Monday, March 30, 2009

A little follow-up

Saturday night I posted about the severity of sin, and how a faulty view here leads to patently anti-Biblical views of the atonement and of hell. Sunday we went to church, and listened to a very, very convicting sermon on hell. Give it a listen this week (unfortunately, they only keep them up for a week, no free archive).

The intro in particular struck a chord with me, as Pastor MacDonald described the tremendous sorrow that always accompanies discussing the reality of hell. I may have been particularly sensitive to that point because I was had just read this snippet from the Rob Bell interview I linked to, where he responds to a question about whether he believes in a literal hell, and his response was still stickin' in my craw. He says:

"...I don’t know why as a Christian you would have to make such declarative statements. Like your friend, does he want there to be a literal hell? I am a bit skeptical of somebody who argues that passionately for a literal hell, why would you be on that side? Like if you are going to pick causes, if you’re literally going to say these are the lines in the sand, I’ve got to know that people are going to burn forever, this is one of the things that you drive your stake in the ground on. I don’t understand that."

This paragraph illustrates so well why I can't stomach much of what Bell says. First off, you have the postmodernism shining through loud and clear (far more clearly than even the most postmodern secularist would ever dream of, by the way). The question is a simple "is there a hell", and somehow his answer is all about what people believe. Wow. This is postmodernism on steroids and crack. His response assumes that whether or not there's a hell is not an objective reality, and turns into a "whatever you think is true for you" nonsense. Somehow, this type of thinking is supposedly compatible with Christianity. Still waiting for an explanation of how.

Then you have the combo ad hominem/strawman attack. This is really a beauty, actually. Falsely assuming that there's no objective reality, Bell then claims that anyone who claims that there is a literal hell is only doing so because they really want there to be (hello, Mr. Strawman!), and then based on this attacks their character. This is beyond absurd. Compare his strawman Christian to an actual godly man such as James MacDonald or Alistair Begg, men who weep over the thought of people suffering eternally, yet still proclaim the message. Obviously, the strawman claim of them just really wanting people to burn isn't anywhere near true.

So why would such men preach about hell if they don't (yet) rejoice in the eternal suffering of others? What possible reason would they have to preach about something they don't enjoy thinking about, that moves them to tears? Could it be.... that it's TRUE? Memo to Rob Bell: God's Word clearly proclaims the reality of hell. No matter how much the thought disturbs us, it is true. For a Christian to believe God is hardly a character flaw.

Ironically, in questioning the character of those of us who believe God, Bell shines a light on his own deficiency. By attacking us for believing God, he reveals his own deliberate, overwhelming doubt. See, Bell is definitely a smart man, well-educated, certainly capable of reading with comprehension, and he's read the Bible a few times at least. There is simply no way an honest reading of scripture could leave the question of hell unsettled. The evidence for a real, eternal hell of torment is utterly overwhelming. His doubt is not an accidental mistake, but can only be intentional, stubborn refusal to believe God.

In his accusation, Bell essentially calls us sadists - we just really, really want people to burn and suffer forever, apparently. The truth is, we simply believe God and act accordingly, no matter how it makes us feel or how much the message offends (talking about hell certainly isn't popular!). Bell, on the other hand, surely must know the truth, but insists on pretending otherwise. Possibly it's because of how it feels, perhaps it's so people will like him more, maybe some of both. The end result is not unlike a doctor who sees his patient has cancer, but because he doesn't like talking about it, and the patient really doesn't want to hear it, he never says anything. Apparently to Rob Bell, that doctor exhibits great character, while the doctor who does his job despite the sorrow is a wicked sadist who just wants people to have cancer and suffer.

And with that, I go to pray for my own repentance from any doubt or ungodly attitude, then for Rob Bell. First for his repentance, and if that won't happen, then for his poison influence on the church to cease. May God grant us more faithful preachers of the Word and less peddlers of doubt.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More From Isaiah

One of the most well-known passages from Isaiah comes from chapter 9. Many even among the unsaved are familiar with verses 6 and 7 from their annual Christmas church visit - "For to us a son is born..." It's the conclusion of an oracle that spans several chapters telling of the future for Judah, warning of impending judgment but concluding with a promise of incredible hope - the Messiah is coming!

