Nooma “Breathe”: A Review

There is so much objectionable material in Rob Bell’s Nooma, “Breathe,” that it will be quite impossible to adequately deal with everything in this review. He teaches elements of New Ageism, Hinduism, and Universalism and couples it with such a profound misunderstanding of Scripture that I’ll only scratch the surface here.

Bell begins by telling us how many breaths we take a day and how much air (in volume) that represents — it’s a lot. But, because we are distracted by our daily tasks, we never notice it.

He then goes on to tell about Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. He references the passage where God tells Moses to remove his sandals because the ground he is standing on is holy.

“Now Moses has been walking this land for 40 years,” Bell says. “I mean, it isn’t as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. The ground didn’t just change. It’s that Moses becomes aware of it. Which raises the question for us: Are we standing on holy ground all the time?”

noomabreathestampedWell, actually it is exactly as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. You see, the Bible makes it clear over and over again that God and God alone is holy. It is the very presence of God that makes the ground holy under Moses’ feet. The same thing happens when the commander of the army of the Lord appears to Joshua. The commander is a Christophony (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). And, since Christ is God and therefore holy, his presence makes the ground under Joshua’s feet holy. This is only the first instance in “Breathe” where Bell displays a fundamental misunderstanding of holiness.

He continues to explain that the word “LORD” in the English Bible is translated from YHVH in the Hebrew.

“These letters, in Hebrew, are pronounced ‘Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey’ which is where we get the pronunciation ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’” Bell points out. “There are no vowels in the name YHVH and the ancient Jews did not even say the name because they considered it too holy.”

All of that is true. But one of the hallmarks of a convincing false teacher is his ability to take some truth and incorporate untruth. It’s at this point Bell starts mixing in elements of other religious philosophies.

“In fact,” he continues, “the ancient rabbis believed these letters were… essentially, kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing.

“Is the name of God the sound of breathing?”

Do you see where he’s going with this?

Just wait.

“In Genesis we read how God created man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him life. When we die we return to dust,” Bell says. “For thousands of years people have understood this physical breath that we all possess to be a picture of a deeper reality. In the Bible the word for breath is the same word for spirit. In the Old Testament it is ‘ruah’ and in the New Testament it’s “pnuema.’”

Just because a word means both “breath” and “spirit” does not mean it means both things in every case. It is not interchangeable. Context determines meaning. Consider the word “building.”

Example 1: That is a tall building.

Example 2: Timmy is building a tower with his blocks.

It’s the same word — different meanings. One is a noun. The other is a verb. It’s an overly simplistic example, I know, but it makes the point — which will become clearer in a moment.

“When God takes the ‘ruah’ you die, but when he sends the ‘ruah’ you have life,” Bell continues. “And the first Christians took hold of this idea then they took it way farther. They actually believed that the Spirit of God resides or can literally dwell, live in a person. One Scripture in Romans 8 says that if the ‘pneuma,’ the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in you, then God will give you life.”

Well, that’s true. “One Scripture in Romans 8” does say that. But it does not mean what Bell is implying that it means. He is equating the “breath of life,” as given to Adam, with the Holy Spirit of God, as it indwells believers in Christ. He seems to be implying that if God has breathed physical life into you (as per his discussion of the “breath of life”) then you have the life Paul speaks of in Romans 8 (which is eternal life).

This just isn’t true.

Consider the passage of Scripture in Romans 8 in context. And remember, this is a letter written specifically to believers in Christ Jesus at the Church in Rome:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” — Romans 8: 9-11

This passage clearly draws a distinction between believers and non-believers. While it is obvious that every living person has the “ruah” (breath of life), only those who are believers in Christ have the “pneuma” (Holy Spirit) indwelling them. And it is the Holy Spirit that will provide the “life” Paul speaks of in this passage.

Bell’s comments on this passage immediately made me think he was advocating some sort of Universalist message — a thought that was strengthened with Bell’s next comments.

“Another Scripture says that what the Spirit of God does living in you, is it sanctifies,” Bell says. “Now the word ‘sanctify’ it means ‘to purge’ or ‘to clean out.’ What it essentially means is that when you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of…

“Jesus said that what the Spirit of God does, is the Spirit guides us into Truth. I there anything you need guidance in? I mean, maybe what we need is as close as breathing.”

Now, I am convinced that Bell is teaching a synthesis of Christianity and Eastern religions, specifically Hinduism and Transcendental Meditation (which is a practice I’ve condemned before). This whole idea of “breathing in” God is straight from their philosophies. I realize there are many who will deny Bell is advocating any sort of Eastern religion in this Nooma.

Fine. For the sake of argument I will accept he is not advocated such a thing (although I’m convinced he is). Even if that is the case he is still teaching something entirely unbiblical. That we have the ability to “breath in” God at will is contrary to Scripture.

In the third chapter of John Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus the nature of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We no more have command over the Holy Spirit than we do over the wind.

I suspect Bell would disagree. In “Breathe” he refers to humans as “sacred” and “divine” because of the indwelling of this divine breath. This is the second place Bell demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of holiness. The Bible could not be more clear — God alone is holy. Not us.

“You are a sacred creation of God,” Bell says. The divine breath is flowing through you, and it’s flowing through the person next to you, and it’s flowing through the person next to them. You are on holy ground. And there is a holiness to the people around us.”

This is a common misconception about man — one that is born out of humanism.

Humanism teaches an innate value in man.

Scripture teaches that man is completely undone. Sinful. Wretched.

Humanism teaches an elevated view of man, one that borders on — dare I say it — holiness.

Bell, apparently, agrees with the humanists and even says, “A person doesn’t have to agree with this for it to already be true. God has already given us life.”

Again, he makes no distinction between believers and non-believers. And the Bible is clear that only believers have this life Bell references.

