Love Wins Experience: Here Is The New There

In Love Wins Experience by Antwuan Malone17 Comments

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

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.

***********************

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

** ** ** **

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?

The following two tabs change content below.
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.
17 comments
bmuff
bmuff

Here is perhaps a better link for its brevity, see the second section: http://www.alampthatburns.net/articles/gods-love-... It talks about all the different times Olam/Aion are used in scripture. From this it should be clear that the words do not mean forever. It is said that Jonah was in Hades for an Olam in reference to being in the belly of a fish. Here Olam (forever) is just 3 days! And then, quite symbolically Jonah emerges ready to do God's will. As for Lazarus, many NT scholars do not think that Jesus was using the parable to teach about the nature of the life to come. N.T. Wright is one of them: http://robinphillips.blogspot.com/2008/07/rich-ma.... There is plenty of evidence that Jesus was borrowing a folk tale (probably told by the pharisees) and changing up the roles, having a poor beggar as the one who is blessed and the rich man as the one in torment. This is yet another criticism of the pharisees, who were wealthy, and fancied themselves as being righteous, the ones who would find themselves in Abraham's bosom after death. In the parable the word translated as hell is hades. At the time, pharisees thought of Hades as a temporary holding place before resurrection, where the righteous and unrighteous were separated by a chasm. The fact that Jesus includes such details and uses "Hades" rather than "Gehenna" is compelling evidence that he is appropriating a well known folk tale and giving it a twist, where the twist (the poor are blessed, the rich are not), is the main point.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I will have look over the document you link to. Thanks for it! I was looking for some sort of breakdown of the word. As you probably know, any good student of scripture should consult multiple sources (as it looks like this guy did), so I will have to get several opinions on this word. I'd been thinking about it, and there are some possibilities for the idea in relation to some of the events laid out in Revelation. That being said, the scripture Luke 18:30, and Ephesians 3:21 still require more explanation in light of this idea of aion being a terminal age. Further, I think that it doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. God has given this age (which is the purpose of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (not some idea pride as Bell suggests) for the choice to love God. In short, there is a "too late"; which is what Lazarus was communicating in that parable.

bmuff
bmuff

The word translated (poorly) as "eternal" in the english bible (it is 'aion' in the Septuagint, translated from the Hebrew word 'Olam' does NOT mean forever. Translators translate it as 'eternal' because of their theological bent. For a thorough discussion of the word, see http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Aion_lim.html

Kass
Kass

I want to address the last quote from Love Wins (p. 46) about not doing anything in this world because we'll be evacuating anyway. I liked this idea in the book (although it may not be true for everyone) because that's what I encountered in my early days of born-again Christianity. Forget this world and all that's in it because "this world is not my home!" But I think Bell makes a very real and good point that everything we do now (our attitudes, our values, our behaviors) is a training ground for heaven. Sure, we'll have glorified bodies and such but I think being a good steward of the environment now is preparation for being a good steward in the new heaven/new earth. I think this is supported scripturally by the parable of the men with the talents. We are to make good use of everything God has given us and, for me, that was Bell's overarching point. But the actual language he used may not have been very good.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Hey Troy, what's up my man?! I believe the statement Jesus is saying is basically "let the world obey the will of the Father on Earth as it is in Heaven." Or, perhaps a more personally, "let me obey the will of God while I'm here on Earth, as in Heaven" (of which he showed a brief struggle with the garden). This is the prayer for all Christians... that we would love, respect and obey God fully as a whole (humanity). Thus, the "kingdom of God," the reign of God as supreme authority. But as long as we have sin, which must die, the kingdom cannot be fully manifest. And sin persists even beyond the initial Christian experience.

Troy Doucet
Troy Doucet

'thy kingdom come (ON EARTH as it is IN HEAVEN), thy will be done (ON EARTH as it is IN HEAVEN')....THESE ARE NOT REQUESTS COMING FROM JESUS!!! where is Jesus asking for the Kingdom of God to come (it appears to be HERE on earth from His prayer) what do you think God's will is in heaven (the same as it should be on EARTH). It seems no one is taking Jesus to task when drawing equivalent comparisons to HEAVEN and EARTH....or 'there being the NEW HERE!!

George
George

I guess I need to read this again, as I was on a bit of a different wavelength. I interpreted Bell to be saying that "Eternal Life" is now. Whether he was saying this or not, the concept that our Eternal life starts when we are born again is biblical. We aren't waiting to get to an afterlife to begin having close relationship with God. We have that now. Likewise, hell isn't necessarily postponed either, it can be experienced now and continue after death. I didn't focus on the location aspect of the Heaven/hell definition, but on WHEN they start. I also interpretted the definition of "eternal" differently. I don't think he was absolutely rejecting the concept of eternal meaning forever, as much as he was including the definition to mean completeness. Do we picture a timeline with an arrow on only one end? If so, why? God's concept of time is probably not like ours. Is forever a thin infinite timeline or is it thicker? Could it expand in all directions? Eternally, perhaps? Does it have a starting point? Probably, but when? Why does the bible call it "eternal life", instead of "eternal afterlife"? Instead of calling this chapter "Here is the new there" why didnt Bell call it "Now is the new then"? I interpreted Bell's message to be "don't wait for mythical afterlife heaven, be heaven-minded by fully receiving the gift of eternal life now...here...reclaim it all for God. What are we waiting for".

