That was the title of one of the sessions I attended at the Together on a Mission conference, and it was certainly interesting.
Some background may be useful – Rob Bell wrote a book called Velvet Elvis. He suggested in it that doctrine is often stated as such fact that it’s like bricks on a wall, but that it should be like springs on a trampoline. The result is that if a brick has to be removed or change shape, the whole wall falls down, whereas flexible springs would make Christianity more enjoyable.
The picture’s a nice one, but his infamous example shows its weakness – he asked the question, ‘what if the virgin birth wasn’t true?’ Actually, in and of itself the virgin birth shouldn’t make any difference, but there’s a big problem.
The springs don’t sit on their own – take out the spring of the virgin birth, and you then have to lose the truthfulness of the Bible, Jesus’ divinity, and a whole host of other issues, without which we really wouldn’t have a Christian faith at all!
So if the question is ‘is Rob Bell a Christian?’ I’d have to say that I think he is. He affirms the authority of the Bible, believes in substitutionary atonement, and doesn’t actually question the virgin birth (he just uses it as an extreme example to get a rise out of the reader).
But if the question is ‘should I listen to Rob Bell?’ I’d have to say no. While no individual idea is fundamentally heretical on its own, his focus is not the same as the Bible would recommend. In other words, it would be quite easy to read any of his books as an agnostic, ignore some minor points and still agree with the whole thing. That wouldn’t be awful, were it not that Bell’s intention is to write from a Christian perspective.
This whole session was really interesting and can be found as an mp3 download on the Newfrontiers website.