Previous article in this series: September 1, 2011, p. 461.
Rob Bell is a false teacher openly promoting damnable heresies. His teaching includes the heresies of Jacob Arminius: God loves all and wants all to be saved. Jesus died for all and thus salvation is available for all. In the preaching, God offers heaven to all. All that remains is for people to make their choice: heaven or hell.
Rob Bell goes beyond Arminius himself, drawing from the spiritual descendants of Arminius—the promoters of the social gospel. Standing with postmillennial proponents of “kingdom theology,” Bell maintains that heaven is not a place different from this earth. Believers are rather called to bring heaven to this earth.
Bell’s conclusions are consistent with his heretical theology—a heaven on earth, and each and every person determining his own destiny in the “next life.” If one lives in love and cares for the creation, the “next life” (here on earth) will be a heaven for him. If one refuses to live in love, he will live in the hell of his own making for as long as it takes for love to melt his obstinate heart. “Jesus,” found everywhere and in many religions under different names, is the life force. God is love, and love is what God is.
These damnable heresies are brought in under the cover of scattered passages of Scripture, twisted to support doctrines contrary to the whole of Scripture.
Rob Bell has thousands of followers. Many are ardent followers. They flock to the services he leads on Sunday. They purchase his books and videos. They rush to his defense in public forums.
How can it be that thousands of people follow such a man, a false prophet? No, that is not the puzzling question, for that is easily answered. People are sheep, and sheep follow. History demonstrates repeatedly that people will follow many unlikely religious leaders. Raging radicals or soothing liberals—people will follow, sometimes even to their own death.
Rob Bell has a theology that appeals to people. What Bell has done is aptly described by MSNBC interviewer Martin Bashir, who confronted Bell with the charge that Bell amended “the gospel, the Christian message so that it is palatable to contemporary people who find…the idea of hell and heaven difficult to swallow.” Said Bashir to Bell, you have “created a Christian message that is warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture.”
So it is no puzzle that thousands follow Rob Bell.
Rather, the question is: Why do people ofReformed background follow Rob Bell? How can it be that people born and raised in nominally Reformed churches are comfortable under Bell’s preaching? Is it that they cannot discern the lie? Is it that the preachers in the churches of their youth failed to give them the necessary instruction so that they would know the difference between truth and error? Or is it that they discern the lie, but they do not care, or even that they love the lie?
Probably all of these together comprise the answer.
Over the years, as Mars Hill Bible Church grew in Grandville, Michigan, drawing hundreds and then thousands weekly, it became obvious that many of these worshipers were leaving churches that still had the name Reformed written over their doors. The inescapable conclusion is that these people had a serious lack of knowledge of the Reformed (biblical) faith. The youth no longer had catechism classes; Heidelberg Catechism preaching was no more; and solid, biblical sermons were a thing of the past. Rather than biblical truths, preachers taught the heresies of a common grace, a universal love, and a God who pleaded with people to accept the offer of salvation that Jesus had made available for all.
Increasingly, both the church pulpits and the school lecterns emphasized that the Christian’s main calling is to build the kingdom of God here on this earth. The infallibility and authority of the Bible was questioned and effectively rejected with specific decisions on evolution, women in office, and more. Preaching was whittled down to a ten or fifteen-minute sermon filled with stories and jokes, supplemented with the latest novel the minister read, or the latest movie he, or she, had seen. In a desperate attempt to “keep the youth,” the rest of the worship service was given over to entertainment—singing groups, videos, the dance, and bands. In “Reformed” churches.
Then Rob Bell comes on the scene. He puts the Bible back into the center of the worship. He opens the Bible and teaches the people from the Bible! The preaching is the center, with messages that often last forty-five minutes or more. He does not deny the historicity of the Bible narrative (publicly at least). Members of these “Reformed” churches discover—we can get preaching here!
And they came in droves.
And they sat happily under the heresies of Rob Bell.
Because they had not the knowledge, and because they had been conditioned to Bell’s lies by their former pastors and teachers.
