Why Rob Bell Matters – Do Not Be Deceived

It was supposed to be an encouraging uplifting Christian story, but it filled me with sadness.  It was a recent social media post from a prominent Christian organization about Aaron Rodgers.  The post was promoting Rodgers as an example of a Christian who walked out his faith among the bright lights of football stardom.

The storyline was about him being raised in a great Christian family and how the Green Bay Packers quarterback lives out his faith on the gridiron.

I love these stories.  Though Christians can get a bit starry-eyed about our famous brethren, I personally cannot get enough Tim Tebow updates.   It is not the content that saddened me.

It is just not true.  The sad part of the Rodgers story was it is simply not the truth.  A few days prior I had run across an interview with Rodgers where he makes a point to disclaim his Christian upbringing.   He may truly be a nice guy and great quarterback but he specifically stated that he is not a Christian. And Rob Bell and other teachers like him bear a big responsibility for this decision.

This is why Rob Bell still matters in the Christian world.  He may no longer have a big church.  He may no longer have the ear of many in the Christian community.  But his message of compromise and rebellion is just what a generation is looking for in order to lead them away from the Lord.  He tells people exactly what they want to hear in order to make their rejection of Jesus seem palatable.  He is the type of teacher warned about repeatedly in the Bible.

If you look around the world today, the number of false teachers is astounding.  Not only is the sheer amount staggering, but the influence they have on the world makes you want to weep.

In a recent ESPN interview, link in addition to talking football Rodgers opens up about his spiritual journey.  He makes it very clear that he is not a Christian.  He goes so far as specifically say that he does not identify with any religious affiliation.  He is one of the growing numbers of “nones” of the next generation.  They are the ones who no longer hold onto even the cultural title of Christian and choose none on religious surveys.

Aaron Rodgers is just one guy though.  For all his fame, he is just one individual who can throw a football and his personal relationship with the Lord is just that – his.  He will work out his eternal fate with God in God’s timing.  God will give him many off ramps allowing him to depart from the road he has chosen.

What is fascinating from the ESPN story is how Rodgers lays out the role of the now largely disclaimed former pastor Rob Bell in his walking away from Christianity.  It is a textbook example of how a false teacher turns a sheep away from the flock and more importantly from the Shepherd.

You may be familiar with Bell from his time as an evangelical church poster boy.  He was once the new thing on the block.  He was hip and edgy.  He was a trendsetter within the church with his heavy-framed glasses and informal style. His Michigan church grew exponentially until it was packing in thousands each Sunday and he was a best selling author.  He was a shooting star named as one of the 10 most influential Christians one year.

Bell’s doctrine was always squishy, hard to get a hold on and easy to alter, but he was smooth and successful.  He was reaching people so his methods were overlooked.

His weak doctrine was generally glossed over but as he grew more prominent, he grew more bold in his own opinions.  Put directly, Bell went completely off the rails of orthodoxy and started denying the pillars of Christianity.  Where he had once been evasive on big issues, he became outright heretical.  Things like hell and the exclusivity of Jesus that have been core doctrines that defined the faith for 2000 years suddenly were too restrictive.  Love Wins became his motto and it justified pretty much anything that he wanted it to justify.

His ideas were not new.  There have been heretical sects and those that try to warp the doctrines of Christianity throughout church history.  Bell was just slick and convincing in his presentation so he received attention.  He also had a measure of fame and media platforms from which to pitch them to the world.  Bell became a fixture on CNN and Oprah Winfrey’s TV show pushing his personal brand of Christianity.  No other religion was wrong, no one would be called to account for their sins and everyone was right in their beliefs became the religion of Rob Bell.

This may seem like old news to you.  It may seem to be rehashing an old story.  Bell no longer has a church and shows up much less often on the news.  Most of the other big names in the Christian world have parted ways with him.  Why should we care what he does?

Because Bell is still doing eternal damage.   Aaron Rodgers is the evidence.

