Who is Rob Bell?
Rob Bell came out of the Emergent Church movement about 10 years ago. A group of pastors got together to address the question of an aging, dying church population. They asked the question, “how do we get young people back into church?” Among those in the movement were Bell, Brian McLaren, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, John Piper, et.al. They branched almost immediately, with pastors like Driscoll and Piper adhering to gospel while reaching the youth through their culture, and others like Bell and McLaren re-molding scripture to fit the culture.
If you don't know, be glad.
Bell is best known for his quasi-universalist views, which are perhaps best summarized with his book and motto "Love Wins," but his problems are much worse than that. His teachings against eternal damnation of the wicked are only one part of a bigger problem.
Bell is the recently-resigned founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, a megachurch in a suburb of my hometown of Grand Rapids. He's a Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary graduate. He managed to plant a megachurch in the center of the Dutch Reformed world by advocating styles of worship and doctrinal beliefs at radical variation from the historic beliefs of the people among whom he pastors, while bringing a veneer of evangelicalism to the mix.
How did such radical views gain traction in a place like Grand Rapids?
The answer is important, and it's an important warning to conservative Christians everywhere in any denomination. I'm pinging this to the Great Reformed Ping List, but it deserves to be read by anyone who takes doctrinal integrity seriously. If we don't catechize or otherwise teach doctrine to our young people, we are only one generation away from seeing the apostasy of our grandchildren, if not our children.
The theological collapse of the Dutch Reformed world in Grand Rapids has resulted in people fleeing the CRC and RCA in all sorts of directions. Some of those directions include older and newer denominations which affirm the historic Reformed faith — the URC, OPC, and PRC, and to a lesser extent the NRC, FRC, HRC, and some Reformed Baptist churches, have all benefited from that exodus of people who want to be Reformed.
Other directions include theologically conservative but non-Reformed denominations such as the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the Assemblies of God, and the Wesleyan Church.
And, of course, the PC(USA), the UCC, and other liberal or mainline denominations have served as a “safety valve” for decades, taking dissatisfied Dutchmen who wanted a theology which was less restrictive to their doctrine or morality.
What Rob Bell managed to create in Grand Rapids was something new. Mars Hill Bible Church combined the attractions of the externals of evangelical Christianity with the attractions of a liberal faith.
Bell was an early warning sign of a type of so-called evangelical Christianity which is growing in America, and which is not evangelical at all. It is merely a re-creation of an older type of liberalism, one which unlike the major forms of liberalism of the late 1800s and early 1900s, claimed to be “spiritual” rather than having the anti-supernatural focus of mainstream classical liberalism. Men like Friedrich Schleiermacher were present in the older forms of liberalism, though they were not the “majority report,” and their form of experience-based religion is every bit as dangerous as the anti-supernatural form of liberalism.
In fact, it's probably more dangerous today because there are a lot of people who want a “spiritual experience” who would reject open attacks on miracles or other supernatural features of historic Christianity, but are open to Rob Bell's heresies.