- - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Former pastor, bestselling author, friend of Oprah, and television host Rob Bell is no stranger to Evangelicals. Whether he himself is an Evangelical — or even cares to be called one — is a matter of debate ever since he began to walk back from traditional orthodox doctrine and teaching. I won’t rehash all that here, but a simple Google search can give you the highlights in quick order.

But in a recent interview Mr. Bell gave, he made many stunning statements, the most surprising of which might be that he considers himself, “As orthodox as they come.

I asked a friend, Pastor Andrew Pritchett, to help us think through Bell’s recent statements. Pritchett has followed Bell’s career trajectory for a number of years and provides us with the following insight.

by Andrew Pritchett

Let’s work backwards from that statement to find this so-called orthodoxy of Bell’s. This orthodoxy is predicated on his notion that the early Christian community gathered together to share in the Lord’s Supper and meet the needs of one another. The larger purpose these meetings accomplished was setting Jesus’s over against Caesar and the Roman Empire’s war machine. When looking at one seeing the needs of the downcast met, the challenge was proffered: who is making a better world? Jesus or Caesar?

This is compelling to Bell. Jesus is compelling; this is the reason Bell is a Christian and remains a Christian (in his words). Working backwards more, we see that basically this expanding openness of love instead of violence is in tune with the workings of physics and the universe itself. The universe is constantly expanding, transcending itself. We ourselves have our greatest moments of joy, peace, love, and connection when we move beyond ourselves as well.

Orthodoxy arises from self-sacrifice, which is birthed by moving past oneself and past violence, and this is the model of the very universe we live in.

The writer of the interview makes note of the fact that the audience at this particular show was nearly completely white, which is a bit of an accomplishment given the ethnic diversity of Durham, NC. While one might say that mystics from the Eastern Hemisphere have been teaching that the best life is lived when one is in complete harmony with the universe, we should also remember that these sorts of mystic teachers don’t usually do so while charging $100-a-head for a speaking engagement or using professional photos of them paddle boarding in promotional materials.

Early in the interview, Bell speaks of innovation, which he says, happens in a garage. He juxtaposes this against institutions, which exist only for themselves. We are to take Bell as the innovator, working in his spiritual garage self-sacrificially.

Can I call to your mind that Bell left his Michigan pastorate for a California television studio? From the suffering automobile capital of America to the center of Western self-promotion. Does irony get any better than that?

Are we to believe that Bell can practice self-sacrifice better from Harpo Studios in West Hollywood, than in Michigan, where the state’s unemployment sat at 8.9% at the close of 2012, the same year Bell left for sunny California? Who is looking out for themselves? Who is self-sacrificing? When your self-sacrifice looks like $100-a-head speaking engagements rather than moving your ministry to Detroit or Flint, or even just staying in a state that suffers from unemployment consistently higher than the rest of the country, I must ask—do you have orthopraxy (true behavior) to go with your own professed orthodoxy (true belief)?

When was the last time you had an informal group come to your home to celebrate the Eucharist and ensure the single moms had enough food for their children?

I know of self-sacrifice. It looks like a naked man on a cross uttering words like “Father forgive them.” It looks like going to Rome in chains to testify to the living Christ before Caesar himself. It looks like living out one’s days on an obscure island. The claim of self-sacrifice belongs to those who have earned it. It goes to those who “innovated” two millennia ago.

Mr. Bell, when you leave West Hollywood and head to Compton, you may speak to us about self-sacrifice.


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