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


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 [Read more…]

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 [Read more…]

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 [Read more…]

My Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

I received a review copy of Francis Chan’s new book Erasing Hell: What God Really Says About Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David Cook Publishing and agreed to post my thoughts this week. I am not required to post a positive review, all of these thoughts are my honest reactions.

Who is Francis Chan? Just about one of the better evangelical speakers around. He has a fantastic presence, possess excellent communication skills, and is “likable”. He has a casual, “say it as it is” style, yet uses a lot of passion, and is Biblically informed. From the back of his book: “Francis is a pastor, international speaker, and church planter, is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. Chan is also on the board of World Impact and Children’s Hunger Fund.”

Why the Book? As you probably know, there has been a lot of interest surrounding heaven, hell, and the afterlife since Rob Bell released Love Wins. A plethora of books are being released on the subject and among all of them, I was interested in reading Chan’s thoughts. As you can see from the previous paragraph, I appreciate him and as a result, know that this post is not objective (as if one actually could be completely objective). I’m sure most of these books are not being written mainly out of a motive for profit but I’ve been wrong before. If you know Chan’s story, you’ll know that money is not a motivating factor for him which draws me more to the book and given the attention surrounding these types of books, I feel this should be said.

What I Liked
– He and his friend Preston Sprinkle (who has a Phd in New Testament studies and is a professor at Eternity Bible College) spent as much attention has possible focusing on the Biblical texts that talk about the afterlife.

– As alluded to earlier, because of who Chan is, I was excited to read how he would respond to Bell. Though I didn’t always appreciate what Chan was saying, I did like how he was saying it. And I find that to be very important if we really are interested in conversation.

– The tone of the book is very pastoral. I’m a sucker for this and I know I keep saying it but there are good number of pastors who know how to address an audience. I think Chan does as excellent of a job as anyone.

– This is an excellent book for small group study and expect that it will sell numerous copies for this reason alone and I’m sure there will be a group study questionnaire guide released by the time I finish this post.

– Really liked Chapter 2 “Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?” (not really the title but the content was solid) and loved Chapter 5 entitled, “What Does This Have to Do with Me?” Seriously, the best chapter in the book and reminds of why I appreciate Chan. I’d even say that chapter saved the book for me.

– Liked his treatment of “gehenna”. I did always believe that Jesus is referring to a garbage dump and I’m yet not convinced that he’s not. However, between Chan and Scot McKnight’s post on the subject, I do need to give it’s due attention.

– I expected Chan to lay off certain difficult thoughts (like in Chapter 6 but he took everything head on). Not sure if he gave it the space needed but it’s an excellent summary that points to God’s sovereignty and man’s need for humility.

– Chan’s wrestling with certain difficulties (but I quietly wished he would have shared more).

– the bibliography (though I wished he would have used NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope a bit more)

What I Wasn’t Crazy About

– As much as I like Chan, I really didn’t like the title or subtitle (didn’t really care for the video either). I know many times the author doesn’t decide on that and I get what they’re trying to say but I feel it’s poorly titled. I also find the subtitle to be pretentious. Does anyone really know what God says about eternity? Let he who is without sin lift up his perfect hermeneutics.

– Not sure of the first chapter on universalism was the place to begin though it was well-written. After my second reading, I thought chapters 1 and 2 should have been flipped. That said, I think Bell would agree with what Chan is saying and respond with, “Right that’s why I’m not a universalist either.”

– I felt that Chan wasn’t really responding to Bell but instead merely recentering the classic evangelical teaching of eternity. He just happens to say it better than most because of his exceptional communication skills but I think discerning readers will be a disappointed that they already know much of this content (though it’s well organized). Consequently, if you are coming to this conversation late, I suggest you read Erasing Hell first, then read Love Wins. Because even though Chan references passages in LW, Bell is responding what Chan is articulating. Anyone else see this?

– While I didn’t want Chan to go blow for blow with Bell (like the way DeYoung did in his .pdf), I was expecting a little more engagement since it was marketed as a response. I would be very interested in seeing what was edited out :) Perhaps, I should say, it’s a good book, but not an excellent response.

– I feel there is room to speculate on the afterlife when you offer the disclaimer that you are speculating. Thus, I wished that Chan would have shared his imagination a bit more. That is what’s so powerful of the first third of Bell’s LW.

With all sincerity, I did enjoy reading Erasing Hell and I expect it to be the better among the “Response to Bell” books that are being released.
And though the content is much thicker than LW, it’s still reader-friendly. My advice is wherever you start read Surprised By Hope by NT Wright , Love Wins and Erasing Hell if you really are interested in the subject.

Poets, Prophets, & Preachers Conference – “The Original Guerilla Theater” – Rob Bell #ppp09 – Post 1

The Original Guerilla Theater – from the brochure – “Throwing ourselves into this ancient sacred art form with the absurd, naïve, antiquated belief that the world needs inspiring, proactive, comforting, dangerous healing, great sermons now more than ever.”

