Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and the Missing Jesus

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

October 2, 2013

Getting Oprah Winfrey to endorse your book may mean a lot of different things. It would no doubt mean that books sales are going up (exponentially).  It would also mean your book would be read by many folks that otherwise would not read it.

But, one thing it probably does not mean is that your book is a bold and  faithful exposition of evangelical Christian beliefs. On the contrary, Oprah stands as the religious antithesis to biblical Christianity.  She is not about Christianity at all, but is about spirituality. She, and millions of Americans, are simply looking for an existential experience with the divine that can bring meaning and purpose to their life.

Thus, I was not surprised when I heard the other day that Oprah endorsed Rob Bell’s book, What We Talk about When We Talk about God.  Here are her comments:

Pastor Rob Bell is shaking up the way we think about God and religion. I love his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne). When I first started reading it, I was highlighting my favorite passages, but then I realized—what’s the point? I’ve marked every page! It just wowed me. In the book, Bell explains that God is and always has been with us, for us, and ahead of us—and then explores how we can really absorb this knowledge into our everyday lives to become more connected to spirit.

Notice what is missing from Oprah’s account.  No discussion of how she read the book and realized she is a sinner in need of grace.  No mention of the atonement, the cross, or the issue of salvation.  No mention of Scripture as the Word of God that needs to be read and studied. And, most of all, no mention of Jesus.

Jesus is not mentioned as Lord, or Savior, or Redeemer.  He is not Son of God, or Son of Man, or the Messiah.  He is not the promised seed of Abraham, the son of David, or Immanuel, God with Us.  And he is certainly not the one who bore the wrath of God for the sins of the world.

And there is a reason for this absence.  It is because all these things are absent in Bell’s book.  Now, of course, Bell mentions Jesus.  But, not as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He mentions God, but not as someone who is holy and ready to punish sin.

In my prior review of Bell, I put it like this:

In chapter five, entitled “For,” Bell says that he wants to recover the “fundamental Christian message that God is for us” (128). That is certainly a commendable goal, but Bell once again “detheologizes” what this concept actually means according to Scripture. Entirely missing in this chapter–indeed entirely missing in the whole book–is any meaningful discussion of the cross and atonement. Absent is discussion about our sin, God’s wrath on our sin, and how Christ’s death on the cross paid that penalty. Absent is the clarification that without the cross, God is definitely not for us and that his wrath remains on us. Sure, Bell talks about Jesus and the incarnation. But, the mission of Jesus is reshaped so that its purpose is “giving us a picture of God who is not distant or detached or indifferent to our pain…but instead is present among us in Jesus to teach us and help us and suffer with us” (p. 131).

In the end, my overall concern about this volume is a simple one: it is not Christian. Bell’s makeover of Christianity has changed it into something entirely different. It is not Christianity at all, it is modern liberalism. It is the same liberalism that Machen fought in the 1920’s and the same liberalism prevalent in far too many churches today. It is the liberalism that teaches that God exists and that Jesus is the source of our happiness and our fulfillment, but all of this comes apart from any real mention of sin, judgment, and the cross. It is the liberalism that says we can know nothing for sure, except of course, that those “fundamentalists” are wrong. It is the liberalism that appeals to the Bible from time to time, but then simply ignores large portions of it.

Bell’s book, therefore, is really just spiritualism with a Christian veneer. It’s a book that would fit quite well on Oprah’s list of favorite books. What is Rob Bell talking about when he is talking about God? Not the God of Christianity.

Of course, when I wrote these words many months ago, Bell’s book was not on Oprah’s list of favorites.  But, now it is.

No doubt Bell will sell a lot more books with Oprah’s endorsement.  Many more people will now have this book in their hands.  That would be good news for Christians if it were actually a book about Christianity.

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