What is the Gospel: A response to Good News According to Rob Bell

By Mike Henderson

I want to start by stating some things about Rob Bell. He is an intelligent, educated, and gifted writer/speaker. He is more educated than I am and has a much larger influence than I do. As for his reputation as a person, I don’t know it, but I am confident that he is a very personable man. That said, I do have some serious concerns with the gospel he teaches.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4,

1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For  I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

What is Paul making known to the Corinthians, it is the gospel. Verses 1-2 tell us that this gospel he had already preached to them,and they had received it, they now stand in it, and are also saved by it. Only, however, if they hold fast, not believing in vain, the message that he preached to them.

Verses 3-4 give us the message that he had preached to them, “3For aI delivered to you 1as of first importance what I also received,” This gospel message Paul preached is of first importance. The Greek means first in a succession, it is preeminent, the most important and this message Paul received from none other than the Lord Jesus Christ(Gal. 1:11-17). The gospel then is, that Christ died bfor our sins caccording to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was araised on the third day baccording to the Scriptures(emphasis added).

As I begin to unpack this I ask, what does Paul mean when he says Christ died for our sins? To answer that we must understand what  our sins are and what kind of death Christ died.

The bible defines our sins as not thankfully honoring God, who is revealed as our creator, sustainer, and king(Rom. 1:21), meaning we all fail to acknowledge the infinite splendor and majesty and dignity of God. The glory and beauty of God is such that we should all be mirrors of His splendor, proclaiming it and thanking Him for who He is, in fact this is what we were created to do(Gen. 1:27). What’s worse v.23 of Romans says we consequently exchanged the glory of God with his creatures. In other words we all turned to give praise and honor and thanks to the very things God created to make much of Him.

Look at it like this, a dying beggar comes in off the street depending completely on you for his needs. So you cook him food and give him water and dress him and nurture him and bring him back to health. In return for all of your love and attentiveness the beggar gives thanks and adoration to the food, and the clothes, and the bed, and the water. What ingratitude! Is not the provider of those resources far more dignified than the resources themselves thus far more deserving of the thanks and adoration. As with God who is infinitely more dignified than all His creation and therefore infinitely more deserving of honor and thanks.

This is our sin, and what is the result of offending our infinitely wonderful creator, we are rightly in a hostile relationship with Him. Hated and despised we have been separated from the fullness of His loving kindness and are headed for a good punishment in an eternal state of torture by the very God we have offended(Psa 5:4-6; 2 Thess. 1:8-9;Rom 1:18;Rev. 14:10).

So back to 1 Cor, v. 3 says Christ died for our sins. Paul states this again in 1 Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that bChrist Jesus came into the world to csave sinners.” He goes on, “among whom I am foremost of all!” Paul teaches the reason Christ came was to save sinners. He realized the fundamental reality that he is in a hostile relationship with God that can only be reconciled through the death of Christ. Could there be greater news!? The depth of our depravity, so deserving of eternal wrath, is undone by the death of Christ.

Why and how? Because God set death as the penalty for sinning against Him, but graciously allows a substitute death. Meaning to restore a right relationship, a peaceful relationship, with God an innocent party must die on behalf of the guilty. This is what Christ did. The perfect son of God, the one who never sinned was treated as if He had sinned the sin of every sinner who would ever believe. And not periodically like the blood of rams and bulls but once for all for all who will believe in Him, this is the will of God, this is the Gospel(Hebrew 10:1-10).

So Christ’s death was substitutionary and actually absorbed the stored up wrath of God against those who will believe for all time(John 3:16; Rom. 3:21-26) and this was according to the scriptures, this statement is not a passing statement it is essential, we recognize that all the OT looks forward to and all the NT looks back on the one atoning death and resurrection of Christ. This was the joy that was set before Him, he didn’t have to die, He chose to die. He chose to drink the cup of God’s wrath; the whole cup, not one drop left, and He did this to rescue rebel sinners from hell(Isa. 53).

