Monday, December 10, 2007

Rob Bell is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and has now made TIME magazine headlines. He is, according to editor David Van Biema, the "Hipper-than-thou pastor." Bell has a few well-known works, Velvet Elvis and Sex God that find the sacred in the profane.

Van Biema noted this about Rob Bell:

At 28, he founded a megachurch that threw out the conventional sermon-and-worship service and instantly drew thousands of attendees.

Referring to the town of Grand Rapids:

The town is notoriously well churched, but Bell saw an untapped audience: some were his music fans, others Christians left cold by traditional services. "A hundred people a day were calling and saying, 'Dude! Give us the real thing.' I was like, If someone could speak to these people in their mother tongue, they'd be here in droves." Fifteen hundred people, alerted by word of mouth, came that first Sunday. Nine years later, Mars Hill tallies 11,000 weekly.

I am not sure what Bell refers to when he speaks of "the real thing" if that is excluding the preaching of the Word of God, which, of course, he is NOT doing. I am disturbed that this kind of publicity is going out to a guy who is trying with every fiber of his being to reach culture. I fear that he has left the authoritative expositional preaching of God's Word for a sheer monologue giving his thoughts, opinions and "cool comments" so people are met, satisfied and left "feeling better about themselves." This, however, is not what the Bible commands a preacher to be.
According to the Bible, we find a completely different potrait. The preacher must not be one who responds to "Dude, give us the real thing" (as if nonbelievers know what the true real thing is anyway), but rather:

1 Timothy 4:13 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.

May we as true and faithful expositor's of God's Word forget about being "cool" to the culture (which changes every day anyway) and be faithful to God's Word (which never changes). Soli Deo Gloria.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Geoff,
You might be careful about calling Rob NOT a Christian leader. He is a Christian and he is also a leader. He may not always match up to reformed theology (though he does surprisingly more than others--his upbringing is in the Christian Reformed Church), but he does preach God's Word.

His ministry has led thousands to faith in Jesus and commitment to Kingdom work. I understand why people are uncomfortable with him because he does "church" differently (though its a much larger discussion about whether this is good or bad, biblical or not).

I wouldn't necessarily say that he is trying with every fiber of his being to reach the culture, but rather the PEOPLE living in this culture. Perhaps much the same way Paul did as he travelled around preaching to different audiences in different contexts and cultures. Certainly the Word of God does not change. However, the methods we use to communicate might certainly vary (looks different all around the world and across time).

In speaking up for him I am NOT saying that I agree with everything he says or even prefer his style of "doing church." I'm just pointing out that he is indeed a Christian leader and we might not want to quickly dismiss the effective ministry he has had.

Just some thoughts...
-Stephanie

geoffrey kirkland said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Stephanie. I appreciate your graciousness.

There is no doubt that he is a leader and no doubt that he is doing church "differently." I, personally, think that he is going to extreme measures to reach culture. I don't think Paul did that. In fact, I believe Paul did everything BUT contextualization (that's not what 1 Cor 9 and Acts 17 are referring to).

At any rate, thanks for your kind words. I take them with a good heart.

Thanks again.

Wes said...

Thanks for posting on Rob Bell, Geoff. He has attracted many, so we must ask why.

To clarify a point: I think it is confusing to say that Rob Bell (or anyone for that matter)is trying to reach culture. Rob Bell is trying to reach people who are embedded in their culture, and he is doing it very well.

Thanks-
Wes

Now, I disagree with Rob Bell on various theological matters, but I don't think we can accuse him of not teaching/preaching from God's Word. Bell started his church by preaching through the book of Leviticus. And we're not talking short sermons. He usually preaches about an hour at a time, going through the text meticulously. He is an amazing teacher, despite some areas in which we would disagree with him.

So thanks for posting on Bell, and I'm sure you didn't have any intention to misrepresent him, but I think we need to be very careful when we post to make sure we are representing people correctly and appropriately.

Anonymous said...

Geoff, no need to apologize. You're a lot closer to the truth than you may think.

Geoff, just consider Lawson on Expository Preaching and you'll see a model that men should emulate.

