Rethink What You Learned in Sunday School
Kevin De Young’s review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins includes in its title the idea that “what you learned in Sunday School is still true.” I believe that this, and not Bell’s book, is the real heart of the controversy.
De Young’s Writing Abilities ≠ De Young’s Insight
Evangelical Christians want to keep believing that teaching small children about God’s plan to relegate the majority of the human population to a place of torment, forever, makes sense. If they were not concerned about protecting the image of the institutions where these ideas are taught, then the controversy would just be a mildly heated conversation among believers who disagree, shake hands, and invite each other over for a barbecue when they are through. But that is another blog for another day.
Today, I want to take a look at a few of De Young’s ideas. I will not be writing a 20 page response, as I trust the Spirit of God at work in the reader to help them smell the baloney for themselves. I just want to touch on a few key points, that sound like hard-hitting difficult-to-overcome arguments due to De Young’s writing capabilities, but that really don’t pack as much punch as they seem.
A Long Tradition
First, De Young takes issue with Bell’s assertion that there is a long tradition of believers who believe God will “restore everything and everybody.” He cites Richard Bauckham’s historical survey which states, “until the 19th century almost all Christian theologians taught” eternal torment. Bauckham admits that a few major theologians of the early church believed in the reconciliation of all things.
Let’s just simmer in this thought for a moment.
A few major theologians of the early church believed in the reconciliation of all things. Suppose that today, a major theologian believed in the reconciliation of all things, and then a few generations from now came another, and a few generations after that came another… would that meet the qualifications that De Young sets forth for a “long tradition”?
Second, De Young acknowledges, “Bell also mentions Jerome, Basil, and Augustine because they claimed many people in their day believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God.” De Young ought to have stopped right there, but he goes on, saying, “But listing all the heavyweights who took time to refute the position you are now espousing is not a point in your favor.”
Let’s also simmer on this thought for a moment. Really think about it.
Bell lists “heavyweights” of the Christian faith who refute the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God, and says that they claimed “many people in their day believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God.” Today, this would be like John Piper or RC Sproul admitting that “many people” agree with Rob Bell.
So let’s bring this back into perspective – the people who opposed the reconciliation of all acknowledged that many people in their time believed it. To be more specific, I’ll quote: Jerome said, “most persons,” Basil said, “most men,” and Augustine said, “very many,” believed in the reconciliation of all things.
Evidently it was a widely held belief during the time period before Justinian came along and demanded that it be removed from the church. He also made some other very suspect demands regarding Bible translation, but that, too, is another blog for another day. My point here is that De Young wants the reader to focus on the idea that the “heavyweights” – who are they? the uber-Christians? – opposed the belief in the reconciliation of all, instead of focusing on the fact that most of the early believers were convinced of this truth.
If most of the early believers did not consider it heresy, then Bell’s case is made. Sure there has always been opposition from religious leaders, in fact opposition from religious leaders is what got Jesus crucified, but that does not mean the religious leaders were right. And it surely does not mean that nobody believed in the reconciliation of all until the big heresy-fest hundreds of years later, as people like De Young and other religious leaders would have the sheep believe.
Message Not Approved by Martin Luther
Third, De Young throws in for good measure that Martin Luther was not on Bell’s side. Um-kaaaaay. So what? Does everything have to be pre-approved by Luther in order to pass the heresy inspection? How are believers supposed to “test everything and hold on to what is good”? By counting how many experts support our doctrine? By citing religious orthodoxy?
I have an idea… why don’t we ask the Teacher to show us the truth, by studying the scriptures, looking at church history as a whole (and not just what the people in charge decided – we must remember they were murdering people for disagreeing), and most importantly, being ready to lose everything, including standard Sunday School curriculum, if it turns out we took a left turn way back somewhere between the second and fifth centuries.
More on De Young’s article tomorrow…