Many a joke was cracked on Twitter in regards to Rob Bell’s announcement to leave Mars Hill, specifically in reference to John Piper’s now-prophetic “so long” comment. Having defended Bell previously a few times, I’ve been curious as to when a couple individuals would ask my opinion. So I’ve been trying to form one.
I’m disappointed and hesitant to support it.
The disappointment lies in the disengagement from the local church. Bell seems very versed in the struggles of people who are seeking to follow Jesus and what that means in day-to-day life; but I think that comes from the interaction and the relationship with the congregation. You just can’t get that kind of give and take from a stage. I think the best writers and speakers don’t just know scripture but also culture; the hermentuical jump takes you from the there-and-then to the here-and-now. I’ve heard equal number of unhelpful messages by over-emphasizing either side. So I’m reluctant to believe he’ll be nearly as effective.
Much like my politic, I believe the best theology happens at the local level. Not in the sense that something is true in Kansas but not in Hardin County. But theology intrinsically interweaves itself with a person or group’s understanding of history, sociology, psychology, and numerous other -ologies. “Context is key” doesn’t only apply to what is read, but to what is lived. Thus, I don’t have to wear a hat to church. Though I would like to bring that back, I must say. I’d love a good reason to wear a hat.
I have to say that the kind of work Bell has done – his level of questioning scripture and what it looks like to follow Jesus – is inspiring to me and I’ve been strongly encouraged in my faith by hearing what he has to offer. But those kinds of questions – and conclusions – have not been overly worrisome to me because of his involvement in the local church. At one point Mars Hill had hired a head pastor (Don Golden) who helped establish the theological direction of the church and then Bell was charged to preach based on that direction. I found this model fascinating and reassuring. But now the only dictation of what Bell
preaches performs will come from the publisher, and I don’t think that just because you seek to follow Jesus that you don’t hear the convincing message of the almighty dollar. I could point fingers at pastors who already struggle with this (look at me pretending to be righteous by refraining to mention Osteen’s name…oops!), let alone flying solo.
Finally, I’ve seen Bell exhibit prophetic tendencies that I greatly appreciated. But the prophetic role is one for the sake of the flock. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the prophets served Israel by calling her to return. The prophets weren’t evangelists by trade. I just don’t know what the prophetic message is to the nations. I can’t come up with an example of this. I think this is how Bell differs from Chan and a few other pastors-gone-published. These others, I think, see themselves in a role of building up leaders and current believers. Bell seems to want to “share his message” to an outside group. I’m curious to see how that transpires.
So, if I am to be honest, I feel like this trend of leaving pastorates for a national stage is treating the local church like the first wives club. The newer, younger, more exciting model doesn’t have the same history, the stability or the faithfulness.
And she bore your children. Because nary a story that I’ve heard of followers of faith being so dramatically impacted by a presentation or a book, but rather a person who engages with them in his/her current story. So I’m apprehensive to believe that his platform will be greatly enhanced by going it alone.