Religious discussions often frustrate me. It’s not religion in general, nor is it discussions of religion that I have a problem with. Rather, it’s the drama of modern-day debates about beliefs and theologies and doctrines that irritates me. Earlier today I read a blog about Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Justin Taylor, the author of the blog, gives his view of Bell’s beliefs (or how he understands them anyway) and then essentially states where he stands in it all.
That doesn’t bother me.
Bloggers do that all the time.
I’m doing that right now.
But when I hopped onto Twitter and noticed that Rob Bell was trending, I thought I’d take a look as to why. And what I found was very irritating, even appalling. Most people who posted about Rob Bell had cast him off as destined for hell because of his beliefs (as if they had a say in his fate). One post even went so far as to say, “Rob Bell, when you feel the flames of hell tickling at your feet… then you’ll believe.”
There were some who defended Bell and still others merely posting a link to the blog I read and those few tweets helped give a little balance to the whole controversy. And yet it still bugs me that we as followers of Christ feel entitled to cast someone into hell because his beliefs don’t align with the rest of ours. I’m not defending Bell’s theology; that’s a different discussion. But what I absolutely hate is the need to make a huge dramatic scene about someone’s beliefs… especially when they aren’t new.
Rob Bell’s seemingly-Universalist beliefs have been known for a while; he just wasn’t as hard-lined about them as he is now. (I must add that it is not entirely clear if Bell believes in Universalism; see here.) To my understanding of Universalism, it says we’re all going to heaven no matter what we believe. This doesn’t really excite me in any way. If I believe that hedonism is the real path that we should all follow, then by practicing what Christianity regards as sin, I’ll be able to join those Christians in heaven? It does not make any sense. But this is my opinion.
What I am more frustrated with, though, is the whole need for a controversy. Why do we feel the need to draw a line in the sand between those who are “right” and those who are “wrong”? Didn’t Jesus affiliate Himself on a regular basis with those who were “wrong”? Didn’t He say that He came to call sinners to repentance? And yet we say goodbye to Rob Bell and people like him because he has a “sinful” theology. It smells like hypocrisy to me.
According to his video, which the blog also posted, Rob Bell is – in his mind – preaching a loving God. And yet we have the nerve to say he’s going to hell? Whether he is or isn’t a heretic is irrelevant; what is relevant is the fact that the decision of his salvation does not belong to any one of us. We’ll say, “Well, the Bible says that Jesus is the Way,” but the Bible also says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,” (Matt. 7:1-2). Condemn yourself if you want to condemn others.
Rob Bell’s beliefs are part of a discussion. Joining that discussion means keeping our own judgments about those who disagree with us to ourselves. We can state our beliefs, we can explain why we believe them; that’s encouraged in conversation. What isn’t encouraged is casting our judgment onto those who believe something different. That’s what causes a lot of wars. People die in wars. Why should we keep the religious drama going when we want to live?
In regards to the discussion, I must say that I believe Jesus and Jesus alone is the Way to eternal salvation with God. I have believed that from day one, was aggressive about it early on, but now realize that an aggressive gospel such as that of Jesus is a contradiction in terms. Jesus’ gospel is there whether we deny it or embrace it. He doesn’t want us to follow Him because a few preachers screamed at us that we’re going to hell if we don’t; He wants us to follow Him because we want to follow Him. He wants our hearts. He wants us to choose Him.
If there is a stance I’m taking, it’s this: I have made the decision to live my life according to Jesus and His teaching. Whether or not Bell’s theology is right or wrong doesn’t matter to me; that’s Rob Bell’s decision. I should decide whether I agree or disagree with his beliefs, but I cannot determine his eternal placement. Nobody except Jesus will decide if I’m going to be with Him in heaven (or the resurrected world – see N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope) or cast down to hell. According to the words of Jesus, the same will apply to Bell. But Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Judge (Matthew 25).