‘FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS….’ CHAPTER FIVE: DYING TO LIVE

[Note: To see the series so far, read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.]

In some ways,  Chapter Five, which is brief (pp. 121-37) is the best chapter in the book thus far.   Here Rob reviews a variety of metaphors and ideas used to explain both the work of Christ on the cross and its benefits.  He stresses that Christ’s death meant the end of the sacrificial system in toto.  Jesus paid it all.

I particularly like p. 134, which, among other things, stresses “When people say that Jesus came to die on the cross so that we can have a relationship with God, yes that is true. But that explanation puts us at the center. For the first Christians, the story was, first and foremost, bigger, grander.  More massive.  When Jesus is presented only as the answer that saves individuals from their sin and death, we run the risk of shrinking the Gospel down to something just for humans, when God has inaugurated a movement in Jesus’ resurrection to renew, restore, and reconcile everything ‘on earth or in heaven’ (Col. 1).  Just as God originally intended it.  The powers of death and destruction have been defeated on the most epic scale imaginable.  Individuals are then invited to see their story in the context of a far larger story, one that includes all of creation.”

This is a good correction on an over-emphasis on the human benefits of the work of Christ, and particularly his death and resurrection.  Rob is good with metaphors and spinning them out in various creative ways, but in this chapter one gets the impression that he is trying to connect the crop cycle, and the seasonal cycle that involves dying and rising of one sort, with the death and the resurrection of Jesus, as if these two things are somehow cosmically connected, or as if nature is a giant metaphor of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But in fact, this connection is not merely strained, it is just wrong.   Jesus was not planted in the ground with the sure and certain hope he would inevitably pop up like toast in a toaster at some future date when spring rolled around.  Jesus’ resurrection has nothing to do with the crop or seasonal cycle.  Indeed, it is in defiance of all such natural processes, over-ruling them rather than depicting them.  The resurrection of Jesus was a unique historical event, with no precedents, and as of yet no sequels, as it involved someone coming back from the dead with a resurrection body — something no one before or since has experienced.  The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle in the midst of the mundane, in the midst of history, and frankly has nothing to do with the natural cycles of nature.

Does the death and resurrection of Jesus  provide some sort of metaphorical cache for what happens when a person is ‘born again’  through the Spirit of God?   Yes, that is so — the old person has died, and we are now new creatures in Christ.  Not physically yet, but inwardly and spiritually.   But again this transformation has nothing to do with the rebirth of nature due to the sun’s warmth in spring and the change of the seasons.  While the earth was subjected to futility due to the Fall of humans, the earth itself will not be raised from the dead in the sense that we will be.  It will be either redone or restored, and in any case it is not about salvation from sin, for the creation itself isn’t guilty of sin nor is it created or recreated in God’s image then or now.  It is right to see some connection between our destiny and that of the creation, but it is wrong to think that what death and resurrection means for us is the same thing it means for the rest of creation.  When it comes to the redemption of humans through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we cannot say ‘that’s the way the universe works’.  But we can say,  ‘that’s the way the God of history works’, and those are distinguishable subjects.

Two last points.   It is important to realize that the Gospel writers stress the objective nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  The tomb was empty before any mortal encountered Jesus.  And as Paul stresses in 1 Cor. 15,  ‘he appeared to….’  a gigantic list of people, some friends, some foes.  That is, Jesus deliberately chose to appear to certain persons, even to people like James his brother and Saul who did not yet believe in him.  So it is not about ‘we saw or encountered Jesus’ in the first instance.  It is about his objectively choosing to appear to various people in various places in the flesh.  And lastly, it is important not to dimension the substitutionary and truly sacrificial and atoning nature of the cross.  Of course there are other good ways to talk about his death, and we can always say more than that, but we should never say less than that, as atonement for sin and appeasing the righteous wrath of a good and just God are indeed at the heart of why Jesus had to die.  That’s the Gospel story, however blunt it may seem to us,  and I’m sticking to it.

Relevant Links:

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Part 4 of this series, “Does God Always Get What He Wants?

Rob Bell Book Club Feature

Scot McKnight, “Are We At a Tipping Point?

Timothy Dalrymple, “What Launched the Bell Battle? – Part 1: Rob Bell is No C. S. Lewis

  • C.J.

    Dr. Witherington,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but did you skip chapter four? Also, in the last paragraph you said, “It is about his objectively choosing to appear to various people in various places in the flesh.” Out of curiosity is this a slight defense of calvinism?

