A Letter to Rob Bell

I attended Rob Bell’s The Gods Aren’t Angry Tour at the Vic Theater in Chicago on Monday evening and left less than completely satisfied with some of what I heard. So, I decided to write Rob and ask for some clarification. I connected with Karen, a PR person at Zondervan and she said she’d forward my questions on to Rob. Here’s to hoping for a response!

Has anyone else seen this show? Did anyone else have similar or other questions?

November 8th, 2007

Rob,

Greetings – my name is Jeff Clinger. I’m 27 years old, a United Methodist Pastor in Indiana, and a huge fan of your ministry. When I was first introduced to the Nooma series several years ago I began using them in teaching youth, young adults, and even older adults. I went to the “Everything is Spiritual” presentation last year and loved it – I’m still waiting for it to be released on DVD. I have read Velvet Elvis and Sex God and have recommended them and given them as gifts to many. Monday night I attended your lecture in Chicago and left feeling less than satisfied.

I am writing today to ask a couple of questions and potentially engage in some dialogue. As a pastor who is quite aware of the fact that people don’t always hear what we’re trying to say, I thought you might be interested in hearing my perceptions and questions following what was, in spite of leaving me less than completely satisfied, a quite enjoyable presentation. I would much rather have this conversation face to face over a beer (we could toast to Ninkasi), but I figure engaging the questions via email is better than not at all.

If I heard you correctly on Monday night I heard you say several things quite clearly:

1) God does not, nor has God ever required blood sacrifices. I was particularly appreciative of your references to Psalm 50 and Micah 6.

2) Jesus did not come to die for our sins. Jesus came, lived a life instituting a new way of living in relationship with God and others, and was killed because his message was a threat (economic and otherwise) to the institution built around temple sacrifice.

3) Many lives in our world today still seem to be lived within that sacrificial system – trying to earn God’s love, trying to be worthy of the love of others as well. However, we don’t need to do this, God loves us as is.

If I misunderstood you on any of these points, the following question might not make sense. If I understood you correctly, what I struggled with was this:

It seemed to me that in addition to the above statements you clearly made the statement – God is now at peace with all of heaven and earth because of the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Did I hear this correctly? If so, how does this reconcile with points 1 and 2 above? To me, the idea that God required the blood sacrifice of Jesus, is troubling theology. It also seems inconsistent with so much of the rest of what I’ve heard and read from you.

Can you offer me some clarification regarding what you were saying? If you don’t have time to respond to me personally I totally understand, but thought you might like to know where I struggled with what you had to say Monday night in the off chance that others will struggle with something similar in the coming days as you continue to travel and speak.

Thanks for all of the time and energy you put into teaching new things. I will continue to follow your work enthusiastically. Speaking of which, do you blog or journal online anywhere? I would be very interested in reading your reflections on life and ministry if they are available anywhere. Should you have any interest in seeing more of where I am coming from, I blog at e-merginginindiana.blogspot.com. If you’d rather respond to my questions via phone rather than e-mail I’d also be happy to set up some time when we could have that conversation. You can call me at … or email me at jeff@ridgeumc.org.

Blessings in all of your continued work.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “A Letter to Rob Bell

  1. thechurchgeek

    A very good and well articulated question, I wondered that myself; It did seem a little inconsistent.

    However I gather the thrust of his main point, rather simplified, was that you can’t end a sacrificial system without a final once and for all sacrifice?

    So in some sense as he argued it’s not really about what God requires but about what it takes for us to understand that sacrifices are no longer and never were really needed by God.

    I heard someone once say that it wasn’t that God needed animals to die, but that God knew we learned much better by way of that picture.

  2. barbmom

    Hey Jeff, I will give your blog address to Maria. She saw Rob in KC and was chatting with me about it this afternoon. Keep asking the good questions.

  3. Anonymous

    Yeah, a big fan of Rob but, although he’s attempting some really great stuff here, he leaves some gaping questions out there (at least in the first installment in Chicago). The largest question simply put is, Rob, why the cross? Yes, you quote Hebrews saying “the culmination of the ages,” yet if all of these sacrifices since the dawn of humankind were to appeal to our own consciences, than why this bloody sacrifice of the son of God? By not addressing it, it highlights those who see cross-worship as some primitive form of divine child abuse??

  4. dave pullin

    Did rob ever contact you in regards to your letter?

  5. Jeff

    Dave, if you haven’t found it already, you can read the exchanges I had with Rob in a follow-up post:

    http://e-merginginindiana.blogspot.com/2007/11/conversations-with-rob-bell.html

    Thanks for stopping by!

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