Rob Bell’s Man-Centered Gospel is no Gospel at All
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.
The problem is 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 seems like a truly 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.
Rob Bell is Working against Jesus
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.
Rob Bell Tells People what We Want to Hear
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 bolder in his own opinions. 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. For another example of Love without holiness, read Avengers Infinity War and the Perils of Social Justice
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?
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.”
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.
Submission comes before Understanding
A person must accept that God is God and that person is not a god in order to even glimpse an 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 seeds of doubt 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 raised 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.
False Teachers Soothe Pricked Consciences
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 attach 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 religiosity or spirituality that in truth submits to no one but themselves 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 disciples to watch out for first. Before the diseases or wars, Jesus warns the disciples to first watch out for spiritual deception:
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 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. Woe unto Him, certainly as God will call him to account for what he is doing. But how many vulnerable sheep will he devour in the process?