Adapting to the culture… or not.

Contrast the message of Voddie Baucham in the video below…

…with the message of a popular “spiritual leader” here.

Love Wins: A review

Tim Challies got his hands on an advanced copy of Rob Bell’s newest offering, “Love Wins,” and has written a review. Many of my suspicions were confirmed. Bell redefined a lot of terms, asked a lot of questions, and provided precious few answers. Above all it appears he remained vague — once again refusing to allow himself to be pinned down as solidly for or against any firm doctrine, although the elements of humanism and new ageism that mark his teachings appear to be evident.

Take the time to read Tim’s review of the book. It is worth it.

Ironic Side Note: Several years ago I watched as a pastor I knew did this same dance. He asked the questions Bell is now asking. He jumped through hoops to make Scripture say something he found more palatable (using many of the arguments Bell is now using). In the end he wound up holding to a full-blown doctrine of universalism. It has been sad to watch. I fear Bell is now leading more people down the same path.

Rob Bell promotes his book “Love Wins”

Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill “Church” in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is preparing to release a new book entitled “Love Wins.” I have long been convinced this man is a false teacher, and a dangerous one at that. And the promotions I’ve seen for his new book just accumulates more evidence in support of that conclusion. Consider his promotional video.

Bell describes an art show at his church where someone submitted a piece of art containing a quote from Gandhi. According to Bell, someone else attached a note to the piece which read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

Bell responds with a series of questions that appear to be rhetorical and leading. He does not answer them — but Scripture does.

Bell: “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?”

Well, we know this for sure: All men are sinners and are deserving of God’s wrath.

  • “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” — Romans 3:9-12
  • “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” — Romans 3:23

We know that salvation from God’s wrath is available only in the person of Jesus Christ.

  • “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” — Acts 4:12
  • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” — John 3:18

Here is what we know of Gandhi: He is included in the statements about all men being sinners. He deserves God’s wrath just as much as anyone else. What we do not know for certain is whether or not he ever repented of his sin, believed the Gospel and turned to Christ in faith for the salvation of his sins. However, I know of no evidence in his writings or teachings to indicate that he ever did. If he did not, then he is, in fact, in hell. This we can know on the authority of Scripture.

Bell: Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

Yes. When Jesus spoke of salvation in Matthew he said this…

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” — Matthew 7:13-14

Bell: And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe? Or what you say? Or what you do? Or who you know? Or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated? Or baptized? Or take a class? Or be converted? Or born again? How does one become one of these few?

The Bible is not unclear on these things…

  • “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” — Romans 10:8-10
  • “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” — John 3:3-8

Bell: Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message — the center of the Gospel of Jesus — is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.

That is the primary message of the Gospel — it is what we call the substitutionary atonement and it is the Gospel. And if the idea of Jesus rescuing us from the wrath of God has only been a subtle message then shame on us. We need to shout that warning to the world — Scripture does…

  • “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” — Romans 2:5
  • “…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” — Romans 2:8
  • “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” — Romans 5:9
  • “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” — Revelation 6:15-17

Bell: How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted?

I submit to you the better question: How could a God who overlooks sin ever be considered Holy or just? If some criminal burst into your home and murdered your family before your eyes you would want justice. Suppose that murderer were caught and brought before a judge who said, “I’m a very loving judge. You can go free.” You would be outraged — not only at the crime itself, but at the judge, too.

We need to understand that before God we are all much worse than the murderer described in the scenario above. We are wicked and vile and deserve every ounce of God’s wrath. Bell’s implication is that there is something in us God needs to respect. That is just plain wrong.

Bell: And how could that ever be good news?

The bad news I’ve just described is what makes the good news so good. Knowing our true standing before a Holy God, knowing how much we deserve His wrath and His justice is precisely what makes His grace and mercy so great. The good news is that God, Himself, has become the justifier of sinful men.

Bell: This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith, because they see it as an endless list of inconsistencies and absurdities. And they say, “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”

No, lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith because it is foolishness to unregenerate men.

