Saturday, March 19, 2011

More Orthodox Than You

I am surprised at the firestorm aimed at Rob Bell and his most recent book, Love Wins. And at the same time, not so much…

I find it surprising because the ideas and suggestions in Love Wins are no different from the ideas and suggestions in Velvet Elvis, a book that earned Rob a multitude of fans, supporters, and praise from the vast majority of the Christian community (including those that would now throw him under the bus). Furthermore, neither of those works are the first, nor only places that Rob Bell has veered from “Orthodoxy,” or “Historic Christianity,” or “Evangelicalism,” or “Whatever-term-you-use-to-prove-that-your-view-is-better”. Here, let me quickly illustrate what I mean:

Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust” - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pg. 146.

Sound anything like Love Wins? Here is more of the same:

When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter - they are all hell on earth” - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pg. 148.

We can bring heaven to earth; we can bring hell to earth. For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. Ways of living we can enter into here and now. He talked very little of the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now” - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pg. 147.

The view Rob holds regarding Scripture is not new either:

It [the Bible] is a human product… rather than the product of divine fiat” - Rob Bell, Emergent Mystique, November 2004, Vol. 48, No. 11 (contra. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that ‘Scripture alone’ is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true” - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pg. 67.

Rob Bell’s “controversial” ideas could be quoted to no end, but I retain my original question: is Love Wins actually anything new from Rob Bell? Nope. So, why has the Christian community waited until now to say anything meaningful about it? Why is it that - now that we object to Rob Bell’s ideas - we can only address the issue with blatantly inflammatory statements? Why does every critic feel the need to rigorously exegete Rob Bell’s literature; aren’t his positions and ideas manifestly obvious? Or have we simply just taken the bait - hook, line, and sinker?

If we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that words like “heretic” and “blasphemer,” along with the cultural connotations of “despicableness” that those terms carry, are only used and genuinely meant within religious circles, right?

More to the point, they are used in our circle. Mine. Yours.

… What does this say about us?

… What does this say about you?

What happens when we rigorously “exegete” our own lives, our own misguided endorsements and rejections?

Isn’t it enough to call false teaching “false,” and honest teaching “honest,” or is it necessary to pharisaically degrade another human being because “I’m more orthodox than you”?

It seems necessary, here, to clearly articulate my position; after all, the media-engendered and vehemently polarized mind of the 21st Century is largely incapable of processing information that doesn’t categorize itself (case in point), and an opinion is utterly disregarded if it doesn’t also “pick a side”. While I would be content to say that I refuse to pick any side other than Jesus’, for fear that my brothers and sisters - whom I love dearly - would not receive what I have said because I’m not “on their team,” I will briefly share my own personal opinions (take ‘em, or leave ‘em, it’s totally up to you):

I would not defend or “excuse” Rob Bell (as though he needed it), neither am I neutral, nor would I embrace passivity on this matter. I love and respect Rob Bell - I respect his right to interpret, but I do not acknowledge his ability to do it accurately or faithfully. To put it plainly, I do not support or agree with the vast majority of Rob Bell’s ideas, in the same way I do not support or agree with anyone who speaks from a position of authority over material they assert to be non-authoritative (Emergent Mystique, above, cf. Velvet Elvis, pg. 67-68).

In point of fact, I have a hard time understanding why people would follow a message that claims to be non-authoritatively authoritative, while simultaneously imposing the 21st Century middle-class dogmas of white culture on an ancient near-eastern text. This is the same kind of postmodern and secular rhetoric that asserts the atheistic adage, “There is no absolute truth” (which, of course, is itself a statement of absolution regarding “truth”); or the more recent notion that, “There is no objectively knowable history,” (which, again, is itself an objective statement about history). Rob’s belief is self-refuting; it slits its own throat before it has time to establish any ground on which to stand. Naturally, it follows that Rob’s theology seems to suffer from the same kind of confusion that any man would suffer from if he set out on a journey he never intended to finish. And while Rob’s personal brand of philosophy carries a number of absurdities and inconsistencies that commit a theological suicide all by themselves, I cannot rebuke the one, and not the other.

As regards “my team,” to us belongs the same rebuke. The violent speech directed at Rob Bell has only succeeded in catapulting his message to the pulpit of MSNBC (quite ironic, if you were hoping to silence him). By our conduct alone, we have sufficiently blurred the line between making judgments and being judgmental. Drawn from the fact that Rob Bell still breathes, we can safely conclude that God is not finished with Rob, neither is God finished with me, nor is God finished with you.

