Posts Tagged ‘Rob Bell’

Some things are a laughing matter. Others are not.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

As a pastor, I want to note an interesting dynamic.  On the one hand is the failure of many Christian churches.  On the other is the failure of the culture.

The Christian church, including the New Church, has been failing for awhile.  Vibrant, engaged institutions seeking to serve simply do not witness the collapse in numbers that many churches are experiencing.  Rob Bell, in his most recent book “What We Talk About When We Talk Of God” phrased it this way…

As a pastor over the past 20 years, what I’ve seen over and over again is the people who want to live lives of meaning and peace and significance and joy – people who have a compelling sense that their spirituality is some vital yet mysterious way central to who they are – but who can’t find meaning in the dominant conceptions, perceptions, and understandings of God they’ve encountered.

Some churches in refusing to face this collapse and their responsibility in it have chosen suffocating literalism and retrenchment over dialogue.  Others have gone to the opposite extreme … a form of “health and wealth” Christianity whose giddy focus on “feel good” leaves one on a sugar high but unmoved at the level of the soul.  I am certainly guilty of both at different times in my career.

Culture – and that includes you, me, us – has likewise been failing.  Attending  a recent Justice conference filled with some of the brightest minds going in the Christian world of service, it was disheartening and eyeopening to hear the frustrations of these incredible leaders as they noted a drop of “long obedience in one direction” among those whom Eugene Cho called, “The most disappointed generation ever.”  Ouch!  These words were not spoken by curmudgeons intent on adding a grinding critique onto today’s culture but were offered by impassioned, knowledgeable, global leaders in topics such as sex trafficking and wage slavery.

A recent study published in the New York Times backs up these frustrations.  The study looked at language usage from 1500 to 2008, specifically over the last half century.  What specific words were used more?  What specific words less?


  1. More Frequent: Personalized, self, standout, unique, I come first, I can do it myself
  2. Less Frequent: Community, collective, tribe, share, united, band together, common good
  1. Overall, usage of the top 50 general words dealing with moral virtue fell 74%
  2. Bravery, fortitude – down 66%
  3. Thankfulness, appreciation – down 49%
  4. Modesty, humbleness – down 52%
  5. Kindness, helpfulness – down 56%

To restate our building blocks are now “Come and learn how to standout, how to find your unique self in this personalized program of self fulfillment!”   We can expect, “Join with us in a life of humility, kindness, and self sacrifice as we seek to serve the common good” to, on the other hand, fall flat.

That is not really so funny is it.  It shows we as a church have great work to do.  To do that work we ourselves need to take on the same tools we seek to give others … courage, gratitude, humility, kindness, and the common good.

Pope Francis, Rob Bell and hope for New Church Christianity

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

In the world of pastors, last week witnessed several fascinating events.

Pope Francis continued his obvious push as an advocate of lifestyle Christianity aligned to the needs to the poor.  Rob Bell, acclaimed author of “Love Wins”, in a well publicized interview preceding his most recent book, argued for Christianity to evolve largely along the same lines.  Fascinating. A Catholic.  An Evangelical.  Both calling for a radical reclaiming of a Christianity pulled back into its roots.   One could apply Richard Rohr’s words for the Pope to both actually …  ”this man is about lifestyle Christianity more than perpetual doctrinal food fights, which bear so little real fruit anyway.”

Listen to Rob Bell’s words as well. “I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told “we’re gonna change the thing” and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And I think that when you’re in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it’s very painful. You sort of die or you adapt. And if you adapt, it means you have to come face to face with some of the ways we’ve talked about God, which don’t actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people. And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.”

Re-read those words as a Catholic.  I know and work and with many Catholics.  Don’t they ring true for Catholicism as well?  Re-read those words as member of the New Church.  I at least get a ringing in my ears!

What was immensely refreshing to me was hearing commentators note the consistent murmur from the disaffected that they would be willing to give Catholicism “one more try” if Pope Francis’ vision of simplicity, humility and generosity holds true.  I imagine many lapsed Protestants feel the same on hearing Bell’s words.

Hope.  This is a message of the universal Church, a Christianity spread over denominational lines, tied by hearts in the mystery that is Christ’s loving kindness lived into this world.


Chocolate Covered Turds

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In the fall, Rob Bell’s workshop “Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts” struck home.  He spoke laughingly of how in the preaching professional it is often not the big stuff that gets to us but the relentless little stuff – the 1,000 paper cuts – that if left unattended accrue to the point of actually being life threatening.  He went on to speak of the frequency of comments sent his way in which the glossy coating of language appeared kind and supporting but on the inside – well – on  the inside was something less than positive.  His phrase -”A chocolate covered turd.”

We no doubt all receive those kinds of comments.  In the preaching profession they are couched in language often starting with the salutation “I loved your sermon but I was wondering …..”  From there the blank gets filled.  ”I was wondering …. why you wore jeans, why you wore those shoes, why you said “God” instead of “Lord”, why you prayed standing, why you were so ‘over the top.’   A friend deeply committed to equal voices in church for men and women wrote of a similar experience to the above when she was told by an individual concerned with the possibility of female pastorships that women’s gifts are far more “subtle” than a males.