The most quoted passage in the Bible is probably John 3:16. Many people even use that passage to defend an elevated view of man. Since “God so loved the world,” they contend, “there must be something in man worth saving.”

But I recommend reading past the 16th verse.

“Whosoever believes in him is not condemned, but whosoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” — John 3: 18-19

Contradictions between the Bible and Bell abound in this video. Suffice it to say, there is very little in “Breathe” that even remotely resembles biblical Christianity. I’ve long suspected Rob Bell to be a teacher of the philosophies of this age, and “Breathe” is the most convincing evidence to date that supports that suspicion.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

46 Responses to Nooma “Breathe”: A Review

  1. Caleb & Sol says:

    Interesting thoughts. To Jesus Christ be the glory forever!

    -Sol
    http://www.calebandsol.com

  2. Richey says:

    Just one thought, if the ground and people all around us are holy, should we not wear shoes? God did tell Moses to take off his shoes as a sign of this holiness didn’t He?

  3. Bell has a real thing for these “breathing” exercises. I listened to one of his earlier “sermons” where he advised people to write down all the bad things in their lives on a piece of paper, hold it while closing their eyes and breathe the bad out of them. It almost sounded like a lamaze class!

    Bell is ignorant of the things he teaches. He is just very charismatic and creepy at the same time. If anyone is tickling ears, I bbelieve Bell to be right up there with Joel Osteen.

  4. Chip says:

    Regrettably his charisma has fooled a lot of believers into listening to his teachings.

  5. Really? says:

    Interesting thoughts. But I just saw the video and I just think you’re missing the point of his message.
    I don’t think he was trying to repeat biblical truths about holiness, sinfulness, salvation and a spirit-filledness to Christians who already know this as much as he seemed to be addressing nominal Christians who are doubting or searching. There are people, including strong Christians, who need to hear that God is here with us every split second of our lives, everywhere we are, and that God’s spirit, precisely because it moves like the wind, can be expected and unexpected anywhere, anytime, to and through anyone. Many Christians have adopted a type of deism for their faith, and that’s just not accurate.
    I don’t think he’s talking about the spirit-filled life Christians have once their filled with the Spirit, he’s talking about something else.
    Watch it again and try to be open to what he’s trying to say, and not what you think he’s saying. It’s not bad, but it may not agree with everyone’s view of Christianity and of God. So be slow to judge, because we are all just on the way (1 Cor. 13) – some day we will all know the complete Truth.
    Blessings!

  6. Chip says:

    Really?

    Believe me, before I ever write a review of something, I consider it over and over again. I’ve watched “Breathe” numerous times and I assure you I am not missing the point.

    There are clear and unmistakable universalist overtones in this video — and this brand of universalism is only enforced when you consider some of Bell’s other work (Velvet Elvis, for example).

    Clearly there is a wide variety of beliefs among people who claim to be Christians. And I am not saying Bell must agree with me. But, he must be in agreement with Scripture and I have demonstrated where he is not.

    I also agree that there are some things about God we just can’t know. However, there are things that we can know for certain — Scripture testifies of these things. Bell is taking things in Scripture that we can know for certain and calling them into question. I don’t mind asking difficult questions. But I have a problem with someone who deliberately raises doubt where none need exist.

    You are not the first Bell apologist to suggest that I have “missed the point” of one of his videos. You won’t be the last. But, as I have seen fit to consider Bell’s work over and over again, might I suggest you do the same? Try to be open to all of the implications of what he is saying. Could anyone draw the wrong conclusion from his teaching? If so, why doesn’t he clarify — lest someone venture off in the wrong direction?

    I sincerely appreciate your comments.

    • Nicole says:

      I see I am a few years late, since everything is from 2009. I enjoyed this video, I enjoyed reading your review and all the comments. I did not read more into it than what I got right off which was God is all around, we should be aware of his presence. I did not ponder the thoughts he tried to slip in there. I know the difference between our spirit/breath and the holy spirit we get when we accept Christ into our hearts. I feel the only ground Mose was standing on and needed to remove his shoes is equal to us making ourself more open to God around us. We are standing on holy ground if and when we see or realize God is here, if we are too busy with LIFE to see he is here it is not holy ground, if we are close to God, our eyes are open, we see God and therefore are standing on holy ground. Thank you! I enjoyed reading.

  7. Chip says:

    NOTICE: I’ve deleted two posts by Jon because they were personal in nature and not constructive. While I haven’t posted an official set of rules concerning proper etiquette when posting comments, I do expect a certain level of civility from anyone who posts here.

    Please know this: All comments containing name calling, profanity, and ad hominem arguments will be deleted.

    Also know that I enjoy humor. If you intend comments to be taken as satire or in a fun way please make sure that is clearly understood.

    As always, I appreciate everyone who comments here. Let’s keep it clean and civil.

  8. Tim Lantrip says:

    When was the last time you shared your faith with anyone other than another christian? These videos are great tools in the appropriate environment for doing just that. As Christians, we have spent too much time tearing apart other denominations for their interpretations of the scriptures. We must allow God to tear down the walls that we have built between each other and fall down on our knees before Him in honor and reverence.

  9. barry says:

    I’m afraid Chip your views of Rob Bell have clouded your judgement. I don’t think it matters how many times you watch the video, your predetermined ideas will always shape your listening. your failure to recognise that in this teaching breathing has become a metaphor – and not the laughable idea of “breathing in the spirit” – is evidence of your desire to discredit and undermine rather than constructively critique!

    I think “Really?” has put it very well.

    The purpose of this short teaching is to establish the foundational biblical world-view that Creator God is present in all things and works through all things. I’m sure you are as frustrated as we all are by people who profess a form of faith in God (usually on sundays) and then live their lives in numerous ways that betrays their confession.

    What we (and you) need to recognise is the ways that our usual views of faith and religion (which your critique is clearly committed to and founded on) have in large part contributed to a way of doing faith and religion that creates a dualistic split between belief (as a system of mental agreements) and faith (as a way of living).

