The message that Rob Bell presents in this book is anything but spiritual. Instead, it offers a syncretistic concoction of worldly philosophy that leads the unsuspecting on a path to divine judgment. That’s a far cry from an antidote. Poison doesn’t cure disease. Poison kills the unsuspecting.
Rob Bell, Everything is Spiritual (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2020), 310 pp.
In 2011, I reviewed Love Wins, my first book by Rob Bell. The piece prompted praise by conservatives and vicious scorn by progressive Christians and liberals. Whatever anyone thinks about Bell, one thing is for sure: the guy can write. He is a master communicator. And whenever he writes or talks, people listen.
Anyone familiar with Rob Bell knows that he is somewhat of a gadfly among evangelicals. And “gadfly” is a massive understatement. But there is something endearing about Bell. Some point to his skill. Others are impressed with his intellect. For me, I’ve always been drawn to Bell’s ability to communicate what he’s truly feeling – including insecurity, childhood pain, or unfulfilled expectations. He identifies a “generational lack of grace,” a trait that is found too often in the church. His transparency is refreshing and his candor is something that is greatly needed in our day.
While I applaud Bell’s transparency, I have expressed deep concern with some of the theological and philosophical assertions that he has proposed. His most recent book, Everything Is Spiritual is no exception. Michael Eric Dyson’s endorsement of the book provides a revealing summary:
“In Everything Is Spiritual, Rob Bell updates Teilhard de Chardin’s Catholic mysticism, makes sexier Werner Heisenberg’s quantum physics, and baptizes Jewish Kabbalah in an exciting vision of the future of human evolution. Bell challenges the notion that science and belief are at war, with his sublime fusion of Christian faith and modern evolutionary science. Bell’s book is the perfect antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity …”
I will argue in this review that while Michael Eric Dyson truly does capture the essence of Bell’s intentions in Everything Is Spiritual, the end result is unhelpful and spiritually dangerous. Instead of illumination, readers will be left in a quagmire – with more questions than answers. And they will wander aimlessly in a spiritual wasteland, armed with an inaccurate portrait of God that leaves them hopeless without the biblical gospel.
No Final Answer
One of the common themes in Bell’s writing is ambiguity. He extinguishes certitude and exalts mystery (both of which are fundamental tenets of postmodernism). Careful readers will notice that the author is quick to pay lip service to Christian theology but swiftly degenerates into a subtle (or not so subtle man-made philosophy). The Bible warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).
Tragically, many have been deceived by Bell’s “spirit myths” over the years. For instance, in Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, he argues that God is “with us, for us, and ahead of us – all of us.” The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us (every single one of us) may sound good initially but falls short of the biblical model. It is true that God is “with” his people. We see this especially in the incarnation of Jesus, the One who is named Immanuel – or God with us (Matt. 1:23). Yet God is not “with” the man who has rejected the revelation of God in Christ. God is not “with” the one who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. “… Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
It is true that God is “for us” – that is to say, he is for his people. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39, ESV). Yet, God is not “for” the man who repudiates the promises and purposes of God. The holy God opposes the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
I referred to Paul’s warning in 2 Tim. 4:3-4 again and again as I read Everything is Spiritual. Indeed, doctrine is downplayed and orthodoxy is questioned. But not everything is ambiguous. As he did in Love Wins, Bell dogmatically casts aside the doctrine of hell: “Because some stories are better than others. Stories about a God who tortures people forever in hell shouldn’t be told. They’re terrible stories. They make people miserable. They make people want to kill themselves. Stories that insist that a few human beings are going to be okay and every other human being ever is doomed for eternity are horrible stories.”
In a magical twist, certitude suddenly reappears! Alas, the painful reality is obvious here: Anyone who bemoans doctrine is in fact, dogmatic themselves! It appears, then, that the dogmatic bark is worse than the bite.
No Final Authority
To make matters worse, no final authority is offered in Everything Is Spiritual. It is difficult to determine if Bell embraces pantheism, panentheism or some other theological construct. Whatever the case, the book makes much of God’s immanence and downplays his transcendence.
But what is missing here is a distinction between the Creator and the creature. Missing is a Creator who is sovereign over creation and rules over all. Bell’s account of God is noted in the biblical exchange with Moses who refers to himself as I AM. So far so good. But notice how Bell’s understanding of God undermines the Creator/creature distinction:
Moses wants to locate God, and what Moses gets is Everywhere. Moses wants something to wrap his mind around, and what he gets is All of it.
What an answer. Another way you could say I AM is Being Itself.
That’s past, that’s present, that’s future. All of it. Being Itself, the formless beyond any one form, animating all forms. The electricity the entire thing is plugged into. The water it’s all swimming in.
That’s every you that ever was and ever will be. All your yous.
Later, Bell refers once again to “Being Itself. I AM.” He writes, “You ground yourself in that, and you’re all of it.