In honor of tonight’s opening of the 168 Film Festival I wanted to share a clip from a past festival winner that struck me as eerily relevant to the current controversy swirling around love, hell, and Rob Bell (not necessarily in that order.)
As my family was going through some videos of past winners, we found “Love is Good,” winner of the 2009 festival honors for “Best Comedy” and “Audience Favorite.” We laughed hysterically as we watched one particular song in the film. It looked like SNL had written a parody of the current Rob Bell debate. …Uh, but they weren’t, ‘cuz, like, the film is from 2009. Which somehow made it even funnier.
I was able to program the clip to start at the beginning of the song (1:02), but I wasn’t tech savvy enough to stop it at the end (2:55). Feel free to watch the entire video, but I thought this first song was just pitch-perfect. 
In just 1:53 seconds the clip demonstrates both the power of filmmaking in theological debate and the mission of the 168 Film Festival.
Love is Good
A 168 Hour Project
Goodnight Smoke LLC
Written, Directed, and Produced by
Cast & Crew:
Boy – Joseph Butterworth
Girl – Amie Bohannon
Preacher – Walker Craig
Restaurant Owner – Ova Saopeng
Production Manager – Lewis Hill
Director of Photography – Richard Priest II
Composer – Michael Lee
Edited by – Theo Love
Assistant Director – Lewis Hill
2nd Assistant Director – Lauren J. Peters
Production Assistants – Mattro Jacobs & Zack Riggenbach
Artist and Set Design – Tom Love
Craft Services – Mama Love & Jessie White
Props – Lauren J. Peters
Directors Assistant – Jessie White
Vocal Coach – Joseph Butterworth
Streets of Love Extras:
Lyrics by Theo Love
Music by Michael Lee
Performed by Walker Craig, Amie Bohannon and
Lyrics by Theo Love
Music by Michael Lee
Performed by Walker Craig, Amie Bohannon and
Sweeter Than Wine
Lyrics by Theo Love
Music by Michael Lee
Performed by Joseph Butterworth
I Thought You’d Never Call
Lyrics by Theo Love
Music by Michael Lee
Performed by Amie Bohannon and
What Should I Do?
Lyrics by Theo Love
Music by Michael Lee
Performed by Walker Craig
I’ve read a lot of great responses regarding what the Rob Bell controversy teaches us about the current state of “Christian-Christian” relationships in America. None is better than this post by one of my favorite former students, 20-something blogger, and friend Mike Friesen. He reminds us that sometimes Hollywood echoes the truth of “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1) better than the, so-called, “people of God.” Enjoy!
My favorite movie is Good Will Hunting. I feel like I relate to the main character Will a lot (Matt Damon). There are times where I feel damaged from my past, though I know, I find healing and hope every day. My sister tells me I can get myself out of any situation because 1. I’m fairly smart 2. I’m Charismatic and 3. I can argue and debate with unreal persuasion. Much, like Damon’s character in the movie. I also see immense wisdom in the movie. Wisdom, that I see dying to be poured into my own failures and transgressions. Wisdom about aspirations and dreams. Wisdom on relationships and how we relate to others.
Damon finds himself in trouble for assault and battery, and, instead of going to prison, he gets hooked up with this deal, where he is allowed to study math and see a counselor. Damon, not loving the idea of the counselor, bounces from one to the next, by telling one he is Gay and making moves on him, the other by pretending to be hypnotized and breaking out in the song afternoon delight. Finally, he arrives at the office of Sean (Robin Williams), a guy with a rough upbringing like his, and who is also very brilliant.
When Will first encounters Sean, he tears apart a painting Sean created symbolizing the loneliness he felt with the death of his wife. Will critiqued the symbolism and art technique and was able to pinpoint Sean’s weakness. The next scene is a scene in the park for their next meeting: (Note – clip is rated ‘R’ for strong language.)
When I think about the current Hellgate scandal we find ourselves in with Rob Bell, and, in other books written by Brian McLaren, we act on this similar youthful immaturity and insecurity that Damon does. He was able to systematically destroy Sean’s painting, and, when we approach Bell and McLaren, we systematically destroy them with our “proof-text” theology and modern orthodox understanding.