    -C.J.

  • JoeyS

    You might be overstating his metaphor. I think he is building upon two concepts here: the image Jesus used in John 12 (a seed must die, to produce life) and natural revelation. I don’t think he is stretching it as literally as you are suggesting, rather he is pointing to creation as something that is a testament to God. I wouldn’t read too much into that.

    Also, do you plan on doing an overview of the book after reading the whole thing? It seems that if you want to remain faithful to reviewing this book in terms of its genre, then it can’t be broken down chapter by chapter and understood properly. Like many of the chapters, the book comes back around and many things are clarified as you read on. He isn’t setting out a sequence of propositions, he is using arch throughout the whole book. I really appreciate your reviews so far, I just hope you look at the book as a whole eventually.

  • Clay Knick

    This is spot on. Excellent.

  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    Wouldn’t the seasonal cycle be a pagan metaphor that Christians should avoid like the plague?

  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    In fairness, Bell might be in good company. I remember Bishop John Sentamu saying that Easter reminds us that life can come out of death; and so there is hope for the oppressed at Easter.

    I remember thinking: “Hang on, a pagan could have said that! ‘We chopped up Osiris, but someone will stitch him together again. Persephone gets time off from Hades. Every rose has it’s thorn, just like every night has it’s dawn, just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song….’ ”

    That isn’t the Easter Message. Unless you think Easter is about Chocolate Eggs with Caramel Filling….which Sentamu doesn’t, so I was a bit surprised. Easy mistake to make in a secular culture, I suppose

    Graham

  • Steve Billingsley

    Just as a general comment on the entire review series by Dr. Witherington, it just seems that Rev. Bell is really sloppy in his exegesis and writing. I am not a New Testament scholar (I know enough Greek to start a good cult), but if I were publishing something that depended a great deal on serious exegesis of Biblical texts I would certainly send drafts of my writing to serious scholars to get their feedback on my treatment of these texts. And wouldn’t the editors at the publisher point have pointed out at least a few of the contradictions or problems in the reasoning before going to press.

  • Rick

    Graham, I don’t see why we’re considering Easter only to be saying one thing to everyone. The Easter story says that Jesus rose physically from the grave, in a glorified body, as evidence of God’s victory over sin and death. That does *not* mean that no one should take hope from it that injustice can be defeated or that perseverance is wrong. As long as understand that first message, I see no reason why it’s “pagan” also to observe additional messages.

    All truth is God’s truth. That pagans also say something does not mean Christians should disagree just because a non-Christian said it. Doing so is not being discerning; it is being obstinately close-minded. After all, God has written eternity in our hearts and all men have seen the truth about God from what has been made…shouldn’t we expect them periodically to say true things?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Mickey Maudlin is his editor at Harper, a former editor at CT. You should ask him, but I gather there were various rewrites. And no, I didn’t skip a chapter, I am just numerically challenged.

    BW3

  • Ethan Magness

    I am appreciating this review series very much. Thanks,

    I have one question. It could just be a typo in which I hate to be the guy who just comments to point out typos but on teh off chance that it is something more that I am missing, I will ask.

    You write: “And lastly, it is important not to dimension the substitutionary and truly sacrificial and atoning nature of the cross.” Do you mean diminish instead of dimension? Or am I missing a more nuanced point?

    Thanks,

    ethan

  • Ethan Magness

    Of course in my own comment I now see at least one typo. The irony goes deep.

  • Steven

    This past Sunday, Rob preached at Mars Hill and opened with an explanation of his beliefs and what the past few weeks have been like for him. It’s worth a listen if you still erroneously think he’s a false teacher, spawn of Satan, etc.

    http://marshill.org/teaching/2011/03/27/letters-to-the-seven-churches-%E2%80%93-rev-2-the-agony-of-explanation/

  • Kyle

    I think Rob is just using imaginative interpretation to understand all of creation, just like the NT writers interpreted the OT through the lens of Jesus, even though many times it seems clear that they didn’t really mean anything like that.

  • Luke Allison

    Kyle said: “I think Rob is just using imaginative interpretation to understand all of creation, just like the NT writers interpreted the OT through the lens of Jesus, even though many times it seems clear that they didn’t really mean anything like that.”

