March 8, 2013

Rob Bell’s New God Ain’t No Tribal God


By Luke Moon (@lukemoon1)

Rob Bell has been making a lot of videos lately.  These videos are not like the great Nooma videos he made back in the 2000s, but rather videos promoting his latest writing adventures. The new videos are perhaps an unintentional story of how a once popular and promising pastor could drift into embracing old-time heresy while decrying old-time religion.

An article in the New Yorker late last year explores Rob Bell’s journey of faith.  The article describes how he built his church through strong preaching and combining “emotional appeals with straightforward interpretations of Scripture.”  The article explains further,

“[Rob Bell] did a series of “blood and guts” sermons, which explained sacrificial laws of Leviticus in gruesome detail. On the topic of sex, he warned dating couples against doing “things that only are proper within marriage.” And, in his eagerness to win new souls, he didn’t always avoid threats. “Jesus is your only hope, and God cannot accept casual, passive worship of him,” Bell told the congregation. “You either are headed to Heaven or you’re headed to Hell. It’s just that simple.”

However, it was Rob’s doubts about the inerrancy of scripture which caused him to question his faith.  The New Yorker author rightly understands Rob Bell “belatedly discovered liberal theology”

Rob could probably have continued to pastor Mars Hill and live with the doubts and struggles, but instead he authored Love Wins.  Perhaps his first book after embracing “liberal theology” it seemed largely a rant against those who believe hell is a place of eternal torment and separation from God.  While many on the Religious Left celebrated his “coming out” as a hell denier, it proved too much for his church.  In September 2012, he stepped down as pastor of Mars Hill.

Like other pastors who have led large congregations only to leave them behind as they doubt their faith, once Rob was out from under the accountability of his church elders he drifted further from orthodoxy.  From the promotional videos for his new books it is certainly evident that he has continued to drift.

Rob’s video produced by his publisher Harper Collins for the release of Love Wins: For Teens is a celebration of his new faith in a new God.


The title of his book should not be Love Wins: For Teens, but rather Fun God: Saying “Yes” to the World. While Rob seemingly calls these teens to say, “Yes” to the world God calls us to reject that which the world loves.  The World lusts after money, power, and sex, but we are called to generosity, humility, and self-control.  The path that God has modeled in Jesus is not easy, but good.  Jesus doesn’t say do what you want, he says follow me and obey my commands.  The message given in this promotion is as divisive as his accusation on the Church.  Yes, God invites everyone to his party, but joining his party will earn you hatred from the world.

The second recent promotion is for his upcoming book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.


As in Love Wins: For Teens the basis of his video is that it’s time to leave the past behind.  Rob says, for a lot of people “God is a bit like an Oldsmobile” and Oldsmobile is a relic of the past which couldn’t keep up with the times.  “It’s part of the past, not the future; for them, not for us; for then, not for now.”

While the Rob Bell of the Nooma videos came across as hopeful and optimistic, the Rob Bell of the Harper Collins promo seems condescending to everyone who values the traditions of our Church.   For Rob it seems God is not found in the past. The old “tribal God” is “mean” and “not very intelligent.” For him, it’s our (Rob, et al) turn to create God.  Our new God won’t be mean, narrow, and stupid.  No, our new God will be enlightened and modern…like us.  Our new priests and priestesses will preach love without justice, they will affirm alphabet sexuality, and they will recognize that religion is rightly second to science.  The new will not be like the old with institutions, structures, traditions, and authority.

In these videos Rob Bell comes across as intelligent, kind, and welcoming.  But don’t false teachers often have that appeal.  The reality is that the new God Rob is offering is not new at all. It is as old as the story of humanity…as the serpent told Eve, “you will be like God…”

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33 Responses to Rob Bell’s New God Ain’t No Tribal God

  1. I think Timothy sums it up quite well!
    2 Timothy 4:3-4
    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

  2. btay1 says:

    Thanks, this is the best reply I have read for the heresy that is Rob Bell. I will quote your words here often to all others that will listen.

