The internet and blogosphere is up in arms yet again regarding Rob Bell for some reason or another. OK I’m being intentionally obtuse when the reason is quite simple — he allegedly has come out in support of gay marriage, and apparently people are surprised by this as though it was not foreseeable.
On the one hand, I had some level of understanding what he could have meant on the surface when he said “that ship has sailed” with regard to the culture war on same sex marriage, in that this battle is not going away. It’s not the message I want to focus my time on, personally, and so I get it.
But to turn around and start saying sin is not actually sin is ridiculous and I worry this is what Rob Bell is doing.
Counter-cultural or Subcultural?
As my friend Ben Peltz said last week, being culturally adaptable and upholding the Gospel simultaneously is a must for the church in any age of human history. The difficult part for most Christians is in the fact that true cultural adaptability requires an acknowledgement that even our understanding of truth — how we interpret certain passages, which ones we emphasize, and even how we approach scripture in the first place — is culturally conditioned. Most don’t want to admit this.
How do I know? Easy, how many pastors and leaders insist their denominational stance is the correct one? Or how many of your friends say things like “that’s not what MY Bible says” in a way that’s meant to add credence to their perception, as though it’s others who are wrong and not themselves? We need to be conscious of just how significantly cultural blinders — including those of our denominational preferences — can cause us to depart from the truth of God’s Word.
Like Ben said in a discussion about this over on Google Plus, as much as I disagree with Bell’s conclusion on homosexuality and marriage, I would rather he speak up about his honest convictions rather than masking them in order to fit in. Like someone else said in one of the comments, I am also more interested in pointing people to Jesus and allowing Him to clean up their act than pointing out their sin. His life transforming ways are far better than finger pointing and behaviour modification than any of us human beings can accomplish.
Sadly, many evangelicals have reduced the gospel to be all about sin or behaviour. As my friend Tim said in the Facebook version of this chat, we need to stop preaching both sides of the “grace & fruit” / “obedience” coin and begin to have a new paradigm of encouraging people to experience the Lord. Scripture says to “taste and see that the Lord is GOOD”. Only a personal encounter will produce the fruit we are looking for. Nothing else –including theology, behavior modification, discipleship, etc — will do this.
The ONLY thing that has radically impacted my life and caused a behavior change is when I encountered Him and experienced his touch, His presence or His power manifested in my being. The only way I’ve ever overcome sin in my life is not from being scared of the consequences, but by being satisfied with something greater than the sin. Then, the fleeting pleasures of such sins fell to the side in my life in my pursuit of personal holiness and the enjoyment of it.
There is a huge difference in what should be acceptable behaviour for believers and what one expects from worldly unbelievers and non-christians in our culture who’ve not personally been touched by the Lord and experience Him. There has to be that contrast by necessity.
Paul certainly wrote again and again against sin and was not shy about it, but we must remember he wrote many of his warnings primarily to believers. Just as we expect sinful behaviours as the norm out of unbelievers and we should expect godly behavior out of believers. Do we preach the truth with Love or with a self righteous attitude? Do we compromise speaking the truth to be more acceptable and “loving” in the world’s eyes?” A thousand times no. But we can work on our approach. There’s a big difference in how we approach and what results we expect. Internal holiness and experiencing the Lord will never come from legislating morality from without.
Extremes on Both Sides
However, too many people fall into the ditch on the other side of this road when they don’t want to condemn anybody for their sin issues, but love them because “God is the only one who can judge”. These people forget that we’ve been told in Scripture the same measure we use to judge will be used on us. The Word of God doesn’t say “don’t judge” but, be careful how and what standard you use to do so (see Matthew 7:1).
I personally believe we’re to be inviting to those outside, but hold ourselves and our own to an incredibly high standard. It’s a delicate balance of invitation vs. challenge that I’ve talked about elsewhere. That’s why you see little from me in regard to “culture wars” and trying to push outward conformity onto society in regards to ways that can only come from a changed heart within. That being said, some focus their energy and time on some of the sins in our culture — primarily abortion and homosexuality — and behave like those are more grave sins to commit than any other thing Jesus preached and warned against.
The same people I hear say “no, we can’t condemn people” (to which I do agree on the surface with some qualifications) often swing the pendulum the other way and fear saying anything is wrong. This is my problem with so-called Christian thought leaders like Rob Bell — he doesn’t really take a stand for anything! As Dr. Michael L. Brown called it in his recent article on this, it’s a celebration of ambiguity. Jesus was anything but ambiguous.
Come As You Are — But Don’t Stay As You Are!
Jesus Christ told the woman who was caught in adultery “your accusers have left. Go and sin no more.” This idea that prostitutes and tax collectors were attracted to Jesus but not the church is not a well thought-out argument. It forgets that many of same people who were attracted to Jesus abandoned him once they really understood his message. In fact, as long as Jesus was misunderstood, the masses loved Him. As soon as he was understood, they killed Him, basically.
How many tax collectors and prostitutes stuck around after He preached “drink my blood and eat my flesh”? How many people followed Jesus so long as he was providing free bread and fish, but disappeared the next day when he got his preach on and told these same people their father was the devil (see John 6:1-14, and then 25-66)?
Those who did stick with him to the end, changed their lives. They didn’t stay in their lifestyles as prostitutes and tax collectors. Just look at Matthew the tax collector, then disciple who was martyred, and Mary Magdalene former prostitute, then follower of Jesus. The point is not to emphasize that the world was attracted to Jesus “just the way they were”, but that they didn’t stay the way they were after an encounter with him.
Removing the command to go and sin no more, or “be holy as I am holy” does nobody any favor except to let them die in their sin. Jesus’ blood was too precious for that! We’re not called to feed the culture around us with bread that perishes, but point them to the Bread of Life.
Rob Bell isn’t doing that and is increasingly losing his relevance. The problem is too many preachers have been building platforms and getting people under their umbrella, that when someone like Bell has done the same thing and says something like this, there’s enough people who lack the spiritual depth to understand that he teaches heresy. We can’t fault Rob Bell for this, but all of us for creating such a church culture in North America in the last decades that has created many men like Bell who have to out do themselves in order keep being on church pop culture’s radar.
What are your thoughts?