Now that much of the fuss over Rob Bell’s book has died down, and the spotlight of pre-emptive inquisition has shifted to Francis Chan’s as yet unpublished Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We Made Up, I have downloaded the Kindle edition of Love Wins and actually started reading it. To be honest, I was prompted by the remark of a good friend that whereas she found the writings of Tim Keller clear and concise, Rob Bell had her checking the indications for the medication she was taking to see if it might have affected her mind. That wound me up a bit. But we shall see. Maybe she’s right.
For now, I want to highlight this statement from chapter 1 and draw an important comparison with Paul’s argument against first century Israel in Romans 2:
If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus’s message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren’t known for doing much about it. If it got bad enough, you might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived.
That would be tragic.
It’s debatable, of course, how far the church is guilty of such neglect. There is a lot of good unsung work being done by Christians all over the world in the name of the just Creator God. It just doesn’t make good blogging material. But I think, nevertheless, that we need to be much more aware—much more painfully aware—of the extent to which the God whose people we claim to be is discredited in the eyes of the world by the moral, intellectual and spiritual complacency of Christians. By the stupidity of Christians. By the gullibility of Christians. By the hypocrisy of Christians. By the squabbling of Christians. By the greed of Christians. By the passivity of Christians. And so on…
Paul’s argument against the Jews in Romans 2 was that despite having the Law—and all the blessings and privileges that went with it (cf. Rom. 9:1-5)—they had consistently shown themselves to be no better in practice than the pagan Greeks, whom they were so quick to condemn. So Paul told the Jew: you are “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). Destruction would come upon Israel basically because the Jews weren’t known for their moral and spiritual integrity. That was tragic. It meant that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (2:24).
We are not talking about a final judgment here or some transcendent state of affairs. Paul is addressing the social realities of Israel’s existence in the pagan world. The Jews in their synagogues should have provided the visible, public, corporate benchmark of righteousness by which God would at some point “judge” the whole Greek-Roman oikoumenē, just as in the past he had “judged” Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. This is why the doing of the Law was so critical. In fact, Paul goes as far as to suggest that the Jews will be put to shame on the day of God’s wrath against Israel by the righteousness of Gentiles (2:27).
So here’s the point. While we are arguing with each other over final destinies, convinced that if only we get our theology right, all will be well, we risk not doing those things which will qualify the people of God as a true benchmark of righteousness in a world suffering from starvation, thirst, poverty, environmental exploitation, pollution, disease and despair. As it is, there may be many righteous people outside the church who will expose our moral, intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy on some putative day of God’s wrath—if not on October 21.