Thinking Out Loud

November 10, 2012

Weekend Link List

Weekend List Lynx

Do not ask for whom the link list tolls… as I won’t know what you’re talking about.

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May 14, 2011

Title Was a Year Ahead of the Controversy

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:46 am

This print-on-demand, 262 page paperback is rather pricey at $29.99 US; it would have been more timely had it been released now instead of June, 2010; in conventional print at a reasonable price.

All Dogs Go To Heaven, Don’t They?  by R. Maurice Smith (Parousia Network)

Publisher marketing:

Centuries of historic biblical teaching regarding heaven and hell is being questioned today by a new generation of professing Christian “universalists.” Their message is simple: According to the Bible, “All dogs go to heaven.” The message that everyone will eventually be saved, that hell will be empty and that heaven will be full is an appealing message. But is it true? In “All Dogs Go To Heaven . . . Don’t They?” Maurice Smith combines humor with serious scholarship in a search for truth and for clear biblical answers to these challenging questions.

April 20, 2011

Wednesday Link List

I chose this particular WordPress theme for its wide margins, but inherited a rather tiny default typeface in the process.  For years  I’ve been bumping it up manually with HTML codes, but last week WordPress changed the rules, and I would now have to do it paragraph by paragraph.  [Update: Which, now having the time, I’ve just done! Which renders the rest of this paragraph redundant.] So… if you can’t read what follows simply press Ctrl and while you’re holding it down press the “+” sign, although technically you’re pressing “=” sign, because it’s done without holding down the shift key.  But nobody thinks of it that way…

As a bonus today, excerpts from the links are included in red.

  • Brant Hansen continues to blog, albeit not at Kamp Krusty.  He recently explained to WAY-FM listeners why he doesn’t tithe. People like me who no longer believe we are bound to tithing are not arguing for less giving.  Oh no.  We’re arguing for more, for those who have it.  Much more.
  • In a related post, Christianity Today asks if people receiving unemployment benefits should tithe on that “income.” Tithing is not a luxurious option achievable only by those whose financial security is assured. It is the ancient spiritual practice that God uses to begin setting our priorities right, to heal our hearts of greed and fear, and to draw us ever closer into his own boundless generosityJoin the conversation at CT.
  • Followers of Judaism are fighting declining numbers by modernizing many of its practices, including an enhanced use of creative arts. Every branch of Judaism has seen membership drop digits. Interfaith marriages… continue at a pace of 50% for Jews.  Look for parallels between their efforts and what Evangelicals have done in the last few decades in this USAToday story.
  • Tom at the blog Living in the Beauty of  Dirty Faith has a concise summary of the objectification of our children:  So this is the message young daughters around the country (and world) are getting:  don’t be measured by what type of person you are becoming, how you treat others, etc. but rather be measured by your measurements.  Check out Girls Gone Wild.
  • Just so everybody’s clear, Shaun Groves makes it clear that Facebook friends are not true friends: I have friends. You’re probably not one of them.  Not everybody likes this news, but they’re now redirected to a fan page.
  • With all the attention being given the new NIV revision (and the new NAB revision) it’s easy to miss the Josh James Version.  Having appreciated the many opportunities that the web has to offer, I decided in 2008 to begin using web space to publish some of my Bible study, sermons, instruction in the Greek language, my Greek translation of the New Testament, and various other bits of information. The individual pages take forever to load, but I admire his diligence!  Check out Josh James’ translation page.
  • Readership at Christianity 201 — my other blog — is growing faster these days; so I thought I’d scare everyone away with a really, really, really, really long post by Steven Furtick.    We could be judgmental, but the truth is that there are things that are just as elementary that you and I still don’t get. And it’s these things that keep us in a state of inertia in our walk with God and the calling He has placed on our lives. Check out this reposting of his three-part series at Maybe You Just Don’t Get It.
  • If you’ve been avoiding the magazines at the grocery store by doing the self-checkout thing, you may have missed out that Rob Bell has put the issue of hell on the cover (see above) of Time Magazine.  Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelationThe article is long, but well-researched.
  • Meanwhile, Barna Research shows that one in four “born again” Christians subscribe to universalist beliefs.  For many evangelicals, the idea of Christians holding universalist ideas is particularly disturbing because it nullifies the need for Christ to die on the cross and the message of Jesus that he is the only way, truth and life… A 2008 Pew Forum survey revealed that 57 percent of evangelicals agreed with the idea that other religions than their own can lead to eternal life. Read the story at Christian Post.
  • Speaking of the above, Adam Powers blogs a few quotations from the Gospel Coalition’s special session on responding to Bell.  Crawford Loritts on people who have cut their spiritual teeth on Bell: We all need to be careful when we talk about these things not to overcorrect. We are to love unbelievers and we are to preach the love of God. I would encourage this person, not only to pursue right exegesis on this issue, but to the study of the nature of God altogether. Look at the wholeness of who God isRead more at the blog Pleasing Pain.
  • Speaking of responses, a reader is trying to get me to recant of my earlier support of Bell’s alt interpretation of Peter and Jesus walking on water.  I reply, Bell’s alternative reading on this stops short of the kind of fantasy scripture that his friend Peter Rollins would conjure up. It’s not the main point of the story, but, a year later, I still think Jesus is saying to Peter, “I chose you, I invited you to step out of the boat, I have faith you can walk on water; do you trust my choice?” And then, I refuse to withdraw my endorsement on this particular bit of Bell’s teaching.
  • When it comes to preaching, I know what I like; but not as well as Darryl Dash knows what he doesn’t like.  I’ve observed that there are countless ways to preach well, but there are only a few key steps you need to master if you want to preach poorly.  Check out his guest post at Soren’s blog, Six Keys to Poor Preaching.   (BTW, Darryl’s brother is a neighbor of mine who sends me hilarious e-mail forwards by the truckload.)
  • The Seventh Day Adventists, which make up a large majority of the population in Loma Linda, California are losing their unique Sunday mail delivery.  Carrier supervisor Duane Hubbard told the paper that the postal service’s computers don’t recognize Sunday as a workday, meaning the local office is unable to communicate with any other agency offices then.  Now only two communities in the U.S. are left with the unique delivery situation.
  • The “gone wild” reference earlier reminded me of this t-shirt concept available at Kaboodle.com

