Friday, January 16, 2009

nooma 22: rotten tomato

The latest nooma vid, "tomato" had me on the edge of my seat for the first few minutes. If "shells" looked promising with its beginnings noticing how Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, tomato looks like he is pitching himself a slow ball to sock the gospel out of the stadium.

After talking about his wife's excellent salsa made from vegetables bought in the local farmers' market, he points out that the only way we receive life is through the death of a living thing.

"This dead food gives us life. The more recently this food has been living the more life it gives us... our life is dependent upon the death of another living thing."

Surely this was going to be where the 22 noomata had been heading... for a clear explanation of the death of Christ for our sins so that we might have life.

Bell steps right up to the ball, swings the bat at it... but it is an airshot. He even talks about the death of Jesus and how it brings life, but then fails to explain it at all, and then implicitly denies its uniqueness. The death of Christ becomes merely the model of how Jesus is teaching us to die to ourselves.

"When the bible tells the story of God bringing new life to the world, how does the story go? It’s about Jesus who dies and rises again. It’s about death bringing about new life. His death on the cross, his resurrection. In some ways it is how the world has always worked. And Jesus doesn’t just enter into this process with his own flesh in blood, he invites people to take up their cross. He says at one point “Unless you lose you life for my sake, you’ll never find it....

"Jesus teaches us to die so that we can know how to live…. Jesus invites that part of us to die, the part that always has to be right...

The essence of Jesus message is that we aren't saved accepted loved and value because of how spiritual moral true of right we are, but his message is that we are saved in our death. we are invited to trust him. What we can never do on our own is what he has already done for us. Some people put it like this, 'Jesus saves'.... death is the engine of life: Jesus invites us to die, so that we may really live."

Though there is nothing untrue in anything that Bell says in tomato (except perhaps his claim that his wife makes the world's best salsa) it falls rather short of a presentation of the gospel. And I don't think he realises it. It is all about how Jesus gives life through his death. But since there is no explanation of how he does so, and no explanation even that when we die to ourselves we are to live to Christ, though tomato isn't a message that can itself bring the very life that it is talking about. It is a rotten tomato that has the appearance of being able to give life; it takes the wonderful live-giving message of the gospel and allows it to rot enough that nothing that is actually saving remains, and instead it will cause only spiritual sickness to those who hear it and understand it to be the gospel.


Anonymous said...

isnt that what the gospel is? jesus guing life through his death. i was challenged by the video and had no problem seeing the gospel in it.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Anonymous. I think it would be fair to say that there is a partial presentation of the gospel here. Jesus gives life by his death. but since any idea of repentance is utterly absent from the presentation, as is any explanation of the problem from which we need to be saved (i.e. the holy anger of God that burns against our sin) one could watch nooma and get an entirely wrong understanding as to how Jesus' death brings life.

Unknown said...

i guess i would consider putting to death the certain areas of our lives that are not Godly a step towards repentance.

gospel means 'good news'. there is certainly good news of Jesus found within this video. Bell frankly states it: "Jesus Saves."

sounds like good news to me ;)

that doesn't sound 'rotten' to me.
i doubt that you think that the message 'Jesus Saves' is rotten.

Standing on street corners and shouting "God has a holy anger that burns against your sin' isn't the most effective way to reach people in the 21st century. But then again, Nooma 09, Bullhorn already hit on that one.

Nooma has a specific approach and i have no problem seeing the gospel in them, either.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Tim,
It is certainly true that he says "Jesus Saves".
I certainly agree that it is good news that Jesus saves.
But I also think that we need to answer very clearly the question "what does Jesus save us from?" and "what does he save us to?"
I don't think that Bell answers those questions at all clearly. It would depend on what answer was given to those questions as to whether he was in fact sharing the good news. e.g. if his answer was "he saves us from illness, poverty and failue" you have the "health, wealth and prosperity gospel". If he answers "he saves us from political subjugation you have liberation theology. If he saves us from social injustice you have the social gospel.
Whatever you think is the best method of evangelism, the content of the gospel seems clear from Scripture. The gospel is good news, because by it we might be saved from the judgement of God.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

