Honestly, say this with a straight face. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Stance on Rob Bell, the Emerging Church, and Off-Brand Soda

Okay, so I said that this post was going to happen last week, but it didn't. Which is actually good, because I've done some more reading since then on various things and I hope that I have a better idea of what I want to say.

Keep in mind, my views almost always annoy someone somewhere, usually many someones. However, the blogs I've written so far have gotten surprisingly good feedback (although the ideas, when expressed verbally elsewhere have received quite a bit of venom. I guess that just means that people only reply to my blogs/notes if they like what I say and save the criticism for when they see me face to face.) I expect this blog to receive quite bit of jeering from both sides, which may be why I delayed it some, but I think I'm ready for it now.

For starters, if you've spent any amount of time talking theology with me, you've probably heard me state my views on Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and many other Emerging Church figures. I have been one of the more outspoken people I know against this movement, in particular, Rob Bell. Strikingly, I had not read any complete volume of any of these men, I'd read clips, reviews, opinions and seen a few Nooma videos. Because of this, I decided it would be of my best interest to spend my time off from school over the winter break to read as many books on or about the Emerging Church and their views as I possibly could. What I've discovered so far has been quite a surprise.

I started by reading "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell, a book I've heard nothing but bad things about from people I really respect and hold to many of the theological views as I do. I read it in one day.

It's the best book I've read this year.

Now, before you hit the reply button and praise me for coming to my senses, let me explain why. I do not think Rob Bell is the greatest theologian of our time, as a matter of fact, I learned nothing theologically from this book and would not advise anyone to look to Bell for growth in the area of Biblical doctrine. That being said, I felt that as far as Christianity in practice, the book was outstanding. Bell called out several areas of our "Christian culture" that are in desperate need of revision and/or overhaul. Many conservative, right wing, Christians would do good to listen to Bell's call for activism in our communities, churches, and relationships.

I also completely agree with his view of how the right side builds a wall of doctrines (some essential, some non) that keep others out and make sure that the right ones are in. I would not have gone so far as to use the example of the Virgin Birth to make my point on this issue, but I see what he is trying to say, and I believe him to be mostly correct on the issue.

I also found in the book that he upholds substitutionary atonement, which was very important for me to read. I know that others in this movement don't, or at best don't talk about it, which I find extremely troubling since it so foundational to the Christian faith.

Did I agree with everything Bell said in "Velvet Elvis?" No, but the things I did agree with stirred my soul for days as I contemplated the ways that my Christian life fails to reflect the life that Christ has called us to live. I would not recommend this book to those who are very young in their faith, simply to avoid confusion on particular issues, but for those who are mature and have a good idea of where they stand theologically, I think the book could be a great help. I look forward to read Bell's next book "Sex God" when it comes back to the library.

Now, I spent a day this week reading a book by Brian McLaren called "A Search for What is Real: Finding Faith." I am sad to say that the book did nothing to change my view of McLaren. I think that, like Bell, McLaren has much to say to a culture that has become apathetic to loving the lost and reaching out to those in need. However, McLaren's pluralism is just too much for me to swallow. It appears from what I've read that McLaren does believe that Christianity is the best way, but simply the best way of many other good ways such as Judaism, Islam, or whatever else.

So for what it's worth, here's my take on the Emerging Church:

I believe that they are right on when it comes to communicating with our culture and loving people where they are. They have a very good understanding of the social part of the Gospel and our obligation to help the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, and the despised. I commend them for their efforts to reach out and invite anyone and everyone into a loving relationship with God.

Unfortunately, this is where it ends. I believe in the inerrency of Scripture - that it is God's Word, written through the hands of men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is completely perfect and it is exactly what God meant to say. It is complete truth to me, and I need not look beyond God's Word for authority in my life. Because of this, I believe that there is not salvation apart from the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. To abandon this or to downplay it would be a travesty. Because of this, I cannot affirm the complete mission of the Emerging Church.

On the flip side, I am becoming more disgusted with the right-wing, conservative church as each day goes by because of the unwillingness to love and accept those who do not agree with our complete wall of doctrine. I would be happy to partake of communion with someone who was not baptized in a Baptist church. I would also be happy to work alongside a brother or sister who has a private prayer language, who is not a Calvinist, who is a woman pastor. I refuse to limit my ministry to consist of only those who hold to each and every non-essential doctrine as I do.

Therefore, I find myself in a bit of a pickle. It appears that I lie in somewhat of a no-mans-land between the right and left, unable to choose an allegiance. Maybe this is where I'll stay, or maybe others will join me in an effort put our differences aside and work together for the good of the Gospel. I'll leave you with a quote from D.A. Carson in his book "Becoming Coversant with the Emerging Church."

"No worldview, no epistemological system developed by us in this fallen world, is entirely good or entirely bad. God's gracious "common grace" assures us that even systems that are deeply structurally flawed will preserve some insight in them somewhere; our sin ensures that even a system closely aligned with Scripture will be in some measure distorted. Thus thoughtful Christians should not identify themselves completely with either modernism or postmodernism, nor should they utterly damn either entity. "

Feel free to say whatever you want. Next time I think I'll be writing about tolerance . . . dun dun dun. See ya then.

P.S. - Go have a Pibb Extra. It'll kick your mouth in the butt.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I would encourage you to read and listen to more of Rob Bell. You stated, "I am becoming more disgusted with the right-wing, conservative church as each day goes by because of the unwillingness to love and accept those who do not agree with our complete wall of doctrine." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, and I also agree with your criticisms of the Emergent Church. The thing is, Rob's not part of the Emergent Church, and has publicly stated so. Yes he is progressive, but not Emergent. He wholeheartedly believes in the fundamental doctrines you do, but because he is willing to call out the "right-wing, conservative church" about their "wall of doctrine," it is easier for them to dismiss him by simply labeling him Emergent. I applaud you for recognizing in Velvet Elvis what he was driving at and not believing all the criticism leveled against him. I wish more folks in the Church could think critically about these issues as you have. Keep at it. Rob may have some of the answers you are searching for.

he's only chasing safety said...


Thank you for your comment. Please feel free to post your name, it would be much appreciated.

I should have been more clear on Bell's relations to the Emerging church. No, Bell does not claim to be part of the movement, but is often associated with it because of the views held by him and his church along with his relationships with many members of the Emerging movement (McLaren fills the pulpit for him when he's gone).

As far as finding what I'm searching for, I believe Bell has great things to say. However, because of his often-times weak theology, I don't plan to look for everything I need in what he has to say. I have found great comfort in the words and writings of Mark Driscoll, John Piper, D.A. Carson, Wade Burleson, and the like.

These men all have very strong theology (albeit I could find differences between each of them and myself, which is fine) and also have a very strong passion for the lost and reaching out to our culture.