V. 4, Following His death and burial He rose again from the dead on the third day according to the scriptures. How important is the resurrection of Jesus? 1 Cor. 15:17says that without it there is no Christian faith for our sins have not been payed for. This resurrection validated all of Christ’s claims that he would atone for the sins of all who would believe in him; it proved that God had accepted the work of Christ for all time(Rom. 1:4) and notice again that this was in accordance with the scriptures(Psa. 16:10), meaning it was according to what was revealed in the OT.

According to the scriptures, this was the plan of God in the Bible, a historical event that was spoken of for centuries before it took place. This is the great news of God (the reason Christ came) Christ died for our sins and on the third day rose again according to the scriptures. It was not a duplicate message, or a movement that a group of Jews pressed the people with. So if you watch Bell’s video, is the gospel according to the scriptures there? Does the gospel preached make much of Christ and God? If not then it is another, and we must declare what Paul declares, “ But even if we, or aan angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel 1contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be 2baccursed! (Gal 1:8)

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  1. As for your explanation of 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4, I thought it was spot on and very good, a lot of great points are made. It was well written and again extremely insightful. However, in your blog at the end you take a wrong turn, you essentially claim that Rob Bell is to be accursed. This raises huge concern to me which i will point out later. You make this point with the following, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel CONTRARY to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:8) Rob Bell does not contradict the gospel! He only points out that the Christians’ claims of Jesus dying and resurrecting wasn’t unique news to others, (and for many it wasn’t!) people at that time had heard this before. However he then goes on to demonstrate why it actually was unique and what the outcome of Christ’s death and resurrection did!!! He is NOT saying that God’s resurrection didn’t happen and he is NOT saying that Caesar raised to the right hand of God either. If he said that, he should be accursed. Rob Bell is spot on in this video that you are referring to when he says, “And so they saw in Jesus’ resurrection the beginning of this universe-wide movement to put it all back together.” That, my friend was the hope of the early Christian church and should be ours as well. The early Christians were so excited when Christ resurrected, this essentially to them meant the beginning of judgment, this meant to them that the process had began for God to restore and make things right in the world, Jesus was the beginning of this. (I can’t stress how important understanding that is for the mission of the church)
    Earlier I mentioned a huge concern. Brother, I am stoked to know that in the years it has been that I haven’t seen you; you have grown to love God more than anything. I say this with the most amount of love; the Church is God’s bride. It is not good to put it down, I think that Rob Bell deserves respect love and your encouragement, thousands upon thousands of people have come to know Christ because of what the good Lord is doing through him and have been drawn closer to the Lord as well myself included. It is in that way that Mike Henderson and Rob Bell are connected and both apart of the family and both God’s bride. You know full well that I don’t fully agree with the doctrines of grace but I think that through it God has done amazing things, (look at your life) just like he has through, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, many other denominations and yes Rob Bell. It is okay to discuss different theologies, but it is not okay to put each other down.
    A side note… I would argue that hell is not eternal TORTURE. This is something that struck me as being odd in your blog. I would suggest looking into the doctrine of hell a little more, just a suggestion. I would go there with you but unfortunately I really lack the interest of debating that topic for many reasons. I only wanted to point it out because I think that could be misleading and frankly, in my opinion it is not true, therefore I find it damaging to the un-believer and the Body of Christ. Another reason I don’t want to go there is because the debate would be an Eternal and Tortuous one thus placing us in hell by merely discussing the doctrine of hell. (Hahaha, I thought that last line was funny) I love you brother and I hope I have not offended you, and if I have I apologize, I most definitely did not intend to.

  2. Lance (& Mike),
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I’ll be chewing on the points both you and mike raised for some time to come. In regard to Hell I would point you to the following scriptures to help you come to a biblical understanding of what it is and what is not. they are listed below:

    According to the Bible, Hell is characterized by:
    • Knowledge of Heaven
    Luke 13:28
    Luke 16:23

    • Fire
    Matthew 5:22
    Matthew 13:30, 39-42, 49-50
    Matthew 18:8-9
    Matthew 25:41
    Mark 9:43
    Luke 3:9
    Luke 16:24
    Jeremiah 4:4

