03 August, 2005

Mar's Hill Pastor, Rob Bell, On Christ and Christianity

Pastor Rob Bell of Mar's Hill Bible Church in Grandville MI has a new book coming out. This is one that those of us in the Reformed Community need to read. (DO NOT purchase it though, check it out of the library!) This book gives insight on what makes a church of 10,000 members in less than a few years become just that.

The answer: Affirm your "faith" in Christ while at the same time affirming truth in other religions of the world. In a recent Grand Rapids Press article Bell states some things that Christ would take issue with:

1. Christianity is to change from generation to generation.
2. The Bible is always to reinterpreted based on your cultural context.
3. The denial of sola scriptura. (The doctrine that says that all things pertaining to life and faith are to be found within the pages of scripture.)
4. Jesus is to be freed from the religion that He founded.
5. The Christian worldview is NOT complete.
6. Jesus is not the only way to find truth about God. (And he does NOT mean natural revelation!)
7. Truth in all religion is to be affirmed.

These ideas, and others, are found below in the article. It is no wonder that in a postmodern world the churches that flourish are the ones that allow for more than what scripture recognizes as truth. The narrow way seems to have been broadened.

As Christians, we need to be prepared to answer the questions that people have concerning Jesus Christ and His Church. We need to love the truth and to be bold enough to proclaim, with Jesus Christ, that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no man comes to the Father except by Him. This is the Gospel.

Repainting Faith: Dynamic pastor publishes book
Grand Rapids Press
Saturday, July 30, 2005

Yes, the Rev. Rob Bell says with a twinkle in his eye. He really does own a velvet Elvis painting.
It gathers dust in his basement, a kitschy relic of Bell's days as a guitarist in a college punk-rock band. It's not just kind of tacky," cracked the young pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. "It's a whole new dimension of tacky." It's also the title of Bell's first book, to be released Monday.

In "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith," published by Zondervan, Bell presents a fresh picture of Jesus for those who have trouble with the traditional portrait. Faith in Jesus, Bell argues, must be repainted for each generation if it is to avoid the fate of his velvet Elvis.
"What often happens in religion is people freeze the faith at a certain point," Bell explained. "There's no more need to paint. We've got the ultimate painting." On the contrary, he asserts -- religion, like art, must keep exploring and reforming, or "you end up with a velvet Elvis on your hands."

"Every generation has to ask difficult questions about what does it mean to follow Jesus. What does the kingdom of God look like as it explodes at this time, in this place?" While tackling big questions of faith, God and the church, Bell's book candidly unpacks his own inner journey and the challenges of leading West Michigan's largest congregation.

Since its founding under Bell in 1999, Mars Hill has exploded to about 10,000 people worshipping in a former Grandville shopping mall. At one point, Bell writes about a personal crisis three or four years ago when he felt burned out. He describes sitting in a storage closet while thousands gathered for the next worship service, wanting to get in his car and drive away.
"I was moments away from leaving the whole thing," Bell writes. "I wasn't even sure I was a Christian anymore."

That kind of honesty is part of the reason Bell has been such a popular pastor, says Dan Van De Steeg, a Mars Hill member who read the book. "I'm proud of him for admitting that," said Van De Steeg, 31, an exhibit installer at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. "It just reaffirms everything I've ever learned about him, and encourages me that he's not backing down." He says he would recommend the book to spiritual searchers of any stripe. "It doesn't matter where you are in your faith, whether you have faith in God or not," Van De Steeg said. "It causes you to think and activate yourself a bit."

Book encourages questions

The Cascade Township-based Zondervan is counting on "Velvet Elvis" to resonate with plenty of young adults like Van De Steeg, as well as older age groups. "Anybody who's ever found a disconnect between church and real life will find this book difficult to put down," said Lyn Cryderman, vice president and publisher of books. Cryderman says he has "high expectations" for the book because, unlike most books about Christianity, it encourages readers to question their beliefs and church teachings. "It's refreshing to have somebody say, 'Go ahead, test it all you want,' instead of, 'There must be something wrong with you because you've got some doubts.' "

Indeed, Bell urges readers to test his own text. The Bible itself, he writes, is a book that constantly must be wrestled with and re-interpreted. He dismisses claims that "Scripture alone" will answer all questions. Bible interpretation is colored by historical context, the reader's bias and current realities, he argues. The more you study the Bible, the more questions it raises.
"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says," Bell writes. "We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people."

