The Return of Rob Bell

Rob Bell, what do you say, I suppose something along the lines of “when your entire persona is built around being the innovative cool guy…”. It is hard to express how much I appreciated this guy, and how much I respected his biblical knowledge and insightful probing. Even with Love Wins I’d defend him. His take on Hell in that book is not Augustine/Aquinas/Luther mainstream orthodoxy, but it was an ancient small branch that orthodoxy never really did away with or declared heretical. Even someone like Richard John Neuhaus held it privately. He would say he hoped with a small h that it was right, but he would admit that he could not capital H Hope as it was not a revealed theological truth. But Rob has a new book to sell. The first one without the hindrances and claims of leading a flock. This is the trailer…

So the God of the Nicene Creed (c. 381 AD) and the Apostles Creed (c. 200 AD) that the catholic church has been proclaiming for 2000 years, that Israel proclaimed for 2000 years before that, who outlived the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the medieval dynasties, the early modern empires, the colonial era and the colonists transmission…that God is an Oldsmobile complete with 8 track. If He doesn’t catch up with Rob Bell he’s going to just go away. And all you haters who hold on to creeds and confessions, don’t you see the hate and harm you are spreading.

And what does God need to catch up with Rob on? Love, baby. I’m ok, you are ok, we are all ohhh-kayyy. God loves us just as we are. He’s with us and for us and around us…and he’s okay with us. Now that is a neat little phrase stealing Paul stealing the Greek poets, “in whom we live and move and have our being”, but that was not exclusively Jesus’ message. There is this thing called the cross. We called to pick ours up and follow. Forgive me if giving in to the culture and getting glowing things said about you in the New Yorker doesn’t look like the path to Calvary.

We’ve heard this all before. This guy does a good job of running down the references from the smoldering heap of oldline protestantism. He forgets that Rob Bell doesn’t do footnotes. He’s “not really writing theological treatises, just pointing out questions” is the shtick. Rob is out in California now. He’s got some great surfing pictures now and then. While he’s applying for the seat of this guy he should probably take a look at the end of that road. As well as the history of that God who’s been called an Oldsmobile before.

Is Hell endothermic or exothermic?

Full Text

If you are an engineering student you’ve heard the joke that goes with that question. I like that joke. I think that joke captures a whole bunch of folk wisdom beyond just being funny.

I probably should just post this and not say much. But I’m dumb that way.

To me, what the Rob Bell Hellgate speaks to is probably less about Hell and more about how we internalize faith, or make faith our own. It is one thing to say scripture alone, but as soon as you say that, you start to realize that the scriptures are not a logical systematic textbook. They are a narrative written over millenia in different cultures and languages. And that narrative is messy. Almost every group of Christians has developed a second book to help in that interpretation. The Book of Concord is the Lutheran one. Lutherans like to use Latin. We call scripture the norma normans which means the norming norm, and the Book of Concord the norma normata which means the normed norm. Irenaeus would talk of the regula fidei (more latin) which means rule of faith. The scriptures were read with the rule of faith which we today call the Nicene Creed. A Reformed Christian would read the bible with the Westminster Catechism. A Roman Catholic Christian reads the Bible with the Papal encyclicals and canon law. I like to think of those books as guideposts. They are watersheds of wisdom that capture what a large group of Christians at a given time heard in the Biblical story. It can be real dangerous to faith to go outside of them. In the case of the Creed I’d go farther. (But even there there are two splits – the Coptic/Syrian church doesn’t accept it, the Greek church doesn’t accept the procession of the Spirit from the Son, and then there is the western church in all its forms.) Ultimately these are normed norms. Occasionally you need to test them. Occasionally the church needs to remind itself that we follow the living Christ and not a new law in whatever its form. God is his own interpreter as the Hymnwriter Cowper would put it.

What Rob Bell is doing is questioning some of the planks of those secondary books. Many would, but I don’t think he’s gone outside of the Nicene Creed. But to be honest, I’m biased. What he’s prodded at in my mind is the Reformation consensus – in something minor to a Lutheran and in something core to a Reformed Christian. He’s said the story of a forever hell doesn’t make sense with the Biblical picture of God. When the culture is cohering, nobody questions the culture’s interpretation key. It is only when things get scary, when the culture is breaking apart, that the interpretation key get looked at. And that just makes things scarier. But we shouldn’t be scared. Because we are in the Father’s hands. Compared to the Reformation itself – these are very minor questions.