James J. Angleton, the late counterintelligence chief of the CIA, once declared,
Deception is a state of mind and the mind of the State.
Christians require no less discernment in their quest for truth as do intelligence agencies. Christian publishing has already been infiltrated by the enemy.
Six years ago, popular pastor Rob Bell released the controversial book Love Wins (2011), a New York Times bestseller in which he, among other things, casted doubt on the eternal nature of hell. In its aftermath, Bell left his Midwest megachurch Mars Hill Bible Church, settling on the Pacific coast; from where he continues to influence the spiritual narrative alongside the likes of Oprah Winfrey.
His latest, What Is The Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything (2017, HarperOne) seeks to evaluate the purpose of the Bible. While I cannot recommend this book, I believe that it is vital to understand how the masses (including Christians) can be deceived by counterfeit Christianity.
While there is much to be concerned about What Is The Bible?, I will focus my review on the following three criticisms:
- Bell is not concerned about where you will be spending eternity.
- Bell attributes Biblical authorship solely to men (not the Holy Spirit).
- Bell questions the accuracy of Scripture.
Bell is not concerned about where you will be spending eternity
If you want to learn how to become a Christian, don’t read this book. In his previous book, Bell concluded that hell was not eternal, so it’s no wonder that conversion is not a priority for him.
The Bible isn’t a Christian book…but the Bible is a book about what it means to be human.1
Although its true that Christianity was predated by the Old Testament, doesn’t the New Testament teach us how to become followers of Christ? Bell does not answer the question,
What must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30).
Regarding heaven, Bell writes:
The Bible is not a book about going to Heaven. The action is here. The life is here. The point is here. It’s a library of books about the healing and restoring and reconciling and renewing of this world. Our home. The only home we’ve ever had.2
Again, Bell’s book will not tell you how to get saved. The preceding quote refers to his observation that since the human story begins and ends in a garden, we are in between the trees, therefore heaven is irrelevant. According to Bell, what matters more is the human and terrestrial.
The problem with that assumption is that the Bible doesn’t actually begin and end in the garden, does it? It begins and ends with Christ.
In the beginning, God – the pre-incarnate Christ – summons creation into being (Genesis 1); and in the end, His children beckon for Christ’s return (Rev. 22:20). If anything, the scope of the Biblical narrative is the dialogue between God and his creation through Jesus Christ. Where He is, there His children will be (John 14:3).
You see, the point of the Bible isn’t to make me see how interesting I am. It’s the fact that the living God was interested in me to begin with. And that’s why He is so amazing!
Bell misses the mark when it comes to sin:
Sin is the culpable disturbance of shalom.3
The root meaning of sin is to literally miss the mark, something to which we can all relate. The Bible also helpfully defines sin as lawlessness (1 John 3:4), or doing what you know is wrong (James 4:17).
The problem with Bell’s definition of sin is that it is inconclusive. In recent years, Rob Bell has publicly come out in favor of same-sex marriage, so he obviously he doesn’t think that’s the culpable disturbance of shalom. Moreover, Bell writes:
[Some sermons] mistakenly teach you that your identity is found in your sin. It’s not. It’s found in Christ, who has taken care of your sins.4
If Bell were writing only to Christians, we might respond with an amen. Unfortunately, hes not just writing to Christians. As a New York Times bestselling author, he is writing to the masses. As a result, his unbelieving readers are left with the impression that no admission of guilt or repentance is required in order to be a Christian.
Bell attributes biblical authorship solely to men
The following notion is repeated throughout Bell’s book, elevating human authorship and diminishing the Holy Spirit:
I kept repeating this truth that the Bible was written by humans because when you start there and you go all the way into the humanity of this library of books, you just may find the divine…Because whatever divine you find in it, you find the divine through and in the human, not around it.5
The preceding quote is textbook New Age philosophy, which asserts that you can only find the divine through the human. In contrast, the scriptures command that we
Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6).
Indeed, seeking Christ results in finding God; and what it means to be truly human.
Another problem with the preceding text is that if the Bible comes from solely a human vantage point, then it is no longer God determining the narrative, it is us. However, Scripture couldn’t be clearer that it is God, not man, that inspired His Word (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Human evolution is another recurrent theme in Bell’s book:
This story is about an evolution in human thinking about the divine…over time, people evolved in their thinking about God.6
Bell’s evolutionary worldview suggests that the readers of the Bible need to evolve with their thinking in the same way the human authors of the Bible allegedly evolved as they wrote it.
The problem with this assumption, other than it being false, is that if Bell recognizes the fact that the Jesus is also titled the Word of God (John 1:1; Revelation 19:13), is Bell then saying that the Lord Jesus is also evolving?
Such implications are, of course, blasphemous. It is a serious reminder of how our perspective of the Bible directly corresponds to our perspective of its holy author.
Bell questions the accuracy of Scripture
It should be no surprise, then, that the accuracy of scripture is dubious as far as Bell is concerned. First, he singles those out who would dare interpret the Bible literally:
I’ve heard people say that they read [the Bible] literally. As if that’s the best way to understand the Bible. It’s not. We read it literately. We read it according to the kind of literature it is. If it’s a poem, then read it as a poem. If it’s a letter, then read it as a letter. If it’s a story, but some of the details seem exaggerated or extreme – there’s a good chance the writer is making a larger point and you shouldn’t get too hung up on those details.7
I appreciate the necessary distinctions we need to make between what is written directly to Israel versus what applies only to the New Testament church, to cite one example.
However, Bell ignores the fact that often a song, like Psalm 22, isn’t just a song! It is profoundly prophetic, rich with details about the coming Messiah that no man could have conjured up on his own.
Rob Bell seems determined to strip the Bible of its supernatural wonder. Despite defending the reality of Christ’s resurrection, Bell inexplicably advises his readers to not get hung up on the details of other supernatural events like the great flood and Jonah and the big fish. Of course, details in the Bible only seem exaggerated when one gives men sole credit with its writing.
On the matter of biblical inerrancy, Bell asks:
Is the Bible inerrant? Let’s start with a few questions about Mozart. Did Mozart’s symphonies win? Are his concertos true? The problem with the word inerrant is that it’s the wrong category.8
To avoid addressing the issue of Biblical inerrancy head-on, Bell suggests that the Bible is simply a superior book in the same way Mozart is a superior musician. My response to Bell would be to ask, “Isn’t Christ (the Word of God) inerrant?” Then it stands to reason that His book shares His qualities. It is holy, blameless and pure, just as He is.
As a dad, I can certainly appreciate why new believers are referred to as babies (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Peter 2:2). You see, it’s not just the fact that they need to start with milk (principles) before graduating to solid food. It’s also the fact that babies will put just about anything into their little mouths!
For this reason, its important that elders and mentors are aware of the dangers that are in the reach of new believers.
Many people are going to read Rob Bell’s What Is The Bible? but I’m comforted by a couple of things:
First, the Word of God has outlived its opponents and will continue to do so. Second, I hope that those who do pick up Bell’s book will be inspired to examine Scripture for themselves, revealing Christ. Because when the Bible is given its due, it won’t just transform the way you think and feel, it will transform you.
- 1 Bell, p.4
- 2 Bell, p.53
- 3 Bell, p.259
- 4 Bell, p.261
- 5 Bell, p.183,188
- 6 Bell, p.63, 275
- 7 Bell, p.80
- 8 Bell, p.278