Back in 2011, megachurch Pastor Rob Bell released a book that got him in a lot of trouble with the wider Christian world. It all started with a book trailer where he offered a few provocative thoughts on the traditional view of Hell. Like all book trailers, the point of this one was to say just enough to get you to buy the book, but unfortunately the questions he asked in the video had wider implications than I think he realized. Too many viewers instantly heard the implications and Rob Bell went from megachurch star to internet heretic overnight.
Even I was caught off guard by the comments in the trailer, but I figured I owed it to Bell to read the book to see what he really had to say—and what he really had to say was nothing as severe as the implications people heard. Honestly I didn’t really care for the writing. It asked too many questions without giving any answers and it lacked Bell’s usual footnotes and was mostly full of evocative thought. But I wouldn’t say it was heretical. I just didn’t like it very much.
Despite his immense popularity, Rob Bell never quite recovered from the blow of that book. It had tons of one star reviews from people who clearly never read it. They just followed the implications of the book trailer, joined in the gossip, and then unified in destroying the image of a pastor who had done so much for the faith and had shown us that preaching can be art.
When Paul arrived at Jerusalem, the rumors about him were abundant. Some said that he had told the Jews to stop following the law. Others saw him walking with a non-Jewish man which evolved into a rumor that Paul had taken that man straight into parts of the sacred holy temple that he wasn’t allowed to be in. A mob quickly formed to kill him, saying, “This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place!” Paul was eventually saved from being beat by the mob when soldiers came in and arrested, bound and imprisoned him.
Paul suffered greatly because of rumors and gossip among his own people. The same still happens in the church today. We must learn to listen and be open to conversation, lest we beat our very own over lies.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 21:17-36 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.