Rob Bell – that popular heretic pastor from Grand Rapids, Michigan – is at it again! Or at least that’s the pronouncement of the 21st century religious Pharisees.
Alarms have sounded from the pulpits; blogs are ablazin’; and mass emails have circulated warning folks to resist the flawed teaching of this uber-radical teacher/preacher. The spark igniting all this hoopla? Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”.
In “Love Wins”, Bell has the audacity to suggest that judgmental orthodox Christian theology concerning hell and damnation might actually be emphasizing the wrong things and turning people off to the Christian faith. Imagine that…
Instead, Bell suggests that an accurate reading, interpretation, and understanding of scripture tells us that Jesus’ model for living is something altogether different. Bell’s previous best-known book “Velvet Elvis” was a big hit among college students and others searching for a realistic, credible, and personally meaningful version of Christianity.
So what is so sinister about Rob Bell and his teaching? Is he truly a subtle, but ominous threat to Christianity as his detractors suggest? If his critics are right and he is truly a “false-teacher”, the bigger question is this: Is Rob Bell going to Hell?
The truth is that I don’t know Rob Bell’s final fate. Honestly, neither do his so-called ‘Christian’ detractors. And I think that is precisely Rob Bell’s point: This “in or out”, “saved or lost”, “secular or sacred”, “good or evil” judgmental spirit authoritatively promulgated by perhaps well-meaning Christians is a substantial obstacle to the Christian faith. The truth is that this condemning character directed towards those who do not conform to the critic’s limited and narrow tribal definitions of the Christian faith is, in fact, profoundly at odds with both the words, teaching, and spirit of Jesus’ life and teaching.
History always seems to repeat itself. The truth is that the most ardent critics of Jesus over 2000 years ago were the same crowd that is attacking Rob Bell today. They are the self-righteous authoritative defenders of religious tradition and organizational authority and power – never open to new insight, inspiration, or interpretation of scripture. It is not surprising that Jesus reserved his harshest critique for these folks. The damage they do to the faith can be profound!
In one of their songs, the 1990’s contemporary Christian vocal group DC Talk spoke this message of Jesus with succinct clarity:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Bell may be wrong about Hell – or he may be doing humanity a great service by renewing and enlightening our paths. Either way, what is the harm in considering legitimate questions that arise from different interpretations of scripture? Does any religion have everything all figured out? Who knows, perhaps God still speaks today to and through those with open hearts and minds. Or, alternatively, perhaps Bell’s religious critics are afraid that his teaching may undermine and threaten their religious authority paradigm along with the prestige, money, power, and control that typically accompanies the privileged position of Christian clergy in American culture. Mmmm… food for thought. What do you think?
One of the reasons I have written this piece is that the entire situation resonates with me: When I published “Random Designer”, many of the same types of “Christians” attacking Bell condemned me to hell as well. So I guess if they are right, Colling and Bell might share an eternal Hell cell. Fortunately, I don’t think they are right, and if more people come to understand that God is bigger and more amazing than puny self-serving religious traditions, well, I think that would be just swell!