Rob Bell / Love Wins Review – Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5 Synopsis:
He starts out doing very typical atonement theology. This will not sit well with those who want to make penal substitutionary atonement the lone or controlling metaphor for atonement, but I think he does a fair job of kind beginning to talk about the other word pictures in use in the bible – Relational/adoption: mending relationship, Christus Victor: a battle that’s been one, Economic: redeeming something that was lost.
In the conversation about the resurrection, Bell writes a wonderfully concise telling of the 7 signs / 7 days of creation / resurrection on the 8th day stuff in John. This exegetical association is incredibly complicated & I’ve worked many times to try and tell this with brevity. I’m a little mystified as to how well Bell did it in an extremely short section of an already short chapter, but he did it well – kudos to him on that. What he’s driving at is that the future hope is resurrection. The end in mind is New Creation. The scope of new creation is not just human beings, it is cosmic.
“A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small. A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story. A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the ‘in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “All things and people in heaven and on earth.” His critique here is that making the whole story about getting peopel into heaven/hell misses the cosmic nature of the story. It’s bigger than that – it’s about everything that has ever existed.
Death and resurrection isn’t just a tale about what happens after you die. Dying is a part of life, even our everyday life. Your skin dies & is replaced. The leaves die and come back in the spring. All of the food you eat is dead (I hope). All of life works like this – it’s God’s economy (my words, not his). When we die to ourselves, there is a little resurrection. When we die to each other, the same; when we die to sin, desire, power, violence, we become alive in brand new ways. That is not disconnected from the cross – no story of death and resurrection ever is. “Because that’s how the universe works. That’s what Jesus does. Death and resurrection. Old life for new life; one passes away, the other comes. Friday, then Sunday. You die, and you’re reborn. It’s like that.”
My Thoughts: Again, this is very straight forward theology of New Creation. The scope of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is not merely aimed toward discrete individual souls, but all things in heaven and on earth. The way this happens is death and resurrection. You get no resurrection without a death; death and resurrection as integral parts of life here and now – not just in the afterlife, etc. It’s a good concise chapter helping keep the broader, epic nature of the story in mind. There isn’t a hint of controvery here except for those who wish to enlarge the atonement metaphor of penal substitution and make it the whole gospel. He is broadening that category, rightly I say, to include all of the biblical metaphors – as we should do.
Chapter 6 Synopsis:
This chapter is on the incarnation. It is discussed, again, in cosmic terms. According to the scriptures the incarnation of God in Christ is for the salvation of all things. Jesus is bigger than any box we put him in, including Christianity. “He is present within al cultures, and yet outside of all cultures. He is for all people, and yet he refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one culture. That includes any Christian culture…we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anyone else’s.”
Sometimes missionaries go to another culture – unreached people – to share Christ with them. The people say, “What is his name? We’ve been talking about him for years…” John 10, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.”
My Thoughts:
Bell has a high Christology. He believes Jesus is the only way, which makes him exclusive, but he understands this in the most inclusive way possible. He rightly reminds us that none of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and nobody ever will. Once, Jesus’s followers try to get him to shut down a man who is healing in his name. Jesus answers “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus disregards and destroys labels time and time again. This is God’s show, not ours. Jesus is doing this and we are not the arbiters of what he will or will not do. God help us if we try to decide who is in and out for eternity.
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  • I’m wondering if you see a relationship in popular atonement theory and the discussion about heaven and hell. Those who have a singular view of atonement, namely penal substitution, seem to be heavily invested in the traditional view regarding heaven and hell. Even those who may have a more broad view of hell, say a place where we may go temporarily as punishment, seem to have a very linear view of how God “works”. The view that hell may be a stop over also reminds me too much of our western view of atonement. The western “justice” metaphor works here because it equates hell to jail and punishment. And if we want to use legal metaphors, how about God participating in double jeopardy. Isn’t our separation from God due to original sin our punishment? Are we to be punished twice for the same sin.

    I like Barth’s position that Jesus is the only elect. Through the election of Jesus the Christ we are all able to participate in the gory of God. He is the final arbiter. I like where Bell is going in this book. Not all will enjoy it, some will become hostile, but it sure is intriguing and thought provoking.

  • Yeah, you are right to bring Barth into the discussion, because Bell is almost certainly in conversation with him. The thing I love about Barth's view on universalism is that he said, "I don't teach it & I don't not teach it." Essentially he said that we cannot affirm universalism as a possibility (in our teaching), nor can we deny it as a possibility (in our teaching). Barth would probably say Bell is affirming the possibility. If I'm right about Barth, we cannot affirm it as a possibility; nor can we deny it as a possibility. That actually appeals to me. It's also interesting that many people accuse Barth of universalism when it seems as though he clearly refused to affirm it as a possibility.