I’ve been aware of Rob Bell for years, and I remain deeply impressed with him and his work. His work is thought-provoking, inviting, and inclusive. So this whole post is basically needs to be apologized for from the get-go. (Sorry, Rob.)
My first introduction to Rob Bell (wikipedia) was his work on the short film series NOOMA, which is poetic, biblically grounded, and moving. The NOOMA videos are short films which feature Rob speaking extemporaneously about certain topics relevant to the gospel. The ones that I’ve seen (I haven’t seen them all) make questions really come alive. “We live between the trees in a world drenched in God,” he says in one of the episodes. That line has stayed with me for many years.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Rob’s podcast, the RobCast, and again, I am deeply impressed with his work. The series on forgiveness is some of the finest theology I’ve heard in ages. Rob goes through what forgiveness is not, and then goes through what it is, and why you may need to forgive someone, because you don’t want to hold onto the toxicity or the harm that they’ve done to you anymore. The five-part series covers many instances where forgiveness may be difficult, but it is a process through which you become free.
Rob’s work on Politics and Guns, and how our politics shapes our communal life together, again, is just fantastic work. In this series, he talks about politics and how our desires for how we live our lives together is what shapes our politics. He goes into how his father’s work as a judge helped shape his views of justice, and the political system. The podcast about his father is really personal, and introspective. His message is one of hope.
Rob Bell was one of the founders of Mars Hill, which is an evangelical megachurch, (attendance on Sundays in the thousands!) and they kicked him out when his views became too liberal and inclusive.
Here’s the thing: when ministers get to his level of fame / effectiveness / renown, one of several things usually happens. Well, one of two things. Everything keeps going along fine… or there is a sex and drugs scandal.
While he totally presents as a regular guy, he just seems too good.
Rob has a wife; he has kids. In one of the podcasts, he talks about the family dog dying, and it was so sad. He is friends with Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton and Oprah Winfrey and Liz Gilbert! He is an extraordinary human being. He just seems too good… Like he’s going to turn EVIL WITH AN EVIL LAUGH by the end of the movie.
In my lifetime, there have been too many pastors in the Christian faith who, by their own standards or anyone else’s, simply flat out FAILED at their integrity, let alone the gospel. Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, and Jimmy Swaggart are prime examples, each with their own epic fall from grace. I should say, epic, televised, made-for-tv-movie fall from grace. Let us also mention the too-numerous-to-name-them-all-here Catholic priests who sexually abused children, and the bishops who protected them.
One could argue, and effectively, that God picks imperfect people to preach the gospel. Sure, yeah. I gotcha. Nobody’s perfect. There’s a great movie about this called The Apostle, with Robert Duvall. What a great film. Ministers, and people in general, should avoid meth and hookers. That’s all I’m saying, really.
All of this to say, I am apprehensive of Rob Bell’s goodness. I don’t want to other shoe to drop, but I am afraid that it will. I really really (really really) don’t want him to have a fall from grace, because his message is so good, and so life-giving to me. His views on Jesus and scripture and inclusion are all good messages to me, and to a broken world.
This sad blog post is such a poor repayment of his good work and good messages, and I feel awful about feeling this way. The tension is ongoing:
- Can he be a beacon of a life lived in integrity and the gospel ministry?
- Can he be a public religious figure and not eventually turn to meth and hookers?
I really hope so, because he’s one of the good ones.
Rob, if you’re out there, please. I’m sorry for this whole post. I’d much prefer that you be a Cylon agent than someone who has sex with hookers. Just don’t do that. Or meth. But if you do, remember your message of love and redemption for all.
Thanks friends. I’m so sorry my brain works this way, but I’ve been hurt before and I don’t want to get hurt again.