There's been a great deal of hubbub in the blogosphere about Rob Bell's new book recently. Sadly, it says little about Rob Bell's desire to examine and question orthodox views on Hell and says tons about the "faith" of those criticizing him. For the record, I haven't read his book and have no idea whether I'd agree with his views or not, but I have to admire his courage to publicly put a major sacred cow of Christianity in play as he searches for truth. The larger issue is the level of insecurity and hypocrisy that this has revealed in much of modern mainstream Christianity.
I'm sure that all of Bell's harshest critics would fervently claim that they believe salvation to be only through the sacrifice and grace of Christ, but, as far as I can see, they don't really believe that at all. Their response to simply the knowledge that Bell's book exists (they haven't read it) suggests they believe in Jesus and...______. In their case, apparently, to be a true Christian, it takes Jesus and Hell.
God help us all if our witness of Christ needs Hell to be communicated. God help us if our faith is merely a means to escape "the world" in this life and Hell in the next. I mean, do you teach a child not to kill another because it's wrong or because they might get the death penalty?
In the various discussions of this around the interwebs, the word "doctrine" is used liberally - false doctrine, sound doctrine, orthodox doctrine, essential doctrine, non-essential doctrine, and just plain ole doctrine. I've nothing against the word, but I think we need to have a solid grasp on what doctrine meant for the Christian church in the bible. While the Greek and Hebrew words translated as doctrine generally mean "teaching(s)", we've given the word considerably more widespread weight than, let's say, Paul did. When Paul referred to doctrine, he was speaking of ONE thing - salvation through Christ crucified (1st Corinthians 1:17, 21-24, Galatians 1:6-9). Everything else was ancillary and, quite often, simply a matter of opinion, culture, circumstance, what have you. Paul became distressed when people would change his simple gospel of Jesus into "Jesus and..._____."
We often hear people speak of the "noble Bereans" (Acts 17:10-11). They were indeed noble. However, to use less than noble language, it bugs the crap out of me to see the account of the Bereans SOOOO terribly twisted and misused. The Bereans weren't searching the scriptures to find out if women should have a covering, remain silent in the church, men should provide umbrellas, tithes should be taken, et cetera. Not a single drop of the NT canon even existed at the time. They were searching the OT passages that dealt with the promised Messiah to see if Paul's simple message of Jesus Christ was true. No more. No less. But, strange things happen when people Imbible and their Godhead becomes a quartet - Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Holy canonized Bible.
And, if I may chase a rabbit for a moment...Another verse that I see misused, abused, and used to abuse, 2nd Peter 1:20. It's talking about OT prophecy, people! Not scripture in general! If someone uses this verse to tell you that you can't have a personal or private interpretation of a particular passage, something in one of the NT epistles, or even of 2nd Chester 4:55, they're misusing the scripture - period.
Now, back on point...
In Great Satans, I asked some questions at the end, one of which was, "If you need a Hell to exist, what does that say about your Heaven?", and another, which I feel is extremely important, was "If it weren't for Satan, would you still cling to Christ?" What I hoped this would inspire was self-examination. Is Christ enough for me? Do I need A for B to be valid? Is Christ really enough for me? Is my hope and salvation in Jesus alone, or is it in Jesus and...______?
Take a look at the groups I write about. Some prominent people within these movements have personally communicated to me their displeasure with my portrayal of their religious beliefs, claiming that they aren't legalists, that they believe in salvation through Christ alone. I simply don't believe them. They don't present a simple gospel of Christ crucified. I see more of the following to varying degrees...
Jesus and... rigid adherence to gender roles.
Jesus and... a quiverfull of children/no contraception.
Jesus and... homeschooling.
Jesus and... emotional purity.
Jesus and... courtship.
Jesus and... patriarchy.
Jesus and... female submission and subordination.
Jesus and... the KJV.
Jesus and... no television.
Jesus and... dominion.
Jesus and... SAHDs.
Jesus and... daily family devotionals with only the patriarch "leading worship".
For the church in general...
Jesus and... a trinitarian belief.
Jesus and... a oneness or some other Godhead belief.
Jesus and... church attendance every Sunday and Wednesday prayer meeting.
Jesus and... some particular translation of the bible.
Jesus and... the biblical canon.
Jesus and... Calvinism.
Jesus and... Arminianism.
Jesus and... any "ism".
Jesus and... 10% tithing.
And so on. (as I said earlier, with those so heavily criticizing Rob Bell, it's obviously Jesus and Hell)
When the bible speaks of false teachers, heretics, false prophets, wolves, and so forth, without fail it's speaking of those who ADD to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins. It isn't speaking AT ALL of secondary and ancillary issues of Christian life. It's speaking only to the foundational gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, and speaking against those who attached extras, such as adherence to OT law or to specific cultural influences, to Christ crucified.
According to Jesus, the two greatest commandments? Whole-heartedly love God, and love others as you love yourself - because on just those two hang ALL of the Law and the prophets. No one could seem to grasp that it really is that simple.
Is Christ crucified enough for your Christianity? If you read Mr. Bell's book and found it all truth, would it unravel your faith?
It never hurts to put our faith under the microscope and make sure we aren't developing fangs of our own.