Updated: Mar 14, 2019
“The Bible has caused so much damage. In many ways, it’s often been an agent for dragging everything backwards.” – Rob Bell, in his documentary, The Heretic
“The fruit of the ‘Nashville Statement’ is suffering, rejection, shame, and despair.” -- Jen Hatmaker, tweeting in response to John Piper’s Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality
If you’ve seen the NOOMA series or read Seven (both mostly great contributions to modern Christian media), then you’re probably familiar with Bell and Hatmaker, two popular “Christian” authors and speakers. If you follow their more recent work, then you know that they’re increasingly controversial among Christian audiences.
I won’t pretend to know with certainty if they’re real Christians or not, though I hope that they are. I think it’s possible to have saving faith and be misinformed, deceived, or pressured into making false statements. (Remember Peter?)
However, what is certain is that in recent years, both Bell and Hatmaker’s messages have become remarkably similar to the messages of their secular, anti-Christian counterparts...and that calls for some scrutiny.
Appeal of the Social Justice Movement
Both Bell and Hatmaker have positioned themselves as edgy Christian voices in the social justice movement. A quick glance at Hatmaker’s social media will reveal the usual SJW tantrums – Trump rants, stories about children at the border (oddly absent during the Obama years), and numerous chides directed toward lesser “woke” Christians.
Bell’s brand is similar but even more provocative, as seen in the preview for his new documentary (interestingly titled The Heretic) in which he seems to work very hard to distance himself from any semblance of orthodox Christianity. As usual, he presents himself as a mysterious spiritual guru and especially enjoys confusing the listener when it comes to the authority of the Bible.
Other interesting similarities: Both wear their intense distaste for President Trump and conservative Christians as a badge of honor. Both love emotion-based reasoning. Both are mainstream media darlings. Both feel victimized by Christians who challenge their questionable statements.
I understand why Bell and Hatmaker find the social justice movement appealing. After all, being part of it, even superficially, gets you major popularity points in our current cultural moment and can help you stay relevant (as seen by their large fanbases.) But, do you know what gets you less popularity points?
Nonetheless, even if one assumes that their investment in the movement is sincere, there’s just one problem…
Jesus Isn’t a Social Justice Warrior
The social justice movement is deeply flawed, especially from a Christian perspective. It’s prejudicial toward white people, men, and non-progressives, and its most vocal voices are extremely averse to any kind of Christian influence.
This is evident in various ways. For example, when The Women’s March organized a march back in 2016, they refused to include pro-life organizations. That represents a massive percentage of Christian women who were deemed not worthy of participating because they don’t wholeheartedly support murdering infants in the womb or shortly after birth.
Bell and Hatmaker might be surprised to learn that, the vast majority of the time, Jesus does not side with social justice warriors. He doesn’t celebrate abortions. He doesn’t think people’s sexuality is their identity. He doesn’t believe all religions lead to Heaven. In fact, he says all of them except one leads to Hell. Unlike Rob Bell, Jesus loves the Bible. Unlike Jen Hatmaker, Jesus doesn’t find God’s laws regarding human sexuality cause for “despair.” Rather, he explains that sin – rejecting God’s desires to chase your own – is what causes despair.
Is Jesus loving? Yes. Is he compassionate? Yes. Is he forgiving? Yes. He’s the most loving, compassionate, forgiving person who ever walked among us. But he died the way he did because we sin. And our sin, no matter what form it takes, is serious enough that it required his sacrifice.
It’s hard to argue that the social justice movement truly addresses the destructiveness of sin. It’s easier to argue that it encourages it. So much of it is fueled by envy, entitlement, superficial diversity, division, and revenge. Alternatively, Jesus calls Christians to pursue equality, grace, variety, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
In short: The social justice movement, in its current state, is at odds with the teachings of Jesus.
We All Fall Short
I can understand Bell and Hatmaker’s disillusionment with America’s tepid Christianity and our country’s consumeristic church culture. I can also understand their hesitation to affirm that homosexuality, among other sexual practices, as a sin. That biblical belief is increasingly vilified in our society and flippantly labeled “hate” and sharing it comes with a great cost. Nonetheless, Bell and Hatmaker have positioned themselves as teachers of the Bible which means they should be faithful to God rather than popular opinion.
Many well-known Christians love and defend God’s word in the face of great consequences. As I mentioned earlier, Isabelle Chow, at young student at Berkeley has faced incredible backlash for her Christian beliefs. Elodie Emig and Rosaria Butterfield, both former lesbian-identified atheists who converted to Christianity, now teach about sexuality as it is explained in the Bible. John Mark Comer and Francis Chan, pastors living and working in some of the country’s most anti-Christian cities, have written powerful books on human sexuality and the reality of hell. Christians like these, among many others, show us it’s possible to be faithful in the midst of intense pressure to conform.
More and more, being an American Christian in 2019 requires sacrifice. Believing the Bible means you’ll get less followers and likes. You’ll lose friends and opportunities. You’ll frequently be labeled, antagonized, mocked, and silenced. Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, it will be illegal, as it is in so many places around the world. I can understand why Bell and Hatmaker might want to avoid these unpleasant realities (as so many of us do), but that doesn’t make it right.
Ironically, Bell and Hatmaker’s social-justice brand of Christianity isn’t working very well. Many liberal churches are failing because they’re heavy on feelings and light on truth. Feelings are fleeting, but the truth, lovingly shared, can change someone’s life. Not everyone will embrace it, and some people will hate it.
But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Bell and Hatmaker, as Christians and teachers, are expected to share God’s truth. That doesn’t require them to be perfect, but it does require them to be faithful; and, sadly, in this current season, their ministries reflect a greater reverence for worldly values than Godly values. This is true of many Christians, in a variety of ways. (Myself included.)
Rather than vilify them, I hope we can recognize this mistake and address it in our own lives and encourage others to do the same. Jesus doesn’t say the Christian’s path will be easy or always positively received, but he promises to joyfully walk with us as we seek God’s will, not ours. He modeled this for us on the cross.
Even if the whole world turns against us, we must remember: Christians don’t need to worship the world. Jesus is so much better.
Cover image from Unsplash