That decision might or might not be in keeping with a thoughtfully Christian approach that says serving others is more important than temporary, self-focused pledges to give up this or that. We gently remind our friend of this helpful paradox.
In so doing, we point gentle readers to today's WSJ opinion piece by John Wilson, the estimable editor of Books & Culture, on l'affaire Bell.
By the way, has anyone else noticed how ably WSJ deals with matters of faith when its editors take them up?
In truth, there's nothing new about Wilson's review of the situation (it is that more than a review of the book that he offers). He belongs to that tribe of critics who seem to understand that Bell is trying to do something that belongs in the church's long consideration of eternal things, that sincerely if imperfectly (as if that needs saying) tries to recall the church to consideration of the real contents of its sacred books and its divine, incarnate Lord. A quotation will suffice to demonstrate:
As the discussion of the issue itself has now become utterly sclerotic, we turn to another phenomenon that it demonstrates. Wilson rightly cites Albert Mohler's pronouncement of Bell as influential in sparking criticism against him. He could as easily have cited John Piper's now-famous tweet. Meanwhile SWNID and his friend have complained mightily about being asked repeatedly to read Mr. Bell's book and pass judgment on Mr. Bell's orthodoxy.
But anyone who carefully reads "Love Wins" will see that Mr. Bell is not a universalist. As C.S. Lewis did, he suggests that God grants free will to all, including those who do not want his divine company and therefore choose damnation.
Still, the account of heaven and hell that he rejects does sound a lot like what most Christians have taught and been taught for 2,000 years, with some modifications. The notion that heaven is the preserve of "a few select Christians" has never been normative. Though all too many Christians have strayed into that error over the centuries, most have not presumed to speculate about how crowded (or uncrowded) heaven will be. God is both perfectly merciful and perfectly just.
These instances disturbs us. They demonstrate for us that despite our best efforts and others' best efforts to educate Christians for greater self-sufficiency in their thinking, the vast, vast majority remain comfortably dependent on others to do their thinking for them. Quick judgments based on messages limited to 140 characters are all that most want.
"Tell us what to say, Herr Professor, and we will say it" was once said to the legendary Jacob Neusner when he expressed frustration at the stubborn refusal of German graduate students to participate in graduate seminars. Such lazy dependency is deplorable in a university setting, and it's at least irritating in the church.
We think that too many prominent Christian leaders are too ready to accept the role not just of influencer but of pontiff, for whatever number of adherents they can attract through their blogs (!), DVDs, books, tweets, and media-circulated pronouncements. It's time for them to quit posing as the church's protector against the tides of heterodoxy and start acting like the leaders who equip the church in the manner of Ephesians 4 instead of addicting the church in the manner of the guy who throws a pair of sneakers over a utility wire.
So in the end we commend our close friend for attempting to fast from tintinnabulating statements of and about Final Judgment.
Christians of the world, throw off your chains of authoritarian dependency! You have nothing to lose but your complacency!