Militant Mysticism: Wrestling With Rob Bell

Rob Bell gave an interview to Christianity Today which you can read here.  Rob Bell is a guy I wrestle with.  I love his heart.  I believe he loves Jesus, as he understand him, and that he has deep compassion for those who are hurting and lost.  I have been provoked, convicted, frustrated, and inspired by Rob Bell.  But I began wondering a few years ago about his trajectory.  I wondered where his shift in understanding the Gospel to be primarily one of social justice, and joining God in re-creation.  Well the article has me right back in a spot of wrestling with Rob Bell and uncertain about his path.

For example here is one question and response in the interview.

All well and good, but how is this good news to people with no earthly hope? If I’m dying of aids or cancer, I probably don’t give a rip about the renewal of all things. I want to know if my sins are forgiven, and when I die, if am I going to see Jesus or not.

Yes, and I would say that central to that new creation is the problem with the first creation—death. The Resurrection is about God dealing with the death problem. And central to this giant cosmic hope is a very intimate, yes, you can trust this Jesus. You can trust this new creation. You can trust being with him when you die, when you leave this life, however you want to put it. Yes, there is an intensely personal dimension to this giant story that you and I get to be a part of.

Bell’s comments are stirring and emotively resonate with many ( I know they do with me).  But I am left hanging… What is the death problem? And how does God deal with it?  Fundementally there has been a split or separation in the relationship between God and humans.  The death problem is that we have turned away from God in favor of our own rule and will, this is sin (Rom. 6) . I like where Bell is going in this answer but I just wish he would have finished the story like Paul did;

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col. 1:20).

Oh how sweet that through the BLOOD of Jesus on the CROSS God took care of the “death problem.”

Now for some comments that truly puzzle me.

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

I do not want to go to far with this but I just do not know what Bell means.  Is he referring to the Trinity?  Context seems to suggest not.  As an overall strategy of militant mysticism (which is a strong reliance on mystery) is a shabby substitute for a God who has gracefully revealed so much, not everything, but more than enough for us not to perpetually walk in the fog of questioning about central matters of the story of God’s redemptive history.

Asked to give a brief telling of what Bell believes to be the Gospel this is the response that Bell gives.

How would you present this gospel on Twitter?

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Against you alone God has humanity sinned. And you God made him who knew no sin to be sin so that we might be reconciled to God.  You reconcile us to you through the Cross so that we might be conformed to his image and that Jesus would be the first born among many brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom.

There is simply no more story or new creation that Rob Bell calls us to, without the work of Christ on the Cross.  If we lose the work on the Cross we lose everything.

I implore all of you to say no thanks to “tiny slivers” of some possible great oneness, and instead choose the blood stained cross, and empty tomb of Jesus.



9 Responses

  1. booooo….approve my earlier comment!

  2. my earlier comment (which apparantly was lost to the internet monster) was basically this: Bell was asked HOW he would present the gospel on twitter. Not “what is your definition of the gospel”. Different. Kinda like being asked how you would bake a cake, or better yet, how you would tell me to bake a cake, not “how does a cake taste?” Just saying there is a difference.

  3. Good point Jake and I do want to be balanced here. My intent is not to take unfair shots at Bell, in fact that is why I tried to state how much I have been influenced by him and his creativity.

    Yet I am not sure how the medium of communication, be it; twitter, facebook, novel, essay changes the content. Just like if someone asked me if I love my wife, the big idea would remain the same no matter the mode of communication. I just found Bell’s idea of the Gospel to be wanting even if an abbreviated twitter version.

    Even in his twitter presentation Bell gives us to be what he believes the big points of the Gospel; that history has a redemptive trajectory that we should joyfully embrace. Yet this is not the Gospel. The Gospel is much more specific about what that redemption IS and how we can participate in it.

    And sorry about your previous comment getting lost, we would never censor you on this blog!

  4. Here is how I would present the Gospel on twitter that would be condensed and concise.

    “God is good. we’re f-ups because we broke God’s law. God deserves the right to send us to hell. Christ sacrificed himself for us. repent and trust Christ!”

  5. Ooohh, sorry Andrew, your description is 14 characters too long. Try again.

  6. Asking someone how they would explain anything in 140 characters or less is akin to asking them what they think the most essential, concise aspects of that thing are.

    Semantics aside Jake, Ryan’s point stands because regardless of the use of “how” or “what” in the question, Bell answered with what he thought were the essential and concise aspects of the gospel.

    From this, we can assume that he thinks an empty tomb is essential but the cross is not. Now one might argue that an empty tomb infers the cross. Well, this implicit assumption is something the new testament writers preferred to be explicit with. Might I suggest we follow their lead and not Mr. Bell’s.

  7. I do think that the TWITTER statement by Bell is being misinterpreted. He’s not trying to provide a theological summary, but in “tweet-speak”, an enticement to create curiousity and conversation. TWITTER is about the conversation, not about declarative statements.

    And while I think I understand your need for certainty and therefore your concerns about Bell’s reluctance to sign on for much of the traditional American brand of Christian hyperconfidence, I think Bell represents (or is in step with) the modern (and ancient) conceit that nothing is what it seems and folks selling certainty are not to be trusted. I agree with Bell that this American hubris is the exception to the history of our faith – not in the mainstream of it.

    This very hard. It is hard to trade certainty for doubt – confidence for questions. But our allegiance has to be to truth rather than to tradition. And perhaps Bell is reframing the question in mystical terms: perhaps it’s not certainty for doubt, but, as Rumi said, certainty for wonder.

  8. Hey Jeff thanks for the comment and thoughts.

    I would simply question what you mean by certainty. My goal is not certainty but it is to live in light of revelation that God has kindly given to us. It would be foolish for me to claim that my house is dark and I am unable to see when a floodlight is coming in through the window. My reality is being revealed by the floodlight, it is simply wrong to think I am still in a dark house.

    In the same way I am not after certainty when it comes to God; boy does he know that I only see dimly. But I also would caution against the trendy idea of saying we can not know anything when God has so gracefully revealed so much.

    Besides having absolute certainty has never been a criteria for valid belief. I can not be absolutely certain that my wife love me, that Matt is a dad to twins, but I can have asymptotic evidence that these things are true and live in light of them.

    I have no desire Jeff to master God and put him in a box, but I also know that I can only have deep relationship with him when I let him master me and submit the revelation (the Bible) that he has so graciously given to me.

    I know that Twitter only allows for 140 characters and is meant to be somewhat pithy, but if I had to twitter how I felt about my wife and did not get in “I love her” in those 140 characters than I really missed the big “E” on the eye chart.

    Blessings brother Jeff.

    • I have to completely disagree with you here Jeff. The words ‘I love her’, ‘I love you’, etc. have lost so much meaning. The ‘word’ love is barely a shadow of what the ‘action’ truly is.

      I argue that I can make an extremely compelling description of how I feel about my wife without ever saying the ‘word’ love in 140 characters. In fact, it would be so much more compelling.

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