    Rob is simply – very simply – asking you to be conscious of God “with every breath”.

    (psalm 150:6)

    and a whole lot more creatively (that’s a sign of the Spirit) and effectively (ah, that’s also a sign of the Spirit…) than a lot of what the church is grinding out… (not to spirit-filled any more!)

  10. Rich says:

    Hi
    I am a fan of Rob’s and appreciate so much of what he says and how he does it. I try to pay attention to him and listen clearly.
    But I have to agree with the underlying concern in your post here. I think Bell is trying to open us up to the ‘everything is spiritual’ motif that he likes and is in so many ways (to my mind) a better way of thinking as opposed to ‘everything is unspiritual’ approach which divided physcal stuff from ‘spiritual’ stuff. There is no secular/sacred divide in the bible – everything is sacred.
    So far so good – but that is not the same as saying that everything is ‘holy’. No. Not everything is holy. In fact this is the problem. Stuff that shoudl be holy (people for example) have become ‘unholy’. And this needs sorting by God.
    The ground was Holy because God was there. You are right.

    I think Bell has overstated himself – ro misused a passage…

    But there is also much in Bell’s video which I find interesting and refreshing…

    I am preparing for Sunday’s talk on the Spirit – as it is pentecost – and hence why I came across your blog. And I am interested that the word for Spirit is from Latin ‘spiritus’ which is to do with breath… and that the activity of the Spirit in Ezekiel 37 is to ‘breathe’ into the bonmes… and that it was the ‘breath/spirit’ that gave life to Jesus and which lives in us as believers (Rom 8).

    Biblical metaphors matter and I think it is interesting and important that the imagery for teh Spirit is primarily ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ and not water or fire as I have previously thoght.

    So, my question is now this: In what way can I breathe in the Holy Spirit into my life – letting him fill me with his life giving breath and raising me, sanctifying me, restoring me…

    I need God’s breath in me for life… all of it…
    Thanks for your post.
    and for the discussion : )

  11. David Ahmed says:

    Hi

    I enjoyed aspects of your critique of Breathe. You seem to be a Calvinist in outlook, i.e. we are totally depraved. Obviously that is not Rob Bell’s view and understanding of scripture.

    I too saw Bell’s misuse of some scripture as incorrect, such as Moses and the holy ground. I, however, saw that those misuses were not the foundation of his point and therefore excusable. His only point seemed to be that God is foundational to us in a way we miss every moment of the day.

    For all his mistakes, he inspires a joy and reverence for God. Having watched the video I was minded that Jesus is the sustainer of all things according to scripture. That verse became more real to me, yet Rob did not mention that particular verse. It also brought home the Love for your neighbor commandment, since God is so close to us all. He brought home something fundamental that most theologians, preachers and teachers often fail to do.

    I mention your view and Rob’s view of our state, as a possible explanation to the criticism your review has received. I think it explains the colouring to your view of Rob Bell.

    Your review is the first negative- I use negative lightly – one that actually draws good points, that I have come across. Many of your points are justified, yet I think you have still misjudged him.

    Mr Bell goes into areas that are nebulous, confusing to many and often controversial. The result is engagement, inspiration and much questioning by christians and non-christians. Does he take risks…You betcha….should he play it a bit safer…I think so, but then he would not cover so much ground. He makes less mistakes and inspires many more than many I have read and listened to. I pray he does not crash and burn, but learns and grows. Which one of us understands perfectly? In this life, none; therefore all of us have heresy. Peace should reign then, and love.

    One weakness in your review was assumption. You assumed alot for Rob Bell. Having listened and read much of Rob Bell’s stuff I think your assumptions are probably wrong; but then again am I not assuming? Didn’t I assume you are a Calvinist in your outlook? Am I right?

    Still, all the criticisms I have heard of Rob Bell miss his point because ( I believe ) he is not conventional. He is not traditional. Most importantly, he seems to portray a freedom in Christ that is such a challenge to all who are not, but are holding onto their ground fearfully. It is great that he shakes their ground. I pray he is free in Christ. Having never met the man, I cannot be sure, but we will know them by their fruit.

    Peace

  12. Hopespringseternal says:

    Also, the gospel of John incorporates many influences without being wrong. John used aspects of pagan and Gnosis teachings to better express Jesus. Would it not be easy to miss John’s point. I think Rob Bell is attempting to claim anything that helps faith in Jesus.

    Peace

  13. Rob Bell is a pantheist, plain and simple. His implementation of it just happens to be Christianity – just like Christian Science. I’ve written an analysis of NOOMA, posted here: http://www.alancoughlin.com/Blog/NOOMA.jsp.

  14. hopespringseternal says:

    Pantheism derives from the Greek (Ancient Greek πᾶν (pan) meaning “All” and θεός (theos) meaning “God” – literally “All is God.” Pantheism is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God are identical. As such Pantheism promotes the idea that God is better understood as way of looking at natural law, existence, and the Universe (the sum total of all that was, is and shall be), rather than as a transcendent and especially anthropomorphic entity.[1]. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal or creator god.

    Quote above from Wikipedia….does not sound to me like Mr Bell. Reactionary statements are prone to error. Whatever aspects of Mr Bell you are focusing on seem over played to me, since he seems to claim Jesus as his Saviour.

  15. Joel says:

    From what I see the main spiritual argument that underlays Mr. Thideology’s attempts at criticism here have to do with his statement that Bell is advocating a “humanist” view of Man – which “teaches an innate value in man” Funny. Since God made Man in his own image, since we are beloved of God, it is wrong to conclude that there is no ‘innate value’ in being human? Is that what God really wants for us? Of course Mr. Thideology then pulls out some out of context scripture and lays it down as the ultimate truth and main pillar for his argument:

    “Scripture teaches that man is completely undone. Sinful. Wretched.”

