Who Is Rob Bell?

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the author, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

I got a lot of Rob Bell this weekend. First, I read the New Yorker profile on him, then I dove into James Wellman’s book, Rob Bell and a New American ChristianityThe two intersected often, and sometime contradicted each other.

Before I proffer my analysis, let me remind you: I don’t know Rob Bell well. I’ve spoken to him twice — once in 2003ish, and once in 2011. Both were brief and passing conversations. I’ve never received an email from him; I don’t have his cell phone number. I am one degree of separation removed from him, being that I have several friends who know him quite well. I am generally sympathetic to his project, but as my reviews of Love Wins made clear, I also have problems with some of his conclusions (or lack thereof).

First, the New Yorker (the article is here, behind a pay wall):

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Shane Hipps Leaving Mars Hill

Shane Hipps and Rob Bell: Soon neither will be at Mars Hill

My dear friend (and camp counselee, circa 1984), Shane Hipps, announced yesterday that he will be leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the Board of Elders selects a new teaching pastor. Here’s part of Shane’s announcement:

I came face to face with one of the most powerful and difficult ingredients in discovering call  — the role of limits.

In this process I kept bumping up against two limits.  First, I bumped up against the decision the Elders made.  They created a role that was very different than the one I am currently in.  I had to confront the reality of an external set of limits that had been created.  This happens all the time in life.  We confront things on the outside we wish could be different.  Choices our loved ones make, illness, and economic downturns.  The Elders made a series of choices which they believe were in the best interest of this community.  In the process I was presented with new limits.

The second and far more substantial limit was internal.  Everyone of us has an interior shape and size.  Some of that is predetermined and unchangeable like our height.  It’s just how we got made and no amount of effort can change it.  Some of that inner shape is like our weight, we can actually do something to reshape it, adjust it, change it.  It’s not easy, but it is possible if we are truly called to something.

The road at Mars Hill has been tumultuous. Many parishioners left when Love Wins came out. More left when Rob Bell departed for California. The church staff has suffered through many rounds of layoffs, the latest being last week. Now Shane is leaving and, by the looks of the comments on his blog, some congregants don’t understand why.

Rob Bell had an odd arrangement with the church: in the latter years of his tenure, he didn’t lead the staff, and he had virtually no pastoral duties other than preaching (which they call “teaching”). Shane came in under that arrangement. While I can understand the Elders’ decision to move in a more conventional direction — with a pastor who does the majority of the preaching — it seems odd that this person will report to the executive director of the church. It makes you wonder: What gifted preacher would come to Mars Hill without also being able to lead the staff?

We can only assume that the Elders know the church best, and that they think this unusual arrangement will work. Many of us will be watching to see if it does.

Seriously, This Post Really IS about Rob Bell

David Opderbeck is the smartest kid in the room on any blog he frequents, including this one.  He’s got a post up dealing with what I think is the single biggest flaw in Love Wins — and, David says, in Francis Chan’s polemic against Love Wins — which I haven’t read, and don’t plan to.

David writes:

“God can do ANYTHING he wants.”  So say Preston Sprinkle and Francis Chan in their book “Erasing Hell.”  It’s fair to say that this proposition is the cornerstone of Sprinkle and Chan’s theodicy of Hell.  “Won’t God get what he wants?”  So asks Rob Bell in his book “Love Wins.”  It’s also fair to say that this question, along with the belief that God wants everyone to be saved, is the cornerstone of Bell’s theodicy of Hell.’

David goes on to write about the philosophical ideas of nominalism and voluntarism.  It’s a long, sophisticated post, and I commend it to you.

However, I’ll write the same thing in a bit different terms:

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Publishing Is Tilting Toward Authors and Readers

In this week’s post about preaching from an iPad, I referenced an article in the UM Reporter.  Later in that article, I am quoted as saying about the new era in e-publishing,

“It’s great for writers and for readers, and it’s horrible for publishers and agents.”

I firmly believe that.  I love my agent, and I love (almost) all of the editors I’ve worked with at publishing houses.  But I feel badly for them as we enter a new epoch of content delivery.

Last year, bestselling author Seth Godin made waves when he announced that all of his future books would be ebooks.  My next two books will be ebooks — coming straight to your Kindle this summer:

  • The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement
  • But How Does Love Win? A Friendly Rejoinder to Rob Bell

I hope that, after that, I’ll have another traditional book in the queue — probably on prayer.  My agent and I are working on that idea at the moment.

So I’ve still got a foot in each world.  But my success (or failure) in the ebook world will likely dictate the direction of my literary career over the next decade.