And I bet you thought this day would never come, huh?
So let us begin with the rest of Rob Bell’s opus.
Ch. 4 is entitled “Does God get what God wants?” (Spoiler: Yes!)
And remember when I said that my basic problem with the book was that Bell was unclear on who his audience was?
This is a prime example.
There is never a question, seriously, about what the answer to the question that begins the chapter. The reader knows who Bell is, what his basic tenets of faith are–so any half-bright reader will know that this is not a real question.
But Bell proceeds to act like it is. Which is all the more puzzling, because the chapter (like the entire book) is set up like a Hallmark card to Protestant evangelicals. It’s intended for no one else. And actually, anyone who’s not conversant in evangelical-speak will have a really hard time understanding what he’s talking about half the time.
So when he eventually gets around to suggesting that, in fact, God possibly gets what God wants, in the eventual reconciliation of all souls to himself, it’s not a big surprise. (Come on, guy! You’re a Fuller-trained pastor. OF COURSE you believe in a classical three-legged stool of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.)
What is more of a surprise, though, is that he doesn’t assert it outright. Never comes close to it, in fact.
He just points out that people have answered this question in a lot of different ways, and lots of really faithful Christians, through the years, have argued several different things, including:
1. Evil choices result in evil choices made to cover up the initial choices, thus causing a sort of addiction that’s nearly impossible to break, hence eternal damnation.
2. It is possible, through a lifetime of sin, to annihilate the divine image within you to the point where you become ‘post-human.’ (He leaves it there, but the implications of this give me a migraine. I really take issue with this suggestion.)
3. Second-chance people (here he cites Luther, Clement of Alexandria and Origen) who would argue that God’s love and action do not cease after this life, but continue acting even after death, such that all people are eventually transformed and reunited with God.
He basically ends it there. Look, he says, so many options! All of them so interesting! Oh look, something shiny over here in the next chapter!
What he does for the rest of the book, is expand the scope. So for the next chapter (‘Dying to Live’) we talk about various understandings of the cross, in really vague terms. And the next chapter, (‘There are Rocks Everywhere’) he hints at a cosmic Christ the same way he was hinting at a universal salvation before. Though, again, he never comes out and says it.
(Actually, I’m being a bit harsh. He does a pretty good job of pointing out that the Christ described in Colossians is not sectarian, and we should be mindful of that. This is as near as he comes to making a definitive statement on theology, and it’s taking the stance of ‘Everyone believes in Jesus, because Jesus saves the world. Even if people don’t call Jesus by his name, those silly, misguided Other-Religious-Folk!’)
But my frustration arises because I can’t help but wonder if he’s being slightly disingenuous. I honestly can’t tell. Earnestness is not a trait that comes naturally to me in normal conversation (I am a Millennial; sarcasm is my blessing and my curse.) and this book is extraordinarily earnest. So, I can’t tell if he honestly can’t make up his mind about what he truly believes, or if he is being so open-ended because he’s worried about what the results might be.
He speaks from such a privileged position within his movement; he has a large church, he has a huge following on the Internet, he’s recognized, he’s published, he has power with a great many people. And this book reads like he’s scared of what that power actually means.
One of the excellent points he raises towards the end of the book is that the good news of the gospel needs to be better than it has been presented as. Agreed! Wholeheartedly! And while I’m ecstatic that someone has raised this point, (along with the fact that the continued insistence on a God who would damn entire swaths of his creation to Hell because he was annoyed, tends to turn people off, rather than bring them to church), this scenario won’t change until it’s actually confronted. And for whatever reason, Rob Bell doesn’t do it.