Bell in the Dock, Part 6

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.

Not true.

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.

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3 Responses to Bell in the Dock, Part 6

  1. Bill says:

    So this is me transfering/expanding my my comment from facebook: Why do you interpret Bell’s traditional inclusivism as “radical” inclusivism? He doesn’t say anything about the saving value of other religions themselves. If a Muslim is saved, for Bell, he or she is saved because of Christ, and not Islam, based on what Bell has said in the book.

    Secondly, do you think it’s wise to apply the Elijah/prophets of Baal story to the present-day issue of religious pluralism? Not to mention, the reading you’ve just given could literally be flipped around to justify Islamic fundamentalism and violence in the name of religion. The major difference between our views of truth – yours and mine, that is – seems to be that you confidently locate yourself in the “truth” camp, and designate other religions in the “false” one. I on the other hand, see truth on a spectrum that we as humans cannot fully grasp. At the highest point of the spectrum is Christ/God, and following biblical revelation is the best way to move in that direction. Insofar as other religions may or may not conform to the spirit of Christ, however, in broken and fragmented ways, they also could contain saving truth, because it’s Christ’s truth, and Christ COULD save them through this – not because they achieve anything. This is still traditional inclusivism.

    An example of course would be that Islam teaches its followers to love God and love neighbor – something Jesus gives as the answer to the question of how to be saved. “Do this, and you will live.” This grants enormous common ground. Your remark about coffee and interfaith dialogue was cynical and careless in my view. It’s politically irresponsible, if nothing else – and I say that because, based on your facebook posts, you agree that Christians should be involved in politics. I’m interested in peace-making and bridge-building. This post gives off the impression that you are not. A black/white understanding of true worship vs. idolatry is so dangerous – it practically guarantees Pharisaic tendencies. There are bound to be moments in my life when I’m idolatrous, and my Buddhist brother or sister is closer to a “true worshiper,” whether he or she even knows it.

  2. Bill, after I wrote a response, I decided to post it as a new post altogether because it was much longer than a typical comment.

  3. Pingback: Answering Bill’s Questions/Comments | Crux Christi Salus Mea

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