Skip to comments.Rob Bell and a New American Christianity (Musing about the non-existence of Hell)
Posted on 11/18/2012 5:44:01 PM PST by SeekAndFind
The face of American Christianity is in transition, and Rob Bell, with his evolving look and artistry, has opened a window on this hybrid horizon. Known to many for his Nooma films, a series of twenty-four twelve-minute sermons and his controversial 2011 book, titled Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, his person and work provoke visceral reactions that range from adoration to repulsion, while raising profound questions. In 2011 he was named to the Time 100 listthe 100 most influential people in the world. That same year, Bell left Mars Hill, the megachurch he founded in 1999, to pursue broader opportunities in Hollywood to, as he explained, Compellingly share the gospel.
As a pastor and an artist, Bell exhibits the irrepressible spirit of the American religious entrepreneur, but his story also serves as a frame to explore deeper patterns within the seismic shifts in modern American culture. His story and life function as a leading indicator of what it means to be a Christian in the changing modern American religious landscape.
By hailing from a conservative Christian background, Bell has maintained the core attribute of the faitha passion for Jesusbut has built a career and a philosophy of life that is more complex than what we usually attribute to American evangelical circles. For much of his pastoral career he has been a superstar in the evangelical world, but his appeal is much broader, including the spiritual but not religious, liberal Christians across the spectrum, and even folks who simply admire his artistry as a communicator.
Bell is well-known for using various forms of media to circulate his view of Christianity. He makes his teachings easily accessible through new mediums, including film, while concurrently never shrinking from complicated discussions. In the 2007 film, Everything is Spiritual, he describes the evolutionary story of creation, mixing a dense but clear explication of the scientific origins of the universe, all framed within a wider worldview that humans, by nature, are spiritualthere is nothing humans do that is not spiritual. In fact, what makes Bells voice so unique is that he is willing to use every medium and discipline to convey that the Christian story is by its nature fundamental to every aspect of life, regardless of what others might think, or how interpreters, whether religious or not, might react.
A thirty-year-old volunteer at Mars Hill who had tried out a bunch of different churches explained her experience to me like this: I was looking for a form of Christianity that is real, gritty, and matches the experience of my lifeand I found what I was looking for here. We talk about the issues that we all face here and how faith makes a difference; its real, its powerful and it gives me hope for the church.
What makes Bell so attractive? Many pastors and leaders want to create this kind of devotion. While attendees of megachurches often say that the pastor is not the reason they attend, there is little doubt that these energy stars attract and create a fusion of joy, delight, and motivation that create congregations that glow with what they call the spirit of God. My interest in the work of Rob Bell stemmed from my work as a sociologist; I know that skilled leaders generate a collective effervescence that buoys groups and charges crowds with a kind of delirium that humans wantand even need. This can happen in any group, but not every leader can produce this kind of multisensory mélange of input that is often called the feeling of the spirit of God, or the touch of God. Whatever language you use to describe it, Ive seen it lift people out of their seats.
Despite his popularity, Bells rock star persona repulses many people. Outsiders, particularly those from non-religious backgrounds, find it manipulative or dangerous. Evangelicals frequently discount Bells efforts as fluff, and pabulum, consumed by unknowing and uneducated young people. One evangelical pastor told me, He is one of the most dangerous figures on the Christian landscape today. Still others in evangelical circles have dismissed him as a heretic or worse.
Mark Driscoll, the equally controversial and popular evangelical pastor, who planted a church called Mars Hill just a year before Bells, rails against Bell as some sort of biblical heretic: I dont know him; hes a creative guy and an amazing communicator, but he holds up rabbinical authority as a key to Bible interpretation. If a Rabbi doesnt love Jesus, they have a bad interpretation. Bell argues that the Bible sets into motion a direction that while it appears to contradict the Bible literally, we should nonetheless embrace it. This came out when he shifted from male elders on his board to female elders. Its not biblical.
