Archive for June, 2007

Rob Bell…on the virgin birth?

Why would any “preacher” of God’s Word say such a stupid thing? I realize I called it stupid; that may frusterate some of you. But it is stupid. I couldn’t think of a better word, sorry.

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?…If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”

Rob, it was a strong faith in the first place because it was based on the very great and precious words of the Scripture, or at least it was strong until they read this new teacher that started casting doubt upon the reliability of the Scriptures. Questioning the meaning of a word in a prophecy is one thing, but if there were any doubt about Mary’s virginity in the sense that she was sexually inexperienced, then Matthew clears things up for us.

Matthew 1:18 teaches that Mary was found with child from the Holy Ghost before she ever had sexual relations with Joseph. There is no way around this fact, unless of course you don’t believe in inspiration, but that’s another post.

If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then the Scriptures cannot be reliable. If the Scriptures are not reliable, then we are of all men most miserable — our faith is in vain and we are dead in our sins.

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Rob Bell…”Mother Mary and Her Only Son”

First, for the critical part.

Does anyone see this in the virgin-birth story (Luke 1)?

Be very careful when you open yourself up to the ongoing creation of the universe — when you open yourself up to God’s Word — be very careful. Because the fundamental way the Scripture begins is God is revealed as a creator and when you create, you always run a risk. If you create a piece of art, it may not turn out as you want it, people may not like it. If you start a business it may go belly up and you may file bankruptcy. If you have kids, they may not all turn out shiny, happy Christians. When you create, when you step into the divine work of creating, you always run a risk. And Mary is up for being a part of what the creator is doing, which always means there may be a flip side. there may be a down side, cuz if you create there is risk.”

Rob is right. When I try my hand at creating, there is a huge risk. Even further, failure is certain. However, in this situation, humans are not the one’s “creating.”

I don’t think I’m being unfairly critical of Bell here, but (1) what was “created” in Mary was of the Holy Ghost, not really of her doing at all (she had found favor with God and was most certainly a willing participant — don’t get me wrong). Therefore, since this miraculous work was in sovereign hands, risk in the actual “creative act” is therefore eliminated. Now, there may have been subsequent risks for Mary (such as seeing the people of Nazareth try to murder her Son, which Rob mentioned later), but we should remember that she was in the all-knowing and all-powerful hands of God’s will. Speaking of God’s will, Rob says,

Sometimes people talk about God’s will. “I’d rather be in nowhere if God’s will is the safest place.” What God are you talking about? God’s will is a ferociously dangerous place, because you never know where its going to take you. To create is to risk and so Mary says, “I’m up for it.”

(2)Christians agree that Jesus was in no way created (those who believe that Jesus was created are cult members and not Christians). A created Jesus has no place in orthodox Christology; Bible believers don’t believe that.

Now, does Bell actually believe that Jesus was created? No, I really don’t think that he believes that — but this is a big problem with the teachings of Bell — when it comes to theological terms, he does not speak with precise clarity. Instead, he tries to “re-invent the wheel” — to redefine many of the terms of historical, Christian orthodoxy.

The bottom line is that in a day and age where doctrine is not highly valued and even scoffed at, we need Christian spokesmen who will articulate the truths of the Scriptures in careful terms, not with foreign and foggy descriptions .

Now for a part I liked.

While commenting on Luke 2:51b | but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart | he says,

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. This little verse added there — his mother treasured all these things in her heart. Now when you read that word “treasured” in the english, it has a bit of a creative memories feel to it. ahh — this kid — crop til you drop — this kid — ah then we went to Jerusalem, it was the Spring of 0 (laughter). It has kind of a nastalgic, oh she’s, oh this kid, oh this one plays soccer, and this one discusses with the wise men, deep issues of the Torah. So there’s kinda this feel. But the word treasured is a fascinating word. It sometimes can refer to like a prison gaurd (insert greek word tereo). It means to gaurd or to watch, to keep carefully. It’s not so much like “aw” but like a “woa.” This kid, there’s something going on with this kid. And she gaurded this – she took these experiences and almost like held them close to her, like I don’t quite know what to do with this.

