See, this kind of stuff is why I keep saying the historic meaning of the word evangelical will probably never be recovered. (You might want to read The Boston Globe's religion section and then come back here. The rest of this post will be more relevant if you have the full context.)
I do agree with Rob Bell about one thing. (Quick. Somebody wash my mouth out with soap. Please.) He's
Well, yeah, OK. I suppose that's part of the problem. More precisely, the term evangelical has been systematically evacuated of any reference to its historic doctrinal roots. People today therefore feel free to assign it any meaning they fancy—religious or non-religious. Practically everyone in the world of popular religion now claims to be "evangelical" in one sense or another. That includes not only old-line Moral Majority types who think the Republican Party agenda is gospel truth; hip middle-class Willow Creekers who couldn't care less about either doctrine or politics but just want to be entertained; crypto-Socinians like Bell and McLaren; crass socialists like Jim Wallis and Sojourners; heavily politicized left-wing wingnuts who think Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Al Franken are all good medicine—or whatever.
In fact, listen to Bell's own cockamamie claim about what the term properly describes: "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."
So is that what Bell considers "a spiritual context," or did he already forget what he had just been saying about how the term became politicized and corrupted in the first place? Hmmm.
An interviewer at The Boston Globe evidently wondered the same thing. He tells Bell, "I'm struck by the fact that I don't hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you."
Bell's answers to that question and others in a similar vein are instructive. Among other things, he admits, "I have as much in common with the performance artist, the standup comedian, the screenwriter, as I do with the theologian. I'm in an odd world where I make things and share them with people."
One thing is clear: Bell himself is no true evangelical in any historic sense of the term. The Boston Globe's headline ("Bell aims to restore true meaning of 'evangelical'") is exactly backward. Bell has no agenda to "restore the true meaning" of the term evangelical, much less encourage a revival of true evangelical belief. In fact, Bell has made a career of attacking historic evangelical convictions—laying siege to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the wrath of God against sin, the authority and perspicuity of Scripture, the necessity of the virgin birth, the coherence of the biblical testimony about the Resurrection, the exclusivity of Christ, and whatever other historic Christian doctrines Bell finds politically incorrect.
In fact, if you have the stomach to read the complete version of The Boston Globe interview, don't miss Bell's arrogant skepticism about the sovereignty and omniscience of God: "For a lot of people, dominant questions center around, 'Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?' Unfortunately, the religious voice often enters into the discussion at an inappropriate time—'God just planned this.' Really? Your God planned this, not mine."
If any popular figure "in the evangelical movement" (or on its copious fringe) deserves the label "heretic," it is Rob Bell. The guardians of evangelical politeness don't like that kind of candor, but when a secular newspaper like The Boston Globe is publishing pieces implying that the best, most promising alternative to right-wing civil religion is a mish-mash of Open Theism and performance art—and that whatever "evangelicalism" is, it must be one or the other of those two abominations, it's time for people with historic evangelical convictions to speak up clearly and make the biblical message heard again.
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