Bell never says all are saved in this chapter, but he implies that people can embrace Jesus without knowing him or about him in any direct way. People of all sorts. People of all religions. That is where the chapter fails---sadly and badly.
The most stunning statement in this transition to discuss inclusivity is his claim that no where does Jesus tell the mechanism by which he saves and "gets people to God through him."
Let's see. Did not Jesus commission his followers to take the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name in Luke 24?
Did he not say unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood (probably a reference to some type of personal engagement with Jesus!), you cannot know me in John 6?
Behind Bell's affirmation of inclusivity stands a horrendous double non-sequitur as he transitioned into this idea. He says that Jesus is "bigger than any one religion including Christianity." Now if he means the various forms of Christian expression, that I can entertain, but his placement suggests he means any expression of Christian faith and that the exclusion of people of other faiths is intended in this remark.
Here is the double non-sequitur. First, in a theological sense, Jesus is Christianity. Without Jesus as the Christ, there would have been or would not be such a thing as Christianity (in any shape or form). And second, what do we do with the claim of the Scripture Bell so clearly notes that this Jesus is unique, that salvation is his unique work and that this IS a unique theology and faith? How do we get to Bell's "exclusivity on other other side of inclusivity?"...
As much fun as Bell has with word plays and links, he often during the journey loses his way on the road to meaning by failing to work adequately with the context of the passages he cites. He gets lost in his cleverness. Somehow John 14 gets reversed. No one comes to the Father but by me becomes many will get in without knowing me (simply because Jesus is everywhere and works mysteriously).
He cites that Jesus came to save all, but ignores the text that says Jesus came to divide, even cast fire on the earth in ways that creates division within families (See Luke 12:49-53). This type of selective citation does not lead into clearly elucidating a theological topic, which is what pastors are supposed to do from Scripture.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope
“Out of a Far Country is a true-life parable of saving grace for a prodigal mother and a wayward son who needed God’s forgiveness. Their story will warm the heart and lift the spirit of every parent who prays for a wandering child and every believer who needs to be reminded why the gospel is good news.”
—Philip G. Ryken, president of Wheaton College in Illinois
“This is the story of God’s persistent chase of a wayward son through the prayers and love of a determined mother. But even more, it is a testimony to the fact that loving God is a far more satisfying pursuit than following our own desires. I am thankful that Christopher and Angela are willing to be so transparent about their journey. Christopher’s desire to follow Christ regardless of the struggle stands as a model for all who desire to love God with all their heart.”
—Joseph M. Stowell, president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan
“Out of a Far Country reads like a modern rendition of the prodigal son parable, only it is more gripping. The journey taken by Christopher Yuan is rarely documented. Be prepared, for the raw emotions of both mother and son authentically mark every page. The spiritual lessons to be gained from this book are many. May it gain a vast audience!” —J. Paul Nyquist, president of Moody Bible Institute
HT: Justin Taylor
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Filled with wisdom and practical advice from a seasoned college professor and student mentor, Thriving at College covers the ten most common mistakes that college students make—and how to avoid them! Alex leaves no stone unturned—he discusses everything from choosing a major and discerning one’s vocation to balancing academics and fun, from cultivating relationships with peers and professors to helping students figure out what to do with their summers. Most importantly, this book will help students not only keep their faith but build a vibrant faith and become the person God created them to be.
In a nutshell, the book is about how college students can launch into responsible, fruitful adulthood for the glory of God against the backdrop of a young adult culture that often values perpetual adolescence and the avoidance of responsibility. It explores topics such as loving God with all your mind, growing in character and maturity, striving for academic excellence, balancing work and recreation, finding your calling, establishing godly friendships, handling the transition from high school to college, time management, financial discipline, and honoring parents while pursuing functional/economic independence.
I am letting you know up front that this post is going to make some of you mad. You will accuse me of being judgmental, critical, skeptical, etc. And, to a certain extent, you would be right. However, as someone called to be in service to the truth I believe I have to speak out when the church is confronted by error from within.
I received an email today from Lifeway, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. It reads in part:
We are currently scheduling Don for June and July of 2009! Allow this wonderful brother to share with your church on a Sunday or a revival service. He offers real hope and biblical solutions to a searching world!!
Dear Pastor Todd: Hi there and greetings in the strong name of Jesus! Please visit Don's web site(http://www.donpiperministries.com/) and order the amazing book "90 Minutes In Heaven". It is a New York Times best seller with over 3,000,000 in print! The book has brought hope and healing to countless lives! Don has been Recommended by Life Way Christian Resources and Family Christian Bookstores. His book is also carried at Walmart. He has spoken at many evangelical churches from around the world and has been endorsed by Bill and Gloria Gaither; the late Dr. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Ministries among many others. Prayerfully consider having Don come share in your church on a Sunday or in a revival se rvice. Don Piper is now scheduling for the 2009 calendar year! Your church will never be the same! Contact me personally for more details!
Now, to my question: “Did Don Piper go to heaven?”
