Monday, May 16, 2011

Love Wins - Pt. 4 The Most Threatening Virtue

So, Rob Bell came out with a book a couple of months ago. I'm not sure if you've heard about it. It's created quite a conversation.

Here's the link to the video that caused all of the controversy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODUvw2McL8g

Controversial? Yes.
Important Conversation? Yes.
Questions people are asking today? Absolutely!

Now I must give an obligatory warning like every preacher gives. Do I agree with everything in this book? No. Do I agree with everything in any book? No.

OK...now that that's done let me get real with you.

I have read the book (important distinction because many who have critiqued Bell failed to read his book before doing so). I have listened to him speak on two occasions on his book tour. I heard him speak and he answered one of my questions at his book signing at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch. I also heard him speak at Denver Seminary the following day. I've been a Rob Bell fan for quite a while. And I'm still a fan!

He's willing to tackle questions that most aren't willing to touch. And while he might come off as a shallow, emergent, trendy preacher with dark-rimmed glasses, he's got some theological depth to him.

I appreciate his first century Jewish background work and how his relevant messages reach a postmodern crowd.

There are people who disagree with what he says, but I think most are unknowingly more upset with how he says it. He writes for a postmodern crowd that appreciates the right questions more than the right answers. And Rob asks questions that must be asked.

His view of the new heavens and the new earth are spot on. His chapter entitled "Does God Get What God Wants?" is worth the price of the book.

Some have labeled him a universalist, which is absolutely incorrect if you've read his book closely. He's certain some individuals will choose hell even though they have the opportunity to receive God's grace.

I guess my question comes down to practice. Most of us would reject the descriptor of universalist were it used to describe us. And on a theology paper I would reject that title as well.

But...

How many preachers are practical universalists when it comes to preaching funeral sermons? (I say this knowing some of you have likely heard a few preachers condemn people in the coffin.) In practice, when it comes to the moment of death most of us are either universalists or agnostic at worst.

And even if you're ready to send people to hell at funerals, most of us at least are generous enough to let God be the judge in the end. And most people I know are this way. If asked who is going to hell, they will back away from answering and admit, "Well, I'm not the judge. God is the judge."

The truth is, we don't know and we aren't the judge.

But the scary thing is that I think some of us desire for hell to be more populated than heaven. And that is not God's desire. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Perhaps we should want the same thing!

The truth is C.S. Lewis wrote some of the very same things that Rob Bell has written (perhaps parable form is safer). And he is the poster child of the same conservative evangelical critics who condemn Bell as a heretic.

I like how Rob described what he was doing in his book while he was at Denver Seminary. And I think we should be after the same task.

He said, "This books sits on the edge between urgency and possibility. It's my intention for it to sit there."

In other words, we should live our lives with all urgency and passion to welcome the kingdom of God to earth. Rob's book isn't a call for complacency while we wait for God's grace to invade our dispassionate lives. In fact, I would argue the escapism of evangelicalism's traditional story about heaven and hell lacks more reasons for urgency about life on this earth. So, we are urgent to proclaim and live the good news welcoming God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

On the other hand, we hope for the possibility that God's grace might just be larger than our box often allows him to be. We live with urgency, but we leave open our judgment to the Great Judge who happens to want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

But perhaps what concerns me most is the angry response of Christians to Bell's book. My question is this: If claiming too many people will go to heaven is heresy, why don't we consider it heresy to claim too few people will go to heaven?

I want to live with urgency as I welcome the kingdom of God to come in its fullness on earth as it is in heaven.
I also want to live with the possibility that God might be more gracious than our imaginations can fathom.
I want love to win! Do you?

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15 comments:

mattdabbs said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. I think Bell has been very misunderstood and much of that comes from Bell trying to hold in tension two things at the same time and take them both seriously. People only tend to hear the one side that agrees with them and fight against the other but often things are learned more completely if we can be patient and hear the whole thing out.

