Rob Bell is one of the fresh young voices now representing the emerging church movement. His background is in alternative and punk rock music and he mentions no theological training or connection with a recognized denomination or organization, yet he founded a church in 1999 that immediately moved to mega status. His message apparently has incredible appeal.
But what is his message? Bell echoes many of the themes found in the writings of other emergent leaders, such as Brian McLaren. For example:
1) Redefining the gospel message. Bell seems to have a better grasp of the gospel than McLaren but, like a fly buzzing around, he never quite lights long enough for us to be sure. He admits to Christ coming to bring forgiveness, righteousness and restoration. But he is critical of people having to believe the right things (the gospel) to get “in” (pp. 34-35).
2) Who is “in” or “out” does not seem to be an issue to Bell. He never discusses his position on universalism/inclusivism, but the implication is that God must have others who would not call themselves Christians (pp. 166; 146, 161).
3) Of course, if that is true, the need to bring others to Christ is not necessary. In fact, Bell is highly critical of those who would evangelize, preferring that we would just “be a blessing.” He writes, “God chooses people to be used to bless other people….God blesses everybody” (p. 165).
4) Like McLaren, Bell is a deconstructionist (chapter 2). The meaning of Scripture cannot be found in any objective manner since it must be interpreted by subjective people (pp. 44-46). His solution is interesting. Based on a faulty understanding (by normal hermeneutical methods) of the “binding and loosening” passages of the Gospels, Bell believes the church has the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible (pp. 50, 68). To Bell, since the Bible is alive it is fluid. Its meaning can change with the times and pronouncements of the church or a portion of the church.
5) Like all emergent leaders Bell wants to focus on being right not thinking right (having correct theology) (p. 21). It would even be possible, according to his system, for cardinal doctrines (say the virgin birth and the deity of Christ), to be proven untrue, and for people to still believe the Christian faith (pp. 26-27, 124). The point is not our having the truth but our having joy (p. 35). As a matter of fact, the first time he was in awe of God was when he was attending a U2 concert (p. 72). Theology did not play a role there, I am certain.
6) Like many others today Bell uses familiar terms but gives them new definitions. For example, “Hell is a way of life out of sync with how God created us to live” (p. 147).
7) Emergent people are rightly concerned about things on this earth (ecology, poverty, sickness, etc.) and Bell is correct that in the future the believer will dwell on the earth (the new earth). He seems confused about the process. He writes, “The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to. And God is remaking us into the kind of people who can do this kind of work” (p. 150, see p. 147).
Velvet Elvis has a number of good concepts floating throughout. Bell makes some comments that should be helpful to pastors about not trying to be Superpastor; he correctly highlights the importance of who we are in Christ; he reminds us of the restoration in lives and even the universe the Lord came to bring. But the underlying philosophy held by Bell and other emergent leaders is pure poison. Beware!