  • “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” — 1 Corinthians 2:14
  • “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’” — John 10:24-27 (emphasis mine)

Now, before the Bell defenders come out of the woodwork allow me to preemptively address their objections.

Objection 1: Bell didn’t actually deny hell or actually affirm universalism.

Answer: No he didn’t. What he did was ask a lot of leading and open questions — but instead of directing people’s attention to the concrete answers provided in Scripture, rather than affirming the reason behind Christ’s sacrifice, Bell allows people to draw their own conclusions. That is a remarkably dangerous thing to do. In fact, the earliest example of this sort of question can be found in Scripture. God was quite clear in his instructions to Adam and Eve in the garden. And then there was a question…

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” — Genesis 3:1

Anyone want to defend the serpent in this? Hey, he didn’t actually tell Eve that it was okay, all he did was ask a question. He just started a conversation. The nature of some questions is inherently deceptive. Asking deceptive and leading questions where God has already provided answers is a slippery thing to do. We don’t get to make the Gospel what we want it to be. God has already defined it and it is written down.

Objection 2: The book hasn’t been released yet. You don’t know what it says. All this video is is a promotional tool to get people to read it.

Answer: I have not read the book. But the Gospel is not marketing material. It is not some teaser to be used to sell books. It is the very word of God and it is the means through which God calls sinful men to Himself.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” — Romans 1:16

The correct answers to these questions lead to life — the wrong ones to death. If Bell is eventually going to give the correct answers he is wrong to dangle them in front of a dying world so that he may earn revenue from their purchase.

“You received without paying; give without pay.” — Matthew 10:8

Bell: What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who god is and what God is like.

On this we agree. The converse is also true. What we believe about God exposes what we believe about heaven and hell. And, based on the teachings and writings of Bell so far — which advocate a god that bears little resemblance to the God of Scripture — I suspect he will advocate a “salvation” that bears little resemblance to the Gospel.

We’ll have to wait and see.

Rob Bell update

I recently saw this post at CrossTalkBlog

Rob Bell’s 40,000 something follwers on Twitter were treated to this tweet where Bell calls New Age Interspiritualist author Huston Smith’s book “great.”  See tweet here. Here Huston Smith holds forth on one of the world’s religions. YouTube is filled with Mr. Smith’s praise for Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions and their “truth.” Christianity is just one of many choices, according to Smith.

We can thank Rob Bell for openly admitting what many of us have been warning about for years. He represents a version of Christianity that is, in fact, anti-Christ. While Bell roots around in the books of rank interspiritualists for “truth”, true Christians look to our only and final authority, the unchanging Word of God.

This is just more evidence that the brand of Christianity Bell preaches is not Christianity at all. I continue to pray more and more people will come to realize that.

At the top of God’s “don’t do” list

In the pluralistic culture of 21st century America, we are told to respect all religious beliefs. Having faith in something — anything — is the important thing. The object of that faith is really beside the point.

Point out that a Hindu is lost and needs to come to faith in Jesus Christ and you will likely hear something like this…

“Hey, he’s seeking God in his own way. At least he’s not out stealing and murdering.”

The implication is that stealing and murdering are much worse offenses than worshipping a false god. But, as Phil Johnson points out at the Pyromaniacs blog, that idea just ain’t biblical.

Once again a 21st century American worldview is at odds with a biblical worldview.

The wrong filter

Quick question: What is the most overused question in Bible study settings? Any idea?

When a Sunday School teacher or Bible study leader has read a passage of Scripture they often look up from the text and ask this question…

“What does that mean to you?”

gallery2Note: I don’t have any “hard statistical evidence” to support the claim that this is the “most overused” question in Bible study settings? But it is used a lot.

This question is typically followed with a “discussion time” where each person will answer the question with the phrase, “To me this means (insert your own meaning here).”

