Why should I not like Rob Bell?

Rob BellSomebody give me a substantiated reason (Direct quotes of Bell or his books, etc.), because from what I’ve seen lately on the web leads me to conclude that he’s a young pastor attempting to preach truth to a culture that has deaf ears to the usual way Evangelical Christians attempt such.

Caveat: I am not endorsing Rob Bell for anything. I have not read his books, or really listened to his preaching in any depth. So, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am hoping to read Velvit Elvis and Sex God over the break (Dec.-Jan.), and I’ve subscribed to his podcast, so that I can develop my own opinion over the next couple of months. What I have gathered from the recent articles and few clips from Youtube though seems to be pretty good stuff. I really hope the criticism is not centered on his style, or approach, in preaching, but is actually based on something that could really be considered important.

I know he’s been getting some press lately (click here for the Times article) and it seems that alot of people object to him (check out Justin Taylor’s post over at Between Two Worlds and the comments generated). I’m really curious to know why there are such strong objections to someone who seems to be a brother in Christ, and what it is that makes people want to label him a “heretic” – a very strong label, that so far, seems to be without substance.

Recomended Links:

Ben Witherington’s thoughts on Rob Bell stuff – Sex God, Nooma videos: click here

Anthony Bradley has some thoughts, here.

So does Jared Lee (here).

Wiki on Bell, here.


17 thoughts on “Why should I not like Rob Bell?

  1. well, you know what I think. But let me add this here.

    His theology might be bit different than mine (from what I can tell reading his books) but the day my theology is perfect, then we can talk about what imperfection is and how Rob can improve.

    Until then, I think I will learn from the amazing way Bell is reaching this culture and hopefully apply those lessons to my own ministry.

    One other thing… a quick look around at the way some of our “orthodox” brothers talk about him makes me sad. It’s pathetic that 2,000 years after Jesus came to love, save, heal and inaugurate a kingdom, the people of God are still acting like whitewashed tombs nit-picking the little details.

    What was it Jesus said? oh yes – straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Take a good look at MT 23:23-24, I really think that’s what people do when they pick one another apart on such simple matters when Jesus himself said the weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy and faithfulness.

    I am not making this stuff up. Jesus said it first.


  2. Jared said what I was going to. It seems that most who have a problem with Bell (and who voice the problem on blogs) have a problem with his theology being different. But, like he said, it’s usually over small matters and particulars. Bell is definitely known for wanting to get people all passionate about small details, I think he gets a kick out of it. But it’s hard to deny that the ministry he is leading is doing amazing work for the kingdom.

    I have a review of Sex God up over at ryanimel.com/sexgod, if you want an idea of what’s involved before reading.


  3. I’m a mixed bag on Rob Bell. I love the way he looks at most issues. He has this way of affirming the best of evangelical theology and praxis but of doing it in a totally non-comformist, traditional way.

    I can’t really argue with much of “Velvet Elvis” or “Sex God”. They are, for the most part, good books.

    I did get to hear Bell speak last Spring at a forum at the University of Kentucky. The rub for me was that Bell blatantly used the evening to sell his books. Many times he avoided answering a question and suggested that we buy the book. That’s all well and good. If I had taken the time to write a book I would want people to buy it as well. I did wonder about any of the “on-the-edge” people who were in the audience of about 1500 to 2000 people. Were his non-answers persuasive enough to convince them to buy the bookand go deeper or, were they savvy enough to see it is as yet another Madison Avenue marketing tool being co-opted by mega-church Christians? I’m not sure.

    Something just didn’t sit well with me about his GQ look and the constant suggestion that we buy the book. That’s not a criticism because I’m not quite sure if this “rub” is more me than it is him! Maybe I have some insecurities?

    He has been quite successful at using the media to get his message about Jesus and the church out to the world and for that, I applaud him.


  4. I am nowhere close to an expert on Rob Bell. In fact as I read the Time article the other day I was unsure of how to interact with it. I think calling him an outright heretic is a little strong. It seems like some people are straining gnats and swallowing camels. However I do believe that some of his comments border on heresy (if not heresy outright). Here is a link that you might find helpful. It is Mark Sohmer’s review of Bell’s Velvet Elvis. It is full of the quotes that you were looking for and is well-written. Hopefully you find it helpful.


  5. (also posted at Ryan’s blog)
    I have been a big Bell fan until recently. I have all the Noomas and have used them in small groups. I have shared “everything is spiritual” with skeptics. I read Velvet Elvis and have listened to his podcasts for a few years.

    There is a lot to like about his message -but it all of a sudden hit me that I cannot recommend this guy’s teaching anymore.

    What I like: (1) social gospel message of “lets help” instead of lecture. (2)lets view the teaching of Christ as a revolutionary way to live, instead of set of facts. (3) lets really dig into history and Jewish culture to fully appreciate the Bible.

