Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rob Bell's Nooma Videos 6-10

Oh those aquamarine and white Nooma boxes. They contain interesting things.

You can see in the second five films in this series how they’ve hit their stride, anmd in some cases we can see an increasing degree of complexity to the films. The music is background music but it continues to give motion to the film. The lighting continues to suggest we are all living in the Shadowslands. Not quite winter in Narnia, but the Shadowlands for sure. Rob continues to have his blonde tinted hair. We continue to go to everyday places, but we discuss not so every day subjects--- like God, and sin, and suffering, and abuse, and revenge and forgiveness, and baggage.

Nooma 6--- the music in the background sounds like Alanis Morrisette, only less whiny, or maybe Jennifer Knapp with the acoustic stuff. Its entitled “Kickball”, and its set on the shore of Lake Michigan, it would appear. Again like some of these other Nooma films it has a bleak look, or basic primal look. The subject matter is in fact however anything but simple. What is the character of God? Is God good? And if God is good, why doesn’t he give me the stuff I want which will make me happy? Rob draws an analogy with his own parental situation. Sometimes the parent just knows that giving the child what he wants, is not giving him what he needs, indeed it maybe giving him a stone instead of bread, a snake instead of steak. There is less direct Bible content in this one, but the message gets through none the less. It is noticeable how Rob wants to concentrate on the most basic things, like the character of God and do we believe God is good. We should not expect delicate explanations of the Trinity in these videos. They are for entry level discussion, and yet they do not lack meat.

Nooma 7-- This video has a surprise ending, and a back story, so pay close attention to what goes on in the airport. But the subject of this video is revenge. And the most interesting point made in the video is that taking revenge implies something quite clear about one’s faith in God (or lack thereof). It implies one doesn’t trust God to take care of it. Rob focuses on Paul’s words in Romans about leaving room for God’s wrath. He also has some helpful things to say about forgiveness helping the one who does the forgiving as much as the one forgiven. The title of this film is ‘luggage’ but it really should have been baggage. One thing that becomes clearer, the more of these films that one watches-- Rob sees the world has highly dysfunctional and most if not all people are broken and have ‘issues’. So some of these videos necessarily come off more like pastoral counseling videos than straight Bible teaching videos, which is fine. Rob after all has a pastoral orientation and intent in doing this kind of ministry. He is not trying to be something he is not (i.e. a Bible scholar). But there is no mistaking he has interacted deeply with the first principles of the Gospel, like forgiveness.

Nooma 8--- This film entitled ‘Dust’ is one of the one’s I find more deficient in understanding Jesus’ milieu. Here Rob, now brown haired (it was filmed in 2004), basically restates what he has said in “Velvet Elvis” about Jesus being a rabbi, about synagogues where Jewish boys memorized the whole Torah and the like. Since I have already critiqued this point on the blog, I do not wish to belabor the point. Not only was Jesus not a rabbi, like later rabbis, but neither was anyone else really before 70 A.D. Of course there were Jewish scribes and teachers, but we have no historical basis for thinking of ordained rabbis running synagogues and little schools in Nazareth or elsewhere in Galilee during this era. For sure, there was no Bet’ Talmud in Jesus’ day. Nobody was busy memorizing Genesis to Malachi, because there was no closed canon in Jesus’ day, nor a single book to be memorized, nor even agreement on all the scrolls that should be memorized. I bring this up precisely because Jesus is so grounded in non-Mosaic parts of the OT-- the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel, and also the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the wisdom literature like Proverbs, which is what his parables, riddles, and aphorisms most resemble. That is, he is grounded in the latter parts of the OT, including in disputed books like Daniel from which he takes his onw self-chosen moniker—Son of Man, Jesus in short, is a Jewish wise man or apocalyptic sage. He is not someone who teaches Scripture like scribes, or spends much time debating other Jewish’ teachers interpretations of Torah. He speaks on his own authority, and without footnotes, or citing other teachers. Instead of exegesis, he is mainly engaging in creating new Jewish teachings.

It is of course true that early Jewish teachers encouraging imitation of their behavior as well as recitation of Scriptures and important teachings. But when Jesus is calling fishermen and tax collectors to follow him, it has nothing to do with the later practice of picking the best of the best to be one’s disciples because you think they’ve got the intellectuals goods to become like the rabbi. On the contrary Jesus seems to be picking up, not budding scholars, but in some cases the least, the last and the lost—folks like fishermen, or a woman who was demon possessed. And here is an important point--- women certainly did not have the privilege of doing the same sort or degree of Torah study as men. And yet Jesus had a group of very loyal women disciples. This simply punctuates how very different he operated than later more patriarchally oriented rabbis.

Rob however is right that the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a very telling story about Peter not having enough faith in himself to walk by faith over to Jesus. Rob emphasizes that God and Jesus have faith in us, entrust us with the task of making more disciples. Its an important, indeed crucial point. Jesus believes in us! When’s the last time you heard a sermon on that? And Rob makes the point well.

