Rob Bell, Bullhorn Guy and Time Magazine

A Wbell 1217Nice to see Time Mag honoring Rob Bell. [HT: Eugene Cho who i got to meet recently in Seattle]. Rob has gotten a lot of criticism recently, much of it from churches that want to have the same genre of success that Mars Hill enjoys. But in my opinion, Rob Bell has done really well. I have never met him, nor been to his church and I only took a quick glance at one of his books – “Sex God”. But I did sneak into the local Baptist church up here in Scotland to see what the Wednesday night Bible study (middle aged and older) folk were watching and there was a Nooma video on. Rob is a great storyteller. And from what I have heard, he is a great person. I think the Baptist youth group also went through his videos.

There is one video named “Bullhorn Guy”, where Rob talks about a street evangelist. I am not that evangelist – that was someone else. But I was a street evangelist for many years and in many countries so I found it interesting that there was so much discussion on this one.

BullhornguyAnd if you happen to come across the Bullhorn Guy on the web (Fighting Fundamentalist Forums, for example), well . . thats me. I am not a street evangelist anymore, having swapped my bullhorn and soapbox (and guitar, magic tricks, sketchboard, ventriloquist dummy named Wally, and other paraphernalia accumulated over 5 years) for a keyboard and mouse . . . but I would not be opposed to pulling the bullhorn out again if it was culturally appropriate. And in most cases, I agree with Rob that those moments would be very rare. Actually, I would like to do more ambient video projection on buildings but thats another story.

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But back to Rob. He seems pretty sound theologically, despite the attacks. I know John MacArthur chewed out Rob’s wife in his book for a comment about the Bible. I never heard how Rob’s wife responded to the criticism. I guess I was wondering what would happen if we were to put other well-known pastors’ wives up on the stand and question them. How well would Mrs MacArthur answer the questions? How well would anyone’s wife [or husband] respond?

I do need to explain that the churches we are starting and encouraging are different animals than Mars Hill. They start small and grow [emerge] in an organic fashion without transfer growth and certainly not with a chunk of people handed over from another church to kick-start them. These churches don’t have pastors or paid leaders and they generally don’t own buildings but sometimes they do rent space for communal gatherings, or residential communities, or art-space, or business enterprise, but not necessarily a ‘worship service’. These groups are usually local, small, integrated in the community [missional], and not always visible to the public as an official group or organization. Their goal is not to attract people to an event but rather to penetrate the community with the love of God and embody the gospel as well as communicate it. The term “emerging church” is normally applied to churches like these and it makes sense that Rob Bell does not use the term to describe his community. Although there are some that put his church in that category and it may be that the term is broad enough to encompass models like this, especially when the term describes mindset more than model.

But we read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus and are asking similar questions of our culture. And I recognize the same spirit that inspired me back when i was doing a seeker-model church 15 years ago. Although, I need to confess, not nearly as well as Rob.

Anyway – credit where credit is due. Well done Rob!

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

35 Comments

  • Thanks for noting the Time article. I was a year behind Rob at Wheaton and while we weren’t close he we have several mutual friends. I was always impressed at the time and continue to be impressed with how God has used him. It can be humbling to see how my classmates are doing. But we each have our own calling and I pray nothing but blessings on Rob and his wife.
    I don’t pray for fire to come down on McArthur. But this is several times that he has viciously attacked people that I know. I do pray for insight from the Spirit for him. Sometimes he has a point, but man does he seem to not understand how to deliver it.

  • Yes, I think whether we like the tag or not, Rob has got to be THE biggest emerging church influence on the mainstream evangelical church in the UK at the moment.
    I love McLaren’s work but it can be a bit heady for some. And as for NT Wright… Rob however, has the knack of making the profound and the mystical understandable to your average jo bloggs and for that, I commend him.

  • I loved this excerpt from the Time article: “If the father of a young child can watch Rain, a divine-love parable featuring Bell and his son during a storm, and not fight tears, he is Christopher Hitchens.”

