The Laodicean Project- Fighting Nominal Christianity

April 29, 2008

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” -Matthew 7:21-23

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” -Malachi 3:17-18

Probably my biggest pet peeve in all of Christianity is the prevalence of those today who claim Christ in word and yet not in action. It sends chills down my spine every time I see a rapper or actor accept an award for producing a piece which glorifies all the finer points of depravity and the first thing they do is thank the God who gave them their ability or Jesus Christ their personal savior. Not to say that these people aren’t Christians, but by evaluating these people based upon their fruits (which, if they are believers is perfectly acceptable, see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) I would not be too quick to call them brothers.

This is the root essence of nominal Christianity. The person who checks the Christian box every time and yet they can’t remember the last time they went to church when it wasn’t Easter or Christmas. The person who observes Lent or refuses to drink an alcoholic beverage, and yet they have no boundaries when it comes to sexual relationships or language. We all know these people, and present company included, we may have been or currently are these people. When, as I commented in the previous post, there are 95 million American young adults, 60 million of which would describe themselves as Christian, and yet only 3 million of them actually believe such things as “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth” or “God [is] the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today,” it seems clear that a large percentage of Americans aren’t really all that concerned with what being a Christian means as long as it is something they can just say that they are.

So, is this such a big deal? Certainly. For one, it is a big deal for the people who would be termed “nominal Christians.” If they are just going through the motions then what a terrible thing it would be for them to stand before the Lord on the day of judgment saying “Lord, Lord” just to be turned away. Maybe they never really heard the Gospel. Maybe we took for granted that just because it was being preached in buildings throughout the country, on TV and on radio, that at some point this person had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, not to be crass, but we all know what happens when we assume… This is why it is important to reach out and perform true Gospel preaching ministry in the midst of our “Christian” societies. For someone to live their life with a false hope of inheriting the faith of their parents or community is unacceptable with the various outlets available for Christian outreach, but unfortunately I feel it is a reality that is all too real in Western culture these days. This needs to change.

The second reason this is a big deal is because it dilutes the ability which the church has to be effective in the culture. When the world outside judges the church based on the overwhelming numbers of nominal Christians they encounter it does a great disservice to the true heart of Christian ministry. When the world is able to construct polling data which shows “Christians” as being no different than “non-Christians” on moral issues such as divorce, homosexuality or abortion, it turns into an indictment on the inadequacy of Christianity instead of being shown for what it truly is, that being an indictment on the terrifying number of nominal Christians around us. The Barna Group even admits in their research that when the same moral issues are analyzed against the smaller percentage of respondents who espouse a biblical worldview, then the gulf between the world and Christianity becomes very apparent. Therefore, if we could either ignite or alienate those nominal Christians in our congregations and throughout the “Christian” societies, moving them either into broken or hardened hearts, then we should have no problem illustrating the radical difference that a biblical conversion has on the heart of those who believe and confess Jesus as Lord.

Then the last question remains: just how do we fight the insurgence of nominal Christianity? The most effective way I believe is to simply preach the Gospel, focusing on “Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)” and not just assume that everybody already understands what happened and why it had to be that way. Also, to live our lives as an example of not only Gospel preaching but Gospel love, a sacrificial love which reaches out to others in kindness and not judgment, will make a difference in manifesting the true character of God and the revolutionary effect he has had on us. We need to remember that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13,14) and as such our lives of ministry should be nothing like those of the world, but instead should be found “to be conformed to the image of [Jesus]” (Romans 8:29) so that the world “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).”

Nominal Christianity is a major problem in America, England, and other traditionally Christian societies around the globe. It’s dark shadow has hampered the effectiveness of the Gospel light both to ourselves and our neighbors. Therefore, in order to change the lukewarm nature of these cultures and save them from becoming a biblical loogie we must act in a way as to polarize those just checking the box and remove the pervasiveness of nominal Christianity from our religious atmosphere.

The Laodicean Project- Is This Even Necessary?

April 28, 2008

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” -Revelation 3:16

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:24-25

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” -Romans 1:21-23

“In spite of the fact that many of them are currently disconnected from a church, most Americans, including two-thirds of all adult Mosaics and Busters [ages 18-41], tell us that they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point in their life…. Of course, this raises the question of the depth of their faith…. [O]ut of 95 million Americans who are ages 18 to 41, about 60 million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important; however, only about 3 million of them have a biblical worldview.” -Dave Kinnaman, unChristian, p.74-75

“Recently gathered data on church membership and church attendance show that unless trends are reversed, major British denominations will cease to exist by 2030.” -Steve Bruce, Christianity in Britain, R. I. P.

