Friday, April 29, 2011

a two handed god

John Calvin comments on 1 Peter 5:5:

We are to imagine that; God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God?

Taken from Calvin's Commentaries.


doctrine wins

5668928541 17C8969350 MRichard Lints writes:

With all of the furor surrounding Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins (HaperOne 2011) it may seem counterintuitive to say that interest in the book (as evidenced by the Time Magazine cover article on it) owes more to the enduring interest in Christian doctrine rather than to the ambiguity of belief so characteristic of Bell’s thesis. The fact that people still care about the doctrinal outlines of the Christian belief in heaven and hell is testimony that at the end of the day, doctrine wins. It does matter what one believes. It matters because doctrine shapes life and deep down most of us know this.

David Brooks, the New York Times OpEd columinist recently wrote, “Many Americans have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments. The only problem is that [this view] is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False” (New York Times, April 22, 2011).

When David Brooks, a nominal Jew, understands this, it seems all the more surprising that many evangelicals still seem predisposed to soften the edges of doctrinal conviction in order to be more acceptable to the wider culture. Doctrine wins because Truth matters to life. Would not the “living” nature of Biblical truth be a sufficient reminder of this?


Thursday, April 28, 2011

read the book - why?

It's amazing to me that the standard defense of Rob Bell's error is "you cannot critique it/him if you haven't read the book." I think if I wanted to defend Bell I'd steer people away from Love Wins.

Does Bell think only some will be saved and the rest damned? He writes in regard to God condemning some to hell, “Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?”

But in another place he writes a somewhat Calvinistic thought, “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?”

Later however he's a little Arminian, “Although God is powerful and mighty, when it comes to the human heart God has to play by the same rules we do. God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itself.”

What does Bell believe? Well if you've read the book, he believes the first and uses the other two to support his real thinking. In the end, he is as Bertrand Russel who wrote in Why I am not a Christian, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”

Bell is actually quite clear in his error on pages 173-175 where he reveals his true heart - he cannot accept the God of the Bible and uses minor distortions that we bring to the party as his justification:
Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.

If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.

Loving one moment, vicious the next.

Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can.

And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.

Because if something is wrong with your God, if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all of eternity for sins committed in a few short years, no amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality

Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting “the gospel” is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn’t safe, loving, or good. It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be reconciled, and so they say no. They don’t want anything to do with Jesus, because they don’t want anything to do with that God.
So Bell reinvents God in his imagine to make Him more agreeable. This is error.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

bell continues to fail

In Love Wins, Rob Bell writes:
“No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts”
It is clear that Bell posits this as one of several views through history. On the other hand, he not only does not speak of it as an erroneous view, he words his questions in a way that lead the reader into error. To deny this is disingenuous and I'm saddened by many who do not see that.
Is God our friend, our provider, our protector, our father – or is God the kind of judge who may in the end declare that we deserve to spend forever separated from our Father?
Is God like the characters in a story Jesus would tell, old ladies who keep searching for the lost coin until they find it,
shepherds who don’t rest until that one sheep is back in the fold,
fathers who rush out to greet and embrace their returning son,
or, in the end, will God give up?
Will “all the ends of the earth” come, as God has decided, or only some?
Will all feast as it’s promised in Psalm 22, or only a few?
Will everybody be given a new heart,
or only a limited number of people?
Will God, in the end, settle, saying:
“Well, I tried, I gave it my best shot,
and sometimes you just have to be okay with failure”?
Will God shrug God-size shoulders and say,
“You can’t always get what you want”?

Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, “Sorry, too late?”

Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love?
Longing that no one will spend eternity in hell is not that same as what Bell is doing here. He confuses and misleads in a way that does damage to God's Word.

on heretics and schismatics

Interesting quotes from Martin Downes on heretics verses schismatics ...

Augustine eventually came to define heretics as those who "in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself," as distinguished from schismatics, who "in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe."

Basil's distinction was only slightly different: heretics were "men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith," and schismatics were "men who had separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution."

Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 69

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

more on false teaching

5660094006 B430F515E6 MFrom the New Topical Textbook on false teaching ...

Destructive to faith. 2Ti 2:18.
Hateful to God. Re 2:14,15.
Unprofitable and vain. Tit 3:9; Heb 13:9.
Should be avoided by
- Ministers. 1Ti 1:4; 6:20.
- Saints. Eph 4:14; Col 2:8.
- All men. Jer 23:16; 29:8.
The wicked love. 2Ti 4:3,4.
The wicked given up to believe. 2Th 2:11.
Teachers of
- Not to be countenanced. 2Jo 1:10.
- Should be avoided. Ro 16:17,18.
- Bring reproach on religion. 2Pe 2:2.
- Speak perverse things. Ac 20:30.
- Attract many. 2Pe 2:2.
- Deceive many. Mt 24:5.
- Shall abound in the latter days. 1Ti 4:1.
- Pervert the gospel of Christ. Ga 1:6,7.
- Shall be exposed. 2Ti 3:9.
Teachers of, are described as
- Cruel. Ac 20:29.
- Deceitful. 2Co 11:13.
- Covetous. Tit 1:11; 2Pe 2:3.
- Ungodly. Jdj 1:4,8.
- Proud and ignorant. 1Ti 6:3,4.
- Corrupt and reprobate. 2Ti 3:8.
Try, by Scripture. Isa 8:20; 1Jo 4:1.
Curse on those who teach. Ga 1:8,9.
Punishment on those who teach. Mic 3:6,7; 2Pe 2:1,3.

false teachers

5659493308 4B3Ae81923 MFalse teachings according to the Zondervan Bible Dictionary:

Scripture repeatedly warns against false teachings, which deny or distort some aspect of the gospel. The origin of such teachings is attributed either to human error or to demonic inspiration.

Examples of false teachings
Rev 2:14-15 See also Mt 5:19; 2Th 2:1-2; 1Ti 4:1-3; Rev 2:20

Qualities of false teachings
They are valueless Mt 15:9 pp Mk 7:7 See also Isa 29:13; Eph 5:6; Col 2:20-23; 1Ti 1:3-7
They are destructive in their nature 2Pe 2:1 See also Mt 7:15; Ac 20:29-30; Tit 1:10-11
They have the capacity to lead people astray Ac 20:30 See also Eph 4:14; 1Ti 6:20-21; Heb 13:9; 2Pe 2:14-15; 1Jn 2:26
They may be popular 2Pe 2:2 See also Mt 24:4-5 pp Mk 13:5-6; 2Ti 4:3; 2Pe 2:18-19; 1Jn 4:1-5
They may be accompanied by miraculous signs Mt 24:24 pp Mk 13:22 See also 2Th 2:9-10; Rev 13:11-15

The origin of false teachings
Demonic inspiration 1Ti 4:1-2 See also 2Co 11:3-4; 1Jn 4:1-3; Rev 16:13-14
Human error 2Pe 2:3 See also Col 2:8; 1Ti 6:20-21

