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.

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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.

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