Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bell on Jesus

Reflections on Christ inside
How do you summarize Jesus's message?

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know I’ve been reading Love Wins. S
o I’ve taken some notes to summarize Rob Bell’s position on Christ (his “Christology,” to use the technical term). Here are some notes along the way (not intended to be exhaustive, but certainly to representative):

First of all, Bell writes that, according to Jesus, love implies freedom. Therefore God’s invitation to us in Christ is a free invitation. But this freedom has consequences: 
God extends an invitation to us, and we are free to do with it as we please. Saying yes will take us in one direction; saying no will take us in another.
One of the key sections of Love Wins is the rather lengthy reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), which more or less fills out his chapter, “The Good News is Better Than That.”

I read that chapter again last night and found myself quite moved—moved at the truly deep goodness of Jesus’s retelling our story. Whether we describe ourselves as undeserving God’s grace (the younger son) or too proud to bend to receive it (the older son), the Gospel is about believing God’s story more than our. When we say yes to God in Christ, we let God's story define us. Whether we self-abase or self-aggrandize, God re-narratives our life.

As Bell describes it, this is story of love, not of fear. I do love this line:
Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer.
Not only do I love that line (and believe it's true), but overall I like Bell's Jesus. And that fact made me reflect: sometimes what I like is what’s true and good. But I’m not sure that what I like is always what’s best for me. I'm reminded of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7). Jesus's words there are fairly harsh. In many ways, I don't immediately press "like" when I read them. I'd prefer to keep thinking about God's rescue and meditate on that. But there's more to the story.  Here I have to quote St. Clive (aka C. S. Lewis) who was accused of “caring for” Paul’s theology of grace more than Jesus’s rigor ethics.
As to "caring for" the Sermon on the Mount, if "caring for" here means "liking" or enjoying, I suppose no one "cares for" it. Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledge-hammer? I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of the man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure. This is indeed to be ‘at ease in Zion’ (Amos 6:1).
So, yes, I quibble with Rob Bell's Jesus. And I submit that he picks and chooses to find the Jesus he prefers. (Admittedly, it’s a trait that we all fall into.) 

But I do not quibble with this final insight. What represents God's deepest nature ? "God is love" (1 John 4:8). So even though Bell lays out an incredible amount of reflections in Love Wins, the heart of what he believes about Christ can be found in the book’s title:
Love is what God is,Love is why Jesus came,And love is why he continues to come,Year after year to person after person.
And may you know,
deep in your bones,
that love wins.
No more quibbles. I'll let Bell have the last word.


David Baj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Baj said...

Amen, Great pots.

Joseph said...

Greg: You wrote—

As Bell describes it, this is story of love, not of fear. I do love this line:
Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer.

Amen. We do have a divine Rescuer intent on saving us from anything & everything contrary to Him. And that includes being saved from the erroneous concepts of hell…

You referenced the scripture 1 John 4:8 which Bell’s book title echoes: “God is love.”

Just 10 verses later the Apostle John expands on this divine character of love:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Any conversation about the topic of hell, the never-ending-agony-in-flames version, cannot be divorced from the overall smell of fear, can it? I mean any rational human presenting the topic of suffering such a ghastly fate cannot be so blasé about it that it is mentioned casually without any associated shock value, can it?

I remember being ‘witnessed to’ by well-meaning Evangelical types many years ago where any good news was always predicated upon eternal damnation in very grisly detail. Like a 3D Chick Tract on steroids. Somehow the truth of God’s love lost in the translation. The em-PHA-sis of the gospel message reversed. The words of Jesus & those of the Apostle John strangely absent, or if addressed, simply an afterthought to close the deal on fire insurance salvation. I believe it is this incorrect prioritization of hell & its macabre elements that has resulted in a schizophrenic view of God today. And attempts at pointing out this apparent incongruity usually met with arguments defending hell’s prominence in Christian doctrine for a variety of reasons.

Could it be our reputation as Christians being both judgmental & hypocritical earned? The world sees the way culture wars are being waged in our nation & wonder if there truly is any Good News to be found amidst the cacophony of clanging cymbals? Lord, have mercy…

GCootsona said...

Yes, I think much of what has gone under the description of the life is misguided. Whatever obscures the message that God is love is off-base. Nonetheless, I would emphasize that God's love is holy and that God gives us the agency of rejecting his offer, both of which help when we understand punishment. In the end--as I put in my post on "Heaven and Hell"--the Judge and the Savior are one. I don't know exactly how to bring that together, but I believe God can. Perhaps that means salvation will be greater than we ever imagined. We certainly need to pray to that end.

Rachel Grimm said...

Hi Greg!
I just finished Love Wins a few days ago. I had mixed thoughts and emotions about what he wrote. I remembered that you had blogged a bit right when it became a hot topic so I came back to your blog to see all the posts you had! I sufficiently read them all and just wanted to thank you. I appreciate your thoughts and heart. It has helped me process through y opinions on what Rob wrote. You're awesome! I appreciate you and he knowledge and heart the Lord has given you!

GCootsona said...

Thanks so much for the super kind words. I won't add much on Bell (because it's already on the blog), but I'm thankful my reflections gave you some insight on Love Wins... Greg