Bell writes: “An Atheist is a person of tremendous faith. In our discussions about the things that matter most then, we aren’t talking about faith or no faith. Belief or no belief. We are talking about faith in what? Belief in what? The real question isn’t whether we have it or not, but what we have put it in” (019). Rob Bell affirms that which is explicitly denied in so many of our thinkers today. Modern science–like the rationalists of centuries ago–continually assumes that all their observations are bias-free. Bell corrects this foolish thinking process by denying that the atheist is belief-free. Even the most ardent of all atheists believes firmly in the absence of God. As he writes they are a people of “tremendous faith.” In fact, to believe in a Non-Being requires more faith than believing in a Being. Though I wish not to discuss it further it is sufficient to say that atheism in all its logical argumentation contra Christianity’s use of faith falls into the same dilemma.
How should we then live? For Rob Bell there are certain ways of living that seem to be more in line with the Christian message. He notes, “As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live” (020). But what is Jesus’ way of living? Here are a few examples:
a) I am convinced being generous is a better way to live.
b) I am convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is better way to live.
c) I am convinced having compassion is a better way to live.
This is the way Bell believes Jesus would have him live. These are indeed noble ways of living. Christ does expect us to be generous, have compassion and so on. However, here Bell places certain areas of concern in a priority list. All of them deal with relationship with others. He is agenda-driven (as he would readily admit)! All of his concerns are merely relational. There is little to nothing about how this new Christianity should engage culture or politics or the new theological disputes of the day. This new way of living almost seems too exclusive. If other churches are not focusing on these issues that are of great concern to Bell, will he then attempt to correct them or will he find a way to implement new ideas into his new ideas? Ultimately, the point at stake is that all groups or communities must assume an identity that is at some level strong or even forcefully dogmatic about some issues and not so much on others. Rob Bell is no exception.
If the way Jesus wants us to live is to be “in tune with ultimate reality” (021) then Bell has made this ultimate reality in his own mind. Ultimate reality is not determined merely by how we live, but also by acknowledging what Bell so desperately seeks to undermine—the doctrinal necessity of Christ’s redemptive work as opposed to some reality that we need to mystically explore (more of this in another blog). This revelational act is clear and requires extreme commitment not sheer adherence. Bell senses that to be too strong on some ideas means that we cease to explore future discoveries by the church. But again I affirm, no one escapes from radical commitment to certain ideas; it just happens that Bell has some new ones. What if ten years from now a new movement rises exploring new possibilities of understanding doctrine and living with one another; will Bell be just as encouraged or will he tell his congregation to slow down a bit? Will new ideas inspire new ideas until one hundred years from now our creeds are nothing more than documents in museums? I am in no way denying Bell’s Christian faith, but I am questioning some of the consequences to his new Orthodoxy. In summary, there is much to embrace in terms of the mistaken views of bias-free thinking, but there is reason to be concerned with Bell’s ideas of what ultimate reality is and what it is not.