Wednesday, March 30, 2011

evangelical alliance on hell

The Evangelical Alliance UK has published its review of Love Wins.

I stand in awe of Rob Bell's well-established communication skills and wish others would share his passion to make God's love known. But now comes the controversial Love Wins which was hyped up before it was even published.

Love Wins is full of confusing half-truths - and each of those words is important!

Love Wins contains truth. It's true that "the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality" and we're all "endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace and experience it". Much of what he says about the cross is straight out of the Bible. His criticism of some evangelicals for their superficial and misplaced judgmentalism rings true. He's right: biblical teaching on heaven and 'the age to come' is misrepresented if all it does is encourage some to boast, "I've got a ticket to heaven". The Bible presents Christ's work as much wider than the salvation of a few individuals. It is about the restoration and renewal of a fallen creation. Eternal life doesn't start "when we die but is about a quality of life lived now'. Amen to that. But I learned that in the Brethren Assembly where I grew up, many decades ago! There are many 'Jesuses' being spoken about and it's vital we get the authentic one and not one of our own creation. All this and much more is true.

Love Wins however only presents half the truth, which is disturbing to those who believe in the other half of the truth. Old Testament verses are strung together which speak of God's grace triumphing over Israel's sin and that their punishment will have a 'sale by' date. But he never mentions repentance in this connection as the prophets do, nor the fact that it was a remnant restored to the homeland. His teaching on hell ducks some hard issues while firing out a lot of questions of his own. God's wrath, and his holiness, is touched on only very inadequately and insubstantially. He says the sacrificial understanding of the cross belongs to a primitive cultural world we no longer inhabit, so he sidesteps a key understanding of the cross. He assumes that people will come round to accept God's love in the end, and doesn't see why death is the irreversible cut-off point. But why does he think people will 'repent' after death when they haven't done so before? He uses some parables that appear to fit his argument but ignores others and uses them all in a somewhat interesting way.

Bell is good at drawing on 'the hard cases' to make his point and ignoring the rest. He can be very emotive. He's very critical of evangelicalism for its lack of engagement in this world and ignores its huge and long-standing involvement in communities and in helping the poor. Many mission halls supported the vulnerable that others neglected. And the great and varied evangelical contribution to society in education, health, homelessness, youth work, drug rehabilitation, pregnancy crisis centres and so on is ignored. Perhaps the evangelicals he knows are nasty people. I know a few like that too, but I know many more who aren't.

Above all, Love Wins is confusing. I can see now why people are asking whether Rob Bell is a universalist (all will be saved in the end) or not, because it's unclear. Brilliant communication sometimes gets in the way. The book contains volleys of rapid-fire questions but isn't so good at giving answers, at least not clear ones. It confuses things like when he uses the parable of the prodigal sons as a parable about heaven and hell. Hell he says is the older brother going into the party and so hell is not about separation but integration. But didn't Jesus say…?

Much of what Bell writes is based selectively on the writings of Tom Wright and C. S. Lewis. But it is 'theology-lite' and people would be better served by reading those authors for themselves.

The style, which peppers the pages with moving stories and ever-lengthening lists or questions, would bedazzle you in if you were listening to it. In print, it doesn't work so well. It's very postmodern, which isn't a bad thing in itself. But its cultural fit does not exempt us from asking how true to the bible it is. It's a book to which I want to say 'Yes, but…' It's a book that is destined to punch above its weight. But those who wish to criticise this book need to earn the right to do so by being as passionate about sharing Christ's love as Bell himself is.

Statements: The Evangelical Alliance has responded to the publication of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, which has attracted widespread attention on account of its controversial views concerning the nature of hell.

29 March 2011

The Evangelical Alliance has responded to the publication of Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins, which has attracted widespread attention on account of its controversial views concerning the nature of hell. The Alliance's Theological and Public Policy Advisory Commission has discussed the book and has helped shape the Alliance's response. The Alliance is also concurrently publishing a review of Love Wins on its website written by Derek Tidball, a member of the Alliance's Board and Council (of which he was previously Chair), and former Principal of London School of Theology.

Rob Bell is a popular evangelical celebrity figure and widely appreciated as a pastor and inspiring speaker.

It is recognised that there may be strong feelings about Bell's alleged departure from the majority traditional view that heaven is reserved only for those who profess faith in Christ and, perhaps, for infants who die within the church community before being able to make such a profession. However, the Alliance is urging that debate about the book should be characterised by respect, humility and grace, particularly where Christians disagree with one another.

Love Wins, as its title suggests, is a positive and hopeful book written in Bell's customary winsome style which will strike sympathetic chords with many readers. However, it casts doubt on the traditional Christian understanding of hell and the fate of non-Christians. Though he does not state dogmatically that all will be saved in the end, Bell appears to adopt a view more akin to 'wider hope' theology which is optimistic that God will ultimately save the vast majority of people, or even, perhaps, all people.

The Theology and Public Policy Advisory Commission points out that this type of theological debate is not new, reflecting especially 19th century concerns, and indeed goes back to debates among the early church fathers. However, over the centuries a minority of Christians have adopted such views and the Church has consistently rejected similar arguments. It is the personal profile of Rob Bell that is responsible for the current highlighting of issues that are familiar to centuries of previous theological debate. Therefore, the importance of an accurate historical perspective on these questions is crucial.

Anticipating such a debate, the Alliance clearly articulated its understanding of the evangelical position on this subject in its book The Nature of Hell published in 2000. Its conclusions are available on the Alliance's website but the following key points may be of help to the present discussion:
  • In The Nature of Hell, the Alliance explicitly rejects universalism (pp.24-34; Conclusion 4, p.131)
  • The Nature of Hell is open to a 'wider hope' for those who don't explicitly profess faith in Christ, citing as possible examples at least some of those who have never heard the gospel, children who die in infancy (including the unborn), and those whose mental incapacity makes such profession impossible. However, it is insistent that absolutist assertions that these and other categories of non-professing people are saved risk being at least as arrogant as absolutist assertions that they are damned. The destiny of such people is God's to determine, and it is determined by his grace alone. (pp.93-95; Conclusion 4, p.131)
  • In The Nature of Hell, the Alliance recognises that certain reputable evangelical scholars have either embraced or entertained the possibility of 'second chance' repentance. However, having explored the exegetical arguments for this position, it finds them unconvincing (pp.89-92; Conclusion 4, p.131).
  • The Nature of Hell also considers restitutionism - the teaching that some or all in hell will ultimately be translated to heaven - finds this teaching similarly unconvincing, and concludes that consignment to hell cannot be repealed (pp.81-89; Conclusion 5, pp.132-33).
The Alliance's position is also clearly set out in its Basis of Faith which makes clear orthodox evangelical Christian belief in:

"The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth."

