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Christianity

Rob Bell’s Christianity Doesn’t Make Much Sense

I take back what I said about Rob Bell being thoughtful.  Martin Bashir, who represents the not-so-fuzzy view of Christianity did a good job of making poor Mr. Bell look like a bumbling idiot.  It seems that these new warm and fluffy views of Jesus as some kind of genuinely all-loving deity who will eventually let everybody into heaven are… well… not very Biblical.

Mr. Bashir was right to make Mr. Bell look foolish.  Sadly, this lines up with my more pessimistic prediction:

[H]eretics will be shouted down and destroyed in much the same way as they have always been.  Christian leaders have seldom had much tolerance for heretics, and “universalism” has never accounted for more than a percentage point or two in any national polls.

I’m afraid the cold facts are not rosy.  “Moderate Christianity” has never been able to hold much sway in the face of selective literalism.  Oh, it’s possible that a few people will latch onto this nice, humanitarian, merciful version of Christianity, but they will continue to be irrelevant and they will continue to facilitate more radical beliefs with their acceptance of faith.

I hate to say it, but I think even FOX News junkies can see through the deflections in this interview.  Martin Bashir asked all the right questions, and Rob Bell didn’t answer any of them.  Well… when he did answer, he just let blatant contradictions lay out there in the open.

Bashir:  “Is it irrelevant, and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life, in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny?”

Bell: “I think it’s extraordinarily important…”

Bashir: “But in your book, you said that God wins, regardless, in the end.”

Bell: “Erm… Love wins for me as a way of understanding that God is love, and love demands freedom.”

Let me translate this for you, because I’ve seen it before.  (No, this is not the first time someone’s tried to soften Christianity.)  Mr. Bell is playing politics.  He is not being honest about what he believes or what he wants his book to accomplish.  The interchange I just quoted is his hedge bet to keep Christianity relevant.  When he speaks to “traditionalists” like Mr. Bashir, he leaves a plausibly vague gap, using buzzwords that trigger favorable emotions.  Traditional Christians love using free will as a Get Out of Jail Free Card for God.  So Mr. Bell is giving them the same card now, hoping they will grant him the same leniency.

For people who want to believe in a more fuzzy god, it gives them a nice little deflection.  Instead of addressing their own contradictory beliefs, they can puzzle over the “mystery” of free will, the joy of heaven, and then pat themselves on the back for believing in a god who wouldn’t really punish lots of people for not believing… even if it is still important to live a good life and believe in Jesus.  Because it’s better.  Somehow.

It’s just politics.  And it’s bad politics, at that.

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Discussion

10 thoughts on “Rob Bell’s Christianity Doesn’t Make Much Sense

  1. It seems that these new warm and fluffy views of Jesus as some kind of genuinely all-loving deity who will eventually let everybody into heaven are… well… not very Biblical.

    Scholars generally consider Origen to have been a universalist, so it isn’t really new. As to whether it’s Biblical, Bashir’s argument against universalism was that one’s decision in this life either has eternal relevance or no relevance, which doesn’t address whether the doctrine is Biblical or not.

    It’s also fallacious. There’s a pretty wide range of possible consequences in between “no consequence whatsoever” and “the final, ultimate, eternal consequence.”

    Now, Bell is definitely playing politics. He’s trying to maintain universalism while placating people who are passionately opposed to that view, and so what he’s saying is inconsistent in that regard. I agree with you there. I just can’t agree that Bashir’s theological views make more sense than Bell’s, or that they are more Biblical.

    Which view is the more coherent and consistent Biblical doctrine is debatable (as is whether these books articulate a coherent and consistent doctrine in the first place), but to conclude based on that interview that Bashir’s position makes more sense confers a relative legitimacy to it which it does not deserve.

    Posted by Ian | March 20, 2011, 6:26 pm
  2. I just can’t agree that Bashir’s theological views make more sense than Bell’s, or that they are more Biblical.

    Well, for starters, there are passages in the Bible that clearly articulate eternal punishment for sinners. There are none which speak of an eventual reprieve.

    There are plenty of passages which talk about separating believers from non-believers. I can find none which even insinuate universalism. The biblical god is insanely jealous of worshiping any other god(s) and punishes his people severely when they do. There is no hint of getting along with other gods or masquerading as other gods, or allowing followers of other gods to join the fold.

    The problem with universalism is that it can only be “biblically” reached through very creative interpretation while ignoring passages which seem quite literal.

