The following look at the Emergence Christianity of pastor Rob Bell is from Rob Bell’s Abstract “Elvis”: A Critique of Velvet Elvis by Bob DeWaay, pastor of  Twin City Fellowship

In Velvet Elvis, Bell asserts that all people are already forgiven, reconciled, without having to respond to the Gospel in the manner Jesus said in the Great Commission: “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Here is Bell’s claim: “So this reality, this reconciliation, is true for everybody.”[1] His proof text is Colossians 1:20 which he assumes teaches universalism. But the passage includes humans, spirits and the material world. Wicked spirits will never be reconciled to God, and Christ has triumphed over them and disarmed them (Colossians 2:15). Elsewhere Paul “begs” people to be reconciled to God (2Corinthians 5:20). People who are not reconciled to God are ultimately consigned to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). But, having eschewed systematic theology, Bell’s trampoline jump does not require consideration of those passages that call into question his use of a favorite proof text.

Bell sees that forgiveness and reconciliation are already true for all people, and the problem is that some have not accepted that particular telling of their story. He says, “The fact that we are loved and accepted and forgiven in spite of everything we have done is simply too good to be true. Our choice becomes this: We can trust his retelling of the story, or we can trust our telling of our story.” [2] This obscures the demands of the law and the promise of the gospel. Believing a story where we are reconciled to God even if we are not Christians is not the Biblical message. We are wicked rebels who abide under God’s wrath unless we repent and believe the gospel. Never in the Book of Acts did any of the apostolic preachers proclaim, “Believe you are loved and accepted” as the terms of the gospel. They preached repentance as Christ told them to.

Bell writes, “When we choose God’s vision of who we are, we are living as God made us to live.”[3] But God’s vision of who we are is that unless we have repented, we are hopeless, wretched, without God in this world, dead in sin, and storing up wrath: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). Bell’s version is much more attractive: “And as we live in this life, in harmony with God’s intentions for us, the life of heaven becomes more and more present in our lives. Heaven comes to earth.” [4]

Bell makes it clear that he is more concerned with “hell on earth” than with what happens after this life: “What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now.”[5] But in the Bible the term for “hell” is Gehenna. Hades is where the ungodly go when they die to await the final judgment after the resurrection of the wicked. Here is what the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) says:

This distinction [between Gehenna and Hades] is a). that Hades receives the ungodly only for the intervening period between death and resurrection, whereas Gehenna is their place of punishment in the last judgment; the judgment of the former is thus provisional but the torment of the latter eternal (Mk. 9:43 and par. 9:48). It is then b). that the souls of the ungodly are outside the body in Hades, whereas in Gehenna both body and soul, reunited at the resurrection, are destroyed by eternal fire (Mk. 9:43 and par., 45, 47 and par., 48; Mt. 10:28 and par.). [6]

Bell’s teaching that heaven and hell come to earth depending on how we live now simply is not biblical. He says, “As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies.” [7] But the term for hell, Gehenna, is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them by Jesus. Not once did He use the term to describe something that is now on earth or now coming to earth. He used it in this manner: “And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). In Bell’s usage, losing body parts would be hell on earth. But Jesus’ point was that it would be better to go through this life (which is temporary) maimed than to have a perfect body that is cast into hell (which is permanent). But Bell says, “For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here.” [8] Really? But Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

The gospels simply do not teach Bell’s ideas about heaven and hell coming to earth now depending on certain actions. They teach the importance of eternity and the relative unimportance of our status now other than in how it affects us in eternity. But Bell continues to explain his “repainting” of “Elvis”:

True spirituality then is not about escaping this world to some other place where we will be forever. A Christian is not someone who expects to spend forever in heaven there. A Christian is someone who anticipates spending forever here, in a new heaven that comes to earth. The goal isn’t escaping this world but making the world the kind of place God can come to. [9]

To do this, according to Velvet Elvis, we need to become our “true selves”: “And Jesus calls us to return to our true selves. The pure, whole people God originally intended us to be, before we veered off course. Somewhere in you is the you whom you were made to be.” [10] This embracing of our identity and trusting we are loved supposedly brings heaven to earth: “That is what brings heaven to earth.”[11] These types of statements, issued universally to all people, are not the universal call of the gospel. Bell’s message, unlike the gospel found in the New Testament, is not how God has chosen to make dead sinners alive. A dead sinner is not going to bring heaven to earth by believing such things about himself or returning to his “true self.” The fact is that our “true selves” are wicked rebels who deserve hell.

The article by Bob DeWaay, from which this was adapted, appears in its entirety at Critical Issues Commentary right here.


  1. Rob Bell Velvet Elvis – Rethinking the Christian Faith, (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005), 146.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. 147.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid. 148.
  6. Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (1:658). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  7. Bell, Elvis 148
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid. 150.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.

See also: