The American Inquisition
I like Rob Bell.
I have learned much from him through the years and have appreciated the way that he has used his knowledge of Jewish custom to explain the words of Christ in the context of the time of Christ. I enjoy the way that he brings an artist’s bent to scripture, and unpacks it in a way that allows me to see things outside of how I typically would.
I like Rob Bell.
Over the past ten days Rob has been caught up in what can only be described as the Christian answer to the Charlie Sheen saga. If you are unsure of what I am talking about go ahead and take a few minutes to google it.
I don’t know where you come down on the is Rob Bell a universalist debate but as I watch the fury that has been unleashed on blogs, facebook, and twitter I am concerned that we are missing out on what is really important: a discussion on what we believe about hell. I am not talking about the textbook description printed in Grudem’s Systematic Theology, I am talking about what we really believe in the church, based on the lives that we lead… and the generations that we are raising up to take the reigns in the days to come.
I always enjoy Scot McKnight’s take on these kinds of situations and his posts on the Rob Bell saga are worth the read (start here, then read this one). Scot is right on when he says that there is a growing number of people coming out of our churches that have a universalist bent of some sort. Perhaps instead of leading the inquisition trying to find out whether Bell believes in a literal hell or not we should be spending time reflecting on what scripture teaches, and how our congregation is engaging with that teaching.
I went into Monday night’s interview with Rob hopeful. I was hopeful that he would speak to critics and settle things on where he comes down theologically once and for all and end all the speculation. While I was disappointed that he dodged any questions that were intended to reveal his views, I get that he is trying to start the conversation and engage as many people as possible in that conversation.
It is unfortunate that the backlash to Bell’s yet to be released book seems to completely contradict McKnight’s reminder to us about the coming generations:
My contention is this: the approach to this generation is not to denounce their questions, which often enough are rooted in a heightened sensitivity to divine justice and compassion, but to probe their questions from the inside and to probe thoughtful and biblically-responsible resolutions. We need to show that their questions about justice and God’s gracious love are not bad questions but good questions that deserve to be explored.
What if we began to engage Rob Bell’s questions instead of denouncing them?
Instead of bidding Rob Bell farewell, what if we invited him and the others asking these questions to the table?