My Apologies

I have operated this site for a little more than a year now, and like most people opted for the “free” option for hosting through WordPress.com.  For those who may not be aware, WordPress posts an advisory note any time an article or audio clip is posted stating that others who view these items may also see ads from third-party sites or companies who pay WordPress for this access.  I have generally ignored these advisories, assuming that the ads would be suitable for my audience.

It turns out that I was naive to believe so.  A good Christian friend contacted me this morning to state that my latest post contained truly offensive ads.  Since I have never seen ads attached to my posts I checked it out on one of my devices that is not logged into my web site as a user.  Sure enough, at the bottom of the post were four ads.  None of them seemed out of line, but I noted that WordPress admits that the ads change depending on one’s location or other factors.

The only way to avoid ads is to purchase a premium plan from WordPress.  I want you to know that I have done so, and hopefully this will end the problem for us.

In the meantime, I sincerely apologize to those readers who have seen inappropriate and offensive ads attached to my posts.  I am very embarrassed about this and ask your forgiveness.  I also want to thank my dear Christian friend who contacted me about these ads.  Her message was to the point, but also kindly worded, and granted me the benefit of the doubt on what appeared on my post.  I am very grateful to her for her kindness.  This is the kind of thing that Christians ought to do for one another.

Helping God

Recent and ongoing events in the Middle East have captured the attention of much of the world as the Arabs and Israelis are once again engaged in battle with each other.  If we take media reports at face value, which is rarely a safe course, the “gallant” and “overmatched” Palestinians are being systematically slaughtered by the Israeli army and air force.  Lost somewhere is the fact that the Palestinians started the current conflict by launching indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel.

Representatives of our government are trying to broker a cease-fire agreement, while making only veiled attempts to appear neutral in the conflict.  Prepared statements call on the Israelis to make concessions to the Palestinians, while asking very little in return from the Palestinians.  For the first time in the modern history of Israel it is increasingly clear that the U.S. President and his administration are more inclined to support the Palestinians than they are Israel.  In the meantime, the conflict continues to rage and could potentially explode into a region-wide war.

This is not the first time that Arabs and Israelis have been locked in battle.  The modern state of Israel was established in 1948, and almost immediately the Arab nations surrounding her went to war against her.  This brief conflict was just the first of four full-scale wars that have been fought, the second being in 1956, the third being the famous 1967 Six-day War, and the fourth being the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  In addition to these conventional wars, Israel has been subjected to nearly incessant terrorist attacks, and also, as in the current conflict, indiscriminate military aggression by their Arab neighbors.

While these conflicts have inflicted terrible loss of life and property damage through the years, they show no signs of ceasing.  No diplomatic efforts have been successful in addressing and resolving the underlying issues that keep Arabs and Israelis at odds with one another.  The left-leaning politicians of America and their counterparts around the world are loathe to admit that peace can never come to the Middle East so long as Arab factions are intent on the destruction of Israel.  Until that attitude is given up by the Arabs, there will never be peace in the Middle East.

While very few seem interested in trying to uncover the root cause of this conflict, it should be obvious to any serious student of the Bible.  The ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews has come about because Abraham and Sarah tried to help God.

In Gen. 12:1-3 God promised Abraham that He would bless him, and would make a great nation of him.  God also said that in Abraham “all the families of the earth will be blessed.”  At that time, Abraham was 75 years old and childless.  In Gen. 15:4 God promised that “one who will come forth from your body, he shall be your heir.”  After ten years, however, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was still barren.  This is when Abraham and Sarah decided they should help God.

In Gen. 16:1-4 Abraham and Sarah took the matter into their own hands.  Sarah had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar, and she gave her to Abraham so he could father a child by her.  Hagar conceived and gave birth to a son named Ishmael.  They thought they had helped God keep His promise, but they had only made matters worse.

In due time God appeared to Abraham and announced that Ishmael would not be the son of promise, but Sarah would bear a son whose name would be Isaac.  This son would be his heir and God would establish His covenant with him (Gen. 17:18, 19).  As a concession to Abraham, however, God promised to make a nation of Ishmael’s descendants (Gen. 21:13).  The descendants of Isaac became the Jews, and the descendants of Ishmael became the Arabs.

