Rob Bell and Greg Boyd

I am hesitant to post this just because I do not want it to come off as someone who has an agenda against Rob bell. I do not. I subscribe to his podcasts, and am often challenged and convicted by his deep simplicity when it comes to the scriptures and their application. I love his NOOMA video’s and have used them a few times for teaching purposes. But just like most of the people that teach me and inspire me (outside of Tim Keller) I think it is always important to be open and honest about some of the flaws of these same people. Because when it is all said and done we follow Christ and no one else (except maybe Tim Keller).

I say all of this to point out that Rob Bell is a much smarter and cunning guy than people give him credit for when it comes to theology and doctrine. He is no dummy. Sometimes one of the most appealing aspects of Rob Bell is the way he can come off as so centered on Jesus and displays a kind of “aww schucks” approach about theological finer points. I have even heard him utter such lines that are quite trendy such as “I just want to follow Jesus” or “I think we just need to be followers of the way” both of which I can agree with, but are complex theological statements that at surface level appear not to be. But as I have been listening for the last year, and listening closely I have found that that Rob does have strong opinions on controversial issues, they are often just expressed in more subtle ways.

Take for example the issue of homosexuality, Rob Bell has pulled a “McLaren/Campolo” on this issue basically saying that no one can comment or speak on the subject unless they personally know homosexuals, and then also cautions that we should be careful about saying homosexuality is a sin because Jesus never said anything about it. I am summarizing here, but I believe my summary is accurate. If you want to read it yourself here is the link to Ben Witherington’s blog who writes about it, Ben is one of the most renowned New Testament Scholars in the world. Dr. Witherington concludes, and rightfully so, that this is a frightful conclusion and very un-biblical (Rom. 1:26-28). As someone who has a gay family member, I understand the temptation to rationalize away their sin and avoid the conflict that might ensue by faithfully proclaiming the word’s of the Bible. Yet I have to believe that Jesus, and the gospel are powerful enough to not just make moral people churchgoers but to even radically alter a person’s sexuality as they come to love Jesus.

The second concern I have is that as the Atonement has become the hottest most debated and contested theological issue out there today, Rob Bell seems to be lining up pretty close with Christus Victor and Christus Exemplar as the pillars of the Atonement at the determent of the centrality of Penal Substitution theory. Now I do not want to go into all the different aspects of the atonement right now, I realize that Jesus accomplished many things on the Cross, but central to all that he achieved is that he took our place (substitute) for the punishment that we deserved (penal) so that we would get God. Driscoll has all sorts of great stuff on this and preached a 12 part series on it a year ago, it is worth your time to listen to all of it. Rob Bell on the other hand has lined up more with Greg Boyd and a view that trumps the example of Jesus above the penal component. If you are looking for further reading on this topic the book “The Nature of The Atonement” a counterpoint book, is worth your read. In it Greg Boyd writes a chapter and is down right hostile at times to the view of Penal substitution.

I bring up Greg Boyd and his views to highlight that on 4/28/2007 Rob Bell had Mr. Boyd speak at his church on the topic selected by Rob Bell himself “Christos Victor.” Bell gave Boyd a glowing endorsement as he introduces him and mentions that he loves Greg’s teachings and preaching (I just want to comment here that Greg Boyd is one of the most well known spokesmen and scholars for Open-Theism). I was pretty shocked when I downloaded that podcast because Boyd is a pretty controversial figure among Evangelicals and is considered by some to be even un-biblical. I do not want to get into here if Open theism is good or bad. We can save that discussion for some other time. My point here is that Rob Bell knows what sensitive topics Open Theism and the Atonement are, so to bring in Greg Boyd and let him address it was a way to put the ideas out there and condone them to his church but not have to do it himself. As much as I love Bell and his authenticity I have to be upfront that his affinity for Christus Exemplar seems to overshadow that the reason we are to live and breathe and die as Jesus did is because our good works are the vindication and authentication that we have become new creations in Christ by his blood, that has atoned for our sin. We are saved by grace for good works (Jas. 2:14-26). This grace is not cheap, Paul tells us in Romans that the wrath of God is upon us, and that it is Jesus who propitiates that wrath onto himself on our behalf, something we could never do. This is something we do not deserve and is true biblical grace that makes us stand in awe of the cross, and that is has taken away our sin, so that we might love the marginalized and oppressed just like Jesus did (Matt. 24-25).

