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Rob Bell and a New American Christianity [Kindle Edition]

James K. Wellman Jr.
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Christian message needs a new interpreter: one that is particular enough to know and interpret the tradition but broad enough to evoke thought and feeling from broader groups of people, including evangelicals, liberals, and those who are disenchanted with churched religion and who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, yet are fond of the Jesus tradition.

This book helps readers to understand the new landscape and its key figure, Rob Bell, by bringing a reasoned voice to the conversation and shedding light on the story, directions, and emotional power of the figure who Andy Crouch claims will be the main influence on Christians in this generation.

While his theology is seen as a theo-political stage by church leaders, when Rob Bell tours and speaks, it is the unchurched, the people in the pew, the people who want to be in the pew, who are listening—by the thousands. His recent placement on the cover of Time magazine sealed his import on the American landscape for anyone interested in religion.

Jonathan Nathan, a bookbuyer for the Harvard COOP, the largest booksellers in New England with a significant religion section says that no book has ever sold like Rob Bell’s to an audience that is young, thoughtful, and college-educated. Bell’s church has 10k members, and his influence has affected every sector of the American protestant church.

Why? Because Rob Bell has caused the whole evangelical world to rethink the scope of SALVATION with one single question: who gets to be saved? With that short sentence Bell has initiated a whole new movement in rethinking what it means to be an evangelical. A movement that has only begun.

Not only are heaven and hell at stake, but salvation itself. Is it meant for all or for only a small elect group—and if so, who gets to decide the parameters of that small group? If heaven and hell are not ultimate identifiers for a life of faith, can the passion to evangelize be maintained? If salvation is not either/or, but both/and, does the whole idea of world evangelism simply disappear?

Rob Bell has created another question for Evangelicals: Will you decide to live in a closed world of your own making or an open world? Those most influenced by Rob Bell are younger Evangelicals who are dying to open up their worlds. Rob Bell just gave them permission. According to Andy Crouch, his is the voice that will most influence this current generation.

For Liberals, Rob Bell gives them reason to be passionate about their faith and to think in big terms about it without giving up their minds and their questions. For the conservatives, he’s the voice that young Christians are looking to and admiring, and even if they disagree, they are trying to observe and imitate his approach and appeal.

Rob Bell doesn’t have the personality to sink into some religious subculture: He is a new super religious brand, the Apple or Pixar of his generation.

Evangelicals will buy it because they want to damn him, imitate him, or do both. Liberal religionists will buy it because they know that he is a Schleiermachian figure, making a case for faith to its cultured despisers with passion and a new aesthetic. Spiritual but not religious folks will buy it because Rob Bell has an invitation and appeal that is rare, and appeals well beyond holy huddles. 

As an authorized biography, that will allow for extensive interviews with Bell and his some of his congregants. This will include interviews with outside informed supporters and those that reject him and his theology. 

The book will reveal what makes him “tick,” how his Wheaton College background affected his work, and how he is dealing with accusations of being on the border of evangelical heresy. 

This book will be researched and written over the next two month, with a finish date of December 1. Half or more will be available by the f...

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James K. Wellman, Jr. is Associate Professor and Chair of the Comparative Religion at the Jackson School of International Studies. His areas of expertise are in American religious congregations, culture, history, and politics. He has published an award-winning book, The Gold Church and the Ghetto: Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism (Illinois 1999). He has published two edited volumes: The Power of Religious Publics: Staking Claims in American Society (Praegers 1999), and Belief and Bloodshed: Religion and Violence Across Time and Tradition (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). His most recent book is Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest, published by Oxford University Press. The book received Honorable Mention for the 2009 Distinguished Book Award by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (second out of twenty-six books nominated). He is also the project director of a $300,000 grant from the Luce Foundation which will soon culminate in an edited volume called Religion and Human Security: A Global Perspective—which will be published soon by Oxford University Press. A new book project with Oxford University Press is called High on God: How the Megachurch Conquered America. It is a based on a national survey of twelve national megachurches, examining the power of desire in these congregations, both toward each other, toward the churches' leadership, and towards God. Wellman knows American Protestantism well, and he is very interested in the future of American churches and, in particular, the trajectory of the evangelical church. Having done extensive work on Protestant leaders, church movements, and successful churches, he is perfectly situated to write a cultural biography of Rob Bell, believing, as he does, that Bell embodies and will lead the evangelical church in America in the next twenty years.

Product Details

  • File Size: 305 KB
  • Print Length: 161 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00CC6OU0Q
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press (November 1, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009OR2NE6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,269 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Fantastic! December 20, 2012
I read this book in a day and I need to read it again and again.

Wellman does a fantastic job of highlighting the rise of Rob Bell and his controversy while also commenting on American Christianity.

There is no doubt that Rob Bell is a superstar. His Nooma videos are selling like hotcakes and his books are just as hot. Not only are people consuming his thoughts on Jesus but he's not at a loss for his critics.

Wellman divides this book into seven chapters, each touching on a certain description placed on Bell while the last one highlights where Bell is going:
1. Mystery
2. Subversion
3. Charisma
4. Canvas
5. Radical
6. Heretic
7. A Beautiful Jesus

You'll follow Bell on his rise to megachurch pastor status and how he never fit the bill of Conservative Evangelicalism while not subscribing to Liberalism either. Wellman takes us inside the mind of Bell while he forms a band in college, and how a meningitis scare puts the brakes on a possible indie-band future. This leads him to seminary and apprenticing under Ed Dobson.

