More Thoughts on the Rob Bell Controversy

There are still lots of people talking about this. My main concern is not about the Universalism issue and whether it is true or not. If Rob Bell is a Universalist then I think he is wrong. Simple as that. I actually think even if he is one, it is of less importance and will have less of an impact on the evangelical landscape than the present response to his book…which has not been released. I have already posted some thoughts on this issue. The following are some more:

1. John Stott’s annihilationsim is important to this discussion. There is no person (Piper, Taylor, Burk, Wax, DeYoung, et al) who has been critical of Bell who is not a fan of Stott. I love Stott. But young neo-Reformed men and women are more likely to listen to Stott’s views on hell than Bell’s. The young people I work with are more likely to read Stott’s the cross of Christ and then take seriously his eschatological views than they are to read a Rob Bell book period. Last night I sat in a room and discussed this one some of them. Only one person in the room had read one of his books.

2. We need a Gamaliel.  I assume the best of those who I think have acted poorly. I assume Piper and the rest have done all their tweeting and blogging because they love God and his people and want to protect the sheep as shepherds are wont to do. But the Reformed world needs someone – with gray hair and years – to stop this madness and ask everyone to wait till the book comes out so we can have a discussion on this issue. My hope would have been for John Piper to be that man. That is now out of the question. I would love for someone like Keller, Duncan or Sproul to do this.

3. Rob Bell is now considered a Universalist. Again, the book is not out. But if you look on Twitter (I use Tweetdeck to watch all the tweets about “Rob Bell”) he is now called a Universalist without equivocation. It went from concern about his supposed to view on hell to now him being branded as such within a few days. This should not be so.

4. Have I mentioned the book is not out yet? Should we know about his views before now? Maybe. Sure. But, in a way he has asked me – all of us – to wait. Where is the harm in waiting? Where is the harm in saying, “I would prefer clarity now but out of love and respect I will wait. Can we then seriously and passionately debate it all after it comes out?”

5. Speaking of clarity, we have all wanted the Scriptures to be more clear on certain things. Haven’t you ever wished Paul was more clear on the Trinity? The Hypostatic Union? Predestination? Creation? Even Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I believe in the Trinity but a verse or a letter from one of the Apostles that said, “3 persons, one God” would be nice. Should I want other people – especially pastors – to be clear? Yes. Should I want to be clear as a pastor? Yes. Should I write someone off for not being clear about the questions I want answered? Not so sure. Can I think about it?

5 thoughts on “More Thoughts on the Rob Bell Controversy

  1. chuckthomas March 2, 2011 / 6:19 pm

    Matt, I am not sure I see the connection that you say is important between Stott's annihilationism and the presumption that Bell may be arguing for universalism.Stott himself says that he holds tentatively to annihilationism. And given that lack of conviction, perhaps that is why the pastors/bloggers you mention are not taking him to task for it. That said, I think I recall at least one and maybe more of the pastor/bloggers you mentioned, saying in a blog post in the past that they differ with Stott on that point and rather strongly stated they can find no scriptural support for it. (Without taking the time to research who it was, and if forced to make a guess from memory, I would say it was DeYoung.) Instead, what they seem to be most concerned about (this week) with Bell, is that he may be suggesting that a "love trumps all" escatology precludes any judgment whatsoever, while annihilationism does still reveal God's just wrath against the ungodly, even if it lacks an eternally conscious aspect to it. Bell MAY be suggesting (if the speculation turns out to be right) that God is not capable of this sort of response. And if He were, is he worthy of our worship?The recent dust up over Bell is but the latest in the series of theological concerns expressed by more conservative pastors/bloggers. While Stott may have a few peculiarities in his theology, at least by and large, he falls neatly into the evangelical camp, while one could probably pay Bell no greater insult than to say he conforms to evangelicalism,…or anything, for that matter.

  2. Matthew B. Redmond March 2, 2011 / 6:42 pm

    That word tentatively is strange. For some reason it keeps getting him off the hook. My point was that such a view by someone-like Stott – we more or less agree with and has more influence over us has more potential for changing our beliefs. Also, it is relevant because it proves that you can be an evangelical and still be outside the mainstream on your view of hell…at least if you are Stott.Can someone still be an evangelical and tentatively hold to Universalism?

  3. chuckthomas March 2, 2011 / 8:12 pm

    "Can someone still be an evangelical and tentatively hold to Universalism?"I would think not. It would seem that the tentative Universalsist would not only be tentatively rejecting evangelical escatology, they would also necessarily be tentatively rejecting evangelical soteriology. Within evangelicalism, I am not sure they can be totally disconnected. I suspect among those tentative rejections would be the evangelical necessity of a belief in the substitutionary atoning death of Christ AND His resurrection, in order to gain heaven. And I suspect that there would also be a tentative rejection of the evangelical necessity of a born again, conscious response to God's electing grace, no matter whether that grace is viewed as prevenient or sovereign. I think you could probably expect a tentative rejection of Jesus' own claims in John 6: 44 and John 14: 6, both of which seem pretty central to evangelicalism.The kind of belief and confession found in Romans 10: 9-10 and importantly, the exclusivity that is implied, still seem to be critical to the evangelical mindset, but would probably not rise to ANY level of importance to the tentative Universalist.I agree with your well made point about Stott being outside the mainstream with his view of hell, yet still "respected" by evangelicals. But while annihialationism may be outside the mainstream, Universalism is not even getting its feet wet in the same water.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s