I liked that point; whatever English translation he was using actually lead the contemporary audience away from the bibilical meaning — so he adjusted. A sidenote: I couldn’t find that particular Greek word in any of the Greek texts on my computer. I did find a very similar word though — διετήρει. But that’s just geek stuff.

For another point I didn’t like:

He ended the message by showing a music video by Bruce Springsteen, entitled “Jesus Was an Only Son.” An apologetic-sounding voice interrupted the podcast for copyright reasons; I was told to look into viewing a VH-1 production. Wow, no thanks!

Anyway, here’s the lyrics of the song mentioned above. Jesus was God’s only Son. True. Was He Mary’s only Son? Hmm, let’s think that one through.

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on church music…

Before I write what I’ve been thinking about (yes there is a point to this post), let me lay down a few thoughts about Christian music discussions:

1) Anytime somebody brings up music, Christians will disagree — and not just disagree, but disagree with passion. Music is often very personal — criticizing someone’s music is like mocking a boyfriend or girlfriend — logic and reason take the back seat while raging emotions ride shot-gun.

2) Anytime somebody brings up music, labels start flying like, um flies or pigs or something. If I were to criticize a certain type of worship music, some would want to break out a roll of duct tape and stick a Dave is a legalist sign on my back (while I wasn’t looking of course). On the other hand entirely, if I were to condone the usage of certain songs in public worship, some would try to mark my forehead with 666 or even worse, a Dave is a liberal branding.

3) Music is an integral part of church life.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

If we are to be teaching one another with music — if we should be admonishing each other with music — if our music should be Word based — if the Lord is our primary audience | then it is time that the church takes her worship services very seriously.

Before I make my three suggestions to any worship service, allow me to preface. I like conservative music; I like hymns. However, if we fail to advance in how we do church — never re-evaluating or trying to improve — worship services have no hope for significance in the minds of our people.

Now for my suggestions.

1). If church music is, at least in part, about teaching one another, then we should sing songs with strong biblical lyrics.

Many hymns have very strong lyrical content. However, many are riddled with obscure biblical references to which the average church member is completely ignorant. In such cases, those particular songs should be eliminated from the service or time should be spent explaining the lyrics. Pause a song sometime — read a verse of Scripture upon which the song was based and tell the congregation to think about it — then keep singing.

I am almost screaming this through the screen: I long for significance in church worship services! This can only happen when God’s people know what they are singing and subsequently know God in a deeper, fuller and more passionate way.

Too often, even in good churches, whoever is in charge of music selects songs for musical reasons only. It’s in the right key. It’s a good opening tempo. I like the melody. Not altogether bad reasons; the goal should be larger, however — teaching!

2). Without getting into the differences between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (because I have heard the distinction between these words abused and beat into the ground — I mean seriously, a dead horse can only take so many beatings after the time of its death before it starts to stink really badly), I think it should be understood that church music should overflow with variety.

For some churches, this means more than rotating 30 hymns from week to week or more than simply singing hymns.

For other churches, this means more than singing choruses — your people need to hear some of the great hymns of the faith.

For other-other churches, this means that your music needs to actually be spiritual.

3). As we worship, we must remember that our ultimate audience is the Lord. We are to sing a variety of styles —- all of them to the Lord. After all, music is only about us — what we like. Since the Lord is our audience, there are some styles of worship that should be abandoned completely. Music/Worship is not primarily about what we like. It’s about pleasing God — after all, He hears it all.

Let me end by saying this: even if the worship service at your church seems insignificant, make sure that while you sing, that you allow your mind to concentrate on the lyrics and that your heart explodes with love and adoration for the risen Christ.

Sing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Try to see it all clearly_

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the Bible story (minus eschatology)…

Why did Jesus die?

