Obviously, and I’m sorry I have to say this as it shouldn’t be necessary, I’m not speaking of the person Rob Bell, as if I knew him personally or was in some kind of privileged position to judge his character. That would be ludicrous. To me, Rob Bell is a ministry persona, a popular author and theologian, though a very personal one, and so I happen to reflect on his contributions like everyone else – and there’s one thing I particularly like about how he contributes to the theological dialogue.
When Rob Bell is talking about God, it seems he’s talking from a genuine understanding of the person he’s come to know as God.
Well, don’t all Christians?
Actually, it seems rare that Christians are talking about God the way they genuinely imagine him to be. Especially theologians. Particularly the reformed ones. (Ouch)
What’s different about Rob Bell is that he’s not relying on Scripture every single time he’s trying to say something about God. That might be the reason some people criticize him, of course, but personally I find it quite liberating. What Rob Bell has done, or so it seems to me, is internalizing scripture, getting to know God through its narrative, assembled a picture of what sort of person God has revealed himself as… so when Bell is talking about that God, he’s talking about that picture, not his nose, not his ears, not this shadow, but the whole person as Rob Bell sees him.
Why is this something I should like? Because that’s how we would speak of other people. Think about it. Let’s say you’re asking me about my brother. If I’m telling you about my brother, I’m not gonna reflect hard on particular instances or specific experiences I’ve had with my brother before I answer every question you might have. I’ve already done that. I don’t have to re-do that kind of reflection when I’m talking about him, because I’ve already come to know him from the broad strokes of my experience. I can tell you in very general terms what I think he’s like without having to come up with examples.
Rob Bell draws on that same “knowing” of a person when he’s making a statement of what God thinks of homosexual people, and homosexual Christians. From his experience with God, of course God has adopted these people—flesh and blood-people, created in God’s image like everyone else—as his children and disciples as well. From the best of his knowledge, that’s what God’s like. And if they love each other, so what? Would God, as Rob Bell knows him, be against love?
How about Hell? Will God let the 17-year old girl, who has been guilty of sin for max 17 years, burn in hell forever and ever, in all eternity? No, of course not. God is love, why would he do such a thing? Like Bell, I don’t think he will, from my knowledge of Him… Is that a reasonable argument?
Sure – but notice that it appears less academic, but that shouldn’t surprise us at all. After all, we’re not discussing a science, but a person. Theology is a personal matter in that sense, unlike most other “-logies”. And talking about someone is very different from talking about something, especially when it’s someone we know through experience.