Jesse Johnson at Pulpit Magazine breaks down Rob Bell’s “The God’s are not Angry” message. Analysis is a lot more difficult to do than it looks, and often the most telling signs of a preacher’s theology are not what he says, but what he omits. This is a case in point:
I confess that I found the first twenty minutes or so quite helpful. Bell connected dots for me about how sacrifices develop in a culture, and he showed how these false gods impoverish entire cultures. He gave me a new appreciation for how the Levitical Law is an act of mercy from God, because God ended the ambiguity of sacrifice. He also stressed the utter uniqueness of Yahweh in a way that was encouraging, and even gave me hope that he was about to preach.
But Bell went from there into what can only be described as careful and planned ambiguity. It was obvious that he is a smart person. When he rattled off the Mesopotamian and Sumerian gods by memory, he established that he is no dummy. So when he ended the night without explaining why the sacrifice of Christ appeased God’s anger, without explaining atonement, without even touching substitution, I can’t help but note the effort that took. He spoke for over 90 minutes on the sacrifice of Christ without explaining sin, or the resurrection—which is the same as not speaking about the sacrifice of Christ.
If a person is looking for a smoking gun pointing to heresy in what Bell said, he did not leave one. He did define repentance this way: “Repentance is what happens when your eyes are opened and you see what has already been done. ‘I’ve missed it, and now I see it’.” Later he said, “repentance is grounding yourself in Jesus’ resurrection.” Probably not heresy, but definitely not helpful, and patently unclear.
The Gospel was not explained. Instead there was a plea to realize that God is not angry with you, Jesus has made peace, so now go and do good works, acts of kindness and love. Essentially it was a “love Jesus, and buy groceries for the poor” kind of message. The problem is that even his illustrations of these deeds were shallow: it was as if Extreme Makeover was the end for which God created the word.