It seems to me that many Christians enjoy getting fired up about something. Or, at the very least, having something to be fired up about.
A new trend among Christian bloggers is the “open letter.” If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s basically a blog post directed at someone – a letter written for everyone to read. Generally it explains in detail where someone went wrong and why they should publicly admit to such a failure. Usually open letters are written as much for public opinion as they are to the person to whom they are directed; likely the person writing the letter simply wants everyone else to agree with his opinion that the target of the letter is in the wrong.
It’s happened to a couple of people of note recently. The first is Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb. In his recent song “What Matters More,” Derek challenges Christians to realize that they are mis-prioritizing their concerns; specifically, that too much weight is given to the issue of homosexuality. The idea seems to be that instead of levying so much Christian influence against homosexuality, the time could be better put to use in other ways – helping those in need, for example. More recently, he echoed that same sentiment in an interview with the Huffington Post called “Just Follow Jesus” in late 2010.
Under the guise of “accountability”, Derek received scathing criticism from Christians on Twitter and in blogs (also note Derek’s response to referring to criticism as accountability). A recent example includes the tweet, “I wonder how many hungry/dying kids Derek Webb could have fed with the money it took to record ‘what matters more’?” (to which Derek cleverly replied, “i own my studio, so my recording cost is around $0. the question is, how many more can be saved by that song’s royalties.”). A fake Twitter account called “The Old Derek Webb” was even created to reminisce on the days when he “never did anything controversial.” While the criticism was harsh, it’s important to note that Derek responded lovingly and urged those who took his side to do the same.
Today, criticism is again mounting. This time, however, the target is different and the stakes are higher. Rather than just controversy, heresy is in the air. Because of a video and publisher’s description of an upcoming book, Rob Bell is under attack. Pundits are accusing Bell of universalism. Whether this remains to actually be the case has yet to be determined, but for those criticizing him, this is of no matter. Even though the book itself has not been released to the public, a short video from Rob and a description he didn’t even write is enough material for him to become a trending topic on Twitter today. Noted Christian leaders such as John Piper and Joshua Harris have tweeted harsh comments against Bell (which, without context, might lead one to believe he even died).
Though it’s too soon to know for sure, undoubtedly many bloggers will release angry open letters to Rob Bell, telling him that he is preaching a false gospel and requesting his public repentance. If Twitter is any early indication, the criticism will be at least as mounting as it was against Derek Webb and likely far more. Since many critics (mainly Calvinists) have been out to get him for years, they likely see the upcoming book release as the chance they’ve been waiting for.
I’ll be the first to admit that I do not know what conclusion the book will draw. It could be that Rob is indeed espousing universalism. If this is the case, I will be very disappointed, because I don’t believe one can accurately interpret the Bible and come to such a conclusion. However, even if this is the case and Rob’s book does indeed teach universalism, the response from the Christian community is equally disturbing. If anything, I would love to see angry bloggers and tweeters learn from the first round of open letters and respond with love and not hate. Derek Webb serves as a great example of how to handle a difficult situation. Throughout his whole encounter with critics, he never publicly lashed out with the anger so mercilessly poured out to him. While his critics cited Bible verse after Bible verse, Derek Webb responded not with the words of Jesus but with the attitude of Jesus (with occasional sarcasm added). His response of love demonstrated that his heart was indeed where his words were – pursuing Jesus. Even though Rob Bell may in fact be “guilty” of teaching bad theology, it says even less of his critics that they abandon the heart of Jesus when responding to someone they believe abandoned the teachings of Jesus.
If you choose not to remain silent in response to Rob Bell’s new book, please respond with love. Responding with the hatred that Piper, Harris, and others have so far does nothing to further God’s Kingdom. It only serves to paint a negative picture of Christianity as a whole and further divide Christ followers.
Edit: Added some helpful links (tweets from Harris and Piper, lyrics of “What Matters More”, Christianity Today article detailing the controversy surrounding Bell’s book) and rephrased a few statements for clarification.