What we can learn from the Rob Bell Twitpocalypse…

Recently Rob Bell became the target of intense criticism for posting a video about his upcoming new book. In the yet unpublished work, Bell tackles the issue of the demographics of heaven and hell. First, exploring what the Bible says about both (are they a “place” we “go” “after we die”? Or something else?). Next, reviewing how someone would end up experiencing either reality-Heaven as the fullness of the Kingdom of God, Hell as suffering or punishment for the eternally damned.
In a promotional video (is anyone as good as Rob at creating interest this way?) he appears to call into question some ideas about heaven and hell which have been popular among evangelicals, but which may or may not be supported by a careful study of Scriptures. He also appears to question it based on an appeal to the kind of God one’s view might reveal with some views seeming perhaps to support an unworthy God. I suspect this is what sparked what happened next. Twitter exploded with cries of heresy and judgment. Respected leaders who hadn’t read the book bid Bell farewell from the Christian fold.
I understand the passion people feel over this issue. I feel it, too. But I’m concerned the world saw us fighting again. And this time over a book we haven’t even read. As powerful as Twitter is for possible good (Egypt, Tunisia, etc… Although we don’t know the final outcome) this situation reveals its limitations. It can be too tempting to fire off our gut-response before we process it. Then, we can cause others to stumble and a piling-on effect happens. The virtual equivalent of mob violence.
Perhaps Bell shares responsibility for stirring up controversy. I suspect his final position in the book will be Inclusivism (everyone in the Kingdom is there because of Jesus, but some righteous from other faiths, who respond to the light they have, based on Romans 1 and other passages), not Universalism (everyone goes to heaven because God’s a nice guy). And I suspect if it’s closer to Universalism it’ll be due to a very high Calvinist view of the atonement: Cross & Resurrection so powerful they trump all else and empty hell. Either way, he’ll hardly be heretical. Millions of Christians, even prominent evangelicals have believed this. If he just decides it based on the kind of god he wants to believe in, then he’ll join Oprah and Shirley MacLaine in the New Age category. If he claims that’s Christian it would be heresy.
But he hasn’t claimed anything, yet! We haven’t read it. I’ll wait to judge for now, though I’m just as capable of screwing up this kind of thing.
1. Let’s count to ten before we fire off critical posts. (For example I contacted Mr. Bennett 2 months ago and communicated with his staff a few times before my last post.)
2. Let’s post more about what we’re for than what we’re against.
3. Let’s communicate WITH people before we communicate ABOUT people.
4. Let’s not extensively criticize what we haven’t carefully read.
5. Let’s leave room for different views, as long as they’re biblically supported. This issue isn’t addressed directly in the Creeds so technically no one could be a heretic based on it unless they appealed to a nonChristian source of authority.
6. Let’s love and forgive others as a way of life. I’m still learning this but it’s the core of being a Christian as I understand it.
At least this book addresses a question people are asking. I pray it can lead to positive dialogue. Mr Bell, please just present your view without mocking traditional or popular views. Mr. Piper, please be very slow to call someone a false teacher or heretic. Consider apologizing in this case.
Mr. Stidham, please humble yourself and examine these words before posting…I humbly submit these thoughts with a prayer that I’ll keep learning and growing. May we all “study to show ourselves approved…rightly dividing The Word of truth.”

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Posted on March 1, 2011, in Spiritual Formation. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great stuff. Thanks for bringing balance and sensibility to a conversation that could get completely out of hand.

  2. Thank you.

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