Have you ever experienced this kind of class? Many of us have — and it’s a horrible way to study the Bible. That sort of reasoning presupposes a lot of things that are flat-out wrong. It can lead to conclusions that are absolutely contrary to Scripture. Let me give you some examples.

Many people who claim to be evangelical Christians actively campaign for the legitimacy of homosexuality. One group, Soulforce, has been particularly active. Their website is loaded with resources for “Christians” who want to promote homosexuality. In one place you may order an award-winning documentary entitled, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” According to Soulforce this film, “brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible.”

Oprah Winfrey once had a couple of “religious leaders” on her show who proclaimed being gay is a gift from God. Oprah loved it. The audience loved it. No consideration to what Scripture said.

Note: This article is NOT about homosexuality. Homosexuality is merely the example I used to illustrate a point. For the purpose of this article we will assume the Bible clearly defines homosexuality as sinful (which it does). The purpose of this article is to answer the following question…

How do people who claim to be Christians end up with such a skewed view of Scripture? The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sinful and yet there are people — who profess to follow Christ — defending something God clearly abhors. Some go so far as to characterize it as a “blessing from God.”

How does this happen?

It happens as a result of that overused question I mentioned earlier and the presuppositions attached to it. It happens as a result of the Oprah-ization of American Christianity. It happens because we use the wrong filter.

Oprah, and many like her, have built huge careers helping people “get in touch with their feelings.” With any given topic we are all asked…

  • “How does this make you feel?”
  • “What does your heart tell you?”
  • “What does this mean to you?”

Let me be perfectly clear. Where God’s standard of right and wrong — righteousness and sin — are concerned our feelings mean precisely squat.

During the time of the Judges Israel was under a curse. The culmination of that curse is summarized in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Sounds great, right? Except that when God leaves us to our own devices, when he turns us loose to be subject to our own judgment it is a terrible thing.

Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

bibleYou see, we are fallen creatures. All of us have sinful natures which distort our view of what is righteous. Things that seem right to us will lead us to death. And this is the fatal flaw with the question, “What does this mean to you?” That question presupposes that we have the ability to judge for ourselves what any given passage of Scripture means on the basis of our feelings. Scripture does not mean one thing for one person and something completely different for another. It means what it means. Our job is to determine the right meaning. And our feelings should play no part in finding that meaning.

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The problem with our modern approach to “Bible study” is we filter the Bible through our feelings to determine its meaning — when what we ought to be doing is filtering our feelings through the Bible to determine their meaning.

Nooma “Breathe”: A Review

There is so much objectionable material in Rob Bell’s Nooma, “Breathe,” that it will be quite impossible to adequately deal with everything in this review. He teaches elements of New Ageism, Hinduism, and Universalism and couples it with such a profound misunderstanding of Scripture that I’ll only scratch the surface here.

Bell begins by telling us how many breaths we take a day and how much air (in volume) that represents — it’s a lot. But, because we are distracted by our daily tasks, we never notice it.

He then goes on to tell about Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. He references the passage where God tells Moses to remove his sandals because the ground he is standing on is holy.

“Now Moses has been walking this land for 40 years,” Bell says. “I mean, it isn’t as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. The ground didn’t just change. It’s that Moses becomes aware of it. Which raises the question for us: Are we standing on holy ground all the time?”

noomabreathestampedWell, actually it is exactly as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. You see, the Bible makes it clear over and over again that God and God alone is holy. It is the very presence of God that makes the ground holy under Moses’ feet. The same thing happens when the commander of the army of the Lord appears to Joshua. The commander is a Christophony (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). And, since Christ is God and therefore holy, his presence makes the ground under Joshua’s feet holy. This is only the first instance in “Breathe” where Bell displays a fundamental misunderstanding of holiness.

He continues to explain that the word “LORD” in the English Bible is translated from YHVH in the Hebrew.

“These letters, in Hebrew, are pronounced ‘Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey’ which is where we get the pronunciation ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’” Bell points out. “There are no vowels in the name YHVH and the ancient Jews did not even say the name because they considered it too holy.”

