Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category


What Needs to Arise from the Ashes of the Emerging Church

March 4, 2014

RipIn 2006, I wrote six articles on why I was not a part of the Emerging Church. Here is the final one, and all you have to do is read backward to find the rest. At that time, I predicted that the Emerging Church movement would fall apart and cease to exist in the years to come. I didn’t say that out of animosity or a desire to curse them. Unfortunately, the Emerging church movement was decontructionist in nature, and thus subject to the same inertia of all deconstructionist movements: They fall down with their own tendency to self-criticize.

In other words, once you start throwing stones as a group, you inevitably start throwing stones at each other. Decontructionist movements always devolve into bickering.

A few years ago Dan Kimball–who wrote the book “The Emerging Church“– wrote an article where he admitted the movement had splintered and was no longer a viable entity. Others such as Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones (a.k.a The Tall Skinny Kiwi) also have lamented and written about the fragmentation of the movement.

But all three men have one thing in common: They still believe in the principles of the Emerging Church even if they no longer believe the movement is viable. The problem is, every one of them recognizes a significantly different set of principles that embody their view of the Emerging church. Perhaps this is another reason it has come to an end.

But since I was a bellringer for this movement’s demise, perhaps it is time to admit some of the things I learned from reading, meditating and participating with some of the leaders of this movement. This is not an homage to something I didn’t believe in–I’m not Cassius Brutus or his kin–but rather this springs from my desire to acknowledge the good things the Emerging church was trying to do.

1. The Evangelical Church Has Become Shallow: As with any retrospective, my analysis of all things related to churches will be painting with a broad brush. Not all evangelical churches are shallow. But there is a pattern which goes back over twenty years in prominent Evangelical churches of emphasizing style over content. Let me just give a few examples:

  • Dominance of bass boosters, fog machines, expensive lighting systems, electronic keypads etc. in large megachurches.
  • Pastors buying the sermon series of other preachers instead of digging into the Word on their own (thank you Rick Warren for that egregious error).
  • Christian bestsellers are all penned by superstar pastors since these pastors can guarantee that their congregations will buy the first 50,000 copies. Therefore, most Christian books are ghost-written and designed for marketing instead of teaching..
  • Worship services are designed to sound like concerts instead of providing a place for the congregation to have communion with the Holy Spirit.
  • Tendency to mirror conservative political buzz instead of being a prophetic voice.

The Emerging Church desired to have more intimate gatherings of people instead of the consumerist approach we buy into. In this, they are correct. As I wrote in this series on the Walmartization of the church, this trend will not stop as long as people desire little commitment to a local church. I am sorry the Emerging Church was not able to make more of an impact on these practices.

2. Social Justice: If you look back ten years to the messages preached from Evangelical pulpits, you didn’t hear much talk about climate change, recycling, feeding the poor, sex trafficking, backyard gardens, gender equity, GMO proliferation etc. The Emerging Church dedicated themselves to social justice and their voices convinced many in the Evangelical world that this was true and undefiled religion. Now you can hear them being preached everywhere. I am concerned that as the Emerging Church loses its soapbox, we may forget these critical emphases.

3. Narrative Theology has one great result: Narrative preaching seeks to understand where each book of the Bible can be found in the larger  story of God. That is to say, all Scripture was penned as a partnership between God, the writer and the culture to whom he was writing. Evangelical preachers have sought to understand what God was saying in each passage, keeping in mind the human elements of the writers while not really paying much credence to their personality. For instance, we recognize the difference between the Gospel written by Doctor Luke and the one that comes from the mouth of the peasant John. Their language is different as is their focus. But that’s as far as we go. We rarely, if ever, parse the cultures to whom books were written. This is a serious error and I thank the Emerging church and their emphasis on reading the original culture as well as reading the original language. It helps to know that culture’s views on poverty, slavery, sex, women, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, church leadership etc. before we finish up our study. Evangelicals are too inclined to only look what God might be saying and not enough to the ideas of the author and the contextual culture. I suspect that as the Emerging Church disappears, we may go back to only one side of the Scriptural partnership. Hopefully writers like Tom Wright and Roger Olson can help us stay on a good interpretive track.

4. People Are Leaving Church Because We Are too Institutional: This past year, well-known writers such as Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller have admitted they rarely go to church. CNN ran a series of articles three months ago suggesting that children who grew up in Evangelical churches are leaving those same churches when they hit their twenties. Everyone has proposed a different reason for this, but I think the Emerging Church identified the reason better than all the rest: The Millennial Generation doesn’t perceive real community in their home church and this is what they yearn for more than anything else.

