It’s illegal to cycle in the UK without a bell on your bike. The reason for this is to warn the ambling pedestrians that you are about to hit. I thought of this when I wasted 47 minutes of my life listening to one of the worst interviews in terms of the responses of the interviewee, I have ever heard – Premiers§ Christianty magazines interview with Rob Bell.
I also lost a couple of hours of my life reading Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ – one of the most frustrating, depressing and heretical books I have ever read. So why bother writing about it? Because again Christians in the UK are being fed poison by a false prophet – and far too many of us seem to drink the poison (mainly because we do not recognize it as such). Bell has just been on tour in the UK (in July) brought here by Greenbelt and it has been a sell out, in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and other venues. It’s time for an alarm to be sounded.
I wrote this article about the four different evangelical tribes. I think that the political evangelicals, especially on the left generally love Rob Bell whilst the broad evangelicals are reluctant to call him an evangelical but still regard him as a somewhat eccentric errant brother. But if you listen to this interview you will see that Bell is no longer teaching the Gospel – indeed he is teaching against the Gospel and against the Bible. He has become his own one-man cult. When you listen to an interview like this – its not enough to take the good bits (the bits you agree with) and ignore the rest. We need to listen carefully and see why, despite the ‘Jesus’ language, the articulate and humorous presentation, what Bell is teaching is against what Jesus teaches. He is one of the false prophets who profess to come in the name of Jesus, but in reality is a ‘savage wolf who does not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29).
I won’t go through the whole interview…. but here are some of the things that show where Bell is now coming from.
1) First of all note that Bell is a performer. He regards preaching as ‘performance art’. He is an entertainer, a preacher without a church and without the Gospel. He is doing a show.
2) Secondly he sets himself up as a spiritual guru. What he says has nothing to do with the Bible. He is selling a product and that product is his teaching. As he goes on it has less and less to do with the teaching of Christ. Bell does not discuss/debate. He pronounces.
3) The language he uses is revealing. For example he does not speak about the Holy Spirit but rather ‘spirit’. He describes preaching as ‘spirit speaking to each person about what they need to hear’. He talks about ‘the Jesus tradition’ – rather than the person and work of Christ as given to us in and through his word. We preach ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). We don’t preach spirit telling each person what they need to hear! We don’t talk about the ‘divine’ (the inner light within or whatever spirituality you espouse)…we talk about God. About the Christ who is the Son of God. We preach him. And we preach him crucified.
4) Bell is right to say that there is plenty room for the message of Jesus in the larger market place of ideas. Paul in Athens (Acts 17) did precisely that. The problem is that Bell does not bring the message of Jesus. For example when talking about what it means to be Christian, he says it means being human. In Bell’s eyes every human being is a Christian and Jesus came just to remind us of our humanity.
5) His misuse of history is atrocious. I’m used to the authoritative psychobabble but I did not expect his confident historical assertions. For example when he says that evangelical was a Roman military term for describing their conquests which the Christians took over and turned into an anti-militaristic term – resisting the corrosive powers of violent empire. I’ve tried to find any evidence for this claim and have asked around, but no one seems to have heard of this. It’s highly unlikely given that evangelion is a Greek word meaning good news. The Romans spoke Latin. Doubtless it was the case that when the Romans won a battle they would announce it as good news…but it is stretching things to suggest that the Christians took over a Roman military term to express opposition to militarism! Basically Bell in classic post-modern fake news style is just making it up. A lie told with humour and sounding profound, is still a lie.
6) He doesn’t get Jesus. Bell’s Jesus is one whom everyone loves. When you talk about the character and personality of Jesus then people love him – (its just Christians they can’t stand). To be fair to Bell this is a fairly common and accepted meme amongst more orthodox evangelicals. But its nonsense. Jesus warned that ‘if the world has hated me, it will hate you also’ (John 15:18). And the world did hate Jesus. The world crucified Jesus. And the world will hate his people, teaching and church. The nice, watered down, Jesus that Bell teaches is one that will of course be loved in our culture – because it is just a reflection of us…not the reflection of the glory of God.
7) Bell doesn’t get Christianity– He comes out with the usual ‘Jesus would have been horrified about starting a religion in his name’ – which is one of those sayings that sounds good until you examine it and realize it for the meaningless waffle it is. The trouble is that Bell usually gets away with this kind of stuff because no-one has the time or can be bothered unpacking what he has just said. Likewise when he states:
“What’s fascinating to me is when the word Christian becomes a whole new way to divide people, here now violating the thing that Jesus came to do, which was to awaken us to our shared humanity….even the apostle Paul said that in Christ there is a new humanity”.
But Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but division (Matthew 10:34-36). It is Jesus who talks about dividing the sheep from the goats on the judgement day. How does that work with the shared humanity?! And the new humanity Paul is speaking about is for those who are in Christ. There is a world of difference between the gospel of Bell (you are all human, be nice to each other and enjoy life cos everythings cool) and the gospel of Jesus (that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life – but whoever does not believe stands condemned already – John 3:16-18).
8) Bell distorts and mocks the Church. He uses for example a sneering caricature of evangelicals saying to people they are seeking to evangelise – “I’m a Christian and you’re not”. I’ve been involved with the evangelical church for over four decades and I have NEVER heard anyone say that. What Bell is doing is classic misrepresentation. If you accept the biblical teaching about the world being divided into believers and non-believers then you by definition must be one of those nasty, self-righteous, divisive people – unlike Bell who obviously loves everyone and condemns no one (he says this whilst judging and condemning all who don’t buy into his teaching).
9) Bell disses and demonises the Church in order to justify himself and his teaching.
“There is a massive world of people who are spiritually hungry but can’t stomach the Christian package they encountered with Jesus”.
Of course there is truth in that. Most heresies have truth in them because that way they are far more effective. They distort and pervert the truth, rather than directly oppose it. But what is this Christian package? And what Jesus is he talking about? The Christian package I am thinking of is the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the Church (with all its flaws, given that it is made up of flawed people), praise, prayer, good works, the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Bell disses it all for the sake of his own personal Jesus.
10) Finally Bell just does not get the Gospel. How else can you describe someone who says this?
“Is this is this ultimately just a nice dogmatic theological system that some people get some people don’t, some people said a prayer, some people have not – Because that’s just bullshit. like Jesus didn’t come so that you could intellectually ascent to a series of abstract propositions. He came so that you could, like, live – food, drink, a good walk, you know what I mean; surfing, music, planting a garden, architecture, ‘’
We can forgive Bell the immature need to show how cool he is by using crass language. We can even forgive him for the gross caricature of biblical Christianity which he describes as a ‘nice dogmatic theological system’ (we don’t we regard Biblical Christianity as being about Christ, as he is given to us in the Bible….and yes we are dogmatic about him!). But what is unforgiveable is when he reduces the message, life and suffering of Jesus to ‘he came to enable you to surf’. It’s Joel Osteen’s ‘Better Life Now’, wrapped up in Californian psychobabble. Of course as Christians we live life to the max (read Chesterton or Calvin to see what that means and yes it can include surfing!), but to reduce that to Jesus came, lived and died so that you could enjoy what life you have now is a gross trivialization and distortion of the Gospel. God does give us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) but that same verse tells us we are not to put our trust in the things of this world and then goes on to say that we are to take hold of the life that is truly life –eternal life.
What bothers me almost as much as Bells false Gospel is the way that so many Christian organisations, publications and churches give credence to them and promote them. We seem to have forgotten what Paul goes on to tell Timothy – “guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). But instead of guarding, looking after what we have been entrusted with and turning away – it seems that we spending the Lord’s time and money guarding the false teachers as they undermine the Gospel and indulge in godless chatter. Its not just the heretics who need to repent – its those of us who encourage and indulge them. What would Jesus do?
I forgot this…..I was asked to write a review of Matt Chandler’s book on courage for Premier magazine. In the same edition I was astonished to find a review of Honest to God by Bishop John Robinson – cited by Rob Bell.
Read the review and you will see that he describes it as something that blew his mind and how he recognised a kindred spirit in Robinson. That explains so much – Robinson did not believe in the God of the Bible at all. He was a moral relativist who rejected Christ, his Word and the Trinity as taught to us in the Scriptures.
The review does not indicate whether Bell read this book a long time ago or recently.
I like Premier and I think that they are doing a good work, but I do question the wisdom of this uncritical acceptance of Bell as a Christian teacher. I accept that the inclusion of this review does not mean endorsement…but it will be taken as such. Robinson’s book was harmful to many people’s Christianity in the 20th Century- Bell’s new age psychobabble is as detrimental in the 21st.
My friend David Meredith reminded me of this superb interview with Martin Bashir