I remember a time in my own life when I was younger and trying to understand my critique of what I thought Christians were compared to what I thought they should be. I would often see something I didn't care for within the social aspects of the American Christian church and then suggest that what I saw as not biblical or was somehow not at all in-line with what Jesus might have taught. I say "might" because honestly, I wasn't reading God's Word much and I certainly wasn't submitting my life to its authority. Instead, I was trying to make Christianity what I wanted it to be so I could call myself a Christian. Looking back, it's clear to me now that I wanted to stand in God's place, and I believed that the people I was critiquing, the Church--the very Bride of Christ (John 3:29, Ephesians 5:23, Revelation 21:2, 9)--had "hijacked" real Christianity. They had mutated the real story of the Bible, or so I thought when I looked in from where I was at that point in my life. So you can imagine what ran through my mind when on the very first page of the preface I read that Jesus' story has been "hijacked" (vi).
Following the claim that there has been a hijacking, Bell seems to suggest that the traditionally taught idea that, "a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better," is misguided and toxic to Jesus' message of love, peace, and forgiveness (vii). If I could send this book back through history to the me I just described above, that Bryan would hit these very first pages and instantly fall in love with the book. Being in such agreement, the Bryan of the past would then likely find himself continually nodding with every paragraph, eating up every word.
What's strange however, is that there is no suggestion, no hint (at least in the prologue) as to when or why this serious hijacking happened. But there is no reason to think this particular response to the alleged hijacking is new. Instead, Bell implies that this teaching has always been around as part of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It's an "ancient, ongoing discussion surrounding the resurrected Jesus" (x-xi). It's a "deep, wide, and diverse" conversation according to Bell (x-xi). It is my hope that subsequent chapters will address this hijacking because this is a serious claim to place upon people that are part of Jesus' Church. Or I guess it could be directed at those Bell believes do not stand with Jesus; it's tough to tell because this hijacking was just sort of slipped in without much explanation.
At this point, Bell seems to suggest that the idea that only a few will enter heaven is deplorable (viii). This is not to say that Bell will hold this position throughout the remainder of his book, but that's the impression I'm left with at this point. This statement however, leaves me very curious about how Bell will approach this idea in light of Luke 13:23-24, where someone asks of Jesus if only a few will be saved. Jesus replies, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24, ESV). It could be that the issue Rob is having is not the idea of only a few entering heaven, but maybe something else. I suppose I'll find out as I move further into the book.
But Bell does make some good points in his preface. He is quick to point out that some communities do not allow for healthy discussion of tough questions. In this, he is right. He goes on to say, "There is no question that Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous. [...] Jesus frees us to call things what they are" (x). Again, Bell is right. Therefore, I feel that Bell is giving me permission to examine what follows in this book by the same standard. And I also agree with Bell in that it will be thrilling if this book brings people into open discussion about this important topic, no matter how vibrant, diverse, or messy (xi).
It should also be noted that this discussion of the preface looks to be almost as long, if not longer than the preface itself.
Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 1)."
*I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book.