Transforming Apologetics: A Critical Apologetic Appraisal of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

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Would you like us to take another look at this review? No, cancel Yes, report it Thanks! You've successfully reported this review. We appreciate your feedback. He is an evangelical hero who, theologically speaking, may not make the cut of evangelicalism today. But he is loved by evangelicals nonetheless. In fact, he is loved across denominational and traditional lines. Another evangelical magazine, Christian History , named him among the top ten most influential Christians of the 20th century. Whether you are an emerger or an evangelical, Baptist or Presbyterian, a cessationist or continuationist, a Calvinist or an Arminian not that all of these are mutually exclusive , C.

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Lewis is not only kosher, but staple. However, C. Theologically, there is some stuff people try to sweep under the rug as well. In fact, though I say C. Lewis is loved by all, I do remember walking into church one day years ago. I saw a church elder throwing away a lot of books as well.

They were all C. When I inquired about his odd blasphemous actions, he said that C. Lewis was a heretic because he did not believe in inerrancy. While this is something of an extreme example, I think it is important to realize that not everyone likes C. Almost everyone, but not all. To top it all off, he held out hope for the destiny of the unevangelized, believing that Christ might save them outside of direct knowledge of him inclusivism.

With all of these foibles, I seriously doubt any evangelical church would take a second look at his resume were he to apply for a pastorate at their church today. In fact, this list alone would be enough for many to call him a heretic. However, we still love him. We still read him. We still defend him. We still hand out his books by the dozens to friends and family who are struggling with their faith.

Bob Jones but questioned by Dr. Consider another man: Rob Bell. From what I have read and seen, he seems to have far fewer theological problems than C. In fact, on paper , he is probably more evangelical than C. He might even make it through the interview process at most evangelical churches. He, like Lewis, has written many works about the Christian faith. His latest book, Love Wins , is a runaway bestseller. He is not beloved. His writings are not handed out like tracts, except for in niche groups. He does not have broad Christian appeal.

Well, on the tip of your tongue is this: because he believes in universalism the idea that all will be saved. Rob Bell supporters often appeal to C. In fact, Rob Bell seems to love and be inspired by C. Lewis in his thoughts and ideas. Lewis but hate Rob Bell? First of all, no one hates Rob Bell or at least, no one should. But, speaking for myself, I am very comfortable handing out C. Even A Grief Observed , where Lewis attempts to retain his faith in God while questioning everything in the middle of a crucible of doubt and pain, is one of my favorite books to give to people who are hurting.

Lewis, I do not endorse or embrace the ministry of Rob Bell. You see, while C. Lewis has a great deal of theological foibles, his ministry is defined by a defense of the essence of the Gospel. The essence of who Christ is and what he did are ardently upheld by Lewis, saturating every page of his books. All other things set aside, this is what you leave with every time you read Lewis.

The problematic areas are peripheral, not central. They are not the subjects of his works and do not form the titles of his books. However, with Rob Bell, the essence of who Christ is and what he did seems to be secondary. One has to look for those things as they weed through his defenses of non-traditional Christianity. Traditional apologetics, orthodoxy, and foundations are brought into question from beginning to end. Another way to put this is to say that in the ministry of C. Lewis, the central truths of the Christian faith are the chorus of his songs, with the occasional problem in the stanzas.

Now, let me be straight. I have no problem with challenging traditions. I have no problem with questions, doubts, and reforms. I think we all need this. It is the essence of what we call semper reformanda at least in a modified form. However, when your ministry is characterized and defined by this type of emerging reform and unsettled skepticism of traditional Christianity, you have stepped over the line and lost yourself and your right to have godly influence. And it is not just Rob Bell that is at issue. They give lip service to the essence of Christianity, but from their platform it is only peppered in here and there.

Christ, the cross, sin, righteousness, and all other elements that create the essence of who we are became the subjects of challenges — mere lines in the song. Lewis is committed to the essence of the historic Christian faith. Truth, doctrine, love, and righteousness are found in everything he writes and says. They are the chorus. With Mclaren, on the other hand, traditional Christian beliefs and practices form more of what seems to be an embarrassing afterthought that he proclaims only under duress.

Lewis to Rob Bell. There is no comparison. Neither is it fair to team Rob Bell up with many of the great saints of the past, such as the Cappidocians or Origen as is often done. Yes, they all have problems, but the question is, Do these problems define the essence of their ministry and passion? With Rob Bell and many like him , they do. What can Bell do about this?

I seriously doubt he is looking for advice from me, but here is what I would do if I were his campaign manager. I would tell him to take his cue from Lewis. If you are going to claim the legacy of Origen, the Cappidocians, or Lewis, embrace the essence of their ministry , not the periphery of their thought. And, just to be fair, if Lewis would have moved his foibles from his back pocket to his front pocket, he would not be accepted much either. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children.

