Theology hotspot over the weekend

Over the weekend, the world wide web has been lit up by a video released promoting Rob Bell’s new book.  I had heard a smattering of comments here and there about it, but as I came in the office, I’ve seen it everywhere on my Google reader, Facebook, and everywhere else on the Internet.  See what Christianity Today had to say about it here.  The article written by Justin Talyor mentioned in the opening of this article has been shared by nearly 21,000 people on Facebook – holy crap.  It has certainly made it’s way around. Here’s the video that’s prompted all the talk:

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

I find the article on CT really interesting.  A few thoughts on the people quoted: my respect for John Piper continues to tank – what a poor way to handle his comments when he is respected by so many people; Justin Taylor sure puts it all out there – I hope he’s got everything lined up; I love Scot McKnight’s short quotation – as my respect for Piper declines, McKnight is more and more impressive; and I love Matthew Paul Turner’s tweet quoted there.

I think Scot McKnight is exactly right when he notes that this has so quickly grabbed people’s attention because this truly is the most important topic facing evangelicals (I come from a group who aren’t truly evangelicals, but there are a great deal of similarities, and I think on this topic most of our folks could be seen in line with them).  I may address the topic of universalism some day.  Right now I feel inadequate in doing it . . . and unprepared for dealing with the backlash that would come (even from the four or five people who read this 😉 from suggesting the things I probably would – at least right now.  As I did previously with the women’s issue, let me make a few autobiographical remarks in this regard.

The only area I ever remember really being encouraged to pursue by a professor in seminary was in the area of pluralism and other religions.  One professor in particular was very complementary of my writing and ability to navigate this area and encouraged me to continue on in my studies here (a student like me doesn’t get this kind of encouragement all that often!)  My career has brought me away from the academy and into full-time ministry, but I’ve continued to read a lot in this area and am always fleshing out my thinking here.  This makes me far from an expert here, but I’ve definitely spent my time thinking through the challenges of this topic.

Bell’s video above gets at the heart of the issue for me.  What do we do with Ghandi?  Even the hardest-nosed conservative Christian will crack the door of heaven open to Mother Theresa (the really, really good Catholics can get in ;-)) but Ghandi?  Hindu Ghandi?  We had a good conversation in a Bible class several weeks ago on this topic.  Someone made the comment that it has been a difficult process for many of our older members to open the arms of fellowship to other Christian denominations (many are still learning how to do that), but to open it beyond that is a real struggle.

When I was studying this issue at Lipscomb in a theology class I came across the concept of Catholic theologian Karl Rahner called “the anonymous Christian.”  In it, he admittedly wanted to have his cake and eat it too attempting to uphold the uniqueness of salvation found in Christ alone with the purity and meekness of heart that many seek their own god(s) and religious tenets.  Rahner lost the battle for othordoxy and his perspective has long been cast aside as a viable option, but I still think his goals should be admired, and taken up by current theologians in search of addressing this challenging topic. [Essentially, Rahner’s doctrine stated that those who were well-intentioned Hindus, Muslims, etc. from other faiths whose life displayed evidence of the fruit of the Spirit and served their gods and religious systems with pure hearts were under the atonement of Christ saving work . . . they just didn’t know it. You can read the wiki summary.]

The heart of my struggle lies in my belief that God has never punished anyone for good/righteous intentions.  There are certainly challenging aspects of the Old Testament to consider, but I also don’t want to quickly associate the destruction of cities and nations in the Old Testament with eternal destruction – that concept seems missing in the Old Testament.

Clearly I have  a lot of thinking left to do in this area, but it’s something we need to get serious in thinking about and continue to grow.  As our world becomes more and more pluralistic and technology continues to shrink the world, Christians have to think through this area of their theology and realize just how undeveloped it is in most people’s minds.  If nothing else, Rob Bell looks to be at least pointing us in the right direction.


12 thoughts on “Theology hotspot over the weekend

  1. Interesting stuff! I’m looking forward to reading the book.

    Side note: Rob Bell looks weirder every time I see him. In this video, he looks like an alien who just stepped off his spacecraft…..

  2. I can’t remember if we have talked about Edward Fudge’s “The Fire that Consumes” but it was a very helpful read for me when traversing through this subject. I too remember being introduced to Karl Rahner. I’ll have to check some of his stuff out. I think you are right that this is a critical subject to explore. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. Sorry that you’ll be in hell, though. (Kidding, obviously… I hope).

    Why can’t we just raise questions like this and talk? What happened along the way that a question mark was associated with heresy. Not sure if I’ll land in agreement with Bell or not, but I am glad he has the courage to ask the question we are all asking ourselves anyway!

  4. Disclaimer: I’m not a big Rob Bell fan (shocking, right?). (Interesting aside: I have a friend who refers to himself as a recovering “anti” and he LOVES Rob Bell.) I have read both Sex God and Velvit Elvis. I’ve seen a few NOOMAs, but have not seen his full length lectures. I have long suspected he is some sort of universalist, but I have other issues with his writing as well.

    What is absurd about this to me is that there is so much chatter, both against and defending him, when the book is not even out yet. If you’ve read an advance copy, great. But if you haven’t read the book yet, reserve your criticism or defense until you’ve read the book.

    You seem to have an inclination toward salvation for the “well intentioned” of non-Christian religions. So you also seem to acknowledge there is some sort of non-salvific end for those who are not well-intentioned or have no faith of any kind. In my non-theological world, that means your no universalist. You may have an expanded circle of acceptance, but it seems that you acknowledge a fate apart from the presence of God for some segment of humanity.

    I honestly don’t know what will happen to Ghandi. I can give some thoughts on the matter. But on the end of the day, I can’t speculate on that. All I can do is teach what I do know, Christ crucified and resurrected and who says he is the way, the truth and the life. Will that sacrifice cover the well intentioned? I don’t know. But I feel certain the answer is not as simple as “God is love, so everyone will be in heaven.”

    I don’t like Bell, but I’m sure I’ll read the book. I’m not afraid of being challenged.

  5. thanks guys . . . “why can’t we just raise questions like this and talk?” That’s great stuff. Last year I preached a sermon entitled, “Why we don’t burn heretics at the stake anymore?” I wonder if a lot of Christians would want to add on “. . . and why we should start.” We’ll all have to wear our big girl panties if we ever venture into this topic in a Bible class at church. Whew, I almost think we’d have to preface it with a class on how to be a Christian and disagree. I’ve been thinking of working on a book entitled “Doctrinal grace.” We like to throw grace around for morality – but never for theology – that doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Bergman, your comment slipped on here before I read it, but after I commented. I appreciate your thoughts. They remind me of this from Tony Jones that I read earlier today. I thought his comments were especially insightful.

  6. To Nate @11:13 A.M.

    I have a copy of Fudge’s book, but have not been able to read it. Did you know he is releasing an updated version? In the new version, he is going to interact with some works and critics that have been written since the book was first published. Unfortunately, I don’t know the timeline for the new release.

  7. That’s cool Brian. I didn’t know that an updated version was coming out. The interaction with other works would be great reading.

    Adam – I have some Superman “Man of Steel” under-roos. Do you think that would be suitable to wear for these discussions? ha

  8. Something I’ve struggled with myself.

    Seems I picked an inopportune time to avoid my newsreader. I missed all the hubbub until I saw your Facebook post.

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