Wednesday, March 30, 2011
UK's Evangelical Alliance and Rob Bell
In recent days, Dr. Al Mohler and others weighed in on the latest Rob Bell controversy over Hell and the afterlife. Now, the Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom is weighing in with their view.
Writing for the Alliance, Derek Tidball praises Rob Bell for his communications skills, but then correctly highlights a key communication problem — a problem that is the hallmark of most things Emergent. A severe lack of clarity when it counts.
Mr. Tidball says that Bell's book "contains truth." But then . . .
Love Wins however only presents half the truth, which is disturbing to those who believe in the other half of the truth. Old Testament verses are strung together which speak of God's grace triumphing over Israel's sin and that their punishment will have a 'sale by' date. But he never mentions repentance in this connection as the prophets do, nor the fact that it was a remnant restored to the homeland. His teaching on hell ducks some hard issues while firing out a lot of questions of his own. God's wrath, and his holiness, is touched on only very inadequately and insubstantially. He says the sacrificial understanding of the cross belongs to a primitive cultural world we no longer inhabit, so he sidesteps a key understanding of the cross. He assumes that people will come round to accept God's love in the end, and doesn't see why death is the irreversible cut-off point. But why does he think people will 'repent' after death when they haven't done so before? He uses some parables that appear to fit his argument but ignores others and uses them all in a somewhat interesting way.
Bell is good at drawing on 'the hard cases' to make his point and ignoring the rest. He can be very emotive. He's very critical of evangelicalism for its lack of engagement in this world and ignores its huge and long-standing involvement in communities and in helping the poor. Many mission halls supported the vulnerable that others neglected. And the great and varied evangelical contribution to society in education, health, homelessness, youth work, drug rehabilitation, pregnancy crisis centres and so on is ignored. Perhaps the evangelicals he knows are nasty people. I know a few like that too, but I know many more who aren't.
Above all, Love Wins is confusing. I can see now why people are asking whether Rob Bell is a universalist (all will be saved in the end) or not, because it's unclear. Brilliant communication sometimes gets in the way. The book contains volleys of rapid-fire questions but isn't so good at giving answers, at least not clear ones. It confuses things like when he uses the parable of the prodigal sons as a parable about heaven and hell. Hell he says is the older brother going into the party and so hell is not about separation but integration. But didn't Jesus say…?
Much of what Bell writes is based selectively on the writings of Tom Wright and C. S. Lewis. But it is 'theology-lite' and people would be better served by reading those authors for themselves.
One thing to note -- Mr. Tidwall made the statement regarding postmodernism, "which isn't a bad thing in and of itself." I would beg to differ with him there a little. Of course, it depends on exactly what we're talking of. I would also differ with him in his statement that those who would criticize Bell need to "earn the right to do so." The context for the statement is being equally passionate about the Gospel, but all the passion in the world won't do you much good if you've got the wrong Gospel and the wrong Savior. If you deny the final and eternal punishment of the wicked, you've undercut the Gospel in my view. Part of needing a Savior is that there's something to be saved from, i.e. the wrath of God.
I think this whole affair is illustrative of something I've said quite often. What we are seeing isn't anything new. What we are seeing are regurgitated controversies that have happened in earlier generations, only wearing new clothes. What is troubling to me and many others is how easily the evangelical camp is torn asunder these days by things that ought to be flatly rejected in fairly immediate order.
Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else in the entire New Testament. I think I'll take His Word on it before I accept someone else's agonized musings.
Don't like Hell? Neither do I, nor does anyone in their right mind. The good news is that Jesus provided a way out. He died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead for our justification. Repent and believe. Be converted. That is the biblical message. Not "ollie ollie oxen free."
There is more in Mr. Tidball's original article at the Evangelical Alliance website, which I have linked here.
One thing is for sure. This dispute will not go away soon.