Rob Bell on Sex, God, and Sex Gods

11/14/2007


By Flip Blaney

It's 8 p.m. on a Monday night in Rocketown, Michael W. Smith's Christian Nightclub/Skatepark in downtown Nashville. The club is packed, sold out with a line snaking around the corner. The show was supposed to start an hour ago but the audience is well-behaved church kids—though they look like the casting call for a MTV reality show—hip, happy, shiny beautiful people with trendy haircuts, smart eyeglass frames and perfect airbrushed tans.
     They say there's a "revolution" and, sure enough, somehow the youth group has become the cool kids. To quote youth movement author Lauren Sandler: "If you want to feel startlingly uncool, forget rock clubs or art galleries—just find your nearest hipster church."
Rob Bell     The flock are not here to see Smitty or the Christian version of Fall Out Boy or even 's latest Nash Vegas extravaganza. No, more than one thousand people have paid $10 each to see a preacher—Rob Bell. (Number 25 on the 50 Most Influential Christians in America list. Five notches above Benny Hinn!)
     In fact the "Everything is Spiritual" tour will go on to sell out 24 cities in 31 days, raising more than $65,000 for WaterAid.org, a charity to bring clean water to third world countries. Far as we know, Brother Bell hasn't waved his Armani coat at anyone yet.
     Rob has brought new levels of quality and artistic direction with the powerful short sermon film series NOOMA and is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Number 17 on the 50 Most Influential Churches list.) He also is the author of the acclaimed Velvet Elvis and his new bestseller SexGod is a scintillating, unauthorized biography of Tom Jones.
     Actually, more scandalous than that, SexGod asserts that not only did the Lord God Jehovah invent sex but that the very act can be a spiritual thing itself.
     An enormous white marker board spans the stage. Ambient lights and music surge and bubble, building anticipation. Clad in black, he emerges to spirited applause and in the first of many odd but charming moments, smirks and begins to clap along. Frankly, Rob Bell seems like a big kid. Awkward, a bit goofy, clearly attention-deficit and yet so super Bible school smart with the Torah and the Greek and the Hebrew that he often comes off as both brilliant and bewildered in the same breath.
     He begins his message with "In the beginning ..." and starts to mark up the board, which by the end of the night will be filled with symbols and pictures and languages that would rival any divinity school professor. Or at least Gene Scott.
     Bell possesses a sort of Taoist "doing by not doing, knowing by not knowing" quality that is entirely endearing and refreshing, balancing the profound with the silliness of surfer Zen and although The Chicago Sun-Times called him a 21st century Billy Graham, he is more like the un-preacher many have waited for so long now.

WITTENBURG DOOR: Everything is spiritual? Even the Roseanne marathon on TV Land?

ROB BELL: There's a Roseanne marathon on?

DOOR:

BELL: Sorry if I seem a little spacey. I woke up this morning and looked out the window at this huge Country Music Hall Of Fame thing and thought ...

DOOR: Welcome to Nashville. Tell us about your tour.

BELL: It's just for one month and we're in a different city every night. An hour and 45 minute talk-message, experience and um, a sermon on steroids. I don't even know what it is. Thelonious Monk says that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. I've learned on this tour that trying to explain what it is doesn't work well. And generally people get different things. But that's what we wanted.

DOOR: You talk a lot about storytelling—reclaiming the art of preaching away from the engineers and back to the artists.

BELL: Preaching is one of the original art forms, kind of the original guerrilla theatre. A sermon was an electric event; Martin Luther King Jr. changed the whole shape of American culture with a sermon. John Wesley out in a field in England, the Hebrew Prophets, (and) great movements like women's rights were often birthed through preaching. In our unbelievably wired culture, nothing is more foolish than somebody in a room standing alone insisting that God has spoken. So it's either brilliant or absolute foolishness. And I am open to both.
     Originally, the word "sermon" meant you'd have no idea what was coming next. It was theological but also political and economical and obviously highly creative because if it didn't engage, then you wouldn't listen and you wouldn't be provoked or challenged or comforted. So in some ways for me my life's passion is to pursue this art form. Pump some electricity into it.

