noun [in sing.] informal
1. irrational tantrums among evangelical Christians over Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins”: that’s quite a hellabelloo over Rob’s new book!
2. a commotion over “the tiddlywinks and peccadilloes of religion” (Fosdick); a fuss
Having perused an advance copy, we can say that what’s news in evangelical circles is downright passé to most mainline and progressive Christians. For many evangelicals, heaven and hell are at the heart of their so-called “good news,” resting in the comfort that their told-you-so reward is all the more satisfying in the knowledge that countless others are being punished for eternity by an all-loving but sadistic God.
On a practical level, Bell is messing with the evangelical “business model.” Promising a reward in heaven or threatening people with torture in Hell keeps plenty of butts in the seats of countless mega-churches. But more than that, Bell is threatening the very core of evangelical Christianity’s purpose. Denying Hell’s existence leaves evangelicals to wonder, “Why be a Christian?” After all, what’s their understanding of the gospel if it’s not simply glorified fire insurance? Could Jesus’ life and teachings amount to something more than a Get Out of Hell Free card? We progressives like to think so.
In a recent interview for Living the Questions’ new “Saving Jesus Redux,” Diana Butler Bass echoes Bell’s concern that the Church has put too much emphasis on “right beliefs.” Whether the topic be Hell or Jesus, the old understandings have got to go:
“And I think the shift from having faith in Jesus to having beliefs about Jesus was a negative thing for the Church. And to have a person’s orthodoxy, a person’s right relationship with God tested on the nature of what we believe about something is deeply troubling to me. And it’s troubling to me as a Christian; it’s troubling to me as a post-modern person; and I just don’t think it works anymore. I think that we are coming to a different place in our understandings of Jesus and that believing about Jesus is beginning to be replaced by having an experience of Jesus. And I hope that that shift continues. It’s time to leave beliefs about Christianity, in the past.”
Despite the Bell-inspired tantrums (dare we say a hellabelloo?) on display among conservative Christians, there’s nothing they can do about the reality that Christianity is a-changin’ – and it’s not a new phenomenon. Even back in 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick observed noisy fundamentalists arguing over inane points of “right belief” and asked, “What can you do with folks like this who, in the face of colossal issues, play with the tiddlywinks and peccadilloes of religion?”
So, while blogger John Piper recently tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” we offer a hearty “Welcome, Rob Bell!” Welcome to a Christianity that has left behind the fear-based, exclusive, and literalistic burdens of right belief in favor of a gospel that is open, inclusive, and grace-filled. It’s a way of following Jesus that you might even say is hell-bent — on naming and mending the injustices and hells that people suffer this side of death.
Welcome, Rob Bell!