  3. fairfaxian says:

    What a sad story. At least Rob Bell is so open about his heresy and desire to change God into his own image. Those who follow him are without excuse. One of the more disturbing lines from his first video promoting Love Wins for Kids is that “It’s not about long lists of regulations and things you can’t do, it’s about saying a giant yes to the world.” 1 John 2:15 immediately popped into my mind.

    “Do not love the world nor the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, love for the world is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride in one’s lifestyle is not from the father, but is from the world. The world and its lusts are passing away but he does the will of the Lord endures forever.”

    No, Rob, I won’t change my religion because certain parts aren’t popular. I won’t say yes to the world, I’ll say yes to God. I worship the Great I Am, the Unchanging One Who Was, Who Is and Who Is To Come.

    Yes Rob, everyone is invited, but not everyone makes that decision. Stop setting up straw men. The fact that we who accept Christ as our personal savior and are sanctified by Him means that we are set apart and called to act differently since we are new creatures. We are neither governed by our emotions nor by the standards of this world but are called to obedience to Him and His laws.

  4. Rob Bell seemed to start out well. Then he got a little full of himself, and he forgot to study history, thereby missing the point that he is re-plowing old ground. His book, “Love Wins,” was basically a polemic against every stereotype that’s ever been presented about traditionally-minded Christians (i.e., it was not very fair or “loving”). It’s proven to be a favorite among shallow-thinking, liberal pastors (like my ex-pastor in the UMC).

    Bell has essentially said he would like to see Christianity re-made into an Eastern religion. That will play well in Hollywood, along with his iconoclastic approach to orthodoxy. In other words it may prove lucrative for Bell (is that too cynical?).

    I would like to see a follow-up to this story discussing the financial angle of Bell’s decision to go into TV, etc.

    I can handle a little doubt. We’ve all been there. What I cannot handle is a lack of transparency.

  5. mjciv says:

    After reading this post earlier thing morning, I have thought about how I can respond to my fellow Christians in charity. For what it’s worth, here you go:

    I am a Catholic. The Catholic Church teaches that there is no salvation outside of her embrace. Protestants, of course, take umbrage with this idea, and tell each other the Catholics and their view of God is wrong. But then the Protestants have splintered into innumerable groups, each with its own certainties about who God is, what He wants us to do, and how we should go about doing it. The Mainline churches point their fingers at Evangelicals; the Evangelicals snicker at the Pentecostals, who ridicule the Emergents. The Mennonites look on in bewilderment. Everyone judges the Mormons.

    Jesus asks us, “Who do YOU say I am?” Not who does your denomination say that I am, or your tradition. You. It’s a question all of us have to face if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus. Stripped of history, of dogma, of doctrine, of denomination…who do you say Jesus is?

    Rob Bell is not more a heretic than St. Paul was, or John Calvin, or John Howard Yoder. They are all answering Jesus’ question. You don’t have to like their answers, agree with their answers, or respect their answers. But try and remember that–whatever tradition you happen to be a part of–you, too, are a heretic some someone else. Your answers are insufficient, wrong, and irritating to some other Christian.

    Practice a little humility, my friends.

    Pace e bene on this beautiful sunny day.

    • Except in very isolated circles Protestants do not necessarily view other denominations or Catholics as “heretics.” And Catholicism does not teach that there is no possiblity of salvation outside the Catholic church. If you really thought this, based on your arguments here, you would be rejecting the teachings of your own church!

      Your comment echoes the common argument that “everybody has a different idea so no one can be totally right.” While there is some truth in that line of thinking, it has been disingenuously used to justify any number of non-Christian teachings, a laissez-faire theology if you will.

      I hearken back to an old sentiment: “in essentials unity, in nonessentials charity.” The problem with Rob Bell is that he is questioning the essentials. He is assaulting some of the core doctrines of the church, so you are factually incorrect in asserting that Bell is little different from the apostle Paul, etc.

