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Discussion Forum : Articles and Sermons : THE PROBLEM With ROB BELL´s GOSPEL by J. Lee Grady

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Joined: 2002/12/11
Posts: 37005
"Pilgrim and Sojourner." - 1 Peter 2:11


The controversial author says evangelical Christians are too narrow.
But didn´t Jesus tell us to follow the narrow path?

When former evangelical pastor Rob Bell published his bombshell
book Love Wins in 2011, his Michigan megachurch reportedly lost
3,000 members. They scattered quickly because Bell questioned
the existence of a literal hell. His point was that Christians need
to develop a nicer message with a lot less judgment. But his
solution was to throw out 2,000 years of Christian theological tradition.

Then last month, Bell made a more stunning announcement from
a pulpit in California. He told people gathered at Grace Cathedral,
an Episcopal church in San Francisco, that he supports same-
sex marriage. His primary reason, he said, was that culture has
changed and we need to adapt.

"I am for fidelity," Bell said. "I am for love, whether it´s a man and
a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man ... This is
the world that we are living in, and we need to affirm people
wherever they are."

I can appreciate Bell´s desire to affirm people. And I agree that
some Christians come off sounding unbelievably harsh when we
talk about homosexuality. But Bell didn´t have anything affirming
to say to the evangelical Christians who were his support base
during the early years of his ministry. He trashed us. And he
was judgmental about it.

Describing evangelicals, Bell predicted our doom in his March 17
remarks: "We are witnessing the death of a particular subculture
that doesn´t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically
intertwined, culturally ghettoized, evangelical subculture that was
told, `We´re gonna change the thing,´ and they haven´t. And they
actually have turned away lots of people."

If Bell wants to come off as affirming and non-judgmental, he should
use kinder words when describing a group of Christians who make
up an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population. Bell seems to
be saying: "I´m right, and you evangelicals are irrelevant." He´s
ready to officiate at our funeral.

In response, I offer three points:

1. It´s actually OK to be narrow. Bell accuses us of being narrow.
But wasn´t it Jesus who told us the way to salvation is narrow? He
said: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the
way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who
enter through it" (Matt. 7:13, NASB). Besides the fact that Jesus
refers to hell in that passage, He also says we have to be narrow
to avoid it.

Righteousness requires limitations. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees
for being judgmental on one hand, yet He drew lines and demanded
holiness on the other. We can´t be like Jesus, nor can we
demonstrate true love, if we affirm every lifestyle and embrace
every behavior.

2. Our subculture is not dying. The denominations that are losing
the most members today are actually the mainline groups that
have lost their commitment to the Bible. I´m in a different church
almost every week in this country (mostly charismatic or
Pentecostal), and I see vibrant faith, growing congregations and
the emergence of multiethnic leaders.

(And speaking of multiethnic, some of the most conservative
Christians in America are immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin
America. Does Bell think they are irrelevant? They are the real
future of our movement. Bell is out of touch if he thinks
evangelicalism is just a bunch of old, white, Republican guys.)

3. We do need to change our attitude. I will agree with Bell that
there is a segment of evangelicalism that is too politicized. We
misrepresent Jesus when we label Him a Republican or a Democrat.
He is neither. And we alienate people from Jesus when all we do
is pontificate about what we are against.

It is very possible that gay marriage will become the law of the
land in this country, just as the Supreme Court sanctioned abortion
in 1973. Just because our government legalized the killing of an
unborn baby does not mean I have to support that choice personally.
But I do have to show love and extend Christ´s forgiveness to a
woman who has aborted her child. Yelling at her or condemning
her will not bring her to faith in Jesus.

In the same way, we are called to show love and respect to gay
people. I don´t have to agree with a person´s lifestyle to love them.
Jesus showed amazing compassion to the woman caught in
adultery-and He rebuked the religious bullies who wanted to
stone her. But when they put down their rocks and walked away,
He told her: "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin
no more" (John 8:11, emphasis added).

Jesus was totally comfortable using the word sin when He showed
love to a person. And that´s the part of Jesus´ gospel that Rob
Bell ignores.

SI Moderator - Greg Gordon

 2013/4/10 8:37Profile

Joined: 2012/5/13
Posts: 2936

 Eugene Peterson: Would Jesus Condemn Rob Bell?

It was a pleasure to speak with the sagely Eugene Peterson at a consultation on Faith and Technology this past weekend. Peterson is best known for his ordinary-language translation of the Bible, called The Message, which has sold millions of copies, but he is also renowned for his many works on discipleship and spiritual theology. He is the Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College.

I spoke with Mr. Peterson about his memoir, The Pastor, and I look forward to publishing those comments. But I also asked him — for our book feature on Love Wins — about the “Hellgate” controversy. Peterson wrote a blurb for the back of the book that says, “It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

What are your thoughts regarding Rob Bell’s book and the controversy it ignited? What inspired you to endorse the book?

Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister. We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God. And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight. I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement. I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him. He may not be right. But he’s doing something worth doing. There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal. We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine. They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.

But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything. They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not. But that’s not what it means to live in community.

Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ. Everything has to be interpreted through Christ. Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness. The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees. But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment. There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell

ps If Eugene cannot discern Rob Bell should we trust him to discern and paraphrase the bible for us?

 2013/4/10 9:36Profile

Joined: 2009/12/11
Posts: 212


Wow, what a great article. That was a breath of fresh air. The whole thing was spot on. He has an amazing ability to be both full of grace and firm in the faith. Great article, thanks for posting.

I started reading this thinking it was going to be another "hit piece" on Rob Bell. I don't care for his "theology", but I think some people write about him in the hope that the keywords "Rob Bell" will drive traffic to their blog/article. This was very balanced.

Matt Smith

 2013/4/10 12:41Profile

Joined: 2007/2/3
Posts: 835
Alberta, Canada

 Re: Eugene Peterson: Would Jesus Condemn Rob Bell?

Proudpapa said, "It was a pleasure to speak with the sagely Eugene Peterson at a consultation on Faith and Technology this past weekend."

I do wish people would remember to state at the beginning of their post who wrote what we are about to read. I was sure it was Proudpapa who interviewed Eugene Peterson, only to discover later the article was by someone else.

Allan Halton

 2013/4/10 13:33Profile

Joined: 2012/5/13
Posts: 2936

 Re: ADisciple

Hi ADisciple,

I will try to be more careful from now on. I did not think anything of it, thank you for bringing it up.

 2013/4/10 18:10Profile

Joined: 2007/2/3
Posts: 835
Alberta, Canada


Thanks, PP, and I hope I didn't come across as being cranky. :) It's just that quite often on SI I think I am reading something by the poster, only to discover as I read further that it's an article by someone else.


Allan Halton

 2013/4/10 18:23Profile

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