Heresy on Tour?
Popular pastor/author Rob Bell's controversial message: God loves you.

Since late September blogs have been buzzing about Mark Driscoll's remark at the Convergent Conference labeling Rob Bell a heretic. Bell's broad popularity (due primarily to his books, NOOMA videos, and podcasts) make Driscoll's accusation all the more serious. Out of Ur has stayed out of the fray - until now. Rob Bell was in Raleigh, North Carolina last week as part of a 22-city tour. Leadership correspondent Chad Hall was there to report on the event.

When the babysitter arrived the night before Thanksgiving, she asked of our plans for the evening. Last week it was a concert, and three weeks before that we were headed to dinner and a movie. Tonight, my wife and I were going to?. I stumbled for words to describe Rob Bell's latest tour. I could tell by her eyes that she stopped caring about thirty seconds before I stopped trying to describe the event.

Bell's "the gods aren't angry" tour packed about two thousand souls into Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium for what wound up being a 90 minute sermon.

Bell is a popular writer, speaker and pastor, and I found it easy to see why he's so popular. As a friend commented after the event, "The dude has some mad communication skills." Wearing an all black outfit (save a bright white belt) that could have placed him as a member of Green Day, Bell presented an insane amount of information in a style that held my attention and quickened my spirit.

In a nutshell, Bell talked about how humans ? since the earliest cavewoman and caveman ? try to appease the forces that bring or withhold life. These human attempts led to formation of god concepts and religious practices, which grew ever more sacrificial and eventually led people to harm self and sacrifice children in bold attempts to assuage anxiety about the gods' opinions of us. Like some sort of Ken Burns without a camera, Bell incorporated tons of tidbits and insights from history, cultural anthropology, theology, sociology and literature to weave a compelling story of religiosity that's led to the anxiety-riddled human condition wherein we wonder, "Have I done enough?"

Into this system where humans guessed at what the gods want and then trying to give it, God spoke to Abram. Now the deity did the initiating. And the word from God was for Abram to forsake his father's household: which Bell equated with forsaking the old system of trying to appease the gods. Rather than trying to bless the gods, Abram's role was to be blessed by God. This was big revelation number one.

According to Bell, big revelation number two came in Leviticus. He said that this strange and seemingly backward third book of the Bible is best understood as a gift from God to help alleviate people's anxieties. Rather than leave us guessing and grasping for some elusive set of conditions by which God would be pleased, God presented Abram's lineage with an exact recipe for living and sacrificing, thus removing all doubt that God was not angry with them.

November 26, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 120 comments

Steve Spinella

January 09, 2008  2:41am

Sitting over here in Taiwan, I find myself amazed at the whole "culture" with which I am no longer in touch. Certainly there is a tension today in the (U.S.) increasingly postmodern world. How do true followers of the one Lord live and speak in this world? Did you know that most Taiwanese will never call themselves followers until they are willing to give up all other worship, which includes ceremonies at work, at graves, and so many other places? Perhaps it will someday become clearer to us how much of a mixture of seekers, flirters, and true followers every gathered group of us are. Then perhaps it will also become clear that preachers make a lot of errors, whether of belief, formulation, syntax, emotion, or practice. And how much more comfortable would it be for these two mega-churches (or emerging denominations, whatever they turn out to be) if they didn't share almost exactly the same names and websites :-)

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December 17, 2007  8:42pm

PromoProphet, if you want to see some videos of Rob bell doing some of his finest work at Willow Creek Church in Chicago try these links: Covered in the Dust of the Rabbi A Day of Atonement The Nazarite Vow Jesus and Domitian Between the Trees

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December 16, 2007  11:26pm

I haven't got a chance to see Bell on this tour yet but he's one of my "thought mentors". Thanks for this excellent article!