The two things he holds in tension: 1)God is love. God is our Father. God is all powerful. God saves. If God loves all then couldn't/wouldn't God save all? 2) But then you add in the tension of those who spit in God's eye, kill God's people, or do all sorts of other evil...they get what they want, right? I don't think Bell is a universalist but he sure makes that hard to figure out at times.

Collin Packer said...

Thanks for commenting and visiting the blog Matt. I enjoyed hearing you speak representing young ministers at Pepperdine. Hopefully I'll get a chance to meet you at another event soon.

While I didn't set out to write a full review of his book, I think one of the major issues in his book is his failure to show how God's justice will get worked out.

For instance, the prosperity gospel can't possibly be the gospel because it can't be preached in 3rd world countries. And if the gospel we preach isn't good news for everyone, it can't possibly be the gospel. In the same way, I'm not sure how Bell's failure to deal effectively with the injustices in the 3rd world would be good news in many places throughout the world. It reads well (and I like it) sitting in my chair in my office in suburban Denver, but I'm not sure it's a gospel for the world.

Clint Packer said...

Postmodernism is a very subtle, deceptive, dangerous enemy to God and all Christians. Rob Bell is a Postmodernist. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing whether he knows it or not. He asks a bunch of questions with the implied answer that nobody can know for sure. Therefore truth is relevant and we should all join the postmodern movement. Postmodernism is not our friend, it is one of the biggest threats to true Christianity out there today. We must read our Bibles and allow God's spirit to lead us into the truth and stop listening to people like Rob Bell. Christianity shouldn't accept the postmodern philosophy in order to gain the postmodern crowd into the fold of Christianity. This is what Christians did with the pagans in the 3rd Century. They COMPROMISED the truth by combining pagan practices with Christian language. This movement still exists today, its called Catholicism, which is pure Paganism under the guise of Christianity. And now many of the Protestants that once separated from Rome are slowly returning back under this postmodern philosophy. Truth is absolute, not relevant. Rob Bell asks alot of great questions. But the problem with the postmodern philosophy is that you better not dare try to provide any answers to them.
The bottom line is that you must do your own research and stop allowing others to tell you what to think and believe. Research the following: the Emergent Church movement, postmodernism, the ecumenical movement. The Bible tells us the truths of Heaven, Hell and everything else. But postmodernist will just confuse you into believing that you can't know for sure. Once you believe that, then you will just follow whatever leader is in front of you whether it be Rob Bell, the Pope, or whoever. At that point you are no longer even following God, but have gone your own way. We live in a world of lies and deception lead by Satan himself. Our ONLY defense is God's word in the Bible and God's gift of the Holy Spirit. Rob Bell's book is meaningless. It only matters what the Bible says. And the ONLY way to interpret it correctly is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not through the guidance of Rob Bell, or the Pope, or any other human being for that matter. And just because someone might have a particular title or masters degree in Christianity,that too is also meaningless. It means absolutely nothing, and we shouldn't give our minds to these people to mold our beliefs. We should be seeking the guidance of God's spirit instead.
And Collin, Rob Bell has little to no theological depth. He doesn't tackle any questions. He merely asks the questions and then tells you that you are wrong if you know the answer or that you can't know for sure. And I care about WHAT he says. I don't really care about HOW he says it and it's my opinion that that is true for most. And is he a universalist? Ok so he doesn't think 100% go to Heaven, but maybe say 98%. I'd say he's a universalist. Doesn't the Bible tell us that narrow is the gate and few find it? You mentioned the inconsistency in which people respond to CS Lewis and Rob Bell. CS Lewis's writing is just as meaningless as Rob Bell's. Again, it doesn't matter what these people think, or what I think, or what you think, it only matters what God says in the Bible. And I don't think it's right to say that others DESIRE for Hell to be more populated than Heaven. Perhaps these people just understand that the gate is narrow and few find it. And this idea of Hell being this eternal torture chamber lead by the big red Devil with his pitchfork is not biblical. This comes from ancient philosophy, mythology, it's a catholic teaching that protestants failed to separate from. We should be extra careful not to involve ourselves with what the world teaches, but hold strong to God's word. Postmodernism is a worldly movement that Christians should not take part in.