      • mjciv says:

        Even Paul interpreted Jesus. I’m not agreeing with Rob Bell. I’m saying there is a lot of interpretation going on over the past 2,000 years. Ultimately, you decide who Jesus is, just like they did (and do).

        Who was it that said that their church doesn’t answer every question, but it shines a bit of light on their path as they search for answers? Someone smarter than me. But the light of tradition is not the path. I sometimes think people get more invested in defending their interpretation of scripture than in scripture itself.

        Anyhow: thanks for responding. It’s just a book.

  6. Donnie says:

    Other than his heresy, it’s annoying that Rob Bell actually thinks he’s doing something different or revolutionary. No, he’s doing the exact same thing heretics have been doing for thousands of years. It’s just today he’s welcomed as a “refreshing” voice in the church, rather than an apostate.

  7. Sounds a lot like Jesus. Didn’t the Sermon on the Mount have a whole string of “you have heard it was saids … but I say unto you.” And while not jot or tittle is to pass away, “everything being accomplished” really points to a radical new understanding of the OT god. Unfortunately, most conservative Christians have an average god, add the OT to the NT pictures of God, make the sum and divide by two. The result is … subtracting Jesus. Until we see that the lense through which we see everything is God incarnate in Jesus Christ we will never see anything right and never judge “righteous judgment.” And we will never understand Scripture right until we see it all through the eyes of Jesus.

    • “Sounds a lot like Jesus. Didn’t the Sermon on the Mount have a whole string of ‘you have heard it was saids … but I say unto you.'”

      Last time I checked, Rob Bell wasn’t Jesus.

    • gregpaley says:

      Sorry, Yancy, but I am a conservative and I do not have an “average god” (I always cap “God,” btw), mine is distinctively above average, as in Almighty, the Great I Am, not the wimpy creampuff small g “god” who wouldn’t have the power to fix a parking ticket, much less preside at the Last Judgment. If you want to start comparing gods, the God of traditional Christianity is awesome.

      Why is it when someone says “see through the eyes of Jesus” they really mean “see through the eyes of a liberal”?

      Note to David Fischler: No, Rob Bell isn’t Jesus, rather he sees himself as greater than Jesus, since he claims to know more about the nature of God than Jesus did. However, I refuse to convert to Bellism.

  8. Bart Gingerich says:

    I heard there might be more than 15 words per page this time around. Unprecedented!

  9. John Petty says:

    Ah! The favorite verse of those who don’t like something someone else says!

    • skotiad says:

      Actually, it’s the appropriate verse to use when discussing someone like Bell and his fans, because he clearly is a false teacher, venturing well outside the boundaries of Christianity. The Lutherans and other liberal denoms have become entirely too tolerant of false teaching, also too convinced that the Democratic party platform and the will of God just happen to conveniently coincide. Curiously, the mainlines’ embrace of secularism has not exactly led to growth, but to decline. Conform the church to the world (which violates the clear teachings of the New Testament), and the church gets smaller. When will liberals figure out the connection?

      • raybnnstr says:

        That is so true. I imagine you could provide electricity for a large town if you could harness the energy from poor Martin Luther spinning in his grave at what his supposed followers are teaching today. At the ELCA seminaries, they don’t even offer courses in Old Testament, instead there is “Hebrew Bible,” which would appall Luther, who took a strong stance that the Old Testament has to be read as a Christian book. The ELCA’s seminary graduates go out into the churches with almost zero knowledge of the Bible, theology, or Christian history, all they know is they’re supposed to fight for “social justice” and reducing people’s carbon footprint, plus they all hate the Religious Right, which is a curious version of the gospel, to put it mildly. Instead of being a Christian denomination, they’ve turned themselves into stooges for the political left, and what do they get for their cultural conformity? Not exactly a stampede of new members.

