Rob Bell’s Love Wins: My thoughts on Chapter 2, “Here is the New There”
In this chapter, I see Bell as mocking the traditional idea of heaven and coming up with his own vision of heaven. Again, the numbers presented are the Kindle for PC numbers. If you don’t have this book in that form, the numbers are meaningless. Chapters are identified and my thoughts are divided accordingly to ease the recognition of the location of these discussions from Bell’s book.
To begin with, in location 331 he mocks the idea of white robes in a place that is “somewhere else.” “Does anybody look good in a white robe? How could it be heaven without sports? What about swimming? What if you spill food on the robe?” Somehow, I don’t think God or the Apostle John found the images of white robes in the place of future reward as either particularly funny or something with which to feel uncomfortable. Apparently, the angel at the tomb looked good in white (Matthew 28:3). Jesus looked pretty good in white, I am sure, on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-4). Revelation 3 speaks of white garments for the saints of Sardis and in Revelation 4 for the 24 elders. To the martyred saints, white robes were given them (Rev. 6). Rev. 7 depicts the Tribulation saints of every nation, tribe, people and tongue wearing white garments. Verse 14 of that chapter says that they were made white in the blood of the Lamb; certainly something not at all funny or to be taken lightly. I guess I could go on but I think you get my point.
As for “somewhere else,” apparently, to use his own words, Bell is the one who misses the whole point. This world is under the Curse as a result of the Fall. The promise of a somewhere else has been and will continue to be a draw to believers of all time. Hebrews states that Abraham looked for a city whose builder and maker was God (Heb. 11:10). Note the words of 2 Cor. 5:1-2, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” Let’s not forget that “Absent from the body is present with the Lord (that sounds like we go somewhere else, doesn’t it?).” More could be added but these examples will suffice.
He speaks of cultural items associated with heaven as being harps, clouds and streets of gold. Well, Jesus went up into a cloud (Acts 1:8-9) and He is to return in the clouds (Acts 1:11). Oh, and by the way, the two angels who spoke to the disciples were decked out in those bothersome, totally uncool white robes (Acts 1:10). To get back on subject, I have some vague recollection of something about a street of gold in some cultural book which calls itself “The Revelation of Jesus Christ . . . (see Rev. 21:21).”
To zoom out for a minute, in chapter two, Bell gives me the impression that he is a postmillennialist or, at the least, is greatly influenced thereby. Although some postmillennialists believe in a literal millennium, Bell appears to be in the camp that sees the millennium as more descriptive of an indefinite period of time that has already begun. During this time, he foresees the world getting better through the activity of the Church. Christ will rule over a world in which people are not allowed to act in ways contrary to the ways of God. Apparently, like a minority of postmillennialists, he promotes the idea that eventually everyone will come around to seeing things and doing things God’s way while most postmillennialists believe the majority will convert. If this be the case, then it would be appropriate to call him a universalist. However, I will give him the benefit of the doubt as I proceed through his book.
Let me give you some quotes from chapter two to back up my assessment from the previous paragraph. Rob Bell quotes Luke 18:29-30 from the NIV, “’Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’” He explains, the word here “doesn’t mean forever as we think of forever. When we say forever, what we are generally referring to is something that will go on . . . never ceasing . . . That’s not this word. The first meaning of this word aion refers to a period of time with a beginning and an end (Location 419).”
He quotes from Isaiah 11 and 25, Ezekiel 36 and Amos 9. From those passages he highlights prophecies of the earth being filled with the knowledge of God as the “waters cover the sea.” People will be given “grain and fruit and crops and new hearts and new spirits,” he writes. Everything will be “repaired, restored and rebuilt . . . life in the age to come. If this sounds like heaven on earth, that’s because it is. Literally.” He then makes observations from the passages such as “they spoke about ‘all the nations,’ that’s everybody.” Then bringing it home to his point about heaven not being a “somewhere else,” Bell states, “It’s here they were talking about, this world, the one we know – but rescued, transformed and renewed (Location 464, Kindle).” Earlier Bell had described it as heaven coming down to earth.
