Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Emergent Letters to Friends: Learning to Trust God

My Emergent Letters to Friends: Learning to Trust God

“can anything be less plain than the intent of our speech
as versus the composition of the correctness of our speech?”
– skinhead

Hey skinhead,

I have to disagree with what you’re saying about Rob's views on heaven, hell, love, etc. after watching his livestream from NYC. I think he would even say that he doesn't agree on the traditional views of these things. And not even going off what Kevin Deyoung said but in just reading quotes from the book itself, mocking a God who would send someone to literal, eternal hell if they got hit by a car w/o believing in Jesus.

And so, though I appreciate your response to my emails I have to disagree & point out that Rob neglects major chunks of scripture in order to try and make points in the book. It's grievous to me to read and hear the things he's saying and I lovingly want to caution you to see that what he's saying in many places in the book are unbiblical and even mock the God of the Scriptures:

"Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way according to the person telling them the gospel, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormentor who would insure that they would have no escape from an endless future of agony." – from Love Wins by Rob Bell

Thanks again for your emails.

- your brother in Christ

Dear brother, Hi! -

I have yet to read Rob's book but am very familiar with his convictions having been engaged with his ministry the past dozen or so years. After a third reading of the Rob quote above I would give him a pass by saying the following: he’s not questioning the eternal torments of hell and its reality as it would seem on the surface. But that he’s saying that when that time of finality comes in a person’s life it will be finally and solemnly at that free-willed being’s rejection of all things Christ. Here’s my summary of “Love Wins” for which I’ll give to Rob partial inspiration and to the Lord the greater portion of inspiration:

“We are to over-expound and over-preach the hope and the grace that is in God as we preach the solemnity of the horrors of hell found in this life as it is in the next without Christ.

Furthermore, this message isn’t simply for others, but it is for us to know too - of the hope and grace that is in God and is ours both now, as heaven touches earth through Jesus, even as it will be ours later, in heaven.

That we as Christians do not live with a gospel that has become an evangelical-evacuation policy from earth, but with a gospel that is every-much as good news to us, as to those around us, in this present day of the here-and-now because of the presence of the Kingdom of God enacted at the Cross and through the Holy Spirit in response to Christ's atonement on the Cross.

As is the solemn reality and responsibility of the hell we deliver to people around us by living unChrist-like; or the hell that non-Christians live in each day in their brokenness apart from Christ; or the hell that humanity is experiencing at its own hands, when the love of God through Jesus is not being lived, shared, breathed and experienced.

Ultimately, the last book of the bible, Revelation, shows us in exquisite grief the finality of mankind rejecting the love of God when love doesn’t win; as well as the finality of God’s resurrection (and resurrected kingdom) because love did win.”

- skinhead

But asked another way, I think the broader reading of Rob is more to the point that my fellow classmate Scot McKnight has earlier observed these past several weeks in the links that I have sent to you:

Link 1 - My horror, then, was three-fold [to the evangelical response to Rob Bell's book, LOVE WINS]: first, the image of God that is depicted when hell becomes the final, or emphatic word to the world [as evangelicals missionize the Gospel]; second, the absence of any context for how to talk about judgment in the Bible [in the evangelical kit of 'Becoming Saved']; and, third, the kinds of emotion [we are seeing] expressed [to Rob's book, which isn't pretty]. We saw too much gloating, pride and triumphalism on both sides of the LOVE WINS issue. I felt like those watching the sinking of the Titanic but who didn’t cringe at the thought of thousands sinking into the Atlantic to a suffocating death. We were instead singing and dancing to a jig that we were right or had been predicting the sinking all along.

Link 2 - To talk about wrath apart from this depiction of the grace-consuming God is to put forward a view of God that is not only unbiblical but potentially monstrous. And, to put forward a view of God that is absent of final judgment, yes of wrath, yes of eternal judgment, is to offer a caricature of the Bible’s God.