Discerning false teachings
By their content 1Jn 4:2-3 See also 1Co 12:3; 1Jn 2:20-23; 2Jn 7-11
By the teacher’s lifestyle Mt 7:15-20 See also 2Co 11:20; 1Jn 3:7-10; Jude 4
By their effects 1Ti 6:3-5 See also 1Ti 1:3-4; 2Ti 2:16-18; Rev 2:20

The antidote to false teachings
Holding fast to the true gospel 1Jn 2:24 See also Gal 1:6-9; 1Ti 1:18-20; 2Ti 1:13-14
Shunning false teachers Ro 16:17-18 See also 2Ti 3:1-9; Tit 3:9-11; 2Jn 9-11

Monday, April 25, 2011

be warned

"Both our Lord and His apostles told us plainly that we would need to defend the faith against false prophets, vicious wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15), minions of Satan disguised as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14), and corrupters of doctrine who arise within the church (Acts 20:29)." ~ Phil Johnson

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forgiveness has meaning

Let's build on a right notion of forgiveness and not on the popular confusing way. First, read and re-read Chris Brauns' Unpacking Forgiveness. Then note that Rob Bell gets this, like many things, wrong. The only out I see is that Bell has is that he has redefined the terms such that we cannot know what he is really saying ... or should I say asking?

"Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for." (Bell, Velvet Elvis, page 146).

I agree with Brauns in that this is a very problematic statement. "The idea that someone can be forgiven by God, yet still go to hell, eviscerates forgiveness of any biblical meaning."

Further quoting Brauns referring to Bell;
In Love Wins (188-189), Bell has taken the next step when he argues that on the Cross, Jesus granted unconditional forgiveness apart from repentance or faith on the part of those who crucified Him. "Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it. Done. Taken care of. Before we could be good enough or right enough, before we could even believe the right things. Forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up – - God has already done it."
Don't believe it. This is incorrect (Jn 3.36). Bottom line, whatever it is Bell is thinking, saying, suggesting, or asking, it isn't consistent with simple Scripture.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

that's my king

I could listen to this over and over again ... That's My King by S.M. Lockridge ...

Do you know Him?

Here's John Piper on the Theology of Resurrection.

He is risen! And O the overflow of that single event. It was the cosmic Yes! from God the Father that the death had done all it was meant to do. And it was the beginning of the eternal existence of the God-Man in a glorious new body in which he would finally reign on the earth forever. And so much more.

There is a whole theology of the resurrection and its achievements in 1 Corinthians 15. Here’s a summary. Let each of these sink in. Savor each one. Then start your new week (the rest of your life) abounding in the work God calls you to “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

1. Christ died for us and rose again.
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and . . . He was buried, and . . . He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

2. He verified his resurrection by large public appearances.
After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

3. Because Christ has risen, we are not still in our sins.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

4. Because Christ has risen, our afflicted lives are not pitiable.
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

5. We who trust Christ will be raised from the dead at Christ's second coming.
For as in Adam all [his posterity] die, so also in Christ all will [his posterity] be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:22-23)

6. Christ now reigns invincibly over the universe.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)

7. Our resurrection body will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.
[Our resurrection body] is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

8. Living or dead, we shall be given new bodies in an instant at Christ's coming.
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

9. Death now has no sting and will be swallowed up in victory.
But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

10. Christ suffered for sin and satisfied the law for us.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

11. Therefore, do huge amounts of Christ-exalting work because none of it is in vain.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

he is risen

Open-Tomb"We need not wonder that so much importance is attached to our Lord’s resurrection. It is the seal and memorial stone of the great work of redemption, which He came to do. It is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our guarantee and our substitute by our Father in heaven. Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid (1 Corinthians 15:17)? Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident that He has overcome death – and him that had the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14)? But thanks be unto God, we are not left in doubt. The Lord Jesus really rose again for our justification." ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew


third day - thief

Friday, April 22, 2011

critique of the apostle paul

Punch I think this is great ... a satire written by Justin Taylor and Jared Wilson ... I posted it in its entirety here ...

Exclusive: In an exciting example of scholarly cross-collaboration and interdisciplinary research, textual critics and archaeologists have just published a translation of a recently discovered first-century letter, apparently authentic, written to the Apostle Paul himself. Scholars believe it was likely written in the late AD 40s or early 50s. The parchment was remarkably well preserved in a jar buried in a cave on the island of Satiricus. It is surmised that the author of the letter, Parodios, was an elder who had met Paul on one of his missionary journeys.

The translation, published here for the first time, reads as follows:
Parodios, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to our brother Paulos.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our church recently received a copy of the letter that you sent to the church of Galatia. We hope you will not mind hearing our humble concerns. In the past we have noticed you are more interested in confronting people rather than conversing with them, but we hope you will receive this letter as an invitation to further dialogue.

First of all, we are uncomfortable with your tone throughout the correspondence. We know it is difficult sometimes to discern tone of voice from written communication, but you should keep this in mind as well. One could gather from your careless use of words that you are losing your temper. You certainly sound angry. This is unbecoming a spokesperson for the faith. As you say yourself, one of the manifest fruit of God’s Spirit is gentleness.

Aren’t you being a hypocrite to preach grace but not show it to our Judaizer brothers? They may not worship as you do or emphasize the same teachings you do, but our Lord has “sheep not of this fold,” and there is certainly room within the broader Way for these brothers. Their methodology may differ from yours, but certainly their hearts are in the right place.

You yourself know that our Lord required personal contact when we have a grievance against another. Have you personally contacted any of these men? Have you sat down to reason with them personally? Have you issued a personal invitation? Some of them may even reconsider their viewpoints if you had taken a different tack. We know that your position is likely that public teaching is open to public criticism, but we can do better than what is expected, can’t we?

In one portion of your letter, you indicate you don’t even know these persons! “Whoever he is,” you write. Our dear Paulos, how can you rightly criticize them when you don’t know them? It’s clear you haven’t even read their material, because you never quote them. We implore you to see that they are plainly within the tradition of Moses and of the Prophets. They understand the context of the covenant in ways you appear deaf to.

Similarly, we find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

Paulos, what will unbelievers think when they read this letter? Do you think this will commend the gospel to them? This kind of harsh language just makes us look like a bunch of angry people. They see we can’t even love each other, and over what? Circumcision? This is a terrible advertisement for God’s love to an unbelieving world. You have given plenty of people permission now to disregard Jesus, if this is what his mouthpieces sound like.

We hope you will reconsider your approach. We know that you catch much more flies with honey than with vinegar. We are concerned that your ill-worded letter signals a divisiveness that threatens to fracture the church. We beg you to reconsider how important these minor issues are, and how in the future you may speak in ways that better reflect God’s love.

