Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 2

When I wrote the previous post, I had not read the Rob Bell New Yorker piece nor did I realize the new book Rob Bell and a New American Christianity was already released. I’ll check those out soon but I’m continuing 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 part of their “Conversations on Courage and Faith” series (Gabe Lyons is speaking in January 12/13 – anyone want to meet up?)

As I made the drive back home, I couldn’t help but think of how it must feel to be Rob Bell in relation to the evangelical Church these days. It’s a question that I apply to just about everybody – women, LGBTQ, other faiths, agnostics/atheists/nones, etc. What’s especially interesting about Rob is that he’s really the only person I can think of that has been booted out of the inner circle of evangelicalism for theological considerations. There was no financial/sex scandal, he didn’t drop the F-Bomb at Catalyst, or commit the colossal mistake of making fun of Tim Keller. (The thought of my neo-reformed friends ripping off their vintage flannels and pulling out their Movember beards would be quite the sight).

If I had to summarize – I couldn’t help but feel compassionate towards Rob. People could say he was being reckless or naive or instigative, whatever, looking back I think he was mistreated by those who could have treated the other better. We are part of Christ’s Church, terms like unconditional, reconciliation, grace and mercy hold sacred meaning to us. I think we lost a bit of that in the very public and very fast-moving moment of Love Wins.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this, I thought it was interesting that he admitted to being “beaten up” as opposed to “being attacked.” It’s not only more masculine to only admit the latter but it appeals more to our American sensibilities. Though it’s true that America loves underdogs, we really only like them if they win – America hates a loser. There is honor in surviving an attack – some may even deem as heroic. We only like the Rocky story because he wins after being beaten up. Admitting to being beaten up without the public annihilation of your adversaries reveals vulnerability, that you bleed, that you were hurt, that you are human and worse, you still haven’t won anything. Admitting to such a thing takes confidence in knowing who you are, it takes courage … oh.

We should always appreciate those who have the courage to express themselves. Of course it requires wisdom and discernment to not over-share or unnecessarily divide and so forth but our evangelical culture tends to only reward the conservative, the answerer, and rarely the post-conservative/moderate/progressive or the questioner. There is so much I appreciate about evangelicalism, particularly the heart for the hurting and the outside, but it gets harder to see that when the “Rob Bells” are deemed as “heretical” and droves of people are leaving evangelicalism.

While I too had concerns with Love Wins, particularly the last third, I still think the after-life is a really important conversation in the Church – especially for those interested in Christianity from an outside or a fringe perspective. At the heart of this is who is in and who is out which is more than the after-life but also soteriology (the doctrines concerning salvation). If we were to zoom out, we’d see a pastor who wants more people in the Kingdom of God. I read Love Wins a few times and I’m not going to advocate that he expressed himself clearly or effectively but I’m still trying to figure out why the backlash was so severe, especially in light of all his previous sermons/messages/books/etc.

I feel the just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, messages out there are the “Health and Wealth” gospels and “Everything has a reason” clichés. One is a poor way of understanding goodness and blessing and the other is poor way of understanding evil. Similarly, I am becoming increasingly concerned with the complementarian ideas. What started off as a difference in conviction for me has become a serious alarm for some time now – especially in the practical application of how women are treated in the Church. To say the least, the “How does it feel to be treated by evangelicals” question and what we should really be directing our energies towards needs much more communal thought from those in the inside.

I know the term “evangelical” is a bit fuzzy and that it’s easier to describe oneself as a “missional” or “non-denominational” or “post-evangelical” but that’s generally insider language and not really helpful here in the Northeast. Tell a Catholic in New England that you are “missional Christian” and they’ll think to themselves, “You Protestants are so weird with all your ways of classifying yourselves.”

I have no plans of leaving evangelicalism, but I would like to be part of its reformation. To the outside world, we evangelicals seem to turn on each other way too easily and way too severely. We rightly consider honor-killings in the Middle-East as unimaginable and completely unethical. But isn’t their a particularly irony in labeling someone a heretic which is the equivalent of damning a person to hell for asking questions about hell, heaven and the afterlife? Has the expulsion of Rob Bell not been ecclesial honor-killing?

Couldn’t help but wonder that on my way home. Among my prayers is that we as evangelicals continue to proclaim the hope of Christ that honors the Father and is empowered by the Spirit, may our theology grow stronger as we search the Scriptures and may our community be known for being welcoming, reconciling, restorative and worthy of calling.

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