If you’ve been coming to this blog for any significant amount of time, you know I generally avoid anything controversial here. There are lots of blogs that deal with hot Christians issues and this isn’t one of them. However, I read something today that bothered me so much I have to address it.
First, some background.
Grand Rapids is a city of churches. If you’ve never been here, you really can’t imagine it. I don’t know what the density of churches is per square mile around here, but in some parts of town you drive past literally dozens of churches in just a few miles, sometimes two or three of the same denomination within just a mile or two. We have LOTS of churches here.
The largest church in Grand Rapids is Mars Hill Church. It runs around 10,000 people and is a church plant of Calvary Church, a church that has generally been a solid, gospel-preaching church. Rob Bell is the teaching pastor of Mars Hill. He is 34 and we both grew up in the same area (East Lansing/Haslett/Lansing). I do not know him, but I know people who know him well. We never attended the same church, but the church he grew up in was a solid gospel-preaching church for many years.
Anyway, he has now written a book, published by Zondervan we’re-afraid-we’ll-lose-a-sale-so-we’re-open-on-Sunday Publishers. The book is entitled Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Today in the Grand Rapids Press there was an interview/article with Bell. I literally about threw up when I read parts of it because it upset me so much. Here are a few excerpts.
Bell also shakes up traditional evangelical beliefs. While calling Christ’s way “the best possible way to live,” Bell writes Jesus did not claim one religion is better than another when he said he was “the way, the truth and the life.” Rather, he writes, “his way is the way to the depth of reality.”
As a follower of Jesus, Bell argues, he is free to claim the truth wherever he finds it.
“One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system,” Bell said. “I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it’s true, it belongs to God.”
What does that mean for salvation? Bell says it’s a question he’s wrestling with.
“I think you have to begin to ask questions about whether Jesus died for everybody or just a few,” he said. “I challenge the notion that the cross is just for a couple people who happen to say some particular prayer or happen to be in some sort of inside club. I think it goes way bigger.”
Sprinkled throughout are his own spiritual awakenings and struggles, from first feeling in awe of God at a U2 concert to freaking out over the demands of Mars Hill.
All I have to say is that if Mr. Bell thinks he was freaking out about the demands of Mars Hill, I cannot begin to imagine how he might freak out when he stands before the throne someday and may have to give an account for the fact that he apparently is preaching a false gospel to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. It seems Mr. Bell overlooked the fact that this is the WHOLE verse in the Bible he was apparently called to teach as a teaching pastor:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“
You can take this link and read the whole thing. (2022 – Article no longer available online)
Calvary doesn’t seem to have any church discipline. I am sorry ’cause there are a lot of good believers there. But as far as I know there is no oversight for those in pastoral positions.
Hi Monika! Are you a West Michigan person too? I guess when I made the positive comment I was focusing on the fact that Calvary does preach the gospel, as opposed to what I was apparently reading that Rob Bell is teaching which seem to be NOT the true gospel. We’ve visited Calvary a few times, but I don’t know too much beyond that it is huge and they did seem to be committed to preaching the gospel. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t practice church discipline simply because of the size of the congregation.
In fairness to Calvary, if you aren’t really involved with the church, it isn’t fair to comment on their forms of church discipline. It’s like me speculating that…
As for Rob Bell, I find it interesting how people are so often critical of the media (Grand Rapids press included), but then take the words of the same media as the truth when so desired.
Finally, unless you’ve sat at the foot of Rob and listened to his preaching for a period of time (beyond a week or seven), it’s not fair to be critiquing IF he is preaching the gospel.
In fairness, you’ve done the same thing. The apostle Paul gets caught in the arguement about who should be followed, and what does he say? Paul certainly doesn’t say, “My way is the only way…”
I am reminded of these words, “If you have any tenderness and compassion from being united with Christ, if any fellowship with the Spirit, then make my joy complete by being like minded…”
Ah, the fullness of the gospel. And just perhaps Mars Hill and Rob Bell are being blessed by that same Spirit.
In His Grip.
I just read the following from a blog author you know: “First of all, I am a believer in Jesus Christ. He is my Savior and Lord. I still am trying to figure out what that means in all areas of my life…”
Perhaps Rob is also in process of ‘trying to figure out’ the fullness of the gospel. As Christ followers, let’s learn to show one another more grace than is normative within our culture.
