Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Piper's Think: The Life of the Mind for $5!

I know I just posted about a great deal at Westminster Bookstore yesterday, but we are a blog that deals with books and theology, so let me also commend to you a pretty amazing deal on one of John Piper's newest books Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. For a limited time, they're doing a clearance on this hardcover volume for only $5 (that's 75% off)! This is limited to a certain number, and so if you want to get it for $5 you'd better act right now.

While I'm on the subject of good deals, Michael Horton's new book, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples (also hardback) is selling for 40% off. It was $9.99 yesterday, but the price has jumped now by two bucks. Still, $11.99 is a great price for such an invaluable book.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

50% Off Special at WTS Books

The Westminster Bookstore is having a really impressive deal on a new book that looks like it will be very helpful for those preparing to attend college. Having looked through the 50 page preview that WTS has up, it looks as though the author does a very good job of presenting a winsome and careful vision of what college ought to be.

With a list of endorsements about a mile long, this is one book that we ought to be jumping on so that our future college students will be ready for what lies ahead.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

King and Servant Show 29

Blubrry player!

Jonathan looks at the doctrine regeneration and its effects and fruits

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Generic Thank You to One of Our Readers

I just wanted to send out a quiet and grateful "thank you" to one of our readers from Florida who anonymously purchased Douglas Bond's book The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin for me off of my Amazon wish list. I am absolutely grateful, and it really does feel great to receive some sort of "visible" affirmation of the work I do here at BTB. Not that I don't write because I absolutely love it, but this book was just a great gift, and I can't wait to read it. Whomever you were, thank you for the book.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Atheist Faces God

Rob Bell seems to think that in the afterlife, human suffering will eventually devolve into soft-hearted acquiescence on the part of suffering (and in Bell's case, he would use the word "suffering" very sparingly) unbelievers. To such sentiments, I present exhibit Z: "What every atheist should say to god... if judgment day actually happens!" This post by an unbeliever pretty well sums up what I imagine the sentiments of a condemned immortal to be:
You know, even if almost everything had been perfect, a world free from pain and death where everyone would freely choose to spend an eternity with you – except for one person, and yet you made him anyways… then you would still be infinitely more evil than all the worst of humanity combined. You’re going to judge me? On behalf of all that’s good and decent in your creation, I judge you. I may have been a willful child, but you were a terrible father.

I can’t say I’m really inclined to beg for my soul now, given what I said about you knowing me perfectly. Even so, supposing mercy’s still an option (and that last rant didn’t kill my chances), I guess it’s worth a shot. I can’t pretend I have any love for you, but no principle is worth being damned over if it can be helped. What shall I say in my defense?
It gets worse. But I'll let you read it for yourselves. It does say something about Bell's view of human nature that he seems to see some scenario where someone's free will would just lift them out of hell someday when, in reality, hell (real hell, mind you) will produce nothing but hatred of God and hard-heartedness.

PS: This is just an add-on to the post, but here is a post written by a universalist on how he categorizes Bell's view. To save you the click, he calls Bell's view "hopeful universalism."

The Unprofessional Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (Part 3 of 3)


You may notice, in the past two parts of my review, that I have been constantly and consistently giving page numbers, citations, showing where my quotes come from. I don't know if Rob Bell just thought nobody would be interested in where he got his quotes from or if he was purposely trying to make life harder for guys like me who really want to know where he gets his assertions from, but it is somewhere between annoying and (uh-oh) unconscionable (there's that word again!) that he would say things about the Greek word aion and yet give us no idea from which scholarly literature we might find aion translated as "intensity of experience that transcends time." You certainly won't find this interpretation in BDAG's Greek lexicon. I guess we'll just have to take Bell's word for it?

On top of this, his writing style is horrible. My English teacher from High School would never give writing like this a pass. We've already seen how he breaks up standard prose into lines so that it looks like poetry (which, once again, I chalk up to helping the book limp across the 190 page threshold). The book is full of three-word sentences. Now, I do things similar to that on the blog, but then again, it's a blog. But I understand - it's a popular level of writing. I just can't help but wonder if in ten years our theological discourse might not consist of books that look like they were written on somebody's phone. LRN 2 RITE. CIT UR SRCES ROB.

