Love Wins Experience: Here Is The New There

In Love Wins Experience by Antwuan Malone

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“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now.”  –Love Wins, Rob Bell, p.59
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General Thoughts:

I’ll bet people are calling this the “Heaven” chapter. While interesting, I’m not sure I get the picture very well of what Rob is saying with his ideas of Earth being the new Heaven. It all seems to hinge on the definition of “eternal” as it is placed throughout new testament scripture. Bell makes several attempts at saying that eternal does not really mean forever, rather it just means another time period slot. I don’t think I buy that. I think when Jesus said eternal, he meant just what Paul says in Ephesians 3: 21 — “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.

But let me back up.

It was interesting that we began the chapter talking about a painting of a cross bridging the gap from Earth and Heaven. Bell then goes into cultural pictures and imaginations of Heaven — things like white robes, streets of gold, and angel wings and harps. He’s right, the real Heaven will probably not have those things, at least I hope not. Seems a bit hokey to me. Then there’s Bell’s mention of how some preachers talk about Heaven as if it’s going to be one big, everlasting church service, which is a soft spot for me, personally. I hate it when preachers say that (check the quote comments below for more on that). I absolutely agree with the absurdity of any proclamation of Heaven as an eternal worship service. It’s flat out ridiculous.

So, up to this point, there was much that I agreed with. The way Heaven is generally pictured in society is probably incorrect. I might even call it flat out selfish and materialistic (besides, what value is gold in heaven anyway. Is there money there?)

It’s in Bell’s response to that where I take issue.

I suppose the rest of the chapter breaks up into a few parts. There’s the Luke 18 passage about the rich, young ruler, and then there’s the idea of Heaven and Earth being “the same place.” I’ll talk more about Luke 18 with the young ruler in the quotes section. So let’s deal with the Heaven and Earth in the same place thing.

I flat out disagree with Bell’s idea of “Heaven on Earth.” But honestly, I’m not really sure why it all matters where Heaven will be or how it will be constructed. As I said last week, Christianity is all about relationships. Thus Heaven is, for me, a relational destination, not the ultimate in survival. Heaven, wherever it ends up, is about the fact that God, Jesus and I get to finally enjoy each others’ presence full on. With no limitations. Nothing to block us or stand in the way of a full reception of God’s love colliding with my love for Him. Whatever else that is going on seems beside the point. Which may be why the Bible doesn’t choose to give us many details.  But for the sake of discussion,  I’ll mention some of the places I think Bell is mistaken.

I begin with where the Bible begins. Genesis 1.   “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Our first distinction of heaven and earth. But I suppose there is room for the interpretation that “heavens” means the celestial body (the stars, moon, sun, etc…) Without going too much into that, I’ll just say that the sun and moon are created on the fourth day. Then there’s Satan talking to God in Job (1) about how Job is on Earth (as if it is a different place then where he and God are talking.) And to top it off, there’s Revelation 21 which says:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.

It will end the way it started. No amount of verbal gymnastics can change this reality. I’ve been taught in the past that the New Earth has something to do with a fulfillment to a covenant God made with the Jews, while the new heaven was for the Gentiles. But, if I’m honest, I didn’t have time to investigate those particular ideas.

So for me, I see God restoring things the way they were in the beginning.  A new heaven and a new Earth that we could, perhaps, travel back and forth to and from (like Satan was in Job) without a problem. Even Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Romans. In 8:19-23, Paul says “all creation” groans with us for the redemption of all things. But I don’t at all see Heaven and Earth as the same place. I don’t think it is biblical. Most of what Bell says here to support this fact fits into my view of a New Earth anyway. He talks about all the imagery used by the profits that imply “Earthen” materials.  All of that is fine, it’s just that the New Heaven is a different place. Again, this is much to do about nothing… unless it comes into some sort of crucial play later on in this book.

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Brief overview of Chapter 2 given at LegacyChurch.org for the flood:Student Ministries.  This is the first of two parts on youtube.

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Quick Thoughts on my favorite quotes:

I’ve heard pastors answer, “It will be unlike anything we can comprehend, like a church service that goes on forever,” causing some to thing, “That sounds more like hell. (Love Wins, p.25)

This is particularly frustrating to me. I self-published a book called Reflections: Casting Stones in 2005 (it’s not well written, so reader-beware) and in the last chapter I wrote about Heaven and what I felt were the misconceptions. Here is a portion of it that agrees with the Bell in this point.

