C.J. Mahaney on Rob Bell and the Pastor’s Task of Discernment

“Rob Bell, Rob Bell, Rob Bell”. “Nooma this, Nooma that, Nooma, Nooma, Nooma”. Have you read that book Velvet Elvis? Great Book that is. Will change the way you view your faith forever!”

At least that’s what I’ve heard off some people this past year or two. I do have to confess that I bought both of Rob Bell’s books and two of his Nooma DVDs. On hindsight I have no idea why. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. To be fair the the Noomas I have aren’t bad. In fact I like them. Their titles?; Flame and Luggage. Both have a good message. In fact, reformed evangelicals could learn a lot from Rob Bell’s ability to engage the younger generation (my generation). Times have changed and we must utilise the means that God has blessed us with to reach the post-modern child of the ’80s so to speak. DVD and media gospel presentations are a great way to do that. Of course this should not replace expository preaching entirely. Rather churches could do well to utilise the modern day technology. Look at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill. I love that set-up. Mark and his team have hit the nail in the head and its working. Anways back to Rob Bell. At the time I bought the Noomas Rob Bell was the “In Thing”. Is he still “in” by the way? I don’t know. Anyways, people were talking about him and I was listening. That’s the problem right there. I was listening and that’s it. Discernment was horrendously absent. I’ve got caught out a few times with regards to my reading and researching of Christianity in the past, when I was a “baby”. Something happened though a little over a year ago. I was a broken young man. On my knees crying before God, pleading with Him to lead me into the truth. “I want to know your truth Jesus. I am sick of the lies out there Lord. Keep me from them and lead me into Sound Teaching and Sound Doctrine that I might pass it onto others for the glory of your name.” I cried out to God on more than one occasion. Shortly thereafter I stumbled upon the glorious Biblical truths of the Reformed Faith. I was being drawn to authors, podcasts and sermons of Reformed Christians. One such Pastor was C.J. Mahaney. I hope you find his words to be a blessing with regards to discernment and how to practice it per se. Give me J.C Ryle on Holiness or Spurgeon anyday instead of Velvet Elvis and A Generous Orthodoxy. Don’t get me wrong…I am sure Rob Bell is a nice guy. In fact I would go so far as to say I like him. I don’t doubt he is a brother in Christ. I like what he stands for with regards to the poor and I could easily hang out with him. But I don’t agree with his presentation of the gospel, in that I think it falls short of a full biblical presentation. I’ll hand you over to C.J for the rest.

“Today’s pastor is given the challenging task of discerning error that comes published in hip packaging from Christian publishers, authored by professing Christians.

So many errors, so little time.

In executing this responsibility, pastors must discern whether the influence of the individual and the gravity of their error necessitate research and evaluation by a pastor. Today I want to explain one particular concern and give you an inside look at how I approach this difficult task.

Now, because this short post limits what I can say, I recommend listening to one the finest messages on this topic—Mark Dever’s message from New Attitude 2007 (

“Discern Your Doctrine”

Gilbert on Bell
Today I want to draw your attention to

Greg Gilbert’s critique of Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. Greg serves as director of theological research for the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In prioritizing what materials concern us as pastors, I believe Rob Bell’s writings, videos, and influence cannot (and should not) be ignored. I think we should carefully consider Greg Gilbert’s reviews, which demonstrate a commendable combination of humility of heart and theologically informed discernment about matters of primary importance.Within this pastoral task of discernment, I’m reminded of four biblical priorities.

1. Protect Your People

A pastor’s role includes protecting the flock from error. This is no easy task today, especially when so many of the popular books and videos published by professing Christians who appear to have serious theological deficiencies. Yet pastors cannot simply ignore the prevalence and influence of these materials; they have the responsibility to protect those entrusted to their care.

This discernment is especially important when the issues are of primary importance and not secondary, when—as carefully noted by Greg Gilbert—matters of the gospel are in question.

It’s worth noting that acting to protect the flock from published teachings that depart from Scripture is handled differently than steps taken privately to confront a brother in sin (i.e.
Matthew 18:15-20) Let me state clearly that I don’t assign sinful motivation to Rob Bell. Actually, I assume he is sincere. But sincerity doesn’t exempt any of us from the appropriate evaluation of what we teach.
2. Prepare Your Heart

When required to critique the writings and teachings of another, I must pay careful attention to my heart. Scripture calls us to correct those in error with gentleness, avoiding quarrelsome attitudes, showing kindness to everyone, and enduring all evil (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Whenever it’s necessary to critique erroneous content, I find it helpful to remind myself of the mercy of God. Any insight I have learned has been learned from others, and ultimately, this discernment has been graciously revealed by God. In no way does my critique indicate intellectual or moral superiority on my part. We must critique erroneous content, but our critique must be humble and not self-righteous.

If we accurately perceive God’s mercy, this will become an occasion of thanking God for his mercy in our lives rather than an opportunity for self-righteous communication.

Whenever we take up this task of critiquing and addressing error, we must guard our hearts and pursue the task with humility and gentleness.

3. Preach Sound Doctrine

The most effective way to protect your church from error is by a steady diet of gospel-centered, sound doctrine. For this reason I don’t recommend that pastors repeatedly and consistently make public references to erroneous books or media.

Only on a few particular occasions do I think it’s wise for a pastor to make specific reference to an individual in the context of a sermon. However, a pastor must be aware of what is popular and influential, because he will be asked these questions by church members in private conversations. So I draw a distinction between what a pastor addresses in a sermon and what he should be prepared to address in private conversation when approached by a member of his church.

You need to be prepared for these conversations, and that’s why I believe Greg Gilbert’s reviews will help prepare you for when you are asked about Rob Bell.

4. Pray for Rob Bell

We must pray for those who are in need of correction and who teach erroneous doctrine. Even those classified as our “opponents” should be addressed kindly, out of concern for their souls, praying that God will lead them to a knowledge of the truth (
2 Timothy 2:25). How much more care should be taken with a professing brother in Christ?Specifically, I pray for Rob Bell in the following ways:
  • Pray that God reveals to him the content of the gospel.
  • Pray that God reveals to him the primacy of the gospel.
  • Pray that he perceives his accountability to God and responsibility for those he leads.
  • Pray that he would be humbly attentive and responsive to the critique of godly scholars.
  • Pray that he would devote himself to the study of sound doctrine by finding his way to the right books and scholars who can train him.
Prayer is an effective way to examine our motives in correcting others. When I pray for someone I find it more difficult to be self-righteous in my attitude toward him. Correction without concern for the corrected leads to self-righteousness. Correction with sincere concern for the welfare of the corrected is a display of genuine humility and love.Conclusion

In all instances of critique, we must carefully research the details in private to avoid misrepresenting the position of the one we critique. I think you will agree that Greg Gilbert’s reviews of Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos have been carefully researched. But the reviews also display character we can learn from—a careful humility of heart and a theologically informed discernment about matters of primary importance (those related to the gospel).

Read Greg’s critiques here.

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