Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Less Stingy Orthodoxy & a Politically Correct God (Bell & Mouw)

What is the gospel? Rob Bell might say, “good question.” What is the church? That is another good question. Why did Jesus Christ enter this world some 2000 years ago? I was reading an article some time ago by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Two themes stood out in that article. The first one was not Dr. Mouw’s apologia of Rob Bell so much. It was his statement that “Rob Bell is calling us away from a stingy orthodoxy to a generous orthodoxy.” Despite his failure to understand Bell’s denial of Hell in his book, Love Wins, Dr. Mouw managed to get to the apparent motive that drove the production of the book. Mouw seems to approve the idea that we move to a more generous orthodoxy. Dr. Mouw goes on to say about Mother Teresa, “Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she when to hell, I have only one response: shame on you.” Sometimes I wonder just what kind of critical thinking pastors, scholars, and theologians give to some of these positions. I would never accuse Dr. Mouw of not thinking this conclusion through to the end. However, I will come back to this “small” error on justification and the gospel later in this post. Dr. Mouw also makes another point in the article, saying, “Accept Jesus right now, we say, because if ten minutes from now you die without accepting this offer God will punish you forever in the fires of hell. What kind of God are we presenting to that person? This is another excellent demonstration of what Mouw is getting at. What exactly are the new emergent evangelicals trying to do? You do not have to look far to see the culture phenomenon of political correctness and the influence of postmodernism in the views of those who call themselves evangelical today. Is this really the gospel? Moreover, are these emissaries really the church?

Stingy Orthodoxy?

What does Mouw mean by stingy orthodoxy? If he talking about the kind of orthodoxy where legalists, heretic hunters and hypocrites predominate, I agree with him. If he is talking about the church that expends most of its energy, addressing abstract doctrinal constructs and so very little time caring for and loving the sheep, I agree completely. When sound doctrine displaces divine love (if such a thing is even possible), the church ceases to be the church. If Dr. Mouw is talking about the challenge of fostering and building nurturing, Christ-like relationships even in good reformed churches, I agree with him. However, it seems to me that Mouw is talking about more than caring, loving, Christ-like relationships. Based on the preponderance of comments, it seems that Dr. Mouw is talking about both the image of Christianity, the image of God, and the content of the gospel message itself. The point is that some people find this image of God, this image of Christianity (historic orthodoxy), and this message too offensive. The image of Christianity is too exclusive, the image of God is too rigid and harsh, and the message is simply too narrow. The idea is that we need to soften it up a bit, so that society will more readily accept God, Christianity, and the gospel. Now I am sure, when you frame it in this fashion, Dr. Mouw and perhaps Rob Bell may object. Nevertheless, I prefer to keep things simple. As far as I can see, simply put, the way Christianity presents itself, God, and the gospel, according to Mouw, is stingy, biting, and narrow. This approach is remarkably antithetical to how we do things in our culture.

Historic Christian Orthodoxy

Before you experience the anxiety of a survey of the overarching doctrines of traditional Christianity, relax. That is not what I am getting at, at all. In the history of the church, there has always been the theme of exclusivity. Historic Christianity has always excluded unbelievers from its ranks. What would make it different or unique? Exclusivity is not something that is limited to Christianity, religion, or even other aspects of society. Exclusivity shows up in many other places outside of religion. Therefore, I find it odd that Christians have to defend the attacks that we are narrow and exclude people from our communities. This has been the case for centuries. Contrary Bell and Mouw, Historic Christianity has a very long history of exclusive members, beliefs, practices, and an exclusive message.

The Nature of the Gospel

What should we say about the idea that the gospel of Christ should build bridges to create unity among human cultures? Is this really the gospel according to Jesus? Did Peter, James, John, and Paul preach such a gospel? John 3:18 says, “he who does not believe is judged already.” Here Jesus presents the exclusive nature of His message. Believe and you are justified, refuse to believe and you are already under judgment. Jesus said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19) And again, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of my Father.” (Matt. 7:21) About His mission Jesus said this, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:34-35) The first sermon Jesus preached was on repentance. (Matt. 4:17) Repentance and inclusivism are antithetical concepts to one another. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that everyone who is to be saved must receive Christ by faith. Moreover, everyone who rejects Christ in unbelief stands outside the Christian community and has a hostile disposition toward God. Make no mistake about it; the gospel, by definition is exclusive.

The Nature of God

To begin with, God is not a man. (Num. 23:19) The Lord declares in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts. God is not a man. He is divine. Our problem is that we project ourselves onto God repeatedly. Moreover, this projecting seems to be so pervasive within Christian communities that we have completely lost our sense of the true nature of God. Bavinck writes, “Involved here is a matter of profound religious importance, to which Augustine gave expression as follows: “We are speaking of God. It is any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend.” [Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Vol. 2, 48.] Historically speaking, the church has always contended that humans know God in two ways: rationally, and relationally. Unbelievers know God rationally. They possess an innate knowledge of God. Paul contends this knowledge renders them culpable for their sinful lifestyle. Believers on the other know God relationally. They possess knowledge of God that comes to them via special revelation, not to mention experience. Nevertheless, the church has always contended that we may apprehend God, we can never comprehend Him. While humans cannot fully comprehend God, we may certain apprehend some things about Him. This apprehension is of course, dependent on special revelation. That is to say that natural theology falls short in its ability to express God. Therefore, our knowledge of God relies on special revelation. God has revealed certain things about Himself through Scripture. This expression is witnessed in the person of Jesus Christ. Outside of Scripture, any understanding of the nature of God is doomed. We understand God’s nature through His expressed revelation in Scripture with the aid of the Holy Spirit working on and in the human mind. Mouw and Bell seem to miss this fundamental point. Rather than accept the type of God revealed in Scripture, both men seem to want to substitute that image for one that is less offensive to a culture that is hyper-sensitive to nearly any view that may make demands of them. Moreover, when they do so, they prefer to call it a “generous orthodoxy.” They liken God to that of human fathers. God is not like a human father. Human fathers are to strive to be like our heavenly father.

