Two very provocative interviews for the price of none.

I’m a big fan of both Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. I’m pretty unaplogetic about it at this point. In the past few years no two individuals have influenced my thinking on matters of faith and social issues more than these guys. Much to the shagrin of many of my cohorts I’m sure.

Recently The Wittenburg Door, a satirical faith-based magazine, published interviews with both Bell and McLaren that I found particularly provocative. (And which also makes me think I need visit their site more often.) You should definately take the time to read both interviews in their entirety.

And since I know that the vast majority of you are too lazy to do that, I’ve excerpted some highlights from each below.

Up first is Rob Bell’s interview titled “It’s Not About Saving the Poor, It’s About Saving Us.”


Preaching is one of the original art forms, kind of the original guerrilla theatre. A sermon was an electric event; Martin Luther King Jr. changed the whole shape of American culture with a sermon. John Wesley out in a field in England, the Hebrew Prophets, (and) great movements like women’s rights were often birthed through preaching. In our unbelievably wired culture, nothing is more foolish than somebody in a room standing alone insisting that God has spoken. So it’s either brilliant or absolute foolishness. And I am open to both.

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First, the scripture always bends towards the oppressed and the marginalized. Beginning in the Torah—take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you. The story is written by oppressed minorities. And it continues, no room in the inn, they follow Jesus because they are hungry. The story always goes towards the underside of the Empire. I think it is sometimes hard for the American church to understand the Bible because we are the Empire.

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The issue is not saving the poor—it’s saving us. When Jesus uses the word hell, He does not use the word with people who are not believers or not believing the right things. It is a warning to religious people that they are in danger of hell because of their indifference to the suffering of the world. So the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not what heaven and hell are like. It’s a parable to rich people warning them that their apathy has them in danger. Heaven and hell are present realities that extend into the future.

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The question is, “Who do you call when your brother ODs on cocaine? If your mom is in the hospital, who comes and sits in the waiting room with you? When you cannot pay your rent, who do you go to and say please help me out?” That’s your church.

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I think if you are a follower of Jesus, everything you do is a life of mission and ministry. I actually think the “call to ministry” language was invented by Christians to excuse the disobedience of everybody else.

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I grew up in a nondenominational church but with the troubling thought that “Something’s not right.” There’s a bass note missing, there’s a poetry, a passion, a world-changing impulse that I don’t see here. So I grew up compelled with Jesus but not particularly enamored with his followers.

Next up is Becky Garrison’s interview with Brian McLaren.

He isn’t talking about just going or not going to hell after you die. He’s talking about a radically different way of living. He’s talking about changing the world and living in a subversive and radical way in this world. That’s what His pregnant phrase “kingdom of God” involves.

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The real issue, in my mind, is not simply an argument about truth; it’s the need for repentance about the abuse of power—especially by white Christians who used the Bible to justify some pretty horrific things, whether we’re talking about the genocide of native peoples, the African slave trade, the holocaust, apartheid, or whatever. While we claim a high level of certainty in regards to matters of truth, we have shown ourselves to be relatively clueless about matters of justice.

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… even though no Christian scholars that I know of support the dictation theory of inspiration…I’d have to say that an awful lot of the preaching I hear sounds like it assumes the dictation theory….And many of us assume that the Biblical writers must have written like reporters for The Wall Street Journal or Business Week. But maybe they were writing more like Annie Lamott writes one of her confessional books, or more like Mary Oliver writes a poem. So maybe we’re learning to take the Bible literarily, not just literally, and to respect divine inspiration as an artistic reality more than a journalistic process.

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I haven’t seen many people change their views on homosexuality through arguments, one way or the other. What changes their views is when they meet people—really get to know them—who are different. For example, when a “liberal” Christian meets a compassionate person who believes homosexuality is a sin, or when a “conservative” person discovers his daughter or nephew or best friend is gay, that tends to notch the rhetoric up to a higher level, a more human level.

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We need to reframe the issue, maybe by acknowledging, that in my experience at least, there are relatively few people who are actually for abortion. A better-framed question, in my mind, would be, “What are the best ways people who are against abortion can help reduce the number of abortions?” And another important framing question would be, “What are the underlying values or beliefs in our society that make abortion popular?” If we fight abortion legally without dealing with the underlying belief structures, I don’t think we’ll get very far. Those are two very legitimate discussions that almost never are had, because we immediately click into legal frameworks, constitutional debates, us-them polarizations, and so on. When you look over the last 30 years, if we had framed the discussion differently, more wisely, we might be in a very different place right now.

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I think we need to go back to what Jesus said, “Let your light shine before humanity and they’ll see your good works and glorify God the Father.” We need to invest more of our energy in the doing of good works and less in this “culture wars” rhetoric because our world is in crisis, and we need a whole lot more good works about now, and a whole lot less talk.

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4 thoughts on “Two very provocative interviews for the price of none.

  1. That Bell interview is a great read… I’ll definitely read the other soon as well. We’re planning on catching Bell in Louisville or Indy when he’s in the area for his coming speaking tour this winter…

  2. The McLaren interview isn’t as topical as Bell’s. It sort of also requires some familiarity with his writing – A New Kind of Christian, and The Secret Message of Jesus in particular. But it’s worthwhile even without the background.

  3. i love becky garrison. can’t wait for the new book! i talked to her on facebook, and she’s a descendant of roger williams, the man who founded rhode island after the puritans kicked him out of mass. he founded the first baptist church in america, the first colony with freedom of religion AND rhode island is the only colony that was fairly paid for, by williams to the native population. he’s really cool, and i had no idea who he was til i moved here. a forgotten founding father, indeed.

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