Will only a few – select – people make it to heaven?
Will billions and billions of people burn forever in Hell?
How do you become one of the few?
How do I become one of the few? What must I do to be saved? How can I inherit eternal life? No matter how it is asked – it is a question asked over and over again in the pages of Scripture (Acts 2:37; 16:30; 22:10; Luke 3:10,12,14; 10:25; 18:18; John 6:28). Bell opens the book Love Wins dealing with how to become one of the few by jumping through passages and asking questions that challenge how salvation is worked out in each story.
So is it what you say that saves you? (Luke 7, 18, 23)
is it what you are? (John 3, Luke 20)
is it who you forgive? (Matthew 6)
is it doing the will of God? (Matthew 7)
is it standing firm? (Matthew 10)
This leaves the reader with the impression and nagging thoughts:
What is the gospel? And does how I live my life now matter?
These two questions are raised in the opening pages of Love Wins (page 6, 11) and determine the “fate of every person who ever lived”:
Some Christians believe and often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that what life is about? Going somewhere else? If that’s the good news – if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else - then the central message of the Christian faith has very little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one. …
Which leads to the far more disturbing question. So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things? …
If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs?
And aren’t verbs actions?
Accepting, confessing, believing – those are things we do.
In an interview with Lisa Miller, Bell is given an opportunity to answer these questions:
[Lisa Miller] So, if I’m an atheist who gives to the poor, helps little ladies across the street, spends all my free time in charitable works. Am I going to heaven?
[Rob Bell] Well, the essence of grace is Jesus saying, “Left to your own, we are all in deep trouble. We have made a mess of this place. We are all sinners. No one has clean hands.” So, the essence of his gospel was, Trust me, I’ll take care of it. Just trust me.
Now, how exactly does that work out? Because he [Jesus] is unbelievably exclusive. He says these things like, “I’m the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.” He says things like, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.” He’s very exclusive. He’s also fantastically inclusive; he says things like, “I have other sheep.” He says “there will be a renewal of all things — I’ll be lifted up and draw all people to myself.” So he’s like in-ex-clusive. That’s a word I just made up. … And how exactly that pans out? That’s God’s job.
Bell expands on that theme in the book (page 154-155):
[Jesus said] “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
This is a wide and expansive a claim as a person can make.
What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are exclusively coming through him. 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.
At this point, if I were not a Christian but was interested in what Bell or Love Wins had to say because of the popularity and the controversy I would be left in a very confused state. How do I become one of the few? What is the gospel? Does how I live matter? Is something as important as a person’s eternal destiny and after-life left to the notion (and Marine/Special Forces quote) - “Let God sort em out”?
Does the choice to accept or reject God really matter?
Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want. [page 113]
If the mechanism is not defined that gets people to God then how do we know that we have a choice?
- Maybe we don’t and the universalists are right – God lovingly takes us into heaven (after all all things are reconciled and renewed right?).
And if we do have a choice – to accept or reject God’s ways for us – then how do I choose?
- implicitly (but if I don’t even know I am choosing to accept God is that really a choice?)
- explicitly (but then I must understand my options and what the gospel message is?)
And when I choose to accept God’s ways what determines that I have made that choice?
- Is it to trust God has already taken care of it (but then trust is an action and now I am doing something right?)
- Is it having a personal relationship with God (the relationship that isn’t in the Bible (page 10) but is the whole point of love (page 178)?)
- Is it to do good for others (but then how does an atheist who helps little old ladies across the street accept a God they reject exists?)
When do I have to choose?
- now or in the after-life (and if I get eternal choices why worry about it now – God will sort it out later right?)
And if the “only thing left to do is trust” because “Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it” and “not because of anything we’ve done” (page 188-190) then why do I have to choose again?
Oh, because trust is an action and a choice.
I understand that Bell is in many cases trying to provoke people to think and to generate discussion but in the end, a reader has to ask – just what is the gospel according to Love Wins?