Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2010

Rob Bell: Defending Dust

I’m not prepared to go to the wall defending everything Rob Bell says or does, but I think some balance is needed against the mounting criticism online, of which perhaps this piece (click here) is a prime example.

Rob Bell in his pre-minstry days, at 18 months

I’ve watched a number of the NOOMA videos, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen Dust.   I have heard the sermon that it’s based on however, and therein lies a huge difference.   I’m a big fan of Rob’s preaching, but on days like this one, I sometimes wish that NOOMA didn’t exist.   The full sermons offer the full experience.    Nonetheless, I find this concept somewhat straightforward.

Peter asks Jesus if he can join him walking on the water.   Rob brings a lot of cultural context to this request in the full sermon, and in other teachings.   Peter, you see, is a lead disciple.   His impulsive nature is actually manifest in the fulfilling of what is expected of the token ‘older’ talmudim   (Peter has a mother-in-law, so he’s married; Jesus tells him to look inside a fish to find a coin to pay the tax “for you and I;” the other disciples being too young for that tax.)   The disciple is expected to do what [i.e. everything] he sees the rabbi doing.

Peter gets out of the boat.  (Starts well.)   He walks on water.  (Going good.)   Then he takes his eyes of Jesus.  (Not so smart.)    He looks down.  (Getting worse.)  He wonders what the heck he is doing out there.   (Sinking starts.)

Bell points out that it’s not that Peter doesn’t believe in Jesus.   Jesus is unmistakably walking on water.    This is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact that Peter and the other disciples can see plainly.  (We “believe” Jesus walked on water, all they had to do was look.)

Peter is just not sure he can do it, and he begins to sink.    Again, it’s not that he doesn’t believe Jesus can walk on water, or that Jesus can give him the power to also walk on water.   It’s just too big.   Too big for him to handle.    He doesn’t believe he can do it, even though it’s quite evident that Jesus can.

But Jesus believes in him, in fact Jesus doesn’t just restore Peter to ministry later on after his denial, he is constantly about the business of restoring and reinstating Peter to ministry. After the abortive water-walk, after the whole “get thee behind Me” thing, and after the three-time denial.

Bell in a slightly more recent picture

That’s what Bell is saying.   Do you get it now?   No?   Then give up.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.   Maybe it’s not that you can’t wrap your brain around it, maybe you just don’t like Rob Bell. Maybe you just can’t handle the idea that a new generation of communicators is taking the stage. Maybe you can’t remember when your earliest attempts to express your hope in Christ was packaged in difficult metaphors and rough-edged stories.

Rob Bell is not saying that the essence of Jesus’ ministry is “just believe in yourself.”   Bell, if he bothered to respond at all, would say that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.    This context is a unique presentation of a unique concept that applies to one disciple in one particular time and place.

His application is that Jesus believes you can do this. You can live this Christ-following life. He will give you the strength and the courage to live out this faith in a world of temptation, trial and opposition. He has faith in you to be His instrument to carry out His plans and purposes in your generation.

Give the guy a break on this one.   Or is that you really don’t want to? I don’t agree with everything he says, I couldn’t finish his friend Peter Rollins’ book, and the hiring of Shane Hipps may prove more problematic than anyone expected.

But as my mother would say, “don’t go looking for the hair on the egg.”

(And, for the record, I don’t agree with everything my pastor says, every author he quotes or every staff member he hires.)

And don’t extrapolate a pastor’s core theology on the basis of a ten-minute “discussion starter” video.

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