Apparently there was quite a kerfuffle this week when word got around that Rob Bell’s new (and as yet still unreleased) book Love Wins is, or probably does, or might, support universalism in some way. Apparently it all started when influential blogger Justin Taylor concluded after viewing a two minute promotional video that Bell is a universalist. And so he typed through clenched teeth (if such a thing is possible): “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.” Next, John Piper joined the fray by twittering an icy “Farewell, Rob Bell.” But the best comment goes to Al Mohler who declared with a Southern Baptist moralistic bellow that the promotional video was tantamount to a “theological striptease.” Goodness gracious. Now we know where Mohler’s mind is at. For all the vitriol you’d think Bell was a Holocaust denier.
Well Steve over at Triablogue actually read an advance copy of Love Wins and he can report with some authority that Bell is not a universalist after all, at least not if that means “I believe all people will be saved.” So I guess this was all much ado about nothing. In retrospect Taylor et. al were in fact little more than pawns in a shrewdly designed Harper Collins book promotion. It reminds me of the good old days back in the eighties when Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center were Ozzy Ozbourne’s best marketing tool. Now thanks to Taylor’s gang everybody in North America is talking about Rob Bell’s new book, univeralistic or not.
This unfortunate little incident will soon be forgotten. Rob Bell will sell lots of books. And we’ll all move on. But there is a rather sobering lesson here. Evangelicalism continues to be infected by a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality which immediately attempts to strangle, or stamp out, or raze any theological reflection which is deemed as beyond the bounds.
Presumably this culture of aggression and fear continues because the self-appointed heresy hunters believe they are protecting their evangelical flocks. Maybe. But maybe not. Imagine a newly converted Paul visiting a synagogue in Damascus and attempting to reason from the scriptures that Jesus is the messiah and that God’s plan was bigger and better than anyone could ever have thought. If that happened to be an evangelical synagogue, look out. Before Paul could spend five minutes laying out his case twitter would be crackling with charges of “idolatry” and “polytheism” as well as the icy “Farewell, Paul.” Paul would be sent packing and order would soon be restored.