Rodgers was raised in a Christian family but by his own admission he always had doubts.  In the ESPN interview, the doubts are very similar to the ones common to the generations being raised in the world today.  From the article:

“I think in people’s lives who grew up in some sort of organized religion, there really comes a time when you start to question things more,” he says. “It happens for some at an early age; others, you know, maybe a little older. That happened to me six or seven years ago.”

and

As a boy growing up in Chico, he attended a nondenominational church with his parents, both devout Christians, and absorbed the religion’s traditional tenets. And yet, even as he soaked up those lessons, there were aspects of dogma that left him dissatisfied. “I remember asking a question as a young person about somebody in a remote rainforest,” he tells me. “Because the words that I got were: ‘If you don’t confess your sins, then you’re going to hell.’ And I said, ‘What about the people who don’t have a Bible readily accessible?'”

What about the desert island people or the Amazon tribes?  What about the people that I think are good people?  Is God fair to a person of a different faith that I think is a good person? These are the objections that are common in our culture today.  They boil down to a generalized suspicion and accusation that God is not fair.  He is unjust in one person’s humble opinion and therefore doesn’t exist??  CS Lewis had the same questions.

Many teenagers are wrestling with the same issues right now.

All of these questions have great answers if we are willing to delve into them.  The true and satisfying answers, though, require that a person submit themselves to God for it to make sense.  They require us to ask whole heartedly of God to provide the answer.  They come down to the question of whether a person must humble themselves and their opinions before God.

A person must accept that God is God and that person is not god in order to even glimpse understanding of God’s order for life.

We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  We are encouraged to make sure that we stand on solid ground.  Like many raised in the safety of the church without embracing Jesus, it does not appear that Rodgers ever did so.  Rather, he held onto the questions and kept them around as he grew in fame and wealth.  This was a clear recipe for disaster.

Resolving doubts and submitting to God is hard.  Doing any sort of self analysis and humbling while being fabulously wealthy and adored by millions is much harder.

Rodgers ha seeds of doubt that had not been confronted.  He was struggling with his feelings conflicting with the Word of God.  He felt  that God is unjust but did not want to do away with the idea of the God that he was rasied with.  He wanted to choose his own opinion over that of God but doing so would be too uncomfortable.

Into this sea of doubt and struggle sailed Bell and offered him a solution.  He gave him an easy way out of his personal struggle.  Bell offered lies disguised as truth to free him from his conviction.

Bell tells him just how right he has been the whole time.  Bell’s message – Do what feels good to you and don’t heed the words of that silly old book.  It is just poetry meant to send a general message.  It is metaphors and fables and is certainly not God’s Word.

This message is like sweet music to man’s rebellious heart.

Then, not long after he became the starter in Green Bay in 2008, he met Rob Bell, a young pastor from Michigan whom the Packers invited to speak to the team. When the talk ended, Rodgers waited for the group to dissipate and then introduced himself to Bell, best known for his progressive views on Christianity. The two men struck up a friendship. Bell sent Rodgers books on everything from religion to art theory to quantum physics, and the quarterback gave him feedback on his writing. Over time, as he read more, Rodgers grew increasingly convinced that the beliefs he had internalized growing up were wrong, that spirituality could be far more inclusive and less literal than he had been taught. As an example, he points to Bell’s research into the concept of hell. If you close-read the language in the Bible, Rodgers tells me, it’s clear that the words are intended to evoke an analogy for man’s separation from God. “It wasn’t a fiery pit idea — that [concept] was handed down in the 1700s by the Puritans and influenced Western culture,” he says.

Man does not want to submit.  Man given power, fame and wealth is even less likely to submit.  Man given the claimed blessing of God not to submit will rejoice in rebellion.  He will claim it is good for him to reject God.  He is smarter than all those silly people who believe in the Bible.  He has felt that way the whole time, God really was unjust and unfair, he just needed Rob Bell to show him how right he was.   Those darned Pilgrims of the 1600’s are responsible for the clear doctrine of the church for 2000 years.

This is the very situation contemplated by Paul in his letters to Timothy.  Paul warns him of a time to come when people will not endure sound doctrine.  The wording may seem strange to us.  It is simply saying regular folks will not accept the simple teaching of the Bible.  They will put their feelings, their intellects and the information they saw on the Discovery Channel above the revealed Word of God.  A time will come when many people will choose rebellion over submission.

