Rob Bell & Media (updated)

I after reading Kevin DeYoung's pointed post regarding what Rob Bell said in his video promoting his new book, "Love Wins," I wanted to take some time to respond to the misconceptions people have about media, and about how media itself shapes the way we perceive its content. Implicit in this is a response to the idea that questions teach.

With regard to the latter, the medium a question is channelled through is incredibly important. DeYoung is preoccupied with the audio content, or "raw data" of Rob's video, but he didn't notice that the medium of the video itself necessarily affects the meaning of the content - and that the rhetorical tone of the video necessarily made him think that the video was taking a particular theological stance on the topic of hell. Rob Bell's video does speak powerfully - perhaps more powerfully than the actual questions he poses. The questions in the video are really just questions that a lot of people who aren't Christians ask about Christians or Christianity - and are no doubt questions that Christians must deal with as thoughtfully and prayerfully as possible. To quote a few verses of the bible about Hell and some verses from revelation on judgment and call it "case closed on the Truth," I would say is exactly what we should not be doing. People do not want or need to be told what to think: we already have digital screens doing that for us. People desperately want (and NEED) to be shown how to think for themselves so that they aren't thrown around by what anyone says about anything on whatever website.

Regarding the content of Bell's video, when that raw data (read: script) is channelled through another media form, part of the intended meaning will be necessarily changed along with it. Rob Bell's video was made in such a way that it pulls some emotional strings to get you thinking about the idea of the vastness of God's love as either an outsider to Christianity, or as an insider of the faith. For outsiders, it brings up the idea that no one is held to the judgments passed by Christians present or past. For Christians, it brings up the idea, or question, of whether or not we should be acting as arbiters of people's eternal destiny in the first place.

The point of this video seems to be closer to repentance - a change of heart - among both Christians and non-Christians alike. The video invites people to start thinking about God in a big way; How vast, wide and deep God's love is, rather than in strict, unhelpful either/or categories (is God wrathful or loving?) which are actually based on philosophy first, not the bible first because one has to do a LOT of serious mental gymnastics to make a wrathful God equal to a loving God. The biblical realities of God's love and God's judgment are far more complex and harmonious than that.

So it's with preconceived notions that so many of us evangelicals approach Rob Bell's public work. The original lens that everyone used to critique Bell was the NOOMA video series. What people missed is that all of the NOOMA videos used the video medium itself to communicate a message, which is (ironically?) both independent of and yet symbiotically related to the content, or 'raw theological data' contained in the videos. The video medium shapes the messages of the NOOMA videos, and there really is no raw content apart from this. the NOOMA videos were always meant to be taken as a package deal. Without the medium, the meaning of the NOOMA videos change into something it was not meant to mean.

We must remember that All of the truth about Christianity can arguably be boiled down to one word:"Jesus"


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