All of that is true. But one of the hallmarks of a convincing false teacher is his ability to take some truth and incorporate untruth. It’s at this point Bell starts mixing in elements of other religious philosophies.

“In fact,” he continues, “the ancient rabbis believed these letters were… essentially, kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing.

“Is the name of God the sound of breathing?”

Do you see where he’s going with this?

Just wait.

“In Genesis we read how God created man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him life. When we die we return to dust,” Bell says. “For thousands of years people have understood this physical breath that we all possess to be a picture of a deeper reality. In the Bible the word for breath is the same word for spirit. In the Old Testament it is ‘ruah’ and in the New Testament it’s “pnuema.’”

Just because a word means both “breath” and “spirit” does not mean it means both things in every case. It is not interchangeable. Context determines meaning. Consider the word “building.”

Example 1: That is a tall building.

Example 2: Timmy is building a tower with his blocks.

It’s the same word — different meanings. One is a noun. The other is a verb. It’s an overly simplistic example, I know, but it makes the point — which will become clearer in a moment.

“When God takes the ‘ruah’ you die, but when he sends the ‘ruah’ you have life,” Bell continues. “And the first Christians took hold of this idea then they took it way farther. They actually believed that the Spirit of God resides or can literally dwell, live in a person. One Scripture in Romans 8 says that if the ‘pneuma,’ the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in you, then God will give you life.”

Well, that’s true. “One Scripture in Romans 8” does say that. But it does not mean what Bell is implying that it means. He is equating the “breath of life,” as given to Adam, with the Holy Spirit of God, as it indwells believers in Christ. He seems to be implying that if God has breathed physical life into you (as per his discussion of the “breath of life”) then you have the life Paul speaks of in Romans 8 (which is eternal life).

This just isn’t true.

Consider the passage of Scripture in Romans 8 in context. And remember, this is a letter written specifically to believers in Christ Jesus at the Church in Rome:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” — Romans 8: 9-11

This passage clearly draws a distinction between believers and non-believers. While it is obvious that every living person has the “ruah” (breath of life), only those who are believers in Christ have the “pneuma” (Holy Spirit) indwelling them. And it is the Holy Spirit that will provide the “life” Paul speaks of in this passage.

Bell’s comments on this passage immediately made me think he was advocating some sort of Universalist message — a thought that was strengthened with Bell’s next comments.

“Another Scripture says that what the Spirit of God does living in you, is it sanctifies,” Bell says. “Now the word ‘sanctify’ it means ‘to purge’ or ‘to clean out.’ What it essentially means is that when you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of…

“Jesus said that what the Spirit of God does, is the Spirit guides us into Truth. I there anything you need guidance in? I mean, maybe what we need is as close as breathing.”

Now, I am convinced that Bell is teaching a synthesis of Christianity and Eastern religions, specifically Hinduism and Transcendental Meditation (which is a practice I’ve condemned before). This whole idea of “breathing in” God is straight from their philosophies. I realize there are many who will deny Bell is advocating any sort of Eastern religion in this Nooma.

Fine. For the sake of argument I will accept he is not advocated such a thing (although I’m convinced he is). Even if that is the case he is still teaching something entirely unbiblical. That we have the ability to “breath in” God at will is contrary to Scripture.

In the third chapter of John Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus the nature of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We no more have command over the Holy Spirit than we do over the wind.

I suspect Bell would disagree. In “Breathe” he refers to humans as “sacred” and “divine” because of the indwelling of this divine breath. This is the second place Bell demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of holiness. The Bible could not be more clear — God alone is holy. Not us.

“You are a sacred creation of God,” Bell says. The divine breath is flowing through you, and it’s flowing through the person next to you, and it’s flowing through the person next to them. You are on holy ground. And there is a holiness to the people around us.”

This is a common misconception about man — one that is born out of humanism.

