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Friday, October 02, 2009
Or is he just a Christian who sees things in a unique way? Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs attempts to answer that question based on a recent interview that Rob Bell did for the Boston Globe. In it, Bell says the following:
Q: OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?
A: I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That's a beautiful sort of thing.

Q: Is religion a part of that?
A: At the heart of the Christian story is resurrection, the belief that this word is good, and that, as a follower of Jesus, a belief that God hasn’t abandoned the world, but is actively at work in the world. Even in the midst of what can look like despair and destruction there is a new creation present.
There you have it, the gospel to Rob Bell is rank moralism, nothing more. Al Mohler recently wrote this on the false gospel of moralism:
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this -- the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.
The seduction of moralism is the essence of its power. We are so easily seduced into believing that we actually can gain all the approval we need by our behavior. Of course, in order to participate in this seduction, we must negotiate a moral code that defines acceptable behavior with innumerable loopholes. Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient.

Moralists can be categorized as both liberal and conservative. In each case, a specific set of moral concerns frames the moral expectation. As a generalization, it is often true that liberals focus on a set of moral expectations related to social ethics while conservatives tend to focus on personal ethics. The essence of moralism is apparent in both -- the belief that we can achieve righteousness by means of proper behavior.

The theological temptation of moralism is one many Christians and churches find it difficult to resist. The danger is that the church will communicate by both direct and indirect means that what God expects of fallen humanity is moral improvement. In so doing, the church subverts the Gospel and communicates a false gospel to a fallen world.
The Gospel is not "come be a better person and save the environment while doing so." The GOSPEL is "come die to yourself and self-wrought mortification and put your trust in Jesus, that you might truly live." Rob Bell denies this gospel and thus denies Christ.

He also denies God's sovereignty and omniscience:
Q: What have you learned from thinking about suffering?
A: For a lot of people, dominant questions center around, ‘Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?’ Unfortunately, the religious voice often enters into the discussion at an inappropriate time – ‘God just planned this.’ Really? Your God planned this, not mine.
This is just more of the Open Theism that is so rampant among today's Christians. "God doesn't control every little detail, He just adjusts to changing circumstances on the ground." Deism is what I call it. Or, as Phil Johnson says in his post:
Bell has no agenda to "restore the true meaning" of the term evangelical, much less encourage a revival of true evangelical belief. In fact, Bell has made a career of attacking historic evangelical convictions—laying siege to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the wrath of God against sin, the authority and perspicuity of Scripture, the necessity of the virgin birth, the coherence of the biblical testimony about the Resurrection, the exclusivity of Christ, and whatever other historic Christian doctrines Bell finds politically incorrect.
If any popular figure "in the evangelical movement" (or on its copious fringe) deserves the label "heretic," it is Rob Bell. The guardians of evangelical politeness don't like that kind of candor, but when a secular newspaper like The Boston Globe is publishing pieces implying that the best, most promising alternative to right-wing civil religion is a mish-mash of Open Theism and performance art—and that whatever "evangelicalism" is, it must be one or the other of those two abominations, it's time for people with historic evangelical convictions to speak up clearly and make the biblical message heard again.
Here's a bit more from pastor-blogger Jared Wilson. The highlights:
The problem with Bell's definition [of evangelical] is not that it outlines a practical faith or that anything he's highlighting is bad or wrong, only that what he outlines contains no object of faith and highlights work to do rather than work completed. And I don't know about you, but work completed is always better news than work undone.
Jesus doesn't need you or me to be embarrassed for him or his followers. He doesn't need our help. We don't have to butter people up before we bring him out. He's not a time share or Amway or something.

If I get hit by a bus just after preaching a Jesusless exhortation to hold hands and be sweet to change the world with positivity, you have my permission to wish the bus had hit me before I preached.

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! And woe to you too, Rob Bell.


Chris A said...

I don't know much about Bell. I did see a video production he made in a Baptist church a few years ago, and I saw him in a TV interview once. Nothing of what I saw during either of those instances would be sufficient for me to make a judgment call on whether the man is a heretic or whatever, but I would like to address one conclusion you have come to about Bell's alleged rejection of sovereignty.

This is apparently a conclusion you arrived at based on the following quote:

"For a lot of people, dominant questions center around, ‘Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?’ Unfortunately, the religious voice often enters into the discussion at an inappropriate time – ‘God just planned this.’ Really? Your God planned this, not mine."

