Rob Bell…”Mother Mary and Her Only Son”

First, for the critical part.

Does anyone see this in the virgin-birth story (Luke 1)?

Be very careful when you open yourself up to the ongoing creation of the universe — when you open yourself up to God’s Word — be very careful. Because the fundamental way the Scripture begins is God is revealed as a creator and when you create, you always run a risk. If you create a piece of art, it may not turn out as you want it, people may not like it. If you start a business it may go belly up and you may file bankruptcy. If you have kids, they may not all turn out shiny, happy Christians. When you create, when you step into the divine work of creating, you always run a risk. And Mary is up for being a part of what the creator is doing, which always means there may be a flip side. there may be a down side, cuz if you create there is risk.”

Rob is right. When I try my hand at creating, there is a huge risk. Even further, failure is certain. However, in this situation, humans are not the one’s “creating.”

I don’t think I’m being unfairly critical of Bell here, but (1) what was “created” in Mary was of the Holy Ghost, not really of her doing at all (she had found favor with God and was most certainly a willing participant — don’t get me wrong). Therefore, since this miraculous work was in sovereign hands, risk in the actual “creative act” is therefore eliminated. Now, there may have been subsequent risks for Mary (such as seeing the people of Nazareth try to murder her Son, which Rob mentioned later), but we should remember that she was in the all-knowing and all-powerful hands of God’s will. Speaking of God’s will, Rob says,

Sometimes people talk about God’s will. “I’d rather be in nowhere if God’s will is the safest place.” What God are you talking about? God’s will is a ferociously dangerous place, because you never know where its going to take you. To create is to risk and so Mary says, “I’m up for it.”

(2)Christians agree that Jesus was in no way created (those who believe that Jesus was created are cult members and not Christians). A created Jesus has no place in orthodox Christology; Bible believers don’t believe that.

Now, does Bell actually believe that Jesus was created? No, I really don’t think that he believes that — but this is a big problem with the teachings of Bell — when it comes to theological terms, he does not speak with precise clarity. Instead, he tries to “re-invent the wheel” — to redefine many of the terms of historical, Christian orthodoxy.

The bottom line is that in a day and age where doctrine is not highly valued and even scoffed at, we need Christian spokesmen who will articulate the truths of the Scriptures in careful terms, not with foreign and foggy descriptions .

Now for a part I liked.

While commenting on Luke 2:51b | but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart | he says,

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. This little verse added there — his mother treasured all these things in her heart. Now when you read that word “treasured” in the english, it has a bit of a creative memories feel to it. ahh — this kid — crop til you drop — this kid — ah then we went to Jerusalem, it was the Spring of 0 (laughter). It has kind of a nastalgic, oh she’s, oh this kid, oh this one plays soccer, and this one discusses with the wise men, deep issues of the Torah. So there’s kinda this feel. But the word treasured is a fascinating word. It sometimes can refer to like a prison gaurd (insert greek word tereo). It means to gaurd or to watch, to keep carefully. It’s not so much like “aw” but like a “woa.” This kid, there’s something going on with this kid. And she gaurded this – she took these experiences and almost like held them close to her, like I don’t quite know what to do with this.

I liked that point; whatever English translation he was using actually lead the contemporary audience away from the bibilical meaning — so he adjusted. A sidenote: I couldn’t find that particular Greek word in any of the Greek texts on my computer. I did find a very similar word though — διετήρει. But that’s just geek stuff.

For another point I didn’t like:

He ended the message by showing a music video by Bruce Springsteen, entitled “Jesus Was an Only Son.” An apologetic-sounding voice interrupted the podcast for copyright reasons; I was told to look into viewing a VH-1 production. Wow, no thanks!

Anyway, here’s the lyrics of the song mentioned above. Jesus was God’s only Son. True. Was He Mary’s only Son? Hmm, let’s think that one through.

  1. #1 by Joe Martino on June 21, 2007 - 5:16 pm

    For the record, there was no video shown. I was there. It was done right off of the CD. As for what you didn’t like, well we’ll just have to disagree.

