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Rob Bell: Don't Let Them Put Name On You

Every day on the way to preschool, my three year-old daughter Molly asks to listen to the first track on Derek Webb’s album, The Ringing Bell, which opens with the sound of a baby’s heartbeat in the womb. My daughter puts her ear against her doll’s chest and pretends to listen to the beating of her Baby Kyle’s heart.

It’s a twelve-minute drive on winding country roads, so before we pull up to her school we usually get through the first two songs on the CD as well as track four, which Molly requests as the “all over again song.” But lately I’ve been skipping “The Very End” (track two) because Molly has started singing that song’s first line repeatedly, at random, and out of context: “This is my murder trial.”

This morning I played the the seventh track on The Ringing Bell. It’s a song called “Name,” and listening to the lyrics

Oh my darlin’, you must be a moving target just like me
They’ll call you right, they’ll call you left
They’ll call you names of all your friends

You never know
What you’ll have to do
Baby don’t let ‘em
Don’t let ‘em put a name on you

There’s no categories just long stories waiting to be heard
(If there’s love in your heart)
Don’t be satisfied when someone sums you up with just one word
(If there’s love in your heart)

– I started thinking about how I want to raise Molly with this level of confidence in who she is as a person, as my daughter, and as a child of God.

The lyrics also reminded me of the maelstrom of controversy and ungraciousness swirling around Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I don’t have anything to say about the book that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by Scot McKnight yesterday, and by Donald Miller today, in a post that is relevant to the Love Wins rumpus, even if it is actually about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. These commentaries are well worth your time.

I will briefly add my small voice to the discussion to say that I’ve been maddened by and ashamed of the reaction of some Christian leaders – including a writer or two with books on the BtB 100 – who have appointed themselves bouncers with the power to admit or toss folks from Club Christian based on their theological fitness. They are dismissing Bell as a “universalist.” What makes this more infuriating is that Bell – not the book, Bell himself – is being banished based on a few sample chapters from Love Wins and a promotional video created by the publisher. The self-appointed gatekeepers are comfortable making that kind of snap judgment, comfortable shutting down a difficult but important discussion before it even starts. Arrogance and fear are dangerous enough on their own; together they are a noxious brew. That’s not a club I want to be a part of anyway, but I can show myself to the door.

Rob Bell is almost certainly not one of the 40 people who regularly read this blog. But I would like to encourage him, encourage all of us really, to continue asking hard questions, to temper criticism with courtesy, to submit ourselves to one another and to the conversation. Regardless of whether everyone will be saved in the end, everyone is savable, and that is reason enough to treat each other with a little love, patience, and common decency.

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2 comments on “Rob Bell: Don't Let Them Put Name On You

  1. I fully agree with your take on this issue and have been more disturbed by the response than the forthcoming book.

    However I think in all of this Bell is prepared for this. His track record isn’t as a theologian but as a prophet/performance artist. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was expecting all of this and put himself out there to simply advance the conversation.

    Tony Jones said he thinks that Bell doesn’t care what people have to say about him. I think he cares, but is just willing to take the criticism.

  2. It is frustrating when theologians, myself included, try to contain the seeming chaos that is the body of Christ. Without love and grace as the foundation, it is easy to want to amputate a seemingly infected limb than take the time and effort to heal it.

    If the Rob Bell book says what people claim it says, then it is not out of line for Christians to give it push back. But that’s not really the issue. There should be room in the family of God for Christians to disagree on big things without being disowned.

    I appreciate the post and I hope you can raise your daughter to love the church the way you obviously do. I recently had a son, and the desire to pass on a passion for grace is near and dear to my heart as well. Thanks!

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