On the Count of 3, “Let’s All Pre-Judge Rob Bell”

Rob Bell has a new book coming out in March 12, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Today is February 15. March 12 hasn’t happened yet, because it’s in the future. That means the book hasn’t come out yet.

Still, based on a 2:55 teaser video, some have already gotten ahead of the rush and offered their opinions.

Here is the video.

Here is what I saw.

(1) 0:00 to 0:31–Many people today have trouble with traditional organized religion, yet they also sense some transcendence in the universe.

(2) 0:32-2:29 –Rob talks about his process of writing the book, which includes jotting down idas and phrases on 3×5 cards over many years, how hard it is sometimes to write daily, writing primarily because you need to get it down on paper rather than how people will receive it.

(3) 2:30-2:45–A brief summary of the book: ”The book is essentially, God is not behind us dragging us backwards into some primitive regressive state. God has always been ahead of us pulling us forward into greater and greater peace, integration, wholeness and love.”

(4) 2:46-2:55–Image of the book cover, release date, where to buy.

If you saw something different, let me know.

Based on this, I have general idea what the book is about: introducing God to an unchurched–and for whatever reason unlikely to be churched–population. Other than that I know nothing about what Bell is going to say in substance. I did learn some information on how the book came to be and that Bell likes using index cards to organize his thoughts, neither of which I found terribly interesting or informative about the book itself, and certainly not enough upon which to form a sound basis for judgment.

Based on this video, however, some are offering pre-publication opinions, e.g., Bell isn’t relevant anymore, his book will prove to be “bullsgeschichtlich [sic] Abfall… its own refutation,,, laughable, self-important gibberish,” or yet another ode to Bell’s penchant for “non-truth…error…confusion.”

Please hear what I am saying. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but a book should be judged by a fair reading of what it says and to whom it is trying to say it, not on a 3 minute pre-publication video that is largely devoid of content read through already formed opinions of past books and strong negative feelings toward Rob Bell.

What I would rather hear his pre-publication critics say is,

I realize that judging a book before I have read it isn’t fair or rational–since I would not want someone to review my own work in this way–but I feel so strongly about Rob Bell’s insidious influence on the gospel that I can’t help myself but get ahead of the game and shoot first and read later. I hated his last book, where he called into question whether hell is real, and that got me so mad and worried me so much that I can’t bear to see him write another book that might be just like it.

A post like that would be fine, and it has the added benefit of being accurate: it tells us about the reviewer rather than an un-read book.

Let’s hold off opinions until the book is read. Even on the internet, Christians shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

 

  • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com Chris

    Definitely a good word of caution. It’s always good to encourage evidence-based conclusions, even when it comes to issues outside science.

    On the other hand, what if it were a book by Ken Ham? I wouldn’t be too terribly opposed to saying, “This book is probably bullshit, and you almost certainly don’t need to bother reading it.” Maybe the “probably” and “almost certainly” vindicate the statement, but I really would have a pre-judged opinion of the book.

  • peteenns

    I understand, Chris, though I think Ken Ham, too, should be allowed to publish the book first. And, what if I did jump the gun and denounced a book by Ham that hasn’t been published? People would be justified in asking me, “Gee, Enns, what’s with you? What’s with the Ham obsession? This is telling me more about you than about anything else.”

    • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com Chris

      But Ken Ham — like so many others (Driscoll is a favorite) — is *so much fun* to denounce. It’s like playing the easy level on a video game just to get your confidence up for the tough stuff.

  • Loren Haas

    Why do these “reviews” seem like a Fox News “Theme for the Day”? You know, where every commentator basically repeats the same point while pretending they all came up with the thought independently, when it in fact was talking point #1 in the staff meeting that morning?

  • http://www.justinboulmay.wordpress.com Justin Boulmay

    Are you surprised? This is the same community that accused Bell of universalism before they’d ever had a chance to read “Love Wins” (which advocated nothing of the kind). I’m not sure what it is about the neo-Reformed that makes them act like this, but they need to spend more time looking at their own hearts and less time trying to judge everyone else.

  • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

    I haven’t read anything by Rob Bell yet, but I am aware of the controversy surrounding him and his writings. I did watch several videos by him at the time his last book was published (to get a sense of what the debates was all about) and had an impression of some pelagian-like beliefs. When I see: “Many people today have trouble with traditional organized religion, yet they also sense some transcendence in the universe,” I think of William James and “The Varieties of Religious Experience;” or Emile Durkheim’s sense of the sacred and the profane and a “church.” Christianity to me is more than simply becoming aware of God as some sense of transcendence in the universe. That seems to be what Paul was saying in Romans 1. Yet I also agree with you wholeheartedly. Rob Bell should be judged by a fair reading of what he says and to whom he is trying to say it.

    • Joe

      Chuck,
      I agree that Christianity is ‘more than simply becoming aware of God as some sense of transcendence in the universe.’ Scripture does affirm the norm that Christianity is best lived out in community, and in community there will inevitably be some sort of organized structure of belief and behavior. But… it seems to me that many of Bell’s critics unnecessarily (and harmfully) reject the role of experience in knowing God. So though Christianity is ‘more’ than ‘simply becoming aware of God as some sense of transcendence’, why would we want to exclude this? I think the reason is that religious faith that accords a place for experience inevitably brings about more ambiguity. Religious leaders (and all who define identity in terms of who’s on this side or that side of a particular doctrinal boundary) cannot exercise the same degree of control. If God really were speaking through Rob Bell’s ministry, many people would be disheartened. We tend to want a God to control and people to scapegoat. But the majority of people whom Christ critiqued were, in fact, correct in doctrine but stingy in grace.

      • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

        Thanks for the response, Joe. I think there needs to be a balance between a religious/churchy encounter with God and a personal experience of God. If we are going to make a distinction between religion and spirituality/transcendence, or institutional and personal religion (as William James did), the error can be in denigrating or over emphasizing either aspect. I’ve tried to think about the distinction as true religion versus mere (human-centered) religion; and true spirituality versus mere spirituality. Mere religion and mere spirituality should both be rejected. As a Christian, I see biblical dogma or doctrine as a crucial part of “true” religion and spirituality. But I think the distinction is applicable to other religions as well; say the dispute within Islam over what is and isn’t jihad.

  • pedantic pete

    I must admit I did get put off from reading ‘Love Wins’ due to all the negative comments on Facebook and the interview with Martin Bashir. I thought I’d seen enough to know that I wasn’t going to agree with him. And then my son bought it for me for Christmas so I read it – in record time for me! What an uplifting book! I have since been recommending it and even quoted from it in a couple of sermons. I may not get round to reading this new one any time soon (I have other reading priorities), but I won’t be negatively pre-judging it.

  • Jon

    I thought that you believed in trajectory theology, Pete. Are you gonna tell me that you have no hunch about the next Carl Trueman blog? ;)

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    Since many of us vote based on thirty second sound bites for or against a political candidate I see nothing wrong with judging a book based on a two and a half minute video (of course, I’m kidding).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Pedantic Pete nailed it! This is anti-promotion and very little more. All best sellers have great promotion. Lots of garbage has great promotion – and sells. This is unfortunately where we are at as a society. The people who don’t want you to read Rob Bell know all of this, perhaps as well as anyone out there. They also know that anti-promotion has a way of morphing into promotion, but must be assuming they can have one more kick at the cat (to ‘cat the bell’ so to speak – forget I said that!) I pray we are already at the point with respect to the battle between YRR and Bell that anti-promotion becomes first-rate promotion.

  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com Tim

    Here’s the other issue for people who appreciate Bell but want to have the intellectual integrity to read and discuss the book without all the unnecessary hype. You have to get through all the hate/judgment before you can actually engage in the argument. The Love Wins fiasco made it so hard to say, I appreciate this and this and push back on this and this. It not only got so personal about Rob himself but many were categorized in a “agree wholeheartedly” or “reject entirely.” I don’t remember another scene to this scale in the Christian publishing world. Hopefully we can do a better job this time around.

  • toddh

    The trailer showed me that I am on the wrong track. Goodbye hipster glasses, hello white polo and grey Levis. Thank God it’s Lent: I’ve got some shopping to do.

  • http://www.wtjblog.com Jeremiah

    Denny Burk questioning someone’s relevance is just hilarious

    • Dean

      Zing!