The Nature of the Church

The church is an exclusive body of believers that are called out of this world of darkness into the glorious light of the gospel. Jesus said that He would build His church on a rock and the gates of Hell would not prevail against her. The church enjoys a unique relationship with Her Savior. But admittance into the Church comes only as a result of faith in Jesus Christ. Christ has chosen us from out of the world. (John 6:70; 15:6, 19) The entire idea of ‘being chosen’ means that we were chosen from among others. Jesus said I chose you out of the world. This is exclusive language. I chose you, but I did not choose others. Many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14) Jesus said he knew the ones that he had chosen. (John 13:18) Paul said God chose us from the beginning for salvation. (II Thess. 2:13) Peter views believers as those who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. (I Peter 1:2-3) Paul commanded the Corinthian church to remove a dissenter from their midst. (I Cor. 5) In a follow-up letter, he instructed the same church to admit the man once more (II Cor. 2:5-8; 7:8-13) The point is that the Christian community has always included a certain “kind” of person and excluded various “kinds” of people and that makes it, by nature, exclusive. The church, by definition, is an exclusive body with very specific beliefs and a certain set of moral standards by which its members are known. The life of the believer evidences true faith in God by bearing godly fruit, not the least of which is brotherly love. The church is exclusive. It is not the place of leaders in the church to expand the criteria for membership. If the world hated our Christ, why should it surprise us that it hates us also? (John 15:19)

Mouw’s Holiness

While Mouw criticizes others for implying that Mother Teresa may have perished in hades, he holds out hope that justice will forbid others from seeing the eternal life promised by Christ. Dr. Mouw places very bad people on this list of those that he says deserve eternal damnation. These are the Hitler types, and the kind of kidnappers who sell young girls into the sex trade. He refers to these people as becoming inhuman. I find that term very interesting. It is as if one can become inhuman by sinning in certain ways. In other words, being human means being godly. I am not sure Bell and Mouw would take it that far, but there is something to be said about their use of that term in the context of vile sin. So Mouw thinks some people will actually go to hell. It is my view that Bell rejects the idea of a literal hell. I have no other choice but to reach that conclusion based on the language of his book. However, Mouw somehow thinks he is qualified to redefine who gets in and who is out. He does not attempt to provide a rationale for his view. He just offers up his own moral law and expects other to be alright replacing the lists in the NT with one of his own creation. Why should we accept Mouw’s standards as the ones by which men will enter eternal judgment as opposed to those outlined in Scripture?

The letter written by Paul to the church at Galatia contained the very same error that Mother Teresa espoused. It was a terrible misunderstanding of justification. This church was plagued by men who were teaching that Christians had to add works, specifically, the works of the law to faith in Christ in order to find salvation. Jesus + Moses was the right formula if you wanted eternal life. Paul’s response was swift, direct, and sobering: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Now these men did not possess what even Mother Teresa possessed. The Bible was laying around on every shelf. Yet Paul stood strong in opposition to anyone who distorted the gospel by added works as a requirement. No stronger rebuke existed at this time than the one Paul used to rebuke the false teachers at Galatia.

Persecution as Proof of the Offensive Nature of God, the Church, and the Gospel

The world hated Christ so much that it killed Him. In addition, the world murdered the prophets that came before Christ. John the Baptist was the greatest prophet among men and the world killed him. The apostle James was butchered before the church could even get started. Jesus said the world hated Him and it will hate us as well. The unregenerate mind is hostile to God. It is an enemy of God. This explains why persecution has existed since the church was born. Can you imagine what would happen if Mouw, and Bell, and even men like Rick Warren had their way? The attempts to make God, Scripture, and the Church more acceptable runs contrary to everything Christianity stands for. There would be no more persecution if these men had their way. They would change God, His Message, and His Church in whatever way they could in order to take the sting out of their message. But it is precisely that sting that has resulted in millions of souls converted to Christ, and millions giving their life’s blood for the truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.” (Rev. 20:4) Can you imagine some of these leaders actually preaching a message that would get them killed? This message was so hated by men that they were willing to take a human life because of it. Does that sound like anything we hear from emergent, seeker-model, liberal evangelicals today? We do not even love truth enough to watch people leave us, let alone die for the gospel. Pastors will not preach the truth or stand for the truth because their church may fire them or split over some issue. Take the sting out of orthodoxy? Why not take amazing out of grace while your at it? I always tell people; you take the amazing out of grace when you take the wretch out of me.

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