I will be posting serial blogs as I work my way through the book. I welcome comments because the issue of Evangelical Christianity versus universalism could not be greater!
My Comments on the jacket blurbs and Bell’s Preface:
Eugene Peterson, a respected scholar and author of The Message, wrote a blurb for the book that says, “It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.” We will devote a future blog on that last statement: “. . . and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”
One jacket blurb asks: “What if the story of heaven and hell we have been taught is not, in fact, what the Bible teaches?” Let me remind us that the crux of the issue is not personalities, but biblical teaching.
Several comments on his Preface:
Bell begins his book with the statement: “Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.” (vii) (It’s quite an interesting study to look at verses in which Jesus says why He came, such as Mt. 5:17; 10:34-35; Mk. 1:38; Lk. 12:49; Jn. 5:43; 6:38; 8:42; 9:39; 10:10; 12:46. These certainly teach much more than the idea that “Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.”) Of course God’s love for us was a paramount topic for Jesus, but was it “first and foremost”? How about coming to do the Father’s will? . . . Was His purpose primarily about US?
Please don’t miss Bell’s clear statements that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories [that] . . . have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (vii-viii). If I understand Bell up to this point, I’m being told that I have missed the whole point of Jesus’s coming, I’ve lost the plot of His story, and, worse than that, I’ve hijacked His story with my own. Hmmm. Could a mere human like you or me do something worse than that?
He says he’s written his book “for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, ‘I would never be a part of that.’” (viii). [I think for many of us, when by God’s grace we begin to understand our sin and the price Jesus paid to redeem us, our response would be: “I could never have a part in that!”]
Ummm. I think I’m a part of that. Because the “that” that’s he referring to is the viewpoint known as eternal conscious punishment.
Bell says, “You are not alone. There are millions of us.” (viii). This argument has sometimes been called an argumentum ad populum (an argument from the perspective of “if many believe so, it is so”). This argument has also been called, appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people, argument by consensus, authority of the many, and the bandwagon fallacy. It’s nice to be able to say that one is not alone in what one feels, but the popularity of a position has no bearing on the truthfulness of that position.
Bell lays his cards on the table and says that “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.” (viii). The emotive words “a staggering number” and “a select few Christians” and “no chance for anything better” leads one to respond: “Yeah! And they’ve been duped! And what kind of God would be that stingy and preferential and . . . and . . . stubborn and unmerciful?!”
He then points out that this belief is so central for many Christians that to reject it is to reject Jesus. How ought we to respond to that? Bell says, “This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” (viii).
Okay. So I’ve hijacked the Jesus story and the story I give as His story is misguided and toxic and subversive. I just want to understand where I stand.
Bell concludes his Preface by saying “My hope is that this [discussion] frees you.” Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.” Only truth frees. If Bell is wrong in his attack on what Evangelicals have been preaching, then the result will not be freedom, but slavery to something other than truth.
One last comment on Bell’s Preface: He states clearly that “nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. . . . That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith.” (x). He is identifying his teaching with the historic, orthodox Christian faith. As we continue interacting with his subsequent chapters, we must ask, “Is he right?”