Rob Bell 2.0 (or Where Are the Artists?)

Essays, Featured — By on November 19, 2009 at 12:00 am

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Rob Bell#1#It’s been over a year since we last spoke to mega-church phenomenon Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Today, Burnside Writers Collective correspondent John Wofford talks about the completion of the popular Nooma teaching series, Bell’s reaction to recent developments in Maine, his vision of an American patriotism not rooted in war, how a rabbi affirmed his Christianity, and reclaiming the art of teaching.

BWC: It’s been a while since our last interview with you, and I’m inclined to say that what’s upcoming for you is a reinvention— “Rob Bell 2.0”. What new direction are you heading in? And what’s this I hear about Nooma being over?

Rob Bell: It’s sort of an endless evolution. I have a new series coming out next year—I can tell you that much. When you work within a particular format, each has its strengths but it also has its limitations. With Nooma, we made twenty-four. And then, you start musing on, “What if I do this? What if I try this? I’m bumping up against this element of it, so what happens if I remove that element?”

Obviously, being able to view [the videos] free online is a factor. When we started Nooma in 2001, we would make something that, six months later, came out in a store. And now, that just seems funny. Now, you make it, and then next week everybody’s got it.

I’m endlessly interested in content—how to make something shorter, denser, get to it faster. Film can sometimes get in the way of what you’re doing. With filmmaking, you can have these nice panoramic shots, and I love it: it’s great film, it’s great cinema. But there’s this thing you’re trying to say, and you’re always trying to get at it—the essence. Raw essence. Faster, better, stronger.

With Nooma, people said, “No one will watch these. No one will buy these.” You kind of have to see one, and then say, “Oh! I get it!” Hopefully, this [upcoming project] has the same sort of effect. I’m endlessly restless.

BWC: So I take it this new series will adapt to or embrace the file sharing age?

Bell: Yeah, one of the things we’re exploring is making a film and releasing it in such a way so that people could instantly send the link to their friends… how to make it as easy as possible so that everyone could watch the highest resolution quality, etc.

BWC: You’ve already explored the “high content, low word count” concept with your book Drops Like Stars, and it’s clearly a big concern to you at the moment. What inspired this “endless evolution” you’re referring to?

Bell: The first century rabbis were not praised for going on and on and on and on. Great rhetoric has never been about how many words one can fill the air with, it’s always been about how clean and uncluttered and lean an idea can be articulated. It’s always been the short, crisp parable that has infinite layers of meaning that knocks around your head for days. The idea that you have to go on and on to prove that you’re smart, it’s relatively new. Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.”

I was working on a new book this morning, and about whole sections I said, “There’s so much there that can go.”

BWC: Do you think the church as a whole is embracing a more streamlined approach to message delivery?

Bell: I don’t know if the future is in 17-minute worship services, but I think there is so much more clutter in the world: more advertising, just more. One of the ways you honor people’s time is that you get to what you’re saying quickly, and well. Maybe “quickly” isn’t even the word. Maybe just “well”—well intentioned, thoughtfully. Distilling an idea down to what it is, making its access easier.

And there’s this group of churches—thousands and thousands of churches—who are encouraging their members not to be consumed by our wealth and abundance but using it to help others in smart and innovative ways.

BWC: Turning an eye to social politics, how do you feel about news like that of Maine’s repealing of LGBT marriage rights? Granted, everyone’s got an opinion, and I’m not asking you to answer the “Is homosexuality a sin?” question. But in general, how do you feel we should respond to this news, and that of other minority groups? How should our faiths inform our behavior?

Bell: You can simply take a side, which a lot of churches do. If you’re a leader, you say, “This is where we stand” and if you’re part of it, just go along with it. The problem with that nice, neat view of reality is that in a church like Mars Hill, we have members across the full spectrum. So we have war protestors and we have parents of soldiers currently fighting in Iraq.

There are people who say, “Well, you need to talk to the half of the church that’s wrong, and get them right.” But then that’s where your energies go. That’s all you do. Convincing all those on one side to come over to the other. The next week, though, the issue will be something different. And you spend most energy on yourself.

What we say is, “What are the things that 10 years ago, this year, and 10 years from now that we could address?” For instance, we’ve been building a micro-finance bank in Burundi for those trying to get loans. We send accountants over to see if things are sharp, filmmakers to capture it and spread the word, and show others what our money is doing…what’s actually happening. We’re also working at a local school. There are about 150 kids being mentored, and the school is asking the church, “Please send more!” The goal is to have a mentor for each child.

We pour our energies into something together. “You and you are at odds on a certain issue? Could you work on THIS together?”

We talk about being aggressively non-partisan, while acknowledging that what we’re doing will have political edges. So if we talk about the environment, for instance, it’s not because we’ve been co-opted by a particular political party. It’s because this is something pretty close to God’s heart. We talk about widows and orphans. We talk about empowering people. It’s not because we’ve been co-opted by another side. It’s because it’s helpful.


bell_whiteboardBWC: Has there been unity in these disparate groups of people as they work on projects together?

Bell: It’s really interesting, actually. I was talking to this guy who—he’s a pilot, grew up, was in the Air Force. And he said to me the other day, “There’s a bunch of us that thought that when America is threatened you go to war and destroy your enemy. Over the past couple years, I’ve made all these friends at Mars Hill. And that sort of thinking isn’t working anymore. My faith doesn’t allow me to see things like I used to.”