The comment above ("He has attracted many, so we must ask why") is not at all compelling. We can easily get off onto a discussion of who attracts who and why. The effectiveness of someone's ministry is not measured by how many people show up, how many raised hands there are,how relevant someone is, etc...ad nauseum. You know that.

And I don't care about someone's background...CRC or whatever. I know men from reformed backgrounds that I would not at all commend as expositors of God's Word.

Just take a moment and read Phil Johnson's discussion on Bell. It's right on...

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2006/10/fed-up.html

He's done his homework and he makes very good points. Read his comments from the 2006 Shepherd's Conference and see what you think. The paper is called "Absolutely Not!"

Dad

Anonymous said...

Wes and Steph, I am continually amazed at how quickly you are to run to the defense of a guy whose theology is so screwed up. It really matters not how much he may get right (though I do not necessarily grant that) when he gets some pretty important theology wrong!

We need more Geoffs out there who will condemn this kind of approach and theological perspective.

By the way, since when do we measure a man by his numbers. Robert Schuller has drawn thousands for years--to what? the self esteem "gospel" with a universalism theology.

Talks plus Numbers do not equal success.

Les

geoffrey kirkland said...

Guys,

I appreciate all your feedback. Dad and Les, thanks for your comments. Wes and Steph, also, thanks for your words.

I feel the need, having learned much about Bell in reading his stuff, to alert people to this guy.

I am not one to say "he's not a Christian," cause I have no right to do that, but I want to alert people -- especially people under the flock that God has given to me -- of a teacher whom, I believe, is missing some of the essential truths of the Gospel.

Why would I want to listen to that when I can dig into God's Word hearing (say, for example) guys like: Sproul, Chapell, Dever, Duncan, MacArthur, etc. For these guys teach God's Word in a way that is expositional and true to the Word.

Thanks for your comments.

Wes said...

I am not concerned about defending Rob Bell. I am concerned about understanding him as he would like to be understood, however. I want to love him as my neighbor as I would want to be loved.

Geoff, I am really glad that you are taking seriously your task to defend God's truth by alerting others of those who distort it. I think this is very appropriate to do with Rob Bell, but I think the best way is to take a specific issues and address them, not talking about him in general. (Like his view of hell, for example, which I think is wrong.) This is just what I would recommend.

Anonymous said...

The following Rob Bell quote says it all about why the man should not be trusted as a spiritual leader:

“Let’s take this further. As one writer puts it, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were unable to do anything about our condition, while we were helpless, while we were unaware of just how bad the situtation was, Christ died. And when Jesus died on the cross he died for everybody. Everybody. Everywhere. Every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every people group. Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all people to himself. All people. Everywhere. Everybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus. So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling “all things, in heaven and on earth to God.” This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.“

Les

Wes said...

Yep. Here is on area in which I disagree with Rob Bell. He holds to universal versus particular atonement as articulated by many Arminians.

Is this what you find objection to in this quotation? By the way, where did you get this quote, Les?

I just posted on Rob Bell regarding salvation over on my blog, and you're welcome to check it out.

Wes said...

I would add that whereas this Arminian view of universal atonement is erroneous, it is not heresy. I think it weakens the doctrines of grace, but it is not heretical. It is good to distinguish between wrong opinion, systematic error, and heresy.

Anonymous said...

Wes, from Velvet Elvis.

More info on Bell's heterodoxy from a review of Velvet Elvis.

�What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry�s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word �virgin� you discover that the word �virgin� in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word �virgin� could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being �born of a virgin� also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?�[xi]


Bell�s answer?


�If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn�t that strong in the first place, was it?�[xii]


In other words, Bell advocates a faith that can embrace heterodoxy. This faith can �go on jumping� even if it were shown that Jesus was born of Larry and the gospel writers knowingly �threw in� myth.


There are two points I would like to make in response to this. First, it is important to realize that Bell himself believes in a literal virgin birth.


