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Rob Bell on “Evangelical”

posted by Scot McKnight

RobBell.jpgI want to post two answers Rob Bell gave to the Boston Globe where he defines evangelical. Tomorrow I want to discuss something about a trend I’ve observed about the word “evangelical.” What do you think of his definition?

Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?

A. [Rob Bell] I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A. [Rob Bell] 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.

There is a fuller version online and this was in that fuller version:

Q: Is religion a part of that? 
A: At the heart of the Christian story is resurrection, the belief that this word is good, and that, as a follower of Jesus, a belief that God hasn?t abandoned the world, but is actively at work in the world. Even in the midst of what can look like despair and destruction there is a new creation present.



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angusj

posted October 1, 2009 at 1:20 am


Q: “What do you think of his definition?”
Well, if that’s all he means by (small e) evangelical then it’s woefully inadequate and sounds like a gospel devoid of Jesus and the Spirit. However, I’m hoping his response is simply a polemic to the non-faith community’s perception of Evangelical which doesn’t come across as caring or generous or hopeful.



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Tim

posted October 1, 2009 at 2:37 am


Ummm… shouldn’t evangelical’s definition include Jesus somewhere? At least God (with a big G)? Seriously lacking. Kinda scary.



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Tim Gombis

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:03 am


I’m struck initially that perhaps Bell didn’t mean to give a robust definition, but at the same time he was indeed asked how he would describe what he believes. I wonder if he’d want to fill it in with more, given the chance to do so.
I’m also struck by how we’ve come full circle in the last 60 years or so. C.F.H. Henry responded to the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism in the 1940’s with a call for more cultural engagement, turning from our myopic focus on isolated behavioral codes. Seems that we’re back again; angry about social/political issues without offering richly Christian alternatives; blindly following hysterical pundits on cable news networks; thinking that the role of women in home and church is THE issue for evangelicals in the next generation. We’ve gotten way off track, ending up in a ghetto of irrelevance.
Seems that Bell is faithful to Henry on this note. A hopeful, resurrection-powered vision for Christian action within culture that is redemptive . . . While he’d probably want to say more (and certainly must), this is a vision that many genuine evangelicals are very interested in. He may have been simply speaking about the social component, without addressing other aspects of Kingdom of God realities.



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Kate

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:05 am


The article linked seems to be a strangely stunted exerpt. What Rob Bell says certainly sounds more balanced when you read the full article at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/2009/09/rob_bell.html
The next Q&A after those quoted above is this:
Q: Is religion a part of that?
A: At the heart of the Christian story is resurrection, the belief that this word is good, and that, as a follower of Jesus, a belief that God hasn?t abandoned the world, but is actively at work in the world. Even in the midst of what can look like despair and destruction there is a new creation present.



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BenB

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:53 am


As one who finds himself more and more mainline each day – I struggle with Bells’ definition.
I want to be evangelical in this – I want to “evangelize.” To me that means to “gospel” or to be one who proclaims the “gospel.” Evangelical means one who invites others into the fullness of God’s Gospel which is Jesus Christ crucified (and resurrected). If that is the foundation for the change we can create – awesome. If it has nothing to do with heaven after we die that’s fine too – but Evangelical has to have something to do with the Euangelion.



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John W Frye

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:56 am


I appreciate Kate’s comment and link. Undoubtedly Rob will be blasted by the Bible-toting evangelicals who think all media opportunities should include quoting John 3:16. Yet, in context I think Rob is trying to “redeem” a good word that has been hijacked by many under the big umbrella of orthodoxy.



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Ian Packer

posted October 1, 2009 at 6:34 am


With Kate’s added context, it makes good sense.
Ian Packer
Director of Public Theology
Australian Evangelical Alliance



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RJS

posted October 1, 2009 at 6:45 am


The extended article does help – because the excerpt in the link in the post is a stub. But it doesn’t remove the problems with the original definition entirely. The most important problem with the definition and the entire interview is that it focuses only on outward and not on upward.
So Scot talks about restored relationship with God, self, others, and the world. And I would think that a full definition of evangelical must include all of these elements. Within Bell’s definition we have the others and the world part … but the with God part is woefully inadequately conveyed.