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "Rob Bell is a valued brother in Christ and has felt it important to raise publicly some difficult areas of Christian theology that many people feel uncomfortable with. The issues he raises reflect genuine but complex questions that Christian theologians have wrestled with over centuries. We hope that Christians who disagree with Rob will nevertheless model how good debate should be conducted."

The Alliance's key principles relating to how evangelicals should conduct their relationships with each other are set out in its Practical Resolutions.

Steve Clifford added: "There are deeper and perhaps more crucial questions which should be addressed as to the nature and character of the God that we worship and to his commitment to and care for the earth he created. I trust that in this biblical exploration we will discover that both love and justice win."

worship is ...

“Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.” — James B. Torrance; Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace


a new nature

Without conversion there is no salvation. We all need an entire change of nature. Left to ourselves we have neither faith, nor fear, nor love towards God. We must be born again. Left to ourselves we are utterly unfit for dwelling in God’s presence. Heaven would be no heaven to us if we were not converted. It is true of all ranks, classes, and orders of mankind. All are born in sin and children of wrath, and all, without exception, need to be born again and made new creatures. A new heart must be given to us, and a new spirit put within us. Old things must pass away, and all things must become new. ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew


Sunday, March 27, 2011

stoner's hell

I think Tim Stoner portrays a much clearer picture of the realities of hell the a certain popular entertainer/question asker ...
... before Gehenna was turned into an unpleasant, smoky landfill, it was something much, much worse. It was so much more heinous that the word became a euphemism for “Damn!” ...

Gehenna was not only physically disgusting, it was spiritually terrifying. Think of a haunted house. Think of Freddie Kruger and Hannibal Lekter rooming with Ted Bundy in that house and you are getting the picture. It was a place of horrific evil where the abominable demon-god Moloch was worshiped.

99.9% of pastors agree with bell

Preacher-At-Funeral-196X300I absolutely love this post by Caleb Wilde, Why 99.9% of Pastors Agree With Rob Bell … I do not have sufficient statistical data but empirically it seems true. And I absolutely love Wilde's conclusion, "Maybe if Rob had spoken his thoughts at a funeral, nobody would have had a problem with it." You see, many, many of us make wrong statements. Many, many, many of use ask misleading questions. Some of us enjoy stirring the pot just to get people to think (or just because we are pot stirrers). And I think most of use, at the point of crisis, extend hope against hope.

Yet I still think Bell went a step too far with his hope. That is, he didn't say, "I cannot judge" or "Let's trust that Joe made the right choices before his final moments." Now I'm not sure what Bell is actually saying, but what it appears to me and his fans that he's saying is that Joe has a choice after death and even better news, Joe and everyone else will make the right choice.

I don't buy that. BUT - if this had been some simple person leading a simple funeral for an another ordinary guy, I probably wouldn't have jumped out of my seat shouting, "hey - wait a minute."

But this wasn't that. This is the rock star of the new christian world and many people are taking his rhetoric to heart. So I thank Wilde for offering some "hey - calm down" medicine but as applied to Bell, I'll take it only as an attitude correction ... not as a "we should cut Bell some slack" measure.

grace of reconciliation

“It is one thing to feel that God as our Maker supports us by his power, governs us by his providence, nourishes us by his goodness, and attends us with all sorts of blessings — and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ.” — John Calvin, quoted by Michael Horton in The Christian Faith


Saturday, March 26, 2011

the truth about love

As postmodern innovators continue their assault on the true meaning of love, Mark Driscoll speaks both love and truth.

"Hell is the wrath of God in effect." It saddens me when I read postmodern innovators describing hell as the harm we do to each other in our sin here on earth. It also saddens me further when these same people reinvent God by picking a single attribute over and above His others and redefining that in their image.

so what about the earthquake

Solid explanations aren't all we need but if it helps, below is a fair offering by John Piper on the earthquake in Japan.


First things first.

When Christians see suffering they feel empathy. We too have bodies (Hebrews 13:3). Therefore, love commands, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Then comes aid. We want to help relieve human suffering—all of it, especially eternal suffering:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
And that includes enemies:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27);

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink (Romans 12:20).
But sooner or later people want more than empathy and aid—they want answers.

Proclamation and Power

When love has wept and worked, it must have something to say about God. It doesn’t need to have all the answers. Only God does. But it has the Bible, and the Bible is not silent on this matter.

No earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God ( 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 13:13; 24:18-20; 29:6; Psalm 60:2; Nahum 1:5-6; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13-14; 16:18). This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth:
He commands even winds and water, and they obey him (Luke 8:25);

He sends forth His command to the earth. . . . He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold? . . . He makes his wind blow and the waters flow (Psalm 147:15-18);

He looks on the earth and it trembles . . . touches the mountains and they smoke! (Psalm 104:32);

[He] shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble (Job 9:6).
Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. And God owes Satan no freedom. What havoc demons wreak, they wreak with God’s permission. And God has reasons for what he permits. His permissions are purposes. That's the point of Job 1-2 and Luke 22:31-32.


God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose:
He is wise and brings disaster (Isaiah 31:2);

The Lord is good (Psalm 100:5);

All his works are right and his ways are just (Daniel 4:37).
Therefore, God has a good and all-wise purpose for the heart-rending calamity in Japan on March 11, 2011 that appears to have cost tens of thousands of lives.

Indeed, he has hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age:
How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33);

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Yet there are possible purposes revealed in the Bible that we may pray will come to pass:
  1. The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation (see above) are meant as calls to repentance—to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
  2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” That is, they are a wake-up call to this world that God's kingdom will soon be born. So be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
  3. God's unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. He has a right both to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud him till it is too late.
  4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom. The thunder-clap summons to fear God is a mercy to those who live.
  5. When the earth shakes under our feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.