Tim Byrne said...

I think Richard Beck addresses this idea of urgency very well: He describes it as an “urgency of joy” instead of the traditional urgency of fear of damnation. Beck even takes it a little further than just welcoming the kingdom of God on earth to saying that the kingdom is already here and that evangelism is about getting people to participate in the wedding banquet that is already occurring. How could we as Christians not want all to join in the peace and joy that we are currently experiencing as children in His kingdom? This is similar to what I think Bell gets at when he talks about the party that the father throws in the story of the prodigal son, except that Beck is a self-proclaimed universalist and is coming from that perspective. In any case, I think both would agree that the party is happening now and we should be passionate to bring others in to enjoy it with us. You can find his post at http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/04/musings-about-universalism-part-9.html

Collin Packer said...

That's good stuff, Tim.

I'm thinking a lot right now about our motivation for following Jesus. We seem to be driven by fear rather than joy. You and Richard might have just spawned a sermon series for the Fall. We'll see.

Clint Packer said...

Richard Beck is a Postmodernist and Universalist. Preaching a gospel of joy as opposed to damnation is great. But much of what he says is philosophical, unbiblical nonsense. The Kingdom of God is not already here, the wedding banquet has not already begun, and there is no party going on right now. This is what I would call the "rainbows and butterflies syndrome." Christ's rule is not currently on this earth. We currently are living under Satan's rule. Satan has not yet been destroyed. All is not well in the world. Look around you, there are increasing wars and rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and tyrannical governments worldwide. Many of us have the rainbows and butterflies syndrome because we've been so blessed to live in America at its peak. Well that will soon end. America is in really bad shape financially and on the decline. Things are getting worse, not better in the world. The rainbows and butterflies syndrome is delusional thinking. It wants to believe that everyone will be saved. It wants to believe that we won't ever suffer the harsh reality that everyone else suffers from throughout the world and throughout history. History has shown that mankind produces disastrous results when we go our own way. That without Christ's rule, mankind again and again reverts back to tyranny and oppression refusing to follow God's way of life. It is now more important than ever to be students of God's word, to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for truth. Postmodernism doesn't seek truth, only unity. It doesn't seek sound doctrine, it seeks to tickle the ears of the worldly. So if we can't know truth and God's word loses its authority, we will then be susceptible to being lead in the wrong direction by some charismatic leader. God warns again and again against not being deceived. Throwing truth out the window will all but make certain our deception. Don't make up your own reality. Make sure everything you believe is backed up with scripture. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. It's that simple, but this is your duty as an individual. Don't leave this duty up to the so called experts, so they can tell you what is or isn't true. The truth is divisive, it does not unify, it separates. The Bible tells us we should stay separate from the world and hold fast to truth. Postmodernism will lead you away from truth and from God. Beware, don't play with fire. Not everyone that claims to be of God is of God. Let no man deceive you.

Collin Packer said...

Clint,

I don't believe this is as black and white as you claim it to be. Scripture certainly doesn't make it as simple as you make it sound. The Kingdom of God is not yet fully present, but it has been inaugurated. If the kingdom of God isn't in some sense already present, how do you deal with these Scriptures:

Mark 1:15
Luke 10:9-11
Matthew 12:28
Matthew 11:12
Luke 17:20-21
Colossians 1:13
Hebrews 12:28

It's not helpful to claim the other side doesn't consider the Bible or isn't theologically deep. Obviously these matters have been discussed for years by knowledgeable, Spirit-filled people without agreement. I cannot accept blanket statements of condemnation.

Tim Byrne said...

