THE DISTURBING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ROB BELL’S NEW BOOK AND BISHOP JOHN SHELBY SPONG
It’s been two years since Rob Bell published his first real controversial book entitled “Love Wins”. In it, Bell set out to challenge the traditional view of Hell among Christians. For Evangelicals, it sparked months of discussion and debate. What followed the confusion was a long series of stinging and harsh rebukes from eminent theologians.
Yet as thought provoking as that book was, Rob Bell is not one to shrink from controversy. In March of 2013, Rob Bell introduced his newest book ”What We talk about When we talk about God.”
This book introduces us to Bell’s vision for future of the Evangelical Church in America. Unfortunately, the theology of this imagined future looks a lot like that of a Biblical critic from the Jesus Seminar: Bishop John Shelby Spong. Well known for their skeptical view of the supernatural and the sayings of Jesus, the Jesus seminar holds many views seen a heresy by main stream Christian theologians. This is why so many find the similarities between Bell and Spong quite disturbing.
Has Rob Bell really decided to follow Spong’s false doctrine chapter and verse or did they come to these false doctrines as all men do: By doubting the God of the Bible. As Satan so cleverly began his deception in the Garden, “Has God really said … “
In this article we will look at these disturbing similarities between Bell and Spong chapter by chapter. Then in following articles, the errors of Bell’s newest book will be examined and refuted.
CHAPTER 1: HUM
The first chapter in Bell’s book is entitled “Hum”. True to form, Bell begins with an analogy; something easy for everyone to understand. He compares Oldsmobiles to our understanding of God. The idea is that the traditional concept of a personal theistic God, which most evangelicals hold to, is simply outdated. Like the Oldsmobile, it is an old, ugly, and ill suited relic from a different era. Our understanding of automotive technology has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. Cars have become better as a result. Why, asks Bell, haven’t our our beliefs done the same?
Bell goes on to cite several examples of people for whom the traditional understanding of God simply did not work. In response, Bell says that a new way of talking about God “is being birthed”. (Bell Talk/God 2,3, 5-8, 11) Here Bell echoes the beliefs of Jesus Seminar member Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has stated publicly that we need a new and improved Christianity; The one that has been handed down to us over the past 2,000 years is simply outdated. It doesn’t work in the modern, complex world that we live in today. (Spong Change or Die 29-31,40-42)
CHAPTER 2: OPEN
In the second chapter entitled “Open”, Bell attempts to use the latest scientific discoveries to downplay the idea of a personal, infinite God. He mentions such scientific celebrities as Hubble, Einstein, Penzias, and Wilson who have apparently produced evidence to show that God is an impersonal force rather than an infinite personal being. (Bell talk/God-24-63) This “impersonal force” creates, pervades and sustains the world. (Bell talk/God—46-48, 62-63)
Thus, Bell believes it is counter productive to show that a personal, infinite God exists. It goes against all the evidence revealing to us a God which ”surrounds us, courses through our veins and lights up the sky here, right now”. (Bell talk/God 79)
Similarly, Bishop Spong writes about key events in the history of science which justify his claim that a personal, infinite being simply does not fit what we know of the universe. Specifically, he mentions 8 figures in the history of science whose findings show that a personal, infinite God does not exists. Rather … it’s a force. (Spong Change or Die 31-40)
CHAPTER 3: BOTH
In his third chapter, entitled “Both”, Bell asserts that all language is inadequate when talking about God. Language can be helpful but any descriptive words about God is not God. (Bell talk/god 90-91) Bishop Spong says the same thing. He writes that all human language about God is inadequate and doesn’t do God justice in describing Him. (Spong New Christianity/New World—60-63)
CHAPTER 4: WITH
The heart of Bell’s book is found in chapter 4, entitled “With”. In this chapter, he deals with the nature of God.