I doubt it. Let me rephrase that: I SERIOUSLY doubt it. I am a skeptic. Perhaps I’m a little jaded but I do not believe that Don Piper spent one minute in heaven much less ninety. How can I say that? Simple. I find the entire notion that God took Mr. Piper to heaven and then sent him back so he could tell us that heaven is really there to be unbiblical and utter nonsense. Does everyone whose heart stops beating get sent off to the place of eternal bliss or damnation only to be yanked back the moment that doctors are able to get their hearts going again? Is clinical death the equivalent of dead-as-a-doornail death? Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”
Piper has said, "I like to say that I came back by popular demand. People prayed me back from the gates of heaven. People prayed me back from death's door. I'm here because people asked God for me to be here." Is this biblical? Can we “pray people back” from heaven? Does it matter if we get something like that wrong? Can we afford to be sloppy about our theology of heaven, death, prayer, etc.? Besides all of that, there is an eternity of difference between coming back from the “gates of heaven” and returning from “death’s door.” And this gets to the heart of my problem with Don Piper’s story. I have no doubt he was knock, knock, knockin’ on death’s door. But for biblical reasons I do not believe he was called back from the courts of heaven.
Let me back up just a moment. DON Piper, not to be confused with JOHN Piper (someone worth reading), is the author of the bestseller “90 Minutes In Heaven.” The book has sold about 5 gazillion copies. It has also proven to be an impressive marketing tool having produced a number of spin-off products. There is also the ubiquitous devotional book based upon “90 Minutes” for those who are apparently bored with the Bible. I am still waiting for the “90 Minutes Shofar” to accompany the “Prayer of Jabez Prayer Shawl.”
One of the things that trouble me about the whole 90 Minutes in Heaven phenomenon is that it reveals contemporary evangelical’s boredom with the Bible. Simply put, the Word of God seems to be insufficient for Christians today. I have been told by wonderful people that “90 Minutes in Heaven” helped comfort them after the loss of a loved one. I want to tread carefully here. But when did the Bible stop being a sufficient means to comfort us with the blessed hope of heaven?
This is a far cry from biblical commentaries and books of theology and doctrinal instruction that simply seek to expound upon the Bible’s teaching. What Piper’s book, and others like it, seeks to do is supplement what the Bible says with something more exciting. After all, who wants to read about Jesus’ promise to prepare for us a home when a contemporary writer can tell us what it looks like because he’s been there? Contemporary Christianity’s infatuation with the sensational has led to innumerable errors and outright heresy. History is pockmarked with would-be messiahs, prophets, and teachers who enrich themselves selling stories of their dreams, magical cures, and flights of fancy.
I can hear the protests. “Todd, isn’t it worth it if one person comes to know Christ because of Don Piper’s book?” I will answer that question thusly: People will not come to know Christ because they read “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Period. The means God uses to bring men and women to faith is the Word of God. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17; cf. 10:8-14).
Jesus spoke to this issue. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus. You will remember that both men die. The rich man goes to hell and Lazarus is welcomed into the arms of heaven. Not wanting his five brothers to die and go to hell, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn them. “Surely,” the rich man reasoned, “if they see someone back from the dead they will believe.” It certainly makes sense. But Abraham’s response is almost shocking: “They have Moses and the Prophets [the Scriptures]; let them hear them…If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31).
That’s right. The Word of God is more powerful than the testimony of someone returning from the dead.
I do not know anything about Don Piper. I do not know whether or not he actually believes he went to heaven for 90 minutes. His sincerity or lack thereof makes little difference to me. What matters to me is that hundreds of thousands of Christians seem to need a fanciful tale to offer them comfort or spiritual sustenance. What matters to me is that many Christians have spent more time reading pages from Don Piper’s books than God’s Book.
Now, to those who would say, “Who are you to question his spiritual experience?” I simply say, “I am, I suppose, his brother in Christ.” If a brother in Christ will not question his experience in light of God’s Word then who will? If I claim that God has given me the power to raise the dead or heal all forms of cancer then I would hope that a brother or sister would want some sort of confirmation. I hope that more would be expected from me than just, “Trust me. It’s all there in my book. And by the way, who are you to question me?”
Read the Bible my friends. Live within its pages. Also, read good books by Bible-saturated men and women. Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, “Prick him anywhere and he bleeds ‘bibline.’” Read The Pilgrim’s Progress and you will know what Spurgeon meant. The “Christian” publishing industry is going to continue to churn out fluff, even garbage and businesses like Lifeway Christian Book Stores will be waiting in the wings to sell it.
Monday, March 28, 2011
For me, the greatest danger of Bell’s interpretation in this book is his view of Christ’s cross. Obviously, if there is no wrath or judgment, then whatever Christ achieved for us on the cross cannot be understood in terms of a vicarious substitute. There is no objective propitiation and, since everyone is already God’s friend (regardless of whether God is theirs), no objective reconciliation.
So it’s not surprising that Bell explicitly downplays this aspect of Christ’s work:
"There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the ‘Blood will never lose its power’ and “nothing but the blood will save us.’ Those are powerful metaphors. But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the god. People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways. But most of us don’t. What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand…They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp" (128-9).
