Critique: Rob Bell…Velvet Elvis (Movement 6)

Again, it is not my purpose to go on an anathamatizing rampage or type angry words — but in this case, a “John 2” type of anger would be completely warranted. At times, my disagreements with Rob have been simply methodological. However, in this case, my issues with Rob are purely theological; the gospel is at stake. Movement 6 reveals the heart of Rob’s soteriology.

It is dark. It is scary. It is wrong.

Rob writes,

Let’s take this further. As one writer puts it, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were unable to do anything about our condition, while we were helpless, while we were unaware of just how bad the situtation was, Christ died.

And when Jesus died on the cross he died for everybody.



Every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every people group.

Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all people to himself.

All people. Everywhere.

Unless you take a radical view on the extent of the atonement, you are probably in agreement with Rob so far. However, he continues,

Everybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus.

So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody…This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.

Apparantly, we are no longer required to repent and believe the gospel. That must be the church’s interpretation of Jesus that has been superimposed upon his true teachings over the course of 2,000 years. The real truth is that we need to live in the reality of universal reconciliation?

This is bogus. The first part of the movement was great — we need to recognize who we are in Christ. However, the second part of the movement goes on to affirm that everyone is already in Christ and that they simply need to recognize it. If this is the true message of the gospel, then why didn’t Jesus teach this clearly?

Rob continues,

Heaven is full of forgiven people.

Hell is full of forgiven people.

Heaven is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.

Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.

The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.

Ours or God’s.

The glaring problem here is that Rob is advocating some sort of hybrid universalism (Dr. David Saxon believes it to be similar to Barth’s view in Church Dogmatics). So he holds that Christ has already reconciled everyone and that we just need to live in this new reality.

Here is where it grows difficult, if Christ has already forgiven and reconciled everyone, then why/where/how must they face God’s wrath? It is very hard to hold such a view and then believe in a literal hell as well. If Christ has already forgiven everyone, then how do we explain any sort of eternal punishment for anyone? Easy, he tries to explain away all references to a literal hell.

Another question arises, if God has already forgiven and reconciled everyone, then how does an individual become a Christian? To Rob, no longer is it faith alone, by grace alone; rather, it is our choice to live in this new reality.

Galatians 1:6-8

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Paul’s usage of the word “another” is interesting here. The Galatians were so quickly removed from God’s grace and embracing another gospel. The word another in this instance is heteros; it means another of a different kind. Paul continues to say that this new gospel they are believing is not another. The word here is allos; it means another of the same kind. The believers were not abandoning the Christ they knew for another take or spin on the same truth. Rather, they deserted Christ for a gospel of a completely different kind.

Sadly, Rob has done the same thing.

  1. #1 by phil on August 18, 2007 - 9:05 am

    So basically Bell is wrong because he doesn’t hold to the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement.

  2. #2 by clearly on August 18, 2007 - 9:14 am

    phil, so basically, did you read the article?

    bell is advocating a hybrid universalism…leave calvinism out of this.

  3. #3 by clearly on August 18, 2007 - 9:53 am

    That was harsh. Sorry. However, my point stands. it seems like you try to bring extreme, hyper-calvinism into every discussion, as though that is me or what I believe.

  4. #4 by phil on August 18, 2007 - 1:48 pm

    Sorry I didn’t get back sooner. I was spackling drywall (not fun).

    I do not purposefully try to to bring Calvinism into everything. It just seems that you are towing that line, whether you think so or not.

    Personally, I think the fact that Bell says there are people in Hell kind of indicates he’s not a universalist. Personally, I think what Jesus suffered on the cross was the full extent of God’s wrath towards sin. I don’t think it is God’s wrath that people will suffer in Hell, rather the reality of the separation from Him. It is like C.S. Lewis said, (I’m paraphrasing) “there will be two types of people at the end, those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’, or those to whom God says ‘Thy will be done’.”

  5. #5 by clearly on August 18, 2007 - 5:44 pm


    I may appear Calvinistic at times (I am not a Calvinist by any stretch of the imagination), but I think you are creating a false dichotomy between 5-point Calvinism and Universalism. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    The whole hell thing is a problem for Rob. He squirms when questions are asked about it. Sure, he uses the word, but look at all the instances where he is asked about it (i.e., the ooze article). He doesn’t like to answer plainly.