    In that case you’re dealing with inspired revealed truth during a definitive time in salvific history. Are you really willing to say that there’s no difference between,say, Peter quoting the Psalms and what Rob does in Love Wins? Remember, Jesus seemed to imply that the Law and the Prophets were in some sense about Him (Luke 24:13-35). Are we willing to say that Jesus was merely using imaginitive interpretation as well? Or is there a validity to interpreting the Law and the Prophets through a Christological lens?

    I agree that we need to move past “Rob is a heretic” into “Rob isn’t very careful with the text”. There’s a big difference there, but it still needs to be addressed. I don’t think he’s the spawn of Satan (and frankly, even the neo-Reformed folks never said that) I just think he comes from a particular perspective that I largely disagree with.

    I do think that much of the response from his supporters comes from the fact that young Evangelicals don’t understand the beauty of debate and rhetoric. We’re taught from a fairly young age (I’m 30, so maybe just on the cusp) that disagreement is MEAN. But if someone gets called out for something they’ve essentially said to millions of people (a book), their best response is to, well…RESPOND. Think of the beauty of having, say, Kevin DeYoung and Rob Bell sit down together and debate these things. That would be informative for young Evangelicals looking for truth. It would actually help them to process and work through theological nuance and difference. Instead, we get MEAN people and GOOD people. So we have dualism within the Evangelical world, and no foreseeable end to it. Those who support Rob will not be swayed, and those who don’t support him will not be swayed. Welcome to the land of subjectivity.

  • Tony

    Kyle,

    The difference is that Rob Bell is not an inspired author receiving the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write new scripture (which he auspiciously seems to claim in his preface).

  • Luke Allison

    Steven #11: I listened to the sermon. I think it’s highly pastorally irresponsible to write a book that raises all kinds of theological conundrums (as well as rather shoddy exegesis) and then find yourself in the clear due to the fact that you “believe” a certain amount of things. Isn’t that the opposite of what he teaches in general? That mere “belief” isn’t enough? Do we really get to write whatever we want and then baptize it all by saying “I believe in a literal Resurrection, healing, miracles, etc?”

    I’m interested in Rob Bell’s thoughts, I really am. I’ve been listening to him since 2002. But I see a tendency in him that I’ve seen in his colleagues as well…they don’t like Christians who disagree with them at all. They have a strange sort of favoritism towards people who are completely off in pluralist land somewhere, but show zero grace or “tolerance” toward the traditional-minded. This doesn’t make any sense with their decidedly broad view of “The Gospel”. Unless, of course, they’re just following in the tradition of liberal theologians who have always perceived the “true” enemy as anyone who would claim to know a definitive answer to life’s biggest questions. Nothing worse than being sure.
    So Rob can stand up in front of his supporters on his own turf all day long and claim a certain sense of martyrdom. I’d be interested to see how he’d handle himself in an actual debate.

  • JoeyS

    The problem with debate, though, is that it is the wrong forum. Debates only work when the two sides begin from the same framework, and that would not happen in this case. Debates are also propositional rather than narrative. Case in point, John Piper has yet to address what N.T. Wright is actually saying because they are operating under differing paradigms.

    Wright’s, albeit condescending, analogy is that it is like explaining all of the scientific and physical reasons that we know for a fact that the earth revolves around the sun only to have the person you are explaining this to show you a sunrise to prove that you are wrong.

  • Steven

    Luke, the reason I posted a link to the sermon is because, for the past few weeks, many people have been upset with Bell for not coming out and directly saying what he believes. In his sermon, he does just that. However, as you’ve proven with your response, some people won’t be happy with anything he says.

    Regarding your second paragraph, when specifically has Rob said or implied he doesn’t like Christians who disagree with him? When specifically has Rob showed favoritism towards people who are completely off in pluralist land somewhere? Those are easy accusations to throw around, but without proof, I don’t think it’s helpful in this debate.

  • Kyle

    Ya, I see what you guys are saying. I don’t want to question the Bible’s authority, but just affirm that creation can reveal God’s invisible qualities, and so I think Rob is interpreting all creation, even the seasons through a Christoligical lens. I think it takes some imagination to do that. I’m looking out the window right now and it’s snowing. It reminds me of my sins being covered. Maybe it’s something we choose to see.
    I’m not sure about all the theological arguments for what divine inspiration means because i’m not trained theologically. I know there’s something called dictation and then some other ones that talk about how much of the author’s personality come through. It’s just when I read Matthew saying, “out of egypt I called my son” quoting Hosea, then I go read Hosea in context, I wonder, where did he get that from. I imagine he was like, “Oh, now I get it, this is another way Jesus was being Israel for Israel, even down to getting called out of Egypt.” Maybe similar to looking at the seasons and thinking, oh, that’s like Jesus’ death and resurrection. Similar to Brother Lawrence’s experience in The Practice of the Presence of God: During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that, within a little time, the leaves would be renewed and, after that, the flowers and fruit appear; Brother Lawrence received a high view of the providence and power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul.