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Jamie

posted October 1, 2009 at 6:51 am


I like Rob’s answer…
“Christian” terms seem to be hijacked all the time. When someone calls themself a Christian it doesn’t automatically mean that they are full on committed Christ followers willing to submit their lives to God. Many times it means that we live normal lives but we tack on church….maybe even every week.
It saddens me that we have to fight against what these words have become…not what they should be…but our culture has added other definitions to these words.
The liberty way is a fascinating book to me about “evangelical” culture.



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SuperStar

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:04 am


Here is where blogging becomes fraught with difficulties. Obviously Scot is trying to get a conversation going where people will pipe in with a lot of opinions. One only needs to listen to Rob teach on a regular basis and read his books to find out what he believes about Jesus. To excerpt an interview that may have been done on the fly to think you have captured all of Rob’s thoughts about Jesus and what an evangelical might be is inadequate at best and leads people to spew uninformed and hurtful responses at worst.



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Adam S

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:16 am


Rob did say on his twitter account a couple of days ago how frustrated he gets when the interview leaves out more than it shares (or something like that.) It was not specific about what article (or about what part of the unspecified article). But this is the only article on him that I am aware of coming out this week.



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RJS

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:23 am


Perhaps it would be best (and more useful) to avoid taking this “personally” as a criticism of Bell – and instead answer the question Scot posed.
What do you think of this definition of evangelical – what are its strengths and what does it miss?
I think it gets part of the picture but misses the an important part (see comment #8 above).



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Rick Cruse

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:36 am


The inward and upward elements are clearly lacking in his description. What’s worrisome in the article is the implication that, to appeal to and be relevant to a broader audience, we must truncate our message. I don’t know if he’s purposefully editing his own, personal, fuller definition/description of evangelical or if, in fact, we got the whole thing.
If the stereotypical evangelical shoves the so-called gospel message down people’s throats (with the standard conservative socio-political chaser), I wonder if Bell is slipping to the other extreme: engaging people creatively in conversation while leaving them to guess if Jesus is real and really changes lives.
In his foreword to EVANGELISM WITHOUT ADDITIVES (Jim Henderson), Brian McLaren suggests that Christians must strive to be the answer to someone’s prayer: “God, please help me find someone to talk to about my questions and doubts….” We become that answer when we’re seen as “safe people” by those truly seeking. The sad truth, as McLaren points out, is that God has few safe people to send as the answer to such prayers.
In the book, Henderson writes: “What if ‘evangelism’ meant just being yourself? Wouldn?t it be great if you could communicate the good news without having to become a spiritual salesperson?
What if you didn?t have to make a speech in order to ?witness; you could use everyday experiences to nudge others closer to Jesus; the things you?re already doing counted as evangelism?
Evangelism can be as normal as asking great questions and paying attention to the people Jesus misses most. It involves doing things you already do, but with a little more intentionality. Just by being yourself and becoming unusually interested in others, you can discover that people will ask you about Jesus.”



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Matt Rundio

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:38 am


This is the best I’ve seen regarding this kind of discussion:
When asked, “Are you an evangelical?” Answer: “If by evangelical we mean one who spreads the good news that there is another kingdom or superpower, an economy and a peace other than that of nations, a savior other than Caesar, then yes, I am an evangelical” ~Shane Claiborne in Irresistible Revolution (p. 23).



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Kansas Bob

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:51 am


.
I mostly agree with what Rob said. When asked that question I also feel a need to say what being an evangelical is not (i.e. a right wing politico) and then say what it is.. and I’ll go with Shane Clairborne’s answer (from #14).



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Vaughn Treco

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:51 am


“A.?[Rob Bell] I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.”
There’s something fundamentally wrong with this definition. Simply put, it is Christologically vacant. One can be radically irreligious and fit this definition. It reduces being evangelical to being nice and cooperative. The fact that an evangelical leader (whether big ‘E’ or small ‘e’) could propose this definition of evangelical is telling. It may even point to a spiritual, theological and intellectual disorientation.
*** I pray that this is a grevious misrepresentation of Mr. Bell’s comments to the interviewer.



