Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rob Bell, Oprah, and ... me.

This video segment of a longer interview between Rob Bell and Oprah Winfrey was called going "Soul to Soul." It is part of promotional material for Oprah's upcoming "The Life You Want" weekend seminar tour this fall, and Rob is a featured guest, along with Deepak Chopra, Elizabeth Lesser, and others in the self-help pantheon. I first saw the interview discussed in a link from FB to a blog, but that article only highlighted a few questions--and you can read that summary here.

I watched this four minute "Q & A" and came away with a number of impressions.

  • Rob has adapted VERY WELL to a move from Grand Rapids, Michigan to southern California. He looks very, well, "beachy." He surfs with his son. He wears the right clothes, and he has that healthy look so many of us who live(d) out there seek. He's exchanged "midwestern geek" for "so Cal chic." And I can't fault him for that, because I loved living there--even on a much tighter budget. It's a great place to live, and the success of his books and tours have allowed him to get there and enjoy it. Good for him.
  • He is as pithy a communicator as ever--saying much in a few words, and saying just as much in what he doesn't say. What he says is winsome, engaging and genuinely thought provoking, even if for me those thoughts were filled with alternating sadness, frustration, and disappointment.
  • Through his speaking and writing gifts, he has gained a platform that few coming from the evangelical world have attained--the opportunity to speak to the large "popular culture" about matters of utmost importance.
  • He has made a conscious decision to use that platform for non-confrontational, generalized, spirituality, not biblical Christianity. Deepak Chopra, Hinduism's earlier "Rob Bell" (I say that because many Hindu teachers find him stealing their "good stuff" and mashing it up in ways that they abhor) could have said everything Rob Bell said--except maybe thinking about "flesh and blood" people in heaven that make it a place you want to go (I thought of Mitch Albom's book The Five People You Meet in Heaven during that particular part of the interview).
  • Whether intentional or not (and Rob is much too smart for me to truly believe it isn't), Rob deflected every opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ toward an optimistic, generalized, "everyone is going to be fine" spirituality that, if embraced, will send you to Hell. In the picture he painted, Jesus is not the greatest joy of Heaven, instead it is seeing relatives you never met. God isn't a person who makes himself known to those who seek and has given a Word to be heard, but rather "like a song you hear in another room" but you can't hear clearly, so you keep trying to hear it more and more. No one is evil in need of repentance--everyone just needs to "wake up." Death isn't a great divider and time of judgment (Hebrews 9:27), but only a grand "Aha!" moment. I could say more, but I will stop here on this point.
  • Rob Bell is dangerous because he is so good at what he does. He rightly understands the power of story and simile, just as Jesus did, and uses them powerfully. But he draws incomplete and false analogies that have just enough of a ring of truth that they resonate with us. And the small amounts of truth contained in his thoughts fall far short of real "good news" for the broken people Rob seems to be so concerned for. He offers "peace" to so many who have no peace, and will never find it if they take him at his word.
I grieve to say what I've said, because I know Rob once believed differently--or at least taught differently with passion. People came to know Jesus as their Lord through Rob's earlier ministry. Now, at least during his sojourn in "Oprah World," they may never even hear that name--the only one given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

This week, I'm not preaching in my Revelation series, but I feel like I'm living its messages. I've received the news of three workers in Afghanistan to minister to people in the name of Jesus who were killed because they were there. And I've heard a formerly evangelical pastor tell the queen of popular western culture that everyone is going to be fine. Martyrs and apostasy have been the Church's experience through the years, and will be until the time when Jesus returns. Both will be painful to bear.