Do we see these works of art by Bell and McLaren and tear their lives apart?
Just because we read their books, does that mean we can tear apart their humanity?
Just because we disagree, do we know how much they or do not love God?
One of the most beautiful Truth’s of being a Christian is this simple phrase, Imago Dei. It means that we are all made in the image of God. So how would Jesus treat Rob Bell and Brian McLaren? Would he tear their lives apart because of their theology (even if it were wrong)? Or, would he love them regardless? Trusting that God is doing a good work in them, being all the more patient and kind with them while this work is being carried out unto completion?
I’m not saying don’t disagree with it. I’m saying use discernment. But know, that they are a face of God, and when we tear them apart, being human, they feel that pain. Be careful about how you throw around the “H” word (heretic), knowing that the modern-day implications of that word, are very hurtful, towards people who believe they are seeking Jesus and following God’s will for their lives. We all have a humanity, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren included.
(Used by permission.) You can follow Mike at his blog or on Twitter @mike__friesen. You’ll be glad you did.
An Interview with Almost Christian Author Kendra Creasy Dean, by Deborah Arca Mooney
From 2003-2005, researchers conducted the most ambitious study of adolescent spirituality to date in the U.S. Among the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), it was found that while three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, only half consider it very important, and fewer than half actually practice their faith as a regular part of their lives. Additionally, the study found the vast majority of teenagers to be “incredibly inarticulate about their faith and its meaning for their lives,” with mainline Protestant teenagers ranking among the least religiously articulate of all.
Kenda Creasy Dean, Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary and a longtime youth minister in the United Methodist Church, was one of the study’s interviewers and spent a summer talking to teenagers about their faith lives and views on religion. Her experience was the impetus for her compelling new book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, an investigation into — and an impassioned response to — the results of the NSYR study, results that she and many others in the church found quite disturbing.
Dean uses the study’s findings to deliver a challenging wake-up call to the mainline church, which she believes is passing off a mutant form of Christianity to its young people. We spoke with Dean recently about the study’s findings on teen faith, the “watered-down version of Christianity” prevalent in mainline churches, why and how the church must rediscover its sense of mission and faith language, and ultimately where hope lies for the future of the mainline church and young people longing for a faith worth living — and dying — for.
How did you get involved in this project, and why are its findings are so significant?
My buy-in to the project was that it was the largest study of American teenagers and religion to date, involving extensive interviews of more than 3,300 American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 (including telephone surveys of these teenagers’ parents), followed by face-to-face follow-up interviews with 267 of these teenagers. There is also an important longitudinal component to the project that revisits more than 2,500 of the teens as they enter adulthood. And the project was conducted by very credible people, so that was in its favor as well. I figured it was something I was going to have to be dealing with for the next twenty years of my life anyway, so I might as well get in on the ground floor with it.
So, you spent many hours over the course of a summer interviewing teens, which you call “one of the most depressing summers of your life.” Why do you say that?
Well, I had just finished a book about passion and now, as I was interviewing these kids for this study, I found it quite worrisome that kids again and again — kids who were raised in the church — fell into what we call a “moralistic therapeutic deist” category. They went to church a lot, but weren’t really affected by it. That was the thing that was really shocking to me.
You refer to this “moralistic therapeutic deism” quite a bit in your book. Can you unpack this term for us?
That’s the name the NSYR came up with to describe the “belief system” of the majority of teens surveyed. The shorthand of moralistic therapeutic deism is that religion helps you feel good and do good, but God pretty much stays out of the way…
Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, is a world-renown theologian who combines impeccable scholarship with a deep passion for the church. Shaped by his experience of growing up in a Christian community in communist Yugoslavia, Volf has provided an important, distinct theological voice to many of the social and theological issues of our day. In this interview, Volf talks about his new book, Allah: A Christian Response, common misconceptions of the Trinity, and what it means to be a Christian in conversation with Muslim brothers and sisters.
The Other Journal (TOJ): In the introduction to your new book,Allah: A Christian Response, you write, “I know that the boundary separating truth and falsehood is not the same as the boundary between political parties or ideological combatants.” Can you talk a little bit about how you see the current political and cultural configuration in the United States obfuscating the truth? And how does this current political landscape cloud our vision as US Christians when it comes to understanding Islam?