Thank you for your comments. When I wrote both my original blog entry and my follow-up comment I tried to couch it in terms that would not come across as judgemental since I don’t know all of the facts. I only know what I read and observe. I guess whether or not I achieved that tone may depend on which camp the reader comes from. 🙂
I don’t envy the position that prominent Christian leaders find themselves in today. Their every word is scrutinized. Even just writing a blog like mine causes me to pause and reflect carefully on what I am writing. I don’t want to lead others astray. But there seems to be an increasing number of professing Christian leaders in this country who are afraid to say that Jesus is the only way. Whether it is Joel Osteen on Larry King or Rob Bell talking to the Grand Rapids Press, there is a need for a CLEAR, UNAMBIGUOUS message of the gospel. Joel Osteen saying 40+ times “I don’t know” when asked about the gospel is not helpful. Neither is it when pastors and writers apparently try so carefully to be relevant and non-offensive that they muddy the waters to such an extent that a fellow believer can’t tell if they really believe Jesus is the only way or not.
If my “What I believe” statement that you referenced might lead someone to question whether or not I believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and the only way to get to the Father, then thank you for alerting me to that. I don’t want anyone to wonder about that. But trying to figure out what my salvation means in all aspects of my life has nothing to do with whether Jesus is the only way.
Thanks again for your comments.
In fairness, you’ve done the same thing. The apostle Paul gets caught in the argument about who should be followed, and what does he say? Paul certainly doesn’t say, “My way is the only way”?
You’re quoting Paul where he’s telling people they shouldn’t follow him, or Apollos, or Cephas, etc. Paul is not telling people “My way is not the only way”. That’s not even hinted in the passage. What does he say? At the end of I Cor. 10 he says, “Follow me, as I follow Christ”. And he would not contradict Christ’s teachings of being the only way to the Father.
About the author you quote,
I just read the following from a blog author you know: “First of all, I am a believer in Jesus Christ. He is my Savior and Lord. I still am trying to figure out what that means in all areas of my life.”
I invite you to look at those words “believer”, “Savior”, and “Lord”. Wouldn’t you say that those words carry a weight of commitment by the author to believe in Jesus as the only way to the Father? If there was another way to the Father, then Jesus is not the Savior, or the Lord of everyone who believes.
John 14:6 is not a verse that can be twisted to mean something other than an absolute truth of Jesus being the only way. Either you believe Jesus is the only way, or you don’t. The Bible has plenty of things to say about those who don’t believe.
I really hope the GR Press misquoted Rob Bell, because if as you say,
Rob is also in process of “trying to figure out” the fullness of the gospel. As Christ followers, let’s learn to show one another more grace than is normative within our culture.
then Rob has no further to look than at John 14:6. The fullness of the gospel starts with absolute truth. I would encourage people who want to follow Jesus to take him at his word, and not try to make his words sound more acceptable to the masses. Jesus is worthy of our praise, but he also calls us to make a stand. Some did not, read John chapter 6. Peter said, “to whom else shall we go? YOU have the words of eternal life”.
Greetings from another who grew up in East Lansing (now in Northern VA, via NC, MS and CA).
You may know that this post ended up on the Emergent No blog, which may explain more contentious comments.
You’ve handled this topic very appropriately, bringing to light something which should be of great interest (and so it appears to be). You haven’t been unfair, though it is clear you read the article, and are not the author.
I compliment you on a very worthwhile and well-approached post on a sensitive, yet sadly necessary subject!
Goodness. Not only am I in shock by some of these posts, but that those who carry the banner for Christ would ‘excuse’ or grant grace, to anyone who wants to water down truth. Judging is not the same as lifting a veil of deception which has fallen over the face of one of God’s children. Whether Rob Bell’s words were taken out of context, or whether that is really what he believes, aren’t we called to refute deception when we are confronted by it? Do we not want to carry forth the banner of Christ’s cause, that He did not hang on a cross for nothing? Why dispense tolerance, grace and acceptance when it goes against the very fabric of that which he died for??? Bottom line – I just don’t get it!!!
Hi, trying to be fair and all that, I have family heavily involved in a Calvary Chapel and they and their current Calvary seem to be quite faithful and everything. I just realized from their last Calvary experience that the lack of accountability means that you better hope you have a good pastor. Because if you don’t it doesn’t seem there is anything you can do about it. There’s no authority over the pastor, you know, no court of last resort, no governing body. That’s all I meant to say, not to slam Calvary or anyone who goes there.