  • Had the privilege of growing up with Rob’s wife – she’s a quality woman from a quality family (that is, they make the choices to follow Jesus deeply).
    So I felt the need to vouch for Rob’s wife. She follows Jesus and she follows the Scriptures. She’s as godly as Rob’s public image (which I understand to be his private self as well!).
    Gotta love it when the good-guys win 😉

  • …managed to catch Rob Bell at church.co.uk when he came to the UK earier this year.
    The teaching was great, and Rob came across as a very genuine guy – pretty humble to boot.
    J

  • in my church, where the emerging church and the evangelical church collide, rob seems to be the glue. while some took a little issue with “velvet elvis”, over all, people love him.
    he is a master story teller and is able to weave profound truth into a short amount of time. from what i understand, he lives what he talks. good write up. refreshing.

  • Well said. I knew Rob an his wife from Grand Rapids and can’t be more enthusiastic for what God is doing through them and Mars Hill. Your observations are fair and commendable. I’m glad to see you’re on the same track.

  • Rob is a fantastic speaker, brilliant marketer (sex god…come on) and poignant story teller.
    And, as we all know, we Christians desperately need more superstars to emulate.
    Our media saturated culture will prop these guys up on a pedestal but should we?
    Christianity truly has become the greatest spectator sport in the world where we all throw money in a plate to watch a superstar do his tricks.
    And Rob’s tricks rock but are they making radical disciples?

  • Hey Andrew,
    Excuse me if I dig a bit deeper here… hope you don’t mind. In Rob’s Bullhorn video, he makes the following comments:

    As I get closer, I hear the words ‘sin’ and ‘burn’ and ‘hell’ and ‘repent.’ And then I hear the word ‘Jesus.’ And he’s got all these pamphlets, and he’s quoting these Bible verses about the anger and wrath of God, and how if I don’t repent, I’m going to pay for it for eternity, and how I might die, I might die tonight! This might be my only chance!
    [How do you feel about people like bullhorn guy?]
    Bullhorn guy, I don’t think it’s working. All the yelling and the judgment and the condemnation, I don’t think it’s working. I actually think it’s making things worse. I don’t think it’s what Jesus had in mind.
    [Are people like bullhorn guy hurting the general perception of Christianity? What things other than bullhorn guy negatively taint the perception of the Christian faith?]

    If you pay close attention, Rob is careful through vocalization and imagery to try to make it seem like the motives of the ‘Bullhorn guy’ are evil — even perhaps hypocritical, like maybe the Pharisee who has an unclean heart but a shiny white — and fake — exterior.
    But what intrigued me (yes, bothered me) was that actually didn’t seem to be what he was talking about. Rob seems to be suggesting that this message doesn’t work and the message hurts the perception of Christianity. Did you catch that too?
    So, while I can see that someone smashing people over the head with bibles, or yelling into their ear when they are 2 inches away seems rude and lacking in humility, I don’t at all agree that the message is wrong. I mean, the message is affirmed by John the Baptist, and even Jesus… of all people. If it is wrong, then where exactly is the error? I read and re-read it and can’t see it.
    Thoughts? Comments?

  • AT the end of the day its only the Holy Spirit who can save. He may use ‘friendship ‘evangelism or he may use a street preacher to bring them to the Saviour. I’m not for button holing,loud mouthing or manipulation coming from zealous evangelists.But I admire their courage,they may not be politically correct but neither was Paul or Jesus.I always liked the saying ‘you may not like the way I do evangelism but I don’t like the way you don’t do it’
    Not all are called to be evangelists but those hat are called must follow Christ and become authentic ‘fishers of men ‘ like their Master. Jesus, Paul,Patrick, Wesley,Booth,Jones were all street evangelists and I for one would not be ashamed to follow in their footsteps.

