The attraction of Nooma: Rob Bell

If you’re younger–maybe in your 20s or 30s, you might know who Rob Bell is or have seen the Nooma series. I recently started watching the Nooma series by Rob Bell and have started using it in a small group, though, on an experimental level. Rob Bell portrays himself as a speaker who is “with it” and I can see how his image appeals to post-modern young adults. He wears the trendy thick black rim glasses, has a cool haircut, and wears his shirts the right way with the top button open. On the image side of the picture, everything seems great. He looks like a pretty cool dude and his image fits real nicely with the young adults crowd. The production of the Nooma series is very good quality too. There is definitely a post-modern look to it—it’s very chic.

I have tried to assess the theology and theological depth of emerging leaders like Rob Bell as objectively as I could. I don’t even know if Bell considers himself to be emerging but that is just my perception of him. Also according to my perception, there seems to be very little bible knowledge taught from the Nooma series. I have noticed that the theology is not very deep either. Maybe I’m too uptight and should just take it easy. I may be totally wrong but if I am wrong, I am open to being corrected. On a personal level ,I have absolutely nothing against Rob Bell. I feel that his intentions are great and he desires to reach out to the post-modern generation. I really don’t like to be overly critical but I had to think about this long and hard about this before I decided to post this. I cannot say whether I am either for or against Nooma at this point because I see some of the positive aspects in the Nooma series. Bell does ask some thought provoking questions that causes one to look deep inside oneself. However, I have come to the conclusion that if I was a new Christian who was seeking to grow in the Christian faith, I probably would not be able to receive enough biblical instruction from Nooma. I cannot see it sufficiently feeding a newborn Christian. Nooma is like milk and I can’t see anyone going beyond the “milk stage” if they were to continue on nourishing only on Nooma. You might also compare this to eating at McDonald’s or Burger King every meal and expecting to be able to grow healthy and strong. It might taste real good, smell good, and look good too, but can we get a balanced diet from junk food?

I have also wondered if this could potentially be benignly detrimental to the younger generations of young adults who already have little or no knowledge of the bible. When I was growing up as a young person in an evangelical church, I think I received quite a high level of bible knowledge. Where will today’s emerging followers of Christ get solid biblical instruction if they cannot get it from emerging churches? Young people and young adults need stronger bible and theological teaching and if they cannot get it in the emerging movement, they will have to get it from somewhere else. Perhaps the evangelical churches? It is my hope and prayer that God will raise up more spiritual leaders who will teach and nurture our younger generations so that they can gain a deeper theological and biblical knowledge and come to know God more in a greater way.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

13 thoughts on “The attraction of Nooma: Rob Bell”

  1. Very thoughtful post! My heart is saddened at the plight of even many of our evangelical churches in regard to the level of actual Bible that is taught and understood. I am afraid we have spent years going for the “in” instead of allowing our Lord to create a hunger for Himself though the Word. I do not see the “new” material doing much (not really new — concepts have been around for the last 30 years)to correct this. We need the Scripture and as you say “good solid theology” not constant milk about how to fix “me.” However, I do not see things changing much at present. Need prominent voices to lead — some are, but they are generally thought of as for those in ministry — not the common pew sitter. Sad. Lord have mercy(and I thank You, because You do — on me and all who call on Your name)!

    Blessing,
    Iris

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  2. Hey Kevin,

    I’m glad to see you post so openly and honestly your thoughts. Rob Bell’s book The Velvet Elvis concerns me at some points.

    Particularly his idea of aspects of theology being springs on a trampoline and that you can take away springs and still bounce. Then he puts the virgin birth in that category, i.e. a spring.

    You commented on a post I made at Blaugmenting and I never got back to you. I wanted to mention that I think the Emerging Church movement will fade away or morph into something else in my opinion. I don’t think the movement provides enough theological foundation for its adherents. I think the whole movement will continually be tossed to and fro by winds of doctrine causing individuals and/or the entire movement to morph into something else – particularly theologically liberal Christianity or more relativistic positions that put Christianity on the same level as other religions. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.

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  3. Joe, it’s sad that some evangelicals are willing to sacrifice orthodox theology to please some people. If Bell thinks he can sacrifice an orthodox position like the virgin birth, then what’s stopping others from removing more springs from the “theological” trampoline? Once all the springs are removed, there’s nothing left.

    Your take on the future of the emerging church is interesting. Parts of the emerging church are already way on the liberal side of the theological spectrum. But I think a big part of it is also quite conservative too. You may have mentioned this before too. It could morph both ways.

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  4. I loved your post. I was exposed to Rob Bell about a year and a half ago by my best friend who is also our youth pastor. Since then I’ve watched a few of his Nooma videos, but also read both of Rob’s books: Velvet Elvis and Sex God.

    I don’t think that his church Mars Hill (www.marshill.org) is one of those emerging churches, though I could be wrong here. Also, having read both of his books, Rob Bell does go very deeply into the scriptures and particularly the Hebrew. There is definitely substance and depth from the scriptures and he is one of the singular sources that prompted me to make better use of the original languages in my personal study of scripture. I highly recommend reading them both.

    Also, I agree on your classification of the Nooma videos as ‘milk.’ There are good messages in them as you point out, and everything about Nooma seems to intentionally portray itself as you indicated. I view these videos as outreach oriented, and so they do not specifically rely on scripture, a source that non-believers do not necessarily recognize. I think you’ll find that the videos are more likely to be listened to by those who don’t profess faith in Christ, and that Rob Bell’s teachings to those who do profess this faith rely strongly on scripture and the original languages as well.