And let us pray that in this catastrophe the Lord fulfills two other purposes:
  1. That Christians repent of worldliness. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
  2. That Christians in Japan and around the world would step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father's judgment. The suffering and death of Jesus Christ for the sin of the world is the one place where empathy, aid, and answers meet. He invites everyone to come for all three.
O how fragile this life is. The world, and all its life-sustaining processes seem so sure and solid. They are not. One thing is sure and solid:
Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
(This post is adapted from what I wrote August 18, 1999, in response to the earthquake in Turkey that cost 17,000 lives.)

if love is to win

Inferno-Dante-Alighieri-Paperback-Cover-ArtI'm not a good enough writer to say what I'm really thinking about the love/hell question that Rob Bell has raised but JMR gets it pretty darn close ...
Love moves the heavens and the stars. Love created the universe and love will win in the end. Rob Bell did not say this—Dante did—and Dante believed in Hell. Dante also thought all of us, including himself, in danger of going there for all eternity.

Dante believed in Hell, because of reason, reading the Bible, and because of love. If love is to win, then Hell must exist. Sadly, Rob Bell has chosen the culturally sterile, ethically bankrupt, and unloving position of denying love’s demand: hell exists and love built it.
If you like to think, it's worth reading the rest ...

all i have is christ

Peter - thanks for pointing me to this ... what a great way to start a day ...

All I Have is Christ by Sovereign Grace Music ...

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Friday, March 25, 2011

scorning what is holy ...


This from Todd Pruitt via Peter Cockrell ...

“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

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.

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])

stoner is unhip but right

"Growing up in the home of Baptist church planters the important issues were simple and clear: Jesus died on the Cross to save sinners from an eternal Hell and it was the most important thing in the world to share the Gospel so that those who were lost could receive salvation through Christ. Now some may smugly deride that as an embarrassingly reductionist world view. The simple answer is that if you read the four Gospels for yourself, rather than through the second-hand grid of postmodern influencers, you discover an awkward fact: Jesus sounds more like a Baptist church planter than an ecologically sensitive, culturally nuanced, spiritually attuned, hip preacher." ~ Timothy Stoner, Hell’s response: “Let us alone!”

Read his full post - it is well worth it! His closing point ...
It is not funny—not by a long shot. And the ironic truth of the matter is that the reality of an eternal Hell does the most honor to man as an image bearer of God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and part of that fearfulness is freedom to will against God. The good news of the Gospel is that through Christ, God by His Spirit draws and enables us to choose for God. But He will not force the choice and strong arm a human being to do what he will not do. When the will has issued its resolute and final decision: “I will my will not yours!” The die is cast and, paraphrasing Lewis, God steps aside, withdraws all manifestation of His gracious love and says: “Well then, your will be done in Hell as it is on earth.”

That is why Hell is eternal.

That is why death will irrevocably seal our fate.

That is why none of this is something to laugh about.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

hell, really?

"If there be really a hell of such dreadful and never-ending torments, as is generally supposed, of which multitudes are in great danger—and into which the greater part of men in Christian countries do actually from generation to generation fall, for want of a sense of its terribleness, and so for want of taking due care to avoid it—then why is it not proper for those who have the care of souls to take great pains to make men sensible of it? Why should they not be told as much of the truth as can be?" - Jonathan Edwards, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God


As opposed to this ...

about questions

Universalism, etc. aside, I like Matt Dabbs' simple yet clear analysis of Rob Bell's approach in Love Wins.
I have to agree with several others that who have commented that Love Wins isn’t an outline of any kind of systematic theology. Some say he is telling a very artful story. That is partly true but part of his telling the story is deconstructing another story and replacing it with what he believes is the central story of scripture. In order to do that in a convincing fashion you have to prove that the “old story” missed the point but you also have to prove that it really was the story that people believed was “the story” before you can say that there really is relevance in trying to revitalize what the Gospel is all about and get it back to its original, non-hijacked, intention. The temptation is to build a straw man around the most extreme and most easily discredited branches of Christianity in order to create the tension that we really do have a problem here or that the majority of Christians really have missed the point and gone with all the wrong narrative threads in the Gospels to the neglect of the one big one Bell wants to highlight.

Now here is where the artistry comes into play. When you deconstruct something the questions you choose and don’t choose are of the utmost importance. It is important that you ask certain questions in a certain order to start teasing things apart. Bell must ask hundreds of questions in this book. His point is not to drive you crazy with questions. His point is not to get a logical and impartial answer on each and every one. His point is to get your mind moving in a certain direction to convince you of the point he is making. The problem is by default there are other perfectly good questions that don’t get asked. They don’t get asked because, while they are incredibly relevant, they don’t advance his point and so they are left out. I understand that no one is able to address every issue or examine every side of every issue. At the same time I keep getting the feeling that there are many key questions that are purposely left out of this book because it would put a flat tire on Bell’s main thesis.

harsh words

L 0B9649Cb80E5Ea0Befc011D9245Eef3AI get it. When we confront error we ought not be flippant, mocking, etc... We ought to love our enemies. We treat all of God's creation with dignity and respect. And so on ... At the same time, Paul in Galatians 5.12 writes, "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

I admit I err and get inappropriately angry in confrontation. I have even developed disdain for some people and that's never good. Yet I can honestly say that there are many times I post something confronting some error without those inappropriate judgements. Unfortunately some of my friends feel obligated to comment every time that the confrontation is ugly or unhelpful or whatever ... I think in some cases my friends are in error and in others they are right. So I'm bothered because confronting confrontation seems to be their default position and they could be more helpful if they would reserve that for when they really see something inappropriate.
Jared Wilson wrote the following on The Necessity of Harsh Words for False Teaching.
How can Paul justify such language? And does this kind of language teach us anything about how to respond to false teaching? Or is it completely an apostolic privilege, off limits to us mere Christians?

Let's step back and see what Paul is doing. Anyone familiar with Paul's letter to the Galatians knows it is punctuated with this kind of exclamatory language. The shepherd is perplexed and heartbroken over the Galatians' apparent departure from the gospel once established, and he is livid, indignant toward the Judaizers who are leading them astray. If this were written today, we would be very tempted to chastize Paul for his tone -- and indeed, some do reject Paul's teachings today for this reason, among others (like alleged misogyny, etc.)

Galatians 5:12 shows us that Paul is being both rational and angry. It is possible to be both. Paul has not lost his temper, as harsh as his call for the heretics to castrate themselves is. (And let's not say it just sounds harsh. It is harsh.)