    But where I am now is that Bell bends scripture to make his points, just like anyone else with an agenda. Bell’s world view is inclusive and non combative. So lets belittle “bullhorn” guy — even if he is acting on his convictions (believe it or not, I know three people who found Christ from a “bullhorn guy.” Another example: Peter sank while walking on water because he did not believe in himself. WHAT?? that is a man-center, believe-in-yourself mentality that denies dependence on Jesus. Peter sank because he lost faith that Jesus was greater than his fears — only Bell sees that differently. Bell routinely tries to say that the Sermon on the mount was blessed are the poor — as in materially poor. I guess he assumes that we never really read the rest of the passage. I have heard Bell call Jesus a genius, but not God Himself. I have never heard Bell discuss the Holy Spirit or the realities of Heaven and Hell. In fact Bell’s sermon on Hell was very abstract — and missed sound teaching. Bell totally misrepresented the Canon process, making it sound like a group of people voted on what would go into the Bible in the 3rd century — rather than the fact that the canon process was going on from the submission of the first letters/books. (A good book for the real story on the canon is Misquoting Truth.) Bell says that truth can be found in any religion..but Jesus says that HE IS THE TRUTH. Does Bell think that all roads lead to God? I really wonder based on his recommendation to spend THREE MONTHS with a book by Ken Wilber (look him up and see if you would call him a follower of Jesus).

    Look, I really admire Bell’s heart and that he lives a simple life downtown in a bad neighborhood. I would like to drink a beer with the guy. But I am very sensitive now to WHAT IS MISSING in his theology. Most of what he is saying about Christianity could be said about any religion, it seems. Does Bell really believe that Jesus is God? That He is our Savior and we desperately need to be saved? I am beginning to doubt that Bell does…


  6. Funny thing is that my “gut” tells me that one of the things that probably “drives” Bell to do what he does and say things that way he says them is the kind of chatter it creates amongst those of us who are blogging. When something works to get attention, the tendency is to keep doing it.

    BTW . . . I wish someone would explain the Nooma video fascination to me. I don’t have a strong opinion about Rob Bell either way, but the Nooma videos just don’t enamor me.


  7. Given Bell’s “the gods are not angry” tour, can he affirm with the Scriptures and confess together with Christians through all history that we (that’s me and you) justly deserve the wrath of God save in Christ’s mercy alone? Can he do this without hesitating?


  8. Great thoughts here guys.

    I’m starting my way through Velvit Elvis, and so far, I like what he writes. But, I think that I am liking it because I’m reading it critically (not judgmentally, but critically). It seems that in the flow of his overarching argument, I could agree with most of what he’s saying. But its in this sense that I think some of what he does say could be a little fast and loose if you don’t have some kind of theological critical thinking skills. So that being said, I think I still like him.

    John – that’s a great question! It seems that what I’ve gathered from his few media clippings, he might tackle that question in a “talk-around-my-answer” kind of way, and not really answering the question frankly. I would be interested in 1) his frank answer, and 2) his forthrightness is giving it (rather than talk around it)

    Jason – The publicity thing may be true. But even if it is, if Bell does think and believe that he’s giving people God’s word of grace (and it may be somewhat short-sighted), then I’m actually ok with self-promotion. If he’s doing it just to cause a stir and upset the “establishment”, then that’s a problem. And the Nooma stuff – I’m a MTV generation, so I kind of like it. The interaction of music, moving pictures, and spoken word can be a form of art, and it happens to be that he communicates (or attempts to at least) God’s Word. But its not the end-all, be-all of “preaching” or “art”, I’ll give you that.

    Alan – I’m going to keep your comment in mind while I’m reading and listening. I’m affraid that your obersvation might become my own – that what he’s saying all across the board might be acceptable in a Synagogue, Unitarian church, or Elk lodge meeting. We’ll see.

    Mike – thanks for the link! I’m planning on reading it here in a little while. And I agree – we should be very careful before dropping a “h” bomb on somebody.

    Ryan – too, thanks for the link to your review. I’ll get around to reading it once I finish VE.

    Jared – Amen on the “perfect theology” self-evaluation. I agree with you (but of course, you knew that!). Tell me though brother, would you not agree that there is a relatively clear line on what is true and acceptable in terms of theology (i.e. Affects of the fall, severity of sin/depravity, God’s “costly” grace), from which we can critically interact and question another’s views (And here me when I say that I believe that “line” is more wide than we often give it credit for).

    Perhaps a segway into another post that this one might spark is: what are theological negotiables and non-negotiables which we can (or should) agree on?


