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Tim Challies

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June 2011

June 30, 2011

Love Wins and Rob BellIt has been almost 4 months since the release of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. This is a book that has ignited a great debate on the subject of hell. It has also ignited discussion on the way this debate has been handled, and particularly so by those of us who considered this a dangerously unbiblical book. In the past couple of weeks I have had a lot of opportunity to think about Love Wins—about how it appeared on the scene, how we reacted, and some of the lessons we would do well to learn. Let me share a few of my thoughts on all of this.

We Got Gamed

Love Wins was published by HarperOne—a company with an excellent and well-funded marketing department. I am convinced that their marketing plan involved you and me (and let me define “you and me” as conservative and/or Reformed Christians—exactly the kind of people who tend to read this blog). They drew us in and played us perfectly so that we did exactly what they wanted us to. We reacted with horror—very vocal horror—to the book and its implications. The first hint of the book’s content, the video trailer, was carefully crafted to suggest the purpose of the book but not state it explicitly. This generated a lot of buzz not just about the book’s contents, but about what Bell may have meant in the trailer. It was a brilliant marketing move that ignited a massive amount of discussion and controversy. The first people knew of the book was that it was controversial.

Once the fire had ignited, HarperOne quickly battened down the hatches, refusing to send any more pre-release copies of the book—a very rare phenomenon. This means that until the book’s release copies of the manuscript were unusually rare. I take this to mean that the marketing plan was moving along very well and that allowing reviewers to begin writing critical reviews prior to its release date would have been detrimental to sales. A few copies of the manuscript were passed around, but most reviewers had to wait until release day. Until then all people could do was speculate. And we did.

The long and short is that the marketing plan for this book involved you and me and we played our part.

We Responded Immediately & Forcefully

Our response to Love Wins was immediate and furious and began long before the book was released. The earliest responses were based on the video trailer and made some assumptions, which is to say that Justin Taylor’s earliest comments and John Piper’s infamous Farewell Rob Bell tweet assumed some context—that people were familiar with Bell and his steady theological decline. These were essentially insider comments—from one conservative Christian to others—that very quickly ended up going far beyond that demographic. Ripped from their context, many people took them as being self-assured and mean-spirited even though I am convinced they were done out of genuine love and concern for truth. No one guessed that they would go so far, so fast, and that they would draw such urgent and widespread response. These early responses, first Justin’s and then many others, made statements about Bell based on the hints in the trailer rather than the statements in the book. This allowed Bell’s defenders to declare that we were being unfair and too hasty. Social media did its work and soon tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands of people were reading these comments and spreading them through their own networks; people were retweeting and liking and commenting and writing their own blog posts and everything else we do with news today.

Do not hear me criticizing John Piper or Justin Taylor or anyone else here; I think these men would be the first to say that they had no idea of what would happen and that if they had, they would have responded differently (and, in fact, Justin went back and changed his blog post in several ways).

June 30, 2011

Reading Classics
Today we come to another of our readings in Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity & Liberalism. By this point Machen has already noted 3 points of difference between liberalism and Christianity: their message, their view of God and man, and their understanding of the Bible. With differences of this magnitude, it is not at all surprising that they differ drastically in the message they teach. But before he can consider the message, Machen needs to consider the Person upon whom the message is based. And that leads us to this chapter which is titled simply “Christ.”

He begins with Paul, showing the way Paul regarded Jesus. He “clearly stood always toward Jesus in a truly religious relationship. Jesus was not for Paul merely an example for faith; He was primarily the object of faith. The religion of Paul did not consist in having faith in God like the faith which Jesus had in God; it consisted rather in having faith in Jesus.” Jesus was not just a great example to be followed. “The plain fact is that imitation of Jesus, important though it was for Paul, was swallowed up by something far more important still. Not the example of Jesus, but the redeeming work of Jesus, was the primary thing for Paul.” 

This is true of his contemporaries as well; many others regarded Jesus as the object of faith. “Evidently in making Jesus the object of religious faith—the thing that was the heart and soul of Paul’s religion—Paul was in no disagreement with those who had been apostles before him.” The facts can only be denied with real ignorance. “The whole of early Christian history is a hopeless riddle unless the Jerusalem Church, as well as Paul, made Jesus the object of religious faith. Primitive Christianity certainly did not consist in the mere imitation of Jesus.”