The most important question to ask ourselves before spending our time trying to deal with lukewarm faith in Christian societies is to first figure out if there is even really a problem. Just because we see a highly secularized media or a pop culture which views religion for its commercial appeal and cool factor instead of its personal importance, does not mean that there is actual an issue with the common everyday Joe on the street. Thus, instead of depending on our own senses and intuition, let’s look at what the statistics have to say:

  • America
    • Among all Americans 78.4% claim Christianity of some sort, 51.3% being Protestant, and 26.3% Evangelical. Among 18-to-41 year olds, 66% claim Christianity of some sort, yet when given a survey of worldviews only 3% expressed a consistent biblical (Evangelical) worldview
  • United Kingdom
    • According to recent surveys only 45% of Britons claim to be Christians of some sort, with 8% actually attending church regularly (compared to 41% in America). Moreover, popular opinion is that major denominations, such as Methodism, will be extinct in Britain by 2030
  • Western Europe
    • In France and Sweden, 60% and 46%, respectively, of population never attend church. Moreover, between a quarter and a third of the populations of France, Sweden, Germany, Estonia, and the Netherlands believe there is no god or any other type of spiritual essence

So, according to the numbers it also appears that there is a problem. The biggest issues I think we see are on two, almost completely opposite fronts. The first front is the problem which seems most pronounced in America and England, that being the high percentage of what is now being termed in the research as “Nominal Christians”; people who claim Christianity but do not exhibit either a biblical worldview or attend church regularly. The other problem is the growth of atheism as a religious worldview, this being seen heavily throughout Western Europe but not yet as much in America. Both of these are substantial problems for the church as it tries to address lukewarmness in these traditionally Christian societies, and as such we will try and deal with each one specifically over the course of the next two posts.

The Laodicean Project- Observing Christ’s Letter to the Church at Laodicea Today

April 25, 2008

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ “ -Revelation 3:14-22

I would like to make a proposal. If you feel the same way after reading this then feel free to join me. I propose that starting today we begin an initiative which I would like to call “The Laodicean Project.” This project will be directed towards reaching the people, not of the remote villages where Christ has never been preached, and not of the impoverished nations where faith in Christ may be all a person owns as they prepare for a slow, undignified death, but towards those people who, in light of Revelation 3:16, are in danger of becoming cosmic backwash!

It is the people of our so-called Christian societies. America, England, France, Australia. Places where Christ appears on any number of TV shows and books and songs and t-shirts. Places where the “Christian” box is checked a majority of the times during surveys. And, oddly enough, places where sin and filth and defilement and evil are as rampant, if not more so, than anywhere else on Earth.

We have discussed this problem before and it continues to be a burden on my heart. I don’t think this is for everyone. I believe that the majority of people are still called to go out “to the end of the earth” and to “make disciples of all the nations” (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19). However, for those like myself, who feel burdened so deeply as they watch the name of Christ dragged through the mud around them, who see people dying with false assurance because others were too busy being PC to ever call them out on their lostness , who watch as “Christianity” assimilates into the culture to a point where all distinctions seem nominal, I want to challenge you to make a difference. As Christ declared to the original Laodiceans, we too must make known the blind, naked poverty of our society today.

Christ warned the Laodiceans. Their breed of half-hearted, self-agrandizing, tepidity made Jesus sick to his stomach, to the point where he wanted to vomit. I can only imagine were he to pen the letter again today about the churches in our Christian societies that his sentiments would be the same. In the following series of posts I want to look further at how we might approach the problem of our modern-day Laodiceas, the obstacles which stand in our way and the principles in God’s Word which can help us overcome. If you feel this same burden, please pray, continue reading the next posts, and feel free to contact me with any further ideas you may have.