Recently, our church decided we need to buy a building so our current ministries don’t die off. We are meeting in 7 different locations around the city doing the work we are called to do. As I met with various members of the church to discuss a move, I asked them one question: What do you value about our church? The answer was consistent and overwhelming: People join our church because of its sense of genuine community. We actually know each other. We are involved in each other’s lives. The biggest fear that people expressed about owning a building is that we would get too big and lose that sense of belonging to one another. This response has made our leadership team sit up and ask tough questions. Primarily, we want to know if we can do this and stay close to each other. If at any point we decide that is not possible, we will give up trying to have a building.

Today’s Evangelical church  must come to grips with the movement of young people away from the “Show” and the “Celebrity Pastor”. If we are not intimate, genuine, relational and humble, our churches will die just as surely as the Emerging church.


Five Plus Two (plus one) Equals 15,000

October 24, 2013

worship_kneelingI sat in the front row of my church recently and thought: “Finally, we broke through“. We failed to do this for the few weeks previous. One Sunday, we even felt completely submerged in despair, desperation and grim feelings. Though not everyone felt that way, it was a spiritual attack and we were not handling it well.

One primary reason for this is that people have not understood the power of worship. Worship is not a noun. I heard someone say recently to a friend who was discouraged: “We need to get some worship in you guy“. Another friend recently posted about a pastor who said “Let’s get our worship on.” These comments thrust worship into noun-status, relegating worship into a “thing” that we “receive”.

This is so far from accurate, we should cringe when we hear it.

Worship is a verb. It is an activity we perform with three distinct goals (we don’t always employ each goal, but they are all legitimate):

1. To pull away from the rat race of this world and re-connect with God whom we may have neglected or not taken time to connect with

2. To teach our souls that God is the center of the universe and deserving of praise and adoration, and not we ourselves.

3. To deny the soul-sucking beliefs and emotions that are inspired by selfish people and evil designs in this world. When we worship, we focus on God, his power and Truth and pull away from the negative influences of people and unclean spirits.

When we see worship as a noun, we passively receive some benefit from music, fellowship, church service structure or architecture. Though music can sometimes change our mood, it fails to change or address the deeper issues of the mind, emotions, memories and imagination. Only God can work with us on that level.

So, with those concepts in mind, let me go back to the worship service I reference at the top of this article. The week before, I had challenged the church to come together to do warfare against false beliefs and negative emotions by preparing for worship early and by coming together as a group to honor God whole-heartedly. For weeks, we had not done this and therefore, we were buried in the avalanche of life’s troubles and worries. That morning, instead of being buried, we broke through with a cry of relief and joy. Most people who were privileged to be there, and who shared in the experience, say it was one of the most dramatic times they had spent with God in a long while.

I remember experiencing the opposite on many occasions. I have sat in church services where it appeared to me (and I may have been wrong about this) that very few people were attempting to have a living, breathing relationship with God during their offering of worship. They were going through the motions. This brought to mind a dream I had 25 years ago. Let me share the dream then go on to a short teaching.

In the dream, another man and I were walking into a small country church. There were dozens of people there and the pianist was playing a well-known worship hymn. For some reason, no one could see my friend and I. We just observed what was happening among the people. I noticed that everyone’s mouths were moving, but I could only hear musical words coming from a few of them. That’s when I saw  a man standing beside my friend and I.

“Would you like to know what you’re seeing” he asked me.

“I don’t understand” I said. “Why can’t I hear most of them?”

He explained. “The ones you can hear mean what they are saying. The rest are just singing a well-known song. You are hearing what God is hearing. He can’t hear those who don’t mean what they’re singing.”

That’s when I woke up in a sweat. Through this dream, I came to realize that there is great truth in John 4:24, 25: “God is spirit; those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. God is seeking people such as this to worship Him.” God seeks out worshipers. This is not because God is vain, but because He knows that in worship, we connect deeply to him. In our worship, we throw down our self-absorbed ways and acknowledge our creator, bless his goodness, see his beauty and love and receive his power. It is in worship that we fully partner with God so that God is released in us to change us and re-structure all the damaged parts of our minds and hearts.

Let me dwell for a moment on this concept of partnership. Those times I have sat in the service where no one seems to be meaning what they’re singing, where no one is really connecting with God – I often get upset and start praying for them. I have often prayed that God would “break through and pour out His Presence.”

But recently, I realized God cannot just do this unless people are in agreement with it. If few people in a room want the presence of God to be seen, God cannot manifest his presence as He would want. But if enough people in the room (I can’t give  you a percentage, but it doesn’t have to be the majority) desire to have God show up and change our lives, then we experience that organic partnership that brings about miracles.

Remember the time Jesus was teaching the crowds and they all realized they were hungry. It would have taken hours – maybe days – for everyone to go home and have a meal. Jesus’ teaching was important, but they were hungry. So he tells the disciples to find something for the crowds to eat.

