Rob Bell Shares Gospel at Seeds of Compassion Event

At an event titled Seeds of Compassion on April 15 in Seattle there was a panel discussion involving representatives from different religions. Rob Bell, one of the Christian representatives, had this to say when asked how spirituality can be used for compassion rather than destruction:

“When somebody wrongs you, when they commit an injustice, when they do evil, whether it’s something petty or whether it’s the oppression of millions of people, it’s as if they have handed you this injustice, or evil. And so you can hand it back – that’s called revenge, that’s when you take the wrong, the evil, the injustice, the hurt, the betrayal, and you simply respond in kind. There is, next to revenge, another option, which is not to hand back the pain, which means that you’re going to have to bear that pain.

And when you choose not to respond with revenge or retaliation, but you choose to respond with forgiveness—and you choose to take it and bear that pain—it is going to be heavy, but it is going to lead to your freedom. It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It’s gonna feel like a Friday, but a Sunday is going to come.”

According to some, this was not a fitting response for a Christian because “there is nothing distinctly Christian about what Bell says.” The problem some will have with this opinion is that it assumes Christianity is tied to a certain language, and more specifically, to a few choice words rather than a way of life. The religion that says we must proclaim the name of Jesus continually, or to announce a certain sequence of words like “Jesus saves” or “Accept the Lord Jesus” is not based on the Scriptures but on a worldview that has little to do with the Jesus who walked along 1st century Israel’s dusty roads, and actually has more in common with witchcraft than with historic Christianity.

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries, has this to say about preaching the gospel:

“It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.”
(Desiring God pg. 55)

And on February 25, 2003, John Piper spoke these words at Northwestern College:

“We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is, and it is not boring…The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth.”
(source)

So when Rob Bell paraphrases 1 Peter 2:23-24 at an interfaith discussion panel, is he denying Christ, or is he taking John Piper’s advice and calling up new connections to say old truth?

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44 comments

  1. clearly,
    If by “the name of Jesus” you mean saying the English word spelled J-E-S-U-S, then no — this is a magical formula and has nothing to do with Christianity. But if you mean “in the character of Jesus” then yes, any Christian speaking the truth should do so in the same character as Jesus.

  2. You put very succinctly the same thoughts I have been having after hearing responses and critiques to Bell’s words at Seeds. Glad to hear something thinking beyond one dimension on this issue.

    Thanks, I’ll be reading.

  3. The hole in this argument is that EVERYONE on that panel was in absolute agreement with Bell. All of the people there representing the religions were there to show the compassionate side of their religion. Any Jo Shmo could say what RB said without believing in Christianity.
    And if you watch the video, you’ll see that ALL the Jo Shmo’s did.

    So my question to you is, why then even go? If all you have to say is the exact duplicate of everyone else from every other religion, what makes RB and his religion significant?
    I understand wanting to stick up for someone that you respect but let’s be honest here… He did miss a pretty cool opportunity to teach those who have not heard (and there’s a LOT of them in Seattle) how the gospel is unique from all other religions.

    His technique of teaching God’s love certainly works when the audience is people who feel badgered and condemned by God. But this wasn’t his audience. His audience was chalked full of people who have NEVER heard the gospel therefor have had NO contact with God. I really don’t want to bang on RB and I really hope that he does take the next opportunity to communicate to a mass audience of unbelievers about how freakin’ cool that our God is.

    It’s not about banging on RB, it’s just a bummer.

    1. I find that haters of this conference seem to overlook one simple fact. Rob Bell was the CHRISTIAN representative! He was there to speak on behalf of the Christian faith. His explanations and teachings are directly connected with the orthodoxy AND orthopraxy of Jesus. Any Jo Shmo could have said what he said, but any Jo Shmo didn’t. Rob did. The Christian leader did. Everyone in the audience understands he’s bringing the Judeo-Christian Bible in his words.

      And here’s the thing, what he said, the words he used, they’re from the gospel, and if you suggest that it’s the same as what everyone else said, then what does that say about the other religions? All truth comes from God, that’s straight out of the bible. All truth. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Bhuddist, Atheist. If it’s true, it’s from God. Maybe all religions are from God? God could do that couldn’t He?

      What makes Christianity significant? The part where Jesus signalled the end of all religious movements.

  4. That’s the Vic I know! I’m linking you on my post re: this.

    I’m tellin’ ya’ bro…writing is your calling man.