But, more than anything, remember to act so that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

Are You Too Good For Your Home?- A Question About Where Christians Should Long For

April 22, 2008

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” -Philippians 3:18-21

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” -Hebrews 13:14

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” -Hebrews 11:13-16

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” -John 15:18-1

“We are not going somewhere else at the end of time, because this world is our home. And our home is good. One of the most tragic things ever to happen to the gospel was the emergence of the message that Jesus takes us somewhere else if we believe in him.” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis p.171

One of the mega-themes that you will observe if you read Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis is this pervasive idea that the Christian should not be awaiting a life in heaven, but instead they should embrace that heaven is coming here and is something we can bring ourselves. At one point he says, “Jesus’ desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth (p.148).” Again, in another place, “As we live this life , in harmony with God’s intentions for us, the life of heaven becomes more and more present in our lives. Heaven comes to earth (p.147).” In Bell’s theology, the goal of a Christian’s life is to bring heaven instead of hell to earth. This is nice, and comforting, and uplifting, … and completely unbiblical!

In other places we see Bell say things like “this world is our home.” Yet, Christ himself says to the disciples, and then forevermore to us, “you are not of the world”! So, only one person can be right, Bell or Jesus? Hmuh… I pick Jesus.

The problem with this view of us bringing heaven to earth is not that heaven is not coming to earth, and this is really the point where Bell and his ilk are so smarmy. In Revelation 21:1-3, the Apostle John records for us what will happen after the final judgment:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

So, in the end there will be a new Jerusalem which will descend from heaven, to this terrestrial sphere, and in that city God will dwell with us! This is the fulfillment of Hebrews 11:13-16 above which says “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Bell knows this. He knows, and even cites in his book, that the final revelation is of the new Jerusalem coming to earth. However, he then uses this acknowledgment of the truth to advance his nice warm, fuzzy lies.

Yes, the new Jerusalem is coming. And how shall it come? According to Velvet Elvis, it shall come because Jesus’ followers “live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth.” Maybe you want to object that this is just a euphemism . However, if you want to make that objection I challenge you to actually read the book and see if Bell is just being cute when he says this. I am fairly convinced that in Bell’s book he is advancing the claim that good living is the driving force which brings heaven (or the new Jerusalem) to earth.

But, contrast that with Revelation 19 and 20 which depict a great battle where Satan is chained and then defeated forever, and the Great Judgment where all are ultimately judged. All of this happens BEFORE the new Jerusalem comes down to us. And yes, I understand that Revelation is a hairy book, full of symbolism, but there is not an interpretation in existence that doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Rider on the White Horse who defeats Satan or that thinks the final judgment has already come. Therefore, if none of this has happened yet, and if the old heaven and old earth pass away following this, then wouldn’t it be a waste for us to “bring heaven to earth” now when God is just going to throw it in the garbage at the end of time?

Honestly, this can get very speculative and unwieldy real fast, but the real issue is this: are we supposed to embrace this world because it is “our home” or should we accept the fact that we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) on this earth and we are awaiting our return to where our true citizenship is, that being heaven? I believe Bell wants us to embrace this world because he denies that it is a wicked and corrupt world, and because he thinks that we are any less wicked and corrupt to be able to change it.  Bell loves this world and creation, not unlike the fools in Romans 1:22-23.

However, if we truly respond to the Holy Spirit’s call on our lives, then we must acknowledge that we have been called out of this world, acknowledge that we have become “strangers and exiles” on the earth, acknowledge that on this earth there is “no lasting city”, and trust that God has prepared for us a city where he will dwell with us for eternity without end! That is our home!

The Danger of “Small” Sins- Solomon’s Wisdom

April 21, 2008

“Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” -Ecclesiastes 10:1

Studying through Ecclesiastes is hard. That is one thing I have learned for sure over these past few weeks as I have listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermon series covering the whole of Solomon’s great reflective book. However, among the imagery and metaphor that is laced through the 12 chapters of this book, we certainly find as many pearls of wisdom as can be found in the more celebrated book of Proverbs.

That said, one interesting little pearl I observed called me back to an earlier post I did on the danger of “small” sins. The above verse, Ecclesiastes 10:1, talks about how the presence of dead flies, the presence of small insects who have passed away, how the smell of their rotting in the sweet perfume is enough to ruin the whole batch of ointment. I personally have never even noticed dead flies to have a stench, and this brings about the question of what do dead flies draw (?), but I think that is the point. Dead flies are something that we don’t even notice as smelling that bad, but their stench is enough to overwhelm a strong smelling lotion.

This can be taken even further if we connect the above passage with God’s command to Moses in Exodus 30:22-38 concerning the construction and application of the holy anointing oil. In Romans 12:1 we are called to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” Yet, if we allow those dead flies, those small sins to rot in the anointing oil of our sacrifice then it will bring shame to our worship. If we allow for those “small” things, that “minor” disobedience or those “pet sins”, which God has convicted us of but we have ignored because they didn’t seem like a big deal, if we allow for these to fester in our lives, unrepented and not dealt with, then before long we will find that what was previously an almost unnoticeable smell will soon become an unbearable stench every time we come into God’s presence.

