Thinking Out Loud

July 14, 2018

Don’t Condemn What God is Using in Someone’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity, doctrine, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:53 am

I’m not going to tell you I’ve had a change of heart about the book Jesus Calling, because I’ve never really read the book in the first place. I’ve written about it here and have simply noted the concerns that some had over the use of the first-person narrative to speak as though it is God speaking, but also noted this is far from the first book to use that format.

Previously, I wrote,

I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

That’s not the entirety of some people’s objections, but it’s a large part.

Early this morning, unable to get back to sleep at 3:30, I read what I consider a generally excellent article on how to spot false teachers. I should say right here that the term “false teacher” leaves no middle ground, no room for nuance, no possibility of the person getting 90% of doctrine right, but 10% wrong. When people use that particular term, it’s all-or-nothing.

You can read the article at this link. (I don’t know the writer and have no idea why the URL is so complex, but it wouldn’t shorten.)

Toward the end he says,

When someone comes forward in the Christian community with a new fresh way of understanding certain doctrines or teachings, the general Christian community tends to eat it up. Think of William P. Young’s The Shack, or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, or Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All of these books abandoned Christian doctrine, and yet were immensely popular.

The false teacher uses their wit, uses their intelligence and uses their ‘godliness’ from a place of arrogance and pride for the express purpose of their own personal gain.

I think there’s a danger here that someone will conflate “fresh way of understanding certain doctrines…” with “arrogance…pride…personal gain.” I’m betting the writer has one or two more recent commentaries on his shelf that also provide us with fresh insights into the scriptures. But I’ll leave that aside.

My single purpose in writing this is simply to say that I think the article loses its overall value when it starts mentioning names.

That, and to return to my first paragraph, I have been noting lately the number of people who I know and respect who have benefited from Jesus Calling and have given away copies to friends. These are people who I consider discerning in their reading, and in a very Peter-and-Cornelius way, has caused me to avoid the rush to judgement that I previously associated with people who gravitated toward this particular product. (And it’s appeal to a wider readership means there are people far from Christianity who enjoy this resource, but that in itself doesn’t give cause to write it off. After all, it was the tax collectors and sex trade workers who gravitated to Jesus.)

Out of all the Christian literature out there, these acquaintances see Jesus Calling as their best bet in connecting with those in their own sphere of influence. At that point, I don’t argue or try to dissuade them from their purchase.

I would say two things:

♦ First, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn a particular pastor, speaker, author whom God is using in the lives of someone else.

♦ Second, we shouldn’t be too quick to recommend a particular pastor, speaker, author about whom others have real concerns.

In other words, definitely write articles on how to spot false teachers. At least two of Paul’s letters have this as a primary focus.

But be slow to name names. Let the discerning process be cultivated in the individual as they mature in Christ and gently guide them to a place where their eyes are wide open.

 

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August 9, 2015

The Strange Case of Rev. Gretta Vosper

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am
Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

I don’t stress the Canadian origins of this blog. I did when I started, but as the stats started coming in, I realized that both my readership and my subject matter were dominantly American, and it was easier just to blend.

So it’s always interesting to me when something taking place in your own backyard turns up as the subject matter on U.S. websites. Such was the case yesterday at Internet Monk.  Daniel Jepsen wrote:

I don’t know much about the Canadian religious scene. Perhaps some of our northern readers can weigh in on this. Apparently the largest denomination, the United Church, has been long known for its liberal leanings and inclusiveness. But one minister is testing the boundaries: The Rev. Gretta Vosper, spiritual leader of West Hill United Church in suburban Toronto, is an avowed atheist. Vosper has been upfront about this since 2001, but things came to a head earlier this year after she wrote an open letter objecting to a prayer a fellow minister had written following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Vosper said the prayer should have acknowledged that belief in God could trigger extremism [because, ya know, all the great massacres of the 20th century (the Cultural Revolution, the Stalinist purges, the Khmer Rouge) were led by Billy Bibles]. Rev. Vosper will face a church hearing to determine whether she is upholding her ordination vows, which included affirming a belief in “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” One proposal on the table is to trade her to the Unitarians for cash and two seminary prospects.

