The online apologetics and discernment work Apprising Ministries has as one of its mandates in the Lord analyzing current trends in the visible church, apprising you as to what they are, and how it is you can deal with them. I pointed out previously that one terrible trend we’ve watched very carefully since 2005 was the rise of the Emerging Church; now a full-blown neo-liberal cult operating within mainstream evangelicalism, which also proved to be a Trojan Horse unloading critical-thinking skills numbing Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism under the guise of so-called Spiritual Formation.

It was the Emergent Church that would also open the door into the heart of the visible church for the warped and toxic teachings of people like heretical quasi-universalist Emerging Church pastor Doug Pagitt, who heads the Emergent Solomon’s Porch where the equally heretical Tony Jones happens to be his “theologian in residence,” and rock star EC pastor Rob Bell, who is—beyond question—one of the most popular names in Young Adult and Youth ministry. Sadly, he’s now even become a staple within the heart of the evanjellyfish community in the church visible.

This despite the fact that Bell is no more an evangelical, as this term has been defined historicially, than I am a Mormon; because though we indeed use the same terminolology, as a mystic Rob Bell employs (at best) the neo-orthodox approach to the Christian faith as outlined by Dr. John MacArthur below:

Neo-orthodoxy is the term used to identify an existentialist variety of Christianity. Because it denies the essential objective basis of truth—the absolute truth and authority of Scripture—neo-orthodoxy must be understood as pseudo-Christianity. Its heyday came in the middle of the twentieth century with the writings of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebaur. Those men echoed the language and the thinking of [Soren] Kierkegaard, speaking of the primacy of “personal authenticity,” while downplaying or denying the significance of objective truth. Barth, the father of neo-orthodoxy, explicitly acknowledged his debt to Kierkegaard.

Neo-orthodoxy’s attitude toward Scripture is a microcosm of the entire existentialist philosophy: the Bible itself is not objectively the Word of God, but it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to me individually. In neo-orthodoxy, that same subjectivism is imposed on all the doctrines of historic Christianity. Familiar terms are used, but are redefined or employed in such a way that is purposely vague—not to convey objective meaning, but to communicate a subjective symbolism. After all, any “truth” theological terms convey is unique to the person who exercises faith. What the Bible means becomes unimportant, What it means to me is the relevant issue. All of this resoundingly echoes Kierkegaard’s concept of “truth that is true for me.”

Thus while neo-orthodox theologians often sound as if they affirming traditional beliefs, their actual system differs radically from the historic understanding of the Christian faith. By denying the objectivity of truth, they relegate all theology to the realm of subjective relativism. It is a theology perfectly suited for the age in which we live. And that is precisely why it is so deadly…

[Contemplative Spirituality aka] Mysticism is perfectly suited for religious existentialism; indeed, it is the inevitable consequence. The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, of other purely subjective means. Objective truth becomes practically superfluous.

Mysticial experiences are therefore self-authenticating; that is, they are not subject to any form of objective verification. They are unique to the person who experiences them. Since they do not arise from or depend upon any rational process, they are invulnerable to any refutation by rational means… Mysticism is therefore antithetical to discernment. It is an extreme form of reckless faith. Mysticism is the great melting pot into which neo-orthodoxy, the charismatic movement, anti-intellectual evangelicals, and even some segments of Roman Catholicism have been synthesized.

It has produced movements like the Third Wave (a neo-charismatic movement with excessive emphasis on signs, wonders and personal prophesies); Renovaré (an organization that blends teachings from monasticism, ancient [Roman] Catholic mysticism, Eastern Religion, and other mystical traditions); the spiritual warfare movement (which seeks to engage demonic powers in direct confrontation); and the modern prophesy movement (which encourages believers to seek private, extrabiblical revelation directly from God).

The influx of mysticism has also opened evangelicalism to New-Age concepts like subliminal thought-control, inner healing, communication with angels, channeling, dream analysis, positive confession, and a host of other therapies and practices coming directly from occult and Eastern religions. The face of evangelicalism has changed so dramatically in the past twenty years that what is called evangelicalism today is beginning to resemble what used to be called neo-orthodoxy. If anything, some segments of contemporary evangelicalism are even more subjective in their approach to truth than neo-orthodoxy ever was. [1]

While introducing a segment on the Christology of Rob Bell from the Fighting for the Faith program of Christian apologist Chris Rosebrough on Pirate Christian Radio I told you recently in Rob Bell Is Definitely Not Like Jesus that Bell has now gone on record concerning “the years” where he was “spending time at the Dominican center, here in town; and reading Richard Rohr and Ronald Rolheiser.” Both of these men are apostate (at best) Roman Catholic priests and mystics. Rolheiser, a “member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,” is billed as a “community builder” ; in other words, he’s building communities for the Roman Catholic Church, an organization that has anathematized the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself. In the real world, this is something Jesus takes an extremely dim view of:

