For Whom the Hell’s Bell Tolls

Popular Evangelical author Rob Bell posted this video over the weekend to promote his upcoming book “Love Wins”

The video is certainly provocative, Bell is a master communicator and this hits every nerve it’s meant to expose. What no one really expected was the controversy that would erupt by Monday morning. A number of other prominent Evangelical authors decided to deliver their early reviews of the book via twitter and kicked over a hornet’s nest.

I thought Tony Jones offered a thoughtful review of the controversy and of Rob Bell’s standing in Evangelicalism. “Christianity Today” took the opportunity to explore the varying views on hell, annihilationism and universalism.

I’ve enjoyed the material I’ve seen from Rob Bell. I understand the anxiety he and this video creates for many Evangelicals but I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve at least actually read the book. For the moment I’m more disappointed with John Piper and Joshua Harris than I am with Rob Bell, but that could change after March 29th.

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59 thoughts on “For Whom the Hell’s Bell Tolls

  1. I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s response

    “One, it needs to be stated again that this is not a Matthew 18 issue. No one is obligated to respond in private to a promotional video that has been put out in public. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15). Rob Bell has not sinned against Justin Taylor or John Piper. This is not a personal offense or an interpersonal squabble that should have been left in private. The general rule of thumb, supported by Matthew 18 and sanctified common sense, is we should not make a matter more public than it has to be. But by definition, YouTube videos and Vimeo clips and books and blogs are meant to be public. That’s the whole point. The Love Wins trailer was not a private email correspondence intercepted by the Reformed Gestapo. It was deliberately made public and can be commented on in public…

    “Two, the bigger complaint is that Justin Taylor or I or any number of bloggers and tweeters have completely jumped the gun in criticizing Bell for a yet to be released book. This would be a fair critique had we attempted to write a book review for a book we hadn’t read. But our deep dismay and the reason for issuing an urgent warning is not based on what he might say in the book. It’s based on what he did say in the video.”

  2. I think he skillfully didn’t say anything in the video other than to repeat serious questions already raised about Hell.

    I agree that everyone is free to comment on a public video, book or blog post.

  3. My predictions:

    – Bell is teaching inclusivism, not universalism. I’m rather disappointed that so many people are overlooking inclusivism in discussing the possibilities in this debate.

    – Bell is teaching that hell is a person’s choice rather than something that God condemns people to strictly against their will, a la C. S. Lewis, “the gates of hell are locked from the inside” (paraphrase).

    I’ve been a believer in both for years. I realize those positions will make some evangelicals extremely unhappy, but I would make the case that they have been evangelical minority views for a very long time. These harsh condemnations of Rob Bell are beyond premature.

  4. I hadn’t heard of Rob Bell before reading this post, but based on what little I know, I have to say that Jack’s interpretation makes more sense than the various comments around the blogosphere that I’ve read in the past half-hour. Although he was vague (after all, he’s trying to get us interested in buying his book), I didn’t understand Bell to be talking about flat-out universalism either, but perhaps more the idea that God will work with us and do whatever it takes for us to voluntarily align ourselves with His will.

    Inclusivism, yeah, I like that word.

  5. It will be interesting to see exactly how Bell fleshes out his viewpoint when he finally gets beyond smarmy leading questions. (Not that he tends to be any less vague and smarmy when his sentences end in periods rather than question marks.) I suspect I’ll disagree with him. (Of course, I’ve never liked Rob Bell. I find his style alone to be an immense turn-off, let alone what he has to say.)

    What I find interesting is that, when one looks at the answers indicated by the questions he poses in the video, Bell is being every bit as condescending to those who disagree with him as Piper is (perhaps more so) – yet it’s fashionable to condemn Piper and other critics of Bell as “legalists” and “Pharisees”, but highly unfashionable to take issue with Bell’s message or his tone. I’m by no means a fan of Piper – indeed, I’m no more favorably disposed towards him than I am towards Bell – but I find it interesting how Piper and other Reformed and non-Reformed folks have been virtually demonized for daring to question the Almighty Rob. I’ve seen a fair bit of this among some of my more left-leaning friends who discuss theology/spirituality at all.

  6. I suspect I can be dismissed as a universalist, but for what it is worth, I really like the Bell I see in the video. Viewpoints like his are the reason I am still interested in Christianity at all after growing out of my adolescent Mormonism (which took a pretty high view of scripture, one that tended towards inerrancy and literalism without espousing them explicitly).

