Thinking Out Loud

July 18, 2011

Hell is Real, But I Don’t Want To Talk About It

I just finished reading Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones, published by David C. Cook.  The timing of this book — even though it began as a project long before the current furor — makes it a kind of response to Love Wins even if not directly so.  While the Rob Bell book uses its first two chapters to ask enough questions to somewhat undermine a belief in everlasting punishment for those who don’t believe, Brian Jones takes his first couple of chapters to state categorically that he now believes in the certainty of hell as traditionally understood, and as literally taught in the Bible.

He uses  his unwavering belief in a physical hell as the premise for what he wants to go on to talk about, which is the need to communicate the existence of hell to our unsaved family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.  It refutes Love Wins only in the sense that Jones’ dogmatic certainty stands in stark contrast to Bell’s questions and uncertainty.

The point Jones really wants to get to is taking the message of salvation to those whom life puts us into contact with.  Just as last summer’s Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick gave us the phrase “audacious prayers,” so does Hell Is Real… give us a phrase, “apocalyptic urgency.”   That urgency runs through all 266 pages.

However, don’t start constructing placards or buying TV airtime right away.  The hallmark of this book is the balance of the approach between said urgency, and finding appropriate times and places to work with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in a person’s life.  The key to this book isn’t the first part of the title so much as the parenthetic part, But I Hate to Admit It. Many of us have a natural reluctance to engage our friends and contacts in a faith conversation, much less a debate.

Unless people come to you with specific questions or a specific outpouring of the heart on a matter of need, sharing the message of — to use a $50 word — propitiation is delicate.  Too aggressive an approach and you create barriers that can set the conversion process back indefinitely.

In many respects for those who have decided that Bell simply asks to many questions and undermines too much of what church leaders have always believed and taught, Hell is Real represents the next step in the discussion.  In other words, after all is said and done, where do we go from here?  What is the practical application of all the debate?

Brian Jones would say the “hell part” of the equation is necessary to create the apocalyptic urgency needed to make evangelism effective.

Brian Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

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July 15, 2011

The Last Word on Hell

What an interesting time this is for Christian publishing.  Children’s experiences of heaven top bestseller lists (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Heaven is For Real, A Message from God) while the adults — sparked by Rob Bell — debate the existence and/or nature of hell.

The last word on this subject may belong to a book I’m currently reading.  It’s far too early for me to begin anything resembling a review, but Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones (David C. Cook Publishing/August 1, 2011) seems to me to relate better to the misgivings many people, including Christians, have on the subject of hell.  At 272 pages, it’s also a much longer treatment of the subject than the current bestseller in the refuting-Rob-Bell department.

Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

June 21, 2011

God Wins: A Preview of Mark Galli’s Response to Love Wins

[Job: ]
You [God] asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?”
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me. …
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.
(Job 42:3, 6)

Yesterday Christianity Today published a preview excerpt from the forthcoming book by it senior editor, Mark Galli, written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins to be published in July under the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why The Good News is Better Than Love Wins.   Having only this small section to work with, I couldn’t help but read it with my brain echoing the cadence of Bell himself.   If you read it that way, you’ll see the similarity.  What follows is an excerpt of an excerpt, so you may wish to click the link now; otherwise when you arrive, what follows actually takes you into the second page…

There are questions, and then there are questions.

In Love Wins, there are lots of questions—eighty-six in the first chapter alone. The book you are currently reading will address a number of them, because they are good questions. But before that, the first thing we need to do is think about the very nature of questions. Because there are questions, and then there are questions.

There are questions like the one Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked the angel when he told her some astounding news. Mary was a young woman engaged to marry Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. “Greetings, favored woman!” he bursts out. “The Lord is with you!”

Suddenly finding herself in the presence of a messenger of God, Mary is naturally “confused and disturbed.”

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel reassures her, “for you have found favor with God!”

And then he drops the bombshell: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” This Jesus, he says, will be very great, will be called the Son of the Most High, will be given the throne of his ancestor David, and will reign over Israel forever in a Kingdom that will never end.

That’s a lot to take in. Most mothers just want to know they’ll have a baby with all ten fingers and ten toes. But what exactly all this means—Son of the Most High? ruler like King David? reign forever?—seems not as perplexing to Mary as one other detail. “But how can this happen?” she asks. “I am a virgin.”

Mark Galli

That’s her question, and it’s a good one. A virgin getting pregnant without the help of a man—well, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. It’s an honest question, prompted by natural curiosity and driven, not by fear and doubt, but by wonder: how is God going to pull this off?

Mary asks one type of question; the other type was posed by Zechariah a few months earlier. He was a priest married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, an old man at the other end of life and the reproduction cycle, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

It happened in the Temple, as Zechariah burned incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared before him. “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear,” Luke’s Gospel says.