Matthew and Luke tell us there were 5,000 men at this meeting. It is reasonable to assume there were as many women and children there, so it is also reasonable to say that the crowd numbered somewhere around 15,000. They wanted more of Jesus and he wanted to feed them. There are a lot of deeper truths here, but I don’t have time to graze through them. Feel free to think more about this yourself.

A young boy came forward with his lunch: Five small barley loaves and two small fish. The word “small” is repeated in the Greek language. We are to see his offering as a small thing by human standards. But in offering his meal, he is offering to God a partnership with huge implications. Here is the deeper truth: It is not the size of the thing we are bringing to the partnership that is important: It is the attitude of wanting God to take what is ours and use it to God’s designs that changes our world.

The heart of worship is an attitude of surrender. It is not wise to come into God’s presence and bring nothing. Surrendering attitudes, decisions, relationships, plans, goals, desires, habits, money, sex, power, indifference, fears, loneliness – whatever we give to God freely with a full heart becomes the basis for a miracle.

Try this today. Get alone and put on some spiritual music that causes you to focus on God. Sing along with it if you like. But focus on inviting God to meet with you. Then, when you begin to experience his presence on the inside, surrender anything that wants to take your focus away from worship. Ask God to partner in this thing with you. Ask God how he wants you to act differently. Like the boy who had to give up the meal and then saw 15,000 people fed to overflowing, God will show you what comes next.

Recently, in worship, I surrendered my anger toward a colleague who had treated me poorly (by my estimation). I feel I am right in this situation, but once I surrendered my right to be angry, God showed me a perspective on his heart. My heart was filled with compassion for him, and God showed me how to bless him. Which I was able to do the next week. We have now renewed our friendship because of this. This is the kind of miracle I embrace. It changes our lives.

Worship is a verb, an action we perform so we can partner with the Living God to change this world.


Does God Pull Away or Do We?

October 25, 2012

I have heard it said many times that God hates sin so much that he cannot have anything to do with people who have sin. God is often pictured as distancing Himself from sinners, retreating to a holy conclave where He is not affected by our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross, which legally pays for sin, allows God to have fellowship and friendship with the believer.

Or so we’ve been told. There are certainly verses throughout the Bible that suggest this and even state openly that because we are all sinners we fall short of the grace of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible says that when we sin we negate the effectiveness of our prayers (Micah 3:4), we bring spiritual death upon ourselves (Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23), and we lose a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But nowhere does it say that God cannot stand to be around us when we sin. Nowhere.

Here is what it does say: Isaiah 59:1-2:

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
    you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

Look clearly at v. 2. It is not that God pulls away from us; we pull away from God. Sin, by definition is selfish living, living without regard for Creator, other people and consequences. When we live in such a self-absorbed condition, it is hard to be close to anyone, let alone God. The more we sin, the less we are like God and the less we share values in common with God. When you do not share the values of another person, it is so hard to get close to them. In counseling over the years, I have seen many married couples grow apart because they do not share a common set of values.

In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, we read that God went looking for them. THEY HID FROM GOD, not the other way around. God is not afraid of sin and neither does God reject the sinner. Jesus is God and he liked to hang with sinners. Holy Spirit is God and he speaks to sinners about sin, righteousness and the afterlife. You don’t speak to people you abhor.

There is not a person in this world that God willingly pulls away from. But He will allow us to pull away from Him. Keep that in mind next time God feels far away. God didn’t move away. God didn’t change position at all.


The Hardest Prophecy ever Given by God

May 29, 2012

When we think of the Love of God, it is very possible to slip into a motif of sentimentalism. Be assured of this: God is not sentimental. His love does not drip of syrupy platitudes and pictures of little puppies. He loves the old gnarly dogs just as much as the cute youngsters.

But most people don’t define love the way God does. That makes it more difficult to understand some of the things God does and says. There may not be anything more difficult than Ezekiel 24:15-18. Here’s what it says:

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. ”

18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.

God tells the Prophet Ezekiel that his wife is going to die that evening and he is not allowed to outwardly mourn her in any way. This may be one of the most incomprehensible things God has ever asked anyone to do. Leaving aside for a moment that God is telling someone their loved one is about to die. Leaving aside for a moment that, from the way it is worded, it appears that Ezekiel and his wife were very close and loving.

Actually, we can’t leave those things aside. He is not asking this of a divorced prophet or of a man whose wife was a shrew. This is the love of his life. Not only is she about to die, but he is not allowed to grieve and he has to talk to people about why he is not speaking.

Why would a loving God do this to one of his best people? The love of God compels God to do the best thing for the most amount of people while keeping two truths in mind:

1. That people have freedom of choice over their own lives.

2. That sin is powerful and if allowed to go unchecked will destroy every person on this planet. God’s purpose is to deal with this second truth without completely violating the first truth.

