Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Apostate Teachings of Rob Bell

The word "apostasy" means to depart from.

The times are perilous. The gospel itself has been changed in many different ways. For those who have been born again, and for those who have a knowledge of the New Testament, we should know what the gospel actually is. It is the good news that God came in the form of a man called Jesus, died on a cross to pay for our sins, resurrected from the dead, and offers eternal life simply by believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior. This gospel is not being compassionate, or kind, or even loving. All those things should come after conversion but they are not any part of this gospel. This gospel is about the finished redemptive work of Jesus the Christ.

The following transcript was taken from a video made by Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church in Michigan. Pastor Bell illustrates what is being taught as the gospel in many emergent circles. I would like to address parts of his message, and I hope to show anyone who may be sympathetic to the emergent movement that it is a serious departure from Biblical Christianity and is in fact apostate. Bell’s words can be found in italics.

I have also found something less than the compassion and generosity that Bell suggests are in Christian communities from Bell supporters when you question his theology. I have never attacked Pastor Bell personally and yet I have been called many names and have met with caustic attacks and demeaning sarcasm when I have questioned his teachings. And when I have asked for sermon documentation from Bell supporters, about certain doctrinal subjects as basic as the cross, I have been accused of not doing my homework.

The kind and loving ambiance that Bell teaches should reveal the presence of Jesus seems to dissipate with many Bell protagonists. I do not question Rob Bell as a person, or husband, or father, but I must question his teachings and his Biblical faithfulness as a pastor. The following is a first in a series.


Sometime in the 1st century around the year 30A.D. a movement was started by a group of Jews who insisted that their rabbi, a man named Jesus from the Galilee region in Israel, had risen from the dead after being crucified by the Roman Empire. They claimed that after His resurrection they had seen Him and that they had had conversations with Him and had eaten meals with Him. And then they said that He had ascended to heaven, and that someday He would return. Now the world at this time was ruled by the Roman Empire, this giant, military, global superpower, from England to India. The Roman Empire ruled the world.

And one of the most popular gods of the Roman Empire was the god Mithra. Mithra’s followers believed that Mithra has been born of a virgin and that he was a mediator between God and humans, and that Mithra had ascended into heaven. Another popular religion at this time centered around the god Attis. The followers of Attis believed that Attis had been born of a virgin and each spring they gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Attis.

Bell seems to suggest that Christianity borrowed from pagan religions.

Which takes us back to the Roman Empire which was ruled by a succession of Emperors called Caesars. The first one, Julius Caesar, when he died, a comet appeared in the sky and people said: “Well, of course, that’s Julius Caesar, the Son of God, ascending to the right hand of the gods of heaven.

Soon after this Julius Caesar’s adopted son, Caesar Augustus came to power and Caesar Augutus believed that he was the Son of God sent by the gods to Earth to bring about a universal reign of peace and prosperity. One of his popular propaganda slogans was: “There is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved than that of Caesar.” Caesar inaugurated a 12 day celebration of his birth called the Advent of Caesar.

Another popular phrase at the time, people would literally greet each other on the street by saying “Caesar is Lord”. So in the first century to claim that your god had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, well, it just wasn’t that unique. The claims of these first Christians weren’t really anything new.

Again, Bell suggests Christianity borrowed from Caesar.

Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special? Now these first Christians believed that Jesus’ resurrection had implications for the entire universe. Their tradition had taught them that the world is broken and desperately in need of repair and that at some point in the future, God was going to put it all back together. Now for them, this future restoration had nothing to do with leaving this world, it was all about restoration, the renewing and the reclaiming of this world.

This paragraph begins a pattern. You will notice that Bell continually suggests a divine motive to make the world a better place, and the Biblical teaching of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ is absent from his theology.

And so they saw in Jesus’ resurrection the beginning of this universe-wide movement to put it all back together. Well this, of course, brought them into direct conflict with the Roman Empire, because remember, for the Caesars, it was all about Caesar’s belief that he was making a new and better world through his power, through his armies, and through his wealth. And so when Caesar wanted to send out a message to let everybody know of his latest military conquest or his latest accomplishments, he would send out a royal pronouncement telling the masses of his latest achievements. These pronouncements were called in the Greek language “evangelions.” An “evangelion” was like a “gospel” or a “good news”. In English “evangelion” spells “evangelical”.

Now these first Christians believed very passionately that the world was not made better through military power and political coercion. The gospel they were living had nothing to do with using political force to force people to live according to your laws. For them, this gospel was about serving the world, especially those on the underside of the empire. For them it was about serving not ruling. And so they took this empire propaganda term “gospel”, and they used it to descxribe this new world that Jesus and His followers were making right under the nose of the empire. Because their way, the way of Jesus, was totally opposed to the way of Rome. And so, when we read accounts of how they lived, we read they shared their possessions, they fed the hungry, and they carried each other’s burdens.

