Rob Bell: God wants to come down

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For many people, entire theological systems are built around us getting out of here. And so many presentations of the gospel are, “Do you wanna know how you can get outta here?” And yet the Scripture is the story not of people going up, the Bible is the story of God coming down. God wants to come down and he wants to take up residence in the midst of his people.

See, we have whole theological systems built around scaring the hell out of people so they won’t be left behind.

Alright…nobody got out a stake and set it on fire…I’ll keep going.

Be honest. Let’s be honest. Many presentations of the gospel are, “Hey, do you wanna know how to get outta here?” And the center of Jesus’ teachings is bringing God here.

Maybe you could say it this way (and this is not like either/or): Is the question, “How do I get into heaven” or “How do I get heaven here?” See, you have whole theological systems that are built on, “Some glad morning when this life is o’r, I’ll fly away.” Now what happens – and if that’s your favorite hymn, I’m sorry…kind of – what happens? And obviously we believe that when we die we go into God’s presence in heaven, this is obviously not some sort of denial of heaven, but nevertheless, if your theology is getting out of here, what subtly happens over the years?

And we need to just be brutally frank about this. What happens over time is this life becomes irrelevant, correct? If our message is “Hey, do you want to join us in getting out of here?” then what happens subtly over time is our message is really about some other places and we really have less & less to say about life now. And we have less & less the kind of eyes to see a whole world right here within this one, right here, right now.

And so we have to understand that the Bible is the story of a God who wants to come down and wants to inhabit this place, and take up residence in the midst of his people.

–Rob Bell, We’re Over Here teaching at Willow Creek, November 14, 2002

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15 comments

  1. Excellent points, but there is something about Rob Bell that always leaves me wondering. He too often equates bringing God here with political activism. Even eradicating homelessness in Grand Rapids (which is one of MHBC’s current goals) is a worthy goal, but at what point does Bell believe it is his job to bring the kingdom or Jesus’ job to do that. Bell continously sounds more and more like a member of the social gospel movement of the late 1800’s than he does a modern evangelical. What seems to be missing is any sense that we are doing these things so that those who do not know Jesus can get to know him. And I do believe that is crucially tied to what happens to you while you are here and what happens to you “when this life is o’er.”

    My guess is that if Bell were truly pressed on a number of points, we would find that he simply is not an orthodox evangelical in so many ways and maybe that’s a good thing. I’m just not sure about it yet.

    Did he at all address the second coming of Christ? As Christians, we are living “between the comings” and our role between those times – as a church – is to be the place where God’s power is poured out into the world.

    This is not to be interpreted as a harsh critique; but rather the wanderings and ramblings of someone who is still trying to get his brain wrapped around the Emergent Church and just how far we should go to make the timelessness of the Gospel appealing to the postmodern mindset (and finding out how we do that without sacrificing those truths) . . . and I have not arrived at any answers jsut yet.

  2. By the way, our church is also currently working on helping out with the problem of hunger and poverty in our community and I think all churches – much like Mars Hill – should be doing the same thing. My question is this: are we doing it because it makes us feel fuzzy, warm and postmodern OR because we have a consuming passion that a man who has bread for his stomach can more readily receive the bread of life?

  3. j4jesus, thanks for the comments. A few quick points:

    1. Whether eradicating homelessness is part of a social gospel, or if it’s part of a movement called Jam for Yams is of no importance. Kids don’t have a home, and that’s not good. So to do something about it is a good thing.

    2. Bell has no interest in preserving an evangelical culture, which he has referred to as sick and anti-Christ in its orientation.

    3. Bell also has said he has no interest being grouped into the Emergent Church.

    We miss the point of it all if we try to group people into boxes. Mars Hill is interested in putting Jesus on display. If that’s not being done according to evangelical America’s liking, that’s fine.

  4. I’m not into preserving Evangelical culture and I am trying my ass (oops, perhaps I have to say butt . . . or better yet, posterior) off trying to lead my church to be more socially active. I hear Bell talk about putting Jesus on display, but I only hear him talk about repentance and following Jesus in terms of those who are religious (as per his sermon series last fall, “Jesus wants to Save Christians.” I’m all for that. Is giving the kids a pool the same thing as giving them Jesus? What is the end result we are hoping for? Cool kids or kids who are knowing Jesus? It’s the second half of this equation that I just don’t hear Bell talking about much. I’d like your input here because it sounds like you are much more familiar with him than I am.

    He may not want to be lumped with the emergents, but that’s where he is. I don’t like being grouped or being labeled, but dude, it happens to all of us and it does say something about who we are!

  5. One of the things Bell is fond of saying is that if a church were for some reason removed from a community, who would protest? Is the church doing any sort of service for the larger community or is it just there to dispense Jesus like a wonder drug?

  6. That’s an excellent question. I’m working and praying for a point at which the whole community would be outraged if that happened!