Clint,

I agree that the world is in a sorry state of affairs. But I believe (and hope that you do too) that the transformation of the fallen world toward God's new creation started when Jesus came to earth and that death was conquered through His resurrection. We don't read that as a result of His resurrection death will be conquered (future-tense). It has happened and our fate has changed. Those of us who have put on Christ are enjoying the fellowship of His kingdom today, even though it has not yet fully arrived. We as Christians are rejoicing that God, through Christ, is restoring His creation even now as we speak, and that is Good News! I'm not saying that we don't still experience the consequences of sin. I agree, Satan is still very active in the world. But we live with the knowledge that Christ is victorious and that we can be/are a part of this transformation process as we love God and our neighbor, in spite of the evil around us. In a sense, we can look at it as if we are ushering in the kingdom alongside our Father. In any case, we need to spread the news of what Jesus did for us, about what God is doing in the world today, and that all are welcome to be a part of it and enjoy it here and now. This is the "urgency" that I think Richard Beck, Rob Bell, and many, many others speak of based on what is revealed through Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. This isn't postmodernism; this is the same Gospel taught by many throughout church history that is being realized again, perhaps as a result of postmodern thinking.

Clint Packer said...

Hey where did my post go from this morning??? That's kinda frustrating. I just addressed some of Collin's response and will address the verses quoted as soon as I have time to. Too bad that won't be shared. I don't think I have it in me to write that out again. Stay tuned and I'll state my case with scripture that the Kingdom of God is not currently among us and not yet established. Our conclusion on this matter has large implications on what our duty is as Christians in this life. Hopefully when I do it doesn't disappear like my last post.

Collin Packer said...

Settle down, my friend. I saw your post on e-mail, but I did nothing to keep it from showing up in the comments. Let's keep from claiming conspiracy theories please. I'll forward the e-mail to you you so you can copy the other post in a new comment if you desire.

Clint Packer said...

Collin, here is how I deal with these scriptures…
Luke 17:20-21 "Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Many will quote this verse to claim that the Kingdom of God is something that is within us and therefore present on earth today. Other translations use the phrase “among you” or “in your midst.” The NIV even has the footnote “among you” at the bottom. Jesus was referring to himself as the top representative and King of the Kingdom of God. It can’t possibly mean “within you,” because he was speaking to the Pharisees. Keeping in mind Jesus’ feelings toward the Pharisees, Jesus can’t be saying that the Kingdom of God is within the Pharisees. That wouldn't make any sense and doesn’t line up with the rest of scripture. So referring to himself as the Kingdom of God or the representative of it will help explain some other verses. And since Jesus ascended to Heaven and is no longer present on earth today, the Kingdom of God is also not currently present on earth today.
Mark 1:15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" The Kingdom of God was “near” because Jesus was among them at that time. Today, he is in Heaven.
Luke 10:9,11 "Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' ….Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' Again, Jesus was among them and performed miracles to announce his presence. Today, he is in Heaven.
Colossians 1:13 "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves," Read verse 12 for the proper time context. Paul is speaking about when the saints inherit the Kingdom, and then that continues into verse 13. So Christ hasn’t yet rescued us from the dominion of darkness. This occurs at his return, and then at that point we are brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Yes, Jesus did conquer the penalty for sin and provided a path for us to receive eternal life. But the dominion of darkness is still present today, and the Kingdom of God is not yet established. The gospel is the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, Jesus was the messenger of it, and obviously plays a major roll in the overall plan of God.
Matthew 12:28 "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Jesus is again referring to himself. The Messiah was among them performing miracles. Today, Jesus is in Heaven, therefore the Kingdom of God is not currently among us.
Hebrews 12:28 "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe," Read the previous verses back to verse 18 for the proper time context. It is referencing a future time when God’s Kingdom is established on earth. At that time we will be thankful and worship God with reverence and awe because we will have then received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. That Kingdom is not yet established.
Matthew 11:12 "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." This is again referencing Jesus as the top representative and King of the Kingdom of God. He was at that time present among them. Today, Jesus is in Heaven, therefore the Kingdom of God is not currently among us.
Now you may or may not accept these interpretations. But that is my take on the verses you believe don't line up with what I'm saying. But now allow me to turn the tables and ask you to explain some verses that I don't believe line up with your view, yet they do line up with my interpretations above. I'll get back to you with those verses.

