At the heart of the gospel story is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection on the third day is of “first importance” (cf. 1 Cor 15.3). It is the death and resurrection (and all of its ensuing implications) that set this story apart in human history. Bell understands this and sets out to keep the death and resurrection of Jesus at the heart of the gospel story.
Bell does a great job of demonstrating the comprehensive scope of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospel is not just atonement or victory. It is both and more. So Bell correctly says:
What happened on the cross is like… a defendant going free, a relationship being reconciled, something lost being redeemed, a battle being won, a final sacrifice being offered, so that no one ever has to offer one again, an enemy being loved (p. 128).
Christianity must find ways to maintain this comprehensive scope lest it risk reducing the gospel story or over emphasizing one aspect at the expense of another. I know the word “balance” is somewhat of a worn-out cliché but it seems that without such balance, Christianity runs a dangerous risk of not only telling the story incorrectly but also distorting the claims which the gospel makes upon life.
This is why I am also perplexed by the move Bell makes in this chapter. In order to keep the comprehensive scope of the gospel in tact, Bell reminds us that the resurrection is just as important as the crucifixion. But it is the play that Bell makes with the resurrection that is perplexing.
Exploring the Gospel of John and a few other biblical texts, Bell paints a picture of comprehensive salvation. He begins by describing the resurrection of Jesus as the eighth sign. He does this by making a play on the number seven (the seven miraculous signs Jesus performs) and the seven days of creation, thinking of the resurrection as the eighth sign, the new day of the new week which means new creation. This is the cosmic gospel. That’s seems to be a novel way of thinking theologically about the resurrection which I like. But then, in not so many words, Bell spins this as almost a universal claim of salvation:
A gospel that leaves out it’s cosmic scope will always feel small. A gospel that has as tis chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story. A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolster 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” (p. 135).
First, let it be clearly stated, from what I have read so far (ch 6 at this point), Bell never actually affirms universalism (despite what you may have heard elsewhere). Though he sure doesn’t deny it either.
Here is the problem. To start with, Bell wants to proof-text some of the New Testament verses which have the word “all” in them (e.g., 1 Cor 15.22; Tit 2.11) and assign the widest meaning possible to the verse. That is a large exegetical claim to make without giving at the very least a substantiating explanation in an endnote. But even if such interpretation is correct, it must be kept in tension with verses that appear to run counter to the picture Bell is painting (e.g., John 3.18; Acts 4.12; Rev 22.15) or else the story is distorted (which seems to be the very thing Bell wants to avoid). Further more, to ignore verses that seemingly (or at least traditionally) counter his argument only seems to weaken his thesis. If this is the picture he wants to paint, Bell must take time to explain how these other seemingly counter-passages in the New Testament work in the picture and this he has yet to do so as far as I can tell…perhaps he will.
As I read on the blog of Wade Hodges, I would rather be judged by God for being to gracious than to judgmental. Those who know me or have read much on my blog know that I have no interest in a sectarian or stingy Christianity but I am called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and do so, as hard as it may be, in such a way that calls all people (who all sin) to faith and repentance, discipleship and baptism into Christ. In the next chapter, we will continue the discussion of salvation with Bell.
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Opening Thoughts
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: The Flat Tire
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Here is the New There
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Hell
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Does God Get What He Wants