I recently had  a great discussion with my 11 year old son. He was remarking about how the word ‘believe’ is so often tossed around in different ways. He mentioned that we believe there are certain planets, countries and stuff. And then people say they believe in Jesus. His point (in my words) was that it seems that to believe in Jesus means a little more than to just have some mental assent or agreement.

As I sat with him I was so encouraged with the depth of the question. On the face of it, it appears that he is wrestling with the demands and glory of Christ in the gospel. I love this type of wrestling from him.

While we talked and worked through things I tried to help him understand what we are getting at in terms of believing in Christ. We broke it up into two helpful terms: Trust & Treasure.

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Martin Bashir bringing it on MSNBC. He refuses to let Bell off of the mat. He doesn’t abandon the central issue of Bell’s creative editing and deviation from orthodoxy. Bell simply has nothing to say. He circles the theological runway like a plane with no landing gear.

Bashir’s concluding summary here is particularly helpful:

You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture. . . . What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?

I had to laugh when I read the tweet from the satirical account XIANITY:

HERESY UPDATE: @RealRobBellamends previous claims and states categorically that there is a hell and its spelled MSNBC

Providence is a good word. It regathers us in when we get disorientated in our observations of the horizontal.

The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us this key doctrine in question 27: in that God upholds all things, as with his hand…and all things come to us, not by chance, but from his fatherly hand.

It seems like everywhere I turn, even when trying to avoid the subject, I bump into something concerning Rob Bell and his new book. He is on CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, Good Morning America, and others.

My first reaction to this is, “It’s getting old.” However, as I think about this a bit, I wonder at the bigger picture. I wonder at the picture informed by God’s providence.

We know from Scripture that God uses all kinds of figures to influence his end. We have seen him use prophets, kings, and even an ass. So perhaps I need to sit and think about what is being accomplished.

I’ve made a quick list here . I’m sure there is more.

It Makes You (re)Own what You Believe

Shortly after becoming a Christian I started a new job. I had to complete some training prior to starting. In my class was an aggressive Jehovah’s Witness. This lady saw that I was reading books on Roman Catholic theology (she supposed I was Catholic but I was actually taking religion classes at a local university). She was all over it. Everyday she would badger me about the deity of Christ. She brought me tracts, magazines, and papers. She just kept on telling me that Jesus was not God but a god. It was crazy.

But what did this do? The first week or so I was on the ropes. I was knocked off balance. I got mad. But in time, I got my composure and started combing the Bible for answers. This actually became the time that I read through the Bible thoroughly. I began showing her what the Scripture said.

After a period of time I realized that though this woman was a messenger of Satan, serving false doctrine, she was also serving God and me by making me own something that I did not really own. I could say with Joseph, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50.20).

This has always been the way things work in the history of the church. We see this in Galatia with the Judiazers, Colossae with those who undermine Christ’s supremacy, in the early church with Arius, Palegius, right on through to the Reformation, the enlightenment, and to our day with the battles with liberalism. God uses these things for his good to strengthen his church.

I’m guessing many Christians are thinking through hell in a much more comprehensive way. If they are being led to the Bible for answers then this is good.

It Indicts the Lack of Discernment

Rob Bell didn’t fall out of the tree of orthodoxy overnight. He has been sticking his finger in the eye of historic Christianity for years. The problem is too many evangelicals didn’t realize it.

The bottom-line is that Rob Bell would not be nearly as popular as he is if there weren’t so many evangelical barnacles attached to him. I think of churches in my own city where evangelical pastors recommend his books and videos. The fact that evangelicals, especially pastors, did not see this coming is an indictment on the level of discernment of our movement. You could say, without exaggeration, that Rob Bell’s popularity and credibility comes through the impressionable, doctrinally shallow American evangelicals that are drawn after cool rather than true. It reminds me of the teenage girl who is searching for approval and identity. She goes after the cool guy. Then she finds out that the cool guy is not who she thought he was. She is crushed.

It Draws Out Voices

It is interesting to me to sit and listen to the voices that come out in defense of or disagreement with Bell.

For example, Rick Warren, tweeted, after the initial Love Wins firestorm erupted:

I believe in hell because Jesus says it’s real & he knows more about it than anyone.

John Piper likewise tweeted,

Farewell Rob Bell.

Then we have the president of Fuller Seminary, Richard Mouw, in USA Today yesterday:

…president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

Thanks for that Richard.

As frustrating as that statement is, it is actually clear. It is clear that Mouw and Bell have abandoned the ship of orthodoxy and done a cannon-ball into the ocean of historic Liberalism. I just wish they would abandon the term ‘orthodoxy’. The way he is using it here it’s tied to Christianity. To be right about Christian doctrine then you need to be biblical. To deviate from the Bible, whether out of ostensibly ‘generous’ motives or not, is to deviate from Christianity. It reminds of J. Greschem Machen’s classic book Christianity and Liberalism where he noted that you are free to create your own religion, just don’t call it Christianity, that one is taken.

