Chapter 7: The Good News Is Better Than That
Here Rob Bell gives some insights into the story of the prodigal son (and his brother), and how God’s version of the story was better than either son’s self-deceived versions of either “his badness is his problem” or “his goodness is to his credit.” Good stuff.
Bell also goes back to the popular but questionable notions of the afterlife where “God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell.” As I’ve mentioned already, I agree that those notions are wrong, and I think they are misrepresentations even of traditional theology.
But Bell continues to sound not-so-untraditional: “We are free to accept or reject the invitation to new life that God extends to us. Our choice.” So what happened to all the questions at the beginning about people in specific circumstances who maybe don’t get what seems like a fair chance to accept or reject?
Chapter 8: The End Is Here
Bell never really goes back to address those kinds of questions. With two pages to go he concedes that he hasn’t really forgotten about all the judgment sounding passages in the Bible, from the guy who misuses his treasure and is “thrown outside into the darkness” to the wedding guests who are told “I don’t know you” to the weeds that are harvested and “tied in bundles to be burned.” Yes, Bell emphasizes God’s love and grace and corrects many corrupted culturalized views of Christian theology, but even as he suggests that hell might not be a real place, that “all” will be saved, that people might be able to change their minds after death, that Jesus might save people who don’t know he’s saving him… Bell still suggests that people will reject God and choose the judgment of, well, hell.
So where was the controversy again? Is Rob Bell not a “universalist” after all? Or does he still think all that judgment is temporary corrective stuff, even though he didn’t mention it again at the end when he talked about God’s love giving people the freedom to reject it? Is he just asking controversial questions without claiming to provide all the answers? Not that there’s not necessarily a place for that, but the ending just seemed kinda… anti-climactic. Oh well. It’s still a thought-provoking book with a heart for discerning the truth about God and a concern for people who have heard corrupted teachings about it all, both in the church and outside of it. But read at your own risk.