  2. #2 by phil on June 21, 2007 - 6:41 pm

    I listened to that sermon a few weeks ago, and I have to tell you that the idea that Bell might somehow be insinuating that Jesus might be a created being never, ever crossed my mind. I can’t imagine that anyone in the audience would think that. It is clear from his other sermons that he doesn’t believe that.

    Do you expect every pastor to speak to the level of perfection you hold Bell to here? I’ve heard plenty of “safe” and “conservative” pastors say things that could easily be misinterpreted, yet they are given grace. If pastors must always speak with “precise clarity” then I’m afraid a lot of them would fail the test.

    Also, I do not mean this to be rude. Are you a pastor? Do you speak in public? It is a much different thing to give a sermon than it is to write an essay. Even the best speakers sometimes end up saying things that don’t come out quite right. Until one has preached or spoken in front of a large audience, he or she should really think twice about critiquing someone else’s sermon.

  3. #3 by clearly on June 21, 2007 - 7:20 pm


    I would gladly send you a cd of one of my messages. What’s your mailing address?

    P.S. I will be in the pulpit on Sunday!

  4. #4 by clearly on June 21, 2007 - 7:20 pm

    Joe, I misunderstood. My bad. The podcast made it sound like the video was shown…

  5. #5 by Phil on June 22, 2007 - 5:36 am

    I apologize if my previous post came off as personal attack. That wasn’t my intention. I come from a family of preachers, and I am just a bit reactive to people criticizing sermons. Good luck with your upcoming sermon.

    Going back to Bell, my point is that I do not see bloggers or journalists going over other pastor’s sermons with such fine tooth combs. I guess Bell is just a big target. Also, even the words “precise clarity” can be somewhat ambiguous. What is “precisely clear” to one person can be perceived as absolute murky to another. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth of Scripture, and we must do our best to present it in a faithful manner. The thing I personally like about Bell is that he really delves in the Scriptures in a way that I’ve heard few pastors do.

  6. #6 by Joe Martino on June 22, 2007 - 6:38 am

    I’d love to hear one of your messages. I’ll send you my addy if you are serious. Or you can send me a mp3 of it.

  7. #7 by clearly on June 22, 2007 - 10:07 am

    Joe, I made one available on my blog —-

  8. #8 by clearly on June 22, 2007 - 10:10 am

    Phil, no worries about my feelings. Thanks for clarifying. As far as the Sunday message goes, the power of God’s Spirit through the Scriptures will accomplish what it was sent to do!

    As far as precise clarity goes, if you are going to use the word “create” then use it like it was used in the Bible — that’s all. If you are going to use a word like “faith” or “believe,” then use it how God uses it. After all, the Bible is being preached. This would solve a lot of problems for Rob, I think.

    Also, with as studied as he is in biblical language (or so I’m told he is), you would think that this would be a big issue for him — using very precise language.

  9. #9 by Erica on June 22, 2007 - 4:00 pm

    You bring some excellent points! I have heard pastors get going and speak heresy on accident from the pulpit! They get going and they say things that our a slip of the tongue. My husband did it one week.
    It is just one of those things that you realize once you are a pastor and not just preaching on occasion.
    Rob is shown no grace by people, and people take everything he says and examines under a microscope. It makes me laugh. People miss the whole biblical principle “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

  10. #10 by clearly on June 22, 2007 - 5:03 pm


    I heard one of those once too, where a pastor spoke accidentally and it came out heresy. One time he said, “young people, you need to live your life with pride!” He meant, don’t be ashamed that you are a Christian — it didn’t come out that way!

    You said, “It is just one of those things that you realize once you are a pastor and not just preaching on occasion.”

    I disagree. I have preached enough to have that happen — and since words have meaning, and since I am accountable to God for what I preach to God’s people — I have actually paused and said something to the effect of, “Well that sure didn’t come out right! What I meant to say was…” In my opinion, this is not the case here with Pastor Bell. A good chunk of the message was this “creative” language for whatever it was that God was doing in the virgin birth.

  11. #11 by clearly on June 22, 2007 - 5:05 pm

    One more thing, I really don’t think Rob believes that Jesus was created (I made that clear in the review; I think I read him say one time that he completely agrees with the Creed of Nicea). I just think he needs to use clear theological terms instead of trying to constantly re-invent the wheel, as profound as he may perpetually sound.