What can our violent speech accomplish that prayer could not better manage?

Would my petition be more effective if aimed at Rob Bell instead of towards God?

How about you, Oh Mighty Calvinist, where is your ‘Sovereign and Immutable God’ who alone ordains well-being and calamity, prosperity and disaster (Isaiah 45:7), does He have no say over this (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)? Or what about you, Oh Wise Reformed, where is the ‘Covenant of Grace’ that offered itself to the frenzied Colossian error (Colossians 2:8, 18, 20), to the multitude of Corinthian errors (1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 3:1-4; 5:1, 9; 6:1-5; 8:1-3), and to my errors (A.D. 1983 - Current)? Or you, Astute Evangelical, where is that theologically and salvifically necessitated ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ (Eph. 5:22-26)?

For shame, I see no Jesus here.

Hide behind whatever pet theological doctrine you like, but you and I will answer to Jesus, and so will Rob Bell: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each on may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Romans 14:10-12).

In closing, I have one simple, conditional request for Rob: if you are not going to be consistent with the entirety of what Scripture says, including Jesus’ own view of Scripture (Matthew 4:4, 5:17-18; Luke 16:17, 24:44; John. 10:35b, 12:47-48), then please do not liken your view to following after Jesus. Call your personal philosophies whatever else you like; call it “Spirituality”; call it “New Christianity”; heck, call it “Rob-Bell-ism,” but do not place it alongside the Bible as an equally coherent alternative - believing in one God is not the same as believing in the same God, trusting in the word “Jesus” is not the same as following Jesus.

Forgive us, Father, we know not what we do.


E. Ryan said...

"salvifically"...dang, good word.

But for serious. I agree with what you said here, and thank you for actually using facts and details. Most of what I've been hearing in all this ruckus has been quite vague. (as if we're silly for wanting to hear people's explanations of and reasons for their opinions)

Tiffany Jane said...

Wow, Mike. Profound and necessarily honest. Thank you.

Jacob said...

You rocked it, per usual. One day you and I will discuss Sola Scriptura, and you shall free my mind ;)

brandoncapuano said...

"Drawn from the fact that Rob Bell still breathes, we can safely conclude that God is not finished with Rob, neither is God finished with me, nor is God finished with you." --me likey this.

I totally see what you are saying, and I completely understand the disgust with which you are looking at the way this entire situation has been handled. However I do have a problem with the tone of your essay, which seems to say that any judgment upon what has been written should be left up to prayer and the sovereign work of God. Obviously this is not entirely true because you give a great "rebuke" at the end about how Bell labels what himself (as he did in his Q&A, "I am an orthodox evangelical to the bone.").

As pastors, theologians, thinkers, and priests (that's all of us), we have an obligation to protect The Church from heresy and false teaching. When the same old recycled misinformed arguments rear their head, whether for the 5th time or the 500th time, we need to act and speak decisively for the protection of God's people. There is a huge flock under Rob the shepherd's rod, seemingly growing by the hour. In "gentleness and reverence" we must defend the Truth and "tear down any lofty thought" that stands as counterfeit truth.

The key, as I hear you saying, is to continue in prayer, gentleness, reverence, respect...Christlikeness. But we cannot forget our God-given responsibility to proclaim His Truth and fight "not against flesh and blood" but against Satan (and all of his pomps, as the priest says in the Godfather).

Thanks for the post, Mike! Glad you are blogging. I'm going to link to you on my blog.

Much love.

Chad said...

Sorry Mikey! I read this back on the 24th, but I had not looked into the issue at all.

Here is an interesting point that goes along with your "3rd Viewpoint":

Martin Bashir interviews Rob Bell on MSNBC:

"Before we talk about the book, just help us with this tragedy in Japan. which of these is true? Either god, is all powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and they’re suffering or he does care about the people of Japan and but he’s not all powerful? Which is it?"

- Martin Bashir to Rob Bell (Bashir has been hailed in this video for championing the cause against "Love Wins").

What is glaringly wrong with this line of questioning? There are three things that I can see....

1. Off topic.

2. It's an either/or question. It assumes there are no other possible views.

3. Japan?? SUCKER-PUNCH!!

This is bad broadcast journalism, period. It would appear that Bashir is striking a blow for Rob's opponents, or against Christians altogether. Keith Olbermann would be proud.

Of course, Rob's critics didn't care about that in their zeal for jumping on anything remotely resembling heresy and controversy. Oddly enough, Rob's advocates had NOTHING to say about that little quote right there. Both sides just swallowed the interview leaven and all. :)

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