Rob Bell, Mahatma Gandhi, Hell-fire, and Heresy: Why are Christians afraid of questions?
It seems that the promotional video for Rob Bell’s upcoming book is causing quite a stir in Christian circles. You can view the video here: https://www.robbell.com/lovewins/
The possible heresy of Bell’s thoughtswerediscussed at length ina recent CNN Belief Blog. The writer summarized the issue explaining,“In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independenceleader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, “Gandhi’s in hell? He is?” Take a moment to read the full article here: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/01/what-is-a-heretic-exactly-in-the-evangelical-church/?iref=allsearch
If it doesn’t bother you that people are calling Rob Bell a heretic for simply asking a question, then I hope you were at least a little unnerved by this small admission in the article: “Taylor has not read Bell’s forthcoming book in its entirety. His blog post was in response to the description released by Bell publisher HarperOneand a promotional video that features Bell.” That’s right. Taylor… has never… even… READ… the book.
I don’t intend for this blog post to be a defense of Rob Bell; he certainly doesn’t need my help and that would actually defeat my purpose. Rather, I want to point out that it is poisonous to our faith dialogue to allow his ideas to be dismissed by detractors through name-calling. While Rob Bell certainly invites controversy, his perspectives on the Gospel are far from “universalism.” Those who know anything of Gandhi can tell you that he was inspired by the Christian faith and his thoughts have influenced many Christian authors, activists, and theologians (including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Those who want to disqualify Bell’s voice in ourtradition because he is “emergent” need only look to his mentor Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Words of Jesus, to confirm their mutual understanding that Jesus spends a good deal of his ministry preaching of heaven, the after-life, and especially…hell. Somehow, I predict that Bell is going to land this provocative conversation in a responsible way, but even if he doesn’t — let’s allow him to boldly ask the question!
We should avoid the cowardice of name-calling and labeling, (even “Emergent” is used as a dirty word in some circles) and discuss such queries in an open forum with an honest exchange. I believe the health and voracity of our faith is truly reflected in the boldness with which we are able to approach our questions about God. I think it is necessary to defend Bell’s right to challenge established ideas without being labeled and dismissed as a heretic! I believe it is essential for the vitality of the Christian faith. After all, arewe really afraid that God cannot handle our questions?
The Jesus we follow certainly challenged the religious institutions of His day with many controversial questions.We should stand withthose who are willing to follow His model and take that risk.