I am a big Rob Bell fan.
For those who don’t know him, here is a write-up from the New York Times:
” Mr. Bell, 40, whose Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., has 10,000 members, is a Christian celebrity and something of a hipster in the pulpit, with engaging videos that sell by the hundreds of thousands and appearances to rapt, youthful crowds in rock-music arenas.”
To sum up the controversy around Bel that broke out last weekl, here is a summary from the same New York Times story:
A new book by one of the country’s most influential evangelical pastors, challenging traditional Christian views of heaven, hell and eternal damnation, has created an uproar among evangelical leaders, with the most ancient of questions being argued in a biblical hailstorm of Twitter messages and blog posts.”
The new book is called “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”
Lets time travel back to 1991 when I was a seventh grader and somewhat involved at Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Indiana. It is a place where the pastors respect people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and worry about being gender neutral when describing God but where much of the congregation itself is fixated on Reaganism and some of the people leading the youth program think satanic rock music is a big problem. (Thank God for Petra!)
One of the youth group adult leaders had an overnight retreat at his house. We watched a very scary “documentary” about Hell, Satan, and rock music.
I wasn’t too hip to the ways of the world or church back then. The “documentary” was scary. Was I going to go to hell because my mom bought me a copy of REM’s Out of Time album?
Much had changed since I watched that scary movie. Those people eventually left and by the time I entered high school a new youngish associate pastor got the youth program focused on mission, theological study, social justice, and having fun (without worrying so much about the (bogus) satanic rock music. It was a perfect youth group in many ways and it would forever change my life.
This summer when my family and i moved back to Brownsburg, I went to Sunday school at Calvary for the first time since I left for college.
And what was the Sunday school class watching? A video produced by Rob Bell called Matthew from the Nooma series. The short film/seron is about Matthew, a friend of Bell’s who died at age twenty-seven. Here is how one blogger describes it:
[Bell] talks about the Jewish practice of sitting Shiva, which refers to sitting with the bereaved, just sitting, and not talking unless the bereaved want to discuss the matter. This would be a very different approach to the one taken by Job’s comforters. Rob draws an analogy with how Jesus in Jn. 11 wept at the grave of a friend and entered fully into his friends grieving process. Honestly, I did not expect either the emotional genuineness of this video or the wisdom beyond his years he serves up in this video. I suspect it may well help as a gift to the bereaved.
This adult Sunday school was moved by “Matthew”. How do you grieve? How do you respond to untimely death or family tragedy? How do you support someone going through the grieving process? What does the deepest part of our faith tradition say about this? If Jesus weeps at the grave of a friend, are there any simple answers to these questions?
It also turned out that the Calvary youth group or Sunday School class had been watching the NOOMA video earlier in the year.
And this is why I will always love Rob Bell. Instead of watching evangelical, conservative Christian fantasies about fake satanic rock music, or going to crappy Christian rock concerts with easy, shallow answers, youth (and adults) are more likely today, even in the unhip suburbs, to watch the theological art of preacher/prophet/poet Rob Bell.