I came across this excellent charge from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and loved the way he said it. I disagree with a good bit of Wright’s theology, but this is gold!
Let’s be dead-serious on “The Bible, prayer, and loving people”!
Rob Bell’s video and marketing of his upcoming book Love Wins has made some huge waves. I’ve seen it posted on facebook and blogs everywhere. Bell does his little artistic media blurb he does so well, asking questions and leaving you. . . confused. Many, such as Justin Taylor, have inferred he is a universalist and wholesale condemn him as a heretic. On the other hand, Greg Boyd, who actually read the manuscript, has responded emphatically that Bell is not a universalist… but then seems to backpedal a bit saying it can leave you with the impression he is. Read Boyd here. I noticed the book is endorsed by Eugene Peterson, who is not a universalist as far as I know, but again that’s not saying alot.
I find this firestorm over Bell all very interesting, but generally disappointing. First, in Rob Bell because he is so unclear. This is unfortunately typical of him; he’s great at asking good questions, but not so good at giving answers. And to top it all off, he’s fine with that. I disagree with many things Bell says and does, but so far it seems to me he is roughly evangelical. What would disappoint me more is to find he really has left orthodoxy to become a universalist, something that has yet to be discovered – which leads me to disappointment with his critics:
Many seem to be jumping the gun to label Bell a universalist so early, when they really haven’t even read his book and assuming things from his marketing ploys that are so vague. Attributing a belief to someone which they haven’t claimed then attacking them for it? That’s just quarrelsomeness. What’s worse, it makes the critics look foolish to those watching this (The NY Times even noted the controversy) and sheds poor light on everyone who does believe in hell. There aren’t very many of us! Why make it harder than it already is to persuade people that there is a hell and they need a Savior from it? They see this as rabid fundamentalism at its worst, not the Gospel of God’s love that saves us from eternal wrath.
What is Bell trying to say? Maybe he is a annihilationist, or of the “new hope” theology, or something else. Who knows? What’s disturbing (if Boyd’s article is any clue) is a read through the whole book may leave you with the same question. This is the paralyzing problem with Christianity in the West today (especially the Emerging church strain of which Bell is a part). On difficult issues we no longer take strong stands, but become increasingly more vague. The Bible has answers for difficult issues. In fact, it has all the answers, especially on life after death. In a time when our world is as pluralistic and confused as ever, this is the time to know what God says and say what God said.
Anyway, if anything good can come out of this hellish debate, it brings more attention to the biblical doctrine of hell. Too many of us believe in hell, but live as though it doesn’t exist – we don’t tell people on the path there to switch paths and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or thank God every day for saving us from there. Many good men are speaking and writing about it; hopefully it will help wake up the church to its reality. For example, Al Mohler’s article analyzing the desire to “Do Away With Hell” is a great read.
Bell’s book comes out in a few more days yet. We’ll see what happens. I just hope and pray those involved will speak to make Christ exalted and come to the truth of His Word.
Believers in Christ are usually familiar with the teaching that God is always with us. It is among the most beautiful promises in the Bible.
Oddly, this is one of the hardest things for me to believe in the Bible. My emotions and logic often tell me otherwise. In times of depression or discouragement, it feels as though God’s presence has left, that you’re actually alone. Or that it is illogical for God to forgive yet again after the umptillionth time you’ve sinned or that He can possibly be with everyone at once.
I can think of many reasons why God should not be with me. I am really a rather bad person compared to him (a huge understatement). He is holy, I am not. I am a sinner, He is not. I am the creature, He is the Creator. He is infintely big, I am infinitesimaly small. He is everything that is good, and often I think and act everything that is evil. Why would God even be concerned about this insignificant little life, much less manifest His spiritual presence? God with us? Doesn’t make any sense to believe anything of the kind. No wonder many people are Deists or live as though God is there or doesn’t see.
But here is the question: who dictates what God does? What our speculative opinions say about God, or what God says about God? Consider what God inspired to be written in the Scriptures about Himself:
“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13.5b)
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18a, 20b).
God lead David to write, “You hem me in— behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Pslam 139.5-10 NIV).
God says in Paul’s letters as well,
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? “(1 Corinthians 3.16)
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12.5a)
“Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you have died to this life, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3.2-3 NLT).
Lastly, Romans 8.33b-39 “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or perseuction, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is what God says about Himself. It surprises me that any Being can have that kind of unconditional, deep love and faithfulness. It sounds too good to be true! But God has always been much bigger than our expectations. When we glimpse the revealed reality, the truth about God’s presence, oh how it overcomes these other emotions and reasons why He isn’t there, replacing them with the emotion of unhindered joy and mind of total conviction! It must be true – God is with us and indeed loves us – always, all the time, at every moment of every day, no matter what happens.
My long-time boss has recently suffered some heavy losses in his life. In one day, the warehouse for his company with over a million dollars worth of equipment burned to the ground; worse, his brother drowned in a lake, leaving a wife and five children – at a family reunion no less. My boss and his brothers are dedicated Christians – if you wanted to find the definition of a ‘good man’ it would be men like these. Generous, hospitable, friendly, excellent fathers, loving husbands. A tragedy like this can ruin your life and question everything. Some would walk away from God. But this family runs toward God – and in doing so, find a meaning, purpose, and hope in the midst of death that others simply cannot find nor understand.
Through it all, I have been impressed with how they’ve handled it. I want to have the same attitude when I come to that point. It was moving to hear how his sister-in-law is managing the loss of her husband.
To give an example: on the drive back from the reunion their younger son, (he’s five I think) would happily chat about this and that (he’s a very talkative child), but soon break down in tears. His mother would comfort and speak softly to him so that he feels better enough to chat away more; only in five or ten minutes to go back to sobbing again, and again mother comforts and loves him. This cycle continued for the drive home. She is determined to keep enough composure to put her children first and love them through the pain. My boss said something very perceptive I will paraphrase (from the best I can remember) here:
“The real test of dying to yourself is looking to help other people first – when you’re the one who had the highest loss.”
It reminds me of Jesus’ powerful words in Mark 8.34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In the midst of bearing the cross of suffering and loss, denying yourself to love others and love Jesus must be the essence of meaning and purpose in life.
Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, I thought I would post a few quotes from him I really like:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.