Thinking Out Loud

July 27, 2013

Wait a Minute, Isn’t That…

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:40 am

It’s Rob Bell time again!

Last week Rob posted a link on his tumblr blog to a new author, Rob Strong.  Here’s the post in its entirety:

Rob and I went to college together and have been friends for over twenty years. As far as preaching and communicating and storytelling goes, he’s a master. I’ve learned so much from him. He told me a while ago that he was thinking about writing a book. And then he did. It’s great, and it comes out tomorrow.

It’s called The Big Guy Upstairs: http://www.therobstrong.com/therobstrong.com/Welcome.html

The Big Guy Upstairs - Rob StrongThe book is coming out on the  Jericho Books imprint, which is a religious imprint of Hachette Book Group that is more hip than its FaithWords label.  That’s enough to get my interest, and it turns out that one of my favorite edgy preachers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is also releasing a title with the same publisher a month later.

The full title is The Big Guy Upstairs: You, Him and How it All Works. That even sounds like a Rob Bell title.  Here’s the 411 from Jericho:

Rob Strong knows how to stop a conversation in its tracks. Being a pastor in Massachusetts–”the least churched state in the USA”–can certainly raise eyebrows and halt conversations, but Rob never lets his faith bar him from doing what matters most: building sincere relationships with people as, together, they question and explore the nature of The Big Guy Upstairs.

Here he shares how approachable, interactive, and, above all, relevant God can be our lives, without any of the trappings of religion or “Christianese” that make many of us suspicious. Filled with his inimitable brand of wit and humor, Strong offers a fresh take on:

  • The importance of understanding our humanity and our purpose in life
  • Disagreeing and still respecting the perspective of others
  • Diversity in life and how that means different things to different people
  • The role that God plays into all of these facets of our lives

From a “weed” that turned into a delicious peach tree to a miraculous pair of brown shoes, Strong will engage readers with stories and biblical commentary that reveal why their lives are significant-and how God is more intentional, active, and closer than they realize.

The hardcover edition of The Big Guy Upstairs will publish on July 16, 2013.

But wait a minute, isn’t that author name somewhat familiar? Here’s the paragraph from Wikipedia I’m remembering:

Stronger

ABC television has announced production of a new television drama, Stronger, co-written by Bell and Carlton Cuse, the Executive Producer of the television show, Lost.[21] The show, based loosely on Bell’s own life and an unpublished novel of Bell’s turned-pilot-script, would follow the life of Tom Stronger, a musician on a spiritual journey.[22] Ultimately, Bell and Cuse were unable to get approval to shoot a pilot for Stronger.

Rob Strong photographed in Lowell, MA on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Rob StrongThere were a few details about this TV show in the story on Rob that came out in November in The New Yorker magazine.

Strong – Stronger? Rather similar.

And the website for Grace Community Church seems eerily similar to the template of the Mars Hill Bible Church website. And the image of Rob Strong could easily be a retouched photo of the Michiganer turned Californian (again) who is increasing seen sans glasses.

Does anyone see where I’m heading with this?  Will Hachette Book Group send me a review copy of The Big Guy Upstairs? Stay tuned. The rumor mill is coming to life.

January 19, 2013

Weekend Link List

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

Lots of stuff that can’t wait until Wednesday!

  • This one is must reading. Matthew Paul Turner asks former Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Shane Hipps all the questions I would have asked about the church, hell, Love Wins and the man he succeeded at MHBC, Rob Bell.

    “This is one of the biggest misunderstandings.  Rob doesn’t have a position or a concept of hell, he is an artist exploring possibilities and making unexpected connections, not a theologian plotting out a system.  In other words there is nothing to agree or disagree with.  It’s like saying I disagree with that song or that painting.”

    Read more at MPT’s blog.

  • CT’s story of the week concerns gay students at Christian colleges. That’s not a typo.

    “Leaders at Christian colleges and universities around the country told Christianity Today their schools are rethinking the way they address the needs of [same sex attracted] students on campus.”

    Read more at Christianity Today.

  • If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might remember “visitation” by pastors and church elders. These days, you’re more likely to get a house call from your doctor.  David Fitch’s guest author Ty Grigg thinks you might not have anybody drop in these days:

    “It is not a cultural norm to have neighbors or even friends over to our homes for dinner.  If we want to be with people, we go out.  The restaurant has replaced the space that home once occupied in society.  Typically, for younger generations (40’s and under), a visit will be at a coffee shop or to grab lunch.  In our suburban isolation, the home is too much of an intimate, sacred space for most non-family members to enter.”