This is the hope of heaven, to simply be present with God.  One might contend that the omnipresence of God does not limit him to any location, including Hell.  Psalms 139:8 affirms this, stating:  “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”  For that matter, God is present with us here and now on Earth.  But when I say “presence” I am speaking of an elevated avenue of relationship that God has waiting for us—an upper echelon of love that we have never experienced, the fullness of the passion that the Trinitarian God has for us, unlimited, uninhibited, and uncontained.  God can certainly love us from a distance, as he does now, but how much more will it be when we are close enough to permanently fill the void sin inevitably spawns here on Earth.

This is the mysteriously delightful image of heaven.  Not some fancy, worldwide church service, but the answer to the hope of being where Jesus is: the answer to the hope of being in the complete presence of the love of my eternal life.  To see Jesus face to face, to be held by Him, and to finally be rid of the divide of hurtful sin, this is heaven.  Forget the gold streets, the mansions, and the pearly gates.  A city of gold and pearly gates is still Hell if The Love is not present.  Why, because the scary thing about Hell is not the fire and brimstone or the gnashing of teeth, but the miserable state of longing for something that will never be filled.  By rejecting God’s love, a man or woman is accepting an eternity of longing to be with Him.  God is life.  God is love.  So to choose God is to choose all that He is; Life in the lungs of Adam, and Love for the heart and soul.

Likewise, to reject God is to reject Life and Love.  A lifeless, loveless state – that is Hell.  Is Hell a place? Sure.  Will Hell be filled with fire?  That’s what the Bible says.  However, don’t get caught up in the amenities that are these visuals.  Buy the house first.  Heaven has to be more than just, not Hell.  It has to be more than the alternative.  It must surpass the materialistic allure of pearly gates and of a golden city paved with golden streets.  It is the final destination of a frantic journey, the happily ever after to the love story. It is the moment when we can respond to Jesus with open arms, recognizing The Voice that has been calling our name throughout our earthly lives, ready to receive the full extent of his love, live and in person.

 

“First, we can only assume, he’ll correct the man’s flawed understanding of how salvation works. He’ll show the man how eternal life isn’t something he has to earn or work for; it’s a free gift of grace.” (Love Wins, p.27)

In this passage, Bell is still on his salvation redux kick. In the story of the rich young ruler (found in Luke 18). Jesus precisely communicating to the young ruler how salvation works and doesn’t. In essence, not only does the ruler want to have worked his way into “‘eternal life,” but it seems he may be tired of doing it, and wants to cash in his chips. When I hear this passage, I hear the young man saying, “What do I need to do to claim what is mine? I’ve done everything I need to do. I’m a Jew. I have an inheritance, and I want it now.” He sounds a lot like the prodigal son to me. “Give to me my inheritance.” It is to this that Jesus responds — the ruler’s sense of entitlement. Jesus attacks this immediately when he tells him, “Why do you call me good? None is good but the Father?”  Already, he is trying to dismantle the boy’s young religious pride. When Jesus strikes at the meat of the matter, basically that he had not kept the law like he’d thought, the young ruler walks away. To which, the disciples reply “Who then can be saved?”  In other words, no one can be that perfect. No one can be worthy enough to keep the law and “inherit” eternal life by deeds. And then in 30, we’re back to Bell’s stuff. Jesus says, ” there is no man that left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” Does this not answer Bell’s emotional plea on page 25… the ones crying because they’ve lost their family?

 

“If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on Earth as thy currently are in heaven. (Love Wins, p. 46)

Bell assumes WAY too much here. The scriptures say that God will destroy the Earth as we know it, and create it anew again. If that is the case, then the question remains, why do anything to save this Earth if it is doomed to a future do-over anyway? Believing God has another place for his elect does not have to mean we have no desire here and now to care for the Earth as it currently is. Unfortunately, Bell periodically pulls weak logic like this. When he does, it really weakens his book.

Will Heaven be on Earth?  Does it matter?  And what do you imagine heaven will really be like?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.