It is unusually cold and stormy here today. So, I walked on the treadmill and watched Rob Bell’s latest re-telling of the story of humanity. Well worth watching. To my colleagues who scoff at Bell, I dare you to watch this and not come away with several sermon ideas!!! To those of you who love Rob Bell, you’ll love this. If you’ve never heard of Rob Bell, “where’ve you been?” Enjoy!!! If you know where I can get my hands on a whiteboard like his, hook me up!
While Rob Bell’s theology only begins to pierce the dogmas that continue to plague Christianity, he does have the common touch necessary to provoke and encourage Christians to begin to question what they have long been taught about the nature of reality. If you’ve been questioning dogma for some time, you will find a kindred spirit in Bell even as you wish he’d move a little farther and deeper into his vision of what Christianity might have to offer in this new century. But his latest book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” is worth considering as a gift to someone you might know who is just beginning to open themselves to the possibilities of a new way of exploring and articulating Christianity. In the videos below, Bell’s common touch is demonstrated as Oprah gives him ample opportunities to demonstrate his deftness at expressing Christianity in ways that encourage viewers to re-think what they thought they knew about Christianity.
For me the heart of this conversation is expressed by Rob Bell: “The word ‘evangelical’ means ‘good news’ right? Yea, so we’re all about good news, right? So whatever else that word means, I would hope that we are all people of good news. So, if that word refers to a tribal group deeply aligned with an industrial military complex and the furthering of an empire that has on occasion stormed through the world a little more briskly than we would like, tied into a political party that has an agenda often run by multi-national corporations, I’m not interested. But if its referring to an open tomb and hope for everybody, I’m in. “
“So, you either walk away from the word, and say I don’t want anything to do with that, or the word ‘radical’ has its root in the word radix which is a Latin word that means root. The radical is the person who goes back to the roots. So, you either walk away from it or you grab it and say, ‘No, this is what it means.’ And you just hold on tightly. Secondly, I’m interested in anybody who has fresh word about Jesus: Lutherans or Methodists or Anglicans or Evangelicals, or Catholics, or Jedi. If you have fresh insight into Jesus, that’s what I’m interested in. So, when people say that doesn’t line up with Lutheran doctrine, I couldn’t care less. Is that a fresh word about Jesus?”
“I actually think that what you are realizing right now is that some of these tribal systems are falling apart because all of a sudden I’m having fish tacos with Richard Rohr and Peter Rollins shows up and its just an absolute potluck of Jesusness. I think what’s tipping now is people are going, ‘You’re interested in following Jesus and I’m interested in follow Jesus and that trumps whatever institution we get our pay-cheque from.”
Video recorded in April 2013 at the Seattle School of Theology. The interviewer lacks depth, but if you fast forward to the Q & A (28min mark) the students questions provide Bell with an opportunity to delve a little deeper.
In the twenty-first century, all too many of the conversations about God are simply beyond the Church. By that I mean, talking about God to people who are outside of the Church is simply beyond the Church’s demonstrated abilities. The faithful remnant who scurry about within Christianity may talk about talking to people who have left the church, or people who have rejected the church, or even to people who have never darkened the door of a church. But when push comes to shove, very few of us are capable of engaging in serious conversation with those who live their lives beyond the Church. Rob Bell’s newly released book: “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” may not be a deep theological endeavour. It may not offer much that is new or insightful. But it does have a place in the conversations that don’t seem to be happening between church-goers and those who live beyond the Church. Indeed, Bell’s book might enable those of us who talk about talking to those outside the walls of the Church to actually begin a conversation with someone who does not share our beliefs.
In my experience of speaking to those who have rejected Christianity and the Church, I have discovered that the God and the religion that so many people have walked away from the Church over, is not the God or the religion that Christianity, at its best, actually proclaims. Bell’s book articulates a Christianity that is closer to the faith most church-goers actually embrace.
Following the success and controversy surrounding his book “Love Wins”, Bell has the notoriety to generate the kind of interest that leaves the average church professional drooling in an “if only I could generate that much interest” kind of way. So there will be plenty of “tut, tuts” coming from those who will insist that it’s not a serious academic work. But don’t let their jealousy of Bell’s appeal fool you. Bell has matured some. He’s been talking to scientists and he’s been influenced by academics and he has made an attempt to talk about God in ways that the unchurched as well as the churched will find engaging. Bell’s also been talking to Peter Rollins (Irish philosopher and theologian) whose work appears to have had a refreshing influence on Bell. Indeed, Bell has chosen a title that could be considered a positive restatement of Rollins’ first book title “How (not) to Speak of God”.
Whether your a fan of Bell’s work or not, it’s difficult not to concede that Bell has mastered the art of communicating in this social media world in which we live. “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” provides an effective tool that will enable many of us to engage in conversations beyond Church. I’ve already purchased several copies and can’t wait to engage in a conversation or two with folks who are ready to engage in talk about God. Bell has given us the gift of a place from which to begin to engage in some serious God-talk.
Below you will find a promotional video created to promote the book, that will wet your appetite for the second video in which Bell lecture at Vanderbilt addresses some of what you will find in the book. Enjoy and after you read the book, use it to begin a conversation beyond Church.
Promotional Video for “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”