A couple of blogs I read have highlighted this video on the Resurrection by Rob Bell.
One was extolling it as an example of fantastic communication skills. [I think this is a ‘beauty in the eye of the beholder’ sort of judgement. I wonder what’s your opinion of Bell’s style?]
Another on its excellent presentation of resurrection hope and the reality of life to come. It’s this bit I want to discuss. But first some positives:
He sure does capture the daring, extraordinary, paradigm-shifting and revolutionary Christian belief in the future fulfillment of God’s kingdom, resurrection and a new creation. And the challenge to believe Jesus’ own words that he is the resurrection and the life – that death is not the end, and to embrace the hope that Jesus offers in himself.
And he’s terrific on the discontinuity of death, violence, injustice, hatred. These things will have no place in the new creation; they do not ‘belong’ there and this is cause for rejoicing and hope.
And he’s absolutely right to insist that what we believe about the future profoundly and deeply should shape how we live in the present.
So please don’t read this as another Rob Bell bashing exercise.
But what caught my attention amid all the psychedelic special effects, was the strength of Bell’s continuity theology. Check it out from about 1.30 in. It goes something like this:
Resurrection means that God has not given up on ‘THIS WORLD’. This world is being restored and redeemed by God. So every act we do with ‘THIS BODY’ matters – every kind word, every good business transaction, every act of compassion, every kind word, every work of art – they all matter because ‘this world’ and ‘this body’ have a continuity into the future.
“They all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world. Nothing will be forgotten, nothing will be wasted and all has its place … Resurrection affirms this life and the next as a seamless reality embraced, graced and saved by God.”
Now pretty well all Christian eschatology has to involve some form of continuity and discontinuity between this present order and the one to come.
But tying down just what continues and what does not is not as sure and certain as Bell makes out. He may be right. But he can’t be sure he’s right. No-one can.
The exact form of continuity between this world and the next is simply not explained in any detail in the Bible.
The promise of a bodily resurrection captures this. There is continuity in personhood and some form of an embodied existence. But there is also strong discontinuity – flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom (1 Cor 15:50), it is a new type of ‘spiritual body’ fitted for life in a new order of existence. And Jesus makes clear that there is discontinuity in marriage for example.
So I question his view that ‘this body’ continues into the next world. It does not allow for a profound discontinuity that is there in Jesus and Paul alongside some form of continuity.
He also insists that ‘this world’ continues. I’m with him here. Some have interpreted 2 Peter 3:10-14 as suggesting this world will be completely destroyed and a new one made. But overall the biblical evidence points to a restoring of this world.
However, even here Bell makes too much of too little. He’s got a lot invested in a theology of strong continuity. Notice the ‘leap’ from saying God is redeeming and restoring this world to insisting dogmatically that every good thing done in this life will somehow continue into the new creation. ‘Nothing will be forgotten, nothing will be wasted’ he says.
What I’d like to know is how he can be so sure? It is not at all clear how or if all ‘good’ that is done in this life ‘continues’ into the next. He mentions works of art – once you start asking questions it soon becomes apparent that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about. ‘Which works of art will continue?’, ‘From what time periods and cultures?’ ‘What about art capturing the despair, sin, brokeness and injustice of this world? Will it also belong in the new creation to come?’
No, the thing that makes me most uneasy about the video is not Bell’s personal style or the big picture theology being presented – it’s his dogmatism on things on which there is no basis to be dogmatic; all given more ‘weight’ by the dramatic, insistent, highly professional and ‘prophetic’ tone of the production.