Friday, April 29, 2011

Holy Wins

Well, here we are again, how is everyone?

Just thought I'd take this chance to expound a bit on my previous rant concerning Rob Bell and friends newest books. I'm not going to write a thorough critique seeing as others already have and have done a far better job than I could have. I have recommended one in particular in my initial post, so check it out if you haven't already.

Instead, I am simply going to take what I find to be Bell's most basic error and respond as best I can. Then, in my next post, I'll give some other thoughts concerning the Church in general today. Hopefully it will tie in with this post a bit.

At the start of Bell's book, he says that his starting point where he builds the book is the fact that God is love. Sounds good right? How could one disagree? The very title of the book is disarming. Clearly, if you say anything negative about a book with a title so positive, you can't be a loving person. This is definitely the vibe one gets after a thorough reading of the book.

I find that there is one common feature in pretty much all Emergent Liberal literature. That would be the false dichotomy fallacy. Have any of you ever taken a basic philosophy class, or heard the basic fallacies? You may have also heard it referred to as the false dilemma or the false choice. You will often feel forced, while reading many of these leaders, to choose between two absolutes. Either Christianity is a matter of the mind or it is a matter of the heart. Either faith is just a dead set of beliefs, or it is a living breathing lifestyle. Either we are to be hateful bigots towards homosexuals, or we are to openly embrace their lifestyle. Either Church is a meaningless, religious, exclusive institution, or it is an all inclusive, all loving, never judging family that makes no issue with what you believe.

You will often find yourself forced to one of two sides after finishing one of these books. It's ironic that a movement whose goal is to be so inclusive and gracious ends up making some of the most exclusive claims of all. They are so convinced that the strong assertion of a particular doctrinal truth at the expense of another is a terrible mistake, that they exclude all those who would make them.

At the root of "Love Wins" we find yet another of these false dilemmas. Either God is love and would never be glorified by someone being sent to hell for eternity, or he is a vindictive tyrant who is gracious one moment, yet cruel and condemning the next. How can one reconcile such different pictures? Bell seems to think you can't. Hell could never bring him glory. If he desires all to be saved and all are not, then he's clearly not sovereign. Therefore a sovereign God who is love would obviously take the time to soften every heart. Real love would never put an expiration date on our choices.

There's his point in a nut shell. As I said in the last post where I wrote about this, many may think I'm oversimplifying his thoughts. If you are unconvinced, then by all means read the book. It is never my desire to scare you away from any writer. I would much prefer you read what I refer to so that you can better appreciate my critiques... whether you agree with them or not.

So what is my response to this dilemma as set up by "Love Wins"? I will simply begin by pointing out a thought that I had while at work yesterday. It was spurred on by some thoughts from a recent conversation I had with Stacy Cline from Elim Bible Institute. How does one classify love? Everyone knows that there are different kinds. There is brotherly love. There is romantic love etc. Not only that, but love is expressed by different people in different ways. Don't worry, I'm not simply going to say that one of the ways that God expresses love is by sending people to Hell. That would be cheap. Rather, I want to point out that all love, whoever it is expressed by, is subject to a greater and more primary attribute of the person who expresses it. Love that is not submitted to another attribute has no definition.

What I am saying is that Rob Bell's foundational thesis to his book is flawed. You cannot start with the assertion that God is love, in spite of the fact that it is explicitly mentioned in scripture. Before you say that God is love, his love needs definition. What is God's primary goal? What is his primary attribute?

Simply stated, everything was created for the glory of God. That is his goal, and that is our chief end. Do a word search of the phrase "glory of God" in a Bible program and you'll be shocked at how prevelant it is. Secondly, what is God's primary attribute? I propose that it is his holiness. God is love, certainly, but he is Holy as well. Not only is he called Holy in scripture, he is called Holy, Holy Holy. Yet, when he is called "love," the word "love" is stated once.

Three is a number of perfection, and his love which is very real, is subject to this perfect holiness. That is the pressing question that determines the narrative of the entire Bible. How can a holy God dwell among an unholy people? This explains the fall of man. This explains the need for sacrifice which is ultimately expressed in Christ. God's love is therefore defined by his holiness. The only love that wins, as Kevin DeYoung says, is holy love. God shows wrath toward that which is unholy, therefore showing justice. He shows love towards that which he makes holy.

