Why the Academy Works and the Christianity Doesn't

this is a screenshot, not the video... video is embedded at the end

In a recent (heavy) discussion on telling someone about salvation without mentioning Jesus a commenter brings up Rob Bell. I look for the video in regards to post-modernism and I find this. Now, as I am watching this, I am reminded of 2 cautionary flags in regards to Rob Bell’s presentation of theology.

  1. In his NOOMA series, it occurred to me that Rob Bell has an uncomfortably liberal agenda
  2. I remember Dan Kimball, who is part of this rising church movement, mention that Rob Bell isn’t part of the same community (which leads me to assume that Rob Bell might not be in community with other Christian teachers)

That’s to say that I am indeed more “conservative” than Rob Bell.

Soon after, I click on the video above titled: “Rob Bell Exposed.” Sure, it’s not the first time I’ve heard opposition on Rob Bell. My second thought is, “the rhetoric (in the video title) sure is a bit harsh.” Perhaps some 3rd party took a cut from some guy’s talk and posted it with a controversially eye-catching title. No, it appears that the speaker posted and named his own video. After watching, the three conclusions (further discussed) I arrive at are:

  1. Rob Bell sure says things that sound good to me; for instance, self-doubt is something I currently struggle with (in my current endeavors, which may as well be walking on water)
  2. “Rob Bell Exposed” definitely owned Rob Bell’s theology (meaning, the video tears some substantial holes in Rob Bell’s theology)
  3. Although I agree and appreciate the video’s corrections on Rob Bell’s theology, I find the approach (of “exposing” Rob Bell) to be counter-productive in the overall pursuit of what it means to be Christian

Yes, I fell into the trap of accepting Rob Bell’s words which I am, now, convinced is “Humanism, disguised, parading as Christianity;” however, I’m not ready to accept that Rob Bell is purposely misguiding Christians. What I believe is that, in an attempt to preach a Gospel that is living and means something to our generation, Rob Bell trips the alarms bounded by convention. I believe Bell does have a good point to make in his “walking on water” message, and deserves the opportunity to further respond to the substantial objections. If, in his response, he leans ever further towards Humanism, I’d be more hesitant to accept Bell’s theology– either way, I become more informed.

Such is how, I found, things work in academia. “Experts” have opportunities to accept, further, or reject the ideas of their colleagues. This sort of dialog is refereed, organized, and easily accessible. So, if academics can show sportsmanship in their pursuit of knowledge, then shouldn’t Christians, who’s main calling is to love, show an equal amount of consideration.

This reminds me of the years I was an undergrad, and with Isaac, we’d work towards unifying our campus of Christians. Within the 23 ministries and groups, it was the leadership which discouraged us the most. We had a longing for unity, and what we found was division over issues that more love could’ve easily overcome.

Of course, there is a time to be harsh, but as a person immersed in the forefront of technology, I will say that posting a video to “expose” one, who may even be working towards the same goal, causes more division than advancement.

19 thoughts on “Why the Academy Works and the Christianity Doesn't

  1. Hey everyone, I know Sherol (at least we met a few times, not sure if she rememebers me, LOL)… I think when we met I was president of the UD Student Zen Club… About 5 years ago I had a radical encounter with Jesus (shortly after acting as Zen Club president).

    Anyway, don’t know why I said all that, but I mentioned this to Sherol on Facebook and she said to share it here that some of you guys might be interested. Ben Dunn is a young guy and is really into the same alternative Christian lifestyle that it seems like you’re about here… he’s a great friend! Pass it along if you know other UD students looking for something different.


  2. Oh and another thing of note, Ben is one of my favorite people pioneering electronic, techno, trance music in worship. Great stuff, find me on teh interwebs if you want to chat more.

  3. @Brian,

    I’m not sure what you mean by alternative…haha. The way I see it is that the leadership of R! are all quite different (except for our core Christian beliefs). We just really love each other and God and have burning desire for change.

    The link doesn’t say much about what the event is for, but i hear double tree has great cookies!!


  4. I agree. I do not believer, however, that all of Rob Bell’s teachings should be discredited. As with all christian literature, Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos should be scrutinized, and its content compared to that of scripture. His videos has valid points. They offer a new perspective for old messages and, in some cases, allow people to connect or relate to scripture through real-world examples presented by Rob Bell. But of course, as shown in the video you posted, his teachings seem more to focus on uplifting human abilities and worth. In the simplest sense, it makes people feel good about themselves and about following God.

    So this is where I disagree slightly with you. I agree that Rob’s teachings are counterproductive in the long run only if the people watching the videos are relatively new Christians. I can see where his messages would mislead new found Christians and ingrain a false sense of self-worth or empowerment that is contrary to what scripture teaches. For the matured, or seasoned, Christian who is out looking for material to critically evaluate and decipher, Rob’s videos can be that material. Just a few thoughts

  5. I had the same concerns when I watched that particular video. Anytime someone explains a Bible story and God isn’t the central character, you know you’ve got a problem. I agree that all teachers need to be questioned. Even if they are generally solid, they are fallible. I find that Rob Bell generally points to Jesus in thought provoking ways, so I’m not going to discount him yet. If I did, then to be consistent I would have to disregard Billy Graham and a host of other teachers across various branches of Christianity. Your point about how Christians could learn a thing or two from academia is a good one. People are supposed to know us by our love for each other, not by how we rip each other new ones.

