If you’re unfamiliar with him, Rob Bell is the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Christian world. A preacher, teacher, writer, and speaker of obvious and abundant gifts that elicits secret admiration and haughty public scorning from many of his peers. Rob Bell is Exhibit A, I think, that pastors are not immune from and may be especially susceptible to infections of jealousy.
“I could write that book” I’ve heard many opine, like an ignoramus at an art museum, about Rob Bell’s writing.
Having just written a book and knowing the sheer amount of work it requires, I can reply: “No, you couldn’t. Or, you would’ve.”
“Rob Bell left the Church for Oprah. He traded the Gospel for self-help” is another complaint I hear lobbed against him. It’s especially curious to me that, having made ministry in the evangelical church all but impossible, evangelicals now blame him for finding gainful work outside of the Church.
Google Rob Bell interview and you’ll find no shortage of what I think could be characterized as nothing but “gotcha” interviews- hostile, loaded questions, which assume Rob Bell is a heretic or charlatan, that expect him to justify and explain himself.
A few weeks ago my friends and colleagues at the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast managed to snag Rob Bell for an interview. We went back and forth over as many weeks, brainstorming the sorts of questions we wanted to ask Rob. Quickly, we decided we didn’t want to do another interview like so many of the ones we found in YouTube. We didn’t want to put him on the defensive, prove our own orthodoxy by casting aspersions onto his own, or justify ourselves and our faithfulness by critiquing his supposed infidelity. That’s not to say I’ve not been critical of Bell. I think his book on Hell, Love Wins, would’ve been better received had he cited the ancient Church Fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa, from whom he ripped off many of his points. I also think his interpretation of the cross (“death is a natural part of life”) is a profound misreading of scripture that inflicts deep wounds onto any coherent ontology of peace. Nonetheless, knowing Rob Bell would be our guest on the podcast made me realize how too often the Christian community does not treat people with whom it disagrees as guests. The hospitality that seemed an obvious obligation for hosts of a podcast is no less the hospitality demanded of our every interaction and relationship.
Rob Bell- our how the Christian community has treated him- reminds us, has reminded me at least, that too often Christians are so obsessed in getting our message right we neglect to consider whether our mode in any coheres with our message.
In other words, this new practice of podcasting and interviewing strangers as guests has, to my surprise, turned out to be a kind of spiritual discipline.
Alright, enough of me.
Here’s the first installment of the Crackers & Grape Juice interview with Rob Bell. Be on the lookout for the second part of it later in the week, as well as a special bonus episode. And be on the lookout for future episodes. We’ve already got enough interviews lined up to take us into the new year.
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