Resourcing Progressive Christians

The “Love Wins” Hellabelloo

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

The evangelical blogosphere is all aflutter over Rob Bell’s soon-to-be-unleashed book “Love Wins.”

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!


  1. Elizabeth on March 12, 2011 at 5:25 am

    Rob Bell, I think I love you…

  2. Sean Buvala on March 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Welcome to the dark side, Rob Bell. May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi. (Dark Side= through a mirror darkly, not pretending we have all the answers- knowing we have mostly questions.)

  3. Shawn Coons on March 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    For a blog called “Living the Questions” I’m a little taken aback at the smugness of this post.

  4. Taylor Burton-Edwards on March 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    In defense of evangelicals… in which camp Rob Bell certainly belongs…

    It is simply not the case at all that most evangelicals have a gospel that is about fear and threat of hell. That is a wild stereotype that might apply to some of the more extreme versions of 19th century revivalism, which, at such extremes, was itself an aberration on the evangelical witness.

    The version of evangelicalism you create in your article is a straw man at best, and at worst almost entirely unrecognizable to genuine evangelicals today.

    Your caricature of folks in megachurches is likewise far from reality.

    Megachurches do not become “mega” way by preaching hate or a God out to get us all except for those who believe exactly the right things in exactly the right ways. They tend to have so many people in them precisely because they preach a much more positive view of God where folks can find themselves affirmed, supported and even, yes, challenged at least a bit, to love God and their neighbors better than they do now.

    The politics of loving neighbors in evangelical and megachurch contexts tends not to match the politics of progressives and mainlines– religious or otherwise.

    But the central concerns are the same.

    So I don’t see Rob Bell switching sides here. His has not actually become “progressive” in his interpretation of the faith at all.

    I see him being deeply evangelical in the megachurch tradition that has its roots in a positive gospel, a gospel of love for God, deliverance from the power of sin and death (in this life). and genuine love for neighbor translated into deeds.

  5. Christopher Gudger-Raines on March 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Was Rob Bell not welcome before?

  6. Doug Sloan on March 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Heaven and Hell (promoting the Kingdom of God as a yet-to-be existence) is safer than dealing with a Kingdom of God that is already here and has always been here – ever since the first time a human realized there is “more” to the universe than what can be touched.

  7. The Rev. John Good on March 19, 2011 at 7:35 am

    I wish I had written the response above, and said the things Diana Butler Bass said. Actually, I have, in other places, but probably not so simply and straight forwardly as these two authors. Thank you both for a clarification of the difference between those who FOLLOW Jesus and those who think they believe the right theological propositions about him.

  8. chelseacat3 on March 29, 2011 at 10:51 am

    What churches do you recommend would be most open to Ron Bell’s ideas? I am very interested in knowing more about this message, makes much more sense to me than what I have been taught by churches I have attended in the past.
    deb underwood

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