Saturday, May 25, 2013

Church Creeds And Rob Bell's Lies

On September 11 3001 A.D., a team of archaeologists began an excavation on Manhattan Island. They were surprised to uncover a legal document, from precisely 1000 years earlier, that classified colliding an aircraft with a building as an act of terror. The scientific team examining this artifact are certain that this answers the ancient mystery of where all laws banning aircraft from flying into buildings originates from. Based on this information they were able to deduce that, prior to September 11 2001, the practice of crashing planes into buildings was widely accepted and practiced by the general public. Scientists are still working on potential theories as to what caused the residents of Manhattan to go through such a dramatic shift in public opinion.

Clearly, the previous paragraph is a work of fiction - but what follows is not. In 2005, Rob Bell wrote a book called Velvet Elvis. It was in this book that Bell's historical research concluded the following about the Christian doctrine of the Triune God:

This three-in-oneness understanding of God emerged in the several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection… But over time this belief [the Trinity], this understanding, this doctrine, has become central to how followers of Jesus have understood who God is. It is a spring, and people jumped for thousands of years without it. It was added later. We can take it out and examine it. Discuss it, probe it, question it. It flexes, and it stretches.[1]

It is readily apparent that Bell is making the exact same erroneous assumption that the archaeologists in 3001 A.D. are making. Bell's referral to the Nicene Creed as the first recorded instance of Trinitarian dogma assumes that it marks the first recorded instance of Trinitarian belief. But if Bell was a true student of Church history, he would know that Creeds are an affirmation of what Christians at that time already believed. Creeds were always necessitated by false teaching that attacked the very doctrines they were designed to defend. In the same way that the horrific acts of terror perpetrated on 9-11 clearly violated the unwritten morality of the citizens of Manhattan, so too the Arian attacks on Christ's divinity in the fourth Century A.D. clearly violated the unwritten convictions of the citizens of Christ's Church. Anti-terror laws and Church Creeds are both retrospective - a reaction to new assaults with ancient truth.

Throughout church history, creeds have always been necessitated due to the heresies that have arisen at that time. These creeds do not introduce new doctrine formulated by the church leaders of that time, but rather affirm what most Christians had always believed prior to the creed being written, and repudiate the contemporary heresies that brought these truths under threat.

This also helps to explain why creeds have become more and more detailed over the course of church history. Each new heresy demands a new rebuttal to create a clear line of distinction between Christian orthodoxy and false teaching. It logically follows then that The Apostles Creed, being the earliest church creed (its earliest form appeared around the middle of the second century AD), is relatively short and does not cover every essential doctrine we might see posted in a typical evangelical faith statement of the 21st century.

The best possible construction I can put on Rob Bell’s “research” is that he is an unbeliever who has no clue what he is doing (if that is not the case then he has been engaging in deliberate deception) and has been tragically let down by church leaders who failed to retrospectively react to his clear statements of unbelief. Unfortunately, it took several more heretical books before the wider evangelical community responded appropriately to Bell's perversions of history and theology.

Even in the most recent of times, the rise of new heresies has demanded that genuine defenders of Christian truth expand upon their already detailed doctrinal confessions. Together for the Gospel is a band of Christian pastors[2] who came together in 2006 in order to make a robust defense of the Christian gospel that they perceived to be under ominous threat. This prompted these men to draft a doctrinal statement of affirmations and denials. Article II reveals their own retrospective expansion of essential Christian doctrine:

We affirm that the authority and sufficiency of Scripture extends to the entire Bible, and therefore that the Bible is our final authority for all doctrine and practice. We deny that any portion of the Bible is to be used in an effort to deny the truthfulness or trustworthiness of any other portion. We further deny any effort to identify a canon within the canon or, for example, to set the words of Jesus against the writings of Paul. (emphasis mine).[3]

This statement may seem bizarre on face value, but entirely legitimate and necessary when one recognizes the precision with which it responds to postmodern attacks on biblical authority. The 21st Century gospel preacher is also faced with the same necessity in expounding the biblical gospel. Firstly, he is burdened with the necessity of precisely proclaiming it:

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 emphasis mine).

The apostle Paul did this for us in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 emphasis mine).

Secondly, the rise of newly seductive and deceptive heresies demands that the preacher unpack and explain many of Paul’s terms within his simple definition of the gospel message. We need to biblically define Who Christ is in contrast with the false christs of cults. We need to define sin in terms of God’s Law because many are ignorant of what it is and the extent of its offence. We need to explain why Christ died. We need to explain the propitiatory transaction that took place during Christ’s death for sinners. We need to explain the personal consequences of having this perfect atoning sacrifice or not having it. We need to explain the response this truth demands of the sinner. These are all issues that are fair game for the subjective assault of postmodern idolaters. The faithful preacher must preach the gospel Paul proclaimed all the while insulating it from the fog of reinvention.[4]

This is a gospel that cannot be lived out. Its effects are certainly worked out in the sanctification of believers as salt and light in a fallen world, but the modern cliché to "live the gospel" is just plain ridiculous. How do you live the resurrection? How do you live the crucifixion? How do you live the fulfillment of God's law? The Gospel is a message about someone Who has lived a unique life that nobody can replicate. That is why we must testify. It is why Paul asks the question “how are they to hear?” (Rom 10:14). The oxymoronic statement "preach the gospel, if necessary use words" is like saying "wash always if necessary use water".

Rick Warren says that: "deeds not creeds will be the next reformation".[5] He is suggesting that we have the right doctrine but we are not living it. Wrong!!! The real problem is that he has the wrong doctrine and he is living it.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:21-24).

[1] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 22.
[2] The keynote speakers at their initial conference were Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, R. Albert Mohler, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. Certainly not lightweight theologians by anyone’s estimation.
[3] This entire statement of affirmations and denials can be viewed at
[4] I have thoroughly addressed this issue in my blog series “The Anatomy of the Gospel”
[5] This statement can be viewed at