Clint Packer said...

haha, yes conspiracy.

Clint Packer said...

Thank you Collin for upholding justice. Here is my previous post that mysteriously disappeared earlier this morning...;)

Ok, what you call a blanket statement of condemnation is just me stating my view. I stand by that view, although I will clarify that I am not saying that Rob Bell is personally an enemy of God and Christians. I'm saying that postmodern ideology is an enemy and should be rejected. I'm also not stating that finding truth in the Bible is simple, in fact many times it can get quite complicated. I'm saying that the concept of seeking God's spirit for guidance in our lives is a simple concept to follow. Personally, I see too many people seeking the guidance of other people. Which is fine to do that, but if you neglect to seek God's spirit for guidance first and foremost, than other people can easily lead you down the wrong path. And I just don't buy the argument that we can't possibly know certain truths because throughout history scholars have devoted their entire lives to these subjects and even they can't agree. The fact that they can't agree should show us that maybe we shouldn't put our faith in their guidance. John 16:13 says, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." So you are cutting short the ability of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us truth and prophecy if you believe that we can't know truth because these scholars can't agree. And I'd say that if the Pharisees were around today, they would be included in that group of so called knowledgeable people, and we all know how Jesus felt about them. I do concede that it's not helpful to claim Rob Bell isn't theologically deep. I should have kept that one to myself. Although in some ways he is almost too deep, to the point where it's no longer biblical what he is saying, but mere philosophy. He is a very captivating speaker, I'll give him that, but that's what makes him so dangerous if he isn't speaking biblically.
You are also challenging me(or I was challenging you) on my position that the Kingdom of God is not currently present on earth today. I can give explanations to those verses you gave believe it or not. Although you'll have to give me some time, a few days maybe, to get back with you on that, and I promise that I will. But I believe that our conclusion to this subject is very important because it speaks to what our duty is as Christians. There isn't much that postmodernist will take a strong stance on and actually have conviction in their beliefs. But one subject they do is the idea that the Kingdom of God is partially present today. And that it is our Christian duty to bring in the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in Heaven. Sounds great, but is it true? Satan knows that the only way for Christians to come together in perfect unity is to sacrifice truth. Truth is what currently divides us. So if he can twist scripture to make us believe that the Kingdom of God is partially present and that it's our duty to bring in the rest as it is in Heaven, than we will sacrifice truth in the process. At that point the door is opened to Satan's lies and deceptions. We will be all to willing to compromise truth in order to unify for the Kingdom. How tragic it would be if this thinking is all wrong. I'll get back with on those verses. And I'll also have some verses for you to explain as well.

Clint Packer said...

Here is additional scripture to show why I believe the kingdom of God is not yet established or partially present on earth today.

I Cor. 15:50 says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Last time I checked, we are all still flesh and blood, therefore we have not yet inherited the kingdom of God.

John 3:3-8 explains that the kingdom of God is something that can be seen, but that in order to see it you must be born again. Most Christians today claim to be born again Christians, but the truth is that they are not yet born again. Verse 8 compares being born again to being like wind, or invisible spirit beings. Verse 6 says “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Verse 5 says that the kingdom of God is something that can be entered into, but that you must be born of water and of the Spirit to enter in. Born of water is in reference to baptism. Born of the Spirit is in reference to our change from flesh and blood into spirit beings at the resurrection. Until both of these things take place, we have yet to enter into the kingdom of God. So we aren’t born of Spirit at baptism, only born of water. I don’t know any baptized Christians that could be described as being like wind or being invisible spirit beings. Many of us are already baptized, but it isn’t until Christ’s return at the resurrection that we receive our change from flesh and blood into spirit beings. It is at that time that we are considered born again and can enter into and see the kingdom of God. So because we are today still flesh and blood and not yet born again spirit beings, the kingdom of God can’t today be seen or entered into.