To me, that’s quite beautiful. Sure, it’d be really easy to get 200 cool people in a basement somewhere—people who all “get it.” But when people start moving toward the center, toward each other, it’s cool. It’s beautiful.

Our interest is everybody, wherever they are, moving along. It means we might move a little slower, and it can be frustrating, but it’s great. We take that quite seriously. The center of Jesus’ teaching is “Love your enemies.” Making enemies isn’t interesting. Fear isn’t interesting.

Fear is great for fund-raising. It’s great to raise money on talk radio that way. Create an enemy and you’re set. But we’d prefer to have a meal with the enemies. That’s more interesting. We actually, truly believe that Jesus gives a compelling, stunning, provocative, inspiring vision of what life can be. We really trust that.

BWC: As someone in the process of converting to Reform Judaism, I love that emphasis on ethics over theological disputes.

Bell: My faith became vibrant, really turned a corner when I stumbled into the Jewish roots of my faith, when I found mitzvot, understood the feasts, Leviticus, “olam haba.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity about the holiness of Christianity, and that Christians took the God of Abraham to the world. There’s some line in there, which I probably massacred. But reading that, I thought, “Oh. It’s okay to be a Christian.” Because church history and all those things—Christian cable, for instance. It’s like, ugh.

But you know, it’s okay. Just own it. Own it. Everybody has their embarrassing relatives.

BWC: Speaking of relatives, you had a baby daughter earlier this year! There’s a cliché where folks talk about how having a new child changes everything. Are you feeling that way?

Bell: There’s definitely the realization that certain things, which I thought were important, aren’t anymore. Time flies, you’ve got to enjoy each moment. You’re just that much more aware. So whatever thing I’m supposed to rush off to, it can wait. It’s awesome. I was very, very busy when our kids were born. But now I’m chill.

BWC: Have you found your groove? Parent, husband, teacher, media figure…

Bell: Things are good. I just played soccer, which is why I look like this. I do it every Wednesday. This morning I wrote a book, while my daughter was lying on my arm. Took her for a walk with the dog. Made my boys breakfast this morning. Later today we’ll go to football. Next week, we’ll go on a tour. It’ll be Denver, Kansas City, Dallas. The family’s going to come on this one. And I’ll be at Mars Hill on Sunday. It’ll be a blast.

Next year will be the Art of the Sermon series. We filmed hours and hours of material for the release. Some of it seriously makes me laugh.

BWC: What inspired that program?

Bell: I absolutely love the art of sermons. I don’t know—it’s like an ancient form of guerrilla theater. Think of the prophets. Ezekiel cooks his food over human waste. Hosea marries a prostitute. This is like performance art; that’s what its roots are. And with Jesus, it’s the gestures, the movements, the nods, the euphemisms, and the turns of phrases. All those things he was doing? Classic Jewish rhetoric. Everything is connected to everything. The questions about a sermon: “Well, did you like it? How’d they do?” Think about after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” sermon. Would somebody say, “How’d he do?”

My interest is in reclaiming the sermon as a provocative, serious art form. Somewhere along the way, the scientists, who just dissect a passage on a cold table, hijacked it. All of the pathos and drama and blood and sweat and tears are squeezed out of it, because there are “three things you need to know!”

BWC: Three points and a poem, perhaps?


Bell: There’s no discovery, there’s no possibility, there’s no evolving, there’s no sense of “What’s next?”

The sermon is a wild, unrestrained sort of event. Part of my life’s work is reclaiming that. Where are the artists? The pastor’s peers are the spoken word poets, the stand-up comedians, the filmmakers, and the theater directors! That connection is what I’m interested in.

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  • aaron says:

    great interview, it left me wanting more!

  • Strong Odors says:

    thanks for sharing this.
    i love that guy.

  • Scott K says:

    If he has no right or wrong what does he use as a moral compass?

    • Larry Shallenberger says:


      Where did he say that he has no right or wrong in the interview? I’m not saying that I agree with everything he says, or even know all of his positions– but where do you get that he’s espousing amorality?

      Your question is akin to “have you stopped beating your wife?”

    • Mark says:

      Oh, I see… you read some where in that interview that he has “no right or wrong”. Where you abused as child…I mean in your religion. Did someone tell you it is about “right and wrong”, and then made you feel bad when you didn’t focus on those things?

      I believe that we have enough people that “tell” us what right and wrong is…it is refreshing that someone and a community of believers at Mars Hill…have chosen to say…let’s talk about love (I believe that word is in the Bible somewhere), hope (which I believe is the foundation of the Christian life), and grace (which is the foundation of the Christian faith).

  • Ryan Jones says:

    I can see why this guy has such a large following and I am glad.

  • Paul Fahey says:

    I feel like he just avoided the LGBT marriage question. As Christians we cannot go through life with a “I’m not going to take a side” stance. There are definitive, black and white, right and wrongs in this world. It is true that we need to focus on working together rather than focusing on our differences, but that does not mean we should sacrifice our morals for the sake of working together. Is LGBT marriage as pressing an issue as people dying by the millions all over the world? I do not think so. It is an issue that our country is focused on at this time and it needs to be dealt with so we can move on to saving the millions of innocent lives.

