Here comes an unpopular post…

Rob Bell. You all heard of him? Yep…the Nooma guy. He’s very trendy, moreover, he has caught on to a fascinating and very effective tool for reachinga generation by way of his Nooma DVDs. The style is attractive and I can see how good they would be….

However, I believe we must sharpen our spirits when it comes to Mr Bell. His concept of salvation is worrying and typical with the rebranding of theology that is coming out of the emergant movement. I believe we need to emerge church into something new, not theology.

Anyway…a (not so) brief look at a couple of things. Bells ‘soteriology’ (understanding and teaching of the doctrine of salvation) is wonky. On page 108 of his book, Velvet Elvis, he comes out with this:

point of the cross isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to something bigger: restoration

As he elaborates further,

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. This has huge implications for how people present the message of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can come into our hearts. But we can join a movement that is as wide and deep and big as the universe itself. Rocks and trees and birds and swamps and ecosystems. God’s desire is to restore it all (ibid., 109,110)

As for many emergents (in the theological sense) salvation is all about the here an now, yes heaven is still a hope, but the focus is on now. For the Rob Bells of the world, the whole universe was redeemed by Christ on the cross when he took punishment so that God could restore it. Its not clear exacly how God is doing it, but the main point is that all people have to do to be redeemed is become ‘followers of Jesus.’ (or not, as the case may be).

You need to understand that although Bell says that “Jesus can come into our hearts”, in Velvet Elvis, he spends the whole of the previous chapter speaking against what is normally meant by that phrase in evangelical circles, so he is meaning something different.

Its unlikely to hear Bell speak about being born again because in his thinking, all that is necessary is some type of decision to believe. Its not enough just to believe, there must be repentance, faith, regeneration…regeneraton comes at the stage of repentance and faith, its not something we just gradually become until the point we make a ‘decision.’

EC has gone way too far in the opposite direction, which would not be surprising when one considers the denial of the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross by virtually all of its leaders. The church must seriously begin to examine this question: How can someone even be saved by Jesus when they are denying the very means that God has established for being born again in the first place? And in 1 John chapter 2 God the Holy Spirit quite clearly tells the true follower of Jesus:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vv.15-17)

There is very good reason for this beyond the obvious. That obvious would be that Jesus taught for one to even be born again in the first place he must “repent,” which is to turn away from “the world.” Another reason not to love the world or anything in the world is for the literal fact that everything in the world will pass away. This is what we read in The Old Testament, as evidenced by Isaiah 51:6 – Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. And this is further confirmed by the Apostle Peter, whom we must understand received this information from the Creator Himself. Whether taught in Person or by revelation Peter tells us with clarity:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:10-12)

Undoubtedly we can see here that everything will be destroyed. The only way to ignore this truth is to follow men like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren who allegorize texts such as this. However, to do so is to think as a child who covers his face with his hands and exclaims: “You can’t see me!” The fact is no matter how loud an untruth is told, it will always remain an untruth. Better that we grow up and face the real world that is passing away and let those like Rob Bell who choose to ignore warnings such as this go where they will.

So, why would the Lord destroy something completely redeemed?

And, as for the hints of universalism in his understanding of how men and women can come to the saviour, best to watch out…its not the case of starting the journey until you decide you can believe, its repentance and faith, then regneration by the Holy Spirit.

More Velvet Elvis to close:

So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross he was reconciling “all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.” All things everywhere. This reality then isn’t something 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. (146)

See what I mean? You’re already saved, you just have to start living as if you are. Thing is…its close to the gospel, could even be closely mistaken for the gospel, but I’m afraid it stops a little bit short.

Go on…shoot me down! :o)

12 thoughts on “Here comes an unpopular post…

  1. Whilst I agree that in places the emerging conversation is suggesting that it is simply enough to believe, we must be careful as well not to add to the things that are required in order to be saved.After all, Romans 10:8-10 says:But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.Whilst our lives should reflect the one who we follow, we must be careful about how much we add to the mix. If we aren’t careful we start making ‘salvation’ appear to be at two levels, which I don’t believe is supportable scriptually. We have the supersaints who are sanctified and experience ‘full salvation’ and then everyone else who ‘believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth’.Now I’m not saying that this is what people believe, but sometimes it appears to others as if they do!

