This time Rob Bell is redefining "evangelical." And why not? He has already redefined "Gospel" to suit his preferences. Once you tinker around with the Gospel is anything sacred?
Bell was interviewed by Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe's online site.
In the interview Paulson asks Bell for a definition of evangelical. Now, that's a bit of a slippery term these days. The problem is not with the word but with the way it has come to be used. In the past few decades it has been defined so loosley that almost anyone with any affiliation with any Protestant church can claim to be evangelical. But as Lord Shaftsbury once said, "Evangelical. What does it mean? If everyone is one, then no one is."
Bell offers a quite exotic description of what it means to be evangelical:
I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.
I have no doubt that, for Bell, what he describes is a beautiful thing. It just has absolutely nothing to do with the evangel, the message of the cross. The term evangelical is taken from a Greek word for the Good News or the Gospel. Historically then evangelical has refered to a person or church that is committed to the message of Christ and Him crucified. But apparently that is too restrictive a message for the reverend Bell.
This is a window into Bell's thinking and theology. To be a Christian does not have much if anything to do with the cross. It has more to do with environmentalism than atonement. The Gospel is about what we do rather than what God has done in Christ Jesus. This of course is a terrible reversal. It is a neutering of the Gospel itself. What is left no longer resembles biblical Christianity so much as it does Buddhism, deism, and yes, even atheism. Bell preaches the religion of man; the religion of self-salvation whereby we are partners with God helping Him to make a better world. In this framework God is not much more than "man writ large."
Unfortunately the interview does not get any better. When Paulson says, "I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you," Bell responds:
I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.
Of course Bell gets no points for not being embarrassed of his religion. What is embarrassing about helping God make the world a better place? The cross is embarrassing. Jesus dying in the place of sinners is the stumbling block. Bell's religion is what man always tends toward. He could announce his definition of evangelical in any cocktail party in Boston or New York and have no fear of anyone choking on their shrimp puff. That would only happen if he brought up a bloody cross and a Savior bearing the wrath of God for sinners.
What is more, since Bell makes clear that he is not seeking anyone's conversion he can be assured a place at the world's table for as long as he likes.