And no I’m not from Michigan, I’m from way out in California. I just like to read blogs!
Sallie…I’ve read you from time to time and found this post through EmergentNo.blogspot (which has good stuff, I think). Anyway, thanks for being brave in sharing what you’ve read. I’m in complete agreement with you on this.
I have a brother who’s dug into the emergent mindset and I try to read anything I can get my hands on about it. Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s just plain unnecessary.
You go, girl.
Brothers & Sisters,
I’m not going to try and refute everything here. I find that it isn’t helpful.
A few thoughts though:
1 – Christ died to make us whole before God. He also brings the fullness of the kingdom of God — and if you believe that you fully understand the kingdom, then you’re kidding yourself.
2 – Beat up on Rob Bell or me or whoever, but if we claim to profess Christ, then you’r beating up on fellow brothers and sisters.
3 – Calvary Chapel(s) in California and Calvary in Grand Rapids are in no way related except that they share the name of Calvary.
There are many people–Mormons for example–who claim to profess Christ, but I hope you would agree that they do not profess the same Christ that Bible believing Christians profess. There is no real mystery to the gospel. You may never know the “fullness” of the kingdom until you get there, but we find the fullness of God’s plan of salvation laid out clearly in His word. Why is that so difficult to affirm in public for some pastors. Just say it Joel Osteen and Rob Bell. Jesus is the only way. Let me introduce you to Him.
Hoo, boy! Sally, no wonder you don’t get into theological debates here, they are just plain stressful! But I think you were quite right to bring this up when it is so important and so close to home.
Reply to PP:
We are to judge the spirits- I John4:1; Paul himself says that if even *he* preached another gospel he was accursed- Gal.1:8. It is antiscriptural to just let anything slide just because it comes from a person who professes Christ- Matt.7:15-23.
As for ‘beating up on fellow brothers and sisters,’ I’m afraid that is going to happen one day anyway- Lu 12:47-48, and to say that this is what Sallie is doing is only a negative way of stating our responsibility (as stated above by me) to elicit sympathy and improper guilt. Sallie and the other posters here have not be mean, nasty, or anything untoward, they are simply following our Savior’s commands.
BTW At first I was wondering if Calvary Church had anything to do with the one in Naperville, IL, but I see there are lots of churches of that name- where’s the copyright protection??!! 😀
Randy, when you state “Beat up on Rob Bell or me or whoever, but if we claim to profess Christ, then you’re beating up on fellow brothers and sisters.” I think you need to understand that those of us who see great danger in this “emergent” movement are those who CARE for you.
Jesus said that those who worship God are to worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). So if we see a pastor quoted as saying that Jesus isn’t the only way to God, then unless the media misquoted him he is not teaching the truth. What do we do? Do we say, “oh poor misguided soul, and not help him?”
To leave him alone would not be loving, essentially we would be beating him up by saying nothing and letting him stay in his error.
“Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. But the kisses of the enemy are deceitful.” Prov. 27:5-6
Any chance that you notice the lack of grace… as if truth allows us to beat up on one another. While I believe Mormons are distanced from God, I believe a personal relationship would be the only real way to interact. To simply point fingers on the internet does nothing to create relationship. Nothing.
As for Rob, unless he is your pastor, you have little business questioning his faith. Go back to the Matthew priciple… really… if you want to be biblical.
On a similar vein, Brian Mclaren has had the same criticisms. DA Carson even wrote an entire book focued on Mclaren without ever sending an e-mail or returning a telephone call… all in the name of truth.
IF this is what truth is, then we’ve missed the entire proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus didn’t come just to die for our sins so that we could get to heaven. He came to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.
If we dont’ start acting like we’re kingdom people, we’ve almost entirely missed the message of Jesus.
You state, IF this is what truth is, then we’ve missed the entire proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus didn’t come just to die for our sins so that we could get to heaven. He came to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Very true, Jesus did come to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. But, in order to proclaim the Kingdom is at hand, some critical business needed to be taken care of. He came to die for our sins. You stated this in your quote. And to come and die for our sins means that He is the only way to the Father. This is the starting point. The foundation of our faith. If you don’t have this foundation, you don’t have true Christianity and all it’s wonderful fullness. Yes the Kingdom is wonderful. But it requires the right foundation. Don’t deny the foundation. Do you understand that Jesus, who is the only way to the Father, is the solid rock on which we are to build?