The shepherds were unfaithful. They did not feed the sheep. They did not heed Christ’s command to produce sermons for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of His people (I Cor. 14:3). They turned a deaf ear to Paul’s charge to Timothy: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:1-2). Rather than preach Christ crucified and that only, they came with cunning words of man’s wisdom (I Cor. 2:1-5). They starved their sheep, and the sheep scattered and perished. Terrible is God’s judgment against the unfaithful shepherds!
Yet, the unfaithfulness of the shepherds does not fully explain the huge following Rob Bell gained from former members of Reformed churches. No doubt, among his followers are some who were taught the truth, and heard the lie condemned. In reality, although unfaithful shepherds bear their dreadful guilt, the people are likewise to be blamed. God explained it thus to Jeremiah in the days of Israel’s apostasy (Jer. 5:30-31): “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means;and my people love to have it so”” (my emphasis, RJD).
John Calvin’s commentary on this is penetrating.
Doubtless, we shall find that to be ever true which is said in
that when false prophets come, it is for the purpose of trying God’s people, whether they from the heart love God. It is then his object to try our religion, whenever he gives loose reins to impostors and false prophets: for everyone who truly loves God will be preserved by his Spirit from being led away by such deceivers. When, therefore, ignorant men are deluded, it is certain that they are justly punished for their neglect and contempt of God, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to his service; yea, because they have wished for impostors.
Likewise, Calvin’s comments on Ezekiel 13:1-3 (a condemnation of false prophets) are insightful. After pointing out that the false prophets spoke words that were calculated to gain the favor of the people (namely, that the captives would be released in but three years, not the seventy that Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied), Calvin states that the people were not free from guilt. Writes Calvin,
Nor could the people object that they were deceived by those falsehoods, since they willingly and knowingly threw themselves into the snare. They were not destitute of true prophets; and God had distinguished his servants from false prophets by well-known marks, so that no one could mistake except willfully. But in the midst of light they blinded themselves, and so God suffered them to be deceived. But that was the just reward of their pride, since they could not be subject to God and his servants. Then when they sought enticements, as is evident from many passages, God also gave the reins to Satan, that there should be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets.
The same emphatically applies to the thousands who follow Rob Bell in Grandville, Michigan, particularly those from a Reformed background. They had true and faithful preachers living in their land. Some of these preachers wrote books that set forth the truth clearly. They published the Standard Bearer twenty-one times a year in order to set forth the truth over against the lie. Worship services have been held in this area for over 85 years, in which the solid, biblical (i.e., Reformed) truth has been faithfully expounded. Everyone who drives to Mars Hill Sunday morning will bypass such a church to get to Mars Hill. Besides, the radio broadcasts the truth Sunday after Sunday.
Yes, I refer to the Protestant Reformed Churches. And I do not mean by this that the PRC is the only church that has the truth. But I do know that, by God’s grace alone, these churches still proclaim that truth faithfully, boldly, and antithetically. People in Reformed churches knew that. But they did not want that truth. Some of their fathers cast out Herman Hoeksema, George M. Ophoff, and Henry Danhof and their consistories because they did not want to hear the truth. They did everything they could to snuff out the clear proclamation of God’s truth.
Because they did not want the glorious, antithetical truth, God took it away from them and caused them to believe the lie. They now follow a man who is denying cardinal truths of the Christian faith, the very existence of heaven and hell, as the Bible clearly teaches it. A man who preaches a different Jesus and whose god is love. A man leading his followers to their own destruction. What a grief!
God is proving them, whether they love Him from the heart. He will not allow the followers of Rob Bell to pretend that they want the Bible. Bell’s teaching so obviously contradicts the Bible, that his followers are confronted with but two options: Follow Bell, or follow Jehovah, the true God. If you know some who attend Mars Hill, and have any love, any concern for their souls, you must put it as starkly as that. Yet, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. All believers are still prone to hate God. If you believe the truth of Lord’s Day 2, you will also recognize that we all are prone to follow a false prophet who gives us a god after our liking. It is not enough to have the truth preached in your church. To those who do not love the truth, God will send a strong delusion that they believe the lie (II Thess. 2:10, 11). And then that dreadful additional word: “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (12).
Thanks be to God that the Spirit did not stop there, but inspired Paul to add (13, 14): “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And finally, this exhortation to every believer (15): “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”