A few years ago, Radene and I went through a rough patch with some family members. There were exchanges of emails and unkindness was simply flowing freely. It was a very stressful time for all of us. It really did not take too long and I was ready to make amends but Radene’s wounds were not ready to deal with the issues quite yet. During that waiting, something was happening inside of me. It was a kind of death. I feel like God was mending Radene slowly so he could put something to death within me. See, I began to be convicted that I was being a less than stellar husband to my wife. God was showing me things here and there while we waited. When the day finally came to make peace, God had wrought a change within me that caused me to be a different man when we sat down to patch things up. I loved my wife more than ever before. We may have sat down to reconcile with our family, but a reconciliation had happened between me and Radene as well. For there to be something new between us, something old had to die.
This chapter in Love Wins is entitled, Dying to Live. I actually like the title of this chapter. Actually, if this chapter had appeared independently as a blog post on Bell’s blog, I probably would have felt pretty good about what it has to say. But since the proverbial cat is now out of the bag, everything is tainted. That said, I do appreciate the emphasis of this chapter because it asks a very important question. What actually happened for us when Jesus died on the cross and rose from death? The answer to this question is the key victorious living for the Christian. Second Peter 1:3-4 says:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (ESV)
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have access to the Divine nature. Not only are we saved from hell, but we are saved for a life on this earth that brings God’s kingdom into a world filled with darkness. How does that happen? It is as the title of this chapter suggests: a death must occur in order for there to be life.
This death is nothing less than the death of our old nature. Paul calls it the old self in Romans chapter six. When God regenerated our hearts and we responded in repentance and faith, the old self was crucified and put to death (Romans 6:6). This death had to happen so that a new birth could occur. The new self (Colossians 3:10) is the life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and is what Peter calls the Divine nature. So Rob Bell is right in that a death must occur before new life can emerge. And he is correct that God’s plan for redemption through Jesus extends to all of creation.
“When Jesus is presented only as the answer that saves individuals from the sin and death, we run the risk of shrinking the Gospel down to something just for humans, when God has inaugurated a movement in Jesus’ resurrection to renew, restore, and reconcile everything ‘on earth or in heaven’ (Col. 1), just as God originally intended it.” (p. 134)
But he is dreadfully wrong when he says:
“A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the ‘in-ness’ of one group at the expense of the ‘out-ness’ of another group will not be true to the story that includes ‘all things and people in heaven and on earth’” (p. 135)
The exclusivity of the claims of Jesus Christ are the defining terms of what it means to born again into new life. Jesus did not say for no reason that he alone is “the way, the truth, and the life.” His exclusive claims were indeed a statement that declared the “in-ness” of one group; that group being those who receive him as Lord during this life. Those are the ones whom the Father will allow “in.” I am reminded of the disturbing words of Jesus at the end of a frightening parable in Matthew 22:14.
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)
What can a person take away from this chapter? If you are able to pick the meat away from the bones, Bell says some good things about death that leads to life. In essence, every Christian who is seeking to live godly is dying each day to live. Our grain of wheat falls to the ground every day so that it can be reborn and multiply itself many times. Unfortunately, against the backdrop of what Bell has said in prior chapters, the message he tries to deliver with this chapter is flowing with a universalistic undercurrent, and is tainted. In each successive chapter, as we close in on the end of this book, the nuggets of truth that are there will continually have to be untangled from the overall deception of the book as a whole.