This past weekend a Facebook/ Blog/ Twitter war erupted in the Christian community over a book that has not been published and no one has read. It all started when Justin Taylor, a Vice President at the Christian publisher CrossWay wrote a blog post saying that Rob Bell is a universalist. Rob Bell is the Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. You may know him from his NOOMA videos or from his books. Taylor was reacting to the video below which has been released to promote a new book by Bell called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The book will be released at the end of the month.
When Taylor posted his blog it set off all kinds of alarm bells in the Christian community. For a good round-up of what happened next, check out this run down from Christianity Today.
A lot has been said about this book (which no one has read yet!) and about Rob Bell (who has been vilified). Some have commented on what the “blow up” itself means. Others have delved into the theology of Bell and still others have tried to deal with the question of Heaven and Hell itself.
What I have come away with is a sense of sadness – a sense that we as Christians are more about building walls than understanding and learning from each other. When the original post first came out, a leading pastor in the US tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell”. Instead of reading the book, talking to the author, learning his position, this pastor effectively cut him off. For all we know Rob Bell is just asking questions and getting us to think. I know for a fact that a lot of people – including me – question how a God we worship can also be a God who will place people in eternal, conscious torment for not thinking the right things or saying the right prayer. But when this pastor thought someone was saying something that MIGHT go against HIS interpretation of scripture and understanding of God, he immediately built a wall and threw Rob Bell over it.
We are all pretty good at doing this. We see someone who is “other” – who is different – and we immediately build a wall to keep them out. We might not even realize we build these walls – but they are there nonetheless. I think Jesus was the perfect example of someone who broke down walls instead of building them. He invited people in instead of throwing them over the wall. He ate with sinners. He talked with strange women at wells. He told stories about Samaritans (Samaritans!). I doubt Jesus would ever tweet “Farewell” to us.
I pray that at some point in my life I will learn to love the other. I pray that at some point in my life my first inclination will be to welcome people rather than build walls. And I pray that the next time someone disagrees with my interpretation of scripture – I won’t throw them over the wall.