Nooma 9, entitled ‘Bullhorn’ finds Rob taking on one of his pet peeves—fundamentalist hell fire preachers who stand on corners with bullhorns and tracts trying to warn people that if they haven’t repented and trusted Jesus, well then they are on the straight path to hell. Rob’s disagreement with this whole approach to evangelism is not just that hardly ever works or accomplishes the intended outcome. His disagreement with it is that it is a violation of the heart of the Gospel which has to do with loving God and others with one’s whole heart. In fact, as Rob stress by loving others one is loving God. What this film emphasizes is the unconditional love of God, which we as well should offer unconditionally to all whether they receive it or not. What this film does not say, and really needed to say, if only in passing, is that in fact God does not love many of our sinful and self-destructive ways. He does indeed begin with us as we are, but he never leaves us there, for the very good reason that our sin continues to alienate us from God, like a cancer which destroys our most precious relationships. There are some subtle touches in this video, for example when bullhorn guy is in an elevator on the way to his rant site there is a sticker on the wall of the elevator that says ‘Love Wins’. Indeed, it does and it should. You can attract more flies with honey than with gall for sure.

Nooma 10, entitled ‘Lump’ is one of my favorites thus far. Rob is at his best when he is relating his own personal experiences to the Scriptures, and here he is dealing with his son lying to him about something he had taken from someone and then again about hitting his brother. And when the moment of realization comes and he knows he is busted, then he runs and hides not in his own bed, but in the safest place he knows—in his parent’s bed, under the covers. Rob tells the story about finding him there some two hours later, and reassuring his son he is still loved. But at the same time Rob talks about the need in due course to make amends to those he hurt, or hit, or stole from, or lied to. What this story reminds us of is that children, even small children are not pure. Up to a certain age they have a certain innocence, in the sense that is the opposite of experience. They have not yet willfully violated a known law, and so committed a willful transgression. But they are not pure. Innocent and morally pure are two different things, and often small children are the most self-centered, its all about me creatures that one could imagine.

St. Augustine tells the funny story about am infant who was caterwauling at the baptismal font, and he says it was evident he was unregenerate and resisting the waters of grace. Shows how little he knew about the conscious behavior of infants. But in a sense he had a point—we are all born fallen creatures. The story also reminds us that even reasonably small children are capable of knowing they have done something wrong and of feeling shame for it. But like the father in the Prodigal Son parable, Rob tells his son, “there is nothing you can ever do that will stop me from loving you.”

I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans where in one chapter we are told that Christ died for sinners, for the ungodly, for his enemies. How much clearer could it be that God loves us in spite of what we do and have become, not because of it. Victor Furnish once said that God’s love is not like a heat-seeking missile targeting something inherently attractive in us. God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable. Rather his love for us makes us that way. God doesn’t love us because he has already chosen us before all time. Rather it is his love for us and our response to it which makes us his bride, his chosen ones. We must say ‘I do’ in response to his ongoing ‘I do’. Rob is right to emphasis that God is love. The question is, how will we respond?


BobT said...

It is great that you are reviewing the nooma series since I feel they are tremendous teaching tools that have not been seriously reviewed.

I have been using the nooma messages in prison ministry with men, women's ministry, small group studies and worhip services. I have given dozens of them to people who are hurting. The nooma RAIN was given to several people who had cancer. They were so moved by them they invited family and friends to watch.

In prison ministry, the short nature of the nooma's and the clearness of the message resonates with the men like nothing I have seen before.

At a women's retreat attended by women from age 10 to 90, I showed one a day for a week during the devotional times and ALL ages were moved by Bell's presentations. Many wanted to buy them and show to friends and even their pastors.

Rob has a great gift of communication and the format is brilliant. Hopefully his work through nooma will lead other gifted Christian communicators to consider using the same format or something similar to reach the world.

Ben Witherington said...

I'm with you Robert. Creative is good-- enough of the same ole same ole.....

yuckabuck said...

Here's a heads up-

James Camaron has found Jesus' tomb, along with his whole family. (And they're not empty!) The press conference is to be held Monday.

(Someone in the comments even points to James Tabor's book as proof, which Dr. Witherington has already blogged on.)

Kind of makes me miss the old James ossuary. :-)

hollyedrews said...

holly's husband brad here...

wondering if you could do a more in-depth explanation of the types of things rob says are true about jesus' connection with eastern Christianity and how you differ. kind've a point/counterpoint type of thing. i would be very interested in your comments...

i've heard rob is a big fan of guys like dwight pryor and ray vanderlaan and i know alot of his inspiration comes from them. is he tweaking their stuff or are the types of things pryor and vanderlaan are saying the same things bell is?

are there any books [maybe even some of your own] that you feel better describes the nature of jesus' ministry and how eastern Christianity looked during this time?
curious about your thoughts...