Miroslav Volf (MV): I am writing this response two days after Representative Peter King’s hearings (March 10, 2011) about radicalization in Muslim communities. These hearings were a political spectacle, not an instrument of truth finding. They did something to consolidate the position of Mr. King in his political camp but nothing to improve the security of the nation. To the contrary, instead of eliminating radicalization, I have argued elsewhere that these hearings will perpetuate it.
Another example of how the US political landscape obfuscates truth is clearly apparent in the great uproar about the Islamic Center near Ground Zero. That was politically motivated, and it was one massive expression of prejudice. Basically, it rested on identifying Islam with a terrorist ideology. Now, I disagree with Islam on many points—I am, after all, a committed Christian—but to identify Islam with a terrorist ideology is simply false and represents a great injustice toward the majority of Muslims. And this falsehood was publicized in the service of gaining political capital. That is morally wrong. Any right-minded Christian must consider it a grave sin.
TOJ: The central and bold claim of this book is that “Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only God.” What are the common mistakes about the doctrine of the Trinity that Christians and Muslims both make? When a deeper understanding of the Trinity is realized, how might this open up important commonality between the religions?
I asked Margaret Feinberg if I could repost her thoughtful response to Rob Bell’s book release interview with Lisa Miller on Monday.
She is one of my favorite authors and bloggers and I think she raises all the right questions about what we can learn from this entire episode regardless of where you stand on Rob’s doctrine.
I have been a strong advocate for Christians using media to be heard in our celebrity-driven culture (See, Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God), but is this kind of intramural squabble that I envisioned? Absolutely not!
I’d love some thoughts on Margaret’s article and on whether Rob is using or abusing the principles I laid out in the Paparazzi post?
Does Love Even Have a Chance of Winning?
Tonight I listened to Rob Bell’s interview with Lisa Miller of Newsweek discuss his new book Love Wins. Miller’s questions were pointed and focused, much like those which were asked by the crowd and online viewers, but Bell’s responses were rarely direct. Instead, he offered a series of philosophical reflections blended with stories that left thick ambiguity hanging in the air.
Some will defend the thick ambiguity as the style of Jesus, who often answered questions with questions, but most of the people I know watching tonight were aching for a solid answer and explanation on what Rob really believes and why he believes it—which is a fair desire considering that at the end of the day this is still a book promotion.
Do I agree or disagree with Rob? The answer is neither. I found the responses so vague and nebulous I’m not sure what Rob believes.
So without a pre-release, I can’t comment on the book, and find myself wishing a whole lot of other people would hold their tongue and keyboards, too. I’ve been embarrassed by the number of online snipers taking shots at Rob in the name of Christianity who haven’t even read the book yet. Where are wisdom, discretion, and self-control?
As I reflect on what I watched tonight the image I have in mind is one of a boy playing in a mud puddle in the middle of a storm. He’s got a wide smile and glimmer in his eye. He’s joyful and delightful. To be honest, watching him puts a smile on my face. And I wince at the mudballs that are being thrown in his face by kids passing by. I’ve felt the sting and nursed the welts myself and wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Not everyone is throwing mudballs though. Others are diving in and building their own mud castles on the shores of the puddle. Still others and gathering and watching the events unfold.
Yet when I look up to the sky, I’m reminded that we’re in the middle of a storm. Lightening peels. Thunder crackles. Flood waters rise. People are leaving the church and walking away from faith in droves. Maybe it’s not the best time to be stirring up the mud in puddles. Maybe it’s not the best time for ambiguity and murkiness.
I find myself wondering who will really win from Love Wins?
Fascinating discussion in the New York Times Opinion Page. Could cutting tuition be the key to reforming higher education? Seems unlikely, yet Sewanee (University of the South) is doing it! And so far… it’s working.
Cutting Tuition: A First Step?
Despite the outcry over high college costs, tuition rates are still going up. Princeton, Brown, Stanford and George Washington, for example, all announced increases in the last few weeks.
