Thursday, March 17, 2011

Theology: Applying the Creed

Earlier this week, I made a post discussing what I think defines orthodox Christianity. Since I wrote that post, I have been running into the huge storm of controversy surrounding Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Various people have been accusing Bell's book of being heretical, and I think it's time to apply what I said. Now, let me start off by saying that I have not read this book, so in many ways my comments here are not directed at what sort of Christianity Bell has, but towards the reaction to it.

Rob Bell's book is apparently a book about God's love, that extends to thoughts about the eternal destination of mankind. Bell says, as I understand it, that God's love is so great, that he suspects it will eventually reach everyone, either in this life or the next. People will always be free to reject God, but eventually the time will come when God's love will reach everyone.

Enter the watchdogs of Christian orthodoxy, crying heretic at this apparent Universalism. Many have already addressed these accusations, so I won't do that here (Greg Boyd has a particularly good discussion of it on his blog).

What I'm going to address is whether or not what Bell is accused of saying can even rightly be considered heresy. Kevin DeYoung wrote an extensive review of it, which I have not yet read (hey, I have to work on finals). There is a nice summary of the review, written by Justin Taylor, here. Both reviews go through the various things Bell apparently says, but there's one thing I particularly want to focus on. Justin says:

Bell addressed an invitation-only meeting at Mars Hill Bible Church on Sunday night and began by saying that he is not a universalist, that he believes in heaven and hell, and that he believes Jesus is the only way to God. Kevin’s review will help you see what he really means in each of these three areas.
What I want to say is, what Bell apparently means when he says he believes in heaven and hell, and in Jesus as the only way to heaven, may be different than how these people interpret catholic Christianity, but it is certainly within the bounds of the creed. It is orthodox Christianity.

Christian doctrinal history is much more complex than these watchdogs acknowledge, and Rob Bells views definitely fall within orthodoxy (even if they really are the most extreme thing these people accuse him of).

Soteriology - how we under stand Jesus's atoning work - is important, but it is only interpretation. In the end, the atonement matters, how we interpret it is secondary. As C.S. Lewis said:
 "We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself" (Mere Christianity)
Those who accuse Bell of heresy have confused their theories with the atonement, and their interpretation of the creed as orthodoxy. I thank God they aren't the guardians of my soul.

P.S. I am not myself in Rob Bell's theological camp. What do I believe about hell? I don't know. It's there, because Christ "descended into hell," but that's about all I know. Other than that, I'm just confused.