In John 18:36 Jesus says "My kingdom is not of this world… my kingdom is from another place." Christ’s kingdom is today in Heaven. The kingdom of God then returns to earth at Christ’s return. So today it is not present, today it is not among us, and it was never within us. When Jesus was here on earth, the kingdom of God was temporarily among us or in our midst, but now he is in Heaven.

Isaiah 9:6-7 says “his government and peace there shall be no end.” We currently have endless war, not endless peace, therefore the Kingdom of God is not yet established. And notice who performs this establishing of the Kingdom . It is the zeal of the Lord of hosts, not us. It is not our job to establish the kingdom of God on earth. God doesn’t need our help.

Eph. 6:12 describes “the darkness of this world” as “rulers.” And “spiritual wickedness” is described as being in “high places.” This could not be true if the kingdom of God was already established. And there is no partially present kingdom. Either someone rules or they don’t. Either Satan rules the earth or God rules the earth. Today, Satan rules the earth, but yes that will change at Christ’s return when he establishes the kingdom of God.

Luke 11:2 is the famous “Lord’s prayer.” It doesn’t say “thy kingdom spread” or “thy kingdom grow” as if it were already partially here. It says “thy kingdom come.” Why pray for thy kingdom to come if it’s already here?

Matt. 6:33 explains that the kingdom of God is something we should seek first and foremost. Why seek the kingdom of God if it is already here or within you?

II Cor. 4:4 describes Satan as “the god of this world.” If the kingdom of God is present today, this would not be the case.

to be continued……

Clint Packer said...

Luke 21:31 explains that once a series of end time, prophesied events take place, the kingdom of God is still not yet present, but "nigh at hand". The preceding verses explain these end time events just prior to Christ’s return. What makes us think the kingdom of God is present today even before these end time events have taken place? Also those preceding verses explain that the world will be in really bad shape just prior to his return. So the idea that Christians are to bring in the kingdom of God and the world will gradually improve up until Christ’s return isn't correct. The Bible seems to suggest that any such effort will be a monumental failure given all the prophesied calamity toward the end times.

I'll stop there, although there are even more verses in the Bible to support these if you are still not convinced that the kingdom of God is not yet present on earth. My interpretations of the verses you used to support your view line up perfectly with the rest of scripture without contradiction. But if your view is correct, how do you explain these verses that in my view seem to contradict what you are saying?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that I'm correct for a second. The reason this is so important is because our conclusion to this subject determines our view as to what our duty is as Christians. I'm claiming that our duty is to put on the full armor of God, which includes standing firm with the belt of truth around our waist, and to preach the gospel as a witness. It is not our duty to convert the entire world at this time and bring in the Kingdom of God by our own efforts before Christ even returns. I'd call that the Kingdom of Man, which is what we have now. And how well is that working for us? And if we could accomplish that, we should just tell Jesus to stay in Heaven, that we don't need him and that we got the situation all under control without him. The book of Revelations also tells us that at the end of the Age, the whole world, or the large majority, will be worshiping and wondering after the Beast. So any effort to unite the world for world peace will only be under the Beast system. This is something we do not want to be apart of. God does have a plan for mankind. But this idea that we need to take it upon ourselves to accomplish this plan is a deceptive lie of Satan. You will only be playing into the Devil's hands. This is one of many examples as to why truth and sound doctrine is so important to God. One little misinterpretation or mistranslation (like "within you" in Luke 17:21 NIV) can change your entire view as to what your duty is as a Christian. Satan is way too smart for us to overcome on our own. Satan can twist scripture with such subtleness and lead us in the wrong direction so easily. That is why us seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us truth is so important and is our only chance of overcoming.