I guess the guy who once pastored Mars Hill Bible Church is no longer a fan. But I’m not sure he ever was.
Bell’s game has always been to tell itching ears that he had figured out the real truths that everyone else had missed for 2,000 years, and that none of it meant what it appeared to mean or what everyone else who’s studied it earnestly found it to mean.
No one should be surprised that he’s taken it a step further. Whereas it was once Bell understanding the Bible better than everyone else, it’s now Bell finding that the Bible itself is the problem:
I actually went to Bell’s church in Grand Rapids once and heard him preach. He’s a talented speaker. The sermon was on Exodus 20:7, and how taking the name of the Lord in vain involved a whole lot more than using His name in swearing, which is what people tend to see in that text.
It wasn’t a bad sermon, and he made some good points, but there was still something haughty about Bell’s spirit (this was way back in 2003), and you sensed that he was far too impressed with his own superior understanding of things, and that it would get him in trouble if he kept going down that road.
Here we are.
The crux of Bell’s mistake is the classic one of today’s culture: He conflates rejection of sinful behavior with hatred of those engaging in the behavior. That’s how he justifies his assertion that the church doesn’t love gay people or Muslims. If we did, according to Bell’s thinking, we would approve of everything they do and of everything they believe.
He would deny that he applies that standard, but if he’s not applying that standard then he’s simply lying about the church. Someone who walks into a church and feels unloved because their lifestyle wasn’t affirmed misses the whole point of Christianity, which is to be delivered from your sin and redeemed by Christ.
But ah yes, now Bell’s problem is with the fact that Christianity exists at all.
By claiming Jesus would be “mortified” that “a religion” was established in his name, Bell is pushing pretty hard with the idea that “religion” is nothing more than mean people imposing rules on you, and telling you how bad you are.
This is one of the reasons I am not crazy about the whole “relationship not religion” theme that’s become very popular in modern Christian circles. We tab as “religion” all the stuff about church that’s a drag, especially the parts where you’re told how awful your sin is (and of course, being expected to tithe, being expected to serve, being expected to get up on Sunday mornings, etc.), and label it all as the rotten fruit of the pharisees.
A relationship with Jesus, by contrast, is just you hanging with the ultra-chill lovemaster who accepts you exactly as you are.
Hucksters like Bell glom onto the negative connotations associated with the word religion and apply them to everything and anything about church, or about God’s law, or about repentance. Why, that’s all religion! You don’t want that!
And from there he’s got people easily accepting the idea that every pastor is a money-grubbing, rule-making, legalism-pushing, hate-mongering hypocrite . . . and that Jesus would be mortified to see what they’re all doing in His name.
But why stop there? Why not blame the Word of God itself? If all these awful people hadn’t established a religion based on the Bible, we wouldn’t have all these problems.
Bell started out as an associate pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids under the highly respected Pastor Ed Dobson, who recently lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Bell certainly did not learn this garbage from Dobson.
As far as I can tell, when Bell broke off and started Mars Hill in Grandville (where we lived for 16 years, by the way), he quickly took on the persona of the cool, hip pastor who appealed to young Christians. They liked it when he de-emphasized limits on their lifestyle, and he enjoyed the adulation. My guess is that Bell became enticed by all the praise he got for telling young people not to worry about the way they were living, because hey, Jesus didn’t stress about all that. And the more praise he got, the further he went down that road.
From there it wasn’t a long road to books, video production and finally a move out to L.A. where he could make himself a star telling young audiences that everything their stodgy old pastors were telling them was wrong.
The truth is that Jesus came to free us from our sin, not to dismiss the whole notion that it matters. The truth is that sin separates us from God and we need to be delivered from it. The truth is that leading someone to deliverance from their sin is the greatest form of love you can show them, and simply telling everyone that whatever they want to do is fine is a deception with eternal consequences.
But it’s what a lot of people want someone to tell them, and they’re still buying Rob Bell as a guy who has the theological chops to say it with authority – even now, when he’s crossed the line into blaming the Bible itself for all the problems that bother him.
I wonder which line Bell will cross next.