No one should begin to talk about hell without spending fifteen minutes in pausing prayer to consider the horror of it all.

Further, I find some people can get intoxicated on wrath and it can lead them in a triumphalist dance of anger. And I find some who get intoxicated with a flabby sense of grace. Isn’t it better to get lost in the dance of God’s good and triumphant grace and of making things right? If we are to be intoxicated, let it be from imbibing the hope and grace of God’s love which will both win and be right in the End.

- Scot McKnight

By way of summary, and as I’ve repeatedly have said in the past, the enigma that is Rob Bell can be a slippery-sloop to those who chose to listen selectively (and this is truth of both sides - both of his detractors and well as of his supporters). He too easily can mean whatever we wish him to mean. And maybe I think of Jesus when I write this too. For his listeners also had all types of responses to his messages as well.

And so I think I get Rob more than I had in the past, in his cynicisms, his irreverent apologies and statements, in his quirkiness that comes with an impassioned heart and soul, and a mind overwhelmed with speaking God better to the misunderstanding lost masses. He's willing to bend on exact statements to allow his congregants and audience to become further engaged with the ministries and the minitrations of Jesus and Jesus' flesh-and-blood fellowship on this side of heaven. He's willing to entertain extra-biblical suppositions and questions to raise the awareness of both personal and corporate introspection, trusting in the Spirit's overall leading to teach and to guide in questions of mis-understanding and mis-statement.

But it is still my and your responsibility to cut through his words to get to the sense of the argument (as versus just dumping on him as a brother in Christ). The quote you gave is hard to defend in-and-of itself but then again, I don’t wish to. Nor do I wish to defend Rob. I stand with him, I pray for him, and I treat him in love as my brother in Christ as we and many other emergent Christians re-learn God’s heart for the lost and for our fellowship of brothers and sisters.

Too, when I get a chance to read LOVE WINS I’m sure I’ll see a lot of similar statements just like there were in his past books. Still, I know that Rob believes in the evangelical doctrines of Hell, Heaven, Sin, Judgment, Jesus. So the fight isn’t there. The fight is over evangelicalism's words and formulaic statements of correctness that have lost the heart of God in their zeal for the truth of God, and for which postmodernistic books and writings wish not to similarly evidence. You have an austere evangelical readership wanting correct, specific statements as versus a "mellow" emergent body of believers wishing to lovingly retell the gospel to a non-Christian world through relational and service ministries about Jesus; a world that is totally unfamiliar with the centuries-old church dogmas and doctrines that have overtaken the evangelical church, and have removed the life and heart of God in the process.

Doctrines? Yes, if they are biblically received. But no, if they are more important than the people that those doctrines minister to. I'm all for correct doctrines but I'm also for allowing people to express their fears and misunderstandings and to allow for further personal expressions of God. We can correct their (and ours) misunderstandings later through biblical study, but it is more important first to find the heartbeat of God and to resurrect it into the pulse of dying mankind. Let us do the hard work of ER first and then later get the whole man healthier over a process of time and involvement, benevolent engagement and practice, faithful living and endeavor, merciful love and living.

So then, in order for us as evangelicals to be able to read postmodern/emergent writings it will require that we put away our theological formulas, our compendiums of exact scientific speech, and re-double our encryption efforts to hear and read Rob’s (and others) words for the intent that is being conveyed. It’s not easy to do and after 12 years of listening, investigating, questioning I think have adapted enough now to do it. And by “adaptation” I don’t mean that I’ve left my doctrinal heritage or legacies but that I’m re-learning how to better speak my heritage in more relevant forms and fashions using postmodernistic methods that are highly creative and deeply personal and loving to the non-Christian, non-churched audience.



