I read once that when it comes to issues of faith some folks are ‘pioneers’ and others are ‘settlers’. Some will venture out into new territory theologically and practically, while others are better equipped to protect what is established and to work within what is known.
Rob Bell seems to be a pioneer and one who finds life in places where others where find fear. So for this he gets crucified.
He wrote a book about Hell. He questioned traditional teachings and while he didn’t appear to come down on any one view conclusively he allowed for the possibility of something other than eternal conscious damnation and perhaps what was more disturbing he encouraged people to think about the issue.
He stopped leading his megachurch without a concrete plan of ‘what next’ and he now doesn’t ‘attend’ church in the regular manner. Plenty of us have been there and know that this does not mean we have ‘ditched church’. We have just changed expressions.
But because he was such a high profile figure his choice to move away from the conventional has repercussions and he should be punished.
Then he came out in favour of same sex marriage and gay relationships… But we all knew he was going to do that because he had jumped onto the slippery slope and this was where it leads.
It was strike three for Bell, and rather than respect his theological judgement on this, while choosing to hold different views, this became a point of agreement for those hoping for his downfall. (And it seems plenty were hoping for it.) There was now definitely a common enemy to rally against.
And now we hear he is doing business with Ophrah…
He has his own show – on TV – talking about God. Oh dear. Its come to this. If he hadn’t lost his way before, then now he has completely sold out. He’s hopped in bed with the goddess of relativity and has lost his bearings completely.
Or… maybe as a pioneer he is strong enough to enter territory where the settlers feel at sea? Maybe he is able to move into uncharted territory without a map but with a north point to hold him? We value missionaries who go to unreached people groups, so why not a culturally capable and theologically astute missionary who has gone into territory very few Christians would ever get invited into.
From discussions with missionaries to unreached people groups in other cultures I know they use methods to communicate the gospel that they do not disclose when they come home because your average evangelical wouldn’t understand and it wouldn’t be worth the hassle because then we would marginalise them as well. So maybe Rob Bell is just bold enough to do his thing in full view. Maybe he has nothing to hide?… Maybe we can’t understand what we see, so its easier to kick him out of the tribe than to trust that God might work in a different way thru this gifted individual.
Perhaps its just plain jealousy?
As I listen to Bell speak I don’t hear him ditching Jesus, but nor do I hear him towing the party line. He often speaks in metaphors and images so he doesn’t please the gatekeepers who would prefer he use more familiar and definable language. In his language there is room for people to imagine and to think, and possibly think wrong things. But given that many do not want to think on these issues or listen to the voices of most preachers perhaps he is tilling the ground to speak of Jesus in a compelling way – as he can do – at a later point.
Then again maybe he is just a heretic and we should stone him to death for daring to be famous, successful, engaging and then to change tack – to walk away from the tangible expressions of a faith that is clearly working and to undermine the credibility of his own creation. Because that is hard to explain…
I understand that some people who were fans of Bell in his original more familiar incarnation may feel a little ripped off now. He was once the person who could say so well what many of us struggled to communicate. He had a way with words and media and theology that was uncanny… and now he is no longer saying the things we would like him to.
Maybe we can get off this guy’s back and trust that God can work in him and through him in ways that many of us would not be capable of.
Perhaps… just perhaps Bell has lost his way and drifted unconsciously into territory that is clearly incorrect and blatantly in opposition to the call of Christ. But perhaps rather than a good ole evangelical lynching, maybe this is the time to get alongside him and help him find his way back.
We do love a lynching though don’t we?…