Paul's harsh words here are rational because he's working from logic previously established: “If you accept circumcision, you must obey the whole law" (Gal. 5:3). Using that logic, then, he's asking, “Hey, if circumcision justifies you, why not just castrate yourself altogether?”

Paul is being rational, but not coolly rational. Having anathematized the false teachers, repeated several times that they bear the penalty, that they will be accursed, he is hot with the wrath of God owed to teachers of false gospels.

But isn't he coming across . . . mean? How can this be justified?

First of all, Paul didn't invent harsh language for false teaching. They stoned such people in the old covenant. Jesus in his mercy only verbally lacerated false teachers, calling them sons of hell, whitewashed tombs, etc.

The Bible never speaks kindly of false teachers. It suggests to restore those who fall into falsehood gently. But it never suggests treating offenders gently. Indeed, you can see throughout Paul's letter that he is pleading with the Galatians even while rhetorically punching the Judaizers. His tone when referring to the Judaizers is angry; his tone in referring to the Galatians' susceptibility is sadness. Galatians 4:8-20 is the most vivid example: you can practically hear his tears.

Here is the bottom line, assuming Galatians is a good test case, kept in the context of all the Scriptures show us about dealing with false teachers: Protecting the sheep from wolves often involves roughly handling wolves.

“Isn’t that unloving? Isn’t that hateful?”

No, in fact, it shows real love for the sheep. It shows real love for Jesus!

Real love stirs active affections, both positive and negative. Because I love my wife, for instance, I give her physical affection. Also, because I love my wife, I will do physical violence to anyone who attacks her.

Do you see how that works?

Because God loves justice he hates sin.

Because God loves the truth, he hates lies.

Because God loves his Son, he hates teaching that demeans his Son, and legalism does that.

Heresy does that.

Therefore, because God loves his children, he hates false teaching. And we ought to take the kid gloves off with false teachers, if our love for Christ and his church is real.

There is gospel to be found in this harsh language. Because God loves sinners, he does the harsh thing of sending Christ to suffer violence, to deal harshly with sin by being dealt harshly with by sin, and laying his life down for the sheep.

Christ was cut off, cursed, made sin, made heresy, that we might be brought into the truth. The cross is the ultimate harshness to sin. What a loving thing to do to conquer that sin and rescue sinners.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

hell cartoon

Nakedpastor has jumped the shark with his latest cartoon, literally hell.

What do you think he is saying here?

I'll take a couple of guesses:
  1. The scholars in the cartoon refer to Rob Bell types trying to re-imagine hell and this is confronting Bell for stirring up this distraction ... I doubt it.
  2. The scholars in the cartoon refer to Bell's detractors and this is confronting them for arguing against him while others suffer ... well that doesn't fit the facts. One data point would be the Southern Baptist Convention who very much teaches a literal hell with no options postmortem. They are world renowned for their relief efforts.
  3. Another option?

Monday, March 21, 2011

sexual orientation

Wbl JwhiteDr. James Emery White recently posted A Gay Awakening?. What I love about his post is that after listing all the reasons many have thought it wise to jettison the Biblical position regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality, White then proffers an excellent list on what our orientation toward homosexuality should be ... most of which could be directly reapplied toward any sin/sinner.
  • Homosexuals, repentant or otherwise, must be loved.
  • Those desiring to be faithful to biblical teachings in this area must be met with support and, when they fail, with the same level of grace we would extend to anyone else.
  • There should be no impediment to full service and position for those with a homosexual orientation who remain faithful to personal celibacy and biblical orthodoxy.
  • Though much that goes under the banner of "anti-discrimination" does, in effect, promote homosexuality and create a specially-protected class (which I do not affirm), Christians should work toward a society that does not persecute practicing homosexuals, and Christians should denounce anyone who uses hate-filled speech.
  • Christians should not work for homosexuality to be criminalized, and should vigorously support the full prosecution of crimes against homosexuals.
  • We need a new tone and emphasis that focuses on the homosexual lifestyle as we would any other lifestyle that needs to have its deepest needs intersected by Christ. If one believes that the homosexual lifestyle is broken sexually, it must be affirmed that it is no more broken than the adulterer or the person addicted to pornography.
  • We must put forward a winsome and compelling vision for life in Christ that includes our sexuality; a vision that invites all who are sexually confused and seeking God to come and drink of the living water that Jesus promises to us all (John 4).
He adds, "All to say, the followers of Christ must not be homophobic; they must not hate homosexuals; they must not give in to anger or irrational fear. The followers of Christ must not caricature or demonize anyone. ... Those that have succumbed to such things must repent and ask for forgiveness. So while I pray for an awakening among those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle, I also pray for an awakening among those of us who condemn it."

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sexual sin and canaries

5547793824 E4754353B4Mike Wittmer wisely writes:
There is something about sexual sin that ruins the minds of previously healthy people. Paul explains in Romans 1:18-32 that idolatry leads to sexual immorality, which swiftly degenerates into a laundry list of “greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.” Such people are “backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning” (v. 29-30).


Sexual sin is the canary in the coal mine, the first sign that something has gone haywire in our walk with Christ.

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in our place

Jerry-Bridges"In both its precepts and penalty, the law of God in its most exacting requirements was fulfilled by Jesus. And He did this in our place as our representative and oursubstitute." ~ Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness


Sunday, March 20, 2011

the power of the gospel

John-Piper-January-19791-300X435Some are trying to rationalize ways for seemingly "good people" to choose their way out of hell after death. Some are trying to shape God into an image they can believe in by taking away His work that don't fit their understanding of love. But others, who have been accused of hate and fear are helping up us with our real need, that is, how to live lives that are truly pleasing, acceptable, and glorifying to the One that gave us life.

John Piper speaks to the miracle of the Gospel activated in us. The full video and text are here. These are some key quotes [emphasis mine]:
Paul said there is a way of life that is “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). There is a gospel walk. He said there is a “manner of life worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

The reason there is a way of life that fits the gospel is that what happened on the cross of Christ not only cancels the sin and completes the perfection that grounds our justification but, in doing that, also unleashes the power of our sanctification. And what I am most interested in today is how that power over my sins is experienced. And I want to illustrate that eventually from Philippians 2:12–13.

