Welcome to the Golden Age of Heresy

Rob Bell in the "Love Wins" trailer

OK, for those not in the sorts of circles to know this, I’ll summarize.

There’s this guy, Rob Bell. He’s a preacher. And he’s written books with hip-sounding names like Velvet Elvisand Sex Godand Drops Like Stars.

I’ve read Velvet Elvis. I own others, but haven’t read them yet. I’ve also seen some of his video stuff.

So he’s got a new book coming out, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

He made a video trailer for his new book. In the video, he questions whether Gandhi’s in hell.

This has made many people upset.

These upset people have tweeted and blogged a lot about being upset.

People were upset because saying that Gandhi might not be in hell is heresy.

And heresy, they say, is bad.

Saying that Gandhi might not be in hell, they say, means that Bell may not be a real Christian.

“Farewell, Rob Bell,” they say.

For those people, things are just going to get worse.

Welcome to the Golden Age of heresy.

Everything I’ve heard about the book, including watching the video, makes me think it probably is, in fact, heresy.

And, personally, as much as it sucks, I think believing Gandhi is not in hell is a dubious belief, Christianity-wise.

But I’m not upset about Rob Bell saying it.

See, people use the word “heresy” like it’s a bad thing.

Me, I believe heresy is going to save the church.

Some people would say it has before. Ironically, some of those are the same people condemning Rob Bell for heresy.

All heresy is, is saying that you believe something outside the mainstream orthodoxy.

Sometimes heretics are the people who twist religion to fit their own purposes. I’d agree that sort of heresy is a bad thing.

Sometimes, however, heretics are the people who stand up and say that mainstream orthodoxy is wrong, that it’s the result of someone twisting religion to fit their own purposes. I’d say that sort of heresy is a good thing.

If you believe that the elements of communion do not literally transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, thank a heretic. John Wycliffe died for that belief.

If you believe that the Earth orbits the sun, instead of vice versa, thank a heretic. Galileo was threatened with death for this belief.

Heresy is how the church matures, how it evolves, how it grows, how it rights itself when it is wrong.

It can also be how the church goes wrong in the first place.

How do we decide which a given heresy is? By listening to it. By evaluating it. By comparing it to scripture. By praying about it.

The same way we evaluate any new belief we’re exposed to.

So why do we live in fear of heresy?

Because we’re told to.

Because heresy is a threat to those in power in the church. Church leaders are only church leaders to people who believe the things they’re teaching. If people read Rob Bell’s book and think about it and evaluate it and compare it to scripture and pray about it and end up deciding it has merit, some church leaders will lose followers. They will lose power. They will lose influence. They will lose books sales and tithe money.

Those people don’t want you to read and evaluate the book. They want to stop you from hearing what it has to say. They want to dismiss it as heresy. They want to dismiss Bell as un-Christian.

Five hundred years ago, reformer John Calvin said of heretic Michael Servetus, “If he comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.” Servetus was the originator of the now not-uncommon doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” or the “perseverance of the saints.”  Seven years later, Calvin testified against Servetus in a trial that resulted in Servetus being burned alive at the stake for heresy.

We live now in a different world. Today, John Piper, perhaps Calvin’s best-known modern follower, tweets to his hundred thousand followers, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

Today’s established leaders have new tools for silencing those who would share ideas.

Unfortunately for them, we are entering a new Golden Age of heresy.

We are living in an age where heretics can be heard like never before. They can tweet. They can write blogs. They can write books. Their ideas can spread. And those who agree with them can say so. Just like those who don’t.

Like never before, Christians have the freedom to explore new ideas. They have the freedom to evaluate their beliefs for themselves. They have the ability to explore the scripture for themselves, aided by vast resources from generations of experts. They have literally volumes written by competing schools of thought to peruse and compare.

You don’t have to take John Piper’s word on Rob Bell. You can read his book yourself. You can read Piper’s books. You can — you must — read what scripture says about both of their arguments. And you can decide.

Until I can read the book, I won’t know for sure what Bell says in it.

From what I’ve seen so far, it flies in the face of beliefs I consider important.

What I have seen, I would call heresy.

It’s not uncommon for me to read books with heretical viewpoints and consider them without merit.

It’s also not uncommon for me to read books with more orthodox viewpoints and consider them without merit.

I can’t guarantee what I’ll think of Bell’s book. But I’ll be interested to see what it says.

You don’t have to agree with Bell. You don’t have to read his book. But you also don’t have to dismiss him because someone says to. The choice is yours.

The days of silencing heretics are over.

7 Responses

  1. Bravo!! Well well said!

    Really appreciate your out side of the box thoughts. All revolutionists were all deemed once as heretics 😉

  2. Very well put. I appreciated your post.

  3. Bravo. All this hooplah makes me want to read his books – just to see if he really is a heretic.

  4. From what I’ve read about him, I think your instincts are correct that some of his ideas are heretical. But don’t you think it’s more reasonable to assume that leaders like Piper aren’t trying to silence Bell but to condemn him for his non-Biblical message?

  5. I think your view point takes the side of relativism, not truth. Most heretics were not silenced, they were converted. All Truth prevails, heresy doesn’t. As far as truth about Eternal Life is concerned, unless you keep your focus on Christ Crucified as the center of your life, your soul will be folly for the enemy…..eventually, eternally!

  6. Jordan — Assuming that Piper’s “Farewell, Rob Bell” without having read the book is trying to address Bell’s message rather than dismissing it would seem to require assuming that it would be normal for him to make uninformed statements and is incapable of presenting a cogent argument. I think my assumption is the more flattering.

    Jack — I would, unsurprisingly, disagree. I think heresy is often the search for truth over convention. As a protestant-leaning Christian, I have to believe that heretical-at-the-time teachers like Paul, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis and Christ Himself were more interested in truth than convention. And there’s nothing relativist about that. I think the danger is when people take their eyes of Christ and the Biblical search to know him better and focus instead on men, be it Piper, the pope, Billy Graham or whoever.

  7. If your goal is to achieve wisdom through the vast worldly and imaginary knowledge, past, present and future, your search will lead to deep confusion and eventually danger of eternal perdition. But if you are searching for only one thing (which we should all be), Heaven, then look no further than Jesus Christ our Lord. For indeed, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And it is only through Him, with Him and in Him that we would obtain it. Once obtained, you start living it, both here and there. (after this life). God’s mercy is immense and unfathomable. As a baptized Christian, you are called to reflect Christ to others by your love in the same way Christ did for us. This is the essence of what we call “Alter-Christo”. Being not only doing what God will’s of you in your life, but going a step further and living pro-actively doing God’s will. Thank you for your kind response.

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