A Quick Review of Sex God by Rob Bell

sex-godI recently finished the audiobook version of Sex God by Rob Bell, and to be honest I tried to read it with especially discerning ears (not eyes in this case) while still trying to give Bell a fair listen. I’m weary of Rob Bell for a few reasons that I’ll list:

1) He has had a known open-theist, Greg Boyd, preach at his church.
2) He has acknowledged Brian McLaren as an influence.
3) Mark Driscoll has cited several disturbing facts about Bell’s theology.

None the less, I feel it’s important to stay somewhat abreast of current issues and popular teachers such as Bell because, like it or not, they are influencing many people.

I want to say that there are many parts of Sex God that are really well stated, and honestly the book contains some important Biblical teachings that many Christians could benefit from hearing. However, I cannot recommend this book because I believe it is flawed in some rather dangerous ways. Here are a few concerns I have:

1) In chapter 1, Bell defines heaven and hell rather peculiarly. He says heaven is “not a fixed, unchanging, geographical location somewhere other than this world. Heaven is the realm where things are as God intends them to be…(heaven) can be anywhere, anytime, with anybody (minute 16).”  And hell he defines as “a realm where things are not as God wants them to be, where things aren’t according to God’s will, where people aren’t treated as fully human (minute 17).”  While I have questions about both these definitions (and questions about relating these specific definitions of heaven and hell to the meaning of Jesus words in Matt 5:27-30), I’m most concerned that “hell” in Bell’s definition nowhere mentions God’s punishment of evildoers. While I’ll grant that “hell” in the English language has a wide semantic range, and that Bell’s definition fits perfectly within that semantic range, it is downright misleading to simply define “hell” in a Biblical since as anything less than a place of God’s punishment that is justly deserved. In fact we all deserve punishment in hell, but thankfully God has redeemed all who will call on His name. I find Bell’s definition of heaven and hell convenient for his subject matter, but an obvious oversimplification. In fact, in my observation, Bell often oversimplifies theological teachings when he preaches.

2) In chapter 5, Bell says that because God chose to love humans, people who can break His heart by their actions and disobedience, that God took a risk. According to Bell, God risks by loving. This sounds poetic and great, and yes we can grieve God with our actions, but it is a misunderstanding of the Bible to see God as a risk-taker. God knows beginning from end. He knows the elect from the foundation of the world (Eph 1), He has already planned the defeat and punishment of Satan, and throughout the Bible prophecies always come true because God is pulling the strings. People do make real choices, but these choices in no way infringe upon the sovereignty and rule of the King of the Universe. Bell sounds more and more like an open-theist (heresy) the more I hear him speak. And while I’ll grant that issues of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are confusing, it is a lie to attest that God doesn’t know all things. A God who knows all things cannot by definition take a risk. (John Elderidge proposes this same sort of “God the risk-taker” idea in Wild at Heart, and he is mistaken as well).

3). In chapter 6, Bell proposes the idea that the husband and wife are to be mutually submissive towards one another. While there is some truth to this statement, it is not a good representation of the Bible’s teaching about husbands and wives. Mutual submission does appear in statements like 1 Cor 7:4, and the Bible does teach that both husband and wife equally give and work in the marriage relationship; however, the wife is to submit to the husband in a way that the husband does not submit to the wife. It is not as if the Bible is chauvinistic toward women, but clearly the husband has a leadership role within the marriage that is his alone (Eph 5:22-24 – Christ is not mutually submissive to us is He?). I fear that Bell has slightly misunderstood the Biblical teaching about the roles of men and women, and this is dangerous to Christian marriages. I’m also pretty sure that he misunderstands the Greek usage of verbs when he discusses this topic.

I’m sure there are other issues that could be discussed in regards to Sex God, and like I said above, “there are some good points in the book,” but I have deep concerns about Bell’s underlying theology. I believe that some of his fundamental thoughts about God are flawed. Most notably, I am concerned about his open-theistic tendencies. The last thing Christians need is a weak and heretical view of the sovereignty of God.

Addendum (added later on):

I want to be really careful not to intentionally offend anyone with this review. I believe Rob Bell is doing a lot of good and has an unbelievable heart for people. At the end of the day though, I just have to call theology the way I see it. In fact Bell invites this sort of discussion in the beginning of Velvet Elvis. I’m simply trying to call attention to some problems I have with the theology he seems to be portraying. I hope this is received in a winsome way. I don’t hate the man, and I don’t want to have closed-ears, believing that I know it all. I’m appreciative for a lot of what Bell has done, but I still worry about what I perceive to be some dangerous trends within his theology.

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2 Responses to “A Quick Review of Sex God by Rob Bell”

  1. Chad April 3, 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    I was looking forward to a great perspective but I fear that your already tainted view of Bell has blinded you from many of the meanings of the text.

    The same with many problems with misinterpretation of the word of God, it seems that you have taken specific sentences out of the book to prove a point that I never saw intended. It seems that you have read word for word a text that is meant to be taken thought by thought.

    1. In the event of Heaven and Hell Bell expresses that this is a state that Jews would talk about – not so much the literal destination of an individual. Yet your basis of critique is that Bell said this was a literal destination. In my opinion he was speaking more of a state of mind, an emotion… thus when he talks about later people who say what the hell – they aren’t talking about a damnation of the lake of fire – they are describing a state of mind – with no purpose or direction – NOT of God.

    2. Risk. Again I think you are reading word for word and trying to come to a conclusion (much as I have heard Mark Driscoll did with the virgin birth…and I’m a Southern Baptist) that simply was not expressed. In any of the text did Bell ever say that God is limited in His knowledge? He simply stated that God took a risk to help us better understand that emotion and feelings that are behind His love…more as a motivation and contemplation for us to love rather than a theology… poetic, romantic, emotional more for the one who is trying to better explore and understand God rather than the one who is trying to explain and systematize God.

