Maybe the title is a little overstated, but if you keep reading I will give an accurate synopsis of every Rob Bell book ever (past, present, and future). Not to overgeneralize, nor to stereotype Bell, but he is pretty predictable. And if he is faithfully living up to the predictions of wiser observers, it is possible that those wise observers might pick up on others like him in our midst.
A couple of days ago, one of my profs from Dallas tweeted this:
1) Look at Rob Bell today; 2) Remember where he was 10 years ago; 3) Run from everybody today who looks like he did 10 years ago.
— Dr Michael J. Svigel (@Svigel) March 19, 2013
He is commenting of course on the trajectory of Bell’s theology and public representation of the Christian faith in light his recent “coming out” in support of gay marriage. Certainly no one was surprised by the announcement, and if they were, they just haven’t been paying attention. If you were, I’ve got some amazing business opportunities you could invest in for me.
Two years ago, Bell’s farewell to conservative evangelical Christianity, a movement he was always on the fringe of anyway, came in the form of Love Wins, a blog post expanded into book form (much like his previous offering Drops Like Stars). I have it, but never got around to reading it (beyond the first chapter, which I commented on here), but I said that’s what I’d do anyway. I also said video trailers deserve the proper response, something the folks at Canon Wired took to heart and did just that.
Initially, when Bell made this shift, I thought we should distinguish between false teachers and false teaching. But, I conceded that Bell more or less was becoming the zeitgeist’s new prophet. Whatever the spirit of the American cultural age is into, there you will find Rob Bell. Since every else is coming out for gay marriage, Bell’s publicist knew it was time to do the same. In true Bibfeldtian spirit, Bell is here to affirm the culture at large in whatever they find near and dear at the moment.
Now, what Dr. Svigel is getting at is that the trajectory that led here is discernible farther back in time. Velvet Elvis came out around 8 years ago, and before that there was Sex God. My assessment of Velvet Elvis (a book I read in seminary) was that some false teaching never gets old, but there were some things that needed to be said. In essence, that is how every single Rob Bell book could be summarized: an engaging combination of valuable insights and bad theology.
Based on the trailer, and some reviews, that seems to be applicable to What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I’m debating whether to go to Barnes and Noble and read it while standing next to the bookshelf. With spring break coming up, anything could happen.
In the meantime, I think we should all take to heart Svigel’s quote. If anything, Bell’s coming out vindicated what thoughtful critics have been saying about Bell for years. He was clearly open to reinventing doctrine to suit the spirit of the age. In a time when we need men with chests to stand up for sound doctrine, we have another hipster without a spine. Bell is slowly going the way of the buffalo, but the writing has been on the wall for years.
Or actually, the writing has been on pages surrounding by white space and accompanied by glossy photos and engaging storytelling. For people with discernment, there’s probably writing on the walls of other pastor/teacher’s books right now as we speak/type. I don’t think we need to go on a heresy hunt, but I think we should pray we have eyes to see and ears to hear and not be afraid to concede that for some of us, our favorite author/pastor/teacher might be the next Rob Bell. He certainly wasn’t the first, and he definitely won’t be the last.