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Rob Bell is out of John Piper’s Club

Last week, a firestorm started over what Justin Taylor blogged about Rob Bell’s work. There were no winners. Only losers.

I didn’t see anything from the publisher’s video that showed Rob Bell “is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity,” as the post said. However, I do think Bell is doing the same unhelpful thing he has often done. He is being intentionally provocative. He is asking a bunch of questions that he knows will insight a theological riot. I can’t help but think that Rob Bell would be a much more powerful teacher if he stopped intentionally stirring the pot.

The Evangelical Community lost. They all started yelling at each other on message boards, with some calling Bell a heretic and some calling Piper hateful and most just having stupid, uninformed arguments with each other.

Some people said it was an overreaction. Some accused Bell of being unloving by teaching bad theology.

Some people called into question the language of orthodoxy and heresy, saying that these were just words that people used to manipulate and control one another and declare some questions out of bounds.

One thing that never was pointed out should be obvious to us by now: We need a unified church structure. We have to have some type of unified church structure. It needs to be visible. It needs to be historic. It needs to be universal.

We need it for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, unity was the final prayer Jesus had for his people. Unity was the main way that the world would know Jesus was sent by the Father.

We also need unity, though, to protect us from heresy.

I found it laughable how the church immediately splintered into a million, individual voices, each calling each other heretics. What authority does Justin Taylor have to define “biblical Christianity?” What authority do I have? What authority do you have? I know quite a bit of my bible, but I assure you Rob Bell can out bible me.

I hope you can see what is actually happening in this division. When you label someone a heretic, you are doing nothing more than kicking them out of your club: Your tiny, microscopic speck in the Christian landscape. It means nothing more. What does it matter if you, an individual, think Rob Bell is a heretic? What does it matter if Piper does? Rob Bell got kicked out of Piper’s club. That is all that happened.

That is all that can happen until we unify. We can kick each other out of our club, but we really have a difficult time finding Christianity amidst the clamoring of opinions.

We didn’t ask for this mess. We didn’t ask to inherit this church that has splintered into 30,000 pieces, each saying that they have it right. But we have to trust God to put it back together. Until then, we truly have no basis to call anyone a heretic. The heretics are the people who have departed from the doctrine of the church.

I don’t know what it looks like to put it back together. But, if you want to be able to distinguish truth from heresy, here are what I see as the beginning steps:

  1. Become historic: What have Christians seemed to believe all through church history? What have they disagreed about? You will quickly see that there are some things that have united all believers throughout church history. These are the things you can hang your hat on. These are the foundation of our unity.
  2. Stop glorying in the controversial: Christians like to spend more of their time talking about things that have divided the church than things that unite it. Instead of spending a great deal of time getting your personal take on predestination and free will (which the church has never been completely united on) pour yourself into union with the Trinity and your union with His people, the body of Christ. Repent from the belief that your personal take is worth that much. We all need to do this. The church will benefit so much more from your unity than it will from you gaining your own, personal take on all the divisive, theological controversies. Steer toward the center of the Gospel. Leave the edges alone.
  3. Become Submissive: Submit to your church body. Trust them to help guide your interpretation of the Scriptures. Don’t put too much stock in your own opinion. So much of our disunity stems from our incredible optimism in individuals with the bible. The bible is a communal book. It is meant to be read in submission to Christian community. Trust your pastors. Trust your leaders. This is the source of unity.
  4. Pray for universal church unity: Join me in praying for this every day.

Until we have some foundation for universal church unity, we have little protection from heresy. Pray for unity. Otherwise, when you call someone a heretic, all you are doing is kicking someone out of your club.

We learned something last week: Rob Bell is out of John Piper’s club.

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5 Responses

  1. Hey James,

    I kind of agree with you. But I think there is a place for calling out false teachers. And while Bell may not have literally stated he is a universalist in his video or the book promo I think it’s pretty obvious where he’s going. It seems that his heresy of universalism has been confirmed by someone who has read an advance copy of his book:

    http://thetenthleper.com/2011/03/01/review-love-wins-by-rob-bell-part-i-some-introductory-thoughts/

    If Bell has embraced this heresy then I think people like Piper are simply doing the church a service, as they should, of protecting the flock.

    • I agree with you completely. We need a place for calling out false teachers in the church. The point of my post is to say that the only basis for calling out false teachers is unity and conscious submission to our church fathers. It amazes me how quickly people appeal to terms like orthodoxy and heresy, without taking into account that these terms are dependent on a united church structure.

      Instead, we have a bunch of individual opinion holders calling each other heretics. More damaging, we have a persistent belief in evangelicalism that the individual opinion is really important, and that all someone needs is the bible, without any reliance on church history, the creeds, or even a contemporary community. Within that landscape, it becomes impossible to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy, because there’s no body to determine who’s opinion is correct.

      This is what is so troubling about evangelicalism. Evangelicals want to use the heresy word. They want to be protected from error. But they don’t want to submit to any type of structure that will safeguard them from error. They fail to recognize that orthodoxy and heresy were ALWAYS defined communally and out of submission to church bodies. This was true both before and after the reformation.

      Without this pattern of submission, there can be no such concept of heresy and orthodoxy, but only, different opinions.

      • Thanks, dude. I didn’t really hear him declare anything. I heard him do what he does: Ask a bunch of sarcastic, unhelpful questions that he knew would create controversy. It’s annoying, but probably not heretical. I don’t believe someone has to believe Gandhi’s in hell to be an orthodox Christian. However, a person must be willing to clearly confess Jesus as the only way to God. The guy who put the note was being every bit as annoying as rob bell.

        Love you, man.

  2. I have always questioned whether a unified Church would use it’s unity for God’s purposes, or whether they would go back to burning people at the stake for asking challenging questions, or excommunicating people who suggest the Sun is at the center of the Solar System, or abusing their political power for the benefit of their leadership. Perhaps a divided Church is the lesser of 2 evils and what we are stuck with until His Return.

    • Well, there is a chance that people will sin if they are unified. That happened some in the past. There is a much greater evil in the disunity, however. There is no way to define what Christianity is. There is a clamoring of opinions.

      I don’t think Jesus would have left us with the prayer, “Let them be one as you and I are one,” if he meant, “Let them be one, as you and I are one, unless the lesser of two evils is that they will be divided rather than abuse their power.”

      What we need instead, is unity and a continued, prayerful reliance on God to refrain from power plays, manipulation, and sin.

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