There are many ways that the New Testament shows how this works. I’ll mention three.
1) In the death of Christ we died.
2) In the death of Christ we were bought.
3) In the death of Christ we were forgiven.

And in each of these cases, a power is unleashed from the cross that expresses itself through my volitional attack on sin. In other words, in each of these three cases, the way the cross becomes effective in my conquering cancelled sin is by empowering my will to oppose sin in my life.
And as any good teacher, the indicatives followed by the imperatives (as opposed to misleading unanswered questions):
1. In the death of Christ we died.
“We have been united with him in a death like his” (Romans 6:5; see also Romans 7:4;Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3).
“You also must consider yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11).
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body,” (Romans 6:12).
2. In the death of Christ we were bought.
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
“Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
3. In the death of Christ we were forgiven.
“God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
So how do we live?
So in every case, the decisive impulse for my holiness and my sin-killing is the death of Christ. Which means that the decisive power for our conquering sin is Christ’s canceling sin. That is, the only sin that we can defeat is a forgiven sin.

If we try to defeat an unforgiven sin—that is, if we try to conquer our sin before it is canceled—we become our own saviors; we nullify the justification of the ungodly (Romans 4:4–5), and we head straight for despair and suicide.

Which means that the link between the cross and my conquered sin is a Holy-Spirit empowered will. Listen to these texts that describe this reality:
- Romans 7:6—“We died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” I serve in the newness of the Spirit.
- Romans 8:13—“By the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body.” I put sin to death, by the Spirit.
- Galatians 2:20—“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The life I now live . . . Christ lives in me.”
- 1 Peter 4:11—“Whoever serves, let him do it as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Iserve, but in the strength that God supplies. And it is a blood-bought supply.
- 1 Corinthians 15:10—“By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” I worked. But it was the grace of God that was working in my working.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

that holy spirit feeling

I wrestled with the first part of this but I love where this landed. An excellent video.

Some signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit:
  1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed and He will be exalted (John 15.26, 16.13-14; Acts 1.8).
  2. People will be regenerated, conversion will happen, new life will be seen in the Church (John 3.5; Titus 3.5).
  3. People will start to look more like Jesus. They will bear the fruit of the Spirit. Character will change and reflect the character of Jesus (Rom 8.13; Gal 5.22-23).

Lies My Pastor Told Me CH4 from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.

Thanks Peter for the tip.

every knee

I haven't read Richard Mouw a lot but what I've read I've agreed with. And what I've read also left me thinking he's a smarter man than I am. At the same time I'm troubled by his post The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell.

Mouw summarizes Rob Bell:
So, here is Rob Bell: people who refuse a “vital connection with the living God” are given over to a “kind of life [that] is less and less connected with God” (Love Wins, 66). And this is no mere theoretical state of affairs, “because it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that love, grace and humanity can be rejected” (my italics)—and if so, “God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it” (72).
To this Mouw adds his perspective.
And I certainly do believe that some folks choose that hell. The Hitler types. The man who kidnaps young girls and sells them into sexual slavery. They are well on their way to hell, to becoming inhuman monsters. To be sure, as the hymn rightly reminds us: “The vilest offender who truly believes/ that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” But for those who persist in their wicked ways, eternal separation is the natural outcome of all the choices they have made along the way.

In a book I wrote several years ago defending the basics of a Calvinist perspective, I told about an elderly rabbi friend who struck me as a very godly person. He would often write to tell me that he was praying for me and my family. When he died, I said, I held out the hope that when he saw Jesus he would acknowledge that it was Him all along, and that Jesus would welcome him into the heavenly realm.

... A prominent evangelical had criticized those of us who have been in a sustained dialogue with Catholics for giving the impression that a person can be saved without having the right theology about justification by faith. My response to that: of course a person can be saved without having the right theology of justification by faith. A straightforward question: Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she went to hell, I have only one response: shame on you.
I think this satirical piece speaks to the Hiltler question. Fundamentally, I think what Bell and Mouw have not addressed is the sinful nature of man. I think that even our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64.6) and so yes, even Mother Teresa short of Christ would spend eternity in hell. I do not judge her. I did not know her nor her relationship with Jesus. And I reject that we can look at her works and know with certainty (Matt 7.21-23).

And so I take offense when someone argues "look at Mother Theresa" or "look at Gandhi". Eventually all will bow before the name of Jesus (Phil 2.9-11). This does not mean that when they bow they will escape the penalty of hell. These arguments can only go one way - Universalism. I and those making these arguments reject Universalism and so I'm confused.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

stoner on bell's hell

Great post by Tim Stoner on Love Wins ...

"If nothing else, Bell’s book has performed a crucial service. It forces upon us a choice: take another sleeping pill or be awakened from sweet slumber before all Hell really breaks loose."

And for an even longer but excellent review, Mark Galli's Rob Bell's Bridge Too Far.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the rob bell dance

"You are asking for it both ways and that doesn't make sense." ~ Martin Bashir in response to Rob Bell.

christian universalism

41422Xwbtgl. Sl500 Aa300 Just over a year ago Michael Wittmer wrote of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity:
It’s not clear whether Brian sees the afterlife as a series of chances to repent until everyone comes around or whether everyone immediately endures a fiery judgment which burns away their bad stuff and preserves whatever remains. Either way, what’s left of us is ultimately reconciled, or perhaps absorbed into God ...
This error is not new. Christian Universalism has been around for a long time. The phase was popularize in the 1700's. Central beliefs setting Christian Universalism apart from mainstream Christianity is universal reconciliation (all will eventually be reconciled to God without exception, the penalty for sin is not everlasting, i.e. doctrines of everlasting damnation to hell and annihilationismare rejected) and theosis (all souls will ultimately be conformed to the image of divine perfection in Christ).

I find this error rooted in a definition of love not found in Scripture followed by redefining or subordinating God's other attributes.

