So having a friend who went to Rob Bell’s church, I myself liking Rob Bell, being a Christian, being in seminary and being rather familiar with the conservative, evangelicals I have been not far from the debate about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins.
Personally, I’m not much concerned about what he is saying right now; he has a new book coming out, which is sold by a publisher, a big one at that; publishers have to make money and so they hire marketing firms. If I were a marketing firm and I wanted to sell a book… I’d make controversy or get good reviews. Well, in the Christian world good reviews sell well, especially the classics, but nothing sells like an out in the open theological controversy; therefore, if I were a marketer I would make a controversy and props to HarperOne cause that’s what they got and I guarantee you that everyone will either buy the book or borrow it; I mean they practically have to now if they care anything about the debate that is now in the public sphere.
Regardless, I think the reason I’m not concerned is because of what I feel he’s doing. I think what he’s doing is simply raising the question that’s on more than just a few Christian minds, much less a plethora of nonChristian minds, what is up with heaven and hell and what does it say about Jesus and God. Rob Bell does that, its his shtick; I don’t see him making any universalist claims, of course I don’t see him refuting any either, but I really don’t think you sell books by telling people your conclusions.
By raising a question that many people either take for granted, or simply don’t investigate and when they do investigate they do it in a preconceived framework, he’s opening the doors to the issue. Which is important, because many don’t have a good honest opinion on the subject that isn’t influenced by hellfire and brimstone or pluralism. How do you understand the dynamic of a merciful God who is slow to anger and hell, which seems contrary to that, and how do you understand that especially when you don’t investigate and simply listen to other people? I don’t think he’s throwing any doctrines under the bus yet, but simply calling the doctrines into public debate.
I like that Rob Bell addresses it in the way he does; instead of coming from a position of authority, in front and above, he comes from a position from amongst and within. Its as if he’s claiming that he really doesn’t know, but he wants to and he wants us to come alongside him. I admit these is my emotive response to it, but it’s as if he’s inviting me to read what he’s reading and search and develop; as opposed to read what he’s reading to be able to come to the same conclusions. It’s a treatment of Scripture as ungraspable; that no one can ever truly know what Scripture teaches; they can only interpret Scripture and come to conclusions based on that. Interpretations are unforuntately influenced by the interpreter and unfortunately every interpreter is fallen. (Yes many interpreters also have the Spirit, but I find it interesting that different interpreters with the same Spirit and arrive at different conclusions.)
I also personally like that it creates a debate on the issue. I think too often people are fed a doctrine and either don’t investigate it in Scripture, or, when they do, read it through their doctrinal eyes. I am exegeting a paper on Jonah 3 for my Old Testament class and I find myself doing this. The last verse, if I read it without any other theological or Scriptural knowledge I would be down right convinced that God changes his mind and that that change is influenced by humans. What happens when I bring other knowledge into it… well then I don’t know, because it looks as if God’s mind isn’t changed by human actions, if at all. So, does this rule out what I find in Jonah? Does it trump it? How do I interpret this and be honest to the text at hand and other texts that disagree with it?
This is the sort of interpreting that I don’t think many people do. I know, I’ve done it, and I was taught to do it that way. “No God’s mind doesn’t change, and it especially doesn’t change by the influence of human actions, this text must be saying something else,” is essentially how I was taught to read the text. That’s not honest, it’s not reading the text for itself and then pulling out theology and debating it with other theology from other texts and coming to a comprehensive conclusion; its reading a theology into the text and interpreting it through that theology.
This is what many people have done with the doctrine of heaven and hell; they’ve tacitly engaged the text and viewed it through their preconceived notions. Thus, the conclusion they’ve come to is the one they want to come to. It’s not challenging them or growing them, simply affirming them and their theological structures they are trying to uphold. The doctrine of heaven and hell is not set in stone, if it was there wouldn’t be any other interpretations on it from Christians attempting honest interpretation. Could Rob Bell be wrong in the conclusions he comes to in Love Wins? Could John Piper and Justin Taylor be wrong? Certainly. Both could. Just because they are leaders and pastors doesn’t give them a corner market on right truth, but neither would know unless the text is honestly engaged, and of course we won’t know if Rob Bell is wrong until we read the book, which I’m sure will be quite different from promo material.
So after writing this and then reading through some of the blogs I subscribe to I read Don Millers newest post:
When Truth is the Enemy of Truth. I think it kind of gets what I am trying to get at, but doesn’t do it in response to the whole Bellgate.