DOOR: The Church hasn't always been kind to artists. Especially ones bringing electricity.

BELL: Our assumption is that Church is where you say the things that have to be said. So people will speak but say, "Oh, I wouldn't say that in church." Well then, where would you say it? To me, it's the place where you would push it the furthest. A faith community should be the place with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic culture—calling things what they are. So when I hear people say, "That's nice but you really couldn't do that in church," I can't even fathom that. My understanding is it would lead the culture in reality.
     I talk about having the first word. This idea that Church waits to see what the culture is doing then produces a D grade version with some sort of clever Jesus twist to me is utter blasphemy. The DaVinci Code, for example. You wait for a C grade movie with stars with bad haircuts and then gear your church teachings around a movie that many people aren't even going to see? That seems absolutely anemic.

DOOR: Welcome to our world.

BELL: I don't believe in Christian art or music. The word Christian was originally a noun. A person, not an adjective. I believe in great art. If you are an artist, your job is to do great art and you don't need to tack on the word Christian. It's already great. God is the God of Creativity. Categories desecrate the art form. It's either great art or it isn't. Followers of Jesus should have the first word instead of coming late to the game with some poor quality spin-off. Let's talk about things before everyone else.

DOOR: Most preachers never get to see their good theories make it to practice—are you seeing change?

BELL: Oh yeah—there are huge things going on. Like micro-finance. I was in Rwanda—essentially you take someone in poverty and give them a couple of bucks so they can start a business. We met a woman who started a business, built a house, fed her family and her business was now self-sustaining and growing—on a $40 dollar loan. A Western church gave this woman forty bucks and look what she's done. Economically speaking, that's one of the hopes of the world right now. We have more money than we know what to do with. American churches have more concentration of wealth than any time in history in a world with massive poverty. But some are exploring with micro financing, working with ground churches and trying things that could help save our world. They are so far out front. I was hiking through these slums in Nairobi where people are dying of AIDS and it's the Church figuring out how to give them medication, how to prevent and educate, to help give people an honorable death. The Church is on the front line.

DOOR: As a pastor, how do you motivate people to the front lines?

BELL: First, the scripture always bends towards the oppressed and the marginalized. Beginning in the Torah—take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you. The story is written by oppressed minorities. And it continues, no room in the inn, they follow Jesus because they are hungry. The story always goes towards the underside of the Empire. I think it is sometimes hard for the American church to understand the Bible because we are the Empire. We are the ones in power, the ones with wealth. I think in some settings that's why the Bible has such little power—because it's an oppressive narrative. There are six billion people in the world, three billion live on less than $2 dollars a day, 800 million people will not eat today, and 300 million in Africa alone do not have drinking water. So we as Americans are six percent of the population yet we consume 40 to 50 percent of the resources. We are the upper, upper, rich elite. And our way is taking over the world. So we have to first ask the question—how can we take all this wealth and give it away? All the technology and beautiful parts of capitalism and bless the world and the poor—or else we're in deep trouble.

DOOR: Sometimes the issue of the poor gets lost in all the left vs. the right crap in this country. How do you cut through that? Serving the poor is not a new message.

BELL: The issue is not saving the poor—it's saving us. When Jesus uses the word hell, He does not use the word with people who are not believers or not believing the right things. It is a warning to religious people that they are in danger of hell because of their indifference to the suffering of the world. So the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not what heaven and hell are like. It's a parable to rich people warning them that their apathy has them in danger. Heaven and hell are present realities that extend into the future.
     For a lot of Americans, this is about the saving of their own soul. Recapturing God's heart for the world. Otherwise I will end up not caring and not passionate. At our church, people are desperate to understand this culture of excessive materialism. We were made to bless the world. The original call is that blessing was always instrumental. When that blessing gets misconstrued as favoritism you have a very toxic thing happening. Our people are desperate to give, hardwired for it. I assume that people are good and just need opportunities.

DOOR: Um, we're getting the impression we might not see you on TBN anytime soon.

BELL: Ha. I think that's one of the most warped ideas—that God just can't wait to bless you. God blesses you so you will bless the world and if at any point I keep that for myself, then I am in trouble.

