The Boston Globe recently ran an interview with Rob Bell. Amongst other things, Bell says,
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.
*Cue fuss from reformed bloggers*
There has been much consternation about Bell’s definition here.
However, is Bell actually providing a definition?
The interviewer seemed to want one. A truckload of people on Pyromaniacs wanted one. This single interview scored 192 comments! +_+
What’s going on here?
Bell seems quite deliberate in his refusal to use the ‘correct’ buzzwords. This suggests that he thinks American religious language needs an overhaul. He seems to think that ‘the right answer’ using ‘the right words’ is no longer sufficient for his context. It’s no surprise to find Bell doing this in an interview either; he’s been doing it for some time. In Velvet Elvis, he even identifies himself as reformed: part of the tradition that is always reforming — always refocusing on God.
This seems to be what’s driving him: not a pursuit of ‘the right words’ but the right angle. This is the whole propositions-versus-relationship thing that we’ve recently been circling around here on Cyberpunk + Blue Twin.
And this is my big question about Bell. I’m less interested in whether he’s saying ‘the right things’ than what’s driving him. Why won’t he dance for the internet critics?
Bell’s purpose seems to revolve around prompting people to question and explore, rather than delineating and specifying.
This means that Bell is slippery, but it doesn’t automatically make him a heretic.
At the least, it’s worth delving into what Bell’s on about, rather than taking a cheap shot on the basis of propositions.
The hubbub from this interview is revealing: Bell is considering the evolution of language, while Phil Johnson of Team Pyro is concerned with reclaiming historic definitions. It seems to me that this is less a battle over biblical truth / Christian orthodoxy, and more a case of modernism versus postmodernism.
But what of Bell’s post-propositional way?
As I make out, there’s more than one way to talk about God.
There is always more to God. There will always be more to be said about God. There will always be more to be said about the incredible reaches of his plans in Christ. That’s the vision of heaven in Revelation: an eternity filled with endlessly renewing praise of God. There are not just endlessly new angles to be had on God, but endlessly new ways to express all the wealth already known. God doesn’t change, but there are new things to be found in the ancient Truth and new ways of talking about them.
In the closing pages of CS Lewis’s The Last Battle, at the dawn of the new creation, a unicorn cries out, ‘Come further up! Come further in!’ We do not merely look forward to an eternity with God, but to an eternity in which we find ourselves continually on the doorstep of that eternity. The journey of knowing and delighting in God is an unending one. We do not arrive; we go further up and further in.
Is Jonathan Edwards your homeboy? Reformed Christians of all people will cherish these things.
And if that’s what Rob Bell is getting at, then I’m keen.
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PS: Tamie observes that I have again taken a modernist angle by trying to get at Bell’s intentions!
PPS: Joey mentions some of what was left out of Bell’s interview.
Part of a loose series:
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.