Rob Bell: “The Gods Aren’t Angry”

Before I get into my criticisms of Mr. Bell’s theology and teachings that he espouses in this particular tour, “The Gods Aren’t Angry,” I’d first like to clear up a few things so that my detractors have less ammunition with which to fire salvos of vitriol.

I harbor no ill will toward Rob Bell. He is a talented, charismatic speaker, and a superb storyteller. But if words mean anything, then Rob Bell has largely abandoned the Gospel. By his own words is he condemned as a false teacher — greatly deceived and deceiving many others and leading them astray.

My allegiance is to my God and Savior, the Lord Jesus, and to His word. If God has exalted His word even as high as His holy name (Psalm 138:2), how much more ought we to cling to it? If God has indeed spoken through the prophets and apostles, then what He has said is of paramount importance. I do not trust in the fabrications of men, but in the word of God. Yes, I am a sola scriptura kind of guy. My allegiance shall be given to no man, no organization, no philosophy, nothing and no one save to my gracious Master.

I write this, dearly loved friend, with the hope that you will be noble-minded like the Bereans and search the scriptures to prove whether or not the things which I say are true. If I am to be judged positively or negatively for my criticism of Mr. Bell’s teachings, let it be on the basis of scripture. I write these things with the assumption that scripture is our sole and final authority. If this is unacceptable to your mind, then I wish to humbly suggest that this assessment will be of much less value to you, indeed perhaps even useless. But I digress.

If you believe strongly that I have unfairly represented Mr. Bell or that my motives are impure, I will be glad to clarify as circumstances reasonably allow. All scripture references are from the NASB unless otherwise noted.


Bell began our time together without fanfare or formal introduction. He went straightaway into his first story of a cave woman who notices connections between the celestial bodies, weather, and those things linked with her well-being (e.g. edible plants). He tells of a cave husband who likewise notices these connections while hunting. These hypothetical people somehow end up thinking that they somehow must appease the celestial being(s) in order to be prosperous. Nowhere in here are Adam and Eve mentioned. In fact, at no time were the first 11 chapters of Genesis even touched upon during the evening. I suppose that the accounts of Genesis 3, 6, 7, and 11 would be a bit antithetical to your point if your audience is supposed to conclude that God isn’t angry.

Bell continued to explain how various ancient cultures created and worshiped various deities, rattling off a string of ancient gods and what they were worshiped for without missing a beat. Sacrifices to these gods were made in order to keep the forces happy and receive blessings. Along comes Abraham in Genesis 12, and God speaks directly to him.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

Bell tells us that up until this point, the gods were far from man and you never knew what they actually required in the way of sacrifices to keep them happy. But while this may have been true of the idols men worshiped, this is a result of man becoming idolatrous in his rebellion, not the result of evolutionarily developing the idea of pleasing the primal life forces as one might be strongly inclined to conclude from Rob’s caveman talk just a few minutes prior. Even a cursory glance from Genesis 2-4, 6-9 shows that man was given clear instructions by God, that man was not ignorant of who the one true God was. It clearly illustrates that Adam and Eve sinned in a willful and deliberate act of disobedience, thus incurring the curse of original sin with all its trappings. It tells of the exceeding wickedness of men and how God judged them by destroying the earth with a great flood.

It is true that Abraham was probably in a culture that worshiped idols. In fact, according to both Jewish and Islamic tradition this is the very reason God told Abraham to leave the land in which he lived and go to the one which He would show him. But it does not follow from scripture that the God of Abraham developed out of (“emerged from” I believe were the words Bell used) Sumerian culture, as Bell proposes. God sovereignly chose in His good pleasure to speak to Abraham. Bell says this was a new idea that God wasn’t angry, but that He was here to bless man and provide.

Of the account of Abraham and Isaac, he states that the ram simply is God telling Abraham “Hey, I’m the one that provides, you don’t have to.” While on the surface it is true that God provided, nothing is said of Abraham’s faith in God, which is said in Hebrews to have been reckoned as righteousness unto him. That ram was still sacrificed. It was still offered to God as a burnt offering (presumably for the covering of sins, as with the blood offerings of the Mosaic law).

