From The Gospel Coalition’s “Rob Bell: Universalist?” by Justin Taylor to John Piper’s tweet “Farewell to Rob Bell,” there is much accusation taking place toward his upcoming book Love Wins. The critics are sharpening their pitchforks in preparation for attack on the Bell-enstein monster Love Wins while the fact remains: it’s not out yet. All speculations and critiques are completely unfounded until March 31, 2011 when the book is scheduled for release. We have been given very little thus far save a video teaser on www.robbell.com and a short excerpt from Harper Collins regarding the upcoming book which is the source of all the controversy.
“Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”
The particular part about how Bell “argues that a loving God would never sentence human soul eternal suffering” is the part that really started the evangelical blogs and tweets of fire. However, what if Bell raises that idea and then brings up the fact that God is not only a “loving God”? We don’t know yet because the book isn’t out. Holster your pitchforks!
The preemptive strike from the Love Wins opposition is absurd but equally absurd are the arguments against Piper and Co. Many have quoted scripture out context to say it’s wrong for Christian leadership to critique or publicly debate perspectives. They range from “its wrong for Christians to label anyone” to “Jesus wouldn’t be that mean” and (my favorite) “the bible explicitly says you are not to correct anyone publicly”. The problem with your average Christian who puts it upon themselves to crusade for ultimate Christian ethic is that they’ve read too much Relevant and very little scripture. Their perspective is full of holes but certainly isn’t Holy.
Here is why public correction is Biblical and okay with Jesus:
(1) People often quote Matthew 18:15, but false teaching, inaccurate teaching, or whatever you want to call it, hardly can be considered as sinning against a brother. If I steal your car and then realize it was wrong, I have an obligation to go to you in private and make the matter right. If I read a scripture like Romans 8:1 and argue that no one will be condemned to Hell because “there is now no condemnation,” I am in dire need of correction on this issue. Perhaps that is the danger Bell finds himself in at present, but it’s only a “perhaps” at this point. Also, you can’t get around the fact that Jesus regularly corrected the false religious perspectives of his day openly and publicly; read Matthew to see this happen over and over again.
(2) In Galatians Paul corrected Peter to his face but this was in a public setting “before all to see” in chapter 2 verses 11-14. Also, no evidence exists in Paul’s epistles to Timothy to suggest that he ever personally met with Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, Jannes, Jambres, or Demas to correct their false teaching. (1 Tim. 1:20, 2 Tim. 3:8, 2 Tim. 3:17, 2 Tim. 4:20)
(3) Church history validates this position. From Ignatius of Antioch (who was a student of the apostle John) to Augustine the early church fathers wrote volumes upon volumes of treatises to correct false teachings, bad doctrine, or “pagan” behavior within the church. They were far more straightforward than Piper on Bell or Driscoll on Osteen. Against Marcion, Against Praxeas, Against the Valentinians, are but a few of Tertullian’s works but this tradition is carried on by the majority of the church fathers. They debated though words written and read by men. Even Luther nailing his 95 thesis to Wittenberg door in Germany was a challenge to a papacy far across Europe in Rome. Luther’s method was a common way for starting a debate and because of that debate we aren’t speaking Latin.
If Rob Bell does say anything that goes against the truth claims of Jesus then correction will be merited. But, as of now, all the aforementioned critics are chasing ghosts on the issue. We don’t factually know his claims or if any of those claims are contrary to scripture. All critiques are thus far without credibility. Piper and others need to be quick to listen and slow to speak regarding this matter. Unfortunately, for the leaders of these protestant personality cults, shutting up long enough to hear someone out is not exactly their forte. They are quick to condemn and slow to read.