This is exegetically untenable, historically inaccurate, and spiritually destructive. First, the reference point for Christ’s substitutionary atonement is the sacrificial system instituted by God, not pagan sacrifices. Second, the Christians who wrote the hymns to which he refers were no closer to the world of pagan sacrifice than are we. Third, Christ’s work on the cross was not an object lesson. What kind of a father would offer up his own son in the place of his enemies simply as a way of teaching something about something else? Scripture clearly teaches that the Father gave his Son in our place, that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross. This is not a metaphor or a way of putting things in terms that first-century pagan-sacrificers would have understood; it is God’s saving gift in history. To be sure, in doing this, God accomplished more. Because this vicarious sacrifice absorbed the legal debt that we owed, Satan, death and hell no longer have a claim on us. The powers of darkness are defeated and Christ is the victor. Yet none of this is possible unless Christ’s death is first of all a satisfaction of God’s justice.
Bell is no more helpful when it comes to the resurrection of Christ. Although he affirms the resurrection, he turns it into a species of natural religion. Ironically, he death not as “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor 15:26), but, ironically, in a more Greek (Platonic) way, as the natural portal to life. Rather than a surprising announcement that God has broken the vicious cycle of death, death-and-resurrection become an eternal truth that the cross and resurrection represent: “For nature to spring to life, it first has to die. Death, then resurrection. This is true for ecosystems, food chains, the seasons—it’s true all across the environment. Death gives way to life” (130). “Death is the engine of life in the relational realm as well…So when the writers of the Bible talk about Jesus’s resurrection bringing new life to the world, they aren’t talking about a new concept. They’re talking about something that has always been true. It’s how the world works. Although the cross is often understood as a religious icon, it’s a symbol of an elemental reality, one we all experience every time we take a bite of food. Once again, death and rebirth are as old as the world” (131). This is pure Romanticism, natural theology at its worst.
Friday, March 25, 2011
"I have not much patience with a certain class of Christians nowadays who will hear anybody preach so long as they can say, “He is very clever, a fine preacher, a man of genius, a born orator.” Is cleverness to make false doctrine palatable? Why, sirs, to me the ability of a man who preaches error is my sorrow rather than my admiration.
"I cannot endure false doctrine, however neatly it may be put before me. Would you have me eat poisoned meat because the dish is of the choicest ware? It makes me indignant when I hear another gospel put before the people with enticing words, by men who would fain make merchandise of souls; and I marvel at those who have soft words for such deceivers."
Thursday, March 24, 2011
And this is why sinful pastors must preach about hell to their fellow sinners: that they might turn to God and recieve mercy. We've all seen the caricatures of preachers who seem to love the very prospect of Hell. Perhaps you've seen a pastor display a kind of sadistic pleasure at the idea of damnation. But sober-minded, broken-hearted, and God-glorifying preaching about Hell that calls sinners to repentance is a supreme act of love and kindness. However, saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace is a singular act of cruelty.
Read Wes Pastor's post HERE.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
"Slavery to sin is true slavery (i.e. the opposite of moral liberty). But even sin does not negate natural liberty. The slave to sin is free from righteousness, but is still not free from his own desires. Sin's slave loves sin, and consequently obeys his impulses. As a creature, the slave to sin is naturally free to do what he wants, which is to continue in sin . . . Like all men, he is not free to choose what is repulsive to him, and true godliness is repulsive to him"
Back to Basics, pp. 21 & 22
HT: Doug Wilson
To strip the atonement of its substitutionary nature, as Rob Bell does, is to strip it of its power. It is to take the "good" out of the good news. It is to rip the heart out of the Gospel and therefore the hope out of human hearts. It is an act of profound cruelty for it robs the sinner of what he truly needs: a guilt-bearing substitute.
“There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the ‘Blood will never lose its power’ and ‘Nothing but the blood will save us.' Those are powerful metaphors. But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the gods.
“People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways. But most of us don’t. What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.”
- Rob Bell on the atonement from Love Wins
This is nothing new. Theological liberals have been diluting and even neutering the gospel for generations. In the 1920's J. Gresham Machen saw this clearly.
They [liberal preachers] speak with disgust of those who believe ‘that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.’ Against the doctrine of the Cross they use every weapon of caricature and vilification. Thus they pour out their scorn upon a thing so holy and so precious that in the presence of it the Christian heart melts in gratitude too deep for words. It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the Christian doctrine of the cross, they are trampling upon human hearts. (Christianity and Liberalism, 120 [pagination may differ])
Helpfully, Mohler weighs in with a response to McLaren.
We do not know who God is by knowing what love is. We understand love by knowing who God is. But Brian McLaren seems quite ready to judge God by human standards of love and justice. In his most important book, A New Kind of Christianity, he rejects the Genesis account of God’s actions in the story of Noah, describing the story as “profoundly disturbing.” As he concluded, “In this light, a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship.” He responds to other texts in a similar way.Read the entire article HERE.
But God explicitly rejects such a human determination of his character. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah declared. [Isaiah 55:8] Instead, God defines his loving character like this: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]
McLaren’s rejection of the Noah account is based on his own view of the Bible — a truly radical view that, taken in full force, explains McLaren’s theological method and positions. He rejects the Bible as a “legal constitution” and proposes that it be seen as a “community library” that reveals an evolving human understanding of God — one in which some texts effectively nullify other texts.