  • …which in turn reminded me of this backprint/frontprint T-shirt concept also at Kaboodle

  • Today’s quote:
“People ask, ‘How could a loving God send people to hell?’ but I believe that a loving God put a blood-stained cross on the pathway to hell and if someone ends up going to hell they had to step over that blood-stained cross to get there.”
~Perry Noble, April 15th

March 4, 2011

More on Rob Bell: Love Wins Chapter by Chapter

HarperCollins has a hit on its hands. To read some accounts, people will be buying the books just so they can burn them. But the hot topic trending on Twitter is still very much based on hearsay and speculation. Never have so many blogged so much material from so little.

And I’ll be the first to admit great curiosity as to how the item I mysteriously have had in my hands since January 19th actually resembles the finished product.

Let me just say a few things.  First of all, I have a very rough copy, but you’ll be glad to know that Bell isn’t one of these writers who types “their” when he means to type “they’re” and just lets the editors catch it.  I noticed some stylistic things that I expect will be changed in print, but for the most this was a straight-forward enough manuscript that could almost have been published as I saw it.

Here’s what the innards look like:

Table of Contents

Preface                Millions of Us

Chapter 1             What About the Flat Tire?

Chapter 2             Here Is the New There

Chapter 3             Hell

Chapter 4             Does God Get What God Wants?

Chapter 5             Dying to Live

Chapter 6             There Are Rocks Everywhere

Chapter 7             The Good News Is Better Than That

Chapter 8             All at the Same Time (Repent of course)

Chapter 9             28 Years

I list these chapters here only to point out that much of the current excitement centers on the material in chapter one — which appears on the video — and material from chapter three which is the object of greater speculation.

So what about the rest of the book?