Also, he only gives chapters when he makes his occasional Scripture references. Instead of saying, "Jeremiah 37:32," he just writes Jeremiah chapter 32 and makes me search through 50 verses so I can find the verse he just cited. Again, after my 30th time searching for a verse, I began to assume that Rob Bell just hates me and wanted to make my life a living hell (literally, Rob Bell's kind of hell!) as I tried to find some context for his atrocious exegesis.

Another example of the awful scholarship involved in this book is the way that he tries to bring Luther to his side of things. Carl Trueman has shown the horror of what Bell does here, but I just wanted to mention in passing that when I originally read page 106, I was upset. But once I read the actual letter as a whole that Bell quotes Luther from, I almost turned over the card table and stormed out of the room (I'm that dramatic). The very idea that Bell could transform Luther from a defender of the absolute necessity of personally receiving Christ for salvation into someone who toys with the possibility of post-mortem salvation is (here comes the word again) unconscionable. What was the big idea not telling us where we could find the letter in Luther's writings? No citation. I guess I was just suppose to know that this quote came from Vol. 43, Page 51 of the English edition of Luther's Works.

There is so much horrible exegesis that is barely even sustained by actual careful argument that I can't possibly think to get into it all. I won't get into it all, mainly because I feel like Kevin DeYoung did a wonderful job overviewing the Scriptural problems in his own (now famous) review of the book. I will turn my attention to probably the most violent perversion of any text, however, which is his treatment of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man from Luke 16:19-31 (aka Luke 16).

So Bell is especially interested in the rich man's attitude in the afterlife. He finds it noteworthy that the rich man, even in the afterlife, still wants to be served by Lazarus. "The rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It's no wonder Abraham says there's a chasm that can't be crossed. The chasm is the rich man's heart! (75)"

What an awful perversion of what Jesus was really saying. In fact, the real point was not that the rich man was keeping himself on the wrong side of the chasm, but that the chasm was objective, fixed, and that it could not be crossed! Even though Bell is right that the rich man is still selfish and thinks himself worthy of Lazarus' services, the truth is still precisely the opposite message which Bell is attempting to squeeze from the text.

Speaking of perversion, listen to why Bell says we take communion:
When we take the Eucharist, or Communion,
we dip bread into a cup,
enacting and remembering Jesus' gift of himself.
His body,
his blood,
for the life of the world.
Our bodies, our lives,
for the life of the world.

These rituals are true for us,
because they're true for everybody.
They unite us, because they unite everybody (157).
In this three-part review, I have tried to deal with the bigger picture of Bell's arguments and not to just offer sound bites or nit-pick. Doing this, of course, forced us to review the book backwards from his views of sin back to his view of heaven and hell that he explores early on in the book. The entire first half of the book as he complained about the "meanie hell" as I'm calling it, I kept wondering, how does he handle God's holiness, his hatred of sin, and his justice? He has all of these assumptions that really ought to be laid out in the beginning instead of at the end. But that wouldn't make for exciting reading, I suppose. I share many of his sentiments in the book (especially his criticisms of the mentality of many in the church who think that the bare minimum goal in life is getting to heaven), but the places where I agree with Bell are so few and far between that all I am left with after reading the book is an overwhelming conviction that the cure shouldn't be in the poison.

I could write more about this troubling book, but I have a feeling that now that Love Wins has been released, I will not be the only one offering criticisms of this book. Unfortunately, I know that the mind of evangelicalism is so wide at this point that many will let anything and everything float in and out, so long as it comes from somebody like Bell whom they feel has earned credibility in the past in their own eyes. It is my hope, for the sake of evangelicalism as a whole, however, that this book is roundly rejected as unbiblical, damaging to missions, damaging to the Gospel, and damaging to the church. If what Rob Bell is saying in this book is really acceptable to evangelicals, then it might be argued that the transformation of evangelicalism into full-fledged liberalism (ala Schliermacher) is truly complete. Now that Liberalism's foot is firmly in the dor, it's just a matter of leaning against the door. Lets hope there's some push-back.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eternal Life and a Not-So Eternal Punishment

The following quote from Michael Horton's The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way is addressed directly to the question of Annihilationism. However, the comments he shares in this particular quote are quite applicable to several of the arguments which Rob Bell made in his newest book, Love Wins.
Jesus' teaching concerning the final separation of the saved and the lost seems to treat punishment and life as equally eternal: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Mt. 25:46). If it is generally assumed that "eternal life" means unending, conscious joy, then it would seem that annihilationists bear the burden of proof in treating "eternal punishment" as otherwise in duration. Regardless of how one finally interprets these passages, it cannot be decided on the basis of our fallen moral judgment of God and his ways and our consequent emotional revulsion at the admittedly difficult idea of conscious punishment forever... The only decisive question is whether Scripture teaches it (Page 983-984).

