A letter in the New Yorker following up on the Rob Bell profile:
Kelefa Sanneh’s Profile of the ex-megachurch pastor and ersatz theological liberal Rob Bell provides a fascinating glimpse inside the struggles of American evangelicalism (“The Hell-Raiser,” November 26th). Bell’s “evolving faith” in many ways mirrors my own: I graduated from Wheaton College several years after Bell, and his formative experiences with Christianity and his subsequent efforts to come to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of an evangelical subculture resonate deeply with me, and perhaps with many others of my generation.
But I wonder if Bell is truly the “provocateur” that Sanneh portrays him to be. Is he a catalyst for meaningful change, or is he riding the crest of a larger movement that has been developing for some time? One need look no further than the recent documentary film “Hellbound?” or the writings of Christian thinkers such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones [cough, cough], and John Shore to realize that a modern Christian reformation is already well under way. For many people, Bell has come to represent this movement, but his struggles with faith, though refreshingly honest, hardly place him at the forefront of theological change.
What seems clear is that evangelicalism has come full circle, and is now being forced to come to terms with its fundamentalist roots. Those who cling to the failed religious beliefs of the past will slowly fade into irrelevance, and those who struggle to embrace a new and more meaningful faith, as Bell seems to be doing, will carry on a tradition that is anti-establishment, radically inclusive, and deeply loving.
Great Falls, Mont.