Kent Dobson, Rob Bell’s successor at Mars Hill, Grand Rapids, MI, recently announced his resignation from the church: Following Rob Bell: The Edges of Faith and the Center of the Zeitgeist Here is how the article begins, including a quote from Dobson about the questions he has about the Christian faith.
Several days ago, Kent Dobson, successor at Rob Bell’s famous Mars Hill Bible Church, stepped down as teaching pastor. He opened his announcement/sermon by reading the Scriptural story which gives name to the church, the account at Mars Hill. Dobson says when he first came to Mars Hill, he was animated by Paul’s example of cultural engagement. Paul quoted the poets of the people; he spoke their language. Dobson said he understood Paul to be preaching a traditional gospel message but using different, more relevant, packaging.
Likewise, he said the church was meant to have the same gospel but deliver the message in a more hip way. Specifically, he wanted a “cool church” with “cooler shoes” than the traditional church down the road. However, Dobson said he not only began to question the packaging of traditional “church,” but also the message – the gospel. To fully understand his evolution he says, “you’ll have to read my memoirs.” The CliffsNotes version, for those of us who can’t wait, goes thusly:
“I have always been and I’m still drawn to the very edges of religion and faith and God. I’ve said a few times that I don’t even know if we know what we mean by God anymore. That’s the edges of faith. That’s the thing that pulls me. I’m not really drawn to the center. I’m not drawn to the orthodox or the mainstream or the status quo… I’m always wandering out to the edge and beyond.”
For the author of this article, here is the nub of Dobson’s pilgrimage:
When was the last time Pastor Dobson talked with someone on a college campus, in a gym, or in a coffee shop? Does he really think the “open” and “inclusive” vision he’s casting is novel? Is the “status quo” really Christian orthodoxy among Dobson’s peers? As a young, fit, white, upper-middle class male, Dobson’s sermon is not a rebellion to his culture. It’s a product of his culture. The mystery and romance he attempts to conjure around his spiritual evolution is laughable to anyone with a television. He’s not moving forward into the unknown; he’s sitting perfectly still in the safe, cozy space where Oprah is queen, tolerance is the law, and anyone with a firm opinion on just about anything is suspect.
It is a sad commentary about one who finds more meaning and significance in being trendy and hip, than in being faithful to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). In throwing off the shackles of the old (for a contrast, cf. Jer. 6:16 and a fulfillment in Jesus found in Matt. 11:28-30), and seeking to launch out into the future in a new, fresh and unique way, it really is a reflection of the culture and what many others are doing as well. There is nothing really unique and avant-garde about what he is doing. Rather, it is a reflection of the contemporary culture in which he lives. As noted, what Dobson has said and is doing “is not a rebellion to his culture. It’s a product of his culture.”
It is also a sober reminder to us. Commanded and committed to be salt and light in a dark and decaying day (Matt. 5:13-16), it is tempting to move in one of two directions. Either we capitulate/accommodate to the culture, seeking first and foremost to be relevant, and then discern biblically how to do that. Or we retreat and separate, removing ourselves completely from the culture. It seems that for many Evangelicals, we are more tempted by the former than we are by the latter. In our zeal to influence, to impact, to make a difference, to transform the culture, is there something we have assumed or lost or given up in this quest? It is an important question to ask. Thankfully, many are asking these important questions, and many are remaining faithful to God and his truth as they do so.
Reading this also reminds me that our battle is not either for or against culture. It is not against flesh and blood. Rather, it is for the gospel of Jesus Christ and it is against the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10-18). It leads us to pray: Lord, as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a ministry which has been entrusted to us and to which we seek to steward well (1 Thess. 2:4), by God’s grace, may we remain faithful to the end.