So it's a bit jarring to read on, and see that in verse 8 the message of judgment starts up again. This time it's a message for the northern kingdom of Israel, and it ain't pretty. God promises to raise up enemies for them, to crush them, to throw them into civil war, to destroy them (before restoring them through Jesus and the faithful remnant, 10:20 through 11:16). In every earthly way imaginable, they will be brought down, crushed, and defeated. This was soon fulfilled when Assyria conquered them, scattered them into exile, and desecrated their land with Samaritans. It was as awful as anything any people has ever experienced.

Which makes this phrase all the more chilling:

For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

In the short passage introducing the coming judgment, from 9:8 to 10:4, this phrase is repeated four times. This means that four times God pronounces terrible judgment on Israel, and says even that's not enough. Unimaginable earthly suffering wasn't enough to satisfy His wrath. Bringing them to complete ruin wasn't able to satisfy the demands of divine justice. For all that God did to them, even after all the pain and suffering He unleashed on them for their sins, He was still angry with them and His hand was still stretched out against them.

Which brings us to the cross and to hell.

See, there are some major errors being taught in the church about God's wrath. A lot of them put forth a faulty view of hell, while others misrepresent the cross. One common erroneous view of hell is that it's simply earthly suffering; it's common to talk of AIDS sufferers as experiencing "hell on earth" (f'r instance, Rob Bell does this in Velvet Elvis chapter 6, in interviews, etc). Another common view is that God does not punish sin, but suffering is merely the natural result of sin (recently put forth in The Shack, among others). He has no wrath against sin, only sadness at the mess we get ourselves into. But this passage (and many, many more like it) clearly refutes both ideas - God clearly portrays Himself as actively punishing sin, declares His burning anger against it, and proclaims that no matter how much wrath He may pour out on sin in this lifetime, it doesn't come close to satisfying His anger or ending the judgment. No, hell is not earthly suffering. No, God does not just sadly look on passively while we endure the unwanted side-effects of sin. He is angry with sin, and pours out wrath on it that far exceeds the worst we could take in this life.

Which brings us to the cross. It seems that lately there have been a lot of attacks on the Biblical teaching of penal substitutionary atonement. That is, the Bible clearly teaches that on the cross, Jesus took on the sins of his people, and God unleashed all of His wrath for those sins upon him. By doing this, Jesus made a perfect propitiatory sacrifice (the wrath of God against those sins was completely satisfied forever), and those of us who are in Christ are forgiven and no longer face God's wrath. This is the heart of the gospel. And of course, it's constantly under attack. Among other attacks, emerg* guru and universalist heretic Brian MacLaren has dug up an old line ridiculing the Biblical teaching on substitutionary atonement as "divine child abuse", while William Young (author of The Shack) finally admitted in a recent interview that he denies the Biblical teaching.

What all these errors have in common is a serious refusal to believe God regarding the seriousness of sin. They all come from the same starting point, the foolish belief that sin really isn't that bad. The problem, of course, is that God's word is perfectly consistent: yes, sin really is that bad, and the fitting punishment is eternally great. And the solution is the infinitely great sacrifice of Christ, satisfying the wrath of God and providing salvation for his church. The Word of God is perfectly clear on this; these errors don't arise from a misunderstanding of ambiguous scripture. They come from a stubborn, arrogant, insolent, rebellious refusal to believe what God has clearly proclaimed. I implore you, do not fall into the same trap as these men and many others like them. Believe God. He knows what He's talking about.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thoughts from Isaiah

I've been reading Isaiah the past few weeks. It's got quite a few well-known passages, and this entry isn't about any of them. Just a few reflections on things that caught my eye.

First up, Isaiah 3:9. This verse is in the midst of an orcale pronouncing judgment on Judah:

For the look on their faces bears witness against them;
they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
For they have brought evil on themselves.

