Rob Bell Can’t Tweet the Gospel

BBELL_SA_C_^_SATURDAYRob Bell tells Christianity Today that he cannot Tweet the gospel. There’s just too much there to fit into 140 characters. Here’s CT‘s question followed by his answer:

How would you present this gospel on Twitter?

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

His answer to this question is 580 characters, and His other answers to CT‘s questions combine to a total of 7,529 characters. Nevertheless, I don’t think that he has gotten the gospel correct in those either. What do you think?

43 Responses to Rob Bell Can’t Tweet the Gospel

  1. Sam April 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    I have many reservations about Bell’s narrative theology and open ended hermeneutic. But I like him as an author primarily because he understands that the church desperately an awakening to the NOWness of the Gospel.

    I think Bell is ministering to a very specific group of people who simply will not believe anything unless they’re allowed to ask questions and think through things via a “big picture.” To this end, I think his ministry is empowered.

    This portrayal of the Gospel is thin but it’s not wrong. I’m pretty familiar with Bell’s theology and the theology of Mars Hill, so I know he affirms an orthodox view of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Whether he missed the explicitness of Christ in this answer is up for debate, though.

    But I wouldn’t call it wrong.

  2. Matt Privett April 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

    That’s 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. It’s 219 characters with spaces. Admitted, it’s not one tweet. It’s two… and it’s miles and miles ahead of the Christian story Rob Bell would tweet.

  3. Paul April 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    I think the nice way to put it is that you’re stating it in a rude way.

    I think a little bit of this is the fact that I would never ask Rob Bell for the time of day. Not because I don’t like the guy, but because I am certain that I would hear all about how we really know so little about time, and how your time isn’t my time, that time is universal, and should be respected as such. Then he would off on another tangent about how time has always existed, and how to try to pinpoint time is to question God’s timely nature, and how it’s not our business to know time, only God’s.

    And all I really wanted to know is that it’s almost 3pm in Chicago right about now.

    But, if I can’t expect a guy to tell me what time it is in under 10 syllables, I really don’t expect him to be able to try to explain salvation in a handful of keystrokes on a blackberry.

    that said, even this verbose guy can do it in eleven words:

    Jesus died so you wouldn’t fry. Fess Up and get saved.

  4. Andrew Cowan April 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    I read over the interview, and my general impression (Bell experts, please be generous to me; I am by no means familiar with the large body of his work) is that he hasn’t really said a lot of things that are wrong, but he has not said some of the things that are central and crucial to the gospel. Thus, I think that he is correct that the gospel is news about God’s good purposes for the world, including physical resurrection for believers and the renewal of the earth through new creation, but nothing he said brought to light the main impediments to those purposes (sin and the wrath of God), and God’s means for overcoming those obstacles (Christ’s death for sins, participation in Christ through faith). Although he alludes to Christ’s resurrection (“an empty tomb”),which is certainly central, the absence of sin and Christ’s death in this interview is disappointing, especially since he was asked what he means when he says “something has gone terribly wrong with humanity.” So, for me at least, I’m not upset by much of what he said, but I wish he had said more.

  5. Adam Omelianchuk April 23, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Hmmm… I’ll be honest, this is more bad writing (characteristic of Bell), but if he really does believe the tomb is empty I am willing to say he has a Gospel message that is sufficient. It does need more if there is to be real discipleship. But I can’t see how what he said would be contrary to anything in Scripture.

    What do YOU think? 🙂

  6. Denny Burk April 23, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    Andrew, I think you are right on. What he doesn’t say is more troubling than what he does say (though I don’t think the post-colonial critique of the West is really all that insightful or helpful in framing the gospel). That being said, I think most can agree that his “Twitter” response doesn’t come anywhere close to a clear gospel message.

  7. Matthew Staton April 23, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    The linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Bell said, “And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty…”

    I don’t particularly like Bell’s mannerism and style of expression. It seems showy; I wonder how many times he practiced it in a mirror before doing it on-camera. However, I think you have to evaluate any author or presenter in context of their intended audience.