The grace—and the love!—of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother.
It is unknown whether the Apostle Paul actually received and read this letter, and history has left no record of a response.

But we think we can make at least two observations.

First, Paul’s words to the Galatians were not inappropriate. They were true words, and they were loving words. Even if it runs contrary to our presuppositions and expectations, they were an example of “speaking the truth in love.” These words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that to critique Paul and his language is ultimately to critique God himself.

Second, this language was not Paul’s default. He did not respond to every controversy in the same way. He would be appalled if people took this letter to the Galatians and made it the norm for Christian discourse. Christians should seek to guard their tongue, using gracious speech seasoned with salt, delivered in love, and designed for edification (Col. 4:6;Eph. 4:15, 25, 29). But false doctrine and false teachers can infiltrate the church, and when the gospel is at stake, the means of being loving, edifying, salt-flavored, grace-filled may require harsh words in order to protect the flock, the church for whom Christ died.

May God give us much wisdom in how to speak the truth in love, especially when we have to call a spade a spade.

imitators of god

Josh Etter writes:
In Ephesians 5:1 Paul tells us to be "imitators of God". How can we obey such a holy commandment? William Temple writes: "It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it — I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it — I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like his."
He then refers to John Piper's excellent message "I Act the Miracle."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

stott on forgiveness

Bound+Lamb+3Martin Downes posts the following today.

Four voices. Only one of them resembles the tone and accent of the Master.

Faustus Socinus (1578)
As we saw elsewhere Paul likewise instructs us to be imitators of God: just as he forgave our sins through Christ, we should forgive each other, but if God so forgave our sins through Christ, that he yet demanded the punishment of them from Christ itself, what prevents us from seeking satisfaction for ourselves for the offenses of our neighbours?
Brian McLaren (2006)
The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.
Steve Chalke (2004)
Is it not strange for Jesus (God incarnate) on the one hand to say ‘do not return evil for evil’ while still looking for retribution himself? Similarly wouldn’t it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to ‘love our enemies’ when he obviously couldn’t quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement? If these things are true, what does it mean to ‘be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48)? If it is true that Jesus is ‘the Word of God’ then how can his message be inconsistent with his nature? If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus teaching becomes a divine case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!
John Stott (1986)
'Why should our forgiveness depend on Christ's death?'...'Why does God not simply forgive us, without the necessity of the cross?'...'After all', the objector may continue, 'if we sin against another, we are required to forgive one another. We are even warned of dire consequences if we refuse. Why can't God practise what he preaches and be equally generous? Nobody's death is necessary before we forgive each other. Why then does God make such a fuss about forgiving us and even declare it impossible without his Son's "sacrifice for sin"?'

For us to argue, 'We forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same to us', betrays not sophistication but shallowness, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God. We are private individuals, and other people's misdemeanours are personal injuries. God is not a private individual, however, nor is sin just a personal injury. On the contrary, God himself is the maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against him.

The reason why many people give the wrong answers to questions about the cross, and even ask the wrong questions, is that they have carefully considered neither the seriousness of sin nor the majesty of God.


5640451450 Fe8B0523Fd M"We are all by nature debtors. We owe to our holy Maker ten thousand talents, and are not able to pay. We cannot atone for our own transgressions, for we are weak and frail, and only adding to our debts every day. But, blessed be God! what we could not do, Christ came into the world to do for us. What we could not pay, He undertook to pay for us. To pay it He died for us upon the cross. “He offered himself to God” (Heb. 9:14). “He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18). Never let us forget this!" ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

flattening crowns

Tim Stoner writes another great one! Read it all here.

"The glory of Rob’s heaven is man at peace not God praised."

watts on hell

In The World to Come, Isaac Watts in 1745 to Rob Bell and others ...Time-Magazine-Cover-Bell
I hope that the whole of these sermons, by the blessing of God, will be made happily useful to Christians, to awaken and warn them, against the danger of being seized by death in a state unprepared for the presence of God, and the happiness of heaven, and to raise the comforts and joys of many pious souls in the lively expectation of future blessedness.

The last discourses of this book, especially the “eternity of the punishments of hell,” have been in latter and former years made a matter of dispute; and were I to pursue my enquiries into this doctrine, only by the aids of the light of nature and reason, I fear my natural tenderness might warp me aside from the rules and the demands of strict justice, and the wise and holy government of the great God.

But as I confine myself almost entirely to the revelation of Scripture in all my searches into the things of revealed religion and Christianity, I am constrained to forget or to lay aside that softness and tenderness of animal nature which might lead me astray, and to follow the unerring dictates of the word of God.

The Scripture frequently, and in the plainest and strongest manner, asserts the everlasting punishment of sinners in hell; and that by all the methods of expression which are used in Scripture to signify, an everlasting continuance.

God’s utter hatred and aversion to sin, in this perpetual punishment of it, are manifested many ways:

(1.) By the just and severe threatening: of the wise and righteous Governor of the world, which are scattered up and down in his Word.

(2.) By the veracity of God in his intimations or narratives of past events, as Jude v. 7. “Sodom and Gomorrah suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

(3.) By his express predictions (Matthew 25:46). “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction;” and I might add,

(4.) by the veracity and truth of all his holy Prophets and Apostles, and his Son Jesus Christ at the head of them, whom he has sent to acquaint mankind with the rules of their duty, and the certain judgment of God in a holy correspondence therewith, and that in such words as seem to admit of no way of escape, or of hope for the condemned criminals.

I must confess here, if it were possible for the great and blessed God any other way to vindicate his own eternal and unchangeable hatred of sin, the inflexible justice of his government, the wisdom of his severe threatenings, and the veracity of his predictions, if it were also possible for him, without this terrible execution, to vindicate the veracity, sincerity, and wisdom of the Prophets and Apostles, and Jesus Christ his Son, the greatest and chiefest of his divine messengers; and then, if the blessed God should at any time, in a consistence with his glorious and incomprehensible perfections, release those wretched creatures from their acute pains and long imprisonment in hell, either with a design of the utter destruction of their’ beings by annihilation, or to put them into some unknown world, upon a new foot of trial, I think I ought cheerfully and joyfully to accept this appointment of God, for the good of millions of my fellow-creatures, and add my joys and praises to all the song: and triumphs of the heavenly world in the day, of such a divine and glorious release of these prisoners.

But I feel myself under a necessity of confessing, that I am utterly unable to solve these difficulties according to the discoveries of the New Testament, which must be my constant rule of faith, and hope, and expectation, with regard to myself and others. I have read the strongest and best writers on the other side, yet after all my studies I have not been able to find any way how these difficulties may be removed, and how the divine perfections, and the conduct of God in his Word, may be fairly vindicated without the establishment of this doctrine, as awful and formidable as it is.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

what the cross was not

5636523136 7B40De3Fbf MFrom John Stott, The Cross of Christ:

We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of ‘satisfaction through substitution’, indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution.