It is often said that the worst fights are family fights, and in this case it has been true for multiplied generations.  Although Isaac and Ishmael were reconciled with each other during their lifetimes, their descendants have been fighting each other for centuries.  And they will continue to fight each other until the Lord comes again.  All of this grief, and all this heartache and destruction, has come about  because a man and a woman 4,000 years ago tried to help God, instead of trusting Him to do what He had promised.

Abraham and Sarah unwittingly unleashed a torrent of grief on the world when they tried to help God, but they are not the last to have been so presumptuous as to do so.  In modern times,  others have tried to help God with respect to salvation and worship.  These well-intentioned souls have not unleashed physical warfare on the world, but what they have unleashed is far more devastating than physical warfare.

As regards salvation, some people have tried to help God by altering what He has commanded in His word.  They have done so because by changing what God’s word requires, they have multiplied the numbers of people who have been “saved.”  The scriptures plainly teach that one must believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mk. 16:16), but many people balk at the idea of being baptized.  So, well-meaning preachers invented the “sinner’s prayer” to help God save more people.  It didn’t matter to them that the sinner’s prayer cannot be found anywhere in the Bible.  What mattered was the thousands who could claim salvation just by saying those few words.

Like Abraham and Sarah, however, this “help” has created chaos in the religious world.  How many thousands, even millions, will be lost because they said a man-made prayer instead of following the simple command of our Lord Jesus Christ?  The damage created by this “help” will last into eternity.

With respect to worship, God’s word is also very clear.  Christian worship is simple and reverent.  From the New Testament we know that the early Christians met each Lord’s Day (Sunday) to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).  They also prayed together, and made contributions to the work of the church from their means, and proclaimed God’s word (Acts 2:42).  They also joined their hearts and voices in singing praises to God.  They did this without instrumental accompaniment (Eph. 5:19; Col 3:16).

This simple form of worship, however, doesn’t have the snap, crackle, and pop that so many modern people crave.  So, again, people tried to help God.  In the place of the simple New Testament example of worship, modern churches have everything from a piano or organ and a choir, to a rock-style band, replete with light shows and pyrotechnics.  There is no question that these things draw large crowds, but they profane God’s worship, and appeal to the desires of the worshipers instead of to the wishes of the Holy God who is supposed to be the object of our worship.

When humans try to help God they tend to go far beyond what He desires of us.  Of this John said, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 Jn. 9).  The point to be learned is that God doesn’t need our help to accomplish His purposes.  He has told us in His word what He requires of us.  If we simply obey what God commands, that is all the help He needs or desires.

 

A Review of “Love Wins”

                                                                                                                                 Unknown

Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011), is the audacious title of a book by Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI.  Mr. Bell was educated at Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary, and spent a brief apprenticeship under Ed Dobson at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI.  In 1999 Mr. Bell left Calvary Church to found Mars Hill Bible Church, where he was the lead pastor until 2012.

Love Wins is Rob Bell’s response to what he views as the hijacked story of Jesus and the message that only a select few will enter heaven at the end of time, while millions of others will spend eternity in hell.  In his preface Bell says, “This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear” (vii).  At the heart of this book is the premise that a loving God simply will not consign millions of human beings to unending torment and punishment.

Reading Love Wins is a challenge, but not because it is written in academic jargon of the theologian.  It is written in a very simplistic style that seems intended for the millennial, whose attention span is often measured in nanoseconds.  To this end, the page layout is scattered and disjointed.  Sentences often begin with a few words on one line, then continue with a few words on the next line, and are completed with a few words on the third line.  Vast areas of blank space on the pages makes the reading very quick, but it leaves a more traditional reader wondering why this is necessary.  If this book were printed in a more traditional format, it would certainly be far fewer pages in length than its current 198 pages of text.

