The Baptists have spoken! Particularly Al Mohler (fundamentalist head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Taylor (the first blogger to fire on Bell), and Russel Moore and Denny Burke, deans of other conservative seminary/bible colleges. And their message? Farewell, Rob Bell… from their version of the gospel (which they maintain is not only the True and Right version thereof, but also the only truly effective one). But of course their version isn’t necessarily the same as God’s version. Their version is closer to Jack Chick’s.
You remember those tri-colored comic book-like tracts, right? The kind that told a story about some poor, hapless Schmuck who dies violently and bloodily and then ends up in hell. Like the rich man in Lazarus’ story, he begs to go back and tell anyone who would listen about how they need to accept Jesus into their hearts to escape eternal torment in hell. The whole gospel has been shortened to this: We’re all woefully sinful and deserve to spend eternity in conscious torment unless we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior with a prayer.
It’s not something that Jesus directly said, nor St. Paul, nor any of the other writers of the Old or New Testament. But it’s an interpretation that is declared to be the *Gospel Truth* by people like Mohler and understood to be what the whole bible is about for many, many people who consider themselves Christians.
And for many people who do not consider themselves Christians – at least any longer.
So when you see Mohler and his friends on Team Jack Chick talk about the “Gospel” – understand that they are not referring to something that Jesus declared, let alone a historically accurate understanding of what “Gospel” means (the declared good news of the birth or ascension of a new king).
Bell, the panelists said, has redefined the Gospel and his beliefs clearly fall outside historical biblical orthodoxy.
Well, I haven’t read the Bell book yet. I’ve read a few reviews and snippets of reviews, but I can’t say for sure… naw, who’m I kidding? Of course he’s not being unorthodox, unbiblical, nor ahistorical. That’s just horse-dung. Consider that the entire Eastern Orthodox movement considers hell to not be a place but a state of resistance of God. Consider that there are huge swaths within the historic church that had alternative views of hell – some denying its existence outright (which I don’t see Bell doing here). Consider that none of the creeds hold hell – let alone the Jack Chick Hell – up as a central point of the Christian faith. Consider that very little of the bible talks about hell -even if you were to read all things having to do with fire or condemnation or burning up as evidence, it pails in significance to the centralizing themes of the Bible.
What the panelists are doing here is equating the entire Church history with the Jack Chick understanding of hell as being central to its theology. Anyone who disagrees with their view is/was/will be, therefore, a heretic and themselves be responsible for leading millions upon millions into hell. It’s a very ego-centric way of understanding this living organism called The Church that existed and debated and learned (and in many ways, shirked from responsibility) long before these Baptists ever got their systematic theologies so tightly wound that the smallest picks will unravel their entire worldview (in this case, systematic theologies largely revolving around proof-texting verses of the bible out of historical, textual, and cultural context).
“There is no final, punitive, retributive justice from God,” Burk said. “.. Paul says in Romans 12:19, leave room for the wrath of God. One of the fundamental errors, I think, of this book is right there: There is no room for the wrath of God in his theology.”
Finally! Burk admits that “there is no final, punitive, retributive justice from God” (Sorry, did I just take Burk out of context? Silly me…).
Justice isn’t retribution. Justice is making the wrong right, not about punishing (forever and ever) the wrong-doers. Justice often requires some sort of punishment, of course. But usually we say that the punishment fits the crime. John Piper – a pastor on Team Jack Chick’s side who first told Rob Bell that he should fare well on his way out the door – argues that the judgment of eternal suffering is fitting because God is infinitely holy and worthy of honor. That to dismiss God’s infinite honor is to be infinitely proud.
It’s a pretty big bag Piper’s holding there – and this version of God, to be honest, sounds petty.
Bell’s view of salvation, Moore said, is wrong biblically but also flawed practically and will lead to empty church pews. If the pastor says there is no judgment and everyone will end up in heaven, then people have little motivation to follow Christ, Moore and the other panelists said.
“You never have a universalist Great Awakening,” Moore said. “… The very thing [Rob Bell] is attempting to do, it never succeeds. You always wind up losing the church and unable to reach the people outside the church.”
Of course, never mind that this meeting was put together because they were concerned about Rob Bell’s popularity, what gets me is the functionality of this statement. The missional objective here – and generally is – preach hell and condemnation. That will win souls.
But if what they’re looking for is the saving of souls in the long run, it doesn’t work. If we Christians want to attract people to Jesus, we can’t do that by ignoring Jesus. How one starts in their Christian journey affects how they continue it. Starting out with fear is not love (“For perfect love casts out all fear”), and being afraid of hell is not worshiping God.
Shouldn’t the focus be on God? Isn’t that the definition of worship – loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, body? If faith is reduced to a ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’, then it’s the opposite of what proponents of Eternal Hell & Suffering have been trying to convince me. But Mohler, et al., make it sound like that’s what this is about.
They’re saying, If you want to win souls to Jesus, you have to tell them they’ll go to hell if they refuse to. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I don’t know. I always thought the point was Jesus…
Of course, in a functional and practical level, it doesn’t make sense. Sure, you could make a lot of conversions using hell as the grappling hook. But how many of those people will continue with their zealotry after a long period? Now all you’ve got (and I know because I was there) are a bunch of people unsure of their own salvation and not sure if they want to tell others that they need to get some of this. This is the opposite of a worship-and-love-centered missiology. This is a lot less effective for true Jesus-following discipleship than having people who are truly in love with Jesus and filled with the Spirit of Comfort and Love spreading that message through their deeds and engaged conversations.
“That message of 2 Corinthians 5 & 6 doesn’t make any sense with this book — ‘now is the day of salvation, now is the acceptable day.’ And why? Because there is a time of judgment coming. … None of that makes sense if this book is true.”
This is a fundamental flaw with this view of salvation – that salvation only means to save from certain, eternal death. It’s the Gospel According to Chick Tracts. Is that it? Is that the only possible meaning of salvation? Is that the entire grasp and width of Jesus’ saving hands? Only works after we die?
Said Mohler, “If you believe what is in this book, you can’t sing many of the hymns that are most precious to us. You can’t do it. You can’t mean what they mean, because there is no need for the cross, there is no need for the substitution, there is no need for the mercy [of God].”
No need for the cross? No need for mercy? That’s crazy talk! If the only purpose of God’s mercy is to keep us from eternally burning in hell, then why do I need to forgive those who wrong me? Heck, I’m not sure what Al is referring to here, because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning – great is God’s faithfulness.
I need God’s mercy (and the songs certainly help) every day. While on earth. Not just to escape a torment of eternal hell after I die. But to survive my marriage and fatherhood. To go to work. To face myself and my neighbors every day. Knowing that there is hate in my heart.
I do pray for forgiveness and mercy every day. And I pray for Al Mohler and his acquaintances and for forgiveness. Because right now, I do not like them. At all.
Jesus, save me.
Note: My friend and occasional sparring partner Carson Clark already had a point-by-point response to this essay here.