�I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more.� [xiii]




The issue of orthodoxy, however, is not simply what one personally chooses to believe concerning Christ, but what he considers is necessary to believe concerning Christ. The church has historically understood the creeds to be a summary of what is necessary to believe in order to be an orthodox Christian. The Apostles and Nicene creeds both clearly profess that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit as a necessary component of true faith. A literal, virgin birth, as a necessary doctrine, is not simply a hang-up of modernistic evangelicalism. It has been a part of the universal church�s profession throughout the ages. By failing to insist on a literal virgin birth as part of what it is necessary to believe, Bell has taken the well-traveled road of liberalism. Many of the 1,293 Presbyterian ministers who signed the Auburn Affirmation of 1923 personally affirmed the literal truth of the 5 fundamentals,[xiv] though they did not believe a literal interpretation should be deemed as necessary in order to be a minister in good standing in the Presbyterian Church! As they wrote:


�Some of us regard the particular (literal[xv]) theories contained in the deliverances of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.�[xvi]


The line that divides heresy from orthodoxy is not fixed on what one personally believes concerning Christ, but on what one understands as necessary to be believed. Bell, here, is simply on the wrong side of orthodoxy.


Les

Anonymous said...

Wes, with all due respect, his statements betray any need for a gospel proclamation. Agree?

"This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making."

to quote Bell again.

No need for preaching the cross here!

Les

Anonymous said...

Here is a short quote about what John Owen thought and the writer's thoughts:

"John Owen rightly states that the church of Jesus Christ “cannot wrap in her communion Austin and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius.”[68] This is an impossibility. One cannot be bedfellows with Reformed Orthodoxy and hold to Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian teachings. Pastors must choose whom they follow – Paul or Pelagius? When they preach a sermon, they are practically choosing their theological roots by what they say in the pulpit. They may not use the same word of phrase, but their meaning is quite the same, and sometimes just as strong as Pelagius or Arminius of old. Instead of wrestling with these ideas, Evangelicals today simply follow the crowd at chow time. They eat what their pastors give them without any recourse to study what is being said or check if their pastor is right. Instead, because of a charismata that is easier to feel than exegesis is to study, they are falling headlong into the abyss of Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian doctrine which is another Gospel, or no Gospel, altogether."

Anonymous said...

Last (maybe) is a quote from of all places, the Catholic Encyclo. by St Thomas Aquinas:

heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". "The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews; the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics."

Wes said...

"The issue of orthodoxy, however, is not simply what one personally chooses to believe concerning Christ, but what he considers is necessary to believe concerning Christ."

This is an interesting position, Les, and I'll have to think about this more. Bell's quotes about the virgin birth are certainly troubling. I'd enjoy talking about this more sometime.

Anonymous said...

Wes, surely. As you think on that quote, consider a preacher who says,
"I believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. But, I do not think that a man has to accept that doctrine to be orthodox."

In other words, to say the above is to hold open the possibility of other interpretations of the resurrection. In my view, the man who says that has embraced heterodoxy.

Les

Anonymous said...

Wes, you defined "charity" elsewhere as pointing out the good as well as the bad in a person's views. I don't agree with that definition.

What Geoff and Les have done is truly Christian charity of the highest order...they have cautioned the sheep purchased by the precious blood of Christ about a shepherd who is not guarding the sound doctrine of the Word of God.

You may not like this analogy, but I will use it anyway...when Jesus called out the Pharisees for their gross misunderstanding of the Law and their false teaching on what it means to be a child of God, did he say "well, let's see what I can find in their teaching that is good so I can be charitable about this.."? No. He exposed them for what they were. Not too charitable in that sense. When Ezekiel wrote in Ezek. 34 about the false shepherds, did he deal with them charitably? Not by the standard of being "fair".

My point is really this...our true objective is to guard the sheep brother....not to make sure we are even handed when we are dealing with purveyors of bad doctrine.

Should we be abusive? Of course not. Should we put in bold print, in 100-foot tall neon lights "Watch Out! This guy has really bad doctrine!" Yes.

Just remember, the one who teaches is held to a higher standard...see James 3:1.

Randy

Wes said...

It is, of course, good and necessary to point out error where it is found. And there is error to be found in Rob Bell's teaching. I recognize that I could be more consistent in doing this.

I don't think this follows from this, however, that everything Rob Bell teaches is erroneous. In fact, even though I think Rob is in error in several areas, I have still learned from him. Indeed, I learn from many people with whom I differ theologically, many people who do not interpret the Bible like a Calvinist, Reformed, and/or Presbyterian. This is what I mean by charity in this regard.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Wes. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

I am pretty limited in time so I have to ration my reading and listening to where I can get the most fruitful, most edifying, most reliable food for my soul.