Tuition, fees, and room and board are all affected, with the overall cost falling from around $46,000 to about $41,500. The university said it will alter its student aid formula, but officials say no students will pay more next year than they pay now, and most will pay less.
Is this an example that other colleges might follow, or it is simply a good strategy for a school in Sewanee’s particular niche: “selective” but needing to stay competitive in a heated market? When is a tuition cut really a cut? What will it take for colleges to control their costs?
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has been a great help to my wife Sue and I (she’s the biblical scholar) in developing a much more nuanced understanding of the First Century Jewish world into which most of the NT was addressed.
If you believe that the primary meaning of biblical texts is found in what the original author intended to communicate to his original audience, then understanding the worldviews of first-century Judaism is critical. While we don’t agree with all of Wright’s theological conclusions, we have come to trust his unparalleled grasp of the first-century mind.
In this short video N.T. Wright explains his viewpoints on hell, human choice, and the allure of universalism.
Wright is much clearer and less inflammatory than recent videos/comments/interviews by Rob Bell (See, Love Wins? post), but I “think” that they are trying to say roughly the same thing. Or, better put, I suspect Rob is using his artistic passion to try to wake up the world to consider a viewpoint that N.T. Wright the careful scholar has sketched out with more subtle precision. At least I hope so. (I just got Rob’s book so I’m still not sure.) I know I am mostly on board with Wright on these issues. At this point I can only hope that Bell is actually as orthodox as he claims.
. Your thoughts?
OTHER WRIGHT VIEWS ON LIFE AFTER LIFE AFTER DEATH
I’ve included a few other brief videos to flesh out some of Wright’s thoughts on heaven, hell, the new heaven and earth, and what he famously calls, “life after life after death” or just “life after the after life.”
Why Is Hell Not Talked About?
New study by right leaning Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) shows civic leadership lacking in college grads.
Wilmington, DE – Typical college mission statements normally include aspirations to cultivate informed citizens who are politically active and engaged. A startling new report on civic literacy statistically proves that these goals are not achieved by U.S. colleges and universities.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, releases its fifth annual National Civic Literacy Report assessing how well America’s colleges and universities are preparing graduates for lives of informed and responsible civic duty. In this year’s report, Enlightened Citizenship: How Civic Knowledge Trumps a College Degree in Promoting Active Civic Engagement, ISI seeks to answer the “Big Question”—is college capable of producing informed and engaged citizens?
“Our study clearly shows that college has absolutely zero positive influence in encouraging graduates to become actively engaged in more consequential aspects of the political process, like expressing your views to elected officials, donating your time to candidates you believe in, and attending various political events,” states Dr.Richard Brake, co-chair of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board. “Instead, becoming educated about American history and the fundamental principles that shape our Republic ensures citizens will do more to influence the electoral process than simply casting a vote.”
The report was based on a comprehensive survey which determined, among other things, whether respondents had engaged in passive (e.g. voting) and/or active (e.g. signing a petition, attending a rally) political and community activities at least once in their lifetime.
Key findings of ISI’s rigorous scientific study include:
• College fails to promote high levels of civic knowledge, with a bachelor’s degree exerting zero influence on a graduates’ “active” civic engagement
• Gaining greater civic knowledge trumps college as the leading factor in encouraging active civic engagement
• Frequent religious attendance and civic self-education increases active citizenship.
According to Jameson Cunningham of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, the study reveals that “college has zero positive influence in encouraging its grads to become politically engaged—although many universities promote this ability in their mission statements.” He sites Georgetown University as an example of schools seeking to produce graduates who will be “responsible and active participants in civic life.” Yet Georgetown alumni “are no more likely to attend a rally, write a letter to the editor or volunteer for a candidate than the average citizen.” Whereas, a self educating movement such as “the Tea Party is a prime example where increased civic education leads to increased active civic engagement.”
ISI was founded in 1953, by Frank Chodorov and William F. Buckley, Jr. Over the years, ISI has established itself as a leading conservative educational think tank. IIt claims to be an “educational pillar of the conservative movement and the leading source of information about a free society for the many students and teachers who reject the post-modernist zeitgeist.”
