Rob Bell on Heaven

Darrell L. Bock's picture

I am currently in Denmark, but have been keeping an eye on the blogs about Rob Bell's Love Wins. I will review the book one chapter at a time since the discussion is an important one. The questions Bell raises are not his alone. Many ask or think them. They need to be engaged openly.  

Today we cover Bell's chapter on Heaven. Actually, much of this chapter is quite good. It stresses eternal life is not about escape and is rooted in relationship. That is correct. He critiques a picture that hung in his grandmother's house that disturbed his sister and him as the launching point. Heaven is not about another type of reality and an escape is his key point. This emphasis does reflect Jesus' teaching.

With Bell you have to pay attention to what he leaves out. That is the case in his exposition of Luke 18. Here he neglects to note that Jesus tells the Rich Man to follow him at the end of his comments that respond to the Rich Man. It is a part of Jesus' answer and explains how he can offer life to the man. This omission turns the passage into an ethical call to live well and follow the Commandments only. This misdirects Jesus' emphasis, which is to experience the Kingdom, one must follow him (and in the context of Luke's overall presentation) receive the Spirit he gives to those who come to him (i.e., follow him).. There is an allegiance that is in view and the supply of something people need here. He is where life is found, not just in his teaching. Following Jesus would have meant the man would have heard more about this need, since it is the central promise of Jesus' teaching, as well as what the apostles focus on in Acts (Just check out Acts 2:30-36 or 11:15-18). 

I also am not sure that his handling of the term "age" as meaning "intense experience" in some texts is accurate. The age to come is looking to exactly that, but Bell is correct to note that Jesus teaches that eternal life can start now, in effect pulling the future into the present.

Bell likes to ask questions and shake up the normal way of thinking about things, even taking on family members as he does with the picture of heaven that hung in a grandmother's home. Taking on a depiction of heaven, forgetting it represents an idea and is not to be taken too literally, makes for a easy target. 

In sum, the chapter on heaven is a mixed bag. One wishes following Jesus would have been a part of his exposition of Luke 18 and developed. It is a key omission. Appreciating what Jesus teaches in full is part of the teaching on following Jesus Bell undercuts here by his omission.

By the way, I was interviewed by Martin Bashir years ago on Nightline about the DaVinci Code. He is a fine journalist. He is a believer who came to Christ out of an Islamic context. This may be why he was so sensitive about the topic of the book.

Hell is the next topic. It will be the next topic on the blog when I get to it.

Comments

Dr. Bock, I look forward to reading your review of each chapter! My question concerning your review is this: Can we really separate "Following Jesus" from "Obeying"? Isn't obeying falling Jesus? Now, I'm not advocating a "works salvation." But, the more I study the gospels, Jesus seems to make it clear that to follow him means to obey.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Penny:

Your question led me to elaborate and extend the review. See if what I added to the longer version answers your question.

 

Here is the addition:

Here he neglects to note that Jesus tells the Rich Man to follow him at the end of his comments that respond to the Rich Man. It is a part of Jesus' answer and explains how he can offer life to the man. This omission turns the passage into an ethical call to live well and follow the Commandments only. This misdirects Jesus' emphasis, which is to experience the Kingdom, one must follow him (and in the context of Luke's overall presentation) receive the Spirit he gives to those who come to him (i.e., follow him).. There is an allegiance that is in view and the supply of something people need here. He is where life is found, not just in his teaching. Following Jesus would have meant the man would have heard more about this need, since it is the central promise of Jesus' teaching, as well as what the apostles focus on in Acts (Just check out Acts 2:30-36 or Acts 11:15-18). 

 

Penny, the point here is enablement. God by his grace supplies what we need to be enabled to walk with him and obey. That gift is something we ask for as we come to receive what Jesus offers, as we recognize our need for what he supplies and offers. This is a key part of the good news (often ignored in the discussion of the gospel and why we need it). This makes Christianity more than an ethic. I discuss this theme and the issue it raises in detail in my new book. Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Rediscovering the Gospel as Good News

Dr. Bock:

I was actually waiting for your review, and I am now glad that you're going to tackle the hard issues.

Thank you!

I appreciate your understanding of this topic.  I also appreciate you taking some time while you are in Europe to consider my idea of this subject.

I as well found Bell's positive contribution to be investing in the "now" as we are called by Christ to continue in the restoration work in people's lives.

That is REALLY neat about Martin Bashir- it seemed in the interview that he was really pushing on Bell with a couple questions, but I found Bell's response that Christ was "terribly relevant" to be good when he was pressed on how relevant Christ is to experiencing eternal life.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Adam:

Thank you for the feedback. Alas, to say Christ is very relevant is vague. How is he relevant and in what ways does he make a difference? That is the question that needs answering.

ekerwin's picture

"How is he relevant and in what ways does he make a difference?"

Good question!

Part of my answer to that would be, If I am a sinner, under the judgment of God, then I need someone to rescue me.

And here is the significant answer to my needing to be rescued. I'll put it in a similar way as Paul did.

If Jesus only died, like all men do, then he is no Savior and not significant. But if he died for my sins and then confirmed it by rising up from the dead, then I have a Savior.

But on the other hand if he did not rise up from the dead then I am still in my sins and I am one most to be pitied!

