I Have a Dream that John Piper and Rob Bell will one day walk side by side in the Kingdom of God both here on earth and in the age to come

Rob Bell’s newest book “Love Wins” has set off a fire storm of ridicule and name calling from the religious right.  In an effort to take the high road in this debate, Rachel Held Evans has invited bloggers to participate in a Synchroblog which she has titled “The Rally to Restore Christian Unity.”  This post is a part of that effort.

If you have been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that Christian unity is something that I have struggled with a lot over the past year and have written on frequently.  As I shared in my post “Ouch that Hurts”, for a season I gave up on this thing called Christian unity.   I have defined unity in a number of ways through the years, all with equally disastrous results.

Early on I naively thought that if we all just believed in the Bible, we would achieve Christian unity.  That was way back when I thought there was only one way to read the Bible and thought that everyone who read it interpreted it the same way.  I know – I was really green back then.

After many painful theological debates with those whose bibles emphasized different passages than mine did, I gave up on theological unity.  I decided missional unity was the way to go.  This approach yielded some success, such as a diverse group of Christians agreeing that children should not sleep on the floor in our city and working together to address this issue.  But, this perceived unity was very shallow.  As we got into the deeper issues of how to solve the systemic issues causing poverty in our city, some advocated focusing on “personal salvation” while others focused on “community transformation.”  Ultimately this debate resulted in one friend labeling me a socialist and another accusing me of not being “Christian” enough.  So, I have abandoned “missional” unity as pathway to Christian unity.  I do however applaud Rachel Held Evans for using this rally to promote missional unity through her clean water emphasis and encourage you all to participate.

The personal attacks on my character have died down.  Basically, we have an agreement.  Those who oppose my views will not attack me personally on my Facebook page or blog and I will not blog about their attacks.  We have agreed to disagree or basically ignore each other.  While that is far more peaceful for all of us, is that really we mean by Christian “unity?”

As I have prayed about this issue this week, images of another form of unity keep coming to my mind.  In my context, racial unity has been a significant challenge and a blessing.  Christians today would never define racial unity as simply co-existing, nor would we ever seek unity that eliminates the diversity of cultural heritage.  No, the unity we seek is one of mutual respect, equal voice, a place at the table for all.

In order for that kind of “unity” to be achieved, those in power had to relinquish control and those with no voice had to be elevated.  In our nations struggle toward racial unity there was a season of tremendous strife, fighting, name calling and discontent.  Things got really ugly before the beauty of a new season of unity could be realized. We still have a long way to go and I know this analogy is limited.

However, I think there is a very real parallel to what we are seeing today in the Christian dialog.  Those who have traditionally controlled the telling of the Christian narrative are being challenged by those who emphasize different elements of our mutual story.  As Jimmy Spencer Jr. noted, both sides love Jesus too much to simply remain silent.

While I hate the name calling, judgment and fighting as much as anyone, Christian unity is NOT “just getting along.” It is not pretending we all agree.  It is not ignoring each other. It is not pretending our differences are minor.  It is not the absence of diversity of thought.  It is not easy.  It does not require we sell out or give up our own beliefs.   It is messy.  It is painful.  It does require we respect one another.  It will require more voice be given to those historically excluded from the conversation.  It may require a shift in the power structures that currently control the Christian dialog. It is a mystery.   It is spiritual in nature.  It is worth the pain.  It is God’s desire.  It is achievable through Christ spirit.

To achieve racial unity, Dr. King called on the nation to envision a world different than the one they lived in.  The powerful imagery found in his “I Have a Dream” speech, inspired a nation to advance toward that vision.   So here is my dream, “I have a dream that one day Christians will be free to express their ideas about God without being called heretics. I have a dream that Christians of every theological position will one day seek unity of the spirit while allowing diversity in theology.  I have a dream that one day men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, conservative, moderate, and progressive will gather at the same table without throwing food at each other.  I have a dream that one day Brian McLaren, Al Mohler, Rob Bell and John Piper will be joined by female and minority voices in debates that impact us all.  I have a dream that the Lion of Judah will lie down with the Lamb of God and God’s justice will be served through God’s lavish love of us all.”


Filed under Spirituality, Theology

30 responses to “I Have a Dream that John Piper and Rob Bell will one day walk side by side in the Kingdom of God both here on earth and in the age to come

  1. Does this mean there is no such thing as a heretic? Is so, how would we know? Or how would we want others about them?

    • Heresy is certainly all around us as 2 Peter teaches. We all should be on the lookout for it and should “flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” as Paul admonished Timothy. I personally deeply appreciated this perspective in light of the question: http://bit.ly/mvn4u7

      • wmccaig

        Perhaps a better title for this rally might have been, “Restore Christian Civility.” I am not sure you can restore something that never existed.

    • wmccaig

      Wally Metts,

      Thank you for your comment. My issue with the dismissal of Rob Bell as a heretic is the fact that the conversation has lacked any real debate. If you think Bell is a heretic, then you have just as much right to say so as those who believe otherwise. However, much of the criticism of Bell occurred even before the book was released and was cast with this edge of “Don’t read Bell…he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing” by those who never even read what he wrote. It was all fear based with no real debate. As I state in my post, we will never all agree on theology.

