Even if you’ve been living under a rock, a very particular rock in evangelical Christianity, you would have heard by now about the controversy that Rob Bell has stirred with his universalist overtures in his latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. As a high-profile, edgy, gi-normo (gigantic and enormous) church pastor from the “epicenter of progressive culture” Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has definitely struck a nerve and there are endless comments about how his views have now distanced him from orthodox Christianity. Of course, it really expedites the process when John Piper, another high-profile, not-so-edgy, gi-normo church pastor tweets, “Farewell, Rob Bell” upon viewing a promotional video released in advance of the book. I’m not sure that’s necessary (neither does Doug Pagitt – yet another high-profile ginormo church pastor!) or Minnesota “Nice” (something I’m sure Piper doesn’t get accused of anyway). For more balance, check out Scot McKnight’s blog series on the book.
In the weeks following the uproar, and believe me, there have been hundreds of comments from haters and defenders of Bell and this latest work of his, I’ve been wondering two things.
1. Wouldn’t universalism render the ministry of reconciliation – the incredibly difficult, life-consuming, cross-cultural work that many of us see as integral and indicative of the transformed life – pointless? The question of salvation aside, if Jesus did not have to pour out his life for the sake of others, why should we?
2. One of the fascinating ironies of the book is that the negative response from the Christian majority supports exactly what Rob Bell implies in terms of Christians wanting to quickly determine who is and who isn’t going to heaven. Before we evangelical Christians proved Bell wrong, we proved him right. And here’s what I’m wondering…one of the reasons why I think people of other religions frown on Christians is exactly this type of internal theological discussions that get Christians to throw each other under the bus. This is different from moderate Muslims giving fundamentalist Muslims a cold shoulder. It makes me wonder if we’re so individualistic in the way we view the world, that we don’t realize that we make Team Christian look pretty bad. What do you think?