Rob Bell’s Atonement

Marc Chagall's "Yellow Crucifixion," which hung on Jürgen Moltmann's wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a rock without internet), you probably know that I’m nearing the completion of a book on the atonement. It’s called Did God Kill Jesus?, and it comes out in March. (It’s the wrong subtitle, and the cover isn’t done yet, but you can preorder it!) I’m fortunate to have the same editor and publisher as authors I admire like Barbara Brown Taylor, Lauren Winner, and Rob Bell.

Speaking of Rob Bell, he continued his hilariously long Tumblr series on the Bible last week with a post entitled, What is the Bible? Part 72: The Question That Keeps Coming Up. He begins the post by listing five reader questions, each of which is basically asking, Why did Jesus have to die?

To that question, Rob has a two-part answer:

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What’s Up at Jericho Books?


Late last week, Hachette Book Group announced that Wendy Grisham was being let go, and that her imprint, Jericho Books, was going to be dramatically downsized. In the Christian publishing world, this is very big news. (Full disclosure: my agent, Kathy Helmers, pitched Jericho several book proposals from me; Jericho did not bid on any of them, and I ultimately signed with another publisher. I harbor no animus whatsoever, and Wendy and I remain friends.)

Jericho arrived on the publishing scene with a bang, paying significant advances to acquire big name authors like Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Philip Yancey, and Shane Hipps. Their first book to the make the New York Times bestseller list was Nadia’s Pastrix this fall.

Big New York publishing houses like Hachette have been snapping up evangelical publishers for some time now, as Christian books have one of the few bullish areas in publishing. Thomas Nelson and Zondervan are owned by NewsCorp, Waterbrook and Multnomah are owned by Penguin Random House, etc. You get the picture. The conglomeration in publishing is a reality.

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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.

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Two Days with Rob Bell – Part One

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.

After one particularly nasty gig at a swingers club, I knew I had to quit the bar band.  I called my 12-Step Sponsor the next morning and told him I needed a new musical connection.  He suggested that I pray.  I prayed and then went to the mega church that I had been attending.   I opened the bulletin to an advertisement stating “Worship Team Needs Guitarist – Auditions On Wednesday”.  My sponsor is a genius.

After a few years I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage that every Mega Church Contemporary Christian Praise and Worship Artist aspires to.   Once in one’s lifetime, it is taught, one should go to Sydney for the Hillsong Conference.  Since I am blessed and highly favored, I have attended 3 times and I loved it.

Last year, while trying to ignore somebody sharing in a 12-Step meeting, I received an email announcing 2 Days with Rob Bell in Laguna Beach, CA.  Since my current journey from Buddy of the Mega Church Pastor to Aspiring Emergent had been (and still is being) initiated, encouraged, informed and affirmed by Rob Bell books, films, videos and podcasts, I got out my credit card and signed up immediately.   Last week I made the journey for the 3rd time and I loved it.

In both sets of journeys, I have discovered and experienced aspects of the human search for identity, belonging and mission.  Our dual-consciousness might cause us to look at these gatherings through the lens of wrong/right, happy clappy/new orthodoxy or spiritual consumerism/spiritual intellectual elitism.  My aspiring emergent, recovering sober alcoholic, conflict avoidant, co-dependent consciousness helps me look at both movements as collections of people longing for direction and connection.  Strangely, the Spirit of Joel Osteen resides in both worlds, and I love it.

Darlene Zschech was the worship pastor, the face and voice of Hillsong Church.  She is the spiritual mother, mentor, big sister, favorite aunt and baby sitter for a generation of worship leaders, singers and musicians.  Her presence, tone, words and countenance are sincere and connecting.  She makes you feel like a member of the team and part of something significant.  She and her husband Mark, along with Pastor Brian Houston, started Hillsong Conference in 1989 as a venue to champion the cause of and equip the local church around the world.  Each year the roster is filled with the big names of Mega Church Christendom i.e. T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, Chris Tomlin, Delirious to name just a few.  Each year, 25,000 or so of us would travel from around the world to fill the basketball arena and other venues at the Sydney Olympic Park.

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