DOOR: Speaking of trouble, the Church hasn't always been the safest place to be real. You've gotta be catching some heat ....

BELL: Hmm. I don't read reviews, but apparently there are some people out there who feel that God or Jesus is being threatened. I catch wind of things, some people are pretty cranked up but it's not something I spend any time on. You can't take people somewhere they don't want to go. For every fundamentalist you piss off there are probably five more who start listening. For a lot of people it's like, "Oh, we can talk about that? Well, now you've got my attention." You know the issue is whether or not it's true and whether or not it's compelling. Someone asked me the other day, "What's the demographic of your people?" I was like "I dunno—sinners?"

DOOR: Actually, your church is one of the hottest churches in America.

BELL: I don't even know what that means. I know there's a woman in the second row in the second service that has cancer for the third time. I know there's a single mom named Erin who needs a place to live. I know this guy who just got custody of his kids and he's trying to figure out how to be a single dad. So to me a Church is real people trying to figure it out. The word hottest isn't really a word I associate with a community of Christians. (laughs) For my wife and me it's very important that we live as close as possible to a normal life in our city. So words like hottest and up and coming are not reality and not a place to live. It's a dead end road.

DOOR: What about the labels of Emergent, Neo-realism, Relevant, Post-modern? I've seen your name associated with all those movements.

BELL: I don't use those words. It's easy for that to become "Are you in or out?" A friend of mine calls it a conversation. Which I think is a much healthier way to think about it. There are all these people who are having a conversation about these pressing matters of theology and practice and I'm all up for that. But when it becomes some sort of label—are you with us or them?—that seems so destructive. But it's a discussion that needs to be had. I haven't heard anything dangerous. It's necessary for each generation. I'll take the Christian/Jesus label. Other than that, it seems a lot of labels really don't help anybody.

DOOR: Why do you think we have so many Jesuses? My Jesus vs. your Jesus, Conservative Jesus, Liberal Jesus, Pentecostal Jesus, Episcopalian Jesus ...

BELL: People will grab all aspects of the truth. I guess it would be hard for one person to wrap their arms around that much truth. Easier to grab small pieces, I suppose. I'll take all the good. I want the best of the Assembly of God Jesus, the Latin America Jesus; I want the best of all of them. Jesus talked about fruit, told great stories—you can say anything, but its actions that you can't argue with.

DOOR: How did this Mars Hill thing happen, anyway?

BELL: Seven years ago, a group of friends were just dreaming of something better. I guess the natural evolution of each generation is to explore what it means. How to live the way of Jesus here and now. So we started and it now feels like fifty years packed into seven. Mars Hill is an old mall. Our "architect"—I say that as a joke—says everything about the church should scream "Welcome to our church service! Now get the hell out of here." We say, "This isn't the church, this is a church service. It's just an hour where we have some teaching, some singing and you'll hear about things in the community." If there are 43 "one anothers" in the New Testament—serve one another, carry one another's burden's, confess to one another—you can only do a couple of those in a church service. Until you have a community that you are journeying with, please don't say you are a part of this church. You just come to a gathering. We are very intentional about that. The question is, "Who do you call when your brother ODs on cocaine? If your mom is in the hospital, who comes and sits in the waiting room with you? When you cannot pay your rent, who do you go to and say please help me out?" That's your church.

DOOR: Sometimes it seems the world gets that concept better than the "church." It's difficult to have community when you feel pressure to put on an act.

BELL: Oh yeah, that's not something we would ever place a value on. I don't understand why a Christian would ever put themselves in that sort of environment.

DOOR: What background did you come from?

BELL: I think if you are a follower of Jesus, everything you do is a life of mission and ministry. I actually think the "call to ministry" language was invented by Christians to excuse the disobedience of everybody else. If you are thinking of going into full-time ministry—are you a Christian? Too late.
     My parents are very passionate, curious Christians and intellectually amped up. They were committed to their faith but very restless with the current manifestations of faith and spirituality. So I think I grew up on the edges with the idea that things could be better. I grew up in a nondenominational church but with the troubling thought that "Something's not right." There's a bass note missing, there's a poetry, a passion, a world-changing impulse that I don't see here. So I grew up compelled with Jesus but not particularly enamored with his followers. So I decided to change it! (laughs)
     I stumbled into something I love. I went to Wheaton College and I played in a punk band and I ended up preaching a sermon for some bizarre reason and it was a moment. I thought, "I could give my life to this even if I wasn't very good at it. Even if I totally suck at it, I'd rather pursue this preaching thing." So I've been on a tear ever since. Um, can you pause this for dramatic laughter?

