Rob Bell: Response to Criticism

The following is an excerpt from an audio teaching by Rob Bell to the Mars Hill Community:

“Be careful of people who grab a line from an interview with me and wave that one line around. “What about this? He said this.” Understand that an interview is hours of talking, and that the media can write anything they want. Does that make sense? Please understand that you can take any line, isolate it from its context, and make the person be saying all kinds of things that they never intended to say. Or at least isolate it from the context of the words.

Please understand that there are blogs, and rumors of blogs, and people on blogs can write anything they want. People can write anything they want, and they can be as unbelievably hurtful because the internet is a safe, anonymous place for cowards.

And so please be careful of taking things that are being said as if they’re etched in stone. They’re not. It’s a website. It’s an review. That’s all it is.

We need to be careful that we don’t get dragged into things.

For those of you who take heat, here’s a phrase that I think is very helpful. Four words: Historic Orthodox Christian faith. Perhaps a simple line that would be helpful to people is, “At Mars Hill, we are trying to live out historic orthodox Christian faith. Where do you see that we’re not…”

“Well, you talk about questions.”

Show me where questions aren’t central to the Scriptures. Show me – whatever you’re talking about – where it’s not part of historic orthodox Christian faith.

So the real question is how are we going to respond, because we’re just getting started. There will be more praise, and there will be more Pharisees. I would respond with two words: love wins.

I deeply appreciate some of you who have entered into the public fray. I don’t read any of this, I’m told that some of you have written letters to the editor, you’ve gone on the internet, and your love and support for this place and for me personally, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Some of you are like, “Come on, what are you saying about us?” That means more to me…but I might ask you to reconsider, simply because I don’t know how much it helps. Some people, no matter what you say, have a hardness of heart and aren’t going to change.

Please be very, very careful who you engage with.

Some people simply have questions, and simply want to discuss. Wonderful. But some people are miserable, and they use religion as a crutch to avoid dealing with their misery and their pain. And what gets masqueraded as Christian faith is not. And we need to be careful spending all sorts of energy engaging with people who don’t have any interest in coming along on the journey with us.

I would ask you before you engage – and there’s nothing wrong with engaging – to perhaps ask, “Could I redirect the energy I’m about to spend towards somebody who’s never, ever heard that God loves them?” And let us be the kind of community who engages in the right kinds of discussions, but otherwise we’re too busy loving people with the transforming love of Christ to engage in the mudslinging that goes on. You are too valuable to me, and your time and your energy, you’re too valuable in our community to end up in some sort of theological kung-fu with somebody who ultimately thinks they’re right. There will always be Pharisees. God’s on the lookout for disciples.”

–Rob Bell, 9.11.05




  1. Dr. Witherington III at his blog has posted several entries about Rob Bell in the last couple weeks. You might find them interesting.

    I too have posted about Bell and have a friend who commented about Bell extensively at my blog. Thanks for the post. Good to hear Bell’s words about criticism, agree or disagree with them.

  2. Thanks for the transcription of Rob’s comments to his congregation after the release of his book, Velvet Elvis. I remember hearing that podcast and thinking “What is he so concerned about?” Then I read VE and understood. There are a lot of people – Christians – who just don’t get it. They have one definition of Christian and if someone does not fit – then they are a heretic. It is crazy – and sad.

    Rob Bell is brilliant and the freshest breeze in Christendom we have had since CS Lewis. Ben Wirtherington has done an outstanding job in his critique of Rob because he understands what Rob is trying to do and he is filled with grace in his criticism. May we be able to articulate the faith as well as Rob and be as filled with grace as Ben.

  3. How funny you should post this within a few days of my hearing this message for the first time. I started regularly downloading Mars Hill sermons beginning with this message – his Directions series – but for some reason, being a newbie at the time, stopped listening to this message when he started talking about how it all pertained to Mars Hill. About two weeks ago, I finally listened to the whole thing. While I wouldn’t have really “got” what he was talking about then, now I know full well. And I deeply respect him and the Mars Hill community for it.

    Did you know my husband and I are moving there in 3 months?

  4. Love Rob Bell and what he is doing.

    Check out what Scot McKnight is saying about him in
    Scot has a good review of the book “Sex God” on his blog.


  5. thanks for the record of thoughts.

    For those that need comfort, his words heal. For those that need softened, his words shake. For those that need help, his words build. For those who need Christ, his words come from following his Savior.

    I don’t have to agree with all he says to love how he goes about saying it. I don’t have to embrace all of what he writes to enjoy the books he has written.

    I don’t…and I do.

  6. Hopefully, our main desire is to follow Jesus. If someone like a C.S. Lewis or Rob Bell comes out as a universalist or some other such tag– our first thought should be to listen, go back to the Scriptures, consider the teachings of Jesus, pray…. and see if something like this could be true and that we’ve missed the point. Rob and Brian McLaren have rustled me up from my comfort zones in some good ways and it’s been a great journey thinking through some of these issues in fresh ways.

    I love what these guys are “saying” and that it challenges me as (or to be) a follower of Jesus.

  7. Thanks to Don Elser for his thoughts. I have wrestled greatly in these times of church changes. The desire should always be pray and hear God, study the Scriptures and hear God and become more like Him. I too love a lot of what these guys are saying. I find it challenging and refreshing. At the same time, I want to make sure we keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our Faith.

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