Sure, Rob Bell can hope for the salvation of all things, but does he have a Biblical leg to stand on? Is he undermining God's justice by confining Him to Bell's finite understanding of love? And what of wrath? And zealous jealousy? Does not God also hold these attributes to His bosom as eternal attributes?Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" Jesus saind to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:5-6
Bell's most specific dealings with Biblical confrontation in this light comes out on pages 154-155 of Love Wins.
Dealing with the very passage quoted above, Bell responds:
This is s wide and expansive a claim as a person can make. What [Jesus] doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn't even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him...
...And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum...
What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.
It's a happy thought, no? -- that Jesus is saving everyone despite themselves, despite whatever the individual thinks.
But is Bell's generous orthodoxy warranted? This is not the only Biblical passage that deals with the way to salvation.
After attempting to sum up Bell's thoughts to a friend, this dear friend swiftly responded that Bell is only seeing what he wants to see. Her point was to say that Bell is only taking from scripture what he wants to see. He is turning a blind eye to the myriad other references that do indeed show, and make explicit the idea that salvation is a game of exclusivity. You are in, or you are out. Her claim is that although it sounds nice and is easier to think of a world that will be saved through-and-through, the reality is that some are bound towards hell. To destruction they will go. Her argument is that Bell is perverting the reality of hell because it makes him uneasy.
We can't ignore Scripture just because it is uncomfortable.
And so Romans 9 comes rolling in:
And before I can get a clear thought through my head,8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
9For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son."
10And noth only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac:
11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,
12it wad said to her, "The older will serve the younger."
13Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you; and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."
18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Paul responds to my inner groaning:
19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?
20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?
21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory...
This is, and has remained for many years, the most difficult passage of Scripture for me to hear. Although Paul rebukes my very thoughts, I want only to say, "But Paul, if the clay maker tortures the lump, would it not have been better for the lump to have remained merely a lump? Why create to destroy?" I am left then unanswered and ashamed that I can barely handle what appears to me a dark truth. How can it be? How is there love?
And on this, Bell is silent.
So is the conversation over?
Despite the difficulty that this passage may cause us, is it addressing the means by which we, as individuals, may be granted access into God's Kingdom?
What Paul makes explicit is that God alone is the means by which man is judged.
We 21st century western Christians tend to see salvation as Campus Crusade for Christ has led us: as a series of 4 Spiritual Laws. They are (according to campuscrusade.com) >>>
- God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man is sinful and separated from God.
Therefore, he cannot know and experience
God's love and plan for his life.
- Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin.
Through Him you can know and experience
God's love and plan for your life.
- We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord;
then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives.
A few months back I wrote concerning the true story of Genie. Genie was locked in a dark room until adolescence when she was discovered by authorities. She is the most widely studied and researched 'feral child' of modern history. It would appear that Genie was born completely normal, but due to her environment of oblivion, her brain did not develop during the instrumental growing years. It would prove to be impossible to acclimate her into normal society. She simply could not learn certain things. Language was a forever struggle. Her developmental experience took away her God-given ability to think abstractly.
For a girl like Genie, the 4 spiritual laws would be far too abstract.
So what happens?
If acceptance of Jesus Christ as atoning Savior is the necessary action that grace requires, then what is to become of the mentally disabled among us? Surely the Lord will not damn them, right? Right?
Are you prepared to answer?
If your answer is that surely God has mercy for them, then is that not showing that grace is extended to individuals who did not for themselves accept Christ into their hearts?
And if your answer is that these poor souls are to suffer hell as consequence, I ask again, how is that love? And God loved and chose Jacob before he was born -- so does that not set precedence for acceptance unto Christ prior to an action taken on the part of the individual?
And to get another cheap (but valid!) shot,
what of the aborted souls, the children?
what of the aborted souls, the children?
What is to become of them?
Does love not win? Will God not show compassion?
Surely your instinct is to say, yea, scream, "YES!", is it not?
Nevertheless, I am getting into sticky territory. And stickier yet we must go.
For me, the pages of Rob Bell's book that made me the most uncomfortable was the section that dealt with our perception of Christ's death on the cross. I no longer have the book at my service, so I cannot quote, but I recall Bell stating that the analogy of an atonal blood sacrifice does not mean the same thing to us as it would first century Jews and Gents. Our culture is not accustomed to sacrificing rams and goats for sins, so Christ's work on the cross doesn't quite have the internal resonance with us as it would the old-timers, so the argument goes.
Now, to be clear, I do believe Jesus' death and resurrection were not merely an analogy -- I believe those actions are the root and spring from which we may be cleansed of our sins. I believe Christ died specifically for my sins against God, and then conquered death on the third day and has ascended to sit on the right hand side of God the Father. But... remember Isaiah's vision. Chapter 6:4-7
What are we to do with this story? Is this burning coal another means of salvation? If not, why not? Is it another instrument by which salvation is created?And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."
I have not the answer.
All I know is that God is not tame.
Remember Paul's cloak? How is it that it had the power to heal? Is not healing a spiritual gift? Shouldn't it have to come through the means of the Holy Spirit working through a believer? Or perhaps a demon through a possessed soul?
Hmmm...Acts 19:11-12, God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
And let us also recall Jesus when He healed the woman with the hemorrhage. Jumping in mid-story:
My little mind looks at that passage and is caused to quirk the head. Some power left Jesus? I tend to think that Jesus Himself is the power, or at least that it is God's presence through Him, not some power that can exit the body. Perhaps it is just a matter of semantics, but it sounds like there is a third-party 'power' in play that physically leaves Jesus and enters into the woman. A power. Could we even call it an energy?Mark 5:28-31, For she thought, "If I just touch His garments, I will get well." Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My garments?"
And how did those Egyptian charlatans echo God's miracles through Moses? By demons? Perhaps so, but the Scripture makes no mention that this was by a direct dark-sided power that it was done. The action is simply written, without noting the origin. Were the Egyptians tapping into the same 'power' that left Jesus?
The dude that came after Elijah.
Just his bones.
2 Kings 13:20-21: Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
How exactly does that work? -- power infused bones? And what of Samson's hair? What was going on with that? Why was the hair so special? Did God and him make an arrangement that the power was to be in his long locks? Was that power the same third-party power that seeped through Christ into the bloody woman?
I reference these strange Biblical incidences to make a simple point: God is a quirky fella. He's the Dude that made the duckbilled platypus after all. Those suckers are all types of crazy.
God is big. God is not tame. He will save whom He desires to save. And I, like the good monk being led to martyrdom by angry Islamicists, can pray with a clear conscious that I, and everyone I know, may be found as happy thieves in Paradise, made perfect by God's wonderful love and grace.
The greatest story ever fashioned is that of Christ Jesus, the God-Servant-King, who came into flesh to die and overcome death for a desperately lost sinner such as I. May I never forget this, nor you, as long as we live and work on this good earth.
And oh, how big our God is,
and how expansive His creative genius!