Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rob Bell Theology: Only in America

One of the blessings of going to Moody Bible Institute is the school's focus on training ministry workers of all kinds. It's not a stretch to say I have Moody classmates all over the world ministering for Christ. From time to time one of my old friends comes through Kansas City and looks me up.

Yesterday I had lunch with such a missionary friend from my Moody days, who along with his wife, have been laboring in a war-torn nation in Central Asia for over ten years. They witnessed almost no spiritual fruit for over 6 years before God opened the floodgate of new converts and a growing church in the last 4 years. He and his wife are now switching to a more general missionary support role, mainly focusing on bringing spiritual care to missionaries currently in various parts of Central Asia. Their ten year experience in such a hostile place has cultivated a unique ability that will serve many missionaries and missionary efforts in that region of the world.

We had a good talk about the American Church and its relationship with missions abroad.

Did you catch what I said earlier? My friend and his fellow missionaries saw no spiritual fruit (in the form of conversions to Christ) in the first 6 years of ministry. SIX YEARS!

Rob Bell probably thinks there's no real need for such missionary efforts. Ultimately, why send such a talented, capable couple (and dozens more like them) to far off, war-torn, Muslim dominated countries, when, in the end, God will save everyone? If Rob Bell's notion that everyone will eventually be won to God, even after death, is right, why on earth do we attempt such missionary efforts? Never mind the focus of the Apostles, early church, and vast majority of church history that shows the missionary effort of Christians- it's all for not, thanks to Rob Bell's new wisdom and his ability to wrestle the Great Commission's true meaning away from mean, old, judgmental, close-minded, exclusivistic, "traditionalists", like the martyrs, my friend, me, and the vast consensus of church leaders these past 2000 years.

I asked my friend if he had heard of Rob Bell. He had. He kind of shook his head and spoke of how such theological liberalism (which is what Bell teaches, just with a hipper look and new terms) doesn't exist in countries like the one he served in. Only in countries where it costs nothing to claim the name of Christ does Rob Bell get a hearing.

It makes sense. Bell's ultimate message necessarily argues against efforts to convince people of the need to trust Christ for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from hell. Bell's message is God exists for the happiness and well being of man, so therefore he'll eventually "save" everyone. Bell's God is beholding to man's needs, so He expends his energy trying to win each person over by His love. Of course God is not a loser, so in the end, God must win everyone over, even if it happens after death. The center of Bell's universe is man with God as his servant. Since Bell's God loves man so much- no matter what man does- we need to be about love, affirmation, and tolerance, and not be concentrating on sin, hell, and judgement. Bell has given us the focus Christians have lacked for these past 2000 years. Bell and his type refuse to be labeled as they fling labels at everyone else. He keeps insisting he's not a universalist...and Barry Bonds keeps saying he never used steroids (ok...knowingly anyways). The logical conclusion of Bell's view renders missions and evangelism (where the message is about how man may be made right with God, through Christ's atonement for our sin) superfluous, and really, misguided. In such a light- there's no good reason to go to the far reaches of the globe to share the message of Christ as Scripture delineates. Leave the people be in those places...they'll eventually be won by God anyways.

Do you think believers in North Korea would be comforted by Rob Bell's construct? How about Chinese believers? Can you imagine a group of Iranian Christian college students huddled up in a small house to study the Word reading Bell's book? What do you think the persecuted church thinks of an American "pastor" basically teaching a message that renders their suffering pointless? Talk about all those dumb martyrs in Foxe's book... Actually, I think true Christians in these places of persecution would probably feel sorry for our sad health if they saw Bell's teaching and it's place on the best seller list in America.

True Christianity thrives under persecution because it takes a genuine movement of the Spirit to give people courage to claim the name of Christ. The Church will never die and in fact, she will continue to grow and thrive. The bad news is the American Church's general acceptance of a Bell-like "pastor"and his universalism is a sure sign of the massive decline of Christianity in America. Rob Bell's book and view are unbiblical, that's the problem. The fact that Bell's view is debated in many American churches shows how biblically illiterate and man-centered "Christians" have become.

Only in fat America where we want everything to feel good, even if it's not true, could a guy like Rob Bell get such a hearing and his book sell so many copies.


Woody Woodward said...

It’s appalling to even stretch a comparison between Rob Bell “wood hey and stubble” with a genuine work of God as your missionary couple friends. By the way, in mission committee last evening one of the issues we discussed was giving sacrificially to the missionaries we are supporting. So many of these true laborer’s for Christ had lost support because of the horrible economic situation. May God bless everyone of these tireless brave saints!

Anonymous said...

1 Corinthians 3:10-23
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
It is sad that so many will follow this false teacher. But there are many in all denominations that believe
because of predestination and election that there is no need to witness and tell others about Christ, even the denomination of which I belong. Many tend to ignore scriptures in the Bible about hearing the word and coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Like Romans 10:17 or John 5:24 etc. It seems to me that those who are truly saved would want to tell others what Jesus has done for them, but many may be as only the one escaping through the flames(singed by the flames of hell)in the upper verses. It's a shame that many churches and members depend on what the minister or preacher teaches instead of reading the bible for themselves and asking the holy spirit to open their hearts, ears, and eyes to the wisdom and understanding of God's word. Some depend only on the Big Screens for their bible reading.
All believers are missionaries, and we should all pray for God to grant us the opportunities to witness to others boldly, whether at home, in the grocery store, at work, on vacation, at the doctors office etc.
There have been many Bell's through the ages,and will probably be many more,unless the Lord returns very soon. God loves those he created, but unless they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior,the lake of fire is their destiny forever.
Thats my 2 cents worth. Norma

Reepicheep said...