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Doug Young

posted October 1, 2009 at 7:52 am


The problem is Bell and Claiborne, Robertson and Dobson, and the media aren’t speaking the same language. The media, almost always, uses the term “evangelical” to refer to the religious political right. To show that they aren’t speaking the same language, all we have to do is see how both Bell and Claiborne suggest they are evangelicals “if you mean…” They are trying to redefine how the media and the religious right use the term. Good luck.



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Mel Lawrenz

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:27 am


With all due respect to Rob, we should not think of words–especially crucial, historic words–as being hijacked. (One day a lady told me that she was troubled that I used the word “global” in a sermon because New-Agers had redefined the word into something spiritual. I told her that I would not accept that people could steal perfectly fine words from me.)
Words have denotations and connotations. It is possible for the connotation of a word to drift to an entirely different meaning from its denotation. When the media began to talk about “Islamic fundamentalists” during the Iran hostage crisis years ago, we knew that the public no longer connected “fundamentalist” with the historic doctrinal tracts of the 1920’s called “The Fundamentals,” nor even the subsequent meaning of “separatistic.” The word had drifted to a connotation of “belligerent, militant, bellicose.” The word became downright confusing. 1920’s Presbyterians and Iranian mullahs???
BUT we should not consider a word “hijacked” if it simply has complications surrounding it. “Christian” has had weird connotations from the day it was first used. I think “evangelical” is worth our time and energy to protect. What a great word! Gospel-oriented. Gospel-centered. This is a word that transcends denominational limitations. It does not focus on one doctrinal issue. It points to core belief and to outward mission. It is rooted in Jesus-identity and Christian believer-identity. “Evangelical” still connotes that we are “people of the Book,” that we believe in the saving death of Jesus, and that we are zealous to proclaim that message. Words take some work–all communication is work. Let’s not give up some of the best tools in our toolbox. Someone may use your screwdriver to stab someone, but that does not change the fact that most people understand that it is exactly the right thing for screwing in screws.
Why does this matter? Because I want as many useful links to keep my connection with my brothers and sisters in Jesus. I am glad for “evangelical” because it stretches to connect me with Rob Bell and John Piper, with David Wells and Greg Boyd, and with the 4,000 global representatives that will be at Cape Town in 2010 for the Lausanne congress. But even more so, “evangelical” reminds me every day that I pastor a church on the basis of a message and a grace outside myself, and that is as renewing as fresh-falling rain.



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Clay Knick

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:29 am


He’s making the same mistake the far right has made: his definition is not theological enough. In fact, it has no theology at all. It is not evangelical with either “e.”



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don bryant

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:29 am


Rob’s answer sounded like the usual response by Miss America contestants that they most want world peace. I am a huge Bell fan – Nooma, podcasts, etc. But this answer was silly and intelligent people of all kinds will want more. I don’t think Rob believes this is the definition of evangelical. This answer was about PR and positioning yourself. We sure are far away from the days of Jerry Falwell.



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joanne

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:34 am


The word is so loaded politically. I agree with Bell. We are doing ministry in the East Coast. We were recently asked “are you evangelical” the questioner was worried about hooking up with radical fringe elements of the political right.
I am not sure the word can be redeemed.



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Pat

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:56 am


I love it and completely agree with the hijacking of the word during the 2004 election.



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Matt K

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:01 am


I think the word “evangelical” functions better as an adjective than a noun.



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jeremy bouma

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:02 am


While I agree and appreciate Rob’s attempt to “reclaim” a word that has been hijacked by right-wring political interests, I find it troubling that his definition has no Kyrigma of God’s Story of Rescue, which includes Rebellion and Rescue in ADDITION to Creation and Re-creation (resurrection).
I have also become increasingly befuddled by Rob’s overemphasis of the goodness of Creation (which I understand is a reaction to the Platonic division of Spiritual and Secular within Evangelicalism and the Gnostic disparaging of the world) and Resurrection at the complete absence and necessity of the Event of the Cross.
In early July Scot posted a live blog I did of the POETS, PROPHETS, AND PREACHERS conference in G.Rap MI that I did. During one of the early sessions on the “Theology of the Story” I was incredibly struck by the complete absence of the Cross in his telling of the Story. I do not mean to suggest that the cross is un-important to Rob. But I found it odd THEN and find it odd now in light of this article that the Event of the Cross is missing from Rob’s re-telling of God’s Story of Rescue.
Here’s my challenge to Rob: Tell the complete Story, Creation-Rebellion-Rescue-Recreation. (yes, from my perspective Abraham Kuyper is spot on in his understanding of that Story!)
-jeremy



