Some people are amazed at all the blog chatter regarding Rob Bell's upcoming (Mar 15) book Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.
I am not surprised. Its a huge issue and its much bigger than Rob Bell. In the world of evangelical demi-gods, John Piper is doing battle with N.T. Wright in the skies over atonement theories and eschatology and its becoming evident that this new generation, apart from a few new-Calvinist oddities, are siding with Wright or at least the way of thinking represented by Wright.
There is a power struggle going on that ventures beyond doctrinal categories and theological correctness. It's a battle for the empire! And if you dont understand that, you wont appreciate the intensity of the Reformed backlash. Or why John Piper broke Lausanne etiquette by veering from his script to add "eternal suffering" to his Ephesians talk in Cape Town last year. I was there. I heard the murmurrings.
A Christianity Today report says it this way. "Naturally there were grumblings. While John Piper was a favorite expositor for many, others resented his importing controversy over eternal suffering into an Ephesians text that had nothing to do with it. Some regretted that N. T. Wright was not invited to speak, sensing an underlying attempt to steer the evangelical movement toward a particular kind of theology."
I don't think I will bother buying "Love Wins" because I don't appreciate being manipulated by publishers and the "evangelical marking machine" [hear PirateChris on this] and I am not convinced Rob Bell will go beyond Wright's Surprised by Hope, apart from offering his own bias and making it more accessible.
Or in other words, we already had this conversation a few years ago. Why should I buy the book?
I might be wrong. And I might buckle and buy the book but I very rarely buy the books that everyone says I need to buy. Praise God I never bought Purpose Driven Life and managed to avoid the Left Behind series.
And the book MIGHT BE RUBBISH! Its possible! Publishers tend to send me winning manuscripts rather than dodgy ones or lame ones because they know I try to be honest on my blog. Previous Rob Bell books were sent to me but not this one - although that might be because Zondervan is no longer in the picture. [Why?]
However, I am interested in the conversation and will probably follow it to watch how the Reformed folk prop up their eschatology in the light of new challenges. I hope the conversation does not get bogged down on predetermined anathematic labels like "heretic" and "universalist" - as Mark Galli suggests it might. Instead, I hope the conversation will move back into the Scriptures to see what was really said and the context in which it was said.
A question to hold in your mind when you read Love Wins and the various blog commentaries that either affirm or attack it:
Are the words translated as "hell" in the New Testament INTERCHANGEABLE?
Do these words point to a SINGLE REALITY, as I was brought up to believe? Or do they reference mulitiple realities and events and thus the need for some NUANCE in interpreting them within their respective contexts. We claim the various Greek words for "love" are vital for understanding what type of love. But what about the many Greek words for hell like "gehenna", "hades", "tartarus" and the various descriptive words as well?
[image from a Jack Chick gospel tract)
This is why I find Challies question difficult to answer. In his review, he asks . . .
"But what about hell? Is hell a future reality or a present one? Is it an earthly reality or one that exists elsewhere?
To Challies question, I would have to ask what passage of Scripture is he talking about? Which hell? Could the references to hell be sometimes a past reality (eg, the destruction of Jerusalem) and sometimes future (the final judgement of fallen angels)? And if God is a consuming fire, could there also be a present reality of judgement as he disciplines us?
I hope this will all lead to some discussion on the Scriptures themselves rather than medieval theological categories and word-traps set in place for the uninitiated. Al Mohler, I feel, probably SHOULD buy the book because he may have been too quick to label Rob Bell a universalist, just as he was too quick to label him "emerging church".
Here's my take, as one who has not read the book. It's possible Rob Bell has gone too far, if bloggers I respect are correct, on his view of heaven and hell. However, the default position that many of us grew up with in our world of Jack Chick Hell-fire Dante-inspired gospel tracks will probably never again hold the same priviledged position. Where the pendulum lands has yet to be determined . . . thus the battle for the empire.
Recommended among the hundreds of blog posts:
- Greg Boyd on why Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist.
- My Aussie mate Jarrod McKenna at Red Letter Christians