A couple of days ago I posted a smart-alecky entry about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his alleged belief in universalism, suggesting (by means of humor) that perhaps his celebrity is just another passing, naval-gazing, fad on the saw dust trail that is American Evangelicalism. But after I received a stinging rebuke from an Evangelical friend (who would have undoubtedly gotten my humor if I were a middle aged blonde woman with dreadlocks), I took some time to read up on Pastor Bell and find out about his congregation, Mars Hill, and their beliefs. Although I think “Mars Hill” is a weird name for a church (my own preference, if you’re into biblical geography and artifacts, is Lazarus’ Tomb or Herod’s Platter), I think they may be on to something. If you read the beliefs section of the Mars Hill website, you will discover a “narrative theology” that is not the Henry- Emerson-Fosdick-as-hipster caricature that one would be led to believe if one just read certain Reformed blogs (that shall remain nameless, though one rhymes with “Godspell competition”).
As a Catholic, I have no dog in this fight. But as a self-described Evangelical Catholic, I see in Pastor Bell’s beliefs a longing for historical continuity with the ancient church and its practices as well as a winsome, intelligent, and attractive manner that is welcoming without at the same time compromising the core of Christian faith. Given the history of Protestantism, I understand the concern on the part of many traditional Evangelicals who see this as the first step toward the liberalizing of that movement. And Bell’s project may very well drift in that direction. But his desire to reach back into the Christian past to retrieve something that has been lost is a pretty Reformed sentiment, whether in Geneva or in Trent. (If, of course, Bell is a universalist, the Catholic Church parts ways with him on that doctrine).