Rob Bell Proves The Medium is The Message

I really liked Scott McKnight's treatment of the Rob Bell and Universalism uproar:

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/03/02/waiting-for-rob-bell/
Here is some context for the rest of the post: http://teach.boxwith.com/mmdi150-fa08/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/mcluhan-medium.pdf


I think it's important to remember Rob Bell is first & foremost an artist/poet (at least as far as his appearance in mass media is concerned). He aims to inspire thought, not pronounce definitive conclusions. The controversy and the false teaching being reported is actually a logical fallacy:

Christians do not question the doctrine of Hell,
Rob Bell questions the doctrine of Hell,
Therefore Rob Bell is a Heretic.

The premise is wrong; not in the sense that we should question doctrine in either/or scenarios (that isn't helpful), but in the sense that Rob is questioning our understanding of what Hell is in the first place - and by extension our understanding of the doctrine of Hell. It's not a 'agree/disagree' scenario, and it's not even a 'universalism vs traditionalism'' scenario.

Anyway, the real problem (as I can see it) was his tone of voice and posture in his video, not the actual questions he is raising. People unwittingly gave into the fact that he asked questions in a rhetorical tone, using personal stories to supposedly 'support' an unstated position. It was as if he was implying through these things that the answer to the question of Hell is "no". But that wasn't the point of the video.

This highlights a pervasive problem with our overuse of audio/visual media. Because audio/visual media is an extension of our own mind (it shows us what to think), it forces us against our will to fixate on things like tone and image - because tone and image are the backbone visual media. Over time, we start thinking that the tone or the image accurately represents the content, but the reality is that they do not. For example, look at the US primaries - all the focus was on 'caricature', and the candidates' ability to create and maintain an acceptable image, not actual character or actual platform nuances. http://www.newsweek.com/2008/01/06/hillary-tears-up.html

So visual media gives us a representation or impression that actually plays with the intuitive, emotional, creative side of our brain regardless of the content, and erodes our capacity for logic and critical thinking over time. I would maybe question if a well made video was really the best way to promote this book - because now a lot of people are going to go into this book with a definite preconceived notion that is based on reactions to the video as a medium, not the raw content of the video, or the book for that matter.

It interesting to note that McKnight filed his post under the category, "Universalism" - because as a medium, categories can change our perception of the content. For example, we might think that McKnight disagrees with Rob Bell based on the premise of his blog categorization alone, and we might think this regardless of the content of the post. The problem is that we don't know if the categorization serves a specific purpose (i.e. to reflect an opinion), or if it is simply being used as a tool to help categorize the post by keyword and popular relevancy.

Hopefully in the aftermath of all this, a constructive dialogue can emerge that doesn't rely on impressions and opinions, but rather as McKnight offers: a serious re-engagement with scripture.

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