    Read more at Reclaiming the Mission.

Other links:

  • Canadian readers will remember a national pre-Christmas story involving the theft of $2M worth of toys from a Salvation Army warehouse in Toronto. Here’s a follow-up on how the organization is working to protect itself by having a solid ‘whistle-blower’ policy
  • Want a taste of that theological educational experience you missed? RegentRadio.com, the internet broadcasting arm of Regent College, frequently offers free lectures by its professors. Currently it’s wrapping up a twelve-part series with Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit in Pauline Theology with a new lecture available each day.
  • We linked to this about six months ago, but it’s worth a revisit. Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed links to a 9-minute video where an orthodox priest explains various theories of atonement.
  • Sarnia is a Canadian city across the river from Port Huron, MI.  Pastor Kevin Rodgers blogs at Orphan Age and reminds us how a shared meal is a great way to build community.
  • USA Today religion editor Cathy Lynn Grossman looks at the larger religious issues in Monday’s Presidential inauguration ceremony.
  • A New Jersey substitute teacher is fired for giving a student his personal Bible as a gift after the student kept asking where the saying, “the last shall be first” came from.
  • New blogs we’re watching this week — okay new to us:
  • Talk about California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day: Our closing shot this week is from a Facebook page dedicated to books. The picture combines two of my favorite passions: a day at the beach and reading.

Beach Library

August 25, 2012

Kent Dobson Succeeds Rob Bell at Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

First, Rob Bell was on the pastoral staff at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, working under Pastor Ed Dobson. Then he departed to start Mars Hill and as the story goes, launched the first Sunday with over 1,000 present to hear the first of a year long series on Leviticus.  Yes, Leviticus. For one year. “That’s in all the church growth books, right?” Bell has quipped.

This week, Mars Hill Bible Church announced that Ed Dobson’s son, Kent Dobson would assume the senior teaching pastor position. The Dobsons are both no strangers to Mars Hill; the elder often occupying a place in the congregation after leaving Calvary Church, the younger serving as a worship director in the church’s early years.

More details in this Christianity Today story.

Like the person he is replacing, Kent Dobson is no stranger to controversy as outlined in this 2008 local news story.

July 15, 2012

Rob Bell to Return to Print Early March 2013

Not getting your weekly Rob Bell fix from the Mars Hill (Grand Rapids) website?  You’ll just have to wait until the first week of March, 2013.  The title is What We Talk About When We Talk About God, publishing from HarperOne.   Sorry, no further description available.  The same week, HarperCollins Children’s Publishing is releasing Love Wins Teen Edition. Hey, youth wrestle with doubts and the existence of hell just as much as adults, right?

Of course if you can’t wait for either, there’s always the Rob Bell Reader, a selection of all his books — just to whet appetites — available for free for Kindle.  But there’s nothing actually new there. I’ve pictured it below just to drive book collectors — who see the image but have so far skipped this paragraph — a little crazy.

June 26, 2012

Spirit of Rob Bell Alive at Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Another long car trip, another rush of sermon downloads to convert to disc.

Steve Argue
Mars Hill Bible Church

But this time we decided to drop by Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids) to see who has been preaching there when Shane Hipps is away.  I decided to take a chance on a sermon by Steve Argue, not entirely knowing who he was.  They’re doing a series on Acts, and it fell to him cover chapter 14, verse 19-28.

To share the experience, you want to go to their sermon page, and then select the message for April 29th, “A Church That Believes in ‘We’ and ‘Opts In.'”  (That’s the part where you click and start listening!)

There was something very familiar about the cadence.

To say the least.

And we knew that for sure…

…But he also had great content.  That helps somewhat, I think.

As my wife said so well, “He’s covered in the dust of his rabbi.”

So who is this guy?  Presently, he’s part of the youth ministry; a fact I found out only because he was interviewed earlier this year on Mike King’s blog.  I think youth ministry is vital to any healthy church, and in the interview Steve shows he has done a lot of study on the subject of spiritual formation. Deep study:

…We’re beginning to own what we believe; in some Christian circles it would be making our faith our own; and that’s done through the intersection of three things: the cognitive — is what I know; the intrapersonal — what I believe; and the interpersonal — which is how that’s expressed toward the other.

Mike also clarifies however that while he may pontificate on student ministry, his actual title is “Life Development Director at Mars Hill, serving as a member of the Leadership Team; giving oversight to kids, adolescent, emerging adults, and adults teams, and directing Mars Hill’s Internship and Residency Program.” That’s quite a leadership load for Steve to carry.