In his writing, Bell consistently uses impersonal terms to describe God. For Bell, it seems that God is an ”it” rather than a “Who”. He already hinted at this impersonal concept of God in chapter 1. (Bell talk/god 18) In this chapter, he begins to give the reader further descriptions of his concept of this impersonal “it”. (Bell talk/god-103)
In addition to his constant use of the word “it” when describing God, Bell also uses the Jewish word for “spirit”, ruach. In this way, he attempts to connect the Old Testament God with this impersonal entity. (Bell talk/god 105-110) Bell also uses impersonal terms such as “energy,” “the force”, “the power” (Bell Talk/God 106,108) Oddly, even while explaining how God is an impersonal force that, Bell denies pantheism, which asserts that God is an impersonal power, a force which is identical with the universe. (Bell Talk/God 109/117)
To no surprise, Bishop Spong also uses some of the same impersonal wording for God ( “it” “force” and “energy”). In his Sunday School class in New Jersey, Bishop Spong writes how members of his class speak about God in impersonal terms. (Spong New Christianity/New World 65-66) Instead of the personal deity Christ spoke of as Father, Spong recommends Buddhism and other “eastern faith traditions” as ways to explore an impersonal understanding of God. (Spong Change or Die 57)
Both Bell and Bishop Spong use the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, to refer to God. Both try to connect the impersonal force they describe to the God of the Hebrews with it. (Spong Change or die—60) As evidence, both Bell and Spong cite liberal Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who also taught that God is an impersonal force. (Spong Change or Die-64-70)
CHAPTER 5: FOR
In his fifth chapter, entitled “For”, Bell gives his understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Bell seems to affirm the incarnation, but is this Jesus the Incarnation of an impersonal force or a personal Being. Is Jesus the second person of the Triune God or not? Bell offered little information on his view of the incarnation in his previous book ”Love Wins.” Instead, Bell asserts that Jesus is the incarnation of impersonal energy, a spark, the electricity that created the universe. (Bell Love Wins 144-147, 159)
CHAPTER 6: AHEAD
In chapter 6, Bell starts giving this impersonal force some personality. God is pulling humanity forward, away from dogma and exclusivism, and towards greater love, tolerance and understanding. Bell offers two examples of how he believes God is moving humanity ahead: religious pluralism and gay marriage.
Bell shares a story about his trip to an interfaith conference in Seattle in 2008. While there, he joined a panel which included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Pastor Mark Driscoll, as well as other religious leaders. Attendees included leaders and representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism and several Christian denominations. While there, Bell noticed a group Christians outside protesting the interfaith conference. This bothered him. He writes, “God was there, at that event, as God has always been, present with all of humanity…” (Bell Talk? God 155)
Bell seems to be saying that God moving us ahead by helping Evangelicals see how all religions are simply different paths to Him. Christians need to move on from stodgy, Evangelical traditions and see the real God of this universe; Who apparently is a universalist. Christians need to rid themselves of the Oldsmobile understanding of God. The exclusive claims made by Jesus can be very offensive to people in other religions. In fact, it is “unloving” to insist that Jesus is the only way.
At this point, it seems pretty clear that Bell is following Bishop Spong down a road towards religious pluralism. Spong affirms the “truth” of all religions when he states that the impersonal ground of being is found not only in Jesus, but also in Buddha, Mohammed, and in many other spiritual beliefs. (Spong New Christianity/New World—137-146)
Since the publication of his latest book, Rob Bell has come out in favor of gay marriage. In recent interviews, Bell has made the following statements:
– “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and coworkers,”
– “I am for fidelity. I am for love. Whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed, and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are,”
– “I think it’s time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay and want to share their life with someone,”
– “This is a part of life in the modern world and that’s how it is. And that cultural consciousness has shifted, and this is how the world is and that what’s happening for a lot of people, is that they want nothing to do with God and Jesus because they can’t see beyond that particular issue.”
All four statements are found online at Christian Post news.
Needless to day, Bishop Spong has made many similar statements throughout his writings.
In conclusion, let it be remembered that both Rob Bell and Bishop Spong have given us a complete systematic theology of false doctrine.
In the next article, the theological errors of each of the main chapters of Bell’s latest book will be examined and refuted.