    • Ryan Jones says:

      I think the point he made regarding the issues he chooses to deal with in his own church could be well applied to our society. If we choose to focus our energy on getting everyone on the same page about the LGBT issue then, when that issue is resolved, there will be another relatively frivolous issue to distract us. Instead we can choose to prioritize our attention now on the matters that Christ calls us to attend to such as social, political, and economic justice for all human beings. I can easily see how one could view his answer as avoiding the issue, I think his point is that this is an issue worth avoiding.

    • John Wofford says:


      Why I can definitely see how you feel he decked the question, I again ask “Has anyone checked the news today?” I’m pretty sure it’s still as bad as it was yesterday. Homeless people. No healthcare for some. An outrageous crime level. Failing economic initiatives.

      While I’m not suggesting persons shouldn’t individually form conclusions based on their understanding of a construct derived from a marriage of the texts they hold as sacred in conjunction with their sociopolitical understanding of modernity, it seems like demanding too much of a leader such as Bell, who often functions as a catalyst for local social initiatives, to nuance his personal theology under the scrutiny of the masses so that we can all sleep better at night.

      In other words, current emergencies suggest that worrying about the personal theological aesthetic of a great social teacher on one issue alone is a waste of resources and concern.

      Please take no offense to my conclusions, but at the moment I don’t care what the official position of Mars Hill is concerning one field of study (namely, sexuality) when they’ve clearly made so much headway in other notable areas. Feel free to disagree.

      Thank you all for the cordial response. I love you all.


    • Megan says:

      Just because it is not a “big issue” compared to other ones does not mean that it is not important. Would you build the foundation of yours house with cracks and pieces missing because there were other “more important” things to deal with? No. I don’t think so. At least, I would hope you wouldn’t. Would you lay down beautiful tile on the floor without taking the time to level it because there were more important things that needed to be done? No, because then your beautiful tile floor will crack and break and fall apart.

      They are all important problems and they are all things that we need to do as Christians. We need to take care of the sick and the poor, fight for those that are oppressed, and to help lead others away from their sin and to Christ. They are all our obligations.

    • Pete Olsen says:

      As a response to you Paul, are you sacrificing your morals for the sake of working together when you hang out with and love sinners? Is this a compromise for you personally for what you believe? Or perhaps is the black and white stance a reason to disassociate…just a question.
      I’m sure Jesus never compromised his morales when he associated or worked together with “those sinners”. personally I’m thankful He did and others do.
      …just another sinner…

    • Ryan Jones says:


      Do you think that “leading people away from their sins and to Christ” should be done through govermental legislation? Because that was what the question to Bell was regarding. I don’t think Christ called us to get involved in government when it came to doing our work as disciples. Rather I read the gospels as saying we should focus on service when dealing with the world and when it comes to personal behavior deal with people as individuals.

    • Russ Munyan says:

      On the biggest issue of Jesus’ day, Roman Taxation, he “avoided the issue” by saying “give unto Caesar”. I have told many people that it does not matter what my personal moral stance is on an issue, but rather am I moved by the Holy Spirit to do something about it . . . and that is exclusive to God’s agenda for my life, not the church global. I hate abortion, but I am not called to protest in front of clinics. I know this because after a great deal of prayer, the Spirit told me if I spend my energy on that then it would be a misuse of my talents because I would not be able to do what I am good at. And I will not oppose someone who feels the Holy Spirit called them to picket for a cause or write letters to the editor. If it is a work of the Spirit then God be praised because of the glory brought to his name, if it is “dead works” then God be praised because the person involved will be fulfilling Galatians 5 – the Law is our tutor to Christ! In everything, let God be praised!!

    • “It is an issue that our country is focused on at this time and it needs to be dealt with so we can move on to saving the millions of innocent lives.”

      If only it were that easy.

      While we’re sitting here debating Rob Bell’s theology (myself included) people are dying from lack of clean water to drink, or preventable diseases.

      If we wait to “move on” until we can all “just get along” millions of innocents will be sacrificed. I’d rather agree to disagree, then link arms with people who want to love the needy and let God work out the rest. It’s His job anyway; ours is to love one another and serve those in need.

  • 4forNik says:

    Rob leaves the “what’s right and wrong” to God. Where it belongs. We are to love people. God will do whatever else He needs to do if He needs to.

    • Megan says:

      It is not a matter of “I am right and you are wrong” it is a matter of “God is right, sin is wrong.” Yes, God is the ultimate judge for all of us. We are not to judge one another but to help lead each other to truth and encourage each other to turn from sin and turn to God.

  • dp- says:

    “…Christian cable, for instance. It’s like, ugh. But you know, it’s okay. Just own it. Own it. Everybody has their embarrassing relatives”

    lol. love it

  • sara says:

    Great interview, John! The “moving slowly” bit really hit home for me. Thanks for sharing and for asking some great questions.