Noting the Bible has been used to defend slavery and mistreat women, he writes, "sometimes when I hear people quote the Bible, I just want to throw up." In similarly bold language, Bell tackles questions about Jesus, salvation, the institutional church and religious prejudice. Sprinkled throughout are his own spiritual awakenings and struggles, from first feeling in awe of God at a U2 concert to freaking out over the demands of Mars Hill.

Freeing Jesus

The book, one of two Zondervan has contracted him to write, is "just a reflection of my own journey," Bell said. "My intent has always been to discover the real Christ and the resurrected Christ, and what (he) is saying to me and to us," said Bell, 34, with the excited intensity of someone equally at home with a Bible or a skateboard. He is sitting in the warehouse offices of Flannel, a nonprofit film company that has produced a series of short videos featuring Bell. In each, he delivers a faith-based message in the hip, witty style that has packed worshippers into Mars Hill. Many of them are looking for what Bell says his book offers -- "a fresh take on Jesus."

"I think a lot of people are deeply fascinated with Jesus and just can't do the Christian packages they've seen. Christianity is a little suspect, but Jesus, right on. So I'm trying to free Jesus from the religion that's built up around him." Too many churches put Jesus and the Bible into a walled-in worldview where no questions are allowed, Bell contends. In this "brickianity," as he calls it, church doctrines are like bricks. Removing one can bring the whole wall tumbling down. "What terrifies me are communities that don't have questions," Bell said. "If there's any place where you would express your deepest doubts, it would be church."

Doctrines should be more like springs, helping people jump joyfully toward God, he writes.
He compares it to jumping on a trampoline with his sons, Trace and Preston. "I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better," he writes.
At Mars Hill and elsewhere, he sees thousands who want to jump on. They're hungry for the infinite mystery of God and the "revolution" Jesus could make in their lives and the world. He calls for a faith that fights poverty, injustice and suffering -- to make "this world the kind of place God can come to."

"We want a faith that demands everything of us," he said. "We want it to shake us up and turn us upside down." Bell also shakes up traditional evangelical beliefs.
While calling Christ's way "the best possible way to live," Bell writes Jesus did not claim one religion is better than another when he said he was "the way, the truth and the life." Rather, he writes, "his way is the way to the depth of reality." As a follower of Jesus, Bell argues, he is free to claim the truth wherever he finds it.

"One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system," Bell said. "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." What does that mean for salvation? Bell says it's a question he's wrestling with.

"I think you have to begin to ask questions about whether Jesus died for everybody or just a few," he said. "I challenge the notion that the cross is just for a couple people who happen to say some particular prayer or happen to be in some sort of inside club. I think it goes way bigger."
Bell also has wrestled with his role as teaching pastor of West Michigan's fastest-growing church.

His crisis of confidence in the storage closet led to a period of soul-searching and counseling that he writes about frankly. Many pastors are driven by unresolved personal issues to grow churches and please people, Bell writes. His own nonstop work schedule forced him to confront past problems and work with church leaders to set boundaries on his role.

"I had to kill superpastor," he writes. At Mars Hill, he adds, "Our church is structured much more around the team of leaders than any one person." That may be, but there is no doubt Bell's persuasive preaching has been a huge draw. Does he worry that worshippers believe he has painted the ultimate velvet Elvis of Christianity? "Anybody who says that needs some serious counseling," he said with a laugh, then grew thoughtful.

"I hope that central to the painting I'm painting is the understanding it's the process of painting, not a particular painting, that's the point. Please don't just make endless copies of mine."
As to what would happen to Mars Hill if he stopped painting and moved on, Bell claims not to worry. He calls the church "a holy, sacred thing -- a group of people who are learning to love God and each other and the world around them." "I had to entrust Mars Hill to God a long time ago," he said. "It was never my church in the first place. It's God's, and God has cared for that church well. "I don't have any plans of leaving," he added. "I can't wait to see what happens next."


Gisela said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
notliberal said...

Oy. Where do you even begin with a nut case like this guy?

Mark said...

Wow. I didn't bother reading the article Saturday because, well, it was about Rob Bell, but I had no idea that he was this wacko.

A few years back Mars Hill used the Grill as a location for a movie they were shooting about honoring the Sabbath. They filmed most of it on a Sunday. Says a lot.

Jeff said...

