Rob Bell

Anybody who has read this blog at all or seen me in person or spent really any time with me at all knows that I am a huge Rob Bell fan. I am an imitator by nature, and so even to this day I know a large part of my speaking style originates from Rob, and people are constantly comparing my speaking style to his (something I'm sure he wishes weren't the case, as he's way better than me). So on one level, this post is going to seem a bit like a biased one-sided fan post. Maybe it is.

My buddy Curt texted me the other day and told me that it looked as though Rob Bell had gotten himself into trouble again. First of all, I should note that this in and of itself gets me excited. Christians don't get in enough trouble now a days. But when I asked why, I was told that Bell was publishing a new book this month, and it was on heaven and hell.

This in and of itself is not trouble. I'm sure there are countless books about heaven and hell. What seems to be causing all the hoopla is that it would seem from the materials and publicity that has come out in advance of the book that Bell is suggesting that Hell doesn't exist, or at least that all the people we think are going to hell may not be.

I wrestled with this in my theological holy place, the Giant Eagle. I had a conversation with myself through the frozen foods section. It's possible that Bell and I disagree on some things (something that not many other people would think is a possibility). It's possible I may get this book and completely disagree with it. But then as I was reading some of the blogs available today (this link in particular I came up with a couple of questions/concerns:

1. This book isn't out yet. Thankfully it comes out soon, as I have been looking for something to read for quite some time! But as someone who just finished co-authoring a 20,000 word book myself, I'd be horrified if anyone tried to condense everything we were trying to say into a paragraph that could fit on a dust jacket. There's no way you could pick up on the neuance of our work in a summary that small. So my first thought is, should we be sounding the alarm yet before we read it? If you disagree with Rob Bell and/or his theology, will you take the time to read with those with whom you disagree with, or will you make assumptions?

2. I've been listening to Rob Bell (and for that matter, the rest of the excellent speakers at Mars Hill) for the last 8 years or so. Almost without fail at all, every single sermon has started with the sentence "Open your Bibles to..." and then the words that follow are based upon that scripture passage. To be honest, this has made a tremendous impact on me as a preacher/speaker, you simply cannot be an effective deliverer of God's word if you don't start in God's word. Now, understandably, people may have a difference of opinion when it comes to how Bell (or me, or Joel Olestein, or Billy Graham) interpret the scripture they're using, but I find it difficult to swallow when bloggers suggest that Rob Bell has moved away from Bible based Christianity. Granted, in conjunction with point one, I haven't read the book yet, so perhaps there are zero scripture references in it, at which point I will be as disappointed as I will be surprised. But I think we need to be careful labeling someone as not bible based simply because their interpretation of the bible differs from our own. That's not a problem, it's the opening to a great and respectful debate. I learn way more from the people I disagree with than the ones who are in my corner.

3. Again, in the face of point one, this may be jumping the gun a little bit, to the point where I almost didn't want to put it in there. So let's look at this not in terms of Rob Bell's book, but in a more generic way. When someone comes out and makes a controversial and revolutionary claim, and we start to question their orthodoxy, I get a bit nervous. If Rob Bell uses scripture, history, and doctrine to make his point that we may not have Hell figured out the way we think, does that pose a threat to Christianity or our particular flavor of Christianity? Again, who's to say what's in the book (you gotta love blog posts that set themselves up for follow up in the near future!), but what about a preacher you don't like at a concert festival? What about a blogger on the internet? What about that crazy person who sits next to you in your local congregation? My problem is if we jump to label everyone who disagrees with us as heretics, we fail to learn anything about what they believe or (as is almost always the case in the discussions and debates I've been a part of) strengthen what we believe. To be a heretic is a pretty specific and severe label to throw on a person, and yet lately I feel like we've been all too willing to toss it around. From my perspective, if someone loves the Lord and is doing their best to love their neighbors, then our disagreements are not cause for separation, but rather discussion.

And in that spirit, I welcome your comments and thoughts on this as well, so long as they're respectful and Christ-like. Let the conversation continue!



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


acousticworship said...

I think people are just scared of open thinking when it comes to our faith. Like thee ol past statement, "I am afraid of change..." or is that just presby. :)

The thing that I love about Rob Bell is that he isn't afraid of change or to ask the big questions. Heaven and Hell are two things that we just don't know about. Sure some guy spent 27 min in hell via a dream and came back to tell us about it and write 3 books and star in 2 movies and have little action figures made of him (yes cause thats real, not) and everyone thinks hes legit. So people believe the guy that has "dreams" about hell but once Rob Bell opens his mouth and writes a book, watch out!

We just don't know truly how or what heaven and hell might be. We have things that bible tell us, but no one has really experienced heaven and hell and lived to tell about it...(hehe pun). So why can't we ask questions about heaven and hell? Why can't we talk about it?

Oh wait I know why, all the Christian boards, discussion groups and big wigs of our faith are too busy debating weather or not the last Harry Potter movie is evil.

I'm with ya brother.

McClain said...


I think my favorite quote so far is Piper's tweet,"Farewell Rob Bell." I thought Bell was hit by a bus or that some rabid fan abducted him and fled to Russia. Needless to say I believe the issue is that people are %100 afraid of wrestling with our faith. I have listened to Bell for years as well and I think is a great speaker and I truly believe he is a kingdom builder. He just moves and grooves differently then others. Social networking can be used for good and for bad. In this situation its bad...very bad. Bell's book isn't even out yet!

Let the book come out and then we'll all decide what we think. Even if we disagree with him, we aren't his mediator. It's solely between him and God. People are constantly looking for other people's drama to take the focus off of themselves. I am guilty of that as well. We need to focus on our selves and lift each other up even through times that we wrestle hard with God. Jay I hope I'm not repeating you!

I believe in the simplicity and creativity of our human nature. We have simple needs but creative minds and hearts. We all need to tap into that creativity but not forget that our purpose at the end of the day is to love God and love others. Theology plays a part in our lives but I also think that overcomplicating our relationship with God just makes us bitter and frustrated. Bell is getting his creativity out and exploring the faith.

Bell is not a wolf...he is just getting bombarded by a bunch of sheep who are yelling "witch."