This is the second part of a two-part post on Rob Bell’s fifth chapter (“Dying to Live”) in his book Love Wins. The chapter is about the meaning of Jesus death and resurrection. In the first part of the post I discussed the Atonement. In this post I want to address his discussion of the resurrection. In the section, he makes three points: (1) the idea of resurrection is not new; it is the essence of reality, (2) the death and resurrection has a singular cosmic implication and should not be domesticated and excessively individualize, and (3) the death and resurrection are nevertheless to be personalized. What do we make of these arguments?
First of all, the first point is weak. Rob attempts to use horticulture to show that death and resurrection are basic to reality. It is the essence of a flourishing life.
When the writers of the Bible talk about Jesus’s resurrection bringing new life to the world, they aren’t talking about a new concept. They’re talking about something that has always been true. It’s how the world works . . . it’s a symbol of an elemental reality (131).
The analogy, however convincing on the surface, does not actually deliver. Plants in the winter may appear dead, but if they come back to life in the spring they were never dead. This is certainly not a useful analogy for Jesus’ resurrection. Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus was dead, a corpse—not simply appearing to be dead. Skeptics have of course argued this. The resurrection of a dead person is not something that is analogous to anything in our present reality. It is in fact wholly different.
Also, the truth is the idea of resurrection was even ridiculous to many in Paul’s day. Look at Acts 17 when Paul was in Athens speaking with the philosophers at the Areopagus. When he brought up the resurrection in his speech (Acts 17:32) they stopped listening to him. The resurrection of the dead was not something many people believed even among the Jewish people. Remember the Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the dead.
In the second place, the point about the scope of the consequence for the resurrection is extremely important. In my view, Rob is spot on here. I will quote him at length here:
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 as the first 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 (134).
Amen! Rob has stated the truth very clearly. It is the conclusion he draws from this that one must critically assess however. He concludes in light of the biblical teaching that any Gospel that creates an “in” group and an “out” group is not consistent with the cosmic scope of the resurrection (135). Is this true? Is it true that if you affirm what Rob affirms, you must necessarily also accept his conclusion?
Finally, the third point is fundamentally true – the cross and resurrection are indeed personal and must be personally applied by faith. According to Paul, every believer must be united to Jesus in his death and resurrection (Rom 6; Gal 2). It is this mystical union with Jesus that is the basis of our salvation. But this salvific content in Rob’s point is missing and the Jesus’ death and resurrection serves primarily as example. Jesus’ death and resurrection is an example of how to truly live in this world. Now, don’t get me wrong, dying to oneself is the essence of fullness of life. Jesus did teach that losing your life meant finding it; and Paul called husbands to die to themselves in submission to their wives. But Jesus’ death and resurrection are not first and foremost a moral example.
Eminen may have stumbled into the truth that life comes through death at the bottom of his addiction and despair (A story about Eminen bookend the chapter). It maybe the reason he was wearing a cross at the Detroit concert Rob attended. But unless Eminen put his personal trust in Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of own sins no matter how cleaned up he becomes in this life or how well he ends up flourishing because he stopped putting himself first, he will have missed the point of the cross around his neck.