From Michael Horton:
That basic scheme goes like this: God’s only attribute is love; his holiness, righteousness, and justice have to be adjusted to this central dogma. Human beings are not deserving of God’s wrath, but only of his encouragement and empowerment to improve. Jesus Christ is primarily a moral teacher, who invites us to share in his vision of creating “a kingdom of ethical righteousness” (Ritschl’s phrase, basically from Immanuel Kant). Since there is no divine justice to satisfy or wrath to propitiate, the cross cannot be represented as a vicarious substitution of “the Lamb of God” for sinners. Since there is no objective condemnation, there can be no objective justification. Since everyone is a child of God, there can be no adoption. The church is merely the community of volunteers for the kingdom-building enterprise. Heaven and hell are as subjective as sin and redemption: it all depends on what you make of your life right now. Yale’s H.Richard Niebuhr captured the essence of liberal religion in this fine description: “A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”

spencer's oozings

SpencerI just received an email from Spencer Burke with his open letter to Rob Bell ... one thing I did like, Burke wrote, "if I am not a little bit embarrassed about what I said yesterday, then I have probably not learned anything today…” I think that's fair. On the other hand, Burke fell into the "THE mark of a Christ-follower" trap addressed here ... and I think he also took a little too much liberty with 1 Cor 13 ... but that's Spencer ...

yodeling for jesus

Brandi Nicole doing the Gospel Yodel ... yodeling for Jesus ... I love it!

what 'through' means

Deyoung-KI've heard some say that when Jesus said "through me" in John 14:6 that this means there is no other way other than with Jesus' approval and then go on to say that Jesus approves all. I disagree with both points. Here is Kevin DeYoung on what "through" means:

Inclusivists believe that everyone who is saved is saved through the person and work of Christ. They do not, however, insist that conscious faith (on the part of sentient adults) is necessary to appropriate this saving work. Some Buddhists or Hindus or good people in our neighborhoods drawn to the true and the beautiful might be saved through Christ without knowing it. But what about John 14:6? Inclusivists understand “no one can come to the Father except through me” to mean through my saving work. Faith may not be necessary.

No doubt, it’s true that no one can be saved apart from the work of Christ. But the “through” in John 14:6 means “through faith in me.”

Look at the immediate context. Jesus begins the chapter by telling the disciples “believe in me” (14:1). Then verse 7 talks about knowing the Father by knowing the Son. Verse 9 makes clear that whoever sees Jesus has seen the Father. Verses 12 and 13 repeat the exhortation to believe in Jesus. The point of the whole section is that if you know/see/believe in Jesus you know the Father. And conversely, you cannot go to the Father or follow Jesus to his heavenly glory unless you know and believe in Son.

This reading of John 14 is confirmed by the broader purpose of the gospel, which is that John’s readers might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). John’s gospel is full of promises for those who believe.

• Whoever believes in me shall never thirst (6:35).
• Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (7:38).
• Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live (11:25).
• I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness (12:46).

Likewise, there are dire warnings for those who do not believe in Christ.

• Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (3:18).
• He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him (5:23).
• You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also (8:19).
• If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here (8:42).

John 14:6 is not one verse taken out of context. It captures the message of the entire book of John. The whole gospel is an apologetic for conscious faith in Christ, faith that affirms certain propositions about Jesus, faith that believes he is the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the gate for the sheep (10:7, 9), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), and the true vine (15:1, 5).

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.

reverse thinking

We need to reverse our thinking ...

about doubt

Many calling themselves Christian fail to remember we have a new nature. They look at attributes of our old nature, call them natural, and rather than teaching the eradication of these, they promote them as normal or even healthy. This happens often with sin. Example: I get angry with a neighbor. Someone in my community of faith tells me that's "human nature". Another adds, "yeah, I would have killed the guy." And so on. This is not the truth and freedom we get from God. We need to do better than this.

The same thing happens in the area of doubt. These days it seems vogue to encourage believers to question and to doubt. This is wrong. Conversely, it is not right to condemn those with questions and doubt. It is not right to say we never doubt. But the response is not to say, "that's good" or "that's healthy." The response is to wrestle with truth and come to a place of confidence and complete faith. John Calvin writes:
Unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful.

While we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief. • Inst. III.ii.15, 17.
The key point here is that we want to struggle to experience what we confess, not that we relish in the doubt. We do not desire doubt, we wrestle (in a healthy way) against it.

Here are some balanced words from Michael Patton.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

open doors

Another great short but sweet post by Melinda at Stand to Reason. This one on the open door policy some churches have had toward other religions ...
Recently, there were news stories about some Christian churches offering their facilities to Muslims to hold their worship services. These churches, apparently, see it as a form of outreach and neighborliness, but I think it's very misguided to facilitate and encourage the practice of other religions. This isn't classical religious pluralism, but more like inclusivism. The message being communicated likely isn't just one of friendship, but of approval that their religion is just as valid as Christianity.

Christianity Today asked several Christian leaders "Should churches lend worship space to other religions?" I thought these two answers were most helpful in making the distinction between outreach and misguided accommodation of a false religion.

Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church - "Other faiths have used our church's coffeehouse for casual meetings, as that is public missional space. But we don't rent our space for formal meetings of other faiths in our sanctuary."

Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research - "Christians need to be stalwart advocates for religious freedom while not succumbing to the temptation of religious pluralism. People should be free to worship according to their convictions, but it's necessary to recognize that Christianity is not the same as other religions."

all we need is love

Like Dan Phillips, I have the perception that a number of those identifying themselves as Christians would say, "Doctrine doesn't matter. All that matters is that you love, love, love." And like Phillips, I don't think I've ever heard anyone identifying themselves as Christians deny or denigrate "genuine, Biblical love" the way some denigrate doctrine.

To be clear, we agree that love is a command. As Phillips writes:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35) Love, then, is the mark of a disciple. In this passage, our Lord does not say that doctrine is the mark of a disciple, or that correctness is the mark of a disciple, or even that truth is the mark of a disciple. So love, some would say, clearly supplants concerns about correct doctrine.
Then he smartly and rightly adds:
Not so fast. Why stop there? Jesus also does not say that monotheism is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that abstaining from murder, rape, or theft is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that wearing clothes or eating are marks of a disciple. He does not even say that believing in Him, in any sense, is the mark of a disciple.

So what have we established? Only that Jesus didn't say what He didn't say in this passage. Which, hopefully, all are agreed upon. We had better hope He said other things, somewhere. Because if all we had were this passage, we would not even know what this passage meant! I mean, what is love? Warm feelings? Cheesy sentimentalism? Coddling? Indulging? Unconditional approval and enabling? Indifference towards damaging (or even damning) error? Treacly benevolence?
So perhaps Jesus said more about love or other distinguishing marks of his followers. Phillips continues ...
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" Jesus asks (Luke 6:46). So right away, we know that Jesus expects obedience to His words to characterize His real followers. Nor do we see a hierarchy, as if one may obey some but disregard others. Jesus seems to think that He is our Lord, or He is not; and if He is, what He says should produce obedience in us.

