Love or Controversy Wins?

In case you’ve been living under an ecclesial rock, last month Rob Bell released a video promoting his upcoming book, Love Wins. He asks, “Do you know if Ghandi is in Hell? Are you sure?”

From there, neo-Calvinist John Piper tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell. ” The twitterverse lit up like napalm, flaming Bell as a universalist heretic, or Piper as an exclusionary thug. I spied on some twiter discussion and observed a slick chick in Las Vegas belittling a scrapbooking, homeschool mom. Over a book neither had read.

Christians feeding each other to the lions. Yay Hooray.

I didn’t freak out at the above as much as others. I thought his question was a question. It felt like a movie trailer. A movie trailer asks a dramatic question, but it doesn’t answer it. You’re supposed to watch the film to know how it ends. Some people didn’t interpret the video in the same way. Maybe that was Bell’s intent: after all, Love Wins debuted at #2 on the New York Times best-seller list. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment on it. (Read Scot McKnight’s blog for a balanced discussion.)

But I have made one decision: when my next book is about to release, I’m going to put on a black turtleneck, groovy glasses and ask Piper point-blank: “Is Moses in heaven? Do you know for sure?” Maybe I’ll ask Rob Bell if he’s bulimic. If I can just get one of them to flame me out on twitter, my book will sell millions.

I shouldn’t be surprised at all the infighting. It’s gone on in political, religious and social circles since time immemorial. Democrat or Republican, pro-choice or pro-life, plastic or paper, cake or death.

It’s hard not to draw parallels between the warring camps of today and of Jesus’ day. that means, someone’s going to be the Pharisee in this scenario. And nobody likes a Pharisee. But before we dismiss them, let’s remember: They wanted Messiah to come. They felt that if only Israel would obey the law, Messiah would come. The longer Messiah delayed, the more they got their panties in a wad over every jot and tiddle of the Law. Kinda like Piper? The Sadducees, on the other hand, said, “Forget the promises, let’s just get along with the Romans and go on living, because this is all there is.” Kinda like the Emergents? The Essenes retreated from life altogether. Kinda like the followers of Hale Bop.

I don’t mean to trash either side of today’s debate. I’m trying to understand how people on the same team have been excoriating each other. So for sake of argument, let’s make Piper the Pharisee and the Emergents the Sadducees. Sure we dislike the Pharisees in the Gospels, because Jesus (rightly) opposed them. But let’s not forget, they started off with a worthy reason: they believed God would make good on his promises. They loved the Law. But that love turned into idolatry. On the other hand, the Sadducees had given up on God’s promises. There was no resurrection from the dead. Let’s just get in with living. Emergents have been accused of neglecting orthodoxy, and in the extreme universalist heretics. (Bell insists he’s not a universalist. He isn’t offended by the moniker of “heretic,” since the word means “one who chooses.” And one point of his book is that God doesn’t send people to hell, people choose to be apart from God. Which is not a Calvinist idea.)

Again I can’t comment deeply on the book until I’ve read it. However, I appreciate Bell’s desire to rehabilitate God’s image from evil tyrant waiting to catch anyone in a misdeed, to the loving Hound of Heaven who will do anything to get people to come with him. We shouldn’t play fast and loose with theology; but we also shouldn’t be ecstatic over sending people to hell. And anyway, if you’re going to claim that you must accept Christ as Lord before you draw your last breath on earth, then the same rule that sends Ghandi to hell will dispatch Abraham, Moses, David and all the prophets to the same eternal torment.

Actually we should all eat a slice of humble pie. It’s Lent: a time for reflection and repentance. Now is the time to take personal inventory, and where we are wrong promptly admit it. If you were alive during Jesus’ time, which camp would you fall into? Pharisee? Sadducee? Essene? Zealot? Jesus didn’t side with any of them. He was off with the whores and drunks, changing their lives. Why? The whores and drunks knew they were up a creek without a paddle; they wanted to hear some good news. The elitist camps didn’t listen to the Good News; they thought they’d figured it out.

And now, from the wonderful Eddie Izzard:

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