The Wittenburg Door (I remember reading this in my youth minister’s office years ago… which probably tells you too much about my background and my youth minister, now that I think about it…) has an interview with Rob Bell in its most recent issue.Â Some excerpts:
DOOR: The Church hasn’t always been kind to artists. Especially ones bringing electricity.
BELL: Our assumption is that Church is where you say the things that have to be said. So people will speak but say, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that in church.” Well then, where would you say it? To me, it’s the place where you would push it the furthest. A faith community should be the place with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic cultureâ€”calling things what they are. So when I hear people say, “That’s nice but you really couldn’t do that in church,” I can’t even fathom that. My understanding is it would lead the culture in reality.Â
I talk about having the first word. This idea that Church waits to see what the culture is doing then produces a D grade version with some sort of clever Jesus twist to me is utter blasphemy. The DaVinci Code, for example. You wait for a C grade movie with stars with bad haircuts and then gear your church teachings around a movie that many people aren’t even going to see? That seems absolutely anemic.
DOOR: Welcome to our world.
BELL: I don’t believe in Christian art or music. The word Christian was originally a noun. A person, not an adjective. I believe in great art. If you are an artist, your job is to do great art and you don’t need to tack on the word Christian. It’s already great. God is the God of Creativity. Categories desecrate the art form. It’s either great art or it isn’t. Followers of Jesus should have the first word instead of coming late to the game with some poor quality spin-off. Let’s talk about things before everyone else.
DOOR: As a pastor, how do you motivate people to the front lines?
BELL: First, the scripture always bends towards the oppressed and the marginalized. Beginning in the Torahâ€”take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you. The story is written by oppressed minorities. And it continues, no room in the inn, they follow Jesus because they are hungry. The story always goes towards the underside of the Empire. I think it is sometimes hard for the American church to understand the Bible because we are the Empire. We are the ones in power, the ones with wealth. I think in some settings that’s why the Bible has such little powerâ€”because it’s an oppressive narrative. There are six billion people in the world, three billion live on less than $2 dollars a day, 800 million people will not eat today, and 300 million in Africa alone do not have drinking water. So we as Americans are six percent of the population yet we consume 40 to 50 percent of the resources. We are the upper, upper, rich elite. And our way is taking over the world. So we have to first ask the questionâ€”how can we take all this wealth and give it away? All the technology and beautiful parts of capitalism and bless the world and the poorâ€”or else we’re in deep trouble.
DOOR: Sometimes the issue of the poor gets lost in all the left vs. the right crap in this country. How do you cut through that? Serving the poor is not a new message.
BELL: The issue is not saving the poorâ€”it’s saving us. When Jesus uses the word hell, He does not use the word with people who are not believers or not believing the right things. It is a warning to religious people that they are in danger of hell because of their indifference to the suffering of the world. So the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not what heaven and hell are like. It’s a parable to rich people warning them that their apathy has them in danger. Heaven and hell are present realities that extend into the future.
Â Â Â For a lot of Americans, this is about the saving of their own soul. Recapturing God’s heart for the world. Otherwise I will end up not caring and not passionate. At our church, people are desperate to understand this culture of excessive materialism. We were made to bless the world. The original call is that blessing was always instrumental. When that blessing gets misconstrued as favoritism you have a very toxic thing happening. Our people are desperate to give, hardwired for it. I assume that people are good and just need opportunities.
DOOR: Um, we’re getting the impression we might not see you on TBN anytime soon.
BELL: Ha. I think that’s one of the most warped ideasâ€”that God just can’t wait to bless you. God blesses you so you will bless the world and if at any point I keep that for myself, then I am in trouble.
DOOR: Actually, your church is one of the hottest churches in America.
BELL: I don’t even know what that means. I know there’s a woman in the second row in the second service that has cancer for the third time. I know there’s a single mom named Erin who needs a place to live. I know this guy who just got custody of his kids and he’s trying to figure out how to be a single dad. So to me a Church is real people trying to figure it out. The word hottest isn’t really a word I associate with a community of Christians. (laughs) For my wife and me it’s very important that we live as close as possible to a normal life in our city. So words like hottest and up and coming are not reality and not a place to live. It’s a dead end road.
DOOR: How did this Mars Hill thing happen, anyway?
BELL: Seven years ago, a group of friends were just dreaming of something better. I guess the natural evolution of each generation is to explore what it means. How to live the way of Jesus here and now. So we started and it now feels like fifty years packed into seven. Mars Hill is an old mall. Our “architect”â€”I say that as a jokeâ€”says everything about the church should scream “Welcome to our church service! Now get the hell out of here.” We say, “This isn’t the church, this is a church service. It’s just an hour where we have some teaching, some singing and you’ll hear about things in the community.” If there are 43 “one anothers” in the New Testamentâ€”serve one another, carry one another’s burden’s, confess to one anotherâ€”you can only do a couple of those in a church service. Until you have a community that you are journeying with, please don’t say you are a part of this church. You just come to a gathering. We are very intentional about that. The question is, “Who do you call when your brother ODs on cocaine? If your mom is in the hospital, who comes and sits in the waiting room with you? When you cannot pay your rent, who do you go to and say please help me out?” That’s your church.Â Â
HT: Bob Hyatt via Chris Pajak