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. I am willing to bet that this video features neither AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” nor Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” As such, I am disapointed without even watching it.

  8. – Bell is teaching that hell is a person’s choice rather than something that God condemns people to strictly against their will, a la C. S. Lewis, “the gates of hell are locked from the inside” (paraphrase).

    Anyway, if I was a Christian, this is definitely what I would believe about hell.

    http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/what-the-hell/

    As a non-Christian, I’m not really sure what I believe about cosmic punishment for evil, in the afterlife or otherwise. I reject the notion that evil can only have meaning if there’s an omnipotent God to say what it is and what it isn’t. I’m comfortable with the idea that evil exists as an independent and mostly-universal notion. Although there are cultural differences and values, and there are always outliers, I think there’s some broad consensus across history and culture that there are clear cases of evil.

    That said, I reject the notion of sin, by which I mean that something is wrong because a deity says it is wrong, as opposed to because it is inherently wrong. I reject the notion that anybody is eternally culpable for breaking commandments qua commandments, but I do not reject the notion of some kind of eternal or cosmic punishment for doing evil.

    But that of course raises the question–what is the cosmic consequence for clearly evil deeds? Is there one? I think we’re fooling ourselves if we claim we can really know what happens after death–honestly we’re going to have to wait and see. So the more detailed a view of the afterlife that a person is selling, the more likely I am to think that it’s hogwash.

    But if there is any kind of Divinity that cares about our behavior–and I definitely believe that there is–it follows that this Divinity ought to impose consequences on that behavior. I realize that I am analyzing the universe and drawing conclusions about big things based on only my own notions of what should be, but like everyone else, that’s all I really have ot go on. Whether we are evaluating the universe as we perceive it or evaluating someone else’s conclusions about the universe as written, we are still evaluating, which is the highest level of critical thinking, and an inherently moral pursuit.

    I guess, and this might sound funny coming from someone who just recently claimed to worship pagan gods and dead rock stars, but I guess that at the end of the day, it comes down to faith. Faith that there are consequences for evil. Faith that there is justice. We can’t ever really know, after all.

  9. The key flaw of Calvinism and much of “conservative” Christianity, is that it was so obsessed with making God “all-powerful” that somewhere along the way, it forgot to make him loving.

    Since Calvin, people have tried to shoehorn love back into Calvinism. But it’s obviously being done as an afterthought – more to shield God from criticism than from a realization of the genuine article. And it’s also obviously a very poor fit.

    As such, atheism is merely the logical and humane conclusion of Calvinist thought. It’s where Calvinism has been heading for hundreds of years now.

    And, unsurprisingly enough, both Calvinism and atheism have a bleak obsession with the void and the essential nothingness of the human experience.

  10. Tim ~ Yes, I would say Willard is teaching inclusivism at the end of that article.

    Here are some terms in case people are wondering:

    Universalism = All humans, and perhaps even Satan and his demons, will eventually be saved, though some strains of universalism still teach that some will go to hell temporarily before they are redeemed

    Annihilationism = God annihilates the souls of the wicked instead of consigning them to hell. They simply cease to exist.

    Exclusivism = Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and the Christian Gospel is the only way to Jesus Christ. Those who do not have an avowed faith in Jesus Christ are certainly lost. However, exclusivist answers to the problems of the unevangelized and the fate of infants and children who die before they’re old enough to believe can vary greatly.

    Inclusivism = Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, but the Christian Gospel is not the only way to Jesus Christ. Christianity is the only true religion, but Jesus Christ still has ways of being present in the inferior religions of the world so that some who believe in them will be saved.

    Pluralism = Other religions are just as valid and true as Christianity and can lead to heaven just as well as Christianity can.

    Neither inclusivism nor pluralism necessarily mean there is no hell, nor must a universalist also be an inclusivist or a pluralist.

  11. Funny thing Jack, is that Mormonism has had strains of just about all of those ideas.

    Universalism is encountered when you get into the idea of people progressing between kingdoms.

    Annihilationism was found in at least one apostle’s writings who believed that the souls/intelligences of the sons of perdition get recycled to form new souls.

    Exclusivism of course exists in LDS thought – though it’s softened by giving spirits a second chance at salvation in the afterlife.

    Inclusivism comes out whenever Mormons are feeling friendly toward other religions, and usually co-exists with other types of Mormon thought by simply relegating the inclusion to the spirit world.