  2. Another thought that came to me is that contrary to what some would like the situation to be, we are called to live in the world.Yes we should not love anything of the world, yet we should also not withdraw into our ivory towers and avoid contact with it. This idea is the logical extension of making the whole of the gospel about the future hope of life with our Lord in eternity.I certainly do not embrace the entirity of emerging theology, but its understanding of our need to live in the world is timely, when so many Christian’s in the western world are retreating further and further into their spiritual safe-houses hoping to avoid the things of the world until Jesus returns in his glory.Surely, one of the reasons the Holy Spirit lives in us is to enable us to live within the world. Without the abiding strength that is given to us through the Spirit we would fall to the arrows of the evil one. However, there is a danger that we retreat so much from the world that we end up in a protective shell of our own making, rather than in the Armour of God.God bless,Graeme

  3. OK…bear with me a sec…I’ll deal with your first comments first, then do another post with the others.When Paul etc wrote their letters, there were full documents, as in the would have been read to a church all at once. Therefore, everything that precedes any particular verse is a relevant part of the story that the author is telling. Its the same if you’re telling a story about going to work on the train. You don’t just begin the story with, ‘So I arrived at work.’So, the verses in Romans 10:8-10 do say what they say of course, but this is after a whole 9 other chapters outlining mans spiritual condition…the whole very deep gospel including sin, repentance, faith, justification etc etc.So, you cannot just quote Romans 10 :8-10 and say that thats all there is to it. That would be to take the verses out of their context. See what I mean? I’d encourage you to read Romans up until chapter 10:8-10. You will see that Paul is telling the whole gospel, and continues to until the end of chapter 11 before he goes on to the practical ‘here is how you live it out’ bit.Paul is not preaching the simple ‘believism’ coming from emergents in these days. If you are in a plain and it is about to crash, you don’t simply believe in the parachute, you put it on. It is the same with Jesus, we put on the Lord Jesus through repentance, faith and regeneration by the holy spirit.This isn’t salvation on two levels, this is salvation plain and simply.As salvationists, we believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit are necessary to salvation. (one of the doctrines…derived from the whole scripture).Secondly, your concept of two levels of Christian is indeed evident in the scripture. It is not in relation to salvation though, but of holiness. Paul, in his letter to the corinthians is dealing with what is called Christian carnality…that is, those who have been saved, but are still on the spiritual milk when they should be on the meat. The fruit of carnality is division, jealousy, in fighting, bitteress, gossip, slander, all the rest. A full study of carnality and the holiness that is necessary to combat this is found in SA301 in the chapter by Commissioner Ed Read. You can download it from for about £1.50.Will respond to your second comment in a moment…

  4. Your second point…I’m not talking about being in the world and not of it etcetera…of course its important to engage with lost humanity. Thats not what I am saying at all. I’m all for living right in the world and being salt and light. Rob Bell extends his soteriology to include restoration of the world..I was simply pointing out that it was people that Jesus died for, not trees and birds and dogs. Otherwise I’d be preaching to my King Charles Spaniel, encouraging him to to beging living in his new reality of being saved.The point I was making here is that God’s salvation isn’t some cosmic restoration of the world…in fact, we see that ultimately the world will be destroyed physically and we’ll have a new heavens and a new earth, the old things will pass away. So, I offer this as a dispute to Bell’s universalist ideas which border on new ageism, revering creation almost.We thank God for creation, its glorious…but only in the same way we thank him for our lives which are really temporary in the light of eternity.That make sense?Was talking to your mother-in-law (?), Sue a few weeks ago. She was telling me how you were getting on. I understand that you are home soon?

  5. Like I said over at Andrew B’s blog, I suspect that whilst we are coming at the subject from 2 different viewpoints we have similar views in reality.I hope it’s obvious from my points that I’m not saying that Paul teaches simple ‘believism’ (good word btw) in Romans. Like you say context is essential to our understanding of the situation.

  6. “In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”- General William Booth

  7. Interesting thoughts, Andrew. Whilst not a disciple of Rob Bell, I would encourage you to have a listen to his podcasts. You get a greater sense of where he’s coming from than a book could ever reveal. When initially reading Velvet Elvis there were moments where I was stopping and thinking…wow, this is a bit close to the line…but then taken in context with the rest of the book I think he explains himself pretty well. The whole thing of restoration is not about polytheism or pagan nature worship, but about a realisisation that the cross isn’t just one thing but many things (I think I posted on the multi-faceted nature or theology a while ago). Sadly I haven’t got my copy of the book to hand, so I can’t argue with the quote you use (point of the cross…) or give a context (like you say about Paul, we gotta read everything in context!) but perhaps Rob’s view of restoration is the idea of a new heaven and a new earth. I don’t think he suggests that you’re saved without knowing it…is not ‘believing’ being saved? Is not deciding to live a life like Jesus repenting? Is not beleiving in Christ faith? Just because some one doesn’t use the same language as you doesn’t mean they don’t believe the same things!? So in ‘restoration’, we’re talking about being restored to that ideal that God first created man to be – walking side by side by God, without sin getting in the way. My reading of both McLaren and Bell is that they are well aware of the consequences of not following Christ. Bell did a preach sometime in October/November where it was all about hell, talking about the valley just outside Jerusalem that the word Jesus often uses describes. So it’s a real, dsolate place that no one wants to be around. That to me is fairly mainstream!So when we think about everything being destroyed, are we missing out that promise of the new earth? And perhaps this is what their view (the more moderate emergents…which actually is the majority who aren’t liberal whackos!) is. Like I said, different language, same thing. Having read Velvet and listened to his preaches for a good while, I offer my thoughts. Bell clearly teaches that following Christ means a changed life, a changed set of priorities, a radical upside down approach to life. he also teaches that not believing means not being part of what God can do and is doing, and ultimately being seperated from him for eternity.Just some thoughts in response! Do I need my tin helmet ready??