  5. 1 Peter 2:23 – 25 says
    ——————————————————————
    2:23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

    2:24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

    2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
    ——————————————————————

    I’m missing something here, please explain how Rob paraphrased this passage. Be specific, please make references to the text and do not use another paraphrase like The Message.

    Thank you.

  6. “Rob Bell paraphrases 1 Peter 2:23-24”

    You have got to be kidding. Really stretching hard to scratch itching ears with that one.

    “it makes me wonder what Piper would have said if he had been on the panel…”

    They would never ask someone like Piper to be on this kind of panel because he would have gently let them know the exclusivity of the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  7. Mark,
    Everything that needs to be said was said in the post, but I will humor you. 1 Peter 2:23-24 talks about Christ, our example, suffering an injustice and not retaliating; rather, he’s bearing the evil done against him. Bell was, as I said in the post, finding a new way to say an old truth, which can be found in 1 Peter 2 & 3, Romans 12, Proverbs 20 & 24, and 1 Thessalonians 5, among others.

  8. Sir,
    there are those who say that the crucifixion was God’s wrath being poured out on His sinless Son. A perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world so that whoever would repent and put their faith in Him would have everlasting life because justice was served on the Cross.

    How do you respond to this? It seems you have turned the crucifixion into a sort-of object lesson of turn the other cheek.

  9. ” It seems you have turned the crucifixion into a sort-of object lesson of turn the other cheek.”

    mark, that’s exactly what he has done.

    In his defense, the message of responding amidst persecution is clearly part of the text.

    However, it must have just slipped Rob’s mind to mention the part about about Christ bearing our sin in his body on the tree (atonement), and the other merely insignificant part claiming that before the atonement we were sheep going astray (need for atonement), and the other part about our “destination”, i.e. being returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (reconciliation, the result of atonement).

  10. As expected with the nature of the material, this conversation is veering off topic. I’ve tried to point back to the intent of the post, but apparently not well enough. Grace and peace.

  11. I found Bell’s “don’t respond to injustice” as good and Biblical advise, however, without the necessary context to make it distinctively Christian. Many religions teach that same principle and it seemed as if most everyone agreed with what he said.

    But we are told that Jesus is a stumbling block and the cross an offense, and in fact Christ Himself warned that many would hate us because of Him. But when Jesus, the Person, is not presented in the conversation then no one is offended and no one is spiritually challenged.

    And Billy Graham speaks the open gospel in the midst of such gatherings, Bell is savvy enough to do so as well.

  12. thirtythousandpeople,

    You stated that Rob paraphrased 1 Peter 2:23-24. My post simply showed that you are mistaken. If that’s off topic, then so is your initial claim!

  13. clearly,
    In 1 Peter the author says it is commendable for a man to bear the pain of unjust suffering because this is our calling, to follow in Christ’s footsteps. The next chapter talks about not repaying evil with evil – this was the theme of Bell’s answer. Verse 24 does talk about the atonement – I fully agree.

    The point of the post was that Bell is finding a new way to say an old truth. Like Piper says, the goal is not to repeat cherished biblical sentences but to pierce the heart with truth. The easy thing would have been to say Jesus’ name and refer back to atonement, but I believe this is one of the many reasons people are tired of church and Christianity and especially Christian music – everyone knows the punchline. It’s like the kid in Sunday school who was asked, “Jimmy, how many of each animal were taken aboard the ark?” He thought about it for a minute and said, “Well, I think the answer is two but apparently the answer is Jesus!” At what point do we stop churning out the same expected answer and start actually articulating a way of being in the world in an excellent way? I wonder if this goes along with Piper’s idea of boring people with God. “It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus.”

    Romans 12 tells us to bless those who persecute us and not to repay evil with evil. A number of proverbs instruct us not to seek vengeance. This is what Bell was doing – giving biblical advice without quoting chapter and verse. Do you disagree?

  14. Of course Rob’s quote is Christian – it’s the teaching of Mt 5.38-48. It’s Biblical advice. The question should he even be there promoting an inter-faith generic spirituality in the first place?

  15. “In his defense, the message of responding amidst persecution is clearly part of the text.”

    You’re right. Starting in v. 18 Peter is talking about servants submitting to their masters. Saying that if you do good and suffer it is commendable before God. Peter says that we are called to suffer because Christ also suffered and in His suffering leaving us an example. He then quotes Isaiah 53:9.

