Rob Bell vs. Tim Tennent

rob bellI haven’t read Rob Bell’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, and I honestly don’t expect to anytime soon. Too many others on the stack that I need to get to.

The book is currently ranked #10 in Christian Theology on Amazon, though (behind 3 books on heaven, 5 books on apologetics, and an end-of-the-world book — oh my…), so I can assume a number of people are reading it or will be soon.

I did read Tim Tennent’s unflattering review of the book. Tennent has me worried that Rob has gone even further down a path I’ve feared for years he might be heading down — toward a New Age spiritualism with plenty of grace but very little cost. Toward a faith that seems to rely on or embrace the great, ancient Christian faith no more than it would any other religion or spirituality.

I wrote not long ago about what a profound, positive influence Bell has had on me. I defended him early on (and I believe rightly, at that time) against attacks from people who just seemed angry and narrow-sighted. I later squirmed when I heard him explain some difficult Old Testament passages as perhaps things that people just thought were a revelation from God, but really used to justify their own actions. And when I read Love Wins, I found myself frustrated because a lot of the argument just wasn’t well-conceived.

But I stuck with Rob, because I still was convinced this was someone intently pursuing orthodox Christian faith. Bell has always embraced a pretty wide orthodoxy, and I do, too, so I wasn’t concerned that he come down exactly where I did everywhere. I just wanted to know he was taking me down the paths he had taken in that pursuit.

My problem is that the things I’ve seen recently from Bell are making me wonder whether he’s really still taking me and others down that path, or whether he has veered off the path that pursues the heart of the ancient Christian faith — the path pursuing orthodox belief and life. Has he veered to pursue a more bland version of spirituality that gives precedence to an inward “stillness” over the ancient faith?

I haven’t read the book, but I would guess some of you have. Can you help me? Is Tennent right? Is this the path Rob is more consistently taking here?

It will be pretty upsetting to me if the person who helped me see much more depth, richness, and nuance in the Christian faith ends up offering a “less nuanced, more simplistic, more pluralistic expression of Christianity,” as Tennent suggests he’s doing.



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4 thoughts on “Rob Bell vs. Tim Tennent

  1. Teddy,

    Like you Rob’s early writings had a profound influence on me. Velvet Elvis and Sex God are great books that show Rob’s poetic storytelling ability.

    I have only read halfway into his new book(too many books to read too), but so far Rob’s book just seems like a further exposition on the stuff he did with the video Everything is Spiritual. He spent 30+ pages talking about the building blocks of life. Most of what I have read so far sounds like he has been reading a lot of Eastern Orthodox theology. They have a different take on theology and Christ and pesence than Western theology. He even mentions reading for the life of the world in one of his interviews.

    My take is that Rob is trying to synthesize an Eastern Orthodoxy Mysticism with scientific exploration, and right now I would say the results are mixed.

  2. Timothy Tennent is totally off base. In fact, I am so angry with him right now, I’m having a little trouble expressing myself. I will attempt a lengthy attack on Dr. Tennent’s views in this review very soon (I hope).

    The new book is nothing revolutionary, or heretical, or whatever. Tennent sees it there apparently because he wants(?) to see classical liberalism cropping up everywhere.

    Rob’s theology is and has been a work in progress. It is neither stereotypically evangelical not liberal. Wellman does a good job of summarizing Rob’s views in his book. If his trajectory is toward liberalism I do not know — neither does anyone since no one can predict the future. Classical liberalism is not (in my view) a very compelling construct, and Rob has always been very outspoken in his affirmation of the resurrection.

    Tennent is way off base. And, I am really angry with him.

  3. Thanks for this, Craig. On my Facebook page, someone directed me to this review by JR Forasteros:

    JR says, “Rob never denies the reality of Sin, the hopelessness of humanity left to our own devices and he never denies that human nature hasn’t gotten any better. And for Rob, the answer to this dilemma is nothing but Jesus himself.”

    Tennent applies Niebuhr’s saying to Bell: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

    Seems that JR and Tennent fundamentally disagree with each other about what Bell is saying. I’m interested in reading the book now just to see how such diametrically opposed outtakes can come from it.

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