This past weekend has been quite eventful in the Evangelical community. Rob Bell, renowned pastor in Grand Rapids, MI has ruffled some feathers with his upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Justin Taylor, a VP at Crossway, recently wrote a blog post attacking Bell labeling him in his original post as a “Universalist.” In an updated post Taylor claims, “I should have been more careful in my original post not to imply that Bell is definitely a universalist.” Yes, yes you should have.
The book has not yet been released yet many reformed evangelicals have already cast their opinion on the unread literature labeling Bell as a “universalist” and thus a “heretic.” It’s been a feeding frenzy. According to Christianity Today, “Rob Bell” made the top 10 topics on Twitter this past weekend. John Piper even tweeted in this past weekend: “Farewell Rob Bell.”
Christianity Today wrote a fair article on the matter and you can read the overview HERE. But in light of this controversy, I’d like to add a few of my thoughts to the issue:
1. If you haven’t read his book yet (or any of his books), please do place him in a category based on your favorite super star pastor’s tweets/opinions. I’m not saying that Rob Bell is NOT a universalist – hear me out – I’m just saying that I’m not going to call him one without understanding what the word “Universalist” means and/or without having read his book. Labeling authors without having read their literature isn’t only ignorant, it’s dishonest.
2. Tweets and blog posts such as “Farewell Rob Bell” are not edifying nor do they represent Christ & His church well. When we bring church discipline into action, it is done with much prayer, weeping, and pleading with our brothers/sisters to return to truth. When we remove a member from our body it is a necessary, yet extremely painful process. It appears to me that there are many in the evangelical community who are all too quick to say farewell to Bell. If he is indeed a universalist and is leading an entire congregation in this direction, this is something to weep over and pray about – not mock and childishly attack. I’m extremely disappointed in our response towards his unreleased book.
3. Lastly, Doctrine matters. I’m not saying that we passively allow pastors to preach heresy and identify themselves as a followers of Christ. Stand up for doctrine, but do so in a godly manner. I, obviously, am not a universalist and have deep roots in baptistic doctrine, BUT until I have thoroughly read Bell’s new book, I am not going to take a firm stance against him. And if I do disagree with him, I will do so in a Christ-like manner through careful prayer and consideration. Labeling someone as a heretic is a strong offense and something we should not take lightly.
Professor Scot McKnight, from North Park University, said it best in a quote in Christianity Today:
…Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.
The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke — and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity’s provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.
Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.
My generation is tired of petty evangelical wars – especially ones whose battle takes place on the field of social media. Evangelical leaders, step up to the plate. Use social media for good, let’s be wise with our words, and can we PLEASE learn how to disagree in a manner that honors God?
As we say goodnight to this Sunday, may we pray for Rob Bell, his family, and the congregation that he is leading as they are either (1) being labeled unjustly or (2) being labeled accurately and being treated wrongly by the Christian community. If the latter is true, may we weep and pray for a brother who has gone astray from doctrine and is being given many reasons not to return. I hope this is not the case.
Much love – Brit