Rob Bell on Heaven
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.