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.
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."