I’m picking my way slowly through the beguiling, breezy woodland of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. But to be honest, so far I have been more interested in the trees than the wood. If you look at some of them close up, with the slightly obsessive eye of a botanist rather than the casual glance of a happy-go-lucky rambler, they don’t quite make sense. Push them, and they seem not to be securely rooted. Push hard enough and they sometimes fall over. To give an example….
The biblical story of Jesus is a very long one. It reaches back to the creation of all things; it concludes with the re-creation of all things and the symbolic presence of the Lamb in the glorious city of the creator God. If we superimpose on this already complicated biblical story the church’s highly theological account of who Jesus was, is and will be, then we have a biography of massive mythical and metaphysical proportions. But in order to understand the story of Jesus we have to start not with this glorious meta-biography but with the much more modest and limited historical narrative that we find in the Gospels—in Matthew, Mark and Luke in particular.
This verse was mentioned in a sermon on grace yesterday. Given our perspective on things we naturally read it as a statement either about a final judgment at the end of human history or about a personal judgment after we die. Because we have received grace through faith in Jesus Christ—and only because we have received grace through faith in Jesus Christ—we may have confidence when we stand before the throne of God’s judgment. Strictly speaking, what we’ve actually done does not enter into the equation. That is core evangelical teaching. Given John’s perspective on things, however, there may be a couple of flaws in this reading of the verse.
In a comment on my Hell, the unbiblical doctrine of post Steve makes two substantial criticisms of my general approach. The first is that it is a mistake to assume a continuity of words and concepts between the Old Testament and the New Testament:
The Old Testament was physically oriented, while the New Testament was spiritually oriented. The OT physical emphasis on the temple, priesthood, sacrifices, feasts, etc. Foreshadowed the NT spiritual realities of those things. Same words, different application.
The second is roughly that we get into all sorts of moral and theological difficulties if we extend the argument about “hell on earth” and try to interpret “violent and destructive events like wars, famines, and perhaps natural disasters” today as acts of divine judgment.
I was listening to a talk the other night by someone from church arguing for a literal six days creation. I think I heard somewhere in the course of his defence of the literal truthfulness of Genesis 1-11 a statement to the effect that we have a prophecy about the future salvation of humanity and defeat of satan through Jesus in Genesis 3:15.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Hermeneutics is the academic discipline that seeks to understand what goes on when a text is read and interpreted. Anthony Thiselton gives the following basic definition:
Hermeneutics explores how we read, understand, and handle texts, especially those written in another time or in a context of life different from our own. Biblical hermeneutics investigates more specifically how we read, understand, apply, and respond to biblical texts.
At the simplest level, therefore, hermeneutics examines the process of interpretation that goes on when a text is read; it explores what happens between text and reader.
One of the ways in which emerging theologies have attempted to correct the individualistic bias of much modern Reformed and evangelical theology has been to stress the cosmic dimension to salvation. So, for example, J.R. Woodward, whom I greatly regret having missed when he passed through Dubai last year, started off a recent post on the “key elements of personal salvation” with the words: “While the Good News of Jesus Christ is both personal and cosmic in nature….”
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…
This post started out as a quick response to some good questions raised by Daniel in relation to my reconstruction of the story-line of the divine meta-comedy, but as sometimes happens, it grew too big and needs repotting.
I appreciate that the phenomenon of Western Christendom has been extremely problematic and something of an embarrassment for the modern church; and it’s only in some limited respects that I would venture to defend it. I am certainly happy that the Christendom paradigm has now collapsed—though not everyone is aware of the fact—and that we are in a position to reconsider the possible outcomes of the biblical narrative under very different circumstances.
But let me make a number of points in response to the basic objection that Christendom was a disaster and can hardly be seen as the victorious climax to the biblical narrative.
Paul Fromont (one of two prodigal but thoughtful Kiwis) has kindly highlighted my The New Testament and “what now for the church” post, in which I nailed my colours to the mast regarding the formative potential of a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament. I mentioned in the post that I like Tom Wright’s five act play analogy for biblical authority but disagree about how the story that is told in this divine comedy is to be reconstructed. Paul asked about this.
Andrew…, how about a post on why you disagree with Tom Wright on how the New Testament narrative is reconstructed? … I’m reading though that you’re in agreement with his analogy of an unfolding drama in five-acts…? I’ve always found it a really useful analogy.