Was this kind of faith in Jesus justified by what Jesus himself taught? Absolutely; Machen has already made it clear that Jesus presented himself as Savior. Machen also makes the interesting point that Jesus did not invite confidence by minimizing his work. “He did not say: ‘Trust me to give you acceptance with God, because acceptance with God is not difficult; God does not regard sin so seriously after all.’ On the contrary Jesus presented the wrath of God in a more awful way than it was afterwards presented by His disciples.” It was this supposedly mild-mannered Jesus who spoke of the horror of outer darkness and everlasting fire. What Jesus taught about God can rightly bring us to despair rather than hope. Trust and hope come only when following God’s way of salvation through Jesus.

June 30, 2011

The Pain of Loneliness - This is an article I wrote for Boundless; they published it yesterday. “Could you go just one day without checking e-mail? And without logging in to Facebook? And without using a cell phone? And without turning on your television? Could you go 24 hours without using any media at all? This was a question put forward by the International Center for Media and Public Affairs and a challenge accepted by 1,000 university students worldwide.”

Family Worship - This sentence alone makes this article worth a read: “There is a reason kids loved to be around Jesus, and it wasn’t because he was lecturing at length about the Torah or the Five Points of Calvinism.”

My Dad’s 5 Vows - Ray Ortlund: “On 19 June 2003 my dad wrote down these five vows that he made before the Lord…”

Yard Sale - For 24 hours on June 30th only, Shepherd Press is offering a list of 6 titles for $1.99 each. This sale will begin at 12:00am Eastern on June 30th and will conclude at 11:59pm. There will be a limit of 10 copies of each discounted item per order.

Email Charter - We all need something like this. (HT)

Trellis & Vine - There will be a series of Trellis & Vine conferences this Fall. “If you had to draw a diagram that represented the ministry in your church,what would it look like? What if our mental image was not of an organisation or a structure but of the people God had brought together in our church? And what if the key question we asked was: Who is getting alongside each person to invest in their livesand help them grow towards maturity in Christ? This is a different vision of church—not as an organisation, but as a community of disciple-making disciples.” Sounds intriguing.

Don’t Waste Your Life - This message doesn’t ever really get old, does it?

If the God of the Bible is the one true and living God, the keeping of his precepts is the only true morality. —R.B. Kuiper

June 29, 2011

I recently added a feedback and suggestion component to this site that allows readers like you to suggest topics for me to consider writing about. This has generated a lot of fantastic ideas, many of which are going to take a lot of study to adequately answer. One that I wanted to address right away is this: Will we be able to see all three members of the Trinity in heaven? Here is the question as asked by Andrew T:

When we get to heaven, will we see all three persons of the Trinity, or only Jesus? Will the Father and Spirit still be invisible? It’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time, especially since I was raised in Oneness Pentecostalism (UPCI), but have now come to a more orthodox understanding of the Christian faith.

My immediate reaction to the question was a simple “No.” No, we will not see all 3 members of the Trinity in heaven (and here I am assuming not the intermediate heaven, but the new heaven and the new earth). But I wanted to give it some thought and reflection and I wanted to see who else has grappled with the question. And at the end of it all I return to that answer: No, I do not think we will see all 3 members of the Trinity in heaven. Why? Because for 2 of them there is nothing to see. Kind of. Let me explain myself. After I do so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Bible makes it clear that as sinners we cannot see God’s face. God is the one who is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). He is the one “who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). Our sin keeps us from being able to come before the holy presence of God. Yet there are several parts of the Bible that hold out seeing God, beholding him, as a great future promise. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Revelation 22 promises “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

Scripture makes it clear that it is the work of Jesus Christ that allows us to come before the Father. It is Christ who accomplishes the work that makes us holy so we can now be accepted by God. I am certain that in heaven we will see Jesus Christ face-to-face. Christ is incarnated not just for the years of his ministry here on earth, but forever. We will see him as a man eternally. And through his completed work on the cross we can embrace the biblical promise of seeing God’s face.