DOOR: We're still trying to wrap our brains around the idea of a punk band at Wheaton!


Comments(154)

Gregg Turk | 01:26 pm on 11/15/2007

After 40 years of thinking this church thing just doesn't feel right when compared to what Jesus taught. Between NT Wright and Rob Bell things are starting to make a little sense.

Rosalind Berry | 10:24 pm on 3/25/2008

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Laura "LeeLee" | 12:30 pm on 5/03/2008

As a member of Mars Hill who has heard my pastor, Rob Bell, speak since before he formed Mars Hill... oh yeah!! Great article and interview. If you click on my link... it will take you to a blog I've just started on the advice of one of the pastors from Mars Hill. I've written a book on a Grace Explosion and am looking for feedback on my concepts before I publish it.

Grace and peace.

Lamech | 12:10 am on 12/07/2008

I really am liking Bell's works. I think that everyone automaticaly placed him in with MacClaren, and Schuller, and did not actually listen to him, or read one of his works. I am a very conservative Believer who was raised in a fundamentalist home. I think that allot of fundamentalists(I hate labels, but..) down any thing that is effective, or "groundbreaking" in any way, so they dismiss it as heresy. I have not heard one thing that Bell has said or written, in context, that I think is heresy, or strys from the Bible. But hey C. Hodge said about Princeton Theological Seminary that he was happy that during his time teaching there, no new thoghts or concepts where proposed!

Anonymous | 08:51 pm on 10/09/2010

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مركز تحميل الصور | 12:14 pm on 2/23/2011

As a member of Mars Hill who has heard my pastor, Rob Bell, speak since before he formed Mars Hill... oh yeah!! Great article and interview. If you click on my link...
موقع تحميل الصورموقع رفع الصوررفع الملفات/a>مركز تحميل الملفاتمركز تحميل الصورتحميل الصوررفع الصور

pk | 04:54 pm on 11/15/2007

This interview gave me a much better impression of Bell than listening to one of his sermons did. Frankly that scared me. It didn't help that it was playing in a car full of Campus Crusade guys who immediately fell silent and listened intently to the entire one hour sermon without a word, then when it was done just giving a few awe-stricken comments about how great he was. He brought up some interesting points, but the way in which they were presented was a little too autocratic for my taste, leaving no room for discussion or questioning, let alone disagreement. But here he sounds as if he has sense and good ideas... communicating them will take some more work, perhaps.

Squarehead | 04:56 pm on 11/16/2007

I first heard of Bell in the book Righteous by Lauren Sandler

Sandler's impression of Bell is equally murky. His interview persona is very open and dynamic, his preaching self more authoritative, but his role in the larger Mars Hill community is, frankly, a bit alarming. The Mars Hill community stresses living in community, and have bought or helped members to by homes near each other. The community also stresses traditional gender roles, with woman asked to take up the house wife role and become subservient to her husband as a sacrifice to God. So while the organization promotes the idea of individual seekers after God, the community quietly promotes a conformity of lifestyle and belief. Bell is at the center of this every bit as much as his white-board preaching art.

Like many leaders of media movements, Bell is elusive while seeming intimate. I am not claining I know the man or what "the truth" is at Mars Hill, but I certainly believe it is more complicated than what is presented in this interview.

Squarehead | 05:12 pm on 11/16/2007

I stand corrected. The book Righteous does indeed refer to Mars Hill in Seattle. Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous | 04:05 am on 12/24/2007

Yeah, Rob doesn't teach the lifestyle of conformity. You're probably thinking of Mark Driscall. He's at Mars Hill, based out of Seattl, I think.