He then moved forward to the Levitical sacrificial laws, keeping in mind that all these sacrifices were supposedly to make God happy so we’d get blessings, just like the pagan sacrifices. Nowhere is sin mentioned as the underlying reason why sacrifices are even necessary. On a personal note, I thought it was a bit disrespectful and inappropriate for Bell to liken the first five chapters of Leviticus to a poor quality slasher film. Bell skimmed over the different types of offerings mentioned in those passages. Bell rightfully speaks of the Levitical law as removing any doubts as to what God wanted. But he makes a significant error in asserting that these were merely to make God happy and get on His good side. While it is true that the Levitical laws did now show exactly what God required of men as far as their sacrifices were concerned (and I do now appreciate the sacrificial system more because of this understanding), it is not true that they were merely to make God happy. The primary purpose of the sacrifices was to deal with sin. With the exception of the peace and free-will offerings, the sacrifices dictated by Leviticus were for the atoning for sins.

He transitioned from there to Jesus, who he made out to be nothing more than a social revolutionary. Jesus supposedly shows up to bring down the sacrificial system itself (because of its violence, not because of his fulfillment of the need for sacrifices), not just the corruption that the Pharisees and Sadducees had brought to it through their greed. According to Bell, Jesus came to get rid of the violence of the sacrificial system once and for all by showing people that God wasn’t angry any more and that people didn’t have to make sacrifices any more. He was showing them a “new way” to do things. And Jesus didn’t resist violently because that wouldn’t have been anything different from the old system of violence against animals.

According to Bell the writer of Hebrews was the one who actually developed this idea that the Cross was an altar. He makes Hebrews 10 out to be a text which badmouths the sacrificial system because it says that the blood of bulls and goats is unable to take away sins. His conclusion is that the sacrifices were to take away feelings of guilt, or “primal anxieties” as he called them. The theme of “God is love. God provides. God doesn’t demand.” continued throughout the night.

Bell misstates the entire purpose of the sacrificial system. He expounds Isaiah 1, Micah 6:7, and Hebrews 9 and 10 as essentially saying that God doesn’t really want the sacrifices and He only required them so we wouldn’t feel guilty any more. For someone who is seminary-educated and a teacher of the Bible, this is woefully ignorant at best, or else it is blatantly revisionist. Scripture makes this clear: God demands blood for sin. Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness for sin. The sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant were for the covering of sins. There is no contradiction of terms when Hebrews says that the blood of bulls and goats can not take away sin. It is a true saying. The sacrifices of animals were imperfect sacrifices, but they did accomplish the purpose of covering sin when accompanied by a repentant heart. Jesus Christ was a perfect sacrifice, being both fully God and fully man, able to satisfy the wrath of God for sin and reconcile sinners who would by grace through faith trust in his sacrifice which was to be made on the Cross.

Rob also grossly misinterprets Isaiah 1 and Micah 6:7. These passages show us not that God requires no sacrifice for sin, but that faith and a contrite heart are that which make a given sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. The truth which these passages speak is that a rebellious heart can not please God, no matter what sacrifices are offered. Even a layperson with no formal theological training can understand these plain truths from those scriptures.

To restate: Rob’s stated view of Jesus death is that he died to abolish the violent sacrificial system, not because he was the fulfillment of it, but because it was violent and made people feel guilty about their sins. This comes as no surprise after we have examined Rob’s faulty views of both sin and the purpose of the sacrificial system. To be fair, his line of thinking does somewhat logically flow from wrong views of sin and the necessity of a penalty for sin.

Bell says that the writer of Hebrews is the one who introduced this concept of the Cross as an altar. He calls it a “new idea” that Christ was offered on an altar. But let us examine that claim. I posit to you that it was prophesied long ago that Christ would be a sin offering and that Bell is absolutely contrary to scripture when he asserts that it is a “new idea” that the writer of Hebrews somehow introduced. Let us read from the Word of God which came through the prophet Isaiah.

(1) Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (2) For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (3) He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (4) Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. (6) All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. (7) He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. (8) By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (9) His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (10) But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (11) As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (12) Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. (Isa 53:1-12)

Read verse 5 again. He was pierced for what? Our transgressions. He was crushed for what? Our iniquities. Verse 10 goes on to say “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”

It is plain to see that Messiah was to be an offering for sin of the many. To say otherwise (as Bell has done) is to preach contrary to the revealed Word of God, which is the sole and final authority in matters of what we are to believe concerning God and the duties which God requires.

Bell mentions Colossians 1:20 and that God is reconciling “all things” to Himself because God is the one who has made peace. No mention is made of any requirement for that reconciliation to take place. Bell’s message to those who are among the enemies of God is simply “God is on your side, just celebrate it.” All we need do is examine this verse in its context to see that Bell is ignoring the requirements for receiving this reconciliation. Recall that reconciliation is a cessation of hostilities, the mutual coming together of two parties who were once at odds with one another, yet now are making peace. I doubt Bell would speak the true reason why God made peace with us instead of the other way around (that we are utterly incapable of doing it in the first place). Instead he just says that God has already done it. Let us read Colossians 1:20 in its context.