Again, intimating that believers, and Christ Himself, borrowed directly from Rome.

Well, it’s because the gospel for them was a whole way of life. A whole new world, right in the midst of this one. Now Caesar had a particular word that was used for a city or a village or a province that worshipped Caesar as the Son of God, that acknowledged Caesar as Lord. So Caesar would conquer, with his armies, a new land and then demand that all of the people would confess “Caesar is Lord”. If people didn’t, well, then they were crucified as a way of showing everybody what happens when you refuse to submit to the power of the empire. But if s group of people did, if a city or a village of a region did acknowledge and worship Caesar as the Son of God, Lord, if they did accept Caesar as their savior, then the area became a worshipping center of the Caesar. These worshipping centers were called, in the Greek language, “ekklesias”. The word “ekklesias” translates in English, “church”. And so these first Christians took this empire propaganda term “ekklesias”, and they used it to describe their gatherings, the ones where they confessed “Jesus is Lord”.

The pattern is unmistakable. Bell never, though, elaborates as to his point.

Well, obviously, the way they were living it raised all sorts of questions for those around them. Who do you believe? Casaer, who thinks that a new world, a better world, is made through his brute military and political power, by forcing people to do what he says? Or Jesus, who invites you to make a new and better world through loving acts of compassion and generosity? Caesar who killed Jesus on an execution stake, or God, who raised Jesus from the dead? Whose way do you think is better? Who do you think is Lord? Jesus or Caesar? Whose kingdom do you find more compelling? For them the gospel was an invitation to a whole new way of life. And they lived this way because they had this profoundly mystical understanding of what they were doing in their lives. They called themselves the body of Christ. And they believed that in their communities, in these loving, compassionate, generous, peace-loving communities, they believed that Jesus was present in a way that went beyond words. So they’d invite people to join them, to eat with them, to celebrate with them, to suffer with them, and then they’d ask them, after they’d seen the hungry fed, the lonely loved, and the poor honored, they’d ask the people, “Well, do you think Jesus is here?” Or more specifically, “Who do you think is Lord?”

Bell suggests that the proof that Jesus was among them was entirely based upon their acts of kindness. He never suggests the ministry of the Holy Spirit to illuminate a sinner’s heart as to who Christ is. This entire first portion of his message is revisionist and manipulated history. The point of the pagan gods having some characteristics to Jesus is irrelevant. Many gods throughout history made claims that were somewhat reflective of Jesus, but there is no point other than any god would have some miraculous nature to him or her. That does not add nor subtract from the One True God.

But Bell’s implication that believers settled into quiet and peaceful communities that specialized in helping people and thereby attracted sinners to Jesus is simply untrue. Hopefully believers exhibit some kind of compassion and kindness in their lives, but the distinctive of a Christian community has always been their obedience, worship, and preaching of Jesus as the one and only Savior and Lord. It is that name which got Peter and others beaten and threatened. It is that Name which made some lament they had spread their doctrine throughout the city. It was not acts of kindness that had believers thrown to lions, or burned at the stake, or tortured, no, it was their preaching the name and person of Jesus Christ.

Now if you recall, Jesus Himself told us He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Acts of kindness are done by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and even pagans. Our calling is much higher at at a much greater cost. Many countries allow westerners in if they help with agriculture, medicine, education, or other things that address their needs. However, many countries insist that if these people are Christians they cannot share their faith or risk arrest or deportation. The acts of kindness they desire, but not Jesus, which seems similar to much emergent theology.


Watch for the second part of this series, and perhaps a final overarching essay on the entire subject.


Rebekah said...

Thank you for these posts you've been sharing that point out the teaching that is taking hold in ever widening portions of even people who say they hold to the truth of the Bible. Drew and I know people who are being enticed by the subtle nature of this pseudo-intellectual teaching which is really heresy, and it is disturbing. I appreciate the clear way you have demonstrated where it veers from the gospel but avoid attacking the person teaching it and focus on what he's saying. I am finding it hard not to be depressed when I go into a local Christian bookstore and see this kind of stuff from several authors being promoted prominently. How we need to know what the Bible says! Thank you, Rick, for what you are sharing in these posts. May the Lord graciously open our eyes to the truth and to recognize error for the lie it is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! It is true that in the last days many will be lead astray by false teachings.

Anonymous said...

What a silly post. Plenty of manipulation and proof texting here. I hear Bell accused of false teachings but never hear exactly what they are. Bell simply attempts to show context, to give us an understanding of how an ancient Jew might have heard His words. It's helpful to me to hear how "Jesus is Lord" has a context and specific meaning in the context in which he lived.

Anonymous said...

Bell's claim isn't that Christianity "borrowed" from other religions. It's that early Christians intentionally battled the beliefs of the day using the symbols and ideas that everyone would recognize.