    • Pain Without Relief
    Luke 16:23-28
    Luke 12:46
    Matthew 8:12
    Matthew 13:42, 49-50
    Matthew 22:13
    Matthew 24:51
    Matthew 25:30
    Luke13:28

    • Wrath
    Jeremiah 4:4
    Romans 2:5-6

    • Destruction
    Matthew 7:13
    Matthew 10:28
    Mark 12:40

    • Darkness
    Matthew 8:12
    Matthew 22:13
    Matthew 25:30

    • Terror
    Matthew 26:24
    Mark 9:42
    Luke 17:1-2

    • Separation from God
    Matthew 7:23
    Matthew 25:10-12, 30
    Matthew 25:46
    Luke 13:27

    • Rule of God
    Matthew 10:28
    Matthew 25:41, 46
    Revelation 14:10

    According to the Bible, Hell is:

    • Real
    Matthew 23:33
    John 5:29

    • Literal
    Matthew 8:12
    Matthew 13:42, 49-50
    Matthew 22:13
    Matthew 24:51
    Matthew 25:30
    Luke 13:28
    Luke 16:28

    • Forever
    Matthew 18:8
    Matthew 25:41, 46
    Mark 9:43, 46, 48
    Daniel 12:2

    • Irreversible
    Hebrews 9:27

    • Imminent
    Matthew 25:13
    Hebrews 9:27
    Luke 3:9
    Luke 12:20, 46
    John 3:18, 36
    Romans 2:5

    • Final
    Revelation 20:14-15

    I hope that these words of God help you guys work out Hell and what is and is not.
    -Russ

    • Russ-
      “headed for a good punishment in an eternal state of torture by the very God we have offended”… this was taken from the original blog if you can find that in the examples you listed you really need to show me. To be more specific, what I am trying to say is that God does not torture you for eternity. That is what the above statement seemed to imply. If he does then I think the section you put in there that says eternal separation from God all the sudden wouldn’t apply. However, the list you provided is very helpful I will use it to refresh my memory. Also as I’m sure you know when you read these scriptures which a lot of them don’t even mention hell, the ones that do it is important to find the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word used. For example “Sheol” and “Gehinnom”. Either way thank you. Finally and more importantly I want to say again, we need to be careful when we are speaking of “hell” and make sure we are saying the right things, we do not want to push anyone away out of pure ignorance without even knowing it.

      • Hey Lance,

        I would say that the contrast stated within Matthew 25:31-46 is probably the best example of where you see it clearly defined in the manner in which you are asking for.

        We see God describing the manner in which He will come to judge, and those in which He will judge. The last verse is the key though. In this he gives a complete contrast to those that have eternal life…basically there are those that have eternal life or eternal punishment. They word used for punishment in the original greek is kolasis which can also be translated as torture. This punishment that is described in verse 46 is the same punishment that is given and been reserved for Satan and his angels in verse 41 as well. Now, if you are concluded that Satan and his angels do not go to Hell or are not sent to the eternal fire based on Scripture I would ask where you draw that conclusion from. Because I would say Revelation 20 states that plainly. So as we see those that God seperates either rejoice with Him in eternal life, or go with to the same place as Satan for eternal punish. Their is no distinction between the two or time difference between the two groups.

        I think this is the best and clearest example for what you were seeking and looking for. There are other examples, but based on you wording and what you were looking for, I think this will help shepherd us all to the truth and reality of what Jesus has proclaimed.

        Grace and Peace

      • Torment is self inflicted torture is not. Kolasis means punishment. It’s where I stand for now.

      • I’m confused on where the word torment came from or why that was brought up? I just mentioned torture. Kolasis can be translated punishment or torture. Either one, and both are being administered by God for eternity instead of eternal life (verse 46). And all is based upon, Jesus Christ.

