Emergent Church, Religious Movements

Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis Repainting the Christian Faith: Biblical or Heretical?

I believe it is more difficult to address the issues within Christianity than outside of it.  The reason I believe this is because it is easier to identity the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, and other groups which deny the Deity of Jesus and other Biblical doctrines clearly held within Christian orthodoxy.  It may seem as being judgmental when we have to identify specific people who are considered to be Christian in faith and to publicly expose their theology as being unbiblical and heretical.  However, the Scriptures commend those who properly warn people in love, to be careful of such and such.  May you get the “Berean Perspective” and examine these things for yourselves concerning what I am writing concerning Rob Bell. 

Rob Bell is very popular within Christianity.  He has written various books and has produced numerous videos.  Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandeville, Michigan.  He is not to be confused with Mark Driscoll who is the pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.  Rob Bell is a leader within the Emergent Church movement which started in the early 1990s.  Some of the other main leaders within the Emergent Church movement are Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.  The main problem with Rob Bell is that his theology and beliefs are that of a Universalist, (Universalism) which is a false gospel message according to God’s Word

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”1

Rob Bell’s Interview from THE OOZE website

Rob Bell was asked, “Do you believe in a literal hell that is defined as eternal separation from God?”2  This question was asked to Rob Bell regarding a sermon he had preached called, “God wants to save Christians from hell”.  Why is this relevant? Why is this important?

Read for yourself:

(Vic Cuccia) “You recently preached a sermon called “God wants to save Christians from hell.” I was discussing the message with a guy who after hearing this message was a bit disturbed and somehow came to the conclusion that you didn’t believe in a literal hell. Let me ask you, do you believe in a literal hell that is defined simply as eternal separation from God?

(Rob Bell) Well, there are people now who are seriously separated from God. So I would assume that God will leave room for people to say “no I don’t want any part of this”. My question would be, does grace win or is the human heart stronger than God’s love or grace. Who wins, does darkness and sin and hardness of heart win or does God’s love and grace win?

(Rob Bell) I don’t know why as a Christian you would have to make such declarative statements. Like your friend, does he want there to be a literal hell? I am a bit skeptical of somebody who argues that passionately for a literal hell, why would you be on that side? Like if you are going to pick causes, if you’re literally going to say these are the lines in the sand, I’ve got to know that people are going to burn forever, this is one of the things that you drive your stake in the ground on. I don’t understand that.”3

How did Rob Bell respond?  Did Rob Bell answer the question?  Yes, he answered the question and he elaborated on his views about a literal hell as being defined an eternal separation from God as not being true.  Rob says, “No I don’t want any part of this”, “My question would be, does grace win or is the human heart stronger than God’s love or grace.”  Clearly Rob Bell rejects the doctrine of eternal separation from God in the afterlife based on how he views God’s grace.  When you read the way that Rob Bell answered this question clearly he is against a literal hell and against an eternal separation, and that he believes the view that in the end God’s grace wins.  This would be defined as “Universalism” theology.

Rob Bell states, “I don’t know why as a Christian you would have to make such declarative statements. Like your friend, does he want there to be a literal hell? I am a bit skeptical of somebody who argues that passionately for a literal hell, why would you be on that side.”  The reason Christians can make such declarative statements about a literal hell is because the Bible teaches there is a literal hell and we need to warn people.  However, hell is not the end, but rather a place of judgment until the time of the Great White Throne Judgment taught in the book of Revelation.4

Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” nor can they “enter the kingdom of God”. 5  This is a basic doctrine within the Christian faith and it is taught throughout the New Testament.  Jesus taught that people go to a real place called hell and that they have memory, remorse, agony, and they wish they could warn people about this place. 6  Jesus taught, “unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins.” 7  The Scriptures teach us that Jesus came to set us free from the judgment of sin and to give us purpose and eternal life. 8

Rob Bell says, “I’ve got to know that people are going to burn forever, this is one of the things that you drive your stake in the ground on. I don’t understand that.” The reason Rob does not understand this is because he has a worldly view of the gospel, not a Biblical one.  There are people today who claim to be teachers of Jesus Christ who are leading people astray just as there were people leading people astray during the early church.