    Pluralism though…. haven’t seen this one so much. So maybe I should amend my earlier statement.

  12. Inclusivism itself is a really wide spectrum of beliefs. “Corporate inclusivism” holds that we should be optimistic about non-Christian religions mediating the work of Christ. “Private inclusivism” is more pessimistic about the hindering role non-Christian religions have. And in general inclusivists can be somewhat agnostic, pessimistic, or optimistic about just how normative salvation outside of explicit knowledge of Jesus is. One can be an extremely optimistic inclusivist and practically sit on the fence of near-universalism. Or one can be a pessimistic or agnostic inclusivist to the degree that there is still deep urgency for preaching the gospel to the unreached.

    I personally have a hard time believing that hell can be reduced to the “locked on the inside” idea, although I agree that it is locked from the inside. The Bible describes it as the actively meted out personal fury and wrath of God. They are even “thrown into” the lake of fire (even if metaphorical, it is still significant!). So I think we should integrate both aspects of hell, i.e. the active role God plays, and the voluntary (“I’d rather not give glory to God”) role the reprobate play.

    Grace and peace,

    Aaron

  13. Tim wrote, “I think Mormonism could be called Universal-inclusivism.”

    I was talking to a recent ex-Mormon Christian friend of mine Monday night about this and he replied to me that he thought Mormonism was actually more universal-exclusivism. Why? Modern Mormonism still requires explicit knowledge of the gospel (and even baptism), and holds that all will have such an opportunity in the intermediate state (spirit prison or paradise).

    Grace and peace,

    Aaron

  14. “Exclusivism of course exists in LDS thought – though it’s softened by giving spirits a second chance at salvation in the afterlife.”

    Ah, Seth beat me to it. Sorry I missed that, Seth.

  15. I actually don’t agree that Mormonism is inclusivistic.

    Yes, Mormons express fondness for other religions and will affirm that members of other faiths can have relationships with God to varying degrees.

    But ultimately, the only thing that can get you into the celestial kingdom is a direct conversion to Mormon beliefs and administration of Mormon ordinances. This may have to happen posthumously, but it does have to happen.

    I do agree that Mormonism is demi-universalist and, oddly enough, highly exclusivist at the same time. Seth correctly observes that it’s something of a “soft” exclusivism since the chance for posthumous conversion exists.

    Annihilationism has been vanishingly rare in LDS thought.

  16. People are telling me privately that “second chance” is probably a misleading way to put the idea of missionary work in the spirit world.

    Certainly some Mormon thinkers like McConkie would be violently opposed to the idea that the spirit world is any sort of “second chance” since they would believe that those who had a chance in mortality and blew it will not get a second bite at the apple.

    I merely meant the term to describe the fact that people who didn’t have a shot at learning the Gospel will have in the hereafter. So, sorry for any sloppy terminology on my part.

  17. And . . . I see Aaron and I were thinking alike again.

    Scary.

    Aaron, I’ll have to get back to you sometime with my further thoughts on hell and what the Bible teaches about it. I has a paper to get to.

  18. People are telling me privately that “second chance” is probably a misleading way to put the idea of missionary work in the spirit world.

    who are these people who are using you to comment here? Eric Shuster? Psychochemiker? Aquinas? Rick Huurd? Tell them they’re all welcome to return, we won’t hold it against them that they’re still reading.

  19. This discussion is becoming a semanticist’s dream or nightmare, I’m not sure which.

    In any case, using Jack’s definitions in her message of 11:19 a.m., I’d consider the LDS faith to be inclusivistic, at least in practical terms while we’re on this planet. We view salvation as more of a process than an event, and clearly (clearly to me, anyway) there are plenty of people who are in the process of being saved who aren’t LDS or even Christian because they’re following (or seeking to follow) what they experience of the Light of Christ. And even the holiest Mormon leaves this life with still more learning and growing to do.

    Certainly there are differences among LDS church members in what they think about how many will end up in the celestial kingdom. I know some who say nearly everybody (because the truth will be more evident in the afterlife and nearly all will accept it), and I know some who feel there will be very few (because the path is quite narrow). But almost everyone I know believes they’ll see their own close relatives in the celestial kingdom, no matter how corrupt they were while living on Earth.

