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O Me of Little Faith

Now that a full week has passed since the whole Rob Bell saga began, I thought it would be helpful to take a deep breath and browse a few of the posts made about the subject. What follows are selections from some of the reactions around the web.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, because I’m not Google. This is only the stuff I ended up reading.

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From author and pastor Greg Boyd, who offered a post brilliantly titled “Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I Actually Read Love Wins)“:

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. I enthusiastically recommend Love Wins because of the way it empowers readers to question old perspectives and consider new ones. Unless a person reads this book with a preset agenda to find whatever they can to further an anti-Rob Bell agenda (which, I guarantee you, is going to happen) readers will not put this book down unchanged. To me, this is one of the main criteria for qualifying a book as “great.”

In noting that he doubts Bell would even identify himself as a universalist, Boyd also made this intriguing point:

…questions surrounding the nature and duration of hell and the
possibility that all will eventually be saved are not questions
Christians should be afraid of. What does truth have to fear? (I
sometimes wonder if the animosity some express toward Universalists [or
toward those some assume are Universalists] is motivated by the
fear that the case for Universalism might turn out to be more
compelling than they can handle…

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Mason Slater, at New Ways Forward, compared the Bell controversy to the past controversies involving the late theologian Clark Pinnock (whom I’ve mentioned before):

…It didn’t matter what he affirmed, or how much he pointed to the Scriptures as the source of his theology.

Once his proposal threatened the security of those who were determined to decide who was in and out of evangelicalism, Pinnock was cast as a threat to orthodoxy…

Our fidelity to the text of the Scriptures matters of course, but we need to learn to have thoughtful and civil conversations about legitimate differences in interpretation instead of reverting to vitriolic attacks and anathemas.

When any theologian who disagrees with you is a heretic, the term loses any real meaning. Or in other words, when everyone is a heretic, no one is.

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In a guest post at Jesus Needs New PR, pastor Adam Ellis defined orthodoxy and heresy and made this noteworthy point:

It…strikes me that truth is never afraid of questions, and when questions are rendered off limits, it at least creates the impression that it is not truth that is being sought, but rather a maintaining of the status-quo.

He then asks several provocative questions, including these two:

Since when does one’s belief about the afterlife call their salvation into question? Grace covers a multitude of sins, but not misunderstanding? Such a “cognitive salvation” seems difficult to support Biblically given the accounts of Christians recorded in the New Testament.

What do the “orthodoxy police” do with the early church fathers, many of who, to one degree or another, advocated something other than the “traditional” exclusive view of salvation? (Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, etc.)

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Author Brian McLaren — who’s no stranger to being labeled a heretic for stuff he’s written — has also read the book and notes that Bell is asking deep, important questions. He clarifies the deeper conversation he feels Bell is after:

It’s not that he’s being given a multiple-choice test between a) traditional exclusivism and b) traditional universalism, and he’s choosing b) instead of a). Rather, it’s that Rob has come to see that the biblical story is bigger and better than a narrative about how souls get sorted out into two bins at the end of time.

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Albert Mohler, the prolific blogger and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, offered his take, labeling Bell as a weak update to traditional Protestant liberalism. Mohler also attacked Bell’s video and his publisher’s question-rich promotion style as “the sad equivalent of a theological striptease”:

The publicity surrounding Bell’s new book indicates that he is ready to
answer one of the hardest questions — the question of the exclusivity of
the Gospel of Christ. With that question come the related questions of
heaven, hell, judgment, and the fate of the unregenerate. The Bible
answers these questions clearly enough, but few issues are as hard to
reconcile with the modern or postmodern mind than this. Of course, it
was hard to reconcile with the ancient mind as well. The singularity of
the person and work of Christ and the necessity of personal faith in him
for salvation run counter to the pluralistic bent of the human mind,
but this is nothing less than the wisdom of God and the power of God
unto salvation.