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Michael is available for speaking engagements. Of course, if you try to replace the core narrative of Christianity with something else then you have, in effect, left Christianity even if you still carry around its sacred writings out of habit. I would say that Bell should not be criticized for holding unorthodox views some of which I obviously share but for participating in this sort of deconstructionist critique.

Sadly, most Christians would be just as shocked by their own Bibles as they would by Lewis if they read either. I think also for many today: C. In many ways Lewis is Barthinian or should Barth be considered Lewisian? Both held a high view of Christ to be central to life and faith. I think your main point the centrality of Christ is the key ingredient to the argument for Lewis and against Bell, but I have another, maybe simpler explanation. Personally, Lewis was endorsed whole-heartedly by my mother when I was eight years old.

He was a family friend before he was a theologian. We accept a lot of strange quirks from family friends that would be moral failings in people we met on the street. I think the major issue is that C. If our pastor taught what Bell teaches we would have him removed.

What he did extraordinarily well is to understand that tradition, understand Christianity in general, and communicate clearly explaining in such a way that made difficult or obscure concepts crystal clear. And he was able to draw clear, logical distinctions between things and show where the logic of some arguments is flawed and fautly.

Instead of using language to clarify, they use it to obscure and often to make the lesser argument appear the greater, to make something sound as if it is the same as something else, or equivalent, or interchangeable, when important, even crucial differences exist. Also Bell comes from a tradition too, American evangelical Wheaton College, etc. He explodes it. As a Fundamentalist Baptist C. Lewis was not a genuine Christian. He was a Heretic. Bell is an impostor and not a genuine Christian either. These men do not represent Biblical Christianity but a counterfeit type.

Honestly who would follow either of these two men. This might be a good place for me to mention an article I wrote a few years back covering and ETS paper on the question of CS Lewis going to heaven The presenter concluded that Lewis did not make it. But I think Lewis was also a nice winsome guy. He was reasonable and he was cool bc he smoked a pipe. And since he lived on the other side of the Atlantic at a time when travel was not as easy, he could be supported. I know that might sound ironic because he is so clearly driven by the questions people are asking and a desire to provide comforting answers.

This makes us not trust him. He seems to bend over backwards to provide comforting answers for a certain class of people but those outside that class are dismissed. Unlike CS Lewis, he does not give the vibe of someone who has done his homework, has wrestled with the issues and has come up with the best answer. The fact that he plays marking games with important spiritual questions is also another similar problem. You could also have mentioned John Stott, who believed in annihilation probably not so different than Bell, actually.

Lesson to be learned and this cuts in good and bad ways : evangelicals often bluster about doctrinal purity, when the real issue is different. For example, I have a relative who was a non-believer, and he credits Lewis as having a big role in convincing him of the Christian faith. Lewis gets a lot of rope because of examples like that. So he bears little fruit as far as convincing non-believers in the merits of Christianity. And at the same time he drawing people who are already believers away from doctrines which are important. For me, if people like that did not exist, I would be unable to be a Christian.

I have never been able to subscribe to Evangelical Christianity, nor do I want to. Indeed whatever C. Jackes Lewis was, he was really no strict evangelical, even as an Anglican. Note his great friendship with Austin Farrer, who was his personal confessor. I rarely agree with Rowan, but truly Austin Farrer was a great Christian thinker-theolog!

Duane — Thanks for the comment about MacArthur.

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I saw this interview and could not believe MacArthur actually said what he did. I believe his comments represent much of what is wrong with Evangelicalism today. MacArthur, though he may not realize it, has redefined what it means to be a Christian. Not only does one need to believe in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, but it seems that one must also believe in a long list of doctrinal positions. This is kind of sad. Michael — Your article is well done.

I have a few disagreements with what you say toward the end with regard to historical Christianity but your main point is great. I remember reading Velvet Elvis, liking much of what I read, but begging Bell to define what it meant to be saved — he never did. I find it interesting that the different attitudes are based not on what each individual believes, but what he emphasizes. Very good highlighting of the differences between the two. However, it is just that point concerning what is central that has kept me focused and susceptible to the Holy Spirit when answers to my questions are delayed.

For I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified. If Lewis were not fully reconciled to Evangelicalism he certainly was to the Gospel. This is not meant to overlook Bell I know nothing about him , but it is simply to say that a kind of theological pedantry tends to create rather than tear down barriers to faith.

In my view Lewis avoided that error. Lewis with Rob Bell. Their is no comparison. It seems to me that the things he denied are the essence of the gospel and central not peripheral. I appreciate the writings of Lewis and Bell because they say the same things I am thinking, or ask the same questions I am asking. It is an invitation and a conversation many of us want to have.

