Rob Bell on Resurrection

SEE ALSO: Rob Bell: Resurrection Revisited

It may be too much to ask to agree on the significance of this day.  Among believers in Jesus Christ this is a day to be celebrated, because it was on this day so many years ago that Christ conquered death and became the first fruits of the resurrection.  Yet, there are those who do not agree that this day is a day to commemorate the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell may actually be a skeptic of sorts.  Having written much about, not the man, but his theology, I have been cautious and concerned about what he teaches and holds as basic belief.  In one particular case I asked this question specifically: “Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  While I got no response to this question, which is so basic and easy if the response were to be in the affirmative, Mr. Bell posts this new video for the holiday:

Hope In “resurrection”

No doubt Rob Bell believes in resurrection.  He speaks very intelligently and artistically about resurrection as hope for something more.  He talks about how at Jesus’ death it was assumed that he was no more, and that he would not go on.  It was a common thought even within groups of religious leaders of the time that there would be no afterlife, nothing further after death.

Rob Bell obviously believes in more than what is.  He believes that working to redeem this world is possible and reaching out by performing good works is something that is important:

resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

Rob Bell is right that greed, violence, and injustice are tied to death.  These things are sin and indeed the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death.  No doubt God cares about these things and much of the Bible is about these issues, conviction of sin, and judgment according to these laws.

What He Did Not Say

What Rob Bell did not say is most significant.  I am writing as someone who was in his camp, who believed what he does, and who worked toward social justice as if it were what the Bible was really all about.  I know and have spoken his language, not only because I was once Rob Bell’s disciple, but because it was much of who I was and what I had worked so hard to believe.

Rob Bell makes no statement in this video that clearly declares that Jesus Christ, who died on Friday and was buried, physically resurrected from the grave and left the tomb empty.  Bell talks about “resurrection” but never “THE Resurrection.”  He believes that there is a life after death, but makes nothing more of Christ’s end than that “he is not there” which is an easy way to hide a disbelief in the physical resurrection of Christ and yet stating emphatically that there is life after death.

I never expect him to say right out that he does not believe that Christ rose from death physically.  To do so he must then contend with passages where Jesus appeared to the disciples, allowed Thomas to touch the scars and put his hand into the wound in his side.  He would have to deny passages about how Jesus ate with his disciples, even breaking bread and frying fish.

He says that the disciples went to the tomb and said that he wasn’t there… but this is easily what we say about our deceased loved ones, because, after all, they are not really there in that body any more, are they?

As in much of Bell’s writing and media, he talks about many other meanings for resurrection, including saying that resurrection means that what we do with our lives matters, but he is resistant to acknowledge that Jesus Christ rose physically from the grave.  He talks about the life and meaning of each and every good action, but he neglects to declare, “Christ is Risen!”  He says that those good actions and the promise of “resurrection” is an assurance that the world will ultimately be what it was meant to be.

To Bell, the full meaning of Christ, from his birth to his ministry and finally his death, is that we now have an excellent example by which to live our lives.  As I pointed out in my review of his book Drops Like Stars, he has constructed alternative meanings for the crucifixion, and now is the new view of “resurrection.”  If there was no physical resurrection, then it must mean something different.  For Bell, “resurrection” means a promise of something better, and a hope that one day our world will see justice if we only will work hard enough to follow Christ’s example to perfection.

I Hear My Own Words

These are words that I used.  These are my attempts at waxing eloquent, saying what I knew what people needed to hear without betraying my own confused beliefs.  This is a gifted speaker who has passion to see the world redeemed and all of God’s people working hard to see that every mouth is fed and every loss restored.  Yet this orator knows how to speak words that when taken with grace and trust in the message miss that he is, in fact, neglecting the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

In his book The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg overtly declares that you no longer have to believe in the virgin birth, miracles, or the physical resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian.  No doubt, Rob Bell would heartily agree.

It is much easier to defend our faith if it were not miraculous.  It is much more challenging to think that Christ’s action calls me to the same action.  It is much more impressive to think that resurrection means that God will redeem the entire world if we all just become a bit more like Martha instead of Mary.  I wanted to believe that miracles did not happen because I knew so many who would choose to believe except that they could not accept what they saw as impossible. I knew that I could convince more people to believe if I essentially stopped believing.

