Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A hell of a ruckus

Rob Bell is no stranger to controversy. Yet fresh controversy has erupted over his latest book, or more precisely, the promotional video he has made for his latest book. If you've never heard of Rob Bell, then you are among a select few. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he has been one of the leading preachers in the Emerging Church movement. He is an outstanding communicator and his NOOMA clips are often spellbinding. It is just that increasingly what he communicates raises concerns.

The book being promoted is subtitled 'A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived'. The video, together with the book's title and subtitle, have led people to conclude that Rob Bell has embraced universalism. Hell will be empty; God's love triumphs even over our persistent rebellion. An unnecessary offence has been created by traditional Christian talk of a narrow way, a chosen few, and a mass of perdition. The gospel really is good news for everyone and it is far more amazing, far broader in scope and effective in power than we often convey in our preaching, especially in conservative circles. Its time we broke free from dogma and tradition and returned to the powerfully attractive and life-giving message of the Bible. So Rob Bell in the video. And influential voices (including that of John Piper) have been raised loudly in protest.

Of course, this promotional clip smuggles in a series of caricatures and half-truths. The problem is that most people don't quite know yet whether he will expose these in his book or endorse them. To suggest that Jesus 'rescues us from God' overlooks the critical fact that Jesus is himself God incarnate. It is vital that we accent the love God and, indeed, the triumph of God's love in the death and resurrection of the Christ, but the same God who is love is also light and God's own righteous character must be taken seriously alongside his loving determination to redeem men and women. Rather than simply insisting that 'love wins' might it not be closer to the biblical message to insist that 'God wins'?

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Related articles: The Sound of Silence

Related article: Doing Away with Hell? Part One

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