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Rob Bell, 40, is one of Fuller Theological Seminary‘s top alums and a big name in the Emergent Church.


He founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city better known as a centre of Reformed (Calvinist) theology in the United States.  His father, Robert Holmes Bell, is a US Federal Judge, first appointed in Ronald Reagan’s second administration in 1987.

Like his father, Rob earned his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton College in Illinois.  Whilst there, he was part of an indie rock band and also met his future wife, Kristen.  He got his start in the ministry after volunteering to teach a Christian message to the counsellors at the college’s Honey Rock Camp when no minister was available.  At that time, he said, the Holy Spirit gave him a message about ‘rest’.  From that point on, he decided to pursue a calling in the church.

That compelled him to earn an M.Div. from Fuller and serve as a youth intern at Lake Avenue Church.  After he earned his degree, Bell and his wife returned to Grand Rapids, where he took the Saturday evening service at Calvary Chapel.  At the age of 29, he decided to break out on his own by founding the Mars Hill Bible Church.  Within a year, the congregation moved to what was a disused anchor store in a local mall.

In addition to his highly successful church ministry, he also makes short films.  The series is called NOOMA, the phonetic American pronunciation of pneuma, signifying the Holy Spirit.  (Here in the UK, we would say ‘NEWMA‘.)  He also tours the country to sell-out crowds.  His books include Velvet Elvis, Sex God and Drops Like Stars.

Start with Barth

According to someone who knows and told Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries, Bell was more of a John MacArthur style preacher when he served at Calvary Chapel.  Then, he and his wife read one of Brian McLaren’s books, A New Kind of Christian.  From that point, he rejected sola Scriptura. He believes that the Bible needs reinterpretation.  He also said that the more one studies the Bible, the more questions it raises.

How do the ministers from the Emergent Church come to think that way?  Silva puts it down to the influence of Modernism, then Karl Barth.  Whilst Barth advocated a neo-orthodoxy, which in some way redressed Modernism, he did reject sola Scriptura and biblical inerrancy.  For him, Scripture contained words of God, not the Word of God.  Bell, too, rejects the truth of Scripture and loves the confusion his questions bring him.  Yet, for many of us, myself included, it was actually believing what the Bible said which brought a sense of relief and deepened our belief.

Divine dirt clods

Bell borrowed a phrase from Marianne Williamson and attributed it to Nelson Mandela.  One can imagine that his congregation lapped it up.  Ken Silva tells us:

If you’re still tracking with (in English that’s following) me I return your attention now to the supposed ”Mandela” quote where Guru Bell tells us “you may be a dirt clod, but there is greatness and power and glory that resides in every single human being.” Why is that; because ”this divine breath is in every single human being ever.” And what has Bell taught us all along; that “breath” is spirit—it’s the heart of his whole shtick right down to “Nooma” …

… as previously pointed out in Rob Bell and New Age Guru Marianne Williamson those words were actually penned by New Age Priestess Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.

What about homosexuals?

Scripturally speaking, there is only one way to truthfully respond when asked if a homosexual can continue his liaisons and become a Christian.  Yet, Bell obfuscates:

The Bible is very clear that the practice of homosexuality is a sin (see—Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and for someone to become a Christian they must repent of [i.e. forsake, turn away from] their sin (see—Mark 1:14-15; Acts 20:21). But unfortunately an honest question to Rob Bell and MHBC on such a crucial issue of our time was met with a mere form letter from a “michelle” …

Then the recipient of this form letter from michelle of “Mars Hill Communications” is told:

We care deeply how Scripture is interpreted and how to discern living the way of Jesus, and in encountering differing viewpoints it is our aim to agree or disagree in love, keeping central a shared desire to know God and serve Jesus Christ. Regarding your comments or questions, we’d like to direct you to our mission, Narrative Theology,

Directions [shared values], and serving focus, available at You might also find our recent audio teachings and archived series as well as Rob Bell’s recommended reading list to be beneficial.

After all, I’m constantly told how Jesus-centered and Biblical Bell’s teaching is; well Rob Bell, where do you stand; because Jesus answers the question—No.

Judge not

About online criticism, Bell had this to say:

When a Christian can find nothing better to do with their time [than criticize]…you start realizing that some Christians need to be saved. How a person would have energy to take shots at other Christians is just mind-boggling. You have to be so disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging is somehow a redemptive use of your time.

