Rob Bell: (Emergent) is not a word we use


Taken from a interview with Rob Bell Some people from the outside looking in would say that your church is perhaps characteristic of a lot of churches that are springing up in America, in England, around the world, based out of some sort of dissatisfaction with church as we know it and need to re-invent it somehow, and need to – you used the word “strip it down.”  Various terms are used: Emerging Church, Emergent Church.  Is Mars Hill, the church that you pastor, is that an Emerging Church?

Rob Bell: We don’t ever use that word because in our particular context, unnecessarily creating labels – are you in, are you out?  are you one of them or not? – seems to work against the spirit of Jesus.  We would much rather put out the bread and the cup and take communion together and talk about the Christ who unites us and who wants to heal each of us so that we can be his hands and feet in the world.  So I don’t really care what of these endless little stripes and labels you wear.  Can we all do this together? (mimes holding bread)  Can we all agree on that?  So yeah, that’s not a word we would use. But how do you feel when it’s used of you?  Would you feel uncomfortable with that tag?  I hear what you’re saying.

Rob Bell: Yes. Just because it’s a tag and you don’t want any tag.

Rob Bell: If it’s a tag that refers to those who are serious about what I would argue is central to the Christian faith, which is the endless hard questioning of what does it mean to be the people of Jesus here and now in this place, in this time – what does it look like to be the hands and feet in this city, in this day and age?  Well then that’s a conversation that’s not exclusive or even new to Emergent, and it’s the conversation that must endlessly be had with every community in every generation.  So if that’s what they’re talking about, great.  But if it’s some sort of group over here who believe they somehow stumbled upon the keys to everything and everybody else is clueless, well then that’s just simply not helpful at all.


Rob Bell’s November tour called the gods aren’t angry started November 5 in Chicago and concludes in Grand Rapids on December 2.  Bell’s tour from last summer, Everything Is Spiritual, was released on DVD this week.

Mark Driscoll’s Lecture on the Emerging Church and Rob Bell


I just listened to Mark Driscoll’s recent yet already much-blogged-on lecture on Christianity and the Emerging Church.  Just a few thoughts.

First, Mark is funny.  I like Mark.

Second, I have a feeling Mark used every ounce of patience within him to not yell and jump up and down like he sometimes does, and the reason might be because, as he said in the beginning of his lecture, he is friends with two of the guys he critiqued and finds them to be very generous.  He said this after a long and difficult pause:

It’s really hard for me.  I don’t want to be the man who is known by what he is against.  I don’t want to be the man who is known by what he is angry about.  And I don’t want to be the man who is being unnecessarily unpleasant to men who have been pleasant to me.

Third, I don’t know if Mark’s critique of Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt is accurate.  I will leave that to people who are more familiar with these folks.  I will say that Mark is a very intelligent man and has known these two guys and their work for a number of years, so it would be hard to imagine him misunderstanding them.  Mark says this about Doug Pagitt:

(He’s) a friend of mine.  Saw him in Seattle recently; we had dinner together.  He’s a very nice guy.  He’s great to argue and debate with.  He’s as cranky as I am, and so we have a great time.  No one in our presence does, but we have a great time.

Fourth, Mark criticizes Rob Bell, whom he admits he has never met.  Most of Mark’s critique of Rob consists of contending for the belief that the virgin birth is a vital part of Christianity, which Rob in his book Velvet Elvis wonders is a necessary component of being a Christian.  Another chunk of Mark’s critique of Rob focuses on a book called A Brief History of Everything that Rob, in Velvet Elvis, recommends people read.  The author, Ken Wilber, is not a Christian, which means he has ideas that don’t fit in with Christianity, and these ideas are the ones that Mark criticizes.  The remaining part of Mark’s critique of Rob is that Bell focuses on Rabbinical interpretations of the Bible, and since this interpretation hinges on not believing in Jesus, it is therefore bad.

In my opinion, if Mark and Rob would sit down and have a long chat I think that Mark would have a different understanding of what Bell is all about.  Mark likes to talk about how Christianity is all about Jesus, the Bible is all about Jesus, and it’s a good thing to be all about Jesus.  I know of several thousand people who can say without reservation that few people are all about Jesus like Rob is.  I think it’s important to realize that some people don’t communicate in quite the same way as others, and oddly enough, Mark encourages the audience to be subversive, a technique which Rob has mastered, which has gotten him in trouble with Christian leaders.  I am going to agree with many of the bloggers out there who are saying that Driscoll was unfair in his critique of Bell.