  6. @Dan,

    I went through my post to make it clear that I was NOT calling out Rob Bell for being counter-productive. I was calling out the “exposing” of Rob Bell to be counter-productive. So, basically, we agree.


    I had absolutely no expectations for this joint talk on “Are All Religions the Same?” at stanford university tonight, but wow…. it was totally a divine opportunity that i was able to attend such a talk. The christian speaker was john stackhouse, author of 7 books and professor of theology at Regent College. i popped the question as to what happens to those who don’t get to hear christ, and well… I’ll blog the answer later. It was a great setup and great forum of discussion. i’m privileged to know the people who put it together.

  7. Sermons, preachers, colleges, seminaries, theologies, cross-examinations… this is tedious. What’s the point? Doesn’t the Bible speak for itself?

  8. @Sherol, I’ll take a look at what John Stackhouse has written.

    @Aaron, The point of the sorts of things you mentioned is fellowship where we spur each other on and build each other up as in Hebrews 10:23,24 Not all of them are for everybody, of course. What kind of fellowship do you prefer?

  9. @Aaron,

    People, who don’t feel like reading the Bible themselves, get their Bible from these guys, or the example set by these guys. I suppose one point I wanted to make was that their actions speak louder than the truth they are teaching/defending.

  10. I’m really not convinced that the speaker owned Bell’s theology. Note that the first thing he does to counter Bell’s claim that Peter was losing faith in himself was to essentially say “It’s not specifically in the text!”. But neither is the traditional interpretation of Peter losing faith in Jesus so why pick that one? He quotes a length from some commentators that agree with his point but why trust them over Bell?

    He also does a really bad Greek word study for “little faith”. He says that the strongs says “lacking confidence in Christ”. Here’s the strongs for the word he looked up (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/oligopistos.html). Note that there’s nothing about “confidence in Christ”. I’m guessing this was some additional commentary (not word definition) in whatever he was using. Quoting commentary as definition boarders on the deceitful to me.

    But Bell’s point was that Jesus wasn’t the one sinking. Why would Peter lose faith in Jesus when Jesus was standing right in front of Peter? The speaker doesn’t really address Bell’s main point at all.
    The speaker’s broader points also seem problematic to me. He brings up the point that the disciples waited for the Holy Spirit to empower them for the great commission. I completely agree that the commission is being enacted by the power of the Spirit but is it *only* the Spirit’s power? Are we just puppets acting out some divine play?
    I don’t think this guy believes that but neither does Bell believe that it was *only* about Peter in the storm. Yes God is powerfully at work in this world but so are we (though quite a bit less powerfully :). It’s not “humanism” to say that we have action in this world and should take responsibility for it.

    Anyhow, great post Sherol! I completely agree that the tone of “exposed” is counter-productive. I just also think the argument in the exposition was lacking.

  11. @Tim,

    I do admit that I do give the “expose” video a lot more credit than necessary, probably because I just got pressed for seeming too liberal. Still, Bell would need to explain further to avoid misinterpretation.

    You said, “But Bell’s point was that Jesus wasn’t the one sinking. Why would Peter lose faith in Jesus when Jesus was standing right in front of Peter? The speaker doesn’t really address Bell’s main point at all.”

    I guess it becomes a bit of a infinite loop as it is clear that Peter didn’t believe in himself to believe in Christ enough to believe in himself enough to believe in Christ….However, I don’t believe that he doubted Jesus could walk on water, rather, he doubted that he could walk on water along with Christ. Whether that is doubting Christ or doubting himself is a matter of where we pin the tail on the donkey.

    I like how you put this: “I don’t think this guy believes that but neither does Bell believe that it was *only* about Peter in the storm.”

    I suppose I caught myself un-thoughtfully accepting Bell’s words, because they sounded ok, while slipping towards an “all about me” theology.

    All I know is that this question: “Are we just puppets acting out some divine play?”… has been on my mind a lot lately.

  12. @sherol

    Ya the puppet question is a fun one. My feeling is that if we are just puppets then the Gospel is meaningless. Real relationship and love is only possible in the context of freedom. If I play The Sims I can’t really “love” the little sims I create since their actions are ultimately just deterministic. I can be surprised and amused by emergent behavior but its hard to really love a thing that won’t pee unless you click a button 🙂

    Without freedom God doesn’t love us.

    You mentioned you got “pressed for seeming too liberal”. What do you mean by “liberal”? In my experience most conservatives (I’ve been guilty of this too) equate liberal with “that which I disagree with”.

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