About Rob Bell: Update 2011
Since writing this page, Rob Bell's book 'Love Wins' has been released. I've also had time to become more familiar with Rob Bell's other published works, e.g. various Nooma DVDs\videos, and other teachings through recorded sermons/talks. My view has been confirmed over and over that Rob Bell simply does not understand the gospel.
All of which confirms that Rob Bell is an enemy of the cross, a heretic, and deserves to be mocked as such. much as Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:27), or Paul mocked those who taught circumcision, in Galatians (Galatians 5:12).
In his college days, Rob Bell played in a band. So with that in mind, I'd like to present:
Rob Bell's distortion settings
About Rob Bell
Rob Bell is the pastor of a group that calls itself Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, USA.
The pastor of a local church (not my own church) here in Hull has described Bell as 'my favourite preacher' and has played video excerpts of Rob Bell's 'Dust' video and 'Everything is Spiritual' video in that church's meetings.
When the apostle Paul preached the gospel in Berea, we are told that the Bereans 'examined the Scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.' (Acts 17:11). That's a commendable approach. There are all kinds of false voices out there, God has given us His Word, the Scriptures, in order that we might know the truth, and recognise truth from serious error.
One of the best ways of learning how to tell counterfeit currency from the real thing is to study the real thing. The more familiar someone is with a genuine bank note, the more likely they are to spot a fake.
I would encourage anyone who is wondering whether the pastor of any church is teaching the true gospel to weigh what that person says against Scripture.
The issue is not how many people are going to their church, or how successful they are at drawing a crowd. They may well be charismatic and gifted in their ability to give a public talk or presentation, but that doesn't tell us whether they are genuine or not.
The issue is not how kind and caring they may be in serving the local community. It's certainly true that genuine believers ought to love one another, and love people outside the church in all kinds of practical ways too. It's also true that we often fail to be as caring for others as we should be. But there are lots of people who wouldn't even claim to be Christians who are involved in caring for people in practical ways, and we aren't saved by any good works of ours anyway. The good works need to be there as evidence that someone is genuine, but good works on their own don't prove anything.
The issue is the actual content of what is being taught, and is it faithful to the teaching of the apostles, is it Biblically faithful Christianity. Jesus himself told us there would be wolves in sheep's clothing, and Scripture contains many warnings about false teachers of false gospels. Compare what a preacher says against Scripture, and you can draw your own conclusions. In fact, Scripture tells us to do this. Don't blindly take mine or anyone else's word for what Scripture says, check it out for yourself.
Jesus' warning of false teachers includes the statement that false teachers will even attempt to deceive God's true people, if possible: Matthew 24:24.
So I'd like to present some of what Rob Bell teaches in his 'Dust' video, and invite you to ask yourself the question, 'is that really what Scripture teaches?'
Rob Bell - the 'Dust' video
Rob Bell has produced a video called 'Dust', in which he talks about a story from one of the gospels. You can read the verses he is referring to here: Matthew 14:22-34.
You can watch an excerpt of Rob Bell's Dust video by following the link below:
Rob Bell Dust (video hosted by youtube)
The youtube video includes a clip of Rob Bell and also features someone by the name of Cameron Beuttel giving his views on what Bell says. Cameron Beuttel has no connection with Aletheia.org.uk - but I'd agree with his conclusions in this video.
Words of Rob Bell himself
"So Peter gets out of the boat and he starts walking on the water but he starts to sink, and he yells out 'Jesus save me' and the text reads that Jesus immediately caught him and said 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'..."
"Now, I always assumed that Peter doubts Jesus, but Jesus isn't sinking. Who does Peter doubt? He doubts himself. He loses faith in himself that he can actually be like his rabbi. Jesus wouldn't have called him if he didn't think he could be like him, Jesus even reminds his disciples of this at one point he says to them, 'You didn't choose me, I chose you' - the rabbi doesn't choose you unless the rabbi thinks that you can do what he does, that you can be like him."