  • Ryan:
    I’m not so sure it’s the motives or message but the methods that Rob is making a point that don’t work. Standing from a distance, drawing lines in the sand, and using hate and fear to denounce others seems a far cry from the model of Jesus when calling others to repent. Just think about the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

  • Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’m not so sure it’s the motives or message but the methods that Rob is making a point that don’t work. Standing from a distance, drawing lines in the sand…

    Okay, what do you think is wrong in the method (by this I think you mean ‘demeanor’)? If he puts down the blowhorn and uses a microphone, would that be okay (kinda like Rob would do in his church)? So standing a little closer to people while you are preaching to them, maybe speaking with a gentle tone (though you need to speak loud so that people can hear you) would be an okay method? Drawing lines seems like an “I am holier than thou attitude” – so instead be like one begger speaking to another.

    …and using hate and fear to denounce others seems a far cry from the model of Jesus when calling others to repent. Just think about the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

    The example you give in John 8 is of someone who seems contrite. The general principle Jesus and the prophets seemed to follow was this: law to the proud, grace to the humble. Your example excludes the fact that Jesus did BOTH of these. Recall His denouncing of Bethsaida and Chorazin (Matt 11:21) who refused to repent as being worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah. He made a whole procession of woes to some of the Pharisees, calling them serpents and those whose father is the devil.
    Here’s the conclusion as I see it. Jesus was willing to talk with anyone that wanted to, but when he was preaching to the multitudes he, like John, laid the details out straight. But the gospel is the same. It is about sin and God’s punishment of sin. The good news has a context, and we can’t forget about that. We have to call people to consider their sin and mourn over it, for blessed are those who mourn. If you think you are okay, you won’t accept someone’s gift of the cure to cancer. But when you are convinced of your state before God, then God’s grace becomes clear as day. That is the goal of all gospel preaching.
    Further, when Rob Bell says it isn’t working, this could have been said about Jesus in John 6 (all who were following were offended by Him and left) or Isaiah in Isaiah 6 (he was called to preach judgment) or Jeremaiah throughout his whole ministry who was called to preach repentance but no one listened. How can we forget and neglect these valid ministries? Yes, when people are already bothered by their sin and wondering how they can find forgiveness, you don’t need to give them law — gently tell them the good news. But most I meet are not willing to recognize their sin or that God is just to punish them and send them to Hell. Unless you convince THOSE people (seems to me like the majority) of their true condition, the gospel will not be good news.

  • Hi Andrew K.,

    AT the end of the day its only the Holy Spirit who can save. He may use ‘friendship ‘evangelism or he may use a street preacher to bring them to the Saviour.

    You are right in saying salvation is of God. That being said, I don’t think God intends that the gospel should not be spoken to people unless you’ve spent 6 months getting to know them. Indeed, we should befriend all people without exception. But strangers need the gospel too. And regular folks and evangelists alike can speak to strangers too, right?
    I offered a man who was begging money from me something to drink, and as we walked to the 7-11, I also talked about the gospel. He didn’t think he had to repent from his sin; so I told him that he must turn from all sin and cast it away from him for the love of God. I lovingly showed him that he was taught wrong, that if he professes to believe, he must also turn from his sin. The Christian has put away his life of sin. I cared for him, and that is why I told him what he needed to hear. As he was drinking his drink, he observed the love I demonstrated towards him; he could even see it in my eyes as I watched him. I talked about sin, repentance and hell — in one meeting, and it seemed clear that he didn’t feel like I was judging or condemning him. Friends, what is love if you hide the truth from soul that God loves?

  • My best friend is a pastor in Las Vegas. Recently my wife and I were out visiting my friend and his wife and the four of us decided to go down to the Bellagio to watch the light and water show. When we arrived we encountered a rather loud bullhorn “preacher” screaming at a large crowd of people lined up to watch the show. I am sure this bullhorn guy was well intentioned. My friend and I stopped watching the water show and watched the response of the people for about half an hour. The bullhorn guy did not get one positive response the whole time. In fact, ALL people moved away from him (still couldn’t block him out), and did everything they could to tune him out. My friend and I were overcome with sadness. We were both earnestly praying he would cease and desist. He was doing more harm than good and we could see lost people grow cold right before our very eyes. It was heart wrenching. Rather than turn people to Christ, all this young man did was harden more hearts against Christ and the church. Yes we are to preach the Gospel. No, we shouldn’t water it down. But somehow I can’t picture Christ walking through town continually screaming at people to repent for their redemption draweth nigh. I do believe bullhorn preachers are well intentioned. It just is not the method to reach a society today that is already tired of the church as it is.
    On a street corner in Vegas, living by the words, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary” would have gone farther than a bullhorn preacher.
    Andrew…if you do some ambient video projections on buildings you have to record it!

