Thursday, April 7, 2011

Everybody Hates Rob Bell

I don't think it's strange that Rob Bell faces so much hate.  For the most part what is happening to him right now happens to every public figure that dares to have an opinion.  No matter what you say, someone in this great wide world is going to nitpick, disagree and/or call you names for saying it.  Sometimes this criticism will be richly deserved, other times completely unfair and the only constant in all this will be that you can't please all the people all of the time. Not ever.

Here is what I do find strange about all the cries of "heretic" and "false teacher" directed at Rob Bell though.  Somehow these same people only find these words objectionable when Rob speaks them - from the mouth of another they are perfectly acceptable.  Why is it that something can be a profound truth when someone else says it but at the same time be a profound heresy when Rob Bell says it?

It's the hipster look isn't it?  "Cool" pastors are always up to something!

I have two examples of this phenomenon.  The concerns a claim he made in the NOOMA video "Dust".  Behold the scathing Australian criticism:

Clearly Bruce* here has a real bug up his ass about the idea that people having any self confidence at all.  That is the only explanation I can offer for such an extreme reaction to such a minor point.    Apparently if you dare have self confidence and entertain the idea that God could somehow like you, you are giving yourself over to humanism, which is almost worse than choosing to be gay!  I have a few short notes on his criticisms.  Firstly, the Scripture is wide open to interpretation here.  He's right, it doesn't explicitly say Peter didn't have enough faith in himself but its not as if Jesus was specific in His reprimand; He didn't say "Why did you not have more faith in ME?"  Secondly, his analysis of the original Greek is an outright lie.  The original word by no means translate as "Faith in Christ".  For such a Greek word to have existed Christians would have had to invent it!  Check for yourself, the word Oligopistos means exactly what it was translated as: "little/scant faith".  Thirdly, commentaries are exactly that, they are opinion pieces written about the Bible.  What makes these interpretations more valid than the one offered by Rob?  Commentaries are not sacred, authoritative interpretation handed down to us from the Lord God Almighty!  They may be informed opinions but still just opinions.  Lastly it is his claim that no scholar ever expressed a similar opinion to that of Rob Bell that brings me back to my original point.

Guess who said it long before Rob Bell did?  Scholar, historian and conservative Christian darling Ray Vander Laan.  His "That the World May Know" ministry strives to teach the Bible in it's original Jewish context and he has a DVD series where he takes tour groups to the archeological sites in the Middle East to to just that.  I own almost all the DVD's and would recommend them highly.  On DVD number six named "In the dust of the rabbi", (in section two) you will find him making the exact same claim Rob Bell makes.  In fact it should be pretty obvious when you watch it that Ray Vander Laan served as the source material for Rob Bell and not vice versa**.Now Ray is nowhere near as famous as Rob but he is not some fringe element either.  His video series is fully endorsed and distributed by none other than Focus on the Family.  You don't really get more fundamentalist than Dr James Dobson and I heard him give his personal hearty endorsement to the very video in question on his radio show once.  Interesting then that when a Christian scholar says it, it's a thought provoking discussion on what it really means to be a disciple but when Rob Bell says the exact same thing he is a heretic promoting humanism? 

My second example is of course the source of all the current hoopla, the latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Now I can't say too much about the claims the book makes because I haven't read it yet.  I'm definitely going to, I've already ordered a copy but for now I simply cannot comment on statements I haven't actually heard being made.  I don't really expect him to actually come out as an universalist (everyone goes to heaven) or an annihilationist (you don't burn in hell, you are destroyed forever) or anything like that.  Despite all the controversy, I've found Rob to usually be pretty orthodox in his beliefs so I'm interested to see where he is going with this.   But let's say the great fears of his critics are true and that he claims that God isn't going to torture untold billions for ever and ever while only saving the teeny minority who happened to have been at the right place and right time in order to believe the right thing.  Is that really anything new?  Is this a claim that has been made by other popular Christian authors perhaps?  You bet!

Guess who said it long before Rob Bell did?  Only one of the most popular Christan authors and lay theologians of all time, CS Lewis.

Yeah that's right, the Narnia guy!

As Jeff Cook noted in a recent blog comparing the two men, "There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis".  Now that blog post offers a good comparison between the works of CS Lewis and Love Wins so I'm not going to do a rewrite all of that and instead just offer one more example.  In the last book of the Narnia series, there is a scene (one of my favorites of the entire series really) that gives a facinating look into Lewis' views on the afterlife.  Here Emeth, a follower of Tash (a demonic entity that was the god of a different country in Narnia) meets Aslan (the allegory for Jesus) in the afterlife:

"But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Yet while that piece seems to clearly suggest that CS Lewis thought that followers of other religions will ultimately be redeemed in Heaven I've never heard anyone make a peep about it.  Certainly the average evangelical doesn't habitually reach for their fainting couch when CS Lewis gets mentioned.  If anything he is considered a wise teacher of profound truths.  Why is Rob Bell then such a heretic for having an allegedly similar opinion?

I wouldn't have much issue with the criticism Rob receives if it was at least given consistently.  However it is increasingly starting to look as if the problem is more with the person giving the opinion than with the contents of the opinion itself.  Increasingly the relationship between Rob Bell and his critics are starting to resemble the relationship between Obama and the Republicans...

*They're all called Bruce right?  Surely Monty Python wouldn't lie to me?
**The dvd series used to be on the Mars Hill recommended resource list (which doesn't seem to exist anymore).  If a comment he made on "Everything is Spiritual" is anything to go by, Rob actually attended at least one of these tours too.

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