April 02, 2011

What's the Big Deal? It's Just a Stinkin' Book...Right?

Note: This post will take a little bit of time.  There is a good amount of interesting quotes and a 3 min. video.

In the maelstrom of critique, banter, and flat out bashing that ensued in the wake of Rob Bell's release of Love Wins a few weeks ago, I have been thinking long and hard about one issue:  With the obvious difference of opinion about the man, the ministry, and the book, why are ardent advocates of the pro and con community wasting their time arguing about it with each other?
I am in the con camp regarding all three as an observer having been personally involved, and as a student and teacher of God's Word.  Several great reviews (biblical exegesis, historical fact checking, resource and reference critique for credibility, scholarly and philosophical accountability) have been produced on the "con" side, and most of it is irrefutable, yet the response to such professional work is being ignored by the "pro" side.  My question is "why"?

I think I have an answer, and it makes sense to me, but it leads me to another "why?”   Allow me to flesh this out a little bit.  Take a look at some negative responses I have gathered from different internet sources, in response to these very well, and professional reveiws.

"I find it truly ridiculous when people try to find within the Bible whether the Bible is wrong or not. People read the Bible literarily and tend to get caught up on the story rather than the message behind it. Sure there are 2,000 years of history regarding the message of the Bible and not too many refuting it but that’s because the church was a powerful state and none dared to contradict it. The Bible was not written while Jesus was alive but years after his death, by a group of man that never carried pen and paper, so everything was by memory, and that were terribly influenced by other cultures so they filled in the blank with their own bias and influences from the Greek culture mostly. People needs to understand that there is not absolute proof that the Bible is either 100% wrong or 100% right. No one has been to the biblical hell and back. NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE DIED, NO ONE. Yes I believe we’ll see God and I also believe that God will give us another chance because I, insignificant little me, would give people another chance and it is impossible that I’m more capable of love and forgiveness than all mighty God. I personally believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God but distorted and terribly biased. I have not read the book by Mr. Bell and I probably won’t because based on his defense of it during the interview he’s not sure of what he wrote either." (emphasis in original)

"I applaud Bell’s bravery and exploration and challenges to christian doctrine, but question his conclusions."

"@DaFreewayMaster Do you realize that you are so focused on "saving souls" that you have completely missed what we have all been called to do. One of the things that made Jesus so different than all the other Rabbi's was that he went to the poor, the outcast, the sinner and he cared for and welcomed them all. The people he spoke out against most were the Pharisees. You know that ones who felt that they possessed the TRUTH and judged others as being lost because they didn't think and act the same."  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODUvw2McL8g

"I admire this man. Makes me want to convert back to Christianity and go to his Church. Almost. He still speaks to me as a Muslim, though. This is such a good message too. Trust in God. Trust in yourself."

"If I understand history correctly, the same sentiment was directed toward the courageous few who argued (sometimes at the penalty of death) that the stars did not move through our sky in a way consistent with the theory that our planet was the ‘centre’ around which everything else revolved (a treasured belief of religious fundamentalists at the time).
Jesus’s teachings have a hope of taking the place of relevance they deserve in our world if ‘Christianity’ abandons its ‘evangelistic strategy’ and stops seeing itself as the guy in charge of a ‘ladder’ to a distant and angry God who could only be placated by God Jr.
If sincere grappling with the many offensive and frankly ludicrous propositions of the evangelical church offends you, and you feel you have a real ‘grip’ on ‘who’s-in & who’s-out’ when it comes to the idea of hell, I suggest you ask yourself why the possibility that we’ve been wrong about hell offends you.
Please, if you’re hell-bent on preaching a soul-sort gospel, consider dusting off your old telescope and observe the sky again…searching the evidence with the following sentiment to guide your exploration, “I KNOW I’m right about hell, but I HOPE I’m wrong”. Who knows where that will lead you…"

"I feel sorry for Bell, because he is being persecuted by modern day pharacees. Rob Bell’s theology is quite robust to our modern, scientific understanding of reality.He is not a literalist, obviously. So he is bound to be heterodox–to literalists. Yet he comes up with a theology that turns people everywhere to Christ who had theretofore turned away. Their ears perk up, and by God’s Grace, they thirst for the Word. He is lifting up the risen Christ who is drawing people to Him.
The Holy Spirit is with Bell. May God bless him for preaching God’s truly good news."