  • Hi Keith,
    I hear you man. But what is it exactly that’s the problem. Are you just saying that “without showing love, you are like a clanging cymbal”? I will agree with that. But you can speak with love using a blowhorn / microphone or some other form of amplification, right? Surely amplification is not a sin. I can imagine that its harder to speak to a crowd in Las Vegas over the traffic noise than on a quiet hill in Judea back before motorized machines were around. But instead of Rob Bell encouraging these bold preachers to speak in love, he tells them to put their blowhorn down, criticizes the words they use (which are good), all the while commenting from a bench.
    Rob’s message that he is preaching now is “The Gods Are Not Angry.” But my bible says that God is angry at all the injustice that goes on day in and day out and that’s why we need to turn from our sin…repent. He is angry that people live without acknowledging Him. He is angry that people love themselves and the god within and turn away when the preacher calls them to repent. He is angry that they love the earth more than His Son. The day that God will not be angry with sin is the day that sin is abolished, and that day has not yet come. If God is just, He will be angry with sinners who do not turn away from their sin.
    If I was the guy doing the preaching, I would ask people questions, see where they are at, give them illustrations to demonstrate in various ways what their condition is before God and why they need Him.

    Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary

    Everything we do, what we say and how we say it should be done in love. But that doesn’t mean we should find some other way other than telling people the truth they need to know because speaking doesn’t work. How does Francis expect people to know that you are not collecting good karma like a good Buddhist when you hand them a warm bowl of soup or clothing? I know a lot of unsaved people who do good deeds, volunteering at the Food bank and also handing out mittens and socks during Christmas to the needy. So I guess what that means is that words are necessary then, right?
    “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!‘ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:14-16).
    Maybe Francis should have re-read Paul’s words. Words ARE necessary, as faith comes from hearing. But we must also have love. Even yet, look what he says, “they did not all heed the good news.”

  • Hi Ryan,I don’t think I said you shouldn’t share the gospel with someone until you have spent six months with them.But often when you are getting to know someone they sometimes have to believe that you care before they care what you believe. In running a youth club for unchurched kids we have to show over a period of time that we are genuine. I want them to give their lives totally over to God. They will want to know that we are the real deal: but if they think we are a bunch of hypocrites they certainly won’t give uptheir all.
    When I meet complete strangers it may be a different matter.then I would try to winsomely win them over to Christ and be prepared to do any follow up if they want me to do so. Being fishers of me requires of use to use different methods for different fish.Jesus did not have only one method!

  • Ryan – just to point out a huge difference here. Forcing uninterested bystanders attempting to do other things to listen to a hate-filled version of Christianity is very different that speaking to a crowd that chooses to enter a church and listen to a preachers words.
    And while I am sure you will call me a heretic, but some of us Christians don’t believe that God punishes people for their sins. Sure I believe in heaven, hell, salvation ans all that, but not in that sort of theology. Feel free to ridicule and call me a heretic, but to scream to people to believe in a petty and cruel God like that does do harm and turns people off to false perceptions of faith. But then again some people thing the ends always justify the means (even when the ends are a bit warped as well).