When love is placed in our minds as God's primary attribute, it can take on any form we like. When it is subject to his holiness, we take on the form that he likes. Think about it. Love in a marriage relationship is subject to the marriage partner's faithfulness. Yet, if love is the primary attribute of the marriage, what's to stop the married couple from loving a number of other partners? Wouldn't that all be love too? Certianly, but it wouldn't be love of the nature that creates a marriage. What about the love between a mentor and a pupil? Isn't it subject to the attribute of trust? What if the mentor shared his wisdom with any kid who approached him on the street? Would that be love? Sure, but not the love that makes the mentor/student relationship unique.

Real love, in all it's forms, is made real by it's boundaries, not it's universality. Does God love the world? Sure. But he loves his church because they are the bride of his son. He is perfectly justified in judging in any way he sees fit. Yet, when his love is bound by nothing but our own biases, we get to form God's right's of judgment into whatever we see fit.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In The Moment?

"Ask yourself if you're happy and you cease to be so"
~Don't know who said it

I've often heard people say that you need to live in the moment to get the most out of life. Maybe that's true but I have no clue what it means. Whenever I think of anyone living in the moment, I think of them stopping what they're doing so they can really think about whatever event they happen to be in the midst of. Ok... so how does this enhance the experience?

I've also heard people talk about how we need to not always keep looking forward to the next big thing in our life. When we're in high school we look forward to college, when we're in college we look forward to getting our dream job. When we're done with college we look forward to marriage, when we're married we want kids, when we have kids we want them out of the house. And so, supposedly, because of this mindset we miss out on everything.

I see people apply this warning to the Christian life too. They say not to look forward to heaven so much but to enjoy heaven right now as we bring it to earth. Ok, maybe sayings like this have some merit... Jesus talked about God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven, but there's something about the way they say it that seems so impractical to me.

I remember reading "Orthodoxy" by G.K. Chesterton once. There was a part in the book where he talks about the nature of living in times of happiness. I don't feel like scanning through the whole book so I can quote him word for word, so I'll summarize. He talks about how when we try to focus on the moment and realize that it's finite, we actually ruin it. The reason that we enjoy our moments of happiness in this life is because there's a part of us inside that assumes our joy will be eternal. That's the nature of joy. When we experience the joy of the Lord in any moment of our lives, we lose our sense of things being so finite.

It kind of reminds me of a Jack Johnson song that I was listening to at work today where he sings, "We used to laugh a lot, but only because we thought that everything good always would remain." So how exactly does ignoring our future dreams in order to see the finiteness of the moment help enhance our times of joy? It seems to me that as we press on towards our goals, that is the very thing that makes our present times joyous. We enjoy college because we know what we want school to do for our future. We live this life for God OUT OF our hope for heaven. That's what brings heaven to earth. It seems to me that it's really only in hindsight that we realize how good our experiences have been.

I've noticed this when I've hung out with certain people. We tend to be having a great time, but then someone decides to speak up and tell everyone to stop where they are. "Ok guys, lets just take this moment... do you realize that we're never going to experience this moment again? We're gonna look back on this later and it's gonna be a great memory." Some people might find this nice... but for me it seems to take away from the experience itself. Part of me just wants to say, "C'mon man! Lets leave the remembering part for when out fun is actually over!"

I guess the saying is true... ask yourself if you're happy and you cease to be so. Happy isn't something you notice about yourself, it's something you just are. When it ends, you look back on it and are sad it's over... but then you look forward to the next time. Before you know it, you're in a time of joy yet again and the simple fact that you haven't realized the time has come is what makes it real.

Live in the moment? I'm not so sure. Without a vision of the future we don't even know what the moment should look like. Without a hope of heaven, how can we know whether heaven has come to earth? If we're always focusing on the finite nature of our school, our marriage, or our kids, how can we really live in their eternal quality?

Just some food for thought...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tired, tired, tired

Hello everyone!

Well, it's time for another break in my already slow moving allegory. I have finished a few paragraphs in chapter #4 and will hopefully continue it tomorrow... well, technically today. However, I have a few things on my mind this evening that I would like to get off my chest. Franky, I'm really tired of a lot of things. As many who have gotten to know me over the past couple years may know, I like to talk a lot about the Emergent church.

Have any of you heard about the Emergent Church? If you've been around me, you probably have. If you haven't heard me mention it, you may have some vague idea of what it is. Unfortunately, this is one of the things I'm tired of. Not the emergent church, (though, yes, I am tired of that too) but the fact more Christians haven't heard of it. Some of the main leaders in this movement include men like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.