Not What I Believe, But What Is True

Fortunately I came to my senses.  This was not my work to do, but it was God’s work.  He knew what he had done and how impossible it is to believe.

Is that not just the point?

Take heart, because no matter who may try to declare the contrary, Jesus Christ was crucified and was buried.  On the third day he came back to life, not from a faint, but his body began to breathe again and he stood, walked, talked and ate (Acts 10:34-43).  Jesus of Nazareth appeared to hundreds of his followers and finally ascended into heaven in the presence of his disciples.  It is this reason that we have hope that one day he will return.

Without THE resurrection we would have nothing.  With it we have the assurance that God himself took our punishment and made good on that payment.  It is in this action that God declared that I no longer have to taste the death and judgment that I so richly deserve, but instead I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness and because of his sacrifice I have been saved from death.

The LORD is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!

Part 2: Rob Bell: Resurrection Revisited

More food for thought:


About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

27 responses to “Rob Bell on Resurrection

  • Dawn K

    Yes, he was waxing eloquent about some sort of generic concept of “resurrection” without ever getting to the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus. A very skillful dance around the issue. I agree that it would be a very simple matter to clearly confess one’s faith in the bodily resurrection of Christ. One should be very glad to confess this if they believe it to be true.

  • Philip

    I’m genuinely curious as to why that one question matters? I get the impression that you have accepted that he probably doesn’t but still hang on for his answer. I get the impression that he might not believe or disbelieve in it and feels that it is not the important part of it. Whether symbolic or literal it ultimately has the same result of God establishing a deeper relationship with us. I’m not taking sides so much, I’m just curious about if you have accepted him as probably not believing in the literal resurrection; why is this question important to you for him to give a straight-forward answer to?

  • Jared

    Whether symbolic or literal it ultimately has the same result of God establishing a deeper relationship with us.

    Just not a literal, bodily relationship. No thanks.

  • John Downey

    Great post…what is one of the most important reasons to believe in the bodily resurection of Christ? Because, if it did not happen then Christ is a liar, he would not be who he said he was and not be worth believing in. Why would his disciples continue living their lives the way they did and dying in the mannar they did for a lie? They wouldn’t…so why not come out and say it? Why not talk about it as fact? Great post.

  • Richie

    ummmmmm…, did I watch something else? He opens with Jesus, closes with Jesus and the fact that Resurrection is all about Jesus, but just because he did not say specifically, “THE Resurrection” his theology is wrong. That is a bit of a stretch. Totally cool video, probably not written for “Christians” who would nit-pick it; but for those far from God who would listen to it because it speaks in their language. We really need to get off of our high-horses and remember we ARE ALL finite and NONE of us have this figured out.

  • Aaron

    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Matthew 7:15-23

    Plenty of people think that Jesus was a good guy, but terribly few think that he was the Son of God. We can talk much about Jesus as a good person, but if he did not resurrect physically from the dead then our faith means nothing. I don’t care if my good deeds live forever, this is not about my “good” deeds, but it is about the fact that my sinful deeds have prevented me from having a relationship with God, except that Christ died and resurrected physically.

    As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

    Galatians 1:9

    Frankly THE WHOLE BOOK of Galatians was written to people like Rob Bell who make the gospel into something it is not. This is not only about his denial of a physical resurrection (which admittedly he does so skillfully and criptically) but he also makes resurrection mean something that the Bible does not teach.

  • Richie

    Aaron, do you really believe that Rob thinks that? Really? What specifically is the “other” Gospel Bell has preached? Seriously?

  • Aaron

    I do think that this is the case. Here are 2 posts I wrote previously which may help fill in some of those blanks:

    And the following post from Defending/Contending may be helpful in seeing that just talking about “resurrection” does not qualify as biblical:

  • Richie

    I think that social networking and mediums of free speech are double edged sword especially when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We continually bash each other publically instead of going directly to the man or woman. So.., we in out puffed up state continue to think that we all have it figured out – NOT!

    This does not sound like a heretic:

    Neither does this:

    No matter what we say or preach, folks will figure out a way to turn what we say into some sort of controversy and the funny thing is, the non-churched people don’t need to say anything; because the “christians” are feeding on themselves. Who are we to question if someone knows Christ or not?

