Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 6: There Are Rocks Everywhere (Part II)
[This is part XII of a multi-part series on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Note: Chapter 6 is two parts; read Chapter 6, part I here.]
After rambling on some random rabbit trail about “mystics” and the “Force,” Bell asserts that “Jesus is bigger than any one religion.”
Ah, durr. But then we get to Jesus’ claim in John 14 of being “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Remember that acquaintance of mine I quoted from Goodreads who said that she encountered people more hung up on this statement than on hell? I said I agreed with her.
What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.
John 3, John 16.
He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will ever know that they are coming exclusively through him.
John 14:6-7; John 17.
He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.”
I agree with the overall idea of the statement but I’m not sure it’s as “simplistic” as Bell makes it sound. Jesus has consistently proven to be accessible to the multitudes in a simple manner with a highly complex undertone in his parables and teaching—so complex that even the disciples who were with him rarely “got” what he was speaking of without Jesus having to explain himself first. So let’s watch Bell tackle Jesus’ bold statement of being the only way to God using mental gymnastics (because really that’s what it feels like to me).
And so the passage is exclusive, deeply so, insisting on Jesus alone as the way to God. But it is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.
After explaining that exclusivity defines the traditional view of hell (“in or out”) and inclusivity is universalism (all roads lead to the same God), Bell says:
And there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.
As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.
What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.
And then he leave the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.
He is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation.
Bell is careful to write “Jesus is the way” omitting the oft-used word “only” or forgoing the italicization of “the.” (Just an observation. Jesus does not use the word “only” here although one could argue that it’s implied.) The problem here, which Bell raises by bringing in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc., is that Bell affirms Jesus is present in all of these different religions that claim to be salvation or divine attainment in some form. It’s like reverse religious universalism, in a way. Instead of all paths leading to the same God, Bell appears to be saying that Jesus is present in all of these paths.
So Jesus is the prophet Mohammad to Islam.
Jesus is nirvana—the place of Enlightenment.
Jesus is Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Shakti, or any of the number of Hindu gods.
For some reason, this idea seems really offensive to me. As if Jesus isn’t accessible in his own form, in his own way, he must materialize in different forms like a shape-shifter of the universe. I think I’d be just as offended if a Muslim told me that Mohammed was a shape-shifter who appears as Judeo-Christian Messiah to bring salvation to Jews and Western Gentiles. My mind can’t fully grasp the idea Bell is throwing out here.
Again, we’re back to religious universalism: yes, all paths do lead to the same God because as Bell seems to say since Jesus is present in all these religions, everyone in these religions reaches the same God.
It’s the most astounding mental gymnastics I’ve ever encountered.
Jehovah God, the Old Testament God was clear that many of the gods and idols that non-Israelites set up were not Him and that He was not present or blessing any of those rituals. (“Baal” is a notable god that Jehovah had a special holy hatred for.) Jehovah was pretty exclusive about that.
But the inclusivity on the side of exclusivity is that He was willing to draft Gentiles who were willing to believe in him (Rahab, Ruth, and Job being prominent examples).
There’s your mental gymnastics from me, but I think Bell wins the gold medal in this competition.
So how does any of this explanation of who Jesus is and what he’s doing connect with heaven, hell, and the fate of every single person who has ever lived?
Bell’s essential answer is that since Jesus is everywhere and in everything, believers in Christ need not worry about the eternal destination of others because “God’s got this.” (Not a Bell quote.)
We are not threatened by this,
surprised by this,
or offended by this.
Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.
I agree that Jesus can be encountered in different ways by different people and perhaps he may not even be known to some people as Jesus or Yeshua. But we must also consider that Jesus warned his disciples about false prophets in Matthew 7 and Matthew 24 (speaking of exclusivity, one of those verses has Jesus mentioning “the elect” whoever and whatever that means).
So while “none of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and none of us ever will,” I don’t believe Jesus was as vague or confusing with his statements as Bell makes him out to be. I do, however, wholeheartedly agree with the following quote from Bell:
It is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destines.
So is Gandhi in hell? Do we know this for certain? No, I don’t think we do. But we can all hazard guesses for now.
Bell goes on to say that Jesus says “he ‘did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12)” but if you continue to read on in that same passage, Jesus speaks of an ultimate judge (the assumption from other Biblical texts is God the Father) who issues judgment or (as the NIV puts it) condemnation. Another way Bell is able to raise questions and ably dodge them because his readers are unable to ask all of the questions he raises by completely ignoring their existence.