        If you look at the websites for some liberal congregations, their “welcome” statements sound so desperate, like they’re pleading for people who hate religion to join up with them. Doesn’t seem to be working. A handful of worldly types may drop out of the conservative churches and join up, but that’s no loss to the evangelicals, since the ones they lose are the ones with the least commitment to living as Christians, so the mainlines only get people with lukewarm faith, or no faith at all. That is truly a sad excuse for a church, united by nothing except contempt for orthodoxy Christianity. No wonder they are in decline.

      • gregpaley says:

        Speaking of the ELCA, imagine what Luther would have thought of the congregation in Wichita that gave a warm welcome to the abortionist, George Tiller. This wasn’t a guy who did abortions once in a blue moon, he was running a factory in Wichita, which had the ironic name Women’s Health Care Services (not too healthy to be an unborn child there), which provided later-term abortions. How could any church, or any group of human beings who possess consciences, make someone like that into a pillar of the congregation? It wouldn’t have been possible without several decades of indoctrination into feminism and every other item on the liberal agenda. Once you unplug a church from the Bible and Christian tradition, anything becomes acceptable.

  10. […] eviscerated again because in a promotional video for his new book, Love Wins: For Teens (which one blogger said could have been more appropriately titled, Fun God: Saying “Yes” to the World), he says, […]

  11. pgoodman56 says:

    It must be comforting thinking that you’re going to heaven where you can look down at the billions of souls screaming and writhing in pain … consumed by flame for all of eternity, but never dying; all this courtesy of your all-compassionate and loving friend Jesus. . . . Do you find this condemnation the act of a moral god? Why would such a creature bother creating an entire system where the vast majority of his creation will spend all eternity burning in flames? If this is your belief, then you are sadist. Your just as bad as the Taliban blowing up woman and children. You really need to think about this….sicko.

    • skotiad says:

      There’s this thing called “free will” that sets us apart from the animals. We can choose to be good, or choose to be bad. Without free will, we might as well be animals, or robots. Heaven and hell are about free will. We choose one or the other. It’s very clear in the Bible that God takes no pleasure in the punishment of the wicked. (Just one sample, Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”) If you bothered to read the Bible instead of spewing liberal cliches, you might find it highly educational. God didn’t destroy Sodom because he was in a cranky mood but because it was extremely evil, and he saved the only decent people who lived there.

      Comparing Christians to the Taliban is absurd. Christians don’t blow up women and children, nor do we take pleasure in the doctrine of hell. To say “I don’t like the doctrine of hell” makes as much sense as saying “I don’t like the law of gravity.” Liking it or not is not is a moot point. If it’s true, it’s true, and as I said, it’s very much in keeping with God creating us as free agents who can choose to be good or evil. Wanting to save people from hell is not the work of “sickos,” it’s the work of people who love others enough to remind them there is a life beyond this life. The doctrine of hell is a doctrine for adults, people who understand that our actions matter. Not to believe in hell is to be a child, hoping you can get away with anything and never take the consequences.

      If you want a definition of “sicko,” that certainly applies to people who slander and libel the beliefs of millions of people now living. you are entitled to your opinions, but not to your own facts. I don’t know any Christians who say they are thrilled at the thought of evil people being in hell, and neither do you, so you’ll have to base your hatred of Christians on something else, because that is a blatant lie.

      • pgoodman56 says:

        Blowing up incident people is much more humane than eternal torment. And according to your ridiculous logic, these innocent people probably went to the eternal flames for not “accepting Jesus as Their Lord and Savior.” Whatever that means. The bible says this and and bible says that. There are so many contradictions, both in the New and the Old, you must just pick out the versus that fit your philosophical mold. People are going to make mistakes in life, because we are all sooooo imperfect. But to suggest that there is eternal torment for all “nonbelievers” IS SICK! There may be a cleansing process after death or something similar before meeting God, because we all will need it, but not eternal torment. How many “nonbelievers” have near death experiences and return quite pleased??? It feeds your ego when you fool yourself in thinking that you’re part of some exclusive club that “only we the few get it,” but in reality you (and I) don’t really know. Ill have to agree with Rob on this one. And I don’t hate Christians, in fact I was raised Catholic (schools and everything). I look forward to your response.