Chapter two isn’t all that shocking if you’ve had your dreams about a heaven that’s “up there somewhere” already affected by reading Heaven or 50 Days of Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  I heard someone say it this way, “God has too much invested in this real estate to just walk away from it.” Bell also states that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a “when” or a “then” but a “now.”

Chapter four is the one the critics may actually find more disturbing that the one about the nature of hell, which precedes it.  It’s about the idea of ‘eternity’ and what happens over a long period of what we call time to those who initially rejected Christ. What happens if and when they finally wake up and smell the coffee, so to speak. Reviewers will not obvious parallels to othere religions. I’ll leave that for now.

Chapter five is — to avoid spoilers — a chapter that starts to bring us back into more familiar theological territory, except that now Bell is building on the foundation established in the first four chapters. In other words, he’s already lost some people, perplexed a few others, and he’s about to make amends to those who gracious enough to hang in there thus far by giving them a chapter they can more easily connect with. And just in time for Easter.

Chapter six is an appeal to the idea that people are entering the Kingdom of God who don’t necessarily look like us or talk like us or even find their way to the Kingdom the way we did.  In a way, this chapter is a microcosm of all the talk that’s going on this week over Rob’s book.  Nicely played.

Chapter seven is rather interesting. What would the full implications of universalism be to those of us who have believed that “straight is the gate and narrow is the way” only to find that everyone is getting in? (My words, not Bell’s.) Hmmm.  And what better metaphor for that than “younger brother” juxtaposed with “elder brother” in the story we know as “The Lost Son.”

Chapter eight is partly autobiographical and talks of the need — Bell’s need and in his view, our need — to deconstruct the mystery, the paradoxical nature of Jesus; the nature of God. In many ways it could have served as an introduction to the book, as it invites us to break down our defenses.

Chapter nine is quite short. Enough spoilers already. Though you could say that, in the end…

…This is a really quick tour of some of the rest of the book in the form that I was blessed to receive it.  I’ve tried to remain somewhat neutral here, a perspective that is somewhat lacking online where the subject of this book is concerned.  The original title of this post, “More On Rob Bell” was left there so the critics had something to work with (!) but no matter what you’re starting place, you’ll have to agree that all the attention has made this necessary reading.

It’s possible that the copy I have will differ enough from the finished product that in such a way that also adds to the pre-release anticipation surrounding its publication. I’m open to that possibility, but I thought it was worth sharing what I’ve been reading while everyone else is dealing in speculation. I probably won’t get a chance like this again!!

Here is a link to my “review” of the book a few days ago.

Comment moderation:  My system will be offline for about 36 hours on the weekend, but I’ll try to get your comments on Saturday night; so you don’t need to post twice. Be patient!!

March 1, 2011

Rob Bell — Straying From Traditional Evangelicalism: How Far is Too Far?

On January 21st, I mentioned that through a series of circumstances I had obtained a very advance copy of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived (March 29, 2011, HarperCollins, Hardcover.)  In that brief article, I suggested that by the end of March, social media are going to have a field day with this title because of its controversial subject.

I was wrong.

According to this article posted at Christianity Today over the weekend, the fur has already started flying even before key players are getting their hands on advance print copies of the book (something I’ve been told to expect in my mail within the next two weeks.) In fairness, I need to say that I doubt any of this has come as a great surprise to Rob Bell himself. I don’t see him sitting at his computer in Grand Rapids saying, “Oh, look at this! These guys apparently don’t see it this way.”

On the other hand, many of those entering into the discussion are doing so solely on the basis of the brief publisher blurb online.   Well, actually that’s been online for awhile. The weekend brought the promotional video, which you can view at Justin Taylor’s February 26th post, along with an update that the topic of  Bell’s book — and a discussion of Bell himself — has been added to the agenda of The Gospel Coalition’s April national conference, a constituency whose orthodoxy is rarely questioned, but a constituency that is probably among the easiest to offend. (They probably considered burning him in effigy, but couldn’t get the local fire department to grant a permit.) Apparently Bell has been official designated a “problem” to be dealt with.