The entire nation of Israel has wandered away from God and is practicing witchcraft, rampant immorality, idol worship, child sacrifice and war cult activity. God has given Ezekiel and a handful of other prophets messages to pass on in warning about where these actions are leading. No one is paying any attention to them. But as the days before consequences for their actions get closer, the messages of God become sharper. Finally, God uses a metaphor that will drive home the point. But it requires a picture that will not easily leave people’s minds.

Several things to remember. First, we all die. And death is in itself not a curse. The cross of Christ has removed sin from death and therefore taken away its sting. Second, we will all die when it is our appointed time to die. Nothing anyone else does or says can change that. Third, those of us who believe in God do not see death as a final moment. Fourth, sometimes for many of us, grieving has to be postponed due to other critical issues.

The nation of Israel are about to be attacked and attacked and attacked by their enemies. This time, God is not going to stop the attacks. People will die by the thousands, not because God is unloving, but because the nation didn’t want to acknowledge God any longer. This prophetic action God is calling Ezekiel to (i.e. not mourning his wife’s death) will mirror the coming days when the chaos and confusion of being attacked will leave people no time to grieve as they run for their own lives.

God gave them this picture to warn them and perhaps shock them into seeing what their actions would cause. They could have changed their minds and their ways and turned back to God. It may not have prevented everything from happening, but God is a forgiving God and will help us when we turn to Him.

We ought to remember the words of C. S. Lewis in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when describing Aslan, a figure of God Himself: “He is good, but He’s not safe”.

Not safe indeed. But He is loving, good and forgiving. And just so you know, God did comfort the prophet after he gave this word. At the end of that chapter he does tell him there will be a time he can openly grieve and God will help him.

What we all need to know is that when we think God does not care about the smallest things in our lives, we can be assured He does. But there are moments when God’s actions tell us He has bigger fish to fry. If we know he loves us fiercely, that can help us get through the tough times.


Sexually Active…but not Promiscuous?

March 6, 2012

Rachel Held Evans holds court on opinions that are sometimes evangelical; and sometimes not. Which is why I like to visit her site. I like to stretch some of my more rigid beliefs.

That’s why when she responded this week to Rush Limbaugh’s rant against Sandra Fluke and her testimony before a Congressional Committee, I really wanted to see her opinion.

You can read Ms. Evan’s article here:

I don’t have any desire to get into a debate on what Limbaugh said. That’s too much work for me and I couldn’t care less about his opinion. However, Rachel Evans made a statement I could not pass by without comment. In addressing why Evangelicals have such an affinity for people like Rush Limbaugh, she feels he hits on three nerves with us. The third of these is Sex. In that part of the article, she states:

This attitude represents one of the most damaging and least-talked-about blind spots within evangelicalism—the one that refuses to acknowledge the fact that being sexually active does not make a woman a slut. 

Currently, evangelicals tend to force young adults, especially young women, into simplistic sexual categories. They are either “pure” or “impure,” “whole” or “damaged,” “virgins” or “sluts.” There does not seem to exist a vocabulary within evangelicalism with which to talk about men and women who are sexually active, but not promiscuous.

I am intrigued by this statement for several reasons. First, is she saying that it is acceptable to be sexually active as an unmarried Christian? Actually, she goes on to say she is just acknowledging that a significant percentage of young Evangelicals are sexually active. Or, is she saying there is need of a word that describes a person who is

  • unmarried
  • Evangelical Christian
  • sexually active
  • not a “slut”

I can assume by this she means a person who is only moderately sexually active, committed to one person at a time sexually and keeps below an acceptable number of partners.

I am curious what you think of this. For the record, I don’t believe we can ‘fudge’ on the biblical standard of “no sex before marriage”. But is there a difference between someone who can be referred to as a “slut” and someone who occasionally has sex before marriage?

The key problem I see is we are trying to define something by current societal standards instead of Truth that is overarching and universal. I don’t think coming up with words to define “demi-sluts”, “sometimes-studs”, or any other such category really addresses the most pertinent question.

Do you?

UPDATE: Ms Evans closed the comments section on this post. Let me just show you what she wrote:

 I’m going to go ahead and close the comment thread on this post because a few folks seem rather eager to prove my point there, and I’m tired of reading and deleting this stuff. (In just one day, through comments and email, I’ve personally been called a “slut”, a “whore,” a “feminazi,” a “whiny feminist and a “dirty tramp.” I expect a call from the president shortly.)  Of course, most of you have been wonderful, as always. Thanks so much for your insightful contributions to the conversation and for your support. I expect the trolls will clear out soon.

This just goes to show that people like to lay down labels and the more emotional they get, the harsher the labels.