  8. Hi Martin,I guess I’d say that if your mainstream evangelicl, why the need to go so close to the line as you say? I’m not saying the guy is a complete nutter or anything, it just seems to me that there is no point in going near the line and muddy the waters (sorry for mixing my metaphors.)I had this conversation with Russ Rook last year after the youth rally…the whole thing about stopping at ‘God loves you.’Lets say that Russ and Rob have a full evangelical theology (leaving aside Robs worrying comments about the authority of scripture)..its just as dangerous to preach half a gospel than it is to preach a wrong one?We can often see the opposite extreme in the Army though, I’m not saying the preaching in the Army is any better. What I am saying though is we need to be careful that we preach the full gospel.As I said before, I’ve no particular axe to grind with these folks…I admire the methods of Bell and of course want them to work, I’m just sad that emergence means bad theology, or incomplete theology.As for Brian McLaren, he says he simply wants to have a conversation and re-think long-held evangelical assumptions.While he acts like he is taking us on a journey whose destination is unknown, Mr. McLaren seems to know exactly where this conversation is headed: a new definition of justification. From the article “Interview with Brian McLaren about ‘A Letter to Friends of Emergent.’”—————Interviewer: I think with all the other change going on, one thing we’ve got to hold firm on is the Gospel.McLaren: What do you mean when you say “the Gospel?Interviewer: You know, justification by grace through faith in the finished atoning work of Christ on the cross.McLaren: Are you sure that’s the Gospel?Interviewer: Of course. Aren’t you?McLaren: I’m sure that’s a facet of the Gospel, and it’s the facet that modern evangelical Protestants have assumed is the whole Gospel, the heart of the Gospel. But what’s the point of that Gospel?————-Thats an interesting snippet of an interview!!! I’d say that this is the heart of the gospel, other aspects are by products of a saved generation (justice, social concern etc…the come out of the people of God because he wills it…its not, I would say, God’s primary salvific purpose.You joining the Household Troops with your tin hat? :o)

  9. I guess the danger of any theology is going too far – but that’s how theology is created isn’t it? Isn’t that what made the reformation happen? Luther ‘thought new things’ and was condemned and excommunicated…for many a fate worse than death. I guess I’m more comfortable with people exploring the frontiers of our faith…but I do understand your concerns.Having seen that McLaren quote else where I’d just want to ask what the agenda was of the guy asking the questions. I think McLaren is right to ask whether we’ve truly got a full understanding of the gospel, or whether in our desire to understand it we’ve reduced it to bite size chunks?In honesty, again after reading McLaren I don’t think he does know the destination. Maybe he’s covering up, maybe not.

  10. Good post. I am also concerned about Bell’s views on salvation, but I get there a different way. They are a logical outcome of his view of Scripture. Rob says, “…this is why the Bible loses its power for so many communities. They fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible is just about things that happened a long time ago. / But the Bible is about today. / These stories are our stories. They are alive and active and teaching us about our lives in our world, today.” Jesus was clear in saying that the entire Bible was about Him (Luke 24:25-26). The intent is for us to know certain facts about things that have happened in the past and their bearing on us today. There is a reason for this. Our salvation; our right standing before God, eternal life, fellowship with God, and everything else that goes with it; was earned for us in the past. Earned by Christ. Accomplished 2,000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. We add nothing to this work. We through our faith are credited with what Christ did, and He is credited with our sin to suffer for (2 Cor. 5:21, Romans 3:21-4:8). If the Bible is not primarily about what happened in the past, then it is not about what Christ did for us in the past. If the Bible is about our here and now, it is not about those things which earn our salvation.God bless you!J. K.

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