    Sorry, this kind of stuff gets me fired up. You slammed him in this video because he did not use the word “THE” – huh? This is a beautiful depiction of The Resurrection for those who have NO clue about it – those that are far from God. Anyway.., I am not pro or con for this man – but I am pro Galatians 5 and the Fruit of the Spirit.

  • Aaron


    Once again, thank you for your comments. I agree that there is much to say about these issues and I have definitely taken the time to research what I have said above. I have read all of Rob Bell’s books, watched all of his tour videos, and followed his podcast for some time. I have also attempted to contact him about this particular concern ( Again, if the answer were “yes” then it would not need explanation, but the fact that I received no response only leads to more evidence that my position/observation may indeed be true.

  • Richie

    I hear ya, but why personalize it?

    Dude you know how many such emails and requests he gets on this stuff? Would you answer each one? Seriously? I just think we need to pray for Rob and all leaders to be true to their calling.

    There is sooooo much all of us DO NOT understand about God and the scriptures. The differences in theology along between western and eastern thought is astounding and remember the Jewish culture was embedded in the Eastern culture and that Orthodoxy came out of is. Yet we in the West just dismiss it as bunk or heresy in many cases.

    I just worry that all this bantering and bashing just adds fuel to the fire that we a just a bunch of finger-pointing, judgemental people. When we should in fact be know for our Love – Our Love of God and our Love of People. That is the greatest command – not accurate Orthodoxy/theology and bashing those that don’t tow the line.

  • Aaron

    As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, I am not judging Rob Bell. I do not know him and I am not able to say anything about his character or his motives. On the contrary, my assumptions are that he is, in fact, a man of integrity in that he says what he believes to be true, and thus the truncated language that he uses that I once did to hide aspects of my personal theology that did not match with orthodoxy.

    I have little doubt that what Rob Bell is doing and teaching is in line with his personal conviction to preach truth and to love other people and to accept people for who they are.

    My critique is about his *theology* not about him. I am actually in the process of writing a series of posts outlining this, but let us just say here that so many people think that this admonision is intended to harm. On the contrary, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you” (1 Cor. 4:14).

    As I have said often on this blog and other places, I hope that I am wrong. I hope that Rob Bell does hold orthodox faith. If he does not it does not mean that he is not a kind and caring person, but it does mean that I do not trust his teaching.

    Richie, I do hear your concern and understand where you are coming from. Many people who I love and admire have the same difficulty with these kinds of criticisms, even about others. Yet, my intention is not to judge people personally, but to discuss their teaching and to discern how it aligns with the teaching of the Bible. My conclusion about Rob Bell’s theology is that it does not.

  • E.G.

    So, I was just listening to Bell’s sermon from this past Sunday (on the final chapter of Jonah, actually). Mr. Bell begins his sermon with a prayer. The prayer ends with Bell saying:

    “…in the strong name of the resurrected Jesus…”

    In other words, Bell believes in the resurrection of Christ and prays that way. It doesn’t get much more explicit than that.

    Perhaps your problem here is that you are trying to paint an entire system of beliefs onto a person from one four-minute video clip? I’d go further to argue that Bell does speak of Christ’s resurrection in the video, though, I suppose, not in the *exact* words that you’d like to hear.

    So, assuming that he’s wrong in the video (which I don’t think that he is) since he is not simply reciting the Nicene Creed (or some-such), we at least know that he DOES believe in the resurrection of Jesus from his spoken, prayer words.

    Have a listen to the latest sermon, and then, please, update your opinion on this matter.

  • Aaron

    Wow! E.G! Sincere thanks to you!

    This is honestly the first piece of evidence that anyone has been able to offer where Rob Bell has said anything remotely like an affirmation of the physical resurrection of Christ! As I have said I have hoped to be proved wrong and I hope that this evidence really does that!

    I will indeed update my opinion on that, but I still voice concern about the meaning that he gives to resurrection and the meaning of gospel that he gives in my previous post (cited above).

    Could this be an indication that Bell has reevaluated his position and has reconsidered his doctrinal stance in light of Scripture?

    Either way, sincere thank you for this. I will definitely listen to his Easter sermon.