But after listening to the sermon, I wonder if he will be doing something else any time soon?  There’s a great potential there. Blessings, Steve.

June 9, 2012

Weekend Link List

Breaking News!

Two major staff transitions at very influential churches to report today:

  • Shane Hipps,  who only recently succeeded Rob Bell as teaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids will step down as soon as the church finds a permanent replacement. “I knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created.  But I had to ask the question, is this something God wanted me to change about myself?  Or was I simply not tall enough for this ride?  That is a question easier posed than answered.” 
  • Tony Jones’ response: “While I can understand the Elders’ decision to move in a more conventional direction — with a pastor who does the majority of the preaching — it seems odd that this person will report to the executive director of the church. It makes you wonder: What gifted preacher would come to Mars Hill without also being able to lead the staff?”

And now on to the rest of today’s links.

  • Church break-ins are nothing new, but sixteen in one county of one state just days apart?
  • After years of being told why men hate going to church, we learn that boys hate going to Sunday School.
  • The tour bus of Sanctus Real was involved in a fire early Wednesday morning, destroying the entire bus and resulting in the band losing all of their personal belongings. 
  • Prince Charles dropped by Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission on his recent Canadian tour to hear how charities and businesses are working together to create employment opportunities for young people. (Personal note: The YSM coffee house was the first place I performed as a Christian music artist.)
  • Author and televangelist Creflo Dollar was arrested early Friday on charges involving the choking of his 15-year-old daughter. He was taken into custody at his home and charged with simple battery and cruelty to children.
  • In the last 12 months, over 17 million American adults who don’t regularly attend worship services visited the website of a local church or place of worship according to a recent study.
  • Popular teen’s and women’s author Dannah Gresh on why she’s passing on the opportunity to read Fifty Shades of Gray.
  • A military chaplains’ organization is speaking out against a lesbian ceremony held at a U.S. Army chapel in Louisiana. “While the ceremony was not a marriage, it is clear that this was in fact a marriage-like ceremony…”
  • New York City Pastor and author Tim Keller offers fellow-pastors a behind the scenes look at the ministry philosophy behind Redeemer Presbyterian.
  • Veteran Christian blogger Bill Kinnon joins a disturbing number of people who “no longer” believe in the inerrancy of scripture.
  • Your friends in youth ministry might want to know about this four-week, interactive discipleship program for new Christians.

Devotions Department: After a week at what our British friends would call “the seaside”  Stephen and Brooksyne Weber offer devotional thoughts on some older hymns inspired by the ocean.

December 30, 2011

Rob Bell: The Goat Has Left The Building

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:26 am

Rob Bell: The Final Word

No, we’re not calling Rob an old goat.  It’s a reference to an early sermon series on Leviticus that was also preached at Willow Creek, which is approximately where Rob appeared on our radar many years ago. A bit of an in-joke I’ll admit.

But on December 18th, Rob gave his final address to Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan; which he titled, Dear Mars Hill and spoke about the power of a letter.  Just think, if John Piper was there he could have said, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  But I digress.

You can catch the download from the menu of recent sermons at this page, or for all you non-downloaders who would rather see a .pdf file of the printed text — not to mention discernment ministries that might want a copy to mark up with red pen — you can catch that at this link.

To Rob and Kristen: Looking forward to the next chapter.

To everyone else: Yes, Rob Bell has left.  Really.  And someone knows this for sure.

October 4, 2011

Rob Bell Hollywood-Bound

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

When you read tomorrow’s link list, you may decide there are other stories more worthy of being highlighted like this one, but 2011 has definitely been the year of Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. Agree or disagree with him, but the guy knows how to shake up the party.  And now, following his resignation from Mars Hill Bible Church, comes word he’s off to Los Angeles to team up with the producer of Lost.

There are a number of places I could source this from, but I thought I’d direct you to Jesus Creed because of the comments you can examine following a synopsis or two from other sources…

From Nellie Andreeva:

Carlton Cuse has teamed with author/pastor Rob Bell for Stronger, a drama project with spiritual overtones, which has been sold to ABC via ABC Studios in a hefty script deal. Stronger, which the former Lost co-showrunner and the founder of Michigan’s Mars Hill Bible Church are co-writing and executive producing, revolves around Tom Stronger, a musician and teacher, and his spiritual journey as he becomes a benefactor and guide to others. Music is expected to be a big part of the show, which features autobiographical elements as Bell is a former musician and played with rock/gospel bands in the 1990s.

And Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

New York’s Vulture site reports that the show will be loosely based on Bell’s life story as a musician and eventual founder of his church, Mars Hill Bible Church. The show will feature a musician named Tom Stronger who ends up becoming a benefactor and spiritual guide, the site reports. Josef Adalian writes:

While based on biblical principles, Bell’s brand of spirituality is not about hard-core evangelical, fire-and-brimstone teachings. Instead, his goal is to service folks’ spiritual needs without the overlay of religious dogma (see also: Oprah). Stronger is similarly expected to explore spiritual themes but without being as on-the-nose as other recent series that have tackled these issues, such as 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel. There’s also expected to be a narrative twist to the project that will make it a bit unconventional, but for now, that detail is being kept secret (this show is from a Lost-ie after all).

After an eight-stop tour called “Fit to Smash Ice,” Rob and family will be moving to the LA area.

…now read the comments people left at Jesus Creed…

Today’s essay question (15 points): Is there any argument from scripture for being a big fish in a small pond versus being a small fish in a big pond?

The related question here is, by this move does Bell stand to gain a much larger platform or lose a much larger platform? 

September 24, 2011

Rob Bell to Leave Mars Hill Grand Rapids

It’s hard to imagine “the shed” — the large area occupied by the former shopping mall’s former anchor department store in Grandville, Michigan — without Rob Bell and his assortment of props and interactive sermon elements at center stage; but starting in January, 2012, that may become reality with Thursday’s announcement that Bell is leaving the church he founded a dozen years ago.

As things now stand, the majority of Sunday teaching responsibilities would pass to Shane Hipps who came to the church two years ago after pastoring Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Hipps is the author of the Zondervan book, Flickering Pixels, a book about how technology shapes society.

Here is the announcement from the church website:

September 22, 2011

To our community of attendees, listeners, and supporters:

The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.

It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.

Rob and Kristen started Mars Hill and helped create a church that removes the barriers to meeting Jesus. And while we recognize that no one person defines a community, we acknowledge the impact of Rob’s leadership, creativity, and biblical insights on our lives, and face a deep sadness at the loss of their presence in our community.

Rob will be addressing our community in both Gatherings on Sunday, September 25, to describe his journey and call to pursue a new venture. For the remainder of this year, he will be teaching our Acts Series several times with his last teaching being in December.

As we plan for the future, Shane Hipps will continue to teach our community and we will be inviting other familiar voices to teach on Sundays during the spring of 2012.

We continue to be amazed by the grace and trust of the community we serve. Your voice and heart will be important elements of how we move forward together as a community of believers. We invite you to continue on this journey with us and ask that you would join us in prayer while we carefully discern what lies ahead for the Mars Hill community.

Grace and Peace,
The Elder Team, Ministry Leadership Team, and staff of Mars Hill

The September 25 podcast will be available for download on Tuesday, September 27.

Meanwhile, at RobBell.com, the author/speaker/pastor has announced another road tour for November, “The Fit To Smash Ice Tour” with initial dates in the northeast United States and Toronto.

Have I ever told you the story about the smoke machine at the wedding? Or the time I hit my head and had to be told who I was? Or the one about Eleazar and the elephant?

I didn’t think so. Which means it’s time for a tour. Over the next year or so I’ll be out on the Fit to Smash Ice Tour with the good chance I’ll be somewhere near where you live. As usual it’s several hours of entirely new content I haven’t given before, exploring all the exhilarating ways we stumble and fumble and fail and bleed and limp along and just how good and sacred and thrilling it all is.

I’m hoping to break some new ground on this tour, going places we haven’t gone before. I want you to be inspired, provoked, challenged and moved in all kinds of new ways throughout the evening so that you leave Fit to Smash Ice.

But a caution comes from this voice, quoted at USAToday’s religion online page:

It’s not uncommon for megachurch pastor-authors to consider leaving church leadership, according to Rick Christian, president of Alive Communications, a Colorado Springs, Colo., literary agency that represents megachurch pastors. At a certain point, some feel more like a CEO than a shepherd, Christian said, and can be tempted to leave the headaches behind — especially when they’re making good money from royalties.

But he encourages them to go slow and remember that “there’s something inherently great about the accountability that comes with” leading a congregation. Authors who leave that world incur new risks, he said.

“You can have somebody who leaves for the wrong reasons and becomes a lone ranger,” Christian said. “They’re just running and gunning for the Lord on planes, in hotels, zipping around at 30,000 feet. You can lose touch very quickly.”

