For Whom the Bell Tolls…

About a week ago Rob Bell released a video trailer promoting his upcoming book Love Wins, in which he asks several provocative questions about the eternal destination of unbelievers. He has his sites on the biblical, traditional and orthodox position on hell. In case you missed it, the beginning of the whole brouhaha can be seen here on Justin Taylor’s blog:

Rob Bell-Universalist?

So much has been said on this topic elsewhere that I feel no need to re-hash everything here. I just have a few observations about the whole situation.

Some have commended Rob Bell for being willing to ask the difficult questions.  It’s as if these questions have never been asked before, or that the church has never wrestled through the issues involved.  Mr. Bell’s questions, as well as his answers, are repackaged errors with a slick new marketing campaign.  There is nothing new under the sun.  However, if it’s commendable that he asks the difficult questions, why is it any less commendable (if not more so) for those who accept the Bible’s difficult answers?  Rob Bell’s answers are nice and easy, not to mention pleasing to human sentiment and squarring well with what we consider to be fair of God.  No, we can’t bear to believe the scriptural teaching as it has been accepted and understood on the eternal destiny of all those who reject Christ.  Regarding this, Rob Bell and his supporters say, along with the many disciples in John 6:60b, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”

It has also been said that Bell fears God more than men, and that is why he is posing these questions.  I find this a strange assertion, for who would fear the god that Rob Bell preaches Please notice I didn’t ask who would fear Rob Bell’s God, but who would fear the god he preaches?  There’s a very important difference.  Could someone tell me what there is to fear?  Because in the end, in case you were unaware of it, love wins.

Finally, it has also been asserted that asking the difficult questions and challenging the status quo is “good” Protestant theology.  Ok, I’ll go with that, but what is the substance of that theology?  Good Protestant theology is produced by clear exegesis of Scripture with biblical principles of interpretation.  However, that is not what I have seen from Rob Bell.  What we get in it’s place is like skipping a rock across a stagnant pond, jumping from one spot to the next until the stone sinks in the water.  I have not seen a compelling or cogent argument made from exegesis of the appropriate texts from anything I have read to this point.  Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, and if I am I will certainly post a recantation of the views I am expressing here.  His assertion, for example, that the Greek word aion doesn’t really mean “eternity” or “everlasting”, but that it can also mean “age” or “a period of time” or “intensity of experience” is on level with Jehovah Witness argumentation.  Is it possible for the word to be translated that way?  Yes, outside of the context of the passage it’s in, that is a possible translation of the word.  However, within the context of the passage (which dictates the usage of it) it is not possible.  At least not if the text is going to make any sense.  

There is nothing wrong with asking difficult questions.  Indeed such questions have marked the history of the church, it’s compiled in what we call historical theology.  Familiarize yourself with it and you won’t find Rob Bell all that compelling.  I would never dissuade anyone from asking hard questions of the text of Scripture.  If we are to be always reforming, we must do this.  We should be careful not to make the Scriptures say something they do not say, we should handle them carefully.  However, we should also not subject them to our human sentimentality, moral intuitions, or our ideas of fairness.  God will not be so bound…


About C. M. Granger

I'm a firm believer in God's sovereignty, man's responsibility, and a gracious orthodoxy. I love the Puritans and the Reformers, but I don't believe our understanding of theology reached it's zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries. I love the Reformed Creeds and Confessions, but I'm not a strict confessionalist. I'm Reformed in my soteriology (I'm a moderate Calvinist), but not in the historical sense of the term (I'm a Baptist). Some of my favorite theologians/commentators are Kevin Vanhoozer, John Frame, D.A. Carson, Thomas Schreiner, Andreas Kostenberger, Peter O'Brien, David Peterson, Douglas Moo, and GK Beale. The list of dead theologians/commentators would be too long to list here. I think it's important to read widely, to read primary sources for yourself, and to accurately represent the positions of those whom you oppose. I believe it's imperative to have a proper balance between systematic and bibilical theology. I try to never make a round verse fit into the square hole of a theological system.
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