I had a few more things I wanted to mention about the book and the talk surrounding it…
There seems to be a thread in Christianity that doesn’t allow for anything that questions the status quo, which seeks to stifle any possible hint of doubt and dissent and questioning. This is zealotry and ideology. We should never be afraid of questions. Nor should we be afraid of healthy doubt. Not the kind of doubt of unbelief. Rather, a doubt that leads us to ask questions and to seek answers to those questions. To not be content with Sunday School answers. The kind of doubt that can actually grow your faith. On top of this, there needs to be a healthy doubt on our part, that is much like humility. We need to question and humbly admit the limitations of our own reasoning as fallible human beings. God’s thoughts and his way are higher and beyond our own. While God has chosen to reveal himself through scripture, through Jesus Christ, and throughout history to his people, he has not revealed all things to us. This gets back to the mystery of God that we need to allow for, because there is some information that we are not privy to.
I read a few more reviews and commentaries online about the book, and people still continue to misrepresent some of what Bell is saying. They say that he doesn’t believe in a future hell, only that hell is real and present on earth right now. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He actually says that there is a present hell and a future hell. Just as he says there is a present heaven and a future heaven. To me, this just smacks of someone who has their own particular talking points and only hears what they want to hear. It’s something that happens all of the time in politics, and it drives me nuts. Both sides, rather than addressing the issues or what their opponent actually is saying, they create a straw-man of what they believe their opponents argument is, and gear everything they say toward attacking that straw-man instead of actually taking on what is actually being said. This also rears its ugly head when it comes to divisions/denominations in the Church too. Just look at the predestination arguments or the “once-saved-always saved” debates that rage in Christian circles.
It shouldn’t surprise me, but I was shocked by the level of hatred and venom spewed out by some people toward Rob Bell personally. I can get disagreeing with what the man is saying. And I can understand presenting differing viewpoints. But some of the stuff out there, particularly from Christians, is not the kind of attitude that Christians should be presenting to the rest of the world. Make no mistake, the rest of the world is watching this. And how many of them are saying to themselves, “This is how they treat one of their own???”
Along those same lines, though, I love that this is creating a discussion point in the Church. I love that pastors are out there digging into the Bible and actually talking to their congregations about these things. Even, and maybe especially, if they disagree with Rob Bell. Because then it becomes a teachable moment for them and an opportunity to spread the gospel.
One of the criticisms of the book is about one of the chapters being dismissive of the importance of the cross, both as a symbol of what Christ did for us, but also that the sacrificial substitution model of it is something that is obsolete in today’s world. In all honesty, that was not what I took away from that chapter, but I did think it was one of the weakest chapters of the book; the one in which he was most vague about what he was trying to say. I do not believe that he was trying to be dismissive of the blood of Christ and the atonement that it provides to believers. What I believe he is saying is that the concept of blood sacrifice is something foreign to our society today. Back in 1st century Jerusalem, it was very common. In fact, animal sacrifice was a pretty common practice throughout much of the civilized world at that time. It’s not that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice was a metaphor itself, it was the illustration and symbolism that his death provided as a means of showing what God had accomplished through Christ. It was something that resonated powerfully with the people of that time. No doubt it impacts us today, but the resonance and impact of it is not the same for us as it would have been for those who grew up with animal sacrifice as a way of life.
The important takeaway from Bell’s book, I think, is that we need to find those illustrations and symbols today that would have the same impact on us; that would resonate with us in the same way it did for the people back then. There is a lot about the Bible that we miss out on today because we do not fully understand or realize the context of the world in which it was written. Of course, there is still plenty that we are able to get out of it. But when I discover a fuller context of a passage of scripture, it makes the verses come more alive for me. It has more impact. It is a challenge. And I know that when I can relate what is being said in scripture to something in my own world that I can relate to and experience, it also becomes more alive to me then too.