      • skotiad says:

        There is no way to have a rational debate with someone who thinks that believing in hell is worse than killing people. I believe in hell. So what? My belief harms no one. I rarely even think about hell, and what I choose to think about is no one else’s concern. Read Orwell’s 1984, you might find his depiction of the “Thought Police” to be very appealing.

        FYI, ex-Christians are much more obsessed with hell than Christians are. Don’t project your silly obsessions onto someone else.

  12. pgoodman56 says:

    BTW…I like Rob Bell…Makes more sense than the absurdities that you present on eternal torment

  13. […] Ecumenism sarcastically suggested that Bell’s book be titled, Fun God: Saying “Yes” to the World and referred to him as a […]

  14. Joshua says:

    Ah yes the old “Rob Bell is an evil false teacher” schtick. Misinterpreting Bell to make him sound heretical is a dead horse that’s been well beaten and taken to the glue factory. Rob Bell doesn’t believe in the virgin birth! Rob Bell is a universalist! And now, Rob Bell wants you to embrace the world! 1 John 2:15 alert! I think what Bell is trying to say is not say yes to the world as in flying to Amsterdam for hookers and blow, but embracing the world the way Jesus did. Big difference.

    And I love the critique about how he’s condescending. I mean, evangelicals have given him every verbal torch and pitchfork they could think of the past few years, but how dare he be condescending to the Holy Evangelical Church!

    • If you read “Love Wins” objectively you will be forced to conclude that Bell is condescending, if not disrespectful, to orthodox Christians.

      Misinterpreting Bell? Here’s are his own words as reported by Christianity Today: “This is not just the same old message with new methods,” Rob says. “We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life.”

      Just because some criticisms of Bell are excessive doesn’t mean they are fundamentally off-point.

      • apcroft33 says:

        Ditto for everything cleareyed said: yeah, Bell IS disrespectful to orthodox Christians. I gather his fans don’t notice his contempt because it isn’t directed toward them.

        As for Bell’s claim that his new-and-improved Christianity is “a way of life,” apparently he never read the New Testament, especially Acts, where believers were known as “followers of the way” even before the name “Christian” took hold. No orthodox Christian has ever EVER said that the faith was just a matter of doctrine. It is indeed a way of life, one in which we all come up short of the ideal. Bell has not “rediscovered” anything. Like so many people of his self-absorbed generation, he thinks nothing good ever took place before he emerged to save the world and tell his elders what nitwits and hypocrites they are.

        Joshua and Bell could do themselves a favor by taking a close look at the New Testament instead of dabbling in Eastern religion like a gaggle of bored, trendy Scarsdale housewives. And, incidentally, anyone familiar with Eastern religions ought to know they are much less inclined to “embrace the world” than Christianity is. Buddha with his eyes half-closed isn’t embracing the world, he’s getting as far from it as possible.

      • Joshua says:

        Cleareyed, yeah Bell’s choice of words are sloppy, but how do you interpret this? How do you extrapolate heresy from “Christianity as an Eastern religion?” Is he espousing any doctrines from Buddhism or Hinduism? If you want to interpret his words correctly you have to view the next sentence: “as a way of life”. And he’s not wrong about that. It’s easy to see the words “Eastern Religion” and go to arms. The intellectually honest response would be, “Hey Bell, what do you mean by that?” instead of throwing around labels like apostate.

        And it’s funny in light of that you say “if you read ‘Love Wins’ objectively”. I seriously doubt you were able to read it with a objective third party lens. I never said he wasn’t condescending. Frankly, he was a little. But in the light of how people usually argue about God when views are poles apart, he was rather kind. The knee-jerk responses from certain Christian groups were way more condescending.

        And Aptcroft33, are you even for real? you claim that bell is disrespectful and contemptuous, but let’s take a look at some of the things you said:

        Bell is self absorbed and thinks that nothing good ever took place before he emerged to save the world.