Did he die to pay for sins? absolutely. I assert wholeheartedly the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement | he who knew no sin became sin for us – the just for the unjust. He bare my sins in his own body on the tree.

Above, I alluded to some of my favorite texts on the atonement (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 2:24). However, let’s look at the substitutionary atonement from a larger biblical context. I believe that God’s plan throughout the ages pinnacles at the life of Christ, specifically the cross.

Go with me to a scene at Eden. In the form of a serpent, Satan himself tempts the woman to eat from the tree. She knows that God commanded that she not eat, but yet she is deceived and she eats; her husband eats.

Sinners, broken covenant.

However, God’s plan overcomes the failure of the woman and her husband. He places a blood feud between the serpent and the woman and between their offspring (Genesis 3:15). The head of the serpent will be bruised by the seed; the seed’s heel will be bruised by the serpent.

The woman probably believed that her son, Cain would be the man that would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 4:1). Very early in the Old Testament comes this gospel story; man falls, God promises redemption, man awaits that redemption.

The promises from God take on a slightly different form as God gives the law to Moses for his people on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20-24). God made a covenant with the people; it was cut with blood. In short, the people failed to miserably and broke the law.

God makes a promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God made a covenant with David that his throne would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:14-16). David sinned; he did what we would expect to ruin the covenant. He didn’t just sleep with another man’s wife; he killed him too.

God makes another promise to the house of Israel and the house of Judah; He promises them a new heart, the law of God written on their hearts, a unique familial relationship, and that through them light will go unto the Gentiles (Jeremiah 31, among many others).

Now follow with me as we jump forward hundreds of years into the New Testament.

Luke 1:69-73, Zacharias, being filled with the Holy Ghost, said this shortly after John the Baptist was born:

And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham

Zacharias recognized that God was keeping his covenants to David and to Abraham. That prophet is born – the one which will prepare the way for Messiah.

Now think about the ministry of Christ _

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up…”

“As Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of whale, so must the Son of man be in the belly of the earth…”

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up…” he spoke of the temple of his body…

John, “Behold the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world…”

Now follow closes as we discuss Luke 9:22-23.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

The word must is translated from the Greek δει, meaning “it is necessary.” Literally, the verse could be translated, “It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer…”

In what sense was it necessary that Christ die? Could he have established the kingdom without first suffering? No. Without redeemed and regenerated people, there is no kingdom!

Think about this. Jesus Christ was a descendant of Eve, born of the seed of David (Matthew 1); he lived his life in perfect accordance to the Mosaic law.

Then, the cross.

It was necessary (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

This is the gospel of Paul (Acts 17:3, uses the same Greek word δει as he teaches that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead).

This is the gospel of the apostle John.

Revelation 13:8: Jesus was the lamb (the sacrifice for our sins) slain before the foundation of the world.

This is the gospel of Peter

1 Peter 1:18-20: We were redeemed with the blood of Christ, as of a lamb, the one ordained before the foundation of the world.

There is no other gospel. Man has sinned, broken covenant relationships with God. God has worked to restore those relationships, to pay the penalty of sin. The story of the Bible is the substitutionary atonement, God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Jesus paid for my sins | He became sin for me, the just for the unjust – in order that He could bring me to God.

If you are reading this and you need to be forgiven of your sins, if you need the blood of Christ to cleanse you, if you need to be given eternal life, then trust Jesus.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world (that’s you) that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever (that can be you) believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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Rob Bell…6/2 podcast

First for the positive, Rob has amazing speaking ability. Listening to his delivery really caused me to evaluate how exactly I deliver my messages. He is articulate and passionate about his message. Thanks Rob; that was quite challenging.

Now for the negative. Rob preached from Mark 2, where Jesus and his disciples are accused of breaking the sabbath law by plucking wheat. Jesus reminds the pharisees that David and his companions ate the shewbread when they were hungry on the sabbath. The whole message is based on Rob’s comparison between the disicples and the mighty men of David. He says,

“Be careful if you follow Jesus because Jesus has terribly high view of humanity. Jesus believes that people are capable of greatness.”

