In a sneak peak of his show that makes its debut tonight, Rob Bell says that the Cross is a sign that the Universe is rigged in our favor:
Rob Bell Show video link
I can hear my good Christian friends questioning this notion, and I respect them for relying upon the Bible for their guidance:
- “God is righteous” Therefore, he is unalterably opposed to sin and self-will. Rob Bell is pandering to self-will in this view.
- “Broad is the way that leads to destruction”, said Jesus, but “narrow is the way that leads to life”. Therefore anything that smacks of universal salvation is a direct contradiction of the plain words of the Savior of the world.
- “God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES in him might not perish…” In other words, my friends are saying fervently (and with lots of apparent Biblical support) Jesus doesn’t do much good for you unless you believe and obey his message.
- “God is no respecter of persons.” “Our God is a consuming fire”. “I will not clear the guilty”. A hundred clear verses that I could think of in 5 minutes make Rob Bell’s claim feel like the worst kind of syncretism … religious pandering to the world system.
I can also hear the challenges to Rob’s optimism with the very real findings of science, that as far as we can go back in time — 13.7 billion years — the rules have been the same, and just as even-handed as we can possibly imagine. There seems to be no sentimentality in the way the laws of nature operate. And if we allow ourselves to look in moral terms at what humankind has meant to planet earth, a balance would likely go hard against us, because of what we are doing to the planet and the other species we share it with.
And yet I agree with Rob Bell’s claim that the Cross is all about reconciliation of ALL PEOPLE with God. How can I say that in good conscience?
- There are 2 steps in the reconciliation process. The entire Christian era is focused on the first step. That step is the Cross… the personal character development of Jesus, and then the personal character development of his followers. We “fill up that which remains” of the afflictions of Christ. We are part of a high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Paul states in Philippians 3. We are servants of reconciliation. We cannot do anything significant against sin until our obedience is completed. Meanwhile, the whole creation groans, waiting for the sons of God to be manifested.
- After the church of Christ is complete, the Apostles tell us they will work with Christ to reconcile the entire world. We “will judge the world”. We “will judge angels”. We will shepherd the nations with a staff of iron. We will not simply be rewarded in heaven, but we will bring heaven to earth. It is true, faithful, humble, obedient Christians who will be the “pearly gates” … the way of access to God.
- The universe has been rigged against people for all of human history. We are told in the Bible that God has allowed an Enemy to deceive and mislead people. He has allowed heredity to bias people toward sin. He has even, Isaiah says, “hidden himself”. His eyes behold, but his eyelids (his apparent sleeping, ignoring what people do) test the children of men.
- For the next thousand years … just around the corner … the universe will be rigged in favor of all people. All the sins of the past were atoned for by the cross. All the people who have ever lived will be resurrected. Both the just and the unjust. Whether they “deserve it” or not. At the end, the playing field will be leveled for the first time. And then whoever chooses life and righteousness will live. And those who don’t will die.
The best part of what Rob seems to be saying now, in my opinion, is the encouragement it gives to anyone, anywhere, no matter what their spiritual background or level of belief. I agree with his thesis, that all the trouble people face has value. And it is frightful, shameful and tragic what the average person around the world must cope with — all of that pain has value and will help them in the future age of restoration to move toward reconciliation with God and with each other. Jews who died in the Holocaust and didn’t survive to tell us about it will awaken to discover value in that bitter experience. Nazis who persecuted them will awaken to discover hard lessons that they must learn if there is to be value for them in the experience. But both will learn lessons of forgiveness and righteousness that will last forever.
What is the role of the church? To bring the personal value of their struggles against sin when it was tough to be righteous. The value of the church will be knowledge of how to overcome, how to be humble, how to be patient, how to forgive their persecutors. And the joy and character they will bring as the “bride” of Christ will empower them to do the “greater works” that Jesus promised his followers in John 5. The whole creation will find its one head in Christ.
So a plea for mini-reconciliation: Christian friends, please listen to what Rob is saying (and what I’m chirping too). Don’t slam the door of communication on us. Test what we are saying with what the Bible says. Please respond with your questions and comments here. I’m listening to you.
And pray for Rob that this opportunity will become a new, wider ministry for him, not a stumbling block as fame and influence so often does. So far, I’ve been impressed with the joy and positive vision he has brought to every stage of his ministry.