After viewing the interview, I have this to say. It seems that Rob’s greatest concern in raising the issue about hell and salvation has come from his pastoral ministry. I believe him. Rob said in the interview that he has grown concerned from his pastoral work that the Gospel retold as it has been in effect paints God into this person with polarity disorder. On the one hand, the Gospel says, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life", on the other, "if you don’t believe in him at this moment, that loving God will reek havoc on you for eternity." "If you don’t pray these words after me, you could die tonight and suffer for an eternity in hell being tortured because you rejected God’s free gift." Rob thinks this telling of the Gospel story is not at all good news because of what it presupposes about God. The God of that story is not a God who loves by any human measure, according to Rob. As I recall, Brian McClaren made nearly the same point in Generous Orthodoxy.
The understanding of the Gospel in fact is perhaps the key issue for many emerging Christians. What I took away from the interview is that it seems that the central question for Rob Bell is "what is the Gospel?"
I agree that how we as evangelical Christians understand and frame the Gospel is an important and relevant question. And I'm just post-modern enough to believe that our cultural influences can shape how we understand the Gospel such that a constant evaluation of our understanding of the Gospel is essential. As early as Paul's day, there were "culturally conditioned" alterations of the Gospel with which he had to contend (Gal 1:6-9). And while Rob’s proposal is seriously flawed and dangerous theologically, that does not take away from the truth of his pastoral observations. When the Gospel is put in these terms it can lead in fact to equally flawed and dangerous theological points of view.
So, I agree with Rob, “the Gospel is good news indeed!”. But it’s not likely for the reason Rob proposes. I don’t intend a full discussion at the moment, but after watching the interview, I think at least one thing that is missing in Rob’s proposal is that for love to win, something or someone has to lose. With biblical salvation comes judgment, as my friend Jim Hamilton in his recent book, God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, has eloquently made plain:
In the powerfully redemptive story that Rob told about the “Cutter” in his congregation, the men who perpetrated the abuse which led to the woman's psychological pain need to be brought to justice. At least part of the good news of the Gospel that Jesus told is that those who commit such things will meet justice if not in this life, than in the “death after death” to use a phrase from Scot McKnight in One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, in which Scot has a nice short discussion of hell (160-65). A Gospel which doesn't announce justice is no Gospel.
Rob also appeared this morning on ABC's Good Morning America.
HT: Jameson Ross & Taylor Clausen