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Bell’s Hell?

March 4, 2011

Really enjoyed this measured and approachable piece by McAfee MDiv. Student Christopher Robertson about the approaching book by Mars Hill Church leader Rob Bell. Bell is a modern diplomat for the Christian faith who seems willing to use any and all methods available to create a witness for Christianity in modern times. The “What We Believe” section of the church website is squishy enough that most New England church-going progressives would be plenty comfortable.

The irony is that for a while, Rob Bell has been a darling of the generally more conservative Evangelical scene.

Well, up until now anyway.

According to Mr. Robertson, the impending book Love Wins contains material that feels like Rob Bell is questioning the existence of Hell. At least he’s in good company. I’m sure he’s probably joined by at least 70% of the world population (my “out of thin air” statistics again).

I’m so flummoxed by orthodoxy sometimes.

I know we need “minimum standards” in human faith interaction. I get it. I understand that there are core doctrines of the faith that help us to see eye to eye so that we can claim a mutual purpose. I know that we can’t all decide to be a part of the “Jesus was a swell guy and that’s it” camp and still have a reason to gather as churches.

But part of what has always been so intoxicating to me about my faith (and yes, that’s the right choice of words) is the way that different folks come to the Bible and see such wildly different things. That doesn’t speak to me about the lack of conviction or purpose on their part; that simply speaks to me about the multi-valent nature of scripture itself. And these Baptists who rush to remind the world that Bell has lost his way and should be ignored from now on have absolutely, as Robertson alludes, forgotten what the benefit of being Baptist was; that an individual believer might question ANYTHING as part of their faith journey, providing they test it and seek guidance from within the community.

Is Rob Bell probably just mining for clicks? Probably. He’s quite the businessman. And in a capitalist society, I mean no disparagement. He has every right to earn a living for his thoughts if they are inspiring and interesting to others. But I suppose if he wanted the support of the Evangelical movement to begin with, then it’s time to pay the piper (no pun intended, Mr. Piper) when he strays from their newly-important orthodoxy.

Those who are criticizing Bell are suffering what many are suffering from in the two denominations I serve, the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches, USA: we are often too smitten with our recent history (say, the last 300 or so years) and find ourselves trapped in it’s relatively new orthodoxies. Leave them aside.

Bell is a Christian. He’s not a Universalist if he denies hell. He walks with Christ and tries to understand the path of Jesus. I may not worship with him or agree with everything he says, but impugning his lack of credentials for a different interpretation of recent doctrine (and yes, it’s recent if you study the Bible and don’t just proof-text it at people you disagree with) is downright foolish.

I look forward to finding what exactly the forthcoming book says, rather than dismissing it for its press junket.

Thanks again to Mr. Robertson for starting the conversation.


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