LeadingSmart

Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

A Warning About Rob Bell

I'll be honest--I haven't been tracking with all the controversy about Rob Bell's new book. One of my staff guys (who I highly respect) walked into my office Tuesday morning with Love Wins in his hands. He had just started reading it, and filled me in on some of the controversy. I've been a bit busy, so haven't been paying attention the past month or so. What little I had noticed made me think it was just another fight with Christians taking shots at other Christians. It started as that--but I think one of America's favorite spectator sports is watching Christians bludgeon other believers with their superior knowledge of what the Bible really means. That seemed to be proven as I got home and watched interview after interview from mainstream networks like MSNBC, ABC News and others who had picked up on the controversy.

In my email today was this article from a church newsletter--a pastor warning his people about Rob Bell:

2+2=4. That means that 2+2 does NOT=5.  "2+2=4" is an example of teaching.  "2+2 does NOT=5" is an example of a warning.  I like the teaching part.  I am not so crazy about having to do the warning part.  But regardless of my preferences, if I am going to "present everyone mature in Christ" (Colossians 1:28), then I must do both.  In fact, that verse states that the proclamation of Christ involves both warning and teaching with all wisdom.

In the past few days our attention has been gripped by the horrendous loss of life in Japan and by the potential for further devastation as the workers in the nuclear plants attempt to curtail the mounting problems there. But there is another problem that I am constrained to warn you about.  This month, Rob Bell (pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids) is releasing a new book entitled, Love Wins.  Due to the large shadow that Rob casts upon the religious landscape, I must, for the sake of the gospel, and for the protection of the flock speak out on this.  Radiation can contribute to cancer.  Smooth words that deny the gospel can damn souls.  By addressing this I recognize that I am vulnerable to charges of being judgmental, petty, jealous, and mean. That seems to always happen when you warn as well as teach.

I will be doing a thorough review of this book, and a critique of Rob's theology and philosophy of ministry.  The results of this will be presented on a Sunday night in the near future because the issues at stake have tentacles that go in a number of different directions.  Rob is trendy, chic and cool, but his theology is old, stale and dead.  It is unorthodox liberalism packaged in videos.  It is sad, and it only adds to the complexity of the battle.  The battle for truth is confusing because of the prominence of two extremes.

On the one hand we have the embarrassing, national media-craving antics of the people from the Westboro Baptist Church (Kansas) whose hateful rhetoric is vitriolic and damaging to the Gospel.  In the name of truth, they deny love.  On the other hand, we have those like Rob Bell who, in the name of love, deny truth. Something is seriously wrong with the people from the Westboro church.  God's truth is not at odds with His love.  Something is seriously wrong with Rob Bell.  God's love is not at odds with His truth.  Unpacking all of this will take more than a blog.  Be warned and stay tuned.

I haven't read the book, but all this controversy has me thinking and asking questions...

  • I watched three interviews, and didn't hear Rob Bell say one thing to make me think he's a heretic. I've met Rob, heard him speak several times. I've never heard anything heretical. Perhaps he turned into one when he wrote this book. I'll read the book to see what all the buzz is about.
  • Why is it that Christians get noticed more for what they are against than what they are for?
  • If Jesus is God, and truth is Truth--why do some believers take it as their personal responsibility to paint everyone they don't agree with as a heretic? I'm not speaking of the pastor who wrote this letter--but rather some of those in the blogosphere who have come out with guns blazing.
  • Isn't it a bit of a stretch to compare Rob Bell with Westboro Baptist Church?
  • Is Hell a literal lake of fire? What is heaven like? It seems like those are healthy questions to wrestle with. I'm hoping the controversy drives believers to their Bibles. That would be a good thing, right?

I'm sure I've just opened a can of worms and people will label me a heretic for even suggesting that Rob Bell may not be a heretic. But let me repeat--I haven't read Love Wins yet and am not even positive what the controversial issues are. I do know this, however--the debate is healthy as long as everyone stays close to civility and far away from slander. Rather than trying to figure out who is right--let's figure out what is right and ask how it should cause us to live differently in the here and now.