Wednesday, March 02, 2011

McLaren addressing Bell on Hell: An insight into Dogma

I have been confused and amused at the maelstrom swirling around Rob Bell's new book Love Wins (even before it has been released!). The extremely violent reaction against Bell by a number of conservative pastors and theologians arises because Bell considers that the place of Hell in theology might not be as important as once thought.

I have wondered why glancing at numerous books on my shelves by Lutherans (and Roman Catholics, and United Methodist, and Anglicans, and ... well you get the picture) no one seems to deal with hell. It just isn't that important. There are plenty of folks that I have heard in Lutheran circles who simply believe that hell does not exist. I don't want to go there, but hell is not a cornerstone of my preaching to be sure.

I ran across Brian McLaren's post on his blog about Rob and the "kerfuffle" (McLaren's word, not mine). There McLaren writes:
What's quite pathetic, as I see it, is that many critics won't even begin to get Rob's real point. (I've read the book, so I'm not just going by conjecture....) It's not that he's being given a multiple-choice test between a) traditional exclusivism and b) traditional universalism, and he's choosing b) instead of a). Rather, it's that Rob has come to see that the biblical story is bigger and better than a narrative about how souls get sorted out into two bins at the end of time.
I think McLaren uses theology very well here. Theology is not about promulgating a clear line in the sand about beliefs, but instead theology (or dogma to be more specific) is about helping to elucidate the good news.

The Danish Lutheran Regin Prenter in his book Creation and Redemption points out that our word dogma comes mainly out of two matrices, one legal the other philosophical. In the philosophical usage, dogma points to a "well-founded and certain knowledge of truth". In the legal usage, dogma is an "authoritative command." The legal sense of dogmatic theology certainly seems to have won the day in the history of Christianity and certainly here in the response against Bell. But Prenter points to the philosophical use of dogma. Prenter writes,
We may with equal justification take the philosophical connotation as our point of departure. Instead of dogmas, understood as the authoritatively established doctrinal statements, we may prefer to speak of the dogma, meaning the basic insight into the essential content of the Christian message, an insight which is immediately given in and with faith in the truth of the message, but which cannot be directly equated with faith, inasmuch as the faith which contains the insight is itself more than the insight. ...

Stricly speaking, there is but one dogma, because there is only one divine revelation. The dogma is therefore always christological or--what is really the same thing--trinitarian. Through the dogma light from God's revelation is thrown upon the sinner's way from death to life, from condemnation to salvation. This light comes from God the Father, who is the source of revelation. It is mediated by the Holy Spirit, who is the power of revelation among sinners. And it shines upon Jesus Christ, who is the content of revelation. Most concisely stated, the dogma is: Jesus is Lord, Kurios Iesous (1Cor. 12:3)
Creation and Redemption, pp. 4-5
Dogma then is about spinning out the core of the Christian faith, most notably Jesus. Hell is not so important unless we begin to see that the power of God in Christ Jesus lays waste to the power of hell. Bell seems to be heading down this path, that Jesus and God's desire in him is stronger than the power of Hell, both in reality and in our preaching.

I look forward to reading Bell's book.

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