Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An imagined phone conversation between Rob Bell and John Piper

Date: Feb. 26, 2011
Time: around 3 p.m.
Place: Grandville, Michigan

[phone ringing]


"Rob? It's John Piper. Do you have a few minutes?"

"I, uh... sure, John. How are you? How was the sabbatical?"

"Great, thanks for asking. Hey, I don't want to take too much of your time, but there's something I'm concerned about, and I wonder if we could talk about it."


"It has to do with your latest book. Now, I haven't read it yet, but there's some buzz about it... admittedly, mostly by bloggers who also haven't read it... but what I'm hearing has me concerned. I don't want to react in haste, though. I'd like to read the book, and then set up a time where you and I can talk about it in person, prayerfully, as two brothers in Christ."

"I'd like that, John. Let's make it happen."


Sigh. If only...

Maybe if the everyday rank-and-file churchgoer saw this kind of conversation modeled by the big names, we might be inspired to have similar conversations with one another: humble, genial, gracious... civil.

Who knows... we might even be able to engage in grace-filled conversations with non-Christians, without panicking... and without feeling the need to win.

Aside from my wishful imaginings, I'd like to point you to a great post on this episode, and the bigger issues it exposes, by Rachel Held Evans. Her concluding thought:

At the end of the day, this isn't really about Rob Bell or John Piper or a single book or a single blog post. It's about a conversation that's been rumbling beneath the surface for a while now and has finally found the light.

May it be lively. May it be civil. And may it honor the One who prayed that our unity would reflect the sweet harmony of the Trinity... because the world indeed is watching.



  1. Can you help me understand civility as a Christian virtue? That word for me has too many connections to modern secularism to understand it that way.

    I would also like to draw Galatians 1:11-21 into the present discussion. Paul recounts his open rebuke of Peter without a trace of sorrow for his tone. He was angry that the truth of God was muted by his brother, a leader in the church.

    Because I believe John 3:16 and 3:35-36, I have a similar anger toward Rob Bell. His video presentation -- not his book -- mutes God's truth. I will not hurry to pass judgment or dismiss him from the kingdom, but I will not hesitate to issue a public rebuke.

  2. Thanks, Matt -- I can understand that connection.

    Here's what I see taught in scripture that seems to lend toward civility:

    Love for God, and love for neighbor: Luke 10:27.
    Love, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control: Gal. 5:22-23
    Humility, forbearance, and concern for unity: Eph. 4:2-6
    Humility and value for others above self: Phil. 2:3-4

    I think you mean Gal. 2:11-21. Note there that Paul explains his case in the letter. I think it's designed to shed light on how Peter is departing from the gospel of grace, and to educate his audience on the nature of that gospel.

    But please make note of an important point: Paul is retelling the story of his (seemingly private) discussion with Peter -- he has spoken with Peter first, and then tells the Galatians about it so that they will understand. This would actually strengthen my case for a private conversation between the two men.

    As it was, John Piper issued a flippant and arrogant-sounding dismissal of Rob Bell over Twitter. That kind of action seems more aimed at generating heat among Piper's followers than shedding light on the issues of concern.

    Moreover, it does not demonstrate any love or value for Rob Bell, nor a concern for unity, nor humility, nor any of the fruits of the Spirit.

    Rather, what it (and other even uglier tweets, and some blog posts) seemed to demonstrate was what Paul expressed concern over in 2 Cor. 12:20 -- discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

  3. Several good points. Very chewy. I'll think about what you've written.

  4. First, there is no call for a "private" discussion to a video that was released publicly. See Kevin DeYoung's post: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/02/28/bell-brouhaha/

    Secondly what Paul seemed most concerned with (which all you out there that are more concerned about tolerance than about biblical doctrine seem to ignore) is that there would be those who are false teachers that infiltrate the church.

    "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth."

  5. Thanks for your comment, Corey, and thanks for stopping by the blog.

    I've read Kevin DeYoung's post as well, and I certainly understand the concern for biblical doctrine.

    For me, though, "tolerance" doesn't exactly capture the thought I was going for. I do think we're called to be gracious to one another, to speak the truth in love. And the rush to judgment and quick dismissal that have come from nothing more than a video promo and a publisher's description seem to be completely lacking in grace/love/charity.

    I believe 1 Cor. 13:1-7 should be applied in situations like this, not just read at weddings.


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