Some friends and I have been having a debate about Rob Bell on Facebook, and one of these friends posted an article by John Pavlovitz titled, The Continued Crucifying of Rob Bell. I had some thoughts, but Facebook wouldn’t let me comment this long, so I thought I would post those though here:
A very insightful article. It’s a posting that seems to get the state of what is happening to Rob Bell spot on, and a statement that, from what I have read and watched of Rob Bell, gets Rob Bell’s message spot on. But it’s a posting that does not get Christianity spot on. There are two fundamental ideas wrong with his understanding of Christianity: 1) Christianity is defined just as much by tradition as by scripture & 2) Christian Theology’s foundation is not tradition, nor is it scripture, it is revelation.
1) This posting shows perfectly the problem with Christian Theology that relies only on scripture. Scripture is not easy to interpret. Scripture asks many questions of Christians, many of the questions that Rob Bell echoes. But, when the universal Church was presented with these questions it came up with answers. To deny these answers is to deny the Church that came up with these answers and the God who gave the answers to the Church. Rob Bell is free to ask these questions and to teach different answers to these questions. But when he does that, he must be honest and say that his answers are not the Christian’s answers to the questions.
2) This is because Christian Theology’s foundation is revelation, and the most complete form of that revelation is Jesus Christ. Scripture testifies to Jesus Christ and that is why it is authoritative. Tradition testifies to Jesus Christ and that is why it is authoritative. As the Apostle Paul wrote, we must hold fast to the traditions that have been passed down to us, BY WORD or BY LETTER. Oral tradition is just as important as the written tradition of the Bible.
Once something has been revealed to us as true by God, that settles the matter. For example, in the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, when they were wrestling with who Jesus was and the Person of Christ, they came up with an authoritative creed. That creed is authoritative because it was based in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. If one claims that there are issues with the creed, or the creed is not authoritative, they are doing more than just denying the creed, they are denying the Revelation that the creed was based in. Jesus Christ is unchanging. Jesus Christ is the Revelation of God. Jesus Christ is the Truth of God. The Revelation and the Truth of God never change. To claim that they can change is to deny Christ— and that is what Rob Bell is doing.
Rob Bell is denying the truth that has been defined. He is denying the status quo:
“The moment that anyone, however prayerful or thoughtful or earnest they may be, comes to a conclusion other than what we’ve defined as acceptable, they get kicked to the curb. As Christian leaders cling tighter and tighter to a faith tradition that seems less and less culturally relevant, they expel anyone who doesn’t check all the right boxes, who doesn’t say all the right words in all the right ways using all the right Bible verses.”
John Pavlovitz gets what is happening, just right. But he denies that the Church speaks for Christ as Jesus Christ himself promised: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Jesus also promised, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (John 13:20). To deny the teachings that are fundamental to the Church (Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment), he denies that these teachings are from Jesus. And to deny these teachings are from Jesus is to deny Jesus, himself.