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View July 2011 Issue >>
 

Rob Bell: No Hell Debate

Whenever a global trend emerges, JOY! as a media platform, has a responsibility to discuss, analyse and profile the philosophy or author and to offer a Biblical perspective. This comes with criticism though, as (understandably) people presume we are making definitive judgement calls and supporting or condemning the particular subject matter.

Often the problem with printed media is that tone and intention is lost and people read articles from their own perspective and unique context (thus the wide array of response letters we receive concerning contentious topics). JOY! is not the sum of one person’s beliefs. We prayerfully select qualified and anointed local and international experts to offer the Scriptural standpoint so as to educate our readers, but this still remains a challenging task as our readers encompass the entire spectrum of denominational  groupings and theological leanings (including Orthodox/Evangelical/Charismatic and Emergent). 

The problem with printed media

It must be reiterated that the most challenging aspect of compiling articles in magazine format, is the limited word limit and space available for covering complex topics. Global research has shown that readers do not want to read 6 000-word treatises, or 10 page articles; rather they need comprehensive overviews. A topic as controversial as Rob Bell’s book and his theology requires (and deserves) an in depth analysis. Obviously we cannot afford it this, so when publishing critical articles, we take a risk, hoping that we cover as many bases as possible - but knowing we are bound to offend some with a ‘superficial summary’.

The heart of the debate...

Regardless, JOY! is duty bound to provide a Biblical perspective and stimulate debate. The ‘Rob Bell: No Hell’ articles certainly hit a nerve (as we expected it to), and as one can see from the extracted letters on these pages, opinions have been varied and often vastly juxtaposed. Debate is always a good thing, as it causes one to examine what you believe and why, and to also engage in dialogue with people of differing opinions and theological standpoints. It is imperative though, that when initiating debate, a person is informed and respectful.

All the relevant contributors to the Rob Bell story (and our editorial staff) read ‘Love Wins: A book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who ever lived’, as well as the international debate around the book and Bell’s theology, before assimilating any commentary. We also (obviously) consulted the critical Scriptures concerning hell, wrath, judgement, salvation, etc before ‘judging’ Bell’s book.

The clash of culture and Scripture
I do not think Rob Bell is a false prophet; he loves the Lord and people very much - this is evident from his missiology, church activity and writings/sermons. Bell is a gifted teacher, and influential leader; most of his NOOMA DVDs feature remarkable teachings that Christians around the world have used to great effect. What is concerning is Bell’s continued departure from Evangelical Christian theology and accelerated move toward emergent thinking. No one can authoritatively classify Bell as a universalist or a heretic - his latest book is too vague anyway (intentionally) for someone to do that. But, through Bell’s leading questions and subtle theological innuendos, it is wise to  read the book critically and with a Bible in hand.

The fact that Rob Bell deliberately omits the harsh, direct Scriptures referring to hell, wrath and judgement, clearly reveals his uncomfortability with facing the totality of God’s Word and its application to all areas of doctrinal belief. That said, hell and God’s wrath are topics that most Christians avoid talking about, as it seems incompatible with our limited understanding of God and the humanistic culture we are all so immersed in.

Knowing God’s Word is critical
As a publication, we have a moral imperative to analyse popular doctrine and its influence on Christian society. This may appear judgemental, but that is an incorrect perception - judging a person’s character is not the same as testing their doctrine. If the ‘Harold Camping’ debacle has taught people anything, it should be the absolute necessity for every Christian to know exactly what the Bible teaches around key issues and doctrine. And, to pray for Christian leaders and teachers.

by Jackie Georgiou

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Fax: +27 (0)21 852 5781
E-mail: info@joymag.co.za
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