    Would it be fair to say a better paraphrase would be:
    “As a Christian I am promised persecution and suffering in this life. When that suffering comes I look to Christ on the cross as an example of how to deal with it because although He could have retaliated He did not.”

    Thanks

  16. I thought you’d like that.. I’m not a big fan of rap or hip-hop (if there’s a difference) but I love the “13 Letters” comp that most of these guys are on — talk about a new way to share an old truth! I also have Trip Lee’s “If They Only Knew”.

    I think this is more of what Pastor Piper was talking about when he wrote, “We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is, and it is not boring”. The core Christian message is still there. Human depravity, justification by faith, the centrality of Christ and Him crucified, authority of Scripture, living a Holy life, etc. they’re all there.

    However you I don’t think you can “find a new way to share an old truth” unless you actually include who The Truth IS. As CHRISTians our focus is CHRIST! Can you honestly see the Dali Lama nodding in agreement with either of these videos as he does when Rob allegorizes the resurrection ?

    Just trying to point out that one of these things glorifies God and the other I think, frankly, He is ashamed by (Mark 8:38).

    We can be a part of the culture without bowing down to it, it’s possible my friend.

  17. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree, brother. I don’t think God is ever ashamed at offering forgiveness in the face of injustice. In our world today people want something authentic; they want real life, not a religion that can be summed up in a few minutes with a few choice words.

    A lot of people were drawn to the early church because the life they were living was so attractive to outsiders. Based on the culture that we’re in now, it might not be wise to say the name Jesus at every opportunity. It’s disturbing to me that we think of this as being ashamed of him.

    When Bell states biblical truth at an interfaith conference without using biblical language and we get upset that he didn’t say exactly what we wanted him to say, I wonder if what we really want is a simple formula and not the truth.

    The book of Esther doesn’t mention God once but he’s obviously woven throughout the story. In the same way, Bell doesn’t mention Christ in this particular dialogue but His truth shines through.

  18. thanks for the conversation, my man you seem like a smart & thoughtful guy.

    I will leave you with one thought: do we not care enough about the Dali Lama’s soul to tell him the truth about his eternity?

    “his holiness” is like a child trapped in a burning building on the 2nd floor. We have a ladder that we can use to climb up and pull him out… but instead we’d rather not offend him. That is not compassion my friend, it is immoral.

  19. Great post.

    I’ve read a number of different blogs (mostly criticisms) that have been directed at Rob Bell’s comments at Seeds of Compassion. I give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the audience he was speaking to.

    I thought it was a great thing that Christianity had a representative like Rob Bell who could engage in a respectful manner among other faiths. Differences aside – the panel at Seeds of Compassion are all well-educated people. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dali Lama knows more about Christianity then a lot of Christians do. I’m sure there has been some Christian representative who has rebuked and challenged each of the panelists who were standing for a different faith during Seeds of Compassion.

    Rob Bell represented Christianity. I give Bell the benefit of the doubt that he knew the audience he was speaking to.

    The coolest part out of all those videos was video #3 when the Dalai Lama and other religious representatives all began to clap at the response Rob Bell gave. For once, we all agreed on something. Essentially, all of the religious representatives agreed on a Christian idea. Could this be the Gospel at work?

    I bet Jesus was clapping to…

    I echo thirtythousandpeople

    Thanks for the post

  20. The funny thing about this is, he wasn’t paraphrasing 1 Peter. He was paraphrasing Tim Keller. He’s quoted and paraphrased Keller’s new book, “The Reason for God,” a few times in the last few weeks. Last week his sermon could have almost been read out of the last chapter, “The Divine Dance.”

    At Seeds of Compassion, Bell apparently said

    “When somebody wrongs you, when they commit an injustice, when they do evil, whether it’s something petty or whether it’s the oppression of millions of people, it’s as if they have handed you this injustice, or evil. And so you can hand it back – that’s called revenge, that’s when you take the wrong, the evil, the injustice, the hurt, the betrayal, and you simply respond in kind. There is, next to revenge, another option, which is not to hand back the pain, which means that you’re going to have to bear that pain.

    And when you choose not to respond with revenge or retaliation, but you choose to respond with forgiveness—and you choose to take it and bear that pain—it is going to be heavy, but it is going to lead to your freedom. It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It’s gonna feel like a Friday, but a Sunday is going to come.”

