Friday, April 8, 2011

Love Wins – The Rob Bell Controversy – The Toxic Teachings of Jesus – Comment Two

On page viii. of his book “Love Wins,” Bell comments, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s [sic] message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

Clearly Bell is contending that the orthodox understanding of heaven and hell, the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous, and the eternal punishment of God-haters is toxic, misguided, and subversive to Jesus’ original message. Bell’s language is strong and unambiguous. At a minimum I applaud him for being so sure of his view. This is quite refreshing given the typical postmodern method generally adopted by emergent leaders. It is also very uncharacteristic of men like Bell to state beliefs so clearly, not to mention so dogmatically. Given this shift from postmodern methodology, it will be much easier to answer these objections and assertions for a change.

For Bell, this new dogmatism is refreshing. Of course it is my contention that the emergent church has never really been as wishy-washy about theology as it wanted people to believe. At a minimum, those who ridicule orthodoxy for its “arrogance of certainty” have to retreat into the shadows recognizing that Bell’s new revelation strikes a similar cord of its own. This makes writing about the legitimacy of certainty less needful, and I might add, not quite as simulating as it otherwise might have been. I will continue to sound off on this point only because the emergent church leaders and supporters have been so vociferous about accusing orthodoxy of arrogance on the ground that it is far too certain of its beliefs. Now it would seem that Bell displays the same kind of certainty in this latest work that orthodoxy has been criticized for displaying.

Bell raises a very important question regarding the origin of the doctrine of eternal separation. If in fact the historic understanding of this doctrine is wrong, how is it wrong? Moreover, how did such a false doctrine gain such traction in the Christian community? It would seem that an investigation of this magnitude would begin with the original source document itself and how the Christian community got it wrong. I would be remiss if I did not say that Bell’s raising of the question is not ipso facto a bad thing in itself. We should always welcome the opportunity to critically examine our beliefs in light of Scripture to ensure that we do in fact possess the truth of God on the matter. After all, we are sinners and sin has a way of blinding us. Humility does not necessarily lead to agnosticism. Biblical humility leads to a quiet confidence and strong faith.

 The first question that one has to ask is where exactly then did these ideas come from? By the fifth century of the church, the paramount view was that the punishment of the wicked was eternal and without hope. We begin with that position and investigate the evidence of Scripture to determine if that view has merit.

For clarity’s sake the views that Bell is attacking should be outlined. First the idea that “a select few will spend forever in a peaceful place” is misguided, toxic and subversive according to Bell. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said that only a few people would find the narrow gate that leads to life. In Matthew 22:14 Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen. In Luke 13:23-24 someone asked Jesus if there would be just a few who would be saved and Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” It would seem that on numerous occasions Jesus Himself revealed that He too believed that there would only be a select or chosen few who would enter into paradise. Now if it if true that only a few will enter into paradise, then some number “more than” a few will not enter. In fact Jesus said as much in Matt. 7:13 when he said broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there will be many who enter through it. At a minimum these comments by Jesus indicate there is a separation of the righteous from the unrighteous at some point in the future. So the origin for this particular teaching that Bell says is misguided, toxic, and subversive seems to be none other than Jesus Himself. We will examine the views of other NT writers in the next blog to see if there is reason to believe it is possible that these views may be the result of comments recorded by them on the subject. It would appear that this doctrine had a very early beginning in the church and that Paul may have had opportunity to correct it, but failed to do so. In fact, it could be that Paul said things that indicate he too believed in the idea of separation and eternal, hopeless punishment for the wicked.

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