Building a New House
A conversation with Rob Bell and Don Golden
Official Website for the Work of Rob Bell. Listen to and download episodes of The RobCast and get information on Rob…
who sees and distills clearly in a world criss-crossed by walls. Don lives with a curiosity that enables him to listen…
A transcript of The RobCast Episode 261: Building a New House with Don Golden.
Rob Bell: Okay, so it’s like the early aughts. It’s like 2001 ish. And what was happening is lots of people were talking about the HIV AIDS crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. And I would read these articles about the numbers. It was almost like the data or the statistics were like, I couldn’t fathom this level of devastation, because that just wouldn’t happen in America, let’s be honest. So I was like, early 30s. I’m a pastor, trying to do good work but also like there’s this thing happening on the other side of the world. That’s massive. And so I arranged through a friend to take a trip, because I wanted to see this up close I wanted to see what like, what does a village like where 27% of the people in the village are HIV positive like how does that even…
And I had heard stories of, you know, families where everybody’s died older than the six year olds. There’s a six year old kid taking care of the babies, and that’s… like, I’d heard these sort of stories, but I wanted to see it and understand it in a more full way. So I go to Africa, and we land in Rwanda — Kigali, Rwanda — and there’s this guy waiting for us who’d been arranged to be like our guide. And it was like a second it’s like a white guy from Ohio turns out it was a white guy from Ohio named Don Golden. And this guy we get in this SUV. And he’s driving, and he starts talking and I’m like this is… This guy and I, we just start talking and we go back and forth, and he is driving like he stole it through the streets of Kigali. I’m like who is this man who is so comfortable in this setting — the red soil, the narrow streets? And for the next days on end, he took me around and showed me, all sorts of things I hadn’t seen before, but our discussion was so like… It was so alive you know you meet those people and you’re like, this is, this is doing something to me and then we became friends and then we work together. And then we wrote a book together, and for a while and then like I got to introduce my RobCast friends to the legend of Don Golden to the actual Don Golden who is the legend, because he so profoundly impacted my life. And now — how’s that for a setup? — he’s here on the back porch with me. Welcome Don.
Don Golden: Rob Bell, oh man I want to meet this guy.
Rob Bell: How was that?
Don Golden: That was awesome.
Rob Bell: I have never done, I could be like your hype man.
Don Golden: Definitely, definitely, that’s going somewhere. I mean, I gotta use that somewhere.
Rob Bell: So, you’re doing all sorts of interesting things now. But I want to go back way up to the story, a way of understanding the story that I had had bits and pieces swirling around in me. But you came along and were like, “Oh, it’s way bigger and better and more dangerous.” You know what I mean?
Don Golden: I remember.
Rob Bell: So my friends. And what you’ll see quite quickly is how Don Golden reads the story of history, the story of who we are as humans, the story of the Scriptures, and what it means to be a person of spirit and soul and heart and faith in this world. You’ll see what I’m talking about. So let’s start with Empire. Let’s start early. The Bible starts with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, but I remember the first time you were like, “Actually, Exodus is the first book of the Bible.”
Don Golden: Exodus, the first book of the Bible, and Genesis is the backstory. In other languages, it’s the first, second, third, fourth, fifth book of Moses — that’s what those — the Pentateuch.
Rob Bell: Yeah.
Don Golden: Exodus, the liberation from slavery, is the defining metaphor for the biblical narrative, and Genesis is, sort of, group therapy for liberated slaves. If you thought you existed for the production consumption demands of a God on earth, Pharaoh, let me tell you, you were actually made in the image of God. And that’s all of Genesis.
Rob Bell: So these slaves, get liberated.
Don Golden: Right.
Rob Bell: But you’re… It’s… They get out of Egypt, but it’s getting the Egypt out of them, because their neural pathways, their hearts, their whole lives have been shaped by, “I exist to produce.”
Don Golden: Exactly.
Rob Bell: “I exist to make bricks for my bondage master,” essentially.