(Online source)

I also told you a couple of years ago in Rob Bell In A Nutshell: Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism that Bell has been long recommending the whacked work of Richard Rohr; therein I showed him foisting Rohr’s book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer upon a friend who was interviewing him. If you don’t know, this Roman Catholic mystic Richard Rohr—whose latest book is The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics—is a fellow Red Letter Christian along with Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren; in addition, Rohr’s also a purveyor of the new version of Progressive Christianity the apostate McLaren has now begun laying out systematically in his own latest book A New Kind of Christianity.

Let me be frank here, you may believe me when I tell you that I’m keenly aware 1 Corinthians 15:10 reminds me it’s only by the grace of God I am what I am; in other words, were it not so then I’d be as deceived as these people are. That said however, sometimes I find myself wondering how many times I have to draw attention to the same old names all coming together, and heartily recommending each other’s counterfeit Christianity, before the light finally comes on. With this critical background I’ll now point you to the following by Greg Gilbert, who is “director of research for the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.”

Gilbert is also author of the concise, but very helpful, book What Is The Gospel?, which I have, and am pleased to recommend. This section below as it concerns the “‘moralism,’” or even ‘Pelagianism’” of Rob Bell comes from the first part of Gilbert’s series The Scoop’a on NOOMA in the ejournal of 9 Marks:

There’s no denying that Rob Bell is a tremendous natural speaker and communicator. He’s good at telling stories, using his face to emphasize a point and his eyes to arrest your attention. But before we get too far with the infatuation, somebody should point out that it’s actually relatively easy to “connect” with the world when you’re talking about handling anger, or the true meaning of sex, or how closely God holds you to his chest when you’re facing a storm in life, or how disgusted God must be with that guy preaching the sermon about hell.

The harder thing—and the thing that would really test Bell’s mettle as a communicator—would be to make a NOOMA video about substitutionary atonement, for example. Not one that re-thinks it and re-casts it for a generation that doesn’t like that kind of thing, but one that addresses “He was crushed for our iniquities” with the same unflinching “honesty” and “authenticity” as it addresses “Love one another.” Would that installment of NOOMA be received with the same enthusiasm the others have enjoyed? What if he made one about the final judgment, and the fact that “No one comes to the Father but by me?” How well would that be received among the audience Bell has built?

I don’t think every ten-minute video needs to contain a crash course in systematic or biblical theology. Christian life and doctrine is a vast and rich universe of truth, and if Rob Bell wants to do ten minutes on sex, ten on anger, ten on this or that, that’s obviously fine. It’s always easy to say by way of critique, “That ten minutes should have said more than it did.” So that’s not where I see a problem with NOOMA.

The problem is that in the videos which aim to present the Christian gospel, the gospel presented is woefully incomplete if not outright wrong in places (which we’ll discuss at more length in the second part of this series). Yes, there’s sin and even grace in NOOMA; God loves us as we are, with all our junk, as Bell puts it. But beyond that there’s little to no cross or resurrection, no atonement, no substitution. Once we’re told that God accepts us as we are, all that follows is a call to live as Jesus lived in order to make the world a better place—which if it weren’t so hip would just be called “moralism,” or even “Pelagianism.”


I have said in several places on this site that there is much about the Emergent theological storyline that I find compelling. Who wouldn’t be excited by the idea of God’s people—broken, sinful people accepted by him just as they are—living and working to diffuse God’s grace and love throughout the whole of society? So far as it goes, that’s a great and biblical vision, and there’s a reason it resonates with people. But, in my opinion, where the Emergent church and these videos go wrong is in telling the world that that . . . is . . . the gospel.

It’s not. Good as that storyline might be, it is finally too small and too colorless. For God to lovingly accept us as we are no matter how ashamed we might be of ourselves is nice and all, but it’s a pretty pale gray compared to the Bible’s story of a just and loving God sending his Son to take the punishment of a rebellious people so they can live with and for him forever.

If you want to engage a “new generation” looking for authenticity, honest answers, and a willingness to look unflinchingly at human sin and suffering, that’s the gospel that will do it. Unfortunately, that’s also the gospel that these NOOMA videos, at least so far, seem unwilling to talk about. (Online source)


[1] John MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When The Church Loses Its Will To Discern [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994],  25, 26, 27, 28, 29.

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