Thursday, March 31, 2011

Theology Thursday | The Immutability of God: Its Truth and Relevancy - Introduction

All theology is practical.  Everyone is a theologian.  Therefore, right theology becomes the basis for right living making theology the most important topic to discuss.  Contrary to what many postmoderns want us to believe, orthodox theology is not out of date and irrelevant.

Brian McLaren has frequently referred to theology (especially systematic theology) as "freeze-dried."  He believes that theology as we know it is the remnant of modernism.  Through his protaganist Neo, McLaren describes theology as “shrunken and freeze-dried by modernity.”  Christianity, as a result is “diced through the modern Veg-o-matic.”*  Such theology is theology that has everything figured out.  Systematic Theology is particularly distasteful to the Emerging Church because it suggests that Scripture can be fully understood and put in a formula and systematized with the apparent assumption that the theologian can know God almost exhaustively.  McLaren writes:

This rebuke to arrogant intellectualizing is especially apt for modern Christians . . . These . . . [are] known popularly as systematic theologies . . . At the heart of the theological project in the late modern world was the assumption that one could and should reduce all revealed truth into propositions and organized those propositions into an outline that exhaustively contains and serves as the best vehicle for truth . . . In Christian theology, this anti-emergent thinking is expressed in systematic theologies that claim . . .  to have final orthodoxy nailed down, freeze-dried, and shrink wrapped forever.**

Instead of a freeze-dried theology that claims to have access to the complete truth, McLaren and others in the Emerging Church push for mystery, conversation, and community.  He writes:

[In the postmodern world] “Our words will seek to be servants of mystery, not removers of it as they were in the old world.  They will convey a message that is clear yet mysterious, simple yet mysterious, substantial yet mysterious.  My faith developed in the old world of many words, in a naive confidence in the power of many words, as if the mysteries of faith could be captured like fine-print conditions in a legal document and reduced to safe equations.  Mysteries, however, can not be captured so precisely.  Freeze-dried coffee, butterflies on pins, and frogs in formaldehyde all lose something in our attempts at capturing, defining, preserving, and rendering them less jumpy, flighty, or fluid.  In the new world, we will understand this a little better.”***

To McLaren, “freeze-dried” answers to life’s most difficult questions is inadequate in the “new world.”  What postmoderns need most, and what the Church must provide, are not answers to such questions as Why am I here?  Where does life come from?  Where am I going?  What is my purpose? How might I be made right with God? but rather encourage exploration without boundaries or limits.  The Church must aid the community to think and live in a world of fluid liquid, rather than formaldehyde.

So is McLaren right?  Should we characterize theology in this manner?  Certainly in a postmodern age there seems to be little tolerance for deep truths that seem to divide.  The problem however is that McLaren and those in the Emergent Church who try to embrace mystery are revealing their own theology.  Postmoderns may want mystery, but want mystery in a dogmatic way.  Anyone who refuses to speak of theology as a mystery are suddenly labeled old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and irrelevant.

I am starting a new series on the Immutability of God.  The reason?  Its practical and it is needed.  I have said much about the transcendence of the gospel (which theological liberalism must reject) in recent months, but in order to believe in the gospel's transcendence God must be immutable (or unchanging).

What theological liberalism attacks isn't the doctrine of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the historicity of the resurrection, or return of Christ, what they attack is God's immutability.  They want to argue that God changes and is always changing (or evolving).  As culture changes, so does God.  God adapts to the changing times.  But this is not how Scripture defines God.  Scripture is clear:  God is immutable and is not subject to the fickle winds of humans or society.

I believe that there is no more important doctrine for the church today than this.  If we understand this doctrine correctly, we will avoid many traps in the church, and have full confidence in our faith, in our salvation, and in the God that directs the heavens and the earth.


*  Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey.  A New Kind of Christian Trilogy, vol. 3, (San Francisco, CA: Joseey Bass, 2001), 130.  The context of these words regard what conservative/modernistic Christians refer to as “personal salvation.”  Neo complains that such language is exclusive and suggests that “we invite by inclusion saying, ‘God loves you.  God accepts you.  Are you ready to accept your acceptance and live in reconciliation with God?’”
**  Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional + Evangelical + Post/Protestant +Liberal/Conservative + Mystical/Poetic + Biblical + Charismatic/Contemplative + Fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic +Green +Incarnational + Depressed Yet-Hopeful +Emergent + Unfinished Christian,  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 168, 325.
***  McLaren, Church on the Other Side, 89.  McLaren elsewhere argues, “faith has too often become for us a set of easy answers and cardboard explanations instead of a window into unfathomable mystery and a pathway into an awesome adventure” in McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize, 42.

For more:
Sermon Podcast - April 26, 2010 - The Immutability of God 
Sermon Podcast - November 29, 2009 - The Transcendence of the Gospel
Commentary - Accomodationism Breed Irrelevancy:  Why Liberalism Fails and the Transcendent Gospel Triumphs
Theology - A Fad Within a Movement:   What is the Emerging Church and Where is it Going
Theology - SBTS and McLaren:  A Response to SBTS Panel Discussion
Reviews - "Manifold Witness" by John Franke

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"A Responsibility to Act": Obama Explains Lybian Action to the Public

There were a number of questions I wanted the President to answer.  1) Why are we in Lybia and what is the plan in full (ground troops?, exit strategy?, etc.).  2)  What makes Lybia different from other countries dealing with humanitarian crisis'? 3)  How does he rationalize military force in Libya in light of some of the things said during the campaign particularly as it compares to former President George W. Bush and Iraq?

I'll leave it up to you to determine if he answered any of these or other important questions.

At the end of the day, however, we are reminded of the world in which we live in.  Only Genesis 3 makes sense of a world ruled by war and violence.  We as Christians ought to seek peace primarily through the gospel whose Savior is the Prince of Peace.  What we need more than guns is the gospel, but in our fallen world sometimes guns seem to make more sense I guess.

And in case your interested, here is a Republican response from one of my Senators, Rand Paul from Kentucky:

For more:
Blogizomai - The State of Our Union 2011
Blogizomai - Prayer and Breakfast:  Obama at the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast 
Blogizomai - The Contrasts Are Clear:  Obama and Jindal's Proposals  
Blogizomai - To Comfort a Nation:  Obama in Arizona and How the Nation Reacted 
Blogizomai - The Beginning of the End:  Obama Announces the End of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Around the Web: Important Links For Your Weeked - 3/26/11

After another week of news and events, here are just a few links and quotes reflecting some of that.  I had to be selective as I have to be every week because there's so much out there worth our time.