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December 14, 2007  5:37pm

Pastor Matt wrote: >Heresy is an opinion or doctrine... >at variance with those generally >accepted as authoritative. Yes but today's ADHD Christians seem to be inventing a whole new category of "heresy" over what Rob Bell "DIDN'T SAY" during any one of his public conversations. The phrase: "generally accepted as authoritative" is also an interesting one. When you say "authoritative" I'm sure you refer to the original authority on Earth, the Roman Catholic church, because of course all other western denominations have already committed heresy by breaking away from the one original church. I'm always amused when heretics accuse others of being heretics.

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Pastor Matt

December 14, 2007  4:10pm

Dear Thinking In Ohio: "[H]eresy is an opinion or doctrine in philosophy, politics, science, art, etc., at variance with those generally accepted as authoritative." If we take the opinions of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, etc. as opinions generally accepted as authoritative by evangelicals then I think the label fits. Now, as for the audience, I understand what you are saying. However, I've heard 30 minute sermons on God's holiness, our sin and the need for penal substitutionary atonement preached successfully to the uneducated. I respectfully don't think these are subjects only for seminary profs and really believe they are vital to any discussion of an individual's reconciliation with God.

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Thinking in Ohio

December 14, 2007  12:44pm

My wife and I attended Bell's tour when he was in Louisville, KY last month and I think Chad has given a very good review of the content of his message. There is no question that Bell is a incredible speaker and that he has the heart and pulse of the emerging culture. His giftedness is refreshing and could give us all hope in the struggle to communicate effectively today. His message was one of grace and forgiveness, of a God who longs to express his love for humankind; however, as Chad has pointed out, left to itself it greatly alters and changes traditional theological views of sin and atonement, but most importantly Christology itself. But calling Bell a heretic? I think we need to hear more from him before we take that bold of a step. I think the lack of clarity on these doctrines can be chalked up to time limitations... may on his next tour he'll explain his views on substitutionary atonement and place the evangelical world at ease! But, Oh wait, he isn't really speaking to seminary professors and students though is he? Maybe he'll just bring us a simple message of reconciliation and grace instead; and for that the world may thank him.

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Pastor Matt

December 14, 2007  12:13pm

Robert–the last time I checked, Driscoll was willing to engage in a real debate, point-by-point, while Bell (and many others within Emergent save Doug Pagitt) simply dismiss any criticism out of hand. If you are going to depart from orthodoxy and ignore or downplay large swaths of Scripture then you owe it to others to defend said position in detail not just waive the criticism off with a flippant remark. If God is not angry with us then I would ask Bell to respond to the texts of Scripture that seem to state the contrary. To quote Fred Craddock, who is certainly not a Reformed Evangelical, "these matters are too important to be left to your own opinion."

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December 14, 2007  11:06am

B"H To the Editors, thanks for your kind corrective word. It is a point well taken. "Regarding your comment above–please note the question mark in the title: "Heresy on Tour?" " Shlomo

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December 14, 2007  8:58am

FROM THE EDITORS Shlomo, Regarding your comment above–please note the question mark in the title: "Heresy on Tour?" The editors are not labeling Rob Bell a heretic; neither are we endorsing his theological positions. We are posing a question for the readers of Out of Ur to engage, and they have done that wonderfully. Thanks for the stimulating conversation. Url

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December 13, 2007  4:10pm

B"H I have been reading various posts here on Out of Ur for quite a while and for the most part I like them. Beyond the content that a particular post may cover I like the sharing and interaction that the comments section provides. Earlier on, Leoskeo made a remark that he felt the editors of Out of Ur were possibly guilty of merely creating controversy by stating that Mark Driscoll had called Rob Bell a heretic. I basically agree. To give this post a title such as: "Heresy on Tour" is inflammatory and unnecessary. One might get the impression that Out of Ur, and Leadership Journal by extension, are consenting to the idea that Rob Bell is indeed 'preaching outside the box' of Christian acceptablility. To label a leader as a heretic is a very serious charge and I think Chad Hall and the editors of Out of Ur should probably issue some type of apology or corrective statement to Rob Bell. Shlomo

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