When God’s Core Values Collide

October 19, 2011

In his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell asks this pertinent question: “Since God does not desire that anyone perishes, and that all come to repentance, how can God allow anyone to go to Hell?” At another juncture he asks “God demands that we forgive those who sin against us. How then can God not forgive those who sin against Him?” In case those two questions are not enough food for thought, let me add a third he poses in the same chapter: “How can a loving God allow anyone to suffer forever for sins they commit temporarily?”

What Bell is doing is pitting God’s revealed core values against themselves. Without knowing it, Bell has laid out four of the key things that God values (we discuss these values in more depth in our last article on the subject back in September. Access it here).

  • God’s demand that all sin be punished
  • God’s desire that all people have complete freedom of choice
  • God’s love for all He has created
  • God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin by dying on the Cross

With his question, “Since God does not desire that anyone perishes, and that all come to repentance, how can God allow anyone to go to Hell?” the values of “God’s Plan” conflict with “God’s demand”.

With his question, “God demands that we forgive those who sin against us. How then can God not forgive those who sin against Him?” the values of “God’s plan” are laid out against our “Freedom of Choice”.

With his question  “How can a loving God allow anyone to suffer forever for sins they commit temporarily?” the “Love of God” faces down “God’s demand”.

As we said last time, all of God’s values are weighted. Each value carries a different weight. For instance, mankind is free to choose to sin or not to sin. Our wills are not free certainly (our wills are affected by circumstances, hormones, genetics, family, friends and the Tempter), but we can still choose to do right at any given time. Since I have freedom of Choice, this freedom carries more weight with God than his love. He loves me and desires I spend all of eternity with him. But according to the Bible, the very mention of Hell presupposes that God’s desire for us to freely choose Him always weighs heavier than his love for us. As parents, we see the necessity of this. We love our children. But there are times we must let them do as they will, even though their actions hurt us to the core. If we could give them a drug that would make our children obey us, we might think about it for awhile. But eventually we would return to the reality that we want them to choose the best way on their own.

God’s desire to allow us free will trumps his love for us.

But why Hell? Why doesn’t God just destroy us when we die if we don’t have faith in Him? As any person who has ever thought or contemplated running away from it all (even to the extreme of suicide), annihilation is not punishment; it is escape. If Hell is anything, it is the choice to walk away from God and to be forever alone. It is a punishment that God has revealed he does not want for us. But for Freedom of Choice to mean anything, there must be a reasonable choice. Our choice is to choose God or not to choose God. The consequence of choosing God is that we are cleansed and freed from sin’s power. The choice to not be with God is conscious separation from God and the knowledge and weight of our sin still upon us forever.

God’s demand that all sin be punished trumps our desire to escape any consequences.

Just one more thought at this juncture. God will certainly forgive all sins we have committed. He didn’t need to die on the Cross to forgive us. We don’t have to die on a cross to forgive others. But the sins we commit against each other still stand. In John 20, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive the sins of anyone, they are not forgiven”. God cannot forgive us for sins that we have committed against others. Someone has to be punished for those crimes. A judge can certainly drop charges for someone who has robbed from the judge. But he cannot let a criminal go free for robbing another person. Only Jesus’ death on the cross can pay for ALL sins, not just the sins we commit against God.

God’s death on the Cross satisfies God’s demand that all sin be punished. God’s death on the cross -and our putting faith in the Cross –  satisfies our free choice, God’s love, and all of the other core values of God. The Cross is where all the core values are displayed. And the Resurrection shows that Jesus’s sacrifice for sin was acceptable to the Judge of the Universe.

But if someone does not receive the effects of the Cross, then the other core values are played out. And the only way for those weighted values to be enacted is in Hell. So the logical choices are: Come to the Cross, or await eternity apart from God.


The Core Values of God

September 9, 2011

During World War 2, Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid Jews escaping the Nazis. Corrie’s father was a follower of God and could not stand to see the devastatingly cruel way the Jews were being treated. He was caught in the horns of a dilemma though. He also did not believe in lying, even if passively (i.e. withholding the truth). Therefore, when regular sweeps were done by Nazi soldiers, he was sometimes asked if he knew the location of certain Jewish families. On more than one occasion, they asked him about people hiding in his house.

This used to be referred to as “Situational Ethics”. In Situational Ethics, the ethical beliefs are not absolute, but change to match the situation. These kind of ethics are frowned upon by Absolutists who believe you should always tell the truth, always be faithful, always keep to your value systems.