This is a subject close to my heart, as my vocation allows me to see the entire spectrum of United Church ministers, members and adherents; from the extreme liberals, to the churches which are very evangelical. I felt a certain responsibility to add to the comments at iMonk.

Gretta Vosper is currently grabbing headlines in Canada, but I don’t believe her situation is entirely unique. Rev. John Suk is another example. In a November, 2014 interview in the United Church Observer, the pastor of Toronto’s Lawrence Park Community Church said,

I think it’s ridiculous to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus…All religions of the world are hopeful that this life is not all there is, and so am I. I don’t believe in heaven as it is described mythically in scripture. I hope for some kind of spiritual consciousness after I die that is loving. I’m not afraid of death; it feels like whatever happens next will be good. Even if it’s only a forever sleep, it will be a good rest.

A July article on Vosper in the Vancouver Sun states,

One of the things the Vosper case strongly suggests is the United Church has become so freedom-fixated and inclusive — often boasting “We Welcome Everyone” — that it has lost its boundaries…There is a deep spiritual issue at play here if it’s true many closet atheists toil among the United Church’s more than 3,000 clergy…

The article linked at Internet Monk’s Ramblings [akin to our Wednesday Link List] says that Vosper will be held to account as to her faithfulness to her ordination vows, “which included affirming a belief in ‘God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” However, a visit to the denomination’s ‘Beliefs: Overview’ page on its website contains references to the teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity; there is no mention of sin, no mention of salvation.

In balance, it must be said that for every local UCC church headed by a Vosper or a Suk, there are indeed some evangelical United Church congregations. Overall however, this is a denomination that has clearly lost its way, but is no doubt capable of hanging on for another fifty years because of its vast real estate holdings and income from estates.

 

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.

February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Link List

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.

Some weeks the link list is rather lame, but this week, any one of these links could have been expanded into a full post.

Checking out a few of these takes time, but this week I urge you to make the time for topics here that interest you.

