Hoopla is all over the web in the US Christian world about Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Rob Bell is a mega-church pastor in Michigan and is well known especially for his Nooma videos, presenting discipleship principles in an engaging and creative video format.
My perspective on Bell is primarily a historical lens, having studied and read many Church history books - and seeing the sway of the heretical since the earliest days of the Christian Church. Comparatively, Bell is no where near some of the crazy, heretical teachings of those excommunicated by the Church over the centuries. But his vagueness about the clear teachings of Scripture is dangerous and ungodly.
I've read nearly every blog or article I've seen tweeted or posted reviewing the situation and Bell's new book. In video interviews he carries on a consistent ambiguity and vagueness, but seems to really want to be seen as orthodox (standard Christian perspective). My guess would be that he is not interested in book sales (maybe his publishers are) but rather in casting a wider net to those disillusioned with the Church - trying to intrigue them and seem like he's on their side so they will come and consider the claims of Christ. His heart has always been pointed in that direction. He is befriending sinners and offending the Church, but not in the way Jesus did it.
Here's some historical perspective:
We can't change or redefine the Gospel: When we pick and choose what we like in the Bible, it is not the Bible we believe in but ourselves. You can take away bits and pieces of the Gospel, but you will take away the power to change lives. We are called to preach the simple Gospel as it was passed down to us - because that is where the power is! Our job is not to repaint the Gospel. Maybe present it in new and wonderful ways, but repainting it causes it to lose it's power. We didn't get to where we are today (1 in 3 people claiming faith in Jesus Christ ... Christianity started with 1 in 3 million never even knowing who Jesus was ... and they preached an exclusive Gospel back then). It's not our message, it's God's. We don't decide why it makes sense, there will always be an element of trust and faith in His Gospel.
God still has wrath: The wrath of God was and still is Biblical and true. Just do a word study in the Bible about it. Animal sacrifices were offered for thousands of years to curb away the wrath of God (springing from the inherent holiness and perfection of God in response to our inherent wickedness). Jesus was the sacrifice once for all - God in His love for us gave everything for us to be redeemed to Him - all we have to do is follow Him. This makes it our choice. I like what a new friend Matt shared on his blog - "Can love really win if it forces us to love God back?" God's wrath did not end with Christ's death (we will still have Judgement to come at the end of everything), but it did make a way for all those who choose to follow Jesus.
We are inherently sinful and deserve hell: The world and many cults tell us the closer we get to God, the more we realize our own divinity. The Gospel and clear message of Scripture is the closer we get to God, the more we realize our own depravity. The trouble is we cannot see ourselves clearly or appropriately, until we see God and His glory.
Hell is very real: Jesus taught about hell more than anyone in the Bible. That should scare us. He taught that it is horrible, people don't want to go there, will wish they could get out and that it will go on for eternity. This is the issue I have with even people like C. S. Lewis stating "hell is locked from the inside." On one hand, yes, people slap God in the face enough and he lets them go their own way (which is straight to hell). But in the Bible, people may dig their own pit, but once they fall in - it seems to be clear they will want to get out but will not be able to. This is why hell is hell. Our friend Frank Shelton gave a great presentation of the Biblical reality of hell recently in a panel on Fox News.
Jesus did not die in vain: This is the biggest statement we can make. God did not send His only Son into the world to live a humbled, sinless life and die a gruesome death for our sins if hell was not horrible and real and if there was not any other way to the Father, or way to reconcile His wrath (which again is the collision of the inherent holiness and perfection of God with the inherent wickedness of humanity).
Likewise, the record of Church history is littered with the martyrs. Literal millions (there have been more martyrs in the last century, than the previous 19 centuries combined) who have given up their lives (do you comprehend how hard this would be - we all want to stay alive) rather than deny the truth and power of the Gospel. Their accounts are staggering and sobering. They slap us awake to the reality of all this. This is not a joke, not a play, this is for real and we'd better wake up to this reality before it's too late. Do we really think millions upon millions of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters gave up their lives to stand up for the integrity of the message of Christ, but we can sit in complacency to Christ's call and hope for loopholes in the message for the lost and Christ-less masses across the earth in our generation? Don't believe it for a second.
11 out of 12 of the original leaders of our Christian faith gave their lives rather than deny one ounce of the truth and mystery of the Gospel. My good friend Luke was just in Venice and recalled seeing a painting of just one of them - Bartholomew. Bartholomew was filleted alive (they cut the skin off his flesh) - a horrific way to die. The picture on this blog depicts a statue of this martyr with his skin draped over his flesh. These men and women through our Church history have given a very, very, very, very, very, very (did I say that enough?) clear call. This is all as real and serious as anything that we will ever know.
Why do we have trouble taking God seriously? Why do we think we can chip away at the core teaching of the Scriptures, Gospel and Church tradition and still come out with the Gospel that contains inherent power? Those who really walked with and knew Jesus, took him very seriously.