    So if Jesus suffered the full extent of God’s wrath toward sin, do you believe that God ever shows his wrath toward sin on the earth today?

  6. #6 by phil on August 18, 2007 - 7:11 pm

    I would say you are falsely equating what most would call Arminianism with Universalism. I think was a universal aspect to Christ’s death, in that it enabled all to enter into a covenant relationship with God. Just like God’s relationship with Israel was based on covenant, an individual could choose to walk in that covenant or turn away from it. All of Israel was chosen in a collective sense, but all the indivuals all had to choose.

    “do you believe that God ever shows his wrath toward sin on the earth today?”

    No, not in the sense of actively punishing people through natural disasters, diseases and the like. For one thing, when God used things like plagues and natural disasters in the OT, He gave the people who were sinning warning. They didn’t repent, and they knew what the punishment was in relation to. Now, it seems that God doesn’t operate in that way.

    In another sense, I guess we could say that God’s wrath is His removing the protection from consequences. I think that is what Romans 1 is referring to. He will not force people to follow Him, so He let’s them off to their own devices and the associated consequences. In that case, I don’t think it is God actively pouring out wrath.

    I think it is important how we answer this question. If we think of God as storing up wrath for sinners, it seems very hard for to square that with Jesus’ teaching of turning the other cheek. It is as if God is holding a grudge against sinners, but He tells us we cannot. If we tell people on one hand that Jesus loves you and died to take away their sin, but on the other He will punish you eternally in Hell if you don’t accept Him, it seems to be a mixed message. I’m not saying I don’t believe in Hell, I just don’t see at a place where God is tormenting lost souls.

  7. #7 by clearly on August 19, 2007 - 12:35 pm

    “If we tell people on one hand that Jesus loves you and died to take away their sin, but on the other He will punish you eternally in Hell if you don’t accept Him, it seems to be a mixed message.”

    That’s an explanation of the gospel on which both Calvinists and Arminians could agree. Universalism is quite another thing — in that system, Christ already took away the sins of the world (he didn’t just make provision), already justified them, already regenerated them, etc. They just have to choose to live in this new reality. It’s actually not Arminianism at all. Think about it then for a moment, in this model, regeneration would actually preceed faith by a whole lot of time (actually for a present day person, up to 2,000 years). Universalism isn’t Arminianism. If anything, it’s absolute monergism.

    “I’m not saying I don’t believe in Hell, I just don’t see at a place where God is tormenting lost souls.”

    So, is separation from God what causes the burning fire, weeping, gnashing of teeth, etc?

  8. #8 by clearly on August 19, 2007 - 4:36 pm

    Oh and as far as God’s wrath goes,

    If God is done showing his wrath (you hold that he poured out all of his wrath on Jesus on the cross and that there is no more to be shown…if I am wrong correct me please), then how do you explain this passage:

    2 Thessalonians 1

    And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

  9. #9 by Michael Spotts on August 29, 2007 - 10:06 pm

    Can I just throw something in here? Rob’s theology is not biblical in the least. It is devoid of true grace. Think about his order of soteriology.

    He believes that God saves those who make the right choice BECAUSE they made the right choice.
    Please, please, please read this lengthy response…

    Rob has shunned to Preach The Conquering Grace of God.

    Rom 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
    1Co 15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Rev 17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
    2Th 2:16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,

    1. Rob has shunned and failed to preach that the conquering Grace of God is needed to enable us and cause us to be willing to come. Robs has shunned and failed to teach men of their hopeless and unprofitable hearts and you have shunned to teach them of the new heart that can only be fashioned by God’s conquering Grace.

    (Job 14:4) “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.”

    (Psalms 51:5) “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

    (Jeremiah 13:23) “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”

    (Jeremiah 17:9) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

    (John 3:3) “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    (John 3:19) “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

    (Romans 3:10-12) “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: {11} There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. {12} They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

    (Romans 5:12) “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

    (1 Corinthians 1:18) “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

    (1 Corinthians 2:14) “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

    (2 Corinthians 1:9) “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:”

    (Ephesians 2:1-3) “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: {2} Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: {3} Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

    (Ephesians 2:12) “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”

    2. Rob has shunned and failed to preach that God’s conquering Grace has been planned by God and that God will do all His pleasure.

