Jesus made very clear what He thought was the key characteristic of those who are truly His followers. Interestingly, it wasn’t right doctrine.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
That is not to say that right beliefs are unimportant. What we believe is very important. However, those of us who are old enough to remember what we thought to be true and essential twenty or thirty years ago know that our minds have changed in some important ways since then. We are all in a process of spiritual and intellectual growth as God’s Holy Spirit works within us to draw us closer to Him. Jesus makes it clear that He values how we act toward one another more than whether or not we always agree on what we think. It’s the heart that is most important to God, not the brain.
Scripture makes it clear that this sentiment is not limited to an isolated comment by Jesus. The apostle Paul, never one to be accused of being an intellectual slouch, clearly explained his perspective on the issue – if we have all knowledge and can fathom all mysteries, but do not have love, we are nothing.
The apostle John was actually quite blunt when he expressed his views on the subject. He said that anyone who claims to love God whom he has not seen while hating his brother whom he has seen is a liar.
While attending a dinner party at Matthew’s house that included a number of people who clearly did not have their doctrines in line with the “teaching of the elders,” Jesus told a group of critical Pharisees what God really desired – mercy, not sacrifice.
So . . . ?
I mention this because of the angry and very unloving remarks that have been expressed on many occasions from Christian brothers and sisters who have spoken very pejoratively about the views of Rob Bell. His controversial book about Hell and future judgment was soundly condemned by a large percentage of the evangelical community because what he said didn’t fit in with what has become the “teaching of the elders” for us. However, he asked a lot of honest questions that people in both the religious and non-religious communities have been asking for centuries.
The editor at HarperOne who was in charge of Rob Bell’s book posted an article recently addressing this very issue, and asking some questions that we would do well to ponder:
But why such hostility? Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”? When did “believing the right things” become equated with determining who is “saved” so that, as some have claimed, affirming Rob’s teachings might jeopardize one’s eternal destiny?. . . What exactly is so threatening about Rob’s expansive vision of God’s love and grace?
Dealing With Controversy
Over the years, two underlying principles have governed the way I approach controversial issues within theology.
The first is that, because all systems of theology are written by human beings, I assume that all systems of theology are flawed to one degree or another. John Calvin and his followers were brilliant men. Jacob Arminius and his followers were also brilliant men. Francis Chan, Mark Galli, Tim Keller, Albert Mohler, Richard Mouw, John Piper and many others who have opposed or supported Rob Bell are brilliant men who have all done wonderful things for the kingdom of God. But they are all human, so some of their ideas are incorrect.
The second principle I try to follow is that when wise, Godly individuals differ on a theological issue, tread lightly. One of the two groups may be right and the other wrong. But it may also be the case that both are right and both are wrong – that a third alternative that neither is considering may ultimately reconcile the two.
I pointed out in an earlier post that the view that Hell is not forever was a prominent view among many in the Early Church who spoke the language of the New Testament as their mother tongue, and who were closest to the Apostles. Some were actually instrumental in formulating the creeds that undergird our Christian Faith today.
Rob Bell and the early Greek Fathers have suggested a third alternative. Perhaps the best response from us would be to listen to what they have to say, consider it carefully, and then treat them as Christ commanded us to . . . in a loving manner.