The Love Wins Experience: There Are Rocks Everywhere

In Love Wins Experience by Antwuan Malone

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“…none of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and none of us ever will” –Love Wins, Rob Bell, p.159

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General Thoughts:

I think Bell’s purpose for this chapter is to prep us, or maybe loosen us up, for some greater argument I suspect will be the in final two chapters. In short, the message here is… Jesus can operate in ways we don’t think or know of. Which fundamentally is true. On the the surface, saying “none of us have cornered the market on Jesus, ” is valid. Who are we to think we have him completely boxed in or figured out. God moves in whatever way he sees fit. This will fundamentally not meet a disagreement. But the manner in which this argument is presented hopes to open the door beyond all boundaries, even the ones set by God Himself.

The chapter opens with a pothead’s sudden Damascus-road like experience in his kitchen after getting high on some weed. Interesting. We certainly are in no position to judge the validity of this experience, so I am not attempting to do that. But as I read, I wondered what point Bell was making? Was it that God speaks to potheads when they’re high? Or maybe that God can speak to potheads at all, while they’re high? Hmm. After I read the next story, of a man and his near death experience, I got  Bell’s point. He was saying, “What kind of universe are we living in? Is it safe or dangerous? Is there a force, an energy, a being calling out of us, in many languages, using a variety of methods and events, trying to get our attention?” His case was that God has his eggs in more than one methodical salvation basket. That God is speaking and pursuing people in all kinds of ways. We can agree on that.

This Rocks Thing

Then there’s the title story. The one in Numbers 20 where God instructs Moses to speak to a rock so that it will bring water to the Israelites. The error in the book (syntax or theological, I’m not sure) where Bell says, “God tells him [Moses] to strike the rock with his staff in front of all the people,” is worth noting. I’m sure nearly every Christian Rob Bell naysayer has seized the moment to jump all over his flaw in the book. I hate to go with the crowd, but I do so only because it seems to me an important undercurrent in the matter of this chapter. After Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock twice (Numbers 20:11) instead of speaking to it as he’d commanded, (Numbers 20:8) God offered a harsh chastisement. Almost disproportionately harsh, in my opinion. Despite all that Moses had done with God to this point, this is the one act of disobedience would keep him out of the promised land (Numbers 20.12). Perhaps the lesson is that we cannot stray too far from what God has explicitly stated. It seems small, but God’s judgment of Moses with regard to this “striking instead of speaking” thing was that Moses did not ” trust in Him enough to honor Him as holy in the sight of the Israelites…” Hmm, trust and honor in what God has already said. Properly handling Jesus among the masses. Apparently, these have serious consequences.

PostModern Jesus

The lesson from Moses in Numbers is especially pertinent in this chapter because Rob Bell eventually leads us to this sort of PostModern Jesus who he says is not confined to one religion. I think it would be good to decide what we mean by religion here. The word has a pretty bad rep in both christian and secular communities. If by religion, Bell means the mere practices of standards set forth by any group of people and their beliefs, then I can agree. Jesus is not bound by any standard set of practices, as we see in the Gospels time and time again. Jesus’ life reveals that holiness is not the act of following rules, but of following the Holy Spirit that lives within — even when he leads us to push the envelope. But this does not mean that anything goes. This does not mean that Jesus is boundless in his approach to us. I happen to think there are places and practices Jesus will not and, dare I say, cannot use based on the self-imposed limitations of his desire for our love. That is to say, God can do anything, but has decided not to because the desired result of our choosing to love him offers a limitation.

This idea that Jesus is “supracultural,” that he “refuses to be co-opted or owned by any once culture… [including] Christian culture,” shows the fundamental misunderstanding of what being a Christian is. We don’t own Christ, He owns us. And in this owning, he directs us along similar enough paths that they form a belief system and pseudo code of conduct on its own. Christianity is not about cornering the Jesus market, it is about emulating who Jesus is. This supracultural idea spreads Jesus too thin, almost to the point where Jesus will have no real identification. Sure, Jesus will mean different lifestyle methods to different cultures (that is one of the most amazing aspects of Jesus) but this idea of supraculturaltivity (is that a word?) borders the postmodern view that all religions lead to God. But instead of saying it that way, it offers the tweak that all religions lead to Jesus. Not so. Clearly and emphatically not so!

As Bell says in this chapter, Jesus is in all things, working through all things, but the cross is central to salvation. Thus, Jesus on the cross is where we focus the bulk of our attention. The response the cross, and the ensuing relationship that follows (or is denied) is the matter God will deal with. The fundamental idea of Christ’s death as the ultimate act of judgment from God is central to the Christian message of grace and mercy. It is the bridge connecting God’s judgment and mercy. But the consistent problem throughout the book is the response needed to God’s grace. Clearly, this just doesn’t fit into Bell’s theology, as we can see in this chapter.

 

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Quick Thoughts on my favorite quotes:

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. What Jesus does is declare 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? (Love Wins, p.155)

This is frustrating. Because the presentation of the gospel here is one step short. Bell is offering Jesus can save anyone, has already saved everyone… but he is saying that is good enough on its own. A Muslim, Hindu, Buddhists, etc.. must accept that there is only one God, that this God wants love from us, but owes us judgment because of our sin. Further, that this loving God decided to pour that judgment on Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, all so that we could choose to love Him without guilt. That’s the gospel. A practicing Muslim, Hindu, or whomever will not have made these assertions, and thus things will be different. This ‘inclusive’ statement is a partial truth that appears to remove the awareness and acknowledgment of God and his sacrifice.

 

And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind 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.(Love Wins, p.154)

Indeed it will. All are welcomed to receive the good news. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” Then it goes on to say in verse 17 “For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him, might be saved.” Everyone has the option and opportunity because Jesus comes offering salvation through Jesus Christ. In other words, everyone was condemned to death by one man,(Romans 5:18) but all have been justified and can receive life through one man (Jesus). All are justified. This is why we cannot “work” into anything. It’s been done. But justification is not the sole requisite to heaven. Justification and morality is not even the reason we were created… it was merely the thing in the way of us doing and being apart of what we were created to do and take part in. Namely, to love God and engage in harmonic relationship with him.

 

But Paul’s insistence here is that what God is doing in Christ is for everybody, every nation, every ethnic group, every tribe. Paul uses the expansive word “Gentiles”—a first-century way of saying “everybody else.” (Love Wins, p. 149)

I see the transition Bell wants to make here. He wants it to be that we (any “exclusive” Christian community) are like the Jews, and the Gentiles are “everybody else.” The problem here is that, literally, the Jews had solid reason to have misunderstand the nature God’s redemption based on the covenant God made with Abraham. This does not translate well into our situation because the “exclusive” Christian community does not see the other people in the world as the enemy. We are sent to “make disciples” not to wait on our inheritance. The attempt at connecting the two groups is poor.  This is a fail by Rob Bell.

What do you think about this “supracultural” Jesus? Do I have it all wrong? Tell me your thoughts!

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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.