(19) For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, (20) and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (21) And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, (22) yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach– (23) if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Col 1:19-23)

Paul makes it clear in verse 23 that we are reconciled if and onlyif indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast. . .”

The requirement of salvation is faith. The requirement of faith is repentance. The requirement of repentance is rebirth. And the requirement of rebirth is the hearing of the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to rebirth a person through the Word. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. John 3, Romans 10, and 1 Peter 1, among other passages, make clear what the requirements of salvation are and how exactly it comes to be. Salvation comes when a sinner is reborn by the Spirit, confesses and repents of His sin, and trusts wholly and solely in the work of Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of his sin.

Bell went on to say that repentance is merely “celebrating what God has already done” or “celebrating God making peace.” This is nothing short of revisionism and it is clear by now what Bell’s agenda is. Repentance is not a celebration as Bell claims. Repentance for a sinner is being contrite over his sin, and it is turning from that sin in the strength of the Spirit which has caused them to be born again. I’m not sure how commonplace it is to use the word “repent” amongst biologists nowadays, but in that field, to repent means to crawl along the ground, to be prostrate. This is a perfect picture of what to repent looks like. It is being so broken over your sin that you fall on your face in sorrow.

Bell continued. According to him, the “reconciliation of all things” of which Paul spoke in Colossians 1 is merely social work. Buying groceries for a poor person and giving a house to a single mom who was just divorced and left without a way to provide for her children were the more emotionally charged examples of this “reconciliation” which Bell claims. Not to say that these are not good deeds and should not be done (certainly they are and should be), but this is a complete revising of what the word “reconciliation” means.

To sum up, Bell put it to us this way: he was stressing himself out over struggles he was having, and his friend kept repeating to him, “You don’t have to live this way.” Bell posits that this is the core message of the Gospel — that you don’t have to live this way. “This way” is clearly implied to mean feeling guilty about your sin. Bell has spent 2 hours talking about how all the sacrificial systems were developed because we feel guilty. According to Bell, Jesus came to tell us to stop feeling guilty and that the Kingdom of God is social work.

And so he finished, chanting “You don’t have to live this way. You don’t have to live this way.” as a sort of mantra as music began to play and rise in volume. To be sure, it was a good educational experience as far as pagan gods and the customs of pagan religions were concerned. But on the whole, the Gospel was either revised or else watered down to nothing resembling what Scripture presents as the way of salvation for sinners (which we all are).

If you’re looking for out and out heresy, it won’t be easy to find it in Bell’s message. But what Bell did in two hours can be described as nothing less than deliberately calculated and absolutely unbiblical. His revisionist theology was purposefully cloaked in ambiguity. A man educated in the scriptures who believes them to be wholly true does not spend over an hour speaking on the Hebrew sacrificial system and then speak nothing of sin and of our actual guilt before a holy God, instead speaking merely of our feelings of guilt. A man who believes the Scriptures to be wholly true does not spend over an hour speaking of the covenant which Christ came to fulfill — not merely abolish — and then mention nothing of His fulfillment of it, indeed making Him out to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill revolutionary, claiming that Christ as substitutionary atonement was a new idea thought up long after His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.

If words mean anything, then Rob Bell has largely abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is plain to see that his gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but a social gospel. It is not a call to true repentance from sin and faith in Christ’s work on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. It is not a call to leave the lusts of our flesh as Paul repeatedly exhorted the various Gentile Christians to whom he wrote. Rob’s views ultimately find their root in a low view of scripture. His wrong view of sin, wrong view of the purposes of and reasons for Mosaic sacrifice, and wrong view of Christ and His purpose all find their roots in the systematic ignoring or revising of the clear teachings of scripture because they run contrary to the mind of sinful man.

Conscience demands that I caution you against the teachings of men like Rob Bell. His teachings are in error, being very man-centered, and so much of the Gospel is left out that it cannot rightly be called the Gospel when he has finished speaking. My understanding of scripture leads me to believe that you must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, Christ freely offers forgiveness for sin, but you must repent and believe. You must acknowledge your sinfulness and actual guilt before a just and holy God. Then you must ask Him in faith to be merciful and save you, believing that Christ has paid the full penalty for your sins by the Cross upon which He suffered and died. If you are not one already, become a disciple of Christ, I implore you. Do not reject Christ and thus abandon the only hope of true peace this world will ever know.

