I Heart Rob Bell

I have a theological crush (not to be confused with an intellectual crush or a garden variety crush) on Rob Bell. If you haven’t heard of him, start here or here but be sure to listen to one of his sermons here. (“Both sides of the cup” is particularly good.)

I like listening to him because:

(1) He manages to successfully negotiate both Greek roots and real, personal application of scriptures in sermons that are faithful to the scriptures. He’s faithful to both the original context (and subtext) of the texts that he uses but also builds a bridge to what the text can (and should) mean today.

(2) He might be hip and funny, but he’s not guilty of some of the nonsense that I’ve seen in other celebrity Christians: there’s no Christianity Lite (think Veggietales) or bizarre but popular perversions (think Prosperity Gospellers). He preaches about everything from sexual purity to gossip to care for the poor. He’s the real deal of biblical theology–no watering down, no pandering to postmodern culture.

(3) He manages to do what I think may be the single hardest feat for a gospel teacher: to convince the audience to want to mprove without making them feel that their efforts are futile. We’re probably all familiar with what it looks like when a teacher misses this mark and the audience either feels like irredeemable scum for being the only person in the room who would even think of yelling at her children or the audience is left thinking that, hey, we’re all only human and so of course we’re going to yell at the kids. But all of Bell’s sermons that I have listened to have made clear that he knew that there were people listening who were struggling with everything from addiction to despair to, well, you name it, but that all of them could and would improve their lives if they chose to follow Christ.

(4) He is also really good at emphasizing both personal morality and social justice; my impression is that many brands of Christianity over-emphasize one at the expense of the other.

(5) His sermons always make me want to be more Christlike and do a better job of following Christ.

I do have one concern about Rob Bell; a concern best expressed, perhaps, in an episode of King of the Hill that I have not personally technically seen but which my husband (upon whom I have much more than a crush) described to me in loving detail. Apparently Bobby had become enamored of a “skateboarding ministry.” Hank Hill pulled out a box of toys that Bobby had outgrown and expressed his concern that Jesus would end up in that box once skateboarding became passe. There will come a time when Rob Bell will fit in the cultural box of so-last-week instead of hipster. I suppose there is a risk that that will result in young people turning away from God. But I think it more likely that a new figure who meets whatever constitutes hip (or whatever they’ll call it) in 2030 will be up to the job of filling Bell’s trendy shoes. Till then, you might want to listen to some of his sermons.

NB: There is no Mormon angle to this post.

11 comments for “I Heart Rob Bell

  1. Ray
    December 10, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Julie, one of the best things I did during my years of driving the rural roads of OH and WV was to listen to the religious broadcasts that were the only alternative to farm-related futures. I regularly had to turn off the radio when the hellfire and damnation preacher started to rant, especially when it turned explicitly anti-Mormon, but I also heard some fabulous sermons from slightly different perspectives than I had considered previously.

  2. Bob
    December 11, 2007 at 12:22 am

    I love Reverend Jake

  3. Sideshow
    December 11, 2007 at 3:13 am

    Of course there’s a Mormon angle: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Thanks for the good report!

  4. gomez
    December 11, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Julie, have you read Velvet Elvis? If so, what did you think?

  5. Julie M. Smith
    December 11, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Gomez, I haven’t read Velvet Elvis. I did read Sex God and I wasn’t too impressed; there are a few memorable stories in that book, but I think Bell is better suited to the 20-30 minute format than a sustained narrative.

  6. David Clark
    December 11, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I think there are several Mormon angles here.

    Whatever brings people to Christ is a good thing (Moroni 7). However like you said, Bell may become passe or one may outgrow his presentation style. Then you are left with a choice, do you move on and continue growing in Christ or do you stop because what you really liked was Rob Bell (2 Ne. 26:29)? The former is obviously better. Wittgenstein used the ladder metaphor for this, once you have used a ladder to get to a higher place the proper thing to do is to leave the ladder behind and move on. Too many people like to stick around the ladder, it’s comfortable, but pretty pointless if you are not moving on.

    Another way it can relate to Mormon culture is with the question, “Could a Rob Bell thrive in Mormon culture?” Unfortunately I think the answer is a big NO! (The tripe that the EFY speakers throw to the youth doesn’t count for obvious reasons). Is this good or bad? Can the situation be improved? I’ll be honest with three young kids church has become pure torture because not only do my wife and I have to control them, 99% of the time 100% of sacrament meeting is pure boredom. If someone like Rob Bell was preaching it would make church much more palatable.

  7. Mark IV
    December 11, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I heart anybody who manages to work King of the Hill into a post on a Mormon blog. I think that is the same episode where Bobby connects with some sort of hip-hop Christianity, and volunteers to say the blessing before dinner. He gives a shoutout to The Man Upstairs and goes on and on until Hank finally interrupts him and tells him to just bless the food already.

    Julie, have you ever listened to Ravi Zacharias? If so, what is your opinion?

  8. porter Rockwell
    December 11, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I am mixed on Bell, I showed one of his videos to my Teacher\’s Quorum one Mutual, they were impressed, but we were talking about his style, not his doctrine.

    I guess he is OK, and may get some interested in Christ who may otherwise have not interest, but his doctrine is largely flawed, so it is hard to get behind.

    I guess I am conflicted on it.

  9. Craig
    December 16, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Porter, I can’t find any example of where Rob Bell’s doctrine is flawed. Every claim of a flaw that I have investigated turned out to be the critic’s lack of awareness of the actual words in the Bible and/or lack of understanding of the early Christian culture from which those words were produced.

    Have you considered the possibility that it might be your understanding of doctrine that is flawed?

  10. December 16, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Hey, I\’d recommend checking out Velvet Elvis. It sounds like it\’s right up your ally as far as what you like about Rob Bell. I\’ve also read SexGod, but I didn\’t find it as good for some reason. Velvet Elvis weaves in a lot more of what Judaism was like and all sorts of stuff into the scriptures. Check it out.


  11. Mark
    December 16, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    If you like to watch video check out the streaming video links from the willow creek church website.

    You can find the links at solarcrash dot com/2006/11/17/rob-bell-resources/

    scroll halfway down the page and start clicking where it says:

    These videos below are all from Willow, links courtesy of Yuling

    The Nazarite Vow
    Between the Trees
    We’re over here
    Jesus and Domitian
    A Day of Atonement
    Covered in the Dust of the Rabbi

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