Whatever He means by "love" in John 13, then, it must be characterized and framed by obedience to His words — which, as we just saw, leads us to the rest of the New Testament, and back to the whole of the Old Testament as well.

In fact, Jesus Himself ties those ideas together, repeatedly:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. ... If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:21, 23-24)

"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (John 15:10)
Jesus' concept of love walks hand in hand with His commandments, which in turn (as we've seen) point us back to the Old Testament (John 10:35) and the rest of the New (John 16:12-15) as well.
The God of the Bible does not speak of love separated from doctrine. When asked what were the two most important things, Jesus answered.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love for God comes first. Then, and only then, is it followed by love of neighbor. And what, pray, is love for God? The concept is explained and given full color in the Old Testament, whence Jesus mined this gold. Let's just lift a snippet:

"You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always" (Deuteronomy 11:1)

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

Do you see it yet again? Love for God walks hand in hand with wholehearted acceptance of the full authority of all of God's words. But what is more, plugging in Deuteronomy, it means doctrinal loyalty, it means clinging wholly to the true God — which is to say as well, to the doctrinal truth about God — in the face of all opposing doctrines. It is loyal devotion to God, as His doctrine is revealed in Scripture alone.
Clearly God does not separate love from obedience. As Phillips writes:
This standard of love calls for all of us, heart and mind and soul and strength. If that is our standard, then what hope have we? We have never put together two consecutive seconds of such pure, true, singleminded devotion of God.

That is why we must flee for refuge in that sheerly-doctrinal/historical reality, the penal substitutionary atoning death of Christ. For there and there alone do we meet fierce and undeniable love which crashes upon our lovelessness, dashes aside our objections and rebellion, and saves and converts and conquers us.

"... but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us: (Romans 5:8)

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10)

And only in the light of such doctrinally-communicated-and-defined love can we go on to John's next exhortation:

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11)

Friday, March 11, 2011

are we mules?

Although spoken to United Methodists, I think we all could stand to consider these challenging words by George Hunter ...
"The people called United Methodists cannot recall who they are, if indeed most of our present members ever knew,” Hunter lamented. “They are no longer rooted in scripture or in any recognizable version of Methodism’s theological vision.”

“Thousands of our churches are analogous to mules – which are creatures that are so genetically compromised that they are incapable of reproduction… Don’t expect much vitality, much less reproduction. There is not much vitality or reproduction anywhere the gospel is in absentia.”

come to jesus

I am loving these J.C. Ryle quotes ...

When a person turns to Christ empty—that they may be filled; sick—that they may be healed; hungry—that they may be satisfied; thirsty—that they may berefreshed; needy—that they may be enriched; dying—that they may have life;lost—that they may be saved; guilty—that they may be pardoned; sin-defiled—that they may be cleansed; confessing that Christ alone can supply their need—then they come to Christ. This, and nothing more than this, is coming to Christ.

~ J.C. Ryle

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

how does your life read

J.C. Ryle in Practical Religion,
Are you alive? Then see that you prove it by your actions. Be a consistent witness. Let your words, works, ways and tempers all tell the same story. Let not your life be a poor lethargic life, like that of a tortoise or a sloth—let it rather be an energetic stirring life, like that of a deer or bird. Let your graces shine forth from all the windows of your life, that those who live near you may see that the Spirit is abiding in your hearts. Let your light not be a dim, flickering, uncertain flame; let it burn steadily, like the eternal fire on the altar, and never become low. Let the savor of your religion, like Mary’s precious ointment, fill all the houses where you dwell. Be an epistle of Christ so clearly written, penned in such large bold characters—that he who runs may read it. Let your Christianity be so unmistakable, your eye so single, your heart so whole, your walk so straightforward that all who see you may have no doubt whose you are, and whom you serve.

Monday, March 07, 2011

brauns on koinonia

I love this stuff ... here's Chris Brauns on koinonia ...
If you are not actively investing in the lives of other believers within the Body of Christ, you will not have a full experience of joy.

Yesterday, I argued that Paul often speaks of joy in connection to relationships with other believers. My learned friend Jerry Wall pointed out in a comment that this is observed in Philemon 6 where Paul encourages Philemon, “I pray that you may be active in koinonia/invested partnerships /fellowship so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

Notice how John connects joy and koinonia / fellowship in 1 John 1:3-4. This is such a beautiful thought:

3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Invest in others this week – - by serving and loving them – - and you will take a step towards more joy.

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more on bell

With all that has been said about Bell recently, consider the following ...

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

storms on the gospel

The Gospel is an indicative - not an imperative ... here's Sam Storms on "What is the Gospel?"

Thanks CMP for these videos.

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what's wrong with universalism

This is not about Rob Bell. I repeat, this is not about Rob Bell. But since I brought him up, I have mixed thoughts on the man. He has said some wise things, he says many things that are neither here nor there because he isn't really saying anything - just asking, and then he says (or implies) things that are simply wrong, e.g., christian universalism. For me, Rob Bell has been problematic since the beginning. It seems natural that those on this side of the equation would use the promotion of Bell's newest book to say so. It also seems natural that those on the other side would get confused and say, " see they're hateful and judging before reading."

At this point, the best thing for me are the great imitations of him. Here's one, fake Rob Bell Oil.

But again, this isn't about Bell. Jonathan Parnell just summarized a good list of reading regarding the error of universalism. I think it's worth checking out.
The temptation is not new: silencing certain biblical texts in order to say that eventually everyone will be saved. In fact, we could just call it recycled liberalism.

Desiring God focused on this subject 21 years ago at the Conference for Pastors — "Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment."

In his sermon that assesses the biblical and theological arguments for universalism, Sinclair Ferguson reminds us:

There is a mighty sermon in Gresham Machen’s book, God Transcendent, on the text in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who can kill the body; fear Him who is able to cast soul and body into hell.” And the sermon begins by the repetition of the text and with these words: “These words were not spoken by Augustine, or by George Whitefield, or by Jonathan Edwards, but by Jesus of Nazareth."

