An exclusive, personal and uncensored documentary review
Finally, we're doing this. This is a personal review and I won't shy away from my thoughts and feelings or my beliefs. This is one review where truth is something that can't be hidden. And I won't deny anything contained within this review. This is not a black and white review for your pleasure. It's a colorful one that I hope would open your mind for a few moments and stir something within you to look past your negative feelings and arguments and see the humanity that we each share. We are in this together. And I promise, I don't have all the answers. I don't think anyone knows all the answers. But I hope this article helps you in some way.
Before I begin this review of 'Rob Bell: The Heretic', I would like to thank my entire team for their support over the past few years that I've been in charge of this ministry network. Your love for our network and willingness to reach people in quite dynamic ways are truly humbling. I am honored. I'd like to thank my family, especially my big sister. Carmen, you have been like a mother to me since Mom passed. You have a beautiful heart of gold. My pastor, Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow who has helped in reshaping my beliefs. Finally, I'd like thank my best friend and the one guy in the world that has meant more to me and has helped me to escape my fears since 2007. Josh, I love you and you really are my heartbeat when I wake each morning.
I'll start with asking the question, "What is truth?" Is truth something that you believe or is it something everyone believes collectively? Is your faith something that is shared with others? Or is your faith something that has developed for you but not everyone believes like you do? Ponder those questions as I pray that Creator God would guide us each to whatever truth that is revealed to us in this moment.
At the age of 29, you would think I'm just beginning my life and starting to get into the best of my years as an adult. But I'm not. 21 years of ministry since I was 9. I've done music, tech ministry, youth ministry and even senior pastoral ministry. I'm exhausted. And my exhaustion doesn't come from the ministry experience that I have. It comes from the sleepless nights of wondering who will be the next one in my life that starts the argument. I'm talking about the argument of 'who's right and who's wrong'. I'm tired and I'm worn out and I can't stand it any longer.
I grew up in church. I grew up in a conservative Christian Evangelical home with Godly parents. I was 'saved' and baptized. I got the 'Holy Ghost' thing that everyone calls 'Speaking in Tongues' at camp. I came back thinking, I'm totally saved and everything is good and God is good and he loves me.... blah, blah, blah. I turn 14 and things start to shift for me. I became fascinated with world history and science. At 15, the world to me became very real. One Wednesday night in youth group, I just suddenly started asking questions about being gay. I had no idea what that was all about. How would I?
At the age of 17, an amazing guy who I met in high school, stole my heart. He's the one that I mentioned at the very beginning. I still had no idea what gay or homosexual meant. And here I was, bright as hell, I didn't know anything yet. I had to start doing research. I did come out to my parents and up until I turned 24, it was a battle of trying to figure out who I am. One minute, I'm gay. Next minute, I'm straight and telling others of my sudden miracle of God's deliverance. Oh and I got criticized by many for my 'deeply rooted' beliefs. Yeah and that lasted for 8 months. At that point I was only lying to myself. As we all know, lying is a sin. Since then, I have asked more questions and studied more of what the Bible says. To be honest, I feel so ashamed. And rightfully I have the right to feel ashamed, that you, my friend, are reading this and you don't know what I'm about to tell you.
Rob Bell, without him ever knowing who I am, is a personal mentor to me. It was Rob Bell who got me into questioning the Bible and the church and what all this means. Questions of why we're not doing more to help the poor and the oppressed. Why we're not accepting those of marginalized groups, the LGBT community and people of color. Why healthcare costs so much and why politicians get rich while the the size of the lower class only increases year after year. Rob Bell asks these questions and more as he does speaking engagements across the country. Rob Bell truly is creating a shift on the scope of religion and he is creating a movement of people who are tired and worn out from the chains of religion and so called faith.
I first came across Rob Bell years back in high school when he had the done the Nooma project. I had seen a video of him talking about burritos and how burritos represented community. And that video sparked my interest for wanting to learn more of what that community meant to Rob and what he was seeing that I wasn't.
The Heretic draws up some great questions that I believe many are asking today. There are so many churches that aren't answering questions that really need to be answered. It is in these questions that many have lost hope and have walked away from the church and many, Christianity.
Something that I've learned from Rob is that Christianity has been twisted to suit those who believe in Heaven and if you're not joining those people, you're going to Hell. This is so far from what Jesus taught. He never said, "Either you believe in me or you die." He said, "trust in me and see what I can do." But he never forced anyone to trust him and I don't think he would. When Jesus mentions sin, I think what Jesus means is that we all make mistakes and we have to learn from them. Jesus was a radical. And he was political by nature and contrary to popular opinion, including the Apostles, I don't see Jesus being put on a cross because of sin. You know what would? Speaking against the Pharisees and the political system of his day. I think sin is a starting point but I doubt that was the reason. And did he die for the whole world? Or did he die for the world at the time of the crucifixion? And I know that's raising some eyebrows.