The cross was not:
  • a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him;
  • nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law;
  • nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape;
  • nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father;
  • nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father;
  • nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator.
Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character.

The theological words ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’ need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstance be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.


Monday, April 18, 2011

gospel in a pluralistic society

Leslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society:

“[The gospel is] exclusive in the sense of affirming the unique truth in the revelation of Jesus Christ, but not in the sense of denying the possibility of salvation to those outside the Christian faith; inclusive in the sense of refusing to limit the saving grace of God to Christians, but not in the sense of viewing other religions as salvific; pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but not in the sense of denying the unique and decisive nature of what God has done in Jesus Christ.”


Thursday, April 14, 2011

abounding and punishing

God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty ... crystal clear to me. No disagreement here, so I quote from DG in entirety ...

A special session convened in light of Rob Bell's book Love Wins. The panel, moderated by Kevin DeYoung, included D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, Crawford Loritts, and Stephen Um.

Carson framed the discussion giving a brief and clarifying overview on universalism:

1. Be clear about definition of universalism, don't muddle what it is.

2. Universalism is built out of several different assertions: a) everyone is savingly loved by God and is reconciled to God already; b) because of the wideness of God’s mercy, people of other religions will somehow find their way to heaven; c) initially, the only lost people are those who reject God’s love; d) despite their rejection of his love, these people are still loved by God.

This set of beliefs invariably teaches other things that are often not articulated. It affects your view of atonement, impoverishes the love of God by disconnecting it from his holiness, and it assumes that Scripture always speaks the same way about God's love.

3. Despite different claims to the contrary, universalism is a later development. It has never been accepted in confessional Christianity.

4. A few notes on biblical texts thought to defend and justify universalism:
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19—“world” is not everyone without exception, but everyone without distinction.
  • Romans 5:18—“all” does not refer to the same locus of people. The broader context deals with two humanity, one in Adam and one in Christ. There is a contrast to these two different humanities.
  • John 12:32—“draw all people to himself,” in the context we see that Gentiles try to approach Jesus understands this as precipitated the cross. They do not come on the basis of past covenants, but on a new covenant rooted in the cross.
  • Revelation 21:25—"its gates will never be shut." The symbolism of the gates open is not about whether people can get in day or night. Gates were shut for defense, but in the new heavens and new earth there is no more threat for violence.
Carson pastorally asserted that universalism's handling of the atonement itself is deeply manipulative—even blasphemous. We must not talk flippantly about the cross of Christ, explaining that penal substitutionary atonement is not built on a proof text but is woven through the entire biblical narrative.

Panel Discussion (led by Kevin DeYoung)

To Keller — Is our response to this subject worth it?
Yes. It's sort of like the bird in the ecosystem who if goes extinct throws off everything. Anything other than endless punishment lessens sin and the God who has been sinned against. If you take away the infinity of punishment, everything diminishes.

To Keller — There is one thread that says Bell is saying the same thing as C. S. Lewis. How do you respond?
Lewis was rebelling against the spirit of the age, which said that Hell is bad. His whole project was to tweak his contemporary scene and show that Hell and judgment make sense. It appears that Bell does just the opposite and acutally sympathizes with the spirit of the age.

To Carson — In John 10:16, does the phrase “many sheep are not of this fold” refer to other religions?
Although there are more recent readings that try to take it this way, the context is clear that “fold” refers to the Jewish people. “Not of the this fold” refers to Gentiles who are outside of the old covenant. It is about becoming one new people, Jew and Gentiles, as the church.

To Carson — What do you think this reemergence of universalism may or may not signify about underlying shifts in Christianity in North America?
This is not new. The early twentieth century and the rise of liberalism started the project of trying to defend Christianity by jettisoning everything the age considers unreasonable.

Evangelicalism is so broad and diverse, and also thinner. The newer generation is making choices: many who want to be more acceptable to this age and others who are embracing the gospel, wanting it to be heard as it is. There is a big division taking place and Bell's book is a marker to this.

To Um — Respond to Bell's statement that the position saying only a certain number will be saved is "misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts Jesus’ message of love.”
There are several assumptions that need to be addressed. One assumption is that God is obliged to show favor to a sinful humanity. We should remember that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anything else. Rejecting Hell has serious implications for what we think about Jesus, undermining his entire ministry. I understand the heart: no one delights in seeing people in eternal conscious torment.

To Loritts — What would you say to someone who has cut their teeth on Bell? They are not committed to this view, but are sympathetic to it.
We all need to be careful when we talk about these things not to overcorrect. We are to love unbelievers and we are to preach the love of God. I would encourage this person, not only to pursue right exegesis on this issue, but to the study of the nature of God altogether. Look at the wholeness of who God is. Secondly, look at how we really view Scripture. Thirdly, we need to understand that God does not need a PR agent or marketing firm. The whole idea of wanting to have a Jesus who the world can embrace is wrong.

DeYoung — "God does not need a publicist, he calls preachers."
Teachers will be judged more strictly(James 3:1). Questions are one thing, let’s talk about them all. Allow people to ask them, ask them yourself. But we must stay in the realm of mystery. If you are a teacher, at some point you need to let clarity be king.

To Keller — In light of your commitment to the gospel, how did Bell's book make you feel?
The first thing that disappointed me was not the content so much as the attitude. There is an immediate ridicule of apparent “close-minded” people. A conversation about conflict cannot begin with ridicule.

We should not pit the doctrines of God against one another. At the cross, the love and holiness of God both win.

To Carson — What advice can you give about receiving criticism? Does disagreeing immediately make you the bad guy? Where does the younger generation need tweaking here?
First, I worry about ministries that focus just on correcting everyone. What I hope to do in all my writing is to promote the truth and proclaim it positively. When we correct, we do it because we think that the glory of God is being diminished.

Part of a positive faithfulness to proclaiming the truth involves refutation. Our articulation of right doctrine also involves saying what it is not. And all our correction should be done thoughtfully and humbly.

Concluding words:
Um asserted that universalism is unhelpful for sinners in need of atonement. Universalism subverts the work of Jesus on the cross. This whole situation is a wonderful opportunity for correction, for us to understand the finished work of Christ.

Loritts encouraged those considering universalism to write down all the issues their struggling with and go to the word of God. We should ask the Spirit to illumine our minds. We have listened to too many other voice. Go to the source.

Keller agreed with with Loritts and DeYoung and closed in prayer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

zacharias on truth

Ever wonder how you frighten someone raised from the dead? Ravi Zacharias responds, "Christian: You have died, you have been raised with Christ, your life is hidden with Christ in God, and your citizenship is in heaven. What can man do to you? (Col. 3:3; Col. 3:1;Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:6)."