He asserts that there can “be no new kind of Christian faith without a new approach to the Bible.” That statement is profoundly true, and it points to a central problem. McLaren’s new approach to the Bible is a straightforward and amazingly honest call to relativize passages that are deemed to be inferior or unacceptable. We should not wonder that he, like Bell, argues against the traditional doctrine of hell.
These are important discussions because what is at stake is nothing less than the Gospel itself which the church has lost in the past and will again if not for the grace of God through the means of faithful men.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Dr. Horton's review appears in two parts. Take time to read the entire review.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” prompt the quickening operation of God’s Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1–10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or i nduced by any human efforts (John 1:12–13) or merits (Titus 3:3–7), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place.- J.I. Packer
This week I have had two people ask me for more clarity on what I preached on Sunday. Since I am a sinful and flawed man I always assume that if there is a lack of clarity in what I preach it is my fault. I also assume that for every one person who tells me that I did not make myself clear enough there are many others who are thinking the same thing. So, here goes...
The text for Sunday's message was John 3:1-15 where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the new birth. The focus of the message therefore was on the doctrine of the new birth or regeneration.
Regeneration is the sovereign and mysterious work of God. If the new birth is the result of something we do or a commitment we make then Jesus has given us a truly confusing metaphor and he is not the teacher we assumed him to be. This, of course is not an option. In the new birth, God is the actor and we are the responders. Those who are children of God by virtue of faith in Christ "were born not of blood, nor of the will will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Unfortunately however there has been much teaching about the new birth which clouds the clarity of John 1 and 3. This teaching makes man the actors in the new birth and God the responder. But this simply cannot be.
Regeneration is the sovereign and merciful act of God to breathe life into a dead sinner. Dead men do not raise themselves. The blind do not restore their own sight. Prior to the new birth we are dead Lazarus rotting in the grave until that miraculous moment when Jesus cries "come forth!" We do not control or command this act of God's sovereign grace. Jesus drives this home by not only referring to the experience as being "born again" or "born from above" but by the word play in verses 7 and 8:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born uagain.’ The wind5 blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Here Jesus uses the word pneuma which can be translated as "wind" or "spirit." He is comparing the mystery of the Spirit's work in regeneration with the mystery of the wind. We can no more command and control the Spirit's work in regeneration as we can the wind. Further, in regeneration, the Spirit is not responding to something we do or a commitment we make any more than the wind responds to our will. For the one wanting to be told what to do in order to get born again, Jesus offers no answers. Quite the opposite. "The wind blows where it wishes...So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
So where does this leave us? Is deliberately placing our faith in Jesus irrelevant? Do we not have to believe? Are we always entirely passive? Is this not fatalism to some degree? These are legitimate questions based upon what I have written thus far.
This is where conversion comes in.
Conversion is our act of repentance from sin and faith in Christ as our only Savior. But how do hardened sinners who are dead in trespasses come to grieve over sin and delight in Jesus? The only hope the sinner has is through the new birth which is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration, therefore, must come before conversion. The new birth is what produces conversion. We can state it like this: Regeneration (the new birth) is the root while conversion (repentance from sin and faith in Jesus) is the fruit. By God's grace, the second will surely follow the first.
So without a doubt, faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But how do we come to the place where we willingly and joyfully place our faith in Jesus? Outside of Christ, our hearts are darkened and we are dead in our sins. We cannot understand the things of the Spirit for they are spiritually discerned. So what makes the difference between the one who believes in Jesus and the one who rejects Him? Is it that believers are wiser or more moral? Certainly not. The difference is the sovereign grace of God in the new birth.
If our faith and repentance produce the new birth then we must conclude that regeneration is at least a cooperative effort between God and man. What is more, we must conclude that unregenerate sinners, dead in their trespasses are not able to repent and trust in Jesus before they are brought to new life.
"I say that man, before he is renewed into the new creation of the Spirit's kingdom, does and endeavours nothing to prepare himself for that new creation and kingdom, and when he is re-created has does and endeavors nothing towards his perseverance in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone works both blessings in us, regenerating us, and preserving us when regenerate, without ourselves..."
- Martin Luther from Bondage of the Will, pg. 268
"Faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ is always the result of the new birth, and can never exist except in the regenerate. Whoever has faith is a saved man."
- Charles Spurgeon
"Regeneration is monergistic: that is, entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. It raises the elect among the spiritually dead to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause. Regeneration is the work of what Augustine called “prevenient” grace, the grace that precedes our outgoings of heart toward God."
- J.I. Packer
"Why do some people repent and respond by faith in Christ to the divine summons to faith while others do not? Concerning those who believe in Christ’s name John immediately says in John 1:13: “[These are they] who have been begotten [egennēthēsan], not by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but by God.” By this particular reference to God’s “begetting” activity John refers to regeneration, and clearly suggests by his statement that, while faith is the instrumental precondition to justification and adoption, regeneration is the necessary precondition and efficient cause of faith in Jesus Christ. In short, regeneration causally precedes faith."