  • Timothy M. says:

    I believe that Jesus’ wouldn’t evade a question on LGBT, and I also believe that we have the Bible to explain to us the ideas of “right” and “wrong.” In a little more far out example, are we not going to punish a rapist because its not up to us to decide? We can still love people and still show them what God, Jesus and the Bible considers wrong or sinful. We are becoming a society where we are literally afraid to tell someone they are wrong and that is a very horrible place to be. Jesus loved people, but he didn’t just forget about their sins or not tell them what they were doing wrong. And if we’re supposed to become more like Jesus, then that is something we should be doing.

    It is not okay to sin. And everybody does sin, including myself. When somebody calls me out on a sin, I do not hate them for it. I appreciate it.

    Although we should look at the universal things that have been here ten years ago, are here now and will be here ten years from now, we still have to look at the problems today. Not to mention, LGBT isn’t a new thing. There have been homosexuals for thousands of years. So Bell is wrong in considering that some sort of “fad.”

    And John, you SHOULD care where a Church stands on issues. Would you go to a Church that supported abortion? Hopefully not, because as Christians we believe that is a form of murder. We cannot simply accept sin to come into the Church, which doesn’t mean we cannot accept the PEOPLE.

    In honesty, Timothy.

    • Michael E.W. says:

      should we focus on an issue that is not found hardly at all adressed in the bible, and ignore an issue that is talked about extensivly? it sounds to me what your looking for is more of a fight that true concern for the souls of the people. we as christians shouldn’t be looking for a fight with somebody who doesn’t agree with us, i dont remember once seeing Jesus fighting the political system to get the Romans to run things his way, no he focused on the people and their hearts, ministering to them and showing them the light. can we show people the light of Jesus love without condoning their sin? yes we can but can we show them the light of Jesus love if all we do is fight the political system and not care for them as individual people that are made by and loved by God. i think Rob Bell is right to not ansewer your questions cause it sounds to me like you want a champion for your cause not to find a heart for the people.

    • John Wofford says:


      Firstly, I am pro-choice to a degree, so I would attend a religious gathering where the members commonly associated with the forming of its principle tents are jointly pro-choice. That being said, it is not a requirement in any sense whatsoever, and every institution I’ve ever associated with has been aggressively pro-life, neither to my chagrin nor my disapproval. We have shared a common understanding of the intensely spiritual/profoundly important, articulated in the same vocabulary, and that takes precedent over minor particularities in political differences.

      That being said, objectivity in moral determinism is a beautiful thing. However, we must approach our ethical constructs with humility during their creation, else we make the mistakes of generations of Christianity past, which resorted to violence (whether in word, or deed, or both) as a means of instituting the reign of the Prince of Peace. Unacceptable.

    • JDM says:


      you strike me as pulling your own rug out from under your feet:

      tim- “I believe that Jesus’ wouldn’t evade a question on LGBT, and I also believe that we have the Bible to explain to us the ideas of “right” and “wrong.”
      AND THEN…
      tim- “LGBT isn’t a new thing. There have been homosexuals for thousands of years.”

      Yes! there were in Jesus day,and some have made the case that infanticide was rampant in his day as well…but no mention of either in the gospels.
      Why is that not more black & white/right & wrong as you say? I think that is a better question.Have we missed his(Jesus)emphasis…”I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” “love God and love your neighbor as yourself, ALL the law and prophets hang on these two”

      I also feel that something that is greatly missed when people read the bible, is that Jesus is most critical of his own people. that’s not an anti-semitic remark either. Rather, Jesus didn’t stroll around Rome telling them they were all going to hell in a hand basket. He criticized the chosen for not fulfilling their calling to be ‘salt & light’ to the world, and invited them to a better way, suffering love.
      It’s also interesting, as you read the hebrew scriptures, the emphasis put on social issues by the prophets: poverty, nation building,slavery, wealth, idolatry etc. that the people gave themselves to instead of God. And when they(prophets) questioned their own people, as Jesus says, they were killed. “aah Jerusalem,Jerusalem, if you knew the things that make for peace”

      stay in the conversation, friend
      Peace to you

    • Mark says:

      “I believe that Jesus’ wouldn’t evade a question on LGBT, and I also believe that we have the Bible to explain to us the ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’”

      First how many Jesus’ are there….

      Second, I believe Jesus also would not evade the question…it would depend on who was asking the question as to how he would respond to it.

      Third, I don’t believe there is a single church out there that would ever “support abortion”. I believe that there are churches that have said we support “choice”…there is a BIG difference.

      Last, why are you so angry. It looks like you need a hug.

  • JBK says:

    My question in response to your first paragraph, Timothy, is this…..

    How many times did Jesus mention homosexuality?

    How many times did Jesus mention divorce and adultery?

    Christians should be less concerned about other people’s sexual preferences when they have a higher divorce rate than “the world”.

    • Larry Shallenberger says:

      I’m not sure we want to use word count to establish what Jesus thought was a priority. He didn’t speak to slavery or the role of women.

  • Good interview!

    Love these lines …
    “We’d prefer to have a meal with the enemies. That’s more interesting. We actually, truly believe that Jesus gives a compelling, stunning, provocative, inspiring vision of what life can be. We really trust that.”

    @Timothy M. – You think Jesus would have answered the question for sure? How do you know that – considering that Jesus didn’t answer many other questions asked of him, instead he often asked a question back.

    @JBK – like your observations!