"All my life I've heard of people talking about believing in God, but God believes in us, in you, in me, I mean faith in Jesus is important, but what about Jesus' faith in us? He must have faith in us because he leaves it all in the hands of these disciples, what's the last thing Jesus says to them, he says now you go and make more disciples." Rob Bell, from his Nooma video 'Dust'
What's wrong with Rob Bell's views above?
There are some serious errors in Rob Bell's assertions, errors so serious that I would call them dangerous, because they carry serious implications for whether we are even saved at all.
I have wanted to quote lots of Scripture to demonstrate how wrong the Dust video is, as each section is quite long I've provided links below that will take you straight to each section:
Dangerous Error 1
Rob Bell asserts that when Jesus rebukes Peter for having little faith, Jesus means that Peter is not believing in himself enough.
There is absolutely no place in Scripture whatsoever where we are told that if we want to follow Jesus then we need to have faith in ourselves. All the references to faith which tell us whom to place our faith in tell us that our faith needs to be in God, in Christ, in Jesus. (As an aside - but an important one - this also tells us something essential about the identity of Jesus, who is fully God and also fully human too - Jesus told people to have faith in God (e.g. Mark 11:22), and yet when people put their faith in Jesus (e.g. John 2:11), he accepted this as the correct response from them. What does that tell us about Jesus' identity? Jehovah's Witnesses claim that Jesus never thought he was God, but what does it tell us about whom Jesus knew himself to be that he accepted people placing their faith in him when he had told people to place their faith in God?)
In his excellent book on soteriology (the name theologians give to doctrine of salvation, which is concerned with questions like, 'what does it mean to be saved?', 'how can we be saved?', etc), Anthony Hoekema included an introductory paragraph to his chapter on faith which is worth reading given the assertions Rob Bell is making. Anthony Hoekema was professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan - ironically not that far from Rob Bell's 'Mars Hill Bible Church', which is also in Grand Rapids, Michigan, although theologically Rob Bell is so far from the gospel he may as well be on a different planet. Hoekema's book is called 'Saved by Grace', here's the extract:
"A missionary was sitting at his desk, looking desperately for a word. He was translating the gospel of John into the language of the African tribe with which he was working, but he didn't know their word for 'faith'. While he was pondering, a member of the tribe came into the missionary's hut, threw himself into a chair, and uttered an expression which meant, 'I'm leaning all my weight on this chair'. At once the missionary leaped up, dancing with joy, exclaiming, 'I've got my word! Faith is leaning all your weight on Christ!' More can be said about faith than this, but surely this is at the heart of it."
What Scripture says about faith:
The Greek words most commonly used in the New Testament for 'faith' are the noun 'pistis' and the verb 'pisteuo'.
Transliterated into English the above word is 'pistis'. 'Pistis' means a conviction that something is true, and in the New Testament the word is commonly used to convey conviction of the truths that God exists, that he is the creator and ruler of all things, and that he provides salvation in Jesus Christ. The use of the noun 'pistis' along with an object for faith tells us whom are faith is to be in. Here's an example from Mark's gospel:
Jesus answered them, 'Have faith [pistis] in God.' (Mark 11:22)
Transliterated into English the above word is 'pisteuo'. 'Pisteuo' carries the same connotations as 'pistis', the difference is that it is a verb and is therefore used to describe the action of someone placing their faith in Jesus, or God. Some translations will render this in English as, for example, 'many put their faith in him', some will render it as 'many believed in him'. Whether this is translated as 'put their faith in him', or 'believed in him', the point, once again, is that verses like this tell us whom the object of our faith is to be. Here's an example from John of 'pisteuo':
He that believes [pisteuo] on the Son [i.e. Jesus] has eternal life; but he that does not believe on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
When Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 14:31, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?', the word translated as 'little faith' looks like this:
Transliterated into English the above word is 'oligopistos'. It means little faith, trusting too little.
So what does Scripture say about whom we are to put our faith in?
Here are just a few verses as examples - there are many more.
