Chapter 6: There are Rocks Everywhere
The main question in this chapter is whether or not God is inclusive or exclusive. Bell is opening the door to a more inclusive God through several stories, questions and scriptures that seem to support his point. He starts the chapter with a friend of his who had a life changing encounter with Christ that got his life turned around. You have probably had a similar conversation with someone who told you about an encounter they had with Christ and it left you unsure if it was really real, if God would really do that or if they were actually mistaken. Maybe God is up to something. Maybe God is more inclusive than we thought? The door begins to open a crack.
Bell sets biblical precedent for his point that Jesus shows up in strange and often unfamiliar ways through the story of Moses striking the rock and water pouring out in Exodus 17. He mentions the connection Paul makes with this in 1 Corinthians 10, that Jesus was that rock. His point is that even though those Hebrews had no idea that rock was Christ he was present in their story anyway. The application he draws from that point is that Jesus is present in many ways and places and in the lives of people today in ways that we don’t even have a clue about. Now that wasn’t really Paul or Moses point but you get where he is coming from here.
Bell appeals to the inclusivity of Christ in several ways:
- His work in creation – all things were created through Jesus Christ (p. 144-147)
- The teaching of the apostles (p.148-149) He quotes Colossians 1:27 “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery”. Here he leaves the mystery Paul is talking about here as Christ alone. That is not quite what Paul wrote. The verse finishes like this, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The mystery was not Christ alone but how Christ would work in us and through us and be present in our lives, as Christians, in a real and profound way. That part is left out. The verse when taken in part advances his point. Taken in context it doesn’t. It doesn’t work because Bell’s appeal here is to the inclusivity of God – Gentiles = all people. But here Paul is not writing to all people or saying Christ is actually in all people. He is writing to Christian Gentiles.
- The teaching of Jesus – Jesus died for the whole world…not just a small, select group of people (p.150ff). I think what Bell misses here is that he confuses the intention and mission of Jesus with the result of that intention and mission. Jesus intention was to die for and save all people. But the intention is not reflected 100% in the result of his ministry. Intentions never reflect the results 100%. Of course Jesus dies for the world but does the whole world accept that or have faith in Him? So his mission was for all but the result
The biggest disappointment I had with this chapter is that, although Bell cites some verses by Paul, he really acts like the New Testament really has nothing to say about how one “comes to the Father”. He cites the landmark verse that we usually use to show how exclusive Jesus was in his teaching, John 14:6 and turns it upside down. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Here is his explanation,
“This is as 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 coming exclusively 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.” (p.154)
Now that wasn’t what I expected. Then the path forward to dance through this verse gets real twisty,
“And so the passage is exclusive, deeply so, insisting on Jesus alone as the way to God. But it is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.” (p.154)
He explains on the next page,
“This kind of 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.”
It seems to me He is saying God is going to do whatever he wants and save whoever we wants. All that matters is that somehow it is done through Christ. From a big picture perspective I agree with that. The problem is, Bell acts like the New Testament never gives us a clue as to how we “come to the Father” because Jesus didn’t explicitly lay out the steps (See the quote above). The problem is we have many other verses in the New Testament that give us more specifics on what it means to be the people of God and how we are to be united with Christ. So in the end, according to Bell, all that matters is that Jesus does the saving but the way in which that happens really doesn’t matter.
“What Jesus does declare is that he, and he alone is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.” (p.155)
So what about other religions? Are they equally valid with Christianity? Bell says the Jesus is still important, the cross is still relevant and that what you believe [in regard to Jesus?] is important. But still the door is wide, wide open to people of many faiths. Now, to be fair there is a difference between opening the door to someone or everyone (which I believe God does) and allowing everyone through the door (which I don’t believe will happen, even though that is God’s desire).
The main thing I dislike about this chapter is that it comes across as a “yes, let me make sure to say Jesus and all that are still important but really I am kind of saying maybe in the end it is more like a ‘whatever'”. He says people can bump into Jesus and not even know it. They can drink from the rock but not have a clue who Christ is. They can encounter the rock wherever they go and all that matters is that they encounter the rock and drink the water and whether they recognize Christ in it really doesn’t matter at all as long as he is present (p.158-159). He keeps trying to have it both ways,
“What we see Jesus doing again and again –in the midst of constant reminders about the seriousness of following him, living like him, and trusting him–is widening the scope and expanse of his saving work.” (p.159)
But the truth is, Jesus widens it only as far as people are willing to embrace what is between the dashes in that sentence. So yes Jesus is expansive and intends to save all and died for all. His desire is to bring as many people along with him as possible. We are the ones who broke it. By our own actions, rejection and rebellion mankind forces exclusivity because as Bell says on p.117 not all will embrace it. So while Jesus died for all, not all will receive salvation. So Jesus is inclusive in his intention to save all of humanity. But the result is exclusive because the New Testament lays out how we become a part of God’s family quite clearly and not everyone will choose to go that route.
On a positive note, he ends the chapter with a great reminder. We are not the judge. We don’t call the shots. We don’t send people to heaven or hell. God does. I am glad for that because sometimes I need to be more graceful than I am. That is why I thought I would end this post on a positive note! If there is one strength in this chapter it is the reminder that God can and does work in unexpected ways and in the lives of people we might never pick. Let’s respect that and give thanks that God seeks the lost because at some point we were all in that position and God saw fit to lift us out of it and bring us life!