- Robert Reymond
A Few Relevant Scriptures:
1. "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved..." (Ephesians 2:1-5)
- Regeneration ("made us alive") happens before any faith response on our part.
2. "And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live...Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD." (Ezekiel 37:14)
- Notice that God says through the prophet that he will make his people alive and THEN we will know that he is the Lord.
3. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me [i.e. believe in me] unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:63-65)
4. "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God." (1 John 5:1)
- Those who believe do so because they have been born of God (regeneration).
Please take time to check out the following excellent articles:
Regeneration Precedes Faith by R.C. Sproul
The New Genesis by R.C. Sproul
Regeneration by J.I. Packer
Regeneration by Wayne Grudem
Regeneration by Robert Reymond
Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx
Grace Alone: An Evangelical Problem? by Kim Riddlebarger
I have corrected a small typo in the final sentence of my post just prior to the Martin Luther quote. Amazing how one little word like "not" makes all the theological difference in the world!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
I feel such a burden for us as a church to swim against the tide of almost every current in our culture. More and more and more, America is a nation given over to play. The industries of play are huge! Houses are built today with entertainment centers. Computers and videos and television and stereo all coordinate to give us ever more stimulating and captivating distractions from the realities of the world. When we need to be dreaming, for the glory of Christ, about how to spend our lives alleviating ignorance and sickness and misery and lostness, we are becoming more and more addicted to amusement.
Make a little test of evangelical vocabulary, and calculate, for example, the increasing frequency with which we use the world "fun" to describe almost everything we like. But when do we describe our good experiences as "meaningful" or "significant" or "enriching" or "ennobling" or "worthwhile" or "edifying" or "helpful" or "strengthening" or "encouraging" or "deepening" or "transforming" or "valuable" or "eye-opening" or "God-exalting"?
Examine yourself with this text: Whatever else it teaches, this is clear, it teaches that after death there is eternal life and glory and honor and peace, and there is eternal wrath and indignation and tribulation and distress. And in the twinkling of an eye, even before this service is over, you could be irreversibly in the one or the other. I am a watchman on the wall. And I have warned you as clearly as I know how. Get ready and stay ready.
Live in the light of eternity. And I do mean light, not shadow. When you have come to know your God, and love his Son so much that you can say, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain," then living in the light of eternity will replace your "fun" with deeper, higher, wider, longer, more unshakable, more varied, more satisfying, more durable, more solid pleasures than all the fun that entertainment could ever give. O come, and let us be a different breed of people for the few short years we have to live upon this earth! Dream some dream of making your life count for Christ and his Kingdom. "Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The bigger issue with denying hell as Rob Bell does in Love Wins...Okay, okay, I know he says he believes in "hell" but he is using a radically different dictionary. For Bell, hell is not the just punishment of a holy God poured out on the unrepentant but a temporary kind of earthly mess we make for ourselves by not letting God love us.
As I was saying, the bigger issue with Bell's style of "Christian universalism" or inclusivism is that it is ultimately a denial of the atonement of Jesus Christ for sinners. Bell entirely dismisses the substitutionary atonement of Jesus (the heart beat of the Gospel) as an outmoded metaphor entirely unhelpful for advanced people such as ourselves. Indeed he mocks the very idea of Jesus dying for our sins as a propitiation.
“There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the ‘Blood will never lose its power’ and ‘Nothing but the blood will save us,’” Bell writes. “Those are powerful metaphors. But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the gods.After the obvious heresy, I'm not sure which is worse: the historical revisionism or the generational arrogance.
“People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways,” he continues. “But most of us don’t. What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.”
Tragically, Bell's "good news" of a God who is not angry over sin has deafened him (and who knows how many more) to the truly good news of a holy and just God who marvelously sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Rob's shrunken god simply does not have the capacity to provide that which he requires. His "gospel" cannot proclaim: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1) because there was no condemnation to begin with. Bell cannot rejoice in the fact that "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand..." (Rom 5:1-2). There was, according to Bell, no justification or reconciliation necessary for "the gods are not angry."
Rob Bell's draining of hell from the biblical narrative is merely a symptom of his draining the life blood from the Gospel.
Russel Moore has written an excellent article on this connection.
Dr. Moore writes:
Blood means judgment. When the Holy One of Israel wishes to remind Pharaoh that he is a man and not a god, he turns the king’s life-giving Nile River into blood (Ex. 7:17-25). The Apostle John sees the same judgment on a self-worshiping humanity. The waters they need for life turn to blood (Rev. 8:8).Read the entire article HERE.
By removing the blood language, the language of sacrifice, we remove what it means to sing with the redeemed of all of the ages, “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). If you remove the blood from the doorposts of Egypt, all that’s left is judgment. The same thing happens when you remove the blood from the gospel.
Jesus offends us with our own blood, reminding us that what runs through our veins will one day run cold. He tells us then that in order to live, we must be united to the life-blood of another, a blood spilled for rebels like us. Jesus’ blood speaks a better word than Abel’s. It tells us precisely what Bell would like us to ignore: God is just and judgment is sure.
