Rob Bell: the gods aren't angry

Well, I recently was invited to hear Rob Bell in his "the gods aren't angry" tour.

My impression was overall quite favorable. He started by pointing out how human society developed gods and goddesses, and then explained the novelty of the story of the call of Abraham--that a god would speak to a human--then of the Abrahamic Covenant--this god used the stars as mere props!--and then of the five Levitical sacrifices. I mean, anyone who can make Leviticus into interesting material is pretty cool, and he did. He explained the novelty of the Levitical sacrifices: that you could make this sacrifice and know it had efficacy, as opposed to the pagan deities who always demanded more.

The stage had a large altar on it, with stairs going up to it and four horns.

(Now he talked for like an hour and forty minutes without notes or a script--that was pretty cool. I don't know many people who can do that.)

He then moved on to Jesus and his confrontation with the Temple authorities and how the early Christians reinterpreted Jesus' life and death and resurrection in light of the Temple--especially the author of Hebrews who throws out various tantalizing ideas: this is a better priesthood, a one-time sacrifice, the former was a mere shadow, and so on.

He emphasized very much these verses:

Col. 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
Col. 1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

I guess he was shooting for realized eschatology without actually saying that. But he emphasized that ALL THINGS have in fact already been reconciled to God. That the Christian life is a realization that all things are reconciled already.

Which leads to the question: well, why does it seem like things (especially humans) are still in rebellion against God? And that is a big question, one he does not even touch.

And then the major slip up of the night: he talked a little about rituals, and it just seemed a little too evangelical to me. He started out by saying "A good ritual is anything that helps you..." Stop right there, I thought. Are rituals really there to help me? There was a very individualistic slant to his teaching on rituals, no mention of the people around you. In fact several of the "good rituals" he mentioned could easily be done alone, like experiencing the beauty of nature.

But anyway, what do rituals help us do? They help us to realize that all things have already been reconciled to God through Christ. He also said that if a ritual made us feel guilty that it was bad--a throwback to the insatiable altar of the pre-Christian pagan gods. But isn't it conceivable that God wants us to feel guilty sometimes? Isn't a very biblical teaching that God uses our guilt and shame to guide us towards repentance and reconciliation with him through his Son? "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," so isn't a sense of our guilt before God's holiness part of the very fabric of redemption weaved by the Spirit in our lives?

I mean, if he wanted to differentiate between good guilt and bad guilt or something like that, that's doable. But he didn't.

Finally, I'm not sure how one can start off by talking about themes like the altar, blood sacrifice, the Temple, Jesus and his ministry, and then NOT at least address the Lord's Supper. It doesn't take a Roman Catholic to see that all of these themes are very closely woven together. And since he was on the topic of the Temple and how that was understood in the light of Jesus, why no mention of the church? I seem to remember Paul making the point quite vividly:

Eph. 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
Eph. 2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Eph. 2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
Eph. 2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Again, these topics are not foreign to evangelicalism. One does not betray his tradition by talking about the Eucharist and the church. So it was in the end disappointing that he failed to carry his thought process through all the way. He did explicitly cite the wonderful "sacrifice of praise" verse, which for him seems to be just having warm fuzzies of praise in your heart, or taking social action for the poor, as opposed to the very tangible act of eating bread and wine, which I think is how the Church Fathers understood it.

But like I said above, there was enough engaging material and he really did make some very good points and the time was enjoyable, not least because I was hanging out with good friends. (I wonder what the folks back in the Middle East would think about this kind of thing...)


Kevin Twombly said…
I'll be in Boston to see Rob on the 27th. I'll get back to you.
thanks for sharing your notes.
Autumn C said…
The evening was a combination of experiential monologue, lecture, stand-up comedy and commentary.
And he only had a few hours!! He couldn't possibly have covered anthropological, historical connections, two major Biblical stories, a few analogies, AND the complete, detailed doctrines of the Christian faith including the Lord's Supper and teachings on the Church. Cut the guy some slack! :)
Remember, this was not theological lecture, nor was this a sermon.
In fact, I've never seen anything like that, but I can tell you I was impressed!

Re/ the "rituals" he mentioned, I can see why you would question that. It is similar to the use of the word "religious" in the non-denominational world: it has negative, almost soul-sucking connotations. It implies that someone is going to make you do something not only pointless and mind-numbing, but most likely completely bereft of Love.
In emphasizing the relationship aspect of the connect between God and man, we see "ritual" as unpleasant obligation. Would you ever want your wife to see her marital duties as an "unpleasant obligation"? NO! Neither should attending church, reading the Bible, or taking the Lord's supper become a meaningless obligation performed for the purpose of avoiding guilt.
You gotta think like a pagan man, or a Charismatic, dude!
Besides, Catholics are known for their guilt complexes, so your opinion is tainted on this one, buddy. :)
Enjoyed meeting you and your wife! God bless. -AC
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Autumn,

Good hearing from you and I also enjoyed meeting you last night.

Let me just touch on a few of the points you made:

I was not expecting him to elaborate every point I mention. But really, I think that to begin a discussion about sacrifice without including insights on the Lord's Supper is to miss the bus totally.

But how did he end his monologue? Simply with a life-affirming "living the reconciliation" message. What exactly is the relationship between that and the altar? And I dare you to tie that in to the title "the gods aren't angry"...

Ritual: I know very well how the word ritual is used in the evangelical world. And, like how evangelicals use "religion" it is simply shallow and, let me toss out this ultra-evangelical word, unbiblical.

There is nothing in the Bible to teach you that ritual or religion are bad or undesirable. On the contrary, that perspective is born from the self-serving, hedonistic, American culture of liberal Protestantism. A world view which is, guess what, at odds with the Bible :-)

For the record, I'm not Roman Catholic. I do consider myself to be evangelical and charismatic as well. So my opinion is tainted? Of course it is, but let us give our minds over to be tainted to the church which is "the pillar of truth" (yep, that's in the Bible, one of those verses we evangelicals love to ignore).

That is ultimately my complaint about Bell. His imagination has not been discipled and disciplined by the church as it has spoken and thought throughout the centuries.

Finally, let me mention again that overall my impression of Bell was positive.
T5Guy said…
I found this blog searching for feedback from the Rob Bell tour. I will see him on Dec 1 and looking forward to collecting some dust from him :) (see Rob Bell - Nooma video "Dust")

I enjoyed reading your blog entry and hearing your perspective. I may come back and respond after hearing the lecture.

Thanks again and I plan to continue to read your blog.

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