— Bill Carlisle



24 Responses to Rob Bell: “The Gods Aren’t Angry”

  1. beyond bluestockings says:

    It ‘s encouraging to see a watchman at the gate. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Jesus says:

    Thats great to know about the Mr. Bell’s theology and his teachings.

  3. blank says:

    You said::
    At the time of this writing, I cannot in good conscience call Rob Bell my brother. His outright denial or otherwise revision of so many of the basic tenets of the Christian faith prevent me from doing so.

    It’s a good thing that we don’t have to depend on your judgement but rather His.

  4. Bill says:

    Anonymous commenter from CVC, did you even bother to read what was written? My assessment is that what the Bible says and what Rob Bell says are in complete opposition to one another.

    You don’t have to rely on my judgment. In fact I encourage you not to. That’s why I plead that men and women be noble-minded like the Bereans and search the scriptures to see if such things are in fact true.

    Friend, if you disagree with my assessment, at least grace me with a reason (and maybe an email at my personal address if you don’t want your identity divulged here bcarlisl -at- gmail dot com is mine). Where have I wrongly divided the God’s Word?

  5. Chris says:

    I don’t really have time to read all of that, and you may have some good points, but you have taken Isaiah 53 and violated its integrity as a text. It was not written about Christ. It was written about a “servant” probably someone who was trying to institute reforms during the second temple period. Now we can look back and say, in many ways, Jesus also fulfilled the vocation of the servant. But to say that it was written about him is unfair to the text. It was written to the people of the time and had a contemporary meaning to them.

  6. Bill says:

    Have I violated Isaiah 53?

    Isn’t the passage widely quoted in the New Testament? The writings of the Apostles make clear that this passage is of Christ. But I’ll let the Word speak for Itself.

    John 12:37-38 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. (38) This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” (quoting from Isa 53:1)

    Matt 8:16-17 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. (17) This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.” (quoting from Isa 53:4)

    John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (fulfillment of Isa 53:5)

    1Pet 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (also referring to Isa 53:5)

    1Pet 2:25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (referring to Isa 53:6)

    Matt 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:4-5; Luke 23:8-9; John 1:29, 36; 19:8-9; all referring to Isaiah 53:7

    Matt 27:57-60 and its parallels are fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9. 1 Peter 2:22 also refers to this verse.

    Romans 5:19 and 1 Cor 5:21 refer to Christ in a manner which fulfills verse 11.

    Philippians 2:8, Luke 22:37, and Hebrews 7:25 make clear that Isaiah 53:12 is about Christ also.

    The Apostles clearly thought and were inspired by the Spirit to write that the prophecy in Isaiah 53 was about the Messiah. The thunderous chorus from the New Testament writers is that of Christ absolutely being the fulfiller of these prophecies.

    There is no question in their minds to whom this passage of Isaiah refers. In fact, the Ethiopian Eunuch was told directly by Philip that this passage indeed referred to Christ (Acts 8).

    My personal opinion is that the very notion that Isaiah 53 doesn’t refer to Christ ignores a mountain of biblical evidence. If you would care to produce evidence that demonstrates otherwise, I am more than willing to hear your case, friend.

    Peace be with you.

  7. Chris says:

    The New Testament authors looked and saw that certain passages in the Old Testament also could refer to Christ. That does not mean when those OT passages were written that the author, or God if you take the verbal plenary route, had a savior 500 years later in mind. Isaiah was written to a people who had just returned from Babylon, they had a temple that was nothing close to as glorious as the original temple, they needed to be reminded that God was still faithful. They had much corruption among those who were leading in the worship of Yahweh. Then a person came along or a group, that called themselves the servants, or the servant. This person or people helped to lead the people back to correct worship of Yahweh, however, the elite did not like that, so the servant paid the price. So Isaiah 53 was written about all of this.
    Then, Jesus came on the scene 500 yrs or so later, and he was looking at similar corruption. So he also was martyred for it. That was not the only reason he died, but in the minds of Caiaphas and others, it was a main reason. Thus, when the NT writers look back on his life and death, in retrospect, they can say, hey Jesus was in many ways like the servant in Isaiah. In fact, Jesus himself saw himself as the servant when he read the passage about the jubilee. He fulfilled that people were healed, set free, etc.
    If this was so clearly prophesy about the Messiah, how could the Pharisees have missed it so badly? They spent all day focusing on the Torah, studying, reading etc. There are many “prophecies” about the Messiah that seem to not have come to pass, in your interpretation of the bible, that becomes a problem. If, however, they had a particular meaning when they were written, and then can possibly be invoked later when the situation is similar, then there is no problem.
    Would Jesus be the same savior if nothing was written about him before he came and did his work?
    I am not saying it is wrong to look back and say, oh wow, Jesus is a lot like Isaiah 53, but to say, well this was clearly about Jesus is a slippery slope. And to dog out Bell because he ignores the “clear evidence” in Isaiah 53 that Jesus came for the primary reason of the remission of sins is probably myopic.

