Rob Bell, the stone throwers and my heresy

The release this week of Rob Bell‘s new video clip exposed the ugly side of mainstream Christianity. The pastor and author from Mars Hill is taking shots across Twitter and blogs for discussing the themes of his new book, Love Wins, which questions the idea of eternal hell and whether a loving God in rescuing the few, would send the many to eternal torment.

What kind of a God is it that Jesus would need to rescue us from?

I’ll leave the arguments for Bell’s position to Rob himself and to his new book, but I will say that it sounds pretty reasonable to question the notion of an eternal hell. I personally doubt it. Does that make me unChristian?

In my honest moments I find it hard to decide whether I gave up the exclusive claims of Christianity because I found inclusiveness more godly or simply because I wanted inclusiveness to be true. Either way, I am now on the outside of the church looking in. And it’s not a bad place to be.

Falling in love with someone of a different faith, being a stranger in a foreign land or simply having a child can change you and your beliefs. It’s harder to be black and white about truth when you step out into the world and love those who are different from you. 

I wish that the stone throwing in Rob’s direction would stop. Before his book is even out, he has been subjected to accusations of changing the gospel and of being a false teacher. So if his beliefs don’t exactly conform to your definition of Christianity, you get to call him a heretic and unsaved?

I am not sure how the stone throwers were able to put an exclusive claim on the “Christian” label for themselves. Is it not enough to love God, love your neighbour and strive to follow the way of Christ with all of one’s heart? It has taken centuries for the ideas of Christianity to be worked out with many differing versions unfolding and revealing themselves throughout its history. Does that mean those with whom you disagree are not true believers?

The shrieking and backlash against someone who questions a basic belief is a part of fundamentalism and conservatism that I may never understand. What is it that they are they so afraid of? Losing the monopoly on truth?

I haven’t been in this world as long as many others have, but I do know this: when there is a choice you want to err on the side of compassion, not on the side of condemnation.

We all have areas where our beliefs don’t conform to the majority; this doesn’t make our beliefs false or mean that we are unsaved. It makes us individuals. Our secrets and our differences are what make us human.

25 Comments

  1. Good words. I was so disappointed at how so many Christian leaders responded so quickly without taking the time to breathe, process, and actually approach Rob or his book. A sad ordeal for sure.

  2. Yes, the wheel turns for everyone. It can’t be easy being out in the full view of critical people and still have the courage to ask difficult questions and take different positions.

  3. I came by via SFL and just wanted to say, I love the way you speak about and question subjects that are taboo in the “perfect Christian world” and challenge conventional thinking. You are are searcher- it is refreshing. Thanks

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, this can be a difficult and lonely voice. But encouragement makes me feel like there is a point!

  5. I understand so well. There is a point- you have a voice and by sharing it you bless others.
    No one else can offer your story or your words. Keep writing.

  6. Ironically, I got some negative feedback on today’s post. Oh well. Suppose you can’t please everybody right?

  7. You can have a monopoly on Truth. That is how we even have a definition of Truth. We have been sucked into a post-modernist world and are trying to conform to it, instead of realising that actually, no, we do have to be corrective and say that not everybody is right. Conflict and arguments are not to be avoided by saying “everybody is right” or “everybody’s viewpoint is valid”. We have to hammer out the argument and gain truth if any kind of progress is to be made.

    And as for in the video, Rob Bell asking the question what we need to do to be saved, the answer lies in John Chapter 3. Nicodemus has come to Jesus in the dead of night and is asking what he must do to see the kingdom of God, and Jesus tells him “You must be Born again”. The Words of Jesus – and Rob Bell questions them in the above video. This is why “Mainstream Christianity” is “throwing stones” – because of the warnings against false teachings: Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them.” (Galatians 4:17, NLT). The Bible, the Scriptures, are the Word of God. We are taught in 1 Thessalonians to “Test Everything” (1 Thess 5:21).

    I think it’s time for Rob Bell, and you all, to stop seeking shelter in “comfortable teaching” but to grow in maturity, to grow up and face the cold, hard truth of what it means to be a Christian.