There are certainly some ways in which communicating the judgement of God might be unloving (e.g. wearing bullhorns and screeming at people), as Bell rejects in Nooma 09: Bullhorn. But he seems, by use of this charicature to reject the very idea of communicating God's impending judgement as unloving. He claims Jesus wouldn't do that. What do you think of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:22,30; 8:11-12, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 13:22-30, 16:19-31? Is Jesus unloving to warn people of the reality of hell?
Surely if hell is a reality and I love people, I am compelled by love not only to warn them of this reality, but to point them to their only hope of avoiding this reality: the sacrificial death of Jesus. That is why the gospel is SUCH good news.

Unknown said...

hey mike. i remembered to check back to this post. glad i did.

i think the problem with standing on street corners and shouting "God has a holy anger that burns against your sin' is that for most people passing by, that message begins and ends there. They do not stick around to here the rest of the story. So in essence, they hear "God is angry with me."

there is no context to put that in - thus it probably leaves a bitter taste in many mouths.

the fact is: Jesus shows us an example of effective evangelism: through the building of relationships.

is it the bullhorn guys objective to build relationships? probably not... and he does more harm that good, potentially, because he may make some more resistant to the 'good news.'

and keep in mind that some have, in the name of Jesus, done so much damage in the same vein as 'bullhorn guy' i.e. Fred Phelps.

you sited some really great scriptures - but in the context, Jesus is not unloving. but bullhorn guy doesn't do as Jesus does.

"The gospel is good news, because by it we might be saved from the judgement of God." you are correct. and this can be shared in a loving way.

remember the greatest commandments: love God. love people. this is the most important thing.

What does Jesus save us from? death. what does Jesus save us to? life. this is as a result of love. not as a result of anger.

Jesus didn't scare people into believing. neither should we.

thank you for a nice discussion, mike.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for checking back! And thanks for your really helpful comments. I think that I agree with you.
for the record, I too am not in favour of bull-horn evangelism, for the same reason that you are not: the lack of a desire to build a loving relationship through which we can share our lives as well as the gospel.
I really like this paragraph you wrote:
'"The gospel is good news, because by it we might be saved from the judgement of God." you are correct. and this can be shared in a loving way.'
My concern with the nooma stuff is that I don't hear him sharing that message at all; and one might think from 'bullhorn' that he was not only against the method of that guy's evangelism, but also the message that he was conveying.
I want to clarify the message that I am trying to communicate, and then think about what is the most loving and biblical method to communicate it. If I could take the message of the bulhorn guy (so long as te point of preaching judgemetn was to emphasise grace and redemption: to give a context for the love of God) and combine it with the gentleness of nooma, I think I'd be happy.
If we ONLY preach God's love, and don't preach the wrath of God, I fear that that too will leave a context for the gospel that makes it entirely emptied of its significnace: "Great, God loves me just as I am; therefore there is no need for repentance; no need to be concerned about the direction of my life; Jesus might be a great add-on for poeple who want him; but I'm fine enjoying the love of God how I already am, thank you."

ch. said...

Not only the video doesn't explain how Jesus saves, it doesn't even explain how do I put some part of myself to death.
Also, the video contradicts itself in it's main teaching. First it condemns those who try to save themselves by being better and second it says you are saved by putting some part of you to death, effectively just doing something yourself again and making yourself better.

Nathan Goldbloom said...

I think you are looking at nooma videos from a very different perspective. It seems what you really want is an entire sermon for your specific situation, denomination wrapped into one. This is not what nooma is. It is a discussion starting tool. If you notice Rob Bell never dives into much theology that any denomination would disagree with. To do what your asking limits the application and audience of the videos. Instead, I believe these videos are meant to help leaders start a discussion and lead through how their denomination might answer and apply it.

Nathan Goldbloom said...

