How we treat Rob Bell and Brian McLaren

My favorite movie, is a movie called Good Will Hunting. I feel like I relate to the main character Will a lot (Matt Damon). There are times where I feel damaged from my past, though I know, I find healing and hope every day. My sister tells me I can get myself out of any situation because 1. I’m fairly smart 2. I’m Charismatic and 3. I can argue and debate with unreal persuasion. Much, like Damon’s character in the movie. I also see immense wisdom in the movie. Wisdom, that I see dying to be poured into my own failures and transgressions. Wisdom about aspirations and dreams. Wisdom on relationships and how we relate to others.

Damon finds himself in trouble for assault and battery, and, instead of going to prison, he gets hooked up with this deal, where he is allowed to study math and see a counselor. Damon, not loving the idea of the counselor, bounces from one to the next, by telling one he is Gay and making moves on him, the other by pretending to be hypnotized and breaking out in the song afternoon delight. Finally, he arrives at the office of Sean (Robin Williams), a kid with a similar rough upbringing, who is also very brilliant. When Will encounters Sean, Will tears apart a painting that Sean did, symbolizing the loneliness he felt with the death of his wife. Will critiqued the symbolism and art technique and was able to pinpoint Sean’s weakness. The next scene is a scene in the park for their next meeting:

When I think about the current Hellgate scandal we find ourselves in with Rob Bell, and, in other books written by Brian McLaren, we act on this similar youthful immaturity and insecurity that Damon does. He was able to systematically destroy Sean’s painting, and, when we approach Bell and McLaren, we systematically destroy them with our “proof-text” theology and modern orthodox understanding.

Do we see these works of art by Bell and McLaren and tear their lives apart?

Just because we read their books, does that mean we can tear apart their humanity?

Just because we disagree, do we know how much they or do not love God?

One of the most beautiful Truth’s of being a Christian is this simple phrase, Imago Dei. It means that we are all made in the image of God. So how would Jesus treat Rob Bell and Brian McLaren? Would he tear their lives apart because of their theology (even if it were wrong)? Or, would he love them regardless? Trusting that God is doing a good work in them, being all the more patient and kind with them while this work is being carried out unto completion?

I’m not saying don’t disagree with it. I’m saying use discernment. But know, that they are a face of God, and when we tear them apart, being human, they feel that pain. Be careful about how you throw around the “H” word (heretic), knowing that the modern-day implications of that word, are very hurtful, towards people who believe they are seeking Jesus and following God’s will for their lives. We all have a humanity, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren included.


26 thoughts on “How we treat Rob Bell and Brian McLaren

  1. Carl says:

    Not sure how we Christians got so into the judgement business, but if we want to be Christ-like we’d better get ourselves out of it in a hurry. Thanks for the good word, Mike.

  2. Jeff N. says:

    Thank you. This is a wonderful reminder. Since when do we all know the answers and beat up on people asking honest questions?

  3. Roger says:

    Wow! Great post … I was a young (i.e. “green”) pastor once, and this whole flap has reminded me of how quick, even eager, I once was to find heresy. I think it was a holdover from seminary, where “truth” was more important than love — at least in the dorm discussions. It seems to me there are many pastors, writers, theological pundits out there who have forgotten the priority of love and forbearance (possibly the result of listening to too much right-wing talk radio). Keep the faith!

  4. Trina says:

    Rob Bell’s writings require people to ask tough questions about their faith; the same questions that Christians have been struggling with for centuries.
    There is nothing wrong with being challenged to dig deeper to “own” what you believe. Ultimatley, Rob Bell wants people to pursue God for the answers.
    It makes me sad how the Christian community has been so harsh. God help us.
    Great post, Mike.

  5. Gary says:

    Mike, I LOVE this piece! Could I repost it on my blog. I want my readers to see it. Keep it up, friend! -Gary

  6. Will Norman says:

    this is actually really good for me to hear from the other side, as i can be prone to rip apart the work and teaching of those who dismissed bell … only to discover that I am doing the very thing i distain in someone else.

    bummer, but thanks for the edifying words

  7. Travis says:

    Mike I see what you are saying but I have to disagree with you and most of the comments. If something is heretical where is the hurt in calling it out? Is there not an obligation to the Christian to stand for truth? Sure, we are all to love each other as ourselves and respecting the fact that everyone is a creation of God is important. However, before that is the greatest commandment from Jesus and that was love the Lord with everything that is inside you. I think those defending Bell and McLaren by talking about how others are degrading their humanity are going about it the wrong way. I would rather see a defense of their postions based on Scripture and not an attack on others characters that happen to disagree with them. When we condemn people for calling other’s views wrong or heretical are we not doing the same thing in return that you claim is being done to these two writers?

  8. Courtney says:

    Oddly enough I’m using this movie in a presentation this week; such a great film!

  9. chuckredfern says:

    I haven’t read Bell’s book, so I’ll reserve judgement either way. However, there’s a real difference between questioning someone’s theology verses assailing his character. Bell himself took the initiative to write a book that seems to challenge people’s assumptions (although, again, I have not read it). He must then be open to counter-arguments. He cannot play the role of the persecuted one — and he must eventually give concrete answers (many are frustrated with what they feel is his evasiveness).

    As for McLaren, I grow weary of his constant response to questions with more questions. Playing Socrates only goes so far, Brian. You must eventually give answers and accept challenges. That’s the way reasoning and respectful debate work. If you fear such challenges, don’t enter the debate in the first place.

