Let’s say you are a pastor of a very large church and you hear God pushing you to reach out to those who do not come to church, to those who have never even considered going to church. So you decide to act on this calling and leave the secure setting you had and follow a path for which there is no established career trajectory. In fact, you are not even sure what you are supposed to do.
Also, once outside this church world and looking back at it from the outside, a couple of things jump out at you. What you hadn’t fully appreciated until now were all the subcultural trappings that shape how Christians see God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. For example, now it seems clear how narcissistic and tribal the church makes God sound: “Worship me and understand me the right way or . . . let’s just say you will miss out on heavenly bliss.”
So you decide not to pass along these tribal trappings, instead sharing that God is not some cosmic narcissist who demands religious perfection; that God really loves everyone; that what Jesus came to teach was not a how-to manual for escaping tribulation by getting upgraded to heaven; that what Jesus taught was how all people—not just those who are religiously correct—could thrive in this life.
So now what do you do? What book and message do you develop that gets all this across and appeals to those you have been called to reach? How do you translate the Bible’s wisdom so that it does not sound like a religious tract?
I think the book would look something like How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, a new book by Rob Bell that is just being published.
As Rob’s editor, I have been struck by how confidently, positively, and faithfully he has walked through many new doors. Some soon closed shut; others opened for a time and then closed; but others lead to other new doors and new opportunities. He has tried many things, met and befriended many new people, and still thrills at the idea of new discoveries and new possibilities. And in most of those worlds, even non-Christian worlds, people often see him as Pastor Rob. It is just who he is.
Some will look at How to Be Here and say that Rob Bell has become fully absorbed by Southern California and morphed into a self-help guru. But I think this underestimates Pastor Rob. Yes, you will find tons of great advice on finding your purpose, overcoming obstacles, becoming successful in your craft, and making sure to stay on your path for the long haul. In these ways it reminds me a lot of Steven Pressfield’s wonderful book The War of Art.
But if you are paying attention, you will also discover deep wisdom on what it means to have a soul; on how to value the details, beauty, depth, and richness of your life; on how to cherish and work with others. And soon you will start to hear the echoes of another self-help guru, the same one who said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Michael G. Maudlin
Senior Vice President and Executive Editor