There is more to this hug than the camera captures...
Several years ago, I had the privilege of studying under Rob for a season of introspection and transformation. He was leading one of the fastest growing churches in the world, and becoming a global name in the unfolding story of the Church.
He taught me about contextualization, and about how to study the Text with humility and passion. He taught me how to set boundaries, and how to rest in the finished work of God's redemptive work of the cross. He taught me about love and about grace and about forgiveness.
A few years later, I fell into a series of self-destructive choices and landed in jail. I had plummeted from the faith and wanted nothing to do with the professional religious venom that I had experienced by other Christian leaders. When Rob heard about my (very public, and humiliating) fall from grace, he personally reached out to me and mentored me back to the Table of restoration in Jesus' Name. He didn't care what the haters said, he just showed me, from the bible, how to be reconciled to God.
Shortly thereafter, my family moved to Asheville, North Carolina to start a new church family. We wanted to create a safe place to explore a dangerous faith, and we wanted to reach out to people on the margins... people who felt unwelcome, people like me.
Last year I attended a church planting conference (Exponential, 2011) in Orlando, Florida. I was so excited to hear Francis Chan. To me, Francis Chan had always modeled sincerity in biblical application and missional living. I sat in the front row of the balcony, and poised myself to take notes...
But then my heart broke, in the opening session. Francis made a few comments that were sarcastic, directed at Rob Bell. The awkward laughter generated electricity in the crowd of thousands, and there had been a clear line of separation between Francis Chan and the trending heresy of Rob Bell's 'Love Wins'.
But I knew that the months surrounding the release of Rob's book brought an unprecedented amount of toxic venom from evangelical leaders across the country. In the name of apologetics, Rob, Kristen, and their three children have been scrutinized and deconstructed to the point of nausea. I know it hurt, more than he would be willing to say.
So as soon as the first session was over, I went directly to Francis Chan and confronted him. I shared with him my disappointment and the hurt that had been caused by "off the cuff" jokes, and that perhaps there were a more healthy platform from which to communicate our differences.
Francis Chan looked me (vein pulsing in forehead), and I about melted in fear. Who am I to question this prophet of the Lord? I'm just a spiritually-limping, recovering Pharisee. I apologized if there was no truth in my claim, but exhorted him to do an inventory of his soul and question is motivation.
Francis Chan began to weep. Tears began to fall as he received my humble, sloppy words. He thanked me for confronting him, and admitted that he felt convicted by the Holy Spirit for taking a cheap shot at another brother. He also added his deep angst over the recent work of Rob Bell, and that it could be very confusing to the emerging generation. "But I promise you," he said.."I will personally call Rob, and we will talk privately about our differences!"
A few minutes later, Francis Chan opened his 2nd session with a lengthy apology to Rob Bell. And the twitter generation responded accordingly.
I have not seen Rob since this incident, but I did follow up to see if Francis Chan had followed through with his promise. Yes! Indeed, two of the most beloved voices in our generation had talked privately about their (clear) differences, and have agreed to disagree ~ under the banner of Christ's greatest commandment. Love.
I stumbled into this picture, and wept.