This morning I drove Abbey to our Pastor’s home, where his awaiting wife took her for the day. This was her first day away from us. I was so preoccupied by the thought of it that I took a wrong turn. Then, I took another wrong turn. When I finally came to my senses, I was not where I wanted to go. In fact, I was a good bit turned around and wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I thought through my options at this point. I considered pushing on in the hopes of arriving at my destination by figuring out where I was going on the fly. I hate turning back. It feels like I am admitting defeat. Just as long as I keep moving and pushing forward, it’ll all be ok. Then, I looked at the gas gauge of my 12-mile-to-the-gallon-XTerra and decided that I would be better off not driving all over creation trying to find the way to my destination via the undiscovered path (that probably didn’t exist). Please note: As a man, I feel that all roads should lead me to where I am going without any need to ask for directions. Reality doesn’t usually agree with me. Some roads are just the wrong way to go. A similar question raised amongst skeptics today is that of the many roads to the same God. “Can’t I follow any religion and have it lead to God?” This seems to fly in the face of the really exclusive statements made by Christ on the matter. In my most charitable reading of the “There Are Rocks Everywhere” chapter of the book, this is the question being addressed. In the chapter, Bell indicates that Christ is the only way to salvation, but that He never indicates the mechanism by which this happens. Thus, the door is open to all cultures and backgrounds to be saved through Christ without having actually believed in Jesus himself. For example: by believing in Islam, they really believe in Christ. It’s just that he’s Jesus with a Mohammed mask.

Please note that I say this is my most charitable reading of the chapter because I find myself trying to interpret specifically what the heck it’s trying to say. It’s clear that the general sense is that this is the right direction in reading Bell’s words on this matter. The question I end up asking is whether he is talking about how every religion leads to Christ or something screwier. My less generous reads include: (1) Every faith leads to the creative force we experience as Jesus. (To be fair, this is my very least charitable reading and though I can see it, I have trouble buying that this is the right read.) (2) Christ saves everyone, so what then matters is what is going on with their hearts and how they live their lives. (3) A mashed up version of 1 and 2. It is difficult to figure out what he is saying primarily because he is extremely vague. He alludes to ideas in flowery language without saying what on earth he is saying. On a charitable day, I would suggest that this is the result of the fact that the material is controversial and he desires for people to read the book and look for the truth in the statements without labels. On a less charitable day, I would probably argue that it is because the material is so antithetical to the message of Biblical Christianity that to say it overtly would result in even his most ardent supporters balking. I will look at the overall theology of the book in a later post. Reading #2 is the one I think fits the best to the overall theology presented. Deep down, I think that that this is the read that he intended, primarily because it fits his understanding of hell/heaven well and allows for a cohesive train of thought in the text. But, I digress.

Because I plan on writing a response/review for this idea, it is necessary to pick a road and press on. I have chosen to address the most charitable reading I can manage. Please note, that this applies to all of my guesses as to what he means. The chapter title points to the pivitol text cited in the argument. Bell looks at Paul’s use of the rock from which water sprang in the desert in the book of Exodus. The passages to which he is referring can be found in Exodus 17 and 1 Corinthians 10, respectively. Paul’s statement about the rock is that it was Christ. He speaks of baptism and clouds and the crossing of the red sea. Bell reads the text to mean that the Israelites in the desert literally experienced Christ in that rock. He jumps off from there to indicate that if Paul could find Christ in the rock, he could find him anywhere. In this, he implies that all sorts of people find Jesus in their own cultures. Note I say, “implies” because he is vague in doing so. Before chasing after that, it is worth addressing the matter of Jesus as the rock. In Biblical interpretation, there is something called “typology.” A typology is something that happens in the Old Testament that points forward to Christ. Some notable examples would be the account of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son (God sacrifices his son, Jesus) or the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and placing the blood on doors to protect the Jews from death (like how Jesus is the Lamb of God and his blood protects us from death) or the sacrifices in the tabernacle (point toward Christ’s atoning sacrifice). The word typology comes from a Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 10:6 and in Romans 5. The word is “τύπος”. It essentially means a likeness. Its root means: an imprint, like an impression made by a stamp. Paul uses it to indicate that something that happened in the past can teach us about Jesus. In Romans 5, he says that Adam is a τύπος (type) of Christ, meaning he is a likeness. Paul then compares Adam to Christ in order to make the point at redemption is more powerful than sin. Is he indicating that Adam was Christ? Certainly not. In 1 Corinthians 10:6, Paul speaks of the τύπος in a way that indicates that the Christians are to look to the example of the Jews and learn from it. They are both typologies. Bell’s read requires that we recognize the rock in the desert as an experience of Christ, the crossing of the red sea as a baptism and the entire desert experience as a weird Jesus salvation moment for the Jews. The problem is that it is just terrible interpretation. One must ignore the point Paul is making about learning from the τύπος of the Jews in order to find a path to God through things that are Jesus, but aren’t Jesus.