Rob Bell has been criticized all over the blog world, and most of the critiques are laughable, so this isn’t a new thing.  But Mark’s critique concerns me a little, and here’s why: people who have not heard Rob teach or who who have not seen Rob articulate a vision of Christianity that is centered around Jesus will get an incorrect view of the man based on this lecture by Mark Driscoll, and that would be a shame. (Rob Bell: “Christ is enough.”)

All in all, there are few people in the world I respect more than Mark Driscoll.  He’s a brilliant, down-to-earth, funny guy who loves Jesus and is influencing the world.  I’m thankful for him and what he’s doing in Seattle and throughout the world, and I can’t wait to hang out with him in the renewed earth.

Other posts on the lecture: Pomomusings /

John Piper on the Emergent Church

John Piper

The following is an excerpt (full mp3 here) from a panel conversation (With Justin Taylor interviewing Tim Keller, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll) at the Desiring God Conference 2006, which took place on September 29. John Piper was asked about the Emergent Church, and after shocking the audience by saying a curse word (Justin said Mark must be rubbing off on him), he said this about a lunch conversation that he had with Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village:

I just kinda kept going back on my heels, like, I don’t understand the way these guys think, and so there are profound epistemological differences – ways of processing reality – that make the conversation almost impossible; just kind of going by each other. My question sort of is, how profitable would it be to press on with that when your worldviews seem to be so different and your ways of knowing seem to be different, the function of knowledge in transformation, what the goals of transformation are – all those are so different that I’m not sure we would get anywhere.

These words by Dr. Piper caused me to wonder if this is the reason why some leaders are not in the habit of dialoguing with a lot of their critics, because how profitable would it be when your worldviews are so different? I for one don’t think that Brother John should spend a lot of his energy in dialogue with people who come from a totally different angle (although some is healthy), because it takes him away from focusing his attention on the things that he really feels passionate about. It reminds me of Nehemiah 6:3 – “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”

Pastor Piper is doing a great work. I hope that he’s open to correction, yet always working hard at the work he’s been given.

Rob Bell: Response to Criticism

The following is an excerpt from an audio teaching by Rob Bell to the Mars Hill Community:

“Be careful of people who grab a line from an interview with me and wave that one line around. “What about this? He said this.” Understand that an interview is hours of talking, and that the media can write anything they want. Does that make sense? Please understand that you can take any line, isolate it from its context, and make the person be saying all kinds of things that they never intended to say. Or at least isolate it from the context of the words.

Please understand that there are blogs, and rumors of blogs, and people on blogs can write anything they want. People can write anything they want, and they can be as unbelievably hurtful because the internet is a safe, anonymous place for cowards.

And so please be careful of taking things that are being said as if they’re etched in stone. They’re not. It’s a website. It’s an review. That’s all it is.

We need to be careful that we don’t get dragged into things.

For those of you who take heat, here’s a phrase that I think is very helpful. Four words: Historic Orthodox Christian faith. Perhaps a simple line that would be helpful to people is, “At Mars Hill, we are trying to live out historic orthodox Christian faith. Where do you see that we’re not…”

“Well, you talk about questions.”

Show me where questions aren’t central to the Scriptures. Show me – whatever you’re talking about – where it’s not part of historic orthodox Christian faith.

So the real question is how are we going to respond, because we’re just getting started. There will be more praise, and there will be more Pharisees. I would respond with two words: love wins.

I deeply appreciate some of you who have entered into the public fray. I don’t read any of this, I’m told that some of you have written letters to the editor, you’ve gone on the internet, and your love and support for this place and for me personally, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Some of you are like, “Come on, what are you saying about us?” That means more to me…but I might ask you to reconsider, simply because I don’t know how much it helps. Some people, no matter what you say, have a hardness of heart and aren’t going to change.

Please be very, very careful who you engage with.

