Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rob Bell, Rick Warren, and the Future of Evangelicalism

Rob Bell has made a huge splash in the Christian world with his book, Love Wins. I have not yet read the book, but from what I can discern from the interviews I’ve heard is that he expounds a vision of Christianity that is very similar to the one I have been advocating in my blog and books. He apparently argues against the traditional idea of hell and the possibility of redemption after death. One can read my vision of an inclusive Christian gospel in A Faith Worth Living: The Dynamics of an Inclusive Gospel, published earlier this month. (Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers; click on picture at right to order)

What Rev. Bell is proposing is, of course, nothing new. But it is the first time, as far as I know, a mega-church pastor, educated in and emerging from an evangelical tradition, has had the courage to publicly proclaim a more inclusive, holistic vision. A few other popular, influential Christian leaders are moving in that direction, but have not quite arrived there yet.

A case in point: Rick Warren, mega-church pastor and author of The Purpose-Driven Life. On one occasion Rev. Warren was on a panel with the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister of Harvard University’s Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals (recently deceased). The question was asked about whether one could be saved who was not a born-again Christian. The response of Rev. Gomes was that he could not imagine that the God who created everything would have no other plan of salvation for the billions of other people in the world, or even beyond our galaxy, except the New Testament one. Rev. Warren, as reported by Rev. Gomes in his book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, was as generous as his theology would allow, but could not concede the possibility that others might find salvation outside of Christ on the basis of John 14:6.

This did not particularly strike me as noteworthy until I discovered in a book I purchased by Rabbi David J. Wolpe, titled Why Faith Matters, that Rev. Warren wrote the Foreword. He speaks highly of Rabbi Wolpe as a man of faith and personal experience of God. He says, “I’m certain that the profound insights in this book will stimulate your thinking and even touch your soul about the reality of God in fresh and surprising ways.”

The reason I find this all so intriguing is that, according to Rev. Warren’s evangelical theology, Rabbi Wolpe has not been saved by Jesus Christ (in the way that Warren interprets John 14:6) and is, therefore, destined for hell. Yet he commends Rabbi Wolpe as a man who knows and speaks about “the reality of God in fresh and surprising ways.”

Here is an example of a highly popular evangelical leader who evidently does not yet see the contradiction he embraces, or else chooses to ignore it. In my estimation, it is an example of an evangelical leader who has emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically outgrown his dualistic, exclusivistic theology, but who does not yet have the courage to admit it, either to himself or his immense fan base.

Rob Bell gives me hope for the evangelical church. It is slow in coming, but there is an evolving spiritual consciousness that is touching all areas of religious life. Let us hope that it will one day lead to the kingdom of God on earth as envisioned by Jesus.


3 comments:

  1. We can sure hope that this is a growing trend! I too am surprised by this stance from one who comes from such a conservative faith tradition. Hope springs eternal!

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  2. Duh. You guys are only now understanding the concept of purgatory? :)

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  3. Where is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?

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