Dear Dr. Fitch,
I was surprised to find out that we share a small squadron of common twitter followers, so good on them for having such fine taste.
What I love about the Blogosphere is that it is truly a public square. You know what I mean: it's a place where the President of SBTS, the Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, the federal head of Crossway Books, the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology, Scot McKnight and a ne'er-do-well like me can all sit around and think out loud together about things that, let's face it, most people will never, ever even hear about -- things over which 97% of people will never get their giblets in a bunch. It's also why I like to work a day job in the world of people and stuff: it sets all these tempests in the digital tea pot to the right size and scope.
So two weekends ago Justin Taylor took objection to the content of the promo video Rob Bell and his publisher put out about his forthcoming book, Love Wins. And Justin's friend and mentor Dr. John Piper pointed to the piece with a rather twitterific statement: "Farewell Rob Bell [link]." You get what I mean by "twitterific," I am sure: exactly enough characters less than 144, and exactly to the point. Anyone who didn't get what Dr. Piper meant was probably not following him ...
... except of course some people did not understand what he meant. I read one young guy over at BeliefNet who thought Piper meant (in so many words), "You are dead to me, Rob Bell." Which is, again, why the blogosphere is so much fun: you don't even have to be remotely credible to say something and have people read it as if it was a recently-uncovered primary text debunking the mythology of Abraham Lincoln.
Now: what does all this have to do with you? Well, of course you know that your wrote a brief piece at your blog which you titled as "Rob Bell’s Frenzy: Why We Need Other Ways to Do Theology and Some Other Off-The-Cuff Observations." Now all our readers at TeamPyro know it, too, so it'll drive some traffic your way. I'm writing because [A] my comments at your blog didn't make it into the conversation, and I though they were pretty civil, if dissenting, and [B] I think that our point of disagreement is utterly worth exploring in spite of being part of the ignoble binary scream which is like a dog whistle to most people's ears.
So you wrote a couple-three things about the dust-up last week, which we can sum up using your own bullet points:
- Does this reveal the inherently defensive impulse of the Neo-Reformed movement?
- Is this the best way to pastor/lead the church into the future?
- Is this the best way to do theology for our times?
- [Authors like Rob Bell] offer some good thoughts and helps, but then they fail to deliver on their promise.
- The “Rob Bell HarperOne” episode speaks to the growing need for another place to do theology from whence the emerging church can find direction for the challenges of the new post Christendom landscape we find ourselves living in.
To which Dr. McKnight gave a hearty "excellent post, David," and Dr. Anthony Bradley gave it a "Fantastic!"
I'll grant you this: I felt like the weekend was the new reformed/discernment blogosphere's re-enactment of the classic Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". You know the story -- the point was not that there was nothing to fear, but that it was so easy for the actual threat to manipulate good people into destroying themselves through fear and paranoia. Did the promo video really deserve the 24/7 coverage it got? I just can't imagine …
Anyway, that said, I also appreciated that you took the constant balking of the folks like Rob Bell out for a brief spin in your post -- because you are right about this: their coyness doesn't really do them any favors. If Rob Bell is really a guy who believes in Hell, being coy about it is like being coy about gun ownership: pretending to be agnostic but keeping a loaded pistol under the mattress is just putting other people at risk.
All right -- so why the open letter if we have so much in common here? The one thing I think you discounted in your brief post (and kudos for being brief, btw -- the subject was not that rich) was the backlash against the "Neo-reformed" which was at least as vehement and at least as antagonistic and defensive and at least as "alarmist" (these are all your words). One of the things I thought was simply amazing was the extent to which people would go to denounce Dr. Piper and Justin's statements. I mean, let's face it: these guys aren't hardly watchbloggers. These guys aren't committed to the quest for apologetic truth at all costs. These are guys from whom the most scary thing they can usually say about anything is that it is "unfortunate" or "unhelpful" or "unwise". Just because the word "unorthodox" crept in this time, the left-of-center crowd completely lost it -- and that's actually to their own discredit.
Let's assume for a moment that the "Neo-reformed" were utterly wrong this time around. How does it actually demonstrate that for those who disagree with them to get churlish? Did Dr.Piper actually wish Rob Bell dead with a three-word tweet? Was it really unfair for Justin to notice that promo video and find it unhelpful -- so much so that armies of anonymous commenters would rise up to say all manner of things?
If we're concerned about the best way to lead, and the best way to do theology, and delivering on promises, and so on, isn't the right thing to do to engage objections clearly, robustly, and toward some positive end? The best thing about your own post, in spite of its omissions, is that it does actually have something greater to say than slamming the Piper/Taylor axis as a bunch of grumblers. Whether that's a good end or not may yet to be seen, but doesn't the right level of circumspection also turn out one's own faults so that, in the balance, the call to reform or to renewal can be a common cause and not just an us-against-them struggle the get control of the narrative?
So I ask you to consider it, and apply it as you see fit in the future. There's not massive call to repent here -- just a thought if we're really thinking about ways to make Christ known in a post-Christian society. Thanks for your time, and may God bless you.