Humanism teaches an innate value in man.

Scripture teaches that man is completely undone. Sinful. Wretched.

Humanism teaches an elevated view of man, one that borders on — dare I say it — holiness.

Bell, apparently, agrees with the humanists and even says, “A person doesn’t have to agree with this for it to already be true. God has already given us life.”

Again, he makes no distinction between believers and non-believers. And the Bible is clear that only believers have this life Bell references.

The most quoted passage in the Bible is probably John 3:16. Many people even use that passage to defend an elevated view of man. Since “God so loved the world,” they contend, “there must be something in man worth saving.”

But I recommend reading past the 16th verse.

“Whosoever believes in him is not condemned, but whosoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” — John 3: 18-19

Contradictions between the Bible and Bell abound in this video. Suffice it to say, there is very little in “Breathe” that even remotely resembles biblical Christianity. I’ve long suspected Rob Bell to be a teacher of the philosophies of this age, and “Breathe” is the most convincing evidence to date that supports that suspicion.

Could Mary have said “no?”

bibleThere are two things you can almost always count on during Christmas time. Well, there are actually more than two things you can count on during this time of year — but for my purposes today we will look at two of them…

First, there will be any number of sappy, tug-at-the-heartstrings proclaimed “real meanings of Christmas.”

  • “The real meaning of Christmas,” some say, “is the joy of giving.”
  • “The real meaning of Christmas,” others contend, “is being with family.”
  • “The real meaning of Christmas is love, or hope, or…”  you get the idea.

And second, you may get to hear a gratuitous reading of either the birth narrative of Jesus or of the angel telling Mary she is going to have a son — or both.

I’d like to take a look at the passage in Luke where Mary is first made aware she is to give birth to the very Son of God. But I hope your reading of it here is anything but gratuitous. I want to consider a question after the passage. Read carefully…

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:26-38

birthofbabyjesusfigurinesetDid you read carefully? Good. Here’s the question: Could Mary have said “no” to the angel?

The Church in America is so captive to an Arminian mindset that many people automatically answer: “Mary had a free will just like anyone, of course she could have said no.”

But consider the implications of that. Just where does that kind of thinking lead? Consider the following statements taken from theological websites where the writers believe Mary could have said no.

Example 1:

“The Bible clearly shows us that man was given free will. Eve had free will to say “no” to God and cause the fall. Mary was free to say “no” to Gabriel. She was given free will. So [we] believe that Mary’s role at the annunciation was special, not shared by any other human in the history of the world. If she said “no,” none of us know what would have happened. Perhaps God would have worked out salvation history another way. Perhaps it was God’s last chance for us, we just don’t know. But when we think about the immensity of Eve’s “no” we get a pretty good idea. Mary’s “yes” was huge.”

This writer makes a couple of statements that absolutely boggle the mind — they fly right into the face of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. The first is “Perhaps God would have worked out salvation history another way.” The second is “Perhaps it was God’s last chance for us.” The Bible clearly contradicts this pathetic view of God.

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” — Job 42:2

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” — Psalm 115: 3

It’s amazing to me that anyone professing to be a Christian has such a limited view of God. God does not make contingencies. He has no plan B. But if you research the topic for very long you will find it is an attitude that has quite a bit of support.

Example 2:

“I firmly believe that Mary freely consented to her divine inpregnation, but recognize that this question poses difficulties similar to the entire question of predestination itself. Did God really put the fate of our entire race into the hands of a single woman, who was truly free to veto His divine scheme for our salvation? Yes — just as traditional Christianity teaches that the entire race was doomed to perdition because of the free choice of a single woman. Eve was herself beguiled by Satan and, in turn, beguiled her husband. What Eve did in freely rejecting God’s grace, Mary undid by freely consenting to it.”