  • i got slammed for selling nooma & particularly Bullhorn guy! I manage a faith mission bookshop and many of our customers are very traditional in lot of their views. I have a few folks who like to ‘rudely’ and ‘loudly’ express their opinions in front of other customers!! its great! Anyway the source of a lot of the hassle iv endured is a guy called Cecil Andrews (take heed ministries) and he is ‘buddies’ with Ken Silva (apprising ministries) and they are always banging on about Macarthur so i guess i have found it interesting to see this conversation spread around. I have some issue with parts of Rob’s teaching BUT i genuinely think the guy is super talented and more importantly he is trying to make Jesus relevant where he is.
    I have read some macarthur and gained something from what i read, more recently iv found the same with Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll books & sermons, now id love those 3 guys to be in the same room for a ‘chat’……………….ha

  • Ryan,
    I appreciate your comments and having grown up as an Assemblies of God pentecostal I understand “outspoken” communication. I do wonder what would have happened if the bullhorn guy would have stepped up and watched the light and water show for a minute. He could have verbally pondered at its beauty to the bystanders next to him. He may have struck up a conversation with his guest and then briefly mentioned how even man’s greatest splendor still can’t match the beauty of God’s majestic creation (like the Grand Canyon that is very close). Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, but chances are he would have gotten a lot farther with friendly communication than his bullhorn acts that turned all away. Who knows, it could have led to a cup of coffee and a great conversation.
    In using Francis, I was not saying that Christians should remain quiet and only “speak” through their actions, but rather that actions lead to communication. Believe me, with my background, I still appreciate a good ole Holy Spirit hell fire and brimstone message every now and then. Unfortunately that doesn’t work with most of today’s non-Christians.
    There is a time and place for all methods. I think this may be what Paul was speaking of in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 when he says he has become all things to all men so that he might save some. Today, nobody else communicates through loud, outspoken messages on a street corner that disturb the peace, so is bullhorn preaching really meeting the people where they are at so that some can be saved?

  • Wow, stumbled upon this blog and am surprised at all those supporting Rob Bell.
    Ryan, You are so right. Bell’s watered down gospel, “relevant” Jesus, and law free emotional feel-good platitudes do nothing for anyone’s eternal salvation. We must preach the law AND the gospel, this is the means God has chosen to save His people. The good news can’t be that good unless the bad news is that bad. I feel sorry for people who think they have a better idea or way of doing things.
    Bell has good news without bad news which is not good news at all. He has a different way of salvation than the Bible does, making a “choice to follow Christ” is nowhere found in the Scripture, which is no salvation at all. And he has a different gospel than Scripture which is no gospel at all.
    The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice and it matters not one bit if you “feel” differently, you are obligated to follow Scripture or be wrong.

  • Rob Bell is a gift to the church…theologically sound and fascinating indepth teaching…
    I love and use his work constantly.
    Mc Athur is sounding increasingly like a jealous schoolboy.

  • Hi All,
    Thanks for all the feedback. I just have a few additional comments for several of you.
    Andrew Kenny – well stated. You are right, people need to see that we care for them. Sometimes that can come afterward, though (it doesn’t always have to be before you share). It could be that they think little of you when you share the gospel since they don’t know you, but how you act towards them after this becomes extremely important because they are now watching you like a hawk to see if your actions line up with your message. So I think there are benefits to this “reverse order” as well (ie. sharing the gospel with those kids even before you establish their trust). If they start treating you poorly and you respond with love you will gain their respect rather quickly, I would think. Nevertheless, not everyone responds well to the truth that they need to turn away from all sin and put their trust in Jesus. I have found that if I help them understand rather than just stating the facts, that this usually goes over quite well.
    Julie said:

    Forcing uninterested bystanders attempting to do other things to listen to a hate-filled version of Christianity is very different that speaking to a crowd that chooses to enter a church and listen to a preachers words.

    There are some people who will never enter a church. Shouldn’t we love them enough to try to reach them too? The commission we have been given is to go out into all the world, and bring converts (and pre-converts) in. Also, the message of Christianity is a message of love and exceeding grace, but it cannot be removed from its context of God’s hatred of sin and the penalty for sin which is hell.

    And while I am sure you will call me a heretic, but some of us Christians don’t believe that God punishes people for their sins.