My Emergent Letters to Friends: Learning to Discern

My Emergent Letters to Friends: Discernment

by skinhead
March 15, 2011

Dear Ed.  I found Kevin DeYoung’s and Justin Taylor’s statements last week inflammatory about Rob Bell’s position on hell, sin, atonement, justice, and etc. Kevin and Justin made up stuff about Rob that is not true and the response has been typical of what you’re getting on Facebook (from friends and colleagues alike). I really don’t wish to respond to each of their statements publically other than to say what I already have said. Rob fully believes in the evangelical hell, heaven, Jesus, etc. and made it clear again Sunday night at a Q&A held at church when he was questioned.

But Rob uses imprecise language (as I also have stated) which leaves him open to being accused of things that aren’t there. These accusations then amount to false judgments about him in the name of Christ by Christians feeling threatened by his missing imprecisions. Personally, I don’t really wish to defend Rob so much as to point out to my fellow Christians that they are making the very point Rob is making in his book… that we judge each other really fast and aren’t comprehending how deeply grievous spiritual truths like hell, heaven, love, Jesus, really are beyond making our safe creedal statements about them.

With Rob I’ve learned a long time ago to listen to the intent of his speech rather than to the precision of his statements. Too, he loves to talk about theological paradoxes within biblical narratives which cannot be resolved and must be left open-ended. For traditional Christians who are use to hearing “definitive” summary statements within carefully crafted theological formulae, the emergent method can be found to be irritating, frustrating, inspecific, unnerving and angering. Personally, I believe Christians have been spoon-fed for so long that their minds have turned to mush and water and that they don’t know how to think for themselves anymore. How to study, how to investigate, and most importantly, how to listen and think other than to spout off their feelings and emotions as "gospel" to those enablers willing to listen around them.

When I try to parse what Rob is saying against my traditional Christianity upbringing it leaves me blinded from hearing God’s word that is shouting in my ears while I debate God and refuse him his grip on my heart. Said differently, I’ve been too fast to judge Rob on what he should be saying in my mind (wishing to feel safe and content) than to listen to him on what he is really saying. Once I re-orient myself away from those traditional arguments in my head I then can hear him better as to what he is saying…. And, when I do, its spiritually overwhelming - like scales coming off my eyes that I may fearfully come and tread into the holy-of-holies before the presence of our Almighty God.

For you see, Rob still is claiming traditional evangelical doctrinal tenets no less than what DeYoung or Taylor ascribe to, but he is re-framing or re-defining these tenets into a postmodernistic framework of emerging Christianity as he uses the emergent language to help us better hear God's Word. And if anything, emergent language is all about ambiguity and mystery, the high holiness of God and the complete gulf that we have put up to God's eternal redemptive purposes. It is this latter part of postmodernism - its emergent language and mindset - that so engage traditional Christians towards anger for the "truth". They don’t get postmodernism and it unnerves them. Rob will say it more simply -

“If we think we know God, than that "God" we think we know isn’t God. For God is infinitely above what we know and think, and the God we have is the one we’ve put in our religious faith-box, whom we’ve idolized and have told what he should and shouldn’t be doing.”

At least that ‘s my current understanding of all this after 12 years of struggling to listen more completely while trying to figure this postmodern emergent stuff out as an older-generation adult 3 generations removed from generations X,Y and Z. Historically, evangelicalism itself is a new movement birthed from the fundamentalist movements back in the 1880’s-1940’s (the Industrial Age) and has, itself, become the “new fundamentalism” of modernity. Thus, today’s evangelicals control the presses and the schools, the media and the pulpits and are crying foul to its newest challenger and usurper, emergent Christianity. But emergent postmodernism has arisen as an updated version of evangelicalism these past 10-20 years (c. 1990-2010, the "Social Networking" Age) and intends to displace, disrupt, destroy, burn everything that we as evangelical Christians espouse that we think know about God and doctrine and faith and Jesus... or more correctly, impiously think we know. And I don't think for a minute that emergent Christians will be re-writing the bible with false doctrines and lies. More correctly, I do think that emergent Christians will be authenticating their historic faith and as they do we'll discover how close it will be to past creedal statements written in blood, sweat and tears of our past forefathers in the faith.