    My impression is that Bell has an audience in mind and that he shapes his message stylistically and linguistically to that audience and that this audience, for the most part, is not Bible college students. The apostle Paul conversed with stoics and epicureans, leaving both of them with something to think about. I expect this conversation was a tad more engaging than simply quoting 1 Cor 15:3-4.

    To say that Bell does not come anywhere close to a clear gospel message when he does in fact state the linchpin of the message seems an overstatement to me.

    Bell’s statement here is worthless in a scholarly setting where serious theologians are measuring every word, trying to precisely state the nature of say, the atonement. On a state university campus where the students are prejudiced against institutionalized anything, including religion, I think it is possible that his message may in fact be a good thing. It may start people thinking, asking. It may help open doors. It may plant a seed.

  8. Carol Jean April 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm #

    I can’t see anything in the tweet (or the rest of the interview) that a Catholic, Mormon, or Jehovah’s Witness would disagree with.

  9. Micah April 23, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    Carol – Call me slow, but i’m not sure i understand your point. I’m trying to find a common thread in the 3 groups you mentioned and am having trouble doing so. Please do elaborate…

  10. Carol Jean April 24, 2009 at 12:12 am #

    Micah – sorry to be cryptic. My point is that there is nothing in Bell’s gospel to distinguish it from the other three groups. A Mormon could read that article, in which Bell was asked pointedly what the gospel is, and will see nothing that is at odds with the LDS beliefs. “The tomb is empty” does nothing to free Catholics, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses from their bondage of works righteousness and the false gospel they believe. They all, along with Satan, I might add, believe the tomb is empty. Believing that fact alone saves no one.

  11. John Holmberg April 24, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    Denny,

    What would your twitter response be?

  12. Denny Burk April 24, 2009 at 1:55 am #

    John,

    Great question. I would use the apostle Paul’s summary of the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

    “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

    This would still take a couple of Tweets to fit it all in, but I think it’s the best, short summary in all of scripture.

    If you’re interested, I preached a whole sermon on this text here.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  13. Paul April 24, 2009 at 2:13 am #

    So, Denny, what you’re saying is that you couldn’t do it either.

    More importantly, is Twitter the proper forum for sharing the gospel?

    This seems like so much somebody trying to pick a fight.

  14. Tom 1st April 24, 2009 at 2:15 am #

    I think this whole post is a bit judgmental. You all want the guy to address all your pet issues in his brief interview.

    In fact, what he says is basically, though in his own words, the Scripture you cited, Denny.

    He has a resurrection (which implies a death) and a discussion that this has been part of God’s story since creation (according to the Scriptures). And his discussion of cynicism and the insanity of the world is a recognition of the reality of sin and brokeness, even though he doesn’t use the pet words everyone wants him to use.

    Sure, the gospel is more than what he said. But the gospel is more that what any of us could say in a few tweets.

    Give the guy a break.

    I agree with Matthew that he probably has a particular audience in mind and so he chooses to say things this way and not tackle all the Southern Baptist pet verses and verbage.

    That said, I suspect you all would be disappointed with Paul’s presentation of the gospel in certain places in Acts where he doesn’t get much more detailed than an account of the resurrection. Maybe we should critique Paul next.

  15. Nathan April 24, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Bell is an interesting figure and by the responses so far he has shown his greatest ability; to frustrate some and to crack the door open for others.

    My main point of contention with Bell (in this interview and his other books) is that he appears to crack open many doors and show only glimpses of the room, leaving opportunity for those listening and/or reading to come to their own conclusions about the topic(s) being discussed.

    If we look at the sermons of the early church, be it Peter or Paul, there is little doubt that evil men (us) killed a sinless man (Jesus) whom God has raised from the dead and that this risen Savior is willing to reconcile his killers to Himself if they will bow the knee and turn to Him.

    As for sharing the gospel via Twitter, I would say… well maybe I should just let it go

  16. Matthew Staton April 24, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    “Can you tweet the Gospel?” is half a question. “To whom?” is necessary information.