Dr. Russell Moore - Why is Hell Forever? | This is an extremely helpful article regarding the question of Hell's eternality.  It seems in recent days that the false doctrine of Annihilationism is only growing in popularity for those who still hold onto some version of hell.  In response, Moore offers his biblical reasons why hell not only is forever, but also must be forever.  He writes:

First, the revolt against God is more serious than we think it is. An insurrection against an infinitely worthy Creator is an infinitely heinous offense. We know something of this intuitively. This is why, in our human sentences of justice, we sentence a man to one punishment for threatening to kill his co-worker and another man to a much more severe punishment for threatening to kill the nation’s president.

Second, and more important, is the nature of the punishment itself. The sinner in hell does not become morally neutral upon his sentence to hell. We must not imagine the damned displaying gospel repentance and longing for the presence of Christ. They do indeed, as in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, seek for an escape from punishment, but they are not new creations. They do not in hell love the Lord their God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Instead, in hell, one is now handed over to the full display of his nature apart from grace. And this nature is seen to be satanic (Jn. 8:44). The condemnation continues forever and ever, because the sin does too. Hell is the final “handing over” (Rom. 1) of the rebel to who he wants to be, and it’s awful.

Christianity Today - Gaddafi Calls Allies 'Barbarians' After Airstrikes in Libya | I found this simply strange.  The barbaric dictator of Libya is responding to the Allied forces now attacking his country (of which the US is among those nations, though not leading the charge) barbaric.  There's a "pot calling the kettle black" situation if there ever was one.  Christainity Today reports:

As allied aircraft pounded Libyan forces on the ground, Muammar al-Gaddafi promised a protracted war with the coalition that includes France, Britain, the US and Arab league nations.

“We have Allah with us, you have the devil on your side,” Gaddafi pouted on state television. “You backward barbarians, this is an aggression that has no justification.

During the broadcast, viewers were shown only the image of a golden fist clenching a model of a US jet – commemorating the 1986 US airstrike on Libya, in which an American military aircraft was shot downed.

American Thinker - Libya and the Left's Sickening Hypocrisy on the Use of Military Force | I picked up on this immediately after I saw that President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes against Libya. The argument many conservatives are making is that the rationale for going to war with Iraq is eerily similar to the one Obama has given with Libya.  Though on the surface I think this is correct, there are some clear differences.  For one, Obama hasn't tied Libya with 9/11.  Secondly, there's that pesky weapons of mass destruction issue that is too complicated to discuss here.  Thirdly, Obama is a Democrat.  Fourthly, the far left is furious with Obama.  Fifthly, we're not leading the charge and not committing ground troops (you can interpret that as you want regarding Obama's foreign policy strategy and his leadership).  Sixly, from what I can tell, there seems to be the mentality that we'll drop a few bombs and leave without any long term commitment (which might be complicated to do).  Need I go on?

The real scandal and hypocrisy here is the fact that Congress has not authoritized the use of such force.  Where are those who hated Bush for doing something similar (though he did get authorization from Congress) now that Obama has just ordered airstrikes while only briefing some members of Congress?

Here's the argument put forward by the American Thinker:

An evil Arab dictator has been in power for decades. He personally controls his country's vast oil wealth. A sponsor of terrorism, he has provoked the West to take military action against him in the past. Islamic fundamentalists despise him as much as the West does. When his people rise up against him, he murders them ruthlessly. The United Nations Security Council has passed resolutions condemning him. An American president, intent on promoting democracy in the Middle East, demands that the dictator abdicate. When the dictator fails to leave, the American president authorizes the use of military force. Our "allies," including Great Britain, are asked to help. The endgame for the use of force is unclear.

Sound familiar? No, we're not talking about Moammar Qaddafi and Barack Obama. We're talking about Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. The difference is this: in almost the exact same set of circumstances, Bush was called "Hitler" by the Left. Leftists wrote plays and stories and movies about killing him. Democratic Party politicians, like Sen. Dick Durbin, likened our troops to "Nazis." Democratic Senators like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who voted for the military action, accused the president of lying. Mass demonstrations and protests, sponsored by the communist and socialist Left, broke out in the U.S. and Great Britain. Antiwar groups like Code Pink staged demonstrations at military recruiting stations, and had to be dragged shrieking from the halls of Congress. Opponents of the war shouted that Saddam's Iraq never attacked us, and that our military action was a violation of international law. The Left cried for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

BBC News - Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says | The title sums up the article, but my question is how do they define religion?  If traditional religion is being replaced by secularism then religion won't be dead, it will have just changed its name.  Everyone is religious and that will never change.

The Christian Post - Narnia 4 Will Be 'Magician's Nephew,' Not 'Silver Chair' | I am excited to read and to announced that Walden Media will be doing a fourth Narnia film.  But instead of moving on with the "Silver Chair" which is what I would prefer, the next film will be the "Magicians Nephew."  Both could be successful, but I do hope that they will still be able to do Silver Chair.  Regardless, I'm excited about the news.  There's going to be another Narnia film!  Get excited!!

Wall Street Journal - Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" Enters Production | In other movie news, the Hobbit is starting filming and is due to be released in 2012 and 2013.  The fact they're stretching this into two movies concerns me because the original book is quit short compared to each book in the Triology.  But with Jackson directing, I'm sure it will be enjoyable.

Mark Driscoll -Jesus Manifesto | I loved this video as Pastor Mark Driscoll offers a great presentation of the gospel.


Repost Friday | How To Change the World: The Advantage and Power of the Gospel and the Limits of the Social Gospel

Christianity has changed the world.  To doubt that fact is to ignore and call into question history itself.  One cannot deny that Christianity and its theology has made the world a better place in many ways.  Certainly many over the centuries have fought for worthy causes over the years purely because of their Christian convictions.  Politician and Christian William Wilberforce, for example, fought against slavery in England long before America fought over the issue and won.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian pastor driven by his faith to fight against racism, poverty, and war.

Christianity and social change go hand in hand.  But the real question isn't does Christianity lead us to make the world a better place (as we patiently await the next), but what is the best approach to doing so?  Since the dawn of modernity, Christians have debated over this fundamental issue:  which changes the world more efficiently preaching the gospel and evangelism or by focusing on a certain issue (like nuclear proliferation, abortion, poverty, injustice, war, etc.)?

The question is really about the gospel.  Should we adopt the social gospel and focus only on this world and its many issues hoping that the Kingdom of God will be realized through our efforts and fight against social disease, or should we adopt the traditional gospel of propitiation and be driven toward world missions?

In a recent interview with ABC News, some young Evangelicals (described as "the New Face of Evangelicalism") are asked a series of questions.  From the beginning it is obvious that these persons are driven to social action by their faith.  Some are more focused on nuclear proliferation, others on the sex trade, and other social issues.  These are leaders who are making a difference and raising awareness.

