Brannon’s Pride Warrants Hell

(thoughts spurred from the Rob Bell frenzy this past week)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the controversy being stirred up by “Love Wins,” the forthcoming book by pastor-author Rob Bell. Judging from the promo video, Bell is raising a lot of questions surrounding salvation and (more importantly) what kind of God would allow some into heaven while excluding others.

I don’t want to talk about Rob Bell – too much talk already. I want to talk about questioning.

A thought: Questioning God is usually not the problem – The posture from which I question usually is.

Looking to scripture, there are plenty of examples of those who questioned God. While we’re likely to sympathize with men like David, Job, and Solomon, our most profound takeaway from those men needs to be that questioning God ought to be brought under the heading of loving, childlike submission to His fathership.


David’s lament: “Why have you left me?” (Psalm 22:1) is quickly followed by the confident declaration: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). All in the same Psalm.

Job’s cry: “Why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child?” (Job 2:16) is followed by: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

Solomon’s ever-relevant expression: “Meaningless – meaningless – Everything is meaningless” (Ecc.1:2) finds its ultimate resolution in his poignant conclusion: “Now all has been heard; here is the the conclusion of the matter – Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).

Joseph is my son. He’s five. This morning, I said – Joseph, stop pushing your sister. He’s too young to understand the full implications of why – He just needs to do it. In time (assuming that I’m fathering him well), he’ll gradually connect the dots and develop an understanding. God’s a much better father than I am. He longs to lead His children into fuller understanding of who He is and what He’s like. But questioning Him isn’t where that understanding starts – holy fear is the birthplace of our understanding and eventual mission (cf. Prov. 1:7; Isa. 6:1-13).

Here’s my main concern with “Love Wins:” Questioning without submission often exposes latent pride – at least this holds true in my life. What I would love to see is Bell raising an admittedly hard question – on what basis does a loving God send people to Hell? – and then hide behind scripture for his resolution.

Here’s some questions:

– From what posture do I question God?

– When I don’t get the answer I’m looking for, what is my response?

– Why do I get frustrated with God’s revealed word / will?

– What does my frustration reveal about me?

(a hopefully clarifying after-thought): In my experience, questioning God usually comes from one of two places: pride (the rich young ruler from Mark 10:17-25) or genuine seeking (the disreputable woman from John 4). God richly rewards the second kind of questioning and strongly opposes the first kind. If you’re like me – you’ll consistently find yourself more aware of how frighteningly prideful you can be.


7 thoughts on “Brannon’s Pride Warrants Hell

  1. I’ll say this about Rob Bell. People are generally more concerned with what he doesn’t say than with what he does say. What I mean is that, Rob doesn’t use standard and traditional American Christian rhetoric like “ask Jesus into your heart” and “sin is black” as well as other social and political sayings that Christians like to hear. Rob gravitates toward challenging Christian presuppositions that no one can prove, such as, “Is Ghandi in hell?” He takes a lot of flak for this.

    Furthermore, there are 2 types of Christians: those who think Christians are under attack and those who think Christians are the attackers (crusades anyone? how about separate drinking fountains?)

    Rob definitely falls in the the “Christians are the attackers” category, and is trying to fix our aggressive and violent tendencies, and is less concerned with keep the 10 commandments in school or picketing around Ye Olde Abortion Clinic in Smalltown USA.

    • Excellent points here. Joe – you’re so eloquent :)

      A couple of thoughts in response:

      – I love your very first comment. And I’m genuinely concerned about what he doesn’t say. I wish I could communicate like him. I wish I could make the connections he does. But part of me has to ask “Why be so evasive?” Do you think he’s intentionally evasive or it’s just clever marketing? He’s got tremendous gifts and I’ve learned a lot about teaching and communication from him – I’m just frustrated that he seems reluctant to land. Someone recently put it as “theological striptease.”

      – I totally agree that Christians ought not to be the attackers, but is this fixed through raising more questions or by providing humble, honest answers? In the de-politicizing (is that a word?) and removing the often mindless rhetoric from western Christianity, I sincerely hope we can move toward being known by what we’re for rather than what we’re against / what we boycott (My mind goes to that ridiculous and thoughtless move by the SBC to boycott Disney several years back). I’m just not sure that raising equally enticing questions is the right path.


