What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

Advertisements

Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

Discernment 101 Revisited


About the time you think it’s safe to return to the water, it isn’t. So, too, with reading and going to movies and watching TV. Well, pretty much everything related to culture. Western society has largely spurned its Christian underpinnings, requiring those of us who still cling to the Solid Rock to think carefully about what our minds dwell on lest we also get washed away at sea.

Mormonism is one example of this need. Are they a cult or are they Christian? Another is the murky theology of those who are “progressives” or who identify as “emergent.”

A year and a half ago we had the over-hyped discourse Love Wins by Rob Bell with its ideas that there is no hell and all will eventually make their way into God’s presence in the after life.

Before that we had Paul Young’s controversial, rambling theological discourse disguised as fiction, The Shack, which, among other things, cast aspersions on the Bible and suggested universalism.

Now we’re at the threshold of another similar “story,” complete with media hype. Mr. Young has just released Cross Roads and has begun a book tour, complete with book signings, an appearance on The Today Show, and an interview with People magazine.

Have I read this book or know its theological content? I don’t.

I’m also not aware that Mr. Young has re-examined or changed any of his erroneous beliefs peppered throughout The Shack. Consequently, when we see a book on the horizon that may contain ideas contrary to Scripture (most books) and yet purports to be Christian, we as Bible believing followers of Jesus Christ need to keep in mind some basic principles of discernment.

  • The Bible is the ultimate authority of what is True. We need to examine the things we read and hear and see to determine if they are so or if they come from someone’s fabrication of God and His way.
  • Because someone is friendly and encouraging or is a good speaker or is entertaining or . . . ad infinitum, does not increase the likelihood that they are telling the truth.
  • That someone claims Christ is no guarantee their story will reflect Christ truthfully.
  • Christians are admonished to test the spirits to see if these things are so.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

  • False teaching abounds which should make Christians more alert, not more reclusive.
  • Legalism is not the same thing as discernment.

What are your thoughts about discernment? What else should be included in a list of basic principles to keep in mind if we are to be discerning about our culture?

You might also want to read the first “Discernment 101” post written three years ago.

Systematizing A Relationship


The nugget my missions pastor passed on to us on Sunday referred to “high theology.” I know what he was talking about. The previous sermons in the book of Ephesians looked at what Paul was telling the believers about their faith, or more accurately, the result of it.

In chapter one, for instance Paul gives a number of “in Him” statements: He chose us, redeemed us, sealed us. Of course he elaborates some on each of those, so that we can understand them and the great gifts we have.

In chapter two Paul gives several “you once were … but now” statements, tied together with a couple “remember” passages. Again he is clarifying who the believer is: what he was saved from, how he was saved, and what he now enjoys as a result of salvation

This is theology.

As Pastor Mike Erre, our soon to be new senior pastor, said when he preached from Ephesians, the first half is full of indicatives–expressions of simple statements of fact.

Theology.

Paul undergirded a number of his letters in this way. First the indicatives, then the imperatives.

In other words, before he addressed what instruction he needed to give the church, what things they should do to live up to their calling, he first wanted to be sure they understood that calling, especially God’s provisions and promises attached to it.

What struck me today, though, as I was reading a book about the Church, is that today we seem to be systematizing our theology to the point that it would be easy to forget we as believers in Jesus Christ primarily have a relationship.

The particular chapter I was reading followed a discussion of what the kingdom of God meant and whether the kingdom of God is synonymous with the Church (no), whether it has come as Jesus said from time to time or if it is still to come.

The discussion reminded me of the interviews I heard with Rob Bell when his book Love Wins first released (see “If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?”). He made much of the fact that Jesus said the kingdom was near, was within, and he ignored any statements that indicate the kingdom is something yet to come.

As I’m thinking about this, I suddenly thought, maybe these scholars are being too scholarly. Maybe they’re trying too hard to understand something, to systematize something that is really easy to understand if you get the fact that it is relational more than it is rational.

Rational things can be analyzed and categorized. Relational things are harder to do so. But to a great degree, relational things are easier to figure out.

Jesus made it quite clear: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He expanded on that moments later:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21-24)

Interestingly, John also records a conversation the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had with Peter. His repeated question was, Do you love Me? (see John 21:15-17)

I don’t think it requires some kind of understanding of primary languages or a degree in theology to get what Jesus is saying.

If you’ve ever loved someone, you know that you want very much to make them happy. You want to do things they will appreciate, give them things you hope they like. Even if it means giving up what you want. The desire to please them is greater than the desire to go to the movie you want to see or whatever else might be at issue.

Our relationship with God is much the same, Jesus is saying. If I love Him, I’ll want to please Him. It’s not really an academic study, not something we need to understand as much as commit to.

