After I posted on Facebook the article to which I referred in my previous post, I received a message from a friend referring me to Rob Bell’s new book: LOVE WINS. He wasn’t recommending the book; it had just stirred his thinking and he said he’d be interested in my comments. He gave me the link to Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Wins-About-Heaven-Person/dp/006204964X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299525039&sr=8-1) and to the ABC news commentary (http://abcnews.go.com/US/controversial-book-debunk-concept-hell/story?id=13070964).
After viewing Bell’s video and reading a few of the readers’ comments on Amazon, some of which were favorable, some unfavorable, I decided that the book is not worth purchasing and reading.
Apparently Bell is troubled by the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment. Bell objects to the idea that Ghandi (and apparently anyone else) could be in hell. And apparently, (if his critics are correct), he uses some faulty exegesis to “prove” that, contrary to what most evangelicals as well as other Christians believe, what is known as eternal punishment is really only temporary.
Interestingly, the unfavorable reviews that I read all homed in on what appears to be faulty exegesis, while the favorable ones simply admit that the writers know little about theology but find Bell’s thesis to their liking. It sounds to me like Bell is revising theology to make it more palatable. If so, he is not the first.
Bell is apparently one of the spokesmen for the Emerging Church, a movement that I must confess, I have pretty much ignored. So the comments that follow are mostly the product of my own observations and meditation.
Evangelicalism appears to me to be becoming more and more schizophrenic. On the one hand evangelicals hold to the inspiration of the Scripture and to a theology based on the inspiration and authority of the Scripture. Yet on the other hand, evangelicalism has become more and more closely identified with a brand of legalism that seems to contradict many of their core biblical beliefs.
This is not just a recent phenomenon. Legalism of one form or another has, at least for my lifetime, unfortunately been associated with evangelical faith. It appears, however, in the last 30 years or so, to have been moving more and more to the political right, until now it is almost assumed that to be an evangelical is to be a political conservative of a particular kind. (See: DO EVANGELICALS REALLY HATE JESUS?) I believe that many have a real problem with this. I do!
Some have rejected and left evangelical churches because of this dilemma. They want to shake off the politics and legalistic practices of evangelicalism, many of which they believe are offensive and contrary to the gospel. I sympathize with them. There are many times when I have felt like joining their ranks.
However, I believe there is a real danger here of throwing out the baby with the bath water. We must be careful that in rejecting offensive practices we do not also reject offensive truths.
There are many doctrines taught in the Scriptures with which I (and I suspect many others) am uncomfortable. The doctrine of eternal punishment is one of those, as is all the violence in the Bible. (See: IS GOD VIOLENT?) However, I cannot, as some Emerging Church spokesmen, simply reject these doctrines along with the legalism and politics. I do not know exactly what Bell’s and others’ motives are. It is not my responsibility to judge another’s motives. However, I believe it is my responsibility to examine and judge truth claims. From what little I have seen, I feel I must reject Bell’s claims as false, whatever his motives, and, however, much I may find them appealing.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). John’s gospel tells us , “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who disbelieves the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:35).