Rob Bell Round-Up

Rob Bell Round-Up March 25, 2013

In the wake of Rob Bell’s new book being released and his perfectly-timed-to-coincide-with-new-book-release statement affirming gay marriage, the Internet is full of opinions about him. Here’s a little round up.

I blogged about Rob’s affirmation of gay marriage and about why Rob Bell Matters.

Adam Walker Cleaveland agrees that Rob Bell matters:

I believe Rob Bell still matters. Whether you agree with his theology or not, whether you get frustrated that he doesn’t include footnotes for every little reference he makes and writes in a more casual style than you…all of that side, Bell does, in fact, have an impressive platform and he is reaching a generation of folks who aren’t comfortable with more traditional ideas and models of Christianity.

Tim Ghali also stated that Rob Bell still matters to him:

Community is not determined by your current attendance record but by identification and participation. Rob Bell may not be part of your local church community, but it’s safe to say he’s part of the Church. And he still is accountable but there are different levels and forms of accountability.  From what I can see, the chatter out there from the week is at the very least evidence from those who are trying to hold him accountable and Tony is right, in this case, the readers (as well as the publisher/book sales) will hold accountable to a certain degree.

Tripp Fuller mused about various big-name leaders supporting gays:

Bell is the most interesting to me because he took a stand AND continued to embrace his evangelical identity.  At some point the evangelical community is going to have to permit some diversity around this issue and not continue to excommunicate the messenger. Ask former evangelicals stuck in a Mainline situation because of a justice issue like this and many still wish they could go home.

Bo Sanders argues with David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw (differently than I argued with them):

Actually – I can’t think of a single example of Jesus discerning communally.  and then it hit me:

Jesus is an unaccountable Cowboy without a community. 

He never listened to anyone else – he always knew the right answer and was unwavering in his confident conviction.
He never went and humbly sought advice.
He never had someone change his mind in the midst of a conversation.
He is the consummate winner – the rogue hero – the wild-man philosopher bucking the system – forging his own way on the frontier of faith..

This is a terrible development! 

Not only does Holsclaw’s thesis not hold water … Jesus is actually the example of the exact thing that Holsclaw is trying to move away from!

Deb Arca interviewed Rob for Patheos:

I am a big fan of the church and I will always be. When people are gathered together and they find each other and find God, and they gather around the bread and wine, and they try to talk people out of killing themselves and build micro-finance banks and help single moms pay their rent . . . it’s just a beautiful thing. There’s nothing like the church when it’s humming on all cylinders. It’s amazing.

Doug Pagitt interviewed Fitch and Holsclaw on his radio show. He had them on to talk about their book, but they started out by talking about Bell. And, if you ask me, they only confused matters more by chastising Bell for making a public statement about sexuality, when their book has a whole chapter on sexuality.

It seems that most conservative evangelicals are ignoring Rob’s book, loathe to make the same mistake that Justin Taylor and John Piper did when they brought massive attention and sales to Love Wins. But if you want a taste of what they’re all thinking, read the totally predictable post by Asbury Seminary president Timothy Tennent:

Bell finally answers the question which his book title raises when he says, “so when we talk about God, we’re talking about our brushes with the spirit, our awareness of the reverence humming within us…” (p. 91).  This could just as easily be said by a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Sufi Muslim.  What makes Bell’s answer a distinctively Christian statement?   Is Christianity just one of many options on a global religious smorgasbord, or has something uniquely occurred in Jesus Christ?  For the Christian, truth doesn’t just rise up within us, it is revealed to us by God in his Word and, supremely, in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One who suffered on the cross for us and is now the living, ascended Lord.  Bell seems to be willing to trade the priceless pearl of the gospel for a mess of pluralist porridge.  He is clearly uncomfortable with the exclusivity of the Christian claims.  Bell has chosen to find his spirituality in a Jesus of his own imagination.  Indeed, Bell would not insist on any particular outward forms or divine conceptions as long as one gets in touch with their own “humming spirituality.”

If you’ve run across other reflections on Rob, his new book, and his recent affirmation of gay marriage, please post them in the comments.

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  • I’ve run across my own posts lately here, here and here. 🙂

  • Ken

    Tony refers to Tennent’s statement on Bell’s book as “totally predictable.” However, being familiar with Tennent’s background in missiology and Hinduism, as well as his Mainline connections, I find Tennent’s response thoughtful. Perhaps it is Tony’s knee jerk negative response against an evangelical scholar that’s “totally predictable.”

    • Ken, I could be accused of that. I know nothing of Tennent or his background — just that it’s another example of an evangelical in a powerful position dismissing Rob Bell for not understanding the Bible correctly.

    • It is predicable in that many people think they know what Bell is going to say without giving him a fair hearing – Tennent’s accusation seems to be that Bell has no christology. But Bell says on page 13, “What I experienced, over a long period of time, was a gradual awakening to new perspectives on God-specifically the God Jesus talked about.” It is clear that Bell gets his view that God is for us, with us, and ahead of us from the Bible, and specifically from of Jesus.