  • Dean

    Rob Bell is actually one of my favorite celebrity pastors. I think his attackers are just jealous and scared, which is odd, because the neo-Reformed always speak with such certainty and confidence about everything. It actually makes perfect sense in light of their deterministic theology and they’re obsession with God’s “sovereignty”, so it’s particularly entertaining to seem them so frightened about the popularity of Rob Bell’s “heresy” (it’s all God’s will isn’t it???). I think what’s really going on here is that Rob Bell challenges their basic assumptions about God’s character and it terrifies them because that is absolutely the greatest weakness of their theology. Sure they can proof-text the hell out of their doctrine, but at the end of the day when you ask them simple questions like, (1) does God really love everyone, or (2) does God ordain child rape, they start tap dancing and totally freaking out. That’s why they can’t stand Rob Bell’s books, that’s all he writes about, what kind of God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, what does the ministry and teaching of Jesus, his death and resurrection tell us about what God is like, and it turns out to be a very different God than that of Calvinism. I can’t wait for this neo-Reformed movement to just die already, Rob Bell, Greg Boyd, NT Wright, Don Miller, Brian McLaren, Dr. Enns (of course) and folks like them have completely transformed (for the better) how I think about who God is and what he is like. What’s funny is his critics say his book is probably going to sell millions and their explanation for that is that Rob Bell is just telling people what they want to hear. But if the book doesn’t do well, they will say people aren’t buying his heresy anymore and he’s not relevant. It absolutely sounds like Fox News!

    • Bev Mitchell

      A great line Dean,
      “…they can proof-text the hell out of their doctrine…”
      Puns are great, intentional or unintentional. I’ll use this one, if you don’t mind.

  • Eric

    Bravo Pete!

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  • Andrew

    As a non-evangelical, I find the whole Rob Bell phenomena interesting. I generally agree with most of the stuff he states, but its funny that so much of the evangelical world is so insulated that many of his ideas were/are described as “revolutionary” and I’ve even heard him lauded as a ‘modern day prophet.” But I see Rob as someone who started off in the moderate-conservative wing and throughout the last decade or so has basically morphed into a liberal christian. And since he got the thumbs up from the more conservative wing when he first started getting notice, it’s caused a fuss as his theology has gone more and more towards the liberal bent. Personally, I am not a fan of his ambiguous, unfocused writing style with the drag-on sentences and how he doesn’t take his ideas to
    their
    logical
    conclusion.
    His “I won’t tell you what I believe I’ll let you make up your minds” style I think is fine for someone’s first few books if he’s trying to get more conservative believers to think outside the box without alienating them with certain statements, but eventually a man has to decide where he stands and not be afraid to declare it.

  • James

    I happen to be reading an analysis of the Rob Bell phenomenon at the moment. We need to look at the larger frame including theological perspective. It seems to be a progressive-conservative debate rather than a deepening of the old liberal-conservative divide. The conversation turns, I suggest, on one’s view of original versus new creation. Is Creation, writ large, running down or reving up? Do we approach human nature as essentially fallen and deteriorating, or redeemed and developing? If the former, part of our task is to recapture the luster of the shattered ‘image’. If the latter, we must work the rough hewn surfaces so as to catch the light of a new day dawning. Maybe you can tell which side I’d like to lean into.

  • http://www.sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com Jeff Baxter

    From Harper Collins and why it is okay to evaluate even before the book comes out. It is based on history with Rob Bell, his theology (and oh, the Velvet Elvis in the Trailor to the book. On purpose…).

    “How God is described today strikes many as mean, primitive, backward, illogical, tribal, and at odds with the frontiers of science. At the same time, many intuitively feel a sense of reverence and awe in the world. Can we find a new way to talk about God? Pastor and New York Times bestselling author Rob Bell does here for God what he did for heaven and hell in Love Wins: he shows how traditional ideas have grown stale and dysfunctional and reveals a new path for how to return vitality and vibrancy to how we understand God. Bell reveals how we got stuck, why culture resists certain ways of talking about God, and how we can reconnect with the God who is with us, for us, and ahead of us, pulling us forward into a better future—and ready to help us live life to the fullest.”

    • TWM

      I love how Bell doesn’t fight back – he just continues to go about his business. We could all learn a lot from him in this regard, irrespective of theology.

    • Lee Ann

      a show of good faith might include Bell making a statement re: his new alignment with biblical truths or clarifying how he has miscommunicated in his last book, because we truly can have our opinions, but nonetheless, we cannot call ourselves Hindu if we are Christian, or Christian if we do not believe the Bible, yes? it seems inappropriate to give this author more attention until he does one of the two.