  • A movie originally scheduled for release in 2007 providing scientific verifcation of Bible continues to grow in scope, sometimes crossing into new political sensitivities.   Read the ongoing story from WorldNetDaily about the film, The Exodus Conspiracy.
  • Brian McLaren calls him “the Emergent Buddhist.”  The  YouTube  vid title is “Zen Monk Hip-Hop Rap & The Monk Bar.”  Gee…I wonder where they’re borrowing these concepts from?   Do they have megatemples?  See it here.
  • If you’re in children’s ministry, you need to read this.   We already know Gen-X and Generation-Y.   Now read about Generation-Z.
  • Here’s a freedom of religion story that has attracted nearly 700 comments at USAToday:  Muslims have announced that airport body scanners violate Islamic law.   The story is no surprise, really, but keep reading,  it’s the comments that reflect the American mood, running about 20:1 along the lines of, “If you don’t like it, you can walk.”   There’s definitely a lot of anger out there.
  • Matt Appling at The Church of No People blog and Pastor of Levi’s House inteviews athiest Bruce Sheiman, author of An Athiest Defends Religion (Alpha Books, 2009).   Sample quote: “…It is questionable whether there has actually been a rise in militant atheism. More likely, there has been an increase in the vociferousness of existing militant atheism.”
  • Fellowship Church’s Ed Young becomes the latest pastor to come under news media scrutiny, though he seems to defend himself admirably in a 25 minute briefing to his church.   Here’s what channel 8 had to say (8 minutes long) and Ed’s response.   But not everybody was impressed.
  • A Christian version of Second Life?   Apparently.   Read Virtual World News to find out about the upcoming Universe of Faith.   Seriously.
  • New Blog of the Week:   Orthodoxie.   A sometimes humorous look at life from an Orthodox Church perspective from Fr. Joseph Honeycutt the author of  We Came, We Saw, We Converted. Start with this piece of Poetic Lenten Humor.
  • An often seen blog on these link lists is Jeff McQuilkin, who steps into a gigantic minefield with this article on experiencing reverse prejudice.
  • Church conflict.   The very words can raise blood pressure.  David Fitch at Reclaiming The Mission searches for balance between the autocratic approach to church government and the democratic approach; and finds it in The Incarnational Approach to Leadership.
  • All you diehard, hardcore Rob Bell fans will want to check out this five-page article at Leadership Journal where he unpacks his preaching process and suggests that the results aren’t yet in as to a possible dark side of video preaching.
  • I love the name of this Kentucky town:  Falls of Rough.   Poetic, huh?   Anyway the blog for the Yeaman Church of Christ there has a short post titled, Why Do I Need The Church.
  • Greg Atkinson thinks the song Meteor Shower by Owl City represents the future of worship music.   Check out his thoughts, and then — ONLY if you live in the U.S. — check out the song at lala.com.
  • Another Christian book, CD and DVD website, Title Trakk claims to have all the answers, reviews, interviews, etc., with, not surprisingly, the appropriate links to iTunes and A-zon, and other commission-paying sites.
  • Tim Archer takes a somewhat op-ed view of everybody’s efforts in Haiti, and expresses three concerns about the relief frenzy.
  • Mark Driscoll’s book for men, Porn Again Christian is still available for free online reading at Re:Lit.   Mark doesn’t pull any punches or waste words on this topic.
  • This week’s comics are from Joe McKeever at Baptist Press (upper) and Australian John Cook at A Time to Laugh


October 4, 2009

Sunday Lynx

lynxTime for some new lynx links.   Suggestions always welcomed.

  • The blog Internet Monk has been smokin’ hot lately with a number of topics to get your brain working along with one of the best comments sections anywhere in the Christian blogosphere.   Recently, iMonk told the story of a mother who wanted her autistic son baptised in a denomination that only baptizes on the basis of public confession of faith; something the young man wasn’t capable of doing.   Hmmm.   That’s a tough decision, as you’ll see when you click here.
  • Although I wouldn’t know this from personal experience, there are lots of stories out there about guys who wake in the morning next to a woman who simply doesn’t look as good as she did the night before.   Bad metaphor perhaps, but the wind seems to be blowing a different way when it comes to one of my personal favorite author-speakers, Rob Bell.   (Oops; double metaphor.)  What’s disturbing are the comments he gives to secular reporters as part of the Drops Like Stars tour, such as this interview with the Boston Globe.      The gap between Rob’s creative ways of phrasing things and orthodoxy does seem to be growing.  Read the whole interview and then the discussion at Pyromaniacs blog. [UPDATE/EDIT: But to be open and fair, also read the first comment here, too.]
  • Hey, did you hear the thing about what’s-his-name?    It’s hard to just walk away when someone’s got the latest gossip about a person or organization.   Even the best intentioned will slow down and catch a phrase or two the way motorists slow down to look at an accident.  Kevin Miller at the blog Off The Agenda suggests nine questions to help you decide the answer to the question, Is This Gossip?
  • The fastest growing church in the U.S. right now is the one whose worship leader won American Idol.    But I guess that was a no-brainer.   Outreach magazine once again has issued their Top 100 church list, and leaks some of the details in this subscription teaser.     But you’ll learn more about some of the higher ranked congregations from this post at the blog, Church Relevance.
  • I like a writer who can find a devotional idea from the Consumer Electronics Show.   The blog, Christian Ranter does just that in this post called Beyond the TV.
  • For my Canadian readers, the 17-city national tour of British Christian author Adrian Plass is rapidly approaching.   You can catch tour dates and details at the Story and Song website.

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