I bet I could interpret every quote in that article in such a way as to make it sound reformed. He's clearly not taking a presuppositional approach, but you could take a factual approach to explaining how his statements are not necessarily false; that you must infer falsehood into them and that you are taking them out of context. I would examine the book first, but even if I found serious and obvious errors in his beliefs, I still wouldn't make meanspirited, sarcastic comments about him in a public or private forum.

Nate said...

I am not attempting to make sarcastic and mean spiritred comments, but only showing lines in the article that are heresy at worst and just bad theology at best.

I know that Mr Bell believes in an ongoing progressive view of the word of God, and that is the light in which I am interpretting his comments.

His Church website has NT Wright as the author of the article that they use to defend the authority of scripture. (New Perspective on Paul? The CLASSIC reinterpreter of scripture!)

I have not had this idea affirmed, yet, but to me he looks like a neo-orthodox: You find the word of God in scripture because it is the Word of God to you. (Lots of Reformed catch phrases, but filled with a lot of new meaning.)

Jeff, I attempt to be gracious. The article is here as a means for us to see what RB is teaching...from his own mouth, and yes, I will read the book.

Jeff said...

nate, my comment was more directed at previous commenters rather than your post. I'm simply concerned that people might be pigeonholing him when looking at individual statements. For all I know, he's equivocating, thus his theology appears to be neo-orthodox when it may be more reformed. Either way, we could learn something from the neo-orthodox error and how to engage in conversation with someone who holds these views. Clearly, the first thing to say to such a person is not "you're a nutcase", "you're the antichrist of West Michigan", or you're just plain "wacko."

Jeff said...

Nate, Maybe this would be a a good opportunity to start your own weblog critique. Radley Balko started a weblog @ http://www.spurlockwatch.typepad.com/ for the sole purpose of addressing errors in Morgan Spurlock's book "Don't Eat this Book" and "Supersize Me". He said he started placing sticky notes on pages where he believed there were errors in logic or fact. When he finished the book, every page had sticky notes. So, he started a weblog to address a different issue with each posting. A newspaper mistakenly referenced his web page as "everything spurlock." So he got exposure as being a pro Spurlock site when he was actually criticizing his book.

Julio said...

What a disturbing article.

The picture of painted by Mr Bell is that of an apostate faith, devoid of Truth and therefore of Power, which neither claims people's lives nor transforms them, but rather is transformed by those who wish to claim it. This fits perfectly, of course, with the itching ears of people, who can thus bypass the Preaching of the Word, the Administration of the Sacraments, and the Exercise of Discipline, while having at the same time a religious experience that justtifies this departure from The Gospel.

The approach to the Scriptures and to the witness of the Christian Tradition taken by these would-be "liberators of Christianity" may be contemporary, but it is not new. It is not only methodologically indistinguishable from the "quests for the historical Jesus" of the last two centuries, but also from that son of darkness, Marcion, of thrice-wretched memory. They all seek palatable God, a palatable Gospel. And of course, who are the judges of what is palatable, or culturally appropriate, but we ourselves? Needless to say, this only renders a powerless god, and a powerless gospel, because we have no Power to save.

Adam said...

Some of the previous comments sadden me. I echo some of Jeff's concerns. Comments such as "he is the anti-christ, nut-case, and wacko" are unfruitful and show lack of sensetivity to the garvity of the issue.

Don't poke fun at someone who may be straying from the Lord.

Instead reserve that time for prayer for a brother who may be in spiritual need. Restoration is the goal, not course joking and rhetoric.

We should be grieved if he is truly in error.

Gisela said...

Well, did not mean to offend anyone. Sorry. I guess next time I will think more before I "speak."

I, too, will read the book and then see the context of what Mr. Bell was saying.

Nate said...

adam who? is this adam boone or adam bonner or the federal head of humanity?

just curious, also i have begun reading the book as of 1612 on August 4,2005.

Nate said...

I will have a more complete critical review of the book in the future. Thus far(about 1/5 way through) there are points that I would LOVE to bring into the Reformed Churches, and their are sad ideas that breathe the stench of all that is un-lovely about postmodernity.

The saga continues....

Julio said...

Grief over someone's heresy/apostasy doesn't preclude at all an unambiguous condemnation of their error. This is the logic behind the sorrowful, yet unambiguous "Form for Excommunication" of the Synod of Dort, for instance.

Droll Flood said...

"I hope that central to the painting I'm painting is the understanding it's the process of painting, not a particular painting, that's the point. Please don't just make endless copies of mine."

If I was to say this to one of the home owners for whom I paint I’d get thrown out on my ear and maybe sued. “No particulars here sir, mam. I’m painting, there’s no ends about it at all other than I'm painting."

