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Did Rob Bell Really Say…?

“Rob Bell is in the news again.”

My wife mentioned this to me the other day. I wasn’t aware of all the details in that moment, so I simply sighed.

robbellBell made headlines this week via an interview he and his wife took part in with Oprah Winfrey. The Bells promoted their new book on marriage, while poking at its definition and Christianity in general. Their book includes a chapter for gay couples.

Rob said, “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness. Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.”

Charisma Magazine responded:

God made us to be relational beings, but in a very specific way. He formed Eve as the fit companion and helper for Adam, the two of them uniquely designed to complement each other in the journey and mission of life.

And Paul’s solution to loneliness (and, even more so, to temptation) was specific as well: “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2).

He didn’t say, “Each person should have his or her own companion,” because that was never God’s intent for His creation… according to Bell, human feelings trump God’s Word, which can easily be dismissed as outdated—2,000 years outdated, it appears.

didGodLet’s talk about what we’re talking about… whether it’s the next thing Rob Bell says, or the next “Rob Bell.”

The first question in the Bible begins with “Did God really say…”

The first question a human asked in the Bible asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I see a theme there.

Rob is great at asking questions. It’s what made him largely popular among many Christians early on in his ministry. I sat under him as my pastor for a season when he was theologically sound. I realize that sounds like a summary statement, and it absolutely is. It’s the kind of statement that Rob himself might say, “Who’s to say what theologically sound even means? Is it because someone agrees with you?”

Notice, that would be simply asking another question. Still, Jesus said to evaluate people and teachers to make sure the fruit they were producing was healthy because it was in agreement with God.

Unfortunately, I’ve watched Rob build a career and new theological platform on asking questions…

which is like saying, “I’m going to jump up in the air. About midway up, I’ll jump again simply in my own power… and then, midway up from there… I’ll jump again, again in my own power.”

doublejumpThe first jump is sound… any jumps after that are just resisting what is actual law.

(Maybe a little much Mario has influenced this thinking.)

You’d have to construct something artificial – a platform, perhaps –  to make any subsequent jumps.You might become so used to using your platform and seeing others use it that you’d actually begin to feel like you redefined what it means to jump.

You haven’t.

You’ve merely gotten a number of people to buy into your platform to allegedly reach new heights.

Which perhaps is why when speaking on the attempt to redefine marriage to accommodate gay couples, Bell added, “…the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense. When you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other, and they just want to go through life with someone.”

Hang on… “Did Rob Bell really say…?” And because he did, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Here’s the irony – and this is what I’d really like to point out.

Bell is kicking at biblical values using biblical values. You see that, right?

I noticed this pattern in a review I wrote for his book Love Wins. Bell talks about the beauty of marital love from a perspective that God blessed us to have… while at the same time he’s questioning the very Source material by which he even knows that to begin with.

dictionaryAgain, it’s like saying, “The Dictionary is an outdated concept. Words no longer have meaning.” To state that, you just used words.

Tracking so far?

If there are any takeaways you can offer to people you know who are processing this, help them to understand this point.

There will always be someone in our midst on this side of heaven who perhaps with good intention is attempting to make sure we’re not missing something. Such individuals can either be helpful accountability to Christianity, or become so focused on potential errors that they create new ones in the process.

Thankfully, there will always be a God in our midst, too – both on this side of heaven and on the other side of it. He’s not threatened by Rob Bell’s comments… nor should we.

What we do need to do is remove the stumbling blocks it puts into the paths of others.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:12-13)


24 thoughts on “Did Rob Bell Really Say…?

  1. Michael Edwards

    I think this is a very informative explanation of the potential misleading of Rob Bell and the future Rob Bells.
    I don’t think Rob Bell is intentionally leading anyone away from God, but I do believe it strays from God’s teachings.

    Hebrews 13:7-9

    “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited”

    • Well said, Mike. And that’s a great verse, too. Our leadership is both our words and our lives, both on our best days and our worst days. Hopefully, more “best” days than “worst” days.

