I watched and interesting debate on the Premier Radio website last night. It was between Rob Bell and a guy called Adrian Warnock (check out his blog on my site). A couple of things stood out. Firstly, how incredibly slippery he was with any direct questioning on his personal beliefs about hell in particularly, alongside a host of other things. Secondly, I did think he got off lightly in the debate. I think the man hosting the thing thought it was all a bit heavy handed and intense but if we are going to engage with this guy in the ‘conversation’ then I think that I would be taking it from the ‘you irritate me and I am going to aggressively defend the gospel’ part of the stream.
Adrian Warnock was very good, though, in how he sought to bring Rob back to the word’s of Jesus time and again, although sadly to no apparent avail. He did appear to be a little flustered when Rob started fishing about with the Hebrew and Greek words (and usage) for the biblical concept of ‘eternal’. Rob seemed impervious to the criticism that he was just rehashing old school liberalism and cited Eugene Peterson as his proof for orthodoxy! Interestingly, he claimed to be evangelical on the basis that he believes in an ’empty tomb’. I can’t help feeling that the Jesus of his empty tomb has merely popped down to Starbucks for a quick mocha and is kicking back with his copy of Velvet Elvis and encouraging people not to worry because his sacrifice to avert the full wrath of God on guilty sinners, whilst real, is not the final word because there will be other chances in the next life.
Rob Bell is interesting because he asks lots of questions but then proceeds to do all he can to avoid answering them. The only time he appeared dogmatic was when he was asserting how ‘undogmatic’ he was about his openness! I cannot offer an opinion on his current book having never read it. But the ‘debate’ made me wonder why so many evangelicals are running scared of this guy. I’ve got unbelieving friends who ask deeper questions than him and have never read a book in their lives (or drunk a mocha for that matter). It may seem terribly cool to walk around full of angst but people are looking for answers and Jesus made some pretty big truth claims for himself. ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ sticks out, as do his claims to exclusivity. Of course, there are lots of great ‘unanswerables’ out there. But surely people need to hear the ‘word of life’ wonderfully and confidently proclaimed. They also need to hear the truth about their terrible, perilous condition before an Almighty and Holy God who is angry at both sin and sinners. When Jesus took the sins of his sheep upon himself and bore the full wrath of God, an eternal security was secured and an eternal damnation was averted (for those who bow the knee). There is no other plan for the human race. There is no other gospel.
Rob seemed very concerned that we have polluted the good news by over emphasising the bad news. He appears to see his work as a corrective to this approach. I would suggest he hasn’t spent much time in many British churches. If the pendulum has swung it certainly isn’t for the ‘fire and brimstone’ approach. Preaching hell isn’t even fashionable in many so called, self styled, ‘sound’ churches these days. It may get mentioned in passing but it is a bit of a cultural no-no. Yet, there is no good news without the bad. There is no gospel without the reality of hell. It’s only really half a message.
His big question (in the debate) was: don’t you want everybody to go to heaven one day? Of course I do. And I want everybody to have a motorised cloud with a built in organ. I want us to be all dressed in shiny white suits with comfy shoes. A leather recliner would be nice for when we get a bit of a break for a nice cup of Tetley’s. Of course I don’t want anybody to suffer. Of course I want every household in Niddrie to come to Christ. But what I want and what I imagine heaven (and hell for that matter) to be like has no bearing on what scripture teaches.
God’s inerrant Word stands above all our grandiose ideas about ‘what I would do if I was God’. He is God not us. And the God of my Bible is an all powerful, just, loving, merciful, kind, wrathful, holy, fearful, all conquering infinite being far above and beyond my puny understanding. Certainly, there are many things I don’t feel comfortable about in the Bible. There are many personal tragedies I have suffered and that I have seen second hand. But I hold on to the facts of 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus Christ came to earth, he died for my sins, he was buried, he rose again on the Third day, he resurrected from the dead, he was seen by many witnesses and he ascended into heaven where he now sits enthroned at the right of the Father, interceding for his people until one day he will come again and bring the curtain down on the whole affair and we will see the recreation of the new heavens and a new earth, where the Lion will lie with the lamb. All with one final caveat – The Lord of all the earth will do what is right in his own eyes.
The guy would make a good politician though. Maybe we should get Paxman to interview him!