Leaders of Emergent Liberals: Rob Bell

8 Nov

Here’s what Mark Driscoll has to say about Rob Bell in his book “Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions.” 

The NOOMA Videos

Bell is perhaps best known for his widely popular NOOMA videos. Each of the videos is roughly ten to fourteen minutes in length and shows Bell teaching a spiritual concept. To be fair, the production quality of the videos is phenomenal, the concept of packing big ideas into small videos that are visually appealing so as to reach young people is really smart, and Bell himself is a very gifted communicator. The problem concerns what is actually taught, or not taught, on the videos. Greg Gilbert, who serves as director of theological research for the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has made some poignant points about this problem, points that well-known pastors such as Mark Dever and C. J. Mahaney have supported. After watching nearly all of the NOOMA videos, Gilbert writes: 

The gospel as Bell communicates it in NOOMA runs something like this: All of us are broken, sinful, selfish, and prideful people. We carry around baggage of our hurts, our resentments, and our jealousies. As a result we are just a shell of the kind of people God intends us to be. But our God is a loving God who accepts us and loves us just as we are. He can comfort us, heal us, and make us whole, real, authentic, living, laughing people. Not only that, but Jesus came to show us how to live revolutionary lives of love, compassion, and acceptance. By learning from his teachings and following him, we can live the full and complete lives that God intended.
And that’s about it. That’s just not the introduction that leads to an explanation of the cross, atonement, the resurrection and salvation, either. So far, at least, that’s what NOOMA holds out as “The Gospel.”
First, Bell tells lost people that they are already connected to God and not separated from him by sin. In his NOOMA video Rhythm, Bell likens God to a song playing everywhere in the heart of everyone: “The song is playing all around us all the time. . . . May you come to see that the song is written on your heart, and as you live in tune with the song, in tune with the Creator of the universe, may you realize that you are in relationship with the living God.” 

In another NOOMA video called Luggage, Bell says that everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, has their sin forgiven: 

It’s like right at the heart of [Jesus’] message is the simple claim that God has forgiven us all of our sins, doesn’t hold any of our past against us—because none of us have clean hands, do we? . . . So when I forgive somebody, I’m giving them what God has given to me. . . . May you forgive as you’ve been forgiven. May you give to others what’s been given to you.
Second, Bell is incredibly unclear about the meaning, purpose, and accomplishments of Jesus on the cross. 

Third, Bell turns Christianity into a moral way of life patterned after Jesus’ example. For Bell, Christianity is not repenting of sin, believing in Jesus, and being filled by the power of the Holy Spirit for new life. Rather, we can live a good life like Jesus by believing in ourselves. In his NOOMA video Dust, Bell explains Peter’s failure to walk on water in this way: 

He [Peter] sees his rabbi [Jesus] walking on water, and what’s the first thing he wants to do? “I wanna walk on water, too. I wanna be like my rabbi.” And so Peter gets out of the boat, and he starts walking on water, and he yells out, “Jesus save me!” And the text reads that Jesus immediately caught him and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Now, I always assumed that Peter doubts Jesus. But Jesus isn’t sinking. Who does Peter doubt? He doubts himself; he loses faith in himself, that he can actually be like his rabbi. . . . I mean, all my life, I’ve heard people talk about believing in God. But God believes in us, in you, in me. I mean faith in Jesus is important. But what about Jesus’ faith in us?
Christianity is about having faith in Jesus, but in Bell’s gospel, Jesus has faith in us; salvation, or a new way of life, requires not just having faith in Jesus but also having faith in ourselves. 

Fourth, Bell’s Jesus is mainly just a really interesting teacher, kind of like Bell himself. Gilbert says: “[Bell] doesn’t call him Savior, or Redeemer, or Son of God, and only very occasionally does he call him Lord. Instead, he very much seems to prefer calling Jesus ‘teacher’ or ‘rabbi.’ I’m sure part of that is that he wants to be fresh and edgy. But I think it also points to just how far these videos lower the meaning of Christianity. 

Bell’s NOOMA videos are simply tired old moralisms where Jesus is a good person, and we are good people too who can live like him if we try hard enough and believe in ourselves. Sure, they’re really uber-hip videos with trendy names and a title that even sounds like a Greek word, but that’s simply a fresh coat of paint on a broken-down, rusty old car going nowhere. 

Bell’s Position Analyzed

Bell’s teaching on hell is vague and slippery. In his book Velvet Elvis, Bell says: 

The fact that we are loved and accepted and forgiven in spite of everything we have done is simply too good to be true. Our choice becomes this: We can trust his [God’s] retelling of the story, or we can trust our telling of the story. It is a choice we make every day about the reality we are going to live in. And this reality extends beyond life. Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.
This kind of peculiar universalism asserts that everyone has their sins forgiven by God,but some wind up in hell nonetheless. For lost people this kind of teaching is simply confusing because it teaches that their sins are already forgiven, and rather than repenting of their sin, which separates them from God, and trusting in Jesus’ atoning death in their place for their sins, all they need to do to experience eternity in heaven is to live a good life. 

Bell and the Virgin Birth

Regarding the virgin conception of Jesus, Rob Bell speculates that if “Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time,” we would essentially not lose any significant part of our faith because it is more about how we live. 

To be fair, Bell does not deny the virgin conception of Jesus, but he does deny that it is of any notable theological importance. This, however, is a dangerous move for four reasons. 

First, the only alternative to the virgin conception of Jesus is that Mary was a sexually sinful woman who conceived Jesus illegitimately. Second, if the virgin conception were untrue, then the story of Jesus would change dramatically; we would have a sexually promiscuous young woman lying about God’s miraculous hand in the birth of her son, raising that son to declare he is God, and then joining his religion. Third, if we are willing to disbelieve the virgin conception, we are flatly and plainly stating that Scripture may contain mistakes, or even outright lies. Fourth, in the early days of the Christian church, there was, in fact, a group who rejected the virgin conception of Jesus, the heretical Ebionites, and it is both unwise and unfaithful for a prominent pastor to accept a doctrine that the church has condemned as false.

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions,  pg. 228-234


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