I'll share a little tidbit with each of you...when we lost our house in the fire (Nov 24, 2001), my library, as well as pretty much everything else, was gone. Now please take note... I am not complaining at all, rather Dianne and I literally daily thank God for His restorative grace and His daily mercies! My only point is this...when I began to rebuild my library (which has come a very long way!!), I never replaced the books that after looking back with hindsight had been pretty marginal. I don't miss them at all. Rather, it has given me an opportunity to be very selective and focused. I thank God for that. I suspect we can all at some point in our lives look back and see where we have gotten the best food for our soul and what has really been most satisfying.

My only counsel is this...go where you can be confident that you will be dining on really nutritious food, adn guide your learners in the same direction.

Randy

Anonymous said...

Geoff, I couldn't agree more with your post. There's just something so unattractive about a man who'll do just about anything to reach culture. For example, he's been known to do yoga in his church. YOGA. There are too many other things I'd like to say, but this is it for now. Thank you for remaining faithful to God's word!

-Laura

Zack said...

Hey Geoff,

Thanks for the post.

Laura (above) brought my attention to the fact that we both wrote about this but with slightly different takes...

Have a look and let me know what you think:

http://zackriesland.wordpress.com/2007/12/13/hipper-than-thou-pastor/

geoffrey kirkland said...

Laura and Zach,

Thanks for the comments guys. Praise God for His Word, AMEN!!

Blessings to you both,

Matt said...

I think that Bell is unfortunately only one of a very few professing Christians filling an empty space in the evangelical world. I say "unfortunate" because I disagree with large chunks of his doctrine or lack thereof as the case may be. I say "filling an empty space" because I see a general lack of Christians who are interested in contributing to culture. We used to own music, the arts, the sciences, education...then, for a variety of reasons, we stopped contributing, by and large. There have remained Christians who have contributed to culture, but they are few and far between.

I think one of Bell's big mistakes is in trying to make the Gospel hip. I will be the first to say that the methods, the tone, and the venue in which we share the gospel can and should change depending on who we are trying to win for Christ. HOWEVER...I do not think church is the place for this. I believe that one of the most important functions of a church is to equip the saints to go OUT into the world and share the gospel. Thus, we are called to resemble Christ—not the world—in our worship style, our preaching and our liturgy.

What does this mean, practically speaking? Rob Bell's church and others like it are trying desperately to make church resemble culture. This is a backwards approach that ultimately makes Jesus look like a wet noodle. Christianity is not a fad. Bell undermines the power of the Gospel by treating it as such.

I think his interest in culture is admirable. I find that there are few orthodox evangelicals who are actively contributing to culture, and who are interested in speaking the language of the lost, in hanging out with hookers and thieves. I myself often fall sadly into this category. But what I believe separates me from some of my brothers and sisters who have lost interest in the world is that I am passionately involved in contributing something valuable and tangible in my profession (graphic design) that is from a Christian, that is wholesome, but not necessarily supporting a Christian agenda. This requires clarification before anyone reads something I am not saying. I think that I can most effectively reach non-believers when I engage with them on things that at least on the surface DO NOT have anything to do with the Gospel. This allows them to get to know me in an unbiased environment. I can then gain their trust and work the Gospel into my interaction.

Rob Bell gets the value of this approach and should be commended. What I humbly believe he should be reprimanded for, however, is what so many have articulated better than me—his willingness to part with some of the necessary components of the Gospel.

So, let's know our culture. Let's contribute to it. Heck, even shop at Urban Outfitters and thrift stores and dress like a rock star if it suits you. But let's think and act outwardly and missionally instead of narcissistically and insecurely—let's keep our celebrated confessions that are rooted in Scripture, our beautiful hymns, our sound exposition of the word, and our beautiful liturgies commanded by the Word. If you want to go to a rock concert, that's wonderful. You might see me there. But if you try to bring the rock concert into my church...I'll be missing in action.