  • E.G.

    Thanks for your sincerity too.

    To be honest, I can sometimes see where the criticism of Bell comes from. He is precise, but his precision sits in a postmodern (or premodern?) framework and requires more explanation than could ever be present in a 4 minute video that is meant for a wide, diverse audience.

    I, personally, appreciate his sermons because he really works to flesh things out there. His audience is also more limited to people who are working to learn and who are engaged in the subject matter.

    I’m what you would call an fairly conservative evangelical (my liberal friends think I’m conservative, and my conservative friends think that I’m liberal, so I think that I’m doing something right), with a substantial theological education. And I have to say that I have yet to find any egregious fault with Mr. Bell in terms of his sermons.

    I do get frustrated, though, when folks take little bits of his books and proof-text them to pieces, rather than taking the book as a whole. But, again, that probably stems from our modern approach to things. Too often we do the same to the Bible, discussing small passages, or even verses (which were added much after the fact, of course) instead of looking at the entire book/epistle/whatever that contains the verse. In fact, we should be working at least on the book level… if not the entire narrative of Scripture level much more of the time.

    And, I fear, we often do this to the books of various writers and commentators. Of course neither Bell nor Sproul nor Piper nor Driscoll is at all inspired. But each, I feel, is a Godly person who has important things to say. We need to give them a fair hearing in their entirety, not in just small snippets.

    Anyhow, grace and peace to you! 😉

  • Aaron


    I completely agree with pulling things out of context and proof-texting, whether it be the Bible or something like a 4 minute video. However, as I have said before and feel compelled to again, I have been a disciple of Bell for quite some time, read every book he has written and seen every tour video. He has serious problems with theology and is definitely not orthodox. But maybe that just puts me in with your more conservative friends 🙂

    Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ!

  • ian

    Hmm. His video seems to almost drift toward Eastern mysticism to me.
    “Every impulse that elevates the soul is a sign, a taste, a glimpse of how things actually are…”
    “Resurrection affirms this life and the next as a seamless reality.”
    Nothing about that is concrete or tangible.
    He also calls God an “unexpected, mysterious presence” and says that we should “trust resurrection” itself, not trust in Christ’s resurrection.
    Personally, I think that some of this could perhaps be dismissed as artistic language. But even in that best case scenario, the gospel is assumed and almost avoided…

  • E.G.

    “But even in that best case scenario, the gospel is assumed and almost avoided…”

    “destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it

    do you believe this?
    that’s the question Jesus asked then
    and that’s the question he asks now”

    Seems fairly straightforward to me… you have to believe that Christ died and that the “temple” was rebuilt… and that Christ is actively asking this now… in this present moment.

    And, now that I think of it, the statement that “(this is) the question that he asks now” directly implies that Christ is alive and asking at this moment. Thus another piece of evidence, within this short work, that Bell believes that Christ is risen and active in the world.

  • Richie

    Again.., these videos are made for non-Christ-followers and those far from God. It is to give them the glimpse of a possibility that there is a God who loves them. However, it does let one see how narrow we can allow ourselves to become once we think we have it all figured out. If certain words; certain prayers; certain traditions; certain statements of faith are not regurgitated then one is labeled a heretic.

    Guess what? We WILL NEVER understand God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and even The Gospel completely. This is where Eastern Orthodoxy has it totally right and the west has it all wrong – we WILL NEVER figure God out in our finite mind. It is not mysticism – it is the “mystery” of God; I mean the idea of a Triune God alone is enough of a mystery that we will never ever wrap our minds around. Much like the Jews of old, we tend to add our 500 new laws to the original and most important of all laws and that is to – Love God and Love People; and that is something Jesus said, not me. Come to God with the faith of a child, cuz you’ll never figure it out and intellect be damned in trying to, because it causes more problems with respect to just simply believing and then living it out. Why Rob Bell? Why not rip on legalistic free-will Baptists; or 7th Day Adventists; or Catholicism and praying to Saints.

    I mean, we keep ripping each other apart for what purpose? To prove we are right? Who are we edifying? Ourselves or the Bride?

    Ok…, sorry, I’m done rambling. 🙂 Peace and One Love.

  • E.G.

    Richie: well said.