    As to the “second chance” doctrine, yeah, I agree that’s not a good way of wording it. I think it’s widely believed and maybe even taught that you don’t get a “second chance” per se, but opinions differ as to what it means to have the “first chance.” At the risk of getting too personal here, I’d say that I fully expect to see most of the people in this conversation in the celestial kingdom, even though though in some sense many have rejected the Gospel. But my belief is that you can’t reject something unless you know it’s true, and (as far as I know) they’ve never had that belief and are seeking to follow the light they have received. So I kind of agree with much of what Dallas Willard says:

    The way faith works is this: you put into practice what you believe. If you’re attracted to Jesus, what do you believe about him that you can act on? Experience shows again and again that when you allow people to act on the little that they do believe, the rest will follow.

  20. who are these people who are using you to comment here? Eric Shuster? Psychochemiker? Aquinas? Rick Hurd? Tell them they’re all welcome to return, we won’t hold it against them that they’re still reading.

    Rick Hurd can come back? Hooray! I miss him.

  21. Most Mormons are not universalist, although I have known some who are–to the extent that they believe that everyone will eventually get exaltation possibly even Satan and his angels. I did not believe that as a Mormon–I think my beliefs reflected the mainstream idea that lesser degrees of glory allowed for ultimately limited progression. If you did not qualify for exaltation, you could not earn it later on in the eternities.

    Mormons are definitely not annihilationist. Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely are.

    Most Mormons are also definitely exclusivist. Although they generally ive lip service to partial truths and pointers to Christ found in other religions, exaltation only comes through Jesus Christ, and to get it you have to qualify via the principles and ordinances of the Gospel (i.e. faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sin, baprism, gift of the holy ghost, priesthood, temple ordinances, sealing, etc.). The fact that everyone will get the oppprotunity to be taught about this and to accept or reject it doesn’t make it not exclusivist.

    (As an aside, I think the Mormon answer to the problem of exclusivism, i.e. that people may get the chance to accept or reject in the spirit world, is a lot more satisfying than the utterly bogus assertion that everyone in the world deep in their hearts knows that their non-Christian religion is false and empty)

    Mormonism is not inclusivist. C.S. Lewis was definitely inclusivist.

    Mormonism is definitely not pluralist. Except-with-regard-to-marriage-lol.

  22. So I did watch the video even though it had no AC/DC or Metallica. I do like Rob Bell though. As a movement, I often think that Emergent Christianity is too tied in to being a reaction to and in conversation with Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism asopposed to just standing on its own. As long as it is a post-Evangelical movement, it limits itself.

    The marriage I would like to see happen is emergent theology/conversation/thought process with the mainline Church.

    The emergent movement is exciting and vibrant but is stuck to the back end of Evangelical Christianity. Mainline Christianity, by contrast (sorry, Whit) is increasingly a kind of porridge of partisan politics with a thin slurry of Jesus, but filling a vessel of Church structure, ecclesiology and ritual that is still intensely powerful and vibrant.

    Put emergent thought into the Mainline vessel and you would have like, the Reese’s Cup of Christianity. I honestly think it would revitalize Mainline Christianity and ultimately work up to a compelling protestant live alternative to Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.

  23. Cute CJ. I’d say if he’s teaching Universalism, then he’s become a heretic, but still a Christian heretic. The doctrine of Hell is not nearly as vital as the nature of God or sin. If he said no one needs to worry about hell because sin doesn’t exist, then I’d say he’s ventured off the ranch.

  24. The doctrine of Hell is not nearly as vital as the nature of God or sin.

    Rob Bell disagrees with you Tim.

    See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.

    BTW – I was not trying to be cute – it was a genuine questions b/c I actually respect your opinion on the matter.

  25. I like how in the final analysis, it turns out that “heretic” is just a dirty word for “someone whose theology differs from mine.”

  26. Tim, do you mean that we would then think of Rob Bell as Mormons here think of Bruce McConkie? 🙂

  27. That John Piper should have been above flippantly dismissing Bell via Twitter and that Rob Bell is not a “joiner”, doesn’t care what people think, and is an artist more than a theologian.

  28. I tend to agree that Piper should have checked fire before releasing his tweet, but do you think it is praiseworthy to be a theological “lone ranger”?

  29. That may just be the most reasonable comment I’ve read on this entire episode.

  30. I reallly liked the video, and thought Bell asked some very great questions. I also loved the Tony Jones commentary, and I will be looking for Bell’s book when it comes out.

  31. My last comment was @ Tim but CJ’s comment was charitable to all concerned.

  32. The Bible describes it as the actively meted out personal fury and wrath of God.

    I like this best because when you add it to the idea that God is the ultimate source of normative behavior, this reduces him to a cosmic, omnipotent petulant child.

