Thursday, October 1, 2009

Does anyone else find this troubling?

The following is from a September 27th interview of Rob Bell that was published in the Boston Globe. Note the clear absence of anything about Jesus--which the interviewer wisely picks up on [note: I put some of his key sentences in bold and italics]:

10/1/2009 Update: A fuller version of the interview can be found by following this link. Thanks Travis for pointing me to it. Sadly, even though this is twice as long the Gospel is just as absent.
Rob Bell is one of the hottest names in contemporary evangelical life. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., but is better known for his books, and especially, for his road show, which combines preaching with performance art. He is much talk about among folks trying to discern what’s next for American evangelicalism. Bell is currently touring in conjunction with a book, “Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering,’’ and last weekend he appeared at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. I caught up with Bell by telephone in Ottawa to ask him what he’s up to.

Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?

A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.

Q. Do you preach, or perform?

A. I came up through your standard go-to-seminary path, served as an apprentice pastor, did weddings and funerals and hospital visits, but I always veered toward creating things. I was always setting stuff on fire, building things, bringing in piles of dirt. And I started to realize that there’s a dimension to the sermon in which it’s a kind of performance art. Over the years, I’ve realized that I have as much in common with the performance artist, the standup comedian, the screenwriter, as I do with the theologian. I’m in an odd world where I make things and share them with people.

Q. I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you.

A. I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.

So, no Jesus, no conversion, no sin, no salvation, no heaven, no hell----but at least we are going to try to save the planet! What, exactly, makes this man's teachings discernibly Christian?


  1. Answers: To your first question - my hand is raised (is that OK as a Baptist?) To your last question - nothing. It's "religious," but is most definitely NOT Christian.

    Spurgeon's comment on what discernment is certainly applies here - Bell sure SOUNDS nice and SOUNDS loving and SOUNDS "Christian." His Gospel, though, is no Gospel at all because it doesn't save. It builds shelters, feeds the hungry, etc., but is not inherently different from altruistic efforts by pagans worldwide. As Vance Havner said, “There is a trend today that would put a new robe on the prodigal son while he is still feeding hogs. Some would put the ring on his finger while he still in the pigsty. Others would paint the pigsty and advocate bigger and better hogpens.”

  2. I understand the lack of him telling the Gospel in his interview, but I also think we can be too quick to judge. Paul became all things to all men that he might win some. He also talked about the "unknown god" and explained the true God the people didn't know. I think thatshowing Jesus by sharing his love and the power of God through current social issues is relevant and that an interview may or may not show the true picture.

    Not saying he is perfect or right. Just saying we should be careful not to judge and use this opportunity for good conversation to honor God.

  3. Bell has been publishing books and speaking publically for several years now----all of which have been devoid of anything that speaks the historic Christian message that "Jesus came to save sinners".

    How much time do we need to come to a judgment? I would think several years of reflecting on his messages and writings would be sufficient.

  4. Bell's response to the last question is strikingly similar to the message Rick Warren delivered to a Jewish audience a few years ago.

    When Bell says, "Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity?" as if trying to "convert" someone is somehow WRONG, then he is NOT a minister of the Gospel, which is all about conversion - conversion from bondage to the curse of sin, to a state justification before our Creator. It's as if proclaiming the explicit, but simple message of salvation in Christ is somehow "unloving" or "uncaring" because we're not more interested in discussing how the Lions blew another game.

    The ultimate "unloving" act is to not proclaim the message our King has commissioned us to deliver - how are they to call on Him in whom they have not heard, to cite Paul in Romans 10? Is it more loving to have someone go to their grave dead in their sins and trespasses because we didn't want to tell them something that might offend them - but that "something" is the only thing that will rescue anyone from eternal condemnation?

    Next weekend I'll go into Kinross Correctional Facility with 30-some volunteers and we will encounter 24 prisoners. We have no idea what their spiritual status will be. We will befriend them. We will love them and listen to them. But we will also proclaim salvation in Jesus and Jesus alone starting Friday morning and that's what they'll hear until we leave Sunday. At one point about 10 years ago that ministry came very close to just talking only about how much God loves everyone and never proclaiming Jesus and Jesus alone as the Way. One thing I did when I was asked to chair the ministry in 2001 was to make sure we clearly, openly proclaimed the Gospel from the git-go so nobody could ever walk away saying they hadn't heard. When I stepped down in 2007 the ministry was very much more explicitly evangelistic and explicitly Gospel-centered in what was presented. There are still volunteers who don't like the "in your face" message. The problem is they define "in your face" as nothing more than what the Prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Himself proclaimed.

    We don't proclaim the Gospel in order to offend. We proclaim the Gospel in order to obedient to our Master and because we love people and care for them. I love the Muslims and the Wiccans and whomever else I'll run into next weekend. I love them enough to proclaim Christ and Christ alone and to do it right away because we don't have any guarantees of time, do we? If we don't, do we not have the blood of those who were not told on our hands, as Paul says in Acts? Woe to us if we don't tell the Good News.

  5. I totally agree with mystic minstrel.
    It's interesting to see how much faith people have in the media. I'm not saying Rob is perfect ... for that matter, I'm sure that he himself would say that he is not without flaw ... but the media definitely is not perfect.
    Rob has already put a message out on Twitter saying that more than half of what he said in the Boston Globe interview was omitted.

  6. I wonder if the editors at Christianity Today also edited out the Gospel from his interview last year when he was asked similar questions.

    Maybe Zondervan edited out the clear Gospel in his books too.

    At some point Rob is going to have to take responsibility for failing to communicate the Gospel.