The people around us already believe in hell, and not because they’ve heard a guilt-inducing message from the church. They may deny it consciously; everyone does, at first. But the Scripture tells us that, apart from Christ, we are all in captivity to the devil who holds us in bondage “through fear of death” (Heb. 2:15). How does anyone get free of this? It’s only by countering the accusations of Satan, and that can only happen, if there’s a just God, if there is a judgment. In Christ, we’ve already been to hell. In Christ, the devil’s indictments are answered. We have conquered him “by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:10).
That’s why every church that has embraced universalism had died out, withering away from the gospel. In order for people to see Christ, they must see sin and, yes, judgment. In order to see justification, you must also see justice. If you drain the blood out of the church, all you are left with is a corpse.
Several years ago I was touring a holocaust museum, and I was deeply moved the images of suffering and inhuman brutality that I saw there. And near the end of the tour on the wall was a picture of Hitler standing in front of the Eifel Tower in Paris. I and many who were with me were struck by the idea of Hitler enjoying the beauties of Paris while at the same moment one of the greatest genocides the world has ever known was being carried out on his orders.
But apparently not everyone saw it exactly the same way
Sometime in the previous few hours, somebody had attached a hand written note to the picture, and on the note they had written, “It’s okay because God forgave Hitler too.”
God forgave Hitler?
And someone knows this for sure?
And felt the need for the rest of us to know?
Do the most evil and unrepentant people in history, remaining what they are, still make it to heaven?
And what of those who aren’t quite so evil as that—Child molesters, racists, drug lords.
And what of the rest of us who only yell at our children, cut people off on the highway, and cheat on our taxes?
And what makes our evil less and Hitler’s more?
Is it the number of people you hurt? Or how badly? Or whether anyone else knows? Or whether you meant to?
And what if you’re the one who was molested or your loved ones murdered because of their ethnicity?
And then there’s the question behind the question?
The real question… What is God like?
Because millions and millions were taught that the primary message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is willing to forgive everybody no matter who they are or what evils they’ve committed against the rest of us.
So what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that God is willing to forgive the perpetrators of evil, regardless of whether or not their victims ever see justice. That God is willing to let slide things that we mustn’t.
But what kind of God is that?
Can a God so uninterested in justice be good?
How can that God ever be trusted?
How could that ever be…good…news?
This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.
They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies, and say, “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”
See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.
What you discover in the bible is so surprising, and unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is even better than that, better than we can ever imagine.
It means pure and perfect justice, no wrong accusations, no punishments that don’t fit the crime, no hidden motives, no unaccounted pains or sorrows. But overflowing compensation for anyone who’s ever been hurt or betrayed.
The good news is that “justice wins.”
Monday, March 14, 2011
Kevin's Review HERE.
Denny's Review HERE.
Denny Burk also references Richard Mouw's review of Love Wins. Dr. Mouw is the president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Bell is a graduate of Fuller and friend of Mouw.
USA Today reports on Mouw's favorable review:
Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.
The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The latest attacks on God's truth come once again from within the big tent of evangelicalism. Specifically, a certain highly influential pastor in Grand Rapids is now denying the doctrine of hell as a just expression of the judgment of God upon unrepentant sinners. Of course this is no surprise given the fact that this same man has denied the substitutionary atonement of Jesus' death and the necessity of His virgin birth and resurrection. But this same man has unwittingly called the church to arms in a way. There has been a flood of excellent material flowing through the blogosphere reminding God's people of the truth declared in Scripture.
Martin Downes has been helpful in recent postings on the Bible's doctrine of hell: HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Thanks to Kevin DeYoung for posting the following words from Carl Henry's majestic work God, Revelation, and Authority:
God’s most awesome silence in eternity will be his silence toward the lost, a punitive and retributive silence reserved for the wicked who are not on speaking terms with him. There are scholars who consider the eternal punishment of the wicked to be inconsistent with the nature of God. These critics tend to subordinate to divine love all the biblical passages about God’s wrath, and ignore the fact that Jesus said even more about the pangs of hell than about the bliss of heaven, and moreover makes their duration coextensive and unending.
Millar Burrows is right in the verdict that “no basis” exists in Jesus’ recorded sayings for the universalist notion that all humans will finally be saved: “So far as the evidence indicates, he thought of the punishment of the wicked as eternal” (An Outline of Biblical Theology, p. 211). Hell involves not only the continuance of the sinner’s present condition of unhappiness, but also grievous punishment and irreversible exclusion from God’s presence. Jesus did not hesitate to quote Isaiah 66:24, which implies eternal punishment in the flesh, and to use such characterizations as “out darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell resounds with weeping and wailing: there it is not the sinner but rather God who is silent.
The New Testament has no doctrine of a “second chance”; its emphasis is rather that “everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God” (Heb. 9:27, TEV) or, as Phillips words the text, “it is appointed for all men to die once, and after that pass to their judgment.” Nor does the New Testament anywhere condone the notion that the wicked will not survive this life into an afterlife. Such an end would mercifully terminate their existence, would spare them conscious separation from God and the punishment of the ungodly of which the Bible insistently speaks.