    Now, this is from Keller’s book:

    “When we are seriously wronged we have an indelible sense that the perpetrators have incurred a debt that must be dealt with. Once you have been wronged and you realize there is a just debt that can’t simply be dismissed–there are only two things to do.
    “The first option is to seek ways to make the perpetrators suffer for what they have done. You can withhold relationship and actively initiate or passively wish for some kind of pain in their lives commensurate to what you experienced[…]
    “There is another option, however. You can forgive. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering…Many people would say it feels like a kind of death.
    “Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism…Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil” (188-89)

    This is an excerpt of a chapter where Keller tries to use the “example of human forgiveness to understand the divine”(191) because he believes that “human forgiveness works this way because we unavoidably reflect the image of our Creator” (192).

    If you don’t think that Keller–a man I think most would call an ‘orthodox’ Presbyterian minister–is heretical, all you can really blame Bell for in this case is being somewhat unoriginal.

  21. Kyle,
    Bell recently recommended Keller’s “The Reason For God” so you could be right on. Bell reads voraciously, so few/none of his ideas are probably original. In fact, he says in “Velvet Elvis” that if it’s true then it probably isn’t new. Thanks for insight.

  22. What if some popular televangelist had gone instead, and said stupid things to make people hate God even more than many already do? What if Joel Osteen had been there? Or Benny Hinn? I am glad Bell went, because all knew he was a Christian, there in Jesus’ name, and what he said was supposed to be representative of his religion. It was assumed. The problem is, people make others feel left out of the Kingdom. Bell does not. And the false religions are based on God as people know Him, and the Bible says none will have an excuse for not knowing Him, because creation itself speaks of Him. So you must realize that other religions have sprung up from people seeking God, who had no access to the gospel, and thus have a lot of it wrong (not to mention that the enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy has had his way with their unknowing). But God has heard their plea to know Him, and it is evident in Buddhism, for instance, that they have drawn near to the compassionate side of God – the true God.
    You simply cannot tell people that they have to throw out all of their religious culture in order to be saved, because it is part of 1) who they are, and 2) their limited understanding of the true and living God. Even missionaries tell the people that this God they worship does not like it when they committ sins, and that He sent His Son to redeem us. They do not tell them they have to throw out all they have ever known. They identify the god(s) they serve as being God, just not fully known to them properly.
    So, keep on rockin’ Rob Bell! Thank you for representing our compassionate God in a way people could actually accept!

  23. my jaw is still dropped at what I just read above me here!
    this is pure dribble from satans lower lip.

  24. @Snooks:

    You said: “You simply cannot tell people that they have to throw out all of their religious culture in order to be saved…”

    No one said that’s what Rob should have done. The question people are asking is how Rob, as one of the de facto “Protestant Christian” representatives, spoke the truths of the Gospels to those listening.

    I not going to say there is anything wrong with what Rob Bell said, because there isn’t.

    But given this opportunity, I do wonder if Rob Bell could have said something a little less generic and a little more ‘Christian’ (I know some people might get hung up on this, I mean ‘Christian’ in terms of the truths we believe which separate us from other religions).

    I also wonder, based on the reluctance that both sometimes Bell, and more openly Pagitt (re: Crosstalk, Todd Friel), have when it comes to professing the nitty gritty reality of the Gospels–that we need Jesus to save us from God’s judgment.

    Ultimately, though conferences might be good PR moves on the part of emergents like Bell and Pagitt, teaching on the ‘decent living strategies’ of Christianity (forgiveness, kindness, honesty, etc.) means little without the preaching the real truths of the Gospels.

    We are saved by faith alone, not by works–we are saved not because we forgive others but because we ourselves have been forgiven.

    Bell didn’t seem to preach these truths but instead spoke generically about how to live a good life.

    Check out the videos here: http://www.alittleleaven.com/2008/04/rob-bells-comme.html

    (I know, the site is pretty abrasive, but the videos are useful.)

  25. I am unable to get over the fact that Rob called the Dali Lama “his holiness” doesn’t that go against the first 3 commandments? And why can he not mention the name of Jesus? I don’t think someone carrying around the heavy burden of being wronged feels very good. How about offering them the burden free life that we can have in Jesus Christ.