    Really? Perhaps this seems completely idiotic to me because I’m Catholic and not Fundamentalist. But, God, am I happy I do not share this ‘wretched’ view of my self, my humanity. A blending of Eastern ideas and Christianity? Is there nothing in common in the East and West theologies? the brilliant writer Thomas Merton spent a better part of his life finding common ground between East and West. I can imagine Mr. Thideology foolishly trying to condemn him as well. Did God not also inspire the cultures and religions of the East? Perhaps Christ is the way to salvation, but even the Church finds truth and value in the other main religions. I find it sickening that this author has decided to expend energy to ‘inquisition’ Bell, who obviously has a profound love of God and Christ, and is someone who wants to share it with the world – in effect helping spread the Word of God. There are so many assumptions, generalities and personal opinions presented in this poorly executed review that it would take too much time and energy to talk about them. Suffice to say, if you can’t see the Holy Spirit at work in what Bell is doing then I truly feel sorry for you. If you can’t see holiness in God’s creation, then your life is truly ‘wretched’.

  16. Chuck says:

    Excellent commentary. Thanks to Chip for providing the forum and to all who have thoughtfully contributed.

    Bell stretches me some and makes me uncomfortable from time to time along the lines Chip cites. I do think you find the objectionable things when you look for them and look for them through your own bias. He uses a great deal of scripture and his main themes always seem on track to me. On the occasion when he may step a bit too far out – I would categorize the “holy ground” reference as one of those – I find it useful to question my study group along those lines to see if they spot errant interpretations of scripture or just think Bell is making a different point that is valid.

  17. Chip says:

    Chuck,

    You are correct — Bell does use a great deal of Scripture. So do Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Universalists, and any number of people who claim the name “Christian” but adhere to false teachings.

    Remember, truth mixed with error is error.

    This is why Bell is so dangerous. He is able to disguise his error quite deftly in the folds of truth.

    I would encourage you to continue to question your study group. Believers need to hold one another accountable.

  18. Chuck says:

    Chip,

    It works out that I had a bit of a test case Sunday. My group is 30′s to 50′s in age, most having grown up in church and a strong interest in Bible study. They choose to be in this class because they like thoughtful discussion and like to have their minds stretched and faith challenged. Aside from the occasional Nooma fill-in, we have done studies on UnChristian, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, Tim Keller’s Prodigal God, and various Saddleback traditional Bible Study/small group resources.

    I asked first about the main messages from the video and got Biblically unquestionable themes like God is always with us whether we are conscious of it or not; the worries and pace of life distract us from God, people are God’s creation and worth of our love and respect, etc. etc.

    I then asked if anyone saw anything that gave them pause to question his interpretation of scripture. One person brought up the idea that it could be interpreted that he suggested the Holy Spirit was present in everyone. From there, one younger guy who had read Velvet Elvis said absolutely that was the case and actually recited your arguments above almost verbatim. There was immediate disagreement by a number of people who thought nothing of the sort and felt he was way off base. Those folks who disagreed included PHD in communications who has taught at a couple of Christian universities and 50+ pastor’s wife who is extraordinarily conservative and equally well versed in teaching and Bible study.

    I have respect for both perspectives. Those who thought Rob was not teaching universalism are intelligent, informed, well studied and Biblically conservative. The guy who was dogmatic in his assertion that Rob was preaching universalism is equally intelligent, but he came with a bias derived from his understanding of Velvet Elvis. It is worth noting that he believes there is a great deal of good to be found in Noomas and that despite his feelings about this one, he enjoys them overall.

    While this one is certainly not my favorite due to the potential misinterpretations, I think it is way overstated to say there is very little that even remotely resembles Biblical Christianity. My group heard the arguments on both sides put forth pretty eloquently and most felt the universalism label was misapplied. Granted, they hadn’t read Elvis, but I think a few of them will now. Perhaps that will win them over to your side, or perhaps they will agree with a number of posters above who have also read his other works.

    Thanks again for providing the forum. I’ll be on the lookout for others regarding additional Noomas.

  19. Chip says:

    Chuck,

    I appreciate your comments and your approach at facilitating a discussion in a Bible study setting. I would like to point out a couple of things.

    First, while I appreciate the work that goes into earning a Ph.D., holding a doctorate does not make one an infallible interpreter of Scripture (as I’m sure you know). In fact, I recall an event during my seminary days when a member of the Jesus Seminar came to debate members of the seminary faculty. He had a Ph.D. and had more head knowledge of the Bible than I am ever likely to have. However, he could not understand the basics of Scripture for one simple reason — he was lost.

    1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

    I’m not saying the members of your Bible study are lost, only that intelligence is no guarantee of being able to properly understand Scripture. For the sake of my comments I will accept that the members of your Bible study are, in fact, believers in Christ. But, even this is no guarantee of a proper understanding of Scripture. Believers misunderstand Scripture all the time. That’s why it is so vitally important we hold one another accountable.

    You did mention that the guy who agreed with me was “dogmatic” and “came with a bias derived from his understanding of Velvet Elvis.”

    Let me remind you, the first time I watched a Nooma video I had never heard of Rob Bell. I had no bias regarding him at all. I enjoyed the first Nooma, which gave me a positive impression of Bell. It was with a positive impression (a bias, if you will) of Bell that I watched my second Nooma. It was during that Nooma that red flags started going up. I didn’t believe he was saying what I thought he was saying, so I watched again. And again. I read his book. I watched more Noomas. I watched his teaching tour videos. Any one of these things — taken alone — can be defended (if one is so inclined). Taken as a whole, Bell’s work becomes crystal clear.

    I remain convinced Bell is a false teacher — and a very dangerous one, at that.

    I hope you will continue to comment, or a least send me an e-mail, I’d love to know how your Bible study progresses.