That struck a deep resonance with me. It was the Christian outcry against Bell that chased away the many of us who really would like to talk about these things. If the outrage against Bell is representative of the body of Christ, then those of us with questions will never truly be invited in. Brothers should never turn on brothers and certainly not in public. The rest of us are watching you and deciding whether this is a family we could consider being a part of.

Consider that perhaps Bell, like Lewis, has a ministry to those on the edge, who with a little coaxing might step forward, if his brothers and sisters would support what he is doing. Well, Lewis grew out of a more mainline, intellectual and European Christian context Anglican , and he was probably a bit more conservative than many of his contemporaries in the modern, mainline, European world.

Evangelicals tend to like people like this, because they seem to be a solid witness within the liberal, troublesome, watered down, and unfaithful modern church. To evangelicals it appears that Lewis is moving towards them in thinking and doctrine.


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Same with Boenhoffer, Barth, Ratzinger, Chesterton, etc. None of these guys would have cared. Bell on the other hand, is a solid evangelical who really just discovered mainline theology and praxis… so it appears that Bell is moving away from evangelicalism. Same with McLaren. Theology police. However, if the slippage is coming the other way, from liberal to conservative, it appears to evangelicals to be a good thing, never mind the actual theology or doctrine.

Orthodox Christianity and faith in the King Jesus Christ, can stand on its own and with the continued power of the HS , it does not need the evangelical thought police to enforce it, never mind the specific theological, historical, and doctrinal problems and inconsistencies that run the gamut of the American evangelical world. I will say this, all my friends who are evangelical pastors and theologians in the mainline denominations mainly PCUSA find this kind of stuff fascinatingly hilarious.

Basically take a theological idea that has been around for over a thousand years or a wider theological perspective from the broader church that we are all already aware of and have dealt with and drop into evangelicalism of the Baptist or Bible church kind as if it is something completely new, and then watch the fisticuffs and fireworks. I really liked this article lots to thinnk about. After reading the comments, one thing stands out. So why does every church argue their exclusivity on the truth? That is a rhetorical question not one I expect an answer to here.

I think that is a point that needs to be remembered. But they will be responsible for their leadership. Sorry I think too much. Great food for thought in this article and well presented. So who are we to judge who will or will not go to heaven… point to be made for comment number 15… who are we to be judging anyone else getting into heaven or hell?

Lewis — despite his decidedly questionable theology — but nevertheless castigate Rob Bell for […]. Very well put. Before I read the article, while the page was loading and I just knew the title, the only thing that came to mind was this:. Rob Bell has some good points. A few sentences here and there in his books that I agree with and appreciate.

As someone who essentially learned theology and apologetics from the collected works of C. He is repeatedly unfair to his opponents in Love Wins , and unlike Lewis he tends to smack of post-rational mystery mongering. Having said that: the climactic final chapters of LW, which are the ground and aim of his whole book, are saturated with orthodox Christology and an evangelical call to repent and place trust in Christ alone for salvation from our sins.

Does he lead out with controversial doctrinal challenges? For Love Wins , those portions are topically and logically cardinal even if late in the book. Links to that text, as well as to a shorter more formal summary, can be found at a press release here:. For a related article on how close C. Lewis got to trinitarian Christian universalism and some biography on how that helped lead me to it, too , click here:. Hate is such a strong word; so is love for that matter. And if I truly hate Rob Bell, then I need to look within myself.

I happen to disagree with Rob Bell on a pretty large set of very important doctrinal issues. I also happen to disagree with Lewis on a number of doctrinal points. This is the problem with looking to the person and not to the Spirit of Truth. We are called upon to examine their teachings and our own views in light of the Word of God and reject those that do not agree with that standard regardless of whether personal preference.

A Rob Bell, even if in error, can be valuable in that he can help focus our attention on something that requires our careful study of scripture to understand what scripture teaches. The point is to focus on Scripture, not on the man. Within such a context ideas are presented in a didactic or dogmatic style, one that confronts us more directly. The new evangelical communicator is all too often just such an ideas guru, spreading non-conventional, novel, and cool insights that make us feel good and encourage us to buy into their teaching, without being prepared to engage in the same costly work of thought and defence.

While recognizing the power and potential uses of advertising, we need to develop a deeper understanding of the ways that it works and the manner in which it can distort our thought and discourse. As Christians, maintaining the integrity of our discourse is one of our primary duties. This duty does not merely demand an attention to the content of our discourse, but also to the weaknesses, temptations, and inclinations of our chosen forms.

Is the fragmented, vague, and emotionally-oriented and disorienting discourse of advertising, with its dense maze of interlocking narratives, questions, anecdotes, quotations, images, metaphors, and suggestions, the most faithful means of communication?