    Omnibenevolence is irrelevant as a characteristic if the person exhibiting it gets to decide what is benevolent with no external standard. If God gets to decide what is good and what is evil, then “good” is reducible to “God’s arbitrary whim.” If God can arbitrarily dictate morality, then there is no way to describe God’s own actions in moral terms.

    Which means his wrath at you is not because you’ve actually done anything wrong. He’s just mad because you didn’t do what he said. And his wrath because of your disobedience can’t be meaningfully described as “just” or “right” in any way if God gets to arbitrarily dictate what “justice” and “right” mean.

    In the end, you’re not worshipping God because he is Good. You are worshipping him merely because he is Powerful. He’s just a bully. And you worship him because you are afraid he will hurt you if you don’t.

  33. Pingback: God The Cosmic Bully | Burning At The Stake

  34. I agree Kullervo.

    My experience is also that both atheists and Christians view God in this way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered an atheist online who sneeringly told me that if only God would prove his existence, he would worship him.

    And here I am thinking – “why? Why would that alone be enough to do it for you?”

    I mean, what if God turned out to be “Q” from Star Trek?

    Would his all-powerfulness be reason enough to worship him?

    Patrick Stewart didn’t think so, and neither do I.

    This is the key folly of a large swath of Christian theology. It’s lost sight of the fact that religion and worship is about a RELATIONSHIP we have with the divine. It’s about love, loyalty, trust, admiration, and such. Yet too much of classical Christian apologetics has reduced the entire span of the Christian message down into a myopic obsessive quest for whoever has the biggest stick.

    Color me profoundly unimpressed.

  35. I think there is an important distinction between God choosing what is “good” and God’s own character being the standard for “holy”. It’s not a whim but an objective standard. I would join you in rejecting the idea that God is making up the rules.

  36. I think there is an important distinction between God choosing what is “good” and God’s own character being the standard for “holy”. It’s not a whim but an objective standard. I would join you in rejecting the idea that God is making up the rules.

    Sure, but then “holy” only means “Goddish.” That is an objective standard, but it is still being imposed arbitrarily, exactly as if God was determined to cast into hell everyone over 6′ tall, or everyone who ever uttered the word “circumlocution.” Those would be fairly objective, as standards go, but still arbitrary.

    If “holy” means “Goddish,” then sure, it’s “holy” of God to fry people in hell for disobedience. But that’s just a truism. It’s “soemthing God would do” just because God happened ot do it. Not something to sing hymns or praise about.

  37. And it just so happens that the Goddish things are love, righteousness, mercy and justice which are praiseworthy.

    We could obey God simply because he’s powerful but we have the opportunity to love someone praiseworthy.

  38. And it just so happens that the Goddish things are love, righteousness, mercy and justice which are praiseworthy.

    Not unless “love,” “righteousness,” “mercy,” and “justice” have a meaning independent of the sovereignty of God. Otherwise, it’s just “goddish, goddish, goddish, and goddish.”

    Why are they praiseworthy? Because they make us feel good?

  39. I agree, I think it makes perfect sense to worship God because he is good, if he is, in fact, good, kind, loving.

    However it is notoriously difficult to come up with a consistent and complete system of judging actions to be good and bad.

    However it’s almost never helpful to define everything God does as good. Which is what many do.

    I think at some point those that believe in the literal content of the entire Bible must stand back and call God terrible as well as good, and ultimately inscrutable.

    Christians may reasonably say within their belief system that God is good to them, but good in every way? Not by any human measurement.

  40. I find it impossible to relate meaningfully to a personal being who has all power and makes the world as we see it. He does not talk to me. They told me he did, but in the end I find it impossible to think that was not just me projecting, wanting them to be right and finding evidence to “prove” it. These days I am wholly agnostic.

    Abstract qualities like “love” are interesting, but in the end I find them unstable (untrustworthy) too. It is too easy for another man’s “love” to look like “hate” to me.