  • Luke Allison

    Steven,

    “However, as you’ve proven with your response, some people won’t be happy with anything he says.”

    Only if he doesn’t actually say anything, which is what he’s notoriously skilled at. Like I said, I’ve been listening to him for a long time. Would you admit that he’s moved in a different direction in the past four to five years? Anyone can stand up and say “I believe in these things” and have your own people cheer you on. But his book would have many people think otherwise. I don’t care what he says to his people. I care what he says to the millions who will read his book. So it’s not that I disregard everything he says offhand, I just want to hear him say something that’s not completely dismissive of his detractors. Do they have any good points? Does Dr. Witherington have any good points?

    “Regarding your second paragraph, when specifically has Rob said or implied he doesn’t like Christians who disagree with him? When specifically has Rob showed favoritism towards people who are completely off in pluralist land somewhere? Those are easy accusations to throw around, but without proof, I don’t think it’s helpful in this debate.”

    The entire book presents a caricature of Christians who disagree with him. Do you seriously see his book as an even-handed, thoughtful “poetic” retelling of the Gospel story? I’m not a neo-Reformed lackey, but I’m not so taken with Rob that I can’t call a spade a spade. That’s my problem: I haven’t heard one of his supporters suggest that he might be wrong about some stuff.

    I appreciate your even-handed comments, however, and I’m proud to be part of a community of thoughtful believers. I might even say that I feel love in my heart for you through your gentle correction of some of my words. Hopefully that’s not weird.

  • rDA

    John 3:17 — For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

    Because He loves us, Jesus’ “mission” is to save the world — that is, everyone, 100%. However, most Christians would probably say that the majority of humanity is destined for hell (“Narrow is the path”). It would seem, then, that the Hate of Satan is much more powerful than the Love of Jesus when it comes to convincing people where they want to spend eternity. So, looking at the number of souls saved vs lost, it would appear that Jesus loses and Satan wins.

    Mission failed?

  • Luke Allison

    RDA,

    I see you’ve inherited Rob’s exegetical style.

    John 3:17-22 – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

    Do you seriously expect anyone to take you seriously when you use one verse to support universalism and literally ignore the very next verse? Dwell in the tension, don’t exploit it.

  • http://heirs.wordpress.com/ Gem

    one gets the impression that he is trying to connect the crop cycle, and the seasonal cycle that involves dying and rising of one sort, with the death and the resurrection of Jesus, as if these two things are somehow cosmically connected, or as if nature is a giant metaphor of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    My book hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m afraid I am stumped by this criticism? It sounds to me like Rob Bell is in very good company. Paul uses a the cycle of a seed as a metaphor of death and resurrection in 1 Cor 15:35ff and Jesus uses the metaphor in John 12:23-26.

  • Steven

    Luke,

    Full disclosure: I attended Mars Hill from 2001-2006. I would still be attending but moved out of the area. To make a long story very short, going to Mars Hill basically saved my dying faith. So, I guess you could say I’m biased.

    With that said, I haven’t been following Rob’s teachings much since then, so I don’t know how much his views have changed. I haven’t finished Love Wins yet, but what I’ve read doesn’t sound all that different from what he preached at Mars Hill. I would say that he has become more mission-minded over the past few years, but that hardly seems like an unbiblical thing to me.

    To address your comments, I would say that some of his detractors have good points, and of course Dr. Witherington does as well. In Love Wins, Rob tends to pick and choose from the bible in order to support his view. This is disappointing to me because he has always been more willing to live within the tension of biblical paradox (e.g. a loving God vs a wrathful God, if I can boil the debate down with simple language).

    I would argue, however, that the caricature of Christians he paints in the book, while slightly unfair at times, is very real to some people, including me, even though I grew up in the church. The whole debate surrounding this book has, sadly, reinforced that stereotype for me, but I find comfort that there are levelheaded Christians, such as you and others on this site, who can discuss the book without resorting to sky-is-falling rhetoric.

