Rob Bell is founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids and the presenter of the short Nooma films. Some Nooma films I love (‘Lump’ is my favourite); others are not much more than pop psychology.
Bell starts by unpacking the creation ‘poem’ of Genesis 1 before moving into an extended riff time on the wonders being discovered by modern science. The aim seems to be to make us marvel at the universe God has created with a hint at a sort of intelligent design or cosmological argument for God’s existence. As Bell goes deeper into modern particle physics he introduces the idea that there might be more dimensions that those in which we live (the claim made by proponents of string theory). He invites us to image how people in a two dimensional universe would encounter a three dimensional object: they would lack the conceptual framework to comprehend it, but some might nevertheless intuitively sense what it was. So it might be with God, suggests Bell. The idea that there are realities we cannot comprehend brings Bell back to Genesis 1 and his central assertion that everything is spiritual. Written into the text, he argues, is a command to stop our restless busyness and contemplate the spiritual. He critiques the body-spirit dualism of some Christians, but his main point is to invite secular people to recognise the spiritual nature of human existence. Bell ends with a version of presuppositional apologetics. What we look for is what we find, he suggests. If you want to be cynical then you will find evidence for your cynicism. If you want to find God then you will find traces of the divine.
There are one or two points on which you could pick Bell up on what he says. They are more potentially dangerous trajectories than problematic theological errors. To say that God couldn’t help creating, for example, would lead eventually to process theology. But I think Bell is merely trying to express the exuberant joy of God in creation. It’s a product of his desire to communicate to contemporary people. Bell also has a habit (common also in the Nooma videos) of quoting Rabbinic scholarship (far more than he quotes Christian scholarship) which makes me wonder how he views Jews who have not put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Everything is Spiritual is, in effective, the doctrine of creation presented evangelistically. So there’s no mention of sin or redemption. Bell ends with an invitation to feel the awe of creation and connect with the Creator. This means if you judge it as a complete gospel presentation then it is clearly deficient. But this is not what Bell is trying to do. It seems to be aimed at secular people and be a first invitation to consider God.
This, though, presents something of a problem for me which is that I’m not sure when I might use it. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I live in post-Christian Sheffield rather than the far more Christianized culture of Grand Rapids. I would love to expose some of my unbelieving friends to Everything is Spiritual. I’m just not sure how an invitation to watch a 75-minute DVD of a man preaching would go down! It’s a hard sell when they could watch a 90 minute action movie.
It is, nevertheless, a fascinating exercise is communication. It is clearly preaching, but it’s not a sermon. It’s something in between a sermon and a kind of stand-up routine. I say ‘kind of’ because, although there are some jokes, it’s not littered with jokes. It is serious stuff, but presented in a very engaging and relaxed manner. A ‘one man show’ would be a better description. I was bit disappointed with the way the whiteboard was used. I had expected that a drawing or diagram would gradually emerge than presented the themes of the talk in a dramatic, unified visual manner. Instead it simply fills up with Bell’s doodling. It seems to function more as a prop though in this regard it works well. I would recommend preachers watch the DVD and ponder what they might learn or adapt for their own communication – especially if your normal mode of delivery is to stand in front of a lectern tied to notes.