(Let’s see, spam filter on [check], firewall enabled [check], bullet-proof vest [check])
Admittedly I am a bit late to the party (search for Rob Bell on Jesus Creed for a much earlier and better response), nevertheless some friends and family have asked what I think about Rob’s book and now that I am in the process of reading it (unlike some who have written responses to it) I thought I would share some initial thoughts.
First of all, Rob Bell is a Christian who dearly loves God. So, it should not be surprising that there are parts of the book that I resonate with, moreover, Rob is asking questions that many are asking…if you (we) don’t like the answers he is coming up with…then we had better come up with some better ones, because they really do need to be answered. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why I am reading this book…after all, I am not all that much concerned about Rob Bell…I am concerned for people that don’t love God and who think that the “Good News” is bad news.
Before I get into where Rob and I part company (saved for another post)…I think it is only fair to begin with where we agree.
Here is a quote from page 6:
Some Christians believe and often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that what life is about? Going somewhere else? If that’s the gospel, the good news—if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else—then the central message of the Christian faith has very little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one. Which of course raises the question: Is that the best God can do?
This quote needs a response for a number of reasons. Here are just two:
- Promise of Heaven and threat of Hell really does have limited evangelistic value in America (that’s just a reality that we need to deal with).
- The Gospel is much bigger than a “ticket to heaven” or a “get-out-of-Hell-free card.”
Now admittedly, for some people, the only good news left in life (because they have squandered every other opportunity) is the good news that this life is not all there is (think of the the thief on the cross being the arch type). But just because that is true for them, doesn’t mean that that is all that the Gospel is about. In fact, it almost seems, as one reads through the Gospels, that Heaven and Hell are peripheral issues (after all, money seems to outrank both).
Rob and I have come to similar conclusions (in this case), but we have arrived at it from very different data points. Rob primarily deals with middle class America (well maybe after this book upper middle class ). In contrast, I started along this line of thought in a poverty stricken Muslim country in North Africa. Both of us realized (for different reasons) that Heaven and Hell doesn’t “preach well”…but we also realized that the Gospel is so much more than that as well.
One of my foundational beliefs is that the Gospel is good news to all of the domains we live in. I take Luke 2:52 (And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.) To be a model for the life God wants for all us. Moreover, because God wants this for us, I take it to mean that He really does have good news for us in the mental realm, the physical realm, the spiritual realm and the social realm.
But I don’t just believe it based on Luke 2:52…I believe it because I can see stark evidence at what happens when people believe lies about God and His world. I have even helped bury some of them. One little girl I knew died because her father believed a lie about a simple measles vaccine. What we believe really does make a difference. The truth of Christianity has implications for right now and the life to come (it isn’t an either/or). It affects (or should) our personal relationships, the value we set on material possessions, how we do our jobs, how we care for creation, how we love, and how we live. And Rob is right, we need to get a lot better at communicating that…both to insiders and outsiders.