HT:JT via PC

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

why doctrine matters

AlmohlerAl Mohler on Why Doctrine Matters (HT:PC):

The 20th century witnessed an increasingly energetic revolt against doctrine. A denial of specific formulations of classical Christian doctrine has been evident in some quarters, while others have rejected the very notion of doctrine itself.

Doctrine has even fallen on hard times even among those who call themselves evangelicals. Some evangelical historians now argue that the defining principles of evangelical identity are not specifically theological–at least beyond the most general affirmations. If true, that judgment would be a disgrace to any people of God. As it is, however, evangelicals have a proud doctrinal heritage and have historically given careful attention to confessions of faith and doctrinal issues.

Doctrine is, quite literally, the teaching of the church–what the church understands to be the substance of its faith. It is no substitute for personal experience. Evangelical Christians have given clear witness to the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ, but that personal faith is based in some specific understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross. After all, we do not call persons to profess faith in faith, but faith in Christ.

There is no Christianity “in general.” Faith in some experience devoid of theological or biblical content–no matter how powerful–is not New Testament Christianity. Those called to Christianity in general may believe nothing in particular. But faith resides in particulars.

Some churches seem to think that doctrine is a concern for those of a certain intellectual bent, but unnecessary for most Christians. Interest in doctrine amounts to something like an intellectual hobby. Others steer clear of doctrine for fear of argument or division in the church. Both factors indicate a lack of respect for the Christian believer and an abdication of the teaching function of the church.

Those who sow disdain and disinterest in biblical doctrine will reap a harvest of rootless and fruitless Christians. Doctrine is not a challenge to experiential religion; it testifies to the content of that experience. The church is charged to call persons to Christ and to root them in a mature knowledge of Christian faith.

Sociologists and historians observing the American church scene indicate that one of the first signs of denominational decline is a lessening of doctrinal attention. Many mainline Protestant denominations have followed this course, with a weakening concern for biblical doctrine followed by decline in membership and evangelistic outreach.

Yet, evangelicals should not recapture a healthy concern for biblical doctrine merely as a means of avoiding organizational or congregational decline. We must do so because nothing less is worthy of a New Testament people. The essential issue for the church is faithfulness.
Churches lacking an intentional and effective program of doctrinal instruction risk becoming the company of the confused. Charles Spurgeon told the painful story of the Irishman who attended a sectarian religious society meeting. Telling of the meeting, the man recounted: “Oh, it was lovely: none of us knew anything and we all taught each other.”

American evangelicals must curb the decline of doctrinal concern in our midst and recapture the teaching responsibility of the church. Doctrine without piety is dead, but piety without doctrine is immature at best, and inauthentic at worst. Faithful Christians are always concerned with the development of true Christian piety and discipleship in believers. Yet, as John A. Broadus commented over a century ago, doctrinal truth is “the lifeblood of piety.”

Those who call for a “doctrineless Christianity” misunderstand–or misrepresent–both doctrine and Christianity. Pragmatism and program concerns dominate the lives of many Christians and their congregations. The low state of doctrinal understanding among so many evangelicals is evidence of a profound failure of both nerve and conviction. Both must be recovered if there is to be anything even remotely evangelical about the evangelicalism of the future.

Monday, April 11, 2011

the good doctor on love

Martyn-Lloyd-Jones-Favorite-Pic-749511From Adrian Warnock, an excerpt from Victorious Christianity by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ...

“All this modern preaching on the fact that God is love is an indication of the same attitude and spirit. We are told today that the old sermons that preached the law and talked about conviction of sin and called people to repentance were all wrong because they were legalistic . . .So it is said that we must return to the message of Jesus. We must get rid of all our theology, our argumentation and doctrine—it is all unnecessary. The business of preaching is to tell people that God is love. It does not matter what they are, or what they have been, or what they have done, or what they may do—God loves them. Nobody will ever be punished. There is no law; so there is no retribution and no hell . . .

Dignitaries in the church tell us that what we need is a “religionless Christianity.” One of them has written a book in which he says that if you really want to find God, do not go to places of worship. He says that he has found more of God in the brothels and beer parlors of Algeria than he has ever found in a church. Kindness, love for one another—that, we are told, is the message. This is all just a very clever, modern, sophisticated, philosophical way of saying, No repentance!

. . . If you know the message of the Bible at all, you will be in no difficulty about answering this question. Repentance is essential to salvation. There is no salvation without it . . . If you say you need a Savior, it must be because you realize that the life you have been living is wrong and sinful, that it deserves the judgment and punishment of God and of hell . . . the object of that death upon the cross was to reconcile us to God. It is a personal reconciliation. Christ’s death does not just put us right with a law—it puts us right with a person . . . to have this relationship, this communion and fellowship with God, we must be like Him. We see that we must be righteous, for there is no communion between light and darkness—that is impossible, and therefore we must be delivered from all that is wrong and evil. That is repentance . . .

The world needs to be reminded of judgment. This country [England) is becoming lawless—all countries are—and it is no use trying to solve the problem by passing acts of Parliament—you cannot do it . . .you need to change human nature. The trouble is in the human heart, on both sides of industry. Because people have no idea of the judgment of God, they ultimately have no sense of responsibility. Every man is out for himself, trying to get the best for himself . . . The world needs to know that it is rushing in the direction of final judgment. Only the prospect of judgment can sober it and bring it to its senses, and it is the business of the preaching of the Gospel to tell the world that, and not to say that God loves everybody and therefore everybody is going to heaven. Our Lord preached judgment, as we have seen; that is the sole explanation of why He died.”

assuming love motivates

Tim Stoner posts another great one in Loving the world too much or too little. It's worth reading the entire post. I'll pick out the piece where he assumes Rob Bell's motivation for Love Wins is love.
Not knowing Rob [Bell] personally I can only extrapolate based on our similar religious upbringing. I have detected my issues in lots of Rob’s questions, so I do not think I am far off the beam in drawing certain parallels. When the “world” is declared to be toxic enemy number one and when cultural truths, goodness and beauty are disparaged and demonized a reverse toxicity can occur. The truths, goodness and beauty within your own camp may take on repulsive, radioactive qualities. Now, if you’re clever and good with words this can be masked to a great extent but the poison will seep out like mercury through the cracks.

But, there is more. When your eyes are opened to the unexpected and shocking splendor of culture (“the world”), in reaction to its shallow and fearful dismissal, that submerged spill of toxic waste makes you susceptible to a dangerous embrace that is equal parts love and hate: a too-great love for the “goodness” of the world and a too-intense hatred for that which has defamed and denied it.

Ever so subtly you become a defender of the world over against the culture-phobic church. And in short order you find yourself its friend in precisely the way James [James 4.4] warns us about. You have grown to care more about how God treats humans than how they treat Him. You are far more interested in humanity being treated fairly than you are in God being worshipped, served and glorified.