Speaking of Machen, he is always helpful to quote. He hits the right notes here, with respect to the current debate about hell and God’s character:

How can anyone be unhappy when the ruler of the universe is declared to be the loving Father of all men who will never permanently inflict pain upon His children ? Where is the sting of remorse if all sin will necessarily be forgiven? Yet men are strangely ungrateful. After the modern preacher has done his part with all diligence–after everything unpleasant has carefully been eliminated from the conception of God, after His unlimited love has been celebrated with the eloquence that it deserves–the congregation somehow persistently refuses to burst into the old ecstasies of joy. The truth is, the God of modern preaching, though He may perhaps be very good, is rather uninteresting. Nothing is so insipid as indiscriminate good humor. Is that really love that costs so little? If God will necessarily forgive, no matter what we do, why trouble ourselves about Him at all? Such a God may deliver us from the fear of hell. But His heaven, if He has any, is full of sin.

…How do you know that God is all love and kindness? Surely not through nature, for it is full of horrors. Human suffering may be unpleasant, but it is real, and God must have something to do with it. Just as surely not through the Bible. For it was from the Bible that the old theologians derived that conception of God which you would reject as gloomy. “The Lord thy God,” the Bible says, “is a consuming fire.” Or is Jesus alone your authority? You are no better off. For it was Jesus who spoke of the outer darkness and the everlasting fire, of the sin that shall not be forgiven either in this age or in that which is to come. Or do you appeal, for your comforting idea of God, to a twentieth-century revelation granted immediately to you? It is to be feared that you will convince no one but yourself. –J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

While the current drama may be a surprise to some, it is not to God. It is a divinely dispatched magnet to draw out both the orthodoxy and the false doctrine from the swelling, undefined crowd called evangelicalism. In this, while we wince, we learn.

Each family has their big debates. In our family we keep coming back to two of the most complex, intriguing, and important topics of all time.  They have combined to complete an elaborate tapestry of argumentation that, as far as we know, is still hovering over Lake Michigan.

The debates center on proving the veracity of two theories:

  1. Is a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s?
  2. Is bread crust good for you?

I know that by bringing these topics up there is the potential to make this the most controversial blog post in the history of this site. However, this is no longer a matter of debate. We have a solution. I’m here to set the record straight.

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For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (1 Peter 1.16-17)

Would you not have loved to have been there on the Mountain with Peter? No doubt it would be the highlight of our lives to see the glory of Christ in such a dazzling manner and to hear the words of God affirming him.

It is interesting to consider how the Apostle Peter later wrote about this event.

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-below is a meditation by Charles Spurgeon that I found particularly encouraging…enjoy!!-

“He humbled Himself.”—Philippians 2:8.

JESUS is the great teacher of lowliness of heart. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples’ feet! Follower of Christ, wilt thou not humble thyself? See Him as the Servant of servants, and surely thou canst not be proud! Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography, “He humbled Himself”?

Was He not on earth always stripping off first one robe of honour and then another, till,naked, He was fastened to the cross, and there did He not empty out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, till they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave? How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?

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Since I continue to hear so much bad feedback about previous thoughts on Rob Bell from his supporters, I figured I’d try to communicate my concerns in a brief poem. My aim is to appeal to their artsy side, while expressing my own.

There once was a teacher named Rob, whose last name rhymed with hell

His dislike for this doctrine was easy to tell–he wrote a book about love that redefined hell

The danger is seen in what he has lost–Jesus is eclipsed, so is sin, and the cross

The long-term effect is tough to predict, but I’m sure I can smell Satan’s old trick-

“You shall not surely die” was that old lie he did sell

Now here it comes again, from the pen of Rob Bell

(For a good review of Rob Bell’s book, see Tim Challies here.)

This is probably one of the most common questions  I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids.

Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?

This is what we do in our home. I am not saying it is for everyone, but we are supportive of it as a practice by conviction and experience. Our children range from 20 months to almost 16. There is quite a variety.

I’ll hit this from two angles, family and personal devotions.

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There are often questions about relationship between members within the Trinity. John 14 is usually at the front of the list. I think James White is helpful here in his explanation.

“You heard that I said to you, `I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Probably no passage comes to the lips of the person who denies the deity of Christ faster than John 14:28. Yet if we will but consider the passage, and avoid embracing surface-level uses of it, we will find that it does not lead us to deny the deity of Christ, but rather to embrace it.

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This is a good 4 minutes. He hits the nail on the head in terms of the cultural preoccupation with what is fake.

Also, “All the slots for hypocrite are taken. Do not quit!”

Good word. Forget the thumbs. Drop a fist bump and get to work doing something that matters.

(rss readers may need to click thru)

(ht: Challies)

Much like you, I have a lot to do today. There are concerns, tasks and responsibilities before me.

If I am not careful I can fall backwards into the pool of the day without thinking first about what truly matters. I can get baptized in the concerns of the day without baptizing my mind in the truth of the gospel.

Think about this: regardless of the weighty concerns or obligations of the day, the most pressing and urgent concern you and I face is acceptance before God.

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As a follow-up to my post yesterday on the need for private, secret prayer as a believer, I wanted to provide a very simple example.