  8. The uncomfortable truth of the Christianity that Jesus preached is that Ghandi is indeed in hell. “Jesus answered, I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5 NIV). Jesus clarifies his point later in the same chapter: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18) – but this is where it gets interesting – Rob Bell appears to be preaching a message that “Love wins” because God is completely benevolent and would not condemn the vast majority of people to hell. But Rob appears to have missed God’s love entirely – because the two preceding verses give us this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17). Jesus did not come to further condemn the world. The world was already condemned by man’s foolish and sinful actions. Jesus instead came so that we do have salvation, so that we do have Grace. God loved us so much, not that he re-wrote the rule-book, and said “it’s OK, everybody is accepted!” but to instead give himself up to death, to destruction, so that anyone who trusts in that saving grace can make the grade. That is what love is, and THAT is the Love that won the day.

    And I don’t say it is MY Christianity. I simply say any version of Christianity that someone has created themselves because they are “more comfortable with it” instead of actually following the teachings of Jesus, is not following the truth. “My” Christianity as you put it, is based on biblical teaching. And as Jesus himself said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31-32 NIV).

  9. Not all versions of Christianity hold the Scripture as the ultimate sole authority. There are some that draw more on reason, tradition or experience. That is why I suggested that there are versions or different traditions within Christianity. Quakerism for example is quite comfortable subordinating the verse you quoted to reason or experience. That is not the same a relativism. It is subjective, not relative. Are you then saying that Quakers who hold such views are not Christian? After all, relying solely on Scripture can be problematic as a system. What is the basis for concluding it is a reliable authority without being circular (because it states that it is reliable etc)? Generally people have had to appeal to other authorities to answer these questions, and it is these other authorities which lead people to conclude that there is truth in other systems of belief.

  10. Robert, I quoted the bits even liberal Christians would hold – I took the teachings of Jesus himself. And casting aside that the whole Bible is literal, most historians you speak to would hold the Bible in high regard for reliability as an eyewitness account, more so than most accounts we use to define and teach history with.

    As for the divinity of the Bible, I fear the idea of a “pick and choose” alternative where we can choose to have only the bits of the Bible that we are comfortable with. The implications of that sort of idea undermine the teachings of Jesus, and any part of Christianity that you might want to hold on to. We need to stop taking bits out of Christianity that we are uncomfortable, or we don’t understand. Just because we don’t understand it, or don’t feel happy about it, doesn’t mean it is wrong.

  11. It doesn’t prove that it is right either simply by being difficult.

    It’s great that you have found a spirituality that works for you. Your version might not work for everyone though. Others are entitled to find their own expression of Christianity, just as you are yours.

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  12. why wouldn’t it work for everyone?

    If you are talking about different methods of worshipping, then I don’t have a problem. But as to the fundementals, and as for what Jesus himself said, that cannot be changed. If you believe something contrary to what Jesus said, then you are claiming yourself as a higher authority than Him, and proclaiming him a liar. If Jesus was a liar he was not sinless, and if he was not sinless, his death meant nothing. That is why nothing can contradict Christ’s teachings, because if they do, we have no hope. If Jesus lied, knowing that it would doom humanity, then our God is not as loving as first thought.

    Love won the battle – that I most certainly do not deny, so I wholeheartedly agree with the title of Rob Bell’s book! But for that Love to win, Jesus’ teachings at the very least must have been without fault. Anything less and we have no hope in Him, he was simply another false prophet.

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  13. Some people don’t take it for granted that the bible equals Jesus. Or that you get the fundamentals of modern Christianity directly from the Bible. It took centuries for doctrines to evolve.

    The Quakers believed that you could “overrule” a scripture based on the knowledge and experience of the Divine. For example centuries before abolition they were arguing to ignore Paul’s writings on the issue of slavery.

    There are also concerns about whether anything was inserted or edited in the Bible.

    These are all legitimate questions and journeys I think. They may not be yours and that’s ok.

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