A most frustrating experience is finding yourself lost in an unfamiliar town and then having to ask strangers for directions to your destination.
Usually, you’ll get one of several responses when you’re dependent on others to get you where you’re headed: the local guy who’s lived in the town all his life but never heard of our destination; the directions a stranger provides confuse us even more; the person that provides directions based on making rights and lefts at fast food landmarks that are located in obscure locations and the person who gives us great directions but his accent is so thick, we have no idea what he’s saying.
In Rob Bell’s highly influential book Love Wins, the author attempts to map out instructions on how to check-in to the Heavenly Hilton in God’s eternal abode. Like many travel websites such as Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity, the information Bell provides is unclear and leaves us more confused then when we started.
If I was lost and needed to book a room in heaven, I’m not sure Rob Bell’s theology would help me or anyone else.
As I remarked in my last blog, Bell confuses God’s earthly kingdom and His heavenly realm. I call it a “marble cake” theology. He cannot differentiate between the chocolate and vanilla swirl; it’s all blended together and indistinguishable.
Being So Heavenly Minded Will Not Qualify You For Heaven
Bell argues, “If often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing earth to heaven right now” (pg. 45). Why is it that a lack of concern on the part of Christians about life on this earth cancels out Bell’s perspective on a heaven that exists in the hereafter? I agree many Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. Yet this proverbial assessment of the way believers in Jesus think does not cancel out a heavenly future for people when they pass from this earth.
The task of the Christian, according to Bell, is to pursue the life of heaven now, and then look forward to the day when heaven and earth are one (pg. 46). The bottom line for the Mars Hill Bible Church pastor is that “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world?” (pg. 45). That’s easy to answer: we are commanded by our heavenly Father to engage the world and perform good deeds in this world. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus taught, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Bell’s problem is that he observes erroneous thinking on the part of Christians, but instead of correcting false perspectives by using the Word of God, the pastor changes his own belief system and ends up adding to his “theology of uncertainty”.
At times the reader of Love Wins is not sure whether Bell is espousing a works theology. Since he’s unclear about heaven – describing it an a new and better world on earth – the only way Bell’s heaven can materialize, according to him, is if we work to make it happen. That is a works theology.
According to the author’s understanding of Matthew 20:20-28 the mother of two of Jesus’ disciples earns Bell’s praise because she “understood heaven to be about partnering with God to make a new and better world” (pg. 47). Sorry to get too technical, but Bell is advocating post-millennialism – the belief God’s people will bring the messianic kingdom on earth through performing good deeds while living on earth.
Heaven is not a matter of who gets “in” or how to “get in.”
When Bell eliminates heaven as a location we go to, he leaves me lost without a map.
According to the Love Wins author, Jesus is not concerned about people getting into heaven. He’s more concerned with “our hearts being transformed, so that we can handle heaven” (pg.50). Of course, we cannot “handle heaven” or the presence of a holy God in the sinful condition in which we exist apart from Christ’s redemption.
In I Corinthians 15: 50-51 Paul tells us flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Rather, we shall be changed and outfitted with God’s holiness to qualify our souls to inhabit heaven.
While living on this earth God is working in us by the power of His Spirit to conform us to His image (Romans 8:29). God promises us eternal life, but then we spend our lives working out – through the power of the God’s Spirit – the eternal life God has put in us by becoming more and more like Christ (Philippians 2:12-13).
Bell does admit God’s intention for us is to be growing progressively in conforming to godly characteristics (pg. 51). He says” as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more and more in life in the age to come, now.” That sounds good, but we’re still not sure if there is a heaven “somewhere else” and who’s is going to be in heaven and what qualifies a person to enter heaven. Bell remains uncommitted, confusing and “all over the map.”
The average person cannot grasp esoteric views of heaven
This is what I call “academic dribble” on Bell’s part when speaking about heaven: ”"heaven is as far away as that day when heaven and earth become one again and as close as a few hours” (pg. 55). Why can’t Bell come out and say what he means instead of coming out of his writer’s block with such esoteric dribble? Can the average person make sense of what Pastor Bell is teaching. Despite my two master degrees in theology, I don’t know what he’s trying to communicate!
Heaven and hell are life and death realities. Christians, theologians and pastors cannot afford to be unclear, overly academic and metaphysical when speaking to Joe the Plumber about heaven.
Finally, on page 56 Bell admits there is a heaven that is “not here” but the person is “with God”. I do agree with Bell’s point eternal life does not start when we die. Eternal life is knowing God and experiencing the spiritual life now. Bell states, “it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (pg. 59). Jesus states it this way in John’s Gospel, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Regardless of this clarification on Bell’s part about the reality of heaven, he refuses to come clean on how one is qualified by God to enter heaven.
To summarize what’s wrong with Bell’s theology, he dabbles with a works theology; he places too much focus on experiencing heaven on earth; he fails to face the individual with the need to be certain they will spend eternity with God in a heavenly realm; and when he does mention the heaven that is “beyond this life’s experience”, he superficially tips his academic hat to this theological truth and then returns to his vagary.
Bell lacks urgency about the importance of an individual’s need to accept Christ as Savior and Lord in order to be granted eternal life. That concerns me enough to warn others not to accept Bell’s book as a valid evangelical source on conservative, biblical Christianity.