    I’m going to bookmark your blog to remind me to check back here for any replies.

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  5. Nathan, thanks for all your well thought-out comments throughout my blog posts. I take seriously your recommendation to read Rob Bell’s books. I have never read them myself and so I have to plead ignorance. My comments on his Nooma series are only based on what I know and seen of the Nooma DVDs. If what you say about him is true, I find it more encouraging to know that he encourages his readers to dig into the scriptures. I presume you use Nooma in your congregation? Nathan, I believe this generation needs to read and know the scriptures more than ever. What I fear most is that each successive generation degenerates into greater biblical illiteracy. This can happen over a few generations of Christians if we allow ourselves to become complacent. Spiritual growth only happens when we treat it as a spiritual discipline. With this said, I can tell you that I do use Nooma for young adults. And I agree that they are a good tool if we accept its limitations and realize it to be only an outreach tool to the unchurched or non-believers—and only an outreach tool.

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  6. After posting yesterday I got out three Nooma videos and watched them again. One in particular, video 4 Sunday, actually contained a lot of scripture references. He tended to refer to the bible or scripture in passing, and not a more traditional church-y type of reference. I’ve shown the videos to my discipleship group of teenage boys and it is used almost exclusively with teenagers in our church. I actually find his short messages compelling for my own life, and think they are probably better targeted toward 20-30 somethings. My wife has had some interesting discussions with her discipleship group of teenage girls about Velvet Elvis. They’ve just started reading it and I think they are finding some of their preconceptions about what the scriptures say challenged.

    As I mentioned briefly earlier, last year I read Velvet Elvis and Rob Bell’s references to Hebrew culture and it’s application to the context of scripture really blew my mind. I would have to say after some reflection that my current desire to study the context and history of the bible started initially with my reading of his book, and has only been fueled by what I’ve discovered since then.

    As a side note, Relevant Magazine’s Jan/Feb issue has Rob Bell on the cover and a nice interview with him. It’s a great magazine with a nice online presence. They have a great eye for culturally relevant issues that a self-conscience follower of Christ deals with on a daily basis. And my wife and friends like their eclectic recommendations on music. It’s found at:

    http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

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  7. I haven’t used the Nooma videos with teenagers yet because I didn’t know if they were mature enough to related to it yet. But I guess it would depend on which DVD. Maybe you have just made me reassess whether I should share it with the youth too. If it worked for your teenagers in your church, it will probably work with mine too.

    You just spurred my interest in reading Velvet Elvis. I’m interested in what he has to say about the bible. Thanks for the link to Relevant. I’ll check it out.

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  8. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on his book. I think his example of how he examined scripture in the Hebrew cultural context was just as powerful to me as the points he actually made. I remember thinking, “what if I did the same thing he did here, but for the whole bible?” It seems fairly common sense to me now, but last year it was eye opening.

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  9. Nathan, thanks for the link. It looks as if this website specializes in a critical analysis of the emerging church. I’m not the type who enjoys bashing anything and everything emerging but I do have to say that I’ve found some of emerging leaning to the left. If Rob Bell really is a universalist, then I’d be more careful about Nooma. As far as I know, Doug Pagitt is a universalist.

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  10. I don’t agree with many of the things he had to say, but I thought the discussion was interesting considering some of the things we discussed earlier. I also like to see both sides of the coin and not just the points of view that agree with my own.

    My pastor just informed me last night that he purchased Rob Bell’s new DVD (not Nooma) and I hope to see it in the next week or so. Cheers.

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  11. I love that so many “out there” are chewing over the hard issues rather than just blindly following trends. I am a youth leader and a small group leader in my church. I have seen many Nooma videos and read (at least in part) Velvet Elvis. I must say that his style is unquestionably hip and likeable…a new breed of uber-cool Christian. Beyond the presentation, I must admit, the content concerns me. In my opinion, the question is not if he refers to enough scripture but does he present the scripture in an honest way consistant with the true Gospel message. The answer I’m a afraid is a resonunding “No!” I believe Bell is a master at subtle twistings (the better word is “perversions”) of scripture to fit a humanistic world view. While these views are broadly appealing and no doubt attract many unchurched individuals, they are in effect candy coated poison. The Bible warns us repeatedly to be on guard against those who set themselves up as teachers of the word and that they often come as a “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” which tells me clearly that they will have all the outward trappings of Christianity but the heart of their message will bring death and destruction to the flock. I am not saying that I think Bell has set out to undermine the Gospel message–he may very well feel that he is serving God faithfully but an untruth is an untruth regardless of the intentions behind it. For another voice on this matter check out the video “Rob Bell Exposed-Nooma Guy”. Very well presented rebuttal. Praise God that at the He is at this very time stirring up many to return to a passion for the scripture and a recommitment to the integrity of the Gospel Message! He is amazing in His faithfulness!!

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  12. Glee, welcome to New Epistles. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say Bell is perverting the gospel. I saw the videoclip you mentioned on GodTube but if we could ask Bell in person where his faith was placed? I think he would reply that it was in Christ. We must be careful not to take a person out of context and to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I agree that we need to return to a passion for scripture and the integrity of the gospel. We need more bible teachers who will do this.

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