Rob Bell – Giving Us All A Wonderful Opportunity

Rob Bell’s new book is stirring up big waves – and it isn’t even out yet! As someone who has experienced a lot of the same pushback Rob is about to get deluged with (from many of the same people), I have a sense for what the next three months or so will be like for Rob. Here’s an article about the kerfuffle …
What’s quite pathetic, as I see it, is that many critics won’t even begin to get Rob’s real point. (I’ve read the book, so I’m not just going by conjecture….) It’s not that he’s being given a multiple-choice test between a) traditional exclusivism and b) traditional universalism, and he’s choosing b) instead of a). Rather, it’s that Rob has come to see that the biblical story is bigger and better than a narrative about how souls get sorted out into two bins at the end of time.
One can only hope that after the initial inquisitorial tsunami has crashed, more and more people will realize that a deeper conversation is going on, deeper questions are being asked, and something very powerful and important is afoot. Obviously, I’m eager to see these deeper questions be grappled with – I made my position clear in A New Kind of Christianity.
I originally tackled this issue in my New Kind of Christian trilogy, especially the second and third installments, The Story We Find Ourselves In and The Last Word and the Word After That.
It was fascinating to see people throw the “h” word around at that point in my writing career (“h”eretic) … without actually grappling with the issues and questions the books raised (such as the fact that the concept of hell never exists in the Old Testament – an obvious fact, but one that is surprisingly little known in the average pew). My hunch is that many Evangelical leaders will adopt a defensive, combative position towards Rob and his book, worried about their status in front of the most conservative wings of their constituencies, without giving even twenty minutes to considering the possibility that their traditional understanding of the biblical narrative is compromised – with Greek philosophy, with imperial/colonial politics, and so on.
The right wing of Evangelicalism will, I imagine, require people to answer the “Bell question,” and in so doing, pass or fail the latest litmus test. Those who fail will be purged – which appears to be the purpose of John Piper’s already-infamous tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” (Fare “well?” – is this a sign of sympathy? It could have been – “You’re going to hell, Rob Bell!” – Ah, perhaps John Piper is a closet universalist too? – Just kidding, of course.) Many, subjected to these litmus tests, will capitulate and throw Rob under the bus, even though in their heart they think he’s onto something. Others will try to stake out a pseudo-middle position, respectable with conservatives without being needlessly mean-spirited towards Rob, but they’ll make sure to distance themselves from him. Hopefully more than a few who in the end disagree will do so in a fair, honest, charitable way, having truly and openly considered what Rob is proposing.
A courageous minority will become more courageous because of Rob’s courage in this book. I hope readers of this blog will be in this third category and prepare themselves to seize this opportunity, displaying the courage to differ graciously … and speak up for Rob whenever the opportunity presents itself.