So. In the field of psychology, there’s this phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance.” In simple terms, cognitive dissonance is when someone holds two contradictory ideas simultaneously without recognizing the contradiction. It’s a mental block, of sorts, that keeps us from noticing or properly evaluating logical incongruities in our own belief systems.
Now, every human post-Fall has been subject to cognitive dissonance, but I think it’s a particular problem in postmodern society. Throw in a slipshod or nonexistent education in the field of logic, and the vigorously pluralistic message preached from every media outlet in the West, and you’ve got a steaming hot, high-octane cup of Doctrinal Issues, Man, just waiting to give you the jitters.
And boy, are we ever jittery about it.
For those of you who don’t know about this brouhaha with Rob Bell in the last month, first, welcome to the internet, and second, let me give you a quick rundown. Since Bell appeared on the scene several years ago with his wildly popular Nooma videos, he’s come across as a basically likeable, incredibly compelling brother with some distressingly squishy positions on a few doctrines, and the typical Evangelical response to him has been equal parts brow-furrowing and eye-rolling, with the occasional rebuke thrown in.
But a few weeks ago, he released a promo video for his new book. And that’s when the proverbial excrement hit the air-conditioning, to borrow Kurt Vonnegut’s phrase. As is typical for Bell, he asked a very provocative series of questions that led a lot of people to believe that he had embraced Universalism. The release of the book a couple weeks later basically served to confirm that suspicion. (If you want more detail about that business, the Google search bar is right up there at the top of the page; knock yourself out.)
But between the release of the video and now, no real consensus has emerged on how to refer to and think of him and other Universalists. Do we embrace a sort of agnosticism about their salvation? Do we think of them as unsaved, and seek to evangelize accordingly? Do we affirm their salvation and correct their doctrinal errors from inside the family, so to speak?
In other words, is it possible that a person can hold a heterodox position on this sort of issue and still be saved? Can a person’s doctrine be as orthodox as St. Paul’s, with one massive, glaring exception?
Can cognitive dissonance save us?