Yes, okay, another Bell post. Sorry. I really was going to leave it alone. But then I saw this video and I was truly amazed at how agile Bell is when you ask him a direct question. He simply refuses to answer directly.
On the earthquake/tsunami/volcano/nuclear meltdown/half-a-step-away-from-total-chaos in Japan, he is asked whether it is that God is all-powerful but doesn’t care about the Japanese, or God cares about the Japanese, but is incapable of helping them. I’ve seen Franklin Graham and Rick Warren, and yes, even Joel Osteen answer questions like that adequately after 9/11, the Indonesian tsunami and the earthquake in Haiti. Bell reverts to talking points, and then upon being asked a second time, asserts that it’s a paradox and “some paradoxes are best left exactly as they are.” Oh, glory. There are kids in my church’s youth group who could have come up with something better than that. A lot of kids, in fact.
“Are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth?” Bell first tries to redefine “universalist,” then asserts that universalism is within mainstream theology, and then upon being asked the question again, says it’s “extraordinarily important” and “terribly relevant” and has “tremendous bearing” but ultimately gives another non-answer.
So many words – so little information. It’s impressive, really.
Added: more actual analysis and critique, but from people who can bring a bit more than snark to this critically important topic. The White Horse Inn interviews Kevin DeYoung; listen here. Also from C.J. Mahaney’s blog Tony Reinke weighs in, and C.J. also comments.
“There are a number of reasons this is important,” C.J. Mahaney says. “First, removing the doctrine of God’s eternal punishment undermines multiple texts of Scripture. It also undermines the holiness and justice of God. Ultimately it undermines the Savior’s redemptive work on our behalf! So this couldn’t be a more serious matter. These severe theological errors are not new with Rob Bell, and they are not uncommon throughout church history. But now these theological errors have been adopted by a man of influence and published publicly and broadly. Sadly, given the scope of his platform, these errors are sure to influence many people. This is a moment for pastors to take note, and to humbly and courageously contend for the faith (Jude 3–4).”
This is not the first time Bell’s theology has raised concerns. Three years ago a previous debate led C.J. to write and post some reflections on biblical discernment, why pastors should be concerned with Bell, and how to pray for him. That post remains remarkably relevant three years later.
I keep coming back to this topic over the last few days because I’m genuinely upset about it. A lot of seekers and a lot of Christians who aren’t well-grounded in doctrine are about to be led seriously astray. The snark is pure defense mechanism for me. And I can’t overstate how distressing this is – what it feels like is watching a crime being committed and being powerless to stop it. Much the same way I felt when people I know got sucked into Rick Warren’s Purpose-Filled Life movement. A serious analysis of the book revealed just how much Warren abused scripture to put out a very man-centric message. But Bell disturbs me much more. He plays fast and loose with salvation theology – but does so in such a way that he’s not accountable for it. He’s simultaneously claiming the mantle of evangelical, yet promoting something very different in that postmodern, Trutherish, “just asking questions” way.
I know some people on the other side of this argument who think Bell is unfairly being piled on and driven out of the church – comparing critics of Bell’s book to Pharisees. (And no, I’m not linking because I don’t want to trackback and consequently to argue with those people. If someone can read Kevin DeYoung’s review of the book and yet not be persuaded that Bell is seriously off the rails, I don’t feel confident that anything I say could persuade them.)
The thing is, this sort of thing is dividing us, and that’s painful, but it should divide us. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 and Jude 1:3-4 make it clear that we can’t just drift along, accepting any philosophy labeled Christianity as truth. We need to be like Bereans and compare that philosophy to what the bible says, and where there’s a divergence, address it. If Bell came out and said something like, you know what? I’m not an evangelical. I think those guys are dead wrong, and that’s why in my book I called them “misguided and toxic.” I think the cross is NOT the only way to heaven. I think that the dead will have not just a second chance to accept Christ but an ongoing chance, a la purgatory, to change their minds and be in heaven with God eternally. The main reason it’s important to acknowledge Jesus while you’re still living is because He’s like a self-help program and your life will be much better if He’s in it – then much of the furor would die down.
I can dance around in my underwear, but that doesn’t make me Madonna. Likewise, Bell can claim that universalism is an orthodox, unremarkable teaching, but that doesn’t make it so. From DeYoung’s book review:
It’s important to Bell that he falls within the “deep, wide, diverse stream” of “historic, orthodox Christian faith” (ix-x). Therefore, he argues that “at the center of the Christian tradition since the first church has been the insistence that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins” (109).
This bold claim flies in the face of Richard Bauckham’s historical survey [read the rest of the debunking here.]
It’s the I’m not a universalist, but if I were that would be okay because universalism is mainstream Christian doctrine, and yes, by the way, everyone will eventually go to heaven, that is causing orthodox Christians to keep repudiating Bell’s book and by extension, Bell himself.
One last thing -Today (Thursday), from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. EST, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is hosting a panel discussion featuring Albert Mohler, Justin Taylor, Russell Moore, and Denny Burk. Video will be live streamed at sbts.edu – if you miss it live,
the audio will be posted here afterwards here you go: