I am not really sure if I will do a summary, or make comments, on every chapter individually. But I have to make some comments about chapter 2.
First, it’s a long chapter (42 pages). Second, it’s about heaven. Third, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
I have read a lot of articles and blogs criticizing Bell’s view of hell, and even though the long title of the book reads, “A book about heaven…” I have never read anyone discuss Bell’s view of heaven. (I wonder why no one has mentioned this.) As a result, I wasn’t expecting to read about heaven. But heaven is the topic in chapter 2, and it is a very good chapter.
As I read chapter 2, the following old saying kept coming to my mind. Maybe you have heard the saying. It goes like this: Some Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. I think that saying summarizes chapter 2.
Rob Bell builds chapter 2 around Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man in Matthew 19 and the Greek word aion (“age”). Basically, what Bell says is that eternal life, heaven, or “the age to come,” is not just somewhere we go when we die, but it is what happens right now, in the present, and continues beyond our comprehension of time. Basically, eternal life begins now, and as we follow Jesus in this life, and participate with Him in creation, we bring glimpses of eternal life in the here and now. (Bell doesn’t say this, but I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Mark 1:15)
How do we work with God in the “now” to bring heaven and earth to the present? Here is one example Bell gives: “Around a billion people in the world today do not have access to clean water. People will have access to clean water in the age to come, and so working for clean-water access for all is participating now in the life of the age to come” (p. 45). And then he says something I have said for years, but he said it more eloquently, “Our eschatology shapes our ethics. Eschatology is about last things. Ethics are about how you live” (p. 46). You need to read that quote again and again because the implications of it deeply affect our here and now.
Here are some other quotes:
- “Heaven is both the peace, stillness, serenity, and calm that come from having everything in its right place—that state in which nothing is required, needed, or missing—and the endless joy that comes from participating in the ongoing creation of the world…Heaven comforts, but it also confronts” (p. 48).
- “Jesus makes no promise that in the blink of an eye we will suddenly become totally different people who have vastly different tastes, attitudes, and perspectives. Paul makes it very clear that we will have our true selves revealed and that once the sins and habits and bigotry and pride and petty jealousies are prohibited and removed, for some there simply won’t be much left, ‘As one escaping through the flames’ is how he put it” (p. 50).
And here is a quote that most clearly summarizes what Bell believes about heaven:
- “Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just ‘someday’; it was a present reality. Jesus blurs the lines, inviting the rich man, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and present, here and now. To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God. Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (p. 59).
I haven’t yet got to what Bell believes about hell, but I love what he believes about heaven.
Chapter 2 is worth the price of the book!