10 Things We Learned from the Rob Bell Controversy

I got tired of the Rob Bell discussion pretty quickly, so I’ve generally been avoiding posts related to that controversy. But, Relevant Magazine has a great post today from Scot McKnight that is well worth reading. In the post,  What Love Wins Tells Us about Christians, McKnight offers an interesting reflection on the current state of evangelicalism, the way evangelicals respond to controversy today, and how our changing social/technological context shapes all of this.

Here’s his list 10 things that we’ve learned from this controversy:

  1. Social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged.
  2. Megachurch pastors are being watched closely.
  3. Tribalism pervades the American religious scene.
  4. Hell remains a central Christian conviction and concern.
  5. Christian views of hell are both incomplete and in need of serious examination.
  6. Pressing questions require serious thinking.
  7. Missiology remains the center of gospeling in our world.
  8. Low church, non-denominational evangelicalism, of which Rob Bell is an exceptional representative, carries its own dangers.
  9. We are still asking a big question: What is the Gospel?
  10. What is evangelicalism and what is orthodoxy?

Make sure you read the whole post, but I thought his comments on the Gospel were particularly interesting. McKnight argues that the Gospel is still the centering reality of evangelicalism:

You can talk all you want about eschatology and about atonement theory and about evangelism and about worship, but the moment you cross a line others perceive to be too far in the wrong directions, you will be called out on it. The essential line in Christianity is the Gospel, and all theology is measured by its fidelity to the Gospel or its denial of the Gospel.

But, he then goes on to point out that we still don’t have a widely accepted definition of the Gospel:

How odd, I muse at times, that so many claim “gospel” for what they think but at the same time don’t recognize that the word “gospel” seems to be a contested term and category that demands careful words and definitions.

No wonder modern evangelicalism is having an identity crisis.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Culture, Eschatology, The Modern Church. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. How is #8 even insightful or revelatory? Did it never occur to him that low-church, (so-called) non-denominationalism might have dangers? If for no other reason than that it has people in it?

    #10 – Orthodoxy is easier to define if you have creeds and confessions to work with (which imply history). Evangelicalism not so much – since it has “just the Bible” and does its best to escape history.

  2. Marc,

    When people want to discuss eschatology with me, I try not to spend much time on it. Rather I usually tend to steer the conversation in a similar vein to Scot McKnight’s thoughts, namely, are we living TODAY the way the Lord would have us to live. If we were to truly focus our efforts and attentions on the true Gospel message TODAY, then God will certainly look after all our TOMORROWS. And having said that, I suspect that those TOMORROWS may look significantly different than all our preconceived eschatological musings have led us to. Just a thought.


  3. There is a much more theological approach at the issue of Universalism, with the new book: The Evangelical Universalist, by Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym for Robin Parry).

    I am myself baffled somewhat at this sort of theological fad? We must know that as the visible Church advances in time, we will see more pronounced apostasy! (Matt. 24/Mk. 13 / 2 Thess. 2 / 2 Tim. 3, etc.) If Christians cannot see this today? They are in trouble to my mind! It is not that we should not look and perhaps change our past classic doctrine of Hell, Judgment, etc. At least in degree perhaps, but a full scale belief in a universalism, is just certainly beyond the Gospel message itself! Again, my thinking at least.

  4. PS..Parry’s book, not rather new, as being newly read perhaps.

  5. Btw, is it true, that perhaps today.. we have even fewer truly “regenerate” souls?

    “But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.” (2 Tim.3:13, NET Bible)

  6. Know what else we learned? HarperOne made a ton of money on this book.

    • Too true. And along with that we learned (again) about the marketing power of “negative” publicity.

  7. “Negative” is the way of almost everything today, even within Christendom. And sadly this can affect even the real Christian! The path of the righteous is always narrow, or better small. But again Christ is always “the Way”!

  8. The manner, confusion, and fervor in which Bell has raised issues has precipitated a lot of strife in the congregation that I pastor (see our Facebook page). It is necessitating a very rare departure from teaching through a book to address what I believe to be two prime “tribal questions” that has re-emerged: “Is God’s love compatible with a notion of eternal unending punishment of those whom God has judged to be unsaved at time of death?” A second question has come to fore as well: “Can one of God’s attributes be prioritized, for example love, over others-holiness? Your input would be appreciated…pax et bonum..jerome

    ps I realize other questions re: atonement are at stake but to me these 2 are ‘essential.’ Also,the conversation is necessitating creation of social media protocols in order to maintain civility.

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