First of all, for the two or three of you who don’t have Flash Drive and can’t watch the video clip; and the two or three hundred of you who didn’t bother to  click, here is the text of the video that’s causing the stir, plus a few extra paragraphs:

Several years ago we had an art show at our church. I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking and we invited artists to display their paintings and poems and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her work a quote from Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.

But not everyone.

Someone attached a piece of paper to it. On the piece

of paper they had written: ‘Reality check: He’s in hell.’

Really?

Gandhi’s in hell?

He is?

We have confirmation of this?

Somebody knows this?

Without a doubt?

And they decided it was their responsibility to let the rest of us know?

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person will suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, finite years of life?

This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves-

Why them?

Why you?

Why me?

Why not him or her or them?

If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape? How does a person end up being one of the few?

Chance?

Luck?

Random selection?

Being born in the right place, family, or country?

Having a youth pastor who ‘related better to the kids?’

God choosing you instead of others?

What kind of faith is that?

Or more importantly:

What kind of God is that?

And why is it that whenever someone claims that one group is in, saved, accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened, redeemed-and everybody else isn’t-why is it that the people who make this claim are almost always part of the group that’s ‘in?’

Have you ever heard somebody make claims about a select few being the chosen and then claim that they’re not one of them?

I recently heard a woman tell about the funeral of her daughter’s friend, a high school student who was killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died was a Christian. She said that he told people he was an atheist. This person then said to her: “So there’s no hope then.”

No hope?

Is that the Christian message?

“No hope?”

Is that what Jesus offers the world?

Is this the sacred calling of a Christian: to announce that there’s no hope?

~ Rob Bell, from an unedited copy of chapter one “What About the Flat Tire?” from Love Wins

Since I intend to return to this a few more times in the next few weeks, I’ll just point out a few of the other comments from the weekend:

Aaron Armstrong (after whom the 1.5V batteries are named)  at Blogging Theologically writes:

In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?

With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretense of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.

However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:

  1. He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
  2. The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel

Meanwhile Jeremy Bouma writing at Novus Lumen and living himself in Grand Rapids hasn’t received his advance copy yet, but decided to revisit some of Bell’s earlier works. He writes:

While some have speculated that it is universalism through and through—I have on good authority that this is the case—a recent re-read of Bell’s first book, Velvet Elvis, suggests this has been his trajectory for at least 7 years.

He includes a couple of quotations from that book that are worth re-examination through the filter of recent developments.  His article also links to the blog Signature Entertainment, which has a more tempered view of things:

I’m not sure if Rob is going to take it as far as “hell is non-existent”, but the one thing that Bell seems to do well is walk the line of controversy, yet remain a consistent voice that challenges the Evangelical community. The best example of this is in Velvet Elvis where Rob Bell uses the example of questioning the Virgin birth to make a case for deconstructing one’s faith, even though he doesn’t actually make the claim that Jesus was not born of a Virgin.

I would agree that Bell loves to tease his audience. The following may or may not be part of the final manuscript, but certainly causes the reader to wonder which afterlife is up:

The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians that ‘the Day’ the prophets spoke of, the one that inaugurates life in the age to come, will ‘bring everything to light’ and ‘reveal it with fire,’ the kind of fire that will ‘test the quality of each person’s work.’ Some in this process will find that they spent their energies and efforts on things that won’t be in heaven-on-earth. ‘If it is burned up,’ Paul wrote, ‘the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved, even though only as one escaping through the flames.’

Flames in heaven.

And while we’re teasing you, here’s a direct copy of two sentences in the version I have:

Do I believe in a literal hell?

Of course.

…But I need to tell you that I’ve cut and pasted that totally out of context. (I mean, you don’t want a bunch of spoilers, do you?)  And in case you’re wondering, yes, Chapter Three, “Hell,” does address the story of we know as “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  It’s a different response than you’ve heard in other sermons to be sure, but at the end of the day, Bell does indeed affirm “… the very real consequences we experience when we reject all the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us.”