Christ asks for us to deny everything before coming to follow him (Matthew 10:37-39). It is about a complete change of life, about turning from the ways we used to walk, according to what the world wants (Ephesians 2:1-3), and instead walking in the light and allowing God to forgive all of our sins (1 John 1:7-10) so that when we come to present our bodies, the smell of our unrepentance doesn’t overwhelm the worship we are giving to God.

Mr. Christian Man, It’s Okay to Rock!- Doing What God Has Approved

April 20, 2008

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” -Ecclesiastes 11:9

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” -Ecclesiastes 9:7

There are many Christians of the old cloth who teach that the only way for a Christian to live is by denying themselves of any pleasure which comes through the things of the world. They make such vain declarations as “It is a sin to dance” or “Rock’ n’ Roll is Devil music.” I personally came across one of these anachronistic restrictions when my wife and me were preparing for our wedding. To be honest, we did not plan on having dancing at our reception, but even if we had it would have been forbidden by the contract which we had to sign in order for our church to perform the service. This came as a surprise to me that our church, which had so frequently taught against the evils of legalism, was itself guilty of such of propagating such a meaningless rule.

I came across an interesting view on this one time when listening to a pastor speak on similar verses. He talked about how there are parents who just make rules like don’t listen to rock music, don’t dance, don’t see R-rated movies, and don’t do drugs, without giving justification. So then, the kids in typical teenage rebellion, decided to start testing the barriers which their parents tried to construct. First they go to a rock concert and, surprisingly, nothing bad happens. Next, they attend a school dance, and again, nothing bad. Then they go out to see an R-rated movie on a Friday night. So far it is 3 for 3 on the parents rules being pointless. Finally, one day after school they go over to a friend’s house and decide to try some drugs, since before all the other rules had done was delay the enjoyment that they eventually had in those activities. However, this time the drug use winds up leading to addiction and their whole life falls apart as a result. In the same way, the people in the church, by creating laws against things which God doesn’t himself forbid, can wind up creating more sin than preventing it. Thus, it is important to just stick with the things which are actually scripture, such as the above verses.

But, there is also the temptation to swing to the other extreme. It is this fault which I believe many emerging leaders fall into when they promote people into unabashed pleasures and self-indulgence as an alternative to the legalism which they were brought up with themselves. In doing this they have a propensity to throw out things which God actually cares about (such as sexual purity or self-control) alongside with eschewing the false laws of their parents.

In the end, it is a balancing act. We don’t need to be self-flagellating monks who eat burnt toast and sing only in chants, but at the same time it is not advisable to live “however the hell” we want. Instead, for those which God has truly “born again to a living hope,” in whom God has “remov[ed] the heart of stone” and given “a heart of flesh,” they continually need to “be conformed to the image of [Christ]” and keep “press[ing] on to make [salvation]” their own, just as Christ has made them “his own” (1 Peter 1:3, Ezekiel 36:26, Romans 8:29, Philippians 3:12). Those who God has truly changed should strive to live an abundant life while staying within the righteous restrictions which God has laid out, so that, as John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” including in the wonderful things which he has provided for us!

What Does Your Jesus Look Like?- Balancing the Incarnation and the Exaltation of Christ

April 18, 2008

“In the more modern churches, the triumph of the resurrected Jesus was stressed to emphasize victory…. What they overlooked was the incarnation of Jesus…. This oversight allowed people to triumphantly parade their victory over sin and sinners but failed to call them to humbly incarnate as missionaries in culture to effectively reach lost people.

Conversely, many other churches more akin to the so-called postmodern churches focused almost exclusively on vegetable-munching hippie Christ’s humble incarnation in culture to hang out with sinful lost people…. What is lacking, however, is the understanding that when we next see Jesus, he will not appear as a humble, marginalized Galilean peasant. Rather, we will see the exalted, tattooed King of Kings coming with fire blazing in his eyes and a sword launching from his mouth, with which to make war upon the unrepentant.” -Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. (pp.42-43)

The above quote by Mark Driscoll is one which I believe points out a major theological flaw that is unrealized in both the modern evangelical and the postmodern emerging churches, that being the need to balance the incarnation of Christ along with the exaltation of Christ. As Driscoll further details in his sermon from John Piper’s National Conference in 2006 (linked below), it is this issue which leads to the two common stereotypes of these opposing camps: the evangelicals as being holier-than-though thought nazi’s who rain condemnation on all that is sinful in the world, and the emergents as limp-wristed pacifists who live a little too liberally to actually be saved.