But will such a approach really bring real change?

The question regards the power and limits of the social gospel.  Beginning with leaders like Walter Rauschenbusch and others, the social gospel movement became purely this world and focused on issues like poverty, injustice, war, environmental damage and disaster, and bigotry.  Rauschenbusch sought to bring the Kingdom of God down to earth through economic, political, and social justice.  The gospel became nothing more than humanitarian aide where Jesus simply wants us to serve the poor, love our neighbor, and break down dividing walls.

The social gospel of a hundred years ago came under a lot of fire from the Christian community.  Evangelicals argued that the gospel was being undermined and trampled on.  The gospel deals with our relationship with God and being reconciled with Him, not with poverty and justice.  This does not mean that the gospel does not have social ramifications or implications, but that the gospel is primarily concerned with being reconciled with God in light of our separation (as the result of our sin and rebellion) from Him.  Christ's atoning work is substitutionary that satisfied the full wrath of God on the repentant.  

The social gospel is alive today and "The New Face of Evangelicalism" only proves it.  Nowhere in the interview is Christ's atoning sacrifice mentioned or hinted at.  Everything regards how corrupt the current church is, how we need to focus on social needs, how hated Christians are by the rest of the world, and how Jesus loved the poor and has called us to love our enemy.  Certainly the Church has many warts that it must work on, but is abandoning the gospel the best way?

My concern in this post isn't, what is the gospel?  Rather, I am concerned with what changes the world best - the social gospel or the pure gospel?  I am convinced that fully understanding the gospel demands we accept that the gospel changes the world in ways that the social gospel can only dream.

There are a number of reasons to adopt this thesis.  One major reason is that the gospel changes the internal where the social gospel only affects the external.  This is the problem with passing laws.  The social gospel has always been on the forefront of political engagement and the call to pass laws to eradicate injustice and poverty.  The problem with laws and mere morality is that it only changes (imperfectly) human pattern and the external.  Though laws can be passed, citizens wills still break them.  One can raise the minimum wage in hopes of eliminating poverty, but that doesn't mean that it will work (as it will force companies to raise prices hurting everybody) because sinful man will do what he can to get around the law.  The rise of illegal immigration is case in point.  The advantage of immigrants is that they are willing to get paid under the table for less than the minimum wage law.

The external doesn't bring lasting change.  What we need to do is change the internal something that only the gospel can do.  The gospel is concerned about changing man as he is.  The problem with man isn't his upbringing or wealth (or lack there-of), but his very nature.  If we really want to see change in behavior it will only happen through the change of one's nature.  When one is not selfish, but selfless and sacrificial.  When we look to Christ, we look away from ourselves.  As a result, our new nature forces us to serve the poor, stand against injustice, and seek peace not because we want to be applauded as humanitarian, but because we want the same gospel that changed us to change others and we want God glorified, not our policy and favorite politician.

If we spread the gospel, we will change men which will then change society.  If we spread the social gospel, we will change society (if we are successful) for only a generation.  What we need above all else is a change of heart.  We need a new nature, not just new policies.

Therefore, our priority should be missions, evangelism, and preaching the gospel free from political and social causes.  We might be able to lower the number of abortions via legislation, but until one's heart is changed, there will still be abortions.  We can fight and fight, but unless God regenerates us, all our work will be in vain.

So if we want to see change, we will continue the work of the early church.  There were many social, political, and economic injustices in the days of Jesus, Paul, and the generations that followed.  But instead of fighting for justice, they called for men to repent and be reconciled with God.  That message is what changed Rome and it is that message that will change America.  When we live in light of the gospel, the world will change.  If not, expect some change, but very little.  Until man's nature is dealt with, we will be stuck on square one.

Denny Burk - The New Face of Evangelicalism
ABC News - The New Face of Evangelicalism

For more:
Blogizomai - Have We Forgotten the Gospel?:  Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ  
Blogizomai - Who Isn't One?:  Brian McLaren and Social Christians 
Blogizomai - What Would Jesus Vote?:  Jesus, Health Care, and the Gospel
Theology - Repent for Health Care is At Hand: Did Obama Just Legislate the Gospel?
Theology - The Postmodern Social Gospel: Brian McLaren Proves My Point 
Theology - The Bible and Poverty: The Gospel as the Remedy 
Theology - What Does It Mean to be  Christian?
Theology - Orthodoxy vs. Unorthodoxy: A Look at Rauschenbush's "A Theology for the Social Gospel"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Theology Thursday | "Thus Says the LORD": The Duty of Preaching and the Preacher

What is the duty of the preacher and what is the purpose of the sermon? For centuries such a question need not to be asked for everyone knew the proper role of the prophet and preacher: "Thus says the LORD." The Old Testament prophets spoke in no uncertain terms. When they spoke, they did not present their own opinions, soap box arguments, or therapeutic suggestions, but the very words of God. The apostles and the generations that followed spoke with the same certainty. Paul can tell the Galatians to condemn anyone to hell that doesn't preach the gospel that he preached (Galatians 1). Jesus spoke in no uncertain terms when he openly challenged the religious leaders of His day and spoke "as one with authority." Jude willingly condemned the heretics of his day as being blasphemers that God has already judged.

Throughout history, Christian pastors have spoken with such boldness. The Cappadocian Fathers made it clear to their congregation that the heretics of their day embraced a faulty Christology and thus should be condemned. Martin Luther openly defied the Papists calling on his congregation to repent and embrace the gospel; justification by faith alone. Billy Graham has pleaded with millions to come to Christ and be saved from the wrath of God. Preaching has always been done with authority.

But now, all of that is nonsense. Finally, after 2,000 years of authoritative preaching, postmodern Christians have arrived to set the record straight. The Emerging Church have all but completely done away with the sermon. Without a doubt, the authoritative nature of preaching has been rejected and replaced with dialogue.

Dough Pagitt in his book, Preaching Re-Imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith argues for a different approach to preaching: Professional Dialogue. Pagitt argues that the traditional mode of preaching, what he calls "speaching," is outdated and no longer useful. What people need, rather, is a more dialogue approach to "preaching." Here, the "preacher," presents a text and leads the congregation into dialogue where everyone is free to share their experiences and interpretations of the text. This, Pagitt would argue, is more affective preaching (and more biblical believe it or not).

Pagitt is not alone. In a recent post on the Baptimergent blog, Zach Roberts writes regarding his concerns on the current state of preaching. He recounts a preacher he heard declared something like: "I have the right kind of fear every time I enter the pulpit to speak on God's behalf every Sunday." Such a comment really bothered Roberts because though he may be accused of being a postmodern relativist, he "would never presume to speak for God."