  7. I think in being so focused on not being in a “box” or not being “grouped”, you just create another box or group, it’s the “We are not to be labled” group. Jesus addressed the religious group of His time, and quite harshly I might add, but He also gave them an answer. He said “you MUST be born again” to Nicodemus in John chaper 3. The Bible and Jesus put people into two distinct groups, those that are born again, and those that are not.
    When Nicodemus asked Jesus a question Jesus gave him THE answer, not more questions. In ten or twenty years from now people will be calling the Emergent culture sick and anti-Christ. Cultures change but God and His word remains the same, and so does His answer. Jesus!

  8. Conqueror, Bell is not focused on being grouped; other people group him.

    Whether the Emergent culture will be headed in a good or bad direction in twenty years is of no consequence. God wants to come down.

  9. God already came down once in the form of Jesus Christ. The next time He comes down is the last time. All who are not “born again” will be judged and cast off into the lake of fire. God has given us the chance to tell all of His plan for salvation, that was the coming down. Nothing else is going to happen, until the end, then it’s too late.

  10. That’s not an angle, that’s the bottom line. I merely responded to your comment # 8. Besides, it’s clear in the article that Rob Bell says God wants to come down. I repeat, that is false. God already came down once, His plan was always, and will always be, the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. God already came down in the form of Jesus. He isn’t coming down again, except as the final Judge. Anyone who believes that God is coming down to meet us in some way a second or a third time (or more) is believing in a false religion. If I am misunderstanding the article, please explain it thoroughly. I asked you once in another post to clarify my misunderstanding on the subject, you refused, perhaps you will be kind enough to clarify this one.

  11. I think Rob is saying God wants to come down in the same sense that we pray ‘Let Your Kingdom Come’,. The crucial point here is that the prayer for God’s Kingdom is not in the future pradise, but ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. And through scripture, God’s kingdom is portrayed as a place of righteousness, peace and justice where the homeless are housed and the hungry fed (see Isaiah 58 for example). That is entriely biblical and consistent with scripture.

  12. Jim,
    Every place in scriptures God gives us a picture of Him dwelling among men, not mankind going to another place.

    The garden of Eden, “God walked with Adam”. After the construction of the Tabernacle, “I will dwell among you.” His glory was in the Holy of Hollies, but He dwelt among the tribes. The prophets (too numerous to mention), Jesus = God with us; And of course Revelation where God, in the World to Come, dwells with mankind forever in a world without sin.

    (Individuals like Enoch, Elisha, Jesus, and the two witnesses in Revelation not withstanding.)

    No one is denying the basic theology of salvation through Jesus the Messiah. The distinction is only is who dwells with whom in the end. The Gnostics taught a fractured spirituality dividing matter with spirit (a fractured salvation). Paul argued against this. Many of the Greek believers came from pagan religious systems that stressed finding the right god who knew the way to the 7th or 10th heaven so you could get there, but the Jewish God spoke of dwelling among mankind on the physical material world (whether it’s totally new or re-newed is I suppose debatable).

    Too many Christians read the Bible from a 21st century Greek mindset, when the original hearers where often from a 1st century eastern Jewish mindset. I had a professor who always said, “The Text can never mean what it never meant.” I believe that, so I try hard to find out what it meant to the first audience. If Thessalonians speaks of “meeting” Jesus in the air, what did the first audience hear? What did that description remind them of. How would they have understood it? After all Paul wrote to them and if we understand that passage to mean the opposite of what they would have heard, then were wrong, not them.

    That’s one example, but there are so many more and the biggest mistake Christians make is in viewing the Gospel the way pagans viewed their false religion of escapism. That doesn’t mean just because they view the Gospel wrong that they are going to be “left out.” God forbid if we were excluded because one of our understandings were wrong. Then we would ALL be lost for sure. Not very “Good News.”

  13. I think your missing the separation between the Jews as a nation and the Church. Even the apostles thought Jesus would set up His kingdom when He was here the first time, and they were mistaken to think such. Peter makes it very clear that this world will be burnt, and he did not understand this until after Jesus arose. In the garden of Gethsemane Peter fought to keep Jesus safe, and Jesus stopped him. If Jesus came this first time to set up His kingdom why did He stop Peter?

    It’s always interesting to me how people 1900 years after the fact say what is written is false, or our understanding is wrong, even when we have so much evidence showing use what we have today is what was written thousands of years ago. And if we cant understand what we have, how is it you understand. All these statements can be flipped around but that does not change the truth.

    How do you interpret “I am the way the truth and the life, no one come to the father but by me.” – Jesus
    “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” -Peter

    And don’t you ever think about the prophecies about the false prophets who will come, who will lead many astray, maybe even the elect? Could these new teaching come from those who are deceived? Sounds like another gospel to me!

  14. “The Text can never mean what it never meant.”

    Nice. I’m reading NT Wright’s “The Challenge of Jesus” who is helping me understand what it means when Jesus is referred to as “coming in the clouds”…which takes me beyond my simplistic concrete understanding of that to a greater sense of how New Testament believers would have read this. I LOVE that people are studying and trying to help us get into the shoes of the original readers. Often when people say things that amount to “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” — they haven’t checked carefully enough to make sure God really “said” it!

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