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!

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: Jesus is Not the Only Way (Part 1)

April 3, 2008

” ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ “ -John 14:1-6

“Jesus at one point claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions. That completely misses the point, the depth, and the truth. Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality. This kind of life Jesus was living, perfectly and completely in connection and cooperation with God, is the best possible way for a person to live. It is how things are…. Perhaps a better question than who’s right, is who’s living rightly?” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain with their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” -Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

With this post (and its sequel) I would like to introduce what promises to be a recurring and lively “conversation” over the rising trend of emerging, or emergent, Christianity. I hope, through this series and this blog, to shine light on some of the more dangerous teachings that are being espoused in the writings and the pulpits of many prominent emerging leaders. (Note: as a nice introduction you may want to view this previous post).

That said, I want to begin with two statements that absolutely shocked me (though not necessarily surprised me) when I first read them. Both of the above statements, made by two very popular leaders in two very hip books, lead to one disturbing image of this new emerging theology, that being that Jesus is no longer the only way. Instead, we are being told that neither (1) is it necessary to accept Jesus to receive salvation, nor (2) is it necessary to serve Jesus once you’ve been saved. Below we will deal with (1) and the next post will handle (2).

In Bell’s quote, we see that it is his opinion of John 14:6 that Jesus is not putting himself up as the “mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5), but instead Christ is saying that of all the imaginable ways to live, living like him is the “best possible way.” This certainly was a new reading to me, as I expect that it is fairly new to most of you as well. However, I see, among others, two major problems with this.

To begin with, the text of John 14 just doesn’t seem to actually allow for this reading. As we see in verses 1-4, Jesus is describing to them the Father’s house and his travel to prepare a place for them there. He then makes the remark that “you know the way to where I am going (v.4)”, to which Thomas says, “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? (v.5)” It is at this point which Jesus makes the statement in question:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (v.6)”

So, it seems clear that Jesus is speaking of a physical way, right? Apparently not to Bell. To be fair, if we look to the original Greek, the word translated “the way”, hodos, means primarily “a traveled road, way”, but it also has a metaphorical meaning of “a course of conduct.” Thus, Bell has to assume the second translation here. But then the question is, why does Jesus tell them that he is the course of conduct when all along he has been talking about going somewhere? As a matter of fact, why would he say “I am the course of conduct” instead of something more intelligible like “My life is the example for the course of conduct”? And, if he is talking about his life being “the best possible way for a person to live”, then why does he say “no one comes to the Father except through me”? It would make sense that, if Jesus is giving a choice here, then he would say something more to the tune of “it is more enjoyable to come to the Father through me”. This seems pretty insurmountable in my mind.

However, assuming Bell is able to convince you of this amazingly twisted-up reading of the text, there is still the question of just exactly how Jesus lived his life. If the best possible way of living is the way set out by Christ, then in order to mimic that, we must have a firm understanding of how Jesus lived. But in this we arrive at another caveat of Bell’s theology, that being that his emerging/postmodern worldview does not allow for certainty in our readings. The emerging group seems pretty certain that Jesus was about love and tolerance, but they aren’t quite sure if he actually meant to talk about Hell so much. They know that Jesus has faith in us (Bell states later in Elvis that “what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.” Isn’t that nice!), but they don’t know if it is necessary for us to have faith in Jesus.

Therefore, it seems like a bit of a quandary if Jesus is telling us that the best possible way to live is to live like him and yet we can not quite be sure how Jesus himself actually lived. It doesn’t make much sense for him to do that now does it?

What We’re Facing- The Threat of liberal Emerging churches

March 5, 2008

One of the biggest waves in Christianity today is the rise of what is called the “emerging church.” These are churches which attempt to connect with the culture through conducting services and teaching theology which is relevant to the mindset of modern young Americans. A number of large and growing churches fall into this category, such as Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle and Erwin McManus’ Mosaic in Pasadena, CA.

However there are some inside of the emerging church movement whose attempts to connect with the culture lead to gross Biblical negligence. They begin to equivocate and compromise on certain unbecoming doctrines, such as the status of homosexuality as a sin, the existence of Hell, or God’s knowledge and control of the future. This includes teachers such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, both of whom have successful books on the market to go along with the megachurches they pastor.

What I have included below is a link to a recent message from Mark Driscoll concerning the specific trends and beliefs of those who have been given the label of emerging. I found this to be a very enlightening survey of the prominent American pastors and what they are truly teaching in the pulpits and book pages that are influencing the rising generation of young Christians. I believe that this is a worthwhile listen for anyone interested in current trends of the American church. Enjoy!

Mark Driscoll- Mars Hill Church and the Emerging Church