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jeremy bouma

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:12 am


BTW…not sure if anyone has read the full article or the comments, but a line from the first one struck me:
“He is subtle about talking about “resurrection” instead of “the resurrection,” which makes me suspicious about his position on this basic Christian belief.”
I haven’t noticed that before, but the more I think about my interactions with him (I live in GRap so both in audiences and personally) I do not believe he has qualified “resurrection” with an article as a singular event.
Is this overreach? Does anyone else find this odd, interesting, confusing, etc…?
-jeremy



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MatthewS

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:25 am


“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.”
Taking this answer in isolation, away from the rest of the article and away from any person – this answer is not a good definition of evangelical. I feel a little stronger about this than usual. I just attended a meeting of an association which I thought integrated Christian theology with some other professional concerns. It turns out that they have been so interested in being inclusive that they seem to me to have no theological basis for any exclusion at all – their only exclusion is by professional credentials. The group has long accepted practicing gays as leaders, for example (not all here agree, but this one alone concerns me). The group presently has some discomfort with the fact that Wiccans are presently becoming active members (no straw man, no fiction, it’s a current event). I have to imagine that there are some very wonderful people who are Wiccan. But how can a theological tent broad enough for Wiccans be distinctively Christian?
I hate the fighting fundy attitude that just itches for a reason to exclude people. I hate it. But I am afraid that it is possible to completely lose ones stomach for any definition or distinction at all (which will at some point necessarily include some form of exclusion), at which point – are we distinctively anything, other than “spiritual”?
I can read between the lines of this definition, yes, and see redemption. But that is my projection. This definition in isolation could include any religion or non-religion, making it a non-definition in my mind. I don’t want to sound like a rube or a jerk. It seems that Rob did clarify some of this later in the interview and did bring up resurrection which helps. But in isolation, this definition fails to identify anything about the death, burial, resurrection, ongoing presence of Jesus the Christ. At some point we have to say something distinctive enough that some people will despise us and some will respect us. Otherwise there is no city on the hill, no candle in the candlestick.



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Elle

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:31 am


I responded to this on my blog yesterday and appreciate you covering it today. When answering the definition of “are you evangelical” I tend to try and ask exactly what the questioner is meaning by “evangelical”. The term has certainly been hijacked.



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Rob

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:33 am


are we still spinning cycles over terms? God help us.



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Richard

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:48 am


In most of the teachings I’ve followed of Bell, when he talks anything of resurrection, it’s Jesus’ as first fruits of the greater resurrection to come. He’s very specific in pointing people consistently to Jesus and our need to receive his salavtion by following him.
to #24 Jeremy. I remember walking out of Poets, Prophets, and Preachers and thinking, “Man, if that doesn’t lay to rest the assumption that he doesn’t talk about sin and the cross and resurrection, nothing will.” Maybe I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid but I don’t think so.
Check out this article in CT that specifically addresses why he talks the way he does and see if it reassures anyone about his evangelical credentials:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/26.34.html?start=1



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Alan K

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:23 am


Simply put, isn’t an “evangelical” one who believes the evangel? If this is the case then the word needs to be reclaimed away from culture and back into theology.



