I’ll be preaching on the raising of Lazarus (John 11) in a week and a half, and since I’m having a hard time putting some of the pieces together, I thought I’d remind you of a man who seems to have had the entire passage figured out.
“If our goal is to be liberated from creation rather than the liberation of creation, we will understandably display little concern for the world God has made. If, however, we are looking forward to “the restoration of all things” (Ac 3:21) and the anticipation of the whole creation in our redemption (Ro 8:18-21), then our actions here and now pertain to the same world that will one day be finally and fully renewed.”
- Michael Horton The Christian Faith
Here’s my sermon on John 4 and the Woman at the Well: God is a Giver
The absolute best post I ‘ve read all week came from my wife about Eating as a Social Event. Of course, I’m likely biased, but that doesn’t take away from the simple profundity of this piece.
To eat is to commune with others. Maybe this is why important holidays include a feast of some sort. Maybe this is why we ask new friends to join us for a meal. Maybe this is why God invites us to the Table to partake of the gift of His Son.
Amy Julie Becker explores the Divine Grace of Diapers and Dirty Laundry in another fantastic Her.Meneutics article.
It takes faith to be a parent. It takes faith for me to care for our three children day after day. It takes faith to believe that this 30-minute episode of crying, or this midnight, bleary-eyed feeding, or this time-out for hitting your sister, or this poopy diaper — that these will bear fruit. That they matter, and even eternally.
Brian McLaren has impressed me lately with his modeling of how to respond to those with whom we are in disagreement. Last week he did a fantastic, and well balanced piece on Albert Mohler’s article on Rob Bell. This week he provided a well articulated and generous response to John Piper’s claims that the Japanese earthquake was the result of God’s sovereign, unilateral decision.
Attempts like Piper’s to explain suffering and evil bring great comfort and security to some. But in the end, the practice of theodicy often adds to the evil and suffering that it attempts to explain. In arguing for God’s power, theodicies often depict him—this powerful God is almost always masculinized—as heartless. In defending God’s compassion, theodicies often depict God as inept at universe management or deficient in universe planning. Either way, the speaker leaves the stage (or the writer leaves the keyboard) feeling he has confidently defended the reputation of the Lord, but the hearers (or readers) feel the Lord has been somehow reduced in the process. And when you’re traumatized, a reduced but well-defended deity isn’t what you need. Yes, answers like Piper’s may help some keep faith, but speaking personally, if my only option for Christian faith required me to be satisfied with the explanations given by Piper, I would be driven away.
The brilliant Roger Olson tackles a subject I’ve been wrestling with for a few years: Neo-Fundamentalism.
Lauren Winners is a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity. In a section of her book, Girl Meets God, she reflects on the communal nature of liturgy, worship, and faith. In one amusing section she talks about Baptism, and in particular Infant Baptism:
Sometimes people wonder how babies can be baptized; indeed, that very wondering is the genesis of the Baptist church. Baptist believe babies shouldn’t be baptized. They say there’s no scriptural precedent for it, that Jesus and John were both baptized as adults. Hannah (Winner’s friend in the book), who’s a Baptist, often says that a baby can’t promise to do everything one promises in baptism. I have never found this a very persuasive argument. It strikes me as too individualistic. The very point is that no baptismal candidate , even an adult, can promise to do those things all by himself. The community is promising for you, with you, on your behalf. It is for that reason that I love to see a baby baptized. When a baby is baptized, we cannot labor under the atomizing illusion that individuals in Christ can or should go this road alone. When a baby is baptized we are struck unavoidably with the fact that this is a community covenant, a community relationship, that these are communal practices.
Well said, Lauren. Well said.
Let’s be clear about the Rob Bell saga: This debate is not about the authority of the Bible, but is about different understandings of how humans interpret the Bible.
The neo-Reformed believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God.
So does everyone else.
What “everyone else” emphasizes that the neo-Reformed don’t, is that all interpretations of God’s word are situated, contextual, and NOT neutral representations of “what the Bible says.”
By denying the full force of this argument, many of the neo-Calvinists act (even if they don’t overtly say) that their interpretation of Scripture is a-cultural and therefore equivalent to “what the Bible actually says.” This allows them to assume their interpretations of Scripture equals gospel truth and everyone else’s fall somewhere along the lines of slightly aberrant to downright heresy. This also inhibits their ability to see where their interpretations are actually more culturally driven than anything else.
And most unfortunately, what this effectively does is sets them and them alone up as the sole standards of “right” biblical interpretation – and therefore orthodoxy.
On the other side, “everyone else” fears (both legitimately and illegitimately) power plays and sees the assumptions of the neo-Reformed as just another veiled attempt at grabbing power.
Often forgotten by “everyone else” in this is the power of the Holy Spirit to enter human culture and speak – and speak clearly!