    So I’m dismayed by both sides. It is obvious that John Piper jumped to conclusions with his inappropriate tweet, “Goodbye, Rob Bell” (Piper has also inappropriately criticized NT Wright). But I add: Some of Bell’s defenders are lumping all critics with Piper. Those leveling the accusation of judgmentalism can be very judgmental.

    I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Bell’s book isn’t that far off. So far, his theological flaws — if you can call them that — are minor. But again, I don’t know. I haven’t read the book. And neither have many of Bell’s critics or defenders.

    • Will Norman says:

      in response to the mclaren bit … i think he is answering questions in a similar way to how Jesus answered questions. Our reality is (and Bell says this) that we really don’t know what happens on the other side of the grave, and to claim some certainty and exclude others based on our assumptions is not what the gospel calls its adherents to. I recently preached a sermon around these ideas at my seminary that take these thoughts further if you are interested to see the rest of my grappling with all of this:

      grace and peace

      • chuckredfern says:


        My apologies. I haven’t gotten to your sermon yet.

        Concerning McLaren/Jesus: Perhaps I should clarify where I’m coming from. I’m all for tipping over the sacred cows of contemporary evangelicalism (see my blog, and the questions can be a good method for awhile. But, eventually, we must give well-supported answers. Thoughtful people begin to feel demeaned otherwise. They long to respond: “Yes, Jesus used this method; but you’re not Jesus.”

        Grace and peace to you as well, my brother.

    • Will Norman says:

      Hey Chuck, thanks for the respectful response. In the midst of all of the controversy, a number of us (including myself) have tended to lose sight of the importance of unity and mutual respect for one another. For some reason your last comment didn’t have a reply option, so I’ve having to post this one out of place, but a post nonetheless. I think that the disconnect that may be happening is that people are thinking on a different wave lengths than Rob (and others) is. One of the things that he has said over and over is that “we simply can’t know what happens on the other side of the grave.” This is a response that represents a certain approach to the idea of truth that many people do not share. It seems to me that most of the people who are getting frustrated with people like Bell and McLaren place a high value on being able to know and prove things, so that when someone comes along and says “we can’t know and we can’t prove” they are left unsatisfied. The follow up to “we can’t know and we can’t prove,” of course, is “…so let’s poke, and prod, and ask, and test, and pray, and play, etc … but let’s NOT place some limit on God that is based on what we are able to understand.” My bias in this difference is probably pretty obvious, and I don’t expect people to change their minds because of anything that I say, but I do think that it is important for us, if we are going to engage in conversation around matters such as this, to attempt to understand one another’s concept of truth and how it functions in our lives and in our faith. If we don’t understand that, then we will never be able to hear one another properly, and the conversations will go nowhere. I hope that a) makes sense, and b) was respectful of people who think differently than I do. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts, and am heading to read some of your blog as soon as I finish writing this comment. Thanks for the conversation!

      Grace & Peace

  10. Rachel T. says:

    Beautifully said, Mr. Friesen! The first post on either side of this issue I could stomach reading to it’s conclusion.

  11. Barry Hill says:

    Well said! many of the conversations between the followers of Jesus these days resemble little of the character of God. It deeply saddens my heart. Feel free to disagree with theology and engage in good healthy, and at times passionate, debate, but do it in love that God may receive the glory. Keep up the good work.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Great, great post. Thank you Mike.

    • Roger says:

      Thanks for proving Mike’s point … What you’re offering is just your interpretation …

      • Travis says:

        Of course Roger is then proving my point that he is simply calling out someone for offering an opinion. But the truth is that the “Setting Brian McLaren Straight” article has good exegesis and that is far from “your” interpretation. Roger is everyone’s interpretation valid then? Because even Rob Bell doesn’t believe that.

  13. when it comes down to it do “they” really think McLaren, Bell, etc are just making up stuff? So of course they are pursuing Jesus and his will the best they know how, just as every one else is. So I wonder where we get off thinking we are the ones who are holding the truth?

    • Travis says:

      Yes, “they” think they are making stuff up. Truth needs to be based on if it is biblical. If it is not biblical then it is not truth. Denying that torment in hell is not truth. I am not kicking anyone out of the kingdom but what Bell says about hell is wrong. There needs to be a basis for truth and that is Scripture anything else falls short.

  14. ken says:

    Mike, thanks for this post. Well done. Great connection to the way we can tend to depersonalize our apologetic. Viciously tearing apart arguments is often our way to tear apart a person… and to build ourselves up. Arrogance, not humility or altruism, often is the driver of our debates. Blessings, Mike. Thanks again.

  15. Carl says:

    When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan he quoted Gods word to defeat the enemy. All of our Christian lives we are told to use the scripture to battle the temptations we face following Jesus example. Rob Bell or whoever puts out a book calling into question our understanding of biblical principles but we are not allowed to respond with ” proof-text theology.” He posits any ideas about what happens after death are speculation! Why is he even a Pastor then? Why does he not use proof-text th. for his own questions? I think he could use the consolation of the word to bad he actively undermines it’s power. I would mention blind guides but as a Christian I see quoting from the bible to support a position in an argument is not allowed. Rather I’ll posit human wisdom and philosophy are seductive in their charms and we can be led atsray by their siren call.

  16. […] conversation overly emotional and at times, just silly. I felt like there was this national ‘poor Rob‘ sentiment rising up in the […]

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