Droll Flood said...

By the way, we can criticise yet pray for the guy. I only was interacting with what was presented in the article, not what was in the book. I would hope that what is in the book is better than what was presented in the article...
I'm not reading the Bell book right now, I'm reading up on Justification at the moment. Bell, in the article that was posted doesn't seem to be saying anything new.
From what I've read in the article, God have mercy on his soul.

Droll Flood said...

Ps. Hi All.

Eva Lemmon..? said...

Honestly. The man compares the living word of God with a tacky definatly dead elvis picture.The whole shenanegan reeks of demonic mischif. Dear Pastor Bob is glibly allowing people to make what they want of Faith and Obedience to Chirst. It is sad and
dangerous, as there is only one way to everlasting life. The triune God's.

If you have a ladder, naturally the only way to climb the ladder is to exert yourself and go up. But nobody wants to go up, so they sit there and convince each other that you can walk around the ladder and achive your end goal (that way you can do other stuff like play ping pong and drink pop). So, when the time comes for you to have finnished climing the ladder, your manager comes along and fires you. Capish?

Jeff said...

Eva, maybe the Amish have a Velvet Elvis on their hands? Perhaps, it's not the Word of God he's talking about, but people's perception and interpretation of the word of God. The map is not the territory. Do we not apply the general equity of law found in the old testament (W.C. XIX.4)? Isn't that an example of reinterpreting God's word to our culture and technology?

I certainly would agree that his comments seems glib, however, reporters often slant comments to read how they want them read. I wonder if he qualifies his apparently glib remarks in his book. BTW, I know some consider this impolite comment material, but your spelling is killing me:
definatly - definitely, shenanegan - shenanigan, mischif - mischief, achive - achieve, finnished - finished, climing - climbing, Capish - Capiche, Chirst - Christ.

Eva Lemmon..? said...

Hee heee! Oh weel. Eye suposee taht ewe shud hav funn with tiepoes evry onc in a wile.

Eva Lemmon..? said...

What eels cann eye saye? eye ain't no nun morning person

Anonymous said...

I was asked to check out this website by the individual who is the author. I thank him for just telling what he heard and allowing others to speak, but wow, there is alot of trash talk going on here. This is why I have a hard time with people that call themselves christians and then trash on a fellow believer. Being a christian is not about being right or wrong, if that's what some of you think, you have missed the point. I visited an eastern orthodox church a few weeks ago, they asked where I went to church, I told them Mars Hill, and they asked if we were Christian there. Wow, now that realy made me sick. That is sad. Mars Hill would embrace the eastern orthodox faith in many ways. That's why I was there. To discover some more truth from a different tradition than my own. But I see many of the writers here are not willing to do the same.

Anonymous said...

Why would someone, a fellow christian I presume, invite another into an argument. I am happy to discuss, but I will not argue. I am not out to prove I am correct. I'm human, i may not be correct on a lot of things. Just as those writing comments are bringing a little bit of hell to earth. SAD

Nate Dawson said...

Hello all

I was asked by the author to begin posting some comment on this blog. I am happy to do so. I am excited to interact with you all. I am sure I will come with many differences of oppinion, but that will streach us all, myself included. I see some things throughout the website that I many question. I hope nobody takes them as trashing on their faith, because that is not what I want to do. I just like to ask questions and get to the root of why people believe what they believe. When I was growing up I was taught what to believe not how to believe. This I believe misses the point.
Anyway I look forward to new conversation that will come out of this blog. Any questions on Mars Hill or emergent? I would be happy to give the context of where some of these ideas come from.

Nate Dawson said...

As for the neo-orthodox comment. Yes and No. Mars Hill as well as Rob Bell try to stay away from labels. Mars Hill does not consider itself an emerging church and as you can see, Rob's book is not an emergent/ys book. He specifally tries to avoid those labels.

When I first began attending Mars Hill three years ago, I asked the same question about neo-orthodoxy. I would say that Karl Barth does have something to say to us today in our world. He gives room for scripture to come alive. Emergent even did a seminar at the conference in nashvill on "Karl Barth for the emerging church." Interesting.

Barth would say that we must always be reforming not just be reformed and stop at that. The journey continues.

Nate Dawson said...

Barth has some things we can learn from but Mars Hill is not part of the neo-orthodox movement and does not consider itself an emerging church.

