The review of chapter two might be brief because there is really one central argument to be made.  This chapter is entitled, Here is the New There, and it is about heaven.  This is perhaps one of the most important chapters in this book because it introduces a Greek word that affects everything.  Bell begins this chapter by speaking of his discomfort over a painting in his grandmother’s house.  It is a depiction of a cross that bridges a chasm and makes a way for the people traveling to the heavenly city, avoiding the hellish fire and brimstone at the bottom of the chasm.  It bothered him as a child, and it apparently bothers him to this day (p. 22).  And why not?  It is a sobering reality.  That picture should trouble all of us because in the painting, there are only a few people who are crossing the cross.  It accurately depicts what Jesus said in Matthew 7:14, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  What should we do with the despair that some of us may feel about so few people finding the road the leads to life?  It appears to me there are two responses.

The first response is obeying the commission Jesus left with us by discipling as many people as we are able.  I mean, if the reality is that few will find the road, should we not be doing all that we can to help make the road visible and accessible?  Yes, of course God is the one who saves people, but he has commissioned us to be the ones who put up the signs pointing the way.  Perhaps Jesus knew that so few would find the road because he understood how poorly we would offer directions.

The second response, and it is the response that Rob Bell has taken, is redefine reality.  I told you that Bell introduces a Greek word to us.  The word is aion.  Let me take a moment to remind you that I am no Greek scholar, but I do have a few books at my disposal.  The Greek dictionary in the back of my New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible uses the following words to define aion:  perpetuity, age, course, eternal, {for} ever (1995).  Bell goes out of his way to zoom in on one of those words – age.

He frames his argument by examining the story of the rich young ruler, found in Matthew 19.  At this point I would encourage you to go read it just to refresh yourself.  His contention is that when the rich young ruler is asking about how to inherit eternal life, he was not speaking of heaven at all.  Bell attempts to make a connection between life (which is what Jesus said in response to the young ruler, rather than eternal life), eternal life, and this age and the age to come.  Here is a small quotation to show you what Bell says about Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler.

“Heaven, for Jesus, was deeply connected with what he called ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ . . . Sometimes he describes the age to come simply as ‘entering life,’ as in Mark 9 – “it’s better for you to enter life maimed” – and other times he teaches that by standing firm ‘you will win life [in the age to come],’ as in Luke 21.” (p. 30)

It is from this assertion that Bell begins to build an argument that the Greek word, aion, does not really mean forever in the way we understand forever.  Let me be clear on something else.  He never commits to a clearly defined definition either.  While he may cast doubt on forever meaning forever, he also continually makes references to the age to come as eternal life.  If I walked away from this chapter with anything, it is this:  Rob Bell doesn’t know what forever means either.

Now, let us move on to something positive about this chapter.  There are some good things to walk away with from Bell’s ravings about aion.  The first thing I appreciated was in one of his examples early in the chapter.  As a church, we need to come up with better responses to people who have loved ones who died without Jesus.  Some people come to Christ late in life as the sole person from their family who was born again.  What about the grief those individuals go through when they understand that there will be no joyous reunion with their loved ones?  It is not enough to console them with statements of how the joys of heaven will somehow cause them to forget the reality that their loved ones are experiencing the torments of hell (p. 25).  While that may ultimately be true, in this life it will never be true.  People need comfort in this moment, in the present.  We need to be better at sharing the sorrow and grief of our brothers and sisters in those moments.  It is acceptable, I would even say expected of us, to weep with them in that moment instead of short-circuiting the grieving process by diversions about the joys of heaven.  Yes, point them to Christ, but do not rush to glories in the future at the expense of sharing a present, uncomfortable moment of grief with a brother or sister.

Another positive is that Bell does do some justice to tying our eternal experience with something very earthy.  The fact is that heaven is not floating about on clouds, playing harps.  Neither is it an eternal church service.  Bell does a great job at pointing out some Old Testament prophecies that tell us the eternal kingdom will have some work to do.  If spears are to become pruning hooks, then apparently there is some agricultural work to be done in God’s kingdom.  Yes, there will be work.  Before the Fall, there was work.  In the new Heaven and Earth, there will also be work.  But instead of working to live, like we do in this present age, our work in the age to come will go hand in hand with God’s purpose for his creation.  Imagine when folding your laundry will go hand in hand with God’s plan (if we have laundry); how weird, I can’t even conceive of it (1 Corinthians 2:9).

As far as what to be wary of in this chapter, the best way to describe it is fuzzy math.  Somehow, someway, when Jesus says, eternal life, it doesn’t mean forever in the sense of an ongoing period of time that has no end; yet it is still eternal somehow.  Granted, perhaps in the eternal state, time has no meaning whatsoever.  Maybe all of time will be in one moment, which would mean a thousand years really could be the same as a day.  Maybe.  However I would point you all to Revelation 22:2, which says, “also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month,” (ESV).  Unless I’m misreading this, in the New Jerusalem, the tree of life will produce its fruit every month.  A month, is a measurement of time, familiar to all of us, both today, and in ancient times.  There is no mystery to what the word month means.  Point?  Eternal must mean an ongoing period of time with no end, else why would God bother to mention the passage of months?  We will reign with God “forever and ever,” (Revelation 22:5) in an age where the passage of months is not only present, but noticed and counted by observing the fruit cycle of the tree of life.  Will we actually count them?  Probably not.  But the cycle of new life every month will be a reminder of God’s unending promise to be with his people day after day, month after month, year after year for the rest of eternity.  You bet forever means forever.

The bottom line is that Rob Bell is laying the groundwork for redefining eternal torment.  Is the torment in hell something that lasts forever, or is it simply an age – aion – that has a definite beginning and a definite end?  If you embrace this idea, then you are rejecting centuries of orthodox teaching that eternal really means without ending.  This then raises a more serious question.  Part of our faith in God is that he has preserved his Word through the ages.  As English translators labored over difficult words and passages, through the centuries, the Holy Spirit has led all of them to use English words like “eternal” and “forever” and “everlasting” to communicate the Greek word aion. A rejection of the orthodox meaning is essentially a symptom of distrust in God’s ability to preserve his Word through the centuries.  If God cannot preserve his Word, then he is not God.  Which then leads me to wonder if Rob Bell’s God isn’t powerful enough to preserve his Word, which God is Rob Bell worshiping?

So much for brief.