Why Rob Bell Still Matters to Me – In Response to @jonestony @evancurry @fitchest

Like many, I too have been thinking about Rob Bell’s comments throughout the week. I’ve been asked about them almost every day. I’ve just listened to the interview and been catching up on the numerous blog chatter out there. These are the tricky posts because they cover on a number of topics, like “Gay Marriage,” “What the Bible says about Homosexuality,” “The Church’s posture toward the gay community” – these are all different questions … and answers. Then there are underlying topics going on like recent responses to the comments, critiques to the critiques, accountability and so forth.

So to recap of the current controversy: While promoting his new book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob made these comments in a q&a at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

“I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs to — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are…” Please consider listening to the audio for a fuller picture.

Then in my corner of post-evangelicalism, I saw that David Fitch posted these comments on his Facebook:

Fitch FB Bell comments

Tony Jones, responded with a post entitled, “Why Rob Bell Still Matters” and among his points said “Rob is accountable to his readers.”

My good friend Evan posted here and said although he has appreciated so much about Rob, he’s siding with Fitch on this.

Well, for those of you get into personal context – know that I care about all these guys – I love David Fitch (whom I barely know but have enjoyed his writing and have bumped into from time to time) and I love Evan Curry (who I know very well and he would not hesitate in giving me a kidney if I asked) and I love Tony Jones (who has always been kind and gracious to me and to reciprocate, if he wants Evan’s kidney – let me know).

This is among my favorite parts of social media – that we can have access to so many different voices who have different cultural values but also different personal values to us. Honestly in some ways, Evan’s thoughts matter more to me than Rob Bell’s. All these guys matter to me because I’ve allowed them to be voices into my life.

That said, if Dave and Evan are annoyed with Rob Bell, that’s cool, he doesn’t have to matter to them but Tony is right – Rob Bell still “matters” in the cultural landscape. What makes someone matter culturally? Their influence, their ideas resonate and become accessible and transferable, at the very least, their ability to create conversation (which again, is what I appreciate most of Bell and my favorite part of the Love Wins fiasco). The fact that we are talking about him is evidence that he does matter and check out Tony’s post on some more about Rob’s unique gifting.

Part of Fitch’s post (and others) point out Rob is not affiliated with a church anymore since he’s not serving in the pastorate and no one knows if/where he’s worshipping. I believe in the importance of community but affiliation the way it was described there doesn’t work for me.  Are we saying if Rob Bell joins a local church again or signs up for a small group that he can speak/publish again?  That sounds like an odd technicality  especially from us Protestants.  Whose to say their denomination/affiliation/network/tradition is any more legitimate for another?

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.

I think what else bugs me is this “Who holds him accountable?” question that’s been circulating feels a lot like “Who can we contact to get him in trouble because he has stepped out of line?” or “To whom do go to tell on him?” As part of the generation who is suspicious of “organized religion” I like there are people who are working outside the system. As one who is employed by the system, I hope to bring redemption/reformation to it.

Now, I think it’s fair to question motives, I think it’s another to actually conclude. But what I like about these outliers like Rob Bell is that right or wrong, I believe he is saying what he really believes and feels. Or he’s just saying it to sell more books? Whoops, well, I have come to no actual conclusions but it’s fair to ask.

Seriously though, Rob Bell still matters … at least to me he does.
Tomorrow I’ll post a little on the actual comments and what I’m doing with them.

Your thoughts, push backs and sharing these posts are always welcomed but I’m curious –  Does Rob Bell still matter to you?  If yes, on what level?  If no, why?  Keep it classy :)

Comments

  1. Tony Jones says:

    A) I agree, Tim.

    B) When and where can I pick up Evan’s kidney?

  2. Evan said he’d make it easy for us and we could meet him at Bethlehem Baptist. Wait a minute …

    Hey thanks for reading and keep doing what you’re doing – grace and peace to you.

  3. “I think what else bugs me is this “Who holds him accountable?” question that’s been circulating feels a lot like “Who can we contact to get him in trouble because he has stepped out of line?” or “To whom do go to tell on him?” ”

    I like this point about people’s motivations for saying these things. It feels like often people use this ‘Let’s hand it over to the authorities!’ mindset to either avoid having to address the validity of their own opinions, or engage someone else’s. How much does it really matter if someone is “held accountable” for their personal opinions, in any case. Interesting questions…

  4. I need both kidneys currently, but, to say the least, I would give up one to keep Tim, Tony, or even Rob Bell alive (don’t hold me to this :)).

    I don’t mean to suggest Rob doesn’t matter. I have greater concerns. However I will keep that for the blog war you’ve started. :)

    Tim, let it be said that if you say something stupid I will report it in an email to your head pastor with my resume attached.

  5. Dave Paisley says:

    Hmm, this whole, “Let’s hand him over to he authorities”, has a familiar ring to it…

    How appropriate that we’re almost in Holy Week.

  6. @Grace, thanks for your reading, been a while since we talked about important matters – hope all is well.
    I still think accountability matters, not for the sake of control however, but for a stronger Christian community and to live a fuller Christ-like life with the message and virtues our faith proclaims.
    Hope to keep seeing you around.

  7. Evan, lol, concerning that last line, you likely won’t have to wait long then.
    Appreciate the banter and your friendship.

  8. Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by and pardon my reply.

    Yes, now that you mention it, Holy Week is perfect for this line of thought – thanks for pointing it out.

  9. Adam, thanks for reading and letting me know. Will check out your post now.

  10. Rob matters as long as he sells – and therefore influences others. However I have the different view about his leaving the church.

    The fact that he isn’t in a denomination, a willow association, a mega-church means that he doesn’t speak for any one group of Christians. It seems that diminishes both his immediate influence and broader impact. He loses the foundation those organizations can provide, which means, I believe, that he will fade out more quickly then those with an organization’s backing.

  11. Interesting take Dan – thanks for leaving your thoughts.

    So as a Protestant, it’s difficult for me to say who actually speaks for me. Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, all regarded as evangelical leaders, but none of them speak for me. They may represent evangelicalism to some and I identify with being an evangelical to some extent, but I don’t look to them to represent me.

    Further, there are people like Don Miller who have huge followings that are not “clergy” but seen as a leader in evangelical Protestants. They are looked upon for many things, including spiritual guidance. Platform is an interesting dynamic these days.

    It’s not to say that we are not accountable to one another – in Christ we are – but we don’t hold this type of institutional “leverage” over the other. So this is part of why we see such public demonstrations of rejection of people like Rob Bell and others. It’s the Protestant way of saying, “They are not our type of Protestant Evangelical, do not associate us with this individual.”

    Still, it will be interesting to see what happens with Rob in the future – I wish him the best.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ghali wrote “Why Rob Bell Still Matters to Me” in response to Tony’s post linked [...]

  2. [...] Tim Ghali also stated that Rob Bell still matters to him: [...]

  3. [...] previous post focused on whether or not Rob Bell still matters. Contrasting the different reactions of whom I [...]

  4. [...] was the first to respond to my post on Rob Bell’s comments on gay marriage in his post “Why Rob Bell Matters to Me.” In his post, Tim put Tony Jones and himself (?) on one side of the debate and David Fitch [...]

  5. [...] a Facebook post, David Fitch questions whether Rob Bell’s opinions are still relevant to the church at large, since he is no longer [...]

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