But the Ten Boom family did not have a changing value system. What they had was a Conflict of Values. Though it does not happen often to people with strong moral and ethical convictions, there are times when two or more of a person’s core values come in conflict with each other. That is an awful moment. I think of the movie “Chariots of Fire” where sprinter Eric Liddle is competing in the Olympic Games. He is also a preacher and son of missionaries. A Fast Christian. On the boat to the Olympics in Paris, Liddle learns he must run his first heat on a Sunday, which would violate his belief that one should not violate the Sabbath.

He had a conflict of values: The value of representing King and Country versus the value of keeping one of God’s commandments. This conflict is much different than situational ethics. With situational ethics a person decides whether or not they want to apply their ethical principles in a given situation. With Conflicting Ethics, a person has to decide which ethical value carries more weight than the other.

Liddel was asked by the Prince of Wales if he would honor his King and Country above the Commandment. He chose the commandment. Ten Boom was not asked, but he had to choose between Telling the Truth and rescuing someone oppressed by evil forces. He chose to abandon truth-telling.

The more ethical a person is, the deeper they hold their convictions, the more painful the conflict will be when their values collide. In the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo has to choose between preserving his life and saving all of Middle Earth. Almost every great hero of literature has to choose between two values and decide which one carries more weight.

No one has greater and more consistent core values than God. Therefore, no one has a greater problem in reconciling those moments when God must sacrifice one of those values for another. Let me show you how this works by listing seven of the most prominent core values of God:

1.    Free choice for man

2.    The Will/plan of God

3.    The holiness/justice of God

4.    The love of God

5.    Truth

6.    To create a family for Himself

7.    To reveal himself to all creation

As we will see in the articles following this one, God does have several junctures where he has to choose between two core values. We can observe through the Bible and through our experience exactly which ones God has chosen. And because God has all of these values, there must come times when He has to weigh his own value system and choose which ones are weightier.

If you look at the list above, I believe this is the order of weight God places upon each value. This weighted system only exists now that there is a being that can freely choose (man) and did not exist before we were created in exactly the same way. Just so you can see this weighted value system in action, let me mention some very simple points in time when God had to choose between two values.

Creation of Adam and Eve: Adam and Eve were created with the ability to freely choose anything they wanted. God gave them a moral choice in order to test the value the two of them placed on this abillity to choose. They were forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. God is a holy God and his holiness is something He wants to see in all the universe (Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). But a holy God, allowed Adam and Eve to exist as sinners. He allows the Devil to exist as a sinner. Therefore, even though God’s plan is that all creation live in righteousness and stay away from sin, the moment Adam and Eve sinned, God allowed it. If God had not allowed it, sin could not have existed. Therefore the Free Choice of Man is weightier than God’s justice when God has to choose.

Revelation and Truth: We are told in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The hidden things belong to our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” This means that God has a lot more knowledge than he has ever revealed to us. In fact, historic Christianity believes and teaches that God revealed his truth slowly over the centuries after the Flood. This is called Progressive Revelation. Instead of instituting the Cross right after mankind sinned, God brought about a teaching program that included animal sacrifices. He did not let them in on the full truth until much later. Therefore, the plan of God to bring about understanding of Himself with mankind was more important than a full revelation of who God is to all of us.

God has very clear value systems. Next time, we’ll see that God brings all of them together in the Cross without losing any of them. The Cross is the one place in the Universe where all of God’s values were accomplished.


The Value of the Book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

March 23, 2011

Can a book have value, even though most people reading it don’t agree with its philosophy or conclusions?

Can a book have value, even if the writer is flawed in his writing skill, his debating skills and his rhetorical approach?

When people read books they don’t agree with, they react in several ways. First, they don’t recommend that others read the book. Second, they find as many people as possible who also don’t agree with the book and trash it. Third, they refuse to see any value in the individual parts because they reject the book as a whole. This is a dangerous thing to do with books. The most insidious viewpoint to hold onto is one you will never challenge or allow others to challenge. That implies you are not willing to be wrong or to be shown how you are wrong. The greatest false beliefs are those which go unchallenged for a long time.   Truth can always withstand the scrutiny of examination. That’s why the Bible has been around for so long.

Rob Bell is a pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is claimed by others, but not by Mr. Bell, that he is part of two movements within Christianity: the Postmodern and the Emerging Church movements. I cannot confirm or deny either of those claims. He has written a book called “Love Wins”, which has been challenged and vilified in many places on the Internet. The book is an examination of the belief in Hell, and in God’s punishment for sin. Here is a good place to start with a critical evaluation of it. Here is a much longer – perhaps more thorough – examination of the book. I expect there will be thousands of such book reviews coming. The book was marketed in a controversial way (as you can see here) and as such was already condemned even before it was published.

I’ll be clear. There is much I don’t like about the book myself. But I will leave the critical examination to others. I want to be that ‘other’ voice in this sea of opinion. I want to list what I believe are the best parts about this book. I do this so that even those who disagree with Rob Bell will stop for just a moment and consider that God may have prompted him to write it. I don’t mean it is inspired or even full of truth. But God can still nudge along someone to write something, even if that person is not completely accurate. Who of us are?