One would assume at this point that Bell is advocating for a heaven that is not somewhere else but here on Earth. It is a place made better by people living out the commands of God and doing things his way. By this, Bell makes clear in his book that he means cleaning up the planet, stopping injustices, feeding and clothing the needy, solving global warming, etc. Jesus would come back to rule over this world that is rescued, transformed and renewed, to use his words, but not perfect. He speaks of a transforming process that takes time as man is disallowed to be covetous, bigoted, violent, greedy, etc. Bell states, “Certain things have to be banished. Decisions have to be made. Judgments have to be rendered. . . They [the prophets] called this day ‘the day of the Lord (Location 491/504).’” Alluding to the time of Christ, Bell states that they didn’t think of eternal life as a life experienced somewhere else because they looked forward to a restored world right here.
How does Bell see Christ as defining heaven? The author goes into a little explanation of how some, apparently meaning devout Jews, don’t use the name God but substitute G-d when they write His name. People, according to Bell, would at times substitute the word heaven when they spoke of God. He then writes of how the kingdom of God is at times referred to as the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Bell concludes that heaven is another way to say God. I think the Bible is clear that heaven and God are totally distinct but let’s continue with Bell’s argument.
“Jesus consistently affirmed heaven as a real place, space and dimension of God’s creation, where God’s will and only God’s will is done. Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be.” Pulling it all together, Bell asserts that what Jesus and the prophets taught and what Jewish tradition pointed to and Jesus lived in anticipation of was the day when heaven and earth would be one. “The day when God’s will would be done on earth even as it is now done in heaven. The day when earth and heaven will be the same place (Location 571).”
“Much of the speculation about heaven, and more important, the confusion – comes from the idea that in a blink of an eye we will automatically become totally different people who know everything. But our heart, our character, our desires, our longings – those things take time,” Bell explains. He is referring to 1 Cor. 15:51-53, which it would pay him to read and meditate upon instead of dismissing it as some notion. It is not a notion but the Word of God. The passage clearly teaches at the last trumpet, the believing dead will be raised with an incorruptible body and we will be changed instantaneously.
Bell’s theology necessitates the gradual change of an individual for he seems to envision all, or the vast majority, to conform voluntarily to the ways of God. As can be seen in our world today, that looks bleak. Just as evolutionists wish away the impossible/improbable with time (i.e. billions of years), so does Bell in respect to his heaven on earth. In contrast to Bell’s theology, God’s Word states quite clearly that the majority will reject, not receive, the Gospel.
Without any real evidence, Bell asserts that sometimes when Jesus was talking about heaven, He was really talking about God. Now isn’t that convenient? So, Jesus wasn’t talking about a place but about a person; God. Then, why didn’t Jesus say God? According to Bell, was it because some people didn’t like to say God? How about the inconvenient fact that whenever Jesus referred to God, He called Him Father? Why? Because He, God the Father, was His Father? A principle of Bible interpretation is that if the plain sense makes common sense than seek no other sense. If Jesus used the word “heaven” then assume He meant a place He was calling heaven unless it didn’t make any sense. The Bible was written to communicate to us in a way that we can understand it. If God’s Word substituted some words for other words without any clear reason explained to the reader then how in the world would it be understood?
To conclude my thoughts on this chapter, I believe that the heaven that Bell is writing concerning is not the heaven presented in the Bible. His is indivisible from God and is to be revealed on this earth. Believers will not leave this Earth and enter heaven upon death but will participate in its manifestation on this planet. To him, heaven’s experiences are all of the things we enjoy today in a world that is transformed without global warming, pollution, injustices, poverty, etc.
In the Bible, heaven is the place where God’s presence dwells. It is the place from which God the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Heaven is the place to which Jesus ascended and sat at the Father’s right hand. Our blessed hope is to be absent from the body and present with the Lord in heaven. There will be God’s wrath poured out on this Earth. There will be a millennial kingdom with Jesus as the King of the Earth, reigning from Jerusalem. The lion will lay down next to the Lamb and man will not learn war any more. Eventually, sin, death, hell and Satan will be defeated, the unrighteous judged and a new heaven and earth will emerge. There will be an eternal state of bliss. Heaven and earth are separate and will remain separate. What will unify heaven and earth are God’s presence and the fact that they are both a part of God’s Creation, not Bell’s vision of heaven coming down to earth so that both are one.
Disclaimer: If, as I go through more of the book, I find my conclusions needing clarification or amending, I will do so. I will seek to be fair but I will not compromise the Word in doing so.
Again, I welcome your thoughts. Thanks for reading.