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!” Gabriel reassures. “God has heard your prayer.”

What prayer? For a son? For Elijah to come to herald the Messiah? For the Messiah to come? We’re not told what Zechariah’s prayer had been, only that it has been heard. This is what Gabriel told him: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son whom they were to name John, and this John would be an extraordinary man.

Again, Gabriel piles on the attributes. John will be great in the eyes of the Lord, will be filled with the Holy Spirit—even before his birth—will turn many Israelites to the Lord, will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, will prepare people for the coming of the Lord, will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and will cause the rebellious to accept godly wisdom.

 Again, that’s a lot to take in. And the thing that bothers Zechariah is the thing that bothers Mary: biology. “How can I be sure this will happen?” he asks the angel. “I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

His question seems like a logical one. But it is not a good question. Gabriel chastises Zechariah, telling him in no uncertain terms that he, Gabriel, stands in the very presence of God. Of course he can deliver on this promise of good news!

“Since you didn’t believe what I said,” Gabriel continues, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” The consequence for asking a bad question: Zechariah is made mute. No more questions. Only silence.

So what’s the difference here? The questions are so similar. Why is Mary’s treated with respect while Zechariah’s is an occasion for spiritual discipline? Why does the angel seem indifferent to Mary’s natural curiosity and angry about Zechariah’s?

 The difference appears in one little additional clause Zechariah adds to his question. Mary simply asks, “How can this happen?” Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure this will happen?”

Mary’s question is about God. Zechariah’s question is about himself.

Mary’s question assumes God will do something good and great, and seeks to know how it will unfold. Zechariah is not at all sure that God is good and great, and seeks proof.

Mary wants to learn more about the goodness of God. Zechariah mostly wants to be self-assured.

As I said, there are questions, and then there are questions…

continue reading; main link, jump to page two of five

go straight to page two

Related on this blog: Francis Chan’s response to Love Wins

June 1, 2011

Wednesday Link List

A few days back I ran a Friday Link List with two items I felt were worth a closer look.  Over the course of the weekend, at least 600 people (out of a much larger group of visitors) went directly to the homepage or the link list, but the number of people who actually clicked the two links was unbelievably small.

So I’m really reconsidering all this.  Much work goes into the weekly link list, and I enjoy doing it.  I highly respect the bloggers who in some cases, as I mentioned last week, do this every day.  I’m not saying link posts are non-productive, they just may not fit the particular group who have chosen to follow this particular pied piper.  So we’ll continue for awhile, just not as many links as before.

  • Contest winners:  Congrats to Amy, Byron and Cynthia; winners in our Not a Fan book giveaway from Zondervan.  An e-mail has been sent to you to collect addresses.
  • Church Life department:  David Foster has uncovered the American church’s dirty little secret, and it’s not what you might guess.
  • More Church Life department:  In a world where many are starting to think differently, Bryan Lopez offers 12 reasons why church membership matters, lifted from a forthcoming Crossway book by Jonathan Leeman.
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls deparment:  Ya gotta give Rob Bell credit for getting everyone talking.  Dan Kimball analyzes the discussion itself with a piece at Outreach Magazine.
  • Same Subject department:  Derek Oullette gives an advance peek at Brian JonesHell is Real but I Hate to Admit It, publishing in July from David C. Cook.
  • Op Ed department:  John Shore reacted to Francis Chan’s response to Love Wins because he’d rather promote being “safe from hell” than worry too much about what hell is and isn’t.
  • Hypothetically Speaking department:  If you could read just one book besides the Bible…?  Gregory Koukl of STL picks a few I hadn’t heard of.  (The 2nd author is Luntz not Kurtz…)
  • Roast Preacher department:  Tim Funk at the Myrtle Beach Sun News thinks that Franklin Graham is less like his evangelist father, and more like Jerry Falwell.
  • No Benefits to These Friends department: Dannah Gresh guests at CNN with a look at the conflicting statistics showing while there is more virginity out there, but also more sex;  with dire psychological consequences.
  • Point/Counterpoint department: Matt Schmucker thinks a pastor who is leaving should help the church prepare for the next guy, but ideally and Biblically, Arthur Sido notes that the church should already know the next guy.
  • Too Much Media department:  Brian Kaufman at Shrink The Church sees 5 reasons to cancel cable, and we assume he means satellite, too.
  • New Ventures department:  What is your dream?  That’s the question posed — with sample encouraging answers — at new website Kingdom-Dreams.org
  • Our cartoon is yet another from David Hayward at NakedPastor.com; where you can purchase a print of any one of the gazillion cartoons there to brighten your own pastor’s office and/or get him/her fired.

May 7, 2011

Controversial Book Enters Wider Christian Culture

It’s one thing to get the joke that follows.   It’s a whole other thing when you actually hear the key character’s voice in your head.   From Sacred Sandwich:


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