Rob Bell is making headlines today. As you may know, Bell caused great controversy with his 2011 best-seller, Love Wins. It was widely characterized as questioning the existence of hell and affirming universalism (the belief that all people go to heaven, whether they trust in Christ as their Savior or not).
Half a year after the book’s publication, Bell resigned from Mars Hill, the Michigan megachurch he founded in 1998. According to a new profile in The New Yorker, one of the reasons he stepped down was that his church lost more than a thousand members as a result of the Love Wins controversy. Church leaders even had to create a list of talking points to help staff members deal with charges that their pastor was a universalist.
There are many ways we could respond to Rob Bell this morning. My interest is not to debate his beliefs about hell and the necessity of salvation. Rather, I’d like us to think about the members of his congregation who left because they disagreed with their pastor’s position on these issues. What should church members do if they believe their minister to be teaching unbiblical doctrine?
One option is to ignore the problem. Who are we to judge the theological beliefs of others, including our ministers? In a post-modern culture that views truth as personal and subjective, “your truth” and “my truth” are more important than “the truth.” To counter: is this denial of truth not a truth claim?
A second option is to oppose such a person publicly. Jude, a half-brother of Jesus, wrote the letter that bears his name because he “felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). Those who wrote books and articles objecting to Bell’s theology likely felt that they were following a biblical command to contend for biblical truth. To counter: does this approach win the lost or does it push them from the faith?
A third option is to leave the church quietly, as many at Mars Hill seem to have done. In this view, when we cannot support our leaders we should find leaders we can support. To counter: will this approach bring about needed correction in the body of Christ?
Which option seems right to you? I’d appreciate reading your responses in our website “comments” section. My own view is that we should clearly advocate objective truth (vs. option #1) while seeking the most redemptive course of action (options 2 or 3, depending on the context). Scripture assures us that by “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Are you willing to speak God’s truth, motivated by his love, today?
P.S. I want to thank each of you who responded so graciously to yesterday’s Cultural Commentary. Your encouragement and support are great gifts to me and to this ministry. God bless you!