Velvet Elvis pgs. 147-150, “Two Realms”

This is one of the areas where I tend to think Bell is somewhat off base.  Not entirely, but in part.  It’s his concept of our bringing heaven and hell here to earth.

He makes the statement on page 147 that “For Jesus, the question wasn’t how do I get into heaven? but how do I bring heaven here?  The question wasn’t, how do I get in there? but how do I get there, here?”

While in a certain fashion, he’s right, it’s also important to recognize that Jesus did indeed talk about heaven and hell in ‘there’ kinds of terms.  It’s not simply a matter of what we do with our lives that defines heaven or hell.  It seems clear from Jesus’ words that heaven and hell are objective realities aside from our individual choices and decisions.  While we may create a heaven or hell in our lives here on earth, there is also a heaven or hell that exists independently of our individual decisions and lives. 

Matthew 5 contains some of these objective references.  Hell is discussed in verse 22 as a place of fire, and verse 29 indicates hell as a locale that a person can be ‘thrown into’.  Verse 30 continues this theme.  Matthew 10:28 provides another such reference, as does Matthew 18:9, Mark 9 verses 43, 45, 47, and Luke 12:5, to name a few. 

On the heavenly side, we have references in Matthew 5:12, Matthew 5:45, Matthew 6:20, Matthew 8:11.  Matthew 11:25 indicates heaven and earth as distinct places, where God the Father is Lord of both.  John 14:2 seems to be a very geographic, material description of heaven, as opposed to a metaphysical personal reality.

Heaven are clearly referred to as distinct places or realities aside from our individual lives, though our lives determine which location or reality we are ultimately relegated to.  I believe that Bell believes this as well.  He is undoubtedly pointing out that these realities can enter into our personal lives as well – we can experience heaven or hell to a limited extent right here or now in our lives. 

On page 148 he states that Jesus orders us to oppose  “Poverty, injustice, suffering” with “all our energies”.  I’m not sure which particular phrase or verse Bell is referring to.  Most likely, he’s simply trying to summarize the overall gist of what Jesus taught.  But I believe he’s mistaken.  We are not simply to oppose these temporal forms of hell.  Rather, we are to infiltrate them and oppose them with the Gospel.  The order that Jesus *did* give his disciples is to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching and baptizing them.  We call Matthew 28:18-20 the Great Commission.  It is his order to his followers.  In the course of that, we will be brought into conflict against a great many spiritual and temporal powers and authorities that seek to enslave people to things other than the Gospel.  We are called to care for others as Christ would, which will call us to minister to the poor, the marginalized, the suffering.  But the goal is always the sharing of the Gospel message as well as the alleviation of temporal suffering.  We have to keep the cart behind the horse.  Many churches err either in putting the cart too far behind the horse – so that the cart is essentially left behind – or putting it in front of the horse, making the Gospel merely an means to the end of ending poverty or hunger or injustice.

As such, heaven is both a destination beyond this world, as well as a reality that we can embrace in a limited sense within this world.  Heaven  and hell do not need us to ‘bring’ them.  We are rather brought to them. 

I also disagree strongly with Bell’s interpretation on page 149 of the Luke 12 parable of the rich fool.  Jesus is *not* speaking judgment on this person.  There is nothing that indicates a cause and effect – the man’s greed prompted his death.  Rather, it is indicative of the lack of control that we really have.  We make our plans, and our plans can eclipse God’s will in our lives.  In the end, we are not capable of bringing any plan to fruition.  All is done at the good pleasure of God.  Reading this parable in light of Ecclesiastes is something I strongly recommend.

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