Such an argument is typical among postmodern Christians. Postmodernity is drowning in uncertainty. Out of fear, they refuse to speak for God even when He has clearly spoke. Then again, to most postmodern Christians, God has not clearly spoken. To them, the Bible is a mystery that can only be unlocked through personal interpretation and experience along with community insight. Even then we cannot be for sure of what it says and means. In an age of deconstruction, who can really know for sure?

At the outset, one must appreciate their needed call to be more humble in the preaching office. Far too many preachers lack the sort of humility that characterized the prophets and apostles. Out of selfish pride, many preach on soapboxes rather than rightly divide the Word of Truth. However, their humility is a false humility. To consider oneself more enlightened and relevant by declaring ignorance is perhaps the most ignorant thing of all. The one thing they don't know is that they don't know. It is hard to imagine Jesus Christ speaking with such ignorance or the apostle Paul planting churches on a message that he was unsure of.

The attack on preaching from the Emergent ranks is not to be taken lightly. Their attack on preaching is an attack on the church, the role of the pastor, Scripture, and the gospel itself. If we cannot speak for God, then what is the gospel? Can we be for sure if we have it? If we remain uncertain of the gospel, then how do we please God? By doing good works? How do you know for sure?

The necessity for the perspicuity of Scripture cannot be overlooked here. It is rather obsolete for God to reveal Himself with the intentions of us obeying His Word if He wrote it in a cryptic manner that prevents His readers from ever understanding. This does not mean that everything in Scripture is easy to understand or obey. However, we can be certain that what God has written can be understood and obeyed. God has revealed Himself and His will in no uncertain terms. And the preacher must preach this revealed message to their congregation.

The duty of the preacher is to be the Watchman on the Wall. When commissioned by God to be the prophet of Israel, Ezekiel was told, in clear language that was meant to be understood and obeyed, that he was like a watchman on a wall:

"And he said to me, 'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them . . . But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart' . . . Moreover, he said to me, 'Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' whether they hear or refuse to hear' . . .

And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, 'you shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from hsi wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a tumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.'" -Ezekiel 3:4ff

The message to Ezekiel was clear: preach the words of God. And he did. Many in the Emergent community seem confused regarding the role of preaching. Preaching is not to convinced or persuade anyone of anything. No matter how hard one preaches, he will never convert a sinner or save a marriage. God does that. God clearly told Ezekiel that many in Israel would reject his message, and they did. "But preach anyways," God told the prophet. Preach the Word of God with authority and leave the results with God.

That is the role of the preacher and the sermon. We do not preach in order to convince, but to convict. Convincing is the work of a persuasive man. Convicting is the work of God.

Will this generation fulfill the role of the prophet in their pulpits and preach, "Thus says the LORD." Or will we become a more weak-wristed, I'm-afraid-to-hurt-someone's-feelings pastors too afraid to offend someone in order for the gospel to go forth? If we do, then we will have blood on our hands.

Thus says the LORD!

Baptimergent - Gnaw on this 1.5: "Speaking For God"

*  The above picture is one of my favorites and comes from the brush of Lucas Cranach the Elder who did many of the paintings of Luther and the Reformation. This particular painting is of Luther preaching to his congregation. Cranach put the crucifix in the middle in order to emphasize Luther's preaching of the cross. When Luther preached, he preached the cross. And, I might add, with certain authority.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Extent of Freedom & Liberty: What Snyder vs. Phelps May Mean For Christians in the Near Future

The smoke is beginning to finally settle over the fairly recent Supreme Court decision which sided with Westboro Baptist Church and its congregants of so-called Christians who outrageously hold up extremely offensive signs at the funerals of dead American soldiers.  Their insensitivity to the families of those who lost their loved one while defending their country is shameful and the fact that they commit such heinous acts in the name of Christ and the gospel is simply despicable.  Christians are right to join their secular counterparts in condemning and distancing themselves from such groups.

In regards to their message, Christians must continue to affirm that social issues still matter and that homosexuality remains a sin, but there is a better way to present such a message.  The sort of religious legalism of promoted by Fred Phelps and his congregation is embarrassing and is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel offers liberation from such hypocrisy and empty religion in the same way it offers liberation and restoration to those enslaved to sin - be it sexual sin or something else.

But what concerns us now isn't whether or not Westboro Baptist Church should be condemned and are in the wrong - there is no question they are - but what the Supreme Court case, Snyder vs. Phelps, means about the future over free speech, freedom of religion, and the debate over homosexual marriage?  If Christians and pro-traditional marriage supporters are honest with themselves, apart from a miraculous revival in our country, same-sex marriage will likely become the law of the land and the threat that the Proposition 8 case may become our generations Roe vs. Wade is real and possible.  There is no doubt that this issue may be determined by nine persons dressed in black robes.  That is reason enough to concern us all!

One of the real issues surrounding this fight is how our nation will respond, legally, to those who remain in opposition to gay marriage after it becomes the law of the land.  If history (and very recent history at that) and current events and policies in neighboring countries and in Europe tell us anything, it is that when same-sex marriage is legalized and normalized, prosecution of dissenters and the undermining of free speech and religious liberty begin to happen.  There are countless stories every day and endless books that have chronicled this reality.  It seems that in a secular society where same-sex marriage is legal, voicing one's opinion in opposition to homosexuality becomes a crime.

But what about America?  Though a definitive answer cannot be given at this point, perhaps this case may give us an idea.  Without a doubt, the court overwhelming defended the liberties of Americans to voice their opinions publicly and privately even if such statements are irrational, hateful, and "harmful."  Let us not forget that the suit brought against Westboro Baptist Church was the charge that their protests emotionally harmed and offended the family of Matthew Snyder, the slained US Marine whose funeral was protested by the group.  The court ruled 8-1 - an unusual landslide decision - in favor of Phelps' church.  The dissenting voice was Justice Samuel Alito (appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush). The rest of the court ruled in favor of the "church" based primarily on the grounds of the First Amendment.

Why does this matter?  For one, the court has shown its unyielding support for the right to free speech.  There is no doubt - and the court admits this - that the speech of Westboro is despicable and shameful.  It is simply immoral.  However, it flies in the face of the US Constitution and our nation's foundation of liberty for the government and the courts to deny them the right to speak.  Many have pointed to similar hateful rhetoric in the past, particularly the Nazi group that set up protests in predominately Jewish neighborhoods.  Certainly such parallels are legitimate.  At the end of the day, though, the court has upheld its tradition of erring on the side of free speech.

At the same time, let us not forget who is speaking such hateful rhetoric:  a religious group acting out of their corrupt religious system.  This means that this case is not just about free speech (though that is the primarily issue) it is also about religious liberty.  Can a person, or in this case a church, exercise hateful rhetoric out of religious convictions freely?  Again, the court has said yes.