    One question I have for you, Luke, and others, is this: If Rob Bell were a universalist (he’s not), what would be the problem with that? Would he go to hell for that belief? Would he be leading people to hell? If he were a universal reconciliationist (he very well may be), I would pose the same questions.

    In closing, I’d like to say I also appreciate your even-handed comments. It’s not weird that you feel love for me–most people do. Kidding, of course, but a civil debate with other Christians gives me the warm fuzzies as well.

  • Dan

    Steven,
    While I don’t think preaching universalism sends someone to hell, I think it ultimately sends people there because it decreases the importance of evangelism. I’m willing to go to the ends if the earth because I believe only the gospel saves. If i believed that people could be saved apart from Jesus, I’d have a lot less motivation to leave my family, friends, and culture behind. If Jesus is in hindusm, why bother going to India? That’s the danger of universalism. It informs others that evangelism is not a life or death issue and can take a backseat.

    It may not be the universalists that risk hell; it’s the unreached that they neglect that could bear the pain of their teaching.

  • Dan

    I’m a bit confused by the use of “story” in the link posted. They talked about how some want to take part of their story and tell a different story. I’m all for some aspect of narrative theology, but at some point it becomes incoherent. To me it seems like an attempt to exclude a particular view from scrutiny. After all, we can’t argue with someone sharing their personal experience, so if we mask our theology by calling it a “story” it becomes harder to disagree with. That’s just how it comes off to me.

  • rDA

    Luke,

    You avoided to answer the question. I’ll try again:

    Because He loves us, Jesus’ “mission” is to save the world — that is, everyone, 100%. Yes or no?

    However, most Christians would probably say that the majority of humanity is destined for hell (“Narrow is the path”). True?

    It would seem, then, that the Hate of Satan is much more powerful than the Love of Jesus when it comes to convincing people where they want to spend eternity. So, looking at the number of souls saved vs lost, it would appear that Jesus loses and Satan wins. Yes or no?

    Is Satan’s hate more powerful than Jesus’ love to convince? Did Jesus fail His mission by losing a majority of souls to Satan?

  • Dan

    rDA,
    Jesus seemed to know full well that the majority would reject him (I.e. The path to life is narrow, but the path to destruction….) We can’t measure the success of God’s love based on numbers. I’m not sure where you get the idea of majority. Is that how we determine the success of God? If 51% believe? The defeat of death was not an election or a democratic process. The cross consumed death and overran the grave. It’s defeated, regardless of who believes it. Christ is victorious because death has no claim on humanity.

  • rDA

    Dan,
    To say that “…We can’t measure the success of God’s love based on numbers…” is, respectfully, ridiculous. Jesus came to save every single (1) soul — 100%. If his love can’t convince us all, especially a majority, then Satan’s hate seems to win.

    Where do I get the idea of a majority? From the very verse you quoted, Matthew 7:13-14:

    13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    Pretty plain to see that based on traditional Christian teaching few enter the narrow gate (heaven) and most enter the wide gate (hell).

    I don’t believe the defeat of death is a democratic process, either. But, obviously to traditional Christian teaching, hell (which is eternal *death* and suffering) is not conquered and it does have a claim on apparently the vast majority of humanity that are going to hell. The very fact that a full hell exists with apparently a majority of souls kind of means all of death was not conquered. It’s still there.

    Again, it just seems to me that Satan’s hate is more powerful than Jesus’ love.

  • Luke Allison

    RDA,

    “You avoided to answer the question. I’ll try again:”

    That’s because we’re talking about Christian theology. What is the basis of Christian theology? The Word of God. You used one verse completely free of its context (silly limiting things, those) to introduce an argument based on philosophical and moral presuppositions.

    I wont engage with your philosophical questions based on moral outrage, because the foundation you’ve built them on is a verse taken out of context. Put the verse back in context and attempt to make the same philosophical argument. You’ll find it less obvious.

    Anyone can take one verse of the Bible and use it to build an entire thought process. I could take John 9:39 and use it to proclaim that fact that Jesus’ primary purpose in coming was to judge the world. But obviously there’s more to His story and teaching than that.

    You’re doing something that Rob does quite sneakily: you’re exploiting a tension in Scripture rather than attempting to parse it out. So until you attempt to parse out the next 5 verses of John 3, I’m not going to answer your question. Call me a boob if you will.