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jeremy bouma

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:44 am


Richard,
As I see it here is the problem: Rob’s version of the story is about Creation and Re-creation.
First, while he seems to believe the initial Creation has ruptured and Humans are broken, it (world) and us are still fundamentally good. The Eikon is STILL as it was at Creation, though perhaps tainted. This was the exact same mistake Pelagius made (and I’ve actually read all of Pelagius so I’m not simply throwing that term around, like some). He thought we were still as we were intended, but lost our way through poor examples, ignorance and developing unhealthy patterns. Unlike Rob, however, Pelagius actually had a strong view of sin and its consequence: judgment. Rob never acknowledges nor teaches on the reality of judgment to come be of personal, willful sin.
Second, the Cross was not mentioned in his version of the story at PPP. Like not at all. He completely went from Creation to Re-Creation. Now some would defend this by saying that our new life is because of the Event of Resurrection. To be sure, we have new life because Jesus has new life. But Paul makes it clear in Romans that our new life is because of both resurrection AND the cross. In fact, Pelagius in his commentary on Romans makes it clear the suffering, sacrifice of Jesus DOES something for us. His death was necessary, yet Rob didn’t talk about that in his Story.
Now, a friend of mine and former associate of Rob’s at Mars said that a resurrection implies a death. Well OK, but it does not imply a SACRIFICE for which the consequences of Rebellion required. So Jesus arose from the dead. Great. But what death? Who’s to say, then, that Jesus did not simply die from natural causes and then mysteriously arise from the dead? In that case there was no need for a sacrifice (the Cross), which dove tails with his de-emphasis of personal, explicit human Rebellion. If we’re really not as bad off as some have said, if we are still good unbroken Eikon’s, then the Cross is unnecessary to objectively deal with the objective realities of evil, sin, and death.
I am not a Rob hater, but I have become increasingly disturbed by the Story he is telling. Evangelicalism has always agreed to agree on the basics–the gospel–the good news of the reality of that the Creator is restoring the world, especially His Image Bearers, to the way he intended them to be at the beginning through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus alone and the community of those who have totally committed themselves to Him and his teachings through belief and action.
Is Rob really committed to THIS? To evangelicalism?



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Jim Vining

posted October 1, 2009 at 11:01 am


I agree with Bell (and others who commented above) that the term Evangelical has been lost in our culture. It has taken on considerable baggage over the 50 years after the neo-evangelicals emerged.
At the same time, the statement that Bell gave, or at least was recorded, does not serve as an adequate definition of evangelical. From my understanding of Bell ? he was not even attempting to ?define? the term. Let us remember to recall the context when we interpret him.
Many who are called Evangelical today, are more reflective of the Fundamentalists whom the neo-evangelicals broke away from in the 1950s. I have written briefly on this: http://jimvining.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/what-is-was-an-evangelical/ . The writings of Noll and Marsden give great understanding of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in America.
I am in awe of the work of the neo-evangelicals of the 1950s. We desperately need a renewal of that kind of Christian faith ? holding to the Lordship or Jesus and the Authority of Scripture WHILE being thoughtfully and compassionately engaged in the world.



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ChrisB

posted October 1, 2009 at 11:04 am


Even with the “fuller” version, there’s no evangel in his evangelical. His appears to be a purely social gospel — the very thing that gives emergents a bad name among evangelicals.



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Richard

posted October 1, 2009 at 11:58 am


#31 Jeremy. It’s really to tough to talk about passover and eucharist (as Bell does in Jesus Wants to Save Christians) without implying/explicitly stating sacrifice. Ben Witherington has a great review from when that first came out that deals with precisely that. Bell’s teaching regarding the sacrifice of Christ making the reconciliation possible is in chapter 6 of Jesus Wants to Save Christians.
Totally agree with your last paragraph on the gospel and encourage you to use that lens to examine the ministries of Mars Hill (you seem more familiar with them than I am). If it lines up with that, which I think it does on my limited exposure, then the answer to your question is yes. If not, then no. Maybe we should return to fruit instead of lingo as the measure of gospel…



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John C

posted October 1, 2009 at 12:30 pm


I agree with some others that Bell ought to be clearer about the cross – the message that Christ died for our sins is sort of central in the NT…
I can also see why he’s chary of being labelled an ‘Evangelical’ – lots of secular journalists will simply think ‘Gotcha’, since (sadly) the term is now widely used to connote ‘Right Wing Christian’. In the UK, the front man of the Alpha course, Nicky Gumbel, was equally wary of owning the term in a recent Guardian interview:
Interviewer: ….surely the goal as an evangelical is to convert agnostics to Christianity?
Gumbel: This may sound pernickety but I wouldn’t describe myself as an evangelical. These are labels, which I don’t think are helpful. If I was going to use any label it would be Christian, and if you push me any further I’d say I’m an Anglican – that’s the family of the Church that I belong to. There’s nothing wrong with any of the other labels, but if you have any of them I want them all. If you’re going to say, ‘I’m Catholic, liberal, evangelical?’ let’s have them all. But I wouldn’t want to isolate one of those. Personally I think labels are terribly unhelpful because they enable you to dismiss things.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/aug/28/religion-christianity-alpha-gumbel-transcript



