Since late September blogs have been buzzing about Mark Driscoll's remark at the Convergent Conference labeling Rob Bell a heretic. Bell's broad popularity (due primarily to his books, NOOMA videos, and podcasts) make Driscoll's accusation all the more serious. Out of Ur has stayed out of the fray - until now. Rob Bell was in Raleigh, North Carolina last week as part of a 22-city tour. Leadership correspondent Chad Hall was there to report on the event.
When the babysitter arrived the night before Thanksgiving, she asked of our plans for the evening. Last week it was a concert, and three weeks before that we were headed to dinner and a movie. Tonight, my wife and I were going to?. I stumbled for words to describe Rob Bell's latest tour. I could tell by her eyes that she stopped caring about thirty seconds before I stopped trying to describe the event.
Bell's "the gods aren't angry" tour packed about two thousand souls into Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium for what wound up being a 90 minute sermon.
Bell is a popular writer, speaker and pastor, and I found it easy to see why he's so popular. As a friend commented after the event, "The dude has some mad communication skills." Wearing an all black outfit (save a bright white belt) that could have placed him as a member of Green Day, Bell presented an insane amount of information in a style that held my attention and quickened my spirit.
In a nutshell, Bell talked about how humans ? since the earliest cavewoman and caveman ? try to appease the forces that bring or withhold life. These human attempts led to formation of god concepts and religious practices, which grew ever more sacrificial and eventually led people to harm self and sacrifice children in bold attempts to assuage anxiety about the gods' opinions of us. Like some sort of Ken Burns without a camera, Bell incorporated tons of tidbits and insights from history, cultural anthropology, theology, sociology and literature to weave a compelling story of religiosity that's led to the anxiety-riddled human condition wherein we wonder, "Have I done enough?"
Into this system where humans guessed at what the gods want and then trying to give it, God spoke to Abram. Now the deity did the initiating. And the word from God was for Abram to forsake his father's household: which Bell equated with forsaking the old system of trying to appease the gods. Rather than trying to bless the gods, Abram's role was to be blessed by God. This was big revelation number one.
According to Bell, big revelation number two came in Leviticus. He said that this strange and seemingly backward third book of the Bible is best understood as a gift from God to help alleviate people's anxieties. Rather than leave us guessing and grasping for some elusive set of conditions by which God would be pleased, God presented Abram's lineage with an exact recipe for living and sacrificing, thus removing all doubt that God was not angry with them.
Bell said that big revelation number three came in Jesus. The sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus became corrupt and only led to more anxiety than it relieved. So at just the right time, God revealed that he never really needed our sacrifices anyway. Using quite a bit of humor, irony and pure wit, Bell painted a caricature god who is not complete without what people can provide or perform. Using various sayings from Psalms, Micah, Jesus, Paul's letters and Hebrews, he drew an alternate picture of the divine: a God who is not dependent on what we do, but who freely loves and pours blessing on us.