Mohler, McLaren and Bell – oh my!

Albert Mohler and Brian McLaren have had an interesting exchange over Rob Bell‘s new book.

Mohler began by saying we’ve seen what Bell is arguing before.

McLaren responded with a critique of Mohler and offered support for Bell.

Mohler responded to McLaren by saying the issues he raises are important even if he rejects McLaren’s argument.

If that is not enough for you, Bell has his own piece on HuffPo about why he wrote the book.

Roger Olson has an Arminian review of the book. He says some people owe Bell an apology.

Ben Witherington III has started a chapter-by-chapter review of the book that starts here. Here is a bit of Witherington’s review that speaks to me:

The problem which already surfaces in Chapter One is that Rob has blended together in his creative mental cuisinart both some true aspects of the Gospel story and some false caricatures of the Good News, and unfortunately,  he is not just rejecting some of the caricatures,  he is rejecting some of the true aspects of the story.   And this is a problem,  all the more so when Rob wants to suggest that a just or righteous or holy or judging God is somehow not good news.

Tell that to the oppressed Christians in North Korea.   Tell that to the ordinary citizens of Libya longing to be set free from a wicked and brutal dictator.  Tell that to the Jews during the Holocaust in WWII.   In a sin-soaked world,  Good News involves both redemption and judgment, both vindication and liberation, both holiness and love.    The God of the Bible is holy love.  Not love without holiness which would fail to deal with the cancer called sin.  And not holiness without love, for if that was the way God related to us all— no one could stand.     The Good News of and about Jesus Christ, who will be the final judge of the world, is that justice, mercy and grace are all a part of this story.

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Mohler, McLaren and Bell – oh my!

  1. One of the great problems of the internet is the overabundance of material. Your new format increases what you post but makes it harder for me to find the time to access what you have. I guess that is a good problem.

    On this article I read Witherington’s two posts, good, and Mohler, good, and then tried to get through McLaren, ho hum. I have not read the first two much but I have read McLaren before and since what I was reading was so typical of his style I moved on rather than wasting my time. Then I read Bell’s post. He fits well with McLaren.

    To start off saying he did not intend to be controversial strikes me as a bit ingenuous. You don’t attack standard, orthodox doctrines without intending to be controversial. His warping of truth also fits with the emergents I have read. For example, “Repent” does not mean “be transformed.” It means to turn and change direction.

    I will probably never spend the time reading Bell’s book. As I get older I find I have less time to read nonsense when I have not even finished reading Wesley.

    Thanks for the tips.

    Grace and peace.

    • It may mean I need to slow down my posting rate.

      I agree that the Internet suffers from too much material. You can spend you time reading and writing and never do anything. This is a particular danger for me.

      As for Bell’s book, I’ve read enough to know I don’t want to read it. His poetic style tires me out and it sounds as if what he has to say does not break any new ground.

  2. all the more so when Rob wants to suggest that a just or righteous or holy or judging God is somehow not good news….Tell that to the oppressed Christians in North Korea.

    It’s interesting how we interpret what we read. I absolutely and utterly did not get that from the book at all. Bell even talks about how God judges injustice to the point that it will not be able to exist in the life to come. Bell writes:

    Cenral to their vision of human flourishing in God’s renewed world, then, was the prophets’ announcement that a number of things that can survive in this world will not be able to survive in the world to come.

    Like war. Rape. Greed. Injustice. Violence. Pride. Division. Exploitation. Disgrace.

    Their description of life in the age to come is both thrilling and unnerving at the same time. For the earth to be free of anything destructive of damaging, certain things have to be banished. Decisions have to be made. Judgments have to be rendered. And so they spoke of a cleansing, purging, decisive day when God would make those judgments. They called this day, the ‘day of the Lord’.

    The day when God says ‘ENOUGH!’ to anything that threatens the peace (shalom is the Hebrew word), harmony, and health that God intends for the world.

    God says no to injustice. God says ‘Never again’ to the oppressors who prey on the weak and the vulnerable. God declares a ban on weapons.’

    (pp. 36-37)

    I have no idea what is wishy-washy about injustice in that vision. Unless we demand that murder be met with even greater murder, violence with even greater violence, pain with even greater pain?

    • BW3′s review is chapter by chapter. Is the stuff you quoted in chapter 1?

      Having not read Bell’s book, I can’t really defend BW3′s reading of it. The quote from it you give makes it sounds like when the Day of the Lord comes North Korea will need to get its act together, but does Bell suggest any sense of judgment on murderous and oppressive regimes for what they do right now?

      If the eschaton is delayed another 2,000 years (or 10,000), does Kim Jung Il have anything to worry about?

  3. BW3′s review is chapter by chapter. Is the stuff you quoted in chapter 1?

    Er, good point. It’s in Chapter 2. Although I didn’t see anything in Chapter 1 that I took as actively denying judgment.

    but does Bell suggest any sense of judgment on murderous and oppressive regimes for what they do right now?… If the eschaton is delayed another 2,000 years (or 10,000), does Kim Jung Il have anything to worry about?

    I’ve only read the first three Chapters. As I’m understanding the book so far, he has a view of “heaven” not unlike Tom Wrights; Bell calls it “the age to come”. Basically, as I understand it so far, he’s saying that there will be no more evil in the age to come, so what will those who thrive on evil do?