The Unprofessional Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (Part 2 of 3)


So on to the question of universalism. I'm actually going to step out and say that it's hard to tell if Rob Bell is a universalist in any traditional sense (that is not to say that his views are in any sense traditional or orthodox). He is so dogmatic that God never fails and that he wants to save everyone. He is also clear that there are second, third, and so on chances after death. And yet he is also dogmatic that the human will has the power to resist God forever if it so chooses. I will say that his doctrine of post-mortem salvation ought to be controversial enough in an of itself, questions of universalism being almost beside the point.

Sometimes he talks like a classic universalist. For example, in his chapter titled "Does God Get What God Wants?" he makes this argument (a lot less structured, of course).

1. God wants everyone to be saved (cue the many verses where "all" is always supposed to mean "all.")
2. God always gets what God wants (cue the infinite number of verses that say God's will cannot be thwarted, and no one can stay his hand).
3. Therefore... (he leaves you to fill in the blank.)

It's so strange. One minute, he sounds like Charles Finney or Origen, then literally in the next paragraph, he sounds like John Calvin:
This insistence that God will be united and reconciled with all people is a theme the writers and prophets return to again and again...

In the book of Job the question arises: "Who can oppose God? He does whatever he pleases" (chap. 23). And then later it's affirmed when Job says of God, "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (chap. 42). (Pg. 100)
He completely mocks the God of Arminian orthodoxy by heckling that their God is a failure if he doesn't save all, calling their God "not totally great. Sort of great. A little great" (98). I have done a little heckling like this, myself. Of course, my solution was that we understand God's power to be absolute, but His purposes to be different than the Arminian understands it. Bell combines the Arminian notion of God's intention with the Calvinistic (I use the word loosely here) notion of God's success in all His endeavors. Bell's Arminian readers will have to make a decision, if they want to deny the charge that their God is a failure. Either God is going to save all, or else he never intended, ultimately, to save all. The third option is that God is in fact, a failure, which most will want to deny; Bell certainly does.

There is an intentionality in Bell's words when he says, "The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn't give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn't give up. Ever" (101). If Bell is so insistent that "all" always means "all," then I don't think we should underestimate his words, here. Bell really means that God never gives up. God never fails to save, when He wants to save.

In this sense, we ought to see that Bell is teaching universalism. He believes that God will keep pursuing people, post-mortem, through all eternity. But at the same time he says that His God isn't a failure or a loser, he seems to ascribe so much power to the mystical notion of "freedom" that it may thwart God's plan through all eternity. He seems to suggest at times that some human wills may potentially never be reconciled to God.

The Bruce Almighty Doctrine
This is where we introduce what I call the Bruce Almighty doctrine. If you haven't seen the movie, then you won't get the joke.
Although God is powerful and mighty, when it comes to the human heart God has to play by the same rules we do. God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itself. If at any point, God overrides, co-opts, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us of our freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is (103-104).
It reminds me of the scene in Bruce Almighty where he keeps looking at Jennifer Aniston's character and screaming, "LOVE me!" Then Morgan Freeman gives him a lecture on how God can do a lot of things, but he can't change the human heart. Yup, Rob Bell has Hollywood's view of human freedom. And yet this crucial doctrine for Rob Bell is NOWHERE hinted at in Scripture. Not even a little. It is a philosophical assumption that most freedom-loving Americans take as a given. But throughout the book, Bell shows that he doesn't really mind leaving his most central arguments unsubstantiated.

So, because of the Bruce Almighty Doctrine, Bell has it both ways. Love wins precisely because freedom wins. As long as God doesn't control or coerce us, then love wins, regardless of where we all end up. In my mind, this seems to cheapen what we think of when we hear the phrase "love wins." I got the strong impression that the many pieces of Bell's system do not fit together well at all. Which is it? Bruce Almighty, or God gets what God wants? Bell is clearly happy leaving aspects of his system in this sort of tension. If it were me, it would drive me crazy, like a house with a door that's too small for the frame that it's in.

