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Playing the Percentages

Theologian David Fitch has a good post on the debate about Rob Bell’s new book

I blame Rob Bell for this inflammatory mess (along with his publisher) because of the excessive bating and provoking all in an obvious attempt to attract attention to his book. This is no way to pastor I say. This is no way to lead. (but it does sell books).  On the other hand, to be even handed, I blame people on the Neo-Reformed side as well, people like Kevin DeYoung. Sorry Kevin, I know you mean well but when you do a 20 page review that largely argues out of an incredibly narrow view of orthodoxy with little to no appreciation for history before the 1920′s,  it comes off as defensive and parochial. For both sides, the tactics reveal a lack of a place to engage this issue productively for the furtherance of the Kingdom beyond our own personal enclaves (or ambitions). And yet discussing this issue is essential in order to be shaped for a posture for Mission that has been lacking amongst the traditional evangelicals, the church I am part of and remain committed to.

I have been kind of intrigued by the entire debate… not so much that I will read the book or any of the debate but the nature of the debate in itself.  Let me explain.  Theological debates never used to be like this.  They were much more private events, often done through letters, in person, or in small circulation academic journals.  Book sales were small.  I am going out on a limb and say that Rob Bell will probably outsell Barth’s Commentary on Romans in a couple of months.  What used to be a private and contemplative debate has been sped up tremendously through blogs, Twitter, and competing book deals and the resulting conference speaking gigs.  All of this is driven by Christian publishing companies that are either shareholder held or are owned by News Corp, famous for taking sides and then profiting from the division.

There is always going to be different ideas in the church.  I have some reservations with Brian McLaren’s theology that we have talked privately over (not sure who is right on that… been thinking about it for ten years) and even with David Fitch, I still am trying to figure out his theology of social justice and how to work on it in my context.  Hopefully in the next decade I can put to words my issues with it but it needs some more thinking about but my theological reservations don’t need to be tweeted, blurted, and raced out.  At the same time, I need to present my ideas in the expectation that some of them are going to be offensive to others.  I am a Methodist.  I am quite confident that my theology is correct but some of my beliefs stand in contrast to my own denomination even let alone others yet I don’t feel the need to refute and inflame others all of the time.  I have my questions about Brian McLaren’s theology, David Fitch’s social gospel and CFL allegiances (I think but check back in 2018), Darryl Dash’s theological worldview (he’s Baptist, same could be said for Santosh Ninan and Kyle Martin), Len Hjalmarson (Anabaptist),  Randall Friesen (moved to Alberta and cheered for Brett Favre), or anyone that I know that doesn’t subscribe to a liberal Free Methodist worldview that I do yet i think we have managed to have better discussions than what we saw over this latest dust up.  We are always going to have things that divide us (the Hamilton Tiger Cats?  Really?!) but can’t we have these discussions without cutting each other off and using the terms heretic.  Good grief, Tillich and Barth continued on their correspondence despite seeing the world in very different ways (with evidence that Tillich and a pantheist.

I wonder when we are going to realize that speed isn’t always vital or even desirable in theological debates.  The rush to be first or provocative may appease your masters at News Corp, Google, and Amazon but is it adding anything to the church.  I don’t think it is.  I think what we gained in speed was lost in perspective, contemplation, and depth of dialogue. 

5 Comments

  1. This is such a crazy situation for me. Although, like you, I have not read the book, but, having grown up within a mile of his church, I receive a lot of feedback both pro and con about his book and his ministry so far. I have been to Rob’s church a couple of times, and, my parents, who have been in the Christian Reformed Church for over 70 years actually appreciated some of his works. The Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church have been critical, and, have dismissed he teachings for years. He does push the boundaries. I have talked to many friends who think he is just trying to spark interest by his title and claims. I could never do that. God says: let your yes be yes and your not be no…If Rob is going to actually make these claims he is full…

  2. Jordan says:

    I like what you had to say about “patience” Jordon! There’s a crazy thought… Those within the church (or faith community) having patience with each other and then maybe throw some love into the dialogue for good measure!

    It irked me to see so many taking liberties with “expert opinions” on everything Bell believed without having even read his book… and on the other side, the video that Harper Collins released leading up to the book release, was obviously meant to start debate or raising questions (and i’m not sure if that really helped the situation)… I do wonder how much Rob had to do with that though?

    In the end, I like what you said about having discussion without calling into question the character or essence of another person who may differ with one’s theology or world view for that matter. Don’t even get me started on tweeting farewell to others…

  3. Jeremy Landon says:

    isn’t it a little more than crazy that the love of the Christian has gotten much slower than the opinion? just sayin.

  4. Jordon
    yeah I know – you gotta figure that a guy like me, who thinks football is a reason to see a podiatrist, should be suspect. Heck, I moved to S Ontario from BC – south Ontario! It probably has to do with a lack of certain vitamins in my diet, incipient insanity and a need to have long, cold winters. Meantime – Rob Bell? Does he write books?

    1. Its odd because none of my Wesleyan or Anabaptist friends cared about the book. Maybe we are all heretics.

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