    • OT says:

      Chip, there are a lot of different kinds of posts on this wall, and some of them are less than savory. This one from Chuck is one of the most mature, solid posts to facilitate genuine discussion. I appreciated it very much.

      I feel frustrated that your comments beginning with the original post, and following through with your responses to commentators are consistently hostile and negative. What is your point in putting down the memebers of Chuck’s bible study by reminding them of their humble place? What about you? You make sure that your bio is on the page showing off your credentials, but you feel the need to put Chuck down for doing likewise, very reasonably.

      I feel that even in-as-much as I may agree with you in content, Bell’s films and messages capture the Spirit of Christ’s teachings in a way that the hostile version of Christianity can never do.

      My mind may settle with your points, but my heart goes with Bell.

      You may delete this post if you wish, but I hope you leave it to allow me some of what I hope is perceived as genuinely constructive criticism from a brother.

      • Chip says:

        OT, I’m not sure which of my comments to Chuck you consider hostile. Just because I disagreed with him does not mean I’m being negative nor hostile. He disagreed with me and I didn’t consider him negative nor hostile. Quite the contrary, I appreciated his reply (and told him so) and thought it contributed greatly to the discussion here.

        Neither did I “put down” the members of his Bible study nor try to remind them “of their humble place” (your words, not mine). I merely pointed out that university degrees are not a guarantee of proper biblical understanding.

        As for “showing off” my “credentials” (again, your words, not mine) I don’t place them on my bio page to “show off” because they aren’t worth “showing off.” I only place them there because some readers like to know a little about a writer for context. It helps to know that my background is Southern Baptist. It helps to know that I’m a seminary graduate and have worked for a state convention. But I have never appealed to my “credentials” as support for my point of view in a discussion. Scripture is the final authority in such matters and I always try to appeal to Scripture as such. I expect the same from others.

        Finally, my reviews of Rob Bell’s work is not hostile, just honest. The more I learn of him and his teaching the more I become convinced he is a false teacher (and I’ve outlined the reasons for thinking so in my reviews of his various works).

        Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

  20. hopespringseternal says:

    I have listened to Velvet Elvis twice and Sex God once. Labels of Universalism do not apply for me. He seems to clearly reject Total Depravity, which is a good thing as it is a rubbish teaching – meaning heresy.

    I do not think he believes all are saved. I think he believes all can be saved because Jesus died for all. I do not think he discounts faith. People who hold to such teachings as Total Depravity (TD) discount faith without knowing it.

    I come from a background that rejects TD but would also reject Rob Bell. None of us in this whole world understand and teach all things correctly and are therefore in error……..which is what heresy means…in error. Heresy is in all of us.

    Be careful how you judge. Yes, watch out for false teaching, but know your own belief inside and out before you judge others. If you can argue the view you disagree with as good, or better than those who hold that view, then you can be in a position to judge its worth. Then you can display your understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

    For example, which of you hold that everything was created in six literal days? Do you understand the problems with that interpretation of scripture? Such as, when was the earth and water created? Which day?

  21. Dear hopespringseternal, and all,

    Universalism is not Rob Bell’s chief error. I understand why some would think that, based on the language that Rob Bell uses. But his error is more fundamental than even the core, essential doctrine of who is or can be saved and how. His main error, from which all of the rest stem, is his view of the fundamental nature of existence. He believes that all is one essence, and that this essence is called “God.” This is pantheism; the underlying belief held by Hindus, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, Hari Krishnas, TMers, The Secret, and others. This philosophical view about the basic essence of reality posits that the distinctions (dichotomies) that our senses perceive are illusions; that in reality we are all God and one with each other and the rest of nature. It is natural for a pantheists to express their worldview in Christian terminology, since they believe the apparent dichotomy between truth and lies is an illusion; they believe all paths lead to the same place. We have all heard Gandhi quoted saying “I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Jew – and so are all of you.” This was not simply a statement about how we ought to recognize that we all share our humanity in common. It was a denial of apparent distinctions in contradictory views. Once this underlying philosophy is understood, it is easy to understand what the pantheist means.

    For the record, I reject the doctrine of total depravity (I’ve written an article on the “sinful nature” here: http://www.alancoughlin.com/Blog/SinfulNature.jsp), as I reject all of the tenets of Calvinism and consider it to be destructive to the message of the gospel. But Rob Bell is not a Christian with bad doctrine, and he’s not a heretical Christian. He is a pantheist using Christian terminology and attaching pantheistic meanings to the teachings of the Bible.

    I wrote a review of the NOOMA series here: http://www.alancoughlin.com/Blog/NOOMA.jsp.

    I wrote an article on the consequences of pantheism here: http://www.alancoughlin.com/Blog/OneIsALonelyNumber.jsp.

    I hope this is helpful.

  22. Hopespringseternal says:

    Hi,

    I could not access your link.

    I am confused. I have never heard or read anything from Rob Bell claiming that creation is God. In fact, in his talk ‘between the trees’ he specifies that God has always existed and always will, but we are between the two trees of Genesis and Revelation. It was a lovely picture which emphaisized God’s unknowability and the shortness of the existence of this world.

    Where do you get pantheism from??????

    Yes he does state that he takes truth wherever he finds it. He is right to. But I have not heard anything that takes it beyond a wise appreciation of truth. He seems to keep things open that should stay open.

    As for calvanism, I must admit your blogs communicated in such a way as to make me think you were one of his adherents.

    Are you not Chip?

    Peace
    David

  23. Hopespringseternal (David),
    I’m sorry, the web server crashed, but it is back up again; you should be able to access those links now.

    No, I am not Chip. I’m Alan. You’ll see from reading my blogs on http://www.alancoughlin.com that I disagree with every point of Calvinism – T.U.L.I. and P. – and any other point there might be.

