Monday, April 25, 2011

The Rob Bell Controversy - What is this about?

I have just a few comments today as other matters are pressing upon me from every side it seems. What is this controversy really about? What is the core heartbeat of the matter? We can talk about Bell's views of eternal punishment and how they differ from tradition, and certainly from the teachings of Scripture. We can talk about his hermeneutic. Indeed, I spent a good deal of time doing just that in my dissertation. We can talk about the post-modern influences and the liberal theologians that clearly emerge in Bell's world view. I could go on and on about the number of issues we could talk about as it relates to the Rob Bell controversy. As far as I am concerned, this really isn't nearly the controversy it appears to be. Before you misinterpret my comment, please give me a little space to elaborate. As John MacArthur pointed out in a recent blog, this is nothing new. There is no new information in Bell's comments. If you have read Bell previously, AND PAID ATTENTION to what he said then, you should not be surprised by what he is saying now! He rejected the traditional resurrection then and he rejects it now. By traditional resurrection, I mean the one where some will raise to everlasting life while others will raise to everlasting shame and contempt. This is nothing new as far as Rob Bell is concerned.

So what is this about, really? I say it all the time: this is about human autonomy. As one theologian put it, God created man in His image and man has been trying to create God in his image ever since. Read Romans 1 very carefully and you will see Rob Bell described perfectly by a man who never even met him. Paul said that man perverts the image and truth of God into a lie. He does this out of an insane lust for absolutely autonomy. Man does not want to submit to God completely. He wants to pick and choose where he will play and where he will not. Rob Bell is re-engineering God. It is that simple. He doesn't like the God depicted in Scripture and has said so repeatedly! If cannot accept a God who pours out His wrath on people in the Old Testament period, should we be surprised when he rejects the idea of a God who will pour out eternal wrath on evil men in eternity future? I think not. Rob Bell's number one nemesis is Scripture, not evangelical theologians. he has to find something to do with Scripture. He must come up with an explanation for Scripture that makes sense and is consistent with his idea of God. And so he reshapes the Bible into a product mostly of men who did the best they could with what they had. But as Brian McClaren says, our understanding of God is vastly improved since the ancients wrote about God from a bloody and violent culture. Make no mistake about it, Rob Bell's issue, and everyone of our issues are indelibly connected with an insane lust for absolute autonomy. Let us pray and watch, lest we fall into the snare of Satan and be consumed by our own desire to be independent from the God who created us. We were ALL made BY God FOR God. Let us never forget that!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Love Wins – The Rob Bell Controversy – The Toxic Teachings of Jesus – Comment Two (Pt. 2)

In his book "Love Wins," Rob Bell says,
“the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”
Bell seems to have a problem with the view that a small portion of humanity will be selected to enjoy eternal bliss with the Creator while a large number will be sentenced to eternal punishment where there is no hope for any improvement in their condition for all eternity. Where did the church ever come up with such an idea? In Mark 9:34 & 46 Jesus said, "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." 46. "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." I will deal with Bell's interpretation of this text at a later time. Suffice it to say that Jesus seems clear enough about the eternal state of the righteous contrasted with that of the wicked. Jesus also said, "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt. 7:14) It would seem that Bell's argument is not only against long held Christian doctrine, it is against the views of Jesus Himself. Is it really that simple? Is it really that clear? Yes, some things are really that simple and that clear. In fact, most things in Scripture are really that simple and that clear. There are few things in Scripture that are difficult to understand. But they do exist. Take care, however, that you do not use that as an excuse to come behind in diligence. Peter said that those who twist even Paul's difficult teachings into something else do so to their own destruction. The Word of God is holy and requires the greatest degree of care in its handling. This means me, you, and even Rob Bell.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Love Wins – The Rob Bell Controversy – The Toxic Teachings of Jesus – Comment Two

On page viii. of his book “Love Wins,” Bell comments, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s [sic] message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

Clearly Bell is contending that the orthodox understanding of heaven and hell, the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous, and the eternal punishment of God-haters is toxic, misguided, and subversive to Jesus’ original message. Bell’s language is strong and unambiguous. At a minimum I applaud him for being so sure of his view. This is quite refreshing given the typical postmodern method generally adopted by emergent leaders. It is also very uncharacteristic of men like Bell to state beliefs so clearly, not to mention so dogmatically. Given this shift from postmodern methodology, it will be much easier to answer these objections and assertions for a change.

For Bell, this new dogmatism is refreshing. Of course it is my contention that the emergent church has never really been as wishy-washy about theology as it wanted people to believe. At a minimum, those who ridicule orthodoxy for its “arrogance of certainty” have to retreat into the shadows recognizing that Bell’s new revelation strikes a similar cord of its own. This makes writing about the legitimacy of certainty less needful, and I might add, not quite as simulating as it otherwise might have been. I will continue to sound off on this point only because the emergent church leaders and supporters have been so vociferous about accusing orthodoxy of arrogance on the ground that it is far too certain of its beliefs. Now it would seem that Bell displays the same kind of certainty in this latest work that orthodoxy has been criticized for displaying.

Bell raises a very important question regarding the origin of the doctrine of eternal separation. If in fact the historic understanding of this doctrine is wrong, how is it wrong? Moreover, how did such a false doctrine gain such traction in the Christian community? It would seem that an investigation of this magnitude would begin with the original source document itself and how the Christian community got it wrong. I would be remiss if I did not say that Bell’s raising of the question is not ipso facto a bad thing in itself. We should always welcome the opportunity to critically examine our beliefs in light of Scripture to ensure that we do in fact possess the truth of God on the matter. After all, we are sinners and sin has a way of blinding us. Humility does not necessarily lead to agnosticism. Biblical humility leads to a quiet confidence and strong faith.

