As I was finishing up my blog post comparing songwriter Mark Heard to popular evangelical author Donald Miller, I was trying to figure out how to handle Rob Bell. Bell has been the most explosive figure in progressive evangelicalism today, though within the past few years he has gone out even further than many of his progressive evangelical colleagues are willing to endorse. Theologically speaking in my view, a confused ecclesiology is what unites the contemporary triune fellowship of Bell, Miller, and Brian McLaren. It is difficult for me to say this, because while I still know that these folks love Jesus and I can still learn some things from them, there have just been some other things there that continue to bug me. However, there could be more to the analysis. I think I have stumbled onto an idea, but I had to look “across the pond” to find it.
While some evangelicals in the U.S. still puzzle over the Rob Bell storm in recent years, a fire is currently raging in Britain. Recently, a debate between progressive evangelical Steve Chalke and more classic evangelical Andrew Wilson has intensely engaged thoughtful Christians. In reflecting on the debate, Andrew Wilson pointed to a specific problem in Steve Chalke’s argumentative method. In a nutshell, Wilson claims that Chalke sets up a type of “straw man” noting some extreme case, and therefore reacting to it with a different extreme case as THE solution, without acknowledging that there might be more moderate and alternative solutions that are being sidestepped. Wilson likens this to what Rob Bell is doing as a communicator of the “Ad Man’s Gospel”. Strangely, however, I do not think Rob Bell is alone in this. You can find folks equally on the more “fundamentalist” side of the evangelical movement who do EXACTLY the same thing in reverse. Wilson cites this post by Alastair Roberts as evidence. It says it better than I can.
On the downside, it does make me seriously question how viable the Internet; e.g. blogging, serves as an effective vehicle for thoughtful communication and dialogue. I am still doing it, but I have my doubts. Veracity readers: Are Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts right?
If you follow the whole line of thought, you will never think about Oldsmobiles the same way again….
I find Rob Bell fascinating.
Sure, I disagree with his theology, but when it comes to engaging communication, the man is virtually without peer.
If you want to see a masterpiece in clever communication, look no further than a promotional video for a Rob Bell book.
This is Bell in his element.
Take, for instance, this recent offering:
The dislocated camera shots.
The fractured statements.
It’s all there.
You start with the evocative image of the Velvet Elvis, reminding you of that summer you read through that book as a teen.
How that book resonated with you at the time!
Rob begins by telling us that a lot of people in our culture ‘can’t do the God-sort of belief system or idea.’ A ‘very, very popular movement’ tells us that this is all that there is. However, lots and lots of people, when they experience vaguely defined…
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May 10th, 2014 at 4:25 pm
Right on, and very serious business. Someone who has attended our local church for decades recently told me how much he appreciates Rob Bell. I was flabbergasted. That someone with a relatively naive faith could be susceptible to the allure of Rob Bell’s packaging is understandable, but a mature believer should have red flags going up all over the place. Our understanding of God is like a 20-year-old Oldsmobile? Really?! What a bunch of stupidity and arrogance!
Rob Bell is what we get when sound doctrine and careful study become less valued than sound bites and the pitching of ideas. We need plumb lines and good doctrine. Theology matters! Thank you!
May 12th, 2014 at 10:47 am
I agree with both Alastair and John in their assessment of Rob Bell. I think Mr. Bell sums up what so many people want to believe. They “wish” there was something else that perhaps wasn’t so hard to live by, i.e. the bible….like the person who informed me a while back that the bible was only written to keep society in order by scaring them…(hmmm – sounds like the Catholic church?) and by the way, this person also believes there really isn’t any such thing as hell. Like Jesus said….narrow is the way….meaning there aren’t lots of comfortable ways from which we can choose from. Mr. Bell has always seemed to be trying to appeal to the popular crowd and sell a few books..I think the painting of Elvis is a very good case in point! But don’t give up on blogging…the way I approach the internet is from a devotional perspective…..I never intend to be any kind of teacher….just like to share what I learn and what lifts me up in the hope it will also lift others up. The worst effect that people like Mr. Bell have on believers is that believers begin to doubt God. Funny….didn’t satan do that with Adam and Eve? I wonder if the snake ever wrote a book……? If he did, I bet it would be on Oprah’s list wouldn’t it? 🙂
May 12th, 2014 at 11:38 am
The Rob Bell phenomenon is difficult to fully get it as it appears to me a question of style vs. substance. The man has style, but I keep looking for the substance. There is a trajectory that I see in him that does raise some red flags, even though I (and others) do find much to like about him… which is why the issues are so important to address. He is a bit out of control.
Thanks for stopping by Veracity!
May 12th, 2014 at 11:42 am
I agree and look forward to future reading at your blog…very engaging!
May 12th, 2014 at 10:46 pm
I’m sorry I assume this is the same Rob Bell that was on Oprah’s show OWN. I’m sorry may I ask why the discussion about him ?
May 12th, 2014 at 10:50 pm
Sorry I didn’t see comments for some reason. The biggest red flag to me is that he is on Oprahs show and seems to be very in line with her thinking :(.
May 13th, 2014 at 6:48 am
This is the same Rob Bell that was on Oprah’s show, and he and Oprah will be going across the country together on a speaking tour sometime later this year. I just recently saw the video clip, too, and I have to say that he has gone much further than where he was with Love Wins. I find it very difficult to align what he is teaching now with what historic, Christian orthodoxy represents.
I am not a fan of the “slippery slope” argument of how the decline of biblical inerrancy progresses in the church, but in Rob Bell’s case (along with Steve Chalke), it appears to apply very well.