That sort of response doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.  I’m delighted that Ken Silva blogged (!) the following:

This would make me one whom Bell called “disconnected” from life because in his fickle fantasy I would only be thinking about how “blogging is somehow a redemptive use” of my time. But instead it looks like Bell’s entered the doghouse yet again feeling he’s just “a little more relevant” because he and his “tribe cares more about the poor” etc., etc. while buying into the myth that those who hold the doctrines of grace like me don’t have any such concerns.

And this is what an Anglican priest pretty much published in a parish newsletter a few weeks ago.  Paraphrased: ‘God doesn’t care about your religiosity or your doctrinal belief; He cares about what you do.’  Deeds, not creeds!  Oh, we have so much in this world to DO!  And you can’t redeem yourself in His sight unless your DOING things in His name. (That is, things which the church approves.  Blogging isn’t one of them, because your pastor cannot see what you are doing.) Wrong … it’s about living a life of faith through grace.  Our pitiful works alone cannot save us.

Hell defined

Bell is into utopia, always a bad sign.  Ken Silva explains:

Bell makes it clear that he is more concerned with “hell on earth” than with what happens after this life: “What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now” …

Bell’s teaching that heaven and hell come to earth depending on how we live now simply is not biblical. He says, “As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies.” [7] But the term for hell, Gehenna, is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them by Jesus. Not once did He use the term to describe something that is now on earth or now coming to earth.

But, then, Bell’s not interested in biblical truths, just a social activist interpretation.

How evangelical is Bell?

Ken Silva observes:

Bell is a hero to the mystical interspiritual set who in their deluded spiritual pride think their neo-Gnostic meditation powwows of Contemplative/Centering Prayer will eventually unite all religions. But this now begs the question: If the so-called crossing of ”traditional boundaries of religious groups to build stronger communities” really was the message of Jesus Christ and His Apostles then why were all of them, save John, murdered? They should have been as revered as Bell is. But you should now be able to understand why we’re experiencing such a diluting of doctrine; you see, if they were to teach in straight Biblical purity it wouldn’t make them very good role models at all for these fickle “faith heroes.”

‘Nothing new under the sun’

Another pastor, the Revd Casey Freswick of Bethany United Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan, writes of Bell’s errors:

Ultimately, Rob Bell does not repaint the Christian faith. He paints a picture that is not a picture of the Christian faith or the truth of Christianity. But his new picture of error is not really new at all. It is old error. It is old false teaching. It is the same old errors of the past repainted. Rob Bell forsakes truth. He rejects it. He deceives. He is a false teacher. He repaints the errors of the past…

Rob Bell has embraced these and other errors and merged them into postmodernism, an anti-Christian philosophy teaching the impossibility of absolute truth. Both postmodern 21st century philosophy and 20th century “modern liberalism” have influenced Rob Bell. A more appropriate title for Rob Bell’s painting, his “Velvet Elvis”, is “Postmodern Liberalism” …

One key aspect of liberalism embraced by Rob Bell is the false view of the life of Jesus replacing faith in Jesus. For Bell “Christian” describes those devoted “to living the way of the Messiah, who they believed was Jesus. A person who follows Jesus … A way of life centered around a person who lives.” He writes, “I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better.” What we do is essential, not what we believe.

It is hard to fathom someone professing a love for Christ yet rolling around in all that error.  I, too, embraced a lot of this before it was loosely codified as the emergent church.  You could get it fairly readily by finding out what the clergy read in their spare time, then taking the books out of the local library.  At some point, you get to the point where you ask yourself, ‘If I believe the Beatitudes and charity are the way forward, why am I not predisposed towards believing the rest of Scripture?‘  And, at that moment, the real journey begins with Bible reading, solemn reflection and prayer.  I am today miles away from where I was then, which was not too far from where Rob Bell is now.

I have spent the past few hours reading through what Rob Bell says.  Nowhere was there any mention of the Cross, Christ’s propitiation for our sins, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost or St Paul’s exhortations to the churches.  Maybe he’s wrestling with himself wondering whether or how they actually happened.  If so, that’s very sad, indeed.

Tomorrow: Another Fuller alum and his theology

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