    So I am left with people. When I see a man (or woman) perform an act of kindness that I can recognize, I identify to a certain degree with that person and to the degree that I do I “have faith” in him (or her). I trust his (or her) good intentions and do my best to reciprocate, projecting the same behavior that I find compelling out into the lives of people around me. I do not know why the things I call “love” (keeping trust, showing affection, providing food and shelter) are really loving: in the end, then, I am still acting on faith, faith in the unseen fount of human emotion that lies hidden inside me. I do not trust this fount unconditionally; sometimes I have an urge to do things that I say no to, not always with good reason. As best I can tell, this is all I was ever doing, even when I believed most fervently in a personal supreme being: I would express one emotion rather than another because it “felt” better. All my citation of scripture, all my invocation of logic and argument, was just an ex post facto rationalization of decisions made irrationally. At present, the only solution I can see to the opacity of God, the emptiness of words, and the irrationality of humanity is to make the individual responsible for himself, specifically for his actions, which if he is to survive in society must not threaten the life or livelihood of other people. Ethics is confronting one’s own emotions, acknowledging their impact on other people and taking responsibility when that impact appears negative (to others or to oneself). The core doctrine governing the process (that human life is valuable) is an axiom that cannot be arrived at or deduced from anything knowable: it just is.

    A pluralist and a humanist. How are the mighty fallen!

  41. However it is notoriously difficult to come up with a consistent and complete system of judging actions to be good and bad.

    Sure, but I don’t think we need to be able to come up with such a consistent and complete rubric for judging actions to be good and evil in order to deal with the clear cases, or to acknowledge that, even if we cannot precisely define them, good and evil do exist.

  42. No question that good and evil do exist, but I think that if we want to clearly and consistently define them we will end up with a more Einsteinian theory than a Newtonian theory.

    I don’t think we are even close to a Newtonian one at this point.

    But that said, I think most everybody would agree on some things: genocide is bad.

    Which is why I find it hard to swallow those who say that God is always good. When God is genocidal he is doing something terrible.

  43. Kullervo said:
    Not unless “love,” “righteousness,” “mercy,” and “justice” have a meaning independent of the sovereignty of God. Otherwise, it’s just “goddish, goddish, goddish, and goddish.”

    I think this is where the reference to Jesus as the LOGOS is an important element of Christianity. As the order-sustaining principle everything is hinged on who he is. He is an ultimate being in every way.

    Jared said
    I think at some point those that believe in the literal content of the entire Bible must stand back and call God terrible as well as good, and ultimately inscrutable.

    I agree for the time being that God is inscrutable. I don’t think lying is good, but I can think of instances where it might be righteous.

    I think I should try to stop every moral evil, but there may be times when it is better for me not to interfere. We don’t have an answer for why pain is allowed to persists but we take it on faith that God has a reason and his overall plan will justify even the worst of human suffering. God WILL have to justify it, but we presume he will be able to.

    As far as genocide in the OT, I believe in reading every book of the Bible in the way it was intended to be read. Those passages concerning genocide were ancient histories (which were expected to contain exaggerations). It’s perplexing that the Hebrews would barely win in one sentence and wipe everyone out in the next. If you’d like to hear an interesting conversation about whether or not God is a moral monster I recommend this:
    [audio src="http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3?http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/021311.mp3" /]

    (Start at the 1:52 mark)

  44. After thinking about this more, I’ve decided that the term I’d use for the LDS church is “functionally inclusive.”

    As to Bell, one thing I found interesting on his church’s web site is that it uses what it calls a narrative theology rather than a traditional set of creedal-like or “articles of faith”-type statements to explain the church’s perspective. The truth about God, the church explains, isn’t found in a set of propositional statements, but in the story that God is writing and directing about hope and redemption for the world.

    I think this approach is one reason Bell can be confusing to some people, and perhaps it is one reason even those who have read his book seem to finish it without really being clear about what he thinks (it could probably be labeled some sort of radical inclusivism, I suspect, but he apparently eschews labels).

    Although I don’t find it entirely satisfying, I kind of like the “narrative theology” approach. We can spend a lot of time (and I certainly have) arguing or discussing all sorts of theological points, but what God really wants from us is to be part of his story as his sons and daughters.

  45. Bell’s approach is thoroughly postmodern, which makes NO SENSE to those who are more modern in their thinking. Hence, the backlash. I’ve been following the controversy a little and it’s interesting to see the reaction from those in the Reformed tradition especially, which is, to my understanding, one of the most systematic and “modern” approaches in contemporary Christianity. They keep saying things like, “Prove what you’re saying, Bell.” But postmoderns don’t care about proof — which is something that doesn’t resonate with them at all.

    Because Bell’s approach is so fundamentally foreign to them, it sounds like a bunch of heresy and nonsense. It’s NOT, but I can definitely see why they think it is, coming from their worldview.

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