    I am intrigued by reading again what Paul said to the philosophers at Athens. Would any of us at that time have agreed that any altar in Athen was to the true, living God? But Paul used the “Unknown God” altar as a springboard. He also said:
    God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

    Paul used their own impulses and their own poets and false gods to try to land an idea into their hearts.

    I like this phrase from Bell:
    And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

    I get the impression that the intended affect of Bell’s comment is related that of Paul’s, namely, to stir up a desire that God has put within the person to know God.

  17. Chris H April 24, 2009 at 8:57 am #

    No one can obfuscate quite as eloquently as Rob Bell.

    All are sinners. Christ died to satisfy God’s judgment and was raised on the third day. By this grace you are saved. Repent and believe.

    Look, the gospel, twitter version. It took me three minutes 🙂

  18. Denny Burk April 24, 2009 at 9:45 am #

    It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Rob Bell on this blog, so maybe I should direct newer readers to some old posts to give a little context:

    http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=948

    http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=1358

    In the first of these links, you’ll see my answers to an interviewer for the Dallas Morning News in which I called attention to aspects of Bell’s teaching which undermine the Christian faith.

    In the second link, you’ll see Greg Gilbert’s assessment of Bell’s “gospel”–an assessment that I agree with:

    “If you take Bell’s presentation of the gospel at face value, what you end up with is actually something very different from biblical Christianity. You end up with a ‘gospel’ that misleads people about their relationship with God, is inexcusably unclear about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and finally makes Christianity little more than a banal moral system that tells people to live in a certain way.”

    Gilbert’s critique could be equally applied to this most recent interview with CT. That was the point of this post.

  19. Paul April 24, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Denny,

    this is why I think that you’re just picking a fight like a 6th grader on a playground:

    Does anyone here think that Bell is preaching to the converted? I would hope not.

    He’s a seeker-friendly guy with hip glasses that probably buys Kings of Leon CD’s just to prove that he’s cool.

    And I honestly think that to the seeker who latches onto Bell’s message and then finds a church and a community of believers that aren’t watering down the message is well served by him.

    But you think that Bell should talk to the seeker the same way that you would talk to Biblical studies students. If that’s honestly what you think, I really think you need to get out more.

  20. Jessica Grace April 24, 2009 at 9:58 am #

    I don’t know much about Bell, but if you can’t tweet the Gospel, can’t get to the heart of the matter in 140 characters or less, then do you truly understand it? Yes, the Gospel is deep, but the very beauty of it is the absolute simplicity of it.

    I came up with something similar to Chris H. But since we were referencing Twitter, it made me think of all my unbelieving friends and how I would speak to them. In light of this I tried to minimalize the “church-speak”.

    Here’s mine:
    All have sinned & need God, but He loved us & gave His only Son so those who believe in Him can be forgiven & have life forever with Him.

    I based it on John 3:16. Does this explain every possible detail? No. But I think it expresses the heart of the matter (with 3 characters to spare! lol). Anyone else disagree?

  21. Nathan April 24, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    “And I honestly think that to the seeker who latches onto Bell’s message and then finds a church and a community of believers that aren’t watering down the message is well served by him.”

    Paul: Just curious, what about the poor guy who doesn’t get away from Bell and stays in his church? What happens to him?

    I don’t know if it is picking a fight as much as it is frustration that Bell and others (see Joel Osteen at a different level) only provide snippets of information, rather than laying out a cogent argument to either accept or reject the gospel.

