Mary Jo Sharp responds to Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”

I met Mary Jo Sharp and Roger Sharp at the EPS Conference in Atlanta. They are awesome. Mary Jo is really passionate and animated, and Roger is really friendly and engaging.

Here’s Mary Jo’s article on the trendy universalist pastor Rob Bell.

She quotes Bell:

Pastor Bell states that Mithraism was an influential religion of the first century and Mithra’s “followers believed he was born of a virgin, he was a mediator between God and humans, and Mithra had ascended to heaven.” He also makes similar comments on the god, Attis, and discusses a little about emperor worship. After discussing the emperor worship, he states, “In the first century, to claim that your God had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, well it just wasn’t that unique. The claims of the first Christians weren’t really anything new. Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special?”

What? That’s news to me… I thought the doctrine of a single bodily resurrection prior to the end of the world was unique to Christianity.

Mary Jo assesses Bell’s assertion:

Finally, I think the obvious problem that should be noted is Bell’s statement, “Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special?” In the Roman worship of Mithras, there is no recorded death story. Hence, there is also no resurrection story. So, from the evidence we have on Mithras, we can know that not everybody’s god died nor did everybody’s god rise from the dead. How can a comparison be conscionably made between Jesus’ resurrection story and a non-existent resurrection story? This comparison is illogical and should not be made. I would respond to Pastor Bell’s rhetorical question by answering that Jesus actually died and rose from the dead. Therefore, the early Christians had a very unique story if they were approaching Mithraic worshipers in the first century with the good news!

So Bell lied. It sounds like he is using “The Da Vinci Code” movie as a historical source in order to equate Christianity with Greek and Roman religions, in order to make the case that all religions are the same. That way, people can believe anything and still not go to Hell.

There’s more in Mary Jo’s post, but there is one outright mistake (or lie) by Bell. Why are people buying this book? It sucks.

Glenn Peoples adds:

None of the Mithras mythology depicts him being killed for humanity. In fact, he is not depicted as being killed at all. On the contrary, it is Mithras himself who does the killing! As is seen in the most widely use image of Mithras, he was said to have slain a great bull. Actually the very earliest reference to this event is from the close of the first century (AD 98-99), so it is post Christian, but setting that aside, Mithras’ death is not depicted at all. For the earliest reference to the slaying of the bull, see R. L. Gordon, “The date and significance of CIMRM 593 (British Museum, Townley Collection),” Journal of Mithraic Studies 2:2. Read it online here. As there is no depiction of Mithras’ death in any ancient mythology, there is likewise no depiction of any resurrection.

Swedish scholar Tryggve N. D. Mettinger (I can only wonder how his first name is pronounced!) is professor of Hebrew Bible at Lund University in Sweden and a member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, Stockholm. Although he claims that there were in pre-Christian antiquity a few cases of myths of dying and rising gods, he makes two important admissions in his monograph, The Riddle of Resurrection. Firstly, he affirms that he is going against a “near consensus,” and a consensus held not by Christian scholars, but by historians in general. Secondly, while he suggests that there existed myths of gods rising from death, he never suggests that the accounts are similar to that of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact he concludes the opposite:

There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.

Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wicksell, 2001), 221.

I find it interesting that so many people will buy a book based solely on Bell’s stylish appearance, complete with trendy glasses and hair, and his appealing universalist message. No one is buying it because they think it’s true – Bell isn’t in a position to know what’s true.  Why listen to a stupid person? It’s like going to have your fortune told, or reading horoscopes. It sounds good, but it’s not real.

10 thoughts on “Mary Jo Sharp responds to Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins””

  1. Bell’s (non-)Hell highlights how far he is from the truth. But I wasn’t aware of his lame Mithraic references until recently. I expect those claims from New Atheists, but not Christians. He should have known better.


  2. FWIW, I know nothing of Rob Bell and don’t myself subscribe to universalism (even the ‘evangelical’ form), but I do routinely look at different blogs and noticed the following installment at Greg Boyd’s site:

    I’m no fan of Boyd’s open theism or anything, but I thought that any readers here who are looking at different perspectives in their investigation of this person might be interested in Boyd’s comment. Like I said, “FWIW.”


    1. That’s why I quoted Bell (via Mary Jo) in my post. So there are no misunderstandings. I actually don’t consider Greg Boyd orthodox in the slightest either. But more orthodox than McLaren and Bell.


  3. Bell (no relation to the palsy) grinds my gears. The man’s a lightweight–I’m sure by now you’ve seen his Bashir interview–but in this day and age, I can believe there are those who would willingly swallow whatever slop this guy’s serving, more’s the pity. As I’ve read elsewhere, this is truly a broken world.


  4. That whole Mithraic “born of a virgin” and “rising from the dead” is 19th C. claptrap. Mithras came out of a stone fully formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. I can’t remember the details about “rising from the dead” but I do recall that it isn’t even close to Christ. It’s been passed from atheist hand to atheist hand for so long that its like one of those urban legends that won’t die.


    1. Bock’s second installment is out already: discussing Bell’s chapter on Hell. FWIW, Bock is the second person I’ve read (the other being Boyd) who says that, for all his other problems, it’s not quite accurate to call Bell a “universalist.”

      Not surprising that Bock uses many examples from Luke’s gospel in his critique of Bell, since he (Bock) wrote a mammoth 2 vol. commentary on Luke for Baker Books (2000+ pages). So he _knows_ that Gospel. :-)


  5. Greetings. Did Rob Bell forget what he was taught at Wheaton and Fuller Seminary which his church’s website says he attended. I do not doubt he went and I do not expect him to agree with everything taught there. His answers to election, hell, and heaven are very questionable. I have yet to analyze it fully as I am concentrating on Historical Jesus issues and LGBTQ community topics in ethics, exegesis, psychology, etc. I am glad Mary Jo and others have critiqued it fully. Blessings


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