I think your looking at the nooma videos all wrong. It seems as though you want these to be a complete sermon that applies and challenges to your specific situation and denomination. Instead, I believe, these are meant as discussion starters. By adding theology that goes beyond raising the question they limit the audience and application. I have used these in many churches from Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic. If you apply how we are to respond to Jesus saves I guarantee at least one of those denominations will not be able to use it. As a result, how I look at them, is that they are a discussion starter. It is up to the leader (youth leader, pastor, bible study leader) to help the group apply to their denomination and situation.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Nathan,
Thanks for checking into the blog!
This has now become the most commented on post on the whole blog 9 months after I posted it... Strange world that blogs can tend to attract attention when you are critical. I hope that you won't get the impression that I have nothing positive to say: please browse some of the rest of the blog!
I think you are right about Bell's intentions to be deliberately ambiguous enough and non-committal enough to start conversations, without saying anything that would offend anyone from any denomination.
I cannot imagine as an evangelical Christian wanting to write anything that puts itself forward as an exploration of the Christian faith, that would be happily used by people who don't believe that Jesus died to bear the penalty for our sins, and would be left entirely unchallenged in their unbelief.
I hope that youth pastors are always clarifying the gospel if they watch this video. I just wish that Bell himself would do the same.
It is all very well saying that, if he was clear on the gospel, he wouldn't have a voice at certain tables. But surely, as Christians, we might spend some time gaining a voice at a table, but eventually (maybe at least by the 22nd video!) we'd see that seat at the table as something that we would be willing to lose for the sake of the gospel.


Good afternoon...
I have used the Nooma videos numorous times with high school and college students and I'm currently using them with an adult community group. These videos are not meant to preach a message, or deliver pinpoint theology, they are meant to establish a framework for discussion (that's why the questions are included with the videos). I would never show one without a follow-up. Rob Bell, in my experience, attempts to take special nuggets from scripture, life experience, and the gospel and challenge the intellect of christians and non-christians to stop letting others think for them and start getting close to God themselves...embracing what the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to them about the awesomeness of God. This particular video (rotten tomato) is not meant to share the gospel in specificity, rather, it is meant to charge those watching to wake up and shut the door on how stupid we can be in thinking we can live for God and ourselves at the same time.

Anonymous said...

How long do you want Rod Bell to go on in his video? The Nooma vidoes are designed to be short and sweet. They are designed to have a big impacted in a compact time frame. I suppose Rob Bell could do a full length sermon to appease all the critics. I suppose you can shove Bell into your religous box and he could go on and on and on and on unpacking everything there is to unpack about Jesus, his life, his death, his, love, his sinless life, his obedience, his miricales, his ressurection, his acension, his appearence to the 12, and on and on. But that is hard to pack into 12 minutes isn't it? Leave Rob Bell alone. We use his videos in our recovery ministry and they help provoke thought that is leading to changed lives.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Annonymous,
Thanks for your comment.
The point about it only being a 13 minute video would be well taken if it were not for the fact that it was the 22nd 13 minute video. That's neary 5 hours. I hope I would never have 5 hours of consecutive teaching where I never once explain that Christ died to receive God's punishment for the sins of his people. I'd be really interested if any Rob Bell fans out there can point to anywhere where Rob has done this in his teaching at all anywhere in the last, say, 5 years of his preaching or teaching. I truly and genuinely hope that someone can point me to somewhere that he has done that.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Sadly the discussion is now over as to whether Rob Bell believes that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve from God on the cross.

Michelle said...

I'm not sure how closely you've followed Rob's ministry, but the church started with a year of working through Leviticus. He's preached several times on Yom Kippur and even brought a goat on stage :)
The definition of leadership is transforming in this era. Asking hard questions instead of leaving people with pat answers tends to effect more change on millennials. Thanks for the thoughtful (and not hate slinging) discussion.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Michelle,
I hope that we'll continue to have thoughtful critique rather than hate-slinging.
I'm not sure the choice is between hard questions and pat answers. We can have hard questions and no answers. We can have hard questions and pat answers. But there is also the possibility of hard questions and thoughtful answers. In fact, not only is this a possibility, it is the responsibility of all who would seek to teach the bible.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
2 Cor 4