After raising a lot of questions in Chapter 1 of Love Wins Rob Bell turns to a discussion of heaven in Chapter 2.
The title of Chapter 2 captures the gist of Bell's discussion of heaven: "Here is the New There." Or, in the words of Jesus: "May your kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
At root, Chapter 2 of Love Wins is trying to combat the other-worldliness in much of contemporary Christianity: The obsessive focus on the Judgment Day: The fetish of your ultimate destiny: The notion that the most important thing in the world, well, isn't even in this world. As Bell writes:
For all of the questions and confusion about just what heaven is and who will be there, the one thing that appears to unite all of the speculation is the generally agreed-upon notion that heaven is, obviously, somewhere else.Bell, of course, isn't the first person to insist that heaven should have a lot more to say about this life than the next. Good places to begin dipping into this view are Moltmann's Theology of Hope and N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope. For my part, I think Bell should get a lot of credit for getting some of this theology out to a wider audience. This is popular theology doing what popular theology should be doing.
The best line of Chapter 2 might be the best line of the whole book:
Our eschatology shapes our ethics.Your view of heaven and hell influences how you treat people. In my tradition, this has meant privileging bible study over feeding the hungry. Marginalizing justice in order to save souls. And in one sense, I can't blame the people I've known who have felt this way. They are just enacting their eschatology. Avoiding hell is the most important thing. Even if you are starving. There is more important than Here. But if we pray "Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" we have a very different view. Here is as important as There.
I agree with all this, but I'd like to sharpen Bell's point. The dialectics that Bell uses are temporal and geographical. The relevant contrasts are Here vs. There and Now vs. Then.
I think those are fine but I believe they hide a deeper problem. The more fundamental contrast is Easter vs. Death. As I've written about before, the root problem behind the dysfunctions of Christianity isn't other-worldliness per se but a death-centered theology. Other-worldliness, in my view, is just a symptom of a death-centered faith.
The real problem is the idolatry of death.