Don Golden: That’s right, that’s right.
Rob Bell: So, the Genesis story, then, is like helping you work through how you got in that mess.
Don Golden: That’s right.
Rob Bell: And that you actually there’s a… There’s a goodness to who you are. You’re not an object. You’re a human being.
Don Golden: Exactly. Yeah, it really is building up the identity of disempowered humanity. Why were you made? Who made you? What’s this all about? And given some of the the fundamental backstory, you know, what… What’s the first story that’s told after — supposedly — the fall. It is Cain kills Abel. God hears Abel’s blood crying out from the ground. Right at the beginning, basically, this is some ancient Neolithic literary device saying all of history is going to be defined by the cry of injustice, and the God that is, is all about responding to that cry and creating a group of people that will exist for that response. So that’s Genesis. Exodus is about that liberation. And you know, for me, it was, it was going to Mars Hill Bible Church and seeing you know thousands of pink cheeked American, you know, well, you know, well well bathed in the, in their right mind and with jobs and with disposable income. Why would God do all of this? And to me it felt very profound that we have to determine what’s the weight of this and what do we do with this, now that I’m, “I’m here among you. I’m with you.” And so it became an issue of trying to distill the biblical story really simply. And for me, it all became all about four geographic locations — places that God inhabited in human history — and what we learned about God, ourselves, our purpose in those geographic places. So, Egypt is the place of bondage and slavery. We’ve all known it, you know. We all experience it. It happens in physical ways, spiritual ways, this kind of Egypt where we suffer, where we are not fully present of who we are as humans. That’s Egypt. And then, Sinai is a type of calling. … For sure. Please.
Rob Bell: Remember, when you and I first started talking about: in Egypt, the gods — some people own other people — and the gods are fine with this. The gods actually sanction this right this hierarchy of some people oppress others. Wealth is in the hands of a few, where the masses, don’t have enough bread. The gods in Egypt are fine with this arrangement.
Don Golden: Right.
Rob Bell: They actually are the ones backing it. Yeah. And so, the story of the Bible is a radically subversive story, because it introduces a God character who is against this arrangement in the original Rage Against the Machine.
Don Golden: Exactly.
Rob Bell: This divine isn’t here to keep this system in place, but to subvert it. And in some ways to destroy it because this God hears the cry. Yes, which is a radical new idea in human history.
Rob Bell: This is Don Golden, by the way, just getting warmed up at the 48-minute mark.
Don Golden: The first martyr, who is that in the New Testament? Stephen. Right. So, he’s brought before the Sanhedrin. This is the political, religious, juridical body.
Rob Bell: The industrial-religious-military complex.
Don Golden: Well done. Well said. And he gives this speech and they kill him. So what’s he say to get himself killed? Well, he basically tells their history — a lot like we did, because it was kind of how we learned it — but then at the end he starts quoting scripture. And then he ends it with just quoting scripture: “Stiff-necked people.” That’s from the end of Deuteronomy.
Rob Bell: “You people could have helped change the world but instead you build empires and found yourself…”
Don Golden: And then he quotes this particular passage from Isaiah 66:1–2. “Heaven is my throne,” God says, “and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build me?”
He’s basically challenging the authority of Jerusalem. He’s saying, “You compromised religious people, colluding with coercive government. You locking everybody out. Who do you think you are? I mean this God you serve, Heaven is his throne. He keeps his feet here. If you’re going to build a place for this God, what’s this house going to look like?”
Well this house in that text is the word oikos. Oikos shows up all over the New Testament. Oikos is that place where we exercise our discipleship, where we’re responsible to see life flourishing. But oikos is also where we get the word economy. So, the question would read, in Greek, to the first church, “What kind of economy will you build me?” And they kill him for that.
So, I had to take the decision that I think in this new space where people from both sides have to come together can come together to create a new world. What kind of economy will you build me. That takes people from the left to the right — it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter it. What matters is Can we work together to create market solutions to some of the world’s intractable problems?