THE BIG NEWS IS: Rob Bell is finishing a new book—actually lots of new books, if you count the colorful new editions of his first five books plus the brand-new book coming out in 2013.
The BIGGER News Is: Rob hopes to leap from his best-selling short Nooma video series into network-class TV, partnering with the red-hot writer and producer Carlton Cuse. Although most people associate the name J.J. Abrams with LOST, Cuse was executive producer and co-wrote a third of the episodes—including most of the episodes containing mysterious spirituality. Cuse also is known as a master of “transmedia,” which refers to delivering content across multiple media platforms.
The two friends are combining Cuse’s experience and vast reach in Hollywood with Bell’s own talents praised by TIME magazine in naming him, last year, the only pastor in its “100 most influential people in the world.” TIME calls Bell “a master of social media” and said he is “wielding music, videos and a Starbucks sensibility” in “the forefront of a rethinking of Christianity in America.”
Stay tuned!! ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm has known Rob since the early years of Mars Hill and the release of Velvet Elvis. Rob welcomed this interview and, then, in early September will come back to ReadTheSpirit to talk more about the TV project.
What we can tell you now: Rob is closely guarded about his work with Cuse. In the new, streaming video from West Hollywood’s Viper Room, Rob speaks briefly about Cuse and LOST and his plans in LA. First, he jokes that his main reason for moving to LA is the great surfing (and it’s not exactly a joke, as you’ll read in our interview). More importantly, Rob says in his Viper Room video that he moved to LA, not to pastor a new church, but in LA: “Things get made here that go everywhere. This is where things are made that get broadcast everywhere.”
Here’s what Rob is saying now … and it’s, quite frankly, a lot …
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ROB BELL ON LEAPING FROM
BOOKS AND NOOMAS TO NETWORK-CLASS TV
ROB: It’s been way too long since we’ve talked! You’ve been covering this story since way back at Mars Hill in Michigan and the first NOOMAs and Velvet Elvis. And now we’ve come—well, a long way.
DAVID: Thanks for agreeing to talk about your big news! We will talk again in September. But, first and foremost: It sounds like you’re expanding your reach in media over the coming year, right?
ROB: Oh, I think when people eventually see what’s coming, they’ll realize that this is moving along a trajectory I’ve been on for some years now.
DAVID: I’d say you’re moving at light speed. This all has arisen in less than a decade—just seven years. Velvet Elvis came out in 2005. The NOOMA films had their big, public distribution by Zondervan that same year. I was writing for newspapers back then and I remember my initial reporting on your work was carried by newspapers nationwide. You had grabbed hold of something powerful in American culture and faith. Now, flash forward: I’ve been the Editor of ReadTheSpirit for five years.
Now, over this past year, your career has been exploding. Love Wins was a sensation—partly because of the controversy from hard-core evangelical critics. You were named in TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. That’s a long way in seven years! Just how old are you now?
ROB: I’m 41.
DAVID: So, OK, you’re not a hot young 30-something sensation anymore.
ROB: (Laughs) I’m not that old! And I feel younger than ever!
DAVID: And you moved to southern California with …
ROB: With my wife Kristin and our three kids—boys 14 and 12 and a girl 3. We are having the time of our lives, but I’d rather not say exactly where we’ve settled. I enjoy living under the radar with my family.
DAVID: In new photos, you look healthy and relaxed and flat-out happy.
ROB: I am happy! I feel younger than ever—that’s for sure. The surfing is great out here. I try to get into the ocean every day, if I can. I’ve never had more fun. This has been incredible.
ROB BELL: ‘I AM STILL A PASTOR.’
DAVID: But, as you approach this mysterious television launch, I notice you’re often referring to yourself as a pastor in the past tense. References online seem to say: “Rob Bell was a pastor.” You’ve left Mars Hill, the huge church you co-founded up near Grand Rapids, Michigan. You haven’t joined the staff of any church out there in California. Are you still a pastor?
ROB: Yes, I am still a pastor. I get all sorts of extraordinary opportunities to be a pastor in all sorts of settings, now—sometimes in settings that would blow your mind.
DAVID: That may be confusing to some readers who think of “pastor” as a title for someone running a church. You remain an ordained clergyman, of course, but explain more about how you use the term “pastor” these days.