Emergent Christianity isn’t clearly defined b/c it is so new and no one really knows what it is and where it’s going. The conservative form of "emergent-ism" is an “emerging Christianity” that holds to its orthodox-evangelical roots while trying to not to be too quick to jump into the “emergent ship”. Thus, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Matt Chandler are kinda caught out as “tweeners” between wanna-be neo-evangelicals and emergent Christians while DeYoung and Taylor are still in the evangelical camp of strict Calvinistic reformed doctrine (at least that's how I understand it). But for the emergent, the argument isn’t to abandon evangelic doctrine but to better speak it to a postmodern era (or rather, let evangelicalism go as irrelevant and unnecessary parts of the continuing conversation of authentic Christianity in its haughtiness and judgmentalisms). And so, it is the emergent's newer-language which “feels” like a "must-hear" better re-interpretation of church dogma as it thrashes around trying to “speak God better”.

Now I have my differences with Rob but its more along the lines of the various emergent strains of Christianity as each emergent position works to define their foundations of where they should be vs. what they are teaching. The spectrum goes from conservative to neo-evangelic to a more liberal abandonment of everything that is church doctrine over the past 2000 years (called “pyro-theology” or “deconstructionism”). And to some degree this latter endeavor may have to be done b/c we have simply “boxed” in God with too much argument and thesis and have missed his heart and soul and consequently, the heart and soul of our faith.

I think of Jesus in the gospels who so greatly upset the Sadducee's and Pharisees as he re-aligned and re-established the OT Abrahamic faith that had gotten lost in the religious rhetoric of his day. Jesus kept to the past, but he re-explained it through himself, and then continued to re-define it in the lives of each soul he met, individualizing it and expanding it, just like the paradigm he was so fond of using, that of "new wine skins for new wine". Without new wine skins the new wine would burst the old wine skins as it fermented. Jesus words were doing the same to the religious institutes of his day. He was re-adjusting and re-framing God, faith, sin, life, living, love, justice, etc. to the faithful (and unfaithful) traditionalists of his day. And so I think that this is what emergent Christians are doing today... searching to speak God better to a sinful, needy, lost world.

And at this point I believe Rob to be an emerging Christian like myself who is making adjustments as he goes along – trying on new suits of clothes for size and fit, freewheeling off of new wake boards as he tests new equipment and theories, in an attempts to determine the necessary fundamental emergent directions he thinks postmodern Christianity should be taking.

And unlike me, he is more committed to destroying the past more completely (which takes a lot of courage b/c of all of the vilification that he gets). But I think he’s more gifted to do this like the old-time preachers of the past - the Billy Sundays and George Whitefields, the Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeons, the John Wesleys and D.L. Moodys, and the David Otis Fullers of their day. They didn’t take any crap and they loved dishing it out in extremely convicting hellfire-and-brimstone sermons. They wielded the pulpit like a bully club and they struck down anything and anyone that didn’t worship Jesus first and foremost. Rob is not very different from these old-timey preachers but I think that he is hated even more. And so, we would do well to shut our mouths and listen first, before hastening to judgment and vaunting ourselves and our bruised egos up in inflammatory rhetorical displays. God is not pleased by our harsh judgments, words and labels. We are to speak truth in love, and in love speak truth, and use God's wisdom in both directions. Amen! and Amen!

Consequently only time can tell what will be, and it’ll be at least another 10-20 years before everyone really knows what emergent Christianity will was about. But outlandish statements made by both sides as they create point-and-counterpoint arguments against each other can be as much constructive as they are destructive to the fellowship of God's church over time. Bell, like myself, will continue to modify his position in light of newer developments and spiritual insights based upon Inauguration Eschatology (cf. my writings and NT Wright's among others). It must be done and is being done by Mars Hill Church and others.