cushmanschronicles
cushmanschronicles

Just as Bell was talking about the incompleteness of both heaven and earth in this chapter, I think his argument or his points of discussion are also incomplete. For one thing, I got the sense that he was saying - or at least alluding to the possibility - that we could somehow usher in this heaven into the present day of earth. Do you think this is what he's saying? I got that sense and I would just have to disagree; there is far too much talk of a sudden, immediate change brought about by what you said, Antwuan, "It will end the way it started. No amount of verbal gymnastics can change that reality," and that reality being God said so. Just like Bell says in this chapter: When God speaks, He speaks decisively (38). Getting that out of the way, I think he does have a good point about heaven being less of an "age" that starts when we die, but more about a kind of life that can be brought into the here and now; 2 Corinthians 2:15 says, "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." Implied here is the incompleteness that Bell talks about, but I too don't think it's coming about the way he seems to suggest. N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope offers an interesting insight as well in regards to the kind of body; he basically argues that it will be a new body that's a blend of both the heavenly body and earthly body. He cites plenty of material from John's Gospel describing the resurrected Jesus and how it's capable of eating food and yet walking through walls and then also disappearing entirely. It's a very interesting perspective that I think holds more plausibility than Bells' suggestions in chapter two. But then again, I didn't really expect anything exhaustive from a 198-page book :-/

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Yeah, I'm not sure what the point of this is either in relation to the scope of the book. Perhaps we'll see later.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I just heard that last night. I heard him defend that interpretation of Aion. I think that was the best podcast with him do date. Really good stuf!! I'm going to be linking to it in the final overall book review.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I don't think it matters much about whether Jesus used Hades or Gehanna, because in my mind, Jesus used them interchangably. In the places where "Gehanna" was used, he's talked about "destroying tbe soul" which must mean he's using it as metaphor. Much like He says he'll destroy the temple and in 3 days rebuild it. There was a real temple that the people knew of, but Jesus meant something other than what they were thinking. You are speaking about N.T. Wright's "Surprised By Hope" book, I think, which is in my list of books to read this year. I may go ahead and start on it now. As for the interpretation of the parable, I understand that some scholars feel the parable is about the change of social standing... and that element is certainly in this story. But it does make you wonder why He chose to say some of the extra things... like the gap, the water, the "tell my brothers" and the " they have the prophets". None of which have much to do with social standing. I simply don't agree with those scholars. Our social standing doesn't matter for much in our afterlife: that's as far the social lessons of the story goes. But he also clues us into other elements.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

With regard to Luke 18:30 The word everlasting is linked to the Stong's number 166 Aionios (adjective). Strong defines it as... 1. without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2. without beginning 3. without end, never to cease, everlasting That word derives from Strong's 165 Aion which is defined 1. for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity 2. the worlds, universe 3. period of time, age Just to add to the conversation

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Well said. I may not have clearly stated my personal position. I agree too with Bell that we should be stewards of this Earth. If I sounded like we should not worry about here, I did not mean to. What I meant was, accepting the truth of God's plan to restore/remake Earth does not automatically produce an attitude of indifference about the world we live in now. In essence, we can do both. Accept/Expect/Hope for God to restore the Earth AND be good stewards of the world we now live in. Thanks for bringing it up! :)

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

You bring up several good quetsions and observations. I agree that eternal life starts at being "born again." Jesus says, in John 3:16, that whosoever believes in him 'will not perish." And he says so in a present tense. Indeed, there is something about the life of a Christian that is eternal, now. But there is also an "appointed time to die." We'd have reconcile these two with the idea that "spiritualy" we are sons of God. And as Sons of God, we have an eternal Spiritual nature that seeks to do God's will while on Earth. Thus... "thy kingdom come, they will be done." Furhter, I do think Bell was rejecting eternity as forever since he propose the use of aion as a period of time. And yes we should absolutely seek to do God's will here and now. Great comment!!! Thanks for sharing!

Antwuan
Antwuan

I just realized I didn\'t answer your question. Sorry about that (been in a conference for the last 2 days). Yes, I do get the sense that he is saying we can \"make\" Heaven here. While I believe this is a possibility, I think it would require a world of \"perfect\' people. That is, not people who are superior moralists in behavior, but people who \"always do the will of the father\" even when it walks the line of supposed morality. It\'s the same as saying that each person \"could\" be perfect, like Jesus. But we aren\'t, and because we aren\'t God will need to restore us in the way Rev. 21 suggests.

Antwuan
Antwuan

Well I don\'t dispute that there will be a new Earth, just that this Earth is not, and will not be heaven. And I think that the resurrected Jesus is a great place to start when considering what we will be like. I think that\'s one of the main reasons it is in the scriptures. Lots of people are bringing up Surprised By Hope... apparently I\'m gonna need to check it out.