  2. Bell has of course made the leap of thinking we can shape God into mans depraved image.
    I like the the name more than dodge ball. That applies to all of us as Christians. Our faith is more than dodging hell. I could go on but gotta go to work.

  3. I rememeber the uproar with his “Love wins” book and when I heard what the content was i was disgusted that someone would use the platform he had and pervert God’s word. Well……he’s at it again with his “marriage” help book with a word that i’ve heard people break down from his title, isn’t really what it means! I’m wondering how his wife has gone along with this and how he obviously doesn’t have anyone close to him telling him to stop or rebuke him because he’s still at it.

    I loved that you pointed out his ironic mistake in quoting and then bashing the Bible. You can’t claim to love God and then say His word doesn’t matter. I know it’s never good for us to judge other peoples salvation but it eerily reminds me of 1 John 2:19 which says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

    • Wow! What a powerful verse, Marc. And I wasn’t yet aware of the misuse of the word their book is built around. I believe it was Phil Vischer who imparted a phrase my way in a message I heard him share – that sometimes things “smell enough like Scripture” that we think they are… even though they aren’t.

  4. Andrew Bevis

    very well written!

  5. You refer to when he was theologically sound. I’ve observed his wife’s tweets and there is no way she just developed this liberal view of the world.
    I suspect that Rob Bell taught in such a way that people could superimpose what they believed on his words. His wife was a clue on what this couple really thought.

    • Maybe it’s worth knowing that West Michigan (where they lived and where I lived for many years) is quite conservative. One of the things this can do is cause reactionary theology that tries to overcompensate one way for where there has been overcompensation another way. I don’t recall Kristen speaking at Mars Hill except once during a member’s meeting, and so she either didn’t have a strong voice then or did and was concerned about sharing it. I’d rather not speculate too much on this, though. Either way, I can say that I’ve watched Rob’s theology shift from someplace that seemed reasonable to merely something more reactionary as a whole.

  6. A good read Tony. Thanks! And I enjoyed the comments underneath the post as well.

  7. Are we afraid of asking questions and God being beyond our understanding? It seems like Rob is searching out loud. I am sure the rest of us occasionally have thoughts that would make John Piper cringe but simply don’t share them on Oprah (We most likely don’t even share them with our inner circle). This is not a defense to bad theology, just a thought on why are we really so uncomfortable with Rob Bell. Is it easier for us to follow this person who says, “Is this really what God wants?” or the person who says “This is exactly what God wants.” Thanks for Sharing Tony!

    This quote is a great reminder to us all.
    “Thankfully, there will always be a God in our midst, too – both on this side of heaven and on the other side of it. He’s not threatened by Rob Bell’s comments… nor should we.”

    • You offer a valid point, John. We all do need a place to grow in our theology, which is something that seems easier to do when you’re Joe-average-church-guy versus a minister (be it paid or volunteer, famous or not-so-famous). Perhaps that’s the overlap here between your point and the caution within Rob’s efforts.

      When my wife and I, for example, are concerned about something we will have a genuine-but-considerate conversation with our kids about it based on knowing what it could do to them. We’ll have a more open chat about it with each other, though. It seems like we all need to be aware of both arenas in ministry – the things we need to share with those younger in faith, and the things we need to share with each other to keep growing ourselves.

      I’m a huge fan of asking new things to discover new convictions. I believe that faith is revealed as much in our questions as it is our answers. Both are needed, though – to use the opening metaphor from Velvet Elvis, it’s not a matter of a trampoline theology that propels you higher anymore than it is a brick theology that is closer to the ground. You can’t have a good trampoline without a solid foundation underneath – both are needed.

      Appreciate the quote you landed on. May that guide our journey and conversations like this.

  8. A good read, Tony. I appreciate your word here. I’ve always said Rob Bell was really good at asking questions. I loved that you pointed this out.


