A few months ago, a popular blogger wrote a post entitled, “The Continued Crucifying of Rob Bell, And What It Says About the State of Modern Christianity.” In the article, the blogger complains about the ill treatment Bell has received over his developing views. The author notes that at one point, Bell was a “flat-out Christian rock star.” But then, something happened. Apparently, Bell sinned. And his sin was that he “didn’t stick to the script.” And because he didn’t stick to the script, he was “being crucified by his peers.”
The blogger went on to argue that Bell was quite a courageous figure. This was a guy who “launched his megachurch’s first year by working line by line through Leviticus; possibly the most confounding, least user-friendly, most challenging Biblical book to make sense of in our modern culture. Definitely not something a novice would go near.” Of course, the blogger failed to mention that, whatever Bell may have thought at the time he was preaching through Leviticus, since then he has pretty much repudiated the teaching of the book: “God didn’t set up the sacrificial system. People did.”; “God didn’t need blood. People did.” And with regard to a real crucifixion, a crucifixion that actually was a crucifixion, Bell expressed his opinion that the “first Christians interpreted Jesus’ life and death through the lens of the sacrificial system because that was their primary lens for understanding God, life, faith, Jesus, and the events they had experienced.” In other words, they made the best sense out of Jesus’ death as they possibly could, given the times in which they lived; but, of course, they were misguided.
So, ultimately, that blogger was—oh so close to being—right. This so-called “continued crucifying” has taken place because Bell “didn’t stick to the script.” Except, the blogger should have added three more letters to his sentence. It should have read: “because he didn’t stick to the script-ure.”
What prompted my blog post today was a quotation from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, a quotation passed along to me in an email from one of my former students, Ryan Schnee, who is now a pastor of a church in Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, with the suggestion, “Perhaps could be the seeds of a blog post.” I took the bait. The sermon from which this excerpt comes is entitled, “Idolatry Condemned,” based on the text, 1 John 5:21, and was preached on the evening of September 6, 1874.
I would say to you, beloved, in closing my observations upon this point—in the matter of your faith, be sure to keep yourselves from the idol of the hour. Some of us have lived long enough to see the world’s idols altered any number of times. Just now, in some professedly Christian churches, the idol is “intellectualism”, “culture”, “modern thought.” Whatever name it bears, it has no right to be in a Christian church, for it believes very little that appertains to Christ. Now, I have some sort of respect for a downright honest infidel, like Voltaire or Tom Paine; but I have none for the man who goes to college to be trained for the Christian ministry, and then claims to be free to doubt the Deity of Christ, the need of conversion, the punishment of the wicked, and other truths that seem to me to be essential to a full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Such a man must have strange views of honesty; and so has the minister who goes into a pulpit, and addresses people when he knows that he does not believe any of the doctrines that are dearer to them than their own lives; yet, the moment he is called to account for his unbelief, he cries out, “Persecution! Persecution! Bigotry! Bigotry!” A burglar, if I found him outside my bedroom door, and held him till the policeman came, might consider me to be very bigoted, because I did not care to have my property stolen by him, and because I interfered with his liberty. So, in like manner, I am called bigoted because I will not allow a man to come and assail, from my own pulpit, the truths which are dearer to me than my life. I am quite willing to give that man liberty to go and publish his views somewhere else, and at his own expense; but it shall not be done at my expense, nor in the midst of a congregation gathered by me for the worship of God, and the proclamation of the truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Keep yourselves from this idol of the times; for it is the precursor of death to any church that gives it admittance. Unitarianism, to which this so-called liberality of thought always goes, is a religion of a parasitical kind; it flourishes by feeding upon the life of other churches, just as the ivy clings to the oak, and sucks the life out of it. Let us tear this ivy down wherever we find it beginning its deadly work. Believe me, my brethren, that the Church of Christ, if not the world, shall yet learn that the highest culture is a heart that is cultivated by divine grace, that the truest science is the science of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and that the greatest thought and the deepest of all metaphysics are found at the foot of the cross; and that the men who will keep on simply and earnestly preaching the old-fashioned gospel, and the people who will stand fast in the old paths are they who will most certainly win the victory. When those who are sailing in a frail bark, which they or their fellow-sinners have constructed, without a rudder, and without a pilot at the helm, shall drift away, and be dashed to pieces upon the rocks; they who trust in the Lord, and have him as their Pilot, shall be kept clear of the rocks on which others have made shipwreck, and shall be safely steered into the haven of peace, and there be at rest for ever.
To this excerpt that Ryan sent me, I would just add this additional information. Immediately after these words, Spurgeon goes on to note that upon the conclusion of the sermon that night in London at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, there was going to be a communion service, a celebration of “the death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” They were going to do what Christians have done for nearly two thousand years, now. They were going to portray in a ritualistic drama, the death of Jesus Christ, a real “crucifying”—a crucifixion that has been authoritatively interpreted for us by Jesus Christ and his apostles on the pages of the New Testament.
Jesus and his apostles have handed us a script. As Kevin Vanhoozer has argued, in his fantastic book, The Drama of Doctrine, we are all actors in a dramatic production, the passing on of the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and now, through us, to successive generations. There is some license with regard to the interpretation of the screenplay. The script has to be contextualized in ever new and changing contexts. We can’t always reproduce the period dress. The technology may need to be updated. There may need to be some adaptations in the delivery. But despite these different interpretations, contexts, settings, and adaptations—at the same time—the script is still the script.
Brothers and sisters, let us stick to the Script.
November 23, 2015
Dear Dr Shepherd;
The text of Scripture as understood through faith in Christ is the lens to come to grips with many of the new but really old challenges to the modern human dilemma.
Indeed, Ken. Thanks.