Here are some of the notes I took and my interpretation of what I think I was said. They made subtle point that they didn’t want open laptops or phones on during the sessions.  So no twittering.  Similar to the Q Conference, I understand that they want you to be here and be conscious of those who are gathered with you.   I’ll respect it but when I put on my own conference, “Posers, Players, and Punks”, I’ll let whoever do whatever they want.  Anyway, they say that they will release video of this one day but in the meantime you’ll have to deal with my subjectivity until you’re able to have your own:

Rob came out and gave one of the best introductions that I think could be given when talking about preaching sermons to today’s culture. He first started by telling a hilarious story of one of his first sermons. I can’t take the time to retell it but it made me feel better.

“Why do we do this to ourselves?”

As the world gets more “tweeterized” and we continue to go to virtual church, etc. The idea of actual people going to an actual place with the other actual people to hear an actual person in actual real time … the sermon will be more important. It will matter that we were there.

If you were to ask the average person on the average street and you asked them what do you think of when you hear the word “sermon”, what would they say? Would they say stimulating, intelligent, provocative, life-changing, …?

The average person sees the sermon today as something to be endured. It raises the question, “When is lunch?”

For some it is to be evaluated, “Did you like it?”, “Did they do a good job?” As the preacher, you want to interrupt one of these conversations and say, “How did you do?”

Imagine Marin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech and afterwards people saying, “Did you like it?” “Yeah but he went a little long and I heard some of those stories before.”

To some it’s pure propaganda. It serves to tell people what they already know, and assure them that their way is the only way. It has no exploration, no discovery, no movement. Sometimes it exists for a building project. The sermon isn’t about that directly but everybody in the entire place knows what it’s about. Some non-Christians are particularly sensitive to this while many long time Christians cannot detect it.

Sometimes after a sermon you feel:

“Have you heard anything I said?” The scary thing is when you understand that a family/person who has been in your church for years has not understood some basic re-occurring themes you’ve been stressed over and over.

“Crickets” vs. “That was the most amazing thing I have ever heard”
There are some days you can’t wait to give this message, it’s your best stuff, it will blow people away. It’s like a grenade and you’re going to pull the pin and drop it in there and watch …. But no one responds or if they do, the response is a bored negativity (not even offended by the boldness of it). Then there are days when you don’t got it. It’s been one of those weeks, and you crawl into the pulpit with this pathetic sermon that you duct-taped wings to and people come back and say, “That was amazing!!!” and now you feel even worse.

“That sermon sounded like the old _____” “Can’t we go back to _______”
If you listen to the Mars Hill podcasts this is something that Rob has tried to subtly and at at times not so subtly correct. For years, he’s heard this, “That sounded like the old Rob” Can’t we do Leviticus again (and feel that way again)?” You can’t go back to the person you were because we are all becoming something different.

The picture to the right is a quote of collected words of advice to every pastor. It was something like – “The preacher should be honest and transparent.  He should use the Bible but not too much but it should be practical and it should be funny too but not too funny because you’re a pastor not a comedian but you should tell lots of stories but not too many because that gets old too.  You should use personal illustrations like about your family but try to be creepy about it, and you should admit your faults but not too many because that’s depressing but you really should be open and honest …”

He used some biblical illustrations like Ezekiel 4

The preacher and his sermon have a bit of:
Performance Art – We can’t deny that this is an element of our preaching.
Guerilla Theater – you come on the platform, give your message, then you’re gone, and people are like, “Wow, what just happened? Where did he go?”
Actions that Evoke – Sometimes unintended actions are evoked.
Just like Ezekiel

Acts 4 – “They were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus”

We are witnesses

We sometimes give the reminder that this isn’t what God has in mind

Mark 1:15

Is 52
Sometimes the sermon is a sub-story – there’s another story.

Luke 4 – they try to kill Jesus. At least most of our congregations have tried that.

Sermons have:
Loaded Language

Acts 17 – a missed response comes your way. Some people are skeptical, some are moved.

“And God said …”
“Words create new worlds”
Words need to be given flesh …
Rob believes that they have a power – “Talks start talks”
Many are conditioned in thinking that the preacher has the last word, maybe it’s just the first word.

Thoughts – Rob Bell comes out in his standard uniform, black on black, cool glasses and shoes that say, “Why do people only talk about my glasses; my shoes are cool too.” He’s sorta like a Johnny Cash meets an older Michael Cera, except Rob is actually funny. He’s brilliant too. I actually think Rob understands the way I feel. His assistants that do all this research for him are amazing.  Like am I really expected to believe that he understands the preacher hang-over?  He quotes my inner monologues like, “Have you heard anything I said?” and quotes listeners, “Did you like it? Yeah, he’s getting better. He’s kinda funny but he talks too fast some times so let’s go to Panera Bread and cut off every driver from here to there.”

Seriously, I think why so many connect with him is because he is a great communicator and he is in touch with how people feel.  And I suspect part of the reason is that he is in touch with how he actually feels.  it seemed to me that everyone in the room was feeling very similar things.  It was a solid first session and I am looking forward to more.