When a person chooses to reject God, the Holy Spirit comes alongside that person and touches their conscience.  He brings conviction into their heart and mind attempting to steer them back to God.  Jesus mentions that Paul is kicking at the goads when He confronts Paul on the road to Damascus.  Goads were sharpened sticks that farmers would attached to their oxen to stop them from veering off or breaking valuable equipment.  The sharp stick would poke the ox if it tried to go a way that was bad for it.  It was a much lesser pain of annoyance to avoid a greater and more permanent tragedy.

It is also a wonderful act of mercy.

The creator doesn’t hold a person’s rejection of Him against them in this life.  He seeks them until they turn away from the pain they are causing themselves and choose the truth.

Paul describes to Timothy what people do to head off this pain of conviction.  In order to stop the poking of the goad and feel better about themselves, they seek out false teachers to tell them what they want to hear.  They find people who seem like they are working for God and who will lie to them in the name of God.

The verse talks about itching ears in a very plain sense.  The people will have ears that itch.  The false teachers will be like servants going around scratching their ears for them.  The lies of the false teachers will cover over the conviction that the Lord is trying to reveal to them.

The false but seemingly sweet words of deception will soothe their consciences to make them feel pious and superior while they are rejecting the Lord.  They are left with a man centered religiousity or spirituality that in truth submits to no one but themeselves and is empty of God and His power.

All the while, they will say that they are just following a more enlightened path than we are – their eastern mystic guru told them as much.

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives what is known as the Olivet Discourse.  It is a long monologue given by Jesus answering specific questions posed by His disciples.  They are about the timing of the end of the world and the signs of Jesus’ Second Coming.  This is the section where wars and rumors of wars, famine and disease are laid out by Jesus as signs of His imminent return.  Jesus is not causing these things to occur but as the fallen world grows all the more sinful, these things will flourish.

It is interesting to note what sign Jesus told His disiples to watch out for first.  Before the diseases or wars, Jesus warns the disciples to first watch out for spiritual deception:

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6

Jesus will mention world changing cataclysmic events from earthquakes to great persecution in his instructions.  Yet, His initial warning deals with the spiritual deception that is coming.  Jesus is first concerned about the state of our souls not our bodies.  His warning reflects this priority.

“The Bible opens with a poem,” he adds. “It’s a beautiful piece of work, but it was never meant to be interpreted as I think some churches do.” I ask him whether he still sees himself as a Christian, and he says he no longer identifies with any affiliation.

This is where Aaron Rodgers ended up after encountering Rob Bell.  Yes, his relationship with God is between him and God.  His decision to reject Jesus is his own…but Rob Bell certainly helped him down that path.  He gave him the permission he needed to embrace himself as the ultimate arbiter of truth.

This is Rob Bell’s fruit.  This is why Rob Bell still matters.

He is helping others along a road that leads only to destruction…and he is good at it.

4 thoughts on “Why Rob Bell Matters – Do Not Be Deceived

  1. After reading your post, I looked up Rob Bell. He doesn’t seem like a bad man to me. I don’t believe God will torture people forever either. I know there will be a punishment, but although the effects of that punishment will be forever (as in destroyed forever), I think the Bible teaches the punishment will fit the crimes committed.

    There are thousand of denominations in Christianity, and I think there is room for all to find one they find to be closest to the truth of the Bible. I think if others interpret the Bible differently than we do then that is their right and freedom to do that. Who is to really say they are wrong. We can believe they are wrong, but I think we should leave them alone.

    Those who are sincere in their quest for God will find him. He has promised this. In our lives we may go from church to church and some of our first beliefs will alter as we learn more. I think the Holy Spirit guides us and I don’t think God expects all his followers to believe exactly the same. He gives us time to learn and grow.

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    • You know, I don’t think Bell is a “bad” man either but the Pharisees weren’t “bad” either and Jesus had really strong words for them. Why? Because they were not entering the Kingdom and were preventing others from doing so . The strongest words in the Bible deal with false teachers.

