On a plane recently, I had the chance to re-read the Jan/Feb cover story in Relevant magazine about Rob Bell. Bell, as many of you probably know, is the bespectacled pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I read his first book, Velvet Elvis, a couple years ago and enjoyed it (haven’t gotten around to his latest yet, but it’s on my list). I teared up when I first watched one of his NOOMA DVDs (it was the episode titled Rain). I’m looking forward to hearing Bell speak at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in a few weeks.
I know Bell is controversial. Many group him with the emergent movement of church leaders and thinkers. There’s no shortage of both critical and celebratory commentary on Bell around the blogosphere and elsewhere. I haven’t prepared a rant on Bell’s “heresy” (as some of his critics put it). And he doesn’t need me to join his chorus of defenders. I simply bring him up because I like his way with words, and as I read that Relevant interview I was drawn to his thoughts about worldly divisions and our need for “reconciliation.” An excerpt:
First and foremost, in Ephesians 2, Jesus is all about new humanity. What happens when Christ is being incarnated, taking on flesh and blood, is always new humanity, so any person I encounter—regardless of their religious background, their skin color, their worldview, their political stance—they are a fellow human being created in the image of God. I have a bond with them that transcends every other bond. Humans are created in the image of God. Only later do you have geography, family boundaries, ethnic groups and religion. What happened is that we have flipped that upside down, and people begin with all of their differences; they begin with all the way in which we aren’t alike.
And this one on answering his critics from within the Christian community:
I have never set out to be shocking or controversial. That’s a horrid goal—and, I believe, a very unredemptive goal. My interest has always been the Truth, and how the Truth can most clearly and compellingly be communicated.
[T]here are around a billion people in the world who don’t have clean drinking water, and 46 million Americans don’t have health care. That means if they get sick, they don’t have anywhere to go. Half of the the world, 3 billion people, live on less than two American dollars a day, so the world is an emergency. It’s on fire. It’s drowning. It’s an absolute crisis, and when followers of Jesus can think of nothing better to do with their time than to pick apart and shred to pieces the work of other followers of Jesus who are trying to do something about the world, that’s tragic, and I don’t owe those people anything. The world is desperately in need of people who will break themselves open and pour themselves out for the reconciliation of all things. When a Christian can find nothing better to do with their time in the face of this much pain and heartbreak, you start realizing that some Christians need to be saved.
What do you think of Bell’s words?