Danger! Angry Blogger: The Apostle Paul’s Cyber-Relationship Checklist, by Gary David Stratton

April 4, 2011

Authors/Bloggers, Faith

“Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right than to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, indeed, requires you to be mean.”

-Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart


So many people have asked Sue and I to weigh-in on the Rob Bell’s Love Wins debate that we finally broke our mini-protest against the over-hyping of the book and bought a copy. We just finished reading it and (assuming we conclude that we actually have anything new to say) we will probably post some thoughts soon. (For some of our initial thoughts, see, Love Wins?  The Irony of the Rob Bell Controversy)

Today, I thought I’d give you an update on the controversy itself…

Cyberspace Wins!

Perhaps, we really should call the Love Wins controversy, “Cyberspace Wins.” The Christian community’s current Bellapalooza is the first evangelical doctrinal debate in history to occur nearly exclusively on the Internet. The printing presses that launched the Reformation are silent. No books, no tracts, no pamphlets, no (print) magazines. Perhaps a few print newspaper articles, but that’s it. (With the notable exception of Bell’s publisher.)

Yet, a Google search of “love wins”+”rob bell” nets over 400,000 responses (and counting), and the book hasn’t even been out for a month!

This development is as unprecedented as it is expected. We all knew that we would get to this point eventually, but what do we do now?  No matter who wins the theological debate, this is a very important watershed in church history. Where will the advent of cyber-theology take us in the future? No one knows for sure.

Love Loses

What we do know from this first round of cyber-theology is one very painful truth: “Meanness Wins!” Nearly a decade ago (2002), USC professor and spiritual formation expert Dallas Willard warned us that civility was near an all-time low in American church history:

“Why are Christians so mean?  Well, there actually is an answer to that question. And we must face this answer and effectively deal with it or Satan will sustain his stranglehold on spiritual transformation…  Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right… than to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, indeed, requires you to be mean–righteously mean, of course.” [1]

The advent of Internet culture has only made things worse. I thought sports radio was venomous… then I started reading blog posts on Love Wins. Wow! Talk about caustic! The boastful, arrogant, angry toxicity in some of these posts would make the coarsest Packers fan blush!

I am not saying that the issues are unimportant, or that we that shouldn’t show some passion. But shouldn’t we also show some grace? [2]

A Modest Proposal for the Future of Cyber-Theology

I seem to recall the apostle Paul warning the Corinthians about the danger of “fathoming all mysteries and all knowledge” only to become nothing more than a “noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.” No matter how worked up Paul got about an issue (have you read Galatians?) he was determined to make sure that his “blog posts” (isn’t that what an epistle is?) actually “edified” those who read them.

So in honor of the church’s first “blogging” superstar, I would like to make a modest proposal: From this time forward let no blogger ever press “send” for any post on any topic without first utilizing the “Saint Paul’s Blogging Checklist” provided below.

SAINT PAUL’S BLOGGING CHECKLIST: Do not press “send” until your blog post scores 5 out of 5 on the first set of questions, and zero out of 5 on the second.

Is this post?
(1) Patient
(2) Kind
(3) Free from envy
(4) Devoid of boasting
(5) Stripped of arrogance

Or is this post?
(6) Rude
(7) Self-seeking
(8) Angry
(9) Unforgiving
(10) Believing/assuming the worst about others

Of course, bloggers in a hurry (and bloggers are always in a hurry) could simply refer to Jesus’ simpler one-step appraisal tool: “Is this blog post written with the love and fairness that I would want a fellow blogger to use in writing about me?”

It may sound trite, but it is nearly impossible to imagine what a God honoring breath of fresh air such practices might bring to the future cyber-theology. [3]


Most Exemplary Rob Bell / Love Wins Posts so Far

Sue and I have collected some of the best posts we’ve found for balancing truth and love. They range from Bell enthusiasts to Bell critics, but for the most part these authors have explored the issues involved in an even-handed and compassionate manner. Of course we have not read all 400,000 Google hits (who could?). So if you’ve read other pieces you think we should take a look at, please let us know.

Posts on what the current controversy reveals about Christian-Christian relationships in high-tech world:

Rob Bell Becomes 5oth Pastor to Ever Make Cover Story for  Time Magazine: Reaction Mixed

Bellapalooza: A bit more on the Rob Bell Love Wins controversy and Civil Conversations

Love Wins?  The Irony of the Rob Bell Controversy

Does Love Even Have a Chance of Winning? by Margaret Feinberg

Good Will Hunting and the Rob Bell Controversy by Mike Friesen

Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers, by John Dyer in CT Online


Book reviews more or less FOR Love Wins in which love actually wins

The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell, by Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary

Rob Bell is Not a Universalist, by Greg Boyd

Go to Hell Rob Bell? by Jerry Walls


Book reviews more or less AGAINST Love Wins in which love actually wins.

Love Wins: A Review of Rob Bell’s New Book, by Tim Challies, in Crosswalk

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”, by Kevin DeYoung in Gospel Coalition

Review of Love Wins, by Louis in Baker House


More or less MIXED reviews of Love Wins in which love actually wins.

Review of Love Wins: A Deeply Moving and Deeply Frustrating Book, by Ryan Hamm in Relevant

Rob Bell’s Bridge Too Far, by Mark Galli in Christianity Today

Exploring Love Wins, by Scot McKnight

Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis, by Jeff Cook


“Loving” Parodies of Controversy:

Unintentional Parody: What if Rob Bell and His Critics Had a Sing Off? 168 Film Festival Winner ‘Love is Good’

Intentional Parody: Justice Wins, by Jeremy Grinnel (Note: There is not video, only audio)

My Review of Love Wins, by Donald Miller



N.T. Wright Video on Heaven, Hell, and Universalism

Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church FAQ’s on What Rob Actually Believes

Rob Bell Comes Clean on What He Really Believes (Video)



[1] Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), p. 238.

[2] I am not saying that there is never a time to call a group of hypocrites a “brood of vipers” (Luke 3:7), or “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), nor even to wish aloud that stubborn religionists would “emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12), but that is always at the end of a very long conversation, not in the first month of a theological debate.

[3] It wouldn’t hurt if Rob Bell led the way in this project by refraining from his own favorite version of “mean”–mocking positions he disagrees with instead of respectfully rebutting them.

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