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Tony

posted October 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm


I dont see anyone asking Rob Bell to define evangelical… I see Rob voicing his frustration over the definitions he is not a fan of and the damage many evangelicals have done to the cause of Jesus and His kingdom. Though I think sometimes we need to redefine the terms in a way that is less about the hi-jacking of terms and more about why we define things the way we do! I think this was how Jesus redfines so many things… “you have heard it said, but I say”
Either way, Bell’s understanding of the gospel and evangelical definition does include a trusting in Jesus and the resurrection power of God… just read the rest of the articale and listen to any of his messages and this will be obvious!
Peace
Tony



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Adam

posted October 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm


It was mentioned earlier, but here are his “tweets” about the frustration over the interview (assuming this is the interview): his account name is realrobbell
Ever done an interview and then read it and realized they left out most of what you said? Maddening
A bit of history: the word evangelical comes from the Roman Empire propaganda machine- it was an announcement proclaiming Caesar is Lord…
The first Christians took the phrase and tweaked it, saying “Jesus is Lord.” That, of course, could get you killed. No one challenges Caesar
To confess Jesus is Lord was to insist that peace does not come to earth through coercive violence but through sacrificial love…
That is still the question, is it not? Whose way? Jesus or Caesar? Power and might and domination – or bloody, thirsty, hanging on a cross?



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Joey

posted October 1, 2009 at 2:17 pm


Thanks Adam @ #37



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Rustin

posted October 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm


What happens when words loose their meaning? Can the meaning be reclaimed: especially when the vast percentage of the world holds specific notions about a word’s meaning? I often wonder if it is time that we abandon “evangelical” all together. It no longer possesses the intent that it once did, and i am not comfortable associating myself with the context it currently brings. i appreciate that rob and others are trying to reclaim it, i just think all of that work may be in vain. Why don’t we just leave it alone and share what our faith communities actually believe? why cant we simply say we are done with the word all together?



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John C

posted October 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm


Here’s a link to a useful paper from the other side of the Atlantic which considers whether ‘Evangelical’ can be reclaimed:
http://www.jubilee-centre.org/document.php?id=207
Even in the UK, the problem is that when people hear ‘Evangelical Christian’ they often think ‘George W Bush’ or ‘Sarah Palin’, and if you don’t fancy their politics, then…



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brandontmilan

posted October 1, 2009 at 4:02 pm


I think that, like any piece of literature, genre and context are of key importance. And most of the people who have criticized Rob Bell’s statements here are ignoring both.
1. This is a transcription of a journalistic interview. Many people have treated it as if it were an all-inclusive systematic treatise of Bell’s theology. It isn’t; interviews are conversational, and, as in any conversation, things get left out. You have to realize that.
2. We cannot take this quote from Bell and determine things about Bell’s nature without considering the context in which it was said. First, he was doing an interview with the media. Who wouldn’t see this as a chance to change some people’s views about Evangelical Christianity? The first thing that he says is that evangelicalism isn’t what most people assume it is: right-wing, anti-intellectual fundamentalism. Naturally, he would follow that up with something that is strikingly dissimilar with what most people assume when they hear “evangelical.” And those things that he mentioned should probably be some of the natural responses to those who believe in the “evangelical Jesus,” if you will: helping the poor, caring for the environment, and extending hope to the world.
If Bell had said, “evangelicalism is all about telling people about Jesus.” The interview, in most of the readers’ minds, would have been over because they would have turned the page. They would have assumed that this guy is another religious nut job and would have ignored him.
Finally, you cannot remove this quote from the totality of Bell’s body of work and say that it somehow gives us a more clear picture of where his heart is at than anything else does.



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John W Frye

posted October 2, 2009 at 4:06 am


We all know that the Bible in fact announces “There is no God.”



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Ted M. Gossard

posted October 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm


I’m on board with what Rob is saying here. He didn’t give the whole picuture, but he’s making a valid point. We do come across as unthinking, even when that’s not fair, and lock in step followers of the Republican Party. Very troubling indeed.



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Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




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