CNN recently ran a piece detailing and praising the southern leg of Rob Bell’s anti-Christian themed speaking tour. Titled “Outlaw Pastor Rob Bell Shakes Up the Bible Belt,” the CNN article attempts to contrast (and prove superior) the leftist-approved “Christianity” of Rob Bell with the Bible-based Christianity of, well, actual Christianity. In doing so, the article makes several incorrect assumptions about Christianity while helping Rob Bell frame his heretical beliefs as true Christianity. Before interacting with the article, a brief introduction to Rob Bell is in order.
Bell lodged himself in the evangelical consciousness in the early 2000s after founding Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., and becoming a quasi-leader in the Emerging Church movement. Attendance at Mars Hill Bible Church rose to around 10,000 as Bell’s popularity as a writer and speaker grew. In 2011, his book Love Wins hit the New York Times Bestseller List and the popular pastor found himself ranked as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
While many evangelical leaders had been warning Christians about the Emerging Church for years, Love Wins outed Rob Bell as firmly outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. The main reason is because the book espouses universalism. A heretical belief, universalism teaches that all humans (including people like Hitler and Pol Pot, I guess) will receive entrance into God’s Kingdom because God is love. In other words, Jesus was wrong for talking about hell and judgment so much.
After Love Wins was released, John Piper famously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Evangelicals rushed to publish reviews of the book, warning Christians about Bell’s theologically aberrant beliefs (I recommend this review from Tim Challies). The reviews were needed and helpful. Canon Wired produced a very funny parody of Bell’s book trailer.
Not long after the book was published, Rob Bell resigned his pastorate and moved to California.
In their article, CNN alludes to the controversy and then makes the claim that Bell was “cast out of the [evangelical] kingdom.” Except CNN is grossly and harmfully incorrect. Bell wasn’t “cast out.” Rob Bell chose to walk away from Christianity.
Christianity is a closed set. It’s a faith that sets its own terms and definitions, and those who are outside of those terms and definitions cannot legitimately claim to be a Christian. For example, in John 14:6 Jesus explicitly states that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one can believe that faithfully adhering to the Five Pillars of Islam is necessary to get to heaven and then claim to be a Christian. Likewise, no one can claim that all paths up the mountain lead to God and then claim to be a Christian. Attempting to do so ignores the clear teachings of the Bible about salvation.
Of course, Bell is able to ignore the clear teachings of the Bible because, as CNN highlights, Bell teaches his audiences that they “should read the Bible ‘literately’ not ‘literally.'” He’s half right. Granted, the half wrong part outweighs whatever truth Rob Bell stumbled upon.
The Bible is a piece of literature — a divinely inspired piece of literature that reveals who God is and how He redeems His people from their sins and back to Himself (spoiler alert: He does it through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus). As such, I agree that the Bible should be read literately. However, reading literately means that readers must allow the authorial intent to dictate their interpretations. Since the Bible takes itself literally, the reader must take the Bible literally, too. Or, rather, must accept that the Bible takes itself literally and, hence, the reader can’t make the Bible say whatever he or she wants it to say. When the Bible says that faith in Jesus is the only way to God, the Bible means it. When the Bible says that those who reject Jesus spend eternity in hell, the Bible means it. To claim otherwise is to lie about the book and lie about God.
Lying about the Bible is an odd thing for a Christian pastor to do. If anyone is a member of a local church with a pastor who lies about the Bible, I implore them to either find a new church family or have the pastor fired and replaced with a man who faithfully preaches and teaches the Bible. CNN repeatedly refers to Rob Bell as a pastor. I would encourage anyone who is a member of Bell’s church to either leave or fire him — except that Bell doesn’t pastor a church. This means that Rob Bell is not a pastor.
By lying about Rob Bell being a pastor, CNN legitimizes Bell’s spiritual authority. This is dangerous because Bell is leading people to hell by lying about who God is and what the Bible teaches. Rob Bell isn’t shaking up the Bible Belt; he’s spreading the lies of the devil. And CNN is his accomplice.