Rob Bell’s Love Wins: My Reaction to Chapter 6: “There Are Rocks Everywhere”

Citing the outer rim of the bull’s eye, Ephesians 1, God’s purpose, states Bell, is to “bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ.” The specific verses, that he seems so hesitant to tell the reader over and over again, in this instance are Ephesians 1:9-10. To Bell, this means that “God is putting the world back together and God is doing this through Jesus (p. 148, kindle version).” What is curious is the context that he again ignores. Take the time to read Ephesians 1:3-14. I don’t think I need to tell my readers this but just in case, notice verses 12-13. “In order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:12-13 NIV).” So, the Apostles, including Paul, put their hope in Christ and the Ephesian believers heard the Gospel message and believed. Therefore, God’s plan for bringing all things into unity under Christ in both heaven and earth includes this plan that is salvation through faith in Christ to those who hear and respond in saving faith. There is no reason from this passage to conclude that God is going to save everyone, unless of course you do what Bell did and that is to pick two verses out of this chapter and establish a doctrine from it in cooperation with other verses that are also picked out of context.

Subsequently, he quotes a verse out of Colossians 1, again without citing the exact verse that states, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery.” Again, without the context, the readers of Love Wins miss that Paul and Timothy give thanks to God in prayer for the Colossians faith in Christ (3-4), as a result of their hearing of the Gospel (5). That Gospel is at work all around the world and Paul links that Gospel to the one that they heard (6). Epaphras was the messenger who brought the Gospel to Colossae (7). The Apostle Paul then lists the things for which he prays for the Colossian believers. After this, Paul exults Jesus’ supremacy as God, Creator, Sustainer, the Head of the Church and the firstborn from the dead. It was God’s pleasure, Paul concludes, for all His fullness to be in His Son and to reconcile all things through His shed blood (20).

In verses 21-23, the apostle links this reconciliation to a faith in the Gospel that is heard by the Colossians and proclaimed to every creature under heaven. This proclamation to every creature may be a reference to natural revelation in which there has been a debate as to whether it is enough to save. Without dispute, I believe, is the contention that natural revelation is enough to condemn (see Romans 1:18-20). I guess we know where Rob Bell falls on this issue. While I think such a view falls within orthodoxy, to me, it is a dangerous thing to assume that natural revelation is sufficient to save since it would seriously dilute our impetus to go and preach the Gospel around the world. One could argue against doing that when God will reveal Himself through nature and we can stay home and comfortable or just do work projects around the world in the name of Jesus and hope that everyone gets to heaven or heaven gets to here and all will be well. I think that work projects are a great idea but the Gospel must be central not peripheral.

If natural revelation is enough to save, one then must needs be puzzled by the Apostle Paul’s willingness to suffer for a Gospel he need not spread. Paul references those sufferings in the last part of Colossians 1 from which Bell gets his out of context quote. Verse 27 makes perfect sense in context especially when one sees Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles.

As others have noted, and you can see from just two examples above, when Bell goes all over Scripture, quoting out of context and generalized reference after out of context and generalized reference, it is very difficult to succinctly answer from each and every passage. Also, each of these passages deserve more than a fleeting, quick run through which further constrains the efforts of those who wish to contend for the faith.

From Romans 16 and Ephesians 3, he delivers a quick quote, each a sentence or smaller and then continues an argument from this approach. Those passages address the “mystery of Christ” and “the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known.” He then states something quite disturbing, “Jesus is bigger than any one religion.”

Furthermore, he argues that “He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called ‘Christianity (p. 150, Kindle version).’” Now to label Christianity, in quotes nonetheless, as the biggest source of cages or labels for Jesus is absurd. By this, does he mean that Christianity provides a more distorted sense of who Jesus is and why He came than Islam? Than Buddhism? Than Jehovah Witnesses? Mormons? New Agers? Quotes like this one demonstrate why Bell should not be taken seriously. He is grossly distorting Christian history, evangelicalism and even Christianity itself and then claiming to be the advocate of a better way.

The superlative verses quoted by Bell, out of context, do seem to indicate eventual salvation to all. However, most, if not all of them, aren’t so clear when they are studied in the context in which they are found and also the greater context of other passages dealing with salvation through Christ alone, by faith in Him and the need to spread the Gospel despite great persecution and even suffering. Why would God the Son send His followers out to spread a Gospel that nature is perfectly capable of doing without them and without the negative impacts of suffering and persecution? That is a question that Bell has not yet answered. Other possibilities for the superlative passages, depending on context, is that they indicate the potential reach of salvation, as in Jesus’ blood atonement is big enough to cover all, or that they indicate all believers. Also, the passages that speak of Jesus reconciling all things unto Himself are to be understood in the completion of God’s salvation plan which includes His righteous judgments and the creation of a new heaven and earth. Then, as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Cor. 15:20-28 (NIV):

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

Note the “all” who will be made alive are defined as those who belong to Him. He will destroy all dominion, authority and power and He will put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. So, even the placing of His enemies under His feet is in the context, before and after of destruction/judgment. What places all of God’s Creation under His authority and brings it all into unity in both heaven and earth is the final reward and punishment of humanity based on their faith in or rejection of Christ. To answer the question about those who respond to natural revelation and have no Christian witness, see my earlier comments on chapter four.

2 Timothy 4:17 presents a superlative that is a grammatical problem as well as Paul declares that God was with him, delivering him from “the lion’s mouth” so that through him, Paul, all the Gentiles might hear the Gospel. I don’t think Bell, or anyone else, would advocate that Paul brought the Gospel into the hearing of every single Gentile of his generation. One could explain this as Paul stating the reach of his Gospel witness and the importance, to God’s program, of the apostle’s protection and release so that Paul might continue the work of spreading the Gospel.

One of the principles of Bible interpretation is that you understand more difficult or problematic passages in light of the more easily understood. For Bell to extract these passages from their contexts, that often make them more clear, and ignore the preponderance of references to salvation through faith alone in Christ alone has obviously led to where Bell finds himself now; on the outside looking in. In my opinion, he appears to simultaneously rejoice in this as well as be irritated by it.

Much more could be said about chapter six but I will leave that to others or perhaps another time.

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