So we've all been griping about Bell and his colleagues. I think we may have reached the end of this rant. What I want to know now is this: who out there IS preaching orthodoxy, all the while displaying a savviness and interest in culture that is Biblical, a general curiosity about the human condition that is a balm to the lost? Who can we hold up as the stronger alternative to Rob Bell?

Matt Steel

Stephanie said...

Matt, your thoughts are great as usual! Thanks. Here are some questions I have for everyone, and I think they must stem from having been raised in several different cultures and seeing church done SO differently.

First, what does it mean that our worship resemble Christ? Christ was not a worship service, neither did he really tell us much about what it meant to conduct a worship service. If we all worshiped the way Christ did, we would be in the Jewish synagogue.

Second, (this may be what is stemming from experience in church in other cultures)...EVERY church worships according to its own culture! Every pastor leads worship in a certain culturally-conditioned way. We don't worship in cultural vacuums. Again, perhaps this is just me working through my experience in various cultures...it is so painfully obvious to me how church style changes based on the cultural situation. So, its hard for me to hear people being critical of those who are trying to reach "culture." What does that mean, anyway? What is culture? As mentioned earlier, I really don't think Bell or anyone else is actually trying to reach culture, but rather the PEOPLE embedded in a certain cultural context. We're equally as guilty as Bell if we are going to make reaching people in a certain cultural context with certain cultural style a crime.

Ramblings...I'm interested in your thoughts

Matt said...

Stephanie, I leave the exgetical details to those more qualified than me. I should clarify that I think Christians should be about PRODUCING culture, not copying it.

Bell seems to be merely bringing a wordly design aesthetic that's already been done and a rock-star approach to try to reach the lost and the disenfranchised Christians in his Mars Hill pulpit. I think it's a GREAT idea to tap cultural conduits of communication, such as through videos, podcasts, music, literature and the web. I agree with you that each culture informs the worship style of its church. I see stylistic differences even in such a small microcosm as greater St. Louis—for example, worship at Memorial is different in many ways from worship at Twin Oaks. This has a lot to do with the surrounding culture. What I admire about Memorial, something I think they get right and Mars Hill gets wrong, is a proper understanding of the boundaries between church and world, inreach and outreach.

Memorial is an old-fashioned church peopled by a fairly eclectic group of believers. They sing some new songs but largely do the old hymns, and unless I am mistaken I believe George wears a robe when he preaches. Memorial does, however, get involved with culture, even in the production of it. You may be familiar with their new venture called Matthew's Chapel. They took an old, run-down space and turned it into a music and visual arts venue. It is overseen and partially funded by the church (there are elders assigned to the project), and yet it is not specifically Christian in the music and arts it seeks to display and share. Basically, these Christians have created a venue with a genuine desire in fostering the arts and in fostering community among the locals, Christian or non-Christian. From within that venue, they hope to attract the lost and build relationships that lead to sharing the Gospel. This is a great place to engage culture and to educate oneself.

A worship service is different, I think. I believe that an orthodox worship service must be aware of its audience, but points to Christ, rather than culture. It seems to me that Bell points to culture and says, in effect, "there is Christ", rather than saying to his people "take Christ there." We should be sensitive to the mandates of Scripture, not the desires of the world to subvert the gospel. Do you see the difference? I'm not sure I've been explaining it very well...some thoughts I have on this are hard to articulate.

Stephanie said...

Matt, I think that you have articulated it quite well! Thank you for the response. Really, I agree with you. Of course, these lines are quite nuanced (For example, I am not completely opposed to seeing "truth" in certain strands of culture) and also difficult because people have such different perspectives and opinions about them.

I guess what has been difficult for me about all of this is that I know people who have been edified in their Christian walk and even become Christians under the teaching of Rob Bell, so its hard to hear people being so critical of his ministry. It takes me a while to become completely critical of something that I see as being beneficial to the Kingdom even if it is not what I personally prefer. There are a LOT of different kinds of churches out their and I find in our circles we can be quickly critical of other approaches. Do you know what I mean?

Anonymous said...

Rob Bell is not only NOOMA, Brother be carefull and fair, why don`t you take a look to the "Woe to you..." series at wwww.marshill.org.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

The fact that there is open discussion on the theologies presented by Rob Bell is as much a commentary on the theological state of the church as much as it is of Bell.

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