Weeks before Rob Bell’s newest book was released the claims of heresy started swirling. People like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Justin Taylor had condemned him while only reading select excerpts or in some cases nothing at all.
John Piper famously tweeted: “Farewell, Rob Bell,” apparently insinuating that he was no longer considering him to be a fellow Christian.
And truly, I don’t blame him. I don’t hold them responsible for this reckless criticism. How could I? They were predestined to do it. It’s not as though they had a choice. From the beginning of the world, they were fated to do this very thing. It’s almost as if the words were typed into Twitter on their own.
I just finished reading “Love Wins” for myself yesterday. And as I read it, I was struck by how orthodox it was. Having watched the blog and twitter world for the last two weeks I expected to find the reincarnation of Buddha or the Wiccan “Rule of Three” being proclaimed by Rob Bell.
Turns out though, he still believes and follows Jesus. He believes in His divinity. And His humanity. He thinks His sacrifice was the crucial point in human history that reconciled us to God, set us free from sin and defeats evil. He believes He died and came back to life. He believes only through Christ can we experience true life, healing, salvation and wholeness, and that through him all things hold together. He believes that what we do on this planet has real consequences, either for good or bad. He states his belief in the “already-not yet” paradoxical components of heaven and hell.
And he believes in free-will.
Which is actually where I think the real problem lies.
Over and over in the book, Bell asserts that “real love” requires the capacity to deny or reject that love. Love that is compelled is not truly love.
Much of his theology is based on the rules of this love. Rules that God himself chooses to play by in order to allow our decisions the reality of significance. And though he acknowledges our ability to deny it, Bell believes that God will never stop His divine attempts to woo, pursue, and offer us His incredible love.
It is the topic of choice then that is on trial for many. Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Yes, both in the sense that it exists now and in the age to come. But he believes God doesn’t SEND people there. He believes people choose to live in hell now and presumably in the future as well.
What is on trial is not the existence of hell, but the parameters of human freedom and choice.
And by the way, this is not new. Nor is it universalism. And I’m sorry to ruin the hype, but it isn’t heresy by a long shot.
This book is controversial because there are many people who do not share the ‘free-will” or “open” view of the human condition.
We live in a time that is currently marked by a significant “resurgence” of the Reformed theology/Calvinists that believe that all things are determined in advance by God. Or if you prefer to think of it in building terms, that God has a divine blueprint that shows every decision every person will make. And not only does he know that decision, but that we are in fact created to make that decision. It isn’t really a “decision” at all, just the appearance of one.
And if you read the reviews closely, I think you’ll find people coming down on this book mostly along those lines: free-will or determinist.
Though the “heretic” rhetoric is flying around more carelessly than radioactivity spewing out of a nuclear meltdown, this isn’t a new battle for these tribes. This is an age-old disagreement clothed in different garments.
So don’t buy the hype. Rob Bell isn’t tearing down Christianity or saying that any path you take will lead to eternal life. He’s not a universalist or a heretic or a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. He’s just another guy contributing his voice to a long conversation of well intentioned followers of Jesus trying to make sense of the Divine.
And also, don’t be too hard on the Piper/Driscoll/Taylor clan. It’s not their fault. They were predestined to dislike Rob Bell.