Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A non-letter regarding an Open Letter to an Open Letter for yet another Open Letter to Rob Bell

A friend of mine wrote a fairly quick (and very conservative, I thought) response to an article by a prominent blogger in the Reformed camp who wrote a rather dismissive post about preacher/author Rob Bell (that Bell will most likely never read. Or would not, if he knows what's good for him) on the heels of Bell's new book coming out and the video that shocked a nation of Neo-Reformed types (both of which can be seen here). And then another blogger wrote a response to my friend's response. Three open letters, actually. But the whole thing's a digression, a rabbit trail around the edges of parsings. Nobody outside Evangelicalism (and its grumpy cousin, Fundamentalism) is going to care, and only a small (but largely vocal) segment therein.

The basic run-down is that Rob Bell (one of the more prominent Evangelicals of a new generation) wrote a book on the character and grasp of Love and how that conquers the doctrine of eternal, everlasting, burning-fire-brimstone-and-worm-infested hell. Bell doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table, certainly not unorthodox. He's not arguing that there isn't justice, nor that there isn't some form of hell (although it may not be what most pew-fillers imagine it to be) - but that hasn't stopped Team Hell from being very, very angewy (my three year old's word) and upset nor from casting him as a heretic. Err, maybe a Heretic. Capital, bolded, and italicized 'H' and all.

And now that the book is coming out today and a few people did read it and opine on it, some bloggers are angewy that others have told them not to rush to judgment when they were so absolutely sure they had judgment to bestowthrust.

Here's the money shot, though, of the third generation response from Reformed Arsenal:
You see, this is not just a matter of academic theological objection. This is not just a matter of us disagreeing with the premises that Bell puts forward. This is a matter of truth, and more importantly than that... it is a matter of salvific truth. Millions of people will read Bell's book... hundreds of thousands of Christians will question the truth that they have been taught since they were young. Thousands of non-Christians will read this and find security in the fact that Christ saves them regardless of their allegience to them... thousands will plummet into hell, because contrary to what Mr Bell argues... it is real and it is terrible.

No, you know what is terrible? Fear-based preaching. A relationship based on fear. Fear-mongering. The only one we should fear (in any sense of the word, we should say reverence with some trembling) is God.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Perfect love expels all fear.
I John 4:16

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:18-22 (NIV)

What Reformed Arsenal is advocating above is that people will not come to trust in Jesus because they will not be afraid of hell. The view of hell that RA believes in, he believes, saves. Not so much Jesus. But the fear of retribution and burning, now, that's what God is looking for!

Hellfirephoto © 2010 Keo 101 | more info (via: Wylio)
Jesus isn't enough? He isn't the Way, the Truth, and the Life? He isn't the center of the Gospel, of the Good News?

The teaching that the doctrine of hell is central to the gospel isn't just manipulation, it is idolatry.

I hope that some of these leaders and pastors repent of this manipulation and idolatry. I'm not, however, saying they're going to hell or leading billions to hell.

Though I'm sure in trying to control a population from Rob Bell, they're leading them straight to Rob Bell. In a hand basket.


  1. Anonymous2:15 PM

    this is such a great post. Truly. I think you nailed it that people are thinking that their theology is saving them, not Jesus. And that is indeed idolatry. And such a great point that people by their manipulation and fear tactics are in fact only reinforcing Rob Bell's point. I think what's even more frustrating is that "they" (I don't know how else to put it, as bad as it sounds) usually aren't open to having this logic and feedback pointed out.

  2. "such a great point that people by their manipulation and fear tactics are in fact only reinforcing Rob Bell's point."

    I'm not sure that you got that from me, CCC. I *wish* I had made that connection so succinctly! LOL

  3. What say you? I am a betting man, do you think rob bell is making a unique point or not in this book? If he is, the concern is valid because of the marketing implies that If mr. Bell were pope he'd undo the doctrine of hell. If he isn't then it's kind of waste of time arguing about this and a waste of resources printing a book of little to no value to the christian faith but then again, it is a rob bell book so the latter follows logically. I bet that he's not making any valuable point and that he just wrote another book because the new range rovers are super awesome and he totally needs one. Lastly, this post runs against the title and slogan of this blog.

  4. Speaking of being dismissive...

  5. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Great post jasdye as a recovering 5 point hyper Calvinist I understand the only thing Calvinism has is an old argument. Without hell and Pedo-baptism and therefore early brainwashing, as a system of belief they would be in bigger trouble.

  6. Ummm... It seems like the point of the so called Neo- Reformed is being missed here. I don't hear them saying that we need hell to scare people to Christ. The point that I'm hearing (which I also hold to) is that we can't make up our own truths. Is the Scripture true? Or can we make God into our own image? Into how we want Him to be? The argument is that when we deny a real, literal hell which the Bible teaches, we weaken the depth of sin against God. We weaken the need for Christ to die on the cross. Belittling the truth of the Scripture for our personal views is what leads people to hell. A 'pastor' with the influence of Rob Bell is teaching thousands upon thousands that the Word of God is not the final authority. Rather, my personal opinion is.

  7. Brian,

    I don't think that is what Rob Bell is preaching at all. There are many theologians in church history who espoused a view that fundamentalists would call universalist. But, as Jason points out above, the Good News is not about Hell, or even about Jesus; the Good News IS Jesus. Any understanding of Hell that a human has is only academic and requires the elevation of certain passages of scripture above others - the bible is not definitive on hell, whichever position you hold. Regardless, whether or not we follow and obey Christ is the point - not the specifics of what Hell may or may not be.
    (It should be noted that the western understanding of "Hell" is very much a Greek based philosophy. If you study any Hebrew/Jewish scholars, it's clear that their believe in "Hell" (and presumably Jesus's, with Him being Jewish and all) was much different to what the conservative reformed view is today)


Be kind. Rewind.