.A decade ago, two economists — Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger — published a research paper arguing that elite colleges did not seem to give most graduates an earnings boost. As you might expect, the paper received a tonof attention. Ms. Dale and Mr. Krueger have just finished a new version of the study — with vastly more and better data, covering people into their 40s and 50s, as well as looking at a set of more recent college graduates — and the new version comes to the same conclusion.
Given how counterintuitive that conclusion is and, that some other economists have been skeptical of it, I want to devote a post to the new paper.
The starting point is the obvious fact that graduates of elite colleges make more money than graduates of less elite colleges. This pattern holds even when you control for the SAT scores and grades of graduates. By themselves, these patterns seem to suggest that the college is a major reason for the earnings difference.
But Ms. Dale — an economist at Mathematica, a research firm — and Mr. Krueger — a Princeton economist and former contributor to this blog — added a new variable in their research. They also controlled for the colleges that students applied to and were accepted by.
Doing so allowed them to capture much more information about the students than SAT scores and grades do. Someone who applies to Duke, Williams or Yale may be signaling that he or she is more confident and ambitious than someone with similar scores and grades who does not apply. Someone who is accepted by a highly selective school may have other skills that their scores didn’t pick up, but that the admissions officers noticed.
Once the two economists added these new variables, the earnings difference disappeared… It’s still deeply surprising that choosing to go to, say, Xavier instead of Columbia may not affect your future earnings.
Alan Krueger’s last word:
“My advice to students: Don’t believe that the only school worth attending is one that would not admit you. That you go to college is more important than where you go. Find a school whose academic strengths match your interests and that devotes resources to instruction in those fields. Recognize that your own motivation, ambition and talents will determine your success more than the college name on your diploma.”
Richard Flory, one of my very bright former colleagues at a stalwart CCCU school, is currently associate research professor of sociology and senior research associate at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
In the aftermath of the Rob Bell universalism controversy Richard is asking some very tough questions confronting leaders of the Christian College movement about the future of Christian Higher Education in the midst of dramatic worldview shift among younger evangelicals.
I’m interested in everyone’s take on this, but especially CCCU and ABHE leaders in particular. What are your thoughts?
The End of the (Evangelical) World As We Know It
Several recent reports suggest that the evangelical Christian world, as we have come to know it over the last 30 years, may be changing forever…
While it is not exactly clear the extent to which these beliefs are really a part of the worldview of younger evangelicals, or how they may translate into different forms of social action, they do suggest that important changes are unfolding within a important sector of American society…
There are several angles that reporters might pursue, starting with whether the theological reorientation of charismatic leaders like Rob Bell really represents a broad trend within evangelicalism (or are they getting attention because they’re savvy about self-promotion and the usefulness of pushing their opponents’ buttons).
Further, reporters need to ask not only how many younger evangelicals there are who support a more progressive interpretation of the Gospel, but what influence they might actually have on politics and culture.
For example, what might these changes mean for key evangelical institutions such as churches, colleges and seminaries? John Thune and Mike Huckabee, two potential Republican presidential candidates, are products of evangelical schools. Will these institutions support changes in scriptural interpretation and social ethics, or will they maintain their traditional role of working to keep young evangelicals within the range of acceptable beliefs and practices?
…Ultimately, only time will tell. But in the meantime, there are many lines of inquiry that reporters can pursue to help us understand whether and how younger evangelicals represent new wine in old wineskins. Or whether they are just the same vintage in a shiny new bottle.
Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman offers some good news for Hollywood Creatives who feel as if you have multiple personality disorder–YOU DO! Well, sort of.
Drawing upon the research of Claremont Graduate University professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kaufman reports in the Huffington Post that “Creativity researchers… have long-ago accepted the fact that creative people are complex. Almost by definition, creativity is complex. Creative thinking is influenced by many traits, behaviors, and sociocultural factors that come together in one person. It would be surprising if all of these factors didn’t sometimes, or even most of the time, appear to contradict one another.”
The Creative Personality
Kaufman points to the Csikszentmihalyi’s Psychology Today article entitled “The Creative Personality” to demonstrate how “creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated.” Csikszentmihalyi notes:
I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.’