This just gripped me. What an amazing description of the depths of depravity they had sunk into. It's one thing to sin. But they had become so entrenched in their sin, they had lost all sense of shame. They even took pride in it - proclaiming it like Sodom. At this point, there's roughly zero chance of repentance. When a conscience is so seared that sin is proudly and openly celebrated, when there's no remorse, no sense that it might even be wrong, the end is imminent. This verse profoundly illustrates just how richly deserved Judah's punishment was.

So the question is, am I like that? When I sin, do I care? Does the shame and sorrow drive me to repentance, or to self-justification? Am I getting so comfortable with my sin that I may one day not even consider it to be sin anymore? Will I reason that it's not really so bad, and then even come to think it's good? Will I, like Judah, and like Sodom, even become proud of my sin, and show it on my face? But for the grace of God...

I'd planned to do two, but I think I'll leave it there for now. Discuss.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Thought

I was thinking of something recently that illustrates just how incredibly blessed we are. It's a simple question: do you consider calories to be a nutrient or a nuisance?

I'd be willing to bet that almost everyone who's reading this has thought of calories as a nuisance. They're something you have to count, so that you don't eat too much and get fat. They're something you intentionally limit so you can lose weight. They're listed on the nutritional information almost as a warning.

And we take for granted what an amazing blessing it is that we even have to consider such things. So much of the world would do anything to have such problems! For so much of human history, and much of the world even today, the biggest food-related problem has been finding enough. How can I consume enough calories to live? See, calories are a nutrient - in fact, they're the single most important one. Without enough of certain vitamins or minerals or other compounds, certain bodily processes won't work at full efficiency, and may eventually develop more severe problems. Without enough calories, you die.

God's blessing on us has truly been incredible. So many people have lived not knowing where their next meal will come from, whether their bodies will have enough energy to make it through another day without shutting down internal organs. We have so much food, obesity-related diseases are much more common than malnutrition. We despise foods that have too much fat - so highly prized elsewhere because of its high caloric content, we pass laws to limit it. Even in the midst of a tough economic time, it'll be a long time before most of us ever consider the possibility of starving to death.

Keep that in mind when bad economic news hits. Yes, things have gotten bad, much worse than we're used to. But still, simply by being well-fed, we're much better off than most people who have ever lived. As bad as we may think it is, we really need to thank God for his abundant provision, and pray that we don't abuse it or take Him for granted.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Not To Respond

Last week was the annual Shepherd's Conference, hosted by John MacArthur's church. If you know anything about John MacArthur, you know to expect that this conference exists to proclaim the word of God without compromise. Actually, if you don't know about MacArthur, now would be a great time for you to pick up a copy of The Gospel According to Jesus or Hard to Believe (only four bucks! I may buy a few more at that price just to give away), and just read it. You absolutely will not regret it.

MacArthur believes that the Bible is God's word, and actually acts like it. He preaches like it. And this conference exists to proclaim it. I've heard that Al Mohler's message is a beauty - that's currently downloading for tomorrow's listening pleasure.

The first conference message I got to listen to, and perhaps the most instantly notorious one (for this year, anyway), was a beauty by Phil Johnson. Phil examines what scripture has to say about the recent trend he calls the "pornification of the church", churches using graphic sexual speech (and images) and other gutter language in the name of being relevant. This behavior obviously falls extremely far short of the standard set by scripture, and as expected Phil brings the full weight and authority of the Word to bear against those who shame the church by promoting such filth.

Now, after listening to this message, one of the conference attendees - an audience consisting largely of pastors, mind you - was so furious that he vandalized a bathroom, with some incredibly obscene graffiti. A few questions immediately leap to mind here. Was he just trying to clearly illustrate Phil's point? What exactly was he expecting to hear at this conference, if not the Word of God brought fully to bear on the issues affecting the church? Could there be a worse response when sin is exposed than to revel more fully in it? Am I any different?