Again, if Mary “was truly free to veto [God’s] divine scheme for our salvation” as this writer suggests then the Bible is clearly in error where it says things like…

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” — Isaiah 46:10

and…

“God, “…works all things according to the counsel of his will.” — Ephesians 1:11

Apart from these clear contradictions there are other problems with making this comparison between Eve and Mary. I mean, it sounds good, sure. But Scripture cautions us against leaning on our own understanding. We must decide if we are going to believe things that seem right to us, or if we are going to believe the Bible — because sometimes the two are at odds. Personally, I like to go with Scripture. And Scripture makes no comparison between Eve and Mary as the instruments of the fall and of redemption. The Bible makes that comparison between Adam and Christ.

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” — 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

appleA comparison between Eve and Mary does not work because Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They did not have a sinful nature until after the fall. Mary, like every other person born of man, had a sinful nature. She could no more stand as a representative for the human race than any one of us.

Some of you may say, “Fine. The comparison between Eve and Mary does not work, but that does not mean Mary didn’t have a free will and the ability to say ‘no’.”

Remember, I cautioned you to read the passage in Luke carefully. Let’s take a closer look at it. Do you see any place where the angel seeks Mary’s consent?

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” — Luke 1:31-33

Note, the angel does not say all of these things will come to pass if you agree. He says these things will happen, period.

Many people object, saying, “Isn’t this a violation of Mary’s free will? Isn’t free will the one thing God can’t mess with?”

I respond with another question: Doesn’t God have every right to use people as He sees fit? Furthermore, has he not already done so on other occasions?

Yes, He does and yes, He has.

Occasion 1: God used Pharaoh without Pharaoh’s consent.

Time after time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and Scripture declares God specifically hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Himself.

“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” — Exodus 9:12

God goes on to point out why He did this:

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” — Exodus 9:16

The apostle Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Romans when discussing election:

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” — Romans 9:17-18

Occasion 2: God called Paul to ministry without asking for his consent.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” — Acts 9:10-16

God tells Ananias that Saul is a chosen instrument and that Paul must suffer for God’s name. There is no question. There is no request for consent. Saul is going to become the Apostle Paul.

One thing most Christians can agree on is that Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s plan. His birth, life, death, and resurrection are the central events upon which all of history hangs. All of the Old Testament points to the coming of Christ. All of the New Testament points back to it. He is central. He is key.

Now, consider for a moment the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. He is…

  • From the seed of a woman
  • Born of a virgin
  • Son of God
  • Seed of Abraham
  • From the tribe of Judah
  • Son of Isaac
  • From the House of David
  • Born at Bethlehem

And on and on and on…

In both His earthly parents Jesus’ linage is from the House of David. The genealogy in Luke traces back through Mary. It shows the actual, physical lineage of Jesus to the House of David. His humanity comes from there. The genealogy in Matthew follows Joseph’s line. And, even though Jesus is not the physical son of Joseph, Jewish law held that the adopted son of a man was the legal son and legal heir and entitled to the lineage of the father as his own. This shows Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David.

nativitiyAll of the prophesies of the Old Testament converge perfectly through Mary and Joseph at the person of Jesus Christ.

The Bible even says that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. So, before the world was even created the death of God’s own son was a done deal.

Now, do you really think that Mary had in her the power to thwart God’s perfect plan of redemption — a plan whose completion was already set before the foundation of the world — by the power of her free will?

So, does this mean Mary was forced into something contrary to her will? No. her response to the angel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” clearly indicates her willingness to be used by God. But how did she come to be so willing? Giving birth to the Christ child was not an easy thing.

There is a key in the passage from Luke.

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” — Luke 1:30

The phrase translated here “found favor” is literally “grace.” In the Greek it is charis. What this means is that Mary was the recipient of God’s grace. She was perfectly willing to do what God required of her because God had already given her the grace necessary to make her so. She chose the path she wanted, and that path was completely consistent with the path God wanted because God had conformed her desires to his own.

Likewise, Paul did exactly what he wanted. Can you think of anyone in Scripture with a more fierce desire to share the gospel than Paul? But his desire was made consistent with God’s desire through God’s application of grace on Paul.

