Rob Bell, Harold Camping, and Deviations from the Truth

According to Harold Camping: Judgment Day is this Saturday. According to Rob Bell: Don’t worry about it because “love wins”.

Camping and Bell both leave me scratching my head wondering if these men (and others like them) are reading from the same Bible as me. Have they found a new insight no one else has found? Or did they both come down with a bad case of exegesis?

I’ve been studying 2 Timothy 2:14-26 for the past few weeks and I think there are several insights in this passage about how to handle those who “deviate from the truth”.

Diligently Study the Word

The best way to understand if a false teaching needs to be challenged (or even if it is a false teaching) is to know the truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 says,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

I won’t be held accountable for Rob Bell or Harold Camping’s teaching but I will be held accountable for my own. Will my teaching gain man’s approval or God’s? Will I eventually be ashamed of my teaching?

Before I respond to someone to correct, instruct, or teach, have I thoroughly sought to understand them? Have I carefully considered what the Bible says about the issue? As we read and study and memorize the real thing it’s easier to spot the counterfeit and know how to appropriately respond.

Don’t Fight About Words

So how do we know whether or not to engage in the “fight”? 2 Timothy 2:14 tells us not to get into arguments that are unimportant. Consider some of the statements from this passage:

[charge] them before God not to fight about words (2:14)

avoid irreverent, empty speech (2:16)

reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels (2:23)

The Lord’s slave must not quarrel (2:24)

We shouldn’t waste our time getting into “foolish and ignorant disputes”. There are thousands of tweets, blog posts, articles, books, podcasts, and sermons out there that promote false teaching. But these “deviations from the truth” are often foolish and empty and nonessential.

Harold Camping’s teachings fall into this category. I really have no desire to “fight about words” with Camping. I can’t for the life of me find in Scripture any validity to his teachings and, besides, on May 22 he will be proved either right or wrong. After that we can pray that he and his followers will respond favorably to the truth and turn from their misguided interpretations of Scripture.

Gently and Correctly Teach the Word

But there are some issues that come up that challenge the basis of the faith. When truth is contradicted or discarded it is important to actively defend it.

Rob Bell’s teachings fall into this category. He is “destroying the faith of some” and his careless words will lead to his and others ruin. Yet, our response to him must be done in love and gentleness. Rather than lash out in anger, we need to pray that Bell will come to his senses.

Consider some of the thoughts from this passage about false teachers:

And their word will spread like gangrene; (2:17)

They have deviated from the truth…and are overturning the faith of some. (2:18)

How do we respond?

[by] correctly teaching the word of truth. (2:15)

be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. (2:24)

What is the potential result when false teaching is confronted?

Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading [them] to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will. (2:25-26)

We need to not only teach the Word but live the Word. I need to learn how to teach with humility and conviction all at the same time.

The Final Word

2 Timothy 2:14-26 encourages us to avoid distractions (foolish and ignorant disputes) but that doesn’t mean we never confront false teaching. In fact, if we don’t confront falsehood, the lie can infect and destroy the faith of some. The imagery of gangrene is particularly disgusting because it is a “putrefaction of tissues”. It smells bad. It kills tissue. It spreads rapidly. It is unacceptable to allow that kind of infection to invade the Body.

Harold Camping and Rob Bell will be held to account for how they handled the Word of God…and so will we! It’s vitally important that we study diligently, seek God’s approval, and correctly teach and live the truth. At least, that’s what I think Paul was telling Timothy in 2 Timothy 2.

What do you think? Have you seen Christian brothers and sisters confronting these issues with humility and gentleness? If so, feel free to link to them in the comments. What thoughts do you have about Bell and Camping and how to respond to them?

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

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  • bryanaloha

    Great insights brother! Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Jackson, historically the Church has tried not to divorce one from the other. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are both important (as is orthopathos). God both demonstrates his love for us by canceling our sin and removing the penalty of eternal punishment from our account and ALSO adopting us into His family to enjoy an eternal and intimate relationship with Him. If that’s the case then the WHOLE Gospel contains God’s wrath as well as His love. It’s a reflection of our love for God that we endeavor to have right beliefs concerning what He has revealed in Scripture. It’s the height of arrogance to ignore God’s Truth under the guise of “focusing more on right relationship than on right belief”. We must remember that God has revealed Truth. His love and mercy are wonderful to ponder but His wrath and anger towards sin is scary to consider. However, loving God means loving God, not loving the version of God that makes us the most comfortable.