I finished Rob Bell’s Love Wins last week, and I have been mulling over some thoughts since then that I am now ready to express in writing, which I will do over the next several posts.
In a previous post I acknowledged how serious a charge it is for me to make against Rob Bell by claiming (based on his public statements) that he is proclaiming a false gospel. In light of the gravity of such a charge, I decided to give Mr. Bell a more complete hearing on the issue by reading through his book. In order to help me attain clarity on what I am trying to accomplish in these posts, I am imagining this scenario: if I were a member of some kind of ecclesiastical body charged with judicial procedures, and Rob Bell were brought before me with the allegation that he was proclaiming a false gospel and should be defrocked, how would I vote on the issue? Obviously, I realize that such is not the case, nor am I fantasizing about what I wish could be true. I am a committed Baptist, which means I am committed to congregational authority. On biblical principles, I oppose ecclesiastical courts that wield super-congregational authority. So this whole scenario is merely a heuristic device, not an assertion of any kind of authority that I falsely perceive myself to have. In other words, hear what I say and then take it or leave it.
If Bell were in the dock before me, the first thing I would consider when coming up with my decision would be his stated intention in the preface of his book. He begins by setting the stage in this way (unfortunately, I cannot provide page numbers for documentation because I have the Kindle version of the book):
There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.
This is strong language. Jesus’ story has been “hijacked” by other stories, stories that “have nothing to do” with his mission. The true story of Jesus’ redemptive work has not been merely misunderstood in some ways or taken slightly off course. No, the entire plot has been lost. What false gospels could Bell have in mind when he makes this charge?
You don’t have to read far to find out. Bell goes on:
I’ve written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to church, and their heart to utter those resolute words, “I would never be a part of that.”
You are not alone.
There are millions of us.
This love compels us to question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story. 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.
The false gospel that has hijacked the true Jesus story is none other than the historic Christian faith. Essentially, what Bell does here is describe the story of Christian orthodoxy (although I would argue that the words “select few” doesn’t quite do it justice) as a story that causes the heart rates of millions of people to rise, their stomachs to churn, and their hearts to utter the words, “I would never be a part of that.” In other words, historic Christianity, including its robust doctrine of Hell, is something that drives people away by the millions. When they behold it, they loathe it and want no part of it.
And here’s the key point: Bell is one of them.
You are not alone.
There are millions of us.
Bell’s purpose in the preface is to explain why he has written this book. I do not think I am being unfair in any way when I say that Bell’s purpose, according to his own words, is to refute the false gospel of Christian orthodoxy and propose his own version of the story to take its place.
Those who chastise John Piper for tweeting “Farewell, Rob Bell” should keep in mind that Bell previously accused Piper–and all others who hold to the historic position on Hell–of hijacking the Jesus story with a despicable falsehood that has nothing to do with Jesus’ mission and is better described as “misguided,” “toxic,” and ultimately subversive of Jesus’ message of love. The first person to throw down the gauntlet in this controversy was not John Piper.