I am returning back to my analysis of Love Wins by Rob Bell and a bit late as many other bloggers (e.g. Scot McKnight) have done far better a treatise than I will do but I feel like there are some things we still need to wrestle with from his book. Please catch up on readings by going to my first three posts (1, 2, 3) and reading those so you can have a context at where this post will go.
This post is about chapter 2 in his book which is entitled, “Here is the new there.” He begins by discussing the typical images of heaven and then he asks questions about “what it will be like.” Bell’s desire in the entire chapter is to get people to focus on the proleptic sense of the heaven in which Jesus’ invitation to heaven is not for us to experience sometime in the future but to experience it right now (sometimes this is called in scholarly circles as realized eschatology). He talks about various passages from the gospels like Matthew 24, Luke 20, Matthew 13, Luke 21 and Luke 18 where the word “age” is used.
The word for age is the word “aiwn” (he says aion but it is actually an omega [w] not an omicron [o]…picky picky…I know). Bell says this about aiwn:
One meaning of aion refers to a period of time as in ‘the spirit of the age’ or ‘they were gone for ages’. When we use the word like this we are referring less to a precise measurement of time, like an hour or a day or a year, and more to a period or era of time. This is crucial to our understanding of the word aion, because it doesn’t mean ‘forever’ as we think of forever…The first meaning of this word aion refers to a period of time with a beginning and an end (31-32).
He bases his whole chapter on this definition which has some bearing on or theology but is that what was meant by Jesus in Luke 18?
I do not want to spoil the chapter for you so I just want to summarize what I think he is trying to get at. First he wants to dismiss evacuation theologies that says this world will be burned up and we will go (i.e. evacuate) somewhere else. He says that in believing this we tend to not want to do anything with the plight of this present world (see 44-45). I agree with Bell here in that I believe God will take everything that is old and make everything new in a New Heavens and New Earth but it will be filled with surprises of which I think are crucial (read Isaiah 25; Revelation 20-22). Second, his desire is to discuss the need for us to make a difference right here and right now. He is right in that “eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now” (p. 59). There are serious implications in how we approach our lives now that has effects on the future. That was a principle in the deuteronomic codes and it seems to have carried over into the New Testament with moral codes specifically in the Pauline epistles. So far Bell is saying the right things in that heaven is proletpically experienced now but not specifically yet.
I do have a major issue with this chapter though (Scot McKnight points it out as well here) in that the story of Luke 18 is about a future, endless period of time that bears implications right here and now. Bell, as quoted above, says that the Greek word for age (aion) is employed in Luke 18:30 but he missed it…let me show you…
Here is the text in Greek: ὃς οὐχὶ μὴ [ἀπο]λάβῃ πολλαπλασίονα ἐν τῷκαιρῷ τούτῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
Notice the highlighted (in red) words…they are aiwni (from aiwn) AND aiwnion (from aiwnios). The second word is crucial because that word, according to Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich’s A Greek-Engligh Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed), means “a period of time without beginning or end” or, “a period of time of unending duration” (p. 33). It’s in the Matthew 25 passage Bell alluded to (51-52) and Jesus speaks about a future point in time that is endless. Bell missed it here and should have sharpened his Greek better.
However, the point is valid in that we should not be concerned with saying who get’s in and who does not as God is the judge of all things but we should also be very concerned about what is required of us in Scripture and seek to follow what the Lord wants for us to do. In summary, I agree with the concept of the New Heavens and New Earth (much like N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope alludes to) in that we should be very concerned about all people right here and right now. I disagree with Bell’s sweeping assumption that everyone who believes in evacuation are least concerned about helping those right here and right now. I have personally met with people otherwise.
We will look next about his chapter on hell…