February 26, 2011
Justin Taylor's blog post on a book that hasn't been released yet highlights a theological debate on universalism.
Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell drew significant attention on Twitter and blogs today after Justin Taylor penned a blog post titled "Rob Bell: Universalist?" on Bell's upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Taylor, vice president of editorial at Crossway, has not seen Bell's book (though he read some chapters that were sent to him), but he expressed concern with a video. "[T]his video from Bell himself shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity," Taylor wrote.
Taylor pointed to the publishers' description of the book, which does not come out until March 29 from HarperOne. "With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins," part of the description states.
Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/fZqmd8" linking to Taylor's post. Here's the video in question:
"Rob Bell" was in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter Saturday. As of Saturday evening, about 12,000 people had recommended Taylor's blog post on Facebook, which posts the article on readers' personal pages. The article had about 650 comments.
"I've never seen anything like this. The traffic explosion testifies to the power of blogs for hosting theological debate today," said Collin Hansen, editorial director for the Gospel Coalition. "But the tremendous interest also reminds us that we're dealing with life-and-death issues of eternal importance."
Taylor updated his post, changing some wording and deleting a reference to Cor. 11:14-15: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” Instead, Taylor ended the post with the following paragraph:
Let’s remember to pray. Rob Bell needs to know and teach the liberating gospel of grace—including that Christ absorbed the Father’s wrath on behalf of those who trust in him and repent of their sins. And there are tens of thousands of folks who look to Rob Bell as a biblical teacher and leader. May God give much mercy.
I asked North Park University professor Scot McKnight if he had seen an evangelical book get so much attention before its released, and he e-mailed me the following response:
I've not seen anything like it. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue ... today ... and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP's book by Tom Wright on Justification.
Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.
The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke -- and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity's provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.
Frankly, John Piper's flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper's stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell's influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader's theology, character or status.