Rob Bell – is Agnosticism next to Heresy?

I travelled into London for “An Evening with Rob Bell”, organised by Greenbelt. I tweeted a few things while I was there and I’ll stick them all at the bottom of this post.

One question and the responses have stuck in my mind particularly. I was chuckling along as Bell avoided “pinning his colours to the mast”, definitively stating what he actually believes about eternal hell and universal salvation. Then I realised his position more clearly as the moderator for the evening (Martin Wroe) asked him about whether it was OK for Christians to be agnostic about some things. There it is, right there. Rob Bell won’t answer “yes” or “no” – he doesn’t know whether everyone will be saved or not. He could guess – he could make the guess that lots of Christians have in the past or a different guess that not quite so many have gone with. But it would still be a guess, because all that the postmodern Bell really has is a bunch of texts and space to ask questions of them. Oh, that and the fact that because the new life is here and now, because the kingdom has already arrived and the resurrection life of Jesus is breaking into his own, he actually doesn’t need to know for sure whether everyone will be saved or whether some will choose to reject every offer of liberation for all eternity. It’s an interesting question (probably more interesting that that one about angels and a needle) but the way Rob Bell frames it, it’s not a question that really affects our need to tell the gospel.

Now, some of my more reformed friends might tell me that you don’t have good news without  “a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned”. And of course Rob Bell affirms that, but his focus is on here and now – what ever the “hellish” situation you’re in, God is for you, God loves you, Jesus died for you. There’s no question (if you read the book or hear him speak) that he believes in hell and heaven. The closest he comes to universalism is to say that there will be opportunity for redemption after death and (as discussed above) that he doesn’t know for sure if everyone will take that opportunity, though he believes that God wants everyone to be saved.

And I feel that it’s OK to not be sure about everything. Rob Bell asks searching questions that ultimately end, as he puts it “in a tension”. On the one hand, there’s God’s desire for all to be saved and Jesus death that is sufficient for all. On the other is the apparently boundless possibility of people to freely choose to reject God and the momentum we pick up on a destructive path. It’s a tension that we can resolve by forcing logic to mangle the inputs, or we can leave it as a tension and enjoy the blessing of new life. It’s a blessing so vast, that once people hear that possibility of its limitless scope they are more inclined to tell people, not less, according to Bell. It’s a gospel that embraces rather than condemns, taking its cue from the lost son parable that Bell dwells on. The returning younger son didn’t need an elaborate confession, he certainly didn’t need a diatribe detailing every failure and omission in his history. He needed his father to run towards him and just hug him, pig filth and all.

In London vilage for “an evening with @realrobbell
19:00:26 via: TwimGo 2

Rob Bell looks pretty small from back here!
19:39:49 via: Pixelpipe

I don’t think trying to be controversial is a noble goal… I never set out to be controversial. -@realrobbell
19:55:46 via: TwimGo 2

There’s no powerpoint! … (stories are) true in a different way than (a) (b) (c)… -@realrobbell
19:58:23 via: TwimGo 2

Truth is a flesh-and-blood thing for Jesus (rather than cognitive) – if you hold to my teachings you will know the truth -@realrobbell
20:21:21 via: TwimGo 2

God wants all people to be saved and I believe we should want what God wants -@realrobbell
20:32:53 via: TwimGo 2

Rob Bell leaves eternal hell in a tension, won’t pick one side or the other when pushed.
20:35:31 via: TwimGo 2

Everything you need to know about pastoring you can learn on an airplane – put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then… -@realrobbell
20:43:15 via: TwimGo 2

On wrath: did Jesus’ work on the cross do it all, satisfy whatever needed to be satisfied…? -@realrobbell
20:45:01 via: TwimGo 2

All done, book signed, heading off #lovewins
21:07:39 via: Pixelpipe