  • Andrew says:

    If memory serves me well, and it doesn’t always, but when Jesus was confronted on issues by the Pharisees and others he used it as an opportunity to teach on a great truth usually pointing it directly to those who were confronting Him in the first place. For instance when the Pharisees “caught” the woman in adultery and asked Jesus what to do. Jesus turned it back on the Pharisees, did not condemn the woman and let her go. She does nothing but go from frightened and ashamed to amazed and set free.

  • Timothy M. says:

    The problem with not addressing something such as Homosexuality in a Church setting, whether it be INDIVIDUAL or to a congregation, is that sin is this object that SEPARATES humans from Jesus and God. That being said the questions come up,

    How could you let somebody live in sin, and let that separate them from God?

    It is similar to the idea of dying and looking back on your life and wishing you had told all these people about Jesus, but you didn’t.

    JBK – The Bible & Jesus mentions adultery quite a lot, seeing that it is one of the ten commandments, I find it quite important. Also, it lies at the heart of the problem that we DO NOT address issues of homosexuality and divorce rates and adultery. Why do you think those numbers are growing so rapidly?

    Michael E.W. – It IS a fight! It is a fight for lost souls! We as Christians are lights of the world! If somebody is in darkness, how can we not share our light? Are you going to hide your light? Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine! These are the doctrines and beliefs that are fundamental to the Christian faith, not the Christian religion.

    JDM – Jesus was indeed critical of people of his own kind, i.e. the Jews. And when he corrected them, he showed them the wrong way, and then he showed them how to live the right way. We cannot live in a two way street of right and wrong. It is one way or the other. Jesus condoned their sin in perfect love and led them to a better, more loving way of preaching.

    John Wofford – I agree, but also disagree. We must not condone sins in a hating way, but in a loving way. And we cannot simply wait for moral constructs to be established. The Bible considers homosexuality a sin, plain and simple. The establishment of that is concrete. Society will grow and develop, but the Bible and God will stay the same. Always.

    Homosexuality is a sin just like any other sin. We are all sinners, and homosexuality is not better or worse than any of the sins I commit. Hate the sin, not the sinner. Show love and honesty. Show Jesus. That is our calling and responsibilities as Christians.

    In honesty, Timothy.

    • John Wofford says:


      Again, you assume too much in relation to the establishment of moral constructs. If our ethical system exists objectively, flowing forth from the biblical text itself (particularly, what Christians refer to as the New Testament), such an understanding doesn’t take into account the changing face of Christian morality over the span of 2,000 years.

      Homosexuality, like various other issues over the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, is being re-subjected to moral scrutiny in the context of new revelations we have concerning Roman culture and Paul’s relation to it; scientific evidence which informs our current comprehension, etc.

      God help us, that we don’t make the same mistakes as our forebears (although that likelihood is slim), burning the revolutionaries among us with the sign of the cross, dissenters executed at the hands of a butcher, or cooking atop a pyre… all because we KNOW that we KNOW that we KNOW exactly what the Bible says.

      “Ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.”

    • Another Tim says:

      I think you meant to say “condemn” in a few place where you said “condone” (responding to JDM and John Wofford)

  • Megan says:

    As Christians, we have an obligation to LOVINGLY correct others when they sin and to encourage them to keep trying and looking to God and to change their sin. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-4

    Everyone focuses on the loving and accepting side of God, which is true because He is all of that. But He also hates sin, just as we should. We are told to love everyone, but if you really loved someone you would want to help them do what is right and what is best for them. Parents do not sit back while their child is doing something wrong and not correct them. They love them so they point out their wrongs in order to help them. Which is what we should do.

    The second part of the verse talks about how people are going to stop turning to the truth and turn to false teachers who say what they want to hear. Everybody is so focused on the loving and accepting parts of God that they don’t want to accept that fact that we still have to Fear the Almighty, Powerful God who does not allow ANY sin in His Kingdom. You are for God, or you are against God…there is no in between. You condone sin and accept it, or you cast it away and live according to God’s will. People are not going to like to hear that they are wrong and so they will find people that will bend things a little bit to make it a less harsh reality. You are of the world, or you are of God. There is no gray area, it is black and white. But, everything must be done and approached with love and good intention.

    Yes, we will all slip up. It is the way we are. We sin. Every single one of us. A person with homosexual tendencies has to learn to turn to God, avoid situations where they might feel the desire to act out those things, and to accept that it is a sin that should be avoided and they should learn to control. Just like an alcoholic has to learn to do the same things. They wouldn’t go into a bar, they wouldn’t have alcohol in the house, and if they started to slip up they would want somebody there to tell them they are and to encourage them to regain control. It is no different.

    Andrew- Yes, Jesus did that. But the point was not to show that nobody has a right to point out wrongs because we all sin. It was to point out the wrong in the way that they were doing it. We are not to do it with hearts full of condemnation and hypocrisy, but with hearts of love and genuine care for the well-being of the other person.

    JDM- the reason that Jesus was the most critical of his own people was because of the way that they approached things. It is not just following the law, it is your heart. You are to recognize that you have sin as well, to love one another, and to help each other grow and learn. We know the truth, and we must try our best to be an example of it at all times. We are to lovingly correct others, not stand by and accept it and let them continue in sin. Wouldn’t you want somebody to tell you when you are doing wrong so that you can correct it? I know I would.

