Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Rob Bell’s ministry proves ‘divisive’ in some religious circles By Drew Nichter

A Google search of the name Rob Bell yields nearly 300,000 results. Although not all of those Web pages refer to Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., a majority of them do.

One will find links to the Mars Hill Web site, a page promoting Bell’s NOOMA video series and of course, his Wikipedia entry. One will also find a site promoting Bell’s recent lecture tour, “The gods Aren’t Angry,” which made a stop in Louisville Nov. 29. The tour tackled the topic of religion and its origins throughout human history.

In an interview with the Western Recorder, Bell described the tour as a “way of answering the question, ‘What is grace?’ without ever using the word ‘grace.’

“I want people to be overwhelmed with grace,” he added.

The up-and-coming young pastor certainly has been an overwhelming figure in recent years. Bell’s Mars Hill congregation, founded in 1999, quickly became one of the fastest-growing churches in history, exceeding 10,000 members. He recently released the 18th video in his NOOMA series which has received “phenomenal response,” Bell noted. In between all of that, he even managed to write two best-selling books, “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”

CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE Rob Bell during his recent “The gods Aren’t Angry” speaking tour stop at the Brown Theater in Louisville. (Photo by Drew Nichter)

With that success has come plenty of controversy, which Bell maintained he does not pay attention to. “I don’t Google my name,” he said.

If he did, he would find a Rob Bell “archive” on a Web site called Apprising Ministries.

The site is the work of Ken Silva, who describes himself as “an ordained (Southern Baptist Convention) minister who has dedicated himself to the study of comparative religions and non-Christian cults.”

Silva has a long list of targets including Mormonism, Rick Warren, even the SBC. But he seems to take special note of Bell, with more than 100 entries criticizing his teachings, lectures and ministry.

Bell declines “emergent” label
The criticism most often leveled at Bell is his affiliation with the emergent church movement. He is often linked to Brian McLaren, the pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland and a strong proponent of the emergent church movement. In 2005, McLaren was invited and then disinvited to speak at the Kentucky Baptist Evangelism Conference because of some controversial passages in his book, “A Generous Orthodoxy.”

Bell’s name even surfaced alongside McLaren’s during discussions at September’s “Convergent” conference examining the emergent church at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

When asked whether he is an emergent church leader or claims any affiliation with the movement, Bell simply said, “No.” Discussing the role of the emergent church movement, he said he understood it to be “simply a conversation asking, ‘What does it mean to be the people of Jesus?’”

Addressing anyone who is critical of such a movement, Bell said, “I wonder whether that person is a Christian. That seems like a conversation they ought to have.”

Another charge that has been thrown Bell’s way is that his teachings oversimplify the gospel for the postmodern generation. In his “The gods Aren’t Angry” lectures, Bell asserts that God is not angry and that He has made peace with all of humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This principle prompted protests outside at least one tour stop.

Jeff Fuson, a longtime youth minister at Crestwood Baptist Church in Oldham County who recently became pastor of a new church plant, attended Bell’s lecture in Louisville. Fuson agrees that while some of what Bell teaches can be seen as “divisive,” it can help believers think about their faith.

“Even if we don’t agree with (Bell), he still challenges us to think and to pull some things apart and to wonder about our faith,” Fuson noted. “If a person can’t think about their faith, then their faith may be too brittle.”

Bell had much stronger words for those who are “scared” by those who offer a new approach to theology, calling them “the original Pharisees.”

“They’re obsessed with absolutely minutiae issues surrounding, ‘What words do you use to define the Bible?’” he said. “They absolutely obsess about people who, in their minds, don’t use the exact proper definitive language they’ve agreed upon somewhere.”

And Bell insisted he is not worried about offending “fundamentalists,” adding that each time he does so, “there are a thousand people who are now listening.”

Fuson emphasized there currently is a “clash of worldviews,” adding that “people are scared” of that.

“It’s a very challenging debate right now and it’s way bigger than Rob Bell,” Fuson noted.

He said that debate is between those who believe that in order to be a follower of Christ, one must adhere strictly to certain doctrines. On the other side are Bell and other “new thinkers” who are challenging some of that doctrine.

But Fuson added that they’re all on the same team and could learn from one another.

“What the people talking about doctrine are trying to accomplish and what Rob Bell are trying to accomplish are actually the same thing,” Fuson suggested. “This is to arrive at a place where you have people who are full-on followers of Christ. Both want the same thing, but they’re attempting different methods.

“The reality is we probably need to learn from both sides.”

Western Recorder issue date: December 11, 2007

Have you heard Rob Bell speak or read his books? Is he a heretic as Mark Driscoll has said or is he an example of the new evangelism that is required for the post-modern age or do you take the position of Fuson who takes a middle position?AK


Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of his stuff but he sounds pretty mild in comparision to some of the recent ideas from ikon ......

Ken Silva website to me is quite spiteful and vindictive in his approach


Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks Rod, Rob Bell came to Belfast though I didn't in fact hear him.I intend to use some of his famous Nooma DVD's at the youth club.They would not be too deep spiritually, but after all most unchurched kids would find a heavy message too much.I also have his two books Velvet Elvis and Sex God which I must get around to finishing.I'll maybe do a review on them when I read them.Silva is a typical Cult watcher, a bit like Cecil Andrews who shoots on sight.I always like to read them from time to time so I can look out for the 'errors' before coming to my own judgement.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Benji Magness, “Teaching Pastor at Country Bible Church in Kaufman, Texas writes:” brings us this very in-depth critique from a month ago, which concerns the message he heard from Rob Bell when, along with two other pastors, Benji attended Bell’s “the gods aren’t angry” tour “at Nokia Live.”
Benji tells us, “My good friend Rob typed up a response to Rob Bell’s message”:
I attended with two senior pastors who are my dearest friends from seminary. They are tracking with the Emerging Church movement and have sharp minds to discern truth from untruth. After Rob Bell spoke, we processed his talk in community and came to the same conclusion.
I really appreciate Bell’s writings (like Velvet Elvis), and I think he has several great concepts and insight around 1st century culture and correlating it to the gospels. But after Friday night, our community of three came to the conclusion that Bell denies a substitutionary atonement model of Christ’s death, and is a functioning Universalist...
“All things have been reconciled to God... All things are reconciled to God”. [Rob Bell] repeats this over and over. He doesn’t give you any reference to this idea or the rest of the verse’s idea and concept. The concept comes out of Col. 1:20. Everything in the way he repeated this statement communicated that everyone has been reconciled to God. In his delivery and tone communicated that all things (all people) have been reconciled to God.
There is no indication that any profession of Christian faith or belief is needed in order to bring about reconciliation with an individual. But, reconciliation has come because God is love and God provides. There was no communication that Christ’s death had anything to do with reconciliation or that any type of profession or belief was needed to bring about this reconciliation. This idea would be considered among theologians as a Universalist View of Salvation. (Online source)
Apprising Ministries finds this very interesting. These dear friends from seminary, with two of these pastors—possessing sharp minds to discern truth—are in the Emergent Church, and yet they too picked up what so many others of us outside the emerging church have. Rob Bell does indeed appear to be teaching some form of universalism.

Apprising MInistries