From the Portico: What in the hell?
(POSTED: 12/19/12) The New Yorker provided interesting insight into the evolving evangelical movement by profiling “megachurch” pastor Rob Bell, who made his name in Michigan but attended Wheaton College in Chicago’s far west suburbs.
There’s plenty of reason for Catholics to pay attention to guys like this. Look no further than a local mega-congregation – South Barrington’s Willow Creek – to see where many “ex-Catholics” are attending Sunday services these days.
And on the political side, Catholics (at least conservative, anti-abortion Catholics) and evangelicals increasingly find themselves aligned by party and candidate.
But just as much, Bell has something to say that’s worth listening to, if for no other reason to serve as contrast, to challenge traditional ideas, to spur discussion.
The thrust of The New Yorker piece was that Bell has ruffled feathers among evangelicals, in part by questioning the existence of hell. “He considered the possibility that Hell might not exist, or that it might be empty, or that it might exist on earth, or that it might be temporary. Maybe, he thought, Hell is an unpleasant place where posthumous repentance is possible and, in the fullness of time, inevitable.”
And for someone who has overseen a congregation of thousands, he’s “developed a certain skepticism about the idea of a church as a big, sustainable institution.”
“A truly Christian church, in his view, should be an experiment, wary of firm doctrines and predictable sermons. But a healthy megachurch needs structure and consistency; it needs to keep lots of people happy at once. And so, beyond a certain point, it must be cautious – a very un-Biblical commandment.”
Another recent news article, in the Chicago Tribune, offers additional insight into evangelicals, although with a twist. The story focuses on Catholic-turned-evangelical-turned-Catholic Chris Haw, who recently penned a “spiritual memoir.”
While Bell seems to laments the structure of Christianity, Haw ultimately found comfort there. “Haw argues that evangelical Christianity could learn a thing or two from the Catholic Church, and vice versa. In fact, that seems to have already begun. Willow Creek has been experimenting with liturgical elements, including communal readings from Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer.”
Lastly on the evangelical front, in Chicago magazine’s January issue, an article drills into another local megachurch, First Baptist Church of Hammond, Ind., and the pastor’s conviction for sexual misconduct.
Something the Catholic Church, obviously and unfortunately, has had experience with.
From the Portico is an occasional column — written by the staff of ChicagoCatholicNews.com — that focuses on the people, policies and inner-workings of the Catholic Church in the Chicago region.