Rob Bell on the Cross, Part 1
This is Rob Bell's best chapter (chapter 5) yet, though there are still some issues.
He correctly notes the variety of things the cross is aid to accomplish and properly ties it to resurrection, because Jesus' death and resurrection go together. They one piece of the story. Without the resurrection, the death would have been meaningless, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. So one is declared innocent through the cross, one is redeemed through it, a relationship is reconciled, a battle is won, a final sacrifice is provided an enemy is loved. All these are true. He is correct to point them out and to stress they are all a part of the story and should all be appreciated for their role. Bell is also right to point out that Jesus calls us to a new way of life.
One point he forgot is that with Jesus' death, a basis for judgment is put in place. I already noted blasphemy against the Spirit earlier as an unforgivable sin. John 3:14-15 speaks of the Son of Man being lifted up (John's way to speak about Jesus' death) and notes that the one who looks upon him with faith has eternal life. This alludes to the conscious reception of Jesus' wrk and message. Another key passage here is John 1:12: But to as many as received him-- to those that believe in him-- he gave the right to be called children of God. This gets at the intimate sense of sonship we raised in an earlier post. That is not automatic and involves conscious response. I will come back to this in a moment.
Another claim made is that the resurrection is familiar to others. This is only partially correct. Resurrection of the body, which is what Jews believed and what Jesus also taught, was not a popular nor all that commonly accepted teaching. Greeks, if they held to an afterlife, preferred immortality of the soul. And most other beliefs in resurrection were vague about what was involved. The Egyptians are the exception to this, holding to an elaborate belief in life in the next world being like life in this one. So Bell's claim of familiarity with the idea of resurrection needs qualification.
Bell at one point argues that Christians put these teachings in language one could understand, working with common ideas and metaphors. This is true, but the remark comes across as if these writers were rhetorical teachers, only looking to explain by analogy. In fact, what these images represent are divinely given teaching about what these events meant.
My major caveat is the way Bell speaks of cosmic reconciliation as involving all. Scripture does teach a cosmic reconciliation which all will see and sense. On that there is agreement. He does note texts here- famous ones like Romans 5, Colossians 1, Titus 2, John 1 and 1 John 2, and 1 Corinthians 15 (For his readers' sake, I wish he'd note the verses and not just the chapters). The cosmic reconciliation involves the entirety of the creation. The question is not if it involves all, but how does it do so. It is crucial to note that in Romans we have much discussion of judgment in Romans 1–3, as well as Paul's pain for the Jews who do not accept Jesus in Romans 9–11. Whatever Paul means in Romans 5, he has surrounded it with concerns and warnings that although the work involves all and provides possibilities for all, it does not guarantee that result for each one. (... For as many as received him, he gave the right to be called children of God.....). Colossians 1:28 speaks of warning every person in the gospel message with the hope of each person becoming mature in Christ. This does suggest there is something to warn about and that the result is not a guarantee.. John also has "in" and "out" people alongside what he says about all. So this cosmic reconciliation is not an open door to either universalism or inclusivism. Bell does not take his remarks about cosmic reconciliation here yet in this chapter, but I sense that is where he is trying to go. Cosmic reconciliation includes the rendering of judgment. This is why Scripture ends with the book of Revelation, to show God setting the creation right again by separating what John the Baptist and Jesus also described as wheat and tares.
In sum, this is a better chapter, but one still has the sense there are important omissions and that in setting the stage for what is to come in a cosmic reconciliation, a key part of how that reconciliation works is underdeveloped or ignored.