To the extent that our forms of discourse obfuscate the truth in order to evoke feelings that allow us to sell our ideas, we have fallen short of this goal. Great work. I was sharing that with everyone in my office last week where the talks are quite popular. So how can we be more accustomed to responding to this? Tell a counter-story? A counter-anecdote? Observe any thread on gun-control in the U. However, the consequence is that they are largely unable to engage with the argument in any sort of effective way in the public square. No amount of nostalgia for the days of good old classic rhetoric is going to change that.

How can we respond? So, we are uncertain how to respond. I know you are still chewing on this and other topics related to discouse and your opinion may still be very much congealing, but any suggestions? Sadly, I think that you are right: it is profoundly difficult to reason with such people. As I suggested in my post, people who have been raised by advertisers are illiterate when it comes to understanding and creating developed logical arguments. However, much biblical thought depends upon just such literacy, along with a sort of symbolic literacy that has been perverted by the amorphous and disordered signifiers of the advertising industry.

Without inculcating such literacy, I fear that attempts at communication will be worse than futile, as the more that one tries to reason, the more resistance one faces. However, such things are seldom completely lacking, so we must work with what we have, and seek to address what is lacking as we can for instance, creating more positive personal relationships with opponents. We need to reassert the elite character of our most important discourses wherever we can, and exclude those who lack the requisite aptitudes to participate, increasingly difficult in a society intoxicated with demotic values.

As I have suggested in previous writing , a certain training in virtue is bound up with all of this. We need to address key areas and means of formation: the education system, parenting patterns, Church teaching methods, the news media, etc. We need to become more aware of what is actually taking place in such forms of discourse. Occasionally, bringing the emptiness of the discourse into the light can have some effect, removing the mystification from which it gains much of its effectiveness. And, yes, I feel dirty using the same forms of communication back. I would be well able to, if I wanted, but I know that they lack integrity and encourage ideological illiteracy.

I respect my readers, myself, and — most importantly — the truth that I am trying to serve far too much to indulge in perverse forms of discourse. At the moment I share your frustration, without being able to offer much in the way of a solution. In many quarters the mental infrastructure of serious thought no longer exists and no progress will be made unless it is somehow put in place.

Perhaps our best hope at the moment is that of alerting people to the problem, creating a deeper consciousness of healthy modes of discourse, placing a glaring spotlight upon serious offenders, and gradually creating multilateral contexts of discourse from which such people are openly excluded. We can then undertake the gruelling task of reconstruction. Organizations like AdBusters magazine has been doing that for a couple decades now, but their extreme liberal and anti-capitalist agenda tend to get in the way most of the time. I admire, for example, what Wilson, Leithart, etc.

We need that times or times though. In the meantime, we need to stop being drawn into public debates where old-school argumentation will surely backfire. There must still be a place for fighting and defending. I think we still have to do some of that, even thought the crowd be populated with mockers.

Sooner or later that will be impossible due to the great Stumbling Block. Later would be an improvement. I also think that in certain mediums, the technique of the ad man can still be used to our advantage without tainting ourselves. Film and music are places where metaphor and emotional manipulation are completely to be expected. I think some would say they are inherent in the medium itself.

I mean, think of how lame Rob Bells book trailers would be if they were just straight-forward and logical? Might as well not even produce them at all if that is what you are going to do. How about we do really well at both things, but be careful to use them at the appropriate time? Yes, careful use of these methods in the appropriate time and place can have a positive effect. And humorous parody is always an option. They found it hard to pin Jesus down. One moment the kingdom was like a seed or a tree. The next it was like lost coin.

Make your mind up Jesus. The problem with you piece is revealed part way through where you describe the 16th century preacher being like a lawyer. At the very outset — and as I pointed out in my post — my point is not that the tools and techniques of advertising should be completely off-limits. My point is rather that we are not advertisers, our goals and norms are quite different, and Christian thought that adopts the form of advertising usually corrupts itself.

Used appropriately, they can powerfully serve thought. The problems lie less in the tools themselves than in the uses to which they are put. To very loosely paraphrase the Apostle Paul: if anyone else thinks they take the narrative forms of Scripture seriously, I more so.

I am presently engaged in a huge project in biblical narrative and symbolism, as anyone who has been following my 40 Days of Exoduses posts will realize. This, on top of the fact that biblical symbolism, typology, the allusiveness of the scriptures, and their place in the liturgical, ritual, and symbolic life of the Church are central dimensions of my current studies. I am the last person to be antagonistic to narrative as such, nor, for that matter, to communication which addresses us on levels beyond that of the purely conscious and rational.

Biblical uses of narrative tend to be strikingly different from the uses that one finds in contemporary culture and Christianity, however. Within Scripture, narratives serve a primarily orienting purpose. Biblical narratives help us to situate ourselves within a larger drama of divine activity. These narratives enable us to understand our place and role. They address our imaginations and invite our thinking to operate in terms of the frameworks that they provide for us. They are embedded in a highly developed symbolic universe to which they must manifest consistency.

