I was recently given this front page article from last week’s Grand Rapids Press about Rob Bell’s view on gay marriage. Since I’ve been blogging a lot about homosexuality, gay marriage, and the Church’s response, I thought this would be a fitting article to write a blog about.
In the article, there were some one-liner quotes from Rob that made me pretty uncomfortable, but the quotes were taken from a 55 minute podcast interview (you can find it here) with Rob. I didn’t want to comment on the quotes without hearing their context, because that’s not fair to the person who said them, so I decided to listen to the entire interview before coming to conclusions.
And wow, was I surprised and saddened by what I heard.
Quick background on me and Rob Bell…I attended Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids from 2001-2004, and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary from 2006-2009, all during Rob’s years as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. I now live in Lansing, an hour east of Grand Rapids, and have many friends who over the years have loved Rob’s ministry and work. I’ve read all of Rob’s books and attended his conference on preaching in 2009.
I do not write any of these things on my blog to rip on Rob as a person. And as I call him arrogant, it is a warning to me to not follow in his footsteps as I know it’s a path I’m incredibly susceptible to. I know I risk sounding arrogant by calling someone arrogant, but after listening to his interview, it’s the best word I can find to describe his stance and I think it’s a warning to all of us that needs to be steadfastly given. I write these things 1. Because I have so many friends who consider Rob a spiritual mentor & 2. Because this is my generation.
I have always appreciated, respected, and applauded Rob’s heart to reach people for Jesus that the traditional Church construct wasn’t reaching. It’s an identical passion to what is on my heart. And up until Rob’s recent book Love Wins, I always felt he did this while maintaining the integrity of the Bible, which is what made his points so helpful and profound. I loved his first book, Velvet Elvis. While it ruffled some Christians’ feathers, I felt Rob stayed within bounds of Scriptural orthodoxy and that the book would be a very effective tool for reaching certain types of non-Christians and church-burnouts.
The first thing about the podcast interview that struck me was how arrogant Rob sounded. When asked about
his Evangelical and Baptist upbringing (which was in Okemos, the town next to me and where I served as a youth pastor for a year and half), Rob responded by making fun of it. He sounded embarrassed of his upbringing and like he really wants to be cool and accepted by his current audience (Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francisco). I’m all for humor and I think everyone who grew up in a Baptist/Evangelical upbringing (like I did) has some funny things to say about it, as well as some significant theological shifts they’ve made from it, but there is still a huge amount of gratitude and respect to be shown for this type of upbringing and for this tradition, not simple mockery and sarcasm.
Next was dishonesty about Mars Hill Church’s origins, the church Rob started in Grand Rapids that grew at an explosive pace. He tells a similar half-truth in Velvet Elvis, but it sounded worse when listening to his actual vocal inflections. The half-truth Rob tells in both the book and interview is that they just started this church up in their living room with a few people. When they got a facility for Sunday services, some people tried to put a sign up with the church’s name on it, but Rob made them take it down, saying people had to “want to come”. Then all of a sudden, they had a 1000 people their first Sunday (…How did they get there? It didn’t even have a sign!) and it just blew up from there to around 10,000 the time Velvet Elvis was written.
What Rob doesn’t tell is the story a church planting professor of mine at GRTS told our class. He was the executive pastor at Calvary Church at the time Rob did his internship there. What Rob doesn’t tell is that he was the regular Saturday night speaker at this gigantic, but traditional and conservative, megachurch in predominantly traditional and conservative Grand Rapids. Many of Calvary’s younger generation would attend the Saturday night service to hear Rob preach as his style related to them. Rob decided to start a church in the same town and guess who his first 1000 magical attendees were? The 1000 followers he already had at Calvary on Saturdays.
I have no problem with this, and neither did my professor. But be honest about it. And be honest about how this gutted the younger generation of leadership from Calvary, something that really crippled their church and took them several years to recovery from. That’s not nearly as sexy to talk about. Don’t act like you got these 1000 people out of nowhere because you are such a rock star preacher. Because that’s exactly how it sounds in the interview (at least in Velvet Elvis, he gives credit to the Holy Spirit…Which, though still misleading, is a bit more noble!)
And as a side note, do you realize how damaging this is to church planters? It’s church planter pornography is what it is. We are told a half-truth of how this huge, hip church was started, so when ours doesn’t start the same way, we think it must be because of our bad preaching…or because we aren’t good enough pastors…or because God doesn’t love us the same way…or because we aren’t dressed cool enough… or because we are bad Christians who don’t have enough faith… Don’t get me wrong: Rob Bell is a fantastically gifted preacher, but that is not the reason in-and-of-itself Mars Hill had 1000 people their first Sunday, and 10,000 people a few years later. (Do the math: if you have 20 people your first Sunday and you have 200 a few years later, you’ve experienced this exact rate of growth…minus the book deals and inspirational stories of not putting up a church sign, of course.)
Rob has so many good ideas as a ministry-thinker. Even his book Love Wins is full of great theological content. Chapter after chapter, I kept reading it saying, “Yes, Yep, I agree, I’ve said that, great point, I learned that in seminary…” and then he throws in one heretical (unbiblical) view and I just stop and say, “Why did you just do that?” You have such a platform. God is using you in incredible ways. Why did you just do that!?
And with that one view, that one point that contradicts what the Bible says, Rob embarked on a new identity as a pastor, Christian, and thought-leader. An identity that is separate from what made him so effective up to this point: the authority of Scripture. With the authority of Scripture behind him, Rob was an amazing prophet and amazing communicator of God’s word. Taking God’s truth and wording it in a way that those far away from Jesus could relate to it and find a relationship with Jesus they may not have found any other way.
But when you take away the authority of Scripture, that the things Rob is saying are not his words, but are actually God’s words, what are you left with?
You are left with Rob’s words.
I think Rob has painted himself into quite a corner at this point in his career.
And if all Rob has is Rob’s words, then he needs to be as confident (arrogant) about those words as possible. Because what other authority does he now have to stand on? Only his own.
So be loud. Be sarcastic. Mock. Dodge legitimate questions with another joke. Be condescending. Be snarky. And above all, be defensive. Make yourself into the victim of purposeless attacks when all you are trying to do is help people.
I always loved that Rob never cared about what other people thought of him, he only cared about seeing people come to Jesus. I always wanted to embody this, the way I think the Apostle Paul does in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
I’m now saddened that Rob’s passion for seeing people come to Jesus has caused him to throw away the very words of Jesus… for fear that those words will prevent people from coming to Jesus.
All of the posts in this series:
- How Did Rob Bell Become So Arrogant?
- How Rob Bell contradicts the Bible in “Love Wins” & where that led
- Rob Bell offers a Bibleless Jesus and Bibleless Christianity
- I love Rob Bell, and am going to stop blogging about him (Replaced “How my support of civil unions is 100% different than Rob Bell’s support of gay marriage”)