Bellophobia – Is disagreeing with Rob Bell’s heresy ‘hate speech’ ?

I have a confession to make: I don’t agree with Rob Bell’s teaching. There. I’ve said it. How did you react? Have you immediately pigeonholed me as someone who is a right wing/traditional/uptight Pharisee who needs help for my ‘Bellophobia’?  Have I already been found guilty of hate speech towards a Christian brother?

It’s a serious accusation and one that needs to be dealt with as such. Because if it’s true, then I am guilty of a dreadful sin and bringing disunity in the body of Christ. If it’s not, the accusation can still be used to silence important discussion, because one sure fire way to silence Christians is to emotionally blackmail us via accusations of hate speech. It’s not just Rob Bell, either. Express public disagreement with any Christian ‘brother/sister’ (unless they are some kind of perceived right wing nutcase) and eyebrows are raised, and keys typed. If the person concerned is famous, liked, been a blessing or a source of revenue, then it won’t be too long before articles are written in defence and the ‘hate’ card is played. So lets look at how this ‘game’ is played out.

1) It’s about personality rather than teaching – The allegation is that I hate Rob Bell for who he is, and that the teaching is secondary – almost an excuse for such unChristlike behavior. The truth is precisely the opposite. I don’t hate Rob Bell because I don’t know him; I have never met him and know very little about him. On the other hand, I hate his teaching, because even when it is good, it is poisoned with soul-destroying heresy. For me, it is the content of the teaching that is the only issue. A local Christian bookshop recently asked me if they should stock Rob Bell’s books, to which my reply was straightforward. If you are a Christian bookshop desiring to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help the local church, then why would you promote the writings of a man who denies the atonement, denies hell, denies Jesus’ teaching about marriage, and can’t even be bothered going to church?

2) It’s hypocrisy against a Christian brother/sister – ah but comes the retort. You are quite happy to cite people like Russell Brand who is not a Christian, so why get upset about Bell, who says controversial things but is a Christian brother? But that again is precisely the point. Unlike Brand, Bell professes to be a teacher of Christianity. The Bible tells us that we are to hold those within the church to a different standard. Paul tells the Corinthians “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). James warns us that ‘teachers’ in the church face a stricter standard – “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). I find it much easier to quote pagan poets than I do Christian heretics. Why? Because it is clear that I am not endorsing the former, whereas it is not clear that I am not endorsing the latter.

When a Christian magazine, writer or media outlet quotes/endorses/interviews a self professed Christian teacher who goes against the teaching of the Bible, they are implicitly stating that this heresy is one that is acceptable in Christian circles; that it is just one ‘interpretation’ of many. I regard that as profoundly dangerous. The trouble is that the minute you try and point that out, you are accused of being ‘unloving’, ‘hateful’ or ‘a Pharisee’. Am I the only one who finds it strange that it’s ‘hateful’ to say teaching that goes against the Bible is wrong, but calling someone a Pharisee isn’t?

3) It’s Judgemental – Lets deal with this Pharisee accusation. Words like ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘doctrine’ are used as indicative of a pharisaical mind-set and the opposite of the love of Christ. It implies that those who are speaking for orthodoxy are self-righteous, judgemental Pharisees. It questions whether there is such a thing as orthodoxy at all, and it implies that Bell’s teaching is actually okay – people just have a problem with it because they don’t like him personally. Or more subtly people will say, “Well of course I don’t agree with Rob Bell, but I tolerate his controversial teaching”. This has the double advantage of portraying the accuser as ‘sound’ and you as unloving. But it is all too easy to simply dismiss any concern about false teaching as hypocritical heresy hunting. Is there not a biblical balance? Does orthodoxy not just mean ‘right belief’? Do we not all have our own ‘orthodoxy? Is ‘God is love’ not an orthodox belief? Are people who depart from it not ‘heterodox’? I often find that when I am accused of being ‘orthodox’ the accusers usually have their own orthodoxy, which they use to judge anyone who deviates from it.

4) It Alienates Unbelievers – Then there is the emotional accusation that declares that because lots of people have been first introduced to the Christian faith through Bell, we need to be careful that we are not ‘alienating those who want to embark on the Christian journey’. Apart from being accused of being ‘unloving’, nothing is guaranteed to upset a sensitive Christian believer more than being accused of turning people away from Christ. As emotive rhetoric it works well. But is it true?

Firstly, I am going to admit that I was wrong. I used to buy into the ‘Bell is a brilliant communicator, even if his theology is a wee bit off’ mantra, until I actually heard him ‘communicating’ on Premier’s Unbelievable. It was a dreadful example of ‘communication’ – incoherent, rambling waffle.

Secondly, I work on the assumption that if God could speak through a donkey, work through a pagan king (Cyrus) and even use me, then of course he can use Rob Bell. I have a friend who was converted through the weirdest cult – does that mean that we endorse and promote the cult? I don’t buy into the line that it doesn’t matter if the ‘theology is not perfect’. It’s a bit like arguing that because everyone is sinful, sin does not matter. Besides, who is demanding ‘perfect’ theology? But can we not ask for ‘good theology’ – theology that actually fits with Gods revelation of himself? Can we be so dismissive of that which God has revealed?

