An Irrelevant Church

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, February 23, 2015

An Irrelevant Church

Rob Bell, former pastor and now host of the “Rob Bell Show” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN television network, is now maintaining that a church that doesn’t support same-sex marriage is irrelevant. Bell had earlier questioned the existence of hell in his 2011 book “Love Wins.”

Bell made the comments on an episode of Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” where he appeared with his wife to talk about religion and spirituality. 

He called the church’s acceptance of gay marriage “inevitable,” and that the reason it should be accepted is because loneliness “is not good for the world.”

“I think culture is already there,” Bell continued, “and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” 

So let me get this straight:

For a church to be relevant, it must not only embrace homoerotic behavior, but jettison the Scriptures as any kind of authoritative guide to this or any other cultural issue. The new apologetic is personal fulfillment. In this case, no one should be lonely, so whatever fills the loneliness gap should be affirmed.

Sometimes I don’t know where to begin.

But I’ll give it a try.

First, if the Bible is to be cavalierly abandoned as mere “letters from 2,000 years ago,” then historic orthodoxy has truly been abandoned. Christians embrace the Old Testament as inspired by God because Jesus did, and the New Testament as equally sacred because it is based on the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. If you relegate the Bible to less than the revelation of God, then you are relegating Jesus to less than the Son of God.

As Christians, we can have robust discussions on the nature of inspiration, and certainly on the dynamics of interpretation, but not on the authority of the Bible itself. That was established by Jesus.

Second, to adopt self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction as the ultimate apologetic is to make “self” central to all things. This was, of course, the great temptation put before Adam and Eve in the garden that led to the fall of humanity. Pursuing whatever I desire is not what is best for the world. What is best for the world is when I submit my desires to what is best for the world.

And that is determined by God.

Third, the “relevance” of a church is not found in its capitulation to culture, but its transformation of culture. Any student of ecclesiastical history knows that whenever orthodoxy has been abandoned in order to mirror culture, it has led to the church’s great demise. We do not gain the world’s attention through a compromised voice, but through a prophetic one.

No one would argue the need for a winsome and compelling voice for Christ in our culture more than me;

No one would argue the need for contrition for a lack of love toward those with a same-sex orientation more than me;

No one would argue the need for the church’s relevance more than me;

But if others follow Bell’s strategy, the church really will continue to be even more irrelevant than it already is.

Because it will cease to be the church.

James Emery White



Carol Kuruvilla, “Former Megachurch Pastor Rob Bell: A Church That Doesn't Support Gay Marriage Is 'Irrelevant', The Huffington Post,  February 20, 2015, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

An Irrelevant Church