It behooves us to listen to Jesus' testimony; both because this is the testimony of the Savior, and because this is the testimony of the One who names himself as the living and true witness—who is the One who has come back from the dead to tell men that it is so.

Ferguson's other messages from the conference include:
1) Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment: Contemporary Preaching
2) Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment: The Justice and Mercy of God
3) Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment, Panel Discussion

Saturday, March 05, 2011

warren haynes - one


Is it getting better?
Is it still the same?
Will it make it easier on you
Now you got someone to blame
You say one love, one life, one voice in the night
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby if you don't care for it

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well, it's too late tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To all the lepers in your head?
Did I ask too much, more than a lot?
You gave me nothing, now it's all I got
We're one, but not the same
We hurt each other, then we do it again

You say love is the temple, love the higher law
Love is the temple, love the higher law
You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on to what you got
When all you got is hurt
When all you got is hurt

You say love is the temple, love the higher law
Love is the temple, love the higher law
You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

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I toss around the word liberal far too liberally (pun intended). And sadly, I too often attach it to some derogatory adjective. This is not good. While I often mean to apply that adjective to the person I'm referring to, I do not always mean to imply that all liberals fit the attribute as I infer. I need to stop that.

With that said, what do I mean by liberal. In the context of spiritual matters, I defer to Kevin DeYoung's recent post based on Gary Dorrien's The Making of American Liberal Theology. Here are some quotes from Dorrien's book (in italics) as grouped into seven categories by DeYoung. If you call yourself a liberal and to not align with these points, no need to argue with me, we have no disagreement other than a label problem. If you call yourself a liberal and align with these points, no need to argue with me - we disagree.

1. True religion is not based on external authority

The idea of liberal theology is nearly three centuries old. In essence, it is the idea that Christian theology can be genuinely Christian without being based upon external authority. Since the eighteenth century, liberal Christian thinkers have argued that religion should be modern and progressive and that the meaning of Christianity should be interpreted from the standpoint of modern knowledge and experience. (xii)

What’s more, Dorrien recognizes this rejection is something new in the history of the church.

Before the modern period, all Christian theologies were constructed within a house of authority. All premodern Christian theologies made claims to authority-based orthodoxy. Even the mystical and mythopoetic theologies produced by premodern Christianity took for granted the view of scripture as an infallible revelation and the view of theology as an explication of propositional revelation. Adopting the scholastic methods of their Catholic adversaries, Protestant theologians formalized these assumptions with scholastic precision during the seventeenth century. Not coincidentally, the age of religious wars that preceded the Enlightenment is also remembered as the age of orthodoxy.

Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy heightened the Reformation principle that scripture is the sole and infallibly sufficient rule of faith, teaching that scripture is also strictly inerrant in all that it asserts. (xv)

Note that Dorrien does not believe inerrancy was a Princetonian invention.

2. Christianity is a movement of social reconstruction.

One of the most influential definitions of theological liberalism was offered in 1949 by an able latter-day proponent, Daniel Day Williams: “By ‘liberal theology’ I mean the movement in modern Protestantism which during the nineteenth century tried to bring Christian thought into organic unity with the evolutionary world view, the movements from social reconstruction, and the expectations of ‘a better world’ which dominated the general mind. It is that form of Christian faith in which a prophetic-progressive philosophy of history culminates in the expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (xiv)

3. Christianity must be credible and relevant.

Specifically, liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the nature and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people. (xxiii)

4. Truth can be know only through changing symbols and forms.

Bushnell admonished that “all our difficulties and controversies” regarding the truths of revelation were caused by a basic failure to face up to what was known about the clothing of truths in signs and analogies. The problem was not peculiar to New England theology, he suggested; it was an “almost universal sin that infests the reasonings of mankind concerning moral and spiritual subjects.” Throughout the world, people treated the symbolic forms of their truths as the truths themselves. (151)

5. Theological controversy is about language, not about truth.

Bushnell debated various doctrinal points with his adversaries, claiming always that their disagreements were about language usage, not lack of belief: “All my supposed heresies, in reference to these great subjects, are caused by the arrest of speculation and the disallowance of those constructive judgments, or a priori arguments, by which terms that are only analogies, and mysteries that are most significant when taken only as symbols, are made to affirm something wiser and more exact than what they express.” (151-52)

6. The historical accuracies of biblical facts and events are not crucial, so long as we meet Jesus in the pages of Scripture.

He cautioned that the faithful reader of scripture is not obliged to assume the truth of the Gospel narrative “by which the manner and facts of the life of Jesus are reported to us.” That was the matter in question, “We only assume the representations themselves, as being just what they are, and discover their necessary truth, in the transcendent, wondrously self-evident, picture of divine excellence and beauty exhibited in them.” Bushnell counseled that the biblical narrative is not very impressive aside from the extraordinary character of its pivotal figure, but the more that we study the figure of Jesus, “a picture shining in its own clear sunlight upon us,” the more clearly we are brought into the source and light of all truth: “Jesus, the Divine Word, coming out from God, to be incarnate with us, and be the vehicle of God and salvation to the race.” (399)

7. The true religion is the way of Christ, not any particular doctrines about Christ.

The Word of Christ is not a doctrine or the end of an argument, but a self-authenticating life; it is morally regenerative spiritual power claimed in Christ’s spirit…Moving beyond their mentor, the Bushnellians accented the humanity of Christ; Munger and Gladden lifted Jesus’ teaching above any claims about his person. In both cases, however, a self-authenticating moral image conceived as the power of true religion was in control. The true religion is the way of Christ. (399-400)

Dorrien observes that this kind of religion was a departure from historic orthodoxy.

Traditional Protestant orthodoxies place the substitutionary atonement of Christ at the center of Christianity, conceiving Christ’s death as a propitiatory sacrifice that vicariously satisfied the retributive demands of divine justice. (400)

The new progressive religion of liberalism understood Christianity quite differently.

By the end of Beecher’s life, it was almost prosaic for Munger and Gladden to assert that Christianity is essentially a life, not a doctrine. (405)

Liberalism is not a swear word to be thrown around. It is a diverse, but identifiable approach to Christianity, one that differs significantly from historic orthodoxy, not to mention evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Liberals believe they are making Christianity relevant, credible, beneficial, and humane. Evangelicals in the line J. Gresham Machen believe they are making something other than Christianity.

As Shakespeare put it, “Ay, there’s the rub.”