      • You know that itching ears verse in 2 Tim 4:3? That’s really one of my favorite verses to misuse and take out of context (humor intended). But in all seriousness, both sides of this issue could use that verse to attack the other. Piper and Co. can say, “Rob Bell is giving a diluted form of the truth in order to be more inclusive, etc. He’s telling the masses want they want to hear…”

        And Rob Bell could say “Johnny P and friends repeatedly talk about the Bible’s timeless truths and proven theological thesis’s, while all the while ignoring the physical desperation in our world. eg, water. By declaring (to a mostly Christian) audience on Sunday mornings that ‘The world (implied democrats) needs Jesus’ or ‘America needs to get back to God” they are basically just using feel good phrases that allow for the preverbal patting on the back of the good ol’ boys club now known as conservative evangelicals”

        You ask “why is Bell so evasive?” My guess that he doesn’t want to go down a road that only born again Christians will travel. What I mean is that Lutzer, Piper, all those guys write a lot of books, that are for the most part well written and produced. But who reads those? Christians, or even more selectively, Christians of higher education. Now I don’ think Velvet Elvis is widely read in the Muslim Cab Driver demographic, but I do think Bells writings and teaching touch on topics that are widely ignored by Christianity for the last 100 years. Rob Bell wants you to walk down the road that Christians haven’t traveled recently, and take your faith with you of course.

        In fact what have Christians done the last 100 years? First we made Jesus’ first miracle illegal, then we blatantly turned our back on anyone who wasn’t white, Christian, and male. And we went around the world forcing our culture on others and selling it as religion. We even tried to mandate 12 frequencies, otherwise known as the Chromatic Scale as the music that God uses. (Did I leave anything out?)

        I think you’ve got to look at our current state of western Christianity. We are always evolving, we never really arrive til we get to heaven, the problems and society our parents face are not the ones our children will. Folks like Piper and Lutzer anchor down the Biblical truths that were hashed out in the early councils ensure that Christendom stays on target. Rob Bell would not have a platform were it not for the Piper/ Lutzer crowd keeping the truths secure and giving him a theological basis on which to build. Rob would probably agree that our current Christian culture is a little oversaturated, fat and happy. We know we’re in heaven – check. We support a few missionaries –check. We wear jeans to church now and invite our neighbors too – check….and so on. Bell’s writing are constantly pushing us to look beyond our culture (for the most part white suburban) and ask: Who’s hungry? Who’s naked? Who’s in slavery in Sudan? Moreover Bell pushes us to partner with people not traditionally sanctioned by conservative evangelicals to address the aforementioned issues. Team up with the gay Episcopal priest to shelter the under privileged. You and I are both very much aware of the opposite approach – which prevents missionaries from different mission organizations from working together even though their in the same village in Columbia or something like that.

        Theological Striptease: So in the end, those itching ears, who have sat for years listening to the same Jesus story, with the same punchline – Sinners go to hell, but we’re saved, go eat your pot roast now- are reading the books of Rob Bell waiting for the punchline so they can pat their “good ol’ boys” on the bag on the way to their pot roast. But Rob Bell never delivers the punchline, he never “takes it all off” And so some folks get pissed because they’ve paid they know how this works. Stay away from the crazies (read fringe cult groups), tell the world they need Jesus, get made fun of at election time, and hey, you’re in the heaven club. Rob leaves us hanging, because he want us to know there’s work to do.

      • Joe,

        (I might be taking a turn here, so forgive me if that’s the case)

        You’re hitting on something I’ve recently been thinking about quite a bit: how we grieve God by creating a false dichotomy between doctrine and deeds (not to be totally self-serving, but I blogged about it earlier last month). You’re pointing out something that’s emerging. It seems to go like this:

        On the right:
        Piper and the Neo-Calvinists. Doctrine. Theological Purity. “We look to Luther and pine for the 16th century.” Conservative political ideology. “In the Westminster Confession we trust.” Come and see.

        On the left:
        Rob Bell and the Narratives. Deeds. Social Justice. “We long for heaven and we’re creating it here.” Kingdom-minded politics (if any). “In micro-finance we trust.” Go and do.