ROB: Well, first and foremost, I am a pastor because I announce the Good News of grace and peace found in Jesus. That’s the standard, straightforward Christian message. But what I really do as a pastor is help people understand what they are already experiencing. My work centers on giving people language for things they’ve already experienced. I try to help people put words—to find language and metaphors and ways of describing—what people already are experiencing in their lives. They’re already having these feelings and messages and experiences and sights and sounds in their lives. God is there already. I just help them to see how many of these experiences are part of the Good News.
ROB BELL ON ACCEPTING GAY CHRISTIANS: ‘I AM SMILING.’
DAVID: I’ve got to say that—after watching the Viper Room video—one of the refreshing new messages you now apparently feel free to express in a straight-foward way is this: Let’s quit beating up on gay people in the church. You put it very simply: “Some people are gay and they’re our brothers and sisters and we love them.” Then, you go on to affirm that there are good, solid gay Christians in our churches and you say that we all ought to just get over this issue, accept our gay brothers and sisters—and move on with the work of the church.
What’s most remarkable about that segment of the video is: You seem so relaxed in saying that simple yet important thing. You’re smiling. You’ve got to be breathing a sigh of relief that you’re able to say this now without a panel of church elders to whom you’ve got to answer—or other critics in the church. So, what I want to know is: Does it feel good to get that off your chest?
ROB: I am smiling right now at that question. I am smiling.
It was a joy and honor and privilege to be part of a local church. It was absolutely amazing through all those years, but believe me—I know what you are describing here on a cellular level. Yeah. That’s all there is to say—yeah. I am smiling.
DAVID: You never addressed this particular issue in your book Sex God. I’m a big supporter of that book, which addresses human sexuality in a startlingly new way. But, in terms of an important issue for a lot of Americans—you didn’t address it directly in that book. Are you planning to revise that book? Or write another one on sexuality?
ROB: No, I don’t have any concrete plans like that. I would hope that what I said in the Viper Room video permeates everything I do. That’s it. Nothing more to say.
ROB BELL’s latest book: ‘It’s a monster of a book’
DAVID: You have announced, as of this new video, that a new book is coming out in March.
ROB: Yes! And, I’ve been writing that book for a year. I’ve just finished draft number three. It’s supposed to come out next year. It’s a monster of a book that’s called What We Talk About When We Talk About God. You know the cliché, “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual”? That’s actually not a cliché for a lot of people. There are real reasons people say that. I hope this book speaks to all of the people who have expressed a sentiment like that at one time or another.
DAVID: A “monster”?
ROB: I mean, this book has taken more out of me than any project I have ever done before.
ROB BELL: PICKING A “FIRST” ROB BELL
DAVID: OK, so millions know you already. But millions also don’t know you—or don’t know your work. So, let’s help newcomers pick a “first” Rob Bell book. Out of these five books HarperOne has just redesigned, which one would you pick as a “first” Rob Bell.
ROB: Drops Like Stars. It’s short and people like short books to start. That book probably has the simplest explanation of what I’m trying to say. HarperOne actually made that book smaller than the others—physically smaller when you look at it—hoping that it would serve as a kind of short intro.
DAVID: So, I’ve agreed not to release any more details on this autumn TV project with Carlton Cuse, but I know readers will be very curious about this. Should we be envisioning Oprah stylings? Or a Christian Jon Stewart? Or LOST-style mysterious stories? Or … Obviously, our minds will be churning on the possibilities until more emerges about your plans.
ROB: I don’t want to spoil what will happen later this year by talking too much about it now. But, I can tell you: We’re not talking about what passes for religion on Sunday-morning TV—you know, this isn’t 1-800-Big-Hair. This is going to be a different kind of space we’ll be creating. We’ll talk again this fall.
DAVID: OK, we’ll stay tuned!
WANT THE NEW MATCHED SET OF BOOKS?
They’re cool. You can see how the spines line up like a rainbow, above. If you look closely, above, you can see that Drops Like Stars actually is smaller than the other paperbacks. These books are perfect for a back-to-school gift, for a Christmas gift … or for your own reading. Here are the Amazon links:
ROB BELL’S PUBLISHERS ARE REALIGNING THEMSELVES
Rob isn’t the only one making a big move within religious publishing—by leaping from Zondervan to HarperOne (different divisions within Rupert Murdoch’s media holdings). Zondervan itself is changing dramatically and is merging with Thomas Nelson (Murdoch now owns both publishing houses). Here is our ReadTheSpirit story, analyzing what this news means for people who love inspirational reading.
WANT TO WATCH ROB BELL TALKING IN LOS ANGELES?
We’ve got the Viper Room video live, online and free to view. It’s very entertaining and packed with news about Rob’s life and work.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.