Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, has caused a firestorm of controversy among the wider evangelical community. Though it has already provoked a lot of discussion within this forum alone, I am not willing to put it out of its misery just yet. There are far wider ramifications than the obvious heresy of "Pastor Bell". This is fast becoming a watershed moment of a false teacher who finally managed to cross the evangelical line in the sand. False teachers have generally tended to thrive over the last few decades in a prevailing climate of "civility", tolerance, and the good old benefit of the doubt. But notice has now been served that an evangelical community that has tolerated too much for too long still has a threshold - a threshold that took Rob Bell by surprise. Bell's surprise at the outrage over his book may well have more to do with overplaying his hand than a genuine belief in his own orthodoxy.
But has Bell actually done us all a great service by turning our discernment radars on and being increasingly overt in his attacks on the historic Christian faith? I do hope this will become the shockwave that causes much needed climate change in the evangelical world - because that line in the sand took six years too long to cross.
Even back in 2005 Bell was peddling his wares:
When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth . . . What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth (Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis p148).
Rob Bell may say he isn't a universalist, but it's kind of like Bill Clinton giving a sworn testimony:
This reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God. This reality then isn’t something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making (p83).
We also learned early on that Bell's copy of the Bible is a "Robert Schuller severely abridged" version:
I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners (p130).
He also did away with that tired notion of differentiating between believers and unbelievers:
If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody (p167).
Bell realized that many problems of the historic Christian faith could be solved by humanizing God and elevating man:
Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; he is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what his rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes that you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his talmidim, his disciples, what do we find frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves…. God has an amazingly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me. I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me (p124-125).
And none of this is a problem if you think that Sola Scriptura was a foreign exchange student you met in the 80's:
It wasn’t until the 300s that what we know as the sixty-six books of the Bible were actually agreed upon as the ‘Bible’. This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that “Scripture alone” is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God’s Word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true. In affirming the Bible as inspired, I also have to affirm the Spirit who I believe was inspiring those people to choose those books (p67-68).
Let's hope that this controversy causes the "evangelical line in the sand" to have a seismic shift towards the Apostle Paul:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9).