The Most Valuable Parts of the Book, “Love Wins”

1.    He asks great questions. He asks the kind of questions that church leaders hope non-believers never ask. These are thoughtful, direct and well-crafted questions. They are designed to attack the doctrines of hell and God’s wrath in such a way that we have to start from scratch in deciding why we believe the things we do. Here are some examples of the hundreds of questions he asks:

  • Why does God tell us we have to forgive everyone, including our enemies, and then He doesn’t do the same with sinners going to hell?
  • Does God punish people for infinite amount of years with eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?
  • How does a person end up being part of the lucky few who don’t go to hell? Chance? Luck? Random Selection? Being born in the right place at the right time in history in the right family, speaking the right language?
  • Is there no hope for someone who dies and is not a believer?
  • What is the age of accountability? What happens if a person dies a day before that age? Does he go to heaven? What happens if he dies the day after that age? Does he go to hell?
  • What EXACT prayer does one have to pray to get into heaven? What if we get the wording wrong? What about people who have prayed some version of the prayer? Or any prayer? Do they get in for making an effort to talk to God?
  • Is Hell the best God can do with the unbelievers?
  • So does the kind of person you are not really matter as long as you have prayed the right prayer or believed the right things?
  • Can a good person who doesn’t pray the prayer and a bad person who keeps doing bad things after the prayer go to heaven and hell respectively?
  • Do we have to care about this world if it’s just going to be destroyed anyway?
  • What if the only person who ever shared Jesus with you was the man who beat you up every day and then sang hymns while he did it? Do you get to escape hell because the example of a believer was so bad?
  • Can you do anything to receive God’s grace? If you have to believe, is it really grace?
  • What about the guy whose sins were forgiven because of the faith of his friends who let him down through the roof with a rope? Does the faith of someone who knows you count? If it doesn’t, why did Jesus tell him his sins were forgiven?

2.    He Doesn’t Believe Hell is a Single Issue: For instance, there is no doubt that Rob Bell believes in hell. He says it three times in the book that he believes there is a hell. But then he separates the issue. His questions (and perhaps his own struggles) relate to issues like “Who will go to hell” and “how long will hell last?” and “Will God ever give those in hell another chance?” For a long time in the Christian Church, these issues were all wrapped together in one package and we were told that if we mess with one part of the package it spoils the whole lot. But some of the current beliefs in the evangelical church about hell owe more to teachings in Dante’s “Inferno” than the Bible. Bell makes the case that these ideas need to be discussed and challenged.

3.    He Shows us the Value of Dialogue alongside Systematic Theology: Modernists are those who like to have neat and tidy categories for everything. Postmoderns believe that it is always premature to decide on what truth really is until we have all the facts. Since we are never sure we have all the facts, we need to be careful about being overly dogmatic. In this book, his stated intention is to throw open the discussion on hell, heaven and divine punishment so that all the implications and questions can be asked and the answers dissected for accuracy. Most modernists like to have their beliefs wrapped up and decided upon so they are not open to challenge. Debate perhaps, but not challenged. It used to be that several doctrines were considering too sacrosanct to ever question. The doctrine of Atonement (the belief about what happened on the cross to our sin and how it affects us now); the doctrine of the Bible (i.e. whether it is God’s Word or man’s invention); The doctrine of the Trinity (a belief that God is one being in three persons) and the doctrine of the church (i.e. its legitimacy and form). If one questioned or differed on these doctrines, then they could be dismissed as wrong and heretical. Added to that list is the doctrine of Hell. Without a proper understanding of hell, the atonement, the trinity, the church and the Bible, one is considered outside the barriers of good theology. But if you study church history, you’ll come to realize that all these doctrines were debated in their day and survived. The earliest was the Trinity. Then came Atonement. Then the Church (it’s still being debated), and then the Bible. The only one that has not been seriously discussed by the most conservative elements of the church is Hell. Why? It is strongly believed if there is any softening of the position on hell, it will destroy the last reason we do evangelism. After all, if there is no hell, then why witness to someone? Yet, witnessing to people has almost become extinct in today’s church. Few individuals do any evangelism and we still maintain a conservative view on hell. So perhaps Rob Bell’s book will foster enough reaction so his questions will not be swept under the carpet.