        You’re right (if I’m hearing you rightly). This kind of dichotomous thinking absolutely grieves God. A casual read through James will show how off Calvin and Luther (and co.) might actually be. The choice can’t be between doctrine or deeds. Being passionate about either ought to make us better at the other. Example: When we really care about Children-at-Risk, the power of micro-finance organizations, etc., we’ll be drawn to doctrine. Complementarily, when we find ourselves enjoying the study of doctrine, we’ll feel the need to do something about it (assuming we’re sensitive to the Spirit and not too arrogant in our theological elitism). A larger point: we can be prideful in our pursuit.

        (not to change the subject, but…) How are you guys these days? I know you’re living down in Hotlanta, but that’s the last I’ve heard. I saw Gauger recently and had a whole series of flashbacks to those MSB days. 10 years ago. Wow.

      • Your summarized points on narratives and Neo-Calvinists are very much true. Right now, Piper, the So. Baptist Pres, and guys like that hold the corner on interpreting the bible from a Calvinistic view. They make the rules. And if you try and argue a different point of view, you’ll most likely loose and they’ll kick you out of the club (anathema anyone?). But over time their influence will wane and they’ll no longer be “on top of the pile.” And once and ideology no longer holds that certain “power” over people, those who still stand by it end up changing their approach. Now this probably won’t happen for awhile and Piper will probably be long gone from this earth but we are moving that direction. I’m not saying Calvinism is dead or anything, I’m just saying its not going to be the only game in town in 50 years. And those who still hold it as absolute truth will be more welcoming to others purely because if they’re not, they may not have any Christian friends.

        For the most part, Piper has always been looked at as a non conformist and always kind of an outsider anyway. And now it’s as if he’s the “old guard.” (Remember when Apple was the underdog?), and not the cool – hip – indie – pastor in MN that we’ve always viewed him to be.

        In other news, yeah, Atlanta. We’ve been down here since 2004. Noah is 2 and we have a baby girl due on 7.5. I work as a Technical Recruiter, and Heather taught music in the public school system until she had Noah, then she started her own flower business. Since my family lives in Chicago, we go back once or twice a year, but I don’t get to see Gauger ever cuz it’s usually over a holiday or during the summer. I am still best friends with Billy Murphy and Chican To (did you know him) and talk to those guys a couple of times a week.

  2. Right in in regards to questions. Scripture gives us permission to ask of God, to be curious, to be concerned, to feel left alone. It gives us freedom to wonder and ask why. Yet it seems to me that every time we read the questions that individuals raise throughout Scripture, they are doing so because they are SEEKING AFTER God…they are seeking Him to show up, to heal, to reveal, to calm, to soothe, to whatever. They are asking Him, in His incredible power to be there.

    They are not asking questions about God as if they are the ultimate authority and He needs to prove Himself to them.

    Sure, God is big enough to handle our questions. And He is big enough to BE the answer to our questions. Not to be some side-skirted afterthought that we try to plug in to the way that we would like the system to be.

    Who did the creating? Was it me? No. I’m the creation. Do my kids’ lego blocks look up at her and say, “why did you make me to be a farm? I don’t want to be a farm. In fact, I don’t think that what you made here was right.” No, the legos are the legos. They are what they are. They are the creation. At the mercy of the creation.

    And the beauty of that is that my kid loves when she makes a farm out of legos…how one block, in her toddler mind manages to look like a pig and another block seems to be a cow. She takes the glory in what she created.

    Perhaps I’m getting off track…I just can’t help to think of the seeming arrogance that can be present when we shift into a mode of asking questions of God. Am I looking for the Master to show up in my life? Then I humbly submit to His will. Or am I looking for Him to do what I want Him to? Then I’m a little off base in realizing who is the Creator and who is the creation.

  3. A thought from one simple minded. Why does what one says have to be cloaked evasive different, I can’t even come up w the words to describe it. It seems to me scripture for the most part tells it straight. While there is theology that goes far beyond what I will ever comprehend there seems to be more Concret than abstract.
    So the simple minded answer may be
    I can ask question all I need to but can’t demand answers. Out of submissive humility bowing to a sovereign God I have asked pleeded begged God for an answer. I wanted to know why. Never got a good answer. But my pleading kept me at his feet and learned so much more there no need for the answer.

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