we give Bell the benefit of the doubt. And then, even if he does come out to be a universalist (which the aforementioned Tom Batterson says he does not) we should balance outrage with love for a sibling in Christ.
As I read the blog posts and tweets one thing came to mind, “What about being quick to listen and slow to speak?” In the Book of James we read, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” (1.19-20, NIV)
We have been slow to listen and quick to speak. Shame on us. Our anger toward each other has not resulted in the righteousness of God. It has only, once again, made it evident to the world around us that we do not love each other like Christ commanded us to love each other. We don’t, we don’t, we simply don’t.
I end by quoting Scot McKnight who wrote this in response to an email from Sarah Pulliam Bailey that I think is the best response so far (from here):
“I’ve not seen anything like it. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue … today … and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP’s book by Tom Wright on Justification.
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.
Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.”
May it be said that the next time we have the opportunity to listen quickly while speaking slowly that we take advantage. I think we failed this time. There is a lot of apologizing that needs to take place.