In the first part of this documentary, Rob gives an interesting story of what Christianity has been like for the last couple thousand years:
Our tribe is the best. Our God is the best. Our way is the best. So come, join us! Or we'll kick your ass.
I agree. And the problem is not in what Rob says, it's what he says the church looks like. I would say this is more fact than opinion. The problem that the conservative Evangelical church has is that they are too controlling. They use scare tactics to get people to believe in their version of God that, as we look at 'Him', he is unjust and doesn't love people and doesn't give people an opportunity to find their way to 'Him' in their own way. Personally, for me, I don't want to hear about Hell. I don't want to believe it exist. I don't want to hear, "You have to believe this and then God will allow this." I don't believe that. I'll talk about Hell in a moment.
Here's the second part of what Rob says:
And there's another story that's come on strong recently, and that story goes something like this:
I think there has to be a medium. A point between both stories where, yes, we believe in God but God can't be found in any one building and where war is unjust and money is not where happiness is found. And Rob Bell proposes this in his speaking engagements.
Another part of this documentary that I love is the fact that Rob Bell reinforces his view on Hell. This is a quote from his book Love Wins:
But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word "hell," what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn't his point. He's often not talking about "beliefs" as we think of them--he's talking about anger and lust and indifference. He's talking about the state of his listeners' hearts, about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbors, about the kind of effect they have on the world.
I won't touch fully on Hell, I just don't believe that it has any existence. And if it does exist, I believe it would be very short lived to give the individual a chance to go to Heaven. This is my own personal belief.
As we move along, I hear so often that America was founded by Christians to be a Christian nation. But when you look at history and read what our founders wrote, this is far from the truth:
As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion--
In these writings, we can clearly see that America was not founded based on any one religion. Our nation was created to protect a people who had been oppressed and marginalized and hurt by people who no longer cared about them. Yet today, in the 21st century, we're doing exactly what was done to us in the beginning. We don't act like Jesus anymore and we disregard his ways and his teachings. I pray one day we can get past this and get back to the old Jesus movement.
Here's another quote that really gets to me as I begin to close. And by the way, all in all this is a fantastic documentary that covers Rob Bell's work as an author, a teacher, someone who wrestles with the world just like you and me. Rob Bell is a fascinating individual who doesn't ever claim to have things all together. I promise, Rob Bell won't lead you astray though.
We are crying out to be connected with something thousands of years old. And all the questions we're all wrestling with, people were wrestling with thousands of years ago. And just that alone, can do something. We think we're looking for solutions, but first off, we're looking for solidarity.
And one more quote that I think hits home:
What kept happening when I kept going into the Jesus teachings, it took me beyond a religion to what does it mean to be human. And I actually think Jesus would be absolutely mortified that somebody started a religion in his name. I think he would be like, "You did what? You started another thing to divide people, when I came to bring into universal solidarity with all human beings where you wouldn't be obsessed with divisions and labels, dividers and boundaries, but you would be overwhelmed with the common human solidarity we have with each other?"
And in responding outside of the last part of this quote, it doesn't matter if you call yourself a Christian or not. I think the late Christian music artist Rich Mullins said it best in a few great quotes:
In the end it won't matter if you have a few scars, but it will matter if you didn't live.
I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity, but because there were people willing to be nuts and bolts.
Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.
It never fails. God will put people in your path that irritate you, especially if you're prone to be irritated.
A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.
And it all leads up to this one last thing that I want to impart with you. God is love.
But I can hear you saying, "But you're sinning Thomas by being gay and living a gay lifestyle and God doesn't love sin." And I've heard that and I'm willing to sit with you whether in person or by phone and go over those scriptures and show what they really say and show you that you're wrong. I don't want to change your beliefs, that's up to you. I want to do, and what Rob Bell and many others want to do, is to get you to relax and open up your mind and think about history and science and the Bible and see where everything fits. I want to you see something different and see each other as different and unique, created by a Creative God who loves each person on Earth and wants us to live in peace and stop judging just as Romans 2:1 says.
It's not about how many Scriptures you're able to quote, it's about how you take the story of love and live it and show it to others.
'The Heretic' raises a lot of eyebrows, as it should but it should also raise a lot of questions. The main point that I get from this is, we have a lot of questions, but not everyone nor the Bible can answer all those questions.
If you haven't checked out this documentary, I strongly suggest watching it and listening to some of what Rob says. Hopefully it motivates you.
'The Heretic' is available on iTunes and Amazon. You can order a copy on DVD or Blu-Ray. Connect with Rob Bell on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and at robbell.com.
PEACE BE WITH YOU AND MAY THE LIGHT OF LOVE SHINE UPON YOU.