This is not insignificant.  From the perspective of this case, one must wonder if the court, if given the chance, would support legislation that would severally affect religious groups and churches as a result of their stance on homosexuality.  Again, the trajectory seems to be in secular countries that when gay marriage is legalized, debate becomes illegal, but if this case says anything, perhaps it says that in America at least, debate is never over with.

If this is the case, and I am by no means a legal expert or even an amateur, is it not rational to consider some of the policies enacted by various administrations and state governments that have, even in small seemingly insignificant ways, criticized, discouraged, or even threatened or prosecuted such groups from speaking out against homosexuality?  Parents are being denied adoption solely on the basis of their stance on homosexuality.  Religious institutions are shutting down their various social work refusing to compromise their convictions on this issue.  If Fred Phelps and company can do what they are doing, then why not everyone else who also oppose homosexuality in a manner less "harmful" and despicable?  Already America is heading in the direction of quenching the debate, not enhancing it.  Ought this case cause us to reconsider some of our current policies and laws?

Certainly the debate over gay marriage and liberty will remain contentious and no current or past court case has answered any of them definitely, but one must wonder, if Westboro Baptist Church doesn't cross the boundary beyond Constitutional protections surely an honest rejection of the morality of alternative sexual lifestyles ought to be protected.  Certainly the future remains uncertain for all of us, but at the end of the day, our hope is not in courts or justices, but in the gospel of God.  Regardless of what the future may hold, it is imperative that Christians remain faithful to the gospel and loyal first of all to Christ.  We must not compromise such a gospel in an attempt to be loved even if religious liberty and free speech is denied.  We do not know who holds the future, the true saying goes, but we do know who holds the future.  And He who holds the future will be glorified in the end.

Breakpoint (Charles Colson) - What Can You Say?: Snyder v. Phelps 
Time Magazine - Inside the Supreme Court's Free Speech Shutdown
National Review Online - Snyder v. Phelps (more)

For more:
Blogizomai - Marriage and the Limits of the Law and Courts:  Why Only the Gospel Regernerates & Changes Behavior 

Blogizomai - What's the Big Deal:  Christianity and Homosexuality  
Blogizomai - From Morality to Law:  The Question and Challenge Incest in a Post-Sodom Culture 
Blogizomai - Polygamy on Trial - Canada Opens the Legal Debate of Plural Marriages 
Blogizomai - Punishing Prejudice By Being Prejudice:  The Lesson and Legacy of Hate Crimes  
Blogizomai - The Power of the Few Over the Many:  Proposition 8, the Supreme Court, and Judicial Fiat  
Blogizomai - Christianity Without Christian Distinctives Based on Christian Doctrine is Not Christianity:  The CLS and Our Fear of Discrimination
Blogizomai - Jesus is into Offending People:  Its Time For Christians to Admit the Obvious and Proclaim with Boldness
Blogizomai - "Friendship With the World is Enmity With God": Rick Warren Tries to Have it Both Ways
Theology - The Stipulation That Paralyzes: Tony Jones and the Limit of the Emergent Worldview 
Theology - Pinata Theology: Ignore the Issue and Swing at the Distraction - What Piper Has Taught us About the Church 
Blogizomai - Heteronormativity: Another Word for Heterophobia
Blogizomai - Deja Vu All Over Again:  Prop 8 Goes to Trial and What That Could Mean for the Rest of America  
Blogizomai - Is This a Fight Homosexuals Want to Have?:  Massachusetts and the 10th Amendment   

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Around the Web: Important Links For Your Weekend - 3/18/2011

This has been a crazy week for me and for many others.  I guess the big news of the week in the blogosphere is the release of Rob Bell's book and a few of the links below reflect that.  But for the most part, I'm done with Rob Bell.  Nonetheless, here are a few important links from the past link.

Denny Burk - Martin Bashir Talks about Bell Interview | Burk briefly comments and posts the audio interview of Martin Bashir who gave the hardest hitting Bell interview thus far. To listen to Bashir talking about the interview (which runs just shy of 40 minutes) click here.  Below is the original Rob Bell interview.

Relevant Magazine - Is Rob Bell a Universalists? | Not to keep talking about Rob Bell's new book, but this is an important issue that Christians need to stand firm in their faith on.  Consider one answer from Bell with Relevant Magazine.  Bell was asked, Based on your understanding of universalism, do you consider yourself a univeralists?  He then briefly responded by saying, No, I don't.  He was then asked, And you see the difference being what?  Bell responded:

My observation would be that people mean lots of different things with that word. I think for some people, apparently the word means nothing matters. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter how you live—nothing matters. And I simply don’t believe that. Certain paths are destructive. Certain paths are wrong. Certain paths cause all kinds of toxic harm to other people and it’s not loving your neighbor. So if by “universalism,” people mean it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you do—that’s just complete rubbish. So, no.  

Secondly, sometimes when people say the word “universalism,” I think they mean that at some point God just swoops everybody up into heaven. Like, “Come on, everybody—everybody is in.” And the problem with that is, I believe love wins, and the very nature of love is freedom. So if at any point God co-opts your ability to choose, we no longer are dealing with a loving God. And if there are people who are in heaven who don’t want to be there, then it’s not heaven. Like God is saying, “It’s a party—and you’re going to like it!” 

The question that I do think is terribly interesting, and which as a Christian we must wrestle with, it is written in a letter to Timothy, “God wants everybody to be saved.” Now this is fascinating. God wants everybody to be saved, so perhaps the important question is, is God a universalist? And I do think as a Christian it is our duty to long for the things that God longs for, and to want the things that God wants.

Randy Alcorn - Rob Bell and the Controversy Over Hell | I really enjoyed this piece from Randy Alcorn, particularly the following section:

I think the doctrine of hell may be the single biggest test of whether the Bible is our authority, or we and our culture are our own authority. 

Of course, we can always say the Bible is our authority while reinterpreting its plain, straightforward meaning into something that we believe or want to believe. But if we do this, no matter what we say, it is not the Bible we are believing—it is ourselves. It's what we want to believe and/or what our culture believes.
Someone can claim that they believe the Bible, yet declare that Jesus is not God. Someone can claim they believe the Bible, yet declare there is no hell. But the claim is meaningless when it requires that we reinterpret the Bible to mean something that the original writer/speaker (e.g. in the case of hell, Jesus) clearly did not mean. 

We’re not God’s speech writers. He appoints us to deliver His message, not to compose it. He’s already done that—it’s called the Bible. He doesn’t need editors and PR people. He needs faithful messengers.

