Why We Should Care About The Rob Bell Controversy

(A response to Chris Folmsbee of House Studio and Barefoot Ministries)

Chris Folmsbee is one of the staff people at the House Studio, a division of the Nazarene Publishing House which focuses on books and other materials for Nazarene youth.  He is also director of Barefoot Ministries, and is involved with Youthfront.  The House Studio has already come under criticism for some of its books, including the book 180, which was reviewed by Rev. Peter Migner last year as a questionable book for our youth.  Mr. Folmsbee recently posted a new commentary called 4 Reasons Why I Don’t Care About The Rob Bell Controversy.  Here are the four reasons he wrote, followed by my response which I posted at his blog:

I haven’t followed the controversy over the new Rob Bell book called, Love Wins very close at all.  Honestly, it doesn’t even interest me all that much.

4 Reasons Why I Don’t Care About The Rob Bell Book Controversy

1. It seems small to me.  It seems like we should be having controversies over bigger issues if we re going to have them.

2. It is irrelevant to me.  Granted I don’t know much about the controversy but if it is about what I think it is about (no hell?), it doesn’t change the way I live and the way that I participate with God’s mission.

3. Controversy in evangelicalism often seems more about demeaning people than real dialogue so I am skeptical that I will find meaningful, generous conversation anyways.

4. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen “controversy” from Rob Bell/Mars Hill.  To me, what others have classified as “controversy” is largely a misunderstanding or suspicion and speculation without context – and so I’m thinking this is the same kind thing.

So, tell me, why should I care about this controversy?

Dear Mr. Folsmbee,

Let me try to tell you why I believe you should care.  Although we have never met, I believe it is my duty to point out some errors in your thinking.  I assume you are probably a very nice guy, but this is not personal, but a question of right doctrine and discernment.   First of all, I applaud you for at least having the courage to say what’s on your mind publicly, because apparently many leaders in the Nazarene church do not have the courage to say anything lately. But frankly, I also suggest that you and perhaps the entire staff at The House Studio seriously consider resigning your positions, and letting others take over who might have a bit more discernment in these issues.  If not resignation, a serious amount of prayer time should be taken to ask God for wisdom and a return to strong biblical principles, instead of the type of books such as 180 that are being promoted to our youth.

As to your first point, does this controversy really seem small to you?  I believe matters of doctrine are pretty big issues.  Rob Bell is possibly the most popular national pastor among Christian youth today, including the Nazarene denomination which you serve.  It would seem that you should be prudent in keeping pace with these issues, especially since his books are very popular, as well as his NOOMA videos.  I do want to know however, if you like Rob Bell for what he teaches, and how much you really know about him?

What does it mean to participate in “God’s mission”, as you say?  I have never heard a clear explanation of what that term means, as it is being used frequently within the Nazarene denomination.  It sounds good, but what does that mean to you?  Would not defending the gospel, and scrutinizing a pastor’s teachings with what the Bible says, be part of God’s mission?  That’s what many of us are doing, and why many of us have come to the conclusion that Rob Bell is a false teacher!  Yet you seem to cavalierly brush aside the question of hell as if that is not important!  If Rob Bell is implying that there is no hell as the scriptures teach, and that unrepentant sinners might still get to heaven after they die, don’t you think this is worth investigating, especially by someone who is a youth leader and very influential?

You also say you don’t know much about the controversy.  Well, I suggest that you get to know about it because there’s enough noise being made by many Christians around the country, and if you continue to “not know much about it” and not even check it out, then I ask you again, please consider seriously resigning your position!  In such a position as yours, you ought to know what Rob Bell is teaching, and you ought to be able to articulate clearly to us what you believe about his positions on hell, eternity, and who is or is not saved.  Don’t you think that’s important, especially if it is true that he is preaching another gospel, as many believe he is?

Thirdly, you seem to be implying that criticism of a pastor’s teachings and doctrine is a matter of demeaning him.  Are you familiar with the many passages in scripture that instruct us to defend the faith, to judge what others teach, to reprove and to rebuke those who preach another gospel?  Do you remember when Paul rebuked Peter publicly?  Was he demeaning to Peter?  Do you remember the Bereans, who made sure that Paul was preaching according to scripture, in spite of knowing of his reputation?  If you remember, Paul also commended the Bereans, as opposed to accusing them that they were demeaning him.

Finally, I strongly suspect that if the books listed at The House Studio and Barefoot Ministries are any indication, your organization is heavily supporting the emergent church movement and all the baggage that comes with it.  That movement has been seriously eroding our strong  foundations in the church for a long time, and if proper biblical discernment is not your strong suit, then perhaps its time for new leadership at this organization, as well as at Barefoot Ministries and Nazarene Publishing House.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.  Gal. 1:6-10

4 responses to “Why We Should Care About The Rob Bell Controversy

  1. There are bigger issues than contradicting the clear teachings of Jesus?

    There being no hell doesn’t change the way you live and participate in God’s mission? (And you’re right, you don’t know what the controversy is about because, according to Rob Bell, there is a hell, of sorts, but it will one day be empty when we all finally come to our senses, so to speak, and accept that God really does love us.)

    If there is no permanent hell and it doesn’t matter what I believe about Jesus while I’m on earth (though I can choose to live in “heaven” or “hell” while I’m here and continue living there after I die until, if I have chosen hell, I decide to change my mind and choose heaven instead (presumably no one would choose to cross from heaven to hell)) then I should be doing my level best to get people to choose to live in heaven while on earth to save them a bunch of unnecessary suffering and work really hard at social justice so people don’t have to live in the hell that others have created for them and not worry about what Jesus taught because it doesn’t matter what they believe so long as they choose heaven sooner rather than later whether they recognize that Jesus is behind it or not. There is no need to teach that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that Jesus died in our place on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, that we must repent and believe in the one whom the Father has sent thereby escaping the wrath of God that is to come. No need to make disciples in all nations.

    Why should you care about this controversy? Do you really have to ask? Why would you not care? If you honestly believe that Rob Bell is faithfully handing down the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints then you, being involved with the demographic that is the target of this book, should be able to articulate why you believe that.

    I am including a link to Chris Rosebrough’s responses to a Q&A with Rob Bell just in case someone would like to hear what Rob Bell is saying and some of the objections that are being raised. Decide for yourself whether or not it is all a “misunderstanding or suspicion and speculation without context.”

    [audio src="http://004f597.netsolhost.com/fftf/F4F031511.mp3" /]

  2. I find Mr. Folmsbee’s attitude shocking given his responsibility. He should be concerned about what books are being supported by our publishing house. I believe that most Nazarenes trust what comes from our publishing. The mere fact that it comes from our publishing house to many carries the stamp of approval that the book is OK and does not have anything in it contrary to our doctrine. Sad to say this is no longer true.

    I am often reminded of my responsibility as a servant of Christ that what I do and what I approve by word or deed for others carries grave consequences not only to others but myself as well.

    In Matthew 18: Jesus warns of offenses. [6-7] “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

  3. We used to read and teach the Bible.

    Now we have bought into the lie that we NEED the latest and greatest publishing has to offer.

    Never mind that next year or next month they will want us to follow a new guru to continue selling us their wares.

    My prayer is we once again become people of the book.

    Even if that means boycotting our own leaders and publishing house.

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