As I was browsing my Facebook feed tonight, I stumbled across a link from Curtis – one of our readers – to this YouTube video, which I think is best characterized as a carefully laid ambush of Rob Bell on his new book, Love Wins:
The video title – and comments that follow – say that Bell “squirms” during the interview. They also say there is a lot of inconsistent double-talk. I am not sure I agree with that assessment. He is obviously uncomfortable and caught by surprise, but his answers – which deal with fairly complex theological and scriptural issues – come across to me as quite coherent. Then again, I’m already familiar with Bell and his views, and the interview moves at a fairly quick pace, so I can see how others might struggle to follow him.
Many of the comments that follow (I glanced through 50+ pages before I gave up reading them) are – to put it mildly – vicious and dismissive. And surprisingly, there is very little substance to most of them. Many of them seem to do little more than celebrate the fact that Bell seemed uncomfortable. One commenter made a dismissive remark about Bell’s “God is love” philosophy, citing two passages that he claims contradict it. This was bizarre to me because that phrase – exactly – is a central theme in the Gospel of John and in 1st and 2nd John.
Commenting on this same controversy, Scot McKnight recently said that: “I find some people can get intoxicated on wrath and it can lead them in a triumphalist dance of anger.” Makes sense to me. If you think you live in a universe where “wrath wins” for the vast majority of humans, then…well, that cosmic view is going to come out in the way you respond to this stuff.
I expect Bell can deal with this adversity. My worries are about all of the people in fundamentalist and reformed churches who have questions about this issue, and who are listening to the harsh absolutism that is coming from their peers, pastors, and leaders. Their questions are going to continue to go unasked because this sort-of tone is intimidating and silence-inducing. No one wants to be branded a heretic or dismissed from their church with a curt “farewell.” Better to keep your questions and anxieties to yourself.
And one final note: I haven’t read the book yet, but based on the interviews I’ve seen, it sounds like Bell is not saying much of anything that is different from NT Wright, CS Lewis, and even the aforementioned Scot McKnight. If he is on shaky ground, he is not alone, and if you want to prevail in a debate over the issue, it isn’t enough to simply discredit Bell. You’re also going to have to take on a classic Christian writer and one of the most highly respected New Testament scholars of our day.