    Aaron: BTW, that Jonah 4 sermon that I mentioned was the week before Easter (Palm Sunday). I had my dates wrong.

    *But* Bell did preach a sermon entitled “Resurrection” on Easter Sunday. I’m about 1/3 of the way through it, and it’s clearly obvious that he believes in the bodily, physical resurrection of our Lord. He pulls no punches on that score. In fact, he specifically rejects any idea of a “soul” or otherwise symbolic resurrection. His thesis – which is very orthodox – is that Christ (and His resurrection) is the model for us and for all of creation.

    So far it, too, is an excellent sermon. I fully recommend that you take a listen to it… I can’t wait for my evening commute so that I can take in the rest of it.

  • Matthew Johnston

    Rob Bell is of great concern to me – as is the vast majority of what we label the ‘Emergent/Emerging Church’.

  • Adam Lehman

    @Aaron. Thanks SO SO SO much for being critical of Bell in the way that you are. I’ve read through WAY TOO MANY people who have critiqued him with the depth and clarity of Mr Matthew Johnston (who commented above). Yours is one of the first to offer – in my experience – a humble, thorough, honest way.

    I listen to all of Rob’s Sermons (actually all of Mars Hill’s church sermons, he preaches less than half of the Sundays). I’ve heard him speak of Jesus so many times I’m no longer “concerned” about Rob’s theology. Also, I have friends who attend that church and talk about it as such a loving, transforming family that I have a really hard time arguing with the squabbles of some one’s phrasing about theology. Rob’s theology is lived out, in his life, and the life of the congregation he leads. I’d doubt his critics have much to say (or have even taken the time to get to konw) those aspects of Rob’s theology.

    Finally, I think that Rob is most often scrutinized for believing a “yes, but not only” theology. I’d guess that Rob would check “yes” to the idea that Jesus death, life & resurrection where physical. But I’d be hard pressed to say he’d think that is the ONLY thing Jesus did. And I’d agree with the theology I’ve ascribed to Bell.

    Jesus life, death & resurecction forgive my sins and wash my clean in God’s eyes, paving the way for me to take part in God’s kingdom. But I don’t think that is the ONLY thing Jesus did/does/is doing.

    This is a “messy” thoeology to hold and it’s tough to nail down. My theology definitely can’t be nailed down to a dozen doctrinal statements. My God is much to big for that.

  • Rob Bell: Resurrection Revisited « A Great Work

    […] Stars, Bell gives a decidedly different meaning to the resurrection.  Now, some have said that he simply adds another meaning to the resurrection, and that it does not supplant the orthodox teac…, yet his consistent message betrays that […]

  • Aaron

    While my more recent post ( eliminates the question of whether or not Bell believes that Christ physically rose from the grave, it does still beg the question of what he thinks is the significance of the resurrection.

    It is also not entirely clear what the reason for his criptic language is. Could he be trying to appease the more liberal Christians who really do not think that you have to believe any of the Bible to be literally true? Is he trying to bridge the gape between liberals and conservatives?

    And do any of you really even care? 😉

  • taylor

    he affirms that the disciples went to the tomb and saw that HE ISNT THERE. how much clearer can he be. SECONDLY – his easter message last year – listen to it. He spends the entire Sermon proving the BODILY resurrection. DO YOUR HOMEWORK… love you, bye.

  • Aaron


    That is the very sermon I reviewed in … homework to be done on both sides, huh? 😉

  • Marie' Botha

    I am so confused. I have been married to a Christian apologist and pastor for twenty years, yet I have so many doubts concerning the bodily ressurection of Christ and the absolute authority of the Bible. I have read so much and discussed so much and have heared ALL the arguments and “casa for Christ”, yet there is a nagging doubt in my mind that none of this can truly be verified. I am so tired of people offering “quick” fixes and trying to explain away all the seeming contradictions and illogical statements in the Bible. I am afraid that I may loose my faith. I am tired of Christian cliches and well meaning people who try to “fix my faith” by offering simplistic answers.
    Read Rob Bells “Love wins” recently and resonated with a lot of the things he said. How can we play God and condemn people like Ghandi to hell?
    I don’t fully understand my own resistance but I know that I cannot continue believing some of the doctrines that I have grown up with.

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