Mr. Bell takes examples of what he suggests are “typical” Christian attitudes and uses them as the reasons why traditional Christian views on life, death, heaven, hell, God and Jesus are “misguided and toxic.”  Like most radicals, he creates a straw man of the most outlandish caricatures of Christian doctrines and then shreds them in favor of his own view.  Thus, when one of his parishioners suggested that Mahatma Ghandi was in hell, Bell responded with, “Somebody knows this?  Without a doubt?  And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?” (p. 2).  Instead of responding with the biblical truth that no one is in hell yet (cf. Lk. 16:19-31), Bell decides to throw the whole idea of hell into the wastebasket of theological thought.

Rob Bell espouses a modified form of the “paradise earth” philosophy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses believe only 144,000 will enter heaven while the rest of the righteous will live on paradise earth, Bell takes the view that God’s intention is that the world and everyone in it will someday be perfect.  Heaven and hell, according to Bell, are here on earth and we create them for ourselves by our acceptance or rejection of God’s intention for us.  As Bell explains it, death is necessary for life, so when we die, we enter the next phase, as it were, in God’s ongoing transformation of us until we become what He wants us to be.  He is particularly caustic in suggesting how awful it is to think of God punishing people forever and ever for the sins they committed in their brief lifetime upon the earth.

In support of his conclusions Bell brings the idea of “cherry picking” scripture to a new level.  In addition to often pulling single verses out of context to make a point, Bell more often yanks words or phrases out of those verses to prove his assertions.  Most of his references to the biblical text include only the book and chapter, leaving the average reader with no idea exactly where his brief quotation is actually found.  In many cases Bell flatly ignores the rest of what the scriptures say on some topic, giving instead only the words or verse that says what he wants said.  One example is his reference to Isa. 59 (he doesn’t tell the reader he is quoting from v. 1), saying that this proves that God is able to save everyone, and will save everyone.  He tells the reader that God’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor is his ear so dull that he cannot hear.  However, v. 2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”  This is typical of Bell’s approach to scripture.  Anything that does not support his idea that God will remake all of us into godly, loving, peaceable, and saved people is simply shunted aside.

In another example of Bell’s incomplete use of scripture, he makes a lengthy argument about the meaning of the Greek word aion.  He correctly points out that this word, which is usually translated “eternal,” may be used to describe any period of time, whether definite or indefinite.  He also correctly points out that this word is often used to describe a quality of life (Bell calls it an intensity of experience).  From these definitions Bell asserts that “eternal” punishment is actually nothing more than an intense experience of purging or pruning after death with the purpose of enabling the person so pruned to flourish.  However, in the scriptures that speak of eternal punishment and eternal life in the same context (e.g., Mt. 25:46), the same Greek word, aion, is used to describe both the punishment and the life.  If “eternal” punishment is not forever and ever, then neither is “eternal” life.  Bell ignores this truth.

Bell’s ultimate point is that since God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), can we honestly believe that God doesn’t get what He wants?  According to Bell, God wants everyone to be saved, therefore everyone will be saved.  Like so many other scriptures to which Bell alludes, he has misapplied this verse as well.  The overwhelming body of scripture clearly shows that not everyone will be saved, but this is of little consequence to Rob Bell.  Jesus said that only those who do the Father’s will can enter heaven (Mt. 7:21).  John said that everyone whose name was not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14, 15).

Also absent from Bell’s discussion is any meaningful reference to God’s justice.  He twists the parable of the prodigal son to condemn the older brother, and those whom Bell says are his heirs today, because we have a distorted view of the Father in heaven.  Unfortunately for Bell, the parable of the prodigal son is not about a second chance after death.  Nor is it about the fact that God’s love will overwhelm even the most wicked and eventually make them holy.  The parable is about the graciousness of God to forgive even the most vile sinner, if he repents and returns to God.

Love Wins is a New York Times best-seller, and continues to sell millions of copies.  It contains snippets of truth, wrapped in layers of a twisted view of scripture.  This is not a trustworthy book.  Jesus said that if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit (Mt. 15:14).  While it might be appealing to believe that eventually everyone will be saved, the scriptures plainly teach otherwise.