Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More of the Same

Around the beginning of the year the LCMS Northwest District's Northwest Passage newsletter had a plug for their media library, so I stopped by and had a look. What I found was more than a little disconcerting, with offerings in the library from Beth Moore, and 23 of 24 of Rob Bell's Nooma series DVD's. At the same time in February that I was emailing District President Diefenthaler about the mysticism and enthusiasm running rampant in the prayer practices of the Southeastern District I also emailed Northwest District President Paul Linnemann about the Nooma videos.

I sent emails to President Linnemann in February and March of this year and received no response. After that I called the District office in April and left President Linnemann a message; shortly thereafter he emailed me back. I wasn't surprised that he related that he was incredibly busy, especially since having just been elected to his position. He stated that he was interested in the resources which the District makes available to its congregations, and was going to delegate the investigation of this issue to someone he trusted. I figure five months is a reasonable length of time to review a single series of videos and make a decision, yet the videos remain on the library list. I assume this fell through the cracks. I'd have to say though, if I were the District President and somebody came to me pointing out a resource that they thought taught false doctrine, I wouldn't be able to scramble over my desk fast enough to find the librarian and the webmaster and remove the offending materials until they were properly reviewed.

In an effort to get the word out to those who are being exposed to Pastor Bell's false teaching, I'm offering to you the same thing I wrote to District President Linnemann, minus the pleasantries at the front and back ends of the email. There are 24 videos in the Nooma series, each around 12-15 minutes long. I watched every one of them online, most on YouTube. Email me if you'd like exact references and I'll dig them up for you. Here's what I told President Linnemann:

Rob Bell is one of the leading lights in the Emerging Church and is Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. He a very influential guy, especially among younger postmodern types, and if you watch any of the Nooma videos you’ll see why. (I watched all of the videos, which are also available on the internet.) He really has an amazing ability to teach, being very personable and engaging, using metaphors that are first rate. He’s got a great personality – I enjoy his wry sense of humor. Unfortunately, it’s the “what” of what he’s teaching that is of concern.

Pastor Bell uses many of the same terms we would use - sin, love, truth, forgiveness, but he has redefined them. You can see this right away when you look at the “soundbite” on the home page of nooma.com:

Jesus lived with the awareness that God is doing something, right here, right now, and anybody can be a part of it. He encouraged his listeners to search, to question, to wrestle with the implications of what he was saying and doing. He inspired, challenged, provoked, comforted, and invited people to be open to God’s work in this world. Wherever he went, whatever he did, Jesus started discussions about what matters most, because for Jesus, God is always inviting us to open our eyes and join in.

It never gets any better than that. For Pastor Bell, Jesus is all about now, a savior sent to show us a better way to live. “What matters most” to Pastor Bell isn’t justification, it’s life in the here and now. For him, there is no original sin. Sin is failing to help out the “least of these,” or walking around angry: “He created you to be free from anger and revenge.” Without original sin, there’s no need for a suffering Savior. Instead, we’re in need of a little tweaking here and there, but basically we’re all good:

“Faith in Jesus is important, but what about Jesus faith in us?”

“God loves everybody. “

“Nothing can separate you from the love of God. May your whole life be a response to the fact that you’ve always been loved.”

“May you believe in God, but may you come to see that God believes in you. May you have faith in Jesus, but may you come to see that Jesus has faith, and you can be.…”

And since we’re all loved by God and all we need is a little behavior modification, everyone is saved:

“The divine breath is flowing through you, and the person next to you. There’s a holiness in the people around you.”

“A person doesn’t have to agree with this for it already to be true.”

“This isn’t a statement about one religion being better than all the other religions.”

And since we’re obviously saved, there’s no room for hell in Pastor Bell’s theology. There is room for mysticism however:

“Still small voice. God was in the silence.”

“Maybe the healing and guidance [not forgiveness] we desperately need is not going to come from one more meeting or therapy session or sermon or self-help book but from simply listening for the voice of God.”

“When Jesus prayed He’s tapping into this divine creative energy that made everything.”

“Prayer is tapping into the same energy that formed the universe.”

There’s also room for the popular assignment of female characteristics to God:

“This is a feminine image for God.”

“God is a Spirit. God is in essence beyond male and female. There is a feminine dimension to God.”

Pastor Bell preaches a social gospel and liberation theology:

“Jesus has identified Himself with an injustice larger than himself. There’s something divine about his anger because some things are worth getting angry about. Which is more disturbing? A God who gets angry or a God who can see exploitation and abuse and injustice and not get angry. War, violence, somebody using their strength to take advantage of the weakness of another. God is love and when a human is abused, mistreated, dehumanized, there is going to be divine anger. The kind that identifies with anybody that is being mistreated or harmed.”

“There’s so many people with basic needs like food and shelter and clothing, and we have the resources to help them.”