Bell does similar gymnastics with passages about other sheep and the great mystery of Christ. The traditional read on these passages is that Christ is speaking of the Gentiles being included in salvation through Him. Bell reads these passages to mean that He is speaking of those who believe other stuff being saved through Him. First, to understand a christocentric universalism (this means: “whatever you believe… it’s Jesus”) in these passages involves taking them totally out of context. Second, there is no overt Biblical support for the idea that every religion leads to Jesus.

Here again, I won’t address every passage misinterpreted and mishandled to force the universalist every-religion-leads-to-God-but-its-not-universalism-for-some-reason idea into the texts. There are bigger issues to address. First, how on earth is this in the book without it being the number one issue raised by critics? Is hell really that much more fun to talk about? Second, could Bell be right on this one? I am gonna say that he probably isn’t for several reasons. Christ makes numerous statements of exclusivity, which Bell speaks of, but indicates that there is an inclusively in the world (via the other sheep passage) that allows for Buddhists to be saved in this way. The only cited scripture that seems to used to support this position is the mistreated passages that I just mentioned. The problem is that Bell reads the meanings he wants into the passages, rather than considering what the Biblical writers intended. I suggest that if you read the book, take the time to read the scriptures Bell cites and see what they say in context. Frequently Bell uses one or two words from a passage to make a point, but neglects context. The problem with this is that if the scriptures directly taught anything like what Bell is suggesting, there would be more meat to the scriptural citations. As is, we are forced to bend and turn down every side-street trying to find the path to a destination that cannot be reached straight away by the roads presented in the scriptures. I can cut across retirees’ lawns and try to jump over the river on the way to the babysitter’s house, but it isn’t a legitimate path. Neither is this a legitimately established doctrine by scriptural standards.

There is a bigger problem with this approach. Well, another problem. I guess its hard to point to a bigger problem than: the Bible doesn’t support it. The problem is that of the general movement of scripture urging the spread of the Gospel. If Paul believed that every religion saved people and that was what he meant when he wrote the epistles, why did he waste his life witnessing? Why was he tortured over the exclusive claim of Christ? Even worse, if a person who believed in Zeus was saved by having the right heart and actions, did them rejecting the actual Jesus negate their salvation in Zeus because they were coming to Him through Zeus, but Paul screwed it up for them by introducing them to the actual Jesus? Paul’s actions only make sense if he believed that there was an eternal urgency that necessitated the frantic spread of the Gospel he endeavored upon. In fact, does this mean that Peter was wrong by indicating in Acts 4:12 that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved? Or maybe Peter wasn’t in on the same theology that Paul was. But, that doesn’t work because Paul indicates that if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord you are saved (Romans 10:9). Well Maybe Jesus knew this stuff and didn’t tell the disciples. Of course, Jesus says in John 3:18 that “Whoever believes in God is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (The funny thing about that verse is that Bell cites verse 17…. The one right before it… to demonstrate that Jesus came to save, so hell isn’t a part of the equation.) Probably Jesus wasn’t  in on the big theological secret either. Or maybe Rob Bell is importing something into the scriptures that isn’t there.

Ultimately, I can drive forever in the wrong direction and never get to the babysitter’s house… or I can find the one narrow road that gets me where I am going.

I had no time to properly address every misuse of scripture in this text. If you have issue with my approach or questions shoot me an email: youthguyerik@gmail.com

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