Until You Know Who Origen Is…Don’t Read Rob Bell

Yes…I am being harsh in that statement, but I mean it. Until you know who Origen is, don’t read Rob Bell.


Because you are entering in the middle of a conversation and you don’t know the vocabulary. Learn the vocabulary before you read Rob Bell.

And while you’re at it, brush up on your history. Because too many of you seem to think that UUism started the day you walked into a UU church, or, conversely, seem to think that it started with the consolidation of 1961.  It didn’t. Unitarianism and Universalism have a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong history; going all the way back to 70 CE (bonus points for anybody who can name the event that happened that year….ministers and those who are seminarians should not answer this question).

If you want to grow…if you want to be a part of the wider theological conversation that is going on…if you want the UU “movement” to be relevant going forward…

know who Origen is before you read and comment on Rob Bell.


15 thoughts on “Until You Know Who Origen Is…Don’t Read Rob Bell

  1. I’m sorry, but this is simply ridiculous. As someone with two degrees in religion who has both read and reviewed Love Wins, and who knows who Origen is, I can confidently say that no one needs to know who Origen is before reading it.

  2. Pingback: It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who Origen is. What matters is love. | Spirituality and Sunflowers

  3. I would guess that more people know what happened in 70 CE than know who Origen is. Or know about Ultra-Universalism. To have a good meaningful dialogue on the subject, I agree that you need to know the history and theology to some degree, On the other hand, people gotta start somewhere – Bell is a lot more popular these days than Ballou, Murray, Winchester, and Hanson put together.
    So to some people Bells’ book (as frustrating as it is) is a convenient starting place for newcommers to the idea. At which point, you’d give them the other names, and point them to Google Books.

  4. Spirituality and Sunflowers commented on your post, “What a load of elitist crap.” I couldn’t agree more! Kim is a seminarian? Good luck finding a congregation that will tolerate that attitude long-term. I know I wouldn’t. I would vote with my feet.

    • Oh, heavens. Good like staying in any congregation if you over-react like that to someone with a strong opinion — especially, God forbid — a religious leader!! It is because of weak ministries that our formerly impressive intellectual tradition has become so lazy and soft-sides. “Love is all you need” is a slogan that would have sent any of our great minds to bed with a migraine. Love is not all we need. We also need education. Although Kim tends to be grand and hyperbolic in her recommendations, she’s absolutely right in challenging the mushy, “I heard one sermon and now I’m all done-done” mentality that is leading all of the Mainline Church to obscurity. Brava, madam. As a hyperbolic writer myself, I recognize your call to arms as love for tradition itself, crying from the rooftops. Thank you for your love.

      • I have been active in my congregation for 15 years, so I don’t think I need the “luck” in staying, but thanks for the good wish anyway. It is not the “strong opinion” I object to, it is the “attitude”. This is what I am envisioning: a newcomer coming into a UU church for the first time and encountering such a condescending attitude from the pulpit that comes across as “I know more than you, I am better than you, you have no right to your opinion, you lowly congregant, so just shut up”. I don’t see this as the way to welcome people to the congregation or the denomination. If I was that newcomer, I might not ever return for a second look. Is that really what religious leaders want to do?

  5. This might have value as the start of a post. Without going into more detail, though, it is a thesis without proof, or even supporting evidence. both Unitarianism and Universalism have a long history, which those who seek to define it would do well to learn. However, if Bell brings people to learn prior history, how can that be a bad thing? Rather than simply saying, “You don’t know what you are talking about; go find out and THEN join the discussion”, what about saying, “You don’t know what you are talking about; here’s some of the background information that Bell does not ________ [value, take into account]—whatever is appropriate.”
    As a seminarian, one needs to be learning how to draw people into conversation, I should think—this post drives people away, instead.

  6. I am working on a PhD in sociology. And often, when I read opinions about social problems that are uninformed, I become super annoyed at minimum and very angry at maximum. I often wish they would read up on what is really going on, what the demographic information shows, what these policy studies are finding, because I feel as though their ignorance has detrimental consequences for others. Sometimes I wish they would not join the conversation.

    It is a terrible attitude for me to have.

    First, I prejudice myself against their input, which can be quit insightful and is not biased by the socialization processes that my learning has created. All professions have a habitus, a culture, even the profession that studies these things.

    Lording over people with the fact that I am more of an expert in something will not convince them to get up to speed with me. Knowing about social problems is effectively my full time job – how could another person, with their own work and obligations, take on mine? It is unreasonable for me to expect them to. At the same time, I am also robbing them of ownership over a sphere through which they very much belong. There is utility in deferring to experts in some cases. But if I maintain an inaccessible attitude of superiority, through tone or writing or whatever, I will never gain credibility for people to listen to me. They will leave my interactions hurt, and unwilling to explore more. It is not my job to rob people of their right to explore the world, to engage it, and to feel welcome within it. Tying ownership to knowledge is not fair.

    This post reminded me of that struggle. Peace be with you.

  7. Pingback: The effect of strong opinions, contemporary music, and more UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  8. I count five negative comments: Chance’s, Maria’s 2*, Sally’s and Christine’s.

    Steven’s is neutral, then there are 3 comments defending her, two from Peacebang and one from Scott.

    Scott, PB, y’all have been on the internet way too long to call that proportion a “pile-on.” It’s very clear that she knew she was writing something provocative. I’m not surprised people were provoked. The line between what is “elitist” and what is “having standards” is not an easy one to draw and UUs tend to be inconsistent on the point. (The “we need to reach out to all different types of people…as long as they’ve read Origen” tension is nothing new, after all.)

    I know who Origen is, I haven’t read Rob Bell and this conversation doesn’t make me especially want to despite the fact that I have the required street cred. My impression is that he’s a good enough writer to get his ideas across to those who don’t have sufficient background, though. To me, that’s the distinction between writing for the popular audience and writing for theologians.


    *Note also that the comments from Maria are there specifically because Scott asked Maria to post them here when she posted them on Kinsi’s blong.

  9. Pingback: Legitimate Rape, Illegitimate Rape, and Why This Is Not About Abortion « East Of Midnight

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