    As far as not hearing pantheism in Rob Bell’s teaching, it is difficult to hear the distinctions at first. And Rob Bell is a very slick speaker. He’s extremely well-educated and knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s deliberately avoiding using any terminology that will set off alarms for real Bible believing Christians.

    So, what I recommend is that you learn a little more about pantheism (my blogs will do for a start). Then you can listen to the NOOMA videos again with a more discerning ear. You’ll be surprised at what you hear.

    Let me know if you’re interested and I can send you a link to a real good teaching on pantheism (It’s an MP3 I’ve posted online, but I can’t post it publicly because I’m not sure of the copyright).

    You will also need to apply logic to discern the problems with Bell’s teachings. Consider, for example, that “holy” means “set apart.” But if all is holy, then what is it set apart from? God is holy. We can and should be holy (sorry Chip, my Bible says different), that ground where Moses stood was holy; all the rest isn’t! It can’t be, or holy doesn’t mean holy any more. You get the idea.

    This is an important issue and it is becoming much more prevalent lately as pantheism becomes the idol of choice in modern America (see my article on On Idolatry and Holiness), so let’s keep discussing this until we get it worked out.

    Alan

    • hopespringseternal says:

      Hi Alan,

      I have just finished reading ‘NOOMA—A Breath of Noxious Gas
      by Alan Coughlin’.

      I see why you are concerned about some of Rob’s looseness, but your conclusions about very loose ‘connections’ I find unsupported except by inference similar to Chip’s assumptions I have already talked about previously on this blog. Your conclusions are wy too strong for the evidence you provide. I use the word evidence loosely, for it is not evidenced anywhere that Rob is of a mind as you state. You may be
      right, but it would be coincidence, not a reasoned conclusion.

      I remain unconvinced by your argument on its own, but also by the lack of match-up in my listening to Rob Bell. I have listened to two of his books,
      and many of his sermons. I have watched, I think, 4 Noomas. Slickness
      is no cover for what you are claiming.

      My eyes and ears are not so easily misled. He refers to many different
      people to serve his purposes. He referes to NT Wright, does that make him a Anglican? He refers to another writer who I forget, but on investigation turns out to support abortion as being justification because of the possible unwanted effect it could have on the pregnant woman.
      Does that mean Mr Bell supports abortion?

      Maybe it does, but that would be an assumption. Becareful.

      Peace

  24. Chuck says:

    Chip – one more volley,

    I understand, of course, that education is no indicator of salvation or Biblical understanding. My purpose in providing some background on those in my class was to illustrate the point that intelligent, mature, and thoughtful Christians watched the video and did not arrive at your conclusions about what Bell was saying. Even after being presented a compelling and logical case that he was speaking heresy, they still did not see that in the video itself. In fact, upon further discussion, the only two people (3 if you count me) that picked up on those themes were people who had been influenced by Velvet Elvis and other people who don’t care for Bell. It just seems dangerous to me to be so certain of one’s accurate understanding of Bell’s intent or what he was teaching in the video when other mature and intelligent Christians arrive at very different conclusions. I suppose you could point out to me that truth is not determined by democracy, but debate between Christians (or anyone else for that matter) should include respect for the other point of view and a recognition that one can possibly be wrong or at least off slightly. I know that with age I have learned that things I was absolutely certain of at an earlier point in life could perhaps be open to a different interpretation.

    All that said, none of my group has made an exhaustive study of Bell as you have. Perhaps if we did, more of us might share your conclusions. Given the tenor of the debate above, I think some would reach that conclusion and others would not.

  25. b says:

    instead of suspecting people.. why dont we all check our own self. and not forget that rob bell is a child of God.

  26. Chip says:

    b,

    I am constantly checking my beliefs against Scripture. And, when I find myself in error, I repent before God and conform my beliefs to His Word.

    As for not “suspecting people” — as you put it — let me say this: In addition to checking ourselves for proper doctrine, we also are called to watch for false prophets and false teachers…

    “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” — 2 Peter 2:1

    “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” — 1 John 4:1

    And how, do you suppose, we are to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God? By comparing their message to Scripture. If their message does not conform to Scripture then they are not of God. I’ve compared the message of Rob Bell to Scripture in a number of posts on this website (and many other writers have done so as well) and his teachings are just not consistent with Scripture.

    You also said we should “not forget that Rob Bell is a child of God.”

    That’s a bold pronouncement.

    Not everyone is a child of God — but only those whom God saves. Certainly false prophets are not children of God. The Bible even calls some people children of the devil.

    If I had made the statement that Bell is not a child of God many of my critics would have jumped all over me, asking me who I am to make such a statement. They’d ask me if I could see Bell’s heart. And they’d be right. But I’ve made no such statement. What I have said is this, IF Bell is truly a Christian then he is deceived and teaching falsehoods. IF he is not then he may very well be the kind of false teacher the Bible warns us about. In either case, I’m convinced he is teaching things clearly contrary to Scripture.

    So, when you advise me to remember that Bell IS a child of God my response is: I hope he is. But the fruit he is bearing is evidence to the contrary.

    • nate says:

      “but only those whom God saves”- Ok so you are definitely a calvinist here. This gives you an obvious bias against certain theology. Someone calling humanity good (as the Wesleyan tradition would and others) you are always going to disagree with as heretical. There are large portions of the Catholic (universal) church that flat disagree with you on these points. My point is that there is support (from the same source) for contrary opinions to yours so claiming your “biblical” view is the right one just does not work. Honestly, I would argue you need the Body of Christ and scripture to help check doctrine. Bell needs that. I need that. YOU need that.

      Instead of focusing yourself as the self as the God’s appointed “false teacher” finder, maybe you should be point out what the spirit is doing and draw attention to that.

