“You Are Making the Gospel Palatable .. Aren’t You?” #LoveWins

I mentioned in an earlier post that I think this whole Rob Bell, Love Wins conversation has some solid potential for needed conversation, especially among us evangelicals (probably for conservative mainliners too). However, one of the moments that I thought was a bit ridiculous was the Martin Bashir interrogation with Rob. It wasn’t because I cannot stand the idea of someone intellectually defeating Rob. Had he been outdebated, that’s one thing. For me, it was a spectacle of journalistic rudeness combined with poor quality of thinking. How does a journalist today not understand paradox?

We all know that Rob doesn’t answer questions directly. Many people don’t – so let’s stop acting as if that’s Rob’s signature. But if you want to annoy us as viewers by asking the same question repeatedly, it’s your show, thanks for the commercial telling me to never tune in again. But the line that really annoyed me was the repeated phrase “You’re trying to make the gospel palatable for contemporary people … that’s what you did, isn’t it?”

I understand what’s accused in that line – you are compromising the Gospel to appeal to your audience. Indeed, we ought to never compromise the Gospel. But making the Gospel more understandable, more accessible is a good thing. In fact, it’s very Jesus-like. I think I could make the case that the entire idea of the Incarnation is the grandest attempt at making the Gospel “palatable” to humankind.

Later I listened to a 40 minute interview with Bashir on the Paul Edwards show here where I had hoped to find a little redemption in the moment. In my naive way, who likes to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I thought he’d say something like, “Well, I hadn’t read the book, but it sounded like he believed … It wasn’t until later that I realized what he was trying to say… and frankly, I was trying to make it interesting.” Instead, I’ll paraphrase what he said “I had an advance copy of the book, read it, thought it was poorly researched, called some religious scholars (among them was a non-Christian religious scholar), and more or less, ambushed him on my show.” The exasperated tone of this post stems from this Paul Edwards interview.

In this same interview, Bashir criticizes Bell for over-reacting the working out of his upbringing. Later, in the Edwards show, he admits that he was raised as a Muslim and abandoned Islam after being rebuked for asking questions. Now, I’m glad that Bashir is a Christian, but can a brother in Christ criticize another after the genesis of his own Christian faith was born out of a reaction of being rebuked of asking questions. Bashir is upset that Rob is asking questions?? Is that not an over-reaction?!

Back to the Gospel-Palatable point – depending on how we define “palatable”, I submit that we all are guilty of making the Gospel “palatable”. There are differences for sure but anytime we focus on one aspect of the Gospel over another, I think the accusation works. If you focus on the love of God, you possibly regulate the justice of God. Emphasize the wrath of God, you are prone to marginalize His mercy and you appeal to a different group. We can throw accusations at each other all day long, “You believe in such an angry God!” versus “You are preaching a cheap form of grace”. Suburban churches preach the Gospel different from urban and urban different from rural. The Global South preaches the Gospel different from the West and the West different from the East and the East different from the Middle East.

Should we challenge our audience? Should we hold our prophets/teachers accountable? Of course. Every time we share the Gospel, whether by word or deed, we share it in a particular context – every time. If the goal is to be understandable, you’ll wisely choose the most effective, most understandable way to do it. It’s why Paul wrote to the Romans … in Greek. It’s why many pastors preach … from behind a pulpit wearing a tie and suit. It’s why many pastors teach … from a music stand in a t-shirt and jeans. It’s why God … became Jesus … to make the Gospel understandable, accessible and dare I say – palatable.

If you are coming to the conversation late – check out the summaries with links Part 1 and Part 2.
Also, check out Evan Curry’s posts The Day I Told a Girl She Was Going to Hell and How My Grandfather Helps Us Understand Rob Bell’s Position.


  1. Tim,

    I wholeheartedly agree with this statement: “We all know that Rob doesn’t answer questions directly. Many people don’t – so let’s stop acting as if that’s Rob’s signature.” Or as other people say, “Those Emergent types don’t answer things directly.” Dare I remember multiple interviews with other “evangelical” pastors where they don’t answer questions directly (e.g., Joel Osteen on homosexuality). Is not-answering-questions-directly their trademark too? I am disappointed that Bashir is a Christian. It just makes us look worse and worse. It reminds me of this poster: http://bit.ly/eJQjZx. If we would stop “killing each other,” we might actually learn from each other.

  2. Hey Bud,
    I want to confess something to you. I didn’t realize it until this morning.
    I remember a friend of mine in Israel telling me something and it popped into my head this morning. I was talking to him about election. He made a great statement to me, “Calvinists and Arminians will never agree on this topic, and frankly, I think we spend so much time arguing theology that we forget what our missional purpose in this world is meant to be. In fact, I think it’s one of Satan’s greatest ploys.”
    In Corinth, the believers would follow whoever baptized them. Depending on who that person was, they would feel elite. Today, I feel we do the same with who we are taught by. It’s similar to the ways that you joke with me about Piper and I with you about Wright.
    But as that comment popped into my head, I realized something, I realized that there is so much going on in this world. As of right now, we have numerous countries in the Middle East in disarray; some are in wars while others are without governments. We have a country on the other side of the globe in Japan who is facing a tragedy that claimed over 3x as many lives as September 11. With the nuclear issue, it can only get worse. We have countries in West Africa who have been in war for years without anyone paying attention. The list goes on and on.
    What I am saying is I want to confess that in my time about getting heated with the Bell issues (and probably getting a little testy at times), I have forgotten my God-ordained purpose to be a prayerful disciple in this world, to pray for those who are suffering and hurting, to lift up those who are grieving. I am missing massive opportunities to connect to God and to this world in such a trying time.
    Do me a favor and when you are praying for me, just ask that God keep my heart in the right place. And, I don’t know why, but I felt that I wanted this a public confession and not a private one.
    God bless brother!

  3. Jim, my brother, thanks for the good words here and I’ll keep what you are sharing in prayer.

    In light of the tragedies in Japan, Haiti, and numerous other places, the genocides, crimes and numerous other atrocities (some happening in our own neighborhoods), it’s good to keep such perspective. I wrestle with this too because in light of all these things, countless things seem trivial and the things that aren’t (like enjoying time with your children can potentially make you feel guilty).

    It’s not only good but it’s Christian to wrestle with the issues at hand. I believe good theology (as in a healthy understanding of who God is sense) leads to good evangelism/social justice. I believe this is Kingdom work.

    I also believe there is a time when you submit the chaos of the world to the Lord and go to sleep, or enjoy dinner with your family, or read :) or recreate, etc.

    May we be faithful stewards of our time and opportunities. Thanks for sharing your heart here – love that we are on this journey together.

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