Jesus answered them, 'Have faith in God.' (Mark 11:22)
This, the beginning of his signs, Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and showed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11)
But of the multitude many put their faith in him*. *Referring to Jesus (John 7:31)
As he spoke these things, many put their faith in him*. *Referring to Jesus (John 8:30)
Many therefore of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he* did, put their faith in him*. *Referring to Jesus (John 11:45)
But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death as well, because by reason of him many of the Jews put their faith in Jesus. (John 12:11)
Truly I say to you, he that believes in me*, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.
*This is Jesus speaking
And by faith in his* name has this man whom you see before you been made strong *Referring to Jesus (Acts 3:16a)
I have testified to both Jews and to Greeks that they must turn in repentance toward God, and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
But after some days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and he heard him speak concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. (Acts 24:24)
...to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me*. *This is Jesus speaking (Acts 26:18)
So be of good cheer, for I have faith in God that it will be even as he has told me.
...even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of sins committed in the past, in the forbearance of God; in order to show his righteousness at this present time, that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)
a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ; we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no one will be justified.
I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26)
For this reason I also, having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love which you show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16)
...according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him*. *Referring to Jesus (Ephesians 3:11-12)
...and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Philippians 3:9)
...having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have toward all the saints. (Colossians 1:4)
For though I am absent in the body, yet am I with you in the spirit, delighting to see your orderliness and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:5)
...having been buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)
For from you has sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God is known, so that we do not need to say anything about it. (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
For those who have served well as deacons gain for themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13)
..and that from infancy you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)
...hearing of the faith which you have in the Lord Jesus, and your love towards all the saints (Philemon 1:5)
Therefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on towards perfection; not having to lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God (Hebrews 6:1)
There are parts of Scripture that speak to the issue of placing confidence in ourselves, but the conclusion drawn is very different from Rob Bell's...
Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.
Thus says the LORD, 'Cursed is the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart departs from the LORD.'
'Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is in him.'
'The heart is deceitful above all things and exceedingly corrupt. Who can know it? '
Even the faith we are saved by is not something we produce, it is a gift from God:
...for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not by works, so no man can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
It is true that Scripture tells us in many places that we must act, that we must exercise our faith, that there are things we must do, e.g.:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. (Jude 20-21)
BUT, and this is a vitally important 'but', we are clearly told that it is only as God himself enables us that we will be able to do what he tells us to do, and that the ability is all in him, and our faith is to be in him alone, not in ourselves. Jude, who wrote the verses above, went on to conclude with this statement:
Now to him who is able to guard you from falling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, now, and forevermore. Amen.
When we are obeying God and following Jesus, it is only because he is enabling us to do so. It is not only the 'doing' which comes from him, it is even the 'will to do' which comes from him:
...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, both to will, and to do, for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12b-13)
Dangerous Error 2
Rob Bell asserts that Jesus chose his disciples because he knew they could be like him, he believed in their ability to follow him, he wouldn't have chosen them if he thought they couldn't do it.
Jesus' choice of us is not based upon his supposed faith in any ability in us, but is based solely upon his grace. God doesn't choose us because he has faith in us. On the contrary, the Bible clearly teaches that we are by nature in rebellion against God and utterly unable to do what is right, we have in ourselves a total inability to follow Jesus.
The Bible clearly tells us that whenever someone becomes a Christian, it is because God, by his grace alone, has made that person spiritually alive, and that God has begun the process of changing and transforming them. But the Bible clearly locates the ability in God, not in the Christian:
And you he made alive, even when you were dead through your trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, like all the rest.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not by works, so that no man can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared for us beforehand that we should do them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
In addition, God deliberately chooses people who are weak, lowly, foolish, despised, in order that his transforming power would be demonstrated, that it would be seen that it is God who is at work in and through his people. All of the ability is in him, not in us, and God's purpose, quite rightly, is that he should receive all of the glory and credit for what he does.
