respect your audience

I just watched Rob Bell’s hour long dialogue with British blogger and author, Adrian Warnock. The conversation is revealing on many levels, but what stands out most is how Rob refuses to own any position on the afterlife. His performance in this interview would lead one to believe that he wrote a book on the afterlife to tell us he doesn’t know about the afterlife. But of course, few if any readers of “Love Wins” believe this is the case. Millions of readers aren’t buying a book that merely gives a puzzled shrug at what happens after they die. They think it’s telling them something important. Something they like. 

I’m not sure what to make of an author who doesn’t stand by the message of his own book. As the British questioners revealed, Rob is either being disingenuous in the interview or disingenuous in his book. I suspect it’s the former, but either way he’s violating a cardinal rule of communication–respect your audience. People don’t like to feel that they’re being toyed with, especially in matters as important as their eternal destiny.

May we all practice the charity of clarity: say what we mean and mean what we say. Avoiding questions by asking your own questions may be the way of McLaren, but it’s not the way of love.

4 Comments

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  1. Mike,
    Didn’t people sin by jumping to conclusions before reading the book, and even now putting the worse case construction on it? I believe so. And I think the leaders who are calling Rob Bell an apostate are out of bounds.

    Of course Rob himself will learn to do better from this, as well as all the rest of us, would be our hope.

    Just my thought.

  2. I watched only half of the interview. But what caught my attention was the manner in which Bell evidenced how he completely mishandled a simple word study. When asked by Adrian Warnock whether he believed in eternal punishment, as the simple words of Jesus in the NT make clear, Bell stated how he starts with “olam” (which is the OT Hebrew term generally translated “eternal”). Bell continued with the following reasoning: since Jonah is said to have been in the fish for three days and since the text of Jonah 2:6 uses the Hebrew term “olam,” therefore, “olam” must not mean “eternal.”

    In reality, however, the text of Jonah 2:6 (v. 7 in the Hebrew text) doesn’t say this at all. In simple terms, the text states how Jonah thought he was, in essence, a “goner,” that is, he thought he had passed the point of no return and was going to die. In other words, he would be gone forever (“olam”). Then, in stark contrast, the text shows how the Lord miraculously rescued Jonah from the fate of certain a death.

    Once again, the lesson here is that if you begin an argument with a wrong premise, chances are that your conclusions will be wrong. As has often been the case, my concern with Bell is how often he builds what he believes to be a new and novel discovery based upon what some word supposedly means. Usually, I have found, Bell has simply not done his homework very carefully. As many other reviewers have recognized, in *Love Wins* Bell offers a deficient study of the word “eternal” in the NT by starting with the wrong word. Rather than study the word “aionios,” he chose to study the term “aion.” These are different words with different meanings, and studying the term “aion” rather than “aionios” accomplishes nothing in gaining an understanding of the idea of “eternal” punishment. It’s like studying the English word “ham” in order to better understand “hamburgers.” In reality, however, one is pork while the other is beef.

    During the course of my following this debate, I came across a statement by someone who I believe succinctly stated what is ultimately the problem with much of Bell’s writings, and especially with *Love Wins*: “he allows his conclusions to control his exegesis.”

    If you start wrong, can you really expect to finish right?

  3. I was hopeful that Rob was actually in a debate of sorts, and it seemed like Warnock was going ask good questions at first. But it quickly became apparent that brother Adrian’s Christian understanding froze at around the 5th grade level. He chose a few “simple words from Jesus” and based his entire reasoning around them. (If I take the simple words of Jesus at the simple level, I’d have to gouge my eyes out.)

    When Rob asked if Adrian’s understanding of the “all things” passages included people, his response was that it included all people who existed, but that, “Look, I’m not an annihilationist…” But if he’s not an annihilationist, then people are still alive. That’s a basic oversight he apparently hasn’t thought through.

    I agree with you that the conversation was revealing on many levels.

  4. I finished listening to that yesterday. It was infuriating. I wanted someone to say to Bell, “You do know that a sentence can also end with a period and not just a question mark, right?”

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