We have all been tempted to or have actually tried to make excuses for God before. We can’t stand the thought of someone thinking that God let something bad happen and so we try to explain, try to give answers in an effort to help God’s reputation. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s that thing in us that makes us feel like we have to defend God when things don’t fall into place the way we think a good God would have them to. But then, we are looking at things through the eyes of a human being who cannot begin to have any comprehension of the mind of the Creator of the Universe.
Sometimes the better answer is simply…I don’t know.
Because the reality is that sometimes…we just don’t know.
I read Rob Bell’s book today. The new one that’s caused so much controversy.
And I must say, he does ask some pretty hard questions. Questions that I’m sure many people in their hearts have asked about God before. And I’m all for questions. I don’t really think God minds questions either if that means it puts us into a dialogue with Him. In fact, I think God would encourage questions if they will draw us deeper into Him. So Rob’s questions aren’t really the problem.
It’s his answers.
In his efforts to try and answer some of these hard questions, he’s presented what is at times a somewhat skewed gospel and at other times a gospel that is just plain not the gospel…at least not the one Jesus preached.
In fact, to some degree Bell almost takes on a bit of arrogance towards Jesus’ teaching by citing several different places in scripture where Jesus speaks of how salvation is gained (Luke 23 with the criminal, John 3 with Nicodemus, Matthew 6 on forgiveness, Luke 19 with Zacchaeus, and Mark 2 with the paralytic to name a few) and Bell almost demands in response:
Which is it?
Is it what we say or what we are or who we forgive or whether we do the will of God or if we “stand firm” or not? (p14)
Again, I’m all for questions but we must remember to Whom the question is being asked and have a little reverence, don’t you think?
Aside from the somewhat irreverent and borderline arrogant tone of the majority of the book, another thing that really bothered me a lot was how vague his scripture references were. At best, he gives the book and chapter but no specific verse references. Also, in many cases he’s using only bits and pieces of scripture here and there and well, it felt like at times he was really pushing the envelope in his interpretations of these little bits and pieces. I mean you can take any little tidbits of scripture here and there, put them in an entirely different context and make them say pretty much anything you want, no?
The one thing though about this book that left me more unsettled than anything else is Bell’s implication that although Jesus is in fact the only way to the Father, there’s more than one way to get to Jesus. Check this out:
And then 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.
Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.
What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. (p155)
That just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Sorry, but it does make me uneasy, it does say to me then that Jesus doesn’t matter, that the cross is irrelevant and that in fact we can all just believe whatever we want to believe. In fact, it sort of sounds like somebody more concerned with being politically correct than delivering a true representation of the Word.
And then in the next chapter, Bell uses the prodigal son story to pretty much cause me to want to fling this crazy book across the room. His implication here is that heaven and hell somehow exist together and our attitude – how we perceive our “story” – somehow determines in which place we find ourselves. Huh?
I could go on and on really. In an effort to give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt, I want to believe that his heart is in the right place. That he is desperately trying to present God as fair and just and loving and full of grace and mercy. Problem is, he’s bending and stretching and reshaping the gospel to do it. And that friends, is not cool.