No matter what your particular belief flavor (assuming you are a Christian), there are holes and contradictions in your Bible if you take it at face value. In his recent online post, “Thoughts About Rob Bell, John Piper, and Justin Taylor,” blogger Jason Boyett says:
“Reading and understanding the Bible involves lots and lots of interpretation. Not just in light of the world and culture around us, but in reference to other parts of the Bible. At best, there are things that are unclear and not easily harmonized from Genesis to Revelation. At worst, there are things that seem to be downright contradictory. That’s why I have doubts. That’s why theology can be so controversial.”
For too long, we’ve dismissed legitimate questions—questions that demand thoughtful consideration. I think we need to be honest and humble enough to admit that we’ve gotten some things right, and just maybe we’ve gotten some things (or a lot of things) wrong. It takes a lot of humility to admit that maybe we didn’t have all the answers like we thought we did. The more I learn, the more I realize that I didn’t have it all figured out—nor do those who profess to.
Here’s a few selected thoughts from the article I referenced above. I hope you will follow the link and read this in context, but I liked the grace and honesty with which the author shared his thoughts on the recent topic du jour—Rob Bell’s Love Wins!
1. This is why people hate us. There is no meaner, more hateful person on Earth than a Christian who suspects you have gotten your theology wrong. Labeling that mean-ness as “being faithful” to the Gospel doesn’t make it less hateful. While Taylor’s post was fairly calm, the response to it by his readers was not. Bell got skewered in the comments, on twitter, and in other blog posts.
2. Really, John Piper? Your Reformed followers can be obnoxious at times, but I’ve always hoped you were above that. Sometimes you say things that make me roll my eyes. Most of the time, though, you’re way more gracious than your fans. But “farewell, Rob Bell”? What a disappointingly smug, arrogant tweet. It’s worth pointing out what Scot McKnight told Christianity Today about the matter: “The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.”
5. But here’s where Taylor’s and Piper’s responses annoy and frustrate me: They are so absolutely certain that they are right. Because Rob Bell seems to be indicating that hell might not be a place of eternal suffering—or might not exist at all in the way traditional Christianity thinks of it—then they say he is flat-out wrong. Dangerously wrong. False-doctrine wrong. Opposing-the-Gospel wrong. But you know what? The Bible is really squishy on the subject of hell. The everlasting-torment hell of Dante and Jonathan Edwards doesn’t exist at all in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about hell a lot, but sometimes in ways that a reasonable person could interpret metaphorically (like when he calls it Gehenna, after a real-life burning trash heap outside Jerusalem). And for centuries, some Christians have tried to make the case that, when Paul says Christ died for all, he really meant it. Not some. All.
No, universalism isn’t an orthodox Christian position. Hell is. But are we not willing to admit that, maybe, over the years, we could have gotten something wrong? Is it so wrong to maybe hope that everyone gets saved? That hell doesn’t exist? Because I totally hope that to be the case.
The truth is this: In order to be an everyone-get-saved Universalist, as Taylor claims Bell to be, you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to be about eternal punishment in hell.
In order to be a predestination-style, God-saves-the-elect reformed Christian—like Taylor and Piper—you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to contradict predestination.
In order to be a free-will Arminian Christian, you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to confirm predestination.
See where this is going?
In order to be an Evangelical Christian…
In order to be a Roman Catholic Christian…
In order to be a Pentecostal Christian, a cessationist, an End-Times date-setter, a female pastor, a pacifist Christian…
Reading and understanding the Bible involves lots and lots of interpretation. Not just in light of the world and culture around us, but in reference to other parts of the Bible. At best, there are things that are unclear and not easily harmonized from Genesis to Revelation. At worst, there are things that seem to be downright contradictory. That’s why I have doubts. That’s why theology can be so controversial.
And that’s also why theology is best done with humility and a recognition that certainty is very hard to come by. When we become so certain that our theology is ironclad and right, that’s when we become smug, arrogant, and dismissive of people who disagree with us. That’s when we do things like tweet that a thoughtful, hopeful, influential Christian like Rob Bell is dead to us.
Because that’s what “Farewell, Rob Bell” means, isn’t it? You’re dead to me. What I believe is right. If you oppose it, then I’m done with you.