Wellman explains the place Bell is whenever he writes one of his books. And how the real trouble started around the time he wrote Jesus Wants To Save Christians. It is with this book, Wellman says, that Bell moved from subtle questions to outright criticism of America and the strong ties Conservative Evangelism has with patriotism. (He even moved his family into a former crack house because he didn't want to be hypocritical...they stayed in that house for only two years)

This caused many people to leave his church (another thousand left when Bell preached a critique of the Iraq War). Following that book, Bell asked for a leave of absence from pastoring and spent some time in Ireland.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Summation December 10, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Wellman succeeds marvelously in bringing in material old and new to incapsulate and catch the primary thoughts of Rob Bell's work. He succeeds in being both critically removed and catching the energy and core of Bell's work.

This is not only a wonderful read, Wellman sets a solid bar for future critical studies of Rob Bell's work.

Wellman himself is clearly a superb thinker. He masterfully categorizes and comments just enough in this text to give it a driving feel. Wellman's expertise of American Christianity in general comes through and consistently serves the purposes of this study by showcasing Rob Bell's work in context in relevant and even-handed ways.

If you gravitate at all towards Bell's perspective or are looking for a solid introduction, Wellman has done you a great service here.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something New. Really. October 11, 2012
"Bell is, and always has been, eager to rethink the Christian story . . ." This is the theme of Rob Bell's creative leadership, and this is the centerpiece of Dr. Wellman's careful and engaging biography. Bell is a unique figure in post-modern American Christianity--loved and embraced; ridiculed and condemned. In an engaging, quick and personal style, Wellman helps readers understand why Rob Bell matters; why Time magazine would feature him in their Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. Wellman peels back the layers, shows his work, and helps readers see the ways that Bell does indeed rethink the Christian story. And Dr. Wellman is uniquely qualified to tell this story. As an active scholar of American Evangelicalism, Wellman knows how to locate Bell in his cultural context. But he also points to the myriad ways that Bell breaks free from that context to offer, bravely, a portrait of Christianity that may indeed set the course for a new American Reformation. As a progressive pastor I think that Rob Bell is an inspiration to reach beyond labels and traditions. This new book, this first telling of the forces and dreams that shape Bell's life and work, will help others make their own creative leaps.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Super Introduction to Rob Bell March 12, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
James Wellman's book was an easy and interesting read on the life, history, and philosophies of "renegade" evangelist minister, Rob Bell. I bought this book to learn about the background of Rob Bell before reading his controversial book, "Love Wins", which I had learned of during a Sunday sermon at my church. Wellman provides a thorough and cohesive account of Bell's rise to stellar fame as minister of a megachurch of 10,000 congregants, housed in an unassuming building, and then his fall from favor as his personal experiences and insights with the holy led him on a spiritual path that diverged sharply with conventional Christian megachurches, and even the so-called reformed Protestant movement and "liberal" Protestantism. In the book, several mentions were made of painful experiences and profound suffering in Bell's life that had been critical in the development of Bell's concept of an unconditionally loving, compassionate and unpunishing God. Throughout the book, I kept waiting to learn some details about these experiences, in order to better understand Bell's theological and philosophical transformations, but was disappointed to find none. This omission called attention to itself, in light of the repeated allusions to Bell's suffering having much to do with the evolution of his ideas and personal growth. The book also did a superb job of describing the "whole" Bell, in presenting an unbiased account of his ministerial history and beliefs. Bell's beliefs were compared and contrasted with those of other cleric from within the evangelical movement and from without. Comparisons were made with theologians with views disparate from Bells', and some with views similar to Bell. Quotes from friends and foes alike were included. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A maybe OK introduction if you don't know Bell's work
It was interesting reading an outsider's perspective on a guy I have been listening to, watching and reading for 8 years (the author had not heard of Rob until a publisher asked if... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Victor
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I think that this book is great. The last chapter sketches a couple of different moods in American Religious culture and how Rob Bell points the way towards one of those... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Joe Skillen
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what i thought it would be about
Its not Rob Bell writing this it's someone else writing it about Rob Bell, Looking for another "Love Wins" by Rob Bell and didn't realize what I was getting, should have... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Thomas E Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Through and Through
James Wellman shows profound understanding of Evangelical culture in America and masterfully situates Rob Bell's place within that culture and within the larger American culture. Read more
Published 14 months ago by KJAdanimalfun
3.0 out of 5 stars Book about Rob Bell
This book is ok, but not great. It talks a lot about thing that most people all ready knows about Bell.
Published 17 months ago by Dave59
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, great insight
Before reading James Wellman's book, I had a medium level of interest in Rob Bell. I'd read one of Bell's books and had followed the coverage and buzz he always seems to be... Read more
Published 17 months ago by T. Krattenmaker
4.0 out of 5 stars Love it
Rob Bell is one of the most controversial pastors of our day. I am refreshed at the concept of a Christianity that does not judge, and does not separate.
Published 17 months ago by JHughes
5.0 out of 5 stars Sceptic's journey
I started to read this book bit skeptically. How on earth can you interpret somebody' s interpretation and intention objectively, especialy when the one is still there close beside... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Michal Kocer
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern Moses or just another passing fad?
As my own Pastor (something of a Rob Bell fan) said last Sunday, "Bell is so popular, even those who don't like him pay attention to him. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Joseph Palen
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone interested in Rob Bell or American Christianity
This book sets up and answers an intriguing question: How did Rob Bell amass a large following and create a highly successful product line, while defying all traditional religious... Read more
Published 20 months ago by K. Corcoran
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