    • Thanks, Terrace. And it only stands to reason… we need to ask great questions even about the great question askers. 😉

  9. Your Mario illustration doesn’t work. Neither does your clever play on questions from Satan and Cain. It comes across as a way to discredit Rob without substantive interaction with what he is trying to do. Maybe I missed it, but Rob still strives to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Even if he is wrong on the marriage thing, it’s from an attempt to do missio work. Missionaries on the other side of the world stumbled forward trying to figure out how to Christianize pagan cultures. It seems like Rob is taking the Bible just as serious as ever. But how to apply? There is clearly room for disagreement on gay marriage in Christianity, but apparently not in evangelical Christianity.

    • Thanks for commenting, Tim. I need more than you simply saying the illustration doesn’t work, though. Otherwise, it comes across as a way to discredit without substantive interaction. 😉

  10. I think we all need to be careful to not think of Jesus as “The American Jesus”. what I mean is Calling on or using Jesus when and where we need Him. I got this, I got this, wait Jesus I need you for this etc… I believe that it is also the same with God’s word. to many people spend way to much time twisting scripture to fit them or their circumstances. I pray for Rob and His wife that God touches them in their ministry and re-routes the thinking of distorting His word. Rob in the past has done some great things and I pray that in the future he does the same.

    • This is a great thought, Chris. Sometimes our theology is more informed by our story than God’s story. It always will be to some degree, but perhaps if we’re aware of the gap we can reconcile it with greater surrender.

  11. Isaac Lilly

    This is a refreshing commentary on Bell. I’ve seen way too many people absolutely lose it on the guy after pretty much just reading the title of another negative article about what he said. My problem with Rob is that he poses spiritually meaty questions to people who can only handle spiritual milk.

    • Wow, Isaac – well summarized. Thanks for the feedback, too. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…” but we do hold those in a role of leadership accountable for “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.”

  12. Philip Hawkins

    Thanks for the insight from someone who has more experience with Rob Bell and his history.
    I didn’t quite follow the mid-air jump analogy (tho I dig the Mario graphic). The problem I see with this “questions” approach is that he’s not merely asking questions. His questions are rhetorical and intended to cause others, not to ask the same questions, but to come to certain conclusions.
    I’m all about asking tough questions that dive deeper into our assumptions, but eventually you’ve got to reach some substance. So I don’t buy into the justification that he’s just asking questions. You can’t just ask deep theological questions without, in the end, impacting the theological beliefs of your readership. And to claim that that is not your goal is either naive, irresponsible, or deceitful.
    I’d also point out that what Bell said about loneliness isn’t actually a claim of the bible. So I agree that he’s trying to say something biblical while kicking the bible, but what he said isn’t biblical. Marriage is not about satisfying loneliness. While the bible says, “it’s not good for man to be alone,” it’s not talking about the same kind of loneliness. So Bell is actually substantiating the culture’s view of marriage by claiming that the bible says something about our needs. Btw, God is not there to fill our loneliness either. That we have a deep sense of loneliness in the absence of God doesn’t mean that his purpose in our lives is to fill that. At least I don’t know of any scripture that implies that. The truth is our purpose is to glorify God, and we do that by reflecting his triune nature in marriage. Companionship is a means not the ends. Sorry for the lengthy comment.

    • What a powerful statement, Philip: “You can’t just ask deep theological questions without, in the end, impacting the theological beliefs of your readership. And to claim that that is not your goal is either naive, irresponsible, or deceitful.” Wow!

      And apologies on the mid-air jump confusion. What I meant was that it’s one thing to make a jump on solid ground – these are healthy theological questions that elevate God. It’s another thing to presume you could make a mid-air jump theologically – these are random theological questions that elevate our minds. Mario’s double-jump seems to be the closest we might ever get to that, short of using a “platform” (double meaning).

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Did Rob Bell Really Say…?

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