There’s a lot of hubbub out there in Evangelicaland about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I have not read the book. The accusations are that Rob Bell is a (Christo-centric) universalist—i.e. in the end everyone gets saved. I hear these accusations from folks I trust. Nevertheless, Bell says he’s not (see this fascinating MSNBC interview), so I’ll take his word that he’s not intending to convey the universalism it appears he does.
While I don’t side with Bell, I do not have the same fear I’ve been sensing some pastors do that this will stir up heresy in my local church, despite the fact that among our people are some die hard Nooma fans. Why? Because I’m my church’s primary worship-planner, and I know what our flock is fed, week in and week out.
Worship truly is a form of indoctrination. “Indoctrination” is a four-letter word in postmodernity, for it is the unpardonable sin—forcing someone to believe what you believe. Such doings would be grievous sin, if it were indoctrinating falsehood. If it is The Truth, then indoctrination is not only good. It is the right thing to do. So indoctrination is one of the things the Church should be about. She is the pillar and foundation of truth, after all (1 Tim 3:15). The reason that worship is a form of indoctrination is that both the content and the form of worship train us, shape us, and teach us.
Let’s take the test case of the present universalism scare. Weekly, our church worships through a very specific progression of the Gospel. We enter in, praising God for His character, holiness, perfection, and glory. Met by such a Presence, we are immediately confronted by our own sin and brokenness. We confess that to God, and we find Him responding by yet again proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s salvation: because He lived perfectly, we can receive his spotless record; because He died sacrificially, we can receive the Father’s forgiveness. We respond in praise and thanksgiving, offering ourselves, in turn, wholeheartedly to God.
When that cycle is imbibed weekly by our people, if they truly imbibed it, then I don’t need to schedule a special “Why Universalism is Bad” module into our Sunday School curriculum. They have been drinking the antidote to bad theology every week. The Gospel cycle presents us with the reality of hell, damnation, and judgment. And it presents us with the true grace of heaven, forgiveness, and pardon…in Christ. We learn in the Gospel cycle that God must judge to satisfy His holy character, or else He would not be a God of integrity. We learn in the Gospel cycle that God has judged His Son in our place. Love only wins if it’s set against the backdrop of God’s holiness. Otherwise, it’s impotent, costless, insignificant, Oprah-style love.
Good, Gospel-soaked worship, in this instance, defends heresy just as well as a systematic theology course. Indoctrination certainly is not the goal and objective of worship. But when worship is done well, indoctrination is a glorious byproduct. Worship leaders, this begs the question: What are you feeding your people? If all you’re giving them is the touchy-feely, lovey-dovey stuff, then maybe you should be a little concerned when the winds of heresy blow your way.
Keep her life and doctrine pure;
Grand her patience to endure;
Trusting in Thy promise sure.
We beseech Thee, hear us.
Thomas Pollock, 1871