Youth Pastor Perspective On Rob Bell

If you follow Christian publishing or Christian types of social media at all, you no doubt have read or heard about the Rob Bell March Madness. He published a book and it comes out this week (mine has been on pre-order since Christmas). The book is called Love Wins.

I don’t have the capacity, intellect, or time to fully analyze the theological issues at hand in this forthcoming book. I’ll let these thinkers and authors do that (Challies, DeYoung, Boyd, and Burk). They are all brilliant guys and line up rationally to analyze the book, especially since they’ve ACTUALLY read it! (Lots of people have chimed in despite not having read it).

For those who don’t have time to read their thoughts, here’s the quick breakdown:

  • Rob Bell and HarperCollins published a video promo on Love Wins. In the promo, Bell asks questions like “Will only a few select people be in heaven and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?”
  • Christians raced to take sides. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and others condemned Bell as a heretic (some without reading the book). Others support him vehemently, including Richard Muow (preside of Fuller Seminary) and Greg Boyd. The Twitter world blew up. The blogosphere exploded with thoughtful and sometimes hate-filled diatribes. And HarperCollins is laughing all the way to the bank (as Love Wins is currently #8 on Amazon as a pre-sale).
  • Not sure how Rob Bell feels. I read a blog by Tony Jones basically saying Rob Bell never cares or enters into the foray. So maybe he doesn’t…Or maybe he is pushing his theological agenda intentionally…or maybe he’s hurt. I don’t know him.
  • I’m going to wait to read the book until I determine it’s value.

With all of this being said, I’m going to flesh out some thoughts from a youth pastor leading youth perspective.

  1. It’s okay to ask questions. Let’s never become people afraid to question. Part of his video is to be artistic and simply ask questions. Now, I totally agree that by asking questions we can totally determine the course of the conversation and eventual truth. But from a young person’s perspective, we need to let people — especially the young people we lead — ask questions. Don’t let fear trump questioning.
  2. Satan loves divisiveness. As soon as Christians start fighting with one another, Satan and the rest of the world laugh. There are times when we need to fight. Trust me. I believe there are. But I know a house divided cannot stand. If we hope to build a future for our youth, we must always consider our battles and wars.
  3. Bridging postmodernity to truth needs to be taken carefully. We can’t let young people get away with the postmodernity idea that truth is whatever you make it to be. But we must bridge the gap very carefully. Therefore, we can’t just simply shrug off Rob Bell’s (assumed) belief in universalism. We have to engage it lovingly and thoughtfully, without being too quick to condemn. I can’t think of a single young person who would listen to me if I simply cried heresy without first engaging it lovingly. However, we also can’t ere on the side of simply saying, Well, he’s a good guy so believe whatever he says. The bridge between truth and no-such-thing-as-absolute-truth must be bridged carefully.
  4. Teachers and Pastors are going to be held in the highest accountability with God. I feel the burden and weight every time I teach because I so badly want to do justice to God’s truth. I fear for Rob Bell (as I fear for myself and other pastors). Although I don’t know Rob Bell, it’s true that sometimes people reach a place of popularity and status they begin to not care what other people think or if they get far off the beaten track (see almost every high-paid professional athlete, for instance). They no longer think the rules apply to them. Rob Bell is as famous a Christian pastor as there is. Maybe…Just maybe could he be bending the truth because power is mighty and hard for the strongest of human beings to handle? I don’t know. All I know is that as youth leaders and pastors, we must hold firmly to God’s truth and carry the burden heavily to teach it clearly. As Kevin DeYoung notes, “Bad theology hurts real people.”
  5. Just don’t condemn. Come on, who are we to condemn? Especially behind a blog and the internet? Losers do that. Don’t be a loser. (and by the way, I’m not referring to the wonderfully crafted thoughts of DeYoung, Challies, Boyd (who defends anyways) or Burk. These guys did so in a even-mannered, careful way. They condemn, but not in a hate-filled manner. Plus, God is God. Let’s let Him be God, not us. Scripture is very simple and clear at times and yet extremely complicated and gray at times. We all know that. I believe 100% that some will be in heaven and others will be in hell. This will solely be determined by what Christ has done for us and in us. We will stand before God with our lives in our hands and He will alone judge our eternal future. There will be some who will live with God for eternity and others who will live apart from God for eternity. If Rob Bell believes a different version of this, that’s a bummer, but that doesn’t mean we need to condemn him and string him up. It just means we don’t need to believe or teach what he teaches and lovingly construct an argument against his beliefs if others agree with him.
  6. Abstract doesn’t work with youth. I want to teach my students to think, question, and live in the abstract. But junior high students just aren’t capable. If a junior high student watches this video, Rob Bell has seriously screwed them up. Asking questions, especially deep, existential ones, is not for the immature or untrained believer. Junior High students are these things. No offense to them, they just aren’t capable of generally thinking with depth. In other words, don’t show this video at your next youth group meeting and don’t write a message series on his book! Keep that between peers.
  7. Love does win. Love wins. No question. God is a god of infinite love. But love involves wrath. The greatest of theologians have never questioned that where there is gospel, there is also law. Where there is love, there is also hate. Where there is salvation, there is also wrath. Frankly, I don’t find it very loving if God’s character doesn’t involve wrath and judgment. He’s fair. And incredibly loving. Love has already won through Christ. And love will continue to win. Love God. Love others. That’s the greatest commandment. But love goes beyond simply patting everyone on the back and saying “well done” to even the worst of hate-filled atheists. Youth know this. So don’t confuse them with confusing abstract questions.

