Thinking Out Loud

April 22, 2009

Militant Mysticism: The CT Rob Bell Interview

“I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I’m really absolutely sure of some things that I don’t quite know.”

It’s lines like that get some respondents upset after reading the Christianity Today interview with Mars Hill (Grand Rapids) pastor and author Rob Bell.    Of course, to some, Bell will never be able to give the right answers.

rob_bellFor example, in a final question, Mark Galli asks Bell, “How would you present the gospel on Twitter;” which Bell legitimately interprets as, “How you would go about presenting the gospel on Twitter;” but which for some people — including Galli himself — is heard as, “Tell us what you would tweet if asked to sum up the gospel as a Twitter post.”

Galli is just trying to get Bell to give a concise summation of the gospel as he (Bell) sees it.    But when Bell says, “You really can’t Tweet the gospel;” it’s possible he is  (a) realizing that Galli is baiting him, or (b) making the larger point that the gospel is so much more than what we can put into some short propositional sentences, let alone 140 characters.

Which is true.    While much energy is spent online trying to come up with the definitive gospel, and nitpickingly dissecting the statements of others to see who’s in and who’s out of the Truth Club, the fact remains that Jesus’ own statements about the Gospel and the Kingdom are multi-dimensional and not without mystery.

The tension in the interview is not so much Bell’s answers but the interview itself.   It reminds me of the time that I was being hired by a denomination for a paid position which thus required the completion of a four-page doctrinal statement and a four-page “personal testimony” statement.   Not wanting anything to go awry, the pastor doing the hiring slipped me a photocopy of his answers when completing the same process years earlier.

Armed with this perfectly good ‘cheat sheet’ which guaranteed me full marks on each question, I decided instead to reframe the answers in a new way.   I asked myself, “How can I relate the doctrinal truths of which I am personally convinced, without using the proverbial words and phrases?”   And especially, “How can I answer the question about this particular portion of scripture in such a way that it relates to another portion that the person reading my answers may not have considered?”

I got the job.   I think that’s the bottom line in that case.   Years later, I think it’s why I relate to Rob Bell.   Not everyone does.    And I’m perfectly okay with that, I think so is Bell.

You can read the interview at CT online here.


  1. I would claim there is a third possible reason for Bell’s response. One could say that you could not “tweet” the Gospel for the fact that sharing the Kingdom is not a mere collection of truth but truth accompanied by evidence. In the modern world that evidence is most commonly the content of the sharer’s life, which most people on twitter cannot have
    a reasonable appreciation for.

    If our primary way of sharing the gospel is by showing the transformation of our lives and disclosing the source of that transformation, then it should not be surprising that an outlet that does not allow others to see clearly for themselves that transformation is ill-suited to the task.

    Comment by David Rudel — April 24, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

  2. David,

    Yes. I’d take that. How many times does an e-mail go awry because there’s no way to type the inflection, the passion, etc.?

    There are so many limitations to new media. You’ve probably seen this recent clip from Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels as to how he sees it impossible to build real community online, and the same could be said about relational sharing of our faith.

    Here’s the link:

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 24, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

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