  8. Chris says:

    Plus I think the reading of Isaiah 53:5 is more of a result clause than a purpose clause. It was not because he chose to be wounded for our transgressions, but more, as a result of our wrongdoing, he was the collateral damage. Hope that helps too.

  9. Bill says:

    God did not have a savior in mind 500 years later? Jesus is the “Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.”

    Friend, you tread dangerous waters with such statements. Christ died as a vicarious substitutionary atonement for the sins of many. This was why He came: to seek and save the lost. To give His life as a ransom for many.

    Where in the history of the Jews do we find the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant if not in Christ? In whom were the iniquities of the people laid?

    How could the Pharisees have missed that this was about the Christ? Jesus said Himself why they missed it. And it is to the shame of American Evangelical churches that we would even need to discuss why. Scripture makes it plain:

    Joh 10:24-30 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (25) Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. (26) “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. (27) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; (28) and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (29) “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (30) “I and the Father are one.”

    In John 6, Jesus twice makes clear that no one can come to Him unless the Father first draws them.

    Indeed there are many prophecies that have not come to pass yet, but they will come to pass when Christ comes again to rule the world and judge the quick and the dead. Isaiah 53 is only one such passage which speaks of the Messiah as the one who sacrificed Himself in the place of sinners.

    To say that Christ’s primary purpose in coming was to atone for sin is not myopic. It’s biblical.

    To say otherwise is to ignore the testimony of the entire New Testament, indeed even the words of Christ Himself. Bell’s plain position, when you cut away all the double speak, is that Christ did not come to bear the wrath of God and atone for sin, but to make us feel good about ourselves and tell us to be nice to people. Bell is “dogged” for his apostacy, nothing more and nothing less.

  10. Chris says:

    Nowhere did I say that God did not have a savior in mind. I said the author did not. There was a real life situation into which Isaiah 53 was written. I believe I already wrote about that, if you need more information, you would probably do better to pick up a good commentary, Anchor Bible by Joseph Fitzmeier may be a good place to start in that vein.

    Yes, Christ died as a substitution for us, that is biblical, but that is not the ONLY reason he died. Christ died, as you mention elsewhere, to reconcile all things to himself. There is much more to reconciliation other than just that God was mad and needed blood. You can say it was because justice had to be served. That is kind of a different topic though, so we can talk more about that later if need be.

    I think you just have a misunderstanding about what a prophecy is. Prophecy occurred in real life in real situations. There was very likely a contemporary of the author of Isaiah that lived out the situation of Isaiah 53. Prophecy is not to be understood as “this is the future told right now” that is along the lines of an oracle or soothsayer. We are not talking about LaHaye type of prophecy, that is not really biblical.

    When Jesus says “you do not believe because you are not of my sheep” does not mean that they can’t understand: it is because they choose not to.

    I never said that Christ’s primary purpose in coming was not to atone for sin. I don’t know how you can prove his primary purpose to begin with, but Isaiah 53 is not evidence that Jesus’ coming was primarily to atone for sin. That was what I was saying was myopic. You are reading the entire Bible as if it did not mean anything to the people that were the contemporaries. Isaiah meant something to the people in the day it was written!
    You say that is Bell’s plain position, but that is not fair or charitable to him. He does not say “Jesus did not come to save you from sin.” Just because he has a different focus than you would like does not mean he does not believe it. I think it would be wise to not throw around “apostacy” so loosely.

  11. Chris says:

    Sorry, not Fitzmeier, I meant Blenkinsopp.

  12. Bill says:

    Isaiah was writing as the Spirit carried him along. In other words, Isaiah wrote what God had in mind. Rather than go rushing out to buy a revisionist commentary, how about we go with a commentator most would agree is reliable: Matthew Henry.