    (John 6:37) “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

    (John 6:65) “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”

    (John 15:16) “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

    (John 17:2) “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”

    (Acts 13:48) “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”

    (Romans 8:29-30) “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. {30} Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

    (Romans 8:33) “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”

    (Romans 9:11-13) “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) {12} It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. {13} As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

    (Romans 9:23) “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,”

    (Romans 11:5) “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

    (Ephesians 1:11) “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:”

    (2 Timothy 2:10) “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

    (Isaiah 46:9-10) “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:”

    3. Rob has shunned and failed to preach that God’s work of redemption and conquering Grace is a secured and finished work that Jesus has accomplished with His own blood.

    (Isaiah 53:8-11) “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. {9} And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. {10} Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. {11} He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.”

    (Isaiah 63:9) “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”

    (Matthew 20:28) “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

    (Matthew 26:28) “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

    (John 10:11) “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

    (John 10:15) “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

    (Romans 8:33-34) “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. {34} Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

    (Hebrews 1:1-3) “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, {2} Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; {3} Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;”

    (Hebrews 9:12) “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

    (1 Peter 1:18-20) “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; {19} But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: {20} Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,”

    (Revelation 5:9-10) “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; {10} And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”

    (John 17:9) “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”

    4. Rob has shunned and failed to preach that the conquering Grace is applied by God alone (through the preaching of the gospel) and it will by no means be of none effect.

    (Psalms 65:4) “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.”

    (Psalms 110:3) “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.”

    (John 6:44-45) “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. {45} It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”

    (Romans 8:30) “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

    (Ephesians 2:8-9) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: {9} Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

    (Philippians 1:29) “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;”

    (John 6:63) “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

    5. Rob has shunned and failed to preach that the conquering Grace of God is victorious.

    (Psalms 23) “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. {2} He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. {3} He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {4} Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. {5} Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. {6} Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

    (Psalms 125:1) “A Song of degrees. They that trust in the LORD shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.”

    (Psalms 138:8) “The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.”

    (Ecclesiastes 3:14) “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.”

    (Jeremiah 32:40) “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”

    (Ezekiel 11:19-20) “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: {20} That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

    (John 10:28-30) “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. {29} My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. {30} I and my Father are one.”

    (John 17:24) “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”

    (Romans 11:29) “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”

    (Romans 14:4) “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”

    (2 Corinthians 2:14) “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.”

    (2 Corinthians 9:8) “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:”

    (Philippians 1:6) “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

    (2 Timothy 2:19) “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

    (2 Timothy 4:18) “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

    (Hebrews 7:25) “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

    (Hebrews 10:14) “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

    6. Rob has shunned and failed to preach the whole counsel of God.

    (Act 20:26-30) “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

    God bless you.

  10. #10 by vince on October 18, 2007 - 9:40 pm

    That was the most lengthy response ever.

    I have a question, Is it possible for one to get to heaven having never heard the name Jesus or heard/read any part of scripture in your view?

  11. #12 by Phil on October 19, 2007 - 4:48 am

    Michael Spotts,
    I see you have mastered the copy and paste commands – good job!

    I probably shouldn’t even bother responding, but you really need to do more research if you think Bell believes in salvation through works. Specifically listen to the sermon from September 9 entitled “Lift a Finger”. He clearly states that salvation is a gift from God that is not earned.

    As far as the question on whether or not people get to heaven who haven’t heard, or what happen to babies who die, my opinion is this. I think it can be a valid question, but many times, I think people use those sorts of questions as smokescreens or diversions from simply obeying God (I’m not accusing anyone here of doing that). We can take our best guess, but in the end, I believe to be intellectually honest, we have to say that we don’t know for sure, only God knows. We can only be obedient to what the Holy Spirit is telling us to do at any given moment.

    What I have seen in my interaction with people is that they bring up those questions to delay obedience. They know what God is calling them to do, but for whatever reason, they have reservations. I guess a weak analogy would be someone refusing to play baseball because they didn’t understand all the nuances of the infield fly rule. Yes, that rule matters somewhat, but it comes up pretty rarely in most games. The person who refuses to play because of inadequate understanding of a minor rule is just depriving themselves of the satisfaction of playing the game. I see Christians and non-Christians do the same sort of thing with these ambiguous theological questions.

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