  12. #12 by jhorneck3723 on June 22, 2007 - 8:18 pm

    There is a difference between picking a person apart for each word they say and analyzing their entire message. All public speakers have accidentally made incorrect points. Today I said to my dad, “I found my razor driving down the road.” That was a mistake, obviously. My intended message was not communicated, but my intended message was obvious. Clearly’s point here is not that Mr. Bell does not believe in the virgin birth, but that he is careless in his presentation. This was a recurring theme in not only this message but in several of his messages. Mr. Bell has an obvious focus on rewording gospel truths to make them more catchy. It is an obvious time where style is overtaking substance. Mr. Bell is not the only one to do this. There are many “conservatives” who have fallen into the same trap. Some of my favorite speakers have this tendency. They put their alliteration above the need to clearly articulate their message. This is not a Rob Bell only problem. The point is that when handling an article as holy as God’s Word one must use care in his semantic choices.

  13. #13 by Joe Martino on June 23, 2007 - 5:48 am

    Here’s my problem with those defending Bell here. I don’t disagree with what he said. I find it amusing that Clearly says, there is no risk and then there is. If this man believes that Rob’s message was incorrect, then so be it. He has the right to express to all of his readers here and anyone else he wants to express it to.
    I don’t think Rob misspoke at all in the sermon. I was there for it. I walked out with my wife and we both said, “Man, that was right on.” Do preacher’s misspeak? Of course, even Clearly did in his message when one second he say, “I hate running” the next he says, “I love running.” He realized his conundrum and left it at, “Let’s just say I run.”
    The issue with Clearly’s synopsis of Rob’s message is who is right? Clearly, or Rob. It’s that simple. I happen to agree with Rob.
    When God calls you to create there is huge risk. It may fail. God has called my family to two different ministries that failed. Another thing that Rob often says is, “Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.”
    So I say, “Let Clearly and Mr. Horneck have their indignation. Let them post whatever they want about the theology or the semantics of Rob and the church.”
    If you disagree with them and you wish to post that, post it with vigor. In the end, the real question is not over who misspoke, but who is right.

  14. #14 by Joe Martino on June 23, 2007 - 6:11 am

    Clearly, or Dave, or whatever you prefer we call you now, I want to be clear on something; I’m not saying, “Hey, I want to be your friend.” Personally, I find this entire post to be laughable, from your purposely misleading title to dance between the risk that was involved with Mary. There was no risk, then there was risk, then there wasn’t.
    The most egregious part of the post is the title where you attempt to make it sound as though Rob calls Mary, “Mother Mary.”
    But the point is that I don’t think Rob misspoke. I think he used the words he carefully chose and I think they were right on. BTW, I love Springsteen.

  15. #15 by Joe Martino on June 23, 2007 - 6:13 am

    One more, here’s the lyrics to the song.

    Jesus was an only son
    As he walked up Calvary Hill
    His mother Mary walking beside him
    In the path where his blood spilled
    Jesus was an only son
    In the hills of Nazareth
    As he lay reading the Psalms of David
    At his mother’s feet

    A mother prays, “Sleep tight, my child, sleep well
    For I’ll be at your side
    That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell,
    Shall pierce your dreams this night.”

    In the garden at Gethsemane
    He prayed for the life he’d never live,
    He beseeched his Heavenly Father to remove
    The cup of death from his lips

    Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
    A destination that can never be reached,
    A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
    A sea whose distance cannot be breached

    Well Jesus kissed his mother’s hands
    Whispered, “Mother, still your tears,
    For remember the soul of the universe
    Willed a world and it appeared.”

