Thursday, May 05, 2011

Rob Bell in hell part 2: "Love Wins" and the Fate of Everyone Who Ever Preached/Blogged/Lied

My first post on Rob Bell and "Love Wins" was before I read the book, and simply an orientation to the pre-publication controversy.
(Unlike many, I didn't dare review it ...or send him to hell..before I read it, which seems to be a new phenomenon).

I am finally getting around to a series of several posts  that respond to the book, and eventually review it (Yes, I have actually read it..as have other heretical local pastors....long ago).

There's so much to say about Rob Bell and hell that I don't know where to start..
and I almost didn't start..for reasons akin to Tim Neufeld's:
in the end, how does any of this help us to be better citizens of an alternate kingdom? How does this discussion equip us to be the light and foretaste of God’s kingdom, themissio Dei, as we seek to enable his reign “on earth as it is in heaven?” Quarreling about the orthodoxy of Rob Bell or John Piper’s teachings may only serve to sidetrack us from our real purpose of being God’s people called to live in community as a counter-cultural witness in a world that desperately desires to know its Creator -Link

So, with fear and trembling.... for my unofficial start (preface, icebreaker, or "devotions," if you will), I'll begin with two helpful and hilarious (!) videos on hell, both of which raise profound questions and will help frame some of my later posts:



And a classic (and highly edited, of course, to make it "family friendly") episode of "South Park",,,
Thanks to Mennonite pastor (and pastor of the Virtual Pew) Mike Furches, and his wonderful "Faith and Film" seminar, for the tip on this.  Mike showed this clip (a better edited version than mine) at a Mennonite conference, and lived to tell about it (: (Mennonites don't usually kill). video

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Ah, I see you're back.

 Perhaps the real reason I waited so long to post my official thoughts on "that book" is:


  • I long to be fashionably late to fashion events.   (:
  • I don't really care how many hits this post gets because I talk about a hot topic, and I am seen as cool   (:
  • The media circus doesn't need a clown.  (:
  • The internet doesn't need its 36788,999,8766, 456th post on "Love Wins"

So..on that theme (all the manic media attention), I must begin with calling your attention to two of the most important and provocative posts connected to the book..

First, Tim Neufeld's (already quoted him above). I think his word is so important that I shamelessy begged him to blog it after he previewed his thoughts in a Facebook comment.

 I think the title is worth the price: "Why I think Rob Bell and John Piper are more similar than not".


And I think this excerpt of Tim's post is worth reading prayerfully and carefully. (Context: If you are one of the three readers on earth who haven't heard about the John Piper vs. Rob Bell war: 1)congratulations.  Luddites rule!  2)Here's the short story: Before the book was released, based on the early promo video and rumors of content, John Piper famously/infamously Tweeted; "Farewell, Rob Bell." He still has not publicly explained what he meant (but here is one  intriging guess and one satirical explanation), bit many interpret Piper as kicking/binding and loosing Bell out of the evangelical club.).  Tim's thoughts:




The problem for me is not whether Bell is a universalist or whether Piper is right or wrong. What worries me is how surprisingly alike these two men actually are. Their theology leads them to different conclusions, but in many other ways they are remarkably similar. Consider the following:
  • Both are megachurch pastors. Bell leads the 10,000+ Mars Hill Bible Church which meets in a shopping mall in Grandville, Michigan (not to be confused with Mark Driscoll who pastors the massive Mars Hill Church in Seattle and is often seen as an arch-critic of Bell). Piper heads the 4,500 member Bethlehem Baptist Church. The church’s website reports that the church has grown a 1000% since Piper’s coming in 1981. Both pastors are highly charismatic, engaging, and creative Bible teachers with high public exposure. Undoubtedly they are strong leaders and visionaries with a desire to grow the local church.
      • Those who study leadership models know that a common style is that of "crisis manager." The advantage of this leadership style is that the leader is often very good in crisis environments and can make appropriate decisions when under pressure. Crisis managers help people navigate confusing, difficult and uncertain situations. However, the downside of this leadership style is that crisis mangers always need to have a crisis to feel valued and effective. If no actual crisis exists, these leaders will manufacture one, often unknowingly. Both Piper and Bell are, at least in part, crisis managers. People have gravitated to them because they have provided answers for those in theological crisis. Bell appeals to liberal Evangelicals, Piper to the conservative. The danger is that in order to stay relevant to their followers, each will need ongoing crises to manage. Thus, the debate over universalism (or anything) is not unexpected.
          • There is an alarming trend in Christian publishing toward sensationalism. This is happening on both sides of the liberal/conservative debate. Taking their cues from best-selling non-Christian media (and perhaps starting with Tim LeHaye’s excessively hyped Left Behind series which essentially invented a new genre of Christian Horror/Science Fiction), many pastor-authors are appealing to the masses through hyperbole. Brian McLaren suggested he knew The Secret Message of Jesus and that Everything Must Change. Recently, John MacArthur has declared that Christianity will no longer be the same since he has uncovered a “forgotten” message in his book Slave: the Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ (MacArthur also joined a group of conservatives to announce in Christianity Today that if we didn't do something drastic Christianity in America would be dead within a decade). Book releases are often accompanied by supporting websites, videos, curricula, interviews and rock concert-style book tours. Bell and Piper (and many others) continue to use the same sensationalist tactics in order to engage their audiences.
              • But perhaps the most troubling similarity is seen in their new roles as theological authorities for a particular demographic. Whether they intended for this to happen or not, each has become the go-to Bible-answer-man of his generation. While their answers and outcomes differ greatly, the means by which they get there are similar. Each looks to the Bible as a theological treatise that contains secret truths to be uncovered by those who are enlightened. Once the code is broken one can teach these truths of the kingdom. Followers gleefully subscribe to one or the other and uncritically clamor to defend their champion. The question surfacing around universalism and so many other issues (predestination, the role of women in the home and ministry, homosexuality, pacifism, etc.) tends to be, “Do you side with Bell or with Piper?” Related questions abound: “Is Bell still a believer?" "How can Piper call himself a Christian when being so judgmental?” and on and on.
                                     -Tim Neufeld 