Kaufman is most fascinated by three of Csikszentmihalyi’s 10 complex personality traits of creative people. (I’ve added a bit more from Csikszentmihalyi than Kaufman did.)
1) Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm… This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always “on.” In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.
2) Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliability measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.
3) Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment… Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood. Yet when a person is working in the area of his of her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.
Csikszentmihalyi devoted much of his life to helping creatives learn to achieve this state of bliss that he calls “flow.” The state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Kaufman notes that these three “seeming contradictions — energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity — are not separate phenomena but are intimately related to one another and along with other traits form the core of the creative performer’s personality. All three are also linked to what Elaine Aron refers to as a highly sensitive personality (HSP). HSP’s make up 15-20 percent of the general population and tend to be more aware than others of subtleties, get more easily overwhelmed when things get too intense or there is too much sensory input, are easily affected by other’s moods, and are deeply creative and moved by arts and music. Some of the most creative people have very high levels of sensitivity.”
The evidence is clear: for a large majority of performers, in some of the most extroverted forms of performance, there is a great ability to juggle multiple faces and a need for downtime and reflection. New psychological research is showing just how intertwined and prevalent Openness to Experience, flow, abnormal perceptual experiences, and extroversion/introversion contradictions really are in creative people, especially artists.”
So… if you feel overwhelmingly complex and hyper sensitive, it could be a sign that you really do belong in Hollywood.
Of course, Rob Bell is no ordinary theologian. Heir to a solid evangelical heritage, Rob graduated from evangelicalism’s “Harvard,” Wheaton College, planted a hip 10,000+ member mega-church in evangelical mecca, Grand Rapids, MI, became a best-selling author, filmmaker, and rock-star evangelical celebrity, all by the age of 40.
Rob is also rocket-science smart and extremely adept at using new media to recast traditional evangelical concepts in socially contextualized messages. It is why I like using books like Velvet Elvis in my theology of ministry classes. However, the culturally cutting-edge approach that makes Rob’s books such great conversation starters also makes them controversial.
He seems to delight in skating the razor sharp edge between contextualization and syncretism. Anyone who has followed his previous books and videos wouldn’t be surprised if dancing on that cutting edge eventually results in some nasty cuts.
Is Love Wins the book where Bell finally goes too far? I don’t know, and neither do most of the people who have rushed to judgment… BECAUSE THE BOOK ISN’T OUT YET! However, that hasn’t kept Bell haters and Bell lovers from chiming in.
Having watched the supposedly controversial three-minute book promo video and read a plethora of opinion pieces about it (most by people who have not read the book) I can conclude only two things:
1) Rob’s brilliance as a provocateur and marketing genius is even greater than I ever imagined. The video that sparked this entire controversy makes absolutely no declarative statements. It does what Rob does best, ask questions (far better than he ever answers them.) In fact, I venture to say that if John Piper had done exactly the same video, it would have produced nothing, but a yawn–except for those who cheered because Piper had taken the next step in his own growing savvy with new media. Bottom line, it will sell a lot of books, and I don’t think Rob had any other goal when he made it.
2) “Love Wins” may be the most ironic title in the history of Christian publishing. No matter how you slice it, love is the one thing that is NOT winning in this advance publication chatter. Watch the video (above) and then gauge the intensity of the battle raging on the internet and it becomes immediately obvious that something else is a stake than asking whether or not Gandhi is in hell. The Evangelical movement appears to be at war with itself along battle lines that have already been drawn. Rob certainly could turn out to be a heretic someday, but it is no excuse for the outrageous recriminations evoked this week.
Will love ever win among Christ’s followers in North America? It was Jesus’ highest prayer on earth (John 17) and is supposed to be our greatest apologetic to a doubting world (John 15). Yet after a week of armageddon-level internal cat fight over a measly three-minute promo video, it still seems an eternity away.
Here are the best three articles I have read regarding the controversy… and, just for the record, I HAVE PRE-ORDERED MY OWN COPY OF ROB’S BOOK and plan to read it thoroughly before rushing to judgment. Who knows, maybe I will come up with something intelligent to say about Love Wins, which is more than I can say about most of the comments I have read so far.
