Jesus wants to save us form making the good news about another world and not this one.
Jesus wants to save us from preaching a gospel that is only about individual sand not about the systems that enslave them.
Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker.
Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despaired, the kind that doesn't believe the world can be made better, the kind of that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen 'someday.' (170)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
"Jesus Wants To Save Christians"
Rob Bell remains as one of the most influential leaders in the Church today, and this is not a compliment. Bell is quickly slipping away from orthodoxy and adopting a theology contrary to the gospel and his latest book, "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto For the Church in Exile" co-authored with Don Golden, is no different.
Bell and Golden are concerned for the Church. To them, the Church is repeating the same mistakes of the past: empire building. The book is based on the New Exodus perspective which makes the story of the Exodus the primary and most important book of the Bible. In Exodus, the people of Israel find themselves oppressed as slaves under the empire of Egypt. God hears the cries of the oppressed and delivers them. Egypt is the anti-kingdom, they oppose God's kingdom. God hates empires.
Bell and Golden lay out various themes of the Exodus such as the Passover, the ten plagues, the killing of the first-born, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and other important aspects of the story. Eventually Israel make it to their own land and possess it, just as God had promised. Then came a King named David who grew the nation of Israel and handed the kingdom over to his son Solomon. Solomon was a great king at first and many came and admired his kingdom and how he ruled rightly and just.
But then, Solomon began to expand his kingdom, build great buildings and monuments on the backs of slaves (the oppressed), he ruled unjustly, allowed unjust things to happen in his kingdom, stored up for himself wealth, made money off of weapons, instruments of war, and war itself. Israel, through Solomon, had become anti-kingdom, just like Egypt. Therefore, God heard the cry of the oppressed and defeated the power of empire. God hates empires.
And so the story of the Old Testament and on to the New Testament it goes. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets prophesied that God was going to send another son of David unlike Solomon who wouldn't rule as an anti-kingdom but would serve the poor, the hungry, the needy, the sick, the forgotten, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed. He would be what Solomon was at first, but would not turn to empire building. He would be a servant. And that servant would be Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ came and helped the oppressed and showed His followers another way to live. Jesus, like God in Egypt, hears the cry of the oppressed (80).
To Bell, the Church is running away from this message of Jesus. The Church has turned its back on building Christ's kingdom and instead is building the American Empire, the anti-kingdom just like Egypt, just like Jerusalem, just like Babylon, and just like Rome. Christians are holding their Bible in one hand and the American flag in the other. "A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage" (18). The Church no longer hears what God hears: the cries of the oppressed, the poor, the unwanted, the needy, the strangers, and the disenfranchised. The Church has gotten intament with the empire.
Jesus wants to save Christians.
God needs a body and His body is the Church. The church should demonstrate God's love, God's ears who hears the cries of the oppressive, but she isn't. She is in bed with empire, the anti-kingdom. It is time for the Church to repent from her sins and serve the poor and the oppressed.
In the end, what Bell and Golden offer is nothing short of a social gospel. Not on the surface, but underneath lies the social gospel. But there is a real danger here. Too many conservative Christians like myself think of the social gospel as the worse thing and then turn around and do nothing about serving others. We must not do that. What the social gospel is saying, we need to hear. However, we must not abandon genuine and correct theology. The gospel should mobilize us to serve others, share the gospel with others, and do all that we can to fulfill the Great Commission which radically changes hearts, actions, words, and deeds.
The authors make the gospel nothing more than a homeless shelter or a soup line. The gospel is so much more. In the Epilogue, the authors right:
This "transaction" the authors are referring to is the doctrine of penal substitution. Like most Emergents, Bell and Golden believe that Evangelicals have made salvation about life after death and not about life before death. They want to correct that and that is the authors point in writing this book. Salvation is just as much about this world as it is the next.
This is all good and well (and we need to hear this message), but the authors are undermining the gospel. It is important to emphasize the present reality of the kingdom and the gospel, but as CS Lewis argued, one cannot be obedient in this life without an understanding of the next. In their attempt to correct Evangelical doctrine, they undermine it. The gospel saves us from the wrath of God that will be poured out on us in hell after we die. That's part of the gospel. To write that off is a huge step towards heresy.
Though Bell and Golden might say that they don't reject or deny the importance of life after death, their book suggests that they do. It's as if they are saying: as long as Christians help the poor and bring about justice, God will be pleased. But they miss the point: unless a sinner repents of their sin there will be no serving the poor or the oppressed out of pure motives. We must begin with the sin issue first, before we can help the poor out of their poverty or the oppressed out of their oppression. We must be changed. The spiritually poor must be made in order to serve the physically poor. And the first step in doing that is to resolve their spiritual poverty first, and then consider their physical poverty.
Bell and Golden write a fascinating book, but a dangerous one. Some of their hermeneutical conclusions are insightful but oftentimes off based. They find allegory that is forced. It is good to see a book that emphasizes the importance of the Exodus, but in the process they undermine the importance of other parts of Scripture.
In the end, the authors miss the gospel. In fact they undermine it. There could be no worse critique than that. Serving the oppressed is great. Redeeming the slave is wonderful. But let us not forget that before God, we are all slaves of sin. Through the cross and resurrection, we can become slaves of Christ (Romans 6). Let's be about the business of the gospel.