I trust that my recent exoduses series is underlining this point for people. When Jesus talks about such things as dragnets, pearls, dogs, sowing and reaping, wedding feasts, masters and servants, olive trees, vines, bread, wine, older and younger brothers, mountains, the sea, fish, sheep, etc. In fact, scriptural narrative seldom focuses upon creating emotional states in us at all.

Remarkably little emotional and sensory detail is presented to us, and that which is presented typically serves clear narrative ends as my 40 Days of Exoduses series should also well illustrate. This is especially surprising when we consider just how much scope the events recorded in biblical narratives would have provided for sensory-rich and emotional tellings had God wanted to communicate with us in such a manner.

By contrast, contemporary uses of narrative are not typically means of situating and orienting us within thick and highly developed symbolic universes and providing clear direction for thought and action. Rather, narratives and anecdotes are appealed to primarily for the free-floating feelings, impressions, and connections that they can evoke.

These feelings, impressions, and connections are then leveraged to get people to accept a particular idea or course of action. For all of their talk of narrative and imagination, I find the overwhelming majority of contemporary Christians — and perhaps especially progressive Christians — functionally illiterate when it comes to the symbolism and narrative of Scripture. In such an approach, narratives frequently tend to function more as reservoirs of impressions, rather than as developed structures for imagination, reason, and action.

Although narrative details are present he owned an Oldsmobile at the age of 20, it served him well for several years; the company failed to move with the times, and he needed to get rid of the vehicle , the important thing is the Oldsmobile as an emotionally-tailored symbol. He actually tells us next to nothing about the book itself, while drawing us into a powerful movement of feelings.

Once again, when Bell gives us anecdotes, they serve as ways to make controversial points in a manner that makes it difficult for us to challenge them. We are dealing with very different sorts of narratives and anecdotes here. They engaged the imagination but in a context of thought rather than feeling manipulation.

This is why we have something like the book of Leviticus, which applies a rigorous ritual grammar to an extensive imaginative and symbolic order I have a guest post coming out on Wednesday morning that touches on some of these issues. The difference with advertising and those who use its methods is stark here. The advertising approach thrives in the dark, chaotic deep of the human imagination. Keeping the imagination fluid, opaque, and disordered allows us to create and exploit whatever connections we desire, summoning up emotive images and powerful impressions and relating them to whatever we want.

If the connections elicit emotion and get the person to act in the desired way, who cares whether or not they can withstand close analysis to determine whether they have an ordered meaning? The advertiser is always trying to conform the mind to the disordered world of the imagination, rather than bringing order to the imagination.

It often is very difficult to discern a clear thread of argument, nor does he tie himself down. Readers of his books can finish them, still uncertain about what he actually believes on some key issues. It is always disrupting critical thought processes, much of the time not even employing complete sentences and extended paragraphs as my parodic imitation in the first half of my post illustrates.

These are two of the primary tools of critical thought. Without them, instead of carefully structured chains of thought, crafted in sentences with multiple clauses, well-selected modifiers, and disciplined syntax, all embedded in tightly regimented yet complex paragraphs, we jolt and rattle along potholed roads of reasoning, paved with little more than the loose rubble of detached impressions. If Jesus of Nazareth were Rob Bell, he would have prioritized feeling over communicating understanding to those his chosen audience.

Rob of Nazareth would have brought the emotional details of his stories to the foreground. Where the sensory features and personal connections of his images could be highlighted, they would be. Rob of Nazareth would have ensured that we were personally drawn into any feeling within the parables and stories themselves. Several things. A parable is a form of symbolic prophetic discourse, purposefully designed to hide its powerful message from most hearers.

It is a form of judgment upon a people who are spiritually unreceptive Matthew The message of the kingdom that had to be voiced in secret and in cryptic riddles prior to the resurrection would be shouted from rooftops in clear speech after that. Similar things can be observed of other forms of speech and action that he employed. The forms of expression were purposefully designed to escape from tight spots. There is a time and a place for this — I have argued in favour of a place for righteous deception, for instance, in my recent 40 Days of Exoduses posts.

However, when we are called to declare the Christian message openly, it is not the appropriate time to employ such evasive forms of speech. The ad man goes to great length to avoid tripping the switches of your critical mind. The fragmentation of thought and an emphasis upon arriving at conclusions on the primary basis of strong impression is crucial to this. Although we see Jesus addressing himself to the imagination, we do not see him fragmenting the structures of thought or prioritizing emotional impression over ordered meaning.