Moreover, I believe this omission is the cause of other major problems which Christians in America face today and which I have tried to address in prior posts. In the evangelical camp I belive that this glorious triumphalism leads to a teaching of works justification and their legalism towards sin. As for the emergents, I feel that their underemphasis on Christ’s exaltation leads to the acceptance of multiple means of salvation and a deadly theological misunderstanding of what Christ achieved on the cross.

I encourage you to analyze this yourself and see where you fall. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, but in order to do that we must make sure that we are also loving all of the Lord as well.

Mark Driscoll- “The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World”

Throwing Out Jesus with the Bathwater- No Kind of Christian

April 15, 2008

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” -Romans 10:9, 13

“Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live... Jesus measures their eternal standings in terms of not what they said or believed but how they lived, specifically in regard to the hell around them.” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pp.146, 148

Rob Bell is not a Christian!  Okay, that may be too emphatic and I honestly cannot say that nor would I want to give the impression that I think I can.  Sure, most people consider Rob Bell to be a Christian minister in a Christian church who writes Christian books.  In fact, Rob Bell is listed as one of the 50 most influentuial Christians in America (#10).  However, I do not believe that we can rightly call his ministry or teachings Christian and feel comfortable with that, since more often than not he appears to be shooting his ball at the wrong basket.

But why would I say such a thing?  Well, first we should just look at what it means to be a Christian.  The name “Christian” comes directly from the name “Christ”, which means “the anointed one,” and is taken to be a person who is a disciple of Christ and his teachings.  The term first appears in Acts 11:26 saying, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”  In light of this we see that a fundamental motivation behind attaching the name “Christian” to something is that it is somehow associated with discipleship to Christ.

So, how does this affect Bell’s work?  Well, if we look at the above quotes (as well as past posts) I believe that there is no honest way to say that Bell is advocating any sort of discipleship to Jesus Christ in his teachings.  We see, as we read through Bell’s popular book Velvet Elvis that he gets off on the right foot saying, “While we were unable to do anything about our condition, while we were helpless, while we were unaware of just how bad the situation was, Jesus died. (p.145)”  And then, Bell states, “Jesus died … for everybody” and that “[e]verybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus.”  This may or may not be contentious, but we’ll deal with that later.  The truly contentious part is what comes next:

“So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody….  This reality then isn’t something we make true about ourselves by doing something.  It is already true.  Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.” (p.146)

Do you see it?  Do you see the problem?  What’s happened?  Why now are we able to choose for ourselves which “reality” we live in? (And what’s with all this Matrix, rabbit hole mash-up language anyways?)  If before Christ died on the cross we were “unable to do anything,” why is it that now we are?  Or, if we are all now free from the burden of sin (which I believe is what Bell would say), how is it that we can still “cling to a reality of our own making,” which would itself be sin?  Either our sin burden and God’s wrath have been removed for good or they haven’t.  There must be a solution.

But, instead of solutions, we get more of the same.  Looking at the above quote we see Bell state that “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live.”  But this is ridiculous.  How possibly could a forgiven person wind up in Hell.  What bit of good did God’s forgiveness do if it didn’t keep them from being damned?  Charles Spurgeon puts it best in saying,

“He has punished Christ, why should He punish twice for one offence? Christ has died for all His people’s sins, and if thou art in the covenant, thou art one of Christ’s people. Damned thou canst not be. Suffer for thy sins thou canst not. Until God can be unjust, and demand two payments for one debt, He cannot destroy the soul for whom Jesus died.”

God is no god at all if he kills his son on the cross, “the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18), and yet does not remove his wrath and condemnation from us as he said (1 John 4:10, Romans 8:1).

And to top it off, Bell spits directly in the face of Romans 10:9 when he says that the people will be judged “in terms of not what they said or believed but how they lived.”  The Bible clearly states, through Paul in the book of Romans, that confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart are the necessary requirements for salvation.  Yet it is this proclaimation which Bell fully (and I would claim purposefully) denies.

