Rob Bell may be on to something

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).

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    You are being far to gracious in trying to find something redemptive here Frank: I agree that an understanding of historical continuity would bring him some piece but his approach has been anything but longing for what you refer to. In fact I speculate that the reason he does not come out and say he is a universalist is because he might believe in universalism but universalism doesnt believe in him. Universalist churches are empty.

    In 2004 Christianity Today interviewed Bell as they were discovering the “Emergent Mystique” and in that interview he states:

    ‘The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—”discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. ….”

    This sort of understanding should shed some light on his narrative theology approach. Make no mistake. No ontological reality is required in this guys view; paradigms with Jesus and love are the most authentic fruitful ways humans can choose to live and its best because it works.

    Read Velvet Elvis
    Source for quote:

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