The sad result is that it makes more moderate positions on difficult issues more difficult to sustain.
May 30th, 2014 at 11:28 am
First of all I have to say that, as a fan of both Bell and Draper, I take umbrage with the snarkiness of your title as well as the fact that nowhere in the post is the “Gospel of Don” discussed – a grave omission if you ask me! Seriously, though, I do find it fascinating that Rob Bell has become the favorite “Chupacabra” of the thinking Evangelical, toward whom the responses range from aloof dismissiveness to a call to “hide your kids, hide your wife!” In fact, the popular group-think seems to have validated this position: As in the previous commenter’s preface, “Sure, I disagree with his theology…”, as if this is the ONLY place that a “true” or “thinking” believer can possibly land when considering Bell’s body of work. (No offense intended to the commenter).
Well, I think I have read Rob’s entire bibliography by now, (in fact, it could’ve been me who “flabbergasted” brother John in his comment above) and I have yet to have my spiritual world rocked in any negative sense. We live in a time when belief is on the decline and religion in general is increasingly seen as having little practical value. I believe Bell’s work serves a unique role in reaching the modern-day unchurched. At a time when those few believers who actually venture to be apologists in any any sense tend toward a staid, traditional, ultra-linear approach, Bell is decidedly non-linear in his. With total acknowledgment of the attractional nature of the Person of Christ, I think we have to move beyond the “Four Spiritual Laws” type tactics if we are to remain relevant in how we present Him to a growing number who have zero religious frame of reference.
Rob is adept at pointing out the reality, truth, and character of God by bringing Him into focus through the lens of our common life experiences and by the skillful use of culturally relatable story and simile. I’ve been known to say that I have little use for churches who require you to “check your brain at the door.” Its the reason I began to fellowship at my church home of the last 17 years. Rob is a dedicated student of the bible, science, and culture, all of which he uses to create compelling arguments in favor of believing.
“Okay” you say, “but what about the ‘BIG H’s’??” To discount Bell’s voice in our cultural context based purely on some of his observations regarding hell and homosexuality would, in my view, require that we apply the same treatment to many other of our beloved and revered authors, teachers, and notables. I won’t burn up more of your space here in defense of that statement, but RELEVANT Magazine recently published a piece that articulates the point well and succinctly and I concur with it. Here’s the link: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/6-heretics-should-be-banned-evangelicalism
Finally, don’t think that I don’t “get” why people occasionally give pause to Rob Bell, but I feel he has been given a platform that is unique and needed and is being used for Kingdom purposes. I do worry that we get skittish (for example) over things like his upcoming work with Oprah and her stated affinity for him and in the next moment celebrate (or at least fail to see the similarity) in her equal treatment of Rick Warren. Rather than worrying whether some of what Rob posits represents some kind of “slippery slope”, I’d suggest we join him in presenting a bold, clear, and outspoken alternative to the brutish brand of contemporary “christianity” that dominates social media and the marketplace with its unbridled, uneducated, and toxic hate-speech. There is the REAL Chupacabra.
If the slope DOES get slippery when Rob and “O” go on tour, I’ll be back to admit my short-sightedness and take my licks! By the way, thanks for your mention of Andrew Wilson. He is a great thinker and voice for the faith and deserves to be known on this side of the pond. I enjoy your blog, Clarke and John – keep up the good work and thanks for the opportunity to chime in!
May 30th, 2014 at 11:56 pm
Postscript: My bad for mis-crediting the quote near the end of my first paragraph as being from “a commenter” and not the included article by Alastair Roberts.
May 31st, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Thanks for weighing in with such a well-stated comment! I never heard of chupacabras before–interesting analogy.
My objection to Bell is that he cherry picks Scripture so far out of context. If we were writing the rules, I am certain most of us would produce an inclusive gospel not too dissimilar from Rob Bell’s. But how would that honor Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Wouldn’t it make it unnecessary? How close would our gospel come to truly representing God? To the point, this is very serious business.
I am completely onboard with you that we desperately need to “present a bold, clear, and outspoken alternative to the brutish brand of contemporary ‘christianity’ that dominates social media and the marketplace with its unbridled, uneducated, and toxic hate-speech.” That’s always the challenge before us (and part of what we’re trying to do on Veracity). But at base we need to be contending for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (Jude 3). As you are no doubt aware, there is a limitless amount of toxic hate-speech directed at followers of Jesus Christ. So our challenge is a bit like boxing with our hands tied. Frequently it gets ugly and we fail to honor Christ. When done well we present the Gospel with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)–something that can be incredibly difficult to do.
One way we can do it the right way is to study Christian doctrine. I have Galatians 5:6b stenciled on my wall–“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (NIV84). I think about Paul’s verse all the time. But it would be a big mistake to think that magnificent verse encapsulates the entire character of our sovreign Lord. On a personal level, I have been surprised how much of my own personal discipleship has led me more towards Christian orthodoxy than the nuanced versions of our faith that predominate our culture these days. I’m not saying buy into Calvinism or Arminianism or whatever, but there is value in understanding what they have to offer.
So where does that leave us? First, let me say you were not the one that ‘flabbergasted’ me. Secondly, I do appreciate that we both worship in a church that agrees to disagree beyond our eight-point statement of faith. I rather enjoy dialoging with people who have different views, and thank you for sharing yours so eloquently.
May 31st, 2014 at 12:44 pm
P.S. Outstanding find on the RELEVANT article. Thought-provoking and well informed–point well made.
Guys like you and me are beyond their intended demographic, but like to think we’re still relevant. 🙂 That’s personal discipleship done well.