Others agree parish life keeps communicators grounded. Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, noted a long history of leaving the parish for wider outreach opportunities — even Methodism founder John Wesley gave up a settled pulpit to be an itinerant preacher.

But in today’s world, she said, book tours and online virtual relationships are not enough to sustain a pastor’s moral authority.


Update – September 26 — “So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly.  Hills that is…”  Okay, R. B. isn’t going to Beverly Hills, but we do know he’s going to California as per this (ABC affiliate) WZZM channel 13 report from his Sunday sermon.

June 21, 2011

God Wins: A Preview of Mark Galli’s Response to Love Wins

[Job: ]
You [God] asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?”
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me. …
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.
(Job 42:3, 6)

Yesterday Christianity Today published a preview excerpt from the forthcoming book by it senior editor, Mark Galli, written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins to be published in July under the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why The Good News is Better Than Love Wins.   Having only this small section to work with, I couldn’t help but read it with my brain echoing the cadence of Bell himself.   If you read it that way, you’ll see the similarity.  What follows is an excerpt of an excerpt, so you may wish to click the link now; otherwise when you arrive, what follows actually takes you into the second page…

There are questions, and then there are questions.

In Love Wins, there are lots of questions—eighty-six in the first chapter alone. The book you are currently reading will address a number of them, because they are good questions. But before that, the first thing we need to do is think about the very nature of questions. Because there are questions, and then there are questions.

There are questions like the one Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked the angel when he told her some astounding news. Mary was a young woman engaged to marry Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. “Greetings, favored woman!” he bursts out. “The Lord is with you!”

Suddenly finding herself in the presence of a messenger of God, Mary is naturally “confused and disturbed.”

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel reassures her, “for you have found favor with God!”

And then he drops the bombshell: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” This Jesus, he says, will be very great, will be called the Son of the Most High, will be given the throne of his ancestor David, and will reign over Israel forever in a Kingdom that will never end.

That’s a lot to take in. Most mothers just want to know they’ll have a baby with all ten fingers and ten toes. But what exactly all this means—Son of the Most High? ruler like King David? reign forever?—seems not as perplexing to Mary as one other detail. “But how can this happen?” she asks. “I am a virgin.”

Mark Galli

That’s her question, and it’s a good one. A virgin getting pregnant without the help of a man—well, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. It’s an honest question, prompted by natural curiosity and driven, not by fear and doubt, but by wonder: how is God going to pull this off?

Mary asks one type of question; the other type was posed by Zechariah a few months earlier. He was a priest married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, an old man at the other end of life and the reproduction cycle, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

It happened in the Temple, as Zechariah burned incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared before him. “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear,” Luke’s Gospel says.

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!” Gabriel reassures. “God has heard your prayer.”

What prayer? For a son? For Elijah to come to herald the Messiah? For the Messiah to come? We’re not told what Zechariah’s prayer had been, only that it has been heard. This is what Gabriel told him: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son whom they were to name John, and this John would be an extraordinary man.

Again, Gabriel piles on the attributes. John will be great in the eyes of the Lord, will be filled with the Holy Spirit—even before his birth—will turn many Israelites to the Lord, will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, will prepare people for the coming of the Lord, will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and will cause the rebellious to accept godly wisdom.

 Again, that’s a lot to take in. And the thing that bothers Zechariah is the thing that bothers Mary: biology. “How can I be sure this will happen?” he asks the angel. “I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

His question seems like a logical one. But it is not a good question. Gabriel chastises Zechariah, telling him in no uncertain terms that he, Gabriel, stands in the very presence of God. Of course he can deliver on this promise of good news!

“Since you didn’t believe what I said,” Gabriel continues, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” The consequence for asking a bad question: Zechariah is made mute. No more questions. Only silence.

So what’s the difference here? The questions are so similar. Why is Mary’s treated with respect while Zechariah’s is an occasion for spiritual discipline? Why does the angel seem indifferent to Mary’s natural curiosity and angry about Zechariah’s?

 The difference appears in one little additional clause Zechariah adds to his question. Mary simply asks, “How can this happen?” Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure this will happen?”

Mary’s question is about God. Zechariah’s question is about himself.

Mary’s question assumes God will do something good and great, and seeks to know how it will unfold. Zechariah is not at all sure that God is good and great, and seeks proof.

Mary wants to learn more about the goodness of God. Zechariah mostly wants to be self-assured.

As I said, there are questions, and then there are questions…

continue reading; main link, jump to page two of five

go straight to page two

Related on this blog: Francis Chan’s response to Love Wins

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