"One question I’ve struggled with for most of my life
Is theological ignorance, a result of earnest perusal of Christ incorrectly marred by the fact that we are sinners, one sin too big to be forgiven? A lot of people on this post seem to suggest that to be a liberal, or to believe what Bell is espousing, will see them end up in hell. I would like to know the scriptural proof for this.
I see why people, myself included, fear that they could be hoodwinked by false teachers, but even if that is what Bell, or anyone else for that matter, is, are they not one of the all referred to in 1 Peter 3 v 18, if they are repentant and believe as Bell does in salvation through Christ? Are there mentions of these people being outside of God’s forgiveness as freely given on the Cross? A lot of people seem to be implying here that to be scripturally heterodox is the end of the line as far as salvation goes. Is this not of itself in flat contradiction to the notion of Justification By faith alone, through Christ, alone? Is Christ’s redemption not sufficient to cover those who have repented but nonetheless get Him wrong?"

"A) Numbers 14:21, Habakkuk 2:14, John 3:16 – If ALL of the earth will be filled with God’s glory, why do only SOME people go to hell?
B) Isaiah 45:23, Philippians 2:10,11, Psalm 72:11 – If eventually All the people of the earth will confess Jesus as Lord, why doesn’t EVERYONE get saved?
C) Isaiah 26:9 – How would a person burning in “hell” go about learning righteousness?
D) Romans 6:23 – When Adam sinned, he reaped death…why doesn’t the Bible say Adam went to hell?
E) Mark 16:19 – If the penalty for sin was eternal torment, would not Jesus still be burning in “hell” to pay for our sins?
D) If Gehenna is the place name for the Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem (you can find it on a map) why can’t hell be on earth right now?
E) 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 Timothy 4:10, John 12:32-33, Colossians 1:19-20…Why do these passages say Jesus died for ALL men? Doesn’t “all” mean EVERYONE?
F) Deuteronomy 15:1, Lev. 25:8 – Doesn’t the Law of Jubilee establishe the legal precedent for the forgiveness of all sins?
G) Colossians 1:19-20, John 12:32-33 – If He will reconcile all things to Himself, why can’t he reconcile the people stuck in eternal hell?"

"From Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today:
Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.
The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”'

There is SO much more out there, but I wanted to represent (carefully and honestly) where a lot of the resistance is coming from.  These comments are typical - not exaggerative - of the comments out there made by those who are championing Rob's book.  This is not a mean-spirited comment, it is simply a factual statement. 

If you read through them, you will note that the chief concern is that the more conservative camp of Christianity, which is critiquing this book negatively, is too judgmental to some degree and unduly biased in their cultural lens through which they have learned and continue to read Scripture.  The reference to God's unconditional and all-encompassing love comes up a lot, as does the reference to His command not to judge others and to do social ministry in this life instead of worrying about doctrine.  Sadly, most of these references are without asctual Biblical reference, i.e. 1 Peter 2: 11, or those that do use scriptural reference are tragically out of context (but I am biased because of my education and upbringing...).

But I have to ask this question:  Why is there so much ardency from the pro camp to live out the scriptural mandate to do ministry and love people - but a seemingly gross lack of tolerance or appreciation for others who want to obey the other scriptural mandate to guard doctrine? 

Here's a sample:

2 Timothy 1:12b-14
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.   Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.   By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
Romans 16:17
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

Ephesians 4:14

...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

1 Timothy 1:3
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,

1 Timothy 1:10
the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

1 Timothy 4:6
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

1 Timothy 6:3

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,

Titus 1:9
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 2:1
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Titus 2:10
not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

After all, true shepherds aren't trying to smear Rob or Love Wins, they are trying to defend Bbilical doctrine against a VERY popular voice who is challenging that doctrine.  Why is there so little tolerance for this?