Loving the world in this unhealthy way and for these unhealthy reasons causes you to reject whatever reminds you of the oppression you have grown to despise. It is love for those marginalized by an unloving church (and an angry God) that causes you to jettison all doctrines that smack of cruelty and a harsh vindictiveness.

I suspect that this is why Rob finds the historic teaching on an eternal Hell so abhorrent. It is an unconscionable assault on those he wants to protect. He tells us in his book that he wishes to shield sincere men and women from a mean God propagated by an ungracious religious establishment. This is understandable. If you are in love with the world what becomes compelling is ensuring humane justice here, not divine justice everywhere.

Unwittingly, and with the best of motives, when one’s affections are bent in one direction, one loses the capacity to empathize with the God who characterizes our misdirected loves as gross and brazen adultery; who considers humanity’s rebellion a provocative rejection of His infinite goodness, truth and beauty, and who thunders from beginning to end of the Epic Story that ignoring Him is a grievous assault on His exclusive rights as Creator and King and is ultimately self-destructive.

And what makes this whole discussion so hard is that this blindness is instigated by a faulty love that masks a subconscious hate. James tells us that loving the world in this way makes us an enemy of God. Or, put another way, when we love the world improvidently, we can easily be deceived into perceiving God (as proclaimed by the traditional, conservative Church) as the enemy.

This is why it is wrong to assume that all those who disagree with Rob are angry reactionaries.

This is why, I for one, am so sad about this whole discussion.

I am sad to see a gifted teacher defaulting on his calling to keep, guard and hand over the historic deposit of truth entrusted to him (II Tim 1); and to fail in his fiduciary obligations to “fight for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to the saints” (Jud. 3).

I am grieved by a misdirected love and a misguided compassion.

Although I am not threatened by the error, or by the questions, I am saddened for those who will knowingly reject Christ but still be offered false hope, false comfort, false assurance and empty promises.

What makes it so heartbreaking is that when you choose to love humanity above God, you wind up becoming an enemy of both.

look what the lord has done

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

bell comes clean

Interesting ...

our hope

Speaking of the atonement, how about God's cursing (Galatian 3.13-14) ...

reasons to sing

Bob Kauflin reminds us of some good reasons to sing.
Christians sing together during corporate worship gatherings. Colossians 3:16-17 helps us understand why. Paul tells us that worshiping God together in song is meant to deepen the relationships we enjoy through the gospel. This happens in three ways (or three R’s):

1. Singing helps us remember God’s Word.

Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The “word of Christ” mostly likely means the word about Christ, or the gospel. Songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of the sermon.

2. Singing helps us respond to God’s grace.

While no one is exactly sure what “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” refers to, we can at least infer some kind of variety in our singing. No singular musical style captures either the manifold glories of God or the appropriate responses from his people.

We’re also told to sing with “thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Singing is meant to be a whole-hearted activity. Emotionless singing is an oxymoron. God gave us singing to combine objective truth with thankfulness, doctrine with devotion, and intellect with emotion.

3. Singing helps us reflect God’s glory.

Doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” implies bringing God glory. Worshiping God together in song glorifies God for at least three reasons. First, it expresses the unity Christ died to bring us. Second, because all three persons of the Trinity sing (Zeph. 3:17;Heb. 2:12; Eph. 5:18-19). Finally, it anticipates the song of heaven when we’ll have unlimited time to sing, clearer minds to perceive God’s perfections, and glorified bodies that don’t grow weary.

Worshiping God in song isn’t simply a nice idea or only for musically gifted people. The question is not, “Has God given me a voice?” but “Has God given me a song?”

If you trust in the finished work of Christ, the answer is clear: Yes!

So remember His Word, respond to His grace, and reflect on His glory.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

the first step towards heaven

Jcrylekowalker4From the blog of Thomas Young ...

J.C Ryle,

Surely we ought all to cease from proud thoughts about ourselves. We ought to lay our hands upon our mouths, and say with Abraham, “I am dust and ashes;” and with Job, “I am vile;” and with Isaiah, “We are all as an unclean thing;” and with John, “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (Gen. 18:27; Job 40:4; Isaiah 64:6; 1 John 1:8.) Where is the man or woman in the whole catalogue of the Book of Life, that will ever be able to say more than this, “I obtained mercy”? What is the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs—what are they all but pardoned sinners? Surely there is but one conclusion to be arrived at—We are all great sinners, and we all need a great forgiveness.

See now what just cause I have to say that to know our need of forgiveness is the first thing in true religion. Sin is a burden, and must be taken off. Sin is a defilement, and must be cleansed away. Sin is a mighty debt, and must be paid. Sin is a mountain standing between us and heaven, and must be removed. The first step towards heaven is to see clearly that we deserve hell.

(excerpted from: Forgiveness, J. C. Ryle, emphasis added)

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there is no option after death

Mark Driscoll speaks clearly on the topic of heaven and hell. It's worth reading the transcript here. Here's an excerpt ...

christus victor

ChristusvictorbannerWas the death of Christ to free us from bondage to sin? Or was the death of Christ to satisfy God's justice? Could it be for both? Could it be for more?

I like Mark Galli's thoughts on a "plurality of atonement theories".

triune love

1456459503And further good news ...

“God redeemed us in his Son so that he might love us and delight in us even as he loves and delights in his eternal Son. Adoption is God’s act of making room within his triune love for prodigals who are without hope, and providing them with homes in this world and the world to come.” ~ Dan Cruver, Reclaiming Adoption


erickson on the gospel

Erickson"To summarize: Paul viewed the gospel as centering upon Jesus Christ and what God has done through him. The essential points of the gospel are Jesus Christ’s status as the Son of God, his genuine humanity, his death for our sins, his burial, resurrection, subsequent appearances, and future coming in judgment . . . that one is justified by faith in the gracious work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. . . . [It is not] merely a recital of theological truths and historical events. Rather, it relates these truths and events to the situation of every individual believer." ~ Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 1063


Friday, April 08, 2011

scholars and teachers

"... does the Church function as a body with Christ as the head or with the pastor as the head? We know the answer. Now what are we doing to rethink how we do church so that everyone in the church is operating in their genuine giftings and receives the honor due them?" from Dan Edelen

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

stoner nails it again

Shakespeare-Sonnet29If you are not following Tim Stoner's blog shame on you ... well, not really ... but you should.

Stoner absolutely nails one of key problems if not the key problem with Rob Bell's Love Wins. In short, it's not just the asking of the questions that is the problem but the question behind the question. Bell is asking the wrong (or at least on the wrong path) questions because he assumes an answer to a more foundational question before he ever began.

What does God really want? Here's Stoner's post ... I hate to simply copy something so long but I don't want to risk his blog going down and this great work being lost. Please read and reread this carefully and then drop by Stoner's blog to thank him.
I have not counted all the questions in Love Wins but I did do a cursory pass through the first chapter and counted close to 60. It would be interesting to ask the copy editor how many question marks lie between those 198 pages. There are many, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Rabbis ask lots of questions. Philosophers are defined by the questions they ask. More often than not, Jesus responds to inquiring minds not with an answer but another question. And, come to think of it, the first words out of the mouth of the serpent came in the form of an insidious, sly, unexpected interrogatory, as well.