Some people simply have questions, and simply want to discuss. Wonderful. But some people are miserable, and they use religion as a crutch to avoid dealing with their misery and their pain. And what gets masqueraded as Christian faith is not. And we need to be careful spending all sorts of energy engaging with people who don’t have any interest in coming along on the journey with us.

I would ask you before you engage – and there’s nothing wrong with engaging – to perhaps ask, “Could I redirect the energy I’m about to spend towards somebody who’s never, ever heard that God loves them?” And let us be the kind of community who engages in the right kinds of discussions, but otherwise we’re too busy loving people with the transforming love of Christ to engage in the mudslinging that goes on. You are too valuable to me, and your time and your energy, you’re too valuable in our community to end up in some sort of theological kung-fu with somebody who ultimately thinks they’re right. There will always be Pharisees. God’s on the lookout for disciples.”

–Rob Bell, 9.11.05


RELEVANT MAGAZINE Reflections: Rob Bell on Pools


I subscribe to RELEVANT MAGAZINE (God. Life. Progressive Culture.), which arrives every two months. The last subscription I had was to Sports Illustrated, and that was over 10 years ago, so I thought it would be nice to have a magazine delivered to my home every month or two. And $15 for two years isn’t a bad deal.

While reading RELEVANT (why is it in all capital letters? I feel like I’m yelling) I often get new thoughts stirring in my mind, so I thought I’d allow those thoughts to spill over onto (the number of $1 donors has hit a plateau at 6). The first mind-stirring thought comes from Issue 24: Jan_Feb2007 in an interview with Rob Bell (as well as Mark Driscoll, Lauren Winner, Rick Warren, and Erwin McManus). Part of Bell’s answer to the question, How should Christians be involved in the political realm? is this:

In our city they’re shutting down community pools because they say there isn’t funding for it. So there are all these kids, especially in the urban center of Grand Rapids, who won’t be able to swim in the summer. We think that would piss Jesus off. For us it’s not right that on one side of town they’re building pools and on the other side of town they’re shutting them down. That’s an injustice. We think Jesus is about pools.

Is Jesus really about urban kids getting the chance to swim in the summer, or is he more interested in somebody knocking on the door of their house in August and telling them that Jesus offers eternal life so they can go to heaven instead of hell when they die? It all depends on your view of hell, heaven, eternity, justice, and Jesus.

The Story of Reality

Imagine William Shakespeare wrote a play (hard to imagine, I know). It’s such a great play that many people think that actors should be hired to act out the play on stage. The problem is that the play is supposed to be five acts, but we only have the first four acts and the beginning of the fifth in our possession, with hints of how it will end. Most of the fifth act has been lost forever. What do we do?

It seems like the best thing to do would be to hire actors who are well-versed in Shakespeare, give them copies of this unfinished play to study, and then have them act out their interpretation of what they think the fifth act would look like.

In the same way, the story of reality, the story of God, the story the Scriptures reveal to us, is a play with the first four acts and the beginning of the fifth written out for us. We humans have been hired, so to speak, to act out the fifth act of this great play on the stage of life, knowing what we know of the first four acts.

This play was not designed to be read and enjoyed by only a certain group of people, but rather is intended for anyone and everyone. In the same way, the story of God, the story of reality, the story of the Scriptures is meant to set the stage for anyone and everyone to act out the fifth act; it’s meant for all humanity.

Since we don’t have the final act of Shakespeare’s play, it wouldn’t be right to complete the drama once and for all. Even the well-trained actors need to be open to different versions of the play. After all, the play will look different as it is acted out by different people in different time periods. The goal is not to once-and-for-all decide what Shakespeare meant to do in the fifth act.

In the beginning of Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, (review of Velvet Elvis) he says something similar to this, but he uses the illustration of an Elvis painting instead of a Shakespearean play. Bell then concludes the introduction by saying, “Welcome to my Velvet Elvis” – I.e. this is my interpretation of act five.

Throughout Christian history, and in our world today in 2006, there are many different groups giving their interpretation of act five. Most of them, unfortunately, will tell you not, “This is my Velvet Elvis” or “This is my Act Five,” but rather, “This is the Act 5.”

My goal is to become an actor well-versed in the first four acts so that I can faithfully live out on the stage of life the fifth act.