I have a theological crush (not to be confused with an intellectual crush or a garden variety crush) on Rob Bell. If you haven’t heard of him, start here or here but be sure to listen to one of his sermons here. (“Both sides of the cup” is particularly good.)
I like listening to him because:
(1) He manages to successfully negotiate both Greek roots and real, personal application of scriptures in sermons that are faithful to the scriptures. He’s faithful to both the original context (and subtext) of the texts that he uses but also builds a bridge to what the text can (and should) mean today.
(2) He might be hip and funny, but he’s not guilty of some of the nonsense that I’ve seen in other celebrity Christians: there’s no Christianity Lite (think Veggietales) or bizarre but popular perversions (think Prosperity Gospellers). He preaches about everything from sexual purity to gossip to care for the poor. He’s the real deal of biblical theology–no watering down, no pandering to postmodern culture.
(3) He manages to do what I think may be the single hardest feat for a gospel teacher: to convince the audience to want to mprove without making them feel that their efforts are futile. We’re probably all familiar with what it looks like when a teacher misses this mark and the audience either feels like irredeemable scum for being the only person in the room who would even think of yelling at her children or the audience is left thinking that, hey, we’re all only human and so of course we’re going to yell at the kids. But all of Bell’s sermons that I have listened to have made clear that he knew that there were people listening who were struggling with everything from addiction to despair to, well, you name it, but that all of them could and would improve their lives if they chose to follow Christ.
(4) He is also really good at emphasizing both personal morality and social justice; my impression is that many brands of Christianity over-emphasize one at the expense of the other.
(5) His sermons always make me want to be more Christlike and do a better job of following Christ.
I do have one concern about Rob Bell; a concern best expressed, perhaps, in an episode of King of the Hill that I have not personally technically seen but which my husband (upon whom I have much more than a crush) described to me in loving detail. Apparently Bobby had become enamored of a “skateboarding ministry.” Hank Hill pulled out a box of toys that Bobby had outgrown and expressed his concern that Jesus would end up in that box once skateboarding became passe. There will come a time when Rob Bell will fit in the cultural box of so-last-week instead of hipster. I suppose there is a risk that that will result in young people turning away from God. But I think it more likely that a new figure who meets whatever constitutes hip (or whatever they’ll call it) in 2030 will be up to the job of filling Bell’s trendy shoes. Till then, you might want to listen to some of his sermons.
NB: There is no Mormon angle to this post.