Saturday, May 28, 2011

Heaven by Rob Bell

The first question Bell proposes is in relation to the staggering number of people who won't "make" (my emphasis) it to heaven.

I would say that is what we don't know. We don't know how God has been speaking to people and how they have responded. Whatever light he has given them can either be accepted or rejected. we don't know how many or how few will be in heaven. All we know is that the only way to the Father is through Christ, which Bell affirms. Like Bell I don't have a clue about where Ghandi is (or Martin Luther King Jr.).

He goes on to raise a multitude of questions in the first chapter. And some of those questions I do wonder about myself. Like the "personal relationship" one. What does that even mean? But I'm not going to dive into all the Christanese he exposes. I, too, think we should explain things better rather with the insider jargon.

Heaven. "It's somewhere else, or is it right here and now?" asks Bell. Bell begins with the story about the rich man who comes to Jesus asking about eternal life. Bell explains that Jesus' answers the man's concerns which is not "with how to go to heaven," but "how to have more responsibility in the age to come." I would agree with Bell in that the man is not asking how to go to heaven. I think the man is asking about eternal life and how to get it. I don't see the man asking for how to be a good citizen in the world to come. Bell suggest that this is what Jesus is getting at. Live to be a better person now earns you more responsibility later. "Jesus takes the man's questions about his life then and makes it about the kind of life he's living now" (p41). If anything Bell is at fault of being a postmillennialist. He equates the prophets' sayings with literally heaven on earth (p33). A premillennialist does not disregard the new heaven and the new earth imagery. I think most would agree how we live now is important.

Bell says that the man went away because he had not yet understood that greed could not enter into the age to come. But even still, the man went away. We don't know if he ever turned back to God. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. I think Jesus left open the possibility that he didn't.

In defining "heaven," Bell goes on to say that it is just simply a substitute for "God." (p42) I will say that I'm still undecided on this. Kingdom of heaven = kingdom of God. This will need some more thought. He adds, "Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be." (p42). The last one is easier for me than the first definition. The story of the Bible is when God's will will be done on earth as it currently is in heaven. Heaven then is "partnering with God to make a new and better world..." (p47) Well, as subversive as this image is of heaven, it certainly is not a new image. Therefore, many people who have held and are holding to this view, are considered orthodox. Why not Bell?

In reference to judgment, Bell states that heaven confronts us with our incompleteness and that we must have that "burned" off. I would agree. Some will be left with a lot, others a little. We have to be fitted for heaven. I would call this the judgment seat of Christ.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about how Bell defines "aion". He gives us two definitions. 1) an era of time with beginning and an end. 2) an intensity experienced that transcends time. I'll admit I've not looked at the word/concept in depth. But a quick glance at BDAG of "aion" states that the word means, "long period of time without reference to a beginning nor an end." Secondly, it means "eternal." Bell wants us to believe that eternal and forever are not the same thing. In my opinion this is the closest he comes to being a universalist. If eternity is just a period of intensity (in judgment, perhaps) then one goes through it and is then relieved from it. I don't think Bell ever goes quite that far. But I would say he comes close to advocating purgatory indirectly rather than universalism directly. And for that (i.e. advocating purgatory) we can blame him. If, in fact, he does advocate an intense judgment then release.


Jarröt said...

I feel like he only indicates the existence of purgatory in regards to the antithesis to "heaven/life after this." His interviews, sermons, and responses hasn't cleared this up either. As a "reformerist(?)" I'm still on the fence about him. I don't like his inability to give an opinion either way(on anything for that matter). This gives him a ora of shifty and shadiness I don't think is good for the universal body as a whole, almost like a christian politician. I applaud him at being able to drive up discussion on this. However, I think it could have been done in a better way. I'm all for drumming up discussion but not at the risk of splitting up the already shaky divides between us. His church and "movement(I'm sure he'd hate me quantifying him in this way)" if you will, reminds me of the PCUSA denomination here in the states that just removed language that disqualified homosexuals from ordination. They wanted a more free following church, denomination, and christian walk decades ago. Not hindered by traditional ethics, viewpoints, or ideals. And after decades of letting the pendulum swing off it's track it's finally beginning to decay and fall apart(doctrinally speaking and the denomination as a whole decreasing in rapid numbers). I just don't want to see another christian fraction split and decay because they don't want to be hinder by tradition.

drlobojo said...

Time and sequence are such troublesome concepts.

pecheur said...

Sorry about the late publish. I'll try to do better in the future.