Posted by: Jack Brown | March 23, 2011

Heresy, Theresy, and Everywheresy

Without a doubt, the number one question people ask me when I mention I’ve read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is, “So, is Bell a heretic?”  Understandable, given how much that word has been bandied about since (and even before) the book’s release.  When asked, I’ve been replying the same way every time: “Depends on your definition of heresy.”  Let’s face it, some people just love to throw that word around, and unfortunately in some churches all you need to do to be branded a heretic is suggest new carpet for the narthex.  So I’m very hesitant to apply that word to anyone, even when all the cool kids are doing it.

I’m very appreciative of this post by JR Woodward that delves into a bit of history regarding the word “heresy.”  He looks to theologian Alister McGrath for guidance, who defines heresy as “…a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing, or even destroying the core of the Christian faith.”  In my mind you’ve got to go pretty far to be a heretic, and this definition gels with that belief.  We can’t run around calling things heresy just because we disagree with them.  They must first be proven to be subversive, destabilizing, and a threat to the core of our Christian belief before I’d be willing to use the word.

So does that apply to Love Wins?  I think you have to examine each of the issues Bell raises and apply these criteria separately, rather than approaching the book as a whole.  As I see it, the primary issues at play in the book are this:

  • Is there an opportunity to respond to God and accept His grace after death?
  • If so, is it possible that eventually everyone will?
  • How do we understand God’s revelatory work outside of Christian faith and practice?
  • How do we understand what happened at the cross?
  • How do we communicate who God is to people outside the faith?

I’m going to blog about each of these issues separately, as much for myself as anything else.  Because I’ll be honest—these are issues I have wrestled with in my own life and faith.  I think anyone who says they haven’t wrestled with them is being dishonest, or is living in a Christian bubble that might be good to break out of.

I want to be clear about one thing, though.  Although I will be focusing my attentions on the parts of Love Wins that frustrate me, there is much in the book that I applaud.  I particularly like the way Rob Bell talks about heaven.  He exposes the Christian “urban legend”–that we all die, turn into spirits, and go up to some wispy, ethereal existence forever and ever amen–for what it is: dead wrong (no pun intended).  I also like the way Bell invites us to think about the way we express to people what it is they are doing when they put their faith in Christ.  We should move away from the “get your card stamped for heaven” approach that dominated evangelism for so long, and so I am glad Bell goes after that mindset with gusto.

But while there is much I appreciate, there is also much I don’t appreciate in Love Wins.  I think it is a book fraught with danger.  But is it also chock-full of heretical badness?  Let’s take it one issue at a time.

First up: Do your chances expire when you do?


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