I must confess to being somewhat hesitant to write on this subject. So many are already weighing in and I fear that much of it is little more than riding the coat tails of someone else’s success, and that is not my intention here at all. I find that I can not, however, refrain from speaking up on a matter which both stirs my heart and conflicts it.
What I’m referring to is the much talked about and controversial book “Love Wins” by Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI. ( http://www.robbell.com ) Then again, it is not actually my desire to speak on the book at all. You see, unlike many who are speaking and writing at such length on this book, I actually intend to read it before weighing in.
What concerns me more is the response of other Christians and theologians, who seem surprisingly quick; even eager, to launch accusations of error and heresy. It’s certainly an ironic contrast considering the book title “Love Wins”. Now I have seen the trailer for the book and just watched his live interview where he fielded questions in regard to the book and his theologies in general, and I certainly confess that there are definitely questions to be posed and cautions to be considered. What I don’t see are the grounds for such vitriolic scaremongering as I have seen in the last week. It pains me to see followers of Christ behaving so poorly, especially where such questionable motivations and such shaky justifications exist.
What I really want to say, I guess, is that I find this all very unfair and disingenuous. After all, many of our historic orthodox church fathers and some of the great church doctors through history have wandered themselves into questionable areas of theology and teaching. Through the diligent and honestly faithful process of developing our doctrines, they had to ask some very tricky questions and some came up with answers that are or long were considered outside of the norm of historic consensual orthodoxy. Augustine, Tertullian, Luther, Calvin and Wesley have all ventured into teachings that have been questioned throughout the history of the church. I do not, of course, mean to place Rob Bell directly into such company; posterity will have to do that, or not. What I do mean to say is that faith and theology are not so neat and orderly that they can be practiced or explored without treading into tricky territory – even by the very legends of the church. These are hard questions of faith which Bell addresses and the generation he addresses them to have got to be allowed their shot and weighing them for answers. I once heard it said, “If you aren’t willing to be wrong sometimes, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
So, are we so rigid and unsure of our own faith that we aren’t willing to wrestle with some scary questions? Or, on the other hand, are we so very sure that we have it so exactly right that we’re not willing to listen to someone else’s thoughts and ideas? Are we? Maybe we should hold our loveless and prideful condemnations until after we read the work and prayerfully consider it in the balance against historic consensual orthodoxy. Is that so unfair? Is that so dangerous? Do we have such little faith? Or are we so utterly sure of ourselves? Just questions. That’s all. Are we willing to pause long enough to consider?
And while we consider, I will leave you with this personal anecdote … I was lost … completely and utterly lost … no friend of the church and no follower of Christ by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, I had grown up with daily Bible classes in a private Christian elementary school, but I had long since given up on the hypocrisy and loveless pride which I saw as a rife cancer among “believers” and I wanted nothing to do with any of it. That is, until God got ahold of me in my own Damascus Road encounter. In a moment, my life was changed and I was launched on a journey which sees me now having consecrated my life and everything I am to the vocational ministry of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am here, in mid-life as a husband and father of four, training full time for that purpose. And yet, after that Damascus Road encounter, there was a period of “OK, now what?” and into that gap stepped a small handful of brave and faithful coworkers who shared with me a collection of videos … Noomas … by Rob Bell. It has been a long journey and I am blessed to be studying under some of the best theologians, church historians and practical pastoral professors; but in those early months after my rebirth, it as Rob Bell (along with a few others on radio and video) who helped to lead me back to Jesus Christ and His Church. I have most certainly, since then, read things by Bell that I can not agree with and would never defend. I do know, however, that he is a shepherd with an honest heart toward pointing others to Jesus, and so, considering the role he has played in my own life, I am willing to give a little bit of grace and latitude. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you will or not.
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side.” - Mark 9: 38-40