    I know it’s a lot, but I want to be complete. Here’s what the Matthew Henry Concise Commentary says with regard to Isaiah:

    Isa 53:1-3 –
    No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!

    Isa 53:4-9 –
    In these verses is an account of the sufferings of Christ; also of the design of his sufferings. It was for our sins, and in our stead, that our Lord Jesus suffered. We have all sinned, and have come short of the glory of God. Sinners have their beloved sin, their own evil way, of which they are fond. Our sins deserve all griefs and sorrows, even the most severe. We are saved from the ruin, to which by sin we become liable, by laying our sins on Christ. This atonement was to be made for our sins. And this is the only way of salvation. Our sins were the thorns in Christ’s head, the nails in his hands and feet, the spear in his side. He was delivered to death for our offences. By his sufferings he purchased for us the Spirit and grace of God, to mortify our corruptions, which are the distempers of our souls. We may well endure our lighter sufferings, if He has taught us to esteem all things but loss for him, and to love him who has first loved us.

    Isa 53:10-12 –
    Come, and see how Christ loved us! We could not put him in our stead, but he put himself. Thus he took away the sin of the world, by taking it on himself. He made himself subject to death, which to us is the wages of sin. Observe the graces and glories of his state of exaltation. Christ will not commit the care of his family to any other. God’s purposes shall take effect. And whatever is undertaken according to God’s pleasure shall prosper. He shall see it accomplished in the conversion and salvation of sinners. There are many whom Christ justifies, even as many as he gave his life a ransom for. By faith we are justified; thus God is most glorified, free grace most advanced, self most abased, and our happiness secured. We must know him, and believe in him, as one that bore our sins, and saved us from sinking under the load, by taking it upon himself. Sin and Satan, death and hell, the world and the flesh, are the strong foes he has vanquished. What God designed for the Redeemer he shall certainly possess. When he led captivity captive, he received gifts for men, that he might give gifts to men. While we survey the sufferings of the Son of God, let us remember our long catalogue of transgressions, and consider him as suffering under the load of our guilt. Here is laid a firm foundation for the trembling sinner to rest his soul upon. We are the purchase of his blood, and the monuments of his grace; for this he continually pleads and prevails, destroying the works of the devil.

    Christ died as a substitute for us. Any other benefit or lesson we might learn from Christ is secondary to this fact. Our primary need as fallen man is for a savior for our sins. Christ is the fulfiller of this primary need if we will but bow the knee, repent of our sins, and trust in His atoning work on the Cross.

    Prophecy can be prescriptive and descriptive. Some prophecy is God speaking through the prophet telling people what to do and what to stop doing. Other prophecy is predictive and describes that which is to come. Isaiah 53 is this second type of prophecy.

    Reconciliation is the cessation of hostilities between two parties. We, being enemies of God, are reconciled by Christ’s death if and only if we repent of our sins and trust in Christ’s work on the Cross as our means of reconciliation to God. We are reconciled first to God through faith in Christ. Then and only then are we able to truly be reconciled to one another.

    Christ’s death satisfied the wrath of God against sin. The knowledge that this was to come shortly by way of the Cross was what gave Christ such heart-wrenching anguish that He sweat blood in the garden as He prayed.

    All that the Father gives to Christ will come to Him. This means that those who are not given to Him are left in their sins. The Pharisees were not given to Christ by the Father. Therefore they were not of His sheep. Therefore they did not believe Him. With the exception of Nicodemus, it is unclear whether any of them repented and believed Christ.

    I am reading the Bible as if everything points to Christ. Jesus Himself testified of this in John 5. The Scripture is to be taken as a whole. Different parts of the same whole, speaking in different ways of the same truth, that of Christ crucified for sins.

    Bell doesn’t just have a “different focus” than me. He has an entirely different gospel. He speaks nothing of sin. He speaks nothing of Christ’s atonement for sin, only of telling people to stop feeling guilty because there’s no reason to feel guilty in the first place. He attempts to redefine what the words “reconciliation” and “repentance” mean. To label such teachings as apostasy is merely accurate description. He has abandoned the Gospel that saves men from their sins and has replaced it with a gospel that is man-centered and powerless to save.

  13. Chris says:

    Bill, as this is your blog, I will let you have the last word, but I will say that Matthew Henry is not a scholar, nor would his “research” gain you any ground amongst theologians. If you wish to continue dialogue, I’ll see you on facebook.

