Have you ever read/heard something that seemed fair at first, but the more you thought about it, the more it began to smell foul? At first you gave it a hearty “amen!” but after a few days, you figured out you’d been had.
This happened to me the other week on Facebook. The context of the discussion was Rob Bell’s teaching. Some called his teaching heretical. Others quickly rushed to rescue their favorite Bible teacher. This latter group didn’t so much debate the claims about the truth of his teaching; what they did instead was claim the others were being mean/harsh, and that they were misunderstanding the purpose of Bell’s Nooma videos.
All that isn’t what caught my eye, though, and it isn’t the focus of this post. I’m no fan of Rob Bell’s teaching, that’s all I have to say about that.
What did catch my eye was that one person chimed in by chiding the public nature of the critics’ comments. He said, “Heresy is intentional. Misspeaking is always possible. But standing in judgement is a dangerous and prideful position.” and later: “Who want to follow God alongside people that can’t even love each other through their differences. Bless people in public and correct them in private.”
At first, despite my misgivings about Bell’s teaching, I said, “hmm. Right. Perhaps I’d better not say anything.” Then later, I thought, “waaaaaaiiiit a second. This ain’t quite straight.” If I’m not supposed to correct someone in public, then why was this guy correcting people on Facebook–about as public a place as it gets? He was critical of people he disagreed with. Though he wasn’t being harsh about it or calling names (which, for the record, those who were critical of Rob Bell weren’t calling names either), he definitely wasn’t blessing them. This seemed like a passive-aggressive play to me, designed to shut up those whom he disagreed with.
Secondly, about his “who would want to follow God” comment about divisiveness: disagreement and critique can be a healthy thing. It shows the outside community that truth matters. Ideas have consequences…even the ideas of a nice, cool, hip, and tech-savvy guy like Rob Bell. Like with any other teacher, his ideas need to be evaluated and sifted for truth, not glossed over in the name of getting along–especially when the ideas presented harm people.
Thirdly, teaching that is given in public needs a public response. Just “correcting in private” is oftentimes not all that is needed. When it comes to personal offences, sins against others, and such, taking care of it in private is the way to go. But teaching and preaching reaches numerous ears. If I were to just email Rob Bell and share my thoughts with him, what good would that do? Would that change his mind? Likely not. What’s more, if a person is preaching and teaching falsehood, countless people are impacted by it. If I merely “correct in private,” how does that help them understand the consequences of those false ideas? They blithely go on their way, continuing to accept things that ultimately hurt them, and they continue to spread the fungus to others. All this calls for a public response.
Lastly, the people who were critical of Rob Bell weren’t attacking the man. They were critiquing his teaching. I therefore find the comment that “standing in judgement is a dangerous and prideful position” off-kilter. He pretended the folks were sitting in judgement of the man, when in fact they were judging his teaching, which is unavoidable (he was doing it), and we are called to do by the Bible. Yes, calling his teaching “heretical” as some did might (or might not!) miss the mark, and perhaps Facebook has certain limitations to it that prevent such discussions from being fruitful, but there should be no beef whatsoever with publically correcting publically-given teaching.