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Anonymous | 09:42 pm on 10/25/2008

You state you don't know the man or what "the truth" is at Mars Hill but you are contridicting yourself when you make it. You just spent a few minutes in a paragraph saying what he is. Have you listend to the free sermons on the Mars Hill website? I have and would never have described his teachings or his church the way you just did.
It seems so many christians are threatened by Rob Bell. Would you be as threatened by Jesus?

Connie | 06:43 pm on 11/05/2009

I realize that this is from a long time ago but I just came across it and I'm wondering where you heard that the Mars Hill community or that Rob Bell stresses traditional gender roles... I'm only curious because I have been attending Mars Hill for several years now and have heard Rob speak out countless times against traditional gender roles. Specific example would be in his book Sex God and also in one of his latest Nooma videos - "She" he discusses on gender identities. Also, not many people seem to realize this but Rob is only one of our pastors at Mars Hill. We have several speakers who rotate through teachings. I resent the notion that we as a community at Mars Hill believe what we believe or do what we do because the Rob tells us to. It's no different than any other church listening to a pastor speak, it's just that we are such a large community...

Maeve Lehen | 02:26 pm on 4/29/2011

That can be a material for book reports! I am going to save your URL and will definitely visit the site again.

Veronica Fischer | 04:39 am on 3/25/2008

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pk | 04:58 pm on 11/15/2007

In all fairness I should add that I have no guarantee that the guy preaching the sermon was Rob Bell. It was a message given at the Seattle campus of Mars Hill, and I only remember that because of the uniqueness of the name and the extraordinary amount of the sermon that was given to talking about Seattle itself.

Jeff Patterson | 04:13 pm on 11/16/2007

pk - the sermon you likely listened to was from Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which is in no way affiliated with Rob Bell, and was started a few years prior to Bell's in Michigan.

TruthSeeker | 03:10 pm on 5/31/2008

Greetings, Rob Bell founded Mars Hill church in Seattle. If you don't believe me, read the back of his book Sex God, it says it explicitly there. And I do believe the unity Rob Bell is trying to promote is great, as well as his desire to see people more generous, loving and less discriminatory. However he tends to warp many of the topics, stories and verses from the bible to be less offensive but at the cost of comprising and destroying the power and meaning of the actual message. The ultimate reason for Christ's death on the cross was not for us to give our wealth and care for the poor - although Jesus did want us to love and care for others. Christ's death on the cross for so that God would be glorified by the display of His great mercy for us. We can most satisfied and content, when our lives are most used to bring Him glory alone. See Isaiah 48:9-11. John Piper summaries the wonder of the cross quite well: "The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while upholds and demonstrates the righteousness of God."

Andy | 11:43 am on 7/05/2008

Rob Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, not Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I promise. Look it up on a trustworthy website, perhaps both of the websites mentioned, Rob Bell's and Mark Driscolls. And to further this, I quote from the back of "SexGod", "Rob Bell lives with his family in Grand Rapids, Michigan..."

And He does not say that the gospel is just "give our wealth and care for the poor", nor does he say that the Gospel is just being "saved". It is both. Listen to the "New Exodus" Sermon series that you can find on his church's website. It is at no-cost and establishes that there is a personal individual aspect to the Gospel, that Jesus gave His life for each and every one of us, but also a social aspect of the Gospel, that we are to care for each other, especially the "least of these". He makes the comparison between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. Two great recent Christian leaders. Billy Graham was more focused on the individual aspects of the Gospel, Martin Luther King Jr. was more focused on the social aspects. Neither were wrong, nor contradictory. They go together.

Personal note: At least most of the criticisms I have seen about Rob Bell have either blatantly false accusations, or pure ignorance of what Rob actually either said or wrote. Listen to several of his sermons, read both his books, watch the nooma videos and listen to what he says without looking for what he might be saying wrong, just listen.

Anonymous | 04:22 am on 1/10/2010

Well, if both Mars Hills in Seattle and Grand Rapids refuse to modify their names to make it easier to differentiate the two, then Bell and Driscoll deserve all the mistakenly attributed quotes that they get.

djkeyboard | 04:48 pm on 5/06/2010

Uh. Okay. So we should go around changing all the First Baptist Church names in every city also so you won't be so darn confused.