  14. Bill says:


    You are a welcome guest on my blog, in my home, and at my dinner table until and unless such time as you disparage cheesecake because seriously, it’s tasty. 😉

    As for Matthew Henry. I don’t think he wrote for scholars. His commentary was for all believers. He commented on his daily readings of the Bible and his wife wrote down what he said. It has stood the test of time. It has been esteemed in the English-speaking church for over 300 years now. What reason do we have to discredit the puritan preacher?

  15. Chad says:

    I don’t know if this is still being watched or not, but I came upon your post and thought I would throw out a few thoughts…

    I have read both of Bell’s books and listend to most if not all of his sermons online. I am a pastor and MDiv student. And, I come to a very different conclusion than you regarding Bell and his theology and view of Scripture.

    I will be happy to elaborate on the “whys” of what I say above, but for now allow me to comment on just 2 things you say above:

    First, repentance is not solely about “crawling on the ground” in shame or in contriteness. Rather, the NT understanding of repentance had in large part to do with a changing of the mind. It is almost a political stance. It is to drop one way of doing things and pick up another way of doing things. To repent, then, had much, much more implications than just mere change of heart and feeling “sorry.”

    Second, you seem to rest your argument on the yet-to-be proven theory that substitutionary atonement is the be all and end all of Christ’s work on the cross. I am sure you are aware of the fact that it was Anselm in the 1500’s that popularized the idea of substitutionary atonement, at least in the vein that I see you advocating it here. You can certainly find this sort of atonement theory in scripture, yet I would argue that it is the least emphasized and written about. Rather, the Cristus Victor idea of atonement is far more pronounced, and is one that I hear Bell leaning on more heavily than the other theories. There is nothing heretical or anti-biblical about this at all – in fact, it is far more orthodox and in line with the whole witness of the canon than simple sub theorie of atonement.

    I’ll pause here. Thanks for starting a formum for this sort of discussion.


  16. Bill says:

    Repentance is not something man wills. It is something God grants. Romans 9 attests to the fact that salvation is God’s work and not man’s. It is not merely a changing of the mind. It is a rebirth of something which is dead, namely us in our transgressions. Repentance is impossible when our minds are still hostile to God. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, our minds will remain in that state.

    As for substitutionary atonement being a yet-to-be-proven theory, I don’t know what they’re teaching over at Duke Divinity, but I can only hazard a guess that they ignore the whole of the Reformation and the Puritans. You’ll recall that for centuries, Roman Catholicism persecuted the true Church. It took the Reformation to reform the Church out of the traditions of man and back to biblical principles. Out of the scholarship surrounding the Reformation arose the Five Solas. These were not “new” concepts, but a returning to what Scripture taught.

    Rather than assume you’re referring to Gustaf Aulen’s 1930s work, I’ll ask that you clarify what you mean by “Christus Victor” as being the primary thrust of Scripture concerning the Cross.

    Substitutionary atonement is the foundation of all the other accomplishments and works of Christ on the Cross. Without it, it does not matter if Christ makes men kinder to one another. They are still dead in their sins and will perish and be thrown into Hell. Bell all but denies substitutionary atonement. His Jesus is your buddy Jesus who tells you to come as you are and stay as you are — no need to repent; no need to believe any doctrine. That stuff is antiquated religious mumbo jumbo.

    Bell leans on the theory that no truth is sacred because truth is unknowable.

  17. augustonfire says:

    There’s not much for me to add to this other than to let you know I’m watching for the outcome of this discussion. I love this!

  18. Chad says:

    Of course repentance is a gift from God – what isn’t? I also agree with you that it is a work of the Spirit in our lives. That is not to say, however, that repentance is to be reduced to a mere contriteness or feeling sorry for ourselves. Rather, repentance has a very concrete political and social dimension within scripture. To repent, as far as the Bible is concerned, is to declare that Jesus is Lord rather than Caesar is Lord. To repent means we declare that in Jesus Christ rests all authority in heaven and earth and not in the hands of the Roman Empire. To repent means to change our minds about who rules the world and then live into that reality. Now, does this mean we feel sorry for the past way in which we lived and the lies we believed? Sure. But that is not the sum total of repentance.

    I disagree with you that “substitionary atonement is the foundation” for all of Christ’s work on the cross. There is a reason it is a called a “theory” and that is because it is one idea we find in scripture among several (5 if you are counting). Cristus Victor is what I would argue the more predominant theory. With it we declare that in Christ and his death on the cross that death and sin have been defeated, that it truly “is finished.” Good Friday is truly “good” because Satan was defeated, the curse was lifted and the death sentence of the first Adam was lifted by the New Adam. The Gospel is thus truly GOOD NEWS because we can proclaim with confidence that, like Bell says, “you don’t have to live this way.” Rather, you can live in the reality that is God’s reality – where Jesus is Lord, not the USA, not capitalism, not your career or your bank account, not even Calvin or Sola Scriptura.


