I haven’t posted anything in quite a while on account of being incredibly busy. Now that the semester is coming to an end, I will be posting with a measure of regularity again, and I still have several more installments of my “Wrath of the Lamb” series to do.
But I interrupt that series to bring you this. Tonight I read an article entitled, “The Strange Oprahfication of Rob Bell.” After reading the article, I posted a link to it on my Facebook status, introducing it by saying this: “There is a whole array of reactions and emotions one might have toward the whole Rob Bell fiasco. The one that I’m feeling at the moment is sadness.” Right away there were a number of replies agreeing that this is, indeed, a sad situation. However, I thought it might be helpful if I elaborated a bit more on that “whole array of reactions and emotions.” So, here is an incomplete, but more enlightening list.
1. Anger. It angers me that the stuff that Rob Bell is trying to pass off as in some way being in accord with the evangelical—or for that matter, any—brand of Christianity is given any credibility at all. It is simply downright infuriating. That there are any Christian leaders, evangelical or otherwise, who would endorse the current Rob Bell gospel as in any way being in line with the historic Christian faith is cause for indignation. And that unsuspecting people might put their faith in Bell’s teachings, naïvely thinking that it actually corresponds to the Christian gospel—well that makes Bell and company worthy of the same condemnation that God pronounced on the false and faithless shepherds of Israel:
7 “ ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.’ ” (Ezekiel 34:7-10a)
2. Puzzlement. The pages of the Bible are taken up with stories of the “tragic hero”—people who start off so well and then end up doing something so incredibly stupid. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Eli, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Judas, Peter . . . and then Peter again . . . and then Peter again. Some of them recover. Some of them never do. Why do the wise become foolish? Why do the righteous become wicked? Why do the faithful become faithless? How does someone like Rob Bell, who preached for at least an entire year from the book of Leviticus, with its themes of holiness and the fear of the Lord, come to the place where what they preach no longer resembles anything like Leviticus, or Isaiah, or John, or Romans, or any other book of the Bible? It certainly is a puzzle.
3. Fear and Humility. I am currently in the process of writing a commentary on Leviticus. A lot of research has already gone into the preparation for the writing. One chapter has already gone to the editors and has come back with gratifying responses. Now that the semester is over, and my sabbatical is about to start, my efforts will be concentrated on trying to finish the work over the next several months. But I wonder, is it possible that, after dealing with, and immersing myself in, such lofty themes—the holiness of God, the fear of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, the sacrificial system which anticipates the great sacrifice that Christ made in order to redeem humankind to himself—is it possible that I, too, like Bell, who preached for an entire year on this book, might end up preaching and endorsing a gospel that looks like nothing like the biblical gospel. I pray that such fears will prove to be unwarranted; but, at the same time, I also know that such fears are not without foundation.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Gal 1:8-9)
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee. (Bernard of Clairvaux)
Whatever reactions may rise up inside of us when we think of how far Rob Bell has fallen, pride must not be one of them: “I thank thee that I am not like him.” Rather, fear and humility must be the rule of the day.
4. Hope and Love. As I mentioned in the second point above, on occasion, the tragic heroes in the biblical narratives do sometimes recover. The wicked king Manasseh repents and practically becomes an evangelical preacher of the gospel. Peter is restored and becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church. Samson is empowered by the Lord to perform his greatest feat at the moment of his death. Moses and Aaron, despite their tragic mistakes, are still employed by God to lead his people through the wilderness. I believe, therefore, that, perhaps “hoping against hope,” the right attitude on the part of the Christian will not be one that relishes and takes delight in finding more and more things wrong with Bell, but rather one that genuinely desires his restoration. Indeed, that would be wonderful, love covering a multitude of sins. Perhaps love will win.
5. Trust in a Sovereign God. Finally, for all those Don Quixote and Chicken Little Christians out there, like myself, who feel that it is our responsibility to save evangelical Christianity from the big bad wolves—and I do not for a moment deny that this is our responsibility in good measure (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:28-31)—I caution us to remember that the survival of Christ’s church does not depend on us. We are not the last and only line of defense.
“I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him.” (1 Kings 19:18).
God’s word is not chained. (2 Timothy 2:9)
25 . . . Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27).
God will work out all things according to his own sovereign and good pleasure. Despite all our faults, all our failures, all our missteps, a sovereign God will win. Of that you may be assured. Christ will be the victor. He will possess that for which he gave his life. “The Christ who died shall be satisfied.” And that, my brothers and sisters, is very good news. That, indeed, is what we talk about when we talk about God.
December 11, 2014
Beautiful. And humble. Very well stated.
Thank you yet another time, good brother. It occurs to me that jeremiads may produce indifference; just as quickly it occurs to me that if they are faith-full, they will be heard by those who have ears to hear. One I respect once observed that the word of God creates ears which can hear that preached word. However much is wrong with the world and with those who profess faith in the God of the Gospel, the pessimism which those defects evoke is in turn a contradiction of our confession. The whole point of Gen. 1 and 2 is that he who made all things is Lord and, finally, Perfecter of all (no universalism intended). In an Irish idiom, God draws straight with crooked lines. Thanks, again. David
Thank you for a gracious and truthful response to Rob Bell. I also find Bell’s turn puzzling and frustrating, am reminded that I am deeply broken and always in need of God’s grace, and hopeful that Bell will return to the fold. Whether he does or not, God is sovereign and the gates of Hell are no match for Christ’s church – even if one of our former prophets seems to have been drawn toward the fading splendor of those gates and wandered into the wasteland.
Thank you, Justin.