Why the Rob Bell Controversy Misses the Point

This may shock you, but theologians like to argue. I think it is in our blood or job description. Right between wearing hip clothing and purchasing the latest Apple product, we like to argue about our favorite theological points. Some of us like to argue whether or not God is eternal or everlasting; some argue the ideas of if there is a rapture; and others, as well, argue if you start theology with Genesis 1 or Genesis 3.

And, if you attempt to disagree with a theologian, or argue a different point of theology then be prepared for fill the wrath of the theologian. Such has been the case throughout the Internet, this week, as “controversy” has hit the latest book by Rob Bell, where, according to media reports, argues whether or not a loving God would send someone to hell. This has angered the Calvinist wing of the church, including John Piper and others who took to social networks to criticize the yet-to-be-released book.

In the attempt to be proven right, both sides have taken to social networks and unleashed a flurry that would make a professional wrestler blush. The attacks do not promote the debate, and instead promote a childish representation of the body of Christ.

That is why, I believe, the controversy misses the point, on several points.

First, As pastors and theologians, we are called to proclaim the message and gospel of Christ Jesus. Our words on Sunday morning are not our only proclamation of the Gospel. We proclaim the message at Wal-Mart, in our homes, and in our conversations and discussions of various theological viewpoints. If we cannot disagree with respect and love, then why should someone outside the church come to fellowship with us, or even follow Christ? We paint a horrible picture of Christian love when all we do is fight and bicker over secondary issues of faith.

Even more, it is fun and enjoyable to have theological discussions. My wife and I will have some every now and then. But, let’s be honest for a moment: Our congregations, our people, are not having these conversations. Most, in our pews, could care less if Rob Bell was right or if John Piper was right, they want to know what being a Christian means for their life, and in their response to the world. Yes, there is sin, and there are consequences for sin. However, in our discussions and theology let us not forget that we are called to be the body of Christ among our people, God’s people. We must never lose sight of that, and I believe sometimes it is easy to do that in a way that looks down upon the laity, and makes our “knowledge” primary to any relationship with God, a dangerous position to hold.

We must proclaim love and we must proclaim joy. Yes, we can disagree, but our disagreements should not marked in a ways that would make the world’s arguments, dare I say, civil.

So, in the end, what matters more? Is it more important that Rob Bell or John Piper is right? Or, is it more important that we are a living proclamation of the message of Christ Jesus born, dead, and resurrected, who lives among us through the Holy Spirit?

My prayer is we will all – theologians, pastors, and laity – be a living proclamation in all of our lives.

3 thoughts on “Why the Rob Bell Controversy Misses the Point

  1. Shannon, You do bring up a valid point that as pastors we need to focus our selves on the individual congregation and feeding them with the word.

    Anything has the ability to become slanderous and to simply put it gossip. However, I think you are missing what the commotion is all about.

    There are individuals within my family who have been captivated by Rob Bell, and his indoctrination. It breaks my heart to see them being led astray, and not heading my advice. The issue for me, is that thus far Rob Bell has been skirting the issue, making outlandish statements but refusing to clearly define his position. It has now become painfully clear though his preview of this new book, that he is not furthering the cause of Christ, he is not attempting to feed people with the gospel, and he does not know what salvation is.

    I agree when you say that we all need to be living a proclamation with our lives, and I agree that we need to focus on our flock, but when false teachers such as these are leading our flock astray it is our duty to stand up for the gospel and keep the church pure. Is that not what Paul instructed to?

    One cannot take a passive stance in the face of sch heretical teachings in the name of unity. Because what unity is there if it is not unity founded on the gospel.

    – Nate

  2. Nathan,

    I appreciate your comments. However, allow me to push back for a moment.

    The problem is not with rebuking false teaching. We are called to do that. But, it is the manner of which it is being down. That is where the problem lies. If we are more interested in being proven right, which is what most of this is about for many, then we are missing the boat of what true apostolic proclamation is about. Instead of bringing people to the Gospel of Christ Jesus, we, by our actions, lead people away by our words, and our actions. How we deal with theological discussions, within our own houses and our ecumenical communities, is just as important as how we proclaim the message to the world.

    Another issue I have with this whole controversy, from my old roots as a journalist, is this book has yet to be released. The controversy stems from a press release from the publishing company, which is written with the lone purpose to make money for the author and the publisher. I think it is wise for all of us to be patient to make any final conclusions. And, even if there are heretical comments we should speak the truth in love, not in anger, or any other method that would speak to a gospel of self than of Christ.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  3. Absolutely!

    I agree 100% with you. The main focus of rebuking false teachings should never be to prove yourself right or lift yourself up. We need to have the attitude of John that baptist at all times (that he might increase and I might decrease).

    The claims that I make of Rob Bell’s heresy come straight from the statements he made.
    Watch the short clip of him here to see for yourself http://vimeo.com/20272585

    So to clarify, I do believe that our focus must never be on proving oneself right. Though I also believe that what many of the leaders within the ‘Christian’ community are doing by publicly stating their disapproval, shows their congregation where they stand, and that the issue needs to be taken seriously.

    Now granted, that can be done in the wrong way and no doubt it has been done many times concerning this issue. However, I personally have not seen any individuals (Piper included) that have rebuked Bell in such a manner as to bring glory to themselves. In my interactions, they have been bringing the focus back to the gospel, and back to Christ like it should be.

    My guess is that we interact within different circles and therefore I have not been exposed to this self glorification attack on Bell to the extent that you have.

    – Nate

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