In chapter six of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived titled “There are Rocks Everywhere”, the essential question of this chapter seems to be: can and does Jesus speak in unusual ways when calling people to faith? Does Jesus sometimes use extraordinary, weird, and unexplainable measures to get our attention?
The answer is obviously yes. But what does this mean about the salvation of individuals, especially those in other religions? To answer this question, Rob turns interestingly (and surprisingly to me) to the text in 1 Cor 10:4 (“that rock was Christ”) where Paul calls the Rock from which water miraculous came in the familiar Old Testament story Christ. His conclusion: If Christ is in, on or under a rock according to Paul, then Christ can be found in anywhere, even in religions no matter if Jesus is even recognized.
Traditionally, what Paul is doing is referred to as typology. Typology was a method of interpretation that ancient Jews used, including the Jewish Paul, to “contemporize” their Bibles. Preachers do this all the time when trying to apply the Bible. Have you ever heard a sermon on David and Goliath where the preacher asked, “What are the giants in your life?” Same kind of thing. The “rock” in the era of the Old Testament prefigured the Messiah in the era of the New Testament. It’s not that Paul actually thought that the rock was Jesus. But Paul was drawing a parallel between the function of the rock in the Old Testament story and the function of Messiah: Christ is God’s ultimate provision of spiritual drink. What’s more, the final expression of the event or thing trumps the older one in significance. In other words, Paul’s saying if you thought that was cool, this new thing, that’s in the same shape as the old thing, is far and away better.
Rob isn’t seeing it like this however. He seems to be saying that the rock was somehow ontologically the Messiah. So the people of Israel were drinking from Jesus and therefore Moses struck Jesus with his stick. They didn’t know it was Jesus though— I assume if Moses knew he wouldn’t hit the rock too hard. So, in view of this, it is possible to gain benefit from Jesus and not even know it was from him. Moreover, it is possible to experience the saving, reconciling work of the Messiah and not even knowing or loving or serving or submitting to him.
Rob’s thinking is not that simplistic. His conclusion is really based on his interpretation of the meaning of “mystery” in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s letters (Eph 1—3). For Rob, the mystery Paul proclaims is that God is bringing unity to all of creation including every person. For Rob this unifying, restoring work is God’s activity in the world. It is God’s presence the “energy, spark and electricity that pulses through creation . . . growing, evolving, reproducing and making more” (145). Thus, the claim of Jesus to be the “way, truth and life” so that “no one comes to the Father except through me” is “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity” (154). By this Rob means, Jesus is the exclusive means of bringing everything and every person into unity: “He [Jesus] is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation” (155).
Rob, then, is claiming that Paul’s “mystery” is a transcendent reality of God’s renewal of everyone and everything. Christianity’s religious expressions (i.e. baptism, communion, etc) are attempts to give “language and symbols and experiences for this mystery” (156). Rob says, “These rituals are true for us, because they are true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody” (157).
Rob seems to be claiming that Christianity is just one kind of expression of the divine reality.
Does the interpretations of either the rock or the mystery seem convincing to you? Is it possible that Paul meant what Rob means? Does it matter that one be true to Paul? What do you think of Rob’s conclusion?