How Rob Bell Gave Up on Churchyworld

On a Sunday evening last year, Rob Bell pulled up outside a stone building in Philadelphia, peered at the stained-glass window above the entrance, and frowned—the place looked like a church. Bell is the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church, a megachurch in West Michigan, and one of the most influential Christian leaders in the country. But when he goes on tour, to talk about his evolving faith, he tries to avoid churches, because he doesn’t want to cause trouble for any staffers brave enough to book him. “I don’t know where I’m anathema and where I’m considered to be on the good team,” he says. “The landscape is so confusing, in churchyworld, that I just gave up trying to navigate it.” The previous night, he had appeared at Lupo’s, a venerable rock club in Providence, where there was a stern warning posted backstage: “No spitting or throwing drinks on the stage or equipment.”

Bell is a provocateur, but a mild-mannered one, with a pinched, nasal voice that somehow projects calm. He is forty-two, tall and lean, and, in both his fastidiousness and his fondness for black clothes, he evokes Steve Jobs; indeed, Bell sees no reason that a sermon shouldn’t have the same cool, frictionless appeal as an Apple product launch, or a TED Talk. For much of his career, Bell was affiliated with the evangelical movement, which has been the most robust Christian tradition in America for half a century. To many casual observers, the aughts seemed like a triumphant era for evangelicals. In the elections of 2000 and 2004, evangelical voters provided crucial support to President Bush, and Rick Warren became the symbol of a sophisticated new kind of megachurch. In fact, the popularity of evangelical Christianity probably peaked sometime in the early nineteen-nineties, and may now be in decline. Some Christian leaders have predicted an evangelical collapse, as aging congregations fail to attract young adults. Bell is now loosely aligned with a cohort of pastors worldwide who are searching for ways to move beyond old-fashioned worship. (This movement is sometimes called the emerging or emergent church, but many pastors, including Bell, disavow the term.) Bell talks often about the demand for a different kind of church, one that can keep pace with the rising “waterline of culture.”
Read Full Article »
Comment
Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles