Updated – Fantastical Journey Part 4: Rob Bell

Rob Bell
Image by Keegan Jones via Flickr

Note to NoCamo readers: this post was written before the controversy concerning Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, and his subsequent decision to leave his church. My intent was to merely write about what he said during his talk at the Fantastical Conference in October of 2010. I had never heard Rob Bell speak prior to this occasion, and did not research his background prior to writing this.

I had never heard Rob Bell speak before I saw him at the Fantastical conference. I’ve heard his name mentioned, but never heard him speak.

His message was about words, and how we as worshipers use them. As a musician and a wordsmith, I was anxious to hear what he had to say. Much of his talk resonated with me. Here are some take-aways from my notes…

  • Part of worship leading is placing words on people’s lips, as well as leading a group of people in breathing and saying words on pitch together (resonating intervals). Essentially, uniting our physicalities.
  • We tend to use too much definitive precision and technical description in our discussion of God and not enough parable, poem, rant, story, lament, proverb, remez, or question.
  • Job 38 – Sarcasm is Biblical!
  • Half of the Psalms are laments. Or, “God can handle your depression, too.”
  • Remez; Hebrew, meaning “tent;” quoting something everyone know so a person may discover truth

3 Types of Language

1. Atonement language – Paul used terms from other walks of life to make an impact

  • Ephesians 1v7 – redemption – economic term – to deem is to give worth to something, “re” = do it again
  • Romans 4v25 – justification – legal concept – guilty party set free from guilt
  • Colossians 1 – reconcile – relationship term – two people once at peace find peace again
  • Hebrews 9 – sacrifice – temple concept – offering of worth to make sure one is “on a god’s good side”
  • 1 John – victory – war concept – defeating an enemy (here, death)
  • Ephesians 1 – adoption – family concept – caring for a discarded child

How could WE explain Jesus with metaphors from the world? In ancient times, the thought of being exiled and returning from exile was effective (“Ever feel far from home in your heart?”). Today, our culture responds to connectivity as in Genesis, where Earth was connected to its Maker (Sin disconnects: Jesus reconnects).

2. Enthronement language

Our country/culture does not identify with a monarchy. We have no king in America. Older songs were written during monarchies. Such language may be less effective today.

3. Three-tiered language – heavens/earth/pit-grave-death. This type of language was more effective before space travel and deep drilling found no men in white robes or devils with pitchforks.

Everything above came straight from my notes. Since I have returned home, I’ve been able to process some of what Rob said, and I take issue with one aspect in particular.

I read a post by Bob Kauflin on his blog, Kingdom People. Bob also spoke at the conference, and I will be writing about his breakout session at another time. He wrote the following about Rob’s thoughts regarding creativity in the metaphors we use to describe the Gospel:

While I appreciate relevance and clear communication, developing our own metaphors for the atonement potentially undermines and distorts the gospel. Yes, it’s important to recognize and communicate the vast and multiple effects of Christ’s death and the resurrection, and yes, Christians can overemphasize theological precision and definition at the expense of actually communicating the good news. But every description of Christ’s work on the cross is connected to our need to be forgiven by and reconciled to a holy God. If we fail to communicate this, we have failed to proclaim the biblical gospel.

The problem with being critical of some of these forms of communication is that these forms of communication are IN THE BIBLE! We MUST use Scripture to describe atonement! I can turn a phrase as well as the next guy, but all my cleverness and technique pales in comparison to the Word of God.

Finally, merely because I found it amusing, I Googled an interview Rob mentioned as an example of creative language. An interviewer asked Bob Dylan how he got into rock and roll…

Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I’m in a card game. Then I’m in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a “before” in a Charles Atlas “before and after” ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy – he ain’t so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I’m in Omaha. It’s so cold there, by this time I’m robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain’t much to look at, but who’s built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything’s going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?

Then the interviewer asked, “And that’s how you became a rock-‘n’-roll singer?”

Dylan replied: “No, that’s how I got tuberculosis.”

7 thoughts on “Updated – Fantastical Journey Part 4: Rob Bell

  1. Hi!

    I have a couple of questions regarding the various kinds of languages. First, do you think that the culture truly doesn’t understand enthronement language? No, America doesn’t have a king; it has a president. But, that doesn’t mean that the average person doesn’t understand the concept of kingship. Ask any citizen what it means to be a king and they’ll repsond that it means to be in control and to rule over subjects. If a culture isn’t necessarily under a particular authoritative hierarchy, does it mean that they don’t have a basic grasp of the concept? Where was Mr. Bell’s proof that enthronement language is ineffective due to the absence of that political structure?

    Just curious as to your thoughts on this particular issue! I was at the conference as well! 🙂


    1. Joshua,

      Good point. I believe he was speaking to the fact that our experiences dictate the effect language has on us. One may not fully grasp what it means to serve a king if they never have. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with that, but I understand where he’s coming from.

      Will I continue to refer to God as my King? Yes.

  2. Hi Jon,

    Yes, I can follow that idea, but I must admit, it brings another question to mind! If the understanding relies on experience, what does that mean for us as Christians? The only King I’ve ever served is King Jesus, but I certainly didn’t know what it meant to serve any other kind of king. I didn’t have any external experience to draw from to help me understand a spiritual concept. Maybe a better question would be, how can we draw a relevant, cultural example that an unbeliever would understand but that also holds biblical congruity with how the Bible portrays God? We could compare God to a president, but a president does not have complete control. We could account for total control and call God a dictator, but then we fail to incorporate God as loving, compassionate and merciful. Does that make sense? Granted, there have been kings in history who have abused their power and there have been some who have been anything BUT kind and merciful, but history is also full of examples of kings who were just, wise, loving and sovereign over their subjects. I guess I’m just trying to understand how we can follow Mr. Bell’s point and still maintain an accuracte depiction of the sovereign, just, merciful and holy King.


    1. I think that IS the point! The quest for cultural relevance in our descriptions of God is a losing proposition. I am all for speaking to people where they live, to “putting the cookies on the bottom shelf,” as it were. But all of our earthly metaphors are exactly that: earthly. Faulty. Not at all comprehensive. A drop in the bucket.

      Maybe I’m looking at this backwards. Maybe it isn’t about the target audience’s perspective, but my own. I believe that our personal experiences do play a role in how we communicate with unbelievers. So, if my personal testimony does not contain service of an earthly king, I can see how that language may be considered less potent. I don’t think that was the direction Mr. Bell was heading, but I think it may be a good take-away from the discussion. It is necessary for me to be transparent and authentic when speaking of my Savior, so naturally I should speak from my own experience.

  3. Hmmmm, yes I certainly agree with that!

    I also agree that we draw from our personal experiences when we communicate. God uses our experiences to shape us into who we are so we absolutely draw from them. I’ve enjoyed this conversation!

    God bless,

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