In the wake of the Rob Bell controversy, his editor at HarperOne, Mickey Maudlin, wrote a reflection on what transpired.
Bell wrote a book many disagreed with, and the disagreement immediately was charged with words like “Heresy,” and was roundly condemned in many circles.
Maudlin points out how blithely the notion of heresy was invoked:
Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”?
What list of theological beliefs must be fully checked off before someone can be embraced as brother or sister even if we disagree about other important issues?
Maudlin sees in this reaction itself the true threat to evangelicalism. The threat to the evangelical church’s life is not creeping liberalism. The true threat is tribalism.
But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals.
Or, in the words of Paul, “If you bit and devour one another, take care or you might just consume one another.”
I think Maudlin is on to something. At some basic level we have gotten our story wrong. We have begun to act as though the way that we know we’re faithful to Jesus is if we condemn anyone who seems to be tearing down the walls of the theological circle that inscribes the faithful.
But there is no such wall.
Falling within a theological border is not, has never been, can can never be, the means by which the faithful followers of Jesus are demarcated.
The first-century church had to painfully wrestle through the reality that Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility that was Israel’s Law. It seems that we must come to terms with a Jesus who breaks down the dividing wall of hostility that is Christian Theology.
If we don’t, we may find ourselves in the very position of Paul’s opponents in Galatia, compelling others to become like us if they would be marked as part of the people of God–and thus as agents of nothing less than anti-gospel.