For those who would like to read more about the doctrine of hell, and what the Bible has to say about it, I’ve made the chapter “Hell: Eternal Sovereign Justice Exacted upon Evildoers” from my book If God Is Good available online in its entirety.

CBN News - NH Court: Homeschooled Girl to Public School |As if the decision wasn't bad enough, consider the reasoning for the decision to force the girl out of being homeschooled into public school.  The court felt, according to CBN, that the girl needs to be exposed to other viewpoints.  Thank you court system for raising us.  Where would we be without your parental hand on our parents?!

Politico - Poll: Majority now favors same-sex marriage | Expect this to only increase.  The emotional appeal made by those in support of same-sex marriage will only drive more people (especially younger people) to embrace homosexuality as normal and natural.  Unless we return to the gospel, homosexual marriage will be legalized in America.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Repost Friday | Is Marriage a Curse or a Covenant?: The Deterioration of Marriage & a Return to Its Gospel Roots

The crumbling of marriage began to happen long before we started to seriously debate homosexuality.  When it began exactly is a matter of debate, but one cannot deny the affect of our divorce culture has had on the sanctity and place of marriage in society.  My generation could be called the divorce generation.  Not that we were prone towards divorce but where the victims of it.  We are the generation that watched mom and dad fight over everything, break up, split, and put us in the middle of it.  Before we talk about homosexuality, let us talk about divorce.

In the evolution - or destruction - of marriage since the rise of progressiveness in America, marriage has gone from an eternal covenant to a contract with clauses, to a discarded certificate , to now a curse.  Unfortunately my generation has been forced to make a choice:  choose marriage or reject it.  Since marriage is no longer considered a lovely covenant, but a curse most are choosing co-habitation.  Why would anyone put their own children through the pains of divorce when co-habitation is a no longer controversial and contraceptives give the couple the power over nature?

According to the Wall Street Journal, most couples are simply living together instead of getting married.  They report:

For the first time since the U.S. began tallying marriages, more Americans of prime marrying age have stayed single rather than tied the knot, the culmination of a tectonic shift in the role of marriage and relationships that began in the 1960s.

High divorce rates, rising co-habitation and a tendency to delay marriage are main factors.
Marriage rates among young adults have been dropping for decades. But data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau show that for the first time the proportion of people between the ages of 25 and 34 who have never been married exceeded those who were married in 2009—46.3% versus 44.9%, according to an analysis by Mark Mather, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a non-profit research organization in Washington.

The remainder is a mix of those who have lost spouses and divorcees, who if combined with the unmarried group tilt the balance even further.

The future of marriage looks rather bleak.  Again, before we discuss homosexual marriage, let us deal with the deteriorating reality of heterosexual divorce.  As marriage lies on its death bed many, even among Christians, have pictured marriage in ways that don't seem real.  We've redefined love as being purely emotional infatuation instead of unconditional.  As a result, life-long monogamy is increasingly becoming a myth while serial monogamy and polyamory is on the rise.

It is time for a more comprehensive understanding of what love and marriage is.  As Christians it is time for us to uncover what marriage was and ought to be.  Marriage is more than a contract or a certificate, but an unconditional covenant made between two persons before God that reflects the work of Christ on the cross.  Unless Christians uncover the meaning and purpose of marriage, marriage will die.  The recovery begins in our churches.  Unless we show the value and benefit of marriage our culture will only continue to spiral down towards viewing marriage as a curse.

Marriage is a picture of the gospel.  The gospel reconciles the creature with the Creator.  The gospel is about love - real love as seen most clearly in the cross.  The gospel is unconditional, centered on grace and forgiveness - not because it is deserved but because love conquers a multitude of sins.  The gospel never fails.  Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13).  We are called to love as Christ loved:  sacrificially, as servants, selflessly, and submissively (see Ephesians 5:22ff).

At every wedding I perform I always try to make this clear.  Our marriages are to be "til death do us part" because the gospel is eternal in the same way.  If marriage is a picture of the gospel, what are we saying about the gospel when we split and break apart?  If God has loved us with an everlasting love, why don't we love each other in the same way?

At the end of the day, then, perhaps of focusing so much on marriage, perhaps we Christians need to focus more on the gospel.  The gospel is by nature built on selflessness, servanthood, submission, and perseverance through suffering, and sacrifice.  The gospel is rooted in the cross where love, sacrifice, and a suffering endurance where put on display.  And it is at the resurrection that tragedy leads to hope and promise.  The gospel doesn't end with the cross, but with the resurrection.  So too, even when our marriage struggle and suffer, perseverance, rooted in the gospel, is worth it.  Only a gospel-centered marriage can make it beyond life's difficulties.  Only gospel-centered marriage makes sense of the world.

Marriage is deteriorating before our very eyes and for good reason.  Our understanding of what marriage is and what purpose it serves is on shaky ground.  Unless we recover the gospel as the core and purpose of marriage, marriage will become a thing of the past - an extinct creature lost in our societies evolution of progression.

When my young toddler watches the marriage of his parents does he see evidence of the power of the gospel?  Or does he see a curse?  When the culture stares at our marriage do they see a curse?  Or do they see the gospel?  If they do not see the gospel, then they do not see marriage.

Unless a consonantal understanding of marriage centered on the gospel marriage will only continue to deteriorate.  But if the church would begin to take its faith more seriously, there remains hope.  The gospel always promises hope.

Wall Street Journal - New Vow:  I Don't Take Thee - Young Single Adults Surpass Married Peers Amid High Divorce, Cohabitation Rates 
Boundless Online - More Emerging Adults Single Than Married
Boundless Webzine - Myths About Living Together  

For More:
Blogizomai - If Your Happy and You Know It, Thank Your Family?  
Blogizomai - A Seven Year Itch?:  Recovering Marriage in a Culture That Took It Out of Its Vocabulary - Part 1 
Blogizomai - Commitment?  What's That?  Recovering Marriage in a Culture That Took It Out of Its Vocabulary - Part 2 
Blogizomai - Is What is Natural Moral?:  Monogamy and What Jealousy Says About Naturalism
Blogizomai - Do You Part A Take Party B:  California Redefines Redefinition  
Blogizomai - Polygamy in the Mainstream:  The Slippery Slope in Full Effect

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Story of Saint Patrick

For those who have ever wondered about who Saint Patrick was or why he was so important, consider the following two videos. Admittedly, these are more for fun than deep history or theology. The thing to remember is that Patrick was an important Christian missionary dedicated to the gospel and through him, God chased out paganism (not snakes) from Ireland.

HT: First Things

And here's the story of Patrick as told by the folks from Veggie Tales (only not with the Veggie Tales characters).