OK, let me explain better. Mars Hill as well as your churches are part of a long tradition of Christians trying to discover thruth. We have a 2000 year history to live down. And as you know, none of us will ever get it perfect. We must remember the church did not begin with the reformation. The Wesminster Catechism is a great tool but it is not on the same level as the authority given to Jesus. I hope that doesn't come accros harsh or rude. I am just stating that we are human and that at the reformation we didn't all of a sudden figure everything out. This is not to bash the reformed church at all. It is part of our church history and Luther nailed the 95 thesis for a reason. Anyway, I want to embrace the truth I find in the Reformed churches as well as many of the others.

It seems as though many reformed people I meet come across as they have it figured out. WOW that's bold. We are only human. Maybe this has to do with some of the covenant theology, I don't know but I love the Church. The church as all the followers of Jesus. All of us have some things correct and all of us have some things wrong. I want to embrace what is good, pure, holy an true an I know you all do also. Peace my brother and sisters.

Jeff said...

Any Christian who knows and adheres to reformed standards would not say that those standards are on the same level as Scripture. So no, it doesn't come across as harsh or rude, it comes across as reformed. As an organized church, it's important to establish standards that all agree to. It becomes the "confession" because we confess to these beliefs in unity. Nate D., do you adhere to a confession, a basic summary, if you will, of what you believe about scripture? Is it more than "If it's true, I believe it?"

Nate Dawson said...

I hope you noticed I did not say that my many reformed friends belive the Catechism is on the same level as scripture, I said it seems as though it is put on the same level that God, revealed in scriture, gives to Jesus. God gives Jesus all authority.

OK, I see how your "confession" embraces unity, but only unity with those who "confess" the some things that you do. Our Catholic brother confess some things differntly but some things the same. And what I see is much division between the two. So in brings unity on a micro level, but not on a macro level. I don't expect you to agree, but do you see my point. These "confessions," which I think are beatifull things from our christian history, somtimes bring more division than unity among the worldwide church of Jesus.

Shouldn't the reformed always be reforming?

I hope it's more than, "If it's true, I believe it." But here's my point. When I see a "confession," I see alot of people look at it and then the scripture as it aligns with the confession. So what one is doing is putting the trust in schollars before you that have studied these things out. I have a hard time not believing that somebody somewhere had an agenda when the cofession was written. So, I hope I am always reforming and understanding what I believe better. But I also know that many things that we believe, through life, are proved to be incorrect. What I believe and say now may be different 3 months from now because I have continued to study and experience God and life happen. So, my "confession" may change next week, so why would I write one out and say, "this is what I belive, no questions." It may change. I can't be that dogmatic. My faith is not in my confession, that misses the point, it is in the Risen Christ, that makes available the kingdom to all.

Jeff said...

Nate D., you clearly have convictions about what you believe is right and wrong thinking about Christianity. That IS your confession. You believe that you need faith in Jesus Christ. You believe that the Kingdom of God is made available to all. You also state the importance of continually reforming, but writing down hard and fast rules of belief would stop the process of reforming. You emphasize the importance of belief. You write that we must be teachable, and that everyone has some understanding of what is true. Did I summarize correctly? Do you have anything to add or is that the extent of your confession? I'm attempting to work this out because I can't agree or disagree with you unless I know what you believe. The emergent church is made up of people who agree on certain things. What are those things? You don't need to write them all down. Perhaps there is a web page that lists what is common among those in the emergent churches? I've read a lot about methods, but not much about core beliefs.

Nate Dawson said...

OK. That's a fair question and a fair summery of my "confession" as we are calling it. As you can tell, as of right now, my confesson seems very basic and I am sure you don't disagree with it but much of it being basic is because I want to find the commonalities througout all christian traditions and embrace them. I would like to call it lean and mean, so that some of my ideas can be remorming as needed. Anyway, I attended the emergent 05 in Nashville and it was said there, "emergent is so diverse that it has many differences of opinion on my subjects and that one of us can not speak for the rest of us. Some of the things that emergent holds to are written down. Check out my blog at www.natedawson.blogspot.com and I will create an entry of a couple sites so you can check them out.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Rob's book. I've checked out his videos and listened to several of his sermons. To say the least, Rob Bell and his teaching and theology greatly concern me. Personally, I believe Rob is a mystic, repainting Christianity with new-age theology. If you really want to see Rob show his true colors in plain-speak listen to his sermon entitled "The Theology of Breath" then tell me if you think this guy in any way shape or form is proclaiming truth!