Bell on Inclusivity and Jesus

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Rocks everywhere. That is chapter 6. It is on Jesus and inclusivity. It is the poorest chapter so far.

Let me begin by saying where I agree with Bell. Jesus is the personal life giving force within the creation, who was involved in the creation. No one comes to the Father but by Him. Bell says this clearly. He also is incarnate- flesh and blood, a mystery. This is for all the world, people of all sorts. Even that is OK, if we are clear how Scripture speaks of the inclusion of the world-- by a reception of Jesus as reflected in the preached message of his followers.

Bell never says all are saved in this chapter, but he implies that people can embrace Jesus without knowing him or about him in any direct way. People of all sorts. People of all religions. That is where the chapter fails---sadly and badly. 

The most stunning statement in this transition to discuss inclusivity is his claim that no where does Jesus tell the mechanism by which he saves and "gets people to God through him."

Let's see. Did not Jesus commission his followers to take the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name in Luke 24?  

Did he not say unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood (probably a reference to some type of personal engagement with Jesus!), you cannot know me in John 6? 

Behind Bell's affirmation of inclusivity stands a horrendous double non-sequitur as he transitioned into this idea. He says that Jesus is "bigger than any one religion including Christianity." Now if he means the various forms of Christian expression, that I can entertain, but his placement suggests he means any expression of Christian faith and that the exclusion of people of other faiths is intended in this remark.

Here is the double non-sequitur. First, in a theological sense, Jesus is Christianity. Without Jesus as the Christ, there would have been or would not be such a thing as Christianity (in any shape or form). And second, what do we do with the claim of the Scripture Bell so clearly notes that this Jesus is unique, that salvation is his unique work and that this IS a unique theology and faith? How do we get to Bell's "exclusivity on other other side of inclusivity?" 

There is no bridge that links these two in the way Bell implies in the Scripture.

John 10 does not qualify, even though Bell tries to use it. The sheep not of this pen/flock Jesus refers to is simply a mention of Gentiles as a group, not an appeal to all persons or every person.

Or what do we do with Bell's appeal to Ephesians 1, where he moves so quickly from God's good pleasure to reconciling all things, forgetting to even mention election that is at the start of the praise Psalm that is Ephesians 1:3-14? This selective and non-contextual use of Scripture is disappointing.

As much fun as Bell has with word plays and links, he often during the journey loses his way on the road to meaning by failing to work adequately with the context of the passages he cites. He gets lost in his cleverness. Somehow John 14 gets reversed. No one comes to the Father but by me becomes many will get in without knowing me (simply because Jesus is everywhere and works mysteriously).

He cites that Jesus came to save all, but ignores the text that says Jesus came to divide, even cast fire on the earth in ways that creates division within families (See Luke 12:49-53). This type of selective citation does not lead into clearly elucidating a theological topic, which is what pastors are supposed to do from Scripture.

He cites John 12 that Jesus will draw all people to himself but ignores the fact that those who preached Jesus suffered and faced persecution as Jesus did this "drawing" their preaching. Or what of the judgment Jesus says will judge those who reject his word in the very same John 12 passage right after he makes the remarks Bell cites (see John 12:47-48)? How does that work? He also ignores that those drawn are those to whom the Father has revealed this. See John 6:44-47. The mechanism is in this John 6 text. It is to believe in him and be taught by God in doing so. The text even alludes to the New Covenant it preaches as it makes the point. 

Finally, I have some questions for Bell. If inclusion of the type you describe is present in Scripture, then why the preaching commission that calls for repentance or faith? Why not just inform people of the love of God that wins? Why highlight faith or repentance? I am missing something here? Why not just inform people of what God has done for them? The only answer I can conceive of his being able to give is because God is calling people into a conscious relationship with him through Jesus. Yes, and that is precisely the point. That is why the call is for faith, repentance or turning to him. That is why the mechanism by which Jesus saves is made clear in Scripture. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is all a gift from God, consciously preached by the church and consciously responded to by those who enter into this relational unending walk with God through the work Jesus provided as people are called to repent (Luke 24:47). 

This is all very painful to raise, since it is clear Bell really wants people to know and appreciate Jesus. It is also painful because Bell often is a very effective communicator with a desire to represent his faith well. Simply put, this chapter fails to do that for reasons the biblical text raises about how Jesus saves, texts and ideas that sadly Bell leaves undeveloped to the peril of his book's claims.

Comments

ekerwin's picture

Dr. Bock, first let me commend you for using the biblical pattern found in the letters to the churches in Revelation, an edited paraphrase would read like this - "You have done this and that righteous thing, but I have this against you...."

You offered us this - "Let me begin by saying where I agree with Bell." - first before you get to the critical discerning judgments.

I am glad that there were things that you could find common ground in. But I think the uncommon ground outweighs the common.

If I understand your review right, several things disturb me about Rob Bell. He does not  have regard for the context of Scripture. You have mentioned several times in the past posts what bothers you is his omissions. I am also concerned for those people who are being led astray by such teaching. Many who have not consciously submitted their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ could wrongly be given assurances of God's acceptance of them. 

These are just a couple of things but the far greater problem is the God of such broad inclusivity that he is talking about does not exist in the pages of Scripture nor does He exist in the Universe.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

LeFever:

 

Technically there is a difference between universalism (all are saved) and inclusivism (many or most are saved, but not everyone), although others call this second category "narrow universalism". Some in the history of the church have held out hope for some other being saved outside of a conscious embrace of Christ (the moral- like some of the Greek philosophers, the mentally handicapped or young children being the popular candidates). Bell is in this second camp, although to be clear he is seems to have a wider open door than many inclusivists-- so it sounds like universalism. 

I did some brief comparison's of Bell's understanding of heaven, hell, and salvation through Christ with that of Paul Dean. They seem to line-up fairly well from what I've read. Dean was a Universalist whom the Universalists' claim. It seems that Bell should have no rouble falling into the same camp.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Mark:

Yes, I see that. Thanks for the connection. 

Darrell, Thank you so much for your reasoned and fair evaluation of Bell's book and theology.  I have a question which I would like to understand more thoroughly.  I understand Bell's wanting to protect God from being viewed as a cruel God sending people to a hell prepared for them for their punishment.  However, in neutering the Word from any sort of God's punishment - hell is completely of one's own making as they reject God and until they submit, does that make God even more cruel in sending a completly sinless being - His own Son to the cross there to suffer and be separated from relationship with the Father.  It makes no sense if there is no penalty for sin to be paid except one's own "hell".  Also the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah then seems to make no sense.

 

Darrell, am I missing something in Bell's theology which makes sense out of this?

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Larry: I think not.

ekerwin's picture

Dr. Bock,

I came across this (extreme) example of inclusivism, from Greg Koukl, on the Stand To Reason website:

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9656

I do not know if this is where Rob Bell would go but based on your review it would seem possible.

Ernie

Thank you for this smart and in-depth analysis.  The conscious aspect you raise is important.  After all the Greatest commandment includes loving God with all of your mind

Blessings!

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