Repainting the Christian faith?

Rob Bell wrote a book entitled, “Velvet Elvis, Repainting the Christian faith”, which is his repainting version of the Christian faith.  Here is what Rob Bell says about his book:  “this book is for those who need a fresh take on Jesus and what it means to live the kind of life he teaches us to live.  I’m part of a community, a movement of people who have been living, exploring, discussing, sharing, and experiencing new understandings of Christian faith.” 9

Rob Bell is intentionally repainting the Christian faith concerning theology and beliefs:  “I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming.  By this I do not mean cosmetic, superficial changes like better lights and music, sharper graphics, and new methods with easy-to-follow steps.  I mean theology, the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future.  We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained.” 10  Rob Bell believes we need to repaint Christianity in our day as they did hundreds of years ago.  I would agree that we need to be always examining our faith and beliefs in light of the Scriptures in comparison to what people are teaching today.  But there are beliefs and doctrines in the Scriptures that are clear and direct, and they do not need any repainting or revising.  The problem with people like Rob Bell and others in the Emergent Church movement is, they want to paint their own version of the gospel and in doing so they distort the Biblical gospel message.

Trampoline or Brick Wall?

“This is where the springs on the trampoline come in.  When we jump, we begin to see the need for springs.  The springs help make sense of these deeper realities that drive how we live every day.  The springs aren’t God.  The springs aren’t Jesus.  The springs are statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing in our jumping.  I would call these the doctrines of the Christian faith…the springs aren’t God.  They have emerged over time as people have discussed and studied and experienced and reflected on their growing understanding of who God is.” 11  According to Rob Bell’s view a trampoline is our faith and the springs represent our beliefs about faith.  Rob Bell elaborates on another view of his so-called “brick world”, and he paints this picture with the wrong strokes.

“Someone recently gave me a videotape of a lecture given by a man who travels around speaking about the creation of the world. At one point in his lecture, he said if you deny the God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. It’s a bizarre leap of logic to make, I would say. 

But he was serious. 

It hit me while I was watching him that for him faith isn’t a trampoline; it’s a wall of bricks. Each of the core doctrines for him is like and individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger. Like he said, no six-day creation equals no cross. Remove one and the whole thing wobbles

What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?…What if the spring was seriously questioned?…Could a person keep jumping?… Could you still be a Christian? 12

The picture Rob paints here is wrong, but I would agree that the speaker is misrepresenting the gospel message.  If a person does not hold to the young earth view that does not mean that they are denying Jesus dying on the cross.  If someone proved that Jesus had a biological father and mother, that the accounts were mythologized from religious cults, and that Jesus was not born of a super natural birth known as the virgin birth, then there would be no Christianity!  This questions the very heart of the gospel of Matthew and Luke and the incarnation of Jesus, and the account in Isaiah.

Rob Bell asked, “Could a person keep jumping?”  No, you could not keep jumping, and that is plain and simple.  Imagine you are a Jehovah’s Witness and you come to find out that Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower predicted many false dates for the end of the world and that he was a false prophet.  What if you found out that the Watchtower is a false organization.  Could you keep jumping knowing all of this? The answer is, no, you could not.

Rob Bell asked, “Could you still be a Christian?”  No, you could not!  Christianity would be entirely false based upon Jesus having a biological father and mother, and that He was plagiarized from religious cults in having a virgin birth.  In turn the accounts of the gospels and the New Testament would be in question as well as Old Testament prophets.

More of Rob Bell’s Twisted Springs

Rob Bell believes Jesus actually did not know what was going on when He was on the cross! “What are some of Jesus’ final words? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus. On the cross. Questioning God.” 13  Rob Bell elaborates on what he means: “you said you would not forget your children, and now you’re hiding your face from me. I don’t get it. Where are you? I’m getting hammered here. Why?” 14 Jesus questioned God? Jesus says I don’t get it, where are you, why? That would mean Jesus doubted the Father which would be blasphemous, and that would be classified as sin. 15  The truth is when Jesus said this He was quoting Psalms 22 in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy to those around Him, and His implication was that He would not be forsaken but He would be delivered by the Father.