  • Brian

    It seems that you have the impression that Bell sees the resurrection as ordinary. I think that misses his entire point. His point was that the idea of death leading to life wasn’t new but that this resurrection is a different thing altogether.

  • rDA

    Luke,

    Here is the whole passage:

    16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    Please tell me how exactly the questions I asked are somehow not worthy of answering by this passage? Christians should not be defensive in answering questions, no matter how trivial you think they are.

    So please tell me your answers to my questions — in the context of the above passage. I seriously want to know.

    Thanks.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com Matt Dabbs

    He didn’t mind putting us at the center of what we will do in heaven.

    “So when people ask, ‘What will we do in heaven?’ one possible answer is to simply ask, ‘What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come? What is it that when you do it, you lose track of time because you get lost in it? What do you do that makes you think, ‘I could do this forever’? What is it that makes you think, ‘I was made for this’?” (p.47)

    I am sure some people could come up with a lot of answers to that scenario that wouldn’t cut the mustard. Why not point to biblical passages, like in Revelation, that show us what life with God is really like and the worship it inspires us to give to God?

    I like what he said on p.43-44 that seems to contradict this quote,

    “Apparently, in the unvarnished presence of the divine a lot of things that we consider significant turn out to be, much like wearing a crown, quite absurd.”

    Let me pull a Rob Bell on his own quotes here…so which is it? Are we supposed to do all the things we think are significant are will those very things be rendered useless and powerless?

  • Luke Allison

    “Please tell me how exactly the questions I asked are somehow not worthy of answering by this passage? Christians should not be defensive in answering questions, no matter how trivial you think they are.”

    If I appear defensive I apologize. What’s your name, if I might ask? It helps me to see you not as an amorphous mass of thought but as a human being bearing the divine image. Even if I can’t see said image, I can at least have a name.

    That said, it doesn’t seem as if you’re asking questions with the intention of finding out something. I think you’re asking questions in the same way that Rob asks question in his now-infamous promo vid.

    Let me explain: Your first question involves Jesus’ mission into the world. Is it to save everyone, 100 percent? You used John 3:17 to set this question up. If the verse were just free-floating without context, that would be a prime setup for your question. Taken in context, the verse says that Jesus’ mission is to save (over and against condemning) the world, but the very next verse lays out specifics in how that will play itself out. Both 3:16 and 3:18 contrast everlasting life and “not condemned” with “perishing” and “condemned”. The mission of God into the world was the sending of His Son as a result of His love for the world, “and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

    Remember, it’s not as if God is sending His Son into an innocent world in order to save some and judge others. He’s sending His Son into a condemned world for the purpose of saving those “who believed in the name of the only Son of God”, and presumably those who still “believe in the name of the only Son of God”.

    John’s clearly not speaking of “the world” in a holistic fashion here, otherwise why would he use the distinctions of “condemned” and “not condemned”?

    You can’t draw the conclusion, at least based on this passage, that God not saving everyone means He has failed in His mission. Jesus is saying that not all will embrace Him.

    This raises some good questions for you: what does it mean for God to be love? How does that work itself out? How do we know that God is love?

    I get the feeling based on your original post about the hate of Satan vs. the love of God that you have a very specific idea of what love means. Care to elaborate?

  • rDA

    Luke,

    You stated: “…This raises some good questions for you: what does it mean for God to be love? How does that work itself out? How do we know that God is love?

    I get the feeling based on your original post about the hate of Satan vs. the love of God that you have a very specific idea of what love means. Care to elaborate?…”

    For God to be love, I can tell what Hell cannot be: Eternal torture and torment just for the sake of punishment no matter how guilty someone is. There is no redeeming value in punishment such as that. We (Christians or otherwise) would find it barbaric to allow a jail warden to torture his prisoners at his pleasure even though they were found perfectly guilty in a court of law. But, for some strange reason, Christians (including myself at one time) find it perfectly acceptable for God to allow Satan to torture his guilty prisoners for all eternity. We wouldn’t allow a jail warden to do this and I know that God wouldn’t allow Satan to do this, either. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

    Now, that being said, I will say that to keep people safe they must be separated from the general population. This is love. Also, it is love to try and discipline or reform prisoners so when they are set free after time is served they don’t do what they did before. But, if we tortured them for 5 years then let them go I’m pretty sure they’d be worse off than before going in.

