Two Days with Rob Bell – Part Two

Chris Estus

The following is a guest post by Chris Estus. Chris is an “Aspiring Emergent.”  He left the friendly local mega-church in 2011 to start Pioneer at Asbury – A worshiping community of people in, in need of or interested in recovery. His worship CD – The Chris Estus Band can be sampled at  His email is This report of Chris’s experience is posted with Rob Bell’s permission. In Part One, Chris wrote about what led him to sign up for Two Days with Rob Bell. Now, here’s the payoff:

For the event last week, people came from all over the US, Canada and even Sweden. I spoke with a number of Lutherans, a couple Methodists, a Mennonite, a Southern Baptist as well as Church of Christ, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Catholic and Non-denominational pastors and members.   One woman was an Atheist.  I made friends with a young Agnostic/Atheist college professor.   I’m sure other faith traditions were represented.  A number of people said they were Reformed.  As an Aspiring Emergent, I knew I should avoid them, lest I be beaten to death with a bible.

I talked to Pastor Jim from the Texas Hill Country in the hot tub.  He used to be an Emergent Church Planter in Austin, TX.  He was friends with all the leaders of the movement.  He said he couldn’t do that anymore because he needed to be able to afford to eat.  Now he pastors a Lutheran – Missouri Synod Church.  I don’t know what that it, but it doesn’t sound very emergent.

Rob and others used the words Emergent, Emerging and Emergence, but I found the context confusing.

Rob recommended Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence, but said if someone says they are Emergent, ask them what Baptist Church they grew up in.

Rob said Peter Rollins was his friend, but laughed when someone talked about people in churches sitting in a circle on smelly couches.

I wasn’t sure if I should disclose that I am an Aspiring Emergent.  I didn’t know if they would laugh at me or try to buy me a sandwich, so I kept quiet.

The venue was an open-air 2 Story courtyard of a boutique hotel on the main drag of Laguna Beach. It is ½ a block from the beach.  Most of the crowd of 100 sits on chairs arranged in a semi circle downstairs.  Rob sits facing us in the middle front.   It is real close quarters but comfortable and intimate. 15 or so of the people sit on the upstairs balcony.  He stuck large sheets of white paper on the wall behind him to write outlines, key words and drawings that helped illustrate his teachings.

From 9 AM to 9 PM on Monday and on Tuesday, with breaks for coffee, tacos and surfing, Rob tells stories, teaches, encourages, lectures, laughs, cries, draws, jokes, asks questions and is amazing.   His ability to communicate verbally is well known.

In the group setting he is gracious, warm and on top of his game.  For 2 days he is animated with energy.  Although much of the 2 Day event is outlined and scripted in his head, he frequently used responses to questions he asked as an opportunity to cover new ground.   He also answered every question he was asked.  He is a master of making the person who asked the question feel like he is talking directly to them, while he is actually teaching the entire group something he had planned already.   He loves rabbit trails, but loves the outline too.  Structure enhances flow.

Although the demands of celebrity have trained him to put up extra strong personal boundaries, he was mildly approachable during breaks.  He remembered me and asked about my hair (long hair and ponytail no more).  He listened to and was amused by the ridiculous story I told.  That released me from the need to make some sort of public speech/question just to be noticed.

Rob does not spend 2 days trying out new book ideas on a friendly crowd.  He understands whom he is talking to, the state of mind they are in and the point we are at culturally and spiritually.  From the beginning he pours out all he has for our healing and equipping.   Many of these pastor/leaders, like the rest of culture, are starving for identity, community, affirmation and direction.  There is a lot of loneliness and some bitterness.

Using his own story frequently as backdrop and example, he talks about how everybody is moving too fast.  Insanity is the new normal.   He said he brings us to Laguna to show us how insane our lives are.  Using Dt 30:11-14 he teaches that Reality is here and now present, in us and among us, with us.  We already have it.