  19. Bill says:

    If Cristus Victor be true, who goes to hell? Sounds like the same universalist slant Bell taught in his The God’s Aren’t Angry tour. How does one obtain this “new reality” where Jesus is Lord? *How* did Christ defeat Satan? *How* was the curse lifted? And for *whom* was the curse lifted? Substitutionary atonement addresses all these issues and more quite logically and the theory quite naturally flows from the Scriptures. If contend that if Christ be not substitute, He be not victor. For He said that this was the purpose for which He came as He gave the cup to the Disciples. “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    I also contend that the repentance Christ talked about was from sin and by definition is a turning away from sin. It is a submissive, rather than assertive action.

    I never equated repentance with mere remorse. Being sorry that you sinned isn’t enough to save your soul It is only those recognize that their poorness in spirit, mourn for their sin, and consequently hunger and thirst for righteousness who will be transformed by the rebirth of the Spirit and made a new creation by the power of His blood.

    Jesus is Lord, but we know Him from His Word. If we are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we must first know how it is that He wishes to be glorified. Scripture is the only rule by which we may infallibly know such things.

  20. Chad says:

    It is not a question of “IF Christus Victor be true” – it IS true… It is the meaning of Jesus’ words when he said, “IT is finished” or then, “now ALL authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me.” Or when Paul says that in Christ ALL things have been reconciled. The list goes on and on…

    For the answers to your questions I might refer you to read St. Athanasius’ “On The Incarnation” – it’s well worth the read if you have never read it. Please know that what Bell is saying is NOTHING NEW. He is not making this stuff up – it’s older than even your cherished 5 Sola’s 🙂

    As for “who goes to hell?” One might argue that those who do not confess Christ as Lord are already in hell. Bell is not a universalist in the sense that anything goes, all paths lead to heaven and your actions and life don’t matter in the end. It ALL matters.

    You say that Scripture is the “only rule by which we may infallibly know such things.” I disagree. We can not, as finite humans, “infallibly” know anything other than the fact that we cannot infallibly know anything. Scripture is a witness to that which IS infallible. In the meantine, we get hints and guesses, or another way of putting it, we see through a glass dimly.


  21. beyond bluestockings says:

    Please know that what Bell is saying is NOTHING NEW. He is not making this stuff up – it’s older than even your cherished 5 Sola’s 🙂

    That’s right, heresy is as old as the hills… it was around when Paul was writing to the churches, and it will be around until we no longer “see through a glass dimly”. In the mean time, it’s noble to examine all in the light of scripture, to “see if these things that were spoken, were so”.

    Sounds a little like we can know for sure eh?

  22. Chad says:

    No, not exactly. Unless you think we can change Paul’s meaning and arrogantly assume we know more than he, for even he admitted to not understanding everything fully.

    To “examine” things in light of scripture does not equate to infallible knowledge of all things.

    You are correct to say that heresy is old. But so is orthodoxy (even older). When you read the early church father’s you find that Bell is not saying anything that hasn’t been said by many of them. What is a shame is that much of that has been watered down or lost or ignored since the Enlightenment and Reformation.


  23. beyond bluestockings says:

    To “examine” things in light of scripture does not equate to infallible knowledge of all things.

    Agreed! 🙂

    We cannot know all things (omniscience being reserved to God). However, let’s pick something nice and simple: I am a sinner. Surely, you would agree that an examination of the scriptures would allow me to know for certain that this is true? How about that God hates sin? This is undeniably true. Hatred toward your brother is murder in your heart? So true.

    There are some things that will remain a mystery, as Paul alludes to. However, some things are able to be known, leaving not a shadow of doubt as to the clarity of meaning. It is every Christian’s responsibility to do this, and if something comes to light as being contrary to the Word (as I believe the description of Bell’s account of man’s knowledge of God to be) then it is incumbent upon us to declare the error.

    If searching the scriptures did not allow us to discern heresy, there was little point commending the Bereans for such a noble pursuit.

  24. Chad says:

    Sorry, I must have missed this response from you and only saw it now.

    Would you please elaborate on what you think is Bell’s description of man’s knowledge of God? If you could highlight what you take Bell’s view to be and then where it contradicts scripture we might be making positive steps forward.


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