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Anonymous | 10:32 pm on 11/15/2007

If you're real, where can I sign up and help you, if you're not burn in hell at the hottest temperature.

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Jeff Patterson | 04:12 pm on 11/16/2007

pk - the sermon you likely listened to was from Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which is in no way affiliated with Rob Bell, and was started a few years prior to Bell's in Michigan. I agree much more closely with the theology preached among the Seattle MH than the revisionist narrative theology at Bell's MH.

Anyone else looking for a thoughtful yet discerning critique of Bell's ongoing "the gods aren't angry" tour, you can find one by Justin Buzzard here. I highly recommend it, and it seems to be a helpful review and addition to the discussion.

It seems that the substitutionary atonement by Christ for our sins is missing in Bell's message, and thus in his approach the entire foundation of being right with God and salvation may be undermined. I pray this revisionist approach to being the church centers on methods rather than reducing Jesus' work of salvation to an example.

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Flip | 05:24 pm on 11/21/2007

This was quite a strange interview but I think it made it good that Rob and I didn't exactly hit it off.
Maybe he's just ADD.
Maybe he had just woken up. I don't know.

There was defintely an air of pretension throughout the event and the notion you feel at one of those "hip" underground bands concerts'.
Either way I have no ill will towards Rob and wish him all the best. It did make a great interview.

Strange you should mention Lauren Sandler - she's my next interview for the Door. Lauren, the atheist Jew from Brooklyn is completely cool and down to earth.
So who knows, maybe it'll suck....

Drew | 02:53 pm on 12/24/2007

He was in _ton bundle at Wheaton, and "Taking My Donkey to Town" was a great album. I would pay plenty to get my hands on a copy.

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Anonymous | 04:16 pm on 1/10/2008

All you need to do is a little research...I have found that no matter what Bell claims, he associates with other Emergent teachers,and his ideas, ministry, and writings are very similar to those of the "Postmodern" and "Emergent" philosophies. The danger in this thinking is that the Bible becomes obsolete, and people are expected to take the preachers word for it, instead of searching out the truth for themselves, in God's True, and inerrant Word (Scripture alone).

"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says....We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people."-Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

"One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system....I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

"Paul warned that there would come a time when “sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3,4) would give way to what “seemeth right unto a man” (Proverbs 14:12) in determining what is true." (TheBereanCall.org)

Me | 09:10 pm on 1/10/2008

"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says....We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people."-Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis"

Well yeah, It's called contextualization, of course we would love to believe that all of our choices in life will become easy and clear now that we have God's word in our hands but talk to any missionary about what it means to show love or communicate the gospel in a foreign culture. What does it mean to love your neighbor, or honor your father or mother in that environment? Without a working understanding of this concept, one would be justified in making a valid argument for the continuation of slavery from scripture alone. We must face the truth that the Bible wasn't written in the context of a modern western society. So at many points it doesn't just mean what it says... the reason for this being that when we read it our own context, which is culturally distant from the original context, causes us to draw conclusions that are other than what the author was originally trying to get at. Because of this I whole heartedly agree with this quote, and for that matter most of what I read in Rob Bell's books.

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Don Elser | 02:25 pm on 3/18/2009

Exactly. People want to talk about the importance of the authority of the Scriptures but then try and read them as if they were written as a rule book or owner's manual for our time period.
I love the work that Rob and others are doing to unpack the cultural context of the Scriptures so we can better apply God's heart and mission in our time/culture.

Michael D | 06:51 am on 1/16/2008

Amen to this comment. Anyone who repeatedly states that ("One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system....I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis)
is denying the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Rob Bell is a false teacher who is leading multitudes astray......show me one, just one reference from any of his writings that professes the necessity of the Atonement through the sacrificial death of Jesus our Savior as the absolute prerequisite of our salvation. He denies this truth and as the writer of the post I am replying to has rightly said, he associates and identifies himself with the "emergent church" professors who similarly deny and even in some cases deplore the wondrous truth of our salvation through the atoning death of Christ our righteousness.