The difference is stark. The critical faculties of listeners are engaged, rather than dulled. In short, while Rob Bell and Jesus both occasionally use similar tools, what they do with these are light years apart. Jesus speaks and acts as a Jewish prophet, engaging the ordered symbolic world of Israel with its meaningful networks of associations, preparing the new wineskins of imagination from within it for the resurrection truth of the kingdom of God that is about to split the old ones. Then someone like the Apostle Paul can expound the condensed logic of this vision.

By contrast, much of the time Rob Bell speaks and writes as a twenty first century ad man, marshalling detached but potent impressions and resonant images to elicit desirable emotional states, which can then be attached to a particular position. Jesus is always saying so much more than we think, Bell so much less.

Wow you make some pretty bold claims. This is so rooted in a current context — if you were poor in spirit in the first century context then the emotional sensibility in the words and stories of Jesus is huge. I think that any comparison of the style of Bell and his ilk with that of Scripture would make my point for me. However, the emotions are formed along textual paths. The big point is that the return from exile is about to occur. How that feels to the individual hearer is not without importance, but it is not as dominating a concern in the thinking of Jesus and the biblical writers as it typically is in ours.

While powerfully addressing and evoking feeling, the biblical narrative does not find its centre of gravity in individual feeling or individual persons at all, but in public events occurring in history, events into which we are drawn. The modern obsession with personal feelings as the measure of all biblical truth makes it very hard for us to understand this and leads to sappy thinking and preaching.

And, as for my remark about Bell being an ad man, I completely stand by it. I never claimed that we should become lawyers look again at what I said if you think that I did. That statement was merely an allusion to a point that has been made by several writers on the modes of thought and discourse that dominated previous ages. I was observing that, if a determined mode of thought could be associated with the 16th century, our own age was no less apt for such typification. I agree with much of this response. I agree that the meta-narrative of Scripture is both intentional and practically unavoidable by anyone who takes just an inkling of time unpacking it.

Writers like Tolkien and Lewis were master story-tellers as well. Rob Bell, in my opinion, is deconstructing. The first is obviously much of what you describe… a jelly-like omnibus of feel -good experiential goo. But that is a constructionist view. However, I think its misguided to expect Bell to behave as Kant, or even Lewis might.

Take the video you linked where Bell describes his Olds. These are problems. And these are not small problems, they are very large problems. First, these are not the Gospel message either and Bell knows it. Maybe he does in the book, but I have my doubts. They needed to be deconstructed — and to do that, Jesus placed the scribes and the Pharisees in the center of his parables. I live in the South, in a place where the lost would never set foot in a church because the three objections Bell raised above are prevalent in every message delivered.

The line in the sand has been drawn on issue-driven doctrine, not the eternal grace afforded by Christ crucified for sin and resurrected on the 3rd day. The contrast between Bell and such Christian writers as Lewis and Tolkien is indeed profound. Lewis and Tolkien are both committed to a sort of task of formation that differs rather dramatically from Bell, who throws around questions that unstick things, without going to great effort to put things back together in a more healthy form.

The examples that Bell brings up are live issues. But that is what Bell and others so frequently do. Appealing to vague concepts of justice, equality, and love they bypass critical analysis altogether. We are supposed to just have the impression that these things are wrong and dismiss them on the basis of that impression. However, we really need to make carefully and closely reasoned arguments and engaged with critics if we want to make such moves. The latest example I have found of this is actually the discussions about same-sex marriage within society. All other arguments have no teeth.

And yet, arguing against this is very difficult to impossible. So, what do we do? My perspective is that we need to make arguments embodied within lives that demonstrate the goodness of the truths we present. This is a slower process of persuasion, but very much a biblical one. At this stage I see no other way. You raise an important point, Ali. Healthy modes of reasoning embodied within faithful lives can be powerful over time.

There is no easy solution in the short term, though. Fortunately, God has given us all of the time in the world. Thank you for this — you put words to that sinking feeling i get when talking with my mom a universalist or one of my many Christian Judaizer friends. There is argument, but it is so hugely emotional, and reason takes a back seat.

I find both groups very hard to reason with. In my experience the only thing that makes a difference in personal interaction is patient witness with people, not pushing them farther than they feel able to go, backing off when you have made a strong point and leaving them with it. Another older blog post by another charismatic thinker on this topic… What do you think? I am reluctant to get into the subject of universalism here, given how involved a discussion we would need to have to do justice to the issue.

There will be no remaining sinful resistance in the new heavens and the new earth. However , I believe that this is consistent with the other dimension of the biblical testimony, which speaks of the reality of eternal loss and of the punishment of hell. We dissemble these truths at our peril. For example, when Jesus says it is better to cut off a hand than allow a member of the body to sin and thereby lose the body in Hell, not a single evangelical advocates for chopping off hands or poking out eyes. Yet, this was, in every respect, one of the most direct things Jesus said.

