During my freshman year of college, I attended Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. The pastor, a young charismatic, and very gifted teacher drew a congregation of over 10,000 each week. After about a year studying and learning from Rob Bell, I began to have doubts about what he was teaching and how I didn’t see some of the same conclusions he was drawing from the same scripture that I was reading. The more I read into the Emerging Church movement, of which Bell quickly became the de facto leader, the more concerns I began to have (particularly with their quest to stay “relevant” by dissecting and piecing together a new theology that fits their hypotheses).
When I saw the latest controversy sparked by Bell’s insatiable need to troll evangelicals[i], I started thinking up snarky comments to leave on the article even before getting through the first paragraph. However after reading through his thoughts on gay marriage and where the church is at with regards to their acceptance of said unions, I found myself agreeing with part of his end thought – that gay marriage in the United States is inevitable.
My biggest issues with Bell center on his continued butchering of scripture to fit into his arguments. I would have no issue with Bell if he were simply a motivational speaker. However he continues to call himself a pastor and speak on matters of the church. Here is his latest quote from the article:
“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life.”
Unfortunately, those outdated letters make up a pretty big chunk about what the church is all about. Those letters that speak on sexual immorality are the very same letters that speak to the need for loving others, a theme Bell and Mars Hill came back to again and again. Those little black and white “Love Wins” bumper stickers are still everywhere in Grand Rapids.
Bell believes that you can strip away whatever parts of scripture you don’t agree with or find unbelievable. He first posited this line of thinking in “Velvet Elvis” when he suggested that tenants of the faith were like springs on a trampoline. If a spring is removed, like the Virgin Birth for example, could the faith keep bouncing?[ii]
This ability to piece together a new theology to fit his already formed argument is again highlighted in his new book “The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage” which he wrote with his wife, Kristen. This book about marriage, written by a pastor only cites scripture 3 times and only mentions Jesus once. Marriage is such a central theme in scripture, it seems almost impossible that a book written on the subject by a pastor would omit so much text on the subject.
Admittedly I haven’t read Zimzum, I’ve only read a review on the Gospel Coalition[iii]. Still, I would argue that it’s very hard to write about “a new way of looking at marriage” without discussing how the union is compared to Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as his bride. Unless of course you’ve all but abandoned the teachings of that old book. In the book, Bell goes as far to not only accept gay marriage but embrace it as well. He even says that he would officiate same sex weddings.
I hear all the time that since Jesus didn’t speak on homosexuality, he must have been ok with it. I don’t recall reading Jesus’ thoughts on incest, bestiality, or rape. Yet we somehow have arrived at an understanding that all of these things are wrong. Furthermore, Jesus does in fact affirm the Genesis 2 definition of marriage in Matthew. Chapter 19 says,
“…some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[iv]
I submit that you cannot call yourself a pastor, a Christ Follower, or try to speak for the church while saying things like, “…the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…” Like it or not, those old letters form the basis of the faith as well as our understanding of who Christ was. If you want to write a book about a new way of looking at marriage and embrace same sex marriage, then go ahead. Just don’t do it from the pulpit. CS Lewis, in his work “Mere Christianity” said this about Jesus and those who seek to invalidate any teachings with which they disagree,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” [v]
Obvious issues with Lewis’ logic aside, I like the point he is making here and think it applies to all scripture. To take bits and pieces out of the letters and books that make up the Bible while ignoring other parts because you don’t like them just doesn’t compute.
Therefore I do not know how you can call yourself a Christian and personally be ok with gay marriage (or any sexual immorality for that matter).
All of that being said, I fully believe that gay marriage should be legalized in the United States.
While I may be a walking contradiction, I also recognize the audience to whom those 2,000 year old letters were written. They were written to churches. The Bible as a whole is a collective of different books and scrolls that were each written with a purpose – none of which was written to condemn or rule over people who do not believe or pursue belief in their teachings. Leviticus was written to the Hebrews – not to the Assyrians. Would we expect the Assyrians to follow rules set forth in those pages? No.
How then can we throw Biblical law at people who want nothing to do with the Bible or Christian morality? Spoiler alert: We can’t.
So what is marriage? On May 8, 2010, my wife and I stood before our friends and family and God and spoke vows to each other. Were we married then? Were we married when the pastor pronounced us man and wife? I would say yes. At that moment, we were married in the eyes of our friends, family, and God.
The State of Michigan was another story. The state could care less what we say, how we say it, or where we say it. All they needed was a marriage license, signed by my wife and I, two witnesses, and the pastor. As far as the state was concerned, we weren’t married until they received that document. But that document is what unlocks a whole host of rights and benefits in the eyes of the government.
If the church wants to attack sexual immorality, it needs to attack all sexual immorality – but within the church. Paul makes no differentiation between homosexuality and adultery and any other sexual sin. Plenty of people in the church have issues with one or all of the above. The focus on those outside the church needs to be love – not condemnation them.
In his interview with Oprah, Rob Bell said, “…the church is moments away from accepting gay marriage…” While I seriously doubt that, I do believe that the church needs to be moments away from accepting that the marriage outlined in Genesis 2 and affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19 might not be the same marriage that the government recognizes when they issue a license to get married. I don’t recall Adam needing to wait three days to marry Eve.
I am not saying the church should abandon its beliefs. I’m just saying that the church and government should not be so entangled as to deny marriage rights to those wishing to get married. I feel like I remember something about congress creating laws respecting an establishment of religion. On the flip side of that, churches or pastors should not have to officiate gay weddings. Private citizens and business owners should not be forced to provide goods and services for those weddings. After all, congress should make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Ryan earned a BA in Political Science from Grand Valley State in 2010. Since then, he has worked in the travel industry while dabbling in politics. He enjoys all things politics and religion, particularly if they are combined with scotch and cigars. He lives outside of Grand Rapids, MI with his wife and daughter.
[ii] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis pp 26
[iv] The Holy Bible, New International Version, Matthew 19:3-6
[v] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity pp 54-56