Alex Jordan responded to my critique of the Rob Bell Affair (or what I call “RobBellGate”; Geez, it has the same number of syllables as “Watergate”, so why is it so unwieldy?) as follows:
You put a really bad spin on what Justin Taylor and others were doing. You claim they act within of a “culture of aggression and fear” and are “self-appointed heresy hunters”.
But Scripture tells us that Christian leaders are responsible to preach sound doctrine while rebuking and correcting unsound doctrine. Which means presumably that these can and should be be distinguished. So no, they are not self-appointed– we are all appointed to this task.
And to imply that what motivates these men to protect the body from the consequences of false teaching is their own aggression and fear is very uncharitable, particularly when they are obeying God in issuing their warnings.
I have two responses. First, Christ’s atoning work on the cross may not extend to every person who ever lived, but that hardly means the view that it does is heresy. The church had a conversation about the Trinity in the fourth century, the incarnation in the fifth century, and justification in the sixteenth century. There was a time when calling yourself a Nicene, Chalcedonian or Protestant was to take a risk. How do you know that it isn’t time to have a similar conversation about the salvific extent of the atoning work of Christ? In short, you need to hold in a balanced tension with your set of texts on maintaining true doctrine the difficult, and sometimes dangerous, process of discerning true doctrine in the first place.
Second point. It seems that Justin Taylor et. al would like a modern day inquisition. I say that not as an internet infidels-type jab but rather as a reference to the contemporary Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the direct descendent of the Inquisition; it has had the current name since 1965). Assuming that is the case, they might try learning from the research methods of the Sacred Congregation.
Take the case of Hans Kung. In the early 1960s as a young theologian he wrote a book in which he argued for the fundamental congruence between the Catholic Church and theologian Karl Barth (the prince of Protestants) on the doctrine of justification. That was his Love Wins, and you can bet it got the attention of the Sacred Congregation. So they opened a file on Kung. Years later, in 1979, after carefully studying all of Kung’s works and interviewing many people, the judgment came down: Kung is no longer a Catholic theologian (though he maintained his credentials as a priest). Contrast that with Justin Taylor’s research methods: Watch a 2 minute promotional video produced by a publisher and sound the alarm. Not quite the same thing, is it?
Finally, I would simply add that a whole generation of young evangelicals are increasingly turned off by the “heresy howl”. For them, the sharp reprimands of Reformed superstars are not sufficient to quell the doubts that Gandhi really belongs in hell. And turning the calm and collected Christians who honestly wrestle with those kinds of doubts into martyrs only sells more of their books. If you need any evidence of that, just ask Hans Kung.