A fundamental Christian doctrine is that all departed souls will at the second coming of Christ be restored to bodily life; the redeemed will enter upon the life of heaven, the unredeemed will be excluded from it. The punishment of the wicked who in this life rejected the divine invitation to redemption will include conscious awareness of having spurned Christ’s agony and death in their behalf. (Volume IV, 596-97)
On Monday, Rob Bell will be unveiling his new book in what is being billed as "a live global event." DeYoung will be posting on that day a review of Love Wins. Be sure to check it out.
Friday, March 11, 2011
This miracle [the new birth] all began with God: we were chosen by the Father (Eph. 1:3-4). This took place in the deep counsels of eternity, and we knew nothing about it until it was revealed to us in the Word of God. This election was not based on anything we had done, because we were not even on the scene. Nor was it based on anything God saw that we would be or do. God's election was based wholly on His grace and love. We cannot explain it (Rom. 11:33-36), but we can rejoice in it.
'Foreknowledge' does not suggest that God merely knew ahead of time that we would believe, and therefore He chose us. This would raise the question.'Who or what made us decide for Christ?' and would take our salvation completely out of God's hands. In the Bible, 'to foreknow' means 'to set on's love upon a person pr persons in a personal way.' It is used this way in Amos 3:2: 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth.' God set His electing love on the nation of Israel. Other verses that use 'know' in this special sense are 1 Corinthians 8:3, John 10:14, 27; Matthew 7:23; and Psalm 1:6.
But the plan of salvation includes more than the Father's electing love; it also includes the work of the Spirit in convicting the sinner and bringing him to faith in Christ. The best commentary on this is 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. Also, the Son of God had to die on the cross for our sins, or there could be no salvation. We have been chosen by the Father, purchased by the Son, and set apart by the Spirit. It takes all three if there is to be a true experience of salvation.
It strikes me that, amid all the hype and hoo-hah this week surrounding a certain author, we need to remember that promise. Teachers -- true and false -- come and go; they have done so for centuries, and few have made any lasting mark, let alone those who write paperback potboilers. But the church has survived; the gates of hell shall still not prevail; and the church will be built. Yes, we must defend the truth, with learning, passion and fortitude; but we should remember that the battle is not won through our efforts, and we must not be caught up in overestimating the importance of the present moment. After all, how many `defining moments' do we hear about in a typical year? And how many of such moments truly define anything at all?- Carl Trueman
If we really believe Matt. 16:18, I would suggest that we will not panic with every wind of false doctrine which comes our way, nor will we be intimidated by astronomical sales figures for bad books or tickets to hear false preachers. We will rather focus on what we should be doing: humbly preaching and teaching and believing the word. Sometimes, I suspect the over-the-top panic and outrage of the orthodox when faced by the latest challenge are really functions of self-importance and an impoverished doctrine of God. They seem to imply that our age is unique, the future of Christianity really does depend solely on us, and the church is really jeopardised by the latest heterodox blockbuster.
Such behaviour is the flipside of that which, for example, claimed Mel Gibson's The Passion was the greatest evangelistic opportunity for the church since the resurrection itself, and chided those of us who felt it was, among other things, a breach of the Second Commandment, as fuddy-duddy reactionaries who were hindering the church's outreach and needed to get with the program. It was not; life went back to normal very quickly; and, whatever else Gibson is now known for, it is not for being a great evangelist. Sometimes cynical indifference to the latest thing, good or bad, is actually quite healthy and reflects the reality of Matt. 16:18 in perhaps unexpected ways.
Neither we, nor any of those who oppose the Bible's teaching, are actually that important. The church is not, after all, built on us or our efforts; nor is it in any danger of being annihilated by any human scheme or schemer. And that is enough to make even me into an optimist. Almost by accident, I might add.
Read the entire article HERE
Thursday, March 10, 2011
A God who would allow people to go to hell is not a great God, according to Bell, and the traditional belief that He would is “devastating … psychologically crushing … terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (pp. 136-7).Read Tim's entire review HERE.
God is at best sort of great, a little great—great for saving some, but evil for allowing others to perish. Dangerous words, those. It is a fearful thing to ascribe evil to God.
So what of the gospel? Where is the gospel and what is the gospel? Ultimately, what Bell offers in this book is a gospel with no purpose. In his understanding of the Bible, people are essentially good, although we certainly do sin, and are completely free to choose or not choose to love God on our own terms. Even then he seems to believe that most people, given enough time and opportunity, will turn to God...
Christians do not need more confusion. They need clarity. They need teachers who are willing to deal honestly with what the Bible says, no matter how hard that truth is. And let’s be honest—many truths are very, very hard to swallow.
Love does win, but not the kind of love that Bell talks about in this book. The love he describes is one that is founded solely on the idea that the primary object of God’s love is man; indeed, the whole story, he writes, can be summed up in these words: “For God so loved the world.” But this doesn’t hold a candle to the altogether amazing love of God as actually shown in the Bible. The God who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), who acts on our behalf not so much because His love for us is great, but because He is great (Isaiah 48:9, Ezekiel 20:9,14,22,44, 36:22; John 17:1-5).
