ORIGINALLY COMPOSED AS AN E-MAIL ON DECEMBER 8, 2012
Wow. I’ve written quite a bit of stuff about Rob Bell over the years – none of it complimentary – but I never connected his heretical book Love Wins with his leaving Mars Hill. Evidently attendance there dropped by some 3,000 people after Bell’s views on Hell were published in that book. I assumed Rob had outgrown Mars Hill and was moving on to bigger and better things. I was wrong. From the New Yorker:
Even before it was published, “Love Wins” caused a sensation. The word went out that a prominent megachurch leader had rejected Hell, thereby embracing heresy. The outcry helped make the book a best-seller, even though a number of Christian bookstores refused to stock it. The central message of “Love Wins” is that the church needs to stop scaring people away, and, in publishing the book, Bell hoped to spark a movement toward a more congenial, less punitive form of Christianity. He knew that some Christian leaders would object, but he didn’t foresee how much. His detractors stated their case on blogs, from pulpits, and, eventually, in books. “Love Wins” appeared in March, 2011, and by summer there were half a dozen rebuttals in print, including “God Wins,” by an editor at Christianity Today, and “Erasing Hell,” by Francis Chan, a fellow-pastor. John Piper, a prominent theologian and minister who expounds the value of “objective Biblical truth,” posted a terse message on Twitter: “Farewell Rob Bell.”
In the end, “Love Wins” did turn out to be a kind of farewell. The members of Mars Hill found themselves having to answer for their membership in a church that was suddenly notorious.
I read the rather long piece in The New Yorker and Rob comes off – to me anyway – a rather sad and confused character. He’s not quite sure where he’s going so I really think leadership is probably not Rob’s calling. I never thought any of the stuff he was expounding was fit for human consumption and I said more than once that this guy is dangerous; dangerous like the voice of the serpent in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say,…”
Does the Bible really say that there is a Hell? Yes, it does, read it yourself. It’s quite clear! If there’s no Hell, what is the broken body of Jesus doing suspended between heaven and earth on a cross? And if Rob is looking for a more “forgiving faith” LOOK TO JESUS CHRIST FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Read the New Testament for Pete’s sake! Where are you going to find more real forgiveness? You’re not, but that doesn’t stop people from selling books and DVDs to people who think they might.
I think I would have to lay this train wreck at the feet of Ed Dobson of Calvary Church. See the excerpt near the end of this post.
For qualifications for the office of pastor or elder from the Bible, see 1 Timothy 3 or the book of Titus. Dobson and Calvary handed Bell a “special offering” of about $30,000 and got the ball rolling rather nicely at Mars Hill. I remember writing that Dick and Betsy DeVos gave Mars Hill a very healthy chunk of change as well. Rob wasn’t very mature, didn’t know his Bible very well, but, well, he was a great communicator. Nice. Dobson did thousands of people and especially Rob Bell a great disservice by not heeding the elders at Calvary and pushing Rob out there despite their valid concerns about him. This is why God set up church governance the way He did. Without godly elders the proverbial train can get off the tracks quite quickly and with disastrous results. The elders at Calvary apparently let a charismatic leader get the upper hand in this matter by not sticking to their guns. Mistakes are forgivable. Mistakes are fantastic things – if one learns from them. Mars Hill didn’t have to happen. It did. Let’s move on.
It’s really all very sad. I’ve gotten fairly angry with Rob’s teaching over the years because I know what this stuff can do to people, especially young people who are looking for something solid to hold onto in a world that is crumbling around them; people broken by some very jacked-up churches. There are churches that have their doctrine and theology down rock-solid but if Christian love is lacking you end up with something Jesus Christ spent much of his earthly ministry criticizing – Phariseeism. On the other hand you have tons of churches out there today with “great communicators” who can tickle the ears of their hearers with great oratory but give people something far less than the whole counsel of God. Hell isn’t pleasant to consider, it doesn’t give you warm fuzzies, but the doctrine of eternal punishment does happen to be a part of the whole counsel of God; deny it and you are by definition a heretic – unfit for proper church membership let alone leadership.
A former pastor of ours had the best alternative to LOVE WINS several years ago when he briefly referenced Mars Hill in a sermon: LOVE WON. The difference in tense makes a great distinction between something God has done and things we do. We bring absolutely nothing to the table regarding our salvation, except our sin. God does everything! He’s extremely jealous of His glory – the entire universe exists to bring Him glory – and it is a very dangerous thing to try to rob Him of it. The concept of LOVE WINS tries to do just that. If you want to understand what’s going on at Mars Hill and churches like it, read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism from 1923. That pretty much sums it up.
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5
I sincerely hope Rob figures things out – for his sake and for all his followers who are looking for something. There’s hope for Rob. There’s hope for all of us.
Lemme bust out some Shawshank Redemption:
Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Andy Dufresne: Hope.
Andy Dufresne: [in letter to Red] Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Grace and peace,
Rob Bell Tells How “Love Wins” Led To Mars Hill Departure
THE NEW YORKER
The Hell Raiser
A megachurch pastor’s search for a more forgiving faith
Bell loved California, and he imagined that he would probably settle there. But then, during a trip home, he agreed to accompany his parents to Calvary Church, in Grand Rapids. Calvary was a big, nondenominational congregation, led by a great orator named Ed Dobson. Bell remembers being astonished: Dobson was a small man—“like, a hundred pounds, soaking wet”—with big hands and a deep voice, willing to hurdle the flower display in front of the pulpit, if it would help make a Biblical teaching stick. Bell befriended Dobson, and wrote him letters from California. When Dobson finally saw Bell preach, he was impressed. Bell’s style is conversational but theatrical, full of meaningful pauses that make listeners lean forward, and Dobson persuaded the leadership at Calvary to give him a chance. “Not all of the elders felt like I did—some of them were concerned that he was inexperienced,” Dobson says. “But I told them, ‘Look, he can communicate. He really doesn’t know the Bible, but, if we can add the Bible to his communication skills, we’ll have a winner.’ ”
At Calvary, Bell was put in charge of the Saturday-night young-adult service, which sometimes included rock bands and informal discussions. In 1998, he left to start his own church, Mars Hill, taking with him hundreds of Calvary congregants and the proceeds of a special offering, which came to about thirty thousand dollars. By 2000, attendance had grown to a few thousand, and the church soon found a home: a sprawling former mall, right off Interstate 196 in Grandville, a southwestern suburb of Grand Rapids.