Thus, emergent Christianity is in its own “discovery-and-analysis” phase of what postmodernal Christianity may look like. But we don’t know. It’s too soon to tell. And when we get there our traditional brethren can thank us then for plowing the hard ground that is ahead and has been behind. Because they have not helped with their harsh judgements and inciteful words, working against any form of plowing being done by humble, faith-driven, obedient servants of God. But I would that my brethren team with their newest cousins and work with us together towards figuring-out this thing we call the Christian missional message of Jesus.

- skinhead

My Emergent Letters to Friends: What is Emergent Christianity?

My Emergent Letters to Friends

by skinhead
March 14, 2011

Hi. Attached is a Christianity Today review of Rob Bell’s book. My comments are in green to help elucidate the mis-statements I’ve been noticing in popular discussion websites. I think that if we wish to critique emergent Christianity that we should look past Rob to the thing itself. To do that I’m reading through “Church in the Present Tense” by Kevin Corcoran (a Calvin prof) and Scot McKnight (formerly of Cornerstone). The first chapter made all the difference for me in discussion of philosophical realism versus antirealism and its social apophaticisms. Too, McKnight’s candid comments on emergent Christianity should be helpful like his blog, “The Jesus Creed”.



Overall I believe Rob's critics to continue to mistake him as a non-evangelical rather than as a neo-evangelical or more popularly knoewn as an emergent Christian. In fact, Rob’s portrayal of Christ makes the relevance of Christianity even more awesome, hopeful, useful as people have become redeemed, reconciled, Spirit-filled, disciples of the Gospel.

Fearing postmodernism, orthodox/evangelical/modernistic congregations have responded by fleeing backwards into time-bound, traditional church institutions and contemporary evangelical mega-churches that seem to become less and less relevant for this new age of the 21st Century, as they seek to update their liturgies without updating their foundations and the introspections to their faith. You can't dress up something that is already dead or dying. It needs to be buried and left in the ground. Evangelicalism is dead. Let's give it a proper, thankful burial and move on.

Emerging Christianity is doing just that in the continuum of 2000 years of church history as it rescinds from the industrial/scientific age of language specificity to a postmodernistic form of communication known for its looser language rules (thus, the squawk re Rob’s imprecise language).

Lastly, it’s not so simple to say that Love Wins or that Jesus Wins or that Justice Wins through our competing Christian labels and syllogisms. Rather, we had better find out what Jesus wants of us and to do it better, together and not separately apart... for that is where our real strength lies as well as the devil's divisions and inner man's pride.

- skinhead


syl•lo•gism [ síllə jìzzəm ] (plural syl•lo•gisms)


1. a logical argument involving three propositions: a formal deductive argument made up of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. An example is, "All birds have feathers, penguins are birds, therefore penguins have feathers."

2. deductive reasoning: reasoning from the general to the specific

3. example of deduction: an example of deductive reasoning

4. specious argument: a subtle piece of reasoning, or one that seems true but is actually false or deceptive

McKnight - A Critique of Love Wins 7


Exploring Love Wins 7

by Scot McKnight
April 15, 2011
Filed under: Atonement

The 5th chp in Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is called “Dying to Live.” I am asking that you pause quietly and slow down enough to pray this prayer as the way to approach this entire series:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift,
which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.†

In this chp Rob seeks to communicate into today’s idiom the significance of the cross and resurrection. Which means he’s touching on atonement theory, surely one of the most discussed topics of our day, but he shifts the conversation from atonement theory to another topic. More of that below.

How would you explain what Rob says about cross and resurrection in this chapter? Do you think it is adequate? Do you see a shift in topic — from salvation and atonement theory to moral theory?

The big theme of this chapter is that the Bible speaks of the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection through a variety of images, each designed in different ways to speak to humans/Israel/church. In other words, this chp enters into atonement theory. Bell then proposes looking at the cross through the lens of elemental features of the universe.

Here are the atonement images in the Bible: Sacrifice, reconciliation, justification, victory, redemption.