Update: New Top Rob Bell Related Posts
The Current Controversy and Christian-Christian Relationships in High-Tech World:
A new book by one of the country’s most influential evangelical pastors, challenging traditional Christian views of heaven, hell and eternal damnation, has created an uproar among evangelical leaders, with the most ancient of questions being argued in a biblical hailstorm of Twitter messages and blog posts.
In a book to be published this month, the pastor, Rob Bell, known for his provocative views and appeal among the young, describes as “misguided and toxic” the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”
Such statements are hardly radical among more liberal theologians, who for centuries have wrestled with the seeming contradiction between an all-loving God and the consignment of the billions of non-Christians to eternal suffering. But to traditionalists they border on heresy, and they have come just at a time when conservative evangelicals fear that a younger generation is straying from unbendable biblical truths.
Mr. Bell, 40, whose Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., has 10,000 members, is a Christian celebrity and something of a hipster in the pulpit, with engaging videos that sell by the hundreds of thousands and appearances to rapt, youthful crowds in rock-music arenas.
His book comes as the evangelical community has embraced the Internet and social media to a remarkable degree, so that a debate that once might have built over months in magazines and pulpits has instead erupted at electronic speed.
The furor was touched off last Saturday by a widely read Christian blogger, Justin Taylor, based on promotional summaries of the book and a video (below) produced by Mr. Bell. In his blog, Between Two Worlds, Mr. Taylor said that the pastor “is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity.”
“It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine,” wrote Mr. Taylor, who is vice president of Crossway, a Christian publisher in Wheaton, Ill.
By that same evening, “Rob Bell” was one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. Within 48 hours, Mr. Taylor’s original blog had been viewed 250,000 times. Dozens of other Christian leaders and bloggers jumped into the fray and thousands of their readers posted comments on both sides of the debate, though few had yet seen the entire book.
Whether evangelicalism was paying attention or not, it is now. Universalism, or at least the prospect of it, is the single most significant issue running through the undercurrent of evangelicalism today. This all became clear Saturday when some decided to accuse Rob Bell of universalism on the basis of excerpts of his (not yet released) book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and on the basis of a video and the book’s description at HarperOne. So, while this new story is about Rob, I want to contend it is even more about the significance of universalism.
My own estimation is that somewhere near 75% of my students, many if not most of them nurtured in the church, are more or less (soft) universalists. They believe in Jesus and see themselves as Christians but don’t find significant problems in God saving Muslims and Buddhists or anyone else on the basis of how God makes such decisions. The Baylor Study of Religion, if my memory is correct, asked a question or two that reveals that an increasing number of American evangelical Christians think the majority of humans will be saved. That’s the issue and Rob Bell had the moxie to write a book about it. He’s rattled cages with his promo video and he will undoubtedly stir the waters in the book.
Many in the evangelical church have happily lived as if universalism is not an issue for good ol’ evangelicals. Those of us with our ears to the ground know better, and that is why I addressed this issue in a chapter in my book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. I called that chapter Eternity.Life. I begin by saying I believe in hell, but I want to believe in hell the way Jesus does. And I believe in heaven, but I want to believe in heaven as Jesus does. What Jesus believed about heaven and hell diverges at times from what many Christians think about heaven and hell.
As I wrote that chp and as I listen to this new round of volleys, some of them embarrassing and some of them so over the top and so many of them without having read one word of the book, I keep thinking we need once again to define some terms so I want to sketch a set of simple options. (Then I’ll say a few things about Rob Bell. By the way, we won’t know which of these categories fits Rob until we can read his whole book.)
Which of the following views do you think are “unorthodox”?
Universalism is the general belief that all will be saved, regardless of religious beliefs. The Muslim and the Christian are on the same basic path – and for universalists all will be saved.
Universalism needs to be distinguished from pluralism though as I have sketched “universalism” above there is precious little difference. Pluralism focuses on the legitimacy of each religion and belief system and that each of them prepares a person for final existence with God. For pluralists, there’s no unique saving place for Jesus Christ.
