The wearing of the cross by celebrities and their imitators as seen in tattoos and jewelry has created too much of a familiarity with the instrument upon which Jesus died. In Pastor Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, his aim in chapter five is to sift through the familiarity of the cross and get to the truth about what took place when Jesus died. With this goal in mind, I am in complete agreement.
As Bell lists the various perspectives on the cross, once again the Love Wins author gravitates to a position of uncertainty. He wants to make the results of Jesus’ death an “either/or” situation. Once again Bell takes a giant leap from traditional Christianity and invents as emergent church godfather Brian McLaren calls, ” a new kind of Christianity.”
The Cross Speaks of the Sacrifice Jesus Made On Our Behalf
First, the author speaks of the death of Jesus by which the Messiah paid for our sins much like the sacrifices in the Old Testament (pg. 123). He quotes from Hebrews 9:26 which claims Jesus appeared “once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Bell compares the sacrifice of Jesus to other cultures where worshippers offered sacrifices to appease the gods or forces in order to maintain a peaceful, favorable relationship with them. How odd! Jesus did not die to put an end to pagan sacrifices or simply to please a whimsical, vengeful. Yet Bell says, “Whole cultures centered around keeping the gods pleased. . . . And now the writer [of Hebrews] is announcing that those days are over because of Jesus dying on the cross” (pp.124-125).
The problem with Bell’s view of the substitutionary death of Christ is that he forgets Jesus was fulfilling and putting an end to the Jewish sacrificial system as described in the Torah books of Leviticus and Numbers. Jesus was not dying to appease the gods of the Greeks or Romans.
The Cross Signifies the Reconciliation Between God and Man
The next meaning of Jesus dying on the cross has to do with reconciliation . In Colossians 1:20 Paul taught, ” and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven”. Reconciliation, according to Bell, has to do with bringing two people together who were estranged and now they found a way to work it out and come back together in a new relationship. (pg. 125).
Here is where you have to watch the craftiness of Pastor Bell. He says on pg. 126 when Jesus died, He made peace “with all things.” You can bet your last dollar Bell will take those words to a place Paul had no intention for the phrase to go. The application of the reconciling work of Jesus to “all things” will be discussed further.
The Cross Has Accomplished the Freedom of Sinners from Their Sins
A third meaning of Jesus’ work on the cross comes from Romans 3:23-24, ” for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Now we see an aspect of the cross where Jesus paid a price to free guilty sinners. The guilty defendant has been set free.
In the rest of chapter five Bell discusses a few more descriptions of what took place at the cross: destroyed death, overcome the world and redemption (pp. 126-127).
So which metaphor is correct? Which explanation is true? This is Bell’s line of thinking. He question which perspective on the cross is the right one. I am surprised that a pastor would ask such a strange question of the New Testament teaching on the cross.
My answer is simple: they all are. There is no need to pick and choose. All these descriptions shard by Bell demonstrate the multifaceted significance of the cross.
The Cross Was Not A Metaphor Meant to Meet People’s Various Needs
Bell says the New Testament writers looked at the world around them and wanted to communicate the message of the cross to their audience in a language their audience would understand. The New Testament authors used examples, pictures and experiences their listeners would be familiar with (pg. 128). I struggle with Bell’s explanation because it seems he is saying the biblical descriptions of the cross are rooted in the needs of the audience rather than an objective significance placed by God on the cross. God was not thinking, “Let’s see how I can best explain the cross to the Jews. We’ll use the sacrificial system as a teaching tool. Now we’ll use the redemption from slavery motif reach out to the Greeks.”
The various descriptions of the cross are based in biblical truths and not written to best fit what suited each culture the disciples encountered. Once again Bell makes the New Testament theology a man-centered system rather than a God-centered theology. These metaphors, as Bell calls them, are not cultural-based but biblically based regardless of the surrounding culture. If one takes Bell’s position, then that leaves the door wide open for theologians like him to reinterpret and contextualize the significance of the cross to our modern culture rather than keep the biblical truths in tact and rooted in the biblical context.
The Resurrection of Christ Is Adapted From Analogies Found In Nature
Regarding the resurrection of Christ, the author claims the New Testament writers were not speaking of something new. Rather, the idea of death and renewal are part of the natural world. Leaves turn brown, drop off trees and die. The plant appears to be dead but it’s actually dormant and when spring arrives, it’s springs back to life (pg. 130). Death gives way to life. Hence, the resurrection of Christ was not a far fetched idea to the New Testament readers.
Bell is still negligent to root the events and the theological meaning of the work of Jesus in the Word of God. Jesus did not experience death and resurrection as a metaphor of pagan winter death and spring renewal. Instead, Jesus died and was resurrected to fulfill the Scriptures which prophecied the death and resurrection of the Messiah (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 1:10-11). Jesus died on a cross to fulfill prophecy. Why is Bell so ignorant of the Word of God?
The Work of Christ Encompasses Every Person
In concluding chapter five Bell reveals the card he had up his sleeve all the time. He writes, ” these first Christians understood the cross and resurrection to be an event as wide as the world extending to all of creation” (pg. 132). What does Bell mean by this statement?
Let’s follow Bell’s line of thinking: instead of shrinking the gospel down to something just for humans, Bell argues the reconciliation should be extended to all the earth. Yes, this thinking is in harmony with Romans 8:21, ” that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Yet the best news, argues Pastor Bell, is that God’a story also includes humans. The news of the cross and resurrection includes everybody. (pg. 134). 1 Corinthians 15:22 states of all humans that have died that “in Christ all shall be made alive.” (pg. 134). Titus 2:11 claims that “the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people.”
Now the reader is wondering what in the world is Pastor Bell saying? Is he implying all people will be saved? Is Bell teaching the gospel does not need to be preached to the unsaved since the one righteous act of Jesus “resulted in justification and life for all”? (Romans 5:18).
Here is Bell’s gospel.
He claims the traditional Christian gospel that exists merely to help people avoid hell or avoid a sinful life is too small. Rather, the gospel has a much more cosmic scope.
I leave the reader with one last quote from Bell that says it all, “A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the ‘in-ness’ of one group at the expense of the another group will not be true to the story that “includes all things and people in heaven and on earth” (pg. 135). Here Bell is toying with universalism – the belief that all are saved through Christ without necessarily having to make a decision to accept Christ, which is too narrow for Bell since some will not make that choice. The psstor of Mars Hill Bible Church cannot live with the fact some people will express their free will to reject Jesus. I
To sum up Love Wins, Pastor Rob Bell is uncertain there is a literal heaven and hell and he shares a gospel message that appears to include salvation for all without anyone being excluded. Face it, Bell is preaches a gospel that doesnot offend anybody but God since his message is not in conformity to the Word of God.
If Bell were to respond to this post claiming he is being misunderstood, the responsibility falls on him for his lack of clarity and failure to take a strong stand on the truths of the scriptures.