Rob Bell: Jesus Wants To Save Christians

rob-bellRob Bell is the poster child for the Emergent Church, at least from our point of view here in Australia. Christian bookstores have shelves packed with Nooma DVDs and copies of his books Velvet Elvis and Sex God. His current book is called Jesus Wants To Save Christians. It’s a controversial title and what’s in the book follows suit.

From the back cover:

It’s a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity; it’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest; it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate, and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.

Bell works through a Biblical Theology framework to explore the issue of injustice. The cynic in me finds it telling that Bell finds that the Bible is all about social justice. It’s a chicken and the egg type problem: Is the (apparent) main theme of Bell’s theology social justice because that’s what he finds in the Bible, or is Bell’s perception of the Bible orientated towards social justice because that’s what his theology is? In Bell’s presentation of the Biblical story, building empires is wrong. For example, the story of Exodus is about anti-kingdoms – Egypt is an example of how empires are inherently bad and that the people of God should never build one. This is a focus on the Egypt story that I have not heard before. And I find it difficult to reconcile with God’s establishment of Israel with their king and armies and conquests.

I would argue that Bell starts from a position that his left wing, socially conscious, brand of Christianity is right and true and then feeds this attitude back into the text through his Biblical theology to come to a conclusion that right wing, conservative Christianity is bad. The tone of the book rebukes and attacks those who don’t fit into Bell’s perceived right way of doing things. It’s telling that there is no felt rebuked for Bell’s point of view.

Jesus Wants To Save Christians has a curious emphasis on the here and now. The Book of Revelation is virtually ignored, saved for a mention to God wiping away tears. This is an extremely curious omission for a book steeped in Biblical Theology. It forces me to wonder if Bell believes in the coming of the New Creation. We are called “to join the God of the oppressed in doing something about our broken world.” (page 173) We are told that “Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one.” (page 179) This message of the here and now ignores the Bible’s call to be living for the kingdom that is yet to come. That Jesus will return in judgement to deal with sin and usher in the New Creation. This prominent teaching of the Bible is either ignored or neglected in Bell’s work. This is a significant problem.

Rob Bell is coming from a different place from me, theologically. I have not spent any time under the man’s preaching. I am hesitant to say with certainty that Bell is preaching heresy. That’s because I struggle to understand what he is actually preaching. When I read his book Velvet Elvis, I did so with a pen and a pile of post-it notes. When ever he said something that I found questionable or uncertain, I wrote it on a post-it. My copy of the book is now twice as thick as when I started. I could not say with any certainty what he was saying because it felt all over the place. Watching his Nooma DVDs I find myself drawn in by the production values, but then find myself questioning if Bell has denied things like hell and the uniqueness of Jesus for reconciliation with God. Christ and Pop Culture recently posted an article on Rob Bell’s The God’s Aren’t Angry. The article gives very good reasons to be cautious of Bell’s teaching.

I would urge people to approach Bell’s work with extreme caution. Don’t be sucked in by his slick, well produced style and forget to pay attention to the teaching. I can’t recommend his work. I would only show one of his DVDs if it was with the purpose of deconstructing and critiquing. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it is good.

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About Joel A Moroney

Associate Minister at St Luke's Anglican Church, Liverpool (in the Sydney Diocese). A very strange man, but he usually has Pez, so that makes it okay.

10 responses to “Rob Bell: Jesus Wants To Save Christians”

  1. Craig says :

    Hey Joel

    It sounds as though Rob has chosen a liberation theological framework for this one. I just finished doing an essay on this theological framework. If that’s the case he isn’t just making things up, but rather following the teaching of Gutierrez, Segundo and in more recent times; Duff, and the pop-theologian Shane Claiborne., to name some of many.

    It’s got some good things to say, but on the whole seems to miss……well…..the whole problem of individual sin and Jesus as redeemer and king of the kingdom now and the new creation to come (as you noted).
    Keen to chat more if you want. I shall get my hands on Rob’s book

    • Joel A Moroney says :

      Hi Craig
      Bell is following a theology called New Exodus perspective. Tom Holland is the guy who seems to have influenced Bell’s POV on this. I asked Phillip Kern about Holland last year when we were doing Romans. Kern had heard of him, but didn’t really have much of a grasp on his position.
      If you want to borrow my copy, let me know and I’ll put it in your pigeon hole.

  2. Steve says :

    The cover is very cool

    not sure id recommend any other bits of it

    • Joel A Moroney says :

      Steve: There weren’t even any Bell type illustrations to grab hold of. Just stats. If I’m going to read a Bell book, there should be at least some decent illustrations

  3. Cees Florusse says :

    Many times people reject anything that doesn’t fit into their (theological)framework. That’s a pity!!
    In my opnion Rob Bell shows us that building empires that tell the world that they bring peace, justice, righteousness e.d. is of no use. That’s what God brings through Jesus Christ.
    Condemning is the easy way out of your own responsability.
    Maybe it is better to view in a broader sense.
    Leaving out YOUR opnion of revelation doesn’t mean someone else is on the wrong way. By saying that, you should consider yourself on that way. But that’snot for me to judge!!
    Bell wrote , as far as I’m concerned, a very good and biblical book on the issue of the way nations can step on sideways, imagening they’re doing the right thing.
    You americans think you are called to be the saviours of the world while coörperating in making this world a place filled with violence and oppression. Of course it’s a “liberal” and “left winged” thing to say….. but some retrospection, like Bell does in this book, is not to bad.

    Jesus came to save the world….and not the U.S. of A

    • Joel A Moroney says :

      Would the knowledge that I am not from the USA and have never set foot on United States soil (or any other country in the Americas) change your response?

  4. Magda Kopp says :

    Rob Bell is dangerous – nothing about the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken world. Jesus came to this earth for lost souls. What about the Great Commission? Jeus very own words to His disciples – Go and make disciples of all nations baptise them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and (very important) teach them to obey everything that I taught you. Nothing about living in sin and that Jesus can set you free. It is nothing but manmade religion. May God have mercy on these blind leaders.

    Love in Christ
    Magda Kopp

  5. mike says :

    Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that comes from demons.

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