      I totally agree on denominations but Bell is outside of the unity of the church and preaching his own gospel – Just look at the result. Rodgers started off with questions and ended up a clear non- believer.

      The problem comes when we decide what we think is appropriate for God rather than letting God dictate to us. His ways are higher than ours and yet we try to bring Him down to our level.

      If you say let the punishment fit the crime, what is the appropriate punishment for telling God that He is not real? For willfully rejecting the Savior? For the thousands of sins we do each year?

      As for hell – well sadly I think the Bible is clear on the issue – here is a quote from Gotquestions on the issue.

      The punishment of the wicked dead in hell is described throughout Scripture as “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), “shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2), a place where “the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44-49), a place of “torment” and “fire” (Luke 16:23-24), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), a place where “the smoke of torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:10-11), and a “lake of burning sulfur” where the wicked are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

      The punishment of the wicked in hell is as never ending as the bliss of the righteous in heaven. Jesus Himself indicates that punishment in hell is just as everlasting as life in heaven (Matthew 25:46). The wicked are forever subject to the fury and the wrath of God. Those in hell will acknowledge the perfect justice of God (Psalm 76:10). Those who are in hell will know that their punishment is just and that they alone are to blame (Deuteronomy 32:3-5). Yes, hell is real. Yes, hell is a place of torment and punishment that lasts forever and ever, with no end. Praise God that, through Jesus, we can escape this eternal fate (John 3:16, 18, 36).

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      • Well, I disagree about your interpretation of those verses. I have studied other interpretations that explain them in a different way. Also, we shouldn’t discount all the many verses on death in the New and Old Testament. It says the wicked will be ashes under our feet, that they will vanish away, and Jesus speaks of death as a sleep and so does Paul and others. Personally, I think when God says, “All the wiked I will destroy,” means just that. But I think there is good reason there are disagreements about hell.

        I read this article in Christianity Today on the subject.

        http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/francis-chan-hell.html?start=4

        your book you seem agnostic as to whether hell is a conscious eternal torment or annihilation.

        That was one of the things I was a little surprised by: the language. I would definitely have to say that if I leaned a certain direction I would lean toward the conscious torment that’s eternal. But I couldn’t say I’m sure of that, because there are some passages that really seem to emphasize a destruction. And then I look in history and find that’s not really a strange view. There are some good, godly men—and maybe even the majority—that seem to take the annihilation view. I was surprised because all I was brought up with was conscious torment. And I see that. I see that in Scripture and I would lean more that way but, I’m not ready to say okay I know it’s this one. So say here “Here are a couple of views.” I don’t even remember if I wrote that I lean towards that, but maybe it comes across.

        still open. And I hope that’s because of my study and not because I’d rather have the annihilation view. I don’t know what was harder, researching or keeping a check on my heart and making sure there are no weird, ungodly motives in everything I wrote.

        I hadn’t thought about it that much, but I probably leaned toward annihilationism and probably still do. But I read Randy Alcorn’s book on heaven again and he made such a strong case for eternal conscious punishment I had to revise one chapter to give that view stronger resonance. In the end, I’m with you: I’m agnostic. I probably lean toward annihilationism, but I’m open to hearing a good argument from either side.

        It is interesting, this morning I was listening to a sermon by a preacher from the church I used to belong to, and he warned us about Bell too. But I think that had something to do with evolution. I do not believe in evolution at all.

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  2. So many interpretations on the receiving end, but only one perspective that matters in a story, and that’s the perspective of the Author.

    Truth is relative to the Originator. Anything other than that is opinion, and is greatly, even dangerously vulnerable to error.

    Whether we like it or not, the Author and Originator of this big story we are all playing out has already set the rules. We are only participants, at best. We don’t get to change the way things work, as much as we might want to.

    Yes, we have a choice, but the only options are basically, “agree,” or “reject.”

    Either way, isn’t it wisest to persist in validating our own choice? Wouldn’t it make the most sense, in all cases, to be even more sure that we had made the best decision?

    Don’t stop seeking The One who holds the Truth. Don’t stop seeking The One True God.

    The Way, The Truth, and The Life is there to be found.

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