What Does Rob Bell’s Love Wins Reveal About Evangelicals?

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his book Love Wins, one thing has given me pause above everything else, and it involves the reactions from the Evangelical Christian world.

The release of this book is a good thing for Evangelicals, and here’s why:

Thousands of us are having our faith held under a light and exposed for what it is:

Fear.

It has become apparent that what has been masking as faith, as Christianity, for some of us for a very long time, is revealing itself in Twitter updates and Facebook links for what it really is:

We’re actually quite a frightened group.

Our theological systems, constructed over the years with bricks of books from authors we agree with, is being tampered with; holes are being poked in our houses of theology; a strange wind is blowing in and we don’t know what to do, and so we react in the only way we know how: attack. Make fun. Look to friends who are saying the same thing for affirmation.

“Defend” God and the Bible.

Who is this weak God needing defenders?

Amidst all the Scripture that comes to mind throughout this ordeal, one has continued to press upon me.

The setting: a few men were preaching about God in a new way, and this angered the religious gatekeepers of the day, the ones who defined Orthodox theology. So much, in fact, that they wanted them killed (they’re preaching heresy, afterall!)

And then something amazing happened.

One of the religious teachers, a man named Gamaliel, stood up to reason with his Orthodox clan. He did not point to the Scriptures in this instance; he did not cite Bible verses to back up his argument. He did not try to defend God. He simply said this: Brothers, before you continue in your tirade against these new teachers, carefully consider this:

“Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you might even find yourselves fighting against God.”

This is calming wisdom.

Not, “These are heretics!” (Though they may be)

Not, “These people are misinterpreting the Bible!” (Though they may be)

Simply this: Leave them alone. If this is not of God, it will pass away soon enough. But if by chance it is of God, your efforts are in vain. In fact, you may soon find that you could even be fighting against God.

Are there religious gatekeepers–that group that defines what Orthodoxy is–in our day?

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8 Responses

  1. well said. especially the bit about fear.

  2. Ultimately, it comes down to what is being defended and the value of that to each group. There are aspects of Evangelical Christianity which have been made mountains when they should have been molehills. But there are aspects of this which seem to strike at the heart of their beliefs: the nature of God and the value of the blood of Christ. The backlash from questioning those things are proportional to the value placed on them, whether that backlash is fear or anger or righteous anger.

  3. That is actually not a very strong argument for me. It was one man’s wisdom that wasn’t speaking for God necessarily. The Mormon church and the Jehovah’s witnesses have withstood time, but that doesnt make them ‘of God’.

    There is a HUGE emphasis in the New Testament about guarding the doctrine that was entrusted to the apostles. Jesus himself warned of false teachers a lot. Paul and Peter did as well. James said teachers would be held to a stricter judgment.

    So I dont think having fear of the church being led astray is a bad fear. I think its as healthy as white blood cells that get alarmed when a virus has entered the human body.

  4. Travis, it was one man’s wisdom that gets recorded in the Scriptures and one of the few pharisees portrayed in a positive light.

    Jeff Cook, professor of philosophy at Northern Colorado, also has perceived that the gatekeepers are concerned about Bell because they cannot control him, and there might be some envy there as well.

    As for there being a “HUGE” emphasis on warning against false teachers, I suppose one could argue that those in disagreement with Bell are the false teachers. That debate is pointless.

  5. Good to talk and think about these things. One thing I can highlight maybe that I perceive from this article? We tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude to opinion we disagree with. There is some truth…yes, we can defend from fear not faith and desire to reveal everything God is about (i.e, to glorify God). On the other hand, to defend sometimes is an act of evangelism. Too often people do NOT defend when they should.
    Who said “if you do not stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything”?
    BUT, to defend from fear: can it be considered a faithful action? And isn’t everything that doesn’t come from faith (relationship with God) sin?

  6. What an awesome post! Couldn’t agree more

  7. Silly fears we have – that God will fall out of the sky or something if we get it wrong.

    we will always get some things wrong!

    Warnings about false teachers are rarely about doctrine. They are about people trying to control you and take away your freedom. Anyone who wants to control you or take away your freedom to think for youself – now THAT is a false teacher!

  8. Man, I never heard the word hermanutic used in any of these comments. Interpreting Scripture or any ancient literature is never easy, but then it’s not impossible either. Hermanutics is both a science and art and crucial to our ability to understand any written text. It demands we understand that the words we are trying to define are always found in a specific context written at a specific time and usually to a specific audience. There are also many genres of literature , poetry, narratrive, hyperbole, prophetic, historical, etc. Biblical interpretation is not a simplistic task, nor should it be left up to our own understanding, but it is also not impossible. Understanding and using basic hernanutic principles will enable all of us to more easily understand what the initial authors meant when they wrote it and and what it now means to us.

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