In a recent interview with Relevant Magazine Rob Bell answers how he deals with his critics:

“There are around a billion people in the world who don’t have clean drinking water, and 46 million Americans who don’t have health care. That means if they get sick, they don’t have anywhere to go. Half the world, 3 billion people, live on less than 2 American dollars a day, so the world is an emergency. It’s on fire. It’s drowning. It’s an absolute crisis, and when followers of Jesus can think of nothing better to do with their time than to pick apart and shred to pieces the work of other followers of Jesus who are trying to do something around the world, that’s tragic, and I don’t owe those people anything.The world is desperately in need of people who will break themselves open and pour themselves out for the reconciliation of all things. When a Christian can find nothing better to do with their time in the face of so much pain and heartbreak, you start realizing that some Christians need to be saved. How a person would have energy to take shots at other Christians is just mind-boggling. You have to be so totally disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging is somehow a redemptive use of your time. I guess I have some strong thoughts on that.”

In my mind the jury is still out on Rob Bell. I am not yet ready to call him a heretic as Mark Driscoll did at the Convergent Conference, mostly because I don’t have enough information or context about Rob Bell from doing my own homework on his ministry and message. Bell is right about the fact that, in light of how the fallenness of this world is fracturing humanity, Christians should  spend less time focusing inward with high criticism of every denominational nuance within the visible church on the earth, and more time engaging culture with the Gospel. The goal of the Gospel is to reconcile all things to the Father in Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-18). We are Jesus’ ambassadors, pleading that the world would be reconciled (2Cor 5:17-21), and it is this revealing that creation is eagerly awaiting so that creation itself will be set free from their subjection to futility and corruption (Romans 8:18-25). But isn’t there a difference between what I just said and what Bell said, in response to his critics, about the mission and goal of the people of God? Bell doesn’t mention Jesus or the Gospel once in response to his critics. To be fair, one interview doesn’t say everything that there is to say about a man or his ministry, but it does reveal something, right? Is it not surprising that Bell doesn’t once mention Jesus as the means of reconciliation? He does take the time to mention men of faith as the means. This is a consistent pattern with Bell. Talk about God. Talk about how everything is spiritual. Talk about God using people to reconcile the world to Himself. Talk a lot about these things while at the same time minimizing the substitutionary work and role of Jesus as God’s means of accomplishing the reconciliation of all things to Himself.

It seems from Bell’s quote that he thinks he should be immune from criticism for two reasons: (1) There is a lot of brokenness in the world that needs our time and attention, time and attention that Bell thinks is being wasted through, among other things, blogging; (2) Because Bell says he is a Christian, he is off-limits. Bell is right in his assumption that some Christians do not redeem their time very well. This is especially true of us who enjoy the comfort and security of life in the West and think very little about the worldwide crisis unfolding around us. But Bell is Scripturally out of bounds to assume that simply because you say you are Christian that your ministry and message is above evaluation, and if necessary, criticism.

The reason for this is that Scripture makes it undeniably clear that there will be those among the visible people of God who look and act like Christians, but will show themselves not to be who we think they are (1John 2:19; Hebrews 6:4-6). Within almost every New Testament epistle we find the author warning the believers that there are those among them who do not have the interests of the Gospel at heart (Galatians 1:7 is one such example). The point is that evaluations of Rob Bell’s message such as the one Greg Gilbert gave recently are helpful in that they enable us to see whether or not any minister, and in this case Bell, has lost his/her grasp on the Gospel of Jesus.

The implications of the Gospel are such that we should care about the billion people in the world without clean drinking water, the 46 million Americans without health care, and the 3 billion people in the world who live off of less than 2 US dollars per day. But our attempts to bring them a message that reconciles them (and all things) to their Maker must be made within the boundaries and message of the Gospel itself, which is that God made Jesus, who knew no sin, sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). This is where Bell’s critics actually have something of substance to say because Bell seems to put more emphasis on a man-centered view of God, grace and reconciliation than is consistent with the Gospel. You cannot have or do what Bell demands we do as Christians apart from the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and if this remains only a cursory part of Bell’s message, it only provides more and more ammunition for critics of his methodology and message, regardless of how popular he and his message becomes both inside and outside of church culture. Simply because someone says their message is biblical doesn’t make it so. It must be weighed and measured over against Scripture.