    John- yes, it is unacceptable that many times the church has turned to violence, hate, and anger. But those are the kinds of things that Jesus preacher against. You are to correct each other, but it must be in love. Many Christians only pay attention to one half of that. Either the love, or the correcting. That is where the problems happen. You can correct in love, every parent or teacher does it.

    • John Wofford says:


      I remember the need for correction and order in the teachings of Jesus; however, I don’t recall a great deal of emphasis on correcting one another. Perhaps my interaction with the text has yielded an unsavory interpretation, but Jesus appeared to this reader to suggest a need for introspection, not finger-pointing.

    • JDM says:

      JDM- the reason that Jesus was the most critical of his own people was because of the way that they approached things. It is not just following the law, it is your heart. You are to recognize that you have sin as well, to love one another, and to help each other grow and learn. We know the truth, and we must try our best to be an example of it at all times. We are to lovingly correct others, not stand by and accept it and let them continue in sin. Wouldn’t you want somebody to tell you when you are doing wrong so that you can correct it? I know I would.

      Megan- grace & peace to you in the name of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ,

      I’m confused by your remarks. You seem to suggest that the law and your heart are different things. I think Jesus shows us that you cant seperate them. I think he was merely pointing out to us the condition of our hearts by how we choose to fulfill the law, AND how he did.
      Jesus says in matthew’s gospel “i did not come to abolish the law…but to fulfill it” to show us what it means, i.e. correct interpretation, correct practice, correct conversation.
      Sometimes when I hear people speak of the law, it’s as if it is the old way, and Jesus is the new. But again, Jesus came to “fulfill it”…that’s not a prediction…it’s a promise with flesh and blood on it, so we can see it and experience it. “aah, that’s what God is like!” kind of thing.
      Kind of like how the letter to the Romans says, “Jesus is the end of the law” the word end here doesn’t mean “cease to exist”, rather, it means “goal”. Our SIN problem is that we don’t bear the image we are created in, the image of God. But Jesus does, and seeks to heal, save, renew us in that image.
      But maybe the discussion is leaning more towards “how” God does that.
      Many thoughtful Christians have said that are biggest problem is “memory”. I love leading bible-study and pointing out to people that in the exodus. God doesn’t say to the israelites “If you obey the 10 commandments I will save you” the people are already in slavery, seperated from God and suffering the effects of SIN in the world. God simply saves them…and then, about 3 months into the journey in the wilderness, after they are saved, the bible says,THEN, God gives them the covenant at Mt. Sinai (the 10 commandments). He says in effect, now that i’ve saved you, I want you to be this type of people. I want you to love God & love each other as we journey together to the promised land. I want you to be a kingdom of priests & holy…so you can show what this God is like to the world. God isn’t speaking to the world with the 10 commandments directly. “hey, don’t you know you’ve broken my law.?” he’s speaking to his people on how to show the world a better way.And we like the israelites have a terrible time doing that.
      In the church today, this may not be your experience, but I experience alot of people who hold the idea, that the first thing they need to do is “get right with God” and then they can become a part of the church. But like the exodus, and like Jesus I might add, the order is usually: the invitation to new life/deliverance/new creation/exodus /renewal of all things in heaven & earth…..and then, we figure out how to live it/grow/sanctification/depend on the Spirit…along the way.
      We never get it totally right, but we mature. Too many people want ‘others’ to get right and drop all their sin, but they want others to be more forgiving when it comes to their shortcomings.
      I think that’s why Jesus made a covenant people, and that’s what the church is supposed to be, a people who show the world light by being in community together throughout life with Jesus as an active partner. we don’t preach ‘AT’ people, we show them God’s suffering love by being in community with them, while we figure out the details. Kind of like what Jesus did with the disciples…who constantly spoke out of turn, and made mistakes, and even continued in sin…but Jesus said “were going to the next town…wanna come?”

    • Megan says:

      JDM- I did not at all mean to say that the law and your heart are separate things. You can try your hardest not to sin, but ultimately you will. So it all comes down to if you believe in Jesus and his death for you. Ultimately, we cannot be without sin and without breaking the law, so we accept Christ and we learn from God and His word and we alter our actions and hearts in order to be more like Him. God accepts everyone as they are and loves them despite their sin which is why he sent Jesus. It is not a gospel of “you have to change for God in order to be saved” but a gospel of “now you are saved, here is what I want you to do.” Then, after learning and reflecting you will change and desire not to sin. Obviously, we will all slip up and sin on a regular basis (when is the last time any of us went a day without sin?), but now we recognize the sin and turn to God to try to change it and get it out of our lives. We do not become content with the ways of the world and our sin and long for something more and better, thus letting God work in our lives and change our hearts because we were saved and freed from sin and we have new strength, faith, and hope. We all know it is not what we can for God or how we can change for God, but what He did for us, if we accept it, and the change that happens in our lives when we do.

      John- That does not seem to be the take that Paul has on it and it does not seem to be what his instructions are. Paul was not afraid to blunt and harsh when it came to the truth BUT he did it all in love for his brothers and sisters in Christ just as we should.

      Maybe I was a little confusing in what I said, sorry about that. Thank you for commenting back!