  9. Chris,

    Thanks for thoughtful replies. I’m from the MTV generation as well . . . have high standards for video stuff and the “art” of it all . . . that may explain why they don’t fascinate me 🙂

    I have chocked it all up to this: I am pretty certain that Bell is fulfilling a role in God’s Kingdom. I’m not always easy with that, but it is God’s kingdom; not mine 🙂


  10. Brandon,

    Did you read the book or just the review. I would suggest that you read the book for yourself; if you haven’t. It might be good to try to approach without the bias created by the book review that you linked in your reply above.

    Even Karl Barth, the great evangelical theologian of the 20th century, noted that truth is found within scripture, but also outside of scripture.


  11. hey guys thanks for sharing all the thoughtfull comments and this blog as well. I just heard of the guy today and as a gen x’er im interested to learn more about his ideas. I think some of my views would be unorthodox but i think its super critical that one believes in the total depravity of man and that salvation is only found through the substitute for our lives… Jesus. thanks again


  12. two bits from a latecomer:
    1) The interview in a Relevant Magazine (Issue 31 Jan-Feb 2008):
    The Interview question regarding the responsibility of the Christian to the environment: “What is it about faith that lends itself toward being environmentally conscious?

    Answer: Bell speaks about Hebrew culture, (this is of no surprise, for it is very common for Bell to do so). But there is a surprise in what he does with it. Specifically, Bell speaks of the shema in Deut 6. “Hear O Israel the LORD your God, the LORD is One.” Bell says, “so we live with the awareness that all of reality is one. We are connected with all things everywhere, and I would argue that in the last couple hundred years, disconnection has been the dominant way people have understood reality.” I am not a Hebrew scholar, but this sounds an awful lot like pantheism. Maybe Bell really likes Neo “One” from the Matrix. Maybe he read a lot of Emmerson and Throreau. Who knows?

    Number two: Bell’s teaching in Nooma video “Rain” is very moving for a believer. It’s a great treatise from a believer who is battling the arch question of why God allows pain to exist in the world He created. There is a real caution, however, to assume that his words apply to the non-believer–for him, there is no peace with God at all for God calls that man His enemy. If one thinks that Bell’s words apply to anyone, they would also have to consider him a worshiper of a very generous god who grants salvation to everyone universally. Maybe Bell is a modern theologian like Schleiermaucher? I hear that is trendy nowadays.

    Shame on us, however, for having such an insatiable appetite for “new” whether it’s true or not.


  13. I will weigh in kind of late on this. Bell may be heading down a path that leads to unorthodoxy, but he has not historically been there. Namely, his historical beliefs have been very orthodox. But, he may possibly be changing in his views based upon more recent comments by him. The jury is still out on that. As for his historical views, look at his church’s website (Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids). This is the church he started and currently pastors. I fugure that is the best place to get a hold of his doctrinal views. Here are key points from Mars Hill’s doctrinal statement (the quotes are directly from their doctrinal statement):

    1. Inspiration of scripture: “We believe God inspired the authors of Scripture by his Spirit”

    2. The Trinity: “[God] was and always will be in a communal relationship with himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

    3. Sin: “The enemy tempted the first humans, and darkness and evil entered the story through human sin and are now a part of the world. This devastating
    event resulted in our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation being fractured and in desperate need of redeeming.”

    4. Christ’s birth and identity: “We believe these longings found their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, mysteriously God having become flesh.”

    5. Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Yet [Jesus’s] path of suffering, crucifixion, death,burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation.”

    6. Christ is the only way to salvation: “Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans. Through Jesus we have been forgiven and brought into right relationship with God.”

    7. We must trust Jesus: “The Spirit of God affirms as children of God all those who trust Jesus.”

    8. The Holy Spirit and the church: ” The Spirit empowers us with gifts, convicts, guides, comforts, counsels, and leads us into truth through a communal life of worship and a missional expression of our faith.
    The church is rooted and grounded in Christ, practicing spiritual disciplines and celebrating baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The church
    is a global and local expression of living out the way of Jesus through love, peace, sacrifice, and healing as we embody the resurrected Christ, who lives in and through us, to a broken and hurting world.”

    9. The judgment: “We believe the day is coming when Jesus will return to judge the world, bringing an end to injustice and restoring all things to God’s original intent.”

    It all looks pretty orthodox to me.


  14. “You will recognize the tree by the fruit. A bad tree can not produce good fruit.”
    Read The Velvet Elvis. I have. I have come to the conclusion, based on a careful reading of his book, that the man is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He says he believes in the virgin birth on one page, but then on another page he says if he finds out it is not true (via positive scientific proof) he can still be a Christian. Bell reminds me of any other liar. He mixes a little truth in with grave error. My question is: WHY DON”T PEOPLE SEE THIS? What has happened to the gift of discernment?
    If you don’t want to spend money on his book, I recommend you read Brandon’s post (four or so above) and click on his link.


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