The Common Good

An Open Letter to Rob Bell

This letter was written on a plane a week ago. I posted it originally on Facebook as a status update. Out of curiosity I took a gander at it again and decided I wanted to share it here. Things are so fluid on the Ol' F-Book that I thought keeping it here would be good to do. Rob's new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, offers someting new and something familiar all at once. What I think Rob is doing is not so much giving us new ideas (though, given some of the ecclesial silos many of us have been reared in some of these ideas might seem new). Instead, Rob is lending his voice to many Christians. His pastorally framed theology is just the kind of thing many people have been clamoring for these last several decades. My grandparents would have loved his new book. So would have their parents. I kid you not.

Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"
Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

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This book is not about a "new" thing. It's simply about God and how we come to know God in this world. 

Dear Rob Bell,

I'm reading your book while flying across the country from Berkeley to Chicago ... I'm on a musical pilgrimage of sorts to play music in one of my home towns. Seemed appropriate somehow to read your book on my way. Sound ... I'm looking for a sound a hum of the divine and trying to get away from the words ... all the damn words that I have to use to describe a thing that is actually beyond words.

Your book makes me want to dance. It makes me want to hmmmmmmmm ... to sound. To ruach because it is an action. So, thank you for it.

"Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief" also comes to mind. I'm sitting up here wondering where the sticking point is for me, why I struggle with unbelief on so many levels ... not just about God. That unbelief is familiar. It's the rest of it, Rob. I commend you for your courage to write and say anything at all, for the courage to witness, testify, proclaim, whatever you want to call it. I'm still looking for the courage that say SOMETHING ... hell ANYTHING ... with conviction. I can proclaim doubt. I'm good a that ... but this thing that you do. Well now...

Damn, son. That's awesome.

Okay. Right. I'm sharing this with Facebookistan because I want people to read your book. Some will hate it. Some will love it. Tis what it is. No? And I want you to know why you make me nervous and why I look at you all slantways.

Keep doing the good work.

Tripp 

So, that's it. It's a book I wish I had written. It's something I've attempted to preach, but I have no way of knowing if it stuck.

Rob is a lightning rod. He puts himself out there, too. No question. But he has the ability, the fortune of his situation, to reach many people with a word that has been preached in thousands of pulpits across the country for generations and still needs to be preached. God is a God for all times. Christ walks in this world not to turn it into first century Jerusalem but to witness to Kingdom here and now, Higgs Boson particles and all. 

We who are The Church are not in agreement. Most days I wish we were. But this is all the more reason why Rob and others with such large megaphones at their disposal need to speak. It lends a bit of honesty to the larger, public conversation.

The question has been raised if Rob just stirs up trouble, that he has no community of accountability, etc. Well, that may be a good question. I will say here, however, that he speaks for me in this instance. For more than 20 years my friends and I have been saying what Rob is saying and getting no traction in the wider public sphere. None. Why? Many reasons. Well, we seemed to have preferred a scandal when it comes to the Big Public Religion stuff.

Until now.

I hope.

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

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