The truth-speaking style used and accepted today is an invention of modernity and 18th century rationalism. Thanks for the comment, David! It is an important issue that you raise. I address the difference between Rob and Jesus more directly in my response to Alan above. Intentionally Obscure. But then spoke very plainly to His disciples when he explained His obscurity.

Bell is not Jesus. They are not the words referred in Romans 1 that Are the Power of God unto salvation. I do think Bell is extremely clear however — that clarity though is rooted in the idea that God is bigger than what we say about God, or even bigger than what the clarity of Peter, James, and Paul have to say about God.

In fact, what God says about himself is painfully obscure in Exodus I agree totally that Jesus was intentionally obscure. When I think about what that obscurity was about however, I am brought back to Rob Bell. Jesus was obscure in a religious age which had created a faulty power-structure which preferred doctrine over relationship.

I guess where I am coming from would be that clarity in the face of a religious structure that allows its own clarity to become an object of worship would have been moot. Jesus deconstructs the relation-less void of the Jewish system by being intentionaly obscure. I want to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit and apologize if my thoughts come across as confrontational. Like many of us, I am just looking to deepen and grow.

I welcome challenging questioning and discourse here: it is the best way to sharpen minds and arguments. If we have a disagreement, why not make the most of it in a respectful manner and have some ideological sparring that might improve both of our arguments? That said, I have a ridiculously busy week ahead, so will need to bow out of this comment thread after this evening. Paul, James, and Peter are very significant here. The parable and the ad are both subversive. Both fly in under your intellectual radar. The parable then blows up. That killed David. Parables force you to wake up where ads just seduce and lull you to sleep.

And the parable blows up into rational understanding , not just a vague but powerful impression. For instance, the ewe lamb is symbolically associated with the Israelite daughter or young wife.

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This was a great post, but can you make it into an info-graphic? Great writing and debate. This is truly important for the gospel! When it comes to spreading the gospel, I believe that the true power lies in the message itself, not in our rhetorical packaging of that message, or in clever marketing. To the extent that we feel the need to tweak or airbrush that message to make it more attractive to a general audience, I think that we are in danger of placing our trust in advertising technique over the Holy Spirit and losing the true power. As Paul says of his own teaching method in 1 Corinthians And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

And, yes, as you observe, Jesus did have rather a lot to say to the experts of his day. However, what he had to say tended to have rather a lot to do with their ignorance of or obscuring of the Scriptures, often on account of their tradition. I suspect that he would have similar things to say of advertising techniques that do the same thing. Even in mission work, the Gospel is packaged in a way that best communicates its message, but the message itself is not disassembled. I still think it remains to be seen if Bell will go this far, or if he will simply adopt the medium of Western entertainment without getting to the message.

I think in Love Wins, Bell stopped short of communicating the true power of Christ, but I will say that for the first time in about 15 years, my atheist friends were bringing up spirituality to me not the other way around after they read it. Thanks for the comment, David. As I pointed out elsewhere, medium and message are inescapably intertwined in the Christian gospel. We need variety in the forms of our presentation. However, this need for variety does not mean that every form of presentation is justifiable.

Most definitely not! I am encouraged to hear that it has been a means for non-Christians to reconsider the gospel. In a context where people have a lot of spiritual debris in their lives from negative experiences with unchristian presentations of the gospel, a fresh voice can make a difference.

My concern is the cost at which this effectiveness in communication is gained. What I love about Rob is that he always refers to the ways our world is messed up and how desperate we are to receive good news. In the early days, it is very clear that he had a lot of pride in his ability to take relatively unknown biblical texts and unpack them he started Mars Hill with a series on Leviticus, of all texts.

Over the years, he learned to craft his message to borderline offending the conservative crowd, just challenging tradition enough without significant division. But at times he was radical enough to divide many members at Mars Hill specifically on his posture towards inclusion of female pastors, and later on his suggestions of differing views of the afterlife with Love Wins. These can occasionally be very good things: it all depends on the idea and the tradition. However, when the delicious frisson of being edgy and challenging becomes an end in itself, our thought will soon become twisted.

They absolve themselves of responsibility by not committing himself, while pushing people in directions without clear guidance. The pastor is called to teach and guard the flock committed to his charge, not to insinuate radical ideas to them. I was 32 at the time. I was speaking of the trailer from the perspective of a generic viewer. I appreciate your thoughts on this. Or is there a best medium for our message? You ask some very important questions. I believe that we should encourage and employ many forms of discourse in the life of the Church.

I believe that debate is crucial in the context of theological discourse, for instance. This demands a clear and directed presentation of biblical truth in a manner that calls for and encourages personal and ongoing commitment. There are other occasions, for instance, in Sunday School where we might aim more for the imagination or something else. Much Christian teaching rightly addresses the mind and imagination primarily.

