Rob Bell on the Trinity

Since some commenters, and other people I respect, have expressed admiration for Rob Bell, and since he’s a big deal right now, I’m looking through some of his stuff. And to be honest, it’s scary. Maybe I’m being a stodgy (semi-) Presbyterian, but I think some of this is just plain bad. If anyone wants to chime in and explain how it isn’t, seriously, I’m all ears.

He has this analogy that the Christian faith isn’t a brick wall, where you take one thing out and the whole thing crumbles, but is more like a trampoline we can bounce around on. Doctrines are like the springs; they give form to our jumping and help us talk about things.

This is all well and good until he starts talking about the springs. For example, the Trinity:

This three-in-oneness understanding of God emerged in the several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. People began to call this concept the Trinity. The word trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible. Jesus didn’t use the word, and the writers of the rest of the Bible didn’t use the word. But over time this belief, this understanding, this doctrine, has become central to how followers of Jesus have understood who God is. It is a spring, and people jumped for thousands of years without it. It was added later. We can take it out and examine it. Discuss it, probe it, question it. It flexes, and it stretches. (Velvet Elvis, 22)

He’s right, of course, that the word trinity isn’t in the Bible. But the concept is all over the place. People didn’t make the Trinity up in the centuries after Jesus’ resurrection; it’s there in the Gospels, in Paul, in the rest of the NT, and in the earliest of the church fathers. It was there this early because God has always existed in three persons, although that was not fully revealed until the NT. Bell implies it’s a human invention (if not I don’t know what “it was added later” means).

We can certainly ask questions about the Trinity and its implications. But this section really sounds to me like Bell is saying it’s not really necessary to believe. But it is. Lose the Trinity, and you lose the humanity and divinity of Christ. Then you’ve lost the doctrine of salvation. You’ve also lost the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which is how God is present with his people. Really, you’ve lost the very basics of what it means to be a Christian.

I want to be fair and clear. Bell does affirm the Trinity (he explicitly says so 5 pages later). I’m not accusing him of not believing in it, but I find the way he talks about it devastating to its centrality. Instead of the central belief of Christianity, Bell talks about the doctrine of the Trinity as if it were an optional add-on.

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Comments

  1. I appreciate your concern with Rob’s style. It seems most people that have trouble with Rob have trouble with his approach, citing this example as well as the one from Velvet Elvis where he asks “what if Jesus had an earthly father?” Where it seems people miss the mark in their criticism is the fact that we currently have an untold number of Christian denominations, all established as a result of different beliefs as to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and they refuse to acknowledge this tension. Some of these disagreements are bigger than others, but, for example, the Christian Church wholeheartedly believes full submersion in baptism is required for salvation, while others are fine with a sprinkling. And this goes to the issue of personal salvation! Both sides can effectively argue scripture in support of their view, but only one side can be right to the exclusion of everyone else, OR, it isn’t actually as crucial to salvation as they believe.

    Some of these “fundamental Christian truths” Rob is talking about have to be acknowledged as man-made, which doesn’t mean they aren’t also God-inspired. Because someone can effectively argue that the trinity is evidenced in the scriptures, doesn’t make it absolute truth. What if there is a larger, more beautiful truth out there that we’ve stopped searching for? What if the early Christian fathers never took time to think, pray and reflect on the personality of God at all and never gave us the gift of the doctrine of the trinity in the first place? Rob is arguing for this continual probing, and encouraging Christians to have a faith big enough to believe that God will still be there, urging us on, in the end rather than believing that if we have questions that our faith, in turn, must hang in the balance.

    Rob is not seeking to deconstruct the fundamentals of the Christian faith as so many accuse him of, but rather is pushing for Christians to engage the Scripture. I think he demonstrates a higher reverence for the God-inspired nature of the scriptures by believing there is more that can be found, learned, discovered, etc., rather than believing that a set of doctrinal statements a group of people established hundreds of years ago are the end all and be all of Christian faith.

    The “emergent” label is also often flung on him, I believe, inappropriately. The “emergent movement” actually is engaged in deconstructing major tenants of the faith. Rob is simply encouraging exploration, for it is only by truly wrestling with truth that you can adopt it as your own, thereby holding more firmly to it than ever before.

  2. Well, I can appreciate the concern. However, I think you might be taking what Bell said too far. I mean, he said we can take the ‘spring’ out and examine it, study it. He didn’t say we should take the spring out and throw it in the garbage.

    I don’t think he’s saying we should get rid of the doctrine of the trinity, just that we shouldn’t be so inflexible when we try to define it – it is one of the biggest mysteries of all time after all!

    To bring up an extreme example, what if we get to heaven and find out actually there’s a fourth member of the ‘trinity.’ That might not be so crazy if you consider that it was only a couple thousand years ago that we found out there were 2 more members than we’d previously thought. If that were the case would we lose the “divinity and humanity of Christ”? I don’t think so.

    The point isn’t that the trinity is wrong, just that we can never stop examining what we’ve thought.

  3. The trinity is false a theory built on lies.BRITANICA ENCYCLOPEDIA
    The baptismal formula was changed from the name of Jesus Christ to the words Father, Son & Holy Ghost by the Catholic Church in the Second Century. – 11th Edit., Vol. 3, ppg. 365-366. According to both the Bible and history, the New Testament church invoked the name of Jesus at water baptism. Its baptismal formula was “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “Lord Jesus,” not “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
    I think that every tree that brings forth error or corrupt fruit and docrines such as the trinity (which by scripture and history shown to be false) will be shown as such and cut down and cast away by the father himself. Many will say in that day (Will you be one of them?) did we not pray, do miracles , and many wonderful works in your name Jesus (except get baptized -Mark 16:16, Col 3:17, and Luke 24:45-48 among many other verses in the name of Jesus-as commanded by Jesus). He will reply that he never knew them because they were workers of sin , from the book of Mathew. Who is your rock? Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Jesus – vs. 10). Although this verse may not be talking exclusively about baptism, we see that Jesus is the name by which we are saved, and that there is no other. Col. 3:17 says do all in Jesus name whether word or ded and baptism is both. Don’t be deceived. It is better to obey God than a man and faith without works is dead states the book of Acts and James. So who is right…God alone. Peace to you.

  4. Właśnie dla takich wpisów lubię czytać Twojego bloga!

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  1. […] is the standard Dan Brown take on the Trinity, but oddly seems to be pretty much the view of Rob Bell as well (minus the “heresy” part, of […]

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