I don’t think Rob Bell is relevant anymore

Rob Bell has a new book coming out, and there’s a trailer that has emerged in advance of its release (see above). I’m personally of the opinion that Rob Bell is no longer relevant to the larger evangelical theological conversation. Yes, his book will probably sell a lot of copies. No, evangelicals by and large won’t mistake him for one of their own like they used to. Both Carl Trueman and Owen Strachan have offered appropriately trenchant commentary on the trailer. You should read both, but here’s a slice from each.

Carl Trueman:

This kind of bullsgeschichtlich Abfall, to use the technical German theological phrase, is its own refutation and should be called out for what it is: laughable, self-important gibberish. To build on a phrase from Niebuhr, for these chaps “A God of their own invention brought people just like them into a kingdom without clear definition through the ministrations of a Christ who looks like an over-indulged American thirty-something.” So, yes, people will take it seriously and the book will no doubt sell in vast quantities. As the old song has it: Find out what they like and how they like it and let them have it just that way.

Owen Strachan:

We’ll see what this book ends up doing. It looks like it will be another epistle for the “spiritual, but not religious” crowd, and at least the book trailer is–well, confusing. I’m guessing the book will be about getting in touch with God without all the trappings of organized evangelicalism, all the unpopular stuff.


  • Bart Gingerich

    I’m always interested by the assumption that the Bible and liturgical habits essentially contradict authentic spirituality. That’s the case that Bell makes, as did the Transcendentalists and other “spiritual but not religious” before and after them. “I go commune with the woods and the beauty of nature on Sunday. That’s where I find inspiration,” they often say, assuming that somehow Christians don’t experience the same thing as well as the ministrations of Christ’s grace through the Church.

  • Dean Chang

    I think what’s no longer relevant anymore is the neo-Reformed critique of Rob Bell, we get it, you guys think he is a heretic. That’s definitely old news, so why bother even posting this? Something tells me it still juices your blog hits a bit right? 😉 The thing is, people gravitate toward these kinds of divisive posts, I’m here after all! You can see it in all areas of the culture wars, but I think it’s getting to the point where the returns are getting increasingly marginal. We get it, no one is as “theologically pure” as the new Calvinists, but so what?

    Here’s the thing, as my own theology has developed, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the hyper-Calvinism of John Piper is WAY more heterodox than anything Rob Bell has every said or written. But these theological disputes predate John Piper, they predate Calvin, they predate any theological system, they go back all the way to the apostles! So I really mean it when I say your criticism of Rob Bell is nothing new, Christians have been fighting about these same issues since the very beginning. I’m not sure when, but there will come a day when American Evangelicals start waking up to shortcomings of the YRR, all you need to do is read a little church history to understand that. The question is, how are you going to stay relevant when that time comes?

    • James Rednour

      Spot on Dean. The Neo-Reformed crowd acts like Reformed Theology is what the early church practiced. It wasn’t until the third century that Christians even had a creed to unify them and it was only because the church in Rome was the most powerful mover that orthodoxy is as we know it today. Of course, it took another twelve centuries to finally get it completely right (sarcasm). The arrogance of the YRR crowd is something to behold.

      • Andy Moffat

        “1 Corinthians 1:15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

        3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

        I dunno, seems pretty creedal to me, and this came a little earlier than the 3rd century if I remember my NT survey course.

        • James Rednour

          Nothing about the Trinity. Also, “if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” is not perfectly clear at all, which is why there have been schisms galore in Christianity’s history. The idea that Reformed Protestants have it all figured out is pure speculation.

          • Andy Moffat

            I don’t think it’s unclear. The use of the word Gospel in the Scripture overwhelmingly refers to the fact, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” I am not going to comment on whether or not the YRR has it all figured out. But I do think that from very early on there was a unifying understanding of certain things that drew people together, that they identified with. That is what my initial comment was aiming at. My comment was limited in its scope as to whether or not there was something there to unify early believers.

            As far as arrogance goes, the YRR may have it’s share, but every movement does – yours and mine included, just as every movement has its participants who are humble and genuine – yours, mine and the YRR too.

  • Elizabeth Anscombe

    Strachan, my man, you’re a brilliant blogger, but why did you have to say that Rob Bell is “obviously a creative and deep thinker” when he’s quite obviously not? There’s no use trying to find something nice to say when nothing nice can be said truthfully.

  • Elizabeth Anscombe

    Here here! I mean, oh no! Are you sure we aren’t being terribly un-Christlike? I’m starting to feel convicted that maybe we aren’t extending grace and respect to Rob Bell, since after all the Bible NEVER had anything to say about mocking the fool for his folly or rejecting false teachers. <—sarc.

    • Scott terrell

      Oh, the Bible says plenty about mocking the fool. But the fool always has to speak first, or in this case, the book has to be released.

      I’m fairly certain that Owen, Carl, and Denny would be deeply upset if someone gave a a post a 1-star rating or gave a book a bad review on Amazon without ever extending the courtesy of first reading it.

      • Elizabeth Anscombe

        If I were Owen, Carl, or Denny, I think I’d have better things to do with my time than get myself deeply upset over a 1-star review on Amazon.

  • Jim

    “..I kept having all these ideas….” Reminds me of the quip from PG Wodehouse: “Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them.” Just saying….

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