Rob Bell's Bridge Too Far
Rob Bell loves Jesus, and he wants as many people as possible to do the same. Perhaps this book will help. Indeed, there are passages in Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne) [two stars], that should give the most stubborn pagan pause. Bell is a pastor with a substantial following not only at his Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids (with some 10,000 in weekly attendance) but all across North America. And he is at his usual best here, casting fresh light on biblical truths, engaging readers with the compelling metaphor, turning the arresting phrase, and reminding all that the love of God is more powerful and sweeping than we can imagine.
Along the way, he raises a host of theological issues upon which the proclamation of the gospel as good news hinges. Bell also proposes solutions, and it's those proposals that raise other questions not just for evangelicals, but for anyone who wants to see more and more people follow Jesus.
For one thing, the title! Love Wins. That's what we all want and hope for. He says in the preface, "I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, 'I would never be a part of that.'" The book should give such readers reason to reexamine the story of Jesus.
He sets that story in its largest context, but without minimizing its individual dimension. He says it's true that Jesus came to die on the Cross so that we can have a relationship with God. "But … for the first Christians," he says, "the story was, first and foremost, bigger, grander. More massive. … God has inaugurated a movement in Jesus' resurrection to renew, restore, and reconcile everything." Later he adds, "A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feels small." Indeed.
He also has the knack for making Christ's presence a powerful and gracious reality. At one point, he rehearses Paul's teaching that the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness, the rock that gushed water, was Jesus. Bell says:
According to Paul,
Jesus was there.
Without anybody using his name.
Without anybody saying that it was him.
Without anybody acknowledging just what—or more precisely, who—it was.
Paul's interpretation … raises the question:
Where else has Christ been present?
With who else?
This stuff will preach. Before you know it, you think you're seeing Jesus everywhere.
Such lyrical passages will carry many readers along, inclining them to sympathize with Bell when he says that substitutionary atonement, for example, can be "toxic," making people think that Jesus saves us from God. His rhetoric touches on something uncomfortably true about how this doctrine is sometimes taught. Bell, in fact, is a master of asking the pointed question that throws doubt on traditional doctrines. But what does that look like when his personal assertions are in play?