Thoughts on Rob Bell (part two):

19 Mar


What are the Fullerites saying?


Fuller in Pasadena- a.k.a. “The Mothership.”

I’m certain that these past few weeks, numerous conversations have engulfed the Catalyst and the Garth regarding Bell, the Gospel Coalition, and hair products necessary for the perfect faux-hawk.  But I have to wonder, given the education that I know I received, from a evangelical-yet-ecumenical seminary, if current and former Fuller students (especially those who have been a part of the school since it began consciously shaping its image as a “Post-Evangelical” school, although it would never call itself that) are feeling the same thing I’ve been feeling about fellow alum Bell:  “What’s the big deal?”

[Just to add, Fuller is where I went to seminary, in case you didn’t know.  And I think it’s a good school.  There’s also lots of other great places to get a seminary education…. but because Fuller is so massive—the largest seminary system in the country by far—and because it is an evangelical school and this Rob Bell situation is causing the most ulcers amongst the evangelical crowd, I am very curious as to what Fuller alums are thinking about all of this.]

After all, we’re not experts, but we read Stanley Grenz.  We read Clark Pinnock.  Some of us (inc. myself) had the privilege of studying directly under the late, great Ray Anderson.  We (and so many others) ingested N.T. Wright.  We learned about Barth…. all of them are respected voices in the evangelical community; all of them have nuanced, if not opposing positions, on the idea of hell.  Shucks, I even remember reading Donald Bloesch, thinking “Dude, this guy sounds just like the theology I grew up with” and then finding out that HIS view of hell is of a “sanitarium…” i.e., exactly what people are accusing Bell’s view to be!  Even our esteemed president, Dr. Richard Mouw, who is far from a left-wing apologist, wrote a blot post demonstrating that Bell indeed falls within the evangelical camp.  My colleagues and I didn’t all agree with the varying perspectives out there— but at least we would talk about the issue without throwing stones at each other. 

The rhetorical tone in the evangelical world is becoming more polemical, in large part thanks to some increasingly hostile voices (see previous post).  But at the end of the day, this is really not about competing eschatologies  (ideas about the “end times”)… this is about competing soteriologies (ideas about salvation)… or really, the need for some evangelicals to insist that penal substitution (the idea that Jesus took on the punishment for humanity’s sin) is the only “orthodox” way to look at things.   But there again, I’m thankful for my (admittedly imperfect) Fuller education, in that we learned about Aulen, Pinnock, Joel Green (now a Fuller professor), Eastern voices, and others who demonstrated the full range of atonement metaphors in the Bible—and that we need them all for a complete picture.

[I do wonder if Bell would say that “penal substitution” has become a corrupted doctrine in Western theology… b/c that’s probably what I would say:  “Substitution” is a biblical concept; “penal substitution” is mostly a 17th-century Calvinist concept understood through modern legal imagery.]

In other words… I have to imagine that, at least those who graduated from the largest evangelical institution in the country, who might come down with all kinds of opinions about hell— are looking at this Rob Bell thing, and saying…. “What’s really the big deal?”  We’ve been having this fight for ages!


Posted by on March 19, 2011 in theology


Tags: , , , , , ,

5 responses to “Thoughts on Rob Bell (part two):

  1. Kevin Holtsberry

    March 19, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I appreciate your thoughts. It is nice to read some less intense takes on the whole controversy.

  2. Mike Anderson

    March 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this whole Bell issue (some are actually referring to it as “hellgate”!). You would think that Christians would be relieved at the possibility that hell might not be exactly what we’ve thought it was – and that maybe our deceased non-christian friends and family may not be in some eternal concentration camp.

  3. Mark Baker-Wright

    March 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for your comments. As I said on my own blog when I considered this Bell-bashing, I’m trying to think more and more about the “what’s at stake” question, and to the extent that those who have so strongly attacked Bell would probably talk about the potential eternal consequences of teaching that people may not need to accept Christ as Lord to get into heaven (something that I don’t think is fair to accuse Bell of saying, but it seems to be the gist of how he’s being read), I fear that the reactions outsiders will have to seeing the way we argue (not, I hasten to add, the fact that Christians have disagreements, but rather the way in which we have chosen to voice them) could have eternal repercussions that are at least as bad, if not worse.

    • jlundewhitler

      March 21, 2011 at 6:39 am

      MBW: I agree, in the case of those outsiders who have caught wind of this conversation….or worse, they might think that it’s NOT a big deal, because they’ll see this as simply par for the course for us (e.g. “So the Christians are having another internal spat? What else is new?”) Of course, I wonder if much of the wheel-spinning is merely an exercise in vanity and exemplifies our myopia more than anything else (and I include myself in that).

      In fact, rumor has it that there are actually other major events transpiring in the world that have nothing to do with Rob Bell… so I’m thinking about checking into that, if I have time today….. 🙂

  4. jm3115

    May 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    A breath of fresh air! Thank you for being reasonable!


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