So, in summary, to Bell we have a God who sent his son to die on the cross to forgive us of sins, the burden of which we were unable to do anything about beforehand, and now that everyone is forgiven we have the ultimate responsibility in determining our fate, and that being not through anything we believe or say, and not even about following Jesus, or relying on Jesus, or anything to do with Jesus, but solely upon whether or not we do “good” or “evil”.  I must say that this is the most contrived load of horsecrap I have ever seen put together in one book, nevermind a book which the Christian community raves about and longs to “learn” more from.

I may not be able to judge whether or not Rob Bell is a Christian, but I can say that I am seriously concerned about the souls of the people who turn to his ministry for their spiritual guidance.  As a Presbyterian pastor I read put it as eloquently as I could have ever imagined, “People will go to hell over this.  You just don’t get up in front of ten thousand people on Sunday and play around with the Word of God.”  Amen.

Throwing Jesus Out with the Bathwater- My God’s Too Big

April 13, 2008

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” -Luke 12:8-10

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” -1 Timothy 2:5

“A generation or two ago, defenses of Christianity that focused on human sinfulness were potent; a common metaphor showed God on one side of a diagram and a stick figure (you) on the other; the chasm between was labeled “Sin,” and the only bridge across was in the shape of Jesus’ cross. But emergents ask, ‘What kind of God can’t reach across a chasm?’ “ -Tony Jones, The New Christians, p.78

“But God is a being whose activity is, by definition, not contingent. God can forgive whomever God wants to forgive, whether or not the forgiven person has adequately confessed his or her sins.” -Tony Jones, The New Christians, p.99

A long standing debate among Christians is what is the role of the sovereignty of God over salvation versus the free will of man. A common way of getting to the heart of a person’s beliefs on this issue is the question of “how big is your God?” Someone who touts the free will of man to choose to be saved (loosely called an Arminian) would be said to have a small God, one incapable of saving man, whereas someone who believes in the sovereign election of God (a Calvinist) would be said to have a big God, one who irresistibly brings those who are to be saved to him. Yet, in this debate between Calvinists and Arminians, one thing is clear, that being that a person must confess and repent from their sins in order to be saved.

However, I believe the Christianity of the Emerging church movement, as pictured by Tony Jones in The New Christians, portrays a God that is even bigger then the God of the Calvinist (of which, by the way, I am one). In fact, it appears that the God of the Emerging movement is so big that he can’t even exist, and I think that this is quite possibly a big problem.

Why do I say this? Well, if we take Jones’ quotes from above we see that he, and by the premise of his book the Emergings, take God to be so big that there is nothing that can stop him from saving a person, not even sin! By the first quote we are told that God should be big enough that he can just pass over sin in order to bring us to him, without the necessity of the cross to connect us. But this is absurd! If we look at Romans 3 we see that there is only one way in which God is able to overlook our sins and justify us so that we may be in his presence (i.e. in heaven) and that is by the cross of Christ:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26)

So, the only way in which God is able to cross the “chasm” of sin is by the redemption which was purchased by Christ on calvary, i.e. the cross.

But maybe, if one wished to play devil’s advocate (I say that with tongue-in-cheek) they would claim that Jones is actually implying a Calvinist interpretation of salvation, that being that God is the only one capable of bringing us into a saving relationship with him. If this were the case then I would be happy and would welcome the Emergings to my team. However, I have good reason to believe this is not the case because of what Jones says in the second quote.

In the second quote above, Jones says that “God can forgive whomever God wants to forgive, whether or not the forgiven person has adequately confessed his or her sins.” Yet, if we look at the passage from Luke 12:8-10 (which is paralleled in Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-30) we see that there exists a sin which God cannot forgive. And what exactly is that sin? As Jesus says, it is “blasphemy against the Spirit (Matthew 12:31).” But, what is blasphemy against the Spirit? Well, to understand that we must look at what the Spirit does. According to John 16:8, Jesus says of the Spirit that “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Thus, if one is blaspheming the Spirit then they are opposing the one who convicts of sin, who longs to bring them into righteousness, and thus refusing to acknowledge or repent from their own sin. Therefore, God cannot forgive anyone he wants and maintain his righteousness, namely, he cannot forgive those who have not truly (or, in the purposefully ambiguous language, adequately) repented from their sin, since it is those who have blasphemed (rejected) the Spirit.