That’s the kind of love that wins. That’s the kind of love that motivates us to love our neighbors enough to compel them to flee from the wrath to come. And our love for people means nothing if we do not first and foremost love God enough to be honest about Him.
Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary has written a helpful critique of Rob Bell's use of historical sources. In Love Wins Bell offers a quote from Martin Luther proving that the Reformer asserted that God would give men and women an opportunity to turn to Christ after they die. The problem, as Dr. Trueman points out, is that Luther wrote nothing of the sort.
On page 108 of Love Wins Bell writes:
“And then there are others who can live with two destinations, two realities after death, but insist that there must be some kind of "second chance" for those who don't believe in Jesus in this lifetime. In a letter Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, wrote to Hans von Rechenberg in 1522 he considered the possibility that people could turn to God after death, asking: "Who would doubt God's ability to do that?"”
“Again, a good question.”
“And so space is created in this "who would doubt God's ability to do that?" perspective for all kinds of people--fifteen-year-old atheists, people from other religions, and people who rejected Jesus because the only Jesus they ever saw was an oppressive figure who did anything but show God's love.”
But, as Trueman points out, context is king. It is amazing how just a little context changes the entire meaning of what Bell claims that Luther wrote. The quote used by Bell is found within these two paragraphs from Luther. The portion Bell uses in Love Wins is highlighted in green:
“If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [“II Tim. 2:13”]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood, no matter how reluctant the old wineskin is to hold this wine--yes, is unable to hold and contain it.”So it is clear that Luther is affirming the exact opposite of what Bell attributes to him. Of course, the average reader, assuming Bell has done his homework, will not question the assertion. Does this make Bell dishonest or just sloppy?
“It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God's ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary. (Works, 43, ed. and trans. G. Wienke and H. T. Lehmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], 53-54; WA 10.ii, 324.25-325.11)”
Building arguments on theological soundbites, especially from the works of prolific and sophisticated theologians such as Luther, is surely very tempting in today's instant internet age. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame but none of us want to spend any more than fifteen seconds doing the grunt work necessary to achieve it. Yet, like a lady of easy virtue, such an approach may have immediately seductive charms but ultimately proves a rather cruel mistress for the would-be historian. It also says much (and none of it flattering) about the competence of the editors at Harper, that they did not seize on this elementary error and correct it. Checking sources, especially when they seem to say something unexpected, is surely the most basic task of both author and editor.Read Carl's entire article HERE.
The book will, of course, sell many copies, far more than anything I will ever write, I am sure. But then so did Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code; and that was a book with which, from the safely controversial content to the sloppy historiography, Rob Bell's latest offering would appear to have much in common.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
“Many in the church today have universalism simply as a hope. Though they may not preach it dogmatically, they don’t eliminate the possibility that all will be saved in the end. We may call them the ‘wishful universalists.’Ajith Fernando from Crucial Questions About Hell
I have been told numerous times that there are many ‘closet universalists’ in evangelical churches today. These are people who believe that all will be saved, but are afraid of being public about this belief as it is considered a heresy in orthodox Christian circles, and also because the idea that all will be saved could add to the spiritual apathy of this generation.
Related to the above question is that of evangelicals who are ashamed of hell. They are bound to believe everything the Bible explicitly teaches, so they believe in an eternal hell. But they wish that they did not have to believe it. If they speak about the topic, which is not very often, they do so with a sense of shame, as if it were something very unjust, and they keep saying that they wish it were not true.”
The Grand Rapids publishing company which published Bell's last four books including the wildly popular Velvet Elvis (500,000 sold) chose not to publish Love Wins. In a story from CNN.com, Eric Marrapodi writes:
Bell's split from Zondervan came in part over this new book. "The break with Zondervan was amicable," Tauber said. "In the end the president of Zondervan made the decision. The proposal came in and they said, 'This proposal doesn’t fit in with our mission.' "When you are are not orthodox enough for Zondervan you really have to wonder...
On a related note, a certain "Rodney Trotter" over at Ref21 has finally weighed in with his characteristic keen analysis:
Well, Mrs Trotter and myself have been most astonished at the, umm, astonishment that Rob Bell has apparently come out as a universalist. Indeed, the fact that Zondervan has now apparently broken ties with the chap shows what a stunning change of direction this is for the young theologian. Who could have predicted such a doctrinal switcharoo based on his earlier, impeccably orthodox, work?
Indeed, it took my mind back to a number of books I have read that, frankly, shook me to the core of my being through their shocking and unexpected revelations. Here are my top three:
I am Catholic by Benedict XVI (you will no doubt remember that the National Catholic Reporter controversially broke with Benedict when this was published)
We Relieve Ourselves in Them There Woods by Mr and Mrs Bear.
Many Teenagers Sometimes Disrespect Their Parents by the Rev. Dave Trendy
In the meantime, for anybody out there still trying to come to terms with the shock of Bell's new position, I have an offer for you which, I believe, may help dull the pain. Please email me for details at RodneyT@selling_the_brooklyn_bridge.org.