OK, that last question might be a surprise. But it's ultimately the most important one, isn't it? See, it's easy to shake my head at this guy, whose response to conviction is frankly beyond parody. I mean, he goes to a conference to hear God's word proclaimed boldly, and when it comes to a part he doesn't like, he flies off the handle and sins boldly and shamelessly. Phil's message was in session 7. I can picture this guy sitting through the first six, cheering on as MacArthur and Mohler and the other speakers bring the word, and call people out for the various ways they fall short of their calling as pastors. One of the speakers tears into emerg*s? You tell 'em! Taking apart easy-believism? Go get 'em, take no prisoners! Soft-peddling the Word, going easy on sin and repentance? Bring it! Keep going, this stuff is great!

Tarnishing the pulpit with filthy language and inappropriate material? Whoa, hold on now, why'd you have to go there? And so when his pet sin is hit, he can either repent or rebel. In this case, he chose to rebel.

Again I ask, am I any different? Are you?

It's so easy to cheer when the preacher brings the Word, when it's something they need to hear. When it's something I don't struggle with, but I see it running rampant in the church or society as a whole, oh yeah, I can listen to that preaching all day. But what happens when he hits my favorite sins? Do I zone out, just sort of skip over that part? Do I seek to self-justify, and explain how scripture doesn't really mean that, and even if it does it's not like what I'm doing is so bad, right? Do I go into full-on rebellion, and flaunt the sin because of my 'freedom in Christ', and take on the "Oh yeah? I'll show you!" attitude of a particularly immature three-year-old?

Or do I accept the Word of God as it is, and humbly confess my sin, and repent of it?

Yes, what this guy did is stupid on so many levels. It's foolish, moronic, disgusting, completely indefensible. But in the rush to (rightly) condemn his sin, let's examine our own hearts and how we respond to conviction. What he's done is obviously shameful. Let's not join him. When sin is exposed, let's repent of it and put it to death by the grace of God.

(Related: I was just cleaning out the RSS feed and saw this. Wow. Now that is how to respond to temptation and conviction of sin! So to sum up: be like this guy, not like vile graffiti guy.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Don't Want Every Post To Be About Them, But....

Yesterday (via Justin Taylor) I read a retrospective of the last ten years of the Emerg* Church movement (also see the expanded interviews if you care). One story recounted there does a great job of illustrating exactly why I have a major problem with this movement. As an added bonus, the money quote is straight from the mouth of Tony Jones. Normally, when a critic of emerg* makes this claim it's dismissed as hateful nonsense, so it's great to see Jones unapologetically claim exactly what critics have been suggesting. Well, great that he's being honest about it, not so great that he actually believes it and teaches it.

Anyway, it's from a meeting between emerg* leaders Jones and Doug Pagitt and the most definitely non-emerg* and all-around awesome John Piper. They all work in Minneapolis (Pagitt 'pastors' or 'facilitates' (not sure which term they use this week) Solomon's Porch, and Piper pastors Bethlehem Baptist Church), and the emerg*s wanted to try to form some sort of coalition and work together. From the article:

But it appeared that John believed that there had to be some foundational theological agreement before any kind of partnership could be struck. Their conversation centered on the meaning of the atonement, specifically, the penal substitutionary theory. Tony and Doug did not believe that agreement on this specific doctrine was necessary for mutual endeavor. Tony used the incident to illustrate his Dispatch #7 in his recent book The New Christians:

Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma.

Tony reiterated this principal in our interview with him: “It concerns me when leaders who were formerly friends of mine back away from me and from emergent because they find my theology too risky. I think that’s sin, plain and simple. Friendship should trump doctrinal differences, and I’m quite sure that Jesus would agree with me on that”.
So yeah. The emerg*s wanted to work together. Before doing so, Piper wanted to know that they at least agree on the heart of the gospel. The emerg*s didn't see the point in agreeing on the gospel. Why not just set such things aside and work together? Apparently to them, the gospel just isn't nearly as important as getting everyone to work together and be friends. (The same could of course also be said of "ecumenical" ideas such as ECT.) But the real meat comes from the Jones quote. Let's see, where to begin...