Pharaoh did exactly what Pharaoh wanted to do. And it was exactly what God wanted him to do. It was through the removal of His grace that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. We all have a sinful, selfish nature. Pharaoh was no exception. God merely allowed Pharaoh to be Pharaoh.

We all choose exactly what we want. But God is sovereign. Even over our desires.

Mary certainly had the free will to choose whatever she wanted. But God made sure she wanted what He wanted.

Could Mary have said “no?”

No.

Nooma “You”: A Review

Rob Bell’s 15th Nooma video, entitled “You,” is highlighted on the back cover of the dvd this way:

“Some of the central claims of the Christian faith are the source of many discussions and heated debates. But are we always debating the right things? Maybe some of our discussions would change significantly if we had more insight into the actual circumstances that surrounded the first people of the Christian movement — if we had a better understanding of the things they did in the context of the world they lived in. Maybe some of the claims of the Christian faith that we typically perceive to be unique aren’t really that special at all.”

You may ask yourself, what claims of the Christian faith does Bell not consider unique to Christianity? The belief in a loving God? The doctrine of God’s sovereignty? Other religions make these claims, maybe this is what Bell means.

No, no.

The thing that Bell thinks we “typically perceive to be unique” and that he says isn’t “really that special at all” is the resurrection of Christ.

The resurrection.

Very early in the video Bell tells the viewer about the ancient Roman and Persian gods Mithra and Attis. There are writings that claim these gods were born of a virgin, died to redeem their people, and rose from the dead.

“In the first century, to claim that your god had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, well, it just wasn’t that unique,” Bell says. “The claims of these first Christians weren’t really anything new. Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special?”

At this point the accompanying discussion booklet asks the questions:

  1. Have you ever thought about what makes your faith special?
  2. Do you believe that the act of Jesus rising from the dead is what makes the Christian faith unique?

That apparent implication is that the resurrection is NOT what makes Christianity unique. In fact, Bell continues to explain that what DOES make Christianity unique is humbly serving in a “universe-wide movement” to restore a world that is “broken and desperately in need of repair.”

Bell says the first Christians viewed this restoration as having nothing to do with leaving this world. “It was all about the restoration, the renewing and the reclaiming of this world.”

The distinguishing feature of Christianity, according to Bell, is a Christian’s method of making the world better. The followers of Mithra and Attis were usually Roman soldiers, politicians and people with great influence and power. They wanted to change the world through military power and political coercion. What made Christians different, Bell says, is the “gospel they were living had nothing to do with using political force to force people to live according to your laws. For them, this gospel was about serving the world, especially those on the underside of the Empire. For them, it was about serving, not ruling.”

A focus on restoring this world is typical of New Age beliefs, which, as I’ve pointed out before, have had quite an influence on Bell’s teachings. But even beyond that, Bell’s claim that Christianity is all about restoring this world just isn’t biblical.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” — John 18:36

Jesus even made a point of telling his disciples about the promise of leaving this world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” — John 14: 1-3

Bell’s claim that the early Christians were not concerned with leaving this world just isn’t true. Many of the early believers were consumed with leaving this world. They actually fell into error because they neglected their charge to make disciples and instead kept an eye on the sky for Christ’s return.

Bell says the distinguishing mark of Christianity is humble servant-hood, but many religions teach humility and servant-hood. In his assessment about what makes Christianity different Bell is just plain wrong. But my biggest problem with this Nooma is Bell’s initial statement about other religious claims that mirror the life of Christ. He never makes a distinction between Mithra, Attis, and Jesus. He allows the viewer to leave still thinking there is no difference in the historicity of these three.

