Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hell's Bells!

Several years ago I had the supreme misfortune of reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. I do the best I can to remain a critical, neutral reader of everything I read. I prefer to test everything and hold onto the good without being too sore about the chaff I rubbed off. This one was different. Maybe it has to do with the circumstances surrounding my first run-through of the book. Maybe it was because I watched that first Nooma video four times in one summer at youth service ("We're gonna make it, buddy! Daddy knows the way!" Ugh...) Maybe I was just a little puffed up after my freshman year of college.

Or maybe the way he writes like this.

All the time.

And how a guy who wants to appear environmentally-sensitive wastes huge swaths of the page to appear profound while dooming hundreds of innocent trees to the slaughter. That with every.



Ultimately it's probably Bell's trendy, artsy way of carrying himself and churning out videos that makes him more popular than I'll ever be. Or how he never seems particularly cranky, unlike me. In the end, I may be unable to stand him because I'll never be that cool.

Anyway you slice it, one thing I hated about Velvet Elvis was that I suspected that Bell was way more theologically liberal than he would have us believe. Yet the more I would raise these concerns, the more people around we would say that I was probably over-reacting. Some would hear what I said and reply, "I don't think that's what he meant." When I asked them why then Bell had said it that way, folks would reply, "He's just trying to be thought-provoking." I would then cite sermons he had preached and footnotes he'd left. I even attacked him for the teaching method he used, craving shock factor over solid Truth. Some around me still seemed eager to grant him the benefit of the doubt, maintaining that I must have misread him. Maybe they were right. I bet Rob Bell meant the total opposite of that stuff he wrote, had edited, finalized, then publicly defended against criticism.

I forgot about the issue for a while. Four years later, I logged onto facebook to find a friend had posted a link. I had not long before essentially figured that the Bell bandwagon had run out of steam. After all, by now most people I knew talked about the much-superior Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill over Rob Bell's. Seemingly out of the blue, here was Bell marketing his new book as a "questioning" of the doctrine of Hell. "Is Hell real? Will Ghandi really burn there forever? Does God intend for Jesus to save us from Himself?" he asks during the video. Before I could fully react, it looked as though the entire Reformed blogosphere had already been lit ablaze with criticism of a book which had yet to be released. I was briefly comforted to see that teachers I deeply respected could finally call this false teacher for who he was. Bell had slipped up and overplayed his trendy little hands. Now no one could deny what I had seen all along.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized I may be far guiltier than Rob Bell ever will be. True, I haven't denied a fundamental teaching of the Christian church. (I am a Calvinist though, and to freewill folks that is almost the same.) No, I have affirmed all the right doctrines and could probably explain them better than most. I could probably be really entertaining about it too.

A rare opportunity to please both Yahweh AND Dionysus!

Rob Bell (might) deny Hell by the words in his forthcoming book. I'm afraid that I deny Hell by the way I live everyday. I have to ask if I live as though Hell is a conscious, eternal torment for the unrepentant. Do I evangelize share the gospel as though people will writhe in God's just fury forever? Do I serve as though those who see me might catch a glimpse of the Savior who can deliver them from Hell? I fear that the answer is no.

I wish John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Justin Taylor, and others had waited for Rob Bell's book to come out before crying heresy. That said, it honestly does look like Bell will crossover into heresy--probably in the unassuming, falsely-humble way he does everything else. Still, I ought to hold my tongue for I fear I have denied Hell in a far more significant way than Bell has. He might (or might not) be misleading people with his trendy videos and falsely-humble questioning. I might be misleading people with the life I live, tacitly watching their ignorant blustering into the flames.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. According to that video, the equation of strength goes as follows:

    Straw Man < Rob Bell < Reality

    And you make a good point: we may not live and serve as we ought. If Rob Bell has been right about anything, it's that genuine service is difficult.

    But no matter how difficult it is to believe, say, and live as though Hell is a frightening and genuine reality of God's complete justice, the proper response is most certainly NOT to toss up our hands in frustration and pompous self-righteousness and add Vergil's, "Omnia vincit Amor," or, "Love conquers all things," to 1 Corinthians 13:7.

    Because 1 Corinthians 13:7 doesn't say that. It says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    So God's love takes on our burdens; God's love entrusts us with gifts and believes that we will be responsible with those gifts; God's love hopes for all things that we may be drawn to Him; God's love lasts forever, no matter what assays otherwise.

    But God's love does NOT ignore our sins, our shortcomings, our vices; God's love does NOT pretend that we never Fell, that we never spat in His eye, that we never murdered His Son.

    God's love only tempers His justice; it does not replace it.


    But you know all this. I just felt like ranting at a Rob Bell who will never read this. (I had more, but I thought that this was enough.)