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Bell's "Wonder" Misses the Mark


This week I caught Rob Bell’s new video titled “Rediscovering Wonder”.  I’ll save you the suspense and let you know there is nothing wonderful about it.  In fact it has left me to wonder if his message is an attack against those in the church who disagreed with his premise in his previous book, Love Wins, when he put forward that God’s love may be so big, he would allow people who are in hell a second chance at salvation, thus adopting the Universalist views on the afterlife.

If so, the video comes across as incredibly self righteous, essentially declaring himself to be above it all, because he hasn’t lost his sense of “wonder”.  If my proposal is not the case, it does not remove dealing with the false content of the message.  There are two things that are false with his message.  One is his criticism of Jesus, where Bell tries to get us to wonder if Jesus really valued “correct doctrinal thinking” as Jesus’ “highest intention for us”.  The second is his accusation, which I guess I am guilty of here, that people in “institutions” have become “so caught up in and so deeply, deeply, obsessed with defending and analyzing and holding everything up to this predetermined set of criteria, that they at some deep, deep, deep, level lost the ability to be surprised, to be filled, with wonder and awe.”

First let’s start with his quote in the video where he says, “and there are in these days all sorts of very, very strange ongoing heated discussions about trying to get the words right, as if Jesus’ highest intention for us is that we would have correct doctrinal thinking.”  What is a doctrine?  A doctrine contains two ideas.  It is a rule or a principle that forms the basis of a belief, theory, or policy.  A modern example can be related to politics, i.e. the Bush Doctrine.  That doctrine was a specific set of principles and beliefs about how United States foreign policy should be directed towards terrorism.

However doctrine goes beyond the realm of politics, and applies to religion.  Religions hold to certain doctrines which they believe to be true and correct.  Now if you are a Christian there are certain doctrines you believe are correct based on its founder Jesus Christ.  If you are an atheist, or not a Christian you may not believe some of the Christian doctrines presented in the Bible.  But if one claims to be a follower of Jesus, then they should take seriously Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus taught doctrine, and he challenged the Pharisees and other religious sects of his day who did not believe what he taught.  He actually accused them of being liars (John 8:55), hypocrites (Matthew 15:7), a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34), and evil (Matthew 12:34).  Jesus goes so far to tell his disciples to be on guard against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  From the accounts of the gospels and Jesus’ teaching, he is clear that he cares very, very, much about right doctrine.  After all, he taught the doctrine of heaven and hell.  Jesus makes claims of narrowness and exclusivity.  He apparently does care a great deal about right doctrine.  He claims he has The Truth on doctrine, as he is The Truth.

Jesus’ care for right doctrine didn’t just stop with him.  Those who were his disciples also cared a great deal about right doctrine.  In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus he talks repeatedly about the importance of sound doctrine. 

At the opening of Paul’s letter to Timothy he writes in 1 Tim. 1:3, “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer.”  Paul tells Timothy in this letter, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:16)  Good doctrine is beneficial to the teacher and to the body he teaches.  It saves from all kinds of trouble.  Then Paul gives a harsh rebuke to those who teach false doctrine:  “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.”(1 Tim. 6:3-4)

As if this is not strong enough to regard sound Biblical doctrine as a matter of high importance to a Christ follower, Paul goes on to list the teaching of sound doctrine as a requirement for an elder in the church.  In his letter to Titus Paul writes, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”  Then the next imperative in 2:1, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”

Bell goes on in his video to sarcastically say, “it’s one thing to be right, it’s another thing to be overwhelmed.”  Well, when I understand that Jesus’ words and doctrines are true, I am overwhelmed.  I can’t help but be overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed with his mercy, his love, his truth about my heart, the depth of his teaching, and I am also overwhelmed with fear, as Jesus is The Judge, as much as he is my Savior.  If I believe Jesus to be right in what he says, I am overwhelmed.

Finally, Bell’s condemnation of “institutions” for their failure “to cultivate and nurture this wide eyed sense of wonder about life in God’s good world” is reminiscent of Genesis 3.  He goes further saying, that institutions are “so caught up in and so deeply, deeply, obsessed with defending and analyzing and holding everything up to this predetermined set of criteria, that they at some deep, deep, deep, level lost the ability to be surprised, to be filled, with wonder and awe.”  Isn’t this the line of attack Satan used in the Garden of Eden against Eve?  Didn’t he tempt her and Adam’s preconceived notions of God?  The lie he told them, “You surely will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

 In other words Satan tempted them with the notion that there was something else to experience than what they had yet to experience.  Didn’t they want to know what it was?  Were God’s ways really the best ways?  Well we know how it ended don’t we?  They were so interested in tasting the fruit that they took and ate.  And then they realized that discovering the wonder of the knowledge of good and evil, wasn’t so wonderful after all.


Great video learned something from it. Thank you for the post. - Carmack Moving and Storage

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Former coffee house manager, turned barista and coffee afficianado, Matt is currently pursuing an M.Div at Talbot School of Theology. He's a critical thinker who seeks to be engaged in the culture, while blending faith into life.