Now if that isn't relevant enough, then I do not know what is.

Thank you again for the review, I look forward to the truth continuing to be proclaimed by you and in the process Our Lord Jesus Christ being glorified!

ekerwin's picture

"In sum, the chapter on heaven is a mixed bag. One wishes following Jesus would have been a part of his exposition of Luke 18 and developed. It is a key omission. Appreciating what Jesus teaches in full is part of the teaching on following Jesus Bell undercuts here by his omission."

When you made this statement it reminded me what I love so much about a verse by verse, context by context expository studying, teaching, and preaching.

Thank you for your careful look at the same contexts as Rob Bell and filling in the missing blanks. 

Darrell L. Bock's picture

ekerwin:

The point of my question is not only what Jesus did but how the benefits come to be applied. That is what is important in this discussion. All you say is correct, but that final question is where some vagueness can enter into what Jesus does. The question is whether one has to embrace it or not with a conscious faith.

ekerwin's picture

"The question is whether one has to embrace it or not with a conscious faith."

Good point.

I must embrace, with a conscious faith, Jesus and all He has done (especially the cross and resurrection). To embrace it without a conscious faith does not make sense.

I think that Paul in Romans touches upon this as he teaches what faith really is. Chapters 3 and 4 stand out to me.

Thanks again for your conscious embracing of the truth in faith. You are making me think. Which reminds me, it is God who gave us our minds to to use in a conscious way. This would by necessity extend to faith.

Dr. Bock,

Thank you for taking the time to address this book. I also appreciate the fact that you've actually read the book. I am someone who has followed Rob Bell's work for quite some time and I am usually surprised by what he comes up with. At the same time, I am usually thankful that much of his material can be used to help those who are struggling in their faith journey. Some will say that he compromises the gospel or that he isn't clear about this or that but in my experience, he is actually quite clear to those who are hurting and hungry for the truth. I use those two words hurting and hungry intentionally as I believe both will help us in our journey for truth.

With all that being said, I am engaged with what you have to say because there is much that I agree with and some things, which I’m not quite, clear on. I would also like to join on this journey chapter by chapter and discuss.

In your review of this chapter you say that "With Bell you have to pay attention to what he leaves out." - I found this quite interesting as the knock on Bell with most people is that he invites to many things/people IN. I also think the reason why he is often times accused of leaving things out is because he does his best to allow the historical, contextual, exegetical, thrust of the passage to speak rather than allowing the Bible to answer questions which it never asked.

You mentioned in your third paragraph and in your response to Penny that Bell fails to mention that Jesus calls the rich man to follow him in Luke 18 and thus "This omission turns the passage into an ethical call to live well and follow the Commandments only." I think your claim would be accurate if Bell was discussing the life Jesus calls his followers to. Could it have been too early in the book to be making that call since pages 26-32 are not discussing the call to follow Jesus? Instead, in this section Bell is actually explaining that Jesus understood the manner in which this life and the next intersect. He is especially pointing out that Jesus doesn't take this opportunity to inform the rich man "how to get HEAVEN when you die." Therefore, I think your claim of his omission is a little unfair since that is not the topic Bell is discussing. I believe Bell deals with the topic of what it means to follow Jesus later and he is very clear in that section. Again, the way that Jesus communicated the gospel was more in tune with the present reality than something in the future. This is the point that Bell is trying to make as a future location. You clearly affirm this in your second paragraph but then fault Bell in your third paragraph when all he is doing is staying on track with the argument. Do we not often for the sake of brevity quote verses partially in order to make a point (John 10:10b)? Why muddy the waters? Are we to only quote passages which we could exposit every aspect of in one setting? Perhaps the omission was for clarity? Is there a sense in which Bell is using the passage the way that the writers of the NT used the OT and yet being entirely faithful?

Again, in your last paragraph you say, "In sum, the chapter on heaven is a mixed bag. One wishes following Jesus would have been a part of his exposition of Luke 18 and developed. It is a key omission. Appreciating what Jesus teaches in full is part of the teaching on following Jesus Bell undercuts here by his omission."  However, if the title of the chapter is "Here Is The New There" then doesn't this omission seem plausible and logical? As noted earlier? How could we fault him for not going into detail and omitting something which is not central to his point?

In your comments to Penny you say "This is a key part of the good news (often ignored in the discussion of the gospel and why we need it). This makes Christianity more than an ethic. I discuss this theme and the issue it raises in detail in my new book. Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Rediscovering the Gospel as Good News," I could see how this would be an omission if this chapter was on the gospel however there is an entire chapter devoted to the gospel at the end of the book where Bell goes into more detail about the call to follow Jesus.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am hoping that we could have some good and helpful give and take.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Steve:

I will be short here. Regardless of his topic, he is responsible to cover the topic he introduces well. The omissions may be "explainable" because of his topic and where he is in the book, but to leave them unaddressed throughout is a flaw (and he never comes to it) and to not note passages that go in another direction when he raises the topic I also see as flawed, as it leaves gaps in the biblical teaching that are his problem.

Dr. Bock,

I hear what you are saying but I'm still not convinced. I'll let it go for now and keep an ear out to see if and when and how he actually deals with what you are saying. Either way, it is mentally stimulating to have the conversation.

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