He cites John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Rather than concluding that, with divine empowerment, men can accomplish all that God wills, Rob goes on to say, “God has tremendous faith in people.”

This last statement greatly troubles me. If it doesn’t trouble you, then you believe in a pretty weak god. The fact is, God does not excercise faith.

What is faith?

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Wait, I thought God was the object of our faith? The one in whom we were to trust, not vica versa. Wait doesn’t God see all things, the end from the beginning, but yet he has faith | conviction in things not yet seen?

All throughout the gospels, Jesus demands faith of those who follow him (Matthew 17:20; Mark 11:22, etc.); he never once tells them that he has faith in them.

Further, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). God demands our faith; he doesn’t manifest it towards us.

What kind of man-centered theology is Bell preaching?

A god who has faith is a created being, not the God of the Bible.

Again, it is clear from this podcast that Rob Bell is actively attempting to redefine the gospel to something other than forgiveness and freedom from sin. To Bell, the gospel to the oppressed is all about freeing them from political, social, and physical oppression – whether it be building libraries or establishing a way for people to walk their neighborhoods in security.

Rob says, “The church is mission.” He then goes on to discuss the water crisis, calling on his church to be involved.

I agree with Rob; the church has an obligation to help with the water crisis. Men all over the world are drinking water, day in and day out, water that can never satisfy their thirst. This is the true crisis! Jesus offers living water, that when a man drinks, he will never thirst (John 4).

The water I’m speaking of is a clear metaphor for salvation. Since the ascension of our Savior, the mission of the church is to preach the gospel and make disicples, not to provide clean drinking water for the world (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15).

try to see it clearly_

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on Sex God…

Many have asked me, “Why don’t you like Rob Bell?” It’s not that I don’t like Bell, the person — I just hope that during his “conversation” that he comes to his senses and realizes that he is missing the most important part of the Christian equation | the gospel.

While I have been quick to point out my disagreements with Bell’s theology, many have criticized me for not reading his stuff, but rather only focusing on quotes that others have pulled from his writings (mainly the excellent work of Rev. Ken Silva). Because I refuse to spend money on his stuff ($19.99), I only read the first chapter of his book, Sex God (you can download the first chapter here for free and read it for yourself). Here’s what I thought:

1. My main problem with Bell is not that he has nothing to say; my problem is with what he doesn’t say. His life and ministry are not gospel centered – they are social help centered. I have no problems with social work, but only when it is attached to the gospel ministry.

What is the gospel? It’s not complicated. My 3, almost 4 year old nephew has no concept of time. A week is a year; a year is a month | it doesn’t really matter to him. Brad, however, has grasped the core of the gospel. Brad would tell you (although this event happened last week): “We all do sin. Last night, I prayed to God to wash my sins away and did. He died on the cross.” So, as a teacher of God’s Word, you would expect that Rob Bell has grasped this, right?

In chapter one, Bell tells story after story of individuals he knows that are doing something worthwhile with their lives. None of the stories mention anything about the gospel. Is it a good thing to rescue young Asian girls that are going to be sold as prostitutes? Yes. Is it a good thing to raise children who have mental and physical disabilities? Of course. However, if we help them with all their physical maladies but never use our influence to tell the them gospel of Jesus Christ, what was accomplished? The same thing the Red Cross accomplishes | humanitarian aid.

The Bible is not the ultimate humanitarian guidebook — rather it is the very Word of God communicated to man in order that men may enter an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. This can only happen by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone. The gospel is not complicated – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus | his work credited to our accounts — his doing for us what we could never do for ourselves | giving us spiritual life.

2. Because Bell’s view of the gospel is anything but orthodox, he arrives at some very interesting interpretations of Scripture. He writes,

“Jesus had much to say about what happens when a woman, an image-bearer, a carrier of the divine spark, becomes a “that.” In the book of Matthew, Jesus teaches that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (footnote) He connects our eyes and our intentions and our thoughts with the state of our hearts.”