Combining Eph 4:4-6 with ideas from his Everything is Spiritual DVD and Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, he talks about binaries.  God isn’t only in the “good”.  Growth comes primarily from disruptions.  The labels and systems we use fail and have to be renewed.  He talked about Unitive Consciousness rather than Dual.  He points out our tendency towards “Shadow Management” – How we name the sinner of the week so we don’t have to look at ourselves.  If I can point out who is abandoning the faith, I don’t have to talk about my own doubts.

He spent a couple hours on Spiral Dynamics.  This is a theory of human development and stages of consciousness.  It is based on the work of Clare W. Graves, Don Beck and Ken Wilbur.  Rob has presented this all three times I’ve been with him.  Embracing and understanding this model is helping me to not look at where I came from with disdain and not look at those at higher stages (higher doesn’t mean better) with fear.  Google it.

Again chronicling his own experiences, he spends considerable time on handling criticism.  He has lots of experience here.  The sermon is an art of which he is a master and holds in high value.  He talks about it at length and gives great practical advice.  See Poets/Prophets/Preachers.

Some other nuggets either by him or him quoting someone:

Liturgy is like a cathedral of words. Every time you walk in you see something new and beautiful.

Parable means placed beside.  Sometimes we mistake the thing that’s placed beside for the real thing.  What we get from Jesus:  It’s like this.  What we get from Reformed:  The thing placed beside became the real thing.

Religion argues about the menu.  Some have tasted the meal.

We refuse to participate in something that degrades our humanity – Gandhi.

The inability to receive grace is a cultural disease.

During the Spiral Dynamics discussion he made a point that caused many gathered to take notice.   Mentioning the name Joel Osteen in a crowd like this usually draws smirks, laughs and head shaking.  This crowd, perhaps thinking they were expected to or perhaps needing a villain or perhaps looking with disdain at those on a lower level of consciousness on the Spiral, acted as expected.  Rob, however, then presented a fresh take on the ministry of Pastor Joel – That Joel Osteen is doing a magnificent job re-parenting millions of people.

Joel will say something like:  “You can get a job”.  The cameras then show people in the crowd shaking their heads and writing it down.  “God is not angry with you” – Amen, nods of agreement, note taking.  “You can be part of a family, the Church”  – That’s right.   He is telling them things their parents may not have, or life helped them to forget or ignore.   He is helping them move from Powerless Purple to Empowered Red on the Spiral.  Google it.  He is re-parenting.

Rob Bell is the Joel Osteen of the Frustrated, Disempowered, Bored, Lonely, Over Educated, Underpaid, Jaded, Cynical, Bitter Pastor/Leader/Academic/Intellectual set.  Last week I realized he was re-parenting us with skill and grace.  He told us things like:

Be ruthless about your own health.

Find friends you can have long meals with.

There is a 6 and 1 rhythm to the world so take a Sabbath, a day off.

You have an inner wisdom, listen to it and not the voice that says yeah, but.

Most emergencies aren’t.

We all took notes.

I think his soon to be finalized and announced TV show is going to speak millions of the misinformed and uninformed and overinformed looking for connection spiritually, intellectually and socially.

I am personally having a blast following Jesus along with a community of people in the Post Modern/Emergent/Jewish Roots/Rob Bell/Richard Rohr/Phyllis Tickle/N.T. Wright /12 Step world.  I still get to play Happy Clappy Praise and Worship Music frequently.  I get to be intellectual stimulated, spiritually nourished, connected, directed and of use to other people.  I don’t have to make others wrong or bad or goofy to make me right.  I don’t have to worry about “slippery slopes”.

On Tuesday night, Daddy Rob looked me in the eyes, gave me some bread and juice and said:

This is His Body, broken for you.

This is His Blood, poured out you.

I believe him.

My advice to those looking for connection, direction, identity, belonging and mission is to:  Pray.  Then join me at Christianity 21 in Denver on January 9-11.

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  • Thanks, Chris. This is really well done. I felt like I was there. I’d even go so far as to say something corny like, “I could practically smell the ocean in the air as I was reading.” But then I’d have to admit that I’m not as ironically detached from everything as I like to pretend and, well, can’t have that. 😉

    “That released me from the need to make some sort of public speech/question just to be noticed.” Truth! To me, this is the most insightful line in the whole piece. Here’s where I want to say something petty such as I wish every person at every conference/event/seminar/etc I’ve ever been to had your wisdom. ‘Cause damn do people like to make speeches during question time in order to get noticed. Of course the truth is I’m part of that contingent as well.

