What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell

I don't know Rob Bell. But I'd like to thank him for his work. Thank you for writing books that I like to read. But thank you even more for writing books that my 15 year old son likes to read and that we can talk about afterwards.

I first heard about Rob Bell in 2006 when he appeared in a series of Nooma films. I arranged to show a series of these short, postmodern films about God at San Francisco Friends Meeting after reading about how Gregg Koskela had shown one at Newberg Friends Church.

Velvet ElvisThe first one of his books that I read was Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. It's a reminder of all the different ways people have been Christians and how there can be more than one way to follow Jesus just like there is more than one way to paint a picture of Elvis. (Just re-reading pieces of it while writing this blogpost was inspiring all over again.)

Our copy of SexGod: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality has about the most boring cover you could imagine. But it is a beautiful work of thinking and writing on the inside. I hope my sons will read this one too. (For those of you who worry about these things coming from an Evangelical Christian, as far as I can remember, it doesn't talk about same gender relationships. Neither condemning nor affirming. It is clearly heteronormative but fairly progressive about male-female roles in heterosexual relationships. If you can translate from that to your own situation, you might like it.)

Drops Like Stars HardcoverSomebody gave us a copy of Drops Like Stars, about creativity and suffering. It's beautiful, but I didn't really get it. But eventually, I figured out that it wasn't written for me. Me who likes to read all the words, the writer, the know-it-all, the girl-who-always-raises-her-hand-in-class. It is designed for people who think like visual artists. You know who you are.
What We Talk About When We Talk About God
All of this came up because Chris brought home Bell's latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Chris read it, then I read it, then our 15 year old son read it while in meeting for worship the other week. [For more on teens reading in worship: part 1 and part 2] Bell asks why we still talk about God and how we have to be/get to be open to new ways of talking about God and deal with the both/and nature of much of the discussion. Then Bell explains that he thinks that God is with us, for us and ahead of us, and then why this all matters in this day and age. Right on, brother.

I don't actually agree with everything that Bell writes, but pretty close. And I find his books to be a very engaging and inspiring conversation partner and conversation starter. I asked my son if he thought other young Friends would be interested in reading and discussing it and his eyes got big and he said Yes. So let me encourage other Friends to bring this to the attention of any youth group or any mid-week study group - it's a fine way to get into the discussion about what we actually know or believe about God.

Love Wins HardcoverAs usual, my timing is off regarding big moments in the blogosphere. I finally read Bell's 2011 book
Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. This caused a huge controversy a couple of years ago in Evangelical circles but I didn't actually read it until I checked it out of the library last week. (I was a little busy in 2011, and did not have the bandwidth to argue much about theology just then.) It has a lot in common with If Grace is True and If God is Love by Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland. Bell just issued a new version, Love Wins for Teens which I don't quite understand because I think the original is pretty accessible for teens, but maybe the new pink cover will appeal to a different demographic?

So the last thing I want to write about is the rockstar pastor phenomenon. Rob Bell has been one of the biggest of this millenium. Best selling author, 10,000 member church at some point, one of Time's 100 most influential people in 2011, New Yorker profile in 2012. But he left that to move to California, write, surf and maybe make a tv show. I have to hope that he now has more time for his family.

I am grateful that Bell writes about his doubts about being a pastor, a Christian, a worthy human being. And I am happy for him that he was able to take a break, to step away from the push to do more, bigger, faster.

But I wonder about the rockstar Quakers I have known, who have charisma and depth, who aren't actually rockstar famous. Is that a good thing? Or not? This topic is probably another blogpost in itself, but I will just put it out there for you to think about.

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Blogger randyvo said...

Thanks, Robin, for this posting. I enjoy Rob Bell's writing and have always found his Noomas to be brilliant little expositions on genuine faith. One thing that intrigues me about Bell is his Christian Universalism with a caveat; he believes everyone will have countless opportunities to enter the Kin-dom of God (aka "Heaven"), but allows for the possibility that some MAY resist this for all eternity. It's an interesting theory; I would posit perhaps the reason "eternity" is forever - given the time it may take for every soul to come to repentance. Certainly heavenly food for thought!

9/05/2013 3:16 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

You're welcome, randyvo. I loved the Nooma films. I think I would love to lead a weekend workshop that was all watching them and talking about them. Maybe someday.

9/05/2013 8:43 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...


I want to add two things. One is that I've had the chance to talk to Quakers, both teens and adults about what we talk about when we talk about God and I have found Rob Bell's writing incredibly helpful in that conversation.

Second is that in Bell's new book, "The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage", co-written with his wife Kristen Bell, they are clear that marriage can and should be inclusive. "Marriage--gay and straight--is a gift to the world because the world needs more--not less--love, fidelity, commitment, devotion, and sacrifice."

7/21/2015 4:53 PM  

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