Rob Bell’s 15th Nooma video, entitled “You,” is highlighted on the back cover of the dvd this way:
“Some of the central claims of the Christian faith are the source of many discussions and heated debates. But are we always debating the right things? Maybe some of our discussions would change significantly if we had more insight into the actual circumstances that surrounded the first people of the Christian movement — if we had a better understanding of the things they did in the context of the world they lived in. Maybe some of the claims of the Christian faith that we typically perceive to be unique aren’t really that special at all.”
You may ask yourself, what claims of the Christian faith does Bell not consider unique to Christianity? The belief in a loving God? The doctrine of God’s sovereignty? Other religions make these claims, maybe this is what Bell means.
The thing that Bell thinks we “typically perceive to be unique” and that he says isn’t “really that special at all” is the resurrection of Christ.
Very early in the video Bell tells the viewer about the ancient Roman and Persian gods Mithra and Attis. There are writings that claim these gods were born of a virgin, died to redeem their people, and rose from the dead.
“In the first century, to claim that your god had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, well, it just wasn’t that unique,” Bell says. “The claims of these first Christians weren’t really anything new. Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special?”
At this point the accompanying discussion booklet asks the questions:
- Have you ever thought about what makes your faith special?
- Do you believe that the act of Jesus rising from the dead is what makes the Christian faith unique?
That apparent implication is that the resurrection is NOT what makes Christianity unique. In fact, Bell continues to explain that what DOES make Christianity unique is humbly serving in a “universe-wide movement” to restore a world that is “broken and desperately in need of repair.”
Bell says the first Christians viewed this restoration as having nothing to do with leaving this world. “It was all about the restoration, the renewing and the reclaiming of this world.”
The distinguishing feature of Christianity, according to Bell, is a Christian’s method of making the world better. The followers of Mithra and Attis were usually Roman soldiers, politicians and people with great influence and power. They wanted to change the world through military power and political coercion. What made Christians different, Bell says, is the “gospel they were living had nothing to do with using political force to force people to live according to your laws. For them, this gospel was about serving the world, especially those on the underside of the Empire. For them, it was about serving, not ruling.”
A focus on restoring this world is typical of New Age beliefs, which, as I’ve pointed out before, have had quite an influence on Bell’s teachings. But even beyond that, Bell’s claim that Christianity is all about restoring this world just isn’t biblical.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” — John 18:36
Jesus even made a point of telling his disciples about the promise of leaving this world.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” — John 14: 1-3
Bell’s claim that the early Christians were not concerned with leaving this world just isn’t true. Many of the early believers were consumed with leaving this world. They actually fell into error because they neglected their charge to make disciples and instead kept an eye on the sky for Christ’s return.
Bell says the distinguishing mark of Christianity is humble servant-hood, but many religions teach humility and servant-hood. In his assessment about what makes Christianity different Bell is just plain wrong. But my biggest problem with this Nooma is Bell’s initial statement about other religious claims that mirror the life of Christ. He never makes a distinction between Mithra, Attis, and Jesus. He allows the viewer to leave still thinking there is no difference in the historicity of these three.
It is true that there are ancient writings that claim Mithra and Attis had lives very similar to Christ. What Bell fails to point out is that while Mithra and Attis were worshipped before Christ was born the claims of their virgin births and resurrections weren’t until well after Christ had lived and died and risen again. Prior to Christ the stories of Mithra and Attis were very different from Christ and more like the typical Greek and Roman mythological figures of ancient literature. The stories of Mithra and Attis rising from the dead were, in all likelihood, fashioned after the actual events of Jesus’ life. Bell fails to point out that Mithra and Attis are not real and takes no time to point out that Christ’s resurrection is an historical fact and that it is THE central doctrine that makes Christianity different from any other man-made religion.
Consider how seriously Paul regarded the resurrection…
“And if Christ is has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. for if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” — 1 Corinthians, 15: 14-19
I could not disagree more strongly with Bell on this point. The resurrection IS what makes Christianity unique. Christ is very, very real. Mithra and Attis are not. I find it extremely hard to believe that a Christian teacher of any kind would address this topic and not take the time to make sure his listeners understood the reality of the resurrection. Bell’s failure to do so casts some serious doubt as to the orthodoxy of his teaching.
With each additional look at Bell’s teachings I become more and more convinced he is simply a false teacher.