For the Hell of It – part 2
Review of Love Wins, part 1 of 2
Rob Bell begins Love Wins by reciting the litany of questions that have haunted Christian apologists throughout the ages. They’re real questions, hard questions, legitimate questions. What is Salvation? Who is saved? How is one saved? What about evil done in the name of Christ? Bell rightfully says that “Some Jesuses should be rejected” (p. 9). I wholeheartedly agree.
The God in whose name the Crusades were carried out? Not my Jesus.
The God who condoned the Inquisition? Not my Jesus.
The God of the health and wealth gospel? Not my Jesus.
The God of pedophile Catholic priests? Not my Jesus.
The God of the Christian religion (note this term)? Not my Jesus.
The list goes on.
Man’s perception of God, and more specifically a professed Christian’s view of Jesus, might not actually reflect the attitude and actions of the Almighty. Man’s perceptions of God does not make God, instead man ends up serving a god in his own image and likeness. Bell points this out poignantly and it serves as his basis for the rest of the book. Are our classic evangelical perceptions of God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and salvation actually rooted in reality? Beginning with heaven, Bell tries to answer these questions.
I say tries, but truth be told, Bell’s narrative is more a rhetorical dance around the issue, concluding in some sort of hipster, postmodern, intellectual skepticism. The points Bell makes are good, but he struggles to actually hit the issue with the issue. In the chapter “Here is the New There,” Bell rightly points out the responsibilities of the Christian to live in the Kingdom now.
Christians have a longing for eternity and evangelicals especially couch their whole come-to-Jesus spiel around the everlasting afterlife called heaven. While God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecc. 3:11), he was also very very insistent on the things we should do in this life. One doesn’t become a Christian then merely hang out and wait until one dies for the party to start. Rather, the Kingdom of God is within us…now…alive…mortal.
Bell draws out this theme but misses two key points in this chapter. First, he plays a bait and switch with the stereotype. He’s purporting to talk about Heaven, but in reality he’s talking about sanctification in the life of the believer. Second, he never corrects the stereotype of heaven as an ethereal—well, heavenly—place. In truth, what we consider heaven, where believers will spend eternity, actually is on the physical plane. Read Revelation. New heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1, 1 Cor 15:35-58). Because Bell doesn’t point this out and focuses on sanctification over glorification, his valid point loses some of its luster. Yeah, what Bell talks about…that’s the start. But it’s really only the beginning.
It’s really the same exact mistake for Hell—immediacies are taken as ultimacies. The shadow is perceived as the real thing. This is really the crux of the book because it’s Bell’s exegesis on passages on Hell and his word studies on aion and olam that brought forth the resounding cry of “Universalist!” Bell’s conclusion is that the brokenness of this world is a hell unto itself. Personally, I think Bell’s exegesis here is not at all unfounded but is indeed lacking much substance. We’ll return to consider this, at least regarding aion, later. And we’ll leave the second half of Love Wins for tomorrow’s discussion.
To conclude, Bell does Christianity a service by pointing out that the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21), that we as believers have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13), and that it is our job to tackle the brokenness of this world and this life as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). But you’ll note that none of this has anything to do with the ultimate destiny of man and that’s really the problem. Bell isn’t really talking what he claims to be talking about.
What do you think? Does Bell miss the point? Join in the conversation below.
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