The lesson? (speaking of interrogatories): all questions are not created equal. Some are helpful while others are designed to lead you away from light and life into death and destruction. In Love Wins, I have no reason to think that the authorial intent is for ill. Bell invites the reader to look at old answers in new ways. Bell wants to shake people free from a mindless assent to ancient creeds, stodgy dogmas, constricting religious mantras.

And this is not bad.

More than three decades ago I was a Freshman in Intro to Philosophy. My acerbic professor was a die-hard Calvinist. Despite his unwavering commitment to Reformed theology he made it his singular mission to undermine all our nice convenient assumptions, even the ones that happened to be true. He wanted to slap us awake. Dr. Grier succeeded brilliantly. The majority of those who paid attention in class left that institution with a sturdy commitment to what became known as the doctrines of grace. But he shook the heck out of us first. We had to survive boot camp for the mentally and spiritually soft and flabby.

Good questions do that.

I think Bell asks good questions. In the middle of the book he devotes a whole chapter to one of his better ones. “Does God Get What God Wants?” On the surface this appears to be a simple, straightforward question with a rather obvious answer: God is God therefore God gets whatever He wants. The positive response bursts from the mouth almost before the interrogatory is affixed to the last word. But as the assent dies on the lips a niggling thought interrupts: but does God want sin, and death and evil? Does God want Hell?

God being God–with the automatic corollary following hard at its heels that His desires are invariably fulfilled–leads one to wonder, who then wants the truly awful things that have gone on since the Garden? Beginning with the goodness of God as a starting point we conclude rightly that He does not want sin. He hates it. Who then wants it?


So do we live in a universe with two competing powers, one getting the good He wants and the other getting the evil he wants? If you stop and think about this cosmology for just a minute you realize that, if this is true, neither is getting what he wants. Since there is evil everywhere, the good God is clearly not getting what He wants, but given the prevalence of goodness, truth and beauty, neither is his arch nemesis. So, who gets what he wants?

Bell states categorically that God most definitely, surely and without question gets what God wants. Anything less makes Him out to be pathetic and inept. Bell is thinking specifically about God’s declaration that He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:3). If this is what God wants, and He is great, Bell wonders, how great is He? Is this God “great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, medium great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (LW, 97-98).

It’s a fair question.

If God wants everyone to be saved and God is God, does that not lead to the conclusion that all will be saved? Anything less, Bell argues, means that God fails and human sin prevails. It means that God would have to take the stage with Mick Jagger and “shrug God-sized shoulders and say, ‘You can’t always get what you want’” (LW 103). And that, for a host of reasons, could never be.

This is a foundational premise of Bell’s book. It drives his conclusion that since God is neither helpless, powerless or impotent, and “doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found,” God’s love ultimately and finally triumphantly wins (LW, 101). Yet, to be honest, Bell does not categorically paint himself into the “universalist” corner. He hints, suggests, winks and nods, but he never directly and positively answer the ultimate question: “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?” He leaves the answer unresolved because he believes a definitive answer is impossible. It is a tension “we are free to leave fully intact” (LW, 115).

The reason he rejects the “U” label is because he wants to leave the door open. God gets what He wants because love wins. Yet, paradoxically, there is still the real possibility that “we can have what we want” (LW, 119). We can choose Hell, which is “our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (LW, 170). Despite these careful caveats, again, just being honest, the pervasive implication throughout the book, beginning with the title, is that God is great and good enough to insure that somehow, sometime, in some way His love will not go unrequited. There are good and convincing reasons to expect that, at the end, all people will “experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been [theirs] all along” (LW, 198).

Granted, there is an almost sensuous tug to those words. It enchants like the alluring song of those mythic sirens that drew unwary seamen to shipwreck on the rocky coasts of their flowery island. And the only way to break its spell is to question the question: Is it true that since God wants all to be saved and He gets everything He wants, all will be saved?

Those much smarter than I will tell you that questions about God’s will have been pondered by many theologians, for many years. The best answers point out the difference between what God desires and what He decrees. These are two parallel but distinct realities. God’s decrees govern what is and will be on a primary causal level, and direct—without coercion–what happens on the secondary causal level, where you and I live, in such a way that allows for human dignity and authentic choice—free will, if you will.

And speaking of will that brings up Shakespeare. On a primary causal level, Will writes his brilliant sonnets. He invests pulsating energy into his characters. He breathes his passion, fury and longing into them, and they come to life. As any novelist will tell you, the better the writing, the less control you have over what the characters choose to do. This sounds ridiculous on the face of it. After all, you are the one tapping on the keyboard. Of course you are manipulating every word, including the muscular reactions and gestures of everyone in the story. Your will must rule. Oddly, the reverse is the case.

The best characters sometimes surprise the stuffing out of you. They really do say the darndest things. And they go down paths you never expected. When you pour your blood into them these creatures made up out of your own imagination take on personality, a dignity that is nowhere more evident than in their “free” will.

Is Will scratching his inked quill across parchment paper? Is Will directing what is going on in his play? Are his characters functioning along the lines he is ultimately decreeing? The answer to all these is yes.

But on the level of the parchment where the characters have come to life, are they deciding and responding authentically and freely? The better the story, the more emphatic the yes. Looking at it from the perspective of the author (primary causality), Shakespeare gets what he wants. Every letter is what he wants, and every action is what he has ordained. Yet from Romeo and Juliet’s vantage point (secondary causality), they are doing exactly as they please. Nobody is forcing them to fall in love and start a bloody feud. Nobody is making them take poison or stab themselves on an altar.

This analogy, like all analogies breaks down. Nothing we do takes God by surprise. He sees the end from the beginning. That includes every word on our tongue and every decision we make. He is also the initiator of salvation, giving faith and repentance as a gift. But, this is all on the authorial level. On the creaturely plane, despite what the Author knows and wants for us, we go our own merry way choosing what seems best in our own eyes, free from all constraint and imperious authorial control. As Augustine would say, we are completely free to choose what we love and what we love is sin.

If Shakespeare were perfectly loving and good, Hamlet might very well look up at him out of the pages on which he broods, and declare, “I have it on good authority that you are loving and good. Will not your perfectly loving plan win out in the end? After all you are the Great Bard, are you not?”

Sharpening his quill, Will would properly respond, “Yes, tis true. I am and I desire for you all the happiness in this great, wide beautiful world. But alas, I’m afraid what I fervently wish does not compel your choice. You will do what you will do. I cannot force you to dance a jig when what you really pine for is death.”

Hamlet being of a philosophical bent would counter: “But you are holding the quill, confound it!” To which Will replies, “Yes, in truth, but you are the one living the story.”