I came across this post on Steve McCoy’s blog where he transcribed a portion of an interview with Tim Keller and Bryan Chapell. I am thankful that Steve took the time to transcribe this. It has been something that has been rattling around in my mind since I’ve read it. I have talked to numerous friends about this and they were likewise blessed. May Keller’s simplicity and transparency help you in your striving to be faithful in prayer.

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To our regret and shame there seems to always be some sort of scandous besmudging on the movement of evangelicalism. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. And we all lose our collective breaths and our stomaches ache and turn.

The questions come. Why? How did this happen?

I remember hearing John MacArthur say,

“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”

His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.

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I am blessed to preach to a very receptive and hungry congregation. The people at Emmaus love the word and want it preached.

Over the last couple of years I have observed reactions to particular tone and context of preaching. It is amazing and instructive.

In particular, when we are dealing with weighty matters of God’s Law, in particular Leviticus, or something that tells the Christian to do something, insert an epistle here, then people become weighed down. If I take my homiletical stand in the Law (what God requires) there regularly is a weight of heavy obligation that presses upon them. Their posture is serious but not characterized by happiness. They are looking at their Bibles and listening well, but not ‘leaning into to it’ as it were. They are feeling it, but not in the way that brings happiness.

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(Mar 8.34) And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

The cross of Christ is central to our understanding of the person of Christ. It is at the heart of who Christ is. Furthermore, it is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. The cross is central to our identity as Christians.

Therefore, it is just as important for us to daily swallow the uncomfortable and unfashionable tonic of Jesus’ message as it was on the first day we followed him. This message of self-denial, cross-bearing, and Jesus following serves to forge and reinforce our identity in him. It also serves to confront timidity, shallowness, legalism, worldliness and pride (among other things). In short, the cross provides calibration and motivation for obedience.

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“Devote yourselves to prayer…” (Col. 4.2a)

I suspect that a chief reason for our apathy in prayer is not our lack of need but in our perceived lack of need.  Many of our prayer lives reflect shallowness and irregularity because we somehow have bought the lie that we are sovereign and not in need of help, glorious and not required to worship, and too busy and so not in need of the discipline of bending our hearts in submission to God through prayer.

Prayer is a humbling thing.  And failure to pray reveals as much about our prideful self-consumption as our misconceptions about self-sovereignty, divine power, and the glory of Christ.

We need a simple jagged command like this here to puncture our imaginations, flood our hearts with sacred truth and bring us into the reality of God-centered dependence.

(repost from 3/6/2009)

A couple of years ago a friend was repreaching several sermons to me from prominent pastor. He told me how he had listened to some of them several times and how they continued to speak to him. That preacher was Tim Keller and the sermon series was King’s Cross. I too began listening to them and dialoging with my friend. I had quietly hoped that Keller would get those audio files bound in a book format for a more broad circulation. Thankfully, he has.

King’s Cross is the book version of these messages. However, in reading the book you don’t have that sermon feel. This is not because of the absence of propositions, exhortations, or biblical depth. They are all there. However, Keller’s writing style, replete with a well of images and quotes, gives you that book feel. It works.

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David McIntyre, in his book, The Hidden Life of Prayer, aims to have believers bath their prayers in the truth of the gospel. He suggests starting our prayers out with the gospel and then continuing to return to it. At the end of this section (p. 47) he includes a short poem. The imagery here was striking, refreshing, and instructive for me.

So shall I keep

For Ever in my heart one silent space

A little sacred spot of loneliness,

Where to set up the memory of thy Cross,

A little quiet garden, where no man

May pass or rest for ever, sacred still

To visions of thy sorrow and thy love.

This is a good image to hang in your mind’s gallery.

Who has means to pay off the debt of one’s own life? None have the ability or means to pay for themselves or others:

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice,that he should live on forever and never see the pit. (Psalm 49.7-9)

This is true in the absolute natural sense as well as the judicial sense. No man may, by means of his own exertion or payment, prevent his own death. The rich and poor, the strong and weak, all are marching on towards death. In the judicial sense no man may pay the debt for his own sin. There simply is not the ability to do this. Everything we touch is smudged by our own sinfulness. Therefore, everywhere we turn we exacerbate the ever-increasing eternal debt. There is no means for one to pay for “wages of sin” it is death (Rom. 6.23).

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Much to the pleasure of publisher Harper-Collins, most of us have watched the promo video to Love Wins by Rob Bell. The book is due to be released within the next month and has generated quite the firestorm of discussion around the doctrine of hell. To be more specific, the discussion centers around Bell’s view of hell, and then what that means in terms of impact in contemporary Christianity.

If I may step away from the fray for a moment I think there is a valuable lesson in this for us. In particular, the lesson is for the folks who think that Jesus was neither confused nor simply being poetic nor cryptic when he talked so much about hell. This lesson is brought to us courtesy of the person who found it appropriate to leave a note on a quote by Gandhi at art show mentioned by Bell in the video.

According to Bell, someone attached a note to the piece of art with the Gandhi quote that read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

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