But then again, remember that for Bell, where we end up is just a question of degrees of sadness or happiness. We're not talking about punishment or agony of any sort, because he is clear that those things don't bring glory to God in any sense.
To reject God's grace,
to turn from God's love,
to resist God's telling,
will lead to misery.
It is a punishment, all on its own (176).
I sarcastically commented in the margins, "Oh yeah, it sure sounds truly horrifying."

So I say that he is also not a universalist. Because of the Bruce Almighty Doctrine, who knows what will really happen in the afterlife?
So will those who have said no to God's love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future (114).

Will everybody be saved,
or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?

Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact (115).
The question which I really want to ask Rob Bell is this: is it possible that those who are in heaven after death will pass back into hell? If not, then why? After all, what is preventing their powerful wills from overwhelming the grace of God as they descend back into sorrow and madness? I thought at some point before the end of the book he might address this important and (in my opinion) devastating criticism, but alas, he does not. Did he not see such a possibility at all, when he was writing this book?

I had hoped I might see him discuss Hebrews 9:27 (He would call it Hebrews 9) which reads, "It is appointed unto man once to do, and after that comes judgment." To my mind, this is a very definitive refutation of the "second chance" doctrine that Bell is absolutely dependent on.

Tomorrow in our final installment of this review, we will look at questions of Bell's scholarship and I'll wrap up my review. Part 3

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (Part 1 of 3)


Several years ago, when Josh and I attended Grand Canyon University together, we had a professor who identified himself to us as an open theist. One day, just because we really wanted to learn and understand, we sat down and asked him questions. We didn't grill him, and we didn't berate him. We were listening. The number one question I recall us asking was, "It seems like your whole system makes nonsense out of God's wrath and anger at human sin. How do you understand what Jesus was doing for us at the cross?" His answer was something nebulous to the effect that Jesus loosed the bonds of death so that we can rise up above our present and no longer stand condemned by our sin. See, in our professor's system, it is not God who condemns the guilty - it is our condition of human sickness, which we must be cured of.

I offer that segue because I believe at the core of my own vitriolic disagreements with what Rob Bell is doing in this book is a profoundly different view of the cosmos. In his blurb for the book found on the Love Wins dust jacket, Eugene Peterson (the guy who wrote The Message) says this: " isn't easy to develop a thoroughly biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ...Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without copromising an inch of evangelical conviction..." If Eugene Peterson is right, if Richard Mouw is right that Bell is square in the center of evangelicalism, then without a shred of dramatis, I just want to say that I will never refer to myself as an evangelical again (I'm Reformed).

If I were to write a book on heaven and hell, I know where I would start. I would start with the holiness of God. I would start with the sinfulness of man. I would speak about divine justice and the fitness and beauty of God and the rightness of his defending his own glory and honor. In other words, I would start with sin. Unfortunately, the first appearance of sin that I could find in this book was on page 72, paragraph 4. (I nearly read this book in one sitting, so when I saw the word "sin" in the book for the first time, I sat up and noted it in the margin.) However, the pages where he does talk about sin, it is always seen as an action that people do to each other... the dictator who commits genocide (70)... the child who was molested (72)... the man who cheats on his wife (73)... the woman who was raped (71)... the man who modified his will to cause the maximum hurt to his family during the funeral (72)... and on and on. Never, not once is sin seen as something which we do in the face of a holy God. Not once. Here's an example: "Same with the word 'anger.' When we hear people saying they can't believe in a God who gets angry - yes, they can. How should God react to a child being forced into prostitution? How should God feel about a country starving while warlords hoard the food supply..." (38) and it goes on. God's anger is about our horizontal treatment of others, not about an affront to His holiness.