 The first question that one has to ask is where exactly then did these ideas come from? By the fifth century of the church, the paramount view was that the punishment of the wicked was eternal and without hope. We begin with that position and investigate the evidence of Scripture to determine if that view has merit.

For clarity’s sake the views that Bell is attacking should be outlined. First the idea that “a select few will spend forever in a peaceful place” is misguided, toxic and subversive according to Bell. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said that only a few people would find the narrow gate that leads to life. In Matthew 22:14 Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen. In Luke 13:23-24 someone asked Jesus if there would be just a few who would be saved and Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” It would seem that on numerous occasions Jesus Himself revealed that He too believed that there would only be a select or chosen few who would enter into paradise. Now if it if true that only a few will enter into paradise, then some number “more than” a few will not enter. In fact Jesus said as much in Matt. 7:13 when he said broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there will be many who enter through it. At a minimum these comments by Jesus indicate there is a separation of the righteous from the unrighteous at some point in the future. So the origin for this particular teaching that Bell says is misguided, toxic, and subversive seems to be none other than Jesus Himself. We will examine the views of other NT writers in the next blog to see if there is reason to believe it is possible that these views may be the result of comments recorded by them on the subject. It would appear that this doctrine had a very early beginning in the church and that Paul may have had opportunity to correct it, but failed to do so. In fact, it could be that Paul said things that indicate he too believed in the idea of separation and eternal, hopeless punishment for the wicked.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Love Wins - The Rob Bell Controversy - Comment One

As previously mentioned, I have decided to throw my two-cents in concerning Rob Bell's latest book, "Love Wins." Rather than provide a long-winded overview in several parts, I have decided to follow a pithy style addressing rudinmentary beliefs published by Bell that expose major weaknesses in his philosophy and theology. Many of these weaknesses have already been addressed by others much better equipped for the task than I. However, since Bell's work contains numerous flaws, many have gone unnoticed by some of the more visible brethren who have graciously taken the time to enter this conversation.

Perversions of the Jesus Story
In the preface of his book on page vii., Bell writes,
"There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus's story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn't interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it's time to reclaim it." [Bell, Rob. Love Wins. vii.]
First of all, who is this "growing number of us" that Bell refers to in his statement? He does not say. The implication is that a growing number of us have discovered the truth about the Jesus story and unless your understanding of the Jesus story is the same as our understanding of the Jesus story, then your version is one of many hijacked versions. This is a bold implication coming from a movement that boasts about the humility of not knowing anything with certainty. Bell sure seems certain enough in the preface of his book. Notice that Bell does not say that this is a matter of his own opinion of even merely how he interprets the Jesus story for himself. Nope! Bell says that not only have a group of people become aware of certain facts concerning the Jesus story, they have become acutely aware! To be acutely aware of something means to be keenly aware of it. It means you are sharply aware of something. To be aware means to know or realize, to be consciously informed of something. Bell contends that this group has arrived at the keen realization and knowledge that the true Jesus story has been hijacked. At a minimum one thing seems unambiguous to Bell: we have got the Jesus story wrong, he and his group have got it right, and this book is a book designed to set us all straight and recover the accurate version of the Jesus story once and for all.

How does Bell know that the original version of the Jesus story has been hijacked? What evidence will Mr. Bell offer to support his claim that the version of the Jesus story that we all have come to know is actually the wrong version? A couple of things emerge here: one, Bell seems certain that the Jesus story has been hijacked. Second, Bell seems certain that his version is the unhijacked version, the original version that Jesus intended all of us to know. From the get-go Rob Bell is stating without equivocation that he is right and everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. These are significant points that you should ponder as we move through these short, but pointed reviews of Bell's claims. One thing I intend to point out with great clarity is the false humility claimed by Bell and those who support him and the glaring incoherence of his own arguments. If these are not enough to get you to step back and question this man's place at the evangelical table, then hopefully the way he distorts Scripture will.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rob Bell Controversy: Love Wins

So I begin a review of Rob Bell's latest and greatest this week and will throw my two cents into the ring for what it is worth. There are two topics I desire to address as I begin write some of my own thoughts about this controversy. First, I want to talk about Bell's theology that he so graciously, and finally decided to share with us in his latest work "Love Wins." Secondly, I will share my perspective on the controversy around the controversy. It is scandalous, in my view, that this book isn't so scandalous to many who claim to be evangelical, most notably, those who call themselves "young evangelicals." So, in summary, I will address Bell's views and why they are outside the purview of Christian theology. Just as Jesus said that not everyone who says they are a Christian is in truth a Christian, so it is with doctrine. Not every doctrine that parades around as Christian doctrine is in truth Christian doctrine. And it is my intention to point out that at least on this last point, even Bell would agree. After all, it appears that his entire premise is that what has come to be recognized as Christian truth is actually not Christian truth at all. And so he seeks to rescue Christianity from itself and provide us with a better, more improved, faster, stronger, more loving, more generous, all inclusive version of Christian truth that is the real Christian truth as taught in the first century by Jesus, His disciples, and the early church. Along the way I intend to point out the epistemological incongruities in Bell's system, not the least of which is his criticism of orthodoxy's claim to certainty. At bare minimum Bell seems certain that certainty is a bad thing to claim in theology and I wonder how he arrives at such incoherent conclusions without laughing at himself in the mirror every morning. What is indeed sad is that so many "young evangelicals" miss this component in Bell's thinking. Even the most simple critical thinker immediately recognizes that such thinking is humerous at best and down right embarrassing at worse.

Debate Review: Hernandez & Zachariades v. Flowers Pritchett

There has been some attention given to the recent debate on the subject of free will between Dr. Sonny Hernandez, Dr. Theodore Zachariade...