  22. Brian Krieger April 24, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    Chris, you said it right (and points for the 3 syllable word ;-). Bell is really good at talking (or twitting/writing) long enough to a) sound like he said something and b) say it in a nice way even if it was empty.
    Tom:
    I disagree that Bell’s cynicism comment is a recognition of sin and brokenness. To me, it seems avoidance at best and ignorance at worst*. I think it has to do with the “pet” words to which you referred. People don’t like to be called sinners. Or, to personalize it, I don’t like to say I sin. I like to say it was an oversight or that I’m just in a bad mood or that I’m just naturally cynical. All of which subtly work together to allow me to overlook sin. It’s justification if I use words other than what God calls it. Sin is a very powerful and polarizing word. You must be here or there with it. It’s not a bad mood or cynicism or pick the euphemism. We sin and we’re sinners and we HATE to say that outside of admitting it to a supreme and sovereign God.
    That, I think, is a great challenge to Bell’s presentation (or lack there)of the Gospel. From what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of what he has online and only extended excerpts of his other writings), he sees no need to polarize. It’s almost as if he wants to trick people into the Gospel. Cajole them (different from doing so with gentleness). I suppose with Bell, if this was one interview, then great. The, um, oddity for a pastor is that it seems every interview is like this. Just kind of wander around, throw in the random “empty tomb” remarks and leave the audience with meringue.

  23. Brian Krieger April 24, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Just to continue to tack on, I agree with Jessica, et. al. The Gospel can be twitted. More or less (as it should never be relied upon or a replacement for personal conversation). Perhaps what seems to be missing is that it seems too many people have a message focused on here, now, earthly, me and you (twitter and facebook are all about me with few exceptions). But that’s not it at all. It’s Christ and His power, God and his love and grace and the Holy spirit and his moving and guidance. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. Here, in a tweet (OK, almost), is what seems to be today’s current shot at a Gospel message:

    If there is a God, some sort of Divine Being, Mind, Spirit, and all of this is not just some random chance thing, and history has some sort of movement to it, and you have a connection with Whatever—that is awesome.

    I like the tweets (hey, why didn’t they call it twits…oh, wait….) about the Gospel y’all mentioned. To borrow from Erik Raymond and expound upon the gospel (though this wasn’t a tweet) in perhaps two tweets:

    The truth is that too many of us do not smile large enough upon the realities of sovereign grace because our pride is not appropriately smashed by the reality of human inability.

    Or, in one tweet:

    In other words, we think highly of our own merit and think lowly of diving grace.

    (from Irish Calvinist)

  24. Denny Burk April 24, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Paul,

    I just listened to an outstanding message by Tim Keller that warns against being a pharisee about truth. I think he has a point that certainly applies to me. I don’t want to be “picking a fight” for the sake of “picking a fight.”

    I hope that posts like this one are more in the spirit of Titus 1:9, in which Paul says that Titus and other pastors must be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” I think Bell contradicts sound doctrine and that his teachings are dangerous to God’s people. Thus I think it is good and right to point out the error and to refute it.

    That being said, it’s good to be critical of ourselves and to examine our motives in this kind of a conversation. For what it’s worth, I am doing just that.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  25. Ben April 24, 2009 at 11:41 am #

    Meh – after reading the interview and being exposed to some of Bell’s writing, I’m not convinced he’s as bad as this post paints him.

    He’s postmodern and embraces a narrative to truth, neither of which fit into SBC life very well (and I’m born and raised SBC), nor the view of this blog. The fact that he won’t give a propositional truth doesn’t make him dangerous – it makes him contextual. The fact that he tells a story that leads to the risen Christ who proleptically ushers in the kingdom is what makes his story good news.

    With all that in mind, I’m inclined to view the “vague” areas of his story with charity.

  26. Chris H April 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    But Ben, how come Bell can never give a straight answer to a simple question? You say he is contextual, I would counter by saying he is over-contextual.

    I firmly believe that the gospel is an amazing mystery, multi-layered and complex. However, the message itself is not

  27. Ben April 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    Chris H, the question is unfair – I have no idea why Bell does what he does. Do you?

    I suppose I can respond thusly: What question has Bell been asked that is simple? Bell seems to believe that the question of “what is the gospel?” is not simple. For whatever reason, the story of the gospel and its message cannot be separated for Bell. I fail to see why this is an error worthy of rebuke.

    I mean, if the gospel can really be phoned in, why did the Word have to become flesh? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

    My point is that just because Bell takes many words to answer a question doesn’t make him bad or wrong. It just means I might not like hanging around him.