To my mind, this is unconscionable (I may use that word a couple of times in this review). It is essential to understanding the thing which separates us from God. Sin is not a substance that is stuck to us and needs to be removed. It is something we do as we slap God in the face and tell him he is mistaken about his importance in the universe. As long as Bell avoids the subject of sin against God, he is able to successfully caricature those who believe in an eternal, unending meanie hell without second chances. And caricature, he does:
  • "So when the gospel is diminished to a question of whether or not a person will 'get into heaven,' that reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past the bouncer and into the club" (178).
  • "...the toxic notion that God is a slave driver" (180). [He uses the "slave driver" phrase a lot.]
As far as I'm concerned, the heart of the book is actually at the end. Starting on page 182, Bell talks about the theological view that really gets him going.
Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus paid the price for our sins, and so we can have eternal life...[what this does is] teach people that Jesus rescues us from God (182).
Finally, we're getting to what Bell considers to be a true sin. Here's how Michael Horton puts it, just so you can see that Bell is not playing with cartoons at this point in the book:
Although Jesus freely gave his life up to the Father as a sacrifice that he was not forced to give, it was a death penalty that God executed as the just judge of the universe. Turning his eyes from the mutilated body of his Son, now carrying the sins of us all, the Father abandoned Jesus Christ so that he would never have to abandon us in our deepest trial or most heinous sin. God saved us from himself in order to save us for himself forever.
-Michael Horton, "Saved From God," Modern Reformation, March/April 1996
Want to know what Bell really thinks of a God who hates and punishes sin?
Lets be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction...Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklistings - when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent (182-183).
So in Bell's view, the conflict in the universe is not a personal conflict. It is not man vs. God - it is man vs. impersonal forces. Yes, Mr. Bell. I can make caricatures of my own, as well.

But on to the paragraph that I noted in the margin as the worst part of the entire book, for me (and we're not even to the universalism part!):
The violent God creates profound worry in people. Tension. Stress. This God is supposed to bring peace, that's how the pitch goes, but in the end this God can easily produce followers who are paralyzed and catatonic, full of fear. Whatever you do, don't step out of line or give this God any reason to be displeased, because who knows what will be unleashed (184).
Many times, he confuses the Anselmian view of the atonement with legalism. He speaks with such distain for a God whose eyes are too pure to look on sin, and yet he somehow thinks that the result of teaching about God's anger at sin will be legalism.
That God is angry, demanding, a slave drive, and so that God's religion becomes a system of sin management, constantly working and angling to avoid what surely must be the coming wrath that lurks behind every corner, thought, and sin (183).
From that point on in the book, he lectures on the dangers of legalism and how Jesus came so we wouldn't have to live in legalism any more. Talk about straw man! So for the rest of the book (which I grant is only about ten more pages at that point) it's Bell vs. Legalism. Guess who will win in that contest! There is no serious attempt to interact with the Reformed tradition and its view of grace, justification, or salvation in general. It is all cartoons.

From here, we can see that if God is not angry at sin as sin, but rather at sin as wrongs against others, then it is much easier to make sense of his doctrines of heaven and hell. I want to briefly say that his view of heaven is much like N.T. Wright's view as expressed in his book Simply Christian. I have interacted with his (in my opinion) odd view of Heaven elsewhere. I will summarize Bell's view of heaven by quoting him:
There's heaven now, somewhere else.
There's heaven here, sometime else.
And then there's Jesus' invitation to heaven
in this moment,
in this place.
[At only 190 pages, this book really did need the awkwardly placed line breaks, otherwise it would have been 30 pages total, single spaced. This explains how I was able to finish reading it while scribbling sarcastic, angry notes in the margins, all in a total of four hours or so.]

There's somewhat of a parallel between heaven and hell, for Bell. Just as heaven is about the here and now, just as much as it is about the "age to come," so is hell. At one point, after talking the little boy who lost his arms and legs to a cruel dictator he decides to clear things up for those who think he denies that hell exists:
Do I believe in a literal hell?
Of course.
Those aren't metaphorical arms and legs.
I can't tell if he thinks he's hilarious, or if he believes he has made the greatest point in all mankind. In either case, the quote itself should be enough to show you that he sees hell as something we create - something that happens in us. This is also true of his view of the afterlife hell. I see a tremendous amount of influence on Bell from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce - a book which is as lovely as it is confusing.
From the most subtle rolling of the eyes to the most violent degradation of another human, we are terrifyingly free to do as we please.
God gives us what we want, and if that's hell, we can have it.
We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free (72).
Tomorrow: We'll get to the question of whether Bell is a universalist in Part 2.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Christian Leaders Ought to Speak Plainly

I have been watching Rob Bell make the television rounds this week. Good Morning America used a clip from Justin Taylor's webcam that made him look like he was some guy in his bedroom on a Charlie Sheen-style rant. Intercut with this, of course, was the highest quality HD video of Bell pacing the platform with his dapper dress and fancy headset. Sorry, Justin; you're the Sheen wannabe, and Bell's the superstar!