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It typically downplays the unwelcome demands of God upon our lives, replacing the good news with the feelgood news. The ad man makes the most of impressions and vagueness, where God calls for a clarity that challenges us. Our message is not something that can or should be extracted from a medium. Consequently, as those seeking to present the truth of God faithfully, attention to our medium is crucial: not only our message but also our media must conform to Christ.

We have many forms of faithful discourse at our disposal, and we must speak truthfully to people using a manner appropriate to them. For instance, much of my blog is written on a slightly more academic level. However, if I were to address young children in such a style I would neither be a good servant of the gospel, nor of them. Nevertheless, the same norms apply in the case of all of our discourses, if they are to be faithful and truthful. I love the fact that you enjoy Mad Men. What a terrific show. Another related question might be, to what extent should sermons be motivational, as opposed to didactic or some other approach.

Rob Bell has been a theologically moving target for some time, so earlier material is not necessarily an indication of the quality and content of later material and vice versa. My concern is with the poisonous effect that advertising and its forms have on discourse and thought, especially discourses for which clarity and commitment are important.

Particularly concerning is the willingness to throw our lot in completely with such styles of discourse, merely because they are — quite indisputably — effective. You only have to look at politics to see how effective yet toxic discourse driven by the forms of advertising can become. I believe that sermons should primarily be about addressing the conscience, which demands the avoidance of vagueness in the message, and a challenge to deep and costly personal commitment.

There are times and places for other forms of discourse. An evening of Mad Men would be wonderful! Hopefully one day we will have the opportunity! It seems to me that Mr.


  1. Commentary on James.
  2. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell.
  3. Breaking Beauty?
  4. Upcoming Events?
  5. Your reasonable argument is still based on belief: in God, in the Bible as the authoritarian Word of God, as Christ being the Son of God. In the end, your argument is based on your experience of God. Truth is only relative because people are individuals. It seems to me that there is a place in there for a mystic like Bell to focus on the personal experience outside of a theology discussion. I think that we should beware of confusing mystery with vagueness. Mystery is at the very heart of our faith. However, the Christian Church has gone to considerable effort to give definition to the mystery, without dissolving it.

    Take, for instance, all of the ecumenical creeds on the person and natures of Christ or on the doctrine of the Trinity. These truths are mysteries, but the Church was prepared to be torn apart to ensure that we spoke about these mysteries clearly. Reason can never fully comprehend God, but this inability was never an invitation to vague impressions to step in and try to do the job for it.

    My argument is not merely based upon my personal experience, but also upon the divinely inspired apostolic testimony, the faith of the Church, and its testimony to the truth. Interpretations are relative. One of the reasons why people arrive at so many different interpretations is because they presume that most of our differences of interpretation say more about Scripture than they do about its interpreters.

    Nor do the limitations of interpretation justify every form of experiential hermeneutic or the employment of impressionistic rhetorical styles in our teaching. You can claim that there is one truth, but this idea is still filtered through your own brain, your own biology. You can claim that the Christian Church has successfully or even partially defined the mystery through ecumenical creeds, etc, but still, this belief is filtered through your own biology, thus the existence of those who claim that those same creeds were an exercise to consolidate power inside the Roman Empire.

    All of these claims end up being filtered through what we believe of the world: our eyes, our ears, our hands, how we experience the world. The Knowing of a God that meets us on the road, speaks to use out of nowhere and we hear God, respond to God. No theology. Just the Word before the Bible. The Word that was there in the beginning. I hope that all of you will understand if — given the fact that I have an exceedingly busy week — I bow out of this discussion at this point.

    I hope that I have already addressed most of the principal questions that would arise out of my post in the comments already. But where would Augustine have been without his grasp of rhetoric? Or Paul, if you read him closely. This is language intended to persuade, and the art of suasion has always been equal parts reason, emotion, and shared cultural referents.

    Or, to put in classical terms, logos, pathos, and ethos. I think you all are wrapped way to tight around the axle … you parse words and meanings and miss the point … We are human, we have emotion , we have longings.. How you get there and what it takes to get you there is irrelevant. Who is You Lord? The entire beginning is about this problem of the definitions of words like God. That is totally true.. Pingback: Harper Happenings. A truly fascinating discourse in both the article and perhaps even more so through the comments and replies. I find myself in both camps here. The Everything is Spiritual tour would perhaps sum that up well.

    That being said, I see the entire point of being wary of an advertising pitch on Jesus. The article here presents Rob Bell as an ad man. The examples given are in videos that are quite clearly…advertisements. They are product plugs. They are movie trailers. Alastair wrote a well-reasoned article on the dangers of the ad man approach to theology.

    They lead to a discourse and those of us reading the article and the comments are gobbling up that discourse.