In 1941, Rudolph Bultmann published a very famous essay on “demythologizing” the New Testament. For Bultmann, the New Testament was filled with myths of miracles that no modern person could accept. Thus, in an effort to save Christianity, he attempted to strip it of all its supernatural elements. After all, we don’t want the concept of “God” to become out of date.
Rob Bell’s recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne, 2013), brings up many memories of Bultmann. While Bell is not trying to take away the supernatural elements of the faith, he is trying to purge it of elements that he thinks will make God out of date. Unfortunately, these happen to be core doctrines of Christianity–sin, God’s wrath, the cross, atonement.
When the dust settles, Bell has given us a God that is no longer distinctively Christian. We are left with just vague spiritualism. Whereas Bultmann demythologized Christianity, Bell has detheologized Christianity.
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.