“Our lives are either more and more about us, more stuff, more unsatisfying consumption, or we’re on a different path, and this is why Jesus talked so much about serving.”

The above quotes are representative of what he’s teaching. In the interest of time, I didn’t reference which film each quote came from, and they may not be completely word-for-word accurate since I haven’t double checked them. If you’d like to quote any of them, let me know and I can verify them and provide the proper reference. I’ve also read Pastor Bell’s book Velvet Elvis, and his teachings there are consistent with his teachings in Nooma, it’s not something I’m reading into the videos. He preaches a social gospel that is devoid of the true Gospel. It’s about works apart from the grace of God procured for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s no sin, no hell, and no need for a Savior, only a world that needs to be fixed up, and we’re here to do it.

From this sampling, it’s obvious that what Pastor Bell is teaching is inimical to the Gospel. It appeals to the old Adam’s desire to be in control of his own destiny via the works superhighway. Sometimes this is readily apparent and at other times it’s subtle. There are spots where he relates things well and preaches bits and pieces of articles of faith that you might think are orthodox if taken out of context, but within the scheme of the whole Nooma series, it is heterodox teaching and not suitable for consumption. If anyone catechized by Pastor Bell is saved, I’d think it’s because of felicitous inconsistency. Therefore, I’m hopeful that you will remove the Nooma series from the library. Its potential for spiritual harm is great.

Let me know what you think, and thanks for your time.

That pretty well sums up Rob Bell and his Nooma series. You can draw your own conclusions on why this type of material would be on a District website. From where I type, it seems like an undiscerning flaunting of "relevant" but false teaching at the expense of the truth.


Mary Ellyn said...

It's takes less than 5 minutes to google Rob Bell and realize that he doesn't belong in an LCMS church (and other Christian churches).

My former LCMS church stocked the Noomas videos and I'm guessing they are still there.

And what's really frightening to me is that these videos would appeal to youth in particular -- because they look 'cool'.

Ray Vander Laan materials are making an appearance our church for congregational wide study. Rob Bell considers him to be his rabbi!!!

X said...

It gets worse than what Mary Ellyn stated. The Stephen Ministers peddle the videos to shut-ins!

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for the heads-up on this, Scott.

jim_claybourn said...


We are using the Bethany reprint of your series on the Emerging Church for our Men's Bible Study.

Any suggestion on which Rob Bell video I could show to demonstrate where Rob Bell is coming from?


Anonymous said...

Scott, My LCMS Church has the NOOMA Series videos in the church bookstore for sale. Several members, me included, shared with the pastors that Rob Bell's videos are not in agreement with Lutheran Doctrines. Actually, an associate pastor agreed and said that Rob Bell was somewhat of an emergent church pastor during his 3 Solas Class he teaches to new members, staff and current members. But, they still offer the videos for sale and use them in youth ministry and other areas of ministry. The associate pastor also attended one of Rob Bell's workshops, I believe it was called, The Bride of Christ several years ago.
The senior pastor actually used the first video, RAIN, in a presentation for a Capital Campaign to the members several years ago.

So, here you have pastors, knowing that they are not in agreement with the Lutheran Confessions but are still willing to use them and offer them in the bookstore because they are relevant and a tool to engage people with a 10 minute teaching. Or for whatever else they deem is an appropriate use for them.
I know that I and a couple other members in the church made every effort to get the church to discontinue using and offering the NOOMA videos but to no avail.
Claudia Kuiper of Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Mi

OneMan said...

“God loves everybody. “

Ok, I see the issue with a lot of this but I guess I am missing the issue with this statement.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, Concordia Publishing House has some excellent video shorts, which some have compared to NOOMA, that are very engaging, yet thoroughly Lutheran.

In fact, this DVD-based series is called "Engage," featuring the Rev. Kurt Klaus. You really ought to check them out.


Robert C. Baker
Sr. Editor, Adult Bible Studies
Concordia Publishing House

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry. Here's a sample.


roger said...

Once again thank you for a good article. I have asked my DP to speak with your DP about such things as this and what is happening at Portland with the Gay, and Lesbian Club on campus!!!


Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

Claudia, Good job defending the truth.

Jim, Email me (click on "email Scott" in the right sidebar) and I'll email you my notes on the videos. You'll be able to get a better idea of the whole thing and pick out whichever video you'd like.

OneMan, Pastor Bell's version of “God loves everybody" means there is no hell, no judgment or eternal damnation. He doesn't have a proper distinction of Law and Gospel.

Pastor Baker, Thanks for the tip on the "Engage" series. I watched the preview - it's very nicely done. The clip didn't get to the doctrinal "punchline" part of the video, but I'd say CPH has been putting out a lot of quality products lately! Maybe a set of the DVD's will show up in the NOW District library one of these days. Lutherans teaching Lutherans - what a concept!

Roger, I hope your DP has more "pull" with my DP than I do!

OneMan said...