  28. Andrew Cowan April 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    Greetings to all,

    I have a few comments about various things that have been said. It sounds like the tone of this discussion has become at times contentious, but I hope that no one takes my comments as antagonistic; they are simply intended to clarify or question a few of the points that have been raised.

    1) A few people have mentioned the importance of taking into account Bell’s audience and his seeker-friendly style (and I’m not that familiar with Bell, so I’m just repeating the language others have used above). But wasn’t this an interview with Christianity Today? Perhaps I am mistaken about the type of people that frequent the CT website, but I would guess that this interview will be read mostly by believers hoping to figure out what Bell is saying. Now, perhaps he remains “in character” just in case some of the audience that the objectors above mentioned happen upon the sight; but I find it unlikely that the real main audience here was unbelievers.

    2) A few references have been made to Acts 17, implying that we ought to view Bell as doing what Paul is doing there. Since Paul’s audience in Acts 17 was unbelievers and Bell’s is CT, I find it a bit unlikely that they were doing the same thing, but regardless, I have a two points simply about Acts 17 that I have found helpful and thought I might contribute.

    A) When Paul says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” he is probably not identifying God with the god of the anonymous altar. The reason why is that in Greek (and I apologize to all who do not know Greek and can’t check this) the “what” in Paul’s “what you worship as unknown” is in a different gender (neuter) than the word “god” (masculine). This likely means that the “what” refers not to the specific god of the unknown altar, but rather to their whole religious system. That is, he says, “You guys are very religious; you even have a catchall altar ‘to the unknown God.’ Since this demonstrates that you don’t really know about divinities but are clearly trying to worship them through this whole system, let me tell you about the true Divinity.”

    B) Paul’s account here indeed does not get into Jesus’ death for sins, but he was interrupted and forced to stop when he mentioned physical resurrection. If his other messages in Acts are any indication, it is fairly obvious that he was laying the groundwork for explaining how Jesus’ died for our sins. For that to make sense, of course, you need to understand a little bit about who God is, and what it means for us to have offended him. That is indeed what Paul was teaching these pagans in this speech(as opposed to his usual practice with Jews, who had a good grounding in the OT).

    On this passage, I can recommend no better resource than a message I once heard by D. A. Carson, which is probably available at the Gospel Coalition website. Check there if you are interested to hear more.

    3) I do not think that it is fair to characterize the view that Jesus’ death for sins is central to the gospel as picking up “Southern Baptist pet verses and verbage” (and here, I am obviously responding to Tom 1st). This language is consistent throughout the NT as central to the gospel and it is the primary interpretation of Jesus’ death. It is not just a Pauline thing, it is also how Jesus himself understood his own death. On this, see the extended discussion in N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 540-611, where he argues at length that Jesus (both historically and according to the Gospels) understood his death in terms of an Isaiah 53 substitutionary atonement. Regardless of whether Bell uses those words or not, the idea was not even alluded to in his comments. Again, I have to say, that is really disappointing.

  29. Nathan April 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    Ben, I can give one. Go back and read Velvet Elvis and on the question of whether Jesus was born of a virgin or not, Bell waffles all over the place before somewhat, kinda, maybe, sort-of, saying he holds an orthodox opinion.

    And this question is simple. At least for the overwhelmingly majority of believers since the the 1st century.

  30. Andrew Cowan April 24, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Sorry, I have one last addition.

    Can the gospel be tweeted? Matthew Staton was exactly right: it depends on to whom one intends to tweet. Paul might have been able to tweet the gospel to one of his churches, but (as in Acts 17) ignorant Gentiles needed a lot of groundwork to be laid before the gospel could make sense to them. Thus, one’s gospel tweet will always be presupposing a number of things that some groups will understand and others will be completely ignorant of, thus distorting the whole message. After all, it really takes the whole Bible to understand and appreciate the riches of what God has done for us in Christ. (Of course, one can understand the rudiments of the gospel [even the things of central importance] without getting the whole thing at once [and none of us does get it all at once], but our understanding of things is always in process and growing as we come to understand the whole story better.)

  31. Ben April 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    Nathan:

    It has been a long time since I read Velvet Elvis, so forgive me if a miss the point a bit. When I read that section of Velvet Elvis it was over whether or not the virgin birth was required for someone to be a Christian – is it a required doctrine?

    The way I think about it is like this – the gospels of Mark and John do not mention the virgin birth, IIRC. Are these gospels therefore sub-christian? If not, what is the real function of the virgin birth? Obviously it cannot be a necessary tenant of Christianity or John and Mark, not to mention Paul, would have thought it necessary to mention – then is it perhaps some sort of accessory?

    My recollection is that, again, the function of the virgin birth is not a straightforward question for Bell. If by minimizing it we reduce barriers to faith, isn’t that a worthwhile thing?

  32. Nathan April 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Ben,

    Lets be careful about saying that all four of the Gospel accounts must speak of something for it to constitute full-christianity. I am not insinuating you are saying that, but just because Mark and John dont mention Jesus’ baptism that doesn’t negate teachings on baptism either. All four taken together constitute a full understanding of Christ given to us by God.

    And while Velvet Elvis did pose the issue in the form of a question, Bell never cleaned up the discussion with saying that it is a fundamental belief. He left it in a pile. Now, while a person need not confess the virginal conception in order to receive salvation, once the issue is on the floor there can be no denying it.

    And simply because Paul does not mention it does not mean it is not an essential belief. It is in the Apostle’s Creed (probably first taught in the latter part of the 1st century) and has been a part of orthodoxy since the beginning. I would not consider it an accessory.

    The question Bell proposes in the book are tools to initiate thought and discussion. However, once the thought and discussion are brought out, one cannot leave it on the floor in a mess. This is Bell’s trademark, in my opinion. Create conversation, never getting to the point of having to stand or fall on the issue brought forward.

  33. Nathan April 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    Excuse me… Did not mean Mark and John on baptism, just John.

  34. Ben April 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

    Nathan:

    I’m not sure we’re in agreement on the statement “All four [gospels] taken together constitute a full understanding of Christ given to us by God,” but discussing that is beside the point.

    But I think we agree that Rob is wordy and open-ended. So’s my friend who is a actress – she’s not just that way to fit in, she’s really that way. And the way she communicates the gospel to her actor friends would make my seminary professors cringe. Yet, amazingly, this way of communicating works for them in a way my communication never could. My grad-school training wants to rebuke her for such a “mess”y presentation of the gospel that lays in “piles” of unanswered questions. But when I look at the fruit, it is hard to deny the work of God.

    I desire to give Rob Bell the same charity. The fact that nothing my childhood friend has ever said is short enough to be tweeted proves nothing – I don’t believe it proves anything about Bell, either.

  35. Ben April 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    I apologize about the nonsense that is my second paragraph in comment #31. It should read:

    The way I think about it is like this – the gospels of Mark and John do not mention the virgin birth, IIRC. Are these gospels therefore sub-christian? If not, what is the real function of the virgin birth? Obviously it cannot be a necessary tenant of Christianity if John and Mark, not to mention Paul, did not think it necessary to mention – then is it perhaps some sort of accessory?

    Thanks for being willing to decipher, Nathan.

  36. Tim Bertolet April 24, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Ben,

    I don’t think your thoughts on the Virgin Birth are particularly helpful, nor are they in line with the way historic Christianity has believed about the significance of the virgin birth.

    The reality is the Virgin birth is central to Christianity, particularly as it affirms the deity of Christ (something essential to Mark, John and Paul). The absence of discussion of it in Mark, John and Paul is not an indication of absence of importance. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post on why the Virgin Birth is central to Christianity.

    Back to the larger issue: this is one of the problems many have with Bell its fuzzy thinking and articulation of key elements of the faith. I find it tough to believe that a person as intelligent as Bell seems to be would say these things unintentionally. I don’t think being asked what is at the core of the gospel (e.g. to tweet it) is a mere modern day Shibboleth. As wondrous and mysterious as the gospel is (‘oh the depth of riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God…’), you should (especially as a preacher) be able to break it down so even a child can grasp it.

