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!