  27. Kevin Cundiff says:

    We are useing the NOOMA in our small group and I have been troubled by some of the concepts. We just finished NOMA 11 Rythem and toward the end Rob asked the question whether Jesus came to start a new religion or make us aware of the faith that is in us. I was immediately alarmed as Christianity is the “New Religion” started by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus came teaching that all other religions are false and Jesus is the only way the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through him. The Bible teaches that there is “none good, no not one. We are lost and without hope without Jesus. The Bible teaches we are blind and dead in sin. How can we discover a faith that is in us if we are dead??

    • Hopespringseternal says:

      He was not saying a new religion was or was not started. He was saying that was not Jesus’ intention, his intention was to bring understanding of God’s nature and love by his example.
      Christianity is not a new religion anyway, Abraham was told of the Christ. Christ is the Seed of the Promise that Abraham received. The faith of Moses and David is the faith of a Christian. Same God same plan.
      The video is about being in tune with the Spirit. That is why he says
      Some people know little but can be more in tune than someone who know loads about the bible. He is just using the idea of music as a vehicle to deliver the message.
      I love the way it starts. I hate it when people say the God saved a parking space for them. What is wrong with having to walk a little further than five minutes? Shallow. In fact I hate it when I do it.

  28. Paul Hewitt says:

    I thoroughly enjoy Rob Bell’s Nooma series. I bought it so my children could understand the loving and caring nature of the one true God. The basics of Christianity are very simple (John 3:16) and that we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Triune God. Etc. These are the basics that even Southern Baptists and Episcopalians can agree on. After that we get really scattered and fractured. As I read the comments I’m reminded of the Pharisees getting carried away about small details and how Jesus had to constantly admonish them for totally missing the point. So often we major in the minors and our compulsiveness takes us away from God.
    I love seeing God as a loving father. I can relate to that and to the “prodigal’s father.” Do I care that my children get every little thing I’ve said perfectly? It would be nice but it doesn’t happen. I believe in a God that forgives and loves us all even with our failings and goofy ideas. I think all of you who have negatively posted here are loved by God, but I sense negativity and anger about someone who doesn’t agree with you, perfectly. I’m sorry you don’t have a more loving, understanding, and forgiving God. You are missing a great deal about being close to God when you judge others so strongly.

  29. Chip says:

    Paul,

    You state the basics of Christianity are simple and summarize it by saying we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind.

    I agree.

    But I disagree that everything after that is a “small detail.” God’s identity is EVERYTHING. And I don’t think it’s a small matter to say we both “love God” and let it go at that. Hindus claim to love God. Mormons claim to love God. But what they call God is nothing like the One True God (who is described for us in Scripture). Likewise, the God Bell describes resembles the God of the Bible in some ways but is very unlike Him in others. This is no small matter.

    To worship a God you’ve created in your mind is every bit as idolatrous as if you were worshiping a golden calf you’d built with your hands. Learning the identity of God as He really is is extremely important.

    Furthermore, pointing out Bell’s errors is very loving. To point out error demonstrates a love not only for God’s Word but also for those people who are being deceived by false teaching.

    I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to comment. Your thoughts are always welcome.

    • nate says:

      His identity is everything? I agree God’s identity is important but EVERYTHING? The only reason you take this view is because I am guessing you would say we have no response or say in any of this. Otherwise our response is what matters to the one true God. I find it interesting that when Jesus was asked what mattered he points to the comment you just ignored. Also what of our identity? Is that nothing?

  30. Michael says:

    I agree with some of your points, being the holy ground comment. However I do believe you missed the point of his message. I believe it has been stated already, but his metaphor of breathing is just that, a metaphor. He is trying to remind us that we need to slow down and remember that God is in us at all times. In every breath we have, God is there. In every step, every blink GOD IS THERE!

    Also, we are holy. Through what Christ did on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit we are sanctified, that is, made holy. When God looks at us, believers, he does not see our sin and crap that we have in us, but rather, he sees Christ and because of that we are Holy only through His work on the cross. We are in no way capable of making ourselves holy, but we are, again because of CHRIST.

    Blessings on your ministry.

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  32. alancoughlin says:

    Hi Michael,
    What you are describing is known as “positional righteousness” or “antinomianism.” It is commonly taught, especially by those influenced by Calvinism, but it relies on portions of scripture taken out of their context. There is an excellent lecture on how the atonement works, from a biblical perspective, by a guy named Mike Saia. I posted his lectures on the subject here: http://www.alancoughlin.com/download/#TheAtonement. (Listen to the two lectures in the series titled Principles of the Atonement.)

    I first got away from the view you are describing by reading Romans very slowly. I didn’t continue to the next verse or paragraph until I was sure I understood how all of the previous statements fit together. And if he didn’t say he was changing the subject, I assumed he wasn’t, and I wouldn’t go on until I could find the connection between the current verse and the previous. It took a lot of time and was very straining mentally, but I could finally say I understood the meaning of those verses people kept quoting, but I understood them in their context, which was a completely different meaning than I had been told.

    Let me know what you come up with.

  33. David says:

    The Pharisees hate him and the sinners love him, i think he does a pretty good job of following in his rabbi’s footsteps :)

  34. Randy Henderson says:

    Chip, I appreciate your critical eye to Rob Bell’s work. Everyone should take caution in endorsing another human being’s work when engaging scripture. I do take issue however with how you define his use or lack of reliance on Scripture.

    So when Jesus says, “This is my Body…” at the Last Supper do you believe those words and do you adhere to them, or do you accuse Catholics of not adhering to the true sense of Scripture? For myself as a Catholic and a student of Biblical languages there is no other way to interpret His words. He is talking about being present in the bread and wine. I receive Jesus fully present in the Eucharist at Mass. What are your thoughts on this?

    God Bless You

  35. Chip says:

    Randy,

    Thanks for commenting. You say you “take issue” with how I “define” Bell’s “use or lack of reliance on Scripture.” I don’t know to what, specifically, you are referring so I can’t comment on that.

