If we take Jesus at his word, there is really no room in Christianity for “celebrity”. You may have heard the saying with regard to the current status of the American experiment: “We may have come over on different ships; but we’re all in the same boat now.” While Christians acknowledge both a variety of gifts and a variety of roles, we think “radical equality” when it comes to every person’s standing before God. Galatians 3:28 spells it out pretty clearly – We are all one in Christ Jesus. No one has superior standing over anyone else. The lines of distinction blur between Gentile and Jew in God’s eyes.
That being said, there are teachers, preachers, prophets and writers who rise to the top for a variety of reasons. Rob Bell is one of those persons – a pastor and an author. His more recent writings are much too inclusive for many in the church. He is proposing a net of Godly love that is too wide for some theological tastes. One of the reasons for Bell’s notoriety, whether you agree or not with his position, is that he is echoing a spiritual chord running deep in the human heart. The God of certainty, the God who draws lines in the sand, the theology that draws tight-knit circles around ecclesiastical (and political) power structures – these sentiments are not holding up well in our collective 21st Century experience. With people like Brian McLaren providing an on-ramp for his thinking (see McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, for example) Bell joins bloggers like Rachel Held Evans and authors like Sarah Bessey in bringing some very profound theological questions to the fore. How can it be that a “person of faith” has doubts? How can anyone read the Gospels and not come away with a realization that Jesus constantly proclaims a theology of inclusion that has completely escaped Christianity in all its “organized” manifestations?
The irony is obvious. “Radical equality” and room for doubt is what generates such respect or disdain that Bell has become a household name in the house of God.
We create our “celebrities” carefully. We hold them up as either the models to be followed or the infidels to be destroyed.
Sarah Bessey begins her book, Jesus Feminist, with a vision of “church” that is seated on rocks gathered around a camp fire rather than sitting in pews facing a pulpit. Bessey, like Bell, seems to be struggling to convey the notion that we can be healed from an unhealthy spirituality. Betraying my age, I have to admit both of them remind me of my generation in an earlier time, believing with all our hearts that “empire” would crumble under the influence of love. With the help of a few joints, and with a flower or two in our hair, we would change the world.
The difference between Bessey / Bell and the Boomers of the 1960’s is that these “young people” haven’t given up on the church. Rather than a rebellion against the establishment, they are refusing to leave the establishment. They are still “going to church”, convinced that they are bringing church to the church. They don’t have to be different to set themselves apart. They don’t seem to be attempting to undo the old by starting something new. Rather, they are looking to re-form the current by appealing to the ancient.
Walking in the way of Jesus, gathering on rocks by the campfire or pews facing a pulpit for worship, these reticent celebrities seem to be coming at the project of revival and reformation by way of a confidence that is humble, unassuming, and non-belligerent. They are taking Coke’s old I’d like to teach the world to sing line and giving it some substance.
“The only kind of faith worth having is the faith you can celebrate the good, and the true, and the beautiful wherever you find it.” So says Rob Bell. And the “celebration” he is looking for is neither drug-induced nor one laced with superficial spiritual sentimentality. It is a celebration that is a life dedicated to seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus – eyes that neither patronize nor condemn. Eyes that love radically, forgive eternally, welcome joyfully.
We don’t need to make Bell or Bessey into celebrities. But their books are worth the read. Their vision is worth very serious consideration. And if you have a few minutes, feel free to listen to this brief clip from a conversation between Oprah and Bell. And if you don’t have the time, at least try this: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, lovely, admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8.)
Blessings on your Thursday.