Is it really shocking to people that Rob Bell’s forthcoming book appears to be poised to challenge historic Christian beliefs on the afterlife? Do we too need to join John Piper in tweeting, “Farewell Rob Bell”? Are all these Christians who think Bell has come out as a universalist being mean and unfair? What does the fact that this discussion has blown up to fairly epic proportions on the interwebs say about how we communicate?
Well here are some articles to help you navigate these waters:
- Here is Justin Taylor’s original post that spawned some 1,396 comments and 27,400+ recommendations on Facebook. For the record, Taylor updated his post and said, “I should have been more careful in my original post not to imply that Bell is definitely a universalist. He may believe that some people go out of existence and are not thereby saved.”
- Here is Part I and II of a review of Love Wins by someone who is reading the book and some additional thoughts.
But he [Bell] makes no apology for his declaration that while Hell is a real place, and people will go there, it’s not forever. Ultimately, God’s love will prevail for every person and they will be restored. So I would say that what the recently-released promo video for Love Wins suggests, the book confirms.
- Brent Thomas’ article avoids prematurely labeling Bell as so many others have, encourages us to withhold judgement, and yet rightly points out that Bell, by the statements he has allowed to be released and his own promotional video, has welcomed this controversy.
- Jared Wilson points out that Bell’s promo video doesn’t directly answer whether Bell is a universalist but it does seem to question the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
- Jonathan D. Fitzgerald discusses how this story blew up to massive proportions and takes an interesting look at how this whole situation reveals our desire to “speak first and say the most shocking thing.”
- Brad Williams has written two posts laying out what the Bible says about the doctrine of Hell and how it helps us understand God’s grace.
- CAPC’s own Chase Livingston reminds us that we don’t know what happens to people in their final moments before death, thus we should be careful of what we say about who is and isn’t in Hell. More importantly, Chase reminds us of that we as Christians must be voices of grace–holding out the hope of redemption for all.
So were Christians hasty in calling Bell a heretic? Probably and additionally we probably all have a bit different definitions of “heretic.” Unless Bell lets his publisher release statements that in no way represent what he has written, it is safe to assume that Bell is in fact challenging 2000 years of church history in his book. Does that actually surprise anyone? Does that necessitate what people have been calling an evangelical excommunication by John Piper? That brings up a whole host of questions: should we be excommunicating people via Twitter? Who made John Piper the Pope of evangelicalism? Were Piper and Bell up until recently retweeting each other and commenting on each other’s Facebook statuses? What is my point in writing and posting all this? I suppose my point is simply to point out how crazy all this talk about Rob Bell is.
If I wrote a book and I did not want to make a decisive step away from historic Christian doctrine–then I would never let my publisher release a statement that says I am “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.” That said, such a statement at least holds out the possibility of Bell being annihilationist. However, if the above review is correct, that does not seem to be the case. I am bummed that we have decided to have such a massive discussion about this prior to the book releasing and yet I also think that Rob Bell probably wanted this to happen–thus I have come to the conclusion that we are all crazy.
Twitter, Facebook, and blogging have changed the way we communicate for good and for ill but in each instance they reveal that healthy communication continues to elude our grasp. That is about as shocking as Rob Bell challenging historic Christian beliefs.