If you’ve been by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before, you probably know that I really like theology. I love studying the Bible and understanding what it says. But I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our study we forget we are dealing with a Person, that we are in a relationship, and that it’s not an overly complicated one–unless we make it so.

“Love” Does Not Mean “Tolerance”


With all the communication in today’s western society, you’d think we would understand that words have meaning, yet I see blog visitors and hosts alike reminding each other of this fact with some frequency.

The message, however, doesn’t seem to be getting through to everyone.

Take, for example, a lengthy interaction regarding a recent article looking at our view of God in light of our view of hell, generated by Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. In a particular exchange, one commenter declared that he saw the holiness of God as love. The person with whom he was interacting say, no that God’s holiness means justice.

Stop, I wanted to shout. God’s holiness means holiness! Holiness is different from love, as it is different from justice.

In like kind, I’ve seen in a number of discussions on universal salvation, Rob Bell, and Love Wins, either an implication or an accusation that those who disagree with Mr. Bell’s views are intolerant.

What Pastor Bell’s opponents need is a lot more love and a lot less hypocrisy, they say. After all, his critics are exclusivists, happy to see billions and billions of people marching off to an unending fiery ordeal (at this point, some insert graphic details, after which they loudly declare that they could never worship a god who would do such a thing).

In one post I even read that some consider the reaction to Mr. Bell’s book “persecution,” and they likened the treatment he’s received to that meted out to Christ.

It’s time for us to get out the dictionary, I guess. Last time I checked, love does not mean tolerance. Someone who loves may be tolerant, much as God is tolerant of us. Some who claim His Son’s name accuse Him in the same way Satan did — “Has God really said …” and yet God in His loving kindness does not strike down every false teacher. That’s tolerance.

He’s also tolerant, which works itself out as patience, in that He doesn’t judge the world prematurely:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9

However, I can think of instances when tolerance is not prompted by love but by greed or selfishness. Take for example the current game of Survivor. There is one individual who has made himself odious to his alliance because of his personality quirks. However, for various reasons — his physical strength, the fact that his personality makes him no threat to win — his group has kept him in the game. He serves a purpose, so they put up with him. But clearly their tolerance has nothing to do with love.

On the other hand, love is not always tolerant. Sometimes it requires a short leash or a rod of correction. Every parent knows this to be true. A loving parent is not going to tolerate a toddler running into the street. Doubtful that we’d ever hear, I love him too much to tell him he’s headed for danger.

Clearly, love is separate from tolerance. Sometimes love may express itself as tolerance, but other times it will not. And sometimes tolerance is motivated by love and sometimes it is not.

So, no matter what else takes place during the discussions about Rob Bell and Love Wins, can we please put to bed the idea that people who disagree with him are unloving because they aren’t tolerant of his views? Love and tolerance simply do not mean the same thing.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

God And Those Who Haven’t Heard


Support for Rob Bell (Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived) and his brand of universalism seems to be fueled by a great concern for the “billions and billions” of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ — the same concern, I might add, that fuels much of the missionary movement.

Rather than prompting prayer for the unreached or evangelistic endeavor, however, this concern from Bell supporters turns into … Bell support as he “explores” the idea that all people get a mulligan, a do-over after we die, until we eventually get it right.

The problem, of course, is that this position is not Biblical. Many who disagree with Mr. Bell have said they themselves wish his view was true because the thought of people suffering for eternity is unthinkable. But the fact is, it isn’t their decision any more than it is mine or Mr. Bell’s. The decision is God’s.

Some bloggers, then, have postulated that what we believe about hell exposes what we believe about God. If we see Him as loving and kind, the thinking goes, we will lean toward universalism, whereas if we see Him as a harsh, vengeful taskmaster, we will embrace a “hell for eternity” view.

Again, I think this have very little to do with “my view” of God. The reality is, He has told us about Himself in the Bible and He’s given us His Spirit to guide us into all truth. Consequently, I see no reason why we shouldn’t search the Scriptures and see what God says about His role as judge and what Jesus says about coming judgment.

All that as background for the issue — what about those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus Christ? What does the Bible say about their eternal destiny?

First, what does the Bible say about anyone’s eternal destiny? Here’s one clear statement:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
– John 3:14-15

The reference is to the bronze serpent God used to save the lives of the Israelites dying of snake venom during their exodus from Egypt (see last month’s post “The Way Of Escape” for more details). The bronze serpent served as an intermediary between God and the dying Israelites. In the same way, Jesus is the intermediary between God and sinners dying spiritually.

In fact, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

But that still leaves the question on the table — what about all those who haven’t heard of Jesus?

Scripture has more to say about Salvation and this, I believe, answers the question.

