Rob Bell’s Frenzy: Why We Need Other Ways to Do Theology and Some Other Off-The-Cuff Observations

By now everyone has heard about the frenzy over HarperOne’s announcement of Rob Bell’s forthcoming book. If you’re not up to date on this, read Christianity Today’s article here. It has all the dirty details. The media is flooded with reactions. Here’s just a few of my off the cuff observations/questions. Tell me where I’m wrong eh?
1.) Does this reveal the inherently defensive impulse of the Neo-Reformed movement? The Neo-Reformed bloggers, Gospel Coaltion, John Piper seem to be operating from an increasingly antagonistic and defensive position. How else do you explain this media frenzy? How else do you explain their lightning quick jump into condemning a book they haven’t read? How else do you explain how easily they took the bait from HarperOne and will now make this book a huge best seller. I am sure Rob Bell, and HarperOne are saying thanks to our Neo-Reformed brothers (and sisters-if there are any 🙂 ). Meanwhile, the NeoReformed are being revealed more and more as predictably defensive and alarmist.  What say you? Agree?

2.) Is this the best way to pastor/lead the church into the future? I understand that these kind of extreme statements (such as the one put out by HarperOne on Bell’s book) is how you get readers and attract attention. I actually believe that putting forth outrageous statements is a good teaching tool, as long as you’re there, present, and able to then flesh out what you mean. But to throw out “a bomb” like this that misleads by a publicist? That causes dislocation and unresolved antagonism in the church nation-wide? To me there are serious doubts as to whether this is edifying to the church of Jesus Christ. To me there’s something off about a pastor/leader allowing himself to be used for such hype? Am I wrong?

3.) Is this the best way to do theology for our times? We are doing theology more and more through the large publishing houses and their media empires. But really, if I’m looking to understand the issue of universalism, pluralism and the plight of the world’s lost, Rob Bell is not the first one I’d go to. Nothing against pastor Bell.  But it seems a place to begin would be one of the numerous historical studies, Scriptural studies available in plenty at your local bookstore. Yet it seems this is the way we do theology these days. Popular pastors throwing grenades setting the agenda and the tone for the masses through the publishing empires. With the demise of the denominations (they’re just trying to survive and so they refuse to take up most of the theological issues of the day that would rock the boat and lose them old line financial supporters), and the demise of seminaries (more and more relegated to the work of trying to keep their schools afloat with skeleton staffing and faculties), where will the new places be nurtured where serious theological reflection can go on for the church? Or is this the way of doing theology we are stuck with?

The landscape of N. American theological reflection looks more and more like the following for the average Christian under the age of 35. He or she looks to the pubishing superstars, i..e Brian McLaren, Rob Bell etc etc.. They often (in the past ten years) come out of the Emergent world where they are daring to ask questions that have been avoided or shut down within evangelical church culture the past fifty years. These authors get a big stir. They offer some good thoughts and helps. But then they fail to deliver on their promise. And therefore, hundreds, even thousands of these twenty- thirty something’s end up delusioned or looking for something more. This wandering herd then heads for the monster wave of the Neo Reformed – Neo Calvinists composed of Justin Taylor, John Piper and the cast of characters that have played the reactionary role in this Rob Bell frenzy (notice people within this camp like Tim Keller and Francis Chan have largely stayed out of it – hmmmm). These people, to their credit offer theological substance sufficient for the formation of church life. And so we have thousands of young leaders at the gates of the Neo-Reformed.  This is the new theological landscape and it speaks to the need for an alternative theological coalition.  (for instance, the Neo-Anabaptist, Centrist-communal-wholistic-Baptist, Holiness/Charismatic oriented, Kingdom minded, evangelical Missionals).

In summary, the “Rob Bell HarperOne” episode speaks to the growing need for another place to do theology from whence the emerging church (the church emerging in this generation – not to be confused with the Emergent church) can find direction for the challenges of the new post Christendom landscape we find ourselves living in.

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