Now I know that many of you have heard of Rob Bell. It's also likely that you've heard of the controversy surrounding his newest book, "Love Wins." What shocks me is that it took as long as it did for many mainstream lay Christians to realize that there just might possibly be some controversial things stiring in this movement. Once in a while I find a Christian who is eager for a battle to fight, and so when I mention a possiblity of bad teaching coming into the church, they get all hot and bothered. At the same time there are others who, when they hear that I might have a problem with one of these teachers, are quick to warn me that our top priority as Christians is love and unity... or something along those lines. Unfortunately, I find both of these responses irritating. Why? Because they have nothing to do with the "substance" of what I am saying.

After a recent encounter with some friends of a friend, where I had an opportunity to share my thoughts on Bell's new book, I heard some similar things yet again. The initial talk went well and people gave the issue some serious thought, however, afterward, word got to me that someone thought I was possibly being judgemental and that I should read Rob Bell's book before I speak. At that point I had read all of Rob Bell's other books (save "Drops Like Stars") and I had read a lengthy critical review of "Love Wins" by a writer that I've grown to trust very much. And so, I decided to not only buy "Love Wins" on my kindle, but also Brian McLaren's newest book "A New Kind of Christianity" which I had also heard negative things about from the same reviewer.

Surprise surprise, "Love Wins" was everything I expected it to be. The analysis had been accurate and for the most part I agreed with what the review had said. Not only that, but "A New Kind of Christianity" was even worse. I hope I'm not sounding overly judgmental, but yet again, my having to say even that is one of the things I'm tired of. Being judgmental is not the same as making judgments.

Some of you may want me to break down some of the theological issues that are upsetting to me in these books, but that's not my goal in this post. I may do it in the future, but right now I really would rather vent. Back in 2009 I had my fling with the Emergent Church. I read Rob Bell and others like him. I enjoyed the subtle rebellion in his writing. He made a few good points and asked good questions. He pushed the limits. However, when I got to Nyack, the fling ended. I decide to ground myself back in conservative theology and I haven't turned back. I learned a lot in my year and a half there, but most of it had nothing to do with the fact that my major was in theology. All it took was a few very insightful books.

I guess this is why my recent conversations have tired me out so much. Not so much actual exhaustion, but more a simple wish that people cared more about the central doctrines that are being called into question right under their noses. I'm sick of hearing people say that they're so impressed that I got a degree in theology and then saying they could never do it themeselves. Not so much because I think everyone should, but because they use this as an excuse to be ignorant.

What shocks me so often is that people respect my degree until I say something they don't like. "Yes I believe that What Rob Bell has written is heresy."
"You know you really should cut him some slack, He's you're brother in Christ you know."
I could give so many examples of this, but it's not worth the effort. My goal isn't to flaunt my degree, but to show people that they CAN have an opinion on what's true and what's not. All my degree has done is confirm that.

My goal isn't to show how much I know, but to show that there's a lot of truth out there. I'm tired of people pleading ignorance when I try to warn them of bad teaching. "Oh, don't worry, I don't read that guy anyways" they usually say. Often, all I can think is "Oh yeah? Well your Pastor clearly has and he's quoting the guy word for word in his sermons... not only that but you were eating up every word."

Honestly, all I really want is for more people to be inspired by some of the things I've been inspired by. I would just like them to read a few of the things that I have read. They don't need to go to college to do that.

So, do you any of you want to know what the real deal is on the emergent church? Then you can start here: . If you're too simpathetic towards Rob Bell to believe it's true, then read his book. I really mean it, READ IT. Then do the responsible things and read this response by Kevin Deyoung: . If that doesn’t convince you, then read Brian McLaren’s “A new Kind of Christianity.” Seriously, read it. It will shock you, and if you’re not prepared it will make you question things that have been your bedrock foundations for your entire Christian life. Then you can read this response: .

You might think some of these postmodern Christian writers are on the fringe and are far from influencing mainstream Christianity, but this is the attitude that is allowing their garbage to creep into the church little by little. Without responsible Christian theology, the thoughts presented in these books ARE the direction we are headed. So READ them, and READ their critics.

This process of reading challenging things as well as properly thought out and Biblical responses has revolutionized my life, and it all took place outside of the college classroom.

If you’re not willing to do this work, then please don’t tell me I'm judgmental, it’s beginning to wear on me. I know that Christianity is more than theology, but it’s not less than that. I know it’s more than doctrine, but it’s not less. I know it’s more than study, but it’s not less. I know it’s more than believing the right things, but it’s not less. As D.A Carson says, Damn all false antithesis to Hell. I refuse to choose between getting my theology right and being loving and spiritual. Jesus demands both from you and me and I prefer it that way.