    • Megan says:

      Also, I am not saying we have to preach AT them. Jesus would still ask them why they are acting certain ways and doing certain things and correcting those around him, while still loving and accepting them. You can’t expect somebody to get it right because none of us can. You help them, encourage them, stay patient, love them, and help guide them. If you saw somebody that you knew was a recovering alcoholic walking into a bar would you just ignore it and let them continue with it? I would hope not. I would think that you would love them enough to go to talk to them and see if something is wrong and try to get them out of there and to focus their attention on something else. Would you allow somebody you know has a problem with lust watch a movie with sexual scenes in it and not be bothered by what might be going on in their heads because of it? You would suggest another a movie because you want to help them out. Isn’t that what you do when you love somebody?

    • John Wofford says:


      You’re right, it was definitely not the approach of the early Christian writer Paul to refrain from pointing out his understanding of wrongs in the community. He also came under fire for this, historically speaking, from fellow leadership in the Judeo-Christian movement. Beyond that, though, lies a concern I have with pointing out a perceived wrong in the community. Retrospectively, we tend to regret our aggression toward a group.

      For instance, I could readily argue that you, Megan, if indeed a female, have no authority with which to speak to myself, a male — using, ironically, the words of Paul (who purported that all women, in the context of Torah discussion and biblical teaching, have no place save that which allows them to learn privately under the tutelage of their husbands and are entirely out of line if they attempt to offer their understanding of the text).

      Now, do I believe that? Well, of course not. I’m a complete egalitarian, much like a larger portion of mainstream Christianity (thank God for Reform Judaism). At some point, decisions were made which entitled women to study alongside men, speak in church, and even hold leadership positions… all in direct contradiction to the commonly held interpretation of Paul’s commands no less than a 100 years ago and before.

      My point in all this? Your freedom to lively engage the biblical text, discuss its merits, and present your case in a forum such as this is much the result of a re-analysis of the manuscript (not to mention the context in which it was written) and a group consensus to redefine what is considered “sinful” and what wasn’t. (Actually, the word Paul used for a woman discussing spiritual matters with a man was “shameful.” No one really concentrates on that text anymore.)

      Likewise, I would suggest that it’s time for religious movements (be they Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.) to re-assess their dogmas to allow for practicing LGBT members. Considering what we know about the tendency of Christian scholars to adapt their doctrinal definitions of “propriety” and “acceptability,” it doesn’t seem like a stretch for me to see them allow gay members, particularly considering they’ve already re-defined the early Christian understanding of gender roles (see 1 Timothy, chapter 2, for an example of what was once taught).

      Beyond that, however, I think we’re missing the larger picture of what Mr Bell is saying… namely, that expelling great energies to change the deeply-rooted beliefs of some is very wasteful, as most are unlikely to change their minds (much like, I imagine, changing your mind, Megan, concerning LGBT persons of faith). Therefore, he attempts to find common ground between these disparate voters and believers, creating unity (even when no one changes their mind about a particular issue).


  • anonymous says:

    I personally can’t stand the way he chooses to write. I can’t get 1/3 way into a book of his or sit through a Nooma video without cringing and wanting desperately to walk away. The cover art of the books and filming of the videos are great, but there was always something about the short, choppy style of them I found unfit for actual consumption.

    “But it’s just the format you don’t like!” You might say. I don’t think so. There’s something else there. It’s kind of like how a 3rd grader will use “exlaimed” or “prounounced” rather than simply “said” when writing dialogue. It’s like the feeling I get when reading an inspiring chain e-mail with too many exclamation points. “And here’s the moral of the story… wait for it…. here it is… right here!!!” – Something’s wrong.

    After reading this today it donned on me; I believe the something wrong here is a lack of courage as a writer. And cowardly writing boils down to one thing: not telling the truth. There are many routes a writer takes in doing this. It could be because you’re rushing things, or because you’re not genuinely enthused about the subject, or you feel like it’s something you have to do rather than want to do, or because you don’t feel free too. My suspicion is with the latter two. It’s a common pit with creative Christians. (Myself included in all of this by the way. -Please note my use of anonymous.) In any regard I can’t stomach it. I actually think it’s a form of disrespect to the reader from the writer. When you don’t allow your writing to live and breathe on it’s own and go where it wants to go regardless of the consequences, you put the reader into the same bondage. Frankly I’m unwilling to pay $14.99 for a book which makes me feel that way, regardless of how many people claim to like it. Any one else feel this way?

    • Greg J says:


      I have been thinking about your response and realized that you clearly stated my struggle with. To me there is such a “vagueness” to his message at times I am never really sure what he is saying or where he is at. It is not that I don’t admire some of the things he does, but these other things make it a stuggle for me to “stay tuned.” Thanks again

  • graham says:

    dear anonymous,

    with all due respect, love, and honesty:

    please do not write about the courage of a writer if you are not willing to put your name on your opinion. that’s step one. just sayin’.

    as a writer, i respect your opinion of Bell’s writing style, and I have many friends who feel the same way. personally, I like his style–mostly because he’s NOT trying to dumb it down or make it into a “children’s story.” From my perspective, he’s doing something that gives a bit more responsibility–and, in a lot of ways, respect to the reader. He’s not making an argument and supporting it with X, Y, & Z examples, quotes, whatever to show why you should believe what he believes.