First, I would say that such a sound byte is not sufficient to determine one's belief in God's sovereignty. Second, the logic that God's sovereignty is, in effect, the control of everything poses a number of problems to be reconciled with the Bible. Case in point, Acts 10:38:

"...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."

To many in the Calvinistic vein of thought on sovereignty (though not all of them), this is how you would be forced to explain this verse:

Because God controls everything, that means that he purposefully created Lucifer so that he would be full of pride and become the devil. Then he created human beings and had the devil tempt them so that Adam would fall and rebel against God. Then he made the devil oppress people with sickness. Then he sent his Son Jesus and anointed Him with the Spirit of God so that he could undo what the devil did. Incidentally the same Spirit Jesus was anointed with to destroy the works of the devil actually played some part in the sickness in the first place since He too is God, and God controls all things.

And when people indoctrinated with this insanity today get sick, they pray, "Lord, heal me if it be thy will?" because "you just never know". God might just decide to kill you. Jesus came that we might have life in abundance, but God is schizophrenic after all.

If I have wrongly stated this concept of sovereignty, then I apologize, but I would like someone to retort with an explanation of Acts 10:38 in light of the view that "God controls everything", or that he is somehow responsible when bad things happen to people.

Darius said...

I would ask you this, Chris: did God know when He created Satan that he would end up being evil? If so, then why did God create him?

I'll try to dissect your comment...

"Then he made the devil oppress people with sickness."

In some cases, yes, this is true. Sometimes to punish people, sometimes to discipline them, and other times to get the glory in their healing. As Joseph said, what Satan intends for evil God intends for good. So God sent Satan to work through Judas to betray Jesus, and He blinded the Pharisees so that they would kill Jesus. He did this because He intended the most ultimate of all goods to come of it.

"Jesus came that we might have life in abundance."

You misunderstand that to mean an abundant physical life, when Jesus meant primarily an abundant spiritual life. If He meant a good physical life, someone should have told the early Church, because they were destitute, scorned, and martyred. Guess they didn't get the memo.

"God might just decide to kill you."

Yes, He might, and all the better. To live is Christ but to die is gain, after all. Death isn't a negative, it's a positive. We should pray that God's will is done in our suffering or sickness, not that we necessarily get better (though it's fine to pray for healing if He so wills). Paul did just that with the thorn in his side, and God told him no.

Regarding Acts 10:38, Satan is routinely referred to as the lord or master of this world, but he is only ruler because God grants him the power. Satan has no power outside of that which God has granted for the time being. And Christ whooped him at the Cross.

Steve said...

"Satan has no power outside of that which God has granted for the time being. And Christ whooped him at the Cross."


I don't know much of Bell, either...but he sounds like a ding-dong.

Chris A said...

Darius, I swear I posted a long response to your post on Friday. Now its gone or maybe there was a glitch or something. How very frustrating.

I really don't have the time to re-post such a lengthy rebuttal, suffice it to say this is where we differ: you take the theological jump from foreknowledge to "control", which essentially negates two distinct biblical elements in the equation - the free will of Satan and the free will of man. If God controls our will, then we no longer have a will and cannot be held responsible for any of our decisions. Did God know that we or Lucifer would rebel against Him? Absolutely, but God is not in the business of creating automatons to glorify Him.

It is clear reading through the Old Testament that while mysterious things happen absent any explanation, and while often even tragic things are attributed to God, most often they come as an explicitly stated response to a rebellious act rather than an arbitrary "I'm God so I'm going to kill you because I can do that." By its very nature, judgment denotes a response to the misuse of human will. If judgment results in death, by no means does this qualify as a good thing even if one should go to heaven.

The verse about the gain of death should be understood in light of its context. Paul is speaking of a decision as to whether to die and be with Christ or continue living for the sake of the Philippians. In the end, he makes the unselfish choice. Death is no friend; in fact it is explicitly called an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). And while it may benefit us personally to some extent, it can mean hardship for those who depend on us.

Therefore if you or any other father should be diagnosed with a terminal illness, it would be near blasphemous to attribute that do a mysterious arbitrary act of God. To say that God would do such a thing for His glory flies in the face of his very name, Jehovah Rapha. But if God is schizophrenic, we can rationalize just about anything and make God responsible.

D.J. Williams said...

I really like the Jared Wilson quote. What a sad commentary it is on the human condition that we find more comfort in undone work for us to do than in finished work that we could never do.

BTW, my blog has moved. You can now find me at

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
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Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
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Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
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