    Can I ask you what you mean by this statement? Do you mean that God punishes people, but not as a result of their sin, rather for some other reason? If so, what reason is there that you can point to that is not sin?
    Julie, you are deeply loved by God. I am not interested in labeling you, but rather in helping you see the truth. Anything that is not the truth keeps us in bondage, and I don’t want you to be in bondage. If I really care, I’ll want to help guide you to the freedom that is within knowing the truth and living in accordance to it.
    Keith – you have some good points. I definitely think that the street preacher should take breaks and interact with people one-to-one, relate to them in the natural and use this as a tool to draw them into spiritual conversation. In fact, this is a great way to street preach also! I don’t think that using a blowhorn is as evil a tool of satan as you make it out to be. If used effectively, many people can hear the message instead of just one or two. Perhaps it is just that some who do this nowadays don’t take the time to relate to people, use parable, help them to understand their plight, etc.

    Today, nobody else communicates through loud, outspoken messages on a street corner that disturb the peace, so is bullhorn preaching really meeting the people where they are at so that some can be saved?

    I’m not sure this is true. I see a lot of protests where people use amplification to get their message out. And this is for things of temporal concern; how much more important are eternal matters? I guess nowadays, speech is done mainly through billboards and TV commercials and newspaper advertisements. But I still get accosted by people trying to convince me of their cause or convince me I need to buy A or B product.
    Alan – thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m less interested in “being right” (for the sake of being right) than I am in helping others to know the truth as well. I find that this has to be done with much grace and acknowledging where a person has a good point.
    To be fair, I have heard Bell preach on Hell in a several part series at his church. I suppose my main concern is the misconceptions I see being perpetrated in those messages that go out to the world, ie. through his “the gods are not angry” tour or his “velvet elvis” book, and nooma videos.
    God bless,
    Ryan

  • Just have a moment to pop in as I hold NOOMA & Bell as one of the best examples of the vibrant & living thing that Jesus started.
    Here’s a parody that some of his critics posted and which sparked a lively discussion at another blog…
    http://phoenixpreacher.com/?p=2335
    I defended Bell but many of those sided with his critics.
    I’ll check back later today and read the posts preceding mine.
    Peace,
    ( | o )=====:::

  • Huh? MacArthur “chewed out Rob’s wife in his book” and “viciously attacked” her?
    Can someone quote the actual passage where he did this? because in my search of the book I find exactly zero derogatory things MacArthur said about Kristen Bell.

  • Smart Links for 12-18-07

    ROB BELL IS MORE HIP THAN YOU…AND ME Time Magazine has a profile up on Rob Bell. Check it out. (HT: Tall Skinny Kiwi) DID YOU KNOW THAT… Germany’s secretary of the interior, Udo Nagel, plans to seek a nationwide ban of Scientology? Ht: Kevin Bussey…

  • hi jesse
    i am traveling through england right now so forgive the delay.
    no comments have been deleted or moderated or are missing, jesse. are you really sure? and i did not say “attacked”. i said chewed out.
    could someone do me a favor and write out the quote i am thinking of?
    and jesse,

  • Sorry, Andrew. I met they comments have dropped off- not that you’ve taken them away. Adam S. used the phrase “viciously attacked.” I’m wondering where.
    Thanks,
    Jesse

  • Hi Jesse,
    Typepad’s antispam filter is preventing me from posting the quote, but you can see it quoted by Phil Johnson here.
    I’ve copied Andrew’s reaction to these comments here:

    But back to Rob. He seems pretty sound theologically, despite the attacks. I know John MacArthur chewed out Rob’s wife in his book for a comment about the Bible. I never heard how Rob’s wife responded to the criticism.

    And, since you had problems finding it (it is there in the first comment to this post), here is the comment from Adam S.:

    I don’t pray for fire to come down on McArthur. But this is several times that he has viciously attacked people that I know. I do pray for insight from the Spirit for him. Sometimes he has a point, but man does he seem to not understand how to deliver it.

    Ryan

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