Rob Bell, Fundamentalist: 5 Ironies From The New Bell Film

It’s the strangest thing: the heretic is actually the fundamentalist.

The Hereticis a film making a clear argument. It seeks to convince us that Bell is the heretic we need, and that Christianity should make more space for Bell’s brand of thought. But The Heretic actually ends up making, quite accidentally, the opposite point. It shows us a tragedy in the making, a man once known for his preaching gift who has now turned his back on the truth, and has become the very thing he denounces.

 

It’s the strangest thing: the heretic is actually the fundamentalist.

I just watched the new Rob Bell documentary. It’s entitled The Heretic. Here’s a better title for it: The Fundamentalist: Rob Bell Walks Through Airports. I’ll explain what I mean below, and encourage you to look for the early April podcast I just recorded with Isaac Dagneau of indoubt ministries.

After viewing The Heretic, I was struck by five ironies that relate not merely to Bell, but “progressive” post-evangelical gurus more broadly. Here they are.

First, the so-called “heretics” are the new fundamentalists. The worst people for a post-evangelical are the so-called “fundamentalists.” According to Bell and others in the film, fundamentalists believe in a woodenly literal Bible, emphasize the bloody death of Jesus, and get really excited about preaching on the damnation of sinners. Fundamentalists do not exhibit an open mind; they guard their fences with extreme watchfulness; they do not show generosity of spirit to others; they draw the lines of doctrine sharply, and are eager to keep the bad guys out.

Bell’s doctrine is heretical, as is well-known. In the documentary, he continues to espouse his soft universalism, he argues that the Bible has damaging teaching in it, and he downplays biblical morality. But here’s the curious thing: Bell actually operates and speaks as a “fundamentalist.” He does not exhibit an open mind toward conservative religious types; he censures them. He does not truly believe that everyone has an equal place in the Christian tradition; he believes that serious evangelicals are bad people. He does not show generosity in the film toward his disputants; over and over again, he drags them through the mud. He does not truly hold an open, flexible, free-thinking faith; he draws his own doctrinal lines precisely, and makes no bones about excluding conservatives. He talks openly—to my honest surprise—about helping “people read the Bible in a much better way.” That’s how a conservative talks!

It’s the strangest thing: the heretic is actually the fundamentalist.

Second, doubt is the inerrant principle of the post-evangelicals. Doubt is the new “truth.” We hear emergent leader Peter Rollins say of Bell, for example, “he put his finger on a doubt and a questioning that was in that [evangelical] community, but wasn’t able to be expressed.” The sum and substance of The Heretic is that doubt is good, doubt is what makes faith comes alive, doubt frees you from the trap of red-faced literalistic evangelicalism. But doubt receives so much praise in the film, its little wings cannot bear it aloft any longer. Doubt is not truth; that makes no sense.

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