For whom does Bell toll?

As I suggested yesterday, the latest blog controversy is well under way. Here’s a little round-up and a few early thoughts just to keep the pot simmering till we’ve all had chance to read Rob Bell’s latest book.

  • Tim Challies reflects on the speed of the web in promoting controversy
  • David Capener wonders whether our Christian worlds aren’t just a bit tainted by the cult of celebrity
  • Josh Harris weighs in too…where you can also read Denny Burk misunderstanding Bell.

So we’re all having our opinion on the theological soundness of Rob Bell. He’s plenty misunderstood. Let me give you a couple of examples. Here’s a talk by Adrian Birks I heard which I thought was a very fair, thoughtful review of the theology in Velvet Elvis.

And Velvet Elvis provides a good example of how Bell can easily be misunderstood. Here’s a very thorough review of Velvet Elvis by Andy Robinson. In Velvet Elvis Bell discusses our view of doctrine whether it is like a spring in a trampoline or a brick in a wall and uses the virgin birth as an example. Can you remove a doctrine and still know God?

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists 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?” (Page 26 – Velvet Elvis)

In Robinson’s review he reacts like a brick in a wall but as Birks points out this is a red herring. Because while Robinson reacts as if Bell has rejected the virgin birth Bell doesn’t actually deny this doctrine at all. Here’s the relevant bit from Rob Bell’s church theology

“We believe these longings found their fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, mysteriously God having become flesh.”

Because Bell asks provocative questions and deals mostly with the questions that speak to the angst of the post-modern 20 and 30 something, he is often ambiguous and very open to being misunderstood. Contrary to what you might think I’m not actually trying to defend Rob Bell (not my place to do so) just trying to illustrate how he is a rod for theological lightning strikes.

I’ve read plenty of people saying how ‘unsurprised they are by this because of his theological trajectory’ a phrase I’ve heard several times. I have no idea what my theological trajectory is but I’m open to learning and growing and moving. I’m trusting God that this will be in a good direction.

So let’s briefly just see what Mars Hill Church theological statement says. Firstly it affirms the fall,

“The enemy tempted the first humans, and darkness and evil entered the story through human sin and are now a part of the world. This devastating event resulted in our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation being fractured and in desperate need of redeeming.”

It affirms that Jesus is God’s only answer to the fall,

“Yet his path of suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation. Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans. Through Jesus we have been forgiven and brought into right relationship with God. God is now reconciling us to each other, ourselves, and creation. The Spirit of God affirms as children of God all those who trust Jesus.”

Interestingly it says little about future judgement but let us reserve future judgement until Rob Bell says what he thinks.

2 thoughts on “For whom does Bell toll?”

  1. Rob Mason says:

    The problem is exactly as you have highlighted, Rob Bell in questioning how we think, doesn’t leave it very clear where he stands. There is no problem with asking questions, and breaking down trains of thought that are unhelpful or harmful to embracing Christ’s salvation work and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide people, but (and in my view it is a big one) it is important that when we do speak we don’t confuse or lead people towards mysticism, doubting the inerrancy of scripture, the deity of Jesus, selective theology, universalism, spirituality and considering that the most important person in the universe is us.

    The other big danger is that we re-evaluate *everything* in the light of ‘supposed’ new evidence. There are certain beliefs that are foundational and sacrasant to understand what Christianity is, and what a relationship with God is all about. Anything that encourages someone to doubt the validity of those core assumptions without explicitly coming clean on what the asker believes, adds to confusion rather than clarifying it. I am very much in favour of people thinking through what they believe, and working out why they believe it (always having a reason for the hope they believe) but we must be very careful in our leading that we don’t cause people to stumble because we’ve not be clear and unambiguous.

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