There is plenty of grace here. Grace to tell you the truth that anyone who says “Jesus is not the only way” should be corrected. Grace is undeserved merit. We are reaching out in love and concern that something untrue should be corrected so that people can worship God in spirit and truth. That is love. That is the kingdom. Why is that so hard for emergent people to understand?
The kingdom is not “I’m okay, you’re okay.” The kingdom is Jesus saying, “you’re not okay, I’m going to make you okay by my death on the cross. If you believe I did that for you, then you are okay because I make you that way.”
The kingdom has a King. A King rules. A King says what is true. The King says He is the only way.
If you agree with these things, then go to your brother if you indeed know him and in a spirit of Matthew 18 correct him. You seem to know Rob personally. How about you going and helping him speak the truth?
Thank you to everyone who is participating in this discussion. I appreciate the fact that the tone has remained generally positive. And, yes, Cheri, this is why I generally stick to other topics. 🙂
Randy, while I appreciate your concern that we all be full of “grace” to each other, including both the lost and our brothers and sisters in Christ, I would like to ask you to define what you mean by “grace”. I don’t think your usage of the word (probably in the “emergent” sense) is the same as that of most conservative Christians, theologians and others committed to the truth of the Scriptures. I see nowhere in the Bible where we are called to be “gracious” at the expense of truth. Paul’s letters are characterized by gracious comments at the beginning and end of them, but they are filled with truth, doctrine and rebuke. Jesus drove people away by speaking the truth. I can find nowhere in the Scriptures where Jesus sacrificed truth for grace.
I also don’t believe that Mormons are “distanced” from God. The Scriptures say they are lost, eternally, if they are not brought to repentance and biblical salvation. It is absolutely a great thing to build relationships with them if God puts them in your sphere of influence and moves you to witness to them of the saving power of Christ. But focusing on finding the grains of truth in their religious system (or any other system) is not really beneficial if it encourages and enables the person to stay in their sin and lost state. There is no love in that. There is no grace in that.
Lastly, I strongly disagree that it is wrong to critique what an author or speaker espouses unless he/she is my pastor. Anyone who writes/speaks puts themselves out there to be questioned by anyone who reads what they write or listens to what they say. That is why it is an awesome thing to be a writer or a pastor or a teacher. Words have meaning and those who would write them or speak them will have to answer for them. As someone who has done writing and speaking, I take that very seriously. If writers and speakers want to hold their readers and listeners to a strict understanding of Matthew 18, then they need to be willing to make the time with anyone who wants to come and bring a concern to them. Is Rob Bell going to do that? Is Joel Osteen going to do that? Is Rick Warren going to do that? Somehow I don’t see that happening.
Edited later to add: Randy, I am also assuming, given your statements, that you do not critique, criticize or analyze anyone else’s writing or speaking from your pulpit, well… platform/stage unless you have personally spoken to them about what you perceive to be their error.
Thanks again to everyone for their thoughtful comments!
The question of whether the Grand Rapids Press misquoted Mr. Bell has been brought up. I thought I would provide a link to another article, this one from the Detroit Free Press, that might also be instructive.
I note with interest (when criticism of Emerging Church authors/pastors/leaders happens) that Matthew 18 is cited quite often to squelch the criticism. Matthew 18 has absolutely nothing to do with correcting false doctrine. It is strictly for personal offenses and most Bible scholars will tell you that. False teaching is to be corrected publically, especially when the false teachers do not repent of their errors and correct themselves.
Also, don’t fall for “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” Another passage of Scripture often used by false teachers to shield themselves from criticism, even though such an interpretation is wildly out of context. It deals with David, Saul and the kingship of Israel. Has absolutely nothing to do with correcting false doctrine.
Sallie, I’m in agreement with you! We must love our brothers in the Lord, but STAND for the TRUTH!
First, Rob Bell’s theology is spot on as my English friends would say. He’s more educated, better versed, and spends more time in the test than most of us here.
