orthodoxy on unstable ground

I have a friend who recently became a Seventh Day Adventist. (By recently, I mean in the past year.) I was still dating Jason at the time and I remember waiting outside of Chili’s for a table discussing her movement into that denomination. Jason asserted that Adventists borderline on cultish. I said he was falling prey to superstitions and bigotries long held against the denomination. I said it nicely though, because he was paying for dinner. I pointed out that Twaan’s family worked with missionaries from the Adventist camp in Papua and those people had to sign statements of faith–clearly there were essentials of the faith that they held to like any orthodox believer. But the one thing that has always both intrigued and almost bothered me in Seventh Day Adventist theology is that of Annihilationism. (the idea that souls do not suffer eternal punishment, instead they are eventually destroyed) I don’t mind this doctrine, some of it comes out of Macabees (maybe the fourth Macabees?) and some of it comes from the Hebrew word often used in regards to hell which refers to handing things over to God for irrevocable destruction. All that to say, it has some sway, it has some Biblical backing.

What I don’t like, and what I think is a heresy the early church condemned, is the opposite direction that some go: Universalism. (Which, if you think about it, is just a washed up and polished form of predestination–it’s not double, it’s singular. We’ll all come to Jesus eventually, we can only reject him so long, we don’t have a choice in the matter. I find this perfectly ironic.)

I read this on Albert Mohler’s blog today:

Scot McKnight, theologian, blogger, and author of The Jesus Creed, agrees. He believes that two ideas have been quietly permeating evangelical leadership and institutions: pluralism (the notion that many religions can lead to salvation) and universalism. He says we’re going to have to address them openly at some point. This underground reality may be one reason that so many have reacted so passionately to even the possibility that a popular teacher and pastor like Rob Bell may be a universalist. They sense the theological ground shifting.

He’s talking about Rob Bell. I LOVE Rob Bell. Seriously. I loved Velvet Elvis, Sex God and Jesus Wants to Save Christians. They were brilliant books. I’ve heard him speak and it was almost life altering. I’ve watched his NOOMA videos, and I still think about YHWH being the name of God and being said almost as though we are breathing: because we should remember in all our lives that we only draw breath from God by His infinite grace.

I don’t think he is a good writer to recommend to newer Christians. We had to read Velvet Elvis in college. I’d already read it by that point and I remember being startled at how it so upset and confused some of my friends in class. That was before I realized that Bell is incredibly good at deconstructing our theology….but he doesn’t reconstruct anything. He leaves us open and vulnerable–and for many people he leaves them confused and frightened. This is my one frustration with him. He is trying so hard to be a Rabbi who teaches by asking. My father does this. It drives me crazy. We don’t talk. He asks questions and I parrot back information until we get to the heart of the issue. But then, my father does what Bell does not. My father slowly and carefully and gently rebuilds me, my theology, my belief in God. He teaches like a Rabbi, yes. But he also, like a Rabbi, recognizes that I am his charge and he is responsible to not let the questions go unanswered (when at all possible). Bell, on the other hand, does not reconstruct. He leaves us with holes and sagging trampolines which are missing several springs. I don’t mind this in him for myself because I have people with whom to dialogue. But it makes me anxious regarding the faith of my newborn friends, or those who are not firm in their foundation of the faith.

Bell has been dancing on the line for a while–for crying outloud he named his second book “Sex God.” My mother almost passed out when she saw that sitting on the kitchen counter. But his new and upcoming book on March 29th is wreaking havoc throughout the evangelical internet. Reformed theologians are especially upset, one of them recently bid him “farewell” on twitter as though to say he’d just stepped outside not only the bounds of orthodoxy but perhaps outside the bounds of the entire faith. Christianity Today just ran an article on him and shoved him back into the context of the historical church. He’s not the first to deal with the heaven and hell doctrines, and he’s not the first to struggle with the tensions. The article sited Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Barclay, and Barth. I haven’t read Barclay, but I love the other three. Gregory of Nyssa was especially helpful for me in my time in Seattle.

anyway. here are the links to articles I’m reading and considering.




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