John Piper, the godfather of the neo-Reformed movement in American evangelical Christianity, tweeted in response to Love Wins, Farewell Rob Bell, which he later said was meant as a friendly remark. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Bells views on hell an unscriptural sentimentalism . . . incompatible with [Gods] hatred of sin. And book after book have detailed Bells heretical ways.
So, is Rob Bell a heretic? Does this question even make sense in an American culture that has so many kinds of Christianity? Just what kind of Christian is he? Whatever one thinks of Rob Bell, there is no denying the intense controversy surrounding him in the American religious landscapeand that these contentions raise important questions for multiple audiences:
Should evangelicals be afraid of him?
Should young Reformed evangelicals see him as their mentor? Should Wesleyans call him one of their own?
Should pastors, of whatever label, take him as a model?
Should the spiritual but not religious see him as a kind of spiritual avatar?
The onrush of responses to his work indicates that many see him as a voice of faith. Increasing numbers of evangelicals, particularly young evangelicals, are asking questions about the faith. In David Kinnamans You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking the Faith, the author gives six typical reasons for why young Christians are leaving the church: churches are overprotective; shallow; anti-science; simplistic about sexuality; exclusivistic, and unfriendly to doubt. Young people are questioning the exclusive claims of Christianity and hoping for a more fruitful relationship with cultures outside the faith community; they want answers to their toughest questions.
As a scholar of American religion, I believe that the decline and even the end of the Protestant establishment is an inevitable outcome of our religious history. The Protestant mainline is no longer mainline; establishment Protestantism simply doesnt attract a large audience any more. The evangelical networks dont fare much better. It, too, is fragmented, and some argue that weve seen the End of Evangelicalism. The center of American Christianity no longer holds, if it ever did. Is Bells work and person catalyzing a new kind of American Christianity?
Bell is a buffoon. Even Martin Bashear tore him a new one.
So he’s got a better version that only he knows.
He’s a heretic and a false teacher.
He is most definitely teaching FALSE doctrine.
Sadly , at one point he was a Evangelical Conservative...really goes to show how satan can deceive!!
2 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; . . “
You cannot trust someone just because they are a pastor, priest or minister. I had a pastor once tell me that very high percentage of pastors didn’t believe the bible was 100% true, that Jesus wasn’t really the son of God, and that he isn’t the living God.
Satan is loose and increasing. Be thankful to God when you recognize, by His grace, the instruments and the works of the Enemy.
It is no longer simple politics we in America are suffering, but spiritual warfare. It is time to get ourselves ready, stay ready and be able to stand, as we set ourselves to endure.
VIVA CHRISTO REY!
Uh, he is drifting from orthodoxy. He may very well be teaching heresy.
Universalism, the idea that all men go to heaven, is not biblical. God's justice is erased and his mercy is denigrated by such a philosophy.
He must have a reading comprehension problem.
You are so right!! If what they are saying behind the pulpit doesn't square away with God's Word, walk, no RUN away FAST!!!
Bell, McLaren and the rest of the self-named "Emergents" are to post-modernism, what liberal mainline Christianity is to modernism--accommodation and compromise to contemporary people's secular beliefs, in an effort to reach them.
Problem is, if you're not certain what the Gospel really is, you'll accommodate and compromise on that to make it more palatable. Then you end up with Churches made up of folks not really surrendered to Christ and His Word--led by men (and women) not really surrendered to Christ and His Word.
Such fellowships may be big...but, "Ichabod."
In the Gospels, Christ speaks more often of Hell than He does of Heaven. Christ is warning mankind of its fate without Him.
A professor of theology I once knew said that the trajectory of Protestantism historically is toward unitarianism and universalism. He didn’t approve of it. It was just an observation that I think has some truth to it.
Not likely to happen, though. The system of modern government was set up to be complaint-driven, so the most obvious way to grow it is to come up with more complaints and complainers.
And who is the Prince of this world?