In conclusion, these conversations used to spin me several ways around and around. I used to get caught up in the choosing sides and pointing fingers. No longer. I have a job to do and that’s reaching students for Christ. My job is to love God and love others. My job is to teach and represent God’s truth. My job isn’t to defend or rally against another Christian pastor. I don’t have time. Neither do you. Read the book. Take nuggets. Discard it. Love it. Hate it. As DeYoung writes (and I think this is agreat advice), Ask yourself, “Is Love Wins true to the word of God? That’s the issue. Open a Bible, pray to God, listen to the faithful Christians of the past 2000 years, and answer the question for yourself.”

“Delight or deception, suffering or salvation—yes, even heaven or hell—may hang in the balance.”

That’s definitely true. Don’t just blindly accept what Rob Bell writes. And don’t blindly cast stones either. Go reach people for Christ. Point them to Jesus. Let the smart dudes take care of building arguments for or against. Choose the truth (based on Scripture, not on Rob Bell).

Whatever you do, just don’t spend time getting caught up in the Rob Bell March Madness. However, you should get caught up in the real March Madness. Go UW Huskies!

What do you all think?


8 thoughts on “Youth Pastor Perspective On Rob Bell

  1. Pingback: Thank You, Rob Bell |
  2. I don’t disagree with most of ur blog but I do take issue with point 6. I think you’ve got a pretty low view of jr high’s intellect or their ability to sort out deep questions of faith. Trust me many are asking those deep existential questions and the rest soon will be asking those questions. You can’t insulate them from doubts or questions– they have ’em that’s part of adolescence.

  3. Hey Derian:

    I don’t have a low view of junior high students. I love them and lead them. I think very highly of them. Their capacity to think abstractly is not fully developed. Maybe I miswrote about their existential questioning! You are correct. In my view, they are thinking about heaven/hell, life/death. They just are FULLY capable of considering all sides with incredible depth, just like a Junior High student can’t hit a ball as far as I can. It’s a muscle they are working out (as am I, I’m just farther along).

    Thanks for the comment!

  4. what a great and even handed post. i just bought the book and am looking forward to the discussion. it will be meaty and challenging.

    i really appreciated your take on point #6. this book and this theological journey needs to get worked among adults who are grounded in their faith. our students are not developmentally developed enough to jump into this discussion. i worry that some youth workers will use this as a catchy tool, but in the long run will wreck our kids.we want students to ask questions, but we don’t need to give them more questions then they already have.

    this is going to be a wild ride.

  5. What Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins” is about, is not any different from the views that Bishop Carlton Pearson espouses, for which he completely lost everything he worked for in the church world all of his life. He and Rob Bell have both been labeled as heretic and a universalist and what bothers me is, why is Rob Bell not totally castigated like most of the Christian Church and bloggers did with Carlton Pearson? He had no place in the world of bloggersphere like Bell has from what l have read from many blogs, to debate as to whether he is right or wrong, and If folks were too judgemental or should have been more merciful. Why is Bell getting any kind of pass about this controversial subject by some bloggers that l do not recall was given to Carlton Pearson? because if l rightly recall most blogs & articles l read were all negative and dismissive of Carlton and his universal position. How come what Rob Bell is saying now 5 or 6 years post Carltons debacle sounds like a new idea that we need to debate or consider as to whether he is right or wrong. I’m not saying that Rob Bell is right or wrong but why is he treated differently from Carlton pearson? How well did the book “The Gospel of Inclusion” do unlike Rob bells’s book “Love Wins” that is #8 on amazon on (pre sale)? Why not discard him quickly and make him lose everything he’s got like was done to Carlton? Could this be a case of what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Could it be that we are also guilty of prejudice in our views depending on whom the focus is on. What’s interesting though is that Carlton Pearson predicted the coming of Rob Bell when interviewed in 2006 by, where he predicted that within five years the gospel of inclusion which is what Rob Bell has repackaged in what he calls Love Wins, will be preached in different forms throught the church. I wonder if Rob Bell should really be the lighting rod we have made him to be or should Carlton pearson re-enter the stage and let the conversation really begin as to what our message to world really should be. Selah

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