In the midst of his announcement on Sunday that he now supports same-sex marriage, Rob Bell warned American evangelicals to “adapt or die.” His counsel, intended to be helpful, is actually a guaranteed formula for failure and a proven recipe for disaster. In fact, the only way for us to make a lasting impact on the culture and maintain a relevant witness to society is to do the opposite of what Bell advised.
Over the last few years Bell, a bestselling author and former megachurch pastor, has steadily distanced himself from the mainstream evangelical community. Known for asking provocative questions and challenging the status quo, he amassed a large following which has been drawn to his non-dogmatic approach, an approach which I call a “celebration of ambiguity.”
To paraphrase this approach, rather than the leader saying, “This is the way. It is proven and sure. Follow me,” the leader now says, “Who am I to know? How can anyone be sure? Isn’t it narrow and small-minded of us to be so inflexible and dogmatic?”
Somehow, young people in particular have rallied around this mindset, a mindset that has already lost its way before it even starts. Yet losing one’s way is celebrated too: “The destination is not important,” we are told. “It’s the journey that matters!”
Personally, I would rather enjoy a terrible journey to heaven than a lovely journey to hell. Speaking of which, Bell’s 2011 New York Times bestseller Love Wins represented another departure from the evangelical mainstream. In the book, Bell suggested that, to a great extent, hell is here and now, and in the end, everybody will make it into God’s heavenly kingdom.
Last year, speaking at a church gathering in California, Bell stated his belief that you could be a practicing homosexual and a follower of Jesus at the same time, encouraging his listeners to take their focus off of gay-related issues and to look instead at the “truly big problems in our world; that I believe Jesus would us to band together, and tackle together.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.