Love Wins 8.1

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?

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    I despair when I read interpretations such as Bell’s. I despair at the silly interpretations of Scripture from someone who is viewed as an influential evangelical Bible teacher. I despair at the lengths to which he and others are willing to go to justify a preference. I despair at how many big names seem to be willing to defend him. I despair at the many ordinary christians who are being duped.

    Deceiving and being deceived comes to mind.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    I despair when I read interpretations such as Bell’s. I despair at the silly interpretations of Scripture from someone who is viewed as an influential evangelical Bible teacher. I despair at the lengths to which he and others are willing to go to justify a preference. I despair at how many big names seem to be willing to defend him. I despair at the many ordinary christians who are being duped.

    Deceiving and being deceived comes to mind.

  • Richard

    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?

    How would this differ from Paul’s discourse at Mars Hill:
    “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we move and have our being.’ We are his offspring”
    It also seems to fit Athanasius discussing how the Word of God is on the move (seemingly outside the visible Church)?

    There are also countless stories from missionaries among lost tribes of ancient prophecies and visions that lead people to the one Creator God. The missionaries that show up just name Him in Jesus (and among Muslims they don’t even need to name Isa, they already known him).

    I’m curious in your mind how it being typology changes/counters the point Bell is making – which seems to be that God pursues us and meets us any way conceivable?

  • Richard

    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?

    How would this differ from Paul’s discourse at Mars Hill:
    “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we move and have our being.’ We are his offspring”
    It also seems to fit Athanasius discussing how the Word of God is on the move (seemingly outside the visible Church)?

    There are also countless stories from missionaries among lost tribes of ancient prophecies and visions that lead people to the one Creator God. The missionaries that show up just name Him in Jesus (and among Muslims they don’t even need to name Isa, they already known him).

    I’m curious in your mind how it being typology changes/counters the point Bell is making – which seems to be that God pursues us and meets us any way conceivable?

  • Richard

    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?

    How would this differ from Paul’s discourse at Mars Hill:
    “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we move and have our being.’ We are his offspring”
    It also seems to fit Athanasius discussing how the Word of God is on the move (seemingly outside the visible Church)?

    There are also countless stories from missionaries among lost tribes of ancient prophecies and visions that lead people to the one Creator God. The missionaries that show up just name Him in Jesus (and among Muslims they don’t even need to name Isa, they already known him).

    I’m curious in your mind how it being typology changes/counters the point Bell is making – which seems to be that God pursues us and meets us any way conceivable?

  • Rikk

    Well, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Ramesses II, of Exodus fame, was a big fan of the Apis bull cult, the Apis bull being something of the physical manifestation of Ptah, the creator god in Memphite theology. He would “stand” upon its back. From an Israelite point of view, Yahweh’s plagues and especially the events at the Reed Sea had demonstrated that it was he, not Ptah, who was the true creator. With Moses disappearing who knows where, Israel is all alone in the desert desperately needing the presence of its deity. But they knew how to invoke it — build a calf/bull and the presence of Yahweh, the true creator, would be available, standing on the back of the bull (hence the festival to Yahweh in Exod 32.5, as most commentators recognize). But Yahweh has already, just the once, stood on one thing only in Exodus: the rock (17:6). Israel had accused him of being no different from the genocidal deities of Egypt. So Yahweh summons Moses: “They think I’m like those gods? Well, we’ll see about that. Come with me, and bring that (judicial) staff with which you smote the Nile (turning its water into blood). I will stand (!!) on the rock in front of you (at Horeb). Now, smite the rock!” Given the significance of the creator “standing,” just as Ptah was identified with the bull, Yahweh identifies with the rock; it is, if you like, his hypostasis. That being so, Moses effectively smites Yahweh. But whereas the Nile’s water of life, in which Pharaoh had drowned the Israelites was turned, in judicial sanction, to blood, here Yahweh “bleeds” water of life for his people. (I’m in the process of writing this up, having lectured on it at Regent College recently). Cheers, Rikk Watts (Prof of NT).
    PS in Jewish tradition this rock went up and sat under the altar, to be, apparently, the source of water in Ezekiel’s vision, and hence Jesus’ statement in John 7:37-38. For Paul, given his identification of Jesus with Yahweh, there is indeed a very real sense in which Jesus was that following rock.

  • Rikk

    Well, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Ramesses II, of Exodus fame, was a big fan of the Apis bull cult, the Apis bull being something of the physical manifestation of Ptah, the creator god in Memphite theology. He would “stand” upon its back. From an Israelite point of view, Yahweh’s plagues and especially the events at the Reed Sea had demonstrated that it was he, not Ptah, who was the true creator. With Moses disappearing who knows where, Israel is all alone in the desert desperately needing the presence of its deity. But they knew how to invoke it — build a calf/bull and the presence of Yahweh, the true creator, would be available, standing on the back of the bull (hence the festival to Yahweh in Exod 32.5, as most commentators recognize). But Yahweh has already, just the once, stood on one thing only in Exodus: the rock (17:6). Israel had accused him of being no different from the genocidal deities of Egypt. So Yahweh summons Moses: “They think I’m like those gods? Well, we’ll see about that. Come with me, and bring that (judicial) staff with which you smote the Nile (turning its water into blood). I will stand (!!) on the rock in front of you (at Horeb). Now, smite the rock!” Given the significance of the creator “standing,” just as Ptah was identified with the bull, Yahweh identifies with the rock; it is, if you like, his hypostasis. That being so, Moses effectively smites Yahweh. But whereas the Nile’s water of life, in which Pharaoh had drowned the Israelites was turned, in judicial sanction, to blood, here Yahweh “bleeds” water of life for his people. (I’m in the process of writing this up, having lectured on it at Regent College recently). Cheers, Rikk Watts (Prof of NT).
    PS in Jewish tradition this rock went up and sat under the altar, to be, apparently, the source of water in Ezekiel’s vision, and hence Jesus’ statement in John 7:37-38. For Paul, given his identification of Jesus with Yahweh, there is indeed a very real sense in which Jesus was that following rock.


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