The point here is not those comments are “wrong” per se.  They aren’t and hopefully by being spoken they lead to valuable conversations as assumptions are surfaced and challenged.  That being said, they do take their toll over time.

The worse toll may be a loss of focus – a lack of focus all around.

See Church is the best of all human inventions and the worse.  What other group calls us to put down our differences and celebrate a oneness, a connectedness, a centeredness and to do so with love and service in the forefront?  What other group calls us as well to picayune and petty critique?  Faith is God’s purview and yet when held in human hands it takes on human characteristics both blessed and broken.

The liberal heresy in the face of this fact is to often “pack up and go home” – to reject institutional religion out of hand.  In so doing, there is an assumption among some that while connection to God may well be positive, human institutions are fatally broken and best discarded and therefor undeserving of one’s time, talent, or treasure.  It is best then to only do “my own thing.”  On the other hand, the conservative herasy is the belief that the institutions are the be-all-and-end-all.  Therefore one owes an outsized commitment to their health and wellbeing as carriers of the Divine.  It is best then to only do “our own thing.”

The above frankly is one of the reasons why Jesus’ message is so disturbing.  It confronts both the liberal and conservative heresies.

No institution  - the liberal heresy?  That doesn’t appear to hold.  Christ’s call was clear in terms of gathering, preaching, teaching, and healing – of drawing communities together in the belief that in the gathering of community, of a church as it were, we find the best reflection of the Divine.

All institution – the conservative heresy?  That doesn’t appear to hold either.  Christ’s call was clear – especially to the Pharisees – make it all about the “law” and the institution and you will loose the spirit of God’s Word.

I loved the words one pastor offered on faith and the institutions that endeavor to promote it.  He said they represent a holiness that lies “just beyond our reach but that we feel we must remain inside” – making us “alien wanderers yet at home” who stand thrilled by the ideal and dismayed at the silliness.

So the closing thought is this – there is a better way and it ours to discover, together.  As a Pastor, I can field plenty of “chocolate covered turds” without gagging!  But what saddens is the observation of a wide spread inability to get off the dime, roll up our sleeves, and get at it.  Into that void pastors are called to offer disquieting speech.  There is something bigger, more important than our own opinionated hurts – mine or yours.  See there is a hard core – a heart – that we will never penetrate fully which is the heart of the Divine – something always just out of reach.  But that does not excuse us from the work.

Martin Luther King: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”  That is MLK’s way of reminding us of Jesus’ call to, as best we can, to be all in, each individually a church and each forming with others a church that is far more about the substance than the form.  Both liberals and conservatives – and myself – are at times apparently well practiced at “lukewarm acceptance” of that deepest call.

What Kind Of God Is That?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

The next 3 Sundays we look at “Love Wins.”  Imagine that love for God for other people “embrace within themselves everything that is true.” (Heaven and Hell)  The ultimate truth is love.  The ultimate discipline is learning how to be loving.  Join us!

“Love Wins”

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The changes in Christianity are immense.  Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins”, may just be as this author notes a “game changer.”  I love that idea because Bell’s concept so clearly resonates with many of the core concepts of New Church Christianity.  There is a bigger picture.  Change is occurring in the New Church and throughout Christianity.  It is a change to be embraced.

A Game Changer

May 04, 2011 by John M. Buchanan

When an attendee of Rob Bell’s congregation said that he was certain that Gandhi is in hell, Bell responded, “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?”

Some of Bell’s evangelical brothers and sisters are horrified by his wavering on the doctrine of hell, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theo logical Seminary, says Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is “theologically disastrous.” “When you adopt universalism . . . you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. . . . This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism.”

But Peter Marty, who writes about Bell in this issue, believes that Bell is on to something important—maybe even something game-changing. And as Bell himself says, “[I've] long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian. . . . Something new is in the air.”

Something new is happening. Denominations are struggling to discover new ways to be church. New partnerships are formed between different Christians who share a common sense of mission, and people of every faith are struggling to relate to people of other faiths in a world that has brought us into closer contact than ever before. Within Protestant Christianity, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are examples of leaders who graciously reach across the old conservative-liberal theological divide to make common cause with others concerned for a just society and an authentic, respectful evangelism.

It distresses me when people on my side of the divide are accused of arriving at our theological and ethical positions out of a desire to be politically correct instead of out of vigorous study of scripture and theology. It’s also a mistake to lump conservative evangelicals together and accuse them of narrowness and bigotry. I come to my positions on ordination and sexual orientation, reproductive choice, health care and relations with people of other faiths not in spite of scripture but because my study of scripture leads, nudges and prods me. Maybe both sides need to stop relying on generalizations and unkind accusations and give the other the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he or she takes scripture and biblical authority seriously.

Rob Bell is accused of universalism when he imagines Gandhi in heaven. Any of us is subject to the same kind of accusation whenever we suggest a little less certainty and judgmentalism about whom God finally favors and blesses. The point is that when some of us come to that new openness it is not because we ignore the Bible but because we are compelled by scripture’s certainty about God’s steadfast love, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ and St. Paul’s assurance that in Jesus Christ, God intends to reconcile all things.

When the great theologian Karl Barth was charged with being a universalist, he reportedly denied it, but then quoted 1 John: “Christ died for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” If you are worried about universalism, said Barth, “you had better begin worrying about the Bible.”