Then, lastly, why does this mean the Emerging God cannot exist? Because, if God were to cross the “chasm” of sin without going through the cross, and if God were to forgive the sin of those who did not seek forgiveness, then God would cease to be righteous and would be condoning the sin which in itself fails to uphold the glory of God’s name. Thus, in accepting his own name to be attacked, he is therefore denying himself, and so he is no longer God, “for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13)”

Throwing Out Jesus with the Bathwater- The Tragic Tale of Trucker Frank

April 11, 2008

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” -1 Timothy 3:1-7

“Although he planned to attend seminary, Frank got work as a pastor immediately out of college, first at a small fundamentalist church and then at a larger Mennonite church in Salem. Both pastorates were short-lived…. A stint as a carpenter followed and then Frank and his wife moved to Missouri to be closer to family. he was driving a school bus and teaching high school when yet another small Baptist church in the country asked him to serve as the part-time pastor, which he did for six years until his marriage broke up…. In the midst of the divorce, he swallowed a bottle of pills.” -Tony Jones, The New Christians, p.87

“But because anyone, including Trucker Frank, can speak freely in this emergent church, my seminary-trained eyes were opened to find a truth in the Bible that had previously eluded me.” -Tony Jones, The New Christians, p.92

In reading through Tony Jones’ new book “The New Christians” there was a particular passage which really struck me as being the summation of the whole book. It revolves around a trucker and recently acquired member of Jones’ church named Frank. Frank has been a pastor at three different denominational churches, at least two of which he was forced out of, and for a time was a local celebrity at a Christian bookstore in Minneapolis before the management was tired of his distracting employees from their work.

However, the crux of Frank’s story, and in parallel the main message of the book, comes out when we are given witness to a Sunday night service at Solomon’s Porch. As Jones makes abundantly clear throughout, the sermons at most emerging churches are not in the traditional expository style, but instead revolve around discussion of the text and allowing members to bring their own perspectives into the message. This night is no different, and as the message turns towards accountability in the church, one of the participants asks the group “What would it take for someone to be excommunicated from this church?” Specifically the question revolves around Jesus’ words in Matthew 18.

Now, there is no disagreement about the first three steps, but when it comes to the passage “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (v.17)” Frank decides to turn the traditional understanding on its’ head. Traditionally people have interpretted this as saying that we should excommunicate the person at this point. However, in Frank’s interpretation he asks, “And how did Jesus treat tax collectors and pagans? He welcomed them. He didn’t excommunicate or ban them.” This new interpretation, as Jones states, takes the scales off his eyes:

Frank was right! This saying of Jesus doesn’t call for excommunication at all but rather for opening the church doors wide, welcoming even those who’ve committed sins against people inside the church. (Jones, The New Christians, p.91)

Now, if a truly new interpretation was brought forth which enlightened the scripture in a way we had never seen this would be something to wonder at. The only problem is, Frank wasn’t right! By definition, the word “excommunicate” means to “deprive or suspend membership in a religious community.” And taking this further, if we were to treat someone who was a brother (i.e. fellow church member) as a tax collector or Gentile, what would we be doing? That’s right, we would be removing them from membership in the church! So, this actually IS about excommunication.

But, if Frank is wrong, why was everyone so adamant that he was right? Because he spoke with (false) authority. And why was Frank so sure himself? Well, as Frank says, he had been meditating on this passage in light of the fact that he had been excommunicated from churches in the past (motive?), when he came to the conclusion that his interpretation must be the corret one. Then, to top it off, “Frank then went looking for versions of the Bible that corroborated his thoughts. (p.91)” So, not only did Frank have his own special revelation, but he was kind enough to make sure that some translation of scripture somewhere showed some semblance of agreement with him! That Frank is so great!

Really though, this is the problem. When we let just anyone come in off the street and have “conversation” with the church during the sermon, we are bound to find the inmates running the asylum before too long. It only takes the slightest bit of charm and charisma to advance the most half-baked ideas, even among the most “discerning” of people. Hitler didn’t work alone, he duped an entire nation (or world if you want to go that far). Jim Jones led 900 people to suicide/murder. And, oh yeah, in Genesis 3, the devil conned two people into ruining Creation for all of us!

There is a reason the Bible gives specific qualifications for leadership in the church. Reasons why Paul is so stern with Timothy about how to select deacons and elders. It is because this church is Jesus’ church, not ours, and there are too many wolves and lions seeking someone to devour for us to leave the doors of leadership swinging open. The gift of teaching, as we are warned in James 3, is not for everyone, and it is a dangerous thing to try and assume that role upon yourself.