Maybe it's because our doctrine IS wrong.  Maybe the doctrine the Bible is saying to defend isn't the conservative biblical position we have all thought it was all this time.
This isn't my stance by the way, but that is what is being suggested. 
And it has primarily to do with the teachings  of two men named Friedrich Schleiermacher and N.T. Wright. 

Sadly Schleiermacher has not been available for comment since the release of Love Wins, because he has been dead for nearly two centuries; but Schleiermacher is credited as being the man who saved Protestant Christianity from eradication in early 19th century through his magnus opum The Christian Faith, which espoused the same romantic view of God as Rob Bell does, in order to reconcile the criticisms of the newly emerged Enlightenment with Protestant orthodoxy (hmmm...interesting intellectual enlightenment pattern).

It is understandable if you are not familiar with Friederich's work, but if you want to be familiar with the emergent and post-modern landscape of theological discussion today, it is an absolute must to know N.T. Wright. 
How does he influence the discussion today?
How does he not?!  N.T. is observed and acknowledged by emergents and progressive theologians today to be the father of modern emergent thought , not directly, but via the espousal of ideas and teachings in his writings.  He is, in fact considered by many to be THE leading authority on the New Testament today.  Here is what he has previously said about one of the main ideas in Bell's book.


The foundation for N.T. Wrights eschatological (end times) worldview is his interpretation of Ephesians 1:7-10
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Wright claims the uniting of all things is a physical union of all things.  Heaven and Earth will be one (as opposed to the reign of Christ forevermore being the sovereign rule of heaven and earth -not just heaven).  Therefore, hell is not a place as much as a state of being (the dehumanization of the image bearer) in that united (and therefore - only) time space continuum.

But Wright has done the same thing today that many like Schleiermacher have done in history, and caused everyone to look at Scripture through a humanistic idealism, while claiming this is the original orthodox understanding handed down from the Prophets, Apostles and Christ Himself.  Now I'm not as smart as Wright, but I know what I have read in Eusebius and Josephus, (the two earliest accounts of Jewish and Christian History), and these perceptions are not even close to what is represented in those documents, or others for that matter.  The only times these ideas come up in ealry Chruch orthodoxy is when they come up as significant heresy and thus warrant a communal address and rebuke.

But again, we are not going to convince anyone.

It is obvious that the members of either camp are not going to convert the members of the other.  So why waste so much breath?

I think it comes down to this.  There is personal experience that comes with altruistic human idealism; and there is the will of God that comes as it comes.  The world is beginning to turn against the Christian faith again in a manner unprecedented since the time of Nero.  And much of it is coming from Biblical teachers and institutions.  I don't need to argue truth so that those who have rejected might see the error of their ways (it's worth the time and effort, but unlikely to happen), I need to argue for my kids.

We need to pass something on to our kids.  I want my kids to have the correct Biblical understanding of the One true God. But I'm going to need help.  I can't do it alone.  I need people with me who can discern how to guard the message and help my kids be accountable to it both at home and away.  They need to see there is a true respect for it from God-fearing people in the absolute purest and most gracious sense of the word.

That's it really.  No big theological proposition. That will come tomorrow ;0)

It's just that there seems to be a lot of Scriptural command for me to be a steward of doctrine.  I've got to believe in something to give something to my kids, and I choose Biblical doctrine that is clear, literal, and consistent.  I can let my personal experience dictate Scriptural truth, or I can let Scripture dictate my experience.  There is a lot more to say, but this has been long enough.  Tomorrow, I am going to address the idea at the epicenter of this discussion:  The difference between this faulty idea of unbiblical unconditional love, and the Biblical revelation of Sovereign love.

God Bless.

With you for His glory