Norma, if there is someone in the PCA who thinks the biblical doctrine of election alleviates their responsibility to share Christ/evangelize/witness, it's not the denominations fault- that's their sin. The PCA clearly and boldly teaches, promotes, and participates in manifold missionary/evangelistic efforts.

I'm only saying what you observe is a sin for that person and shouldn't be put upon the PCA.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I'm sorry the statement I made was misunderstood or I didn't make my self clear. So I will restate it. But there are many in all denominations that believe
because of predestination and election that there is no need to witness and tell others about Christ, including some in the denomination of which I belong.

Wayne said...

I do think Norma has a point with respect to Rob Bell. My working assumption is that pastor Bell has forged a ministry in Grand Rapids that is very much a reaction to the Dutch Calvinism in which he was reared.

Wayne said...

I should add...

I say that not to slight Dutch Calvinism, but rather explain Rob Bell. One almost never reacts to the healthy elements of any tradition, but rather to the unhealthy parts.

April C. said...

Moody Theology professors mention Rob Bell often! They describe his philosophy in two words: "love wins." It is indeed awful how attractive this theology is today in America. Since guilt, death, and hell are uncomfortable to think about, Bell "saves the day" with his eloquent words of comfort. What happened to Christ's work of salvation? Apparently it's irrelevant?

Micah said...

A Response to the Rob Bell Interview

1)We need to remember to encourage men like the non-biased and impartial reporter that unless God’s standards govern our concept of goodness, there can be not talk of good or evil at all. If there is no personal Absolute; values must be based on impersonal things and forces, like matter, motion, time, and chance. But values cannot be based on any of these. They arise only in the context of personal relationships, and absolute standards presuppose an absolute person. Thus the Christian can turn the tables on the unbeliever who raises the problem of evil: the non-Christian has a “problem of good.” Without God, there is neither good nor evil. (Frame, DOG, p. 171)

2)Once again, the paradox here is that if God “ordains” or “allows” sin, then essentially, God could be seen as causing sin. For the reformed Christian, we tread the slippery slope of explaining God's sovereignty in a way that makes us mere puppets on the stage of a divine puppet master. As Christians, we cannot put God on the bleachers, watching the game of life, unsure of the outcome, but hoping everything turns out okay. This is not the God of the Bible, and when we really contemplate this sissified, simpering, beckoning god of Mr. Bell, who wants to give everyone a hug and save everyone, we neglect the big view of God that includes his perfect justice; and more ultimately, his holiness. Dr. Frame borrows a page out of the Wayne Grudem playbook with his Macbeth illustration. Shakespeare wrote a murder into his play. But the murder took place in the world of the play, not the real world of the author. Macbeth did it, not Shakespeare. We sense the rightness in Macbeth paying for his crime. But we would certainly consider it very unjust if Shakespeare were tried and put to death for killing Duncan. And no-one suggests that there is any problem in reconciling Shakespeare’s benevolence with his omnipotence over the world of the drama. Indeed, there is reason for us to praise Shakespeare for raising up this character, Macbeth, to show us the consequences of sin. ..The relationship between God and us, of course, is different in some respects from that between an author and his characters. Most significantly, we are real, and Macbeth is not. But between God and us there is a vast difference in the kind of reality and in relative status. God is the absolute controller of, and authority over, nature and history. He is the lawgiver, and we receive his laws…He has devised the creation for his own glory; we seek his glory, rather than our own. He makes us as the potter makes pots, for his own purposes. He has many rights and prerogatives we don’t have. Do these differences not put God in a different moral category as well? (Frame, DOG, p. 180)

3)The transcendence of God plays a significant role in biblical responses to the problem of evil. Because God is who he is, the covenant Lord, he is not required to defend himself against charges of injustice. He is the judge, not we. Very often in Scripture, when something happens that calls God’s goodness into question, he pointedly refrains from explaining (see Job, Romans 9:19-21)…The answer to the problem of evil turns entirely on God’s sovereignty. It is as far as could be imagined from a freewill defense. It brings our attention to the fact that his prerogatives are far greater than ours, as does the author-character model. One might object that this model makes God the author of evil. But that objection confuses two senses of the word author. As we have seen, the phrase author of evil connotes not only causality of evil, but also blame for it. To author evil is to do it. But in saying that God is related to the world as an author to a story, we actually provide a way of seeing that God is not to be blamed for the sin of his creatures. (Frame, DOG, p. 181)

Linda LaFianza said...

Thank you for posting on this topic. I am reading the book now at the invitation of my emerging "Christian Universalism" husband and his friends. I think the term "annihilationism" better defines them, "Annihilationism is the belief that unbelievers will not experience an eternity of suffering in hell, but will instead be “extinguished” after death."

I am not a theologian, and they can run circles around me with their logic, but I've listened to many solid theologians from the church pew in the 35+ years since my conversion to Christianity from the Unitarian-Universalist church and I most certainly know that Rob Bell is a heretic and illogical in his arguments. Does love win? No, God wins. We often perceive God's actions as loving, but in the end all of God wins, not just the mushy parts of his character. I am praying that everyone seduced by this kinder, gentler version of the almighty will come to their senses, repent, and fervently seek after truth and wisdom.