Jesus in fact does teach that evil heart intentions make one guilty of actually putting actions to our evil thoughts. However, this gospel account is not about degrading women | it’s not about stealing the human – image of God – identity from the victims of lust. It’s about purity of action; but more than that, it’s about purity of mind and heart.

Bell continues,

“Jesus then takes it farther. He says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” Which is a bit violent. Not to mention painful. And if taken literally, renders half of the human race blind in a matter of moments.”

He continues to explain that in order to understand the outlandish statements of Jesus that we must understand “first century Jewish understanding of heaven.” He goes on to explain that heaven isn’t necessarily a set space in the universe, but rather the place where things are as God wants them to be. So virtually, to Bell, heaven can be anywhere.

He continues (all italics are mine and added for emphasis),

“Now if there’s a realm where things are as God wants them to be, then there must be a realm where things are not as God wants them to be. Where things aren’t according to God’s will. Where people aren’t treated as fully human. It’s called hell. think about the expression “for the hell of it.” When someone says “for the hell of it,” what they mean is that whatever is being discussed was done or said for no apparent reason. It was, in essence, pointless. Random. And God is for purpose and beauty and meaning. When we say something was a “living hell,” we mean that it was void of any love or peace or beauty or meaning. It was absent of the will and desire of God. We hear about war zones being like hell, working conditions being hellish, a divorce being emotional hell, a famine feeling like hell on earth (footnote). Concentration camps are hells on earth. And that’s Jesus’ point with the “gouge out your eye” teaching. His point isn’t that you should mutilate your body if you find yourself lusting after someone. His point is that something serious – sometimes hellish – happens when people are treated as objects, and we should resist it at all costs.”

Did Jesus deal with lust in a serious manner? Absolutely. Is the point of Matthew’s narrative that when people are treated as sex objects that something hellish happens? Absolutely not.

Jesus is teaching two main things here.

1) He is teaching the Jews that they have ignored the heart aspect of the law. Sure, they weren’t committing open adultery, but they all had lusted | committed adultery in their hearts, which Jesus teaches is just as wrong. Many of these Jews also believed that their eternity was settled, simply because of their lineage. Jesus demolishes that idea in the next section.

2) He is teaching radical repentance. Similar to his dealings with the rich young ruler, he is teaching that if lust is keeping someone from turning to Christ in repentance, they better take radical measures to eradicate it | eternity, in a literal, spatial, heaven or hell is at stake. In the parallel passage (Mark 9:47-48), hell is a specific place, not any place where things are not as God intended (as Bell would have us believe). Verse 48 says, “Where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.”

Jesus and Rob Bell are describing two different things. Bell’s message may sound provocative or read well on paper, but when in doubt | I choose to believe in a hell described by Jesus.

My problems with Rob Bell are numerous – from blurring the substitutionary atonement, to reducing the gospel to social aid, to asking people questions like, “If we found out that Jesus wasn’t really born of a virgin, would that shake your faith?”

The bottom line is this: I hope Rob Bell knows Christ. But as far as I’m concerned, we believe different gospels.

Many have told me that I need to approach Rob Bell with an attitude of grace and humility, understanding that there are multiple interpretations of Scripture. Paul never dealt with people in such a manner when the gospel was at stake.

Paul in Galatians 1:8-9
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

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on our advocate…

Stop whatever you are doing – whatever is presently keeping you from knowing God more passionately. Pause.

Okay, now, think about the present ministry of Christ for you | what Christ is doing for you right now…

1 John 2:1: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

If anyone does sin – okay, that was me today.

Satan (he acts kind of like that annoying little sibling who double dog dares you and then tells on you for whatever you did) — stands before God and makes accusations against us, most of which are shamefully true.

But I have Jesus – my advocate | one who legally intercedes on my behalf – the one whose blood pleads for me.

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