    So, it is the nature of Hell I’m questioning. I’m not denying it’s existence. I am denying how most Christians have been taught about Hell, which is probably closer to Dante’s Inferno than anything. I’m pretty convinced we have been misunderstanding what the purpose of Hell is and it cannot be torture for the sake of torture. I don’t believe that to not have a torturous Hell means that people are somehow getting away with their crimes. I don’t believe that a (potentially) empty Hell diminishes God’s power — but actually makes Him more powerful. I think that is what Mr. Bell is trying to get across in his book.

    As far as having more chances after death I’m still not so sure about that yet. But, I’d at least hope for some type of reconciliation any time. God is God and he can reconcile with his disobedient children (prodigal son) any time he wants, no matter how upset the good children (prodigal son’s brother) are about the situation. God can save people (Ninevites) no matter how “unfair” it seems to the average Christian (Jonah).

    Now, as far as the hate of Satan vs the love of God. My point here is that I find it almost ridiculous that somehow Satan’s hate is more powerful than God’s love (Jesus) to convince and persuade people to where they want to spend eternity. How is it that Satan beats God in how many people end up in Heaven or Hell? I’m mean we’re talking God here — the Creator of the Universe and everything! How is it that Satan is a better “salesmen” (for lack of a better term) than God? I just don’t get it.

    Let me ask you this: If a 3-year old child was to die and hadn’t verbally accepted Christ, would they go to Heaven or Hell? If you believe in the age of accountability please provide the scriptures you base this on.

    Take care,
    - Aaron (aka rDA)

  • Luke Allison

    Aaron,

    “Now, that being said, I will say that to keep people safe they must be separated from the general population. This is love.”

    Don’t hear me wrong: I actually agree with nearly everything you’ve posted. I lean toward a conservative inclusivism (will not the God of the Universe do what is just, right, and good?), and would never state that “verbal acceptance” of Christ has anything to do with salvation.

    But I want to give you a gentle warning: don’t judge the love of God based on Western Culture’s notions of what a good ruler should be. A Sovereign ruler is very different from the president of a Democracy. There is a tendency in Rob’s camp to take all the fierceness away from God. That’s not something CS Lewis ever did (“Is he safe? No, but He’s good”).

    I’ll always disagree with making love the ultimate attribute of God at the expense of all others. God is love, but His love is wrapped up in a perfect sweep with all His other attributes. God’s love is not some vague sentiment towards us, but was acted out in a definitive event within the confines of History: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love is action, not feeling, and it was motivated by a desire for God to express both perfect love, perfect justice, and the vindication of His Holy Name. Judging God by our cultural notions of love is impossible, because we wouldn’t even have a template for what love looks like without His revelation to us.
    Now, Culture (sinful humanity, like me) has done a great job of perverting the notion of love into some self-serving oversexualized sensational game, but true love will always look like God on a Cross dying for our sins.

    That said, I wonder where you get the idea that God or Satan is torturing anybody? The Scriptures talk about torment and agony being present within the “negative path of judgment” (let’s not use the word Hell). But I think you may be confusing the concept of “torment” (described in Revelation 14:11 as “their torment”, not something inflicted from a source outside of them) with “torture”. One very easily could come from within the person themself (the trajectory of self-centeredeness, idolatry, and fruitless striving echoing off into eternity), while the other comes from someone else. I don’t believe there are any texts which speak of God whipping or flaying people. And there are definitely no texts which speak of Satan torturing people in Hell, as Hell was made for His destruction in the first place!

    I agree with you that Dante and Milton (and the Far Side) play more into our thoughts on Hell than Scripture. But make no mistake….to reject the point of life is serious business. I think we agree on that, at least.

  • Brian

    Seems like the Reformed crowd agrees with Bell on the resurrection point. (And frankly, death as the engine of life is a pattern see throughout creation and admitting that in no way diminishes the radical uniqueness or importance of Jesus death and resurrection.)

    From the Resurgence blog:
    “Death and resurrection is a pattern for all of life.”

    See here: http://theresurgence.com/2011/04/13/why-bad-news-is-good-news-luther-on-death-and-resurrection-as-life

  • Accelerated

    Ben, you state that “in this chapter one gets the impression that he is trying to connect the crop cycle, and the seasonal cycle that involves dying and rising of one sort, with the death and the resurrection of Jesus, as if these two things are somehow cosmically connected, or as if nature is a giant metaphor of the death and resurrection of Jesus.” Your review of his chapter is little more than false assertions in the face of failing to understand what he is saying.


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