By questioning all claims of truthful interpretation, “the other side” can easily end up making the individual interpreter the sole source of truth because everyone else is to be distrusted. Yes, we should question our motives in interpreting scripture, but let’s not be so pessimistic that we end up doubting whether or not God has spoken…or is still speaking. He has and He is.
Either extreme is dangerous because both make ‘me’ the gateway of truth.
This disagreement between the two groups gets at theological fundamentalism’s fascination with modernity, and the pessimism of a postmodern generation who grew up seeing the Bible used as a tool for gaining political, cultural, and ecclesial power.
But my point is this: This whole discussion is about human interpretation and the Bible, not about the authority of the Bible.
I don’t usually post full posts from other blog pages here. However, as Roger Olson is such a fantastic theologian and exemplifies what good, Christian scholarship and debate should look like, I want to post his review here.
Discussion of Bell’s Love Wins is now allowed here for those who can truthfully say they have read it. If you post a comment about Bell’s book be sure to say whether you have read it.
I finally received my copy yesterday. (Sometimes I think mail has to arrive in my city by Pony Express!) I read it last evening and this morning.
First, it is obvious to me that early critics of the book were wrong and they owe Bell an apology. Nowhere in the book does Bell affirm universalism. (Let’s not quibble about what “universalism” means; we all know what the critics meant–that Bell was saying everyone will eventually be saved, go to heaven, and leave hell empty. He nowhere says that.)
Bell does say it is okay to “long for” universal salvation. So did Pope John Paul II! I’m sure some critics who jumped the gun and attacked Bell for promoting universalism without reading the book will come back around and use that to support what they said. But they are not the same. To long for universal salvation is not to affirm it.
On page 114 Bell says “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.” And nowhere else in the book does he say that eventually everyone will say yes to God’s love. His emphasis on freedom as necessary for love requires him not to say that. Can he hope for it? Who is to say he can’t?
The point is–universalism is the assertion that eventually all will be saved. Nowhere does Bell assert that.
Bell continues in that chapter to say that hell is getting what we want. This is simply another way of saying “Hell’s door is locked on the inside”–something I think C. S. Lewis said. (Or it may be someone’s summary of Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)
Chapter 6 is about what is usually called inclusivism–that salvation through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who hear his name. (I’ve discussed problems with restrictivism here before.) I find nothing in that chapter that Billy Graham has not said. (Go to youtube.com and look up Graham’s responses to questions from Robert Schuler.)
While reading Love Wins I kept thinking “This sounds like C. S. Lewis!” In his Acknowledgments Bell thanks someone for “suggesting when I was in high school that I read C. S. Lewis.”
One thing I disagree with in Love Wins (and I disagreed with it in The Shack) is Bell’s affirmation that God has already forgiven everyone through Jesus Christ. I believe God has provided everything for forgiveness, but forgiveness depends on acceptance of God’s provision. I don’t know how to reconcile universal forgiveness with Jesus’ statement that the Father will not forgive those who refuse to forgive. Of course, if “forgive” means “forgive everyone of the guilt of original sin,” then I can accept universal forgiveness (which is how I and most Arminians interpret Romans 5). But I don’t think that’s what Bell means.
Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology. I won’t hold my breath.
Vilifying anyone based on what you think they are going to say is clear evidence of bad judgment; it breaks all the rules of civil discourse. It is part of what I mean by “evangelicals behaving badly” and illustrates what I call the fundamentalist ethos.
Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.” There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye. We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand. This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s. It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done. It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.
Donald Miller gives us advice on How Not to Read the Bible.
“All of heaven hardly fits inside a man’s head. And any man who says it does has made something small of heaven and something rather large of his head.”
I’m not always a fan of McLaren, but in this one he takes Mohler to task. And he’s absolutely right on.
“If some like Dr. Mohler want to reserve the terms Evangelical, orthodox, and even Christian for those who hold fast to the traditional view of hell, they seem to have the power and moxy to do so. Those of us who can’t in good conscience defend that view any longer are certainly not condemning people who can’t in good conscience stop defending it. But we are hoping at least to be given the courtesy of a fair hearing. To impugn our motives (that we are selling out the Bible for the pottage of popularity), to reduce our concerns about love and justice to sentimentality, to dismiss us with the “L” word and a questionable narrative surrounding it, and to demean as “secularized” our attempt to articulate a fresh vision of the gospel probably won’t pass muster as a fair hearing.”
“Followers of Jesus could be far more attentive to the bridges between our personal lifestyle choices and the injustices around us, between our individual righteousness and our work for justice. A wholesale loss of the capacity to blush, personally and in the society at large, contributes to an environment in which the ripple effects are devastating for the most powerless among us.”
And finally, my friend Thomas Irby is humbled by Joyce Meyers.
“Look for God in things you disagree with, in things you find intellectually inferior, in things you fight against, in things you don’t understand. Hold firm to your beliefs, but don’t miss an opportunity to let God shape you through an unlikely source.”
To all such people, I ask this: Was Rob Bell Crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Kevin DeYoung?
Is there anything you’d add to my list?