Rob Bell: An Introduction to Lessons I’ve Learned

When it comes to Rob Bell, you’re in one of three camps – you either love him, you hate him or you don’t know about him. This is the same effect that Jesus had on people. You just couldn’t remain indifferent to the man. You had to choose a side.

Over the past several years I have read nearly every one of Rob’s numerous books, I’ve listened to all 250+ podcasts, I’ve watched his YouTube videos and I’ve seen him live twice.

You could say I’m a bit of a fan, and in this and following articles I am going to share with you some valuable lessons that I think we all – whether you like him or not – can benefit from.

In this article I’m going to focus on some very general lessons that I’ve observed in talking with other people about Rob.

Let’s dive in…

Don’t judge an author by one work

The book that put Rob Bell on the map, and was one factor in making him TIME magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People of the Year in 2011, is his book Love Wins.

If you haven’t read the book, then, as I mentioned at the top, you probably haven’t heard of Rob Bell. It has, to say the least, stirred quite a bit of controversy in Christian circles.

Some have branded him as a heretic for what he’s written in the book. Others have taken to the streets to publicly denounce him. Some have gathered in picket lines to protest public gatherings where he has spoken. He has been deemed dangerous by some.

When I first heard of the book I looked it up in my public library’s database. They had the book. However, another book that appeared right next to it in the search results was a book titled God Wins – a book written with the sole purpose of refuting everything that Rob seemed to be talking about in his book.

Because of its popularity – and controversy – it’s usually the first thing people know about the work of Rob Bell.

Unfortunately, it’s also often the last thing they know about the work of Rob Bell, which is a shame.

As I mentioned earlier, Rob has produced a ton of content. Love Wins is not the only thing he has ever produced.

Do you remember the days of LP records? I remember saving my allowance and going to the record store to buy an album that would typically have eight songs on it – four on each side. There would usually be one or two songs on the album that I knew, because they played them on the radio. The other songs were a gamble. If you really liked the artist, chances are you’d like the other songs as well. The songs that were really great but never got played, they would call those deep cuts – or eventually…lost classics.

There were some really great gems you could pull out of those albums. Sometimes there would be a different song on the album – one that wasn’t the “big hit” – that you liked even better.

That’s the way it is with any author as well. Think of their books as songs on an album. Hey, if you don’t like one of the songs, it doesn’t mean every song is garbage. You have to dig into them all. Get to know them.

Are you familiar with the album Okay Computer by Radiohead? I was told by a friend that I would really like that album, so I went out and bought it. I listened to it a couple times…and I just didn’t get it at first. I stopped listening to it. It was a bit too strange for me.

Then, one day I heard some muzak being played at a Starbucks. It was a melody that I was somewhat familiar with. I then realized that it was from one of the songs on the Radiohead album – the song Karma Police, I think. I really liked it. I went home and listened to the album from a whole new perspective…and fell in love. It became one of my favorite albums of all time.

Don’t let other people do your thinking for you

I was having a conversation with somebody who was a grad student in a Bible program. I asked him if he had heard of Rob Bell, and what he thought of him.

His reply, which seemed like a canned answer with a bit of a poo-poo attitude, was, “Oh, yeah. He’s not really saying anything new.”

I’d heard that before. His response seemed to indicate that had never actually read or heard anything by Rob. What it sounded like is that, at his Bible college, he received a pat response to give people when they bring up the subject of Rob Bell. He had been trained to deal with anyone who had read Rob’s book and possibly were struggling with what it said.

Now, in all fairness, I did not pursue the issue, so for all I know, the young man had done his research and come up with his own conclusion…

But I doubt it.

I liken this to somebody who has any kind of prejudice about a group of people without actually knowing one of them. People have all sorts of preconceived notions about rich people, poor people, gays, immigrants, Christians, Muslims, etc. – until you meet one.

When it comes to informing our beliefs and opinions, we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to take responsibility to find out all the facts ourselves. Dig in and get personal.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or, as Jesus said in John 7:24, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

Don’t be afraid to read controversial material…and share what you’ve learned

I know some people refer to works of certain authors as “spiritual pornography”.

“It’s just garbage. Why would you ever put that garbage into your system?”

I’m not advocating feeding on garbage. I’m talking about making a decision for yourself what is useful and what isn’t.

As with pornography, though, quite often there are people that quietly consume controversial material, but then hide it. They don’t tell anyone.

In another conversation I had, this time with someone who works on staff with a church, a person was telling me that they too were a fan of Rob Bell. However, they dare not bring it up with anyone else on staff, lest their convictions be questioned and their job jeopardized.

For me, consuming Rob’s work has really strengthened my faith. He has opened my eyes to consider things from different perspectives. Another reason, though, is that I don’t necessarily see eye to eye with Rob on everything.

Every time I read or hear something that makes me think, “Wait a minute…” I go back to the scriptures and have another look. I do some other research. I go deeper. I like to read things that challenge my beliefs. It’s not comfortable, but I’ve grown tremendously as a result.

Some things I keep and others I throw out. The point is, it’s my decision. I’m practicing point #2. I don’t let other people spoon-feed me my beliefs.

And, in upcoming articles, I look forward to sharing with you some other great things I’ve learned from Rob Bell.

Until then…

Grace, peace and no hair grease!

P.S. Check out the YouTube video… 

Rob Bell: An Introduction to Lessons Learned

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