A Robust Review of Rob Bell’s NOOMA Series

Posted: May 3, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Discipleship/Sanctification, Movie Reviews

About two years ago, our 20s and 30s group at church watched most of the NOOMA videos from Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill in Michigan.  I liked them as we watched them, but I didn’t realize until later that Bell had his share of critics as well as admirers.  Greg Gilbert, director of research for the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminay, writes a comprehensive, 3-part review of the series.

A lot of times in our culture, you see commentators pull out a careless or offensive phrase in order to take the object of their criticism to task.  This is particularly evident in the politics of soundbites (Oh no!  John McCain said he doesn’t know how many houses he owns!  Howard Dean said capturing Saddam didn’t make us safer!).  Gilbert refuses to do this in his review.  He gives Bell credit for his talents and even some of the messages of the videos (see part 3 for his comments on each video).  He seeks to get a whole picture of Bell’s theology (see especially part 2), which makes his critique that much more powerful.

Gilbert writes that NOOMA ultimately presents people as imperfect creatures that don’t realize that God has already forgiven us and relates to us; once we do, we can begin to live like Jesus.  Without highlighting the necessity of God’s wrath, the Cross, or repentance, Gilbert contends that Bell reduces Christianity to “a banal moralism.”

Reading Gilbert’s review, I can see why I liked the videos when I first saw them.  When Christians are watching them, the focus on Christ’s life can be very edifying, and Gilbert points out some of Bell’s successes in this area.  But I think that Gilbert really makes a cogent point that Bell doesn’t present the full gospel in a way that helps unbelievers come to Christ.  I want to wait on committing to an opinion on Bell generally because I haven’t read his books, but I think that this critique of NOOMA is spot on.

Gilbert is apparently the “reviewer extraordinaire” at Mark Dever’s 9Marks website.  I have to say that I am excited about the growing Reformed  movement in evangelicalism today.  As my friend Rick said in our conversation a couple of weeks ago, Reformed theology has an intellectual weight and engages culture in a way that modern evangelicalism often doesn’t.  I think that many of the most exciting things in evangelicalism in the coming years are going to come from what Time Magazine dubbed the “The New Calvinism.”  See Rick’s comments on this trend, which introduced me to Time’s article, here and here.

Hat tip for the Gilbert article: Justin Taylor’s link to another Gilbert comment on Bell

  1. Lem Roberts says:

    Greg Gilbert brings the typical response I would expect from the Southern Baptist Religious Right. Our church life group is using the Nooma videos as a basis for discussion. The feedback has been very positive. Of course, it won’t fit into the rigid religious/political agenda of the Southern Baptist Church. Gilbert’s mission is to tear down anything that does not fit his theological/political ideology. Rob Bell is a breath of fresh air in understanding what it means to be a Christian. I pray he continues to reach many more people.

  2. Scott Kistler says:

    Lem, I don’t think that Gilbert is just trying to tear it down. He looks for a lot of the strengths but also raises some really good criticisms. Bell’s also seems to be moving toward universalism, so Gilbert was onto something: Bell does not seem to value traditional Christian doctrine.

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