    Tim B

  37. Brian Krieger April 24, 2009 at 4:17 pm #

    I’m kind of reluctant to interject in the conversation, but not overwhelmingly. To offer a thought, I would say that the issue isn’t that Bell is verbose. It’s that Bell spends hours on questions, but never answers them. There doesn’t ever seem to be the Gospel message, just hints of it at best (above he does say there is an empty tomb). Be verbose. Talk for hours, great. But if you’re preaching in particular, make sure Christ is there and not hidden.

    Again, the Gospel is polarizing (shouldn’t it be? It’s foolishness to those perishing, etc.) and it seems like folks like Bell want more to be like be someone and in someone’s life and never cause a ripple. Maybe an occasionally provocation of thought, but even then, just make the thought and never give the answer.

  38. Brian Krieger April 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    Sorry for the lack of an editor. That should have been “folks like Bell want more to be liked by someone”.

    Just a question that may be a bit bombastic, but I would say that any message that Bell lays out is drastically different (in content) to one that Driscoll, Piper, Nelson would lay out. Would anyone agree? If so, that difference is trumpeted as Bell being seeker-sensitive. Should messages from Christian pastors be that drastically different? It seems like calling something seeker sensitive (or the dreaded and feared Emergent) somehow allows a lack of concentration on Christ and the triune God (Bell in particular is very into “hey, man, if you believe in God or a God-like thing, that’s great, keep it up”). That’s a generalization, so I suppose, then in general does [insert remainder of question].

  39. Ben April 24, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    Tim:

    My thoughts on the virgin birth have not been explicated on this blog. What I have stated is my take on Bell’s thoughts on the virgin birth.

    My comment is helpful in that it propels the conversation towards Bell’s methods, which may or may not be tweet-able. I think Brian picks up on this nicely.

  40. Tim Bertolet April 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    Ben,

    Ok, my mistake. You did say “The way I think about it is like this…”.

    But clearly Bell’s thoughts are not inline with historic Christianity on the issue of the virgin birth. The Virgin birth has never been an accessory to Christianity.

    Since the second century apologists all the way through to Machen down to today, Christians have defended the Virgin birth as central/essential and had clear responses to the issues (e.g. absence in Mark, John Paul; pagan mythology; etc.). Bell’s view is the aberrant one on this issue.

    –Tim B

  41. Ben April 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    Tim:

    My apologies – I see how that was confusing. I meant “The way I think about Bell’s writing is like this…” That’s what I get for commenting during my “free time” at work.

    Thanks for reminding us of the historical pedigree of the virgin birth within Christian orthodoxy.

  42. Tom 1st April 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Brian,
    sorry for the delay in reply.

    My point was in agreement with Matthew’s – Bell’s likely dealing with a different audience than seminary students.

    If he’s speaking to the unconverted, the word ‘sin’ doesn’t make sense to them and it will take more than a few tweets to spell it out. So speaking of cynicism, brokeness, and lack of hope (all ways of referring to the human condition which is sinful!) is his way of engaging a crowd that’s NOT familiar with the conceptual language of Christianity.

    Yes, there is a time and place to use the word ‘sin.’ But maybe Bell didn’t think this was the right place and time.

    I’m just saying, Give the guy a break! Maybe he is in a particular context or situation that you aren’t familiar with and don’t know anything about. Maybe there’s things going on in the background that you are aware of.

    Or maybe, he knows that people highly misunderstand the word ‘sin’ and he, until he can redeem the word in an effective way, will opt for an alternative way of expressing the same truth.

    I still stand by everything I said in the previous post and I believe you have put in place a false dichotomy of having to be ‘either here or their with it.’

  43. Tom 1st April 24, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    “in the background that you *aren’t* aware of”…

    Forgive my typo, brother. Was in a hurry.:)

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