Chapter 6 of Bell’s book is his argument for a radical form of inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that people can be saved by Christ but apart from faith in Christ. People who adhere to other religions or to no religion at all may respond positively to the revelation that is given to them in nature and thus be saved by the redeeming work of Christ.
It is important for us to recognize that there is actually a spectrum of inclusivist positions. Conservative inclusivism involves a vague hope that God might save some who are outside the reach of the gospel, though it claims no certainty on that question. Liberal inclusivism argues that God is constantly saving people all over the world by various means, including non-Christian religions. Rob Bell clearly falls into the latter category:
As obvious as it is, then, Jesus is bigger than any one religion.
He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called “Christianity.”
There is a sense in which I could agree with these words, but in the context of the chapter in which they appear, I see exactly where Bell is going with this. He is arguing that, because Jesus transcends Christianity, salvation through Jesus must also transcend Christianity. He is making a case for a radical form of inclusivism. Here is another quote:
As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.
What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.
And then he leaves the door way, way open.
Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.
The problem with this reasoning is that it is simply unbiblical. While Scripture does declare that God’s glory is revealed in all creation, even to the point that the knowledge of God is present in every single person, it likewise declares that we have all suppressed the truth of that revelation and have created gods in the image of the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-23). This is why Scripture speaks uniformly with a condemning voice against the non-Christian religions of the world.
Idolatry is the sin of the Old Testament. It is the greatest blight on the Canaanite nations and the greatest stumbling block to Israel. It is the criterion by which all of the kings and prophets of Israel are judged. It is the primary reason for the exile. The gods of the nations are loathsome to the God of Israel. When Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in a contest on Mount Carmel, he didn’t ask if they wanted to engage in some interfaith dialogue over coffee. He didn’t declare that Yahweh transcends all religions and reaches people in diverse ways, whether they know him or not. He didn’t attempt to deconstruct the “us vs. them” mentality that was so pervasive among the faithful remnant of his day. He ordered the false prophets to be slaughtered, and the text presents this as a righteous act that delivers Israel from complete capitulation to Baalism.
If anything is clear in Scripture, it is that God loathes idolatry. He loathes the gods that we create from our own imaginations to rival and replace him. He loathes religious worship that is devoid of truth. He rejects the Baals, the Asherahs, the Molechs, the Gaias, the Allahs, and the Buddhas that we seek as substitutes for him. False worship is an abomination, not a vehicle for salvific revelation from God. Radical inclusivism is an unbiblical fabrication of human imagination, just like the gods to which it lends support.