Rob Bell’s spring on salvation is classified as Universalism, which by the way is a heretical spring! “The Bible paints a much larger picture of salvation. It describes all of creation being restored. The author of Ephesians writes that all things will be brought together under Jesus. Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker… Something involving God making peace with the world and creation being reclaimed and everything in heaven and earth being brought back into harmony with its Creator… To make the cross of Jesus just about human salvation is to miss that God is interested in the saving of everything. Every star and rock and bird. All things” 16 This paints the same picture as Universalism and it is unbiblical, it is heretical, and it is false.  God will restore the earth and there will be a restoration for mankind, but not all of creation will be saved! The Bible is consistently clear there is only one way to have our sins forgiven and that Jesus is the only way to the Father. 17

Rob Bell believes there is no eternal judgment to come and does not see the need to warn people about the reality of sin, and he believes hell is here on earth: “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for…Now if there is a life in heaven, and we can choose it, then there’s also another way. A way of living out of sync with how God created us to live. The word for this is hell: a way, a place, a realm absent of how God desires things to be. We can bring heaven to earth; we can bring hell to earth. For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. Ways of living we can enter into here and now. He talked very little of the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now. For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here? The question wasn’t, how do I get in there? But how do I get there, here?…When people use the word hell, what do they mean?  They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of  how God desires things to be.  Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter – they are all hell on earth.  Jesus desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth.  What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now…Jesus measures their eternal standings in terms of not what they said or believed but how they lived, specifically in regard to the hell around them.” 18  According to Biblical context hell is a spiritual place in which God created for the fallen angels to be punished, 19 and because of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden we are all stained with a sin nature. 20  The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ was in fulfillment of Bible prophecy to bring salvation to those would repent and give their lives to the God of creation.21  Those who have been redeemed will enter into the presence of God and those who have not will enter a place of judgment. 22 Jesus measures our eternal standing based upon what we have done in regards to accepting Him as our Lord and Savior, and if we truly have come to know Him. 23 The Bible warns about another Jesus and another gospel, and if a person has unbiblical beliefs on these doctrines concerning Him then they are lost. 24

Biblical or Heretical?

These are some of the main issues concerning Rob Bell and his influence to those who listen to him and read his books.  In conclusion I want to leave you with some things to consider.  First, does Rob Bell clearly teach that Jesus is the only way for a person to be set free from their sins and that they are lost unless they are born again?  Second, does Rob Bell clearly teach that there is a need for repentance and that there are eternal consequences in the spiritual realm for those whom have not received Jesus? Third, does Rob Bell clearly teach that there are clear distinctions on what a person believes and does that identifies person as a Christian?  The answer to these questions is, no, Rob Bell does not clearly teach these things, and that is why he is heretical and dangerous.  Rob Bell’s beliefs and teachings have demonstrated that he is a Universalist in heart (Universalism), which is a false gospel message.  You need to examine these things for yourselves and make sure that you are not being deceived.

    1. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 NASB
    2. TheOoze, www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1762
    3. Ibid.
    4. Revelation 20:4-15
    5. John 3:3-7 NASB
    6. Luke 16:19-31
    7. John 8:24 NASB
    8. John 3:14-21, John 10:9-14
    9. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 14
    10. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 12
    11. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 22&23
    12. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 26-27
    13. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 31
    14. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 181
    15. Romans 14:23
    16. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 109, 124, 161
    17. John 3:14-21; 8:24; 14:6, Acts 4:12 & 16:31, Romans 10:9-13, 1John 5:10-13
    18. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, p. 146-148
    19. Matthew 25:41
    20. Genesis 3, Romans 5
    21. Luke 24:44-49, Acts 17:30
    22. Luke 16:19-31, 2 Corinthians 5:6-11, Revelation 20:10-15
    23. Matthew 7:13-27 & 25:31-46
    24. Galatians 1:6-9, 1 2 Corinthians 11:4-15, John 4:1-3

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