4.    The discussion on the word “Eternal”. Bell focuses much of his thesis about hell on the interpretation of one word: aion. It is the word often (though not always) interpreted “eternal”. In John 3:16 when it says those who believe in him will “not perish, but have eternal life”, the Greek word there for eternal is aion. Even though I think he does a less than acceptable job interpreting this word, he does right to question our understanding of it. The primary meaning is not “forever”. It does mean eternal, but not in the sense of time. More in the sense of permanency. Eternal life is also a quality of life and not just a reference point in time. God has eternal life with him and not just in the sense that he is eternal. We can never be eternal like God since we have a beginning point. So, I applaud Rob Bell for bringing this word to our attention. I await better scholars and more able communicators to tackle that word before I feel satisfied what it means.

What I don’t appreciate about the book can be summed up in two ideas.

First, he starts with what he considers the logical end game for God (i.e. God’s love will win everyone over) and then figures out how the Bible can end up there. That is turning the issue on its head. His logic and hermeneutics (the study of how we learn from the Bible) are not skilled and what comes out is a very complicated end-product. Most people reading this book will get lost in the vagaries of the theological machine he is riding.

Second, his Narrative viewpoint is not consistent. Mainly, he interprets the parables of Jesus as if they are part of the story being told by God to man. The Narrative approach believes that we must understand where the story was when Jesus taught and not where it is today. God is not telling the story the same way today. I understand that approach. But then, in a number of places in the book, he stops interpreting narratively and uses different Bible verses as “proof-texts”, reverting back to a modernist way of proving a point. I wish he had stuck with one approach or the other.

By all means, read the book. Tell me what you think.


Before the Review of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”

March 16, 2011

Before saying anything else:

I read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”. It was mildly entertaining.

I read it all the way through in one day. I have pneumonia and I’m confined to bed.

Rob Bell writes this way

In one line paragraphs.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to review the book. But I am going to review the people reading it.

So, I venture a few glances at all of those who will be criticizing him in the next few weeks, months and years. There are several diverse groups that will not like this book.

1. Modernists: To a post-modern person, a modernist is someone who likes to reduce the complex interactions between men and other men, or God and men, to a system of rules and principles. If you like your theology systematized, neat and tidy and all fitting together, you won’t like this book. It is messy. It careens from stories to scripture to poems to questions back to stories. At the end, you aren’t left with answers but, possibly, with better questions. A modernist hates that approach.

2. Reformed Theologians: The best known of them all, John Piper, said it succinctly: “Farewell Rob Bell.” By that, I assume he means Rob Bell is no longer someone he wants to dialogue with. “Love Wins” takes issue with most of the core beliefs of Calvinism. He strongly disagrees with Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Total Depravity…in fact, there’s not much left of the classic TULIP when Bell is done with them, so you can’t expect a Calvinist to react otherwise. Though, to be honest, the Calvinist will appreciate how much he believes in Unconditional Election and Perseverance of the Saints. In fact, to Rob Bell, the Love of God will eventually win over everyone.

3. Universalists: A universalist believes that everyone will be in heaven, or saved, or both. I have read reviews from three of the country’s most prominent universalists and they all have issues with this book. They think Rob Bell is riding the fence and not taking the inevitable road that all universalists must take. They don’t like the book because it doesn’t draw enough conclusions they can endorse. In many ways, universalists are wonderful Modernists; they like their universalism in neat tidy categories. As I said before, Bell’s book is a messy concoction.

4. Non-believers: I have a feeling that “Love Wins” was written for people who want to follow God but have been turned off by traditional views of hell. Ironically, I don’t think this book will appeal to that group. First, it is not a simple read. In order to turn the doctrine of hell on its head, Bell utilizes some tricky theological and hermeneutical approaches that will confuse a non-believer. Second, many non-believers won’t agree they have the problems with God that Bell thinks they do. Many will end up being confused or angry by the time they finish this.

5. Joe Average Church Attender: As with the non-believer, Joe Church-Attender doesn’t know fancy theological nuances. But he does know some legitimate questions when he sees them. This may be the group that will like this book. People who are tired of poorly drawn answers to deep questions about heaven and hell may gravitate to Bell’s approach to the subject. However, though Joe Average will enjoy Bell’s questions, he may find the book tedious because of its complexity.

6. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (if he were still alive): He would like the book. Why?

One sentence paragraphs.

He invented them.


Discovering the Afterlife – Part 1

February 26, 2009

A close friend recently asked me if I thought we would be married to our spouses in heaven. We launched into an entertaining and speculative discussion on the afterlife. This followed on an incident two days earlier where an acquaintance asked me if there would be animals in heaven. I liberally shared my very brief opinion on the subject and once again it was entertaining though hardly definitive.

I admit I can’t really get a full grasp on what the afterlife is going to be like. But I am convinced of this: It will be very different from what a lot of people think. I could write reams of articles on what I think will take place after we die, but my opinions, and three bucks, will get you a cup of Starbucks premium coffee. But I do know someone who can tell us the answers. Read the rest of this entry ?

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