Archive for September, 2007

Rob Bell and Karl Barth’s Neo-orthodox Soteriology

Let’s play a little game of comparison. Many of you are quite familiar with the following quote by Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and author of Velvet Elvis.

“Let’s take this further. As one writer puts it, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were unable to do anything about our condition, while we were helpless, while we were unaware of just how bad the situtation was, Christ died. And when Jesus died on the cross he died for everybody. Everybody. Everywhere. Every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every people group. Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all people to himself. All people. Everywhere. Everybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus. So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling “all things, in heaven and on earth to God.” This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.

As I read the following from one of Karl Barth’s volumes on reconciliation, I was shocked that Rob didn’t even take the time to footnote Barth.

Barth writes concerning the reconiliation passage of 2 Corinthians 5 (page 76 of Volume IX, Church Dogmatics),

The conversion of the world to God has thereofre taken place in Christ with the making of this exchange. There, then, in Christ, the weakness and godlesness and sin and enmity of the world are shown to be a lie and objectively removed once and for all. And there, too, in Christ, the peace of the world with God, the turning of man to Him, his friendship with Him, is shown to be the truth and objectively confirmed once and for all. That is the history which Paul has to narrate. And such it is the history of God with Himself, as he has already said in v. 18. But now it is also the history of God with the world, as we are told in v. 19. And notice that in this respect too (and the two cannot be separated) it has taken place once and for all, the history of a decision which has been taken and which cannot be reversed or superseded. That is how He was in Christ – we might say with Jn. 3:16 that is how He loved the world – and it is the fact, and it is so, it is in force, and must and will be, whether there are few or many who know the fact, and whatever attitude the world may take to it. The world is God’s. Whatever else we may have to say about it (e.g. that it perishes) we must also remember that it is God’s – not merely because it is His creature, not merely because God has sworn to be faithful to man, but because God has kept His oath, because He has taken the world from a false position in relation to Himself, becuase He has put it in that place which belongs to it in relationship with Himself. The reconciliation of the world with God has taken place in Christ. And because it has taken place, and taken place in Christ, we cannot go back on it. The sphere behind it has, in a sense, become hollow and empty, a sphere which we cannot enter. The old has passed away, everything has become new. The new is conversion to God. In v. 18 Paul said that this had happened to him personally in Christ. In v. 19, and as the basis of the former verse, he says that it has happened to the world in Christ. It was a definitive and self-contained event.

As one of my professors, Dr. Saxon pointed out to me recently, Barth believed that monergism was only monergism if God actually had already reconciled the entire world unto himself. My question is what then would the purpose of faith be? Isn’t faith how salvation is received?

Barth and Bell confuse the availability of salvation to all men with the objective reality of the salvation of all men — there is a huge difference. Salvation is available to all, but not true already for all.

If man is already reconciled to God, then why does Paul command the Corinthian readers to be reconciled to God? Aren’t they already reconciled? Instead, shouldn’t he have commanded them to live their lives in this new reality?

The greek καταλλαγητε (be reconciled) is an imperative — a command — Paul is telling them to be reconciled to God. Verse 19 teaches that the ministry of Christ was not a ministry of condemnation (Jn. 3:17), but rather, God was acting through Christ to reconcile man to Himself. If man wants to remain a hostile enemy, he will (and without God’s further working in his life, he will). However, the Christians are now the ones who speak for God — we are the ambassadors who bring the demands of our King. What are His demands? Simple: be reconciled to God. Reconciliation to God can only occur by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone — this was made possible to all when God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself _ on the cross.

Barth, however, manages to mess the gospel up further,

Against this understanding of the statement we cannot appeal to v. 20 of the same passage, in which Paul singles out as the content of his activity in the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ the entreaty: ‘Be ye reconciled to God.’ This does not refer to an extension of the atonement in the form of something whcih man himself can decide. We recall this in Jn. 3:16 there is a corresponding mention of faith in the Son gifted, or offered up by God. The Pauline concept of faith is perhaps too narrow to permit us to equate the ‘Be ye reconciled to God’ with a call for faith. But it does point us in this direction. We can put it generally this way. It is a request for the openness, the attention and the obedience which are needed to acknowledge that what has happened in Christ has really happened, to enter the only sphere which is now left to man, that of the new, that of the conversion to God which has already taken place in Christ.

It is evident that Rob’s soteriology has been highly influenced by Neo-orthodoxy. When are so-called “conservative evangelicals” and fundamentalists, for that matter, going to stop showing his films and passing out his books? It seems that a current trend in Christianity is that nobody will separate over anything unless the gospel is being compromised. If that’s your position, fine. However, now that the gospel is at stake — and brothers and sisters, it is! — where are the strong Christian leaders who will, like the fundamentalists of old, stand without compromise for the doctrines of the Scripture?