Christian universalism is a bit different: Christian universalism denies pluralism and balder forms of universalism by contending that all can or will be saved, but only through the saving work of Jesus Christ. While many who advocate this fail to recognize that those in other religions simply don’t believe such a thing, and in fact may say they don’t want to be saved through Christ, the Christian universalist confidently trots out the idea that whether they know it or not, God saves through Jesus Christ. But the big point here is that all can and will be saved through Christ.
Evangelical universalism is newer on the block and argues that God saves exclusively through Christ and that those who deny Christ, or who have not heard of Christ, or who have rejected God’s natural revelation to them, will be judged and will experience hell. In other words, these folks believe in hell – though they believe “less” (or as they might say “more”) than the traditionalist. But they believe hell is not eternal but instead temporary and once one has experienced judgment for one’s sins one will have, by the grace of God and through the merits of Christ, the opportunity to respond to the gospel – and this news is so good and God’s offer so gracious that eventually hell will be emptied and all will find redemption in Christ to enjoy God’s salvation forever.
Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell: Putting the Pastor in Context
by Mark Galli in Christianity Today | posted 3/02/2011.
Rob Bell is not the first to try to resolve old biblical tensions in new ways.
If your God is perfect and all powerful and loving, then why does he not give everyone on this earth a fair chance to know him and accept him? An example of this is a kid in Iran born into a Muslim extremist family and taught that Islam is the one true religion and that Christianity is a lie. These kids do not get a fair chance at knowing God, and they go to hell and suffer for it eternally. That is extremely unfair, and if that is the case, God is not perfect but cruel.
This recent letter to Christianity Today suggests some of the issues at the heart of this week’s blogosphere explosion over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.
In case you’ve been living in a cave without Wi-Fi, one popular blogger who read a couple of advance chapters of Bell’s latest book, announced that Bell was probably a universalist. This set Twitter on fire with both speculation and condemnation. One famous Reformed theologian simply tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” One does not imagine that he had kicked Bell out of the Reformed theology club. Bell hasn’t been considered a member in good standing for some time. Now, the tweet implies, Bell is no longer evangelical, or orthodox, or maybe even Christian.
A great many of the responses to Bell assume that there is only one right way to think about the destiny of people who do not put their trust in Christ in this life: they will experience eternal, conscious punishment in hell. Despite the cultural stereotypes, people don’t think this because they are cruel and vindictive, because they relish the thought of people roasting in hell. No, they are trying to take seriously the teaching of Scripture, especially the words of Jesus. As Tim Keller has pointed out, Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the New Testament. So if you take Jesus seriously, you are going to have to take hell seriously.
This view has become the standard among contemporary evangelicals. Two evangelical books that have rested comfortably on the New York Times bestseller list are Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt. Both are ardent pleas for more committed, sacrificial devotion to Christ and love for the world. And both motivate readers with the occasional mention of the huge numbers of people across the world who have yet to hear the gospel. For example, Platt notes anxiously “the 4.5 billion people, who … at this moment are separated from God in their sin and (assuming nothing changes) will spend an eternity in hell.”
Many faithful, devout Christians, then, assume the scenario criticized by the CT letter writer. But not all, and what is being lost in the anxious chatter is that faithful, devout Christians try to reconcile the love of God with the judgment of God in a number of ways. Many evangelicals who hold to the standard view assume, as one prominent blogger wrote yesterday, that the Bible’s teaching on this is “clear.” But especially in the last century, things don’t seem that clear to many of the devout.
To keep this article from wandering too far afield, let’s talk about one of a constellation of theological issues raised in this discussion: the fate of the person who has heard the gospel portrayed fairly, lovingly, and clearly, and yet refuses to respond in faith.
From Universalism to Annihilationism
The standard view has much to commend it, especially the words of Jesus. As Keller points out, he spoke of “eternal fire and punishment” as the final destination of both angels and human beings who reject God (Matt. 25:41, 46). He says that those who succumb to sin will be in danger of the “fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22; 18:8-9). He depicted hell as painful fire and “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30), a place of terrible misery and unhappiness. Add to this the logic of God’s holiness and the radical evil of sin and so forth, and you have a compelling argument for eternal, conscious punishment. No wonder it has been the nearly unquestioned doctrine of the church from the beginning.