Reflecting On Rob Bell’s Comments – Post 2 – The Pastoral Response to the “The Ship Has Sailed”

The previous post focused on whether or not Rob Bell still matters. Contrasting the different reactions of whom I respected, I concluded that Rob Bell still does matter to me and if his popularity/ability to create buzz and controversy, he does to many others as well. That said, he doesn’t need to matter to you.

Some have been asking me what I think of Rob’s comments. For most it’s the innocent ‘what do you think about this’? But for some, it’s another evangelical loyalty test. If you’re reading this, I know you, don’t act like it isn’t. ;) (said with love). Who are my loyalties to – Rob (i.e. the face of trendy spirituality that appeals to the masses) or to the Scriptures (the God-breathed, infallible Word of God that knows no equal …!)? (said with sarcasm).

A false dichotomy if there ever was one.

Well, I have failed and passed the loyalty tests throughout my ministry and I don’t see this changing. I have heard crazy stories, been a part of a few too. I am concerned with “getting in trouble” and some days, I’m just as concerned with the day of looking back on my life regretting that I didn’t get into more. May my words/actions always honor the Father, be Christ-like and Spirt-led but this is where I find myself.

So what about Rob’s comments? Well first consider his context now – He is a progressive coming out of the evangelical sub-culture and this is an interesting dilemma for him. If he comes across as too conservative, some will say he has weary from his Love Wins bashing and is hoping to get back into the fold. And of course if he plays the cards he’s playing, it’s the “We told you so. We told you he was wolf/heretic/apostate/(insert hurtful word of choice here).”

So partially given the position he is in, I can’t say I’m surprised that Rob has come out as a supporter of same-sex marriage but I’m not exactly sure on what he really means by what he really said. As I mentioned previously, “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.” So let’s be careful we hear what he’s saying and be wise and mindful of our own. (Really, let’s actually do that).

I have paused on the “ship has sailed” line. Could that be the reason he really changed his mind? It’s just difficult for me to conclude that the guy who doesn’t use footnotes could point to a precise point in his thought process. The reference to the culture is obvious but he doesn’t actually finish the sentence (in a Q&A mind you as opposed to a written statement) so how can I come to any conclusion that has any integrity? Further, no one, and I mean no one, in the evangelical world is suggesting the boat has not sailed. We’re wondering what to do about it.

Well, I don’t know anything about shipbuilding, naval engineering or oceanography. But if the ship is being used as the allegory for the “culture” which in this case seemed to imply “the people” – well, I do care about people. I’m a pastor, people are an essential aspect of my job description. So what are we going to do about “the people”?

Get another boat and go after them. Maybe it’s a paddle boat, maybe it’s a raft, or maybe it actually is this sea-worthy vessel that we’ve been reimagining/building this last decade. I don’t know, these metaphors tend to break down but pursuing others in the love of Jesus seems obvious to me. Now we don’t pursue to fight, or to proselytize, or to debate, or to warn, no, none of that. The sad reality of all those statistics of people who are disenfranchised by the church comes from these “strategies” and practices.

Which reminds me of what Jesus did when he faced a morality test.

Do you remember the scene with the woman caught in adultery and the Pharisees and various teachers try to trap Jesus and bring her out to him and asking, “The law of Moses says we must stone her, what do you say?”

And I love Jesus’ answer, “Well, that’s a great question fellas. Listen in no way do I endorse this sort of adulterous behavior. And I want to be on record here and explain that I am very much against any forms of sexual expression outside the covenant of marriage as the Father has instituted from creation. Further in a few decades, my buddy Paul, is going to say, “Love your spouse the way I am loving the Church and clearly this case is in violation of that.”

You remember this scene right?

I mention it not to justify anything in terms of sexual practice but it has always served me as a valuable reminder of love, judgment and mercy in such necessary moments. Back to the disenfranchised people on the ship. Many of them are hurting and needing to hear the we love them, God loves them, and yes, the Church as in the community of Christian believers love them. This love includes kindness, generosity, respect, reconciliation, a commitment to grow closer and a desire to serve the other – you know – love. There are no exceptions. The gay community is not an exception, nor are the fundamentalists/liberals/conservative/post-something/etc. No exceptions.

A short while ago a couple approached me regarding getting married but their situation is quite complicated, very untraditional, very repentant and perhaps a bit unrepentant , I’m sure by asking the right questions, I can get them to profess what I want to hear. But is that what inspired me to accept the call into pastoral ministry? I believe so much is situational, I believe in context, I believe in patterns, I believe in policy, and I believe in exceptions. Which I hope makes me a humble believer of prayer. Which is very needed for a pastor.

Our seminaries, pastoral resources and clergy conferences would serve us well to constantly tell us, “Remember, you can really mess up someone’s life if you’re not extremely careful.” We have been faithful with many but we have also not been careful with many and if this is what Rob Bell means when he says “the ship has passed,” well, I’m not going to argue.

It would be convenient to conclude this post by saying, “While you argue about the issues, some of us will help the wounded …”. Well in the pastorate, that’s only a half-true. It’s been my observation that some pastors/thinkers/ministry types know too much doctrine and too little mercy and while some others are committed to a particular hope but risk ignoring certain ramifications. Perhaps more on that another time.

But as a pastor/citizen/child of God my heart aims to broken for the broken-hearted. This very much includes the gay community. I want to avoid the risk of objectifying anyone but I care very much for all those who have identified themselves as part of the gay community and have trusted me with their thoughts and feelings. This has shaped my ministry.

As a pastor, I’m praying that God will use me to lead others to trust Jesus and live in submission to the Lord – every conversation has its own context but for lack of a better summary, that’s my “agenda.” And for those who disagree or pursue a different phrasing/ideology/life for whatever reason, grace and peace to them, for God is gracious in giving us all free will, how can I insist otherwise. In the meantime, may we live in peace, conversation and serve the common good.

Fellow brothers and sisters, particularly fellow pastors, the Church does not get stronger if we get rid of Rob Bell. The Church does not get stronger if there is no such thing as the gay agenda, gay marriage or gay people. The Church gets stronger by loving Christ and loving the other – I really believe this. The Church finds its vision by searching the Scriptures and allowing the Spirit to truly lead. It gets stronger as we pray for those who hate us, forgive those whom have hurt us and seeks reconciliation with whom we have hurt. Christian discipleship grows in this context, community deepens, and our theology becomes stronger.

I know I’m preaching here but the Church is not failing because of the attacks from the culture, it is struggling because of the issues from within. We can be apathetic, we can be careless, we can be greedy and prideful and even hateful, simply put – we are not Christ-like enough. I know because these are my sins – and maybe others can relate.

We talk a lot about the culture war but let us not buy into the notion that we can build God’s kingdom and simultaneously fight in it. We can fight evil, we can fight the evil people do, but the Christian objective is to separate people from the evil, to be filled with saving grace as we have been forgiven and redeemed through Christ. Holy Week seems like an appropriate to reflect on such things.

“The ship has sailed”, yes, now how will we respond?

For a little more context, please see the previous post

And here are 2 more reflecting on seeing Rob Bell this past fall:
Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 1

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



  1. I like the grace and love that exists in this post. I think in a post-Christendom world, the Church must abandon culture wars and work to be “on the ground” with those who are hurt and disenfranchised. Good post.

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