Criticism for Rob Bell

Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill Church up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been getting sort of roasted out in the blogosphere this week – particularly for his Nooma video series.

If you know who Rob Bell is and/or have read his books (Velvet Elvis or Sex God) or watched his videos (the Nooma series), read on.  Otherwise, this probably isn’t that helpful….

Here is a sample of the roasting I’m talking about:

  • Reformation Underway has posted a parody video on Bell’s “Bullhorn” video.
    • It’s a little humorous (replaces “bullhorn guy” with “bullwhip guy” which is funny when you think about it).
    • It’s also a little long – about 6 minutes, I think.
    • And it’s a little weird the lengths they’ve gone to to create such a parody – it makes me wonder what these people do with the rest of their lives.
  • Greg Gilbert from 9 Marks as posted a three part rebuke of Rob Bell as well.
    • It’s possible this guy also has a bit much time on his hands, but all the same, I think he has formed his arguments well. 

What I have found the most helpful, is D.A. Carson’s (whom I respect) comments on Bell.  You can listen to an audio clip from Carson on Bell here.  Carson basically boils the whole thing down to this (my summary of Carson): If you’re a non-Christianand you watch the Nooma videos, he’s concerned that you might not really hear the gospel.  Bell’s language is slippery – a little vague.  However, if you’re a Christian – and you have some sort of theological base – the videos are not that bad, in fact they’re put together really well.  The problem is that the videos are in large part targeted towards anyone who will watch them – no audience is specified (did we expect them to specify?).

So people freak out when Bell doesn’t talk about substitutionary atonement in his Nooma videos.  But they’re not meant to be a theological creed or a summary of his theology when you put them all together. 

What I think I hear in this criticism, is that in general, Bell is not hammering home the deep, historic, theological doctrines – not in his videos, not in his books, and not in his preaching/teaching.  And I think the Nooma videos are getting targeted because, well, they’re good videos (by that I mean they’re an easy target).

I’ve felt compelled to respond to all of the criticism because we’ve been using the Nooma videos in our Small Group (home group – if that’s your jargon) and have really enjoyed them.  In all of the discussion and criticism of the videos I hear, I never hear any mention made of the study guides that come with the videos (perhaps many of the criticizers are just watching the short versions on YouTube).  For our group, the best thing about the videos has been the discussion that we have after them.  Bell poses deep and hard questions that really cut through the crap and get to the point.  Again, the questions aren’t about substitutionary atonement or ecclesiology, but we’ve had amazing discussions about grace.  And God’s unconditional love.  And accountability.  And fears.  And personal struggles.  And doubts.  And death.

 Is all of that unfruitful?  I’d say no.  In fact, it’s probably more healthy – in some ways – than a discussion on substitutionary atonement.  I’m not saying we should teach and learn about deep theological truths – we clearly should.  But lets not discount the Nooma series all together when it does hold some merit.

If you want to attack Bell’s preaching – that’s a different task, but what I see is some low blows being taken at a video series that quite honestly, is probably the best out there for home group studies made up of average Christians (don’t forget – not everyone has a theological degree) in their 20s and 30s struggling with real issues.

At the same time, as leaders showing these things there is also an obligation of discernment that must be in place (as their would be leading any sort of study or video series that some one else put together).


~ by toddbumgarner on February 15, 2008 12:17 pm.

2 Responses to “Criticism for Rob Bell”

  1. […] My small group has been working through Rob Bell’s Nooma series lately and although I realize that Bell has taken on a lot of recent criticism, this week’s video on death drew out amazing […]

  2. […] MI) has been the target of much criticism in the blogosphere. I’ve written some about it here – linking in some audio comments by D.A. […]

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