  16. #16 by Erica on June 23, 2007 - 6:50 am

    The message Rob spoke was accurate and true. I worry you look way to much into things because you are trying to find fault.
    “There is risk in creating!”
    Sarah and Abraham-Sarah laughed at God. There was a clear risk. She was taking a risk in trusting God because she believed it could not happen. Don’t we all do that? God tells us speaks to us but we are more concerned about that risk involved or if God will follow through? We are human. This is why we need God.
    Mary-She knew she was carry the Mesiah! Even though she knew that there was a risk. A risk that people would view her as a whore. She took that risk. Why because she knew their was risk involved in being pregant out of wed lock. She was honored the Lord had chose her to carry his son, and she had faith that God would take care of her.
    Joseph-Took a risk, what were people going to think of him. Why do you think he was wanting to divorce her quitely?Matthew 1:18 because he knew what it would mean for him if his girlfriend became pregnant
    Abraham-he knew there was a risk involved the day he would take his son to sacrafice him. Why? He was obeying God. He did not know that God would spare his son. He went out of obedience. He took a risk.
    Moses-He took several risk. I am not even sure were to start with him:-)
    David-He took a risk with Goliath. He was this tiny little guy that was willing to fight Goliath. Everyone around him saw the risk. David believed in God.
    The list goes on and on and on. I just don’t get it! How can you not see it?

  17. #17 by clearly on June 23, 2007 - 7:15 am


    I have to get going very quickly this morning. Before I address most of your concerns, I just wanted to say that the title I used was very simple, not a purposeful misleading.

    I just checked my ipod and whoever is responsibile for naming the sermons at Mars Hill named it, “Mother Mary and Her Only Son.” That’s exactly how it appears on my ipod screen. Thus the title, I combined “Rob Bell…” with “Mother Mary and Her Only Son.”

    Read my article again, if you must, but I never said there was no risk. You can call me Dave, btw. It’s clearly written in the “about me” section.

  18. #18 by clearly on June 23, 2007 - 7:18 am


    I’m really not sure how to interact with you on this. Sure, Mary knew this whole thing was risky — I even conceded that point in the article. However, Rob says, “To Create is to Risk.” That was my problem, not that Rob really believes that Jesus was created, but that his entire message was hung upon this point.

  19. #19 by Joe Martino on June 23, 2007 - 8:00 am

    Ok, well on the church website it’s just titled week whatever. So…then so be it. I am sorry for my misunderstanding. I should just stay away from this stuff. As I said, in my original comment. You are entitled to your thoughts and can share them with whoever (whomever? I always get those wrong).
    Your response to Erica confirms to me that “while we are both talking English, we’re not speaking the same language.”
    Which is fine. Except for this wacky thing we call the blogosphere we would have never met.

  20. #20 by Joe Martino on June 23, 2007 - 8:03 am

    Ok, I checked the webpage and it’s up there that way too, so I’m wrong all around on this one. Gotta hate it when that happens. 🙂
    Sorry about that.

  21. #21 by Bill on August 7, 2007 - 4:25 am

    could you please show me where Rob either said or wrote the paragraph on the risk of creating you cited him on just after your opening. I could really use the source citing.


  22. #22 by clearly on August 7, 2007 - 4:47 am

    I believe it was preached by Rob at Mars Hill Bible Church on Sunday, May 13th, 2007.

    I hope that helps…

  23. #23 by Mitchel on August 18, 2007 - 6:13 am

    Clearly, dood you rock! If I can call you dood. If not, im sorry. =) Has anyone here read the book called “truth war” from John MacArthur? This really unpacks the reasoning for picking Rob Bell apart. Its not just to be a big meany with a GIANT fine toothed comb. Ladies and gentlemen there is a war for truth and the line is trying to be blurred. Rob Bell does not embrace the clear truth of the word of God.

    Bell is attempting (like all postmoderns and some emergents) to remove the perspicuity and clarity of the scripture and make it all just one big conversation. He has made some comments that make my skin crawl. I will dig up some good quotes. Until then giggle at this picture which describes mr Bells theology.

  24. #24 by clearly on August 18, 2007 - 7:05 am

    Mitchel, you can call me dude anytime.

    Thanks for commenting here.

  25. #25 by Mitchel on August 18, 2007 - 7:35 am

    Super good radio show where todd friel from way of the master talks through mark driscolls sermon on the 9 hills to die on. Rob bell comes up in it quite a bit.

    The reason the “fundys” are up in arms over Rob bell is because he thinks these arent Hills worth dying on, but more 9 mole hills worth having a conversation about.

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