According to one news story I read, Rob Bell’s embrace of God’s love has landed the Grand Rapid’s religious entrepreneur in Desiring God Ministries hell. The ultimate kiss off in the evangelical world is for John Piper to tweet, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
But I am wondering why all the hoopla over Bell. If you do some searches over at the Gospel Coalition blogs, where the exposure of Bell’s errors have been fast and furious, the gospel co-allies didn’t seem to pay much attention to Bell prior to his recent book. I found one review of Bell’s videos, a link from 9-Marks that is now dead. But Bell was a basic no-show prior to March 2011.
The best explanation of why someone might care comes from Kevin DeYoung who has a personal account (and one that appeals to me now that I am a Michigander). He wrote:
This issue is especially pertinent to me because I grew up where Rob Bell lives (Grand Rapids) and live where Rob Bell grew up (Lansing). I know the church he grew up at (it’s a normal evangelical church with some fine people there). And I remember buying baseball cards at the mall where Mars Hill now meets. I have people at my church that used to go to his church, and people from my home church that now go to his. Small world. Over the years, I’ve known many people that have attended Mars Hill at one time or another. Rob Bell’s influence stretches across Michigan. It seems that most people I talk to have some family member or friend or second cousin that’s gone to Mars Hill or loves Rob Bell’s books. Although few, if any, in my congregation would say they are Rob Bell fans, many interact frequently with those who are. Clarity on the important issues he raises (and misunderstands) is absolutely necessary. Especially in the Mitten.
So if you’re from or live in Michigan, concerns about Bell may make sense (though how does anything hip come from Michigan?). But what kind of threat is Bell to the Gospel Coalition or my friends in the Southern Baptist Convention? I mean, American Protestantism does not lack for low hanging fruit in the orchard of bad theology and inappropriate ministry. Just turn on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and go to one of the pastor’s websites if you’re in the mood to expose pernicious teaching.
So again, why all the fuss over Bell? And why especially all the Gospel Coalition resolve to pounce on Bell? I may need to get out more and meet people who read Rob’s books and watch his movies (though I did sit through an uncomfortably fawning interview with Bell at the Calvin College Writer’s conference a few years ago). I understand he is a celebrity. And I understand he is supposed to be cool. But do the believers who go to Gospel Coalition churches really need counsel on the dangers of Rob Bell? If they are reading Piper or Keller or Carson, shouldn’t they be able to spot good theology from bad?
Or could it be the case that we are always hardest on those who are closest to us, such that to show that our position is correct we need to expose the errors of someone close to our position? But is Bell really close to the Gospel Coalition? I wouldn’t have thought so, except that the Gospel Coalition seems to be open to emerging churches (hello, Mark Driscoll). The other exception is that Bell has the kind of religious celebrity that cements the Gospel Coalition’s celebrities. But doesn’t all this exposure increase Bell’s celebrity?
As I say, hello, Rob Bell, I hadn’t thought about you much before the allies said farewell.