May 23, 2011
The Bible between Bell’s Hell and Camping’s Failed Prediction
Christians and our Bible have taken a huge hammering in the last few months. And it’s all our own fault.
First there was Bell
First we had Rob Bell with his short-lived hell controversy. By questioning (or appearing to question) the notion that hell is final, he got everyone from the pews to the seminaries talking, arguing and even denouncing each other. Somewhere in the middle of this fracas lay the Bible. Sure Rob claimed a biblical basis for his view. What pastor doesn’t. And it’s not really that relevant for my purposes whether he was right or not. My point here is that Rob and the reaction to him helped to perpetuate the widespread impression that
- no one really has any idea what the Bible says
- It’s not even consistent enough to teach a coherent message
- Only religious zealots think they know what it says.
Case in point: all these Christians have believed for millenia that the Bible teaches hell when all along it doesn’t. Or it might not. Or Rob Bell might have suggested that it might not. Thank you Rob for 1) Bringing up a controversial question and 2) not answering it 3) and thus leaving everyone with the impression that the Bible is completely unclear about something Christians have always thought was clear.
Then there was Camping
What Rob Bell lacks in clarity, Harold camping makes up in conviction. Here’s Rob’s nemesis. Camping is not interested in “raising questions” or “exploring his beliefs” or “grappling with mysteries.” He knows only certainty and his certainty is guaranteed by the Bible, as his many signs proclaim. I am fairly certain that almost no non-Christians believed his prediction. Who would? Everyone already knows that the Bible is notoriously difficult to interpret and that people who base their hopes on that text will be deeply disappointed.
What Rob Bell took away, Harold Camping gave back: the finality of judgment. But what they have in common is this: their failure to treat the Bible fairly and rationally has left the impression that the Bible’s real message is inscrutable. Further, anyone who thinks that the Bible teaches anything clearly is most likely unbalanced and delusional.