  • http://patheos.com jason greene

    Thanks Dr. Enns.
    Rob Bell is a breath of fresh air….

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  • Rick

    Agreed, we shouldn’t prejudge. That being said, I liken it to Stott. He wrote some good stuff (some really really good stuff actually), but because of his final biblical stance on hell, I’d probably not recommend him.

    This new book might be great, but I’d be surprised if Bell’s theological twist on a warm and fuzzy God doesn’t taint it. Even, if not, I wouldn’t condemn it, but I wouldn’t recommend it either.

    I fully believe we must have more unity among our churches, working together as Jesus called us to. For me, this means I can not worry about minor theological differences. However, Bell’s theology is not minor, it is destructive.

    So, yes, good warning, but unless Bell recants of the folly, he’s simply just another hipster out there.

    • Andrew

      But you are talking as if the common notion of an eternal hell is something Jesus preached and it’s not. Hell as eternal punishment for sinners was a creation of the Church combining Greek pagan and Jewish ideas of the afterlife. Jesus talked about Gehenna but Gehenna in the Jewish context was never a place of eternal torment of the soul.

  • Mike Sangrey

    Pete,
    You might have seen this Dr. Benjamin Carson at the Prayer Breakfast video. The first several minutes he talks about the problem with the prejudging that seems so pandemic of certain classes of Christians. One specific point he made really struck home with me–we’re shutting down the much needed discussion and thereby stopping our own education. So, it seems to me the prejudicial behavior sets us up for ignorance. IMO, Matthew 7 is almost entirely about the failure of the prejudicial attitude. Everything from the judged dog turning on the judger to the wolf in sheep’s clothing with which Jesus has no relationship, it all has to do with this one topic.

    On a slightly different note, I thought of my sister, who would always count to three with her children. One time, though, her daughters were getting a bit out of hand. She stomped into their bedroom and yelled, “Three!!!”

  • Carson

    Peter, you are jumping the gun in calling out these three for jumping the gun. It is routine in publishing for comments to be made about pre-released material: books, long-form essays, movies and the rest. It makes as much sense to say you and Bell-defenders are so eager to find a moral flaw in those whom you presume will attack the book that you make a preemptive strike — too soon, as it turns out.

    The comments here read like Variety magazine: the many character and behavioral flaws of those who do not agree with Bell.: “Zing,” ” no intellectual integrity,” etc. You firing off a too-early criticism of what you thought were too-early criticisms shows the degree to which Bell is now a celebrity symbol with a posse and no longer someone writing books with serious content.

    Bell has moved over to the popular/Osteen literature: a kind of Marxist value system of having a great life now, get it now, turn the tables, use God, *realize* the world ends not with a bang or a whimper but a colossal group hug because it’s all love all the time for all people at the end. Is this interesting? Not after a while — that’s why Bell’s posse is already on alert, looking for slights.

    • http://csaproductions.com/blog/ Brendt Wayne Waters

      It may very well be “routine in publishing for comments to be made about pre-released material”, but that routine falls to pieces when there is *no information whatsoever* about the pre-released material — which is exactly the case, even with this video. For good or ill, there is no substantive information in the video about the content of the book which it is promoting. So the only valid commentary is on Bell’s style (both hair and clothing) and lack of corrective lenses. All else is based on speculation retrieved from various orifices of the critic’s body.

      It’s all fall-out-of-your-chair laughable until we realize that we’re talking about “discussion” of theological issues, largely by pastors and college professors. Then it’s just depressing.

  • Matt

    “This new book might be great, but I’d be surprised if Bell’s theological twist on a warm and fuzzy God doesn’t taint it. Even, if not, I wouldn’t condemn it, but I wouldn’t recommend it either.”

    What WOULD you condemn, bro? If not a pastor portraying God as “warm and fuzzy” not sure what would warrant a condemnation. About all evangelicals can do, in their serious, faux-scholar voices, is say, “I don’t agree with everything he says, but…” Except, that is, if your an evangelical with a pair of balls – like Ken Ham. (For the record, I don’t consider Mr. Ham accurate… just courageous)

    If you happen to grow a pair, then your views can be labeled “bullshit” on the basis of previous publications (which I think is generally wise…).