      I don’t think unity will ever be achieved by human efforts of trying to convince each other of who is right and who is wrong. I do however believe the spirit of Christ can empower us to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I respect those who are genuinely seeking to protect the faith from false teachings and I do not doubt your commitment to Christ teachings. I simply expect the same kind of respect from those who disagree with me. Can’t we have a respectful, civil conversation about the things we disagree with him on without name calling?

      • Thanks.
        But I wasn’t calling Bell a heretic. I was just curious about your dream that “one day Christians will be free to express their ideas about God without being called heretics.”
        The history of the church suggests this in unlikely. Even unwise. Paul was already calling those who taught a gospel “accursed” before we got out of the first century.
        The responsibilities of elders include warning and rebuking, but expect it should be graciously. But even then the church is instructed to turn out false teachers and those who cause division.
        So at some point someone will express an idea that is heretical. Someone will promote some misleading and dangerous idea that is not the gospel itself. When do we know? What do we do? That was the basis of my question.
        Jesus called the Pharisees serpents. Paul’s language about the Judaizers was pretty strong.
        Somewhere, sometime, I’m pretty sure some idea has to be condemned. It will probably feel like name calling and it may involve heresy.
        Thank you for your call to civility. Thank you for being so gracious to those why have responded.

    • wmccaig

      Hi Wally,

      I spent all day thinking about your question and it actually inspired my next post which I hope to get up in the next hour or so. After reading this comment, I think I did miss judge your intent but it did make me think. Thanks for asking such a challenging questions and for clarifying it a bit for me.

  2. Watchman

    I know what heresy is not. Heresy is not when you discuss or question foundational issues like we are now seeing. One thing Rob Bell and Emergents has taught this conservative evangelical is that it’s okay to question God.

    • wmccaig

      Thanks Watchman for your comment. When people get so fearful of questions and try to silence those who are doing the questioning it certainly feels like a form of oppression. I know a lot of folks who have walked away from the Christian tradition because their questions were not welcome. I may not agree with everything Rob Bell writes but I think he asks good questions and deserves to be treated with respect as a brother in Christ.

  3. Shawn

    By your logic we all have to bow down to people who we believe are misleading the lost and give them “power”. First of all the “power” is not ours to give. We are called to preach the word in and out of season. The power is God’s and we are able to know His will through the Word of God. If we are truly concerned for the lost we will vehemently defend the clear teaching of God’s word when someone comes along who is misleading others with their faulty logic. Rob Bell’s handling of history and scripture is seriously flawed. He makes quotes that are purposely misleading and show a poor understanding of scripture when he fails to look at the context many of his examples in the book.

    • wmccaig

      I am not suggesting that anyone “bow down” to anyone else. My point is that there are some who think they are the only ones who can interpret scriptures and that they own the “truth.” They attempt to control the conversation by dismissing anyone who thinks differently. I am certainly not advocating for a new form of oppression…we have had enough of that.

      I also see nothing wrong with disagreeing on the basis of teaching. I would not advocate you loose your voice at the table any more than Rob Bell loosing his. If you disagree with Bell’s handling of history, then that needs to be the focus of the debate not a quick dismissal of the man even before the book was released.

      • Shawn

        I understand your point about the comments before the book was even released. I never weighed in on this debate until after I read the book. To correct the number of mistakes and poor interpretations of scripture is so overwhelming that it is hard to accept Rob as even being genuine. When a book is full of misleading and poorly thought out interpretations I do not think it is unreasonable to speak up emphatically to defend the truth. It is the loving thing to do.

  4. Pingback: I Found It – The Ultimate Heretic Detector System! | Wendy McCaig

  5. I like the picture of Rob and John. That made me laugh.

  6. Shawn

    I think John MacArthur pretty clearly articulates why Rob Bell’s teachings are are so widely decried in his recent posts.

    • wmccaig

      Bell clearly falls outside McCarthur’s definition of what a “traditional evangelical” is. However, does that make everyone who does not conform to “Historic evangelicalism which has always affirmed the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture, while declaring that the only way of salvation for fallen humanity is through the atoning work of Christ, and the only instrument of justification is faith in Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the gospel” is a heretic of the faith? I think insisting that Bell is not a certain brand of evangelicalism is fair game but saying he is not a Christian and worse a false teacher is out of line.

      Do you call those in other traditions who do not conform to the “historical evangelical” position Heretics? I think Rachel Held Evan’s post earlier this week regarding how we view the Bible is exactly where this conversation needs to go. I am curious to see how she takes that conversation on. MacArthur equates “fruit” as right believing but the Apostle Paul defined “fruit” quite differently, which I shared in a follow to this post yesterday. The kind of fruit I would use to judge a man would the the fruit Paul talks about.

      • Rea

        “MacArthur equates “fruit” as right believing but the Apostle Paul defined “fruit” quite differently, which I shared in a follow to this post yesterday. The kind of fruit I would use to judge a man would the the fruit Paul talks about.”


