Protestant Liberalism, Evangelicalism, post-Evangelicalism, radical revisionism (Sheesh, how many ism’s are there?), secularized theology, post-modern narrative theories, emergent narratives versus doctrinal assertions, churchspeakism, blah, blah, blah… I don’t mind getting technical when technical is necessary, but when Albert Mohler must devote so much of his book review to setting his reading audience up for the actual book review, it becomes obvious that something is askew. At least, that is what I thought as I read along and wondered when he was going to get around to actually reviewing the book. I decided to back up to the beginning again and ask myself exactly what it is that Mohler is trying to accomplish in his long title and introduction. What I discovered is that Mohler is simply attempting to categorize Rob Bell as no longer part of what Mohler calls the evangelical circle (and Bell calls the E-club), having crossed over to the dark side, and for all intents and purposes Bell may no longer be counted among those wise leaders who the stupid sheep can trust to know and explain spiritual stuff. Using generalizations and blanket statements in an attempt to establish among readers an in-group and out-group point of view in which to frame the rest of his amazingly long-titled book review http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberal-theology/ of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, Mohler miscategorizes the ideas Bell puts on the table, as well as Bell himself, as part of the out-group. It’s blatant logical fallacy. Well, maybe blatant is too strong a word, since I am not accusing Mohler of purposely employing a logical fallacy, nevertheless, logical fallacy is his initial approach. Too bad many of his readers will be suckered into the in-group/out-group subtleties which have been proven over and over again in controlled studies to influence important relational activities such as moral decisions, likelihood of acceptance/hostility between people groups, and conformity.
Let me give you an example of this logical fallacy thing. I can say that Star Trek action figures are valuable. Then I can try to sell you an action figure. Before you buy it, you will more than likely want to establish two facts, first, that the action figure is a Star Trek action figure, and second, that Star Trek action figures are valuable. Mohler wants his readers to first believe that Protestant Liberalism “preached that Christianity must come to terms with the modern age and surrender its supernatural claims.” And then Mohler wants his readers to identify Rob Bell as the poster-boy for Protestant Liberalism. Mohler’s aim is to dismiss Bell’s argument before he even addresses Bell’s argument. Personally, I think that his entire introduction ought to have been a conclusion or even not mentioned at all. The critical thinker should see a red flag here. Please take a moment to watch this comical short video which demonstrates this in-group/out-group phenomena.
What really matters? Who God is and what God does. That is what matters.
Eventually, Mohler actually gets around to addressing what matters, at least, in part, and with inaccurate conclusions. But at least he gives it a shot. He is attempting to join the conversation. Kudos for Mohler.
I would like to examine one particular paragraph from Mohler’s book review, because hidden within it is a step-by-step, very clear example of why orthodox Churchianity FEARS the idea that eternal torment in Hell is a teaching of man and not a teaching of God. Here is the paragraph:
Thus, they rejected [eternal conscious torment]. They argued that the doctrine of hell, though clearly revealed in the Bible, slandered God’s character. They offered proposed evasions of the Bible’s teachings, revisions of the doctrine, and the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history. By the time the 20th century came to a close, liberal theology had largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations. As it turns out, theological liberalism is not only a rejection of biblical Christianity — it is a failed attempt to rescue the church from its doctrines. At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches. It simply misled millions about their eternal destiny.
First, notice that Mohler describes “the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history.” In another blog, I mentioned that the reconciliation of all things was not considered heresy for a good long time (hundreds of years) during the early church days. It is time for everyone to do their homework and put to rest once and for all this idea that the doctrine of eternal torment has been the majority opinion in the church since the beginning. It is simply not true.
While orthodoxy’s favorite doctrine of fear does have long and deep roots, the doctrine of hope has longer and deeper roots. In fact the doctrine of hope has roots that go all the way back through the Old Testament times to before creation, beginning in God Himself, Who established “the fellowship of the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God, […] that there might be made known […] a purpose of the ages […] For this cause I bow […] in love having been rooted and founded, that ye may […] know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled – to all the fulness of God; and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, […] to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen” (Eph. 3:9-21).
Second, notice that Mohler’s main concern centers not around the validity of the claims made against orthodoxy but in the fact that these claims seemed to have “largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations.” Empty churches cause orthodox minds to freak out. It is no wonder. They are taught in preschool, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors, here’s all the people.” They have a scorecard reminiscent of their phallic steeple… How big is YOUR church? My church has X number of people. As if the greatest number of people entering into the box is an indication of success, as if an empty church is always a negative thing. But what if all the believers who were devoting their time and energy to the machine just decided to relocate and disperse, and they can now be found in the streets, the market place, homes, and places where Jesus wants them to go? Empty church buildings is no problem at all for God, but it is a huge problem for those whose entire lives are consumed in the system. Mohler’s real fears are obvious, “At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches” (emphasis mine). If we were to really think Mohler’s logic to its conclusion, we might say that the relevance of the church is found in how well attended and supported particular organizations/buildings are. This is the sad truth about how orthodox Churchian leaders see the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Clergy relies on your warm body and your wallet for its life and relevance. Because the religious leaders receive their paychecks, respected position, and “success” from the system, then it is no surprise that they fight tooth and nail to oppose ideas that threaten to empty out their pews.