    So, for example, if I’ve built my entire life on the “satisfaction” of extorting money from other people and the “joy” of knowing that if I threaten people with death, I can gather a lot of money for myself, what will I do in the life to come when there is no money, no extortion, no evil and no death?

    Not a “punishment” perhaps, but how does the popular view of a spiritual heaven and a spiritual hell stop Kim Jung Il now? Billions of Christians are telling me that this popular view of a spiritual torture is the correct one and I reckon that if Kim Jung Il has a nuclear bomb and wants to drop it on Washington, that spiritual hell ain’t gonna stop him. It hasn’t stopped him from starving his people for the last 50 decades. How is that view any more effective?

    • I’m not concerned so much with the nuke on DC question – although my son lives there so I do care about it – as I am with the suffering people and persecuted Christians in North Korea. The suffering are not interested in revenge – not always any way – but a sense that justice will be done.’

      If God’s justice in “the life to come” is to say to Kim Jung Il: “You may have found joy in pleasure in killing, torturing, and exploiting people in the past, but now you will have no option to do that” then I’m not sure what justice means.

      I might be misunderstanding what Bell is arguing for, but these are the reasons that I liked the quote by BW3 in the post.

      • If God’s justice in “the life to come” is to say to Kim Jung Il: “You may have found joy in pleasure in killing, torturing, and exploiting people in the past, but now you will have no option to do that” then I’m not sure what justice means.

        “What justice means” is probably the key thing here. I think it means putting things to rights more than it means punishment. We human beings having been trying the concept of justice that says we can murder murder and violently destroy violence for centuries.

        And it clearly doesn’t work; and Jesus knew that and taught us a different way. But we keep hoping that if we escalate our violence against our fellow human beings that this will someday result in non-violence. It must make God weap.

        • I think we are going to have this come down – as often it does – to being close but not quite in the same place, Pam.

          I agree that we should not try to “murder murder” as you say. And I don’t think God tries to murder murder. But I do think it is entirely biblical to say that God calls the wicked to account. That fact is not justification for us to try to take God’s place. “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord.

  4. Yes, John. I believe that God calls the wicked to account. And I understood Bell to be saying so as well. What I honestly don’t understand is why you think that there is no calling to account in this system? What does it have to look like to you to be sufficiently “just”?

    • Maybe I need to read the book when it shows up at my library, Pam. From your description and what you quote above, I hear the “calling to account” being a matter of people being forced to live in a world to come in which the things they enjoy most are taken from them.

      Your example of the person who extorts and threatens finding themselves in a world with no death or fear is part of where I’m hearing this.

      This seems a rather mild consequence of a life of wickedness. It sounds like a psychological discomfort is the only calling to account. Perhaps, I misunderstand you and Bell.

      Now, if God forced everyone to amend their ways, to truly repent, and to seek reconciliation with their victims, that would be great in my book – not that my book matters.

      But God seems to value our free choice. And – at least in the biblical accounts I read – those choices seem to entail consequences that include punishment.

      You are right, my standards of justice are not important here. God is not constrained by what I consider to be just. But my reading of Scripture is that God’s justice entails punishment and reward. Maybe this is too crass for some. But that seems to be what both the OT and NT say. If that is not true, I want to know what Jesus, the prophets, the Torah, and the Psalms mean when they speak of such things.

    • This seems a rather mild consequence of a life of wickedness.

      Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

      The person who, let’s imagine, feels she has no self and no identity apart from the satisfaction of extorting money from other people is forced to live in a context where extorting money from other people is no longer possible. She will either have to conform to God’s way or live in the hell of the Kingdom of God.

      But it would be better if she were tortured in excruciating pain for all eternity? So despite the Old Testament injunctions that justice cannot inflict greater pain on the perpetrator than the perpetrator has inflicted on his victims – we’re still hoping that God is a God who will escalate the punishment? We’re hoping that although we are not allowed to inflict a greater punishment that, in the world to come, God most certainly will? That’s the bit that I don’t personally believe (and I think that you’d be very hard pressed to find a Scriptural view of hell that suggests that God is all about increasing the pain of the damned in the world to come).

      • Pam, I’m not sure I ever said God is “all about increasing the pain” of the damned. I just said the Bible says their is a final judgment of the righteous and the wicked. They have different fates. The eternal fate of the wicked is hell, which in general terms seems to be an undesirable existence. The scriptures speak of lakes of fire and fire prepared for the devil and his angels and so forth. I’m not sure exactly what that means and make no claims for exactly what it is, but it is not the new heaven and new earth.

        I have two problems with the world to come as you characterize it in your comment. First, I can’t find the scriptural warrant for it. Maybe Bell’s book would explain it. Second, to the extent my reactions matter – which they don’t really – it seems a bit like saying hell is like being stuck at a restaurant that only serves Pepsi when your favorite drink is Coke.

  5. First, I can’t find the scriptural warrant for it.

    As I said, this appears to be his term for The Kingdom of God. To me, The Kingdom of God is all over Scripture and is the Telos to which everything is moving. If you don’t see it in Scripture, then we have a major disagreement and I wouldn’t even know how to begin to try to convince you that it’s there.

    it seems a bit like saying hell is like being stuck at a restaurant that only serves Pepsi when your favorite drink is Coke.

    Which isn’t how I read it either. To me, it’s more like an abuser suffering from the consequences of abuse that s/he inflicted on others until and unless s/he learns to do things God’s way.

    But I’ll shut up now.

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