One of the blessings of going to Moody Bible Institute is the school's focus on training ministry workers of all kinds. It's not a stretch to say I have Moody classmates all over the world ministering for Christ. From time to time one of my old friends comes through Kansas City and looks me up.
Yesterday I had lunch with such a missionary friend from my Moody days, who along with his wife, have been laboring in a war-torn nation in Central Asia for over ten years. They witnessed almost no spiritual fruit for over 6 years before God opened the floodgate of new converts and a growing church in the last 4 years. He and his wife are now switching to a more general missionary support role, mainly focusing on bringing spiritual care to missionaries currently in various parts of Central Asia. Their ten year experience in such a hostile place has cultivated a unique ability that will serve many missionaries and missionary efforts in that region of the world.
We had a good talk about the American Church and its relationship with missions abroad.
Did you catch what I said earlier? My friend and his fellow missionaries saw no spiritual fruit (in the form of conversions to Christ) in the first 6 years of ministry. SIX YEARS!
Rob Bell probably thinks there's no real need for such missionary efforts. Ultimately, why send such a talented, capable couple (and dozens more like them) to far off, war-torn, Muslim dominated countries, when, in the end, God will save everyone? If Rob Bell's notion that everyone will eventually be won to God, even after death, is right, why on earth do we attempt such missionary efforts? Never mind the focus of the Apostles, early church, and vast majority of church history that shows the missionary effort of Christians- it's all for not, thanks to Rob Bell's new wisdom and his ability to wrestle the Great Commission's true meaning away from mean, old, judgmental, close-minded, exclusivistic, "traditionalists", like the martyrs, my friend, me, and the vast consensus of church leaders these past 2000 years.
I asked my friend if he had heard of Rob Bell. He had. He kind of shook his head and spoke of how such theological liberalism (which is what Bell teaches, just with a hipper look and new terms) doesn't exist in countries like the one he served in. Only in countries where it costs nothing to claim the name of Christ does Rob Bell get a hearing.
It makes sense. Bell's ultimate message necessarily argues against efforts to convince people of the need to trust Christ for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from hell. Bell's message is God exists for the happiness and well being of man, so therefore he'll eventually "save" everyone. Bell's God is beholding to man's needs, so He expends his energy trying to win each person over by His love. Of course God is not a loser, so in the end, God must win everyone over, even if it happens after death. The center of Bell's universe is man with God as his servant. Since Bell's God loves man so much- no matter what man does- we need to be about love, affirmation, and tolerance, and not be concentrating on sin, hell, and judgement. Bell has given us the focus Christians have lacked for these past 2000 years. Bell and his type refuse to be labeled as they fling labels at everyone else. He keeps insisting he's not a universalist...and Barry Bonds keeps saying he never used steroids (ok...knowingly anyways). The logical conclusion of Bell's view renders missions and evangelism (where the message is about how man may be made right with God, through Christ's atonement for our sin) superfluous, and really, misguided. In such a light- there's no good reason to go to the far reaches of the globe to share the message of Christ as Scripture delineates. Leave the people be in those places...they'll eventually be won by God anyways.
Do you think believers in North Korea would be comforted by Rob Bell's construct? How about Chinese believers? Can you imagine a group of Iranian Christian college students huddled up in a small house to study the Word reading Bell's book? What do you think the persecuted church thinks of an American "pastor" basically teaching a message that renders their suffering pointless? Talk about all those dumb martyrs in Foxe's book... Actually, I think true Christians in these places of persecution would probably feel sorry for our sad health if they saw Bell's teaching and it's place on the best seller list in America.
True Christianity thrives under persecution because it takes a genuine movement of the Spirit to give people courage to claim the name of Christ. The Church will never die and in fact, she will continue to grow and thrive. The bad news is the American Church's general acceptance of a Bell-like "pastor"and his universalism is a sure sign of the massive decline of Christianity in America. Rob Bell's book and view are unbiblical, that's the problem. The fact that Bell's view is debated in many American churches shows how biblically illiterate and man-centered "Christians" have become.
Only in fat America where we want everything to feel good, even if it's not true, could a guy like Rob Bell get such a hearing and his book sell so many copies.