I can’t not have an opinion. Seminary is breeding ground for these types of posts. The whole Rob Bell/universalism debate that exploded via tweets led me to greater questions of my own to ask of the book (which I have not read) and the critics (which haven’t read it either).
Allow me to back the train up for non-nerds who don’t keep up on preachers via Tweetdeck.
Rob Bell, easily one of my top 5 favorite teachers, wrote another book. Since he’s already covered the heated topic of sexuality, this time he thought he’d take on heaven, hell and eternal destity. You know – light, before-bed type reading. Critics (of which the Meanie Award goes to Piper… my opinion on that cluster to come later) hold that Robbie B nears too close to “universalism”, meaning everybody gets to go to heaven no matter their belief (ok, there are varying degrees of such thought, because it’s impossible for anyone to disagree in the same way, but you can bone up on your escatology here).
Because, like the critics and other fans, I have not read the book, I don’t really have a opinion of what he’s “really saying.” But I do have an opinion on what critics are saying. Actually, KLR had it as a quote in her FB at one point – it read (paraphrased – I tried to google it but couldn’t find it. I only looked once. You can proofcheck me, I don’t care):
If heaven and hell didn’t exist, I’d follow Jesus just the same.
So I want to ask the critics: If, as you propose that Rob proposes, heaven and hell don’t exist, would you love Jesus just the same?
Under that question, what I’m really asking is: do you believe based on fear of punishment or in anticipation of reward?
I was fortunate enough to have over an hour in a rocking chair at 1am to perseverate on this further and even come up with (semi-) parallel examples. Behold.
First, love. Do we only love out of fear (aka, of being alone)? What kind of relationship does that yield? Or, on the flip side, do we only love because of what we get out of it – such as clean laundry, a nest egg or pretty children? Love, in its nature, brings a lot of personal benefit – it feels good. But why do we choose to engage in loving others? I propose it’s because we want to be a part of something greater than ourselves. True love is more than “what I can get” or what you’re avoiding.
Exhibit B: learning. Ask any teacher, there are those who do enough to avoid punishment (this was husband’s experience earlier this year; I’ll allow him a guest post sometime to share how succesful that method of motivation turns out to be). A step up are the students to complete assignment if reward is involved. But withhold the reward, and behold, little to no response. Also not overly effective. But there is a third, the student who dives into learning for the sake of gaining knowledge, of being exposed to bigger ideas, to grow. Again, participating in something larger than yourself.
If we put following Jesus on par with love or learning, we have to ask what kind of faith is produced when it stems from fear or anticipating personal gain. I’m not sure it’s the kind of faith that will be tested through the trials or tribulations, much less a book about the everlasting.
I’m not arguing for or against whatever Rob may or may not have written. But the sensitivity of some regarding their opinions of theology didn’t make me squirmy about the book; it made me squirmy about being sensitive about theology. I thought, “is this what I sound like?” Perhaps we could learn more if we stopped defending and asked about the implications if we were wrong. And, more often times than not, it won’t lead us to change our theology but rather gain understanding of why we believe what we do.