My Open Letter to Rob Bell


I cannot begin to express my appreciation for your written and spoken word. I know it is not your word, but the words you hear God speaking to you. You are one unique guy. You hear things other people don’t. You can speak them in ways other people can’t. You speak my language. I cannot even speak my language. But, you do. Other people have written you off. Boy, are they missing out. If only they knew you. If only they knew the whole picture. If only they really gave you a chance. They could hear God.

Some may wonder how I know you are speaking truth. How I know that you are not speaking blasphemy. That you are not spreading a false gospel. That you are not spreading a false teaching. That you are not perpetuating heresy. It’s simple, really. How do I know? The Holy Spirit that lives in mean leaps with joy when I read your words. When I listen to your teachings. I am filled with joy. Filled with love. I am motivated and inspired to live for God and to be about furthering his Kingdom in this World. I want people to know the same God I know. I want them to experience his grace and love in this world. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Rob, you help me see the world through a lense that I am not able to see it in my own power. You help me to see the first century that way too. I can be so clueless when it comes to rabbis, jewish tradition, and the culture of that day. When I read the new testament (or old, for that matter), I bring my 20th century, North American, pop lense to the table. They don’t mesh so well. I bring in all of these preconceptions and ideas that were not even thought about or a part of that original culture when these authors wrote these books. You remind me of that. All. Of. The. Time.

Thank. You. (wink)

Most of all, I don’t always agree with what you teach. I do, alot. But, not always. And for me, that is perfectly fine. I’m not sure there is an author or speaker I do agree with all of the time. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be stretched and I wouldn’t grow. If my beliefs weren’t challenged, I would stay the same old me. I definitely don’t take all that you have to say at face value, as if it were truth. I constantly check your notes. I refer to your references. I try to understand where you are coming from. I am willing to consider you may be right, but you may not be also. Or you may just see it differently than me. But, more often than not, you see knowing, loving and following Jesus in a way that truly inspires me. And better yet, you have a gift to communicate what you see and know.

I read Velvet Elvis about 12-15 years ago. I was so inspired. It said things I always wanted to say, but had no idea how to say them. I was not raised in church. I became a Christian at 19 years old. I was discipled in two ways.

The first was my Bible. I gave my life to Christ when I was in boot camp in the Marines. Most of my early discipleship was simply reading the scriptures for myself. And listening to God. I did attend church services at several different types and denominations, but didn’t settle anywhere for very long since I was a traveling Marine.

The second was after I got out of the Marines, I went to my wife’s church that she grew up in. I loved it and I grew tremendously. These people introduced me to Christ before I joined the Marines. They also helped me to grow in the Lord and loved me every time I went to the altar to give God some new part of my life or the same part for the 18th time. They were there when I felt called to the ministry. They were there when I had no idea how to lead, how to teach or even feel like I had any idea how to be a Christian. They were my family. This particular church was also of the holiness tradition. They were a bit more contemporary than their counterparts within our denomination, but their roots were deep and they held some strong convictions. Unfortunately, they also had some beliefs that I disagreed with. They also taught things I thought were damaging to the Body of Christ. I loved them just the same, partnered with them for years and decided we just see things differently. I loved them even if their version of knowing, loving and following Jesus didn’t exactly inspire me. However, there came a point in following where Jesus was leading where I needed to decide if I was going to propagate their version or my own in the next leading of my ministry. I chose to move on.

Rob, you were one of many authors that helped me make that decision. Velvet Elvis helped me to see I don’t want to be a part of that version because it doesn’t bring me life. And if it didn’t bring me life, how could I use it to give life to others??? I decided to move on and use the things God was using to encourage and inspire me to serve others. I did. At first, it went great. I was alive. Others were being inspired too. God was blessing. I knew it was his blessing too because things that were happening were God things, not worldly things. People where I was were excited. They were gaining life.

Then, it all changed. My ministry position and direction was forced into a decision. Either we keep going in this direction or we stop and change directions again. I felt led to keep going. The leadership around us felt led to hold back. I didn’t want to force my way and yet, without question I knew we had to go forward. We accepted the decision of the church leadership as God’s providential direction. We left, but started moving in a new direction. God blessed for a time. He taught me (us) many new things and wrecked my way of viewing church permanently. We did church anew for two years. The first year was filled with life and constant new discoveries. Then, we took the next step and multiplied our one group into three. The next year was filled with heartbreak and turmoil. I was wrecked spiritually and emotionally. I was drained. The life had left. We imploded as a group and called it quits just over a year later.

It took a year to recover spiritually. We were broken. I was disheartened and full of sadness. But, then God began to move in my life again. Slowly, but surely. We found ourselves healing at a traditional church. A contemporary version of a traditional church, anyway. My wife and daughters preferred that version.

A few years later after we had returned to the church I youth pastored at as volunteers, I found myself frustrated with our modern version of the American church. I found myself frustrated and confused about how to fit into that model and maybe, more specifically that particular church. I grew spiritually depressed. Then one day, God spoke to me. Easter morning, actually. He inspired me to create the type of Christian community that I was wanting. I never thought I would hear those words again or even be open to hearing those words. But, I did. And I followed that direction with my wife. I was so filled with the Holy Spirit and inspiration that summer as we pursued God’s direction. Your latest book at the time, “What Is the Bible?” inspired me to live anew. It helped to transform the way I saw God’s Word. It helped me to be inspired to live differently when I read the Bible. I was filled with joy again and filled with passion to serve God and His Kingdom.

Rob, you have shown up at several times in my life when I needed something fresh, something new. I needed new perspective. You always revealed it to me with both ancient and post-modern ways. You have a fresh take on an old thing. Yet, it is always so ancient, at the same time and rooted in both scripture and very relevant understanding of the time and culture of those scriptures.

I would like to ask you this one thing. Don’t stop. Don’t stop speaking. Don’t stop teaching. Don’t stop writing. Keep listening. Keep inspiring. Keep using your gift. Don’t stop. You are a unique, extremely important part of the Body of Christ. Don’t be silenced. Keep speaking. Keep writing. Keep listening to the Holy Spirit within you. Keep delivering fresh, ancient perspective.


Shawn D. Congleton

An aspiring author, lover of Jesus and of people

Rob Bell

Published by Shawn D. Congleton

traveler, writer, lover of God, thinker, family dude, in no particular order

4 thoughts on “My Open Letter to Rob Bell

  1. Shawn, This letter is so moving. I have never heard of Rob Bell. But based on your reaction and feelings of him, I would like to read some of his work. Where could I find it? Have a blessed day. You are a Blessing to our program and to those that know you. Jackie

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Thank you! Amazon is probably the easiest, best place to find it. Start with Velvet Elvis. It is the backdrop for the rest. **Word of warning: Part of the reason I wrote the letter is because he’s been written off by much of the evangelical community as a universalist due to one book. I don’t believe he is, in the traditional sense. However, one of the reasons I love him is that he can hold the tension between two seemingly opposite positions at the same time, which can be distressing for many. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Shawn- very honest and direct…appreciate your sharing.

    Sent from my iPhone


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