As for ‘gracious,’ grace and gracious are closely related. In terms of my understanding of grace, I was born – raised – colllege and seminary graduated from Calvinist institutions. There are likely few theolgians who understood grace any better than Calvin. So, I understand grace.
Here’s much of the point of the emergent conversation: Our past ecclesiology has sucked. We got dupped into believing that only righteous people were invited into the church. Thus, we have reason to accuse the gays and tell them of their sinfulness until they repent.
In converse, Jesus goes graciously to the sexual deviant, and he is gracious. He is loving. Sure, he says to go and sin no more, but he does it entirely differently than most of the evangelical church in North America. His starting point is always relationship, conversation, and then… he talks about changing behavior.
Ever wonder why it was the whores thru whom the blood lines of Jesus flow? It’s these very people to whom he proclaims the kingdom. It’s these very people who carried the blood lines…
As for foundation, I’m not going there either. There’s not a point. I read Jesus, and he says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” No belief system as created by men. No order of how the Spirit choses to work. No sins that are allowable and others that are not. Simply… I am the way, the truth and the life.
If you want to read our take on truth as of lately, check out our recent blog entries… http://www.watersedge.tv/blog.html
Edited later to add: Randy, I am also assuming, given your statements, that you do not critique, criticize or analyze anyone else’s writing or speaking from your pulpit, well, platform/stage unless you have personally spoken to them about what you perceive to be their error.
Love it, Sallie. 😀 😀
I can not help but sense the relativistic nature of your comments, even as you attempt to claim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. You say that, and then say there is no belief system created by men, etc. etc. Well sir, in all the grace and love I can muster, there are many other books in the Bible which were written by man and inspired by God, which clearly define for us the foundation and what it means to be “in Christ” and to be His follower. I’m hoping you don’t mean to say that the Apostle Paul was adding on to Jesus’ message.
To say that I agree with you in one respect now seems odd, but I would like to agree that Jesus did call sinners to be saved. But to me that is the very point. He did not save them and say now live as you please. When He saves, He sets the captive free. Therefore, whether homosexual or anything else, we must speak the turth in love. Come just as you are. But who the Son sets free, is free indeed.
Go back and re-read your last post. We can visit your blog and read what truth is as of lateley? Does your truth change that much? If Christ is the Turth and God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then how does you truth change so often? Just a thought.
I am guessing that a lot of this “emergent” stuff is brand new to some of the readers of my blog. Here are a few more articles online that might be helpful.
The Death Knell for the Emergent Church Movement
The Emergent Mystique
God doesn’t change, but the ways we follow God may change. In Mark 10 Jesus is asked about divorce. He refers to the law of Moses, and then he ADDS something to it. He states that the ways of the creation as intended back in Genesis 1 is actually the best way. So, it seems that God changed the rules… or at least increased the expectations.
How could David ‘walk with God’ and have a hundred wives, murder a man, and still walk with God? It wouldn’t happen in evangelical circles today. Nope. Seems God’s grace was enough…
How can we be o.k. with body piercings and yet mandate ‘hats off’ for prayer. Hmmm. Seems the rules changed somewhere between the books of the law and the words of the N.T. authors (except for the hats part).
How could Solomon have 1000 wives and yet we are allowed only one? Hmmm. Seems the rules changed.
If we believe that God’s expectations, demands, and laws never change, then you better have a second read of the Old Testament.
As for the “Death Knell of the Emergent…” I had extensive e-mail conversations with Gleason. He was a tank driver in the military, and he brings this with him to his ministry. While I don’t doubt his attempt to be faithful, he’s off target.
You can dispute my above paragraph claim, but he’s critical of my friends who read the Bible, pray, and memorize more Scripture in their homes than most of you.
I’m tired of those of you who forsake the unity of the Spirit for truth… I’m tired of my friends being judged because they sense a lack of the Spirit among God’s people; I’m tired of claiming to be ‘reformed’ without being willing to reconsider theology – as if the reformers from 500 years ago had it all figured out.
I may be all wrong. So be it. God’s grace will be sufficient. And I don’t want to be accused of burying my two talents in the backyard hole of conservative republican evangelcial Christianity when God has given me a brain, an incredible faith community, and the Spirit among us…
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but… what about stoning wives for unfaithfulness? Do we want to go back to that too? Nope, of course not. Yet, we’re fine with the hat thing… maybe our churches are in need of more theological reforming than we want to admit…