Chapter Three is in many ways the cornerstone of the entire book, and I’m reluctant to provide more of it here; and frankly, once the book is in the stores, I hope others won’t excerpt bits of it either. I say that simply because Bell’s argument has a rhythm and cadence of its own, and to just edit bits of it for a review is akin to editing a few bars out of a symphony. I’m not saying that I agree with all its conclusions, or even that its conclusions are overt and plain, but there is a passion to this particular argument that you need to experience in its full context.

You’ll probably not agree with everything, but you won’t be the same after you’ve finished reading.

Note to the 99.99% of people who won’t get an advance review copy of the book:  All of this discussion is valid and needful. But make sure it stays focused on the issues. Some of those who you will read online have come into this discussion with their minds already made up about Bell and have been looking for an opportunity to run him, figuratively speaking, out of town. The issue of Christian Universalism is a very serious and crucial issue and we need to stay on that issue, and not allow the personality or preaching style of an individual pastor to sidetrack us from gaining deeper understanding of what the Bible might be saying.

Other pre-reading comments: Josh Reich at Missional Thoughts, the blog Episcopal Café, the blog Arminian Today which sees Bell as deliberately provocative and publicity-seeking, and Maggie Dawn who relegates Bell to someone “engaging people with Christianity at entry level.”

Related post: John Shore uses an XtraNormal text-to-video to bring the conflicting views into sharp focus.

This blog post contains elements of an early version of the book which may not be part of the final copy.

January 28, 2011

Friday Debrief

No this is isn’t a start of a supplement to the Wednesday Link List, it’s just a few things that deserved a larger space committment without creating several individual posts:

  • Darryl Dash highlighted a small section of the CT interview with Billy Graham on Tuesday; the section where Mr. Graham is asked if he would do anything different, and he replies that he would have spent more time family.  But tucked away inside that response is this revelation:
     

    I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

  • I’ve been checking blogs to see what anticipation there is for the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins, which I mentioned briefly here last Friday; and in the process read (and left a comment at) this post at the UK (Ireland?) blog Supersimbo.  The blog writer views people under 40 as
     

    “Jumping from one book to another, switching from being a fan of Bell to Driscoll and back again as often as the wind changes, treating our faith and beliefs like an app for our iPhone or iPad…..liking his ‘theology’ because of how its packaged and advertised!”

    The conclusion is that readers will miss the importance of the message of Christian universalism that it contains. To clarify this a little further, he responded to me in the comments section with a link to a Margaret Feinberg interview with Scot McKnight, where McKnight describes Christian universalism as “the biggest challenge facing American Evangelicals.”  He goes on to define it:

    Christian universalism if the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done. Christian universalism differs from raw pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption. With pluralism, all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends. The distinction for Christian universalists is that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved.

  • Another Bible translation?  Yep!  Steve Webb is single-handedly working on a project called the Lifespring Family One Year Bible which he is releasing in sections online and in a podcast. Who is Steve Webb? That’s a long story.   Here’s a sample from Genesis 9:
     

    9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Reproduce abundantly, and be fruitful and increase in number on the earth.
    9:2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the air, all that move on the earth, and all the fish in the sea will fear you. I have placed them in you hand.
    9:3 Every living thing that moves will be your food. As I gave you green plants, now I give you everything.

  • Finally, a court has upheld the right of World Vision to enforce its policy of hiring Christian employees.This story is from EWTN, a Catholic news agency.
     

    In a 2-1 ruling, a panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear a case which charges that a religious charity illegally fired employees because they no longer agreed with its statement of faith……The organization said it terminated the three employees in 2007 because they “no longer agreed with World Vision U.S.’s statement of faith.” The organization discovered that the employees denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

    One employee worked in technology and facility maintenance, one was an administrative assistant, and the third coordinated shipping and facilities needs.

    They later sued, claiming their termination was an act of illegal discrimination. A federal district judge had previously ruled against the plaintiffs, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

    World Vision praised the decision to reject the appeal and pledged vigorous defense of its right to hire employees who share its faith. “Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ,” the organization said…

    Similar organizations in Canada have faced this issue before, such as, most recently, Christian Horizons.

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