Rob Bell-- More about Judgment
This morning deals with Bell's take on why judgment is a bad story. Here we have less Scripture and more opinion. Bell does not like an angry God and says God does not get what he wants when he judges.
Then why does Scripture talk about judgment so much? I make this point because we do not speculate about the future or judgment when Scripture speaks to it. We cannot take half the Scripture (God's love and compassion) and pit it against another half (God's wrath and judgment) and then walk away and call that tension, and then claim we are doing theology. These texts say more than Bell suggests. Here is why.
Bell correctly points out that we are all a part of God's family according to several Scriptures. Yes, but what Bell does not tell us (yet again another omission) is that most of these texts address us as God's creatures and that God as Creator means we are accountable to him. The idea of being in God's family in a more intimate sense is not the point of these texts or else Jesus' announcement of the kingdom and a call to repent makes no sense. If God's love eventually overcomes, then why did not Jesus make that the point of his preaching? Why did he not say, "Hang around long enough and God will show compassion and let you in." Or "Watch long enough and the love of God will overwhelm you and melt your heart." That was not his message. It was to repent and receive what God graciously offers--forgiveness and new life. But to refuse it is to commit "blasphemy against the Spirit" and for that sin there is no forgiveness (Mark 3:29).
Another topic Bell ignores the implications of are parables that tell of the door being closed and people being on the outside looking in as people come from all over but those near missed the meal and look in from the outside. Apparently the "in" and "out" imagery Bell dislikes comes from Jesus as well. Read Luke 13:25-28 or Matthew 25:10-12. There are other texts as well where the odd man out weeps and gnashes teeth. This also pictures people on the outside. Jesus did speak about judgment, about a judgment that did matter and that did cost-- and not just with language that looks at a temporary purging-- but being on the outside for not knowing someone.
Bell describes judgment as being for not believing the right things. This is an oversimplification. It is for not responding to God, for not coming to know him on the basis of relationship He sets. The parables I just noted above end with the refrain "I do not know you." This is about more than propositions (the way Bell likes to tell it), it is about self understanding before God. God's goodness and love says, I will forgive you if you accept my gift and understand you need me and what I offer. Yet many walk away. If they do not get it now, why would more time help? What more can God do to show that He cares than to take our place of punishment and offer us a clean slate?
Here is why getting the book of Revelation right is so important. Bell reads Revelation 21-22 as if Revelation 19-20 did not exist. Is Satan judged alone? When Jesus spoke of the goats condemned in Matthew 25 was he only kidding or rhetorically scaring people with an image that in the end does not come to pass? Where is the tension in what that image shows? Justice is a part of God's work, so is His judgment. The new heaven and earth is filled with people from all nations, but that is not the same as saying everyone (or almost everyone) is in, if they just hang around God long enough. Jesus came as the revelation from God and many rejected him. Luke 13:6-9 even suggests that more time may not (read did not) help Israel.
Our point is that Jesus did speak about judgment in teaching the parables and in the revelation to John in the final book of Scripture. Judgment is only a bad story for those who struggle with the concept of God and His right to judge. Yes, God desires all be saved. Yes, He reaches out in love. Yes, He seeks the lost. Yes, He is capable of all of this. However, He made us in His image to be responsive to Him and He honors that responsiveness by making us accountable to Him. It is not always a pleasant story because we often reject what God graciously does for us. But that does not nullify the call to be responsive or the importance of that conscious choice.
This portrayal also ignores another element in Scripture. Those who hearts open up to God, God gets the gospel to them. Look at Cornelius in Acts 10.God is capable of that as well. To my mind, chapter 4 has been the weakest of Bell's chapters so far. A concept he finds hard to swallow is what he rejects.
One more thing: Bell mentions Origen and Clement as those being open to what he is saying. I wonder if they are as open as he suggests. It is true that many in the past did hold to some exceptions of people who got in without consciously embracing Christ. These slots were reserved for the great philosophers of the past and others who showed an ethical dimension to their lives. But let's be clear Bell seems to have a much larger category than this in mind. What is a crack in the door for some, where God might be open to some who show a life of caring, Bell risks turning into no door at all, because a judgment and being out is not what Scripture directly addresses.
In sum, Bell says this only by ignoring or underplaying things Jesus taught in the parables and in the book of Revelation. I regret having to be so harsh, but it is a case of not allowing so much of what Scripture does teach to be swept aside as if it were not relevant. Again to note what Scripture says (all of it) is not speculation; it is exposition and doing theology.