HT: Out of Ur

Theology Thursday | Bell and the Meaning of Evangelical

Pastor, author, and Emergent celerbtiy Rob Bell was recently interviewed regarding the meaning of Evangelical. The published interview is telling of the theology of Bell. Regarding what he means by "Evangelical," Bell said:

I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Bell makes the connection between Evangelicalism and the religious right. Bell and others in the Emergent Church are reacting against the religious right. They accuse Christians of being too political. To remedy this abuse, Emergents themselves become too political, only on the other end of the spectrum.

Bell may have a point that the word "Evangelical" is too often connected with politics and mostly the Republican party. But what is most important in his answer is the absense of the gospel. Yes Evangelicals may oftentimes align themselves, wrongly, with the Republican party all too often, but Evangelicals are also known for what they believe about the Bible, about Christ, the resurrection, and salvation. Bell says nothing regarding the issue, and as we will see, he rarely mentions the gospel.

But if Bell draws a distinction between Evangelicals and evangelicals, it seems that he aligns himself on the more evangelical side. But what does he mean by the term? Though Bell has criticized Michael Paulson, who interviewed Bell, of not posting much of the interview he did, but was very selective in what he published. So what does Bell mean by the word evangelical? Outside of the distinction between political loyalty, what else does the word evangelical, in his assessment, entail? Bell answers:

I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.

This is what he means by evangelical? I must say that I am disappointed . . . but not surprised. Here, it seems, is Bell 's understanding, not of just the word evangelical, but of the gospel. Enter the social gospel. Thanks to the postmodern bondage of the Emergent Church and its many leaders like Rob Bell, the Emergent Church has become nothing more than a postmodern version of Walter Rauschenbusch's Social Gospel where it is all social and no gospel.

By stripping the cross of God's justice, overemphasizing God's love at the cost of God's righteousness, and in their attempt to be embraced by the culture, Emergents are left with nothing but a social movement where the goal is to save the planet and help the poor. Environmentalism and serving the poor are great things and Christians should be committed to those causes, but to ignore or to even trample on the gospel is nothing short of apalling. Is this really the best Bell can do?

But Bell's last answer is perhaps most frightening. Bell was asked "I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you." He answered:

I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.

And calling people to repent isn't caring about them as humans? The Great Commission is not for the purpose of putting spiritual notches on one's belt, but to bring glory to God. Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. -1 Corinthians 1:17

He goes on to add:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. -1 Corinthians 2:1-5

To Paul, calling on men to repent, fulfilling the Great Commission, planting churches, and reaching the lost world was not about feeling good about his religiosity, but about bring Christ glory by bringing what was lost to repentance; by making the fool wise and by changing the world, not through environmentalism but through reconciliation between fallen man and holy God.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables that have one overarching theme: whenever one sinner repents, God, and the angels with him, rejoices. Repentance of the sinner is about the joy of God. Slaves of Christ seek the joy of their Master, not of themselves. To convert the lost for one's own personal pride runs contrary of the gospel. Sinners repent through the work of the Spirit, not through the wisdom of the wise, but through the foolishness of the cross. And it is all done for the glory of God.

What concerns me most about Bell, at the end of the day, isn't his approach to ministry, but his understanding of the gospel. It is one thing to be considered one of the coolest pastors that young people flock too, it is another thing to abuse such opportunities. Rob Bell undercuts the gospel in favor of a more user-friendly, inclusive, false-gospel. Bell may have the approval of the world, but he does not enjoy the approval of God.

So what is an Evangelical/evangelical? Not politics. Not the social gospel. Not a conversation. But the gospel: Jesus Christ, Him crucified and resurrected. A pure Church is known by that message. Everything else is a distraction that robs God of His glory and is unacceptable in His eyes.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, -1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Boston Globe - Bell aims to restore true meaning of ‘evangelical’
Boston Globe - Rob Bell on faith, suffering, and Christians
Rob Bell Twitter - Ever done an interview and then read it and realized they left out most of what you said? Maddening.
Rob Bell Twitter - A bit of history: the word evangelical comes from the Roman Empire propaganda machine- it was an announcement proclaiming Caesar is Lord...
Out of Ur - Rob Bell Defines "Evangelical"
Jared Wilson - A Rant: Rob Bell and An Evangel-less Evangelicalism

For more:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will This Sort of Love Win?: Reflections on the Bell Controversy - Part 2

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedLast week, I offered part one of this brief series of reflections on the Rob Bell controversy.  To be quite honest with you, by this point I'm pretty tired of talking about it.  The book was released today and certainly more will be said about its content.  What follows are a few more thoughts regarding the events that took place leading up to the release of the book.  I feel it is necessary, I will offer my own review (done on my own time, I'm not in a race to get mine out there) or further thoughts in the future.

To read part 1, click here.

4.  The trajectory of Bell's theology has been heading towards a universal-like conclusions. Emergents and postmodern Christians have almost always emphasized this world and not the next and Bell is no different.  Compare Bell's video on the resurrection where though he makes a brief reference to "this life to the next" it is primarily about what the resurrection does about today.  Admittedly, I agree with Bell here. The resurrection does affect how we live today and the New Testament emphasizes this.  After all, how can we act as dead souls when Christ has raised us with Him.  Is this not what Baptism means?

But in the video, Bell says nothing about what the resurrection accomplished in terms of atonement or salvation.  Instead, he speaks in terms of God restoring creation (and he does) and renews the earth (and he does).  The emphasis is not on sin being vanquished.  The cross and resurrection conquers sin by satisfying the righteous wrath of God.  There is hint of imputation in the video and virtually nothing is said about the meaning of the atonement.  Instead, Bell is concerned with destroying the empty ways of the world of violence and brokenness by paying for it with the life of Jesus.  Jesus died, he seems to be saying, in order to offer something new.  Instead of fighting back, Jesus surrenders.

One should note that many liberals have uttered similar things.  The list includes (though not limited to) such men as Abelard*, Ritschle, Schleiermacher, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Brian McLaren.

5.  Rob Bell isn't just asking questions, but leads the viewer to particular conclusions.  The video ends with Bell saying:

And then there is the question behind the questions, the real question: What is God like? Because millionsmillions of people were taught that the primary message—the center of the Gospel of Jesus—is that God is going to send you to hell, unless you believe in Jesus. And so, what gets, subtlely, sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that; that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good; how could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news. and

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 they say: “Why would I ever want to be 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, unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is actually better than that; better than we could ever imagine.

The good news is, that love wins.

There's no question what he is trying to say here.

6.  Does this sort of love win?

This is the question that has been asked by many.  The book's title itself makes us wonder what Bell means by love?  Is it a mere weak wristed, pandering love which is unable to defend the harmed and abused?  Does justice mean nothing anymore?  Are we so sure we want this sort of love from our Father?  We must make clear here that we are not denying the love of God.  Certainly not!  However, what we mean by God's love must not be misunderstood.  Love apart from righteousness leaves sin unpunished and leaving sin unpunished would make God unjust.

