20 April 2011

A Conversation with Rob Bell

From his very first emergence (pun intended) into mainstream Christianity, Rob Bell has been a rock star. Naturally, then, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to hear him speak live when he rolled into town last week. I opted to record the event (or parts of it), because I knew that note-taking would be out of the question. With the way Rob Bell speaks, it's impossible to take coherent notes and, just as I suspected, I spent last Thursday evening feeling as though I was watching a very talented, well-practiced tap-dancer. The irony was that Bell's crowd was largely amenable to his aberrant teaching, so the dodging and dancing was probably not very necessary. Nevertheless, I think Rob is used to it by now!

Words and phrases like "love" and "God is for us" dominated the evening. He spoke often of a "tension" that he claims exists between the exclusivity of Christ and the wideness of God's love and mercy. Of course, the only Bible verses he offered in defense of that so-called tension were misused and misapplied. Honestly, I heard very little that I haven't already heard Bell say on television interviews, which was interesting considering the format of the evening.

We sat down and I noticed that the "stage" was set up in true Emergent church form: with a stool, a cup of water, and a music stand instead of a pulpit (you know, because the pastor is more believable if they aren't dominated by the pulpit). Then Bell and one of the church pastors entered. Bell sat down on the stool and the "pastor," a female, stood behind the music stand and introduced him. Oh yes, we were basically witnessing a cliche' come to life! But then Rob Bell got a little crazy and "mixed things up." After he was introduced, he leapt up from his stool and hurried down the stairs to stand among us, the little people. "Who has a question?" he asked, and thus the evening began.

It was a conversational evening consisting entirely of questions from the audience. Yet over and over again, even though the questions were not by any means challenging Bell's heretical claims, he seemed to dodge the actual question and somehow get himself back to the same scripted answers that he has been delivering all over the country. It was kind of bizarre. But it was sad, too. It was sad because, as I looked around, people were buying it. They were mesmerized by this man who, in their minds, is a walking example of Jesus Christ.

So let's get into some of the videos I took. First off, I apologize for the shakiness of some of these. Turns out that holding a tiny digital camcorder up high enough to catch the action can be tiring! Second, I apologize for the audio. This was held in a church and, with Bell's microphone he's easy to hear, though with a bit of an echo, but the questions from the audience are almost impossible to discern. Like I said, though, Bell rarely actually answered the questions, so I'm not sure it matters that they can't be heard very well!

This first video is interesting. I didn't capture the question at all but I remember it vividly. A young man, covered in tattoos, rose and began by thanking Bell and praising him for his work. Bell apparently helped inspire this young man to attend Bible college among other things. But then, his question was something along the lines of (and this is not an exact quote), "I read what you're saying and it sounds really good, but then I was reading in Matthew and I keep seeing Jesus say over and over that we have to repent and believe only in Him to be saved and...I can't reconcile it with what you're saying..." This was Rob Bell's response:

Did you catch that? It's almost as if Bell wants to say, "Yes, Jesus saves...BUT." So he affirms over and over that "Jesus saves." Saves from what? What does Jesus save us from, Rob? What I cut out of the beginning of this video (because I was whispering over the audio and it was difficult to hear) was Rob rattling off a long list of things we need to be "saved" from: greed, bitterness, anger...um, hey, Rob, is the word you're looking for SIN? But, ultimately, what does Jesus save us from? The wrath of God. Yet, Rob Bell can't talk about that because it makes people uneasy. The only time he speaks to the wrath of God is when he is mocking the idea of this God who is "for us" punishing someone in eternal fire and torment. I felt bad for the young man asking the questions because I saw someone who was genuinely seeking. Someone who perhaps was being nudged by the Holy Spirit through the reading of God's Word and who was rightly questioning Bell in regard to how his teaching aligns with Christ's. And yet, Rob Bell led this man through a confusing maze of gibberish and who knows where he will end up. I don't recall the name of this man, but God does, so please pray for him, that God would reveal the Truth to him and that he would come to see the error of Rob Bell's teaching.

In this next clip, Bell twists John 10:16, when Jesus says "I have sheep who are not of this fold..." You'll see that he twists other passages as well, but this one stood out to me. A reading of this verse in context and a proper, literal approach to interpreting Scripture reveals that Jesus is explaining that He has come to save Gentiles as well as Jews, and that some non-Jews would also come to "know His voice." This has absolutely nothing to do with people of different religions coming to be saved after death. And yet, doesn't Bell give the allusion that Jesus is so very wide in His acceptance of everyone?

Why does believing in the exclusivity of Christ necessitate that we leave a wide open space for everything else? What do you think Jesus meant, exactly, when He said:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Seems to me that leaving things wide open is a little bit dangerous...

I won't comment much on this next clip except to say that this is where Rob Bell told the story of the impact that the Catholic church has had on his life. You'll notice he has nothing but good things to say. You'll also notice key names mentioned, such as Richard Rohr (a well-known Christian Universalist). Can you say, "red flag?"

Finally, I'll leave you with the last story Rob told and his final words of the evening. Based upon what I had already heard about his appearance in Minnesota a few days earlier, I'm well aware that the telling of this story was scripted. I like to call this "Rob Bell's Witnessing Encounter" where he speaks of sharing Jesus with rocker Sammy Hagar. This is incredibly telling, especially since these were Bell's last words of the evening. Censor warning: there is a cuss word used by Bell at the end of this clip. I tried my best to cover it with a "bleep," but I'm pretty new at this video editing thing, so I know that it isn't quite as effective as I'd hoped it would be.

Isn't that nice that the "Christian pastor" ends his speaking engagement by swearing? And yet it sure did draw cheers and claps from the crowd, didn't it?

I walked away from this event with mixed emotions. The first was absolute anger at the twisting of God's holy Word. The second was more anger at the deception that I had witnessed. The third was absolute grieving. Grieving over that same deception, grieving over a church full of people who are searching and who believe in something, but do not believe in the only TRUE thing...Jesus Christ, and who are being told that the truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. And grieving over Rob Bell, a man who is seemingly quite friendly and charming and nice and yet who is, whether knowingly or unknowingly, leading countless souls straight to the Hell he claims does not exist. I left humbled at my lack of prayer for people deceived by men like Bell, and even more humbled by my lack of prayer for Rob Bell himself. I've prayed for him, oh yes, but not to an appropriate extent. This man needs our prayers desperately. Look at his influence and now imagine if he got saved. Wow. Hey, God can save anybody (after all, He saved you and me!), so don't give up praying!

Rob Bell's Universalism
More Thoughts on Rob Bell's Thoughts on Hell
Obligatory Rob Bell Update
Kevin DeYoung Reviews "Love Wins"
John MacArthur Speaks Out Against Rob Bell
Is Rob Bell "Evangelical and Orthodox to the Bone?" Hardly.
Rob Bell's Unbelief in His Own Words

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