Maybe he didn’t mean to do this. Maybe he was taken out of context. Maybe the interviewer chopped his words up to better reflect a different agenda.
One can hope.
The title of the (very) short interview is “[Rob] Bell aims to restore the true meaning of evangelical.”
Bell’s printed definition is this:
I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.
I’d like to buy the world a Coke.
This definition is worthless for evangelical meaning. It could easily be the mission statement of Greenpeace, the United Way, your local vegans’ co-op, or even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
It is a definition of evangelical that contains zero evangel.
If you are unclear on why this is the case, the word “evangel” comes from the Greek word that means “gospel.” An evangelical is a “person of the gospel.” Or should be. Bell’s definition contains no gospel.
“Well, sure it does,” some are arguing in the comments at Out of Ur’s post on the interview.
One of the commenters there, in appreciation of Bell’s definition, writes:
We’ve gotten so used to reading the Bible without its historical and cultural context, that we’ve largely ignored its impact on its original hearers
Yes, because when first century readers read Paul’s claim of the gospel’s “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15 and what comes after, they heard in their original context and culture that they really should recycle more.
That was sarcasm.
The problem with Bell’s definition is not that it outlines a practical faith or that anything he’s highlighting is bad or wrong, only that what he outlines contains no object of faith and highlights work to do rather than work completed. And I don’t know about you, but work completed is always better news than work undone.
His definition of “good news people” lacks two very important good news ingredients: News and a Good Person.
Keller and Carson remind us to not speak of the gospel as if it is advice. That’s good advice.
And there is no Jesus in Bell’s evangelical outline. No work of Jesus. Just us bein’ awesome.
Here’s some bad news: we are not awesome.
The good news is that Jesus is.
At this point someone always wants to get to gospel definitions. Doesn’t the gospel entail renewal of creation, etc.?
Yes, but it necessarily entails the announcement that it is being done by the great Renewer.
We’re not seriously going to debate about whether Jesus’ name and his finished work on the cross and out of the tomb should be in our definition of the gospel, are we? Is that where we are in evangelicalism? The cross and tomb are part of a “yes, but”?
The interviewer asks Bell about Jesus: “I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you.”
(Just to interject here, but this should always be a huge stinking red flag. People, if your preacher rarely mentions Jesus, ask him why. A preacher who does not preach Jesus is not a Christian preacher. By definition. I don’t mean he isn’t a Christian. I’m just saying he’s not a “Christian preacher.” He’s probably a great motivational speaker or spirituality coach or something, though.)
Here is Bell’s response to the interviewer’s keen observation of Jesuslessness:
I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.
I really don’t even know what this means, but I think it means this:
a. You’re right, I don’t use Jesus’ name that much.
b. That’s okay because that can turn people off.
c. Nevertheless I still hope that somehow the Jesus message slips through.
Hey, how about we don’t “hope” that to happen, but we just actually do it? If the Jesus in your preaching is subliminal, you’re failing. I don’t care how many people are in your church or buy your books or watch your videos. An implied Jesus is a FAIL.
And this is why this shade of the emerging thing — and I know I can’t lump them all in together; in some eyes, I’m a part of the emerging church and so is Mark Driscoll and so are McCoy and Thorn up there in Chi-town and so is Neil Cole, et.al. — is really just our Boomers’ seeker church metrosexualized. And why many of the seeker church guys are now embracing this shade of the emerging thing. It’s their deal, only cooler. The feel-good legalism is still there and Jesus makes cameo appearances. That’s an ecclesiological reconstruction FAIL. (Thank you, Jim Belcher.)
Jesus doesn’t need you or me to be embarrassed for him or his followers. He doesn’t need our help. We don’t have to butter people up before we bring him out. He’s not a time share or Amway or something.
If I get hit by a bus just after preaching a Jesusless exhortation to hold hands and be sweet to change the world with positivity, you have my permission to wish the bus had hit me before I preached.
Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! And woe to you too, Rob Bell.