Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here We Go Again

It's been a while since Christendom has enjoyed a good theological (as opposed to moral) taffy-pull. Most recent in my memory was a few years ago when well-known Pentecostal pastor Carlton Pearson was shown the door of his mega-church and denomination for deciding that universalism -- the belief that all humans will be forgiven and saved; that there is no hell -- is what the Bible teaches.

This time, it's the same issue. Rob Bell pastors a huge church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where roots of Dutch Reformed Calvinism run really, really deep and where not believing in hell is, well, un-Christian. Except (apparently) in his church, Mars Hill Bible Church. I say "apparently" because speculation (some of it informed by early-release chapters from Bell's forthcoming book) is what seems to be guiding the discussion at this point while theologs await the publication date. (At the very least, the white-hot discussion will probably ensure NYT best-seller status for the book. Some have wondered if Bell's shading of orthodoxy is a mega-marketing stunt. If so, it's working.)

The young, Bono-lookalike pastor has a new book coming out on March 29 titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived -- published by Harper (which speaks volumes). Because of his rock-star status among young Christians, the Internet is hot with debate about what Bell's book is going to say. Conservative theological bloggers (here and here, for example) and secular news sites are covering the story. In the video below is what Bell has to say in a teaser video about the book. (You have to give these hip, techno-churches props for their audio and video skills. Whether you agree or disagree with Bell, you 'gotta like the production values of the video. I was surprised to find that this Vimeo video plays extremely well in full-screen mode -- hit the button in the LR corner for full screen -- hit Escape to return.)

Update from later today: I now understand why 10,000 people gather every Sunday to hear Bell speak. I had never seen a video of him, so went to Flannel to see a video of him in the NOOMA series (nooma is phonetic for Greek pneuma -- breath or spirit). I don't know if the message I watched was from a church service or an outside speaking engagement, but it was one of the handful of most creative "talks" I've ever seen -- in my life. He spoke for an hour and a half without notes; one of the most complex, yet very easy to follow, biblical messages I've ever heard. No Bible, no chapter and verse references, lots of verses quoted, one large prop, an amazingly creative approach to a complicated subject. I can't remember the last time I was riveted for 90 minutes listening to a biblical message. And based on what he said in this particular talk ("The Gods Aren't Angry") I think I got a clue as to where he's headed in the book that's coming out. But I'll read it first and let you know then if I'm right.

Further update (3-3-11). You can listen to Rob Bell read a sample from the book here. It's the longer section on which the video below is based. But it gives a broader context for the remarks in the video -- and raises good questions that Christians need to be able to answer.

Further update (3-7-11). This blog post by scholar-pastor Greg Boyd—one of the few people who have read an advanced copy of Rob Bell's book—is very helpful.

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

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