Now, I did not say I didn't have ANY problems with Velvet Elvis. He said some things that I thought were poor choices in illustrating his point that did raise some questions. Nothing to declare him a heretic though. Now about this new book, I think a lot of people are jumping the gun here before his book has even come out. Honestly, I am tired of those who shoot first and ask questions later. Rob is doing a tremendous amount of good at his church. If I am to judge a person by their fruit, then to throw the label "heretic" to a public audience without even reading the book, and not calling Mars Hill to speak to Bell himself, I think is more "unchristian" than having a universalist position on hell. Quite frankly the universalist-view has been held by some very prominent Christians in the past. (That is assuming that this is what we are arguing about before anyone has cracked the book open.) I think it can be a valid view of end times. Now, I am not one of those who hold to this view (although I honestly would prefer this option over all the others), but I do struggle with a literal interpretation of hell and the length of time being eternal. Several times it is referred to as the second death. I see that as physical death being the first and then spiritual death as second. But then there are verses that talk about eternal punishment. The fact is, we hold on to our beliefs with a sense of humility and continual study and dialogue with those who came before us, and with those in the present, figuring out what we can learn in our own times and how the Bible may apply similarly/differently to our context.
If you study the theology of just about any pastor or theologian in the past you will find things that we today would consider horribly wrong and misguided. But when you look at the cultural context in which they lived you begin to realize that the culture plays a much bigger part in shaping our faith. That is where humility must come in.
One day, 100 years from now, I am certain that the Christian community will look back on 20th century American evangelicalism and wonder how in the HELL we ever came to the conclusions that we did and declare all of us heretics. Rob is good at asking questions to get us to think. To consider different angles rather than assuming everything from the past has been figured out, therefore, we don't have a voice to consider our own context and how faith may impact us differently. Those pastors who are set in their ways from the past, influenced by a modernistic, scientific view of theology will rail against those who take a more post-modern "question-everything" psychological approach. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I sat and heard lectures about the evils of post-modernism! But this is the cultural shift we are emerging into. Each stage of history came with the previous thinkers wanting to destroy the new thinking. But the beauty of each stage was that a predominate area of theology was developed within the context of what the culture was focused on:
Reformation: salvation and justification
Renaissance: theology of humanity
20th Century: theology of sin / holy spirit
21st Century: who knows yet where this is going?
I think the best we can do though is to dialogue rather than label those you disagree with as a nonbeliever or false teacher who is leading everyone astray. The fruits of Rob's life does not match that label. One of his primary mentors was my pastor in Grand Rapids. He was Jerry Falwell's right-hand man for many years before he moved to GR. If Rob was going heretical I know that Ed Dobson would have something to say about that. But Ed, while dying of Parkinsons, still makes the effort to preach from Mars Hill's pulpit and team teaches with Rob sometimes.
The more these guys attack Rob like this, the more ridiculous they look and the more Rob, in a strictly financial sense, is going to rake in on all this negative publicity. And I hope he does. Because I know he will take all that money and put it into significant ministries around the world that are having a big impact on changing the world for the better.
I ran into all of this yesterday on the twitter-universe. It made me mad and I wanted to blog about it, but I shouldn't do it in anger. Piper has always struck me as a Reformist theologian who is very judgmental and angry at times in the way he handles himself. (And absolutely bizarre on Twitter at times). I used to listen to his podcast but I just got tired of him. He always seemed angry about something. And really, who made him the father of theology in our nation? There are things about Reformed theology that are just wacked. One day we will all sit before God and he will himself explain where we got it right and were we got it wrong. And those who came before us and after us might be surprised that he still allowed us into His kingdom!
There are my two cents.
Pastor Scott Russ