If you have got this far in reading every post I have written on Rob Bell since my debate with him, you are doing well! I am almost done. But today I want to address a strong accusation I put to him in the debate. I claimed that he approaches the Bible very differently from the typical evangelical. In other words, I believe that he no longer takes the Bible literally whenever it is reasonable to do so.
Colossians 2:8 warns us “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (NLT)
Reading Bell’s book, it all sounds very impressive at first, but after a deeper look, to my mind, many of his arguments really are just like Paul says here high sounding nonsense that comes from human thinking. His book Love Wins is not value or Scripture driven, but rather, culture and emotion driven.
Rob Bell seems to follow the following theological method, and even speaks about doing this. He says that one of the things that lead him to write was speaking with people who had problems understanding what God is like. Hence he looks at what he sees in this world and then formulates a theology which in my view is read back into the Bible. Bell and others seem to take things and bring them to the Bible rather than taking things from the Bible. It’s as though he sees life and then tries to interpret the Bible. Instead, we should come to the Bible and ask the Spirit to open our eyes as our teacher.
Bell seems by and large to strip out of the gospel the wrath of God, punishment for sin, and eternal consequences if we do not respond. He admits freely that he does not preach the “bad news.” But I get the feeling often that all that is left is an empty philosophy, that seems to import human thinking into the Bible rather than allowing Christ to teach us.
Bell plays games with Biblical interpretation, like a child playing around in the mud. He doesn’t simply let it speak for itself. He enjoys the challenge, the fun, the discussion. But the very act of questioning mocks conclusions that have been dear to many who have gone before. His constant questioning also undermines any notion that the Bible has a coherent message that can be discerned by all readers in all cultures. It is a sorry state of affairs when Time Magazine expresses better theology than a pastor:
“Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. . .
If you say the Bible doesn’t really say what a lot of people have said it says, then where does that stop? If the verses about hell and judgment aren’t literal, what about the ones on adultery, say, or homosexuality?”
Or as Kevin De-Young said “the Bible can teach anything Bell wants it to.”
Despite Bell’s firm affirmation of a physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave, leaving an empty tomb, I think this appraoch to the Bible is more in keeping with a liberal one than an evangelical.
Thus surely this is just another attempt at liberalism and like all others it will pass. It is liberalism rehashed for a new generation, in “skinny jeans” as someone said.
Bell says of a painting he saw in his Grandmother’s house: “I show you this painting not because of its astounding ability to somehow fuse Dungeons and Dragons, Billy Graham, and that barbecue pit your uncle made out of half of a fifty-gallon barrel into one piece of art, but because this painting tells a story. It’s a story of movement, from one place to the next, from one realm to another, from death to life, with the cross as the bridge, the way, the hope.”
This really is nothing other than a form of liberalism. Historically we have seen that liberal views can surely get a lot of attention for a season, and even appear to be very popular, but eventually, perhaps because of the lack of conviction and fervor associated with such views liberalism tends to wain away. Rob will probably eventually be forgotten while the faith of his grandmother lives on as it always has done. Jesus has said HE will build my church, and the gates of the hell Rob Bell apparently doesn’t really believe in will not prevail against it!
GRUDEM defines hell as “eternal conscious punishment” and that this “tends to be one of the first doctrines given up by people who are moving away from a commitment to the Bible as absolutely truthful in all that it affirms.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
If you are tempted to agree with Rob Bell on hell or even go further and doubt its very existence rather than redefine it, remember that
Almost all EVANGELICALS believe in hell.
Almost all LIBERALS don’t.
I think that much of the emotion and upset behind the reformed bloggers response to Bell’s book is that many thought he was at least sorta on their side!
He really has just jumped out of the Evangelical ship. But I suspect he doesn’t want to denounce those who are most likely to buy his materials in large quantity. If he was to say publicly “I am a liberal, the liberals had it right all along….” would anyone get his materials any more?
As one blogger put it: “From now on most Evangelicals will see Bell as “just another mainstream Liberal Protestant trying to sell himself and his books to the masses by offering a pleasant and palatable Jesus to people who are looking for… well, exactly that.”
Liberalism historically can be popular for a while but it always fails, it always passes. Bell will go down in a long list of contrary voices who mostly get forgotten. The faith of my grandparents (one of whom is still alive and I want to go on following a form of Christianity that is recognizable to him!), the faith of our forefathers, the deposit entrusted to us for generations will continue. Bell will fail to change the church to believe as a whole in the image that he has created in his mind of what God is like.
Bell even confesses in his book to “shaping God” well I do not believe the God of heaven and earth can be shaped!
“Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.”
Bell is either a heretic or Martin Luther. Universalism is not mainstream and never has been, “neither in the Catholic nor the various Orthodox, nor the various Evangelical traditions has there ever been a statement of faith by any such church suggesting what seems to be suggested in this chapter in this book” (Witherington). Martin Luther cried “back to the Bible” but that really is NOT what Bell is saying.