Rob Bell Controversy – Your Questions, My Answers OR Why this is a Pastoral Issue!

Rob Bell Controversy – Your Questions, My Answers OR Why this is a Pastoral Issue! March 2, 2011

The following questions are from my original response to Justin Taylor about Rob Bell’s new book: Love Wins.

Why do you feel the need to defend Rob Bell?

Let me be quite clear.  I do not feel the need to defend Rob in the way that some assume.  Do I like his books? Yes.  Do I like his preaching more than his books? Yes.  It is easy to admit that Rob has made an impact on my spiritual journey.

That said, I want to address this question with clarity.

For me, this is a pastoral issue.  So many people in my own sphere of influence have only heard the negative press about Rob’s writings and teachings.  Through the evangelical gossip train, people that I love and respect condemn Rob as a heretic.  The effect of this is that those of us in the church who appreciate his work get our integrity questioned.  I cannot tell you how many times my commitment to Christ and my ‘evangelical-ness’ has been questioned simply because of Rob Bell.  The problem with this is not Rob Bell though.  It is an issue caused by the quote extractors, the narrow minded, the “our way or the highway” = orthodoxy, the folks who believe that they alone have the ‘rights’ to the term evangelical; it is these groups that cause the problem.

Consider a possible scenario.

Awesome follower of Jesus comes across Justin Taylor’s post on Saturday and mourns that Rob Bell is now a Universalist.  Said person then goes to church on Sunday and tells a few friends: “Did you hear that Rob Bell ‘came out’ about his belief in Universalism?”  Such uncritical commentary then spreads throughout the congregation until someone says: “…but our pastor has quoted Rob Bell and we show his Nooma video’s in some of our small groups.  Is our pastor a Universalist?”  Then, this spreads through the Gossip train and the poor pastor is hung up on a tree as a piñata to beat up for leading the congregation to resources that were produced by such a heretic. What happens next?  Pastor gets 10’s and possibly 100’s of email calling for him to repent of the Bell heresy.  Some, even call for this pastor to resign.  Then the Elder board gets involved and has to decide if the rumors are true or if they will stand behind their leader.  All the while, the pastor is emotionally exhausted, all because of an article (or set of articles) that caricature a committed Christian Bible teacher: Rob Bell.

So, why do I ‘defend’ Rob Bell?  I do so with the hope that I can give well meaning Christians in the pew another perspective, in hopes to level the playing field for those of us who think that he is a biblically sound evangelical.  Good people deserve all the information.  This is a pastoral issue, not a defense for the sake of helping the guy out.  Rob Bell doesn’t need me.

Are you doing this because you have an ulterior motive of narcissistic self-promotion?

No.  See the above answer for my actual motive.  I do all I can to not be a narcissist when it comes to social media.  I have implemented fasts and on the day I posted the Rob Bell Universalist post, I walked away from it all evening.  I didn’t even check comments until Sunday afternoon.  Also, my last name is currently not listed on the blog.  Only my FB / Twit friends know that.  So, no, I did not have any self-seeking motive… but yes, I knew that it could potentially become my most read post of all time and indeed it has.

Conditional Immortality and Inclusivism are not biblical, are they?

Let me make something clear:  I am not fully convinced that Conditionalism and Inclusivism are in fact the best options as I still feel the need to explore these areas more fully.  My point is that both of these views are within the realm of solid conservative evangelical scholarship.  Eternal torment is not the only option on the table.  In fact, conditionalism was the view that our number 1 reformer held to: namely, Martin Luther.  I certainly hope he is not a heretic 🙂

Also, it should be noted that these views may not be exactly what Rob’s book lands on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some such themes arise.  In other words, I do not expect him to use the terms “conditional immortality” or “inclusivism” but that perhaps some of his commentary on relevant passages may be influenced by such.

Kurt, did you watch the video clip? How can you hear his statement about Gandhi and not think he is a Universalist?

Here is an important quote from the video:

“Will only a few, select, people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?”

If you come to this video believing that the only evangelical option is eternal torment, then you will hear this question and apply it to universalism.  The problem is that the option of conditionalism could be a more logical conclusion to come to.  In such a view, the reality of hell – separation from God for all eternity – is still the judgment of God against such a person.  The only difference is that such people will not “burn forever in hell” but will “perish” for eternity.

If Rob Bell’s book reveals that he is a “all roads lead to God” or “everyone will eventually be saved in the end” Universalist once the book comes out, will you call out such as unbiblical?

Yes.  In my opinion, such a view is unbiblical.  I will at that point disagree publicly with Rob Bell or any fellow Christian.

With all honesty, I doubt such a recant on my part will be necessary.  My hope is that the Gospel Coalition will be willing to eat some humble pie and seek Rob’s forgiveness.  From all I have read and heard from Rob, he believes in the need for someone to experience personal salvation from their sins.  Here is a link that demonstrates Rob’s clear commitment to the need for people to be individually restored to right relationship with Jesus.  His example of a preacher who ‘gets it’: Billy Graham.  Listen from 33mins forward.  The end of the message includes a traditional altar call and they even sing the old hymn “Just as I am.”  I don’t think an “all paths lead to salvation” universalist would feel the same kind of urgent need to make such an evangelical call.


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