(I was going to name this series “What We Talk About When We Talk About What Rob Bell Talks About,” but it was much longer (and much more meta) of a title than I could handle.)
Pt 1: Introduction
Without a doubt, Rob Bell is one of the most intriguing figures AND one of the most gifted communicators to come out of the fresh voices in Evangelicalism in the aughts, a group that includes Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler and the other young restless reformed types, Mark Driscoll, etc.
After several years of prodigious production–the Nooma videos, Velvet Elvis, etc., Bell took a series of apparent sidesteps in the late aughts, away from the megachurch he founded, away from the Midwest, to California and a career as a “spiritual teacher” more akin to Dr. Phil than Rick Warren, etc.
Bell’s strengths are many.
First, Bell is an extraordinarily gifted communicator. If you accept that what he is doing is “preaching,” he may be one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard.
If you want to judge Bell’s preaching, check out the five sermons on Lamentations he podcasted several weeks ago; here’s a link to the first one. Admittedly I haven’t heard many sermons on Lamentations, but I’m not “damning him with faint praise” if I say that these are the best sermons on Lamentations I’ve ever heard. They’re some of the best sermons on the Old Testament that I’ve ever heard, period. This is really good, relevant, biblical (see my analysis below), therapeutic stuff.
Second, Bell’s productivity is staggering. He releases new material in a torrent. We’re talking about two or three (or occasionally FIVE) podcasts per week. Sometimes the podcasts are vaguely spiritual interviews with entertainment figures or self-help authors. Other times, they’re exegetical studies of Old Testament passages, or Hebrew word studies (he REALLY digs Hebrew).
Bell is constantly producing and refining new material, following the work patterns that a standup comic or essayist might follow. Which means: he is writing new stuff EVERY DAY. He is appearing in front of small, low pressure audiences regularly (multiple times per month) (e.g., his residency at LA’s Largo) to work out and develop the new things he’s writing, just like the best comedians develop their new material.
Third, he appears to be incredibly likable. He’s warm and gentle and self-deprecating. He is infectiously enthusiastic about EVERYTHING, about EVERYBODY he meets. He genuinely LOVES talking to people about their books, their ideas, their stories, their lives.
If I had to pick between spending an afternoon with Rob Bell or an afternoon with just about any other current Christian figure, I’d choose to spend the afternoon with Bell.
But is he biblical?
That’s the question. In short: it depends on how you define “biblical”. …