JLB | 03:56 pm on 1/16/2008

You state that:
"Anyone who repeatedly states that ("One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system....I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis)is denying the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

I realize you have good intentions to defend the truth of the Gospel, but I believe you (and the writer you support) both go too far. One need not "deny...the wondrous truth of our salvation through the atoning death of Christ our righteousness" in order to recognize the presence of truth in other "communities" or "thought systems".

The subtle but important distinction in recognizing that truth exists outside the confines of Christianity is stated by C.S. Lewis (for example) in several of his writings (see Mere Christianity, Part 2; and God in the Dock, "Myth Became Fact" and "Christian Apologeics").

"...we are not pronouncing all other religions to be totally false, but rather saying that in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected. But, on the other hand, I think we must attack wherever we meet it the nonsensical idea that mutually exclusive propositions about God can both be true."

and

"...we must not be nervous about 'parallels' and "Pagan Christs' [in other religions and cultures]: they OUGHT to be there - it would be a stumbling block if they weren't."

If God by His grace created and sustains the universe we inhabit, including all people of all the ages - people graced with His image in at least some measure - then shouldn't we expect to find people scattered here and there around the world and throughout time who recognize aspects (or fragments) of His truth? (Conversely, we should expect to find believers scattered about in time and space who miss important aspects.)

I realize there are Christian theological systems that deny natural revelation and common grace, but those are in a separate category for debate. My point is that one need not deny Christ's unique atoning work when one accepts that God's truth exists in other religions/belief systems.

I hope this helps, whether or not it convinces.

Me again | 06:05 am on 2/06/2008

Affirming truth in pagan belief systems?

Lets deal with this subject. In Acts 17:22 when Paul is ministering in Athens what does he use as an entry point? Their altar to an unknown God. Was that an altar to Yahweh....? No It was an altar that was built out of superstition, because the Athenians were scared that in their worship they may have been leaving a god out, by making this altar they figured that they were covering all of their bases. Paul picks up on this opening and proclaims that they are obviously a very religious people. He then proceeds to proclaim to them who the God is that they don’t know. Here we find a case where Paul is looking for inroads in the preexisting cultural and religious world view. After finding them exploits them to make inroads for the truth of the Gospel. He does so without compromising the Gospel.

In vs. 28 "For in him we live and move and have our being" as some of your own poets have said "We are his offspring" ,
There are two quotes here...
(1)-"For in him we live and move and have our being"
-Cretan Poet Epimenides in Cretica (600 BC)
(2)-"We are his offspring"
-Cilican poet Aratus in his work Phaenomena
(315- 340 BC *Exact date not sure)

Again, Paul is finding common ground and exploiting it for the Gospel. If we believe that the Bible is the Inspired word of God than we can conclude that the Holy Spirit led him to do so. The account doesn't paint him as having made a mistake, or as having gone to far... (like Peter separating himself from the Gentiles elsewhere in Acts)

In Titus 1:12 Paul quotes from the Sixth Century (BC) poet Epimenides to make a point about the nature of Titus' audience.

In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul quotes a saying from a Greek Comedy (Thais written by Menander). "Bad company corrupts good character" This play would have been would well known to his audience. In effect it would have been like quoting a line from a secular movie that was familiar yet had a powerful nugget of truth. To make the point that "even the unbelievers get this..."

In the book of Jude (have you ever noticed that there is some stories in there that are unfamiliar?) the Book of Enoch is quoted as well as a work called the assumption of Moses

Vs 9- Assumption of Moses
Vs 14- The book of Enoch… Both were well respected writings in NT times. Although they were never canonized.

Am I trying to undermine the authority of the Scriptures? No… I am only trying to show that the Scriptures didn’t develop in a cultural vacuum. They are the results of the apostles’ earliest attempts to live out their faith in a way that was relevant to their audience. Through the inspiration and preservation of the Holy Spirit we have an amazing account that is profitable for teaching, rebuking, and all instructing in all Righteousness.

My point is that If Paul used secular authors to bolster his argument then he obviously acknowledged the fact that there are elements of truth in pagan belief systems. And obviously this didn’t mean that he was denying the miracle of salvation in Christ.

Looks like a slam dunk to me

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