Even so then at this present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not by works: otherwise grace would not be grace. (Romans 11:5-6)
For behold your calling, brothers, that not many of you were wise by human standards, not many of you were mighty, not many were noble: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame those who are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, were chosen by God, and the things that are nothing, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: that no one should boast before God. But you are in Christ Jesus, who was made for us the wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, as it is written, 'He that glories, let him glory in the Lord.' (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
Abide in me*, and I will abide in you. As the branch cannot produce fruit by itself, except it abide in the vine, so neither can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: he that abides in me, and I in him, will produce much fruit: for apart from me you can do nothing. *This is Jesus speaking (John 15:4-5)
So that I should not become proud because of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times, that it might be taken from me. And he had said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in hardships, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)
Dangerous Error 3
Rob Bell asserts that there is evidence of Jesus having faith in his disciples' ability from the fact that Jesus commissioned the disciples to go and make more disciples.
Jesus knew the disciples did not have the ability to carry out his commission, for although he told them:
All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)
...he also said:
...and, being assembled together with them, he told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, concerning which he said, 'You have heard about this from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.' (Acts 1:4-5)
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The disciples were instructed by Jesus to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit before going out to tell the world the gospel and make disciples precisely because they couldn't do it themselves. They needed the empowering of the Holy Spirit first.
A true Christian is someone who has turned to Christ in repentance and faith, recognising they are saved by God's grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and that the faith they are saved by is itself a gift from God, we can claim no credit for it. A true believer is someone who knows that in themselves they are unable to follow Jesus, and that the ability is all in the Lord, not in them. A true Christian places all of their faith, trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that only he is able to support them and keep them from sinking.
A true believer can have confidence that God not only can sustain them, but that he will do so. We may well go through times of wavering in our faith, but if we truly know Jesus then we will never waver in faith so far as to fall and never get back up again.
The real reason Peter began to sink:
In the account of Peter walking on the water towards Jesus, the reason Peter began to sink was because he took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the storm. His faith in Christ wavered. That's the true reason. But when Peter began to sink, he still had enough faith in Jesus to cry out, 'Lord, save me!', which Jesus did. Jesus will be there for you in the same way if only you call in faith.
If you're wavering in your faith and looking for comfort and reassurance, don't take the false comfort Rob Bell is offering, that you can make it if only you believe in yourself more. Instead, know that Jesus Christ is supremely able to hold you and keep you in the faith, place your confidence in him, and do it now.
If we are holding on to a belief that we have any ability in ourselves to follow Jesus, then it sounds to me that we haven't come to the cross of Christ.
To come to the cross of Christ is to recognise that we are not merely spiritually poor before God, but are spiritually bankrupt. We are not merely spiritually 'ill' but spiritually dead, needing God to make us alive.
Given that the cross is the only way into God's kingdom, it follows that if we haven't come to the cross then whilst we may have been 'Christianized', we haven't been converted. False gospels 'Christianize' people but are utterly powerless to save them.
Jesus lived a totally sinless and perfect life, in our place, precisely because we are unable to do this ourselves. He then went to the cross in our place, and died the death we deserved to die, bearing our sin and the punishment we deserved, so that we could be forgiven if we will turn to him, now risen and alive forevermore, in repentance and faith.
To suggest that Jesus had faith in his disciples that they were able to do what Jesus himself did if only they would believe in themselves more, denies the truth that we are utterly unable to follow Jesus, that we are utterly unable to obey God's commands, that we are nothing but guilty before him because of our moral failures, and it is only out of his astonishing love and mercy that God has provided a way (the only way) for us to be right with him. That way is by trusting in Christ, not by trusting in ourselves.
When Rob Bell asserts that Jesus believed his disciples were able to follow him if only they trusted in themselves more, my conclusion is that Rob Bell does not seem to understand that we have no ability whatsoever in ourselves to follow Jesus. To believe that we do have it in us to follow Jesus is to fail to understand what happened at the cross and why. Rob Bell is teaching damned heresy. And in case you're wondering, I am not using the word 'damned' as some kind of quaint, old-fashioned expletive or swear word. I am using the word literally and stating a fact, that false gospels are under God's judgment.