    Think of it this way, if a good friend of mine recommended a mechanic, carpenter, and a plumber and they all did sub-par work, how long would it take me to stop asking said friend for recommendations?

    I’m sure Bell’s book will have something (somewhere) good to say. If it didn’t, no Christian (hopefully) would read it at all – although we do read Osteen still (*sigh*). But that’s a long way from saying it’s good, productive, or right. Until he shows us something different, some of us will “rush to judgment” and warn folks to stay clear.

    How DO heretics actually become identified as such? Do they have to cop to the charge before it sticks? The guy with a bloody baseball bat standing over a bleeding corpse with a smile (and a motive) is given a pass until… when?

  • http://www.quietanthem.com/ Renee Ronika

    The only pre-judging I’m going to do is to compliment Bell for riffing off of Raymond Carver. Your posts, Peter, are refreshing and elucidating. Thank you for your Spirit-intellect-led voice.

    • Chris Oakes

      @Renee – I thought about that, and then realized I better wait to see if Rob Bell just stole (riffed) the idea for the title, or if there’s a way in which his book is referring/addressing/disputing Carver’s short story. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no evidence of that yet, either in book summaries or in Bell’s presentations. If it’s just a stolen title idea, I don’t think he deserves a compliment.

  • Stacia Reichelt

    Thank you for this. I remember when his last book came out and my FB was blowing up with all the criticism. A friend’s mother even went so far as to warn me against his teachings and explain all the ways he was a false prophet (after I posted that I was excited to read the book). Problem was, none of the people had actually READ his book, even though it *was* out at the time. They were pontificating based off of an Amazon summary/review or what their pastor said or what some blogger said.

    If you haven’t read the book, you can’ t join the debate. Period.

  • http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com Paul Wilkinson

    For certain, reviews often say more about the reviewer than the book. And non-reviews say even more… or less… or nothing.

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  • vera bevan

    I have read all Rob Bell’s books and realise that he is not the only one writing the way he does at this time. Could it be that God is talking to His Church and trying to wake us up, shake us up? I have also been reading Richard Rhor, Tom Wright, Robert Capon and there will be others who are writing in the same way. I think one of the greatest things these people are doing is saying, “Let God out of the box you have him in, let your doctrinal box be opened up and set free.” If you don’t agree with what they’re saying at least be glad that the pot is being stirred. We’re too comfortable, we need to re-evaluate what we believe, and perhaps more importantly, why we believe it. Has our denomination believed that since the year dot and it has never been questioned. It may come as a shock to rethink some of our favourite doctrines, but Church, don’t be afraid, open up your minds and let the fresh air in. If you end up disagreeing, well and good, if you get a revelation, good too, but most of all DON’T BE AFRAID OF QUESTIONING WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS BELIEVED.

    • lycia

      amen to that!

  • lycia

    Like alot of folks so quick to judge…I have read all of Rob Bells works and I get him. Perhaps one needs to be of an artistic nature to hear the story as he tells it. I think that God uses all kinds of people to reach out and tell Gods story. I have been in churches that tell me what a sinner I am and I already know that what I need is someone to tell me of Gods love for me. How to have Grace, Forgiveness, and the courage to say Yes to God and Gods plan for my/our future. I believe that some people are wired, as God designed them, to recieve Gods message one way and others in other ways. The understanding. The bottomline should be universal butI believe if one looks into ones own heart and can say, “God you know my heart, teach me your ways, bring to me the teaching that will resonate who you are within me”. Then thats what works. I have tried sometime to wrap my mind around scriptures that I wanted to understand, have resonate within me, believe. But I could not say I believed or just take it at face value knowing that God would know I was just “going on long with the crowd”. I needed to do my own work, my own search, my own praying to hear what God had to say. And for me I believe Rob Bell tells the story in a way that says yes to me and to my Heavenly Father….amen to that.

  • David

    I listened to the one hour promotional video for this book on Rob Bell’s website. I found it moving and inspiring. Definitely a remove ahead of drab Calvinist and Arminian insights and preaching.

  • Susan_G1

    Amen! We don’t need to be Christians not to judge a book by it’s cover, but it is especially appropriate to us.

  • Peter A

    Ha! I actually wrote on the same issue regarding Piper’s quick judgment of Bell. http://peterhanderson.blogspot.com/2013/09/listening-in-church.html


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