It is true that there are ancient writings that claim Mithra and Attis had lives very similar to Christ. What Bell fails to point out is that while Mithra and Attis were worshipped before Christ was born the claims of their virgin births and resurrections weren’t until well after Christ had lived and died and risen again. Prior to Christ the stories of Mithra and Attis were very different from Christ and more like the typical Greek and Roman mythological figures of ancient literature. The stories of Mithra and Attis rising from the dead were, in all likelihood, fashioned after the actual events of Jesus’ life. Bell fails to point out that Mithra and Attis are not real and takes no time to point out that Christ’s resurrection is an historical fact and that it is THE central doctrine that makes Christianity different from any other man-made religion.

Consider how seriously Paul regarded the resurrection…

“And if Christ is has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. for if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” — 1 Corinthians, 15: 14-19

I could not disagree more strongly with Bell on this point. The resurrection IS what makes Christianity unique. Christ is very, very real. Mithra and Attis are not. I find it extremely hard to believe that a Christian teacher of any kind would address this topic and not take the time to make sure his listeners understood the reality of the resurrection. Bell’s failure to do so casts some serious doubt as to the orthodoxy of his teaching.

With each additional look at Bell’s teachings I become more and more convinced he is simply a false teacher.

Nooma update

As I mentioned before, there have been requests for reviews of other Nooma videos. I have watched “You” and “Breathe” and reviews of these two videos are forthcoming — I promise. In the meantime I thought it might be of interest to note some of the things I’ve learned about Rob Bell whilst I’ve been researching.

hipglasses.jpgApparently Bell seems to disagree with the biblical idea of sin. Certainly sin is not something over which God is angered. Quite the contrary. Bell even went on a speaking tour entitled “The Gods are not Angry” to reassure us that we’re really okay. A review of that tour is available here.

In a previous post I pointed out how Bell has recommended some very questionable reading in the endnotes of his book Velvet Elvis. Well, Ingrid, over at Slice of Laodicea, has discovered another one. Apparently Bell — with no qualification at all — recommends a book by Marcus Borg. This is very important because Marcus Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar — a group of “biblical scholars” who have taken it upon themselves to reject (on the basis of their popular vote) many of the key doctrines in Scripture. They deny the virgin birth, the vast majority of His miracles, a lot of His teachings, and the resurrection — and Bell has no problem recommending Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity with no qualifications of any kind. One would have to assume Bell has no problem with the contents of the book. What are the contents of the book? Here’s just a sample:

When a Christian seeker asked the Dalai Lama whether she should become a Buddhist, his response, which I paraphrase, was: “No, become more deeply Christian; live more deeply into your own tradition.” Huston Smith makes the same point with the metaphor of digging a well: if what you’re looking for is water, better to dig one well sixty feet deep than to dig six wells ten feet deep. By living more deeply into our own tradition as a sacrament of the sacred, we become more centered in the one to whom the tradition points and in whom we live and move and have our being.

A Christian is one who does this within the framework of the Christian tradition, just as a Jew is one who does this within the framework of the Jewish tradition, a Muslim, within the framework of the Muslim tradition, and so forth. And I cannot believe that God cares which one of these we are. All are paths of relationship and transformation. (223)

Now I base my faith on Scripture and I get the sense from Scripture that Christ’s resurrection is kind of important. But maybe I’m not understanding something. Let’s take a look…

“And if Christ is has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. for if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” — 1 Corinthians, 15: 14-19

If I’m reading this wrong someone please tell me, but it seems the Christian faith hinges on the resurrection.

Bell, by contrast, recommends books by New Age teachers and Jesus Seminar “scholars.” He admits these people have influenced his beliefs. He doesn’t seem to have a biblical view of sin nor do things like the resurrection seem to matter that much to him (small hint: this is one of the problems I have with the Nooma “You”). His teachings are thick with humanism, universalism, and New Ageism. It’s no wonder he will be participating in an “interspiritual event” with other Emergent leaders, Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama.

I try very hard to give people the benefit of the doubt. But the Apostle Paul didn’t seem to mind calling a false teacher a false teacher. And when I hold Bell’s teachings up against Scripture I can only draw one conclusion: This guy is a museum quality false teacher.

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