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Author Ed Cyzewski examines the whole kerfuffle by asking whether we’re more loyal to God or to our beliefs:

Our greatest mistake seems to be making a disagreement over beliefs
within the faith into a heresy smack-down, with one side playing the
part of the inquisition, turning Lewis’ great house of Christianity into
a studio apartment–an apartment that John Calvin has crammed with his
stuff in this particular case. I’ve also seen studio apartments for
Catholics, Baptists, Arminians, etc. We all do this from time to time.

I appreciated this part about our tendency to fight about doctrine rather than seeking to restore people we think may be in error:

If we are loyal to our beliefs ahead of our relationship with God, we
may view other Christian perspectives as threats. If we encounter a
view that borders on heresy, we risk making things worse because we’re
seeking to protect doctrines instead of people.

We aren’t here to defend the Gospel.

We’re here to let God change how we live and speak through the Gospel.

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Author and theologian Scot McKnight wrote a post for Relevant addressing the controversy and outlining the various types of universalism:

Friends, this is an old discussion, and there are some great studies
out there. Rob Bell is almost certainly not adding something new, but
he’s pushing the door open and saying: “Folks, this vast and massive
room of universalism and what’s awaiting us when we die are things we
must take much more seriously. The next generation of Christians are
pressing upon this door and we better stop and listen and think it
through one more time.”

My contention is this: the approach to this generation is not to
denounce their questions, which often enough are rooted in a heightened
sensitivity to divine justice and compassion, but to probe their
questions from the inside and to probe thoughtful and biblically
responsible resolutions. We need to show that their questions about
justice and God’s gracious love are not bad questions but good questions
that deserve to be explored.

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San Francisco pastor Chuck DeGroat (whose church my sister and brother-in-law attend) frames the controversy in terms of missional living in his city. In short, this whole thing is not something his community cares about. He believes strongly in “good theologizing” but warns that a missional theology means we should strive for unity and ecumenical connection rather than dividing ourselves over subjective intellectual debates.

I’m not sure what Rob Bell believes. Personally, I don’t think Rob’s
questions address what post-Christian San Franciscans care about. Maybe Grand Rapids kids who’ve left the faith can return because of
Rob’s hipper and cooler brand. I’m not sure, but I really don’t care
either. If Bell wants to enter the academic debate and join in with
Barth and Berkhouwer, with Pagitt and Piper, I’m completely uninterested
and I’m not buying his book, in large part, because people just aren’t
asking those questions. The big Baptist church where I lived in Oviedo,
FL tried to scare the “hell” out of people in their alternative
Halloween event. And many Emergents are responding to this kind of
cultural Christianity with a vengeance. But I’m uninterested, in part
because there is much more at stake. A small, uninteresting minority
American Christian debate is almost pointless in the world in which we
live.

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At Christianity Today, senior managing editor Mark Galli considers the context of universalism, then offers some challenges and suggestions for both sides of the debate. For one thing, he says, we ought to resist the urge to attack theological “enemies”:

Make no mistake: there is a lot at stake in the
discussion of unbelievers’ eternal destiny. But surely we can do better
than to prejudge (before reading the book!) or condemn by labeling
(“Universalist!” “Liberal!”). The issues raised will not go away by
dismissing them as irrational or unfounded or malicious. Love means to
believe and hope all things, and that means our first instinct should be
to assume good motives by those announcing “new” theological solutions
to longstanding conundrums. Maybe they love God as much as, if not more
than, we do! Maybe they have as much, if not more, passion to win the
lost to Jesus!

This is not to suggest that frank, honest, theological
exchange should not take place. It should! But traditionalists need to
marshal arguments and not ad hominems. The same goes for the innovators.
Some gadfly theologians are notorious for tweaking, even mocking,
traditional evangelical doctrines; they delight in scoring cheap shots
against received orthodoxy. All well and good, for tradition needs to be
tweaked for its own good. But when challenged, these critics often
refuse to engage their challengers, and instead suggest that they are
rationalists trapped in a modernist mindset and not worthy of engaging.

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If you’ve come across any other interesting takes or approaches on the subject, feel free to post those in the comments. And, if you want, let’s continue to discuss the statements made above.

This is probably the last thing I’ll post on Rob Bell and Love Wins until I receive my copy of the book. When that arrives, I’ll read it and post a review.

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