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

May 24, 2011

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

The hot topic of the spring of 2011 will forever be recorded as “Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter,” but probably the response of Francis Chan will be noted as one of the more heavyweight contributions, given the huge ongoing popularity of his first book Crazy Love.   The ten minute video clip below initiates that response and also serves to promote the July 5 release of Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David C. Cook.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let me pause and point out a serious liability of the whole video upload thing.  Unlike a blog, where I have control of whose comments are posted, it would appear that YouTube selects “featured comments,” in this case choosing one for which I’m sure the uploader would not approve.  So let me encourage you to watch the video here, and to link your friends back here, not because I need the stats, but just to avoid a lot of nonsense.

I think what’s going to happen with this book is that a lot of people who are down on Rob Bell are going to say, “Finally, here’s a book to stop Love Wins in its tracks.”

And in case you miss it, I think what Francis Chan is saying is that we’re fighting over doctrine and missing the point that this is about the souls of real people some of whom we interact with on a daily basis; and saying basically, how dare you trivialize this or reduce this to a doctrinal debate.

October 23, 2010

Acknowledging Your Guilt

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the Trenton base, one of the largest, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes.    The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession.   (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established.   There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape at this point; his guilt is a foregone conclusion.   The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from the point of thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the point of realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we might call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women.  One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt with this issue just a few days ago — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.”   Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God.   Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as pretty good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process.    It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt.   But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, you can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.

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