  • Hindus, Buddhists, and Sufi Muslims have every right to say that they feel reverence humming within them. Jesus should not be thrown up as a checkpoint on the path to God. I believe in Jesus as Lord, but I also believe that God reaches into each and every person. That’s a mystery that unites rather than divides.

  • Steve H

    I just finished reading Rob’s new book, and found it fascinating, helpful, and provocative. Tennent’s review is actually better than the excerpt above, but still doesn’t ring true. Rob’s passion to communicate with contemporary, thoughtful people is vital. He gets the questions right, and he certainly doesn’t leave the “teaching of the apostles” behind. I can’t wait to have conversations about this book, but not with fellow evangelicals who seem to me to more and more out of touch with those they say they are trying to win.

  • Kenton

    Mmmm…. Pluralist Porridge…

  • Kenton

    ARGH! They took out my “Homer Simpson Voice” tags!

  • Tim Suttle
  • Who is this Rob Bell? Just kidding. I enjoy a lot of Rob Bell’s thought provoking questions. I did more in college, but now, in my older (late 20’s) I prefer being told what to think 🙂
    In all truth though, I do appreciate what he (Rob Bell) brings to the table. I remember back in College reading your ‘famous’ book Post Modern Youth Ministry and was scratching my head about you as well. When all we get is snapshot of people, we end up getting a soundbyte theology that we are screaming crucify over to many people from Mark Driscoll, to Piper, to Bell, to Origin…to oh wait yea!

    I had this thought this morning of where our American Christianity would fit into the story of God’s story in the Old Testament. I feel like we try to play the part of both Israelite following God and the part of the Babylonian handing out punishment for unfaithfulness.

    I’m thankful for voices like Rob, even when I don’t agree it helps me better understand what I do believe and challenges me to articulate with Faith instead of Fear why I believe the way I do and to articulate with Love the mandate to still strive to stay as one with brothers and sisters.

  • Amy Dailey
    • Phil Miller

      That guy can’t even comprehend what’s going in a short promo video… Bell isn’t talking about the Bible when he uses the Oldsmobile illustration. He’s talking about a certain type of Evangelicalism.

      I suppose if a person really believe their version of Christianity is the Biblical version, than it’s short jump for them to believe that a criticism of their version is a criticism of the Bible. Sigh…

  • Read the book. Loved the book. As usual people see what they want to see in Rob Bell’s writing. I saw a reverent, awe filled book about the God who created all things and is so for all people that Jesus came “not to condemn the world but to save it”.

  • Having read the book, I’m frustrated that people continue to say that Rob doesn’t use footnotes. They’re right – but he includes a ton of endnotes and suggested reading at the end of the book… which addresses what frustrates most people about his lack of footnotes.

    When people talk about the footnote issue, I just assume they were too lazy to finish the book. Is that a bad read? Maybe. But it sure seems that someone who read the whole book would have checked out the endnotes before suggesting that Rob isn’t showing his math.

    • Phil Miller

      I was told there would be no math…

  • Chris

    “Jesus is an unaccountable Cowboy without a community.
    He never listened to anyone else – he always knew the right answer and was unwavering in his confident conviction.
    He never went and humbly sought advice.
    He never had someone change his mind in the midst of a conversation.
    He is the consummate winner – the rogue hero – the wild-man philosopher bucking the system – forging his own way on the frontier of faith..”

    Kinda sounds like he was playing God, or had inside knowledge.

    Wait a minute…

    • Jim Fisher

      This is all good stuff, and I agree with Chris, but this one statement bugs me: “He never had someone change his mind in the midst of a conversation.”

      See also the Syrophoenician woman pericope in both Mark and Matthew.

      … but I digress. Not trying to hijack this thread, Tony. Haven’t read the book yet, but it’s nearing the top of the pile.

  • Hey thanks for including my post in the roundup – not all of us evangelicals are ignoring or looking past Bell.

    In my corner of the northeast, it’s clear to me that Rob has a pulse on what people are saying/thinking and many appreciate the words he offers to help tease out their thoughts. Does this mean he’s right on everything, does this mean we all have to come to the same conclusion – no that’s ridiculous. But this, among other reasons, is why he matters – he helps the conversation, including the ones being had by us evangelicals/post-evangelicals.

  • Jesus’ statement, “love thy enemies,” while totally shocking and new at the time He said it, could nowadays be called, “totally predictable.”

    I find Mr. Tennet’s statement to be informed by Scripture, thoughtful,and right on point. Just because it may dismiss Mr. Bell’s position doesn’t mean it hasn’t done so properly– and I might add, with “zing” (“…mess of pluralist porridge”)!
    Maybe compassion should temper our dismissal of this dangerous new “understanding” of “post-evangelical” Christianity– but argue against it we must– if we seek to know Jesus more and more.
    It may be brave to bring up challenges to a generation’s understanding of Christianity, but let’s not praise the Balaams of our era. Better we’d be the Ass that saves the errant prophet, than to “love” him into the sword of the awaiting angel…

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