But does this mean that we will be able to see all 3 members of the Trinity in physical form?

June 29, 2011

Where Are the Presses? - A little insider’s perspective from a major publisher: “When people visit InterVarsity Press, they often ask where the printing presses are. I show them our copiers—the closest thing we’ve got. Our books are printed all over the country and sometimes around the world—all on printing presses owned by others. Even the biggest publishers do not own printing presses. Why?”

Small is the Kingdom Big - Ed Stetzer: “Too many church leaders are like the teenage girl who thinks the beautiful actress she sees every day on TV is normal. It is a skewed view of reality. Actually, what’s normal (and very valuable) is small churches living on mission in their contexts, being about the business of the kingdom of God.”

Pastor Paul Martin - My friend Julian, who recently left Grace Fellowship Church to begin a church plant (and whose position at the church I have assumed) has penned a loving tribute to Paul Martin, the guy I get to work with every day. It’s worth the read.

Brave - The trailer for the next Pixar movie.

Yali Jubilee - I enjoyed this video, showing a jubilee held to mark the 50th anniversary of the gospel coming to the Yali people.

Hate, like love, picks up every shred of evidence to justify itself. —Os Guinness

June 28, 2011

Counterfeit GospelsAnother book about the gospel. We have seen the release of all kinds of books about the gospel lately—books defining the gospel, books preaching the gospel, books sharing how to live with the gospel at the center of life. Is there any room for another one? Absolutely there is, and Trevin Wax has delivered it in the form of Counterfeit Gospels: Discovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.

Wax is convinced there is crisis in the church today, a crisis created by counterfeit gospels—gospels that appear to have elements of the real thing, but which are, at heart, fraudulent. This crisis has 3 elements:

  • A lack of gospel confidence - we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change life.
  • A lack of gospel clarity - we are unsure of what the gospel message truly is.
  • A lack of gospel community - devoid of confidence and clarity, our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness. We’ve lost what makes the church the church.

Against this crisis Wax proposes that the gospel is like a three-legged stool with each leg absolutely critical to a proper understanding of the message; without each of the 3 legs, the stool cannot stand. First, there is the gospel story, which is the overarching grand narrative we find in the Scriptures. Second, there is the gospel announcement, which is that Christ died for our sins and was raised. And third, there is the gospel community, the people who herald the grace of God and spread the good news of what Christ has done.

June 28, 2011

Yesterday the fire department showed up at my kids’ school during their almost-year-end fun day. They said something about a fire drill and lined all of the kids up. Then they turned the hoses on them. My kids seemed to regard it as the best thing that’s happened to them in a long time.

What Not to Share - I just came across this blog which features a mother-daughter team writing about life as pastors’ wives. This article about what not to share between a pastor and his wife is definitely worth the read.

Fallout Shelter - The Atlantic gives a tour of a 60’s era fallout shelter.

Leisure Reading Racial Gap - This column by Mark Bauerlein is perhaps a bit random, but it’s interesting nonetheless. he talks about the racial reading gap.

Contentment - Amy does it again, this time discussing contentment.

Multi-Site Goes Interstate - From CT: “Pastor Mark Driscoll’s megachurch recently announced plans to expand into Portland, Oregon, and Orange County, California, using multi-site campuses that feature live bands and a sermon piped in from the main campus in Seattle.”

In the Footsteps of Hitler - Conrad Mbewe recently traveled to Germany and was rather shaken by his experience. It’s worth reading about it as he reflects on the nature of evil.

Surviving the Age of Distraction - “Read a book with your laptop thrumming. It can feel like trying to read in the middle of a party where everyone is shouting…” This article on distraction is a good read.

No sin is small. It is against an infinite God and may have consequences immeasurable. No grain of sand is small in the mechanism of a watch. —Jeremy Taylor

June 27, 2011

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? The first believer’s baptism I ever witnessed was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count—baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest joys of any church.

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play or even interact with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were forbidden from playing with the other children. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed and failed badly. First, the church was not faithful in its calling to take the gospel throughout the world. They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, and ironically, the children developed a fascination with the world. I believe this was, in large part, because access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable results of forsaking God. The world can look awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. What I saw was that we do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Worldliness arises from within.