              As I posted earlier:

              .. Tim's post is a very important read.  For example, I had not realized how John Piper (let alone John McArthur)and Rob Bell can ironically, if unintentionally, fall into the same trap.   That Tim commented on megachurches reminds me how gunshy I am about any of our network's churches getting over 120  (that's a megachurch!..see "St. Mike and Megachurches of 120") in attendance.. I also really worry about the celebrity culture and "controversy culture" machine* that fires up to sell books/movies/hell/Bell/ Jesus.  

              I love the story of Bell's first Sunday pastoring Mars Hill  (in"Velvet Elvis").  He recounts his feelings of unworthiness and nervousness at peeking out from behind the curtain and realizing there was a large crowd...even half-joking (?) that all these people were showing up to hear him, and now he wasn't even sure he was a Christian.

              I assume he tells the story to be humble, or because he is humble.

              But it is not the full truth.

              I am not saying Rob Bell is a liar (Ironically, he can't be..or he is literally going to hell!)
              I am not saying he ever lies.

              I am saying that I do...likely all pastors do...unintentionally (?) and inevitably, just by being part of the system/matrix/machine/market  of contemporary Western Christianity.  I don't know how much we can unplug from the machine (Though that is one of the intertexted themes of the new Violet Burning project), but I must do whatever I can to unplug from its poison.

              One practical step I take is, partly due to my epiphany in the thrift store, partly due to my previous church having 680 members (but who's counting), and largely due to my conviction that 120 is a megachurch (Wolfgang suggest the marker might be a lot lower!), and in most cases already too large......

              if/when our church hits 120, we plan to play another one.

              Here's the catch.

              As soon as I say that, some people think I'm nuts, or a failure.

              But some think I am cool, hip..and profound for bucking the system.

              When all I am doing  (besides believing smaller , more organic churches are biblical and  vital) is trying to keep myself honest.

              I don't want you to think I'm cool for the sake of being cool.
              But the system wants me ( forces me) to want to.

              People notice that I refuse to park in a reserved  pastors parking spot, and think it's cool.
              That i won't use "Reverend" or pastor as a title...and think it's admirable.

              Ironic , inevitable  ..and i may lose my reward in full if you love me for it, and I become proud of my humility.
              I might as well brag about my fast...but that might send me to hell.
              Maybe I'll just upgrade my glasses to be relevant (For a good time/laugh, click this)

               'Never trust a performer, " Bono once offered, " performers are the best liars. They lie for a living...You are an actor in a certain sense. But a writer is not a liar. There's a piece of Scripture:Know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  (l
              link)



              Bono of course, knows full well he is a performer, and performing liar.  But there is revelation and  relief  in telling the truth about it....and working to make the switch from performer to writer.


              Sam Phiilps sang (uh, wrote):

              "And I don't know all the truth/From the lying
              But I know that I need you
              Because I am dying
              From being held by hell
              In a cell of blinding fear":
              -link, 





              I really weant to know why an honest book  (picture( about lying is on the discount rack.  Why can't it compete with Rob Bell and hell?

              One quote:"When we ask pastors to stand on a pedestal as part of their job description and be more honest with us than we expect to be ourselves, we turn them) into hardened heroes.  Asking to be deceived, we are partners in duplicity" (p.95)





              Again, I am not accusing Bell (only myself) of lying (It's more of s systemic issue).. But just the fact that his church had a curtain to begin with, let alone one to peek out of, is a concern to me.  What's a curtain, or a stage (read the EBay Atheist and Mark DeRaud), or a TV camera doing in a church to start with?  More to the issue at hand, the fact that Mars Hill had a curtain from day one makes it obvious that it was expecting/planning for hundreds/thousands to show up.  I think Bell is sincere and humble, but perhaps his personality, storytelling style and the Christian culture almost force him to lie.

              One writer:
              I scratch my head when I read Velvet Elvis pages 99-105. You paint the picture that you and your wife were sitting at a Taco Bell in LA and you randomly moved across country and had a supernatural first Sunday at a building with no sign. This section sounds really cool, sounds really miraculous and is critical to your defenders and critical to your story. Sounds good, but, factually it is only partially true and bordering on an out right lie.
              Factually, Mars Hill is a church plant from Calvary Church
              in Grand Rapids
              . Factually they encouraged their following of 5,000 to break off and go and support your church. Factually, they marketed for you. Factually you worked for three years at a rapidly growing mega church in the area as a pastor. Why would you paint your story and leave out three years? This section when read through the eyes of cultural relevance (thanks for that tip) causes me to question you even more  LINK



              I  just want to be honest.
              I know where liars go.

              But honestly, that was  partly a false humility...and a desire to entertain...that made me write those last two sentences.  Is that the good news or the bad news.




              To be continued.  Hint: David Dark will help me sort this out.  See:

              BELL RINGS TRUE: A REVIEW OF ROB BELL’S Love winS

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              Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!