God desires the salvation of all, true indeed. Man prefers to save himself, evidently enough. God is writing the story, but we are living it. So, the answer to Bell’s simple question is neither as simple nor as categorical as he assumes.

God is so great that He accomplishes everything He decrees, and every detail of it is perfectly loving. Yet He does not get what He desires. After all, God wanted Adam and Eve to live in Edenic perfection forever. But they chose to exercise their freedom against God’s will and were cursed. God’s desires are contingent on the wills of creatures He has invested with all the love and weight and significance He is capable of. And that is a lot. It is a weight of glory that is almost impossible to bear.

But let’s ask one more question. It is the question behind the question. It is the reason why Bell gets it so wrong. What is it that God really wants? What desire drives Him and the storyline of every story that has ever been lived? Is the Author’s ultimate and supreme goal for his Story that of the salvation of all people?

Am I the chief end of God? Asking the question answers it doesn’t it?

This Loving God has one supreme affection. It is not what Bell assumes. It is not what so many others with him assume who strain and kick at the sharp edges of the Gospel story. God’s great, primary passion is not the happiness of His creatures. It is for Himself. He is supremely glorious, supremely beautiful, infinitely perfect in His wisdom, majesty and splendor. The best that the fiery seraphim in heaven can come up with is the enthralled, repetitive tripartite chant: holy, holy, holy. Of course, this glorious Being loves Himself above all. There is no one more worthy. No one holds a candle to Him.

Wisdom is to love, cherish and enjoy that which most deserves it. And God is Wise as well as loving. He is the source of Wisdom and is its boundless repository. So out of this undiminished, free-flowing fount, He loves Himself perfectly. And that means infinitely and eternally. His aim, first, is that His glory fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

This is why the great good news declared by those with beautiful feet on the mountains is not “You are forgiven!” or “All will be saved!” but “Your God reigns!” (Is. 52:7). This is why the first commandment is a prohibition against placing any other god above Yahweh, and why Ezekiel repeatedly states that God is jealous for His holy name above all things. And this is also why he asserts (almost 60 times) that everything God is about to do in the earth is so that His people will come to know that “I am the Lord.”

Jesus, the perfectly obedient Son, makes this priority explicit a few hours before His death. When the last supper is over he prays to His Father: “Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” He then declares that He has given eternal life to all those the Father has given Him and turns His attention back to His Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:1-5).

Though we seem to miss the point, none of the apostles did. Paul, Peter, Jude and John punctuate their letters with the exclamation: “To Him be glory forever!” The last book begins with John’s dedication: “to Him who loves us. . . to Him be glory and power for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1:6). When John is allowed entrance into the mysterious activities before the throne of God he hears “every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth on the sea” singing: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).

And when the story reaches its climax there is a New City prepared for God’s People. But what makes it significant is not its citizens. It is given a name that forever will celebrate its unique glory: “The Lord is There” (Ez. 48:35), while what eternally shines from it is the glory of God (Rev. 21:11).

So, does God get what He wants?

If by this we mean are the Author’s desires for His creatures carried out of necessity, the answer is no. But, if we are asking instead, will God get the eternal glory He wants from a passionate, holy bride who has voluntarily chosen Him above all rivals, the answer is unequivocally yes.

So, does love win? Of course it does—God’s love for Himself is a thunderous, irresistible wave of sovereign power that crushes and cows Satan and all his hosts. It triumphs over all who embrace it as well as all who resist it. God is eternally glorified by those who worship Him with full hearts and by those who refuse His love and are justly condemned to be separated from His love forever.

Either way, God’s love for Himself wins.

qur'an reaction

5593327481 D2714155C8 MIf you are like me you wonder why the violent reaction to the burning of the Qur'an and why some seem more outraged by the burning of the Qur'an than the violence that followed. John Piper's post, Burning the Qur’an and Crucifying Christ, helped me understand this better but more importantly to better understand the difference between Christanity and Islam. Here's Piper's post ...

"So the Qur'an has been burned and the Christ has been crucified - and continues to be crucified. The test is in the response."

The burning of the Qur’an and the murder of human beings are not morally equivalent. That’s true. And it is, frankly, outrageous the way some commentators speak with more moral indignation about the burning of holy books than the butchery of human bodies. In the western media this seems to me to be sheer fear.

But, of course, my conviction stems from a certain view of the world that is not shared by Muslims.

Andrew Walls, founder of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, and retired professor at Edinburgh University, gives us an insight that may carry more explanatory power than even Muslim rage realizes.

Mark Noll says, “No one has written with greater wisdom about what it means for the Western Christian religion to become the global Christian religion than Andrew Walls.”

Walls draws our attention to the fact that one of the differences between Islam and Christianity is how translatable Christianity is by it’s incarnational nature, and how resistant Islam is to translation.
Christian faith must go on being translated, must continuously enter into vernacular culture and interact with it, or it withers and fades.
Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history. The divine Word is the Qur’an, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of original revelation.

For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents we have, a fact surely inseparable from the conviction that in Christ, God’s own self was translated into human form.

Much misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims has arisen from the assumption that the Qur’an is for Muslims what the Bible is for Christians.

It would be truer to say that the Qur’an is for Muslims what Christ is for Christians.

(The Cross-cultural Process in Christian History, 29)
Did you catch that last line?

The parallel between Christianity and Islam is not that Christ parallels Mohammed and the Qur’an parallels the Bible. The parallel is that the Qur’an parallels Christ. The giving of the Qur’an is in Islam what the incarnation of Christ is to Christianity.

If this is so, then Qur’an-burning is parallel to Christ-crucifying.

But ponder the implications of this. On the one hand you might say this goes a long way to explaining Muslim rage. Yes. But more importantly it goes even farther to show the deep differences between the two religions.

In the process of being crucified, Jesus rebuked the use of the sword (Matthew 26:52) healed his enemy’s amputated ear (Luke 22:51), prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers (Luke 23:34), and sent his followers out to love their enemies and do good to those who hate them (Luke 6:27).

So the Qur’an has been burned and the Christ has been crucified—and continues to be crucified. The test is in the response.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

do it

Jcrylekowalker4The person who hears Christian teaching, and practices what they hear, is like “a wise man who built his house on a rock.” They do not content themselves with listening to exhortations to repent, believe in Christ, and live a holy life. They actually repent. They actually believe. They actually cease to do evil, learn to do well, abhor that which is sinful, and cleave to that which is good. They are a doer as well as a hearer. (James 1:22) ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew


his ultimate objective

Packerji“For God’s ultimate objective, as the Bible declares it, is threefold—to vindicate his rule in righteousness by showing his sovereignty in judgement upon sin; to ransom and redeem his chosen people; and to be loved and praised by them for his glorious acts of love and self-vindication.” ~ J.I. Packer, Knowing God