Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 1

I still like Rob Bell. In fact, I might actually like him more now than when he was Mr. Nooma (and I liked many of them). I know he’s been dismissed by many of us admirers and his critics are satisfied knowing that he’s no longer in a pulpit. I presume that there is a good number of people (many of them sincere-hearted) that took the infamous John Piper tweet as prophetic. But he also keeps predicting the Twins will win the World Series. Anyway, all of this has allowed me to appreciate Bell for several reasons, among them is that he’s allowed himself to be vulnerable. That is a quality we need to reclaim as believers.

There is a lot of speculation of why Rob really left. I tend to think it has more to do with him wanting to do something different and between the Love Wins controversy, the security from having written a few best-selling books and that California is a more desirable place to live than Michigan, I could easily see why moving on made more sense then. However, I am bummed that Shane Hipps is no longer at Mars Hill but I am sure that Kent Dobson will do an amazing job and I trust they are all prayerful people seeking the Lord’s will.

Preaching from a pulpit or not, Rob Bell is still an important figure in evangelical (or post-evangelical Christianity). There is no doubt that he has been among the greater evangelical influences of the last 7 years – especially among X’ers and Millennials. Frankly, I think when he resurfaces, he’ll be even more influential (and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he gets back to preaching again – with all those Nooma royalties, couldn’t he buy back the Crystal Cathedral and make it look cool with some vintage stained glass or something? Just sayin’ ).

These were among the thoughts going through my mind after hearing him speak at Christ Church, Greenwich, CT earlier this month as part of their “Conversations on Courage and Faith” series. I want to begin with the gentlemen who introduced Rob who said, “We wanted to find someone who is an awakener, not just a teacher” and “He graciously “interrogates my assumptions.” Now some people would argue his use of “graciously” and if recent history is an indicator, they would not argue graciously but I like how the gentlemen put it.

Rob began by saying, “A story can do something to you. My hope is you find your story” (If you have heard Rob speak before, you know he begins his sentences quickly and concludes them with a slow motion style for emphasis. It gets to you after a while but it’s great for note-taking).

He began with this story:
“Yeshua, a Middle-Eastern warrior, sees a man with a sword drawn and asks, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ That is the question then …. and …. noooww.

Then he jumped scenes by telling us in the Midrash, Moses takes off his sandals because the ground has always been holy as opposed to suddenly becoming holy.

“Are we asking the wrong questions?”


“Is part of the problem that we are still asking, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ But perhaps the more interesting question is ‘Are you experiencing the divine in the holy spaces?'” In case anyone missed it, he revealed here that the story of Yeshua is actually the story of Joshua encountering the angel in Joshua 5 right before the battle of Jericho.

He went on for a good bit on discovering the divine while realizing that we are already standing on sacred ground and encouraged his audience to awaken to the idea that God is present and here.

He finished off this meditation and then started a really long Q & A time. I’ll admit, initially I thought he hopped on the plane and said to himself, “I’ll redo some of my sacred/ground stuff then take some questions” but it was helpful to remember that the night was called “Conversations on Faith and Courage.”

People were ready to ask the questions and as that beautiful cross-shaped sanctuary settled into the moment some great questions were asked. Among them was the woman who asked, “But Rob, how do we stay present in this scared space?”
Here is a very abbreviated and paraphrased answer, “It’s a muscle – we need to keep focus – ask God to slow me down …”

He wrapped up by discussing courage. In my opinion, this was the highlight of the night for me.

“Risk always needs courage.” At first I thought he was talking about himself but his next words were, “The resurrection story is that death is not the last word – takes courage to believe. The story of the cross is ‘trust me.'”

He did eventually segue into his personal experience though.
“The worst thing happened, did and I’m still here, i’m ok and I have joy … My experience of courage comes from being beaten up.”

And in a slightly different context and during an exchange with someone inquiring about suffering he said, “I’ve heard it said that religion is for people who believe in hell, spirituality is for people who’ve been there.” See Rob does believe in it. He finished that part by quoting Dallas Willard, “Prayer is talking to God about the things that matter most – Speak it, let it out, release.”

I think I saw a different Rob Bell that night. Yeah, some of us gathered joked that he wasn’t wearing black or cool eyewear but what we really noticed was a healthy sounding soul who was experiencing the beauty of healing. No jabs at anybody but not ignoring all of the hype that followed him these past couple of years either. I didn’t detect any real image management, no clarifications were offered, “What I was really trying to say that I think my critics missed…”

None of that. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea for the sake of continuing needed conversation but not for the sake of damage control. I appreciated that and the fact that he came without anything really to sell or promote. No speaking tour, no upcoming book plug (he does have one coming out in 2013 though) – It seems he simply accepted a speaking invitation. While I think all those things are good – the simplicity of this was refreshing.

I left thinking about holy ground that we are all standing on. I left thinking about courage. And I left thinking that Rob’s better days are still ahead of him (more thoughts on that soon). May better days be ahead for all of us – our family and friends, our inspirations, our critics, all those who trying to experience the sacred space of Jesus.


  1. Debispragetti says:

    Isn’t he from Cali originally?

    I know I like RoBell for the same reason I like Don Miller, they are asking questions and presenting varying view points for discussion and process, not as the final end all, be all answer, but to discuss. Which resonates with my generation as we are asking and questioning and discussing. We have been given so many final be all end all answers that are contradictory that we will not easily accept them.
    Sure theres hype because RoBell presented thoughts we don’t easily swallow much less wrestle with, which may have been a brilliant career move on his part, though it transitioned him to this new place. I’m with you, come what may I still appreciates his thoughts and the way that he seems to expect those that listen to or read him to be thinking individuals.

    Also, I love that quote about hell being something religious people believe in and spiritual people have lived through. I guess thats why I’m spiritual and dislike the religion.

  2. He only went to seminary there in CA (Fuller).

    Right, that’s why I like those types too. I’d add Rachel Held Evans to your list if you haven’t checked her out yet (and there are many other bloggers that fit here too). If you aren’t already reading her blog, I think you’d love it.

    I read a book a few years ago called “On Religion” by Jack Caputo. It really reframed and saved my understanding of the term “religion.” (To crudely paraphrase he saw it as religion as a form of practical worship – how we orient our lives but these are semantics I guess).

    Hope all is well – catch you soon.

  3. Well done, Tim. It’s apparent that not all who know Rob have left grace and mercy behind. I hope his best days are ahead. But even more I pray that whatever God is trying to teach him (or us) doesn’t get swept under the rug. First hand, I know what it means to shake God off when He’s trying to get our attention.

  4. Thanks Jeff – appreciate you commenting.
    That’s a good prayer – Amen to that.


  1. […] in in the direction I was on and perhaps catch up on those thoughts later. If you get a chance, read Part 1 of this but in short, a few weeks ago I saw Rob Bell speak at Christ Church in Greenwich, CT as […]

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