Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rob Bell - Out Of The Closet

Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, has caused a firestorm of controversy among the wider evangelical community. Though it has already provoked a lot of discussion within this forum alone, I am not willing to put it out of its misery just yet. There are far wider ramifications than the obvious heresy of "Pastor Bell". This is fast becoming a watershed moment of a false teacher who finally managed to cross the evangelical line in the sand. False teachers have generally tended to thrive over the last few decades in a prevailing climate of "civility", tolerance, and the good old benefit of the doubt. But notice has now been served that an evangelical community that has tolerated too much for too long still has a threshold - a threshold that took Rob Bell by surprise. Bell's surprise at the outrage over his book may well have more to do with overplaying his hand than a genuine belief in his own orthodoxy.

But has Bell actually done us all a great service by turning our discernment radars on and being increasingly overt in his attacks on the historic Christian faith? I do hope this will become the shockwave that causes much needed climate change in the evangelical world - because that line in the sand took six years too long to cross.

Even back in 2005 Bell was peddling his wares:

When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth . . . What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth (Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis p148).

Rob Bell may say he isn't a universalist, but it's kind of like Bill Clinton giving a sworn testimony:

This reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God. This reality then isn’t something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making (p83).

We also learned early on that Bell's copy of the Bible is a "Robert Schuller severely abridged" version:

I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners (p130).

He also did away with that tired notion of differentiating between believers and unbelievers:

If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody (p167).

Bell realized that many problems of the historic Christian faith could be solved by humanizing God and elevating man:

Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; he is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what his rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes that you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his talmidim, his disciples, what do we find frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves…. God has an amazingly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me. I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me (p124-125).

And none of this is a problem if you think that Sola Scriptura was a foreign exchange student you met in the 80's:

It wasn’t until the 300s that what we know as the sixty-six books of the Bible were actually agreed upon as the ‘Bible’. This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that “Scripture alone” is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God’s Word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true. In affirming the Bible as inspired, I also have to affirm the Spirit who I believe was inspiring those people to choose those books (p67-68).

Let's hope that this controversy causes the "evangelical line in the sand" to have a seismic shift towards the Apostle Paul:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9).


Randy said...

Thanks for your discerning posts on this issue. "Love Wins" is the scariest book I have ever read. I had fresh insight from reading your blog concerning why Bell released it now. Perhaps he believed the time had come to push the envelope this much further. Maybe his intention was not to offend since he did not see his view as offensive. Perhaps he thought it was time for the next big step in deconstructing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of the post-modern, post-Christian, emergent gospel. I hope we can have a unified response against it. I have clearly warned the people God has entrusted to my care about Bell...even before this book came out. It was inevitable. I was watching his "Bullhorn" Nooma the other day and you could see strong hints of it there. I thought about you and the efforts of street evangelism and how insulting that video was. Thanks for your efforts in the Gospel ministry!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! Give it up man.... Is this all you discuss? Speaking of Bill Clinton, you should join a smear campaign for a politician.

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to admit it, Bell did get something right in one of the sections you quoted:

"So when I affirm the Bible as God’s Word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true. In affirming the Bible as inspired, I also have to affirm the Spirit who I believe was inspiring those people to choose those books."

The sentences before it were LOADED with problems; the undermining of Sola Scriptura and the failure to acknowledge the historical criteria for something being counted as scripture and being called divinely inspired.

However, just like a clock that gets the time correct twice a day, Bell was correct to assert that those who collated the Bible together as a single volume operated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I would frankly be worried if there was no divine influence asserted. To completely reject the influence of the Holy Spirit is very dangerous and I would even suggest that we run the risk of what Jesus referred to as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is clearly involved in the world today in many ways (one of which convicting of sin, righteousness and judgement) and it would be problematic to assert that the councils that ratified the canon of scripture were in no way inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I am very aware of a strong reaction from conservatives against the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements that robs us (no pun intended) of a Holy Spirit doctrine that we should be enjoying to the fullest. The influence of the Holy Spirit should not be marginalised or ignored and to do so is very dangerous.

Stephen Baird said...

well done. excelent post.
Jesus is the only way to God. i owned cd's, noomas and books by rob bell. i took my kids to hear rob speak 6-7 years ago. i was delighted that my kids knew enough of the truth through other means and my own testimony that they caught this more blatent lie red-handed after years of not hearing mr. bell. i pray he repents from these errors as he is leading many astray. the intellectual approach can look so cool to so many that need a Savior. this "open-minded" approach is not open-minded at all. it is an attempt to have you believe that it is unreasonable that Jesus is the only way. this is the work of the devil. the deceiver will even use well intended church goers to water down the gospel so that Christ is challenged at every corner. narrow is the path and that path is through Christ alone.
thanks for your reminder.
nikonsniper steve

Barbara Thayer said...

Unfortunately, my husband and I went to a church Pastored by a man who had no training but felt "called". He felt that he would sweep away all the stuffy old tradition and bring us into new worship of the Lord. For the first few years of this non-denominational church, things went along well. Then, there was a change. Doctrines kept being changed. One day you were saved and could not lose it and the next day you could. Finally, one Sunday, this man threw the Bible across the floor and stomped on it saying that we should not worship the book but only God. That did it for us. What we suspected had come to fruition. He was a wolf in sheep's clothing. I see this in Rob Bell. Someone who doesn't really know what he believes and he is happily leading many to destruction. In his effort to "humanize" Christianity and make it palatable to many....he is taking the very heart of the Gospel out and stomping on it. Thank you for continuing to make this clear to all.

Anonymous said...

Barbara, I'm glad you can judge someone you've never met. It must be awesome to be God. Nice work.