With all that said, I want to be clear. I like Rob Bell. I think he is a great teacher and communicator. Yet I am cautious because in many ways the Mainline liberal denominations that are now ordaining gay pastors, and changing the trinity to mother, womb, and spirit, started off by pushing doctrine aside in favor of the social concerns of the gospel and over emphasizing Christus Exemplar and the incarnation while forgetting about Jesus’ current state of exaltation (Rev. 15). I am not saying that Rob Bell is leading his church into theological liberalism, but as one becomes more skirmish on the penal aspect of the atonement and pushes away from biblical teachings on homosexuality and begins to put all emphasis on Jesus’ concern for social justice, I push back by saying lets not be embarrassed by tough teaching of the Bible and pivotal parts of the atonement. I look forward to reading and disscussing more Matt’s and Vicky’s thoughts on “Velvet Elvis” I hope the Lord will use Rob Bell to teach and instruct them the way he has used Rob Bell to edify and grow me.

ps. Jake is my hero (or maybe Tim Keller is)


11 Responses

  1. Thank you for putting together a thoughtful and well reasoned post. I’ve only begun to research Rob Bell and your experience and insight is helping me figure out where the Biblical boundaries are in his teaching.

  2. Great post. I was listening to Rob too, but giving him up for Keller because he is too long winded – not counting these subtle foundational issues

  3. Hey Ryan,

    Did you stand at the plate as the ball flied into the stands, admiring the beauty? Or did you humbly stick your head down and trot around the bases?

    Nice post.

  4. Ryan. Beer. Call me.

  5. Ryan,

    Wow, you are really smart. I only understood about seven words in there, and one of them was my name.

    I actually erased the Boyd podcast before listening to it, because they have had some bad fill in sermons before and I just didn’t feel like risking it. Glad I did I guess.

    I’m not hip to the whole deep theological scene. I have to be honest when I say that I have no idea what Christus Exemplar is (I could make a guess, but I’ve just admitted I’m an idiot. No reason to prove myself right, eh?) One thing I love about Bell that no one else seems to be saying is that if we truly are life changed, there better be some difference. He is very vocal about the duty of a christian to be an agent of change, not just in the local community, but (as a part of a lager whole) the world. There is something about a movement such as this that deeply resonates with me.

    Anywho, I just try to follow the way….HAH!!!! I enjoy you and Matt’s take on a lot of stuff. Thanks for putting up with my stupid questions and comments.

  6. Thanks Jake. And seriously your me hero. any guy that is a walking church service (can sing preach, and do tech) then you know that Jesus really does love them.

  7. Your comments are fair and well thought out. I worked in churches for several years on staff and now have attended Rob’s church since early 2001 (ie. before the famous years). I think one reason why you (and I) are so sensitive to these things is because we just know too much of the history of liberal churches. It’s like with the environment. I believe there are so many environmentalists who treat the environment as their religion and are so over board that I react in the opposite direction.

    I think churches can do the same thing. Rob is certainly right that God is redeeming the whole of creation of which our personal souls are a HUGE part, but it doesn’t end there. When we see so much emphases on social justice, it reminds us of all the other “wacko” people who scream the same things but are really no more than angry misplaced souls. We don’t want to be seen as connected to that, so we shy away from social justice or treat it as a program.

