The controversy over Christian pastor Rob Bell‘s new book is still going on now that his book has finally been published — I’m sure his publishers are thrilled — but it’s a debate that will have no winners because both sides are wrong.
A quick recap: It was being reported that Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, alluded to the idea that Hell might not exist and everyone could get “saved.” Since this goes against the mainstream Christian theology that only those who accept Jesus can be “saved” — deniers are doomed to an afterlife in Hell — that’s a problem.
Is Bell a heretic? Or, worse, a Universalist?
The book is out now. People can read it for themselves. And — surprise! — the heresy is minimal. Here’s a summary of what Bell actually says, courtesy of religion reporter Kate Shellnutt:
… God’s love for us does not end at any point. He is full of grace, and there are always opportunities for reconciliation. There is hell, but the gates of heaven are open. Salvation, as referenced in the Bible and discussed by Jesus, is a paradox that we can’t fully understand.
He says he does not believe that there’s a sweeping cosmic arm to bring everybody to heaven, even those who want to live apart from God, but he says it’s a lot less exclusive than you’d think.
In other words, Bell doesn’t have any actual answers. Just slightly revised hypotheses that can never be tested. A lot of false hope to a larger group of people than before. Is that so different from the books that several other Christian leaders put out? The only differences being that Bell appeals to a younger demographic and is simply a better writer.
Kate’s post touches on another issue that’s worth discussing. It involves the topics of conversation among Christians:
… What’s notable is that this [controversy] isn’t the kind of thing discussed on such a large scale in modern-day Christianity.
Because this is a conversation that’s actually about Christianity itself — who God is, what he’s like, what he does for us, what that means for this world and how that may unfold in the future.
Our day-to-day religious discussion is typically dominated by debates over if a minister can be female, if a minister can be gay, if a minister can be gay and in a relationship, if Christians can be gay, if Christians can have abortions, if Christians can perform abortions, if Christians can drink, if Christians can do yoga, if churches can talk about politics too much, if churches manage their money well, if churches’ numbers are growing and so on.
The first questions, about God’s nature, obviously don’t have answers. But Christians make up their own and debate about who’s right. 1,000,000 Christians will have 1,000,000 different views. From the sidelines, it’s incredible to watch so many people argue over who’s right when you know they’re all wrong.
It makes as much sense as hearing people debate the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s favorite brand of sauce.
(Answer: He likes it Extra Chunky. And if you disagree, He’ll smite you.)
The rest of the questions are important, but they’re so damn petty. Christians are seriously still arguing over whether women should be in leadership positions? Whether gay people should be allowed to lead a church and have equal rights? Whether Christians should be allowed to have abortions (when we already know they do, regardless of what the church says)?
Rational people don’t have these discussions.
This is modern Christianity for you: Arguments over things the rest of us figured out a long time ago and “solutions” to hypothetical questions that can never be answered.
At some point, we need to just acknowledge that, at best, the church exists to make people feel better about their lives. That’s a noble thing to do — but instead of focusing on self-improvement and helping others, church leaders focus on how to make life worse for the people who don’t fit into their special mold. Because exclusivity makes it better for the club members.
One positive note to Rob Bell’s book — it has Christians arguing over the idea “Love Wins.” The concept isn’t a bad one and you don’t need to invoke a god to make that point, but the response from some Christians has been “Love does not win. It’s not enough. Some people are going to Hell because they don’t believe what I do.”
Keep that coming. It just makes the whole faith look as reprehensible as its worst followers.