A New (Old) God, Quantum Physics, and Riding the Big Waves: Breakfast with Rob Bell

So I think people are facing the fact that we find God in lots of places, though there are unique distinctives of a local church that can be extraordinarily powerful—somebody being baptized is always awesome; Eucharist is incredible; a group of people singing together with great passion and life. . . The problem isn't church, the problem is bad church. When people do connect with a community, they realize it's so important, it's so huge. At the same time, we find church in all kinds of places.

Has being away from serving as a leader at a megachurch changed how you think about Christianity?

Absolutely! My entire life up until I moved to California, I worked in megachurches. When you're a pastor, you tell your people, "Hey, it's not about this gathering, it's about all of our lives every day." So you are saying with great clarity and conviction that this is not about this hour on Sunday, it's about all of life. But, large churches, well, all churches, have an inherent need for self-preservation, and so I think I was always sort of pushing the walls farther and farther out—like, this is a gathering where we remind you that all of life is holy. And then you leave and what you've always known, you know even more. You find life and vitality in God and even more places.

And there's a lot of nonsense that goes on in churches that I am much more aware of, when you just say, "Okay, that's just ridiculous." Seriously, it's absurd and someone needs to say it. When you are a part of it, and you're leading an actual local church and you want to be honoring and respecting and all that, you perhaps aren't as free to be like "Okay, listen..."

I once went to a meeting about meetings—literally. Because in large churches there are all these different staff levels, so there was this one group of staff people and they were like "should we make this group bigger, because if we do it bigger then everybody can participate" so there was a meeting about who should be coming to the main meetings. Later I was like "Oh my word, I went to a meeting about meetings." So then I went to the lead pastor of Mars Hill, the church I was at, who was organizing and leading all the staff people, and I said "Dude, was that seriously a meeting about meetings?" And all of a sudden it hit me like a bolt of lightning—I am now having a meeting about the meeting, about meetings. We have now stacked layers of insanity upon each other!


So you don't miss the church too much right now?

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.

In a few sentences—like the two-minute elevator speech, if you will—who's the God you're talking about in your new book?

I'm talking about the God who is with us, that is the singular life force of all vitality and dynamic life that we're surrounded by every day in a thousand different ways. So I'm talking about your sense in a piece of music and holding a newborn in a sunset and a great meal—that sense that life is somehow plugged into something, that it's humming, that there's depth to it. The Hebrews called this ruach. So I believe in a God who is with us, right here, right now, and we are waking up to this God and the holiness and the sacred nature of all of life. And I believe this God's for us, so this God is for human flourishing and that this God comes among us as Jesus so that we might thrive in our full humanity. And I believe this God's actually ahead of us, pulling us all, this divine pull into a greater future than we could ever imagine.

Beautiful. You said last night that these "new" ways of talking about God are actually quite old. What do you mean by that?

Yeah, that's the really compelling thing about the Christian tradition to me, which comes out of the Jewish tradition. So you have the mystics and you have the environmentalists and you have systematic theology—I mean, there is this great stream of thought and reflection and meditation and insight, and often times what we're doing is simply discovering something that got left behind along the way that needs to be re-captured. So there's a certain sort of humility with faith that, no matter how fresh it may appear, its roots will usually be somewhere back there, we just lost them somewhere along the way.

You take a seriously deep dive into quantum theory in your book, and thankfully, I must say, in a very accessible way that actually made it exciting for me! Why is Quantum Theory so important to your understanding of who God is?

12/2/2022 9:10:31 PM
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  • Deborah Arca
    About Deborah Arca
    Deborah Arca is the former Director of Content at Patheos. Prior to joining Patheos, Deborah managed the Programs in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, including the Program's renowned spiritual direction program and the nationally-renowned Lilly-funded Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music and theatre programs for children and teens, and a music minister. Deborah belongs to a progressive United Church of Christ church in Englewood, CO.
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