In Romans 1 Paul builds the case that God has revealed Himself in what He made. So we can conclude that even people who don’t have the Bible can know God and are responsible for what they do with what they know. Here’s the key passage:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
– Rom 1:18-21

So here’s my conclusion. If someone suppresses the truth and does not honor God as God, then he has no interest in Jesus who is the way to God. Simply put, that person does not want a way to God. Consequently, by turning away from God, he is also turning away from Jesus (though he may not have heard of Jesus by name). And doesn’t that seem undeniably true, given the fact of the Trinity?

On the other hand, isn’t God capable of sending an Elizabeth Elliott or Hudson Taylor or William Cary or Cameron Townsend to a previously unreached people group whenever the time is right? Can we not trust Him, the Great Shepherd, to search for the one lost sheep? Of course we can, even as we can trust Him to one day separate the sheep from the goats.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , ,

Fear And Forgiveness


One of the things that has come up in exchanges with emergent thinkers, whether through blog posts, videos, or books, is the idea that God is not to be feared. Some believe this a la Rob Bell — hell isn’t God’s wrathful punishment on the unrepentant.

Others, a la Paul Young — God, as portrayed in The Shack, serves Man. (“I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love.”)

Another group, a la Mike Morrell — God is to be re-imaged as a learning, evolving being who himself repented of his violent nature and through Jesus preached love instead.

One commenter to a year-old post said, “And for the first time in my life, I no longer fear GOD…which is a huge step toward maybe coming to a place where I can trust GOD.”

That attitude stuck with me. Consequently, as I’ve read through the Old Testament, I’ve made mental notes of people’s response to God. What I noticed most was reverential fear.

The people of Israel, for example, were so afraid of God after He talked with them, they told Moses to be their intermediary from then on because they didn’t want to die! Others fell on their faces, some apparently became as dead men.

The fear of the Lord is a theme throughout the books of poetry, too. But none grabbed me more than this one:

But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
– Psalm 130:4

That short verse contains the heart of God’s nature, I think. Yes, God is all powerful and will pour out His wrath on unrepentant sinners, but those who fear Him are the forgiven.

It is we who revere Him because we realize He is our lifeline, the enduring thread that holds us to His side. How can we but bow down and worship when the insurmountable debt we owed has been lifted from us to His scarred shoulders?

Might the unrepentant sinner also fear God? Perhaps in an angry, rebellious sort of way. The unrepentant sinner who believes in God may not see that He is just, that when He stands in judgment, His view of His creation is right and true. Consequently, a person who believes God to have the power to mete out punishment may not think it is fair of Him to do so.

This is not genuine fear, but imagined fear, more closely aligned to being afraid of the monster under the bed than the reverential terror described in Scripture when someone came face to face with God.

And yet …

The amazing thing is that God loves us. Which explains the forgiveness part. And the forgiveness causes the face-to-the floor response to God because of the wonder that such a Great Person could and would and did die for me.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Comments (13)  
Tags: , , , ,

God In A Box


God does not contradict what He revealed about Himself

I’ve heard it before. Today’s traditional church has God tucked into a Bible-shaped box. Remember how Paul Young put it in The Shack?

Educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Or how about the discussion over at Mike Morrell’s site more than a year ago when these kinds of things were bandied about:

Thereby, organized (“professional”) religions propagate themselves and ensure their future through fear and elitist ideations, which sadly inevitably result in keeping the Unlimited in a box – and usually for sale. Today, more than ever, religion is big business ($)!

Rob Bell said as much in his promotional video and talk show appearances when discussing his new book Love Wins. God is big enough to handle questions, he said. What’s more, the traditional church has the idea that there’s this narrow way across a chasm that leads to “evacuation” and only the chosen few or the ones who worked, served, believed, said the right prayer, or whatever “their tribe” mandated, would get the ticket. By implication, such beliefs confined God too.

It dawned on me this morning that these claims are spurious for the very fact that God IS in a box — one of His own making.

At first glance, that grates against our picture of a limitless God. And yet, I don’t think we’d want it any other way. I know I don’t.

For example, God “limits” Himself because He is good. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13b). He cannot be tempted by evil. Sounds quite limiting.

Then there are the limits imposed by His faithfulness. He says repeatedly in Deuteronomy that He will not fail or forsake His people.

In addition He limits Himself by His immutability. He remains the same today as He was before the creation of the world, as He will be when He comes to judge. No “learning” or evolving for God. He is who He is.

Or how about the limits of His love?

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.
– Romans 8:38-39 [emphasis mine]

Sounds confining to me. Restrictive. Very “in a box.”

And what about the incarnation? Wasn’t that event God voluntarily putting Himself in a human-shaped box?

Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
– Philippians 2:6-7

How limiting was it for Him to go to a cross, for His body to be placed in a tomb, for Him to be dead for three days? We don’t even know what all that entailed, yet it’s clear He restrained His power and glory for a distinct purpose — His act of redemption that made it possible for me to be reconciled with Him.

So yes, I’ll gladly admit — I put God in a box, the one He has revealed about Himself. I won’t re-make Him into my own likeness or any other way of imagining Him (some of the Israelites had Him pictured like a golden calf). Anything other than what He’s told us is too small and quite frankly, dead wrong.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , ,

The Clay Is Talking Back


I hear atheists say it, and now I hear people claiming the name of Christ reciting the second verse. Isaiah prophesied about this very thing:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
– Isaiah 29:16

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens say loudly, He did not make me.

And now emergent thinkers like Rob Bell and Paul Young are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Granted, this latter position isn’t as easy to identify as the former. Yet in questioning God’s plan of salvation, by suggesting that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity doesn’t measure up to their idea of what God should be like, is nothing less than saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one Rob Bell supporter called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?”
– from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. The answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus identifying His children, His followers, His sheep, and instead pull other passages out of context and make them say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It’s God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and God is good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? We’ll keep that intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

Look what that does.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man succumbed to temptation and ignored God. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man.

Here was the dividing line. God’s Son didn’t come to judge — He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful Man, not good Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way. But the dividing line has been established.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:18

Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected. How then is he good?

He isn’t. Certainly, the clay has no right to talk back.

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , ,

Improving God


When false teachers surface, they usually do so from within. In some regards, that’s why the priests and Levites opposed Jesus. In thinking themselves to be the purveyors of God’s truth, they saw Jesus as spreading dangerous ideas even as He sat in their temple and synagogues reading and teaching from Scripture.

The unique thing about Christianity is that our truth claims stem from one authoritative source — the Bible. Hence, a cult like Mormonism can spring up from within the ranks, but their falsehood is easy to spot because they have altered the source of truth.

In many ways, the false teachers gaining followers today are doing nothing more than false teachers of the past. They are substituting or adding some other source to the one sure source we have.

The surprising thing is what this new source is — man’s own sense of right and wrong.

How ironic.

God created Man as a moral being, and now Man turns around and wants to improve God.

Men have ignored God in the past, and chosen to worship false gods, they tinkered with His commandments and added a helping of their own. But I wonder if it isn’t a sign of the hubris of our times that the false teaching of today actually thinks God should be a little nicer, a lot gentler, and a considerable amount more loving than how He reveals Himself to be in the Bible.

Some false teachers justify their nicer God by discounting the parts of the Bible that teach about His justice. Others take a more insidious approach. They claim the Bible as their source, then declare that its truth has been distorted — that in the vast Christian tradition, in the conversation that has been going on for thousands of years, some early thinkers embraced a kinder, gentler God than the one the literalists have dogmatically clung to.

Now suddenly, the issue is, What do you believe? not What did God say?

My question for them is this: if God is the loving God people like Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, says, why did He let people for thousands of years misunderstand His love? If the early church thinkers such as Origen who believed in universal salvation were right, why didn’t the loving God they believe in, correct those who declared such thinking to be heretical?

Couldn’t He have alleviated centuries of worry and fear about hell and damnation simply by informing the early church fathers through the Holy Spirit that the literal reading of Jesus’s words about a narrow gate and no one coming to the Father but through Him, were wrong?

As I see it, in their efforts to portray a kinder, more loving God by questioning the clear and plain reading of Scripture, they are actually undermining the authority of the Bible and putting God in a bad light by implying that He did nothing all these years to correct such a grievous error about His character.

The thing is, I’ve understood from Scripture that God is perfect. To suggest that He is other than what we understand Him to be from the Bible is to say that He is not perfect. He has some flaw or weakness that prevented Him from correcting His followers all these years.

When they were holding councils to codify their beliefs and writing creeds and confessions to teach lay people, somehow God couldn’t manage to communicate that they were in error in their understanding, that the things they were writing about hell and His judging the living and dead weren’t true. Only a weak God or an uncaring God or one who hadn’t really revealed Himself in the first place would have let such wrong thinking go on and on for hundreds of years.

Of course the alternative is that God is perfect, answered prayer and guided the leaders as they came together and delineated the tenets of the faith based on the Bible; that they fairly represented His character and truthfully identified Him as the Judge “most just and terrible in his judgments” (from The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Is God only “just and terrible”? Well, no, certainly not. He is, in fact, infinitely loving. That’s why the idea that anyone could improve on His love by contradicting His justice and undermining an understanding of His power is … foolish.