Brad Andrews

Steve said...

Oops... I just commented on your review of Nooma Vids 1-5 before reading this one. You ended up answering my questions from that one in this post. Sorry.

But it looks like Holly's husband Brad is asking the same kind of questions. If you ever get a chance to look into Dwight Pryor (, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the assumptions behind his theories.

Also, you mentioned that you have already critiqued some of Velvet Elvis in an earlier blog. Could you give a date or link? I'd like to read that. Thanks.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Brad:

You might want to read my Matthew commentary on Jesus as a sage and wisdom. You could also read my book Jesus the Sage on this topic as well. The only thing I really see as a tangible connection between Rob and eastern orthodoxy is his mysticism and some of his creation theology. Otherwise, it sounds pretty much like western Evangelical stuff with a social conscience and concern. It is very Christocentric which resonants with eastern orthodoxy.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks to Yuckabuck for the heads up. I have already been talking to the Time Magazine religion editor about this so called sensational find. We've known of this stuff since 1980, and it is highly unlikely it has any connection with the historical Jesus.

hollyedrews said...

Brad here again.

Thank you for your recommendations!

As a side note, I guess I wasn't asking so much about Bell's connection with Eastern Christianity but what was, in your opinion, the prevailing culture of Eastern Christianity during Jesus' ministry and how is Bell diverging from that [in laymen's terms if at all possible]?

I know you have hashed out some of these ideas during the previous posts on the Nooma videos so if you would prefer to offer book recommendations, that would be appreciated [I've looked into Nickelsburg, Neusner, and Evans]!

Can you also explain why it important to have socio-rhetorical commentaries avail. during bible study? In other words, I've heard of categories such as critical [ICC], popular [Life Application], pastoral [Pulpit Commentary], and exegetical [Baker], but what are the sub-categories [if that is what you call them?]

Thx for access to your ministry via this blog!

Abel Márquez said...

nooma 10 (lump) is my favorite

TheLetch said...


glad someone is reviewing this stuff because I find that Nooma divides opinion: some people love them and others find them slow and slightly patronising.

I do not know who they are pitched at, the ones I have watched (probably 5 or so at the moment) lack challenge to be used in an evangelical setting and are really quite basic there is not much depth (which I see you cover in these reviews).

I have a problem with Dust in particular at a deeper level in that I do not believe the Bible teaches us to believe in ourselves the way Rob explains it.

Peter starts to sink when he takes his eyes off Christ (a verse conveniently omitted), he sees the conditions, the wind and the waves and his faith diminishes - is this faith in himself?

I do not believe it is and if God believed in us, believed that we have the capacity to do what Jesus did, to say what Jesus said, to be Jesus (sorry dropped into Nooma mode) then why did he send Christ in the first place? Surely we would not need a Saviour if we all had the capacity to be like Jesus in and of ourselves.

There is no mention of the Holy Spirit guiding and leading into Christlikeness and it seems to jar with Paul's experience of living the Christian life from Romans 6-8.

What are your thoughts?


Dennis Lugo said...

Amazing....I've been using the nooma videos at my church and they seem to strike a chord everytime its played for small groups. Even though somethings in the videos some may not relate or understand it always seems to leave a lasting mark on them. God has spoken and the rest is commentary. Great blog and i look forward to reading more.

OneOf2Texans said...

I agree 100% with Mike's comments on 'Dust.' Rob Bell leads the viewer to the conclusion that Peter had lost faith in himself, reasoning that Peter couldn't have lost faith in Jesus, because Jesus wasn't sinking. But he leaves out the fact that Peter had become oblivious to whether Jesus was sinking or not, because he had taken his eyes off of Him. Peter was mixing faith with doubt--something that Jesus addresses several times in the gospels (Mark 11:22-24, Mark 9:22-24), and which is addressed in the epistles as well (James 1:6). It is possible to have faith (Peter had faith to get out of the boat), and then let doubts creep in (like when he started looking at the waves around him--something we've all done).

So, I think Rob Bell's reasoning is faulty and it leads to a faulty conclusion. In addition, his statement about God believing in us is totally unscriptural. God believes is us? Really? John 2:23-25 seems to say something quite the contrary. I cannot think of one Scripture that tells us we should believe in ourselves. Mark 11:22, John 14:1, John 15:5, Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 12:2 (to name just a few), point us to Him.

Self is the God of the New Age. I should know; I was raised in a home with a New Age Mom. Self-help, Self-image, Self-improvement, Self-love, Self-actualization--these are all mantras of the New Age. In the New Age, all roads lead to SELF, and Human Potential is the object of ones faith. May it never be that we mix such darkness with the True Light!

We must be like the Bereans, who listened to Paul, then checked what he said against the Scriptures.