    3. Submitting. I agree that there is a difference the submission between a man and woman. It calls for the woman to submit to the man’s leadership in spiritual matters and in the home…HOWEVER it calls the man to Die for his wife (Men…love your wive as Christ loved the church – he submitted to death on a cross.) This is an even greater submission than what a wife is asked – so to say that both must be mutually submissive to each other – seems quite right in my understanding of God’s word.

    I am a pretty level headed conservative guy in my theology but over the years I have seen a good shift in others exploration of who God is and exactly what He meant and how He meant for us to live our lives. I think it is great that we are exploring the ideas of God and re-asking questions and struggling with concepts, ideas, theology and the hard questions that even the greatest of theologians can’t decided on. Though I do get tired of many of my own, friends and peers alike who are on a crusade to stop any thinking that may be contrary to their own. I don’t believe there is such a thing as the emerging church – the church has been here for centuries. But I do think there is a group of people who truly desire to understand God not only in their knowledge and theology but more in their experiences of everyday life – to see God in every situation that we experience and in the end be able to honor Him because we have experienced Him – Heaven on Earth.

    I pray and ask that you give the Rob Bells a fair shot as they are seeking to help the world move into an experience and exploration with God that may have never had. And let’s be honest if what we have been doing – Holding up only TRUTH and Theology as our standard – was working then why is the US Church in Intensive Care?

    I appreciate your desire to read and better understand but if you cannot get past your bias – please not for those who hold dearly to correct systematic theology – but for the rest of the world still waiting, exploring and desiring to experience something – then say little at all except that in your opinion you do not agree with Bell and leave it at that.

    Thanks!

  2. andy April 4, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Dude…Chad, you are hilarious. Your analysis of Ben’s critique is more fallacious than Craig Sager’s wardrobe. Let me point out a few holes in your argumentation.
    1. Your critique of Ben’s analyzing Bell from a “word for word”, rather than “thought for thought” basis is contradictory. How does Bell convey his thoughts in the book?…through words. Perhaps a better way to critique him would be to say that he did not faithfully convey the author’s intended meaning. This is really what we’re after. What did Bell say and how did Ben read it?
    2. You critique Ben of reading into Bell’s theology, assuming that Bell believes God does not know the future, because Bell speaks of God taking risks. Question: If you know the future, including all possible outcomes of a particular event (or events), then is risk really possible? If you know the outcome ahead of time, what will lead to that outcome, and how you will get there, then risk is eliminated. Thus, for risk to exist, limited knowledge must exist. So if Bell speaks of God taking a risk, He must be limited in His knowledge to some degree. This viewpoint is heretical. The orthodox understanding of God’s knowledge is that He is omniscient.
    3. You criticize your friends and others who you say are, “on a crusade to stop any thinking that may be contrary to their own.” Question: Do you believe in absolute Truth? If you do, then there are right answers and wrong answers – right beliefs and wrong beliefs. If this is so, then isn’t it the most loving thing in the world to seek to proselytize and convince others of the truth? If you truly feel that you hold the correct answers to who God is and what Truth is, then the absolute, most loving thing to do is to tell everyone and to try and convince them of the Truth. It would be unloving to believe that you know the truth and to still confine it to yourself.
    4. You call for Ben to give the “Rob Bells a fair shot as they are seeking to help the world move into an experience and exploration with God that may have never had.” I think Jesus did a fair job of giving the world an experience with God. We don’t need another Jesus; we can follow his lead. Furthermore, If Rob’s theology is wrong, then he is giving a false experience and exploration of God. This is where I think you misunderstand: one’s doctrine is inseparable from his worship. How you think about God is how you will worship Him. So Rob’s attempt to bring others into a better experience with God is noble, but not if He’s wrong about who God is and what Scripture says. Theology is essential to experience, otherwise how will you define your experience. With no definition of who God is, you have no God. The reason why the church in the US is so messed up is because people have crappy theology or they don’t really believe and live out their theology. They are hypocrites, not people lacking an experience.
    5. If you’re going to critique Ben, limit your critique to what you disagree with him about in his interpretation of Bell. But don’t make an emotional appeal by painting a pretty picture of Rob. This has no weight or validity in your argument.
    6. You critique Ben of his bias. News flash – all of us have a bias. You have one too. In fact, it just so happens that your bias is just as obvious as Ben’s. All of us are born from unique places and in homes where we were taught to think a certain way. All of us are reading something, watching something and listening to somebody. If you think that your viewpiont is unbiased, then either 1) you’re extremely arrogant, 2) you’re very misguided 3) you’re super sheltered and live around people who think and act just like you. If you don’t think you’re biased then move to the middle east and share with people your western ideological mindset and see how they respond. There is no such thing as an unbiased viewpoint. You’re biased too!
    7. You call for Ben to say little at all unless he prefaces his thoughts with “in my opinion.” Again, if there is such thing as capital T truth then there is room for critique beyond one’s opinions. Your comment reflects a postmodernism mindset: Everyone has their opinion, but no one should impose their views on anyone else’s. The point is not to allow others to explore, the point is to lead them to the Truth, which is Jesus Christ. The Bible is Truth, so we can critique others’ views based upon their faithfulness to Scripture.
    8. You have made experience the chief end for others. So you call for Ben to shut his mouth and allow others to explore and experience something. Satan amens your stupidity. People everyday are “experiencing” plenty – it just so happens that most of what they’re “experiencing” is deception and falsehood. I say that we need more people to seek to propagate Truth and to read discerningly.

    Thanks!

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