        Grace and Peace

  3. Lance and Russ,
    Thanks for your insights and encouragements.Thank you Russ for bringing the word of God to bear on us. Thank you Lance for being concerned with fairness and honesty in dealing with others.
    To Lance I want to say, thanks brother, I love you and am not offended at all. I also am so thankful to God for what He is doing in your life, it fills my heart with joy. So thank you again for your kind words and insights.
    Now let me also say, I am not trying to imply here that Bell is preaching another Gospel, I am presenting what the Bible teaches the Gospel is and if Bell’s doesn’t fit with that then I believe we must be faithful to how we are to protect the Gospel, i.e. declaring accursed those who are off.
    I personally do believe that he is preaching another Gospel and at best not a full gospel, but my goal was to teach the word so that others would be able to discern for them selves who is and isn’t in line with scripture.
    That said, I do want to point out here an area of disagreement with Bell, He says,
    The Gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on the world, that the tomb is empty and that a giant resurrection rescue is underway and that you can be a part of it. And so, yes, this has a deeply personal dimension to this. Jesus is saving me. He’s saving me from my sins, from my mistakes, from my pride, from my indifference to the suffering of the world around me, from my cynicism and despair.
    The brokenness I see in the world around me is true of my own soul, and so He’s rescuing me moment by moment, day by day, because God wants to put it all back together. You, me, the whole world. And so He starts deep inside each of us with our awareness that we need help, that we need saving, that we need rescuing. 
    There are subtleties here, this isn’t overtly wrong, in fact it has the flavor of the Gospel all over it. Here’s what I find to be wrong, Bell’s assertion through out is that God’s ultimate end is to bring about a restored society, meaning God sent Christ to die to save us individually and socially from our sins, mistakes, pride, indifference to suffering, cynicism, and despair; Jesus came to put the world back together he says. There is truth in that one day Christ will not only restore but recreate the universe, but that’s a sub issue, that’s not the reason He came, and it’s the true reason He came that makes the gospel. As 1 cor. 15 says, he died for our sins and rose the third day according to the scriptures. And our sin is a blasphemous heart toward God resulting in us being in a hostile relationship with Him, us being under his wrath that we will experience forever one day in hell, but God planned to crush His perfect son as a substitute under His wrath to pay for sins penalty so that if any believes He will be restored to God. Why do we care if we are saved, is it because we are free of hell, because we get blessings from God, because all is made right in the world. Those are not what salvation is about, salvation is about being restored to God, being brought back into fellowship with God(2 Cor. 5:20-21), and it all comes to us by repentance of our rebellion and faith that Christ’s death and resurrection satisfied God’s penalty of hell for all who believe.
    So it’s subtle, it’s not fully what he says but rather what he doesn’t say, mainly the substitutionary atoning death of Christ is not articulated. It also is not clear that salvation is only for those who repent and believe or what the consequences are for those who do not. This leads me to believe it is another, however subtle it may be. For more context on what Bell teaches as the gospel go to his churches website and read the narration theology, which is the closest I’ve heard him come to the gospel, but again it’s not what he says, it’s what is not said, and what is open for implication. I hope this is helpful, and I hope and pray all will see the difference. I am not on a witch hunt, the Gospel must be carefully protected. I used to like Bell a lot, I’ve seen every NOOMA video, but as I was exposed more and more to his teaching I found it to be that he is not preaching the gospel according to the scriptures. And I strongly believe that there is a mandate in scripture to address false teachers when we come across them; and i am inclined to believe Bell to be a false teacher.
    –Mike

  4. Mike-
    Well I respect your opinion and humbly disagree with it too. Either way I love you. Within that video there was nothing wrong said that I could find. And I will not count the things he didn’t say against him or formulate an opinion on his belief of a particular scripture that again was not said. Hope to see you soon we should definitely get some coffee this week!

  5. This week I will post a blog on hell. Let’s go from there?

    • We’ll be looking out for it. =)

    • Sweet bro, I wanna see it. And I have a book to refer to you, it’s called Sinners in the hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter. It discusses hell and TULIP, all from a man who came to Christ through the writings of C.S. Lewis and was heavily influenced by him and George Macdonald. It’s a great book that is written from a very emotional and heartfelt perspective on these issues. I think it will be loads of help for you to get a glimpse into the reality of these doctrines and the intellectual turmoil that results from them. Love you bro, I praise God continually for His work in your life and I hope to see you tomorrow afternoon for coffee.

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