Thirdly, there is the question of the negative effect that Bell’s messages can sometimes have. Maybe I am concerned because I believe that Bell’s teaching will alienate and create unbelievers? Like the atheist who told me that having been brought up as a Christian, Bell’s teaching led him to question his faith and to graduate on to Dawkins, Hitchens et al.

For me is it not about style, Bells personality or even whether he is a good communicator. It is absolutely not about hating Rob Bell. It’s about loving Jesus so much that we believe what he said, and we care when his words are distorted, twisted and abused.

5) It damages the Church –  ‘you are attacking a Christian brother and damaging the witness of the Church. You are partially responsible for the thousands who are leaving the church because of judgmental attitudes.’ The argument usually goes that people like Rob Bell are ‘prominent Jesus followers’ so how dare you question their Christianity. The trouble is that the person who says that is already making a judgment, and it’s one that I question. Can someone who denies the teaching and atonement of Jesus and has stopped attending his church, really be described as a ‘Jesus’ follower? Rob seems more suited to Oprah than Christ. Do I hate him? No. Do I like being dismissed as a Rob Bell hater just because I am opposed to his teaching? No. Do I weep that his teaching is poisoning the church? Yes.

The question is not so much, who is Rob Bell, or even do we like him. The question is, what is the Gospel, and does Rob Bell teach it? Everything else is an irrelevant sideshow. In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders that there would arise from their own number those who would distort the truth. He was so concerned about it that for three years, day and night, he never stopped warning them with tears. Should we be any less passionate for God’s truth? Or have we really bought into the post-modern view of truth so aptly summed up by the Manic’s ironic song, ‘This is my Truth, tell me yours”?

This earlier blog covers the same theme –


  1. I agree with you David about the importance of addressing false teaching. You ask the question as to whether disagreeing with the alleged heresy of Rob Bell is “hate speech”.

    To consider your question, it requires weighing up what is false teaching and what is being hateful. Previously in a discussion not dissimilar about false teaching and grace we have said:

    DH “You mentioned problems in the Free church recently here. Surely by… [your] standard it must be true that… at least false practice [exists in the Free chuch]…I find it very difficult when things become tribal… I grieve when this takes priority over the goodness that is in the gospel.”

    DR “Of course there is ‘false’ practice… I agree about grieving over the lack of priority of the Gospel.”

    DH “Do you accept (in keeping with what you say about one of the problems in the Free church being pride) that one example of this is lack of grace at times?”

    DR “Of course there is lack of grace…to say otherwise would be to claim sinlessness!”

    So we agree in principle that it is grievous when tribalism takes priority over the Gospel and as well as false teaching existing there is lack of grace that exists when speaking out against false teaching. So I if agree, If your accuser(s) are right about you being hateful, you are being guilty of a dreadful sin and therefore a terrible representation of Christ, one might say being mislead by Satan into believing you are exposing false teaching. On the other hand, if what your accusers say is false then it is them that are being mislead and are misleading as such, and you are being a great representation of what it means to speak in the strength of Christ and forwarding the cause of the Gospel.

    Rob Bell isn’t here and I don’t like to be critical of someone when they are not around to defend themselves. However I would engage with facts about what is and what isn’t false teaching. You mentioned there being opposition to the atonement and teachings of Jesus and against the bible. Well, that happened recently in out conversation when you mentioned “Your understanding of sin does not seem to fit with the biblical teaching”. At that time you had the humility to say that you may have been confused by what I was saying. I hope my explanation helped with that and I would be interested in any further engagement that you would like to have with that and the term “sinner”.

    In both cases, however, haven’t you have made claims without facts to support them? Did you not mentioned that you must not take someone seriously when they do that with you?

    Your blog entry reads as a defense of your actions and a counter accusation to your accuser(s). In keeping with, affirmation and promotion of what we have agreed with about grieving over tribalism over the furthering of the Gospel, making it attractive to outsiders, perhaps it might help readers understand if you are to explain how this different may I ask, to the negative campaigning of political parties in the run up to the election and instead promoting peace, joy, patience, and other fruits of the Spirit that are found in Jesus.

    Yes it is important to address false teaching with grace. I think Paul has this summed up nicely in his mentoring relationship with Timothy when he instructs, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” 2 Tim 2:24-25

    Again, I admire your passion for the gospel and your courage in being willing to risk being unpopular in speaking out against false teaching.

  2. I admire your patience with your detractors. It should be obvious to anyone – Christian or non-Christian – that to disagree with someone is not the same as hating them. And as to being judgemental, God gave us a critical faculty so that we can evaluate the teaching being offered in His Name against the word inspired by His Spirit and if the teaching contradicts the word we must reject it and sometimes warn others to do the same. Otherwise we become naive and gullible dupes.

  3. The truth is never hate speech.
    I pray that Rob will find his way to His Lord….

  4. I’ve liked Rob Bell for a long time and listened to his podcast for a few years but I had to delete it last night because I realized that he wasn’t speaking of Jesus like He is the Son of God or like He rose back to life after He was crucified. Bell was also speaking like God doesn’t care about the intimate details of our lives. It says over and over again in the Bible that He DOES and it’s more than evident in my life and in the lives of people around me.
    Those are REALLY important pieces of the Christian faith. I appreciate Rob Bells ideology in a lot of ways but I completely agree that it would be easier to stomach if he wasn’t passing it off as Christianity.

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