    I do not claim that Bashir’s position makes more sense. I claim that it’s more consistent with the words in the modern Bible. And if we’re going to go back and look at Origen or any of the other “marginal” theologians for evidence that we’ve gotten the Bible wrong… well… I think the implications are clear.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2011, 6:46 pm
  3. There are plenty of passages which talk about separating believers from non-believers. I can find none which even insinuate universalism.

    http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/logic_of_universalism.html

    That article outlines some of the scriptural support for universalism.

    there are passages in the Bible that clearly articulate eternal punishment for sinners

    The word used for “eternal” is “aionios,” the adjective form of “aion” or “aeon.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeon points out the ambiguity of this word and some of the difficulties in translating it as “eternity” or “eternal.” Notable Greek scholars, such as George Milligan, have concluded that in the context of the NT, it shouldn’t be translated that way.

    The problem with universalism is that it can only be “biblically” reached through very creative interpretation while ignoring passages which seem quite literal.

    In concluding this, you’re accepting opinions on translation and exegesis that come from theologians whom we both agree have bad epistemic values. However popular their view might be, it has no greater support from objective scholarship than universalism, and is possibly weaker.

    But they don’t care about objective scholarship, and we both know that.

    Posted by Ian | March 20, 2011, 7:11 pm
  4. In concluding this, you’re accepting opinions on translation and exegesis that come from theologians whom we both agree have bad epistemic values. However popular their view might be, it has no greater support from objective scholarship than universalism, and is possibly weaker.

    Actually, what I’m doing is playing “runs with premise.” If we’re going to get into a real discussion of exegesis and epistemic values, we’re going to quickly arrive at the (correct) conclusion that the modern Bible is next to useless for determining our eternal fate. But that’s not possible, since the Bible is correct. Because that’s how we prove that god exists. Because if he doesn’t exist, why are we arguing over how to get to heaven?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2011, 7:24 pm
  5. This isn’t about how to get to heaven, but a comparison of different interpretations of the Bible. I can disagree that eternal damnation is a better interpretation than universalism without believing that either have sufficient epistemic value to be useful for determining one’s eternal fate.

    Posted by Ian | March 20, 2011, 7:30 pm
  6. Scholars generally consider Origen to have been a universalist, so it isn’t really new.

    Which might be one of the reasons why the vast majority of his works were lost/destroyed and why he was never canonized as a saint :-0

    Posted by J. Quinton | March 21, 2011, 9:47 am
  7. Thanks for posting this. Rob Bell definitely evokes the feeling of a politician evading tough questions, and I have to give the interviewer kudos for being so relentless in his line of questioning. You rarely see reporters/anchors who are so adequately prepared.

    In light of your interest in this controversy, I wanted to let you know about a documentary I’m producing called “Hellbound?” which seeks to take the hell debate to the big screen. You can read more about it here: http://www.prlog.org/11383848-new-documentary-brings-hell-debate-to-the-big-screen.html

    (BTW: I don’t mean to spam your blog with the link, but I couldn’t see a way to email you directly. So feel free to delete this last part of my comment.)

    Posted by kevinxi | March 21, 2011, 9:56 am
  8. J. Quinton wrote:

    Which might be one of the reasons why the vast majority of his works were lost/destroyed and why he was never canonized as a saint :-0

    Poor Origen was misfortunate in many ways; but I think the Vatican realizes now that the controversy wasn’t really his fault (see http://www.zenit.org/article-19466?l=english). I can’t see the pope speaking so highly of a heretic. Makes you wonder if they’re considering rehabilitating him?

    Posted by Ian | March 21, 2011, 5:24 pm
  9. Which might be one of the reasons why the vast majority of his works were lost/destroyed and why he was never canonized as a saint :-0

    So God intentionally destroyed the heretical writings, but left just enough so we could piece it together and maybe screw up our doctrine 2000 years later? Nice.

    But I don’t think that’s what happened. I think the Jesus-God-Holy Spirit thing is a nice political move to unite warring factions. I think each of them has their own version of what they’d like Christianity to be, and they’ve each been secreting away copies of the sacred texts. They each whisper into various cleric’s ears at various times — when they can get past the interference from the God-O-Matic Prayer Interferer Kit. So what we’re seeing is actually the cosmic argument of three different gods, each of which wants to gain eventual control of a shaky three-way alliance.

    You prove your claim first, then I’ll prove mine 😉

    Posted by hambydammit | March 21, 2011, 5:31 pm
  10. Talk about a shit test for Christians. I’m not even going to bother.

    Posted by Jason | March 21, 2011, 7:03 pm

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