Dear Rob Bell,
That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?”
“We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”
Rob, you’re a gifted communicator. You drew many folks to your church in Michigan, and now you have a show on Oprah’s network. It’s clear that you’re charismatic, funny, and adept at making complex realities simple to understand.
But—excuse my own attempt at brevity—you’re dead wrong on the church and gay marriage. The church isn’t giving an inch on this issue. Sure, there are scattered congregations who are moving in this direction. But in terms of tens and tens of thousands of local churches from a wide array of denominations filled with people of all races and backgrounds who simply love God’s inerrant Word, we aren’t moving an inch. We’re not scared; we’re not intimidated; we’re not even impressed. We’ve seen this all before.
As you note, the culture has moved with great swiftness on this issue. There appears to be no moral check to this momentum in broader cultural life. It is not so with the church. The church has a mighty backstop, an iron wall, a living Lord. It has a foundation for its ethics and morals. The church has a moral imagination inspired by the holy prophets and the blood-dripping apostles and a crucified Lord. The church is a counter-culture that speaks truth.
The culture has no such foundation. It chases such virtues as liberty and equality, but without warrant, and without guidance. It speaks of rights, but it has no grounding for them. It hungers for justice, but has no buttress for it. This is not a new movement; it’s an old and tired one. Ask the Jacobins how their Revolution played out. Even Napoleon realized that went poorly. Ask the Russians under statism how freedom fared. You don’t need to write The Gulag Archipelago to see that secularism of varying kinds fails to make good on its promises.
Rob, you’re absolutely right that the culture wants the church to give up. Alongside a shrinking number of mostly religious partners, we’re the last holdout in the West. With a pat on the head, we’re assured that we can keep feeling precious spiritual thoughts in our hearts. We can pray nice little prayers in our closets. We can be good sanctified boys and girls in our own weird-smelling sanctuaries. But to live out our convictions? To bring them into the public square? To be salt and light? The culture shudders at the thought.
(Even as it acts on its own convictions and brings them into the public square).
The strange thing here is that you used to understand this. You used to be a voice for the people of exile. You used to preach the Bible, and people loved your ministry. You stood with God against the world. But now, as it pains many of us to see, you stand with the world against God.
That is your own prerogative. I give you credit for being clear with your views, and it’s apparent that you have not lost your communicative skills. People still thrill to hear you teach, and—speaking from one teacher to another—you make very fine use of a blackboard, I must say. But you no longer speak sound words. I tried hard to understand “zimzum,” but I can’t seem to pin it down, bro.
Rob, there will be no surrender on marriage. There will be no truce. We will not bargain down our doctrine. We will not hand over our beliefs. We will not put the truth in a heart-shaped box. We may lose our public voice, but we will not lose our public convictions. As Chuck Colson saw some years ago, it may be that we get demolished in coming days. If this happens, it will only be a recapitulation of days past.