DYING TO LIVE
In a very masterful way, Bell explains how Jesus became the sacrifice once and for all, tying His death to the Old Testament sacrificial system. He makes the point that the Bible uses different imagery to communicate the meaning of the cross. “What happened on the cross is like… defendant going free, relationship being reconciled, something lost being redeemed, a battle being won, final sacrifice being offered…” (p. 128) He then goes on to explain the importance of the resurrection. “[His followers’] encounters with him led them to believe that something massive had happened that had implications for the entire world” (p. 130). He points out that the number seven has significance and he ties it with the fact that in John Lazarus’ raising from the dead is the seventh sign. He then ties it with the seven days of creation, concluding that “John is telling a huge story, one about God rescuing all of creation” (p. 134). The only thing Bell gets wrong is the genre of Genesis 1 when he speaks of “the poem that begins the Bible.” Bell correctly points that that 1 John 2:2 does not speak of a limited atonement, “The pastor John writes to his people that Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,’ and that Jesus is ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world’” (p. 135). This theologically rich chapter is well written, and while it asks questions without giving any answers, the chapter is generally absent of universalist implications.
THERE ARE ROCKS EVERYWHERE
The title of the chapter makes an allusion to Paul’s use of the Old Testament episode when God His people water to drink from the rock (Exod 17:6-7). As Paul gives the church at Corinth a history lesson, he writes that the people “drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). Bell then wrongly concludes that “Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere” (p. 144). Bell’s exegesis is again flawed. Paul identifies the manna in the wilderness as spiritual food, and the water from the rock as spiritual drink. Paul emphasizes the supernatural provenance of the manna and the water in the wilderness. Since the rock is with the people at the beginning of their journey, as well as at the end (Exodus 17, Numbers 20), Paul puts a Christological twist to the story. Christ is the rock that was with them all along.
In his treatment of John 14:1-6, Bell mocks Jesus’ claim of exclusivity. He writes, “John remembers Jesus saying, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…’ What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him” (p. 154). Somehow, Bell reverses what Jesus said to mean that some could make it to the Father without Christ. Bell mentions both exclusivity and inclusivity. He writes, “First, there is exclusivity. Jesus is the only way…Then there is inclusivity. The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts that good people will get in… [he does not advocate this]. And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but hold 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”Bell shockingly claims that Jesus declares “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” (p. 155).
Bell exhorts believers to suspend judgment using John 3:17 as a proof text. He writes, “…it is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. As Jesus said, he ‘did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ (p. 160). But Bell should have also included the next verse which also contains the words of Jesus. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The words of Jesus seem both negative and decisive, and yet, so true.