    I suspect our need to be noticed directly results from the prevalence of “starving for identity, community, affirmation and direction.” Which seems to me to be a rather sad indictment on our communities of faith – that we are failing at those things that are our most basic tasks. I wonder how my congregation fits in here? I wonder how I’m failing at providing identity, community, etc.? How will I address that when I speak this Sunday?

    Thanks for an engaging read.

    • Chris Estus

      Thanks for the encouragement! As an Enneagram 3 (in fact the 3 of all 3’s), I need to fight the temptation to be noticed, and the temptation to try to move to the front and take over the meeting!! Also, if you want to see a functioning spiritual community, make friends with a 12 Stepper who has been sober for a while and ask him or her to take you to some open meetings.

  • Jesse

    Great story, Chris! Thanks for sharing it. I really appreciate Rob Bell too. I heard the tv show got shelved though. Is that a rumor? (anybody?)

    • Chris Estus

      He told us that a network bought one show and is holding it (that is very common). The other show (which I think we will all be very interested in) may be very close to happening. Thanks for reading.

  • Chris, I just wanted to thank you for your two posts. I was there with you last week and remember seeing you but we didn’t get an opportunity to connect. I thought your insight that Rob was parenting us in a different way than Joel, but parenting nonetheless, was quite brilliant. Why do we need someone we respect to tell us it’s okay to slow down and build in boundaries before we think it’s okay? 🙂

    Such a refreshing couple of days, though.

    • Chris Estus

      Thanks Josh. We are designed to be sons or daughters, adopted into the Family. We long for it in our spirit and in our humanity. I’m going back to 2 Days in February. I love having coffee at the Orange Inn.

  • Keith Long

    I think you summed up the conference very well Chris. It was a powerful couple of days to be sure. Just a note however about your comment
    about “the need to make a public question in order to be noticed.” I didn’t have a chance to connect with Rob outside of the lecture time, so I asked a question during the session. I didn’t ask because I wanted to be noticed. I asked…because I had a question. And I’m really glad I did because my experience was really
    enhanced by the many others who resonated with me, whom I may never have met had I not asked. There is of course a difference between asking a question and making a speech/taking over, but in a context like that where there was little time to get to know one another, the question-asking was the only way to build connections with others.
    Thanks again for sharing this.

    • Chris Estus

      You are right Keith and I really wasn’t talking about others, I honestly was talking about myself (and trying to be funny). Asking questions was welcomed and important for everyone. I thought the group did wonderful job resisting the temptation to pontificate. Thanks for your comments.

  • Ben Hammond

    This is wonderful.

  • Laura Truax

    Hey, I really enjoyed reading this. I sort of expected the RB experience to go the way of Hillsong. So this was a pleasant surprise. My 80+ year old Jesuit mentor has worked for 15 years on me, urging me to see how God desires to re-parent me. I think it’s starting to take. Thinking about pastors as doing the same thing for their flocks – whoever they are – makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks for posting.

  • jpcarson

    Hi Chris,

    I doubt Tony Jones and Doug Pagit will
    accept my proposed topic for Christianity 21. It is
    “suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake” as applied to the institutional
    dysfunction/corruption that so infects and threatens civilization because, in
    essential part, vocationally privileged Christians as myself (and many in the
    intended C21 demographic, I am a licensed member of the engineering
    profession). We shun “suffering persecution for righteousness’
    sake” related to how we make a living because to “not look the other way”
    might impact our real “idols” – our professional standing and economic
    security. Furthermore people as Tony and Doug – just as all the other
    Christian religious professionals you named in your post – take no exception to
    it, because to do otherwise would be for them to likely “suffer persecution for
    righteousness’ sake” with respect to their professional standing and
    economic security.

    So I don’t think I’ll see you in Denver, but would
    appreciate your comments (or anyone else’s) on my proposed topic.

    Joe Carson, PE

    Knoxville, TN