      • Shawn

        Yes, I very much agree with John MacArthur. Christ IS the center of Christianity and if anyone is teaching a “speculation” that takes away from God’s word and Christ’s work on the Cross they are outside of what Christianity and the Bible has always affirmed.
        You also mentioned Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
        Of course a Christian’s life will reflect the fruits of the spirit. However, how can this be used as a “heretic detector”? Can’t people of all beliefs show these fruits? Aren’t there many atheists who exhibit the fruits? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. All of our works are only filthy rags when compared to our Holy God and we are only saved through Jesus. Our process of sanctification will produce the fruit, but we surely can’t reduce the faith to a test of these fruits. Who determines how much fruit is enough? When we start to say that there is no way to interpret the Bible and then suggest that the fruits of the spirit is our true test of whether someone has salvation….doesn’t this logic dispute it’s own premise? Also 5:23 states “against such things there is no law”. This verse is contrasting the sinful fruits discussed in the previous verses and it in no way says that the existence of these Fruits is a clear sign that someone is of the faith. We can do nothing to save ourselves….Jesus has done it all.

  7. wmccaig

    Hi Shawn,

    I am simply quoting Jesus. It was Christ who gave us “fruit” as a measure of discerning false teachers. If you think it is inadequate and not exclusive enough, then I guess you have a problem with the Bible and the words of Christ. Or perhaps you don’t like Paul’s definition of fruit. Do you have your own? What makes your definition of fruit better than the Apostle Paul’s?

    You also seem to be confused. We are not talking about salvation or saving ourselves through our fruit or works or anything else. Not sure what set you off in that direction with your comment.

    • Shawn

      Sorry about the confussion about salvation.  Your original post was about Rob Bell and his understanding of salvation is central to that debate.  I was refering to your test in reference to Rob’s current book sorry that I wasn’t clear. 

      Obviously I am not claiming to have a different or better understanding of fruit than Jesus or Paul.  I am pointing out that our fruit must be taken into account with our beliefs.  Let’s face it the majority of people consider themselves to be Christians but that does not mean that they all believe in the Biblical Christ.  If we believe in a Christ who is different than the one who is clearly revealed in the Bible our fruits are worthless.   The Word must be the standard.  Hebrews 4:12

      • wmccaig


        I guess I see things differently. The folks who scare me are the ones who talk the talk and spew out the “party line” when it comes to theology but they do not live as Christ. The only do the “believe in me” part and ignore the “follow me” part. I really think Christ was more interested in how faithful people are in loving God and others than in their doctrinal beliefs. He did not ask the disciples to sign a statement of faith before he asked them to follow him. Often following preceeds believing. My friend Sammy is doing a sermon series on “Follow – Believe – Obey” as the Jesus discipleship model which I think is pretty consistent with gospel narrative.

        What I know is that most of our disagreements have to do with emphasis. You emphasize right beliefs as a measure of ones “christian” commitment and I like Jesus emphasis on fruit as defined by Paul. In reality, it is a both/and issue but all the conflict starts when we turn it into an either/or issue.

      • Shawn

        I can understand your thoughts that following can preceed belief. My issue with Rob Bell is that he denies what the scripture says. Many of his thoughts could easily be mistaken as an atheist speaking of God. I agree that we need to have a balance, but Rob has shown his unbelief in his own words. Until we have common ground it is not possible to have unity. Here is Rob’s own words of unbelief: http://www.gty.org/Blog/B110418

  8. Lee Gunn

    Wendy, I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of days. Your blog has a way of doing that to me! I believe the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37 is a good guide for us. Excuse me for posting the verses but I feel it is very important to see.
    25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

    30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

    36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    In this story, I believe Jesus makes it most plan that it is not as important what you believe, as it is how you act. Jesus used Priests and the Levites in his story because listeners of the story would know that both men would have believed and followed what was written more than anyone; that is what those groups of people did. The Samaritan was not even a Jew; he was considered a non-believer. The Samaritan though was the one Jesus and the expert in the law said was neighbor to the beaten man thereby showing he was the one that would inherit eternal life.

    • wmccaig

      Thanks Lee – You always have great wisdom in your comments.

    • Shawn

      Hi Lee, I like your thought but I think stating that it matters more what we do than what we believe is a little too broadly stated. I absolutely agree that what we do matters, as Christians we must have fruit.  However, I think the scripture you quote says that belief and fruit are equally important.  Shouldn’t we assume that verse 28 affirms that Jesus was speaking exclusively of the God revealed in scripture that was affirmed by Him?   If it matters more what a person does than what they believe…..wouldn’t that mean that people are free to believe in any God of their choosing and in the end we all are right since we did good things.  I don’t think that the Bible would support that in any way.  

  9. wmccaig

    Well I found one thing I agree with MacArthur on…its all in how you view the bible. I guess that is a discussion for another day.

  10. Great post, Wendy. Very thought-provoking. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out in the discussion, and I’m grateful that you’ve done it. I like the discussion about honesty vs. heresy in the comments. I appreciate those that encourage freedom to be honest about questions. I’m looking forward to reading the next post you mentioned–big topic. I guess different people have differently-sized circles they draw as to who can be a sister or a brother.

  11. Pingback: From Believers to Followers | Wendy McCaig

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