        Actually, in his book “Velvet Elvis” he talks about how nothing is new under the sun and new things are just old things that have been picked up and dusted off. You should actually read the author before making these kind of comments.

        You also imply that I dabble in Eastern religion instead of looking closely at the New Testament. You have no idea who I am and have made ridiculous claims based on…I actually have no idea what. You call others disrespectful and self-absorbed. Your hypocrisy is astounding.

        Here’s a challenge to everyone in this blog forum. Why don’t you list specific things that Bell believes that go in direct violation of scripture. Not vague things, but specific doctrinal no-nos that could be considered heresy.

      • To Joshua: while it may not be perfectly clear, it’s reasonably clear that Bell is attempting to hybridize Christianity with Eastern religion–just read his words. And this quote is consistent with other statements from Bell.

        We can certainly learn from all faith traditions, but you cannot merge two things that are fundamentally different without adverse, even explosive, consequences–it would be like mixing soda and vinegar.

        Additionally, what gives Bell the unique right to rediscover Christianity as an Eastern religion? Do you not see the arrogance in this? Bell doesn’t have the background to do such a thing even if it were possible.

      • Joshua says:

        Cleareyed: Can you provide any concrete examples on how Bell is hybridizing Christianity? The only thing, I believe, Bell is trying to do with the whole Eastern thing is do away with the notion that Christianity is all about hell insurance and detaching from this world because real life starts in the hereafter – to put it very plainly.

        And I really don’t understand everyone’s caustic reactions about the word “rediscover”. People use the word rediscover all the time; they rediscover their faith, their marriages, their children, etc. Bell has made no claims that he’s rediscovered Christianity in the sense that everyone was wrong until he came around. To suggest so is to put words in his mouth, which is the main problem in the Rob Bell witch hunt. You don’t see people taking up arms with Mark Driscoll’s Re:Lit, Re:Train, Re:Sound. Why? Because if someone said, “How dare Driscoll think that Christianity needs to be retrained…” that person would be looked at like a nimrod – and rightfully so. There’s nothing wrong with “re” words.

        Personally, I like the whole rediscover theme. People do need to rediscover their faith. There are many, many churches out there that, I’m convinced, are antithetical to what Jesus had in mind.

      • Joshua, if will take the time to read this article it highlights some of the inconsistencies, contradictions and theological errors in Bell’s work:

  15. Donnie says:

    The reason many of us are so appalled by Bell is the consequences if he is wrong.

    OK, I admit, there is a chance I am wrong on the eternal damnation thing. But if I am wrong, what’s the harm?

    On the other hand, if Bell is wrong and those who die without knowing Christ as their personal savior end up being tormented for all eternity, then there is a whole lot of harm that happened.

    People like Bell give false hope to unbelievers and that is dangerous. I really hope people like Bell are correct, but from reading the Bible I believe that is not so. THAT is why I and many others fight so hard against his apostasy.

    • yancywsmith says:

      Donnie, you are right to equivocation about traditional doctrines describing eternal torment. GODLY, orthodox interpreters have shown by their own differences that such equivocation is warranted by the Biblical facts. The history of how Christian have understood the Biblical witness on the meaning and nature of eternal destruction is quite full of considerable diversity even about what constitutes a literal hell. Throw into the mix theological reflection on the justice of God and divine love and the reasons for holding traditional views lightly just multiply. At the very least Christians have a moral obligation to wish that all will be saved, because the are enjoined by Scripture to pray toward this end.

      • sandytnaylor says:

        So you think that on all the occasions that Jesus referred to the Last Judgment, he was just pulling our leg? If that is the case, I’ve been following the wrong guy. If you think that praying that all people might be saved is some kind of excuse to abandon evangelism and missions, I do not agree. Universalism is not a doctrine taught in the creed of the New Testament, it is the doctrine of modern liberalism, rooted in the belief that “sin” doesn’t really exist and there are no final consequences for what we do in this world. Liberals think they are just so darn adorable that God darn well better save them.

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