  26. No, Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice so we wouldn’t have to die… His emphasis was eternal life with God, not how to live here on earth. Not a formula, a promise… “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” Acts 16:31. And by calling the dali lama “his holiness” Rob was worshiping another god.

  27. Boy, I didn’t read them all, but the comments against Rob seem to be saying…Hey Rob, when ever you answer any one question, make sure to include EVERY POSSIBLE point the Bible ever made on any issue some where in your answer. Any answer that is shorter than our typical 20 minute sermon(ette) is just not adequate!

    Brevity may be the sole of whit, but not in Christianity, that is for sure.
    Sean

  28. This is really easy. Just take it out of your mind that it was Rob on stage and in his place it was Paul, or any of the apostles. would you think it would have gone the same way? Do you think given the perfect chance plopped in there laps with the questions given, that these men of the Bible would have responded the same way? Let’s be frank, if any of them started in with what Rob, Paul would have chimed into an open rebuke in front of the entire audience. Every response that comes out of Rob Bell’s mouth is weak-spined, ambiguous, and utterly humanistic. Yes, I am dismayed that he went to represent the God I worship. I only hope that inspite of Rob, the gospel was made clear for those there.

  29. “Yep. Same way. Good question.”

    In truth and love, I must humbly disagree. If anyone believes that Paul would have responded in a similar fashion, then we are reading different versions of God’s Word. Let’s try 1 Timothy for starters, then move to Jude…

  30. I know this thread’s a little old, but I posted this in another thread about the same subject a while back:

    “The funny thing about this is, he wasn’t paraphrasing 1 Peter. He was paraphrasing Tim Keller. He’s quoted and paraphrased Keller’s new book, “The Reason for God,” a few times in the last few weeks. Last week his sermon could have almost been read out of the last chapter, “The Divine Dance.”

    At Seeds of Compassion, Bell apparently said

    “When somebody wrongs you, when they commit an injustice, when they do evil, whether it’s something petty or whether it’s the oppression of millions of people, it’s as if they have handed you this injustice, or evil. And so you can hand it back – that’s called revenge, that’s when you take the wrong, the evil, the injustice, the hurt, the betrayal, and you simply respond in kind. There is, next to revenge, another option, which is not to hand back the pain, which means that you’re going to have to bear that pain.

    And when you choose not to respond with revenge or retaliation, but you choose to respond with forgiveness—and you choose to take it and bear that pain—it is going to be heavy, but it is going to lead to your freedom. It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It’s gonna feel like a Friday, but a Sunday is going to come.”

    Now, this is from Keller’s book:

    “When we are seriously wronged we have an indelible sense that the perpetrators have incurred a debt that must be dealt with. Once you have been wronged and you realize there is a just debt that can’t simply be dismissed–there are only two things to do.
    “The first option is to seek ways to make the perpetrators suffer for what they have done. You can withhold relationship and actively initiate or passively wish for some kind of pain in their lives commensurate to what you experienced[…]
    “There is another option, however. You can forgive. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering…Many people would say it feels like a kind of death.
    “Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism…Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil” (188-89)

    This is an excerpt of a chapter where Keller tries to use the “example of human forgiveness to understand the divine”(191) because he believes that “human forgiveness works this way because we unavoidably reflect the image of our Creator” (192).

    If you don’t think that Keller–a man I think most would call an ‘orthodox’ Presbyterian minister–heretical, all you can really blame Bell for in this case is being somewhat unoriginal.”

  31. lol, my bad. i actually posted in one other one and forgot about this one, and then stumbled on this again.

    I guess I just really get tired of people ragging on other people without doing their homework. I don’t like people ragging on other people in general, but it’s better when they’re at least informed about it.

  32. now, now, if everyone in that conference understood that Bell was representing Christianity, wouldn’t they have understood too, and tolerated Bell if he used the name of Jesus and explained a little bit of the atonement? After all, they should be prepared to hear such things because he was invited and they knew what he represented. i like his illustration about death and resurrection, friday and sunday, but i think it fell short. i think he missed a golden opportunity of explaining what the death of Jesus really meant and accomplished. right there, he could have presented the gospel without fire and brimstone, so to speak. he was asked a question and he should have answered straight from the Bible because he was representing Christianity. he wasn’t representing all the religions of the world which his answer seems to have accomplished (altho’ i think he believes all religions belong to God anyway).

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