Which is the correct one? His answer, “Yes.” Which is to say, each is true. Rob Bell then tries to get to the bottom of atonement theory. Here are his words: “The point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He’s where the life is” (129).

First cross, and then resurrection, and in this he works out what I’m going to call an “elemental theory of the cross.”

It is clear that his “elemental theory” is neither the Christus Victor theme made so clear in Tom Wright nor the solidarity theory seen in the writings of Moltmann. Here’s where he goes:

1. Death gives way to life in all of nature, and in relationships. “It’s how the world works” (131). The cross is a “symbol of an elemental reality.”

2. The resurrection is cosmic — “The tomb is empty, a new day is here, a new creation is here, everything has changed, death has been conquered, the old has gone, the new has come” (133-134).

3. The resurrection is personal: “When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus’s living, giving act on the cross, we enter in to a [new] way of life. He is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires” (136).
And: “Lose your life and find it, he says. That’s how the world works. That [sic] how the soul works. That’s how life works when you’re dying to live” (136).

A few points:

First, I summarized where all those atonement theories were headed in Rob’s view just before the jump, and I think he’s shortchanged and simplified them. Again, he says the point is Jesus. He is where life is. No one wants to disagree with that, but even if I agree, that’s not how to get to the “point” of all those atonement words. The point of each one of them is this: humans are sinners and enslaved and entombed, God has done something mighty to rid them of their sin problem, and what God has done can be expressed as sacrifice, reconciliation, justification, victory and redemption. Yes, the point is Jesus and Yes the point is life, but the Jesus of these images is the Savior — the one who steps in and gives himself in our place (vicarious) and who removes our sins at the cost of his own life — and who by his death and resurrection brings us into new life. Inherent to each of these is the removal of sin as precondition with the forgiving, etc, benefits that follow.

As I read this chp, Rob shifts the topic from sin removal to cross as paradigm of elemental factors.

Second, Jesus, too, says there’s something elemental about death and life. John 12:24. But I can’t quite comprehend how the atonement-sacrifice work of Christ can be so elemental and at the same time a “scandal” and a “rock of stumbling.” There’s not enough here about sin removal and not enough here about something God does, and more an elemental principle that death leads to life — but why death? How does death work? These are the elemental things atonement theories work out, and his “elemental theory” doesn’t explore that.

Third, I agree with Rob in that the cross and resurrection have to be tied together — one without the other is no gospel. Too many today have a Good Friday only gospel. Rob wants it to be cross and resurrection.

Fourth, I’m all for seeing atonement language as various metaphors (see A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0687645549/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=jescre-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0687645549).

And I’m all for finding a way to bringing them into our modern world. And how we do that matters. But however we do the transfer, it needs to be comprehensive. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s got to retain and sustain the various dimensions of those biblical metaphors.

Here’s how I see what I see as a shift in this chp: the “elemental theory” seems to drop the sin and drop the Savior and instead explores perhaps the most significant moral theory in the entire Bible, and it is a cruciform moral theory: we die and in dying we learn to live.

And I want to emphasize how much I agree with Rob on this moral theory: the essence of flourishing is loving God and loving others; the essence of loving is giving to the other and that means surrendering — it means dying to our ego and living to God and to others. So, yes, totally, dying to live. I agree. But that’s not atonement, nor does it explain the meaning of the cross of Jesus as atoning.

On the cross Jesus shouldered the sins of all. 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And he died for all…” and 5:19: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is the stuff of atonement.

Humans today — modern and postmodern — experience guilt, and they experience broken relationships, and they experience a sense of being out of sorts with God so that they experience God’s displeasure/wrath, and they experience a sense of futility and being trapped and being captured in the systems and in their own private worlds, and they experience being enslaved — and so those old Bible images still work. And they work well. I see no need to say they are just back then. There is a way to bring those very images into our world to speak to the conditions of postmoderns.