…this is why the Bible loses its power for so many communities. They fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible is just about things that happened a long time ago. / But the Bible is about today. / These stories are our stories. They are alive and active and teaching us about our lives in our world, today.These words express a very dangerous perspective on salvation, our right standing before God. Let me clarify.
The Bible is clear on its intent (Luke 1:4, John 21:24, Luke 24:25-26). The intent is for us to know certain facts about things that happened in the past and their bearing on us today. There is a reason for this. Our salvation; our right standing before God, eternal life, fellowship with God, and everything else that goes with it; was earned for us in the past.
Martin Luther ws right when he said that our salvation was extra nos, outside of us. Earned by Christ. Accomplished 2,000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. We add nothing to this work. We through our faith are credited with what Christ did, and He is credited with our sin to suffer for (2 Cor. 5:21, Romans 3:21-4:8). If the Bible is not primarily about what happened in the past, then it is not about what Christ did for us in the past. If the Bible is about our here and now, it is not about those things which earn our salvation.
Is this Bell’s intent? Is this a conclusion I am forcing on him or one that he expresses himself? He writes later,
… There is Jesus’ death on our behalf once and for all, but there is the ongoing work of the cross in our hearts and minds and souls and lives … If we only have a legal transaction understanding of salvation in which we are forgiven of our sins so we can go to heaven, then salvation essentially becomes a ticket to somewhere else.This is footnoted as a “holistic understanding” of the cross.
What other understanding of salvation (really justification) is there than the legal one (forensic justification)? What else is there to be added to the mix? Our changed lives? Our works? The work of God in us? We are threading a fine line here, and it is a trip wire for a very large explosive device.
If we begin to see God’s work in us as a part of justification, we can become dependant on the merit of this work to earn our salvation. This is the real issue. If our righteousness, which is “as filthy rags” is to earn us something, we feel a noose tighten about our necks (Is. 54:6). When we know that “nothing good lives in [us], that is in [our] flesh,” and believe that our lives earn us something, we feel the noose tighten all the more (Ro. 7). If the gospel is really good news after all, it must be about something earned for us by someone who really deserved it who made it possible for us to get credit for what he earned.
If pressed all the way to a resolution of these matters, Bell might turn out to be alright. He may just be emphasizing the action of God to change our lives that goes with justification, called sanctification (2 Cor. 5:18). This always goes along with the package. But the way he expresses his ideas does nothing to add any clarity to the current confusion in the modern church on these vital issues.
A future post will address Bell’s idea of the Bible’s authority…