    He’s calling his readers to learn in a different way: He’s asking questions. And I can honestly say, as a writer who has a hell of a time trying to “make a point” in the essays & stories that I right, I see it as both courageous and, in a lot of ways, freeing to see somebody who doesn’t feel the need to close his case. In simply beginning the discussion with these short sentences, phrases, and questions, he is essentially taking the emphasis off of himself and “his” platform. He’s putting the responsibility and freedom for growth in your own hands by giving you something to chew on–both by yourself and with others through dialogue.

    I see Mr. Bell not as a coward, but as someone who is honestly and unabashedly trying to re-create the teaching style of those who have gone before us–namely Jesus. It is a style that seeks not to answer, but to continually ask. This is how we grow. This is how real change happens.

    And for the record, I think people should read more children’s stories.

    • Lisa says:

      I have always felt, while reading, Bells’ books that sense that he doesn’t want to give you all the answers but desires that we become students of grace, love, justice and truth. Jesus did the same. They are called parables. He who has ears, let him hear.

  • graham says:

    typo: *write

  • KevD says:

    “Turning an eye to social politics, how do you feel about news like that of Maine’s repealing of LGBT marriage rights? Granted, everyone’s got an opinion, and I’m not asking you to answer the “Is homosexuality a sin?” question ”

    Before a question is even asked the interviewer acts like he is afraid to get a straight answer out of Mr. Bell.

    What would Paul’s letters look like if he was afraid to offend any of the members of the churches he wrote to.

    • John Wofford says:

      Ironically, KevD, this interviewer couldn’t care less about Mr Bell’s take on homosexuality. I mentioned it in passing, and before either one of us realized what happened, the discussion congealed into a fair portion of the conversation. Considering what I’ve read of previous attacks on Bell’s comparatively slight left-leanings, I didn’t want him to feel pressured to address such a complex issue over drinks in a crowded, tiny tea shop. Moreover, it wasn’t the intended focus going in, and I only had a few minutes with him– not a priority question, and all that…

      If I have ever given the impression that I was afraid to ask a straight question, please rest assured… it is the furthest thing from my mind. I respect Mr Bell, but I’m not wary about ruffling feathers. It just didn’t seem like a priority question, at least to a guy like myself, who already firmly knows how I feel about the issue.

  • Jeff Goins says:

    interesting interview. my respect continues to grow for rob bell — not because he’s “right” or “wrong”, but because he keeps taking risks and stepping out to own the art that he feels God has given him to share.

    • vickie says:

      Right on. How refreshing to hear a spiritual voice speak only about love with no agenda other than to get people to ponder their own approach to living a God centered life.

      M – Have a hard time with the comparison drawn between alcoholics and a homosexuals. I know too many heterosexuals in non-loving (legal) marriges who do no honor to the sacrament. I believe it is about love and respect between two human beings.

      My two cents, peace.

  • Matthew says:

    I believe the Apostle Paul is fairly adamant that we are to take on the character of Christ and although Jesus spent time with sinners he did not condone their behavior. The fear of making people feel bad is having a negative consequence on the church.

  • Sharon says:

    Rob, as a pastor and teacher, I have to say that I enjoy the content of your teaching and your style. While I do not consider myself to be a wordsmith, I do believe that the careful use of my words along with the tone of my voice are important in the crafting of a sermon. In my experience, men and women open their hearts when each sermon includes scripture, instruction, questions, laughter, love, insight, and personal experience and no one does this better than you.

  • hal says:

    All of the comments above are quite interesting … how it seemed everyone got something .. or nothing from Rob’s answers …
    could it be however, that by not taking a “stand” as suggested, getting people together in community working toward real needs in lives of those in need, working together on common goals, that through the process we discover what is “right & wrong” … ???
    It would certainly seem if we took a “stand” there would certainly be fewer people to work together … and fewer opportunities to discover where love truely lives …. just a thought ….

  • djlmwh says:

    At Mars Hill LGBT people are seen as just that…. people…. “It” is not seen as an “issue” there. Real people, living real lives, are ministered to by other real people, regardless of who they are and what life has delivered to them. The environment is not an “issue” at Mars Hill, but rather, a responsibility of individuals. Mars Hill does not take political stances on “issues” but rather chooses to minister to people. Thank the LORD.

  • Kevin Gassen says:

    Well-written. Thanks. As someone who has struggled with an addiction myself, I really appreciate what Craig Ferguson has to say about it. If you’d like to see my blog it’s here. Thanks again for this blog – it is really well-done.

  • Jo Hilder says:

    I love what Rob says about where the energy goes when dealing with issues which divide.
    What a pity that point seems to have been missed by many readers of this interview, with emphasis again on what he didn’t say he stood for or against.
    I remember that another teacher had a tendency to avoid being drawn into contentious arguments and instead encouraged us to love each other.
    I also remember it didn’t go well for him. I hope Rob Bell fares better. I trust he will.
    I think he’s a great teacher by the way. I always come from his words with questions and not with either that self satisfied feeling of haven been proven right, or that defeated sense of having been beaten down.
    Love your work, Mr. Bell.
    Jo Hilder

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