Heaven, Hell and Rob Bell

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Reformed Christianity

Bell Book The evangelical world was rocked a bit last week by a debate created by Rob Bell's forthcoming book, Love Wins (Harper/Collins, 2011). I read the posts attacking the book, written by Reformed writers who speak with deep certitude about everything they seem to talk about in opinion pieces. Some even went so far as to condemn Bell as a heretic. (Where have I heard this before?)

Into the fray came Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today. Galli offers a reasoned, well-written critique of the whole debate, a well as a measured response to Rob Bell’s book. Galli actually read an advance copy and expresses some doubts about Bell’s real views on hell. (This leads me to think the critics should have read the book before they began their attacks. I will withhold judgment until I have read the book, something that just seems obvious to any honest expression of agreement or disagreement!) What Galli makes very clear is that believing in conscious, eternal torment for all who are condemned in the final judgment may still be the majority evangelical view but that does not make it the only evangelical view. And it clearly doesn’t make it the only view in the mainstream of the whole, historic Christian Church.

Scholars Richard Bauckham and Scot McKnight have both noted that the ground on this topic has been shifting for several decades. Galli writes: “The traditional view may well be grounded ever more deeply and solidly as a result of re-engaging this topic. Or it may be altered, as have many doctrines, by rigorous theological discussion. But we won't be able to discern where the Spirit is leading if we don't listen and respond respectfully to one another. God once used a donkey to make his will known, so surely he is able to speak through both traditionalists and gadflies.” Amen!

Galli Read Galli’s review carefully. It runs to five pages and is worth your time. Gather all the comments and interaction you can before you leap off the building and start attacking Rob Bell, a favorite target for the neo-Reformed truth squad. I make this statement with deep and sincere sadness since I am a Reformed minister. The truth is I often find myself standing outside the “young, restless and Reformed” movement. What I long for is more civility and real historical honesty. If you read the Mark Galli article, and I hope that you will, please take note of the conservative Reformed theologians and teachers who insisted that this doctrinal issue was still open for differing perspectives and thus it was not a test for confessional agreement in every case; e.g. John Stott and Roger Nicole, etc.