I think Mike Wittmer summed it up best by rewording Bell's infamous video that promoted his book.  Wittmer asks:

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?

He did?

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?

He's right.  While many who push universal-like theologies might make us sympathetic towards the sinner, let us not forget those who are sinned against.  This is why a gospel of both propitiation and expiation is necessary.

There is so much more to say, but I'm getting tired of talking about it.  I will let this suffice.  For more, see the many other posts I have on this issue.

*Admittedly, I think there is a lot of good in Abelard's basic understanding of the atonement. Abelard promoted what has been called the Moral Influence theory of the atonement which essentially says that Jesus died to give us an example.  I find Christus Exemplar an important aspect of the atonement, but I do not find it the root cause and purpose of the atonement.  Scripture does emphasizing following Jesus example on the cross, but always in terms of propitiation, expiation, and substitutionary.  See for starters Philippians 2 and 1 John 4.

Blogizomai - Will This Sort of Love Win?:  Reflections on the Bell Controversy - Part 1
Mark Wittmer - Justice Wins 

For more:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Love Promoted: The First Bell Interviews

If you've been on the internet or watching the news, I'm sure your aware of Rob Bell's controversial new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived which came out today.  In light of the book's release, Bell has hit the media circuit promoting it.  Here are just three of the interviews he has done.  The message seems fairly persistent and seems to affirm what his objectors have been saying.

We must begin with the best interview suprirsingly coming from MSNBC.

Rob Bell on "Good Morning America"

HT: Denny Burk

Rob Bell interviewed by Lisa Miller

lovewins on Broadcast Live Free

Bell is starting to sound more and more like a process theologian than like orthodox Christianity. To begin with God's love, instead of His holiness or righteousness etc., opens one up to an anthropomorphic God that is simply inaccurate.  We must not turn God into a weak teddy bear.

Another thing, Bell's suggestion that heaven and hell are here right now in how we live is extremely troubling.  To even say that what happens when we die is speculative is even more dangerous.  Consider one statement in the interview:

Bell: It is terribly relevant and terribly important. how exactly it works out and how it works out in the future, when you die we are in the realm of speculation. and my experience has been a lot of christians built whole dogmas about what happens when you die and we have to be very careful we don’t build whole doctrines and dogmas on what is speculation.

Simply put, before we even read the book, Bell isn't just treading near heresy, he's swimming in it.

The book is out today.

For some more great links, articles,and reviews of the book consider the following:
Russell Moore - The Blood-Drained Gospel of Rob Bell 
Sojourners (Julie Clawson) - What Does Rob Bell Really Say? (A Review of the Actual Book Itself) | She concludes, Love Wins is not a book about who is in or out. That sort of talk is too small. It is a book that invites people to remember the life God is offering them and this encourages them to thrive as they joyously participate in that life. Bell challenges theologies that seem to have forgotten what it means to live this life and moves the conversation back to a placed where Christians have the freedom to say yes to the gift God continually offers. Christianity isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about living joyously and transformativly for Jesus — and this is a message we can all benefit from being reminded of.
Tim Challies - Love Wins - A Review of Rob Bell's New Book | This was the first review offered and he comes to the conclusion that he's a universalist.
Kevin DeYoung - God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” | This is the most thorough and lengthy of reviews.  A great read and critique.

Denny Burk - Revising Hell into the Heterodox Mainstream | Here is Dr. Burk's lengthy review of the book as he received an advanced copy of it.

Denny Burk - Justin Taylor and Rob Bell on GMA
Denny Burk - Martin Bashir Takes on Rob Bell  

For more:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Some Final Cyber-Thoughts: Links to the Bell Hell Controversy

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedWell all the talk about what the book might say and about what Bell has said will soon be over with in a few days as Rob Bell's much anticipated book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived will be released this week.  On Monday, Bell will do a major book event and it will be broadcast online (as I understand it).  Expect a lot of reviews will be posted (and when I read it I will offer my thoughts on the book) in the coming weeks and months.  One thing to be sure, this conversation is far from being over.  This isn't about Bell or Hell but about the future of Christianity.  This is a debate about the gospel.

Therefore, in anticipation of the release, here is the last and final installment of links regarding all of the cybermuck regarding the release of the book.  If the conversation becomes more interesting after the book is released, perhaps I will do more of these.  In the meantime, I'm ready to move on.

Reformation 21 (Carl Truman) - Easy Virtues and Cruel Mistresses | A good one from Truman regarding some of the historical aspects of Bell's book.

Between Two Worlds (Justin Taylor) - Rob Bell on Martin Luther and Salvation in Hell | Taylor posts some of the highlights of Truman's article and adds his own comments.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. - Doing Away with Hell? Part Two | Here is part 2 of Mohler's discussion on the topic of hell.  It is taken from the book he contributed to, Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed (Kevin DeYoung) - “Through” Means “Through Faith” | DeYoung looks at the issue of inclusivism and the Biblical concept of being saved through Christ.  DeYoung makes the case that we are saved through faith in Christ.  A huge distinction.  He concludes, "Unless we believe that Christ is “he,” the long awaited Messiah and heaven sent Son of God, we will die in our sins (8:24). Jesus could not make the point any clearer. “Through” means “through faith.” Inclusivism and John 14:6 cannot be friends."

The Towers (the SBTS newspaper) - SBTS will hold “Love Wins: A Conversation on Rob Bell’s New Book” Thursday, March 17 | As of right now I plan on being there, but gas prices remain high.  Those on the panel will be Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Dr. Russell Moore, and Dr. Denny Burk.  This should be pretty good.

Huffington Post (David Lose) - The Rob Bell Controversy:  Does Anyone Go to Hell? |  Consider this statement, As a theological concept, "hell" is almost entirely missing from the Old Testament and surfaces as a minor concern in the New, showing up most frequently in Jesus' parables (which, let's not forget, regularly defy a literal reading). In contrast, topics like proper treatment of the poor, good use of money, and the imperative to care for neighbor and creation all capture a strikingly disproportionate amount of the attention of the biblical authors.

Brian McLaren - Why Love Rarely Wins . . . | An article linked by McLaren written by Christena Cleveland.  To go directly to that link, click here.

Alpha & Omega Ministries (James White) - Mithra? Attis? Really, Rob Bell? | A video blog regarding Bell's book.

Tall Skinny Kiwi - Who Has the Skinny on Hell | I hesitate to even put this link on here, but it is what it is.  He clearly doesn't like anyone that will be on the SBTS panel.

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