Last year Rob Bell made waves with his book Love Wins which he describes as "a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who has ever lived." The waves became a tsunami when John Piper tweeted "Farewell, Rob Bell" and dismissed him as a heretic. Agree or disagree with his point of view, Bell knows how to stir conversation. And there is one thing about Love Wins we cannot dismiss- how we think about the future shapes how we live in the present.
I've had the benefit of interviewing Bell a number of times and have always found him thoughtful, gracious, and genuine in his pursuit of Christ. He was kind enough to talk to me once again–this time about his decision to leave his church, the lost theology of vocation, and how our view of the end of the world impacts the way we think about our work today.
Skye: Apart from ministry, Christians talk very little about "callings." What do you attribute this to?
Rob: The problem goes back to how you read the Bible. A lot of Christians have been taught a story that begins in chapter 3 of Genesis, instead of chapter 1. If your story doesn't begin in the beginning, but begins in chapter 3, then it starts with sin, and so the story becomes about dealing with the sin problem. So Jesus is seen as primarily dealing with our sins. Which is all true, but it isn't the whole story and it can lead people into all kinds of despair when it comes to understanding just why we're here.
The Bible begins in Genesis 1 not with sin but with blessing, not with toil and despair but with life, and creativity, and vibrant participation with God in the ongoing creation of the world–which involves art, and law, and medicine, and education, and parenting, and justice, and learning, and thousands of other pursuits; callings that are holy and sacred in and of themselves. It's all part of flourishing in God's good world, which is our home. Here, on earth, is where the story begins and where it ends, and so our work here, in whatever way we co-create with God, is our vocation.
Secondly, we have to embrace our desires. For many, desire is a bad word, something we're supposed to "give up for God." That kind of thinking can be really destructive because it teaches people to deny their hearts, their true selves. What Jesus does is something far more radical. He insists that we can be transformed in such a way that our desires and God's desires for us become the same thing. Incredible. What do you love to do that brings more and more heaven into God's good world? What is it that makes your soul soar? What is it that you do, that your friends and community affirm, that taps you in to who you are made to be?
Describe how you discerned God's calling to leave Mars Hill to pursue new ideas?
It was a vast array of factors, beginning deep in the heart with the awareness that Jesus was calling, inviting, tugging, doing that thing he does when it's time to take a leap into the unknown.
Can you share more about where your energies are currently focused, and why you believe it is an important calling?
Nope. Haha. It's better to do the work and wait until it's ready to be released into the world. But it involves resurrection, of course, and the new world that's bursting forth right here in the midst of this one.
What/who has influenced your theology of calling and work?
Dallas Willard, and U2, and Steven Pressfield, and Dorothy Sayers. Do what you do with every ounce of energy and passion you have, give it everything you've got, put in the hours and pour out the sweat and blood and don't hold anything back. That's an act of worship, it is holy in itself.