    When Rob preached his “Calling all Peacemakers” series, we had some radicals show up expecting the church to go down this anti-war-at-all-costs road. When that didn’t happen they left. Others were angry that Rob didn’t point out that the violence was being perpetrated by others and America was/is defending freedom by standing against fascism et. al. with its military. In all, he ticked off everyone who had an opinion…which is probably just fine.

    As far as the “social justice” bent in Rob’s preaching lately: One thing I learned in church is that change is slow; like a large ship, it takes a long time to turn. That in mind, it takes talking about a particular topic for a long time necessary. If you just spring it on people, they resist. The staff had spent over a year developing their own understanding of what the church should be doing, but that didn’t mean the majority of the people are right there with you. They also need to have these conversations, and so the sermons began about 9 months before the “X Y Z” announcement came. 9 months of this can really great on you some and you wonder what happened to …. (fill in the blank.)
    I’m really looking forward to next September and I am eager to see what will be on his mind.

    As far as the Homosexuality response is concerned. It’s pathetic to say you can’t speak on the topic if you are not friends with someone who is gay. Apply that line of reasoning to other things and you see how absurd it is. Our “conversations” would be very short. It does help to see the human side of this, the personal side, but one not need to personally know a homosexual to know what the Bible says about it anymore than one needs to personally know a heterosexual someone who sleeps around to know that it’s not right.

    Speaking of homosexuality… I get a little upset when kids I know are told to “give it a try to see if that might fit them.” Just from a purely health stand point and only using verifiable facts…someone who is homosexual with only one partner his whole life is reducing his life expectancy by 20 years. That’s more years then a chain smoker. I have not heard any high schools asking kids to try smoking to see if it fits them. I do not know of any health teacher advocating children drink alcohol because they might have the gene that makes them prone to alcoholism. I have the gene that makes me prone to be a heterosexual, that doesn’t mean I roam the streets like a dog looking for a woman in heat…not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind at times, but I don’t.
    Just because someone has the homosexual gene, doesn’t mean they ought to submit to it any more than any other sin. I’m not sure why that sin is afforded such great respect and admiration while the kleptomaniac is still put down so badly. I think the klepto might feel bad about being impugned for his tendencies not to mention being called a “maniac.”

    Opps… a little long.

  8. MJH thanks for the comment. I appreciate the inside perspective on what is going down at Mars Hill Bible. I have heard some about this “XYZ” plan and love the fact that Rob is trying to live out just what a guy like Tim Keller says, “What would we have to do to be such a blessing to the city, that if we left they would miss us?”

    And I do not fault Bell for putting some much weight on the social justice front. We are probably in a time period in which the pendulum is rightfully swinging back to where Evangelicals break out of their bubble and become Jesus to the world they live in. But as pendulums swing they often overcompensate for that which they originally set out to correct. That is the only reason I push back and caution us as Evangelicals to go out and be a blessing, but do so under the shadow of the Cross.

    • A klepto is stealing something that does not belong to him without that person’s consent. A homosexual is having consensual sex with a person of the same sex.

      I am a homosexual. I do not have sex outside of monogamous relationships. But people assume I hang out in gay bars, engage in orgies and visit bathhouses solely because I am gay. People, especially Christians, assume the worst when I tell them I am a homosexual. Christians say Christ’s work on the Cross will not save homosexuals, yet they rejoice when Jeffrey Dahmer becomes a Christian.

  9. Thank you for your comments. I think you are very wise to push back and explore the veracity of the dialogue coming from the emerging church movment. I too monitor Bell, McLaren and others on a regular basis and I think balance is always appropriate.

    Bell has many good things to offer to the dialogue of the Church. However, you are absolutely correct to assume that we should not take “hook, line, and sinker” every word.

    We all need to take ownership of our faith, ask questions, pray, and continue to seek Truth. Bell, McLaren, Compolo et al do not have that market cornered, nor does the Evangelical Right.

    As always, we need to take the good with the bad and we are likely to land somewhere in the middle.

    Here’s to exploring the path together! Cheers!

  10. Updated link

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