    I can, however, comment on your next point, which is the issue of transubstantiation. First of all, I am accusing Catholics of nothing here. But, I do not hold to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. I do not think the actual body and blood of Christ (nor their essence) are present in the elements of the Eucharist.

    Like yourself, I am a student of biblical languages, and I disagree with your assertion that there is no other way to interpret the words of Jesus when He says, “…this is my body.” Quite the contrary, there IS, in fact, another way to interpret that passage.

    Christ is using a metaphor.

    Just as Paul did not mean that we are literally buried with Christ when he said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4), Jesus did not mean the elements of the Eucharist were literally His body and blood. He is using metaphorical language.

    • Randy Henderson says:

      Chip, Sorry, I was referring to your comment about Rob Bell not using scripture correctly and I think that is part of my main point. Each sect of Christianity has its own way of interpreting scripture….many taking vary different approaches that the other sects would identify as either helpful or unhelpful, correct or incorrect. Surely you agree that this is true.

      The Greek words for eat can mean many different things, but in the case of the Last supper and in several other instances Jesus says that his flesh and blood must be eaten. Do you choose to hear what Jesus says at the Last Supper as metaphorical….and if so, what is your methodology for determining WHEN to take scripture literal and when metaphorically? For instance did Jesus only metaphorically rise from the dead?
      I can appreciate the use of Paul’s words for your example…but Paul is not Jesus and in my experience Jesus does and says everything for a reason. I know the difference between parables and true stories/true events…..my tradition relies on over 2000 years of interpretation…a rich and long tradition of careful language and genre study…but also the INTENT of the gospel writers and the apostolic tradition that was entrusted to the Catholic Church.
      By the way….I appreciate your blog and your thoughts…and simply wish for a better understanding of where your tradition comes from in interpreting Jesus’ words and actions….what WAS happening at the Last Supper then???

  36. Chip says:

    Randy,

    I see your point concerning Rob Bell and the proper use of Scripture. I agree with you that many people interpret Scripture differently. I was simply trying to demonstrate from Scripture (using what I consider to be the proper methods of interpretation) where Bell had erred.

    Some of the principles I utilize when reading Scripture are these:

    1. Context: I read everything in its appropriate context. Is the passage a historical account, parable, letter or what? Just like you can’t read a novel the same way you read a grocery list, you can’t read an epistle the same way you read a historical narrative.

    2. I interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture. If I have a passage that is difficult to understand I seek out other passages that deal with the same topic and see if they are easier to understand. That frequently provides clarity.

    There are, of course, many other principles necessary for reading Scripture — but these two things are the primary “jumping in” point.

    Now, concerning your comments about the Lord’s Supper: Jesus does not say that his flesh and blood must be eaten to accomplish anything. He is celebrating the Passover feast with his disciples, breaks the bread and then says, “Take; this is my body” (Mark) or “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew) or simply, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke).

    A couple of notes:

    1. The Passover feast commemorated the sacrifice of a lamb, the blood of which made the angel of death pass over the home of the ones to whom the blood was applied. Jesus is now claiming the identity of the lamb that was sacrificed. The lamb that atones for sins is not the old testament animal, but the Christ.

    2. In all of the Gospels the Greek word Jesus used when he said, “…my body…” is σῶμά (body), not σὰρξ (flesh). Again, he is making a direct correlation between the sacrificial lamb and himself — HIS body is the one that will be broken and slain for the atonement of sin. He is not making reference to an actual chunk of his flesh being present in the bread.

    3. Jesus even declares this meal as a memorial, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He never declares this as necessary for salvation nor that his actual body is present in the bread. It is symbolic, a point of view that is reinforced in 1 Corinthians 11 when Paul points out that as often as we do this we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes again. It is a commemoration of what Christ did and a way for believers to visibly identify with their Lord.

    Finally, when determining if something is a metaphor or not you must employ the two principles for biblical interpretation that I mentioned above. Let me use your example when you asked “did Jesus only metaphorically rise from the dead?”

    Of course not, He actually rose. How can we tell? Well, the Gospels are all narratives. They are written as accounts of what Christ actually did and said. The things that happened in them are factual (unless the immediate context dictates otherwise, as in the case of parables). All of the Gospels record the resurrection as a fact. So the context indicates it is an actual event. What about other Scripture references on the subject?

    In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” He is making an entire argument about the actual, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, this event recorded in the Gospels is supported in the epistles.

    You may be thinking that Jesus’ comments regarding the Lord’s Supper are in the Gospels, too. Yes, they are. I believe he actually said those things. But, the idea that the bread becomes his actual body really isn’t there. Neither is it supported elsewhere in Scripture. So, I have to wonder if it is metaphorical language. Then I wonder if Jesus was prone to using metaphorical language. Turns out, he was.

    He spoke of “living water” which wasn’t water at all, but a reference to spiritual things. Jesus did this quite a bit. So, I am prone to believe that the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic (albeit important) commemoration of Christ’s death.

    Note: You pointed out that Paul was not Jesus. Agreed. Paul characterized himself as the chief of sinners, completely in need of God’s grace. But I think you make a mistake to place more weight on the recorded words of Jesus than you do the words written by Paul. If you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (as I do) then you will recognize that what Paul wrote was actually the words of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, every bit as authoritative as Jesus’ words.

  37. Hows it going, you have a nice website but occasionally I encounter a bug whereas the right navigation bar cannot be viewed. It is mainly on the default webpage Cheers

  38. PJ says:

    Reading through the commentary here is very disheartening. The labels thrown at Rob Bell and others along with the undertones of “your interpretation of scripture is wrong and mine is right” is a prime example of why people are leaving organized religion. If you would take the same passion you have debating this topic and devote it to following the example Jesus set for us, so many lives could be changed.

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