Mars Hill's Narrative Theology - What's Missing in This Story?
No, instead, this is Mars Hill Bible church of Grandville, MI where Pastor Rob Bell has championed his statement of Narrative Theology, coupled with the New Exodus teaching, with great popularity (an estimated 10,000+ weekly attendance). My question is this: What's missing in this "story?"
As I first began to read their statement of Narrative Theology, I was admittedly pleased. The narrative approach to developing theology and doctrine is quite fond to me. In fact, many might say that my first book, Thy Kingdom Come: A Prayer of Victory, was itself an expression of Narrative Theology. Obviously I don't think that the approach is altogether without merit. For a more in-depth look at the topic of Narrative Theology at large, I recommend this answer by Ra McLaughlin (though I've not explored any of the other claims that may be found at that URL).
So, what IS missing in Rob Bell's story? What left me—at the end of just one single PDF page—writhing in my desk chair? Allow me to offer a surface-level critique of this increasingly popular statement of faith, and then I invite you, the reader, to share your own take on the matter. Perhaps some of you have more first-hand experience that may shed light.
- The statement is devoid of any affirmation to the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ. The statement, found in paragraph 6 of the aforementioned statement of Narrative Theology, reads: "His path of suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation. Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans." It seems that this is just strong enough to preclude anyone from holding only to the Exemplary Atonement theory, but it (and the entire narrative as I read it) is devoid of the concept of wrath, atonement, death as penalty for sin, etc.
- My second critique was a little less obvious and it took me a while to find this. Read the document again, if you can, through the eyes of a total non-believer. Do you see how the plural first-person "we" would include you, the non-believing reader, in the narrative? I have no confirmation that Rob Bell preaches, or even holds this position, but this theological statement is extremely friendly to the Universalist.
In summary, I must conclude that this statement of theology is unique in it's ability to say so much while affirming nothing at all. The purpose—in my opinion—of a doctrinal statement should be to guard sound doctrine and affirm that false doctrines are not propagated at your church. By Mars Hill Bible Church's statement, what could be refuted? Universalism? No. Legalism? No. Pelagianism? No. Yikes!