"It concerns me when leaders who were formerly friends of mine back away from me and from emergent because they find my theology too risky". I object to the term risky. Risk implies that there is a chance of either reward or consequence. That is simply not the case with Jones's theology. We know what the Bible says, we know what Jones teaches, and they are far, far apart. There is no "risk" involved in accepting his theology, any more than there is "risk" in putting your head in a hydraulic press and turning it on. We know exactly where it leads. Rejecting such a foolish course of action is not fear of risk, but an absence of stupidity.

"I think that’s sin, plain and simple." In the world of Tony Jones, standing firm for the gospel is sin. Got it. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the irony of a man who has dedicated his life to promoting the denial of sin and an "anything goes" view of sanctification - because we can't really actually understand what the Bible says, and we can't know what truth really is, so who can say that something is a sin anyway, right? - calling something a sin. Apparently to Jones, the only real sin is believing the gospel as proclaimed by Jesus, attested by the apostles, and confirmed by the Father through signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

"Friendship should trump doctrinal differences, and I’m quite sure that Jesus would agree with me on that.” Why should the gospel matter? Why can't we just be friends? Again, when concerned Christians claim that emerg* leads to such places, we are ridiculed as spiteful haters. So in a way, it's refreshing to see such an influential emerg* as Jones come right out and say it. (See another prime example here).

And of course, Jesus would agree with this. He has no concern for truth whatsoever, he's just interested in getting us together to hold hands and light candles and sing Kum Ba Yah. Well, let's see how this picture of Jesus just wanting us to be friends without regard to faith or practice lines up with scripture. Hmmm. Nope. Not here. Or here. Nah. Maybe... nope. What about... nuh-uh. No. No. Repeatedly and clearly, no. Well, I'm sure that somewhere in the world, there's a Jesus who agrees with Jones here. It's just not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who Jones claims to worship.

Well, maybe Jesus thinks that what we believe is slightly important - you know, important enough to determine whether we spend eternity rejoicing in heaven or suffering in hell. But surely elsewhere in scripture there's gotta be license for what Jones wants to do, right? I mean, just because someone may deny the heart of the gospel, there's no reason we can't overlook that and be the church together, right? No reason we can't church up together and be friends just because they're totally off on the gospel. What say ye, Paul?

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Well then. It seems that maybe friendship doesn't quite overrule the gospel. Huh. Of course, this quote is from the introduction to Galatians, where Paul takes the church to task for allowing false teachers to peddle their heresy. It doesn't matter if they're friends, or Paul himself, or even an angel. If they teach something other than the true gospel, they are cursed, and the church should not tolerate them.

I end with something tragically humorous. This post imagines what the response would be if Galatians was published in Christianity Today. Of course, as Dan Phillips points out, there's exactly zero chance that CT would publish something so good, so it would be merely fantasy. And the letters don't come close to matching the histrionics the perpetually offended crowd would no doubt produce. But it is a pretty accurate snapshot of the response whenever discernment is applied. Check the comment thread on any critical review of The Shack, f'r'instance. So it's humorous in that it captures the self-parody of the evanjellybean crowd so well, which completely expresses the "doctrine doesn't matter as long as we get along!" rubbish spouted by Jones. And it's tragic that this garbage has so completely infiltrated the church.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Bachelor - Apparently Surprising

I have no idea what happened on the season finale of The Bachelor. I was barely aware that the show is even still around. But judging by the 925 Facebook status updates (approximately) that all hit at the same time last night, apparently it was the last episode, and the guy did something extremely sleazy.

Well, I for one am shocked - shocked! - that someone associated with that show would have anything less than the highest moral integrity. I mean really, who could've seen it coming? To think that someone who'd go on that show could possibly be a sleazeball... My faith in humanity is - well, exactly where it was before.

So yeah, if you're one of those folks who was just stunned that the guy's a scumbag, could you please try to explain why you were even the least bit surprised? What, exactly, did you expect?