Rob Bell: The Spotlight Gets Hotter

Here’s a recap of the events that led to Rob Bell appearing as a trending topic on Twitter. My thoughts on the whole thing after the break.

Rob Bell releases a video on vimeo:

HarperCollins Publishers releases a controversial description of Rob Bell’s book.

Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Timemagazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Denny Burk, Alex Chediak, John Piper, and countless others jump to the conclusion that Rob Bell has gone off the deep end and is a Universalist.

Some revisions are made to some blogs to give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt, and prayers are offered through blogs and tweets that it’s all a misunderstanding.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey publishes a blog post on ChristianityToday.com regarding the blog and Twitter “Backlash” brought about by Rob Bell’s video and the description from HarperCollins.

Discussion continues on Twitter and various blogs throughout the night on the issue of Universalism and the Church but “Rob Bell” is eventually no longer a trending topic on Twitter in the US (chances are that he’ll be back on the top trends as more people watch his video and read all the blog posts).

I think that Scott McKnight’s from Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s post sums up my thoughts on the whole thing nicely:

I’ve not seen anything like it. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue … today … and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP’s book by Tom Wright on Justification.

Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.

The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke — and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity’s provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.

Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.

We are warned in the Bible not to judge others before self-examination (Matthew 7:1-6). Jesus required someone with out sin to carry out the sentencing of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). James 3:1 says that teachers will be judged more strictly, but it doesn’t say that it is our place to do so. Hebrews 10:20 states explicitly that it is God’s place alone to judge his people.

I think Christians too often want to jump to the worst conclusion and start an argument that they think they can win. It’s ok to engage in healthy debate but to quote @Donovan1969:

Many people interpret the Bible with their own self interests in mind. Debate is great when accompanied by understanding.

I am not defending Rob Bell because what I have seen and read seems to point towards a Universalist world view. I also choose not to join the mob who have already dismissed Rob Bell because the book is not even released yet and I have not read it. Regardless of Rob Bell’s book to be released next month, I will stand firm on the Truth that Jesus Christ, The Messiah is the only way to eternal life in the presence of YAHWEH.

love GOD, love others (matthew 22:36-40), make disciples (matthew 28:19-20), speak the truth in love (ephesians 4:15).

6 thoughts on “Rob Bell: The Spotlight Gets Hotter

  1. Win Pratt

    These are good points, and I agree it is dangerous to judge based on secondary sources.

    Social media has made this an interesting dynamic, though. A theologian like Rob Bell has influence on less educated and newer followers of Christ, as well as those who are seeking. This gives his thoughts and words much more of an impact, and these words travel fast through the Social Networks.

    If other notable theologians stay quiet too long, we risk the fear of losing thousands of souls to a false gospel. Is it then their place to pass judgement? Surely not. But is it their responsibility to protect the Gospel of Christ at all costs? Absolutely. We have souls to protect, and we cannot wait until March 29th to do so.

    1. tlamarca

      I agree with that. It is important to come along side of those that might be led astray by something as simple as a short video.

      I also think that prominent leaders in the church need to be careful how they publicize themselves and allow others to do so. We are not to be a stumbling block to anyone. Challenging someone to think more deeply about their theology is one thing. Only presenting one side of an argument for publicity’s sake is another altogether. No matter what it is that Rob Bell was trying to do with his video, it is important to understand him instead of just cast judgement.

      It’s better to gain understanding and respond with grace and truth than to jump to conclusions and attack someone at a personal level. As you can see through Twitter, attacking causes people to put up walls, get defensive, and counter-attack. A response built on grace and truth breeds healthy conversation and debate that tends to strengthen our faith rather than wear it down.

      I have learned a lot from people that I disagree with. I’ve also had spiritual leaders in my life who have come along side me as I’ve struggled through understanding some Scriptural Truths.

      Staying quiet when faced with heresy is not the answer. Attacking the source of perceived heresy doesn’t help either. The best response in my opinion is to bring Truth into a conversation where heresy may be.

  2. Nate

    I agree that we need to be patient and allow Rob Bell’s voice to be heard in all this–the rest of us are talking about him without giving him a voice. That time will come. I will add that I struggle in my soul with some of the same dilemmas that Rob Bell apparently struggles with…but essentially, we believe what the Bible has to tell us about God is true, or we remake God in an image more to our liking.

    1. tlamarca

      Thanks for sharing Nate. I think the words that Bell said in the video give voice to the feelings that many people have, whether they call themselves Christian or reject Christ because of it. Often those people are even more turned off to Christianity by the response that Rob Bell got from some of the louder mouth pieces in the church.

      We can be our own worst enemy sometimes. I’m looking forward to picking up the book when it’s released so that I can put everything in context.

  3. Rich Langton

    Great response to a difficult situation… one of the better that I have read. It seems to me that while Rob Bell’s theology may be unacceptable to some very prominent leaders, the use of social media to ‘discipline’ is inappropriate. As has been noted above, the better approach surely must be some sort of direct contact with Rob Bell. Having said that, as the book hasn’t even been released the presumptions may be incorrect and an apology necessary… either way, I’m certain that social media isn’t the place for such conversation.

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