Over the last few weeks, since Justin Taylor brought everyone’s attention to the trailer for Rob Bell’s new book, there’s been a good deal of debate, discussion… and a bit of name calling. Bell’s been making the rounds with the media, including a story in USA Today, a live webcast with Newsweek editor Lisa Miller, and even a stop with Martin Bashir at MSNBC.
Particularly in the last two events cited, it’s been fascinating to see how Bell reacts to pointblank questions. Lisa Miller asked him outright if he was a liberal mainline Protestant posing as an Evangelical, stating that everything he’s writing in this book has been said in the mainline denominations for the last 50 or 60 years. And he squirms for a moment before answering that he believes he’s totally an Evangelical and orthodox. And while some might think that Bashir was being uncharitable, he took the opportunity to ask the hard questions that many have been wanting to ask Bell for years, giving him ample opportunity to clarify. Again, he squirms and fails to ever give a simple or straight answer, which is incredibly frustrating.
Regardless of where you stand on the Rob Bell-arama of the last month, whether you’re for or against what he’s teaching, a question we all should be asking is, “What good is going to come of all of this?”
My wife and I have been talking about this since for weeks now and she made much the same point as Kevin DeYoung in his monster review/response:
Love Wins has ignited such a firestorm of controversy because it’s the current fissure point for a larger fault-line. As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism. The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.
This point is bang on. There is incredible division underlying the whole evangelical movement and this is only going to make it more evident. Because the place of the Bible within corporate worship and within the lives of so many of us has been downplayed in favor of entertainment or having a good experience, we’ve forgotten what it says, why it matters and who is in authority over us (that’s Jesus, if you’re wondering where I stand on that).
So as this divide becomes more and more evident, here are a few positive things that I can see coming:
1. People will eventually have to put their cards on the table. As Jared Wilson put it well, “Thanks to the inevitable picking of sides, we get to see who aligns with heterodox views and who doesn’t.” This will actually help us all to understand how to talk to one another if we actually want to have meaningful dialogue, as many profess is their desire.
2. People will learn the difference between asking questions and questioning. This, ultimately,has to do with motivation. If asking questions about essential doctrines is based on a desire to understand how they came to be and why they matter, it’s a good and God-honoring thing. If questions come unceasingly and answers are never accepted, perhaps there’s something more going on than wanting to know the answer.
3. Doctrinal clarity will emerge. Heresy and scandal have had a way of helping the Church come to a clear position on the key doctrines of the faith. It happened with Athanasius and Arius over the eternality of Christ. It happened with Augustine and Pelagius over the sinful nature of man and our ability to attain salvation on our own. It happened with Marcion and his dualistic view of God that ultimately led to the solidifying of the biblical canon. These weren’t mere dialogues over different perspectives. They were efforts to contend for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This debate opens the door for the Church to regain a robust understanding of, and appreciation for, the essentials of the faith and an opportunity for us to repent of being like the church at Pergamum and turning a blind eye to the false teaching in our midst (cf. Rev. 2:14-15). The Christian faith, if we really believe it’s true, is worth contending for and conforming to.
That, in a nutshell, is the good that I hope will come from the Bell brouhaha. How about you?