The social media world has been abuzz over Rob Bell’s upcoming book on salvation called Love Wins. The book isn’t even out yet and all anyone has to go by is a brief video clip where Rob Bell discusses some of the big questions about salvation – he doesn’t actually make any statement at all – he just frames a variety of questions about the issue. Check out Christianity Today for the video.
Some guy named Justin Taylor, who most people I’ve talked to have never heard of, wrote in his blog that Rob Bell is a universalist and basically condemned the guy without knowing anything about the upcoming book at all. His blog is here. His first blog entry was so condemning, that he actually had to come back and soften some of his statements a little, which he admits in his updated blog. He still seems to be convinced of the content and teaching of Rob Bell’s upcoming book and basically calls him a heretic and false teacher.
Really? Seriously? There are two really big problems here:
First, it really shouldn’t amaze any of us anymore that Christians seem to be ready to criticize and condemn more quickly than most people. The anger in conversations between Christians (which I intentionally do not call Christian conversation) is disturbing. We still fail to understand that the WAY we talk to each other is as much a witness and WHAT we talk about. I go back to Thomas Merton. In No Man Is An Island, he wrote:
The arguments of religious men are so often insincere, and their insincerity is proportionate to their anger. Why do we get angry about what we believe? Because we do not really believe it. Or else what we pretend to be defending as the “truth” is really our own self-esteem. A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself.
(I realize there will be a large segment of Christians who will condemn me for quoting Thomas Merton – helping to reinforce my point.)
With all of the illustrations of Jesus’ patience and grace in dealing with those who were ‘different’ it amazes me that our Christian leaders more quickly reflect the anger of the Apostle Paul in Galatians, rather than compassion and patience of Jesus Christ to sinners, Pharisess, and Priests. Jesus should be the first and only model of how we live and act. Last I checked, Paul didn’t die on the cross for our sins. Paul was not God incarnate. I wish more Christians, especially leaders, would exhibit the faith, mercy, grace, and patient understanding of Jesus when dealing with others they don’t agree with.
Second, I am glad that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prized education so highly. With the advent of the internet, every Christian leader with a pulse has a platform. Many Christian leaders on the internet have no understanding of the history of our faith. They read and interpret scripture only in light of their immediate context – their current reality – which is all they really care about. An appreciation for 2,000 years of Christian teaching doesn’t require an advanced degree – just pull up Wikipedia.
As they assail Rob Bell, who I won’t comment on until I actually read his book, they ignorantly (yes, I said it) proclaim that universalism is not orthodox teaching. While I am personally not a universalist, it doesn’t take but just a little research of the early Church Fathers like Origen (one of the most profound 2nd century Christian leaders who actually helped put together the New Testament) to find out that ‘restorationism’ was taught by several of the Church Fathers. Restorationism, whether you agree with the position or not, claims orthodoxy in that it; characterizes sin as rebellion against God, requires grace as necessary for salvation, and teaches that Jesus Christ is the highest expression of that grace. it also teaches that God, in God’s sovereignty, will ultimately restore all things – bringing all creation under His reign. Orthodoxy and universalism. (Origen viewed hell as temporary.)
As I hear all this back and forth about a book that hasn’t even been published, I am once again troubled by how Christians engage in dialogue. The world is watching us, my friends. How we disagree is just as important as the truth we proclaim.