Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What the Hell Rob Bell?

Pardon the title, but it appears that a prominent religious leader, Rob Bell, has stirred quite a nest of hornets by raising this very question, even prompting John Piper to declare "farewell Rob Bell" in his twitter feed.  If you're not familiar with Rob Bell, he's well known for a series of short Christian videos known as Nooma.  I have enjoyed these videos for several years in addition to podcasts of his sermons.  He is also the author of several books; I've read Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians (For fellow Central Virginians, this Rob Bell is not to be confused with our long time House of Delegates Representative)

One of the most telling illustrations from Velvet Elvis challenges Christians to stop looking at their faith as a wall with individual bricks making up the elements of our faith.  For one, when these small elements of our faith are broken, the wall's integrity is compromised.  For two, when we build a wall, we want to stay inside of it and protect it.  Bell argues that Christian faith is more like a trampoline.  When a spring or two (the elements of our faith) give out, the trampoline is still just as functional as before.  And unlike a wall that we defend, a trampoline is a joy that we invite others in to play on.

Bell says that certain doctrines should not "make or break" our faith.  As an example, he uses the Virgin Birth.  I remember him taking much heat for that.  He didn't disavow the Virgin Birth, he simply showed that with this metaphor of faith that even a doctrinal tenet as strong as the Virgin Birth should not be such a strong part of our faith that if it turned out to be untrue that our faith as well would be proved untrue. (On a side note, it appears that the 2011 American Catholic Bishop's "New American Bible has remove the reference to Virgin Birth from Isaiah 7:14)

But apparently, his statements about the Virgin Birth didn't go nearly as far as the claim in his new book at upsetting the Christian community.  His new book Love Wins is due out April 1, and the short video promo and news release about the book this weekend was too much for some to handle.  Here's what the publisher says:
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
In Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith--the afterlife--arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic--eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

In this video trailer, Bell asks "Is Gandhi Really in Hell?"  Seriously, what Christian wouldn't be ready to tackle that question.  These are the types of questions that should shake our faith to its very foundation.  How many good Christians have lived a life of anxiety worried about the eternal soul of a loved one?  How many people struggle with the question of what happens to little babies that die and what is the age of accountability?

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

These are questions that I'd rather avoid; on one hand, the answer could be one that I find hard to live with, but on the other it could be an answer that contradicts much of what I have been taught my entire life about heaven and hell.

Apparently the reaction to Bell's new book in the "twitter/blogosphere" rated among the Oscars in terms of popularity over the weekend and the beginning of the week.  It's kind of crazy to think that so many people are ready to attack his theology before the book is even released.  As the title says, Love Wins, not only that, but truth wins, and if I find myself on the wrong side of truth I want to surrender before dying defending a lie that I've come to believe.

So I don't know what Rob Bell has to say about the Christian doctrine of Hell, but I am quite grateful that he has chosen to wrestle with the question.  I hope that the rest of Christendom will just as eagerly pursue the truth with humility.  I can neither stand in defense or judgement of Bell's theology, but I will always support the value of asking difficult questions.

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