There Are Rocks Everywhere
This chapter of Love Wins is classic Rob.
He takes an event that Christians accept and refer to occasionally – but are afraid to really think about – and expands on it, bringing it into greater focus. Not fearing what the Bible implies – in spite of being conditioned to jump no higher than the rim of the jar – Rob ventures into the no-go zone, following the obvious to its logical end.
In this case he is talking about a rock. One that figured briefly but significantly in the life of Israel during the Exodus.
Wandering through the desert, Israel became thirty and had no water to drink. Under God’s instruction Moses took his staff and, with all the people looking on, hit a rock. And out came water. Enough water to quench the thirst of an entire nation.
It was a miracle in more ways than one and it involved a rock.
We know about Moses’ staff. It became a snake, ate other snakes – that were previously staffs – and caused all kinds of pestilence when pointed in the right direction. It was the emblem of Moses authority and was prominent in the Exodus story…
But the Rock?
The Rock, about which little was said in the Old Testament, stands out because Paul makes reference to it in the New and gives it a very special place in theology. He never mentions the staff but the no-name, nondescript rock, he says, was Christ! And Rob, taking his cue from Paul’s remark, goes on to suggest these rocks are everywhere.
Also, taking a page from human philosophy, Rob points out that all cultures and schools of thought have believed in a life giving, unseen but ever present force behind everything we see. It is universally agreed that life happens and the world is well ordered because of this force.
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Rob also points out that this force is usually given no personal attributes and is considered indifferent to human concerns, that is, until the New Testament writers had their say.
Here’s where the claims of the first Christians come in. They believed that at a specific moment in the history of the world, that life-givng “Word of God” (the force) took on flesh and blood. p. 146
Note: This chapter is the reason no one can accuse Rob of being a Bible denying liberal. Liberals don’t refer to Jesus as the “divine life giving energy that brought the universe into existence” (p. 146).
Before the New Testament, which focused on the incarnation, Christ being the personality behind the force that brought order to the world and sustains life, was a “mystery.”
And Paul referred to it as such several times.
The Force Brings Unity
Bringing “Order” out of chaos is only one effect of the force that gives life and not the ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose was “unity” and Rob quotes Paul to make the point. God’s purpose is…
To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Ephesians 1). p. 148
And to emphasize the fact that unity means everyone-is-included, even “those other people,” he said the mystery was made “known among the Gentiles” (Colossians 1), “Gentiles” being the key word.
In those days, if you weren’t Jewish you were Gentile. “Gentile” was synonymous for “every person who isn’t Jewish.” If I understand Rob correctly, today it would mean “every person who isn’t a fundamental Christian.”
Several Significant Observations
To drive his point home Rob makes several observations:
- Jesus is bigger than any one religion. p. 150
Rob quotes a couple of remarks by Jesus which point to His all encompassing unifying intention.
In John 6 Jesus actually said He gave His body for the life of the world, which means when Jesus died He was focused on everyone not just a few.
And later in John 12 Jesus said, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth (a reference to the cross), will draw all people to myself” (emph. mine).
Note: There has been a long history of debate over the exact meaning of the John 12 verse with Calvinists attempting to explain it away and all others suggesting it means what it says.
But all the arguments aside, the verse taken literally says Jesus intends bringing the world and everyone in it together, in right relationship not just to Him, but to each other and the world. That is the eventual goal.
- Jesus is supracultural. He is present within all cultures, and yet outside of all cultures. p. 151
Rob compares the lives of those surrounded by Jesus terminology, trinkets and icons (Christian home, school and culture) to those in primitive communities and determines that either can know Jesus, in experience if not in name.
One community knows the words and symbols of Christianity well but the other community is in touch withe the principles and truths behind those words. Rob didn’t say that exactly but it does represent my take on what he said.
Rob did say that the commonness of Jesus in Christian communities can create spiritual numbness. Psychologically that is true. We become so used to the words we miss the meaning. At the same time, primitive communities attest to knowing Him without the constant pervasive promotion.
Rob quotes Jesus and Paul to make his point:
As Jesus says in John 10, “I have other sheep that are not of this pen.” This should not surprise us. The Gospel, Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (chap. 1). pp. 152-153
Is Rob being too literal or are we just afraid to believe what we read?
By the way, this is another passage usually interpreted with a Calvinistic slant that identifies the “other sheep” as the “elected” ones in other cultures around the world to whom faithful Christians are responsible to carry the name of Jesus. If, however, Calvinism is bogus, which Rob seems to think and many definitely agree, then this statement takes on a completely new perspective.
One question neither allowed or addressed by calvinists is…what happens to the “sheep” in primitive cultures who die before the “faithful” deliver the message? Of course, the easy answer is “they weren’t elected.” Yea, right!
Rob does address the dilemmas associated with this type of thinking in chapter 1, What About The Flat Tire? It’s a very challenging discussion.
Rob also says…
- The Gospel is exclusive in that it allows for only one way to heaven, Jesus, but it is inclusive in that every person has access. pp.154-155
Jesus is the only way to heaven but you don’t need a treasure map to find Him or a ritual to embrace Him. The Gospel is inclusive. Any person from any walk of life can access it with or without the jargon or the ceremonies. You don’t have to hear the message to be “in.” Rob says…
This inclusivity assumes that as long as your heart is fine or your actions measure up, you’ll be okay. p. 155
And Rob really does mean anybody. He goes on to say…
As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists…many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant…Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. p. 155
As the life source that sustains everyone and everything, Jesus can’t be confined to one particular value system, or used as the motivation for imperial conquests and He doesn’t endorse political parties or social trends.
Jesus died for everyone and makes Himself accessible to all.
One last observation:
- Religious rituals unite us because they unite everybody, p. 157
For Rob, communion should never be closed or close. It can only be completely open and should be outreaching not isolating.
And he ends with three conclusions:
- We shouldn’t be surprised, threatened or offended when people stumble upon the Mystery from places or in ways we didn’t expect. p. 158
- None of us have cornered the market on Jesus and none of us ever will. p. 159
- We must, therefore, be careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. p. 160
As I read this chapter, I thought about the many people from dominantly Christian communities whom I’ve heard wonder out loud, “why was I so lucky to be born in the presence of so much spiritual truth?” But maybe they think this way only because the “Jesus” they visualize is very different to the rocks that are everywhere.
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See the review of Chapter 7 here.
The Love Wins Companion offers valuable information for anyone wanting to explore further: insights and commentary by qualified individuals, in-depth exploration of significant Bible passages, detailed chapter summaries of Love Wins with questions and guides for discussion, historical evidence demonstrating the breadth and diversity of Christian ideas about heaven and hell and more.
In The Reason For God Timothy Keller confronts head on the questions that skeptics are asking, yet without a confrontational style. It is sensible, rational and engaging. A must read for every thinking person, Christian or not. His approach to hard questions about God not only provides answers it encourages us to develop analytical thinking skills. Also available is a DVD with discussion guide for small group interaction.