But on to what I really want to say. In the above video where journalist Martin Bashir (the man who took the world inside Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch) actually asks Bell journalistic and pressing questions, I want to point out a lesson for men like us who have future plans to enter the Ministry. Let us speak with clarity. Let us answer questions without fear of the world's judgment. Let us answer questions in a way that the questioner does not need to ask three or four times the same question until we answer "plainly and without horns."

Bell is an embarrassment, to me, in this video. If he could at least have the temerity to say what he believes, he would get a shred of respect from me, but as it stands, I honestly believe he is embarrassed in the context of his conversation with Bashir that he has a watery view of the afterlife. The fact that he calls discussions of one's eternal destiny and its relationship with our decisions and actions in the here and now "speculative" is a joke. The man wrote a book on the subject, for crying out loud! It is not exactly unreasonable that Martin Bashir should expect the man at the table who wrote a book "on the fate of every person who ever lived" to be able to tell us what, in fact, the fate of every person is.

Instead, all Bashir gets is the same repetitive answer Bell gave to GMA... "I begin with the belief that god, when we shed a tear, god sheds a tear." Cry me a river, God. "Okay; I have been for like, thousands of years, and I'm still crying... When's someone going to hug me!?" When Bashir presses him on God's sovereignty and the suffering in Japan, Bell won't give God credit where God gives Himself credit:
Bashir: Which is true, he’s all but powerful and cares?

Bell: I think it’s a paradox at the heart of the divine, some paradoxes are best left as they are.
Fair enough; the guy's no Jonathan Edwards. Maybe he'll at least explain his own views for Bashir (and the rest of the world). Bashir asks, "Are you a Universalist?" Bell responds by saying, "No, I'm not a universalist... Not that there's anything wrong with that..." (My Seinfeld-inspired paraphrase)
Bell:I would say "are you a universalist?" I would say no. that’s a perspective within the christian stream. there’s been within the christian tradition a number of people who have said given enough time, god will win everybody over.
So it would be okay if he was, but he's not. Okay, fair enough. Then Bashir gets really pointed and specific. This is only a seven minute interview, after all. "So is it irrelevant and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny? Is that immaterial?"

I count Bashir asking Bell this same question a total of three times. It appears he never receives a satisfactory answer. Watch the video to decide for yourself. It is plain to the average viewer that Bashir wants Bell to get down to brass tacks. "Will we get second chances after death?" Bell will not say yes or no. He simply says in the end, "That's speculation." This is why there are theologians. This is why there are pastors. To answer questions like Bashir is asking. What is the point of going to Seminary and reading 700 books and learning Greek and Hebrew if at the end of the day the answer is, "This is all speculation." Well, Bell, go speculate by yourself. Don't experiment with theology in front of an audience of millions.

The questions Bell is asking are too important for him to treat the pulpit like a test tube. Some may think I'm being too harsh, but consider James when he says that "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Terrifying words for a man like Bell with the audience that he commands. These are terrifying words all of us, really, who have Seminary in our sights.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bell is Out of the Bag

Earlier, I suggested that we ought to measure our responses to Rob Bell and wait until the book is out so that we can ensure we aren't participating in a bait and switch of some sort. Now that Kevin DeYoung has posted his highly detailed, unreservedly pastoral review of Bell's book Love Wins, I just want to say that the cat is out of the bag, and he is, in fact, teaching Universal Reconciliation. I want to commend with the highest possible accolades, DeYoung's review. It is essential reading for church leaders. Not that we shouldn't read Bell's book ourselves, but not everyone has time to read Herman Bavinck, Geerhardus Vos, AND Rob Bell on top of it all.

I am grateful that God has raised up servants for the church like Kevin DeYoung. God is good. And holy. And just. And angry at sin. ... Just read the review, already.

Alec Baldwin, Jack Ryan, and Jesus

When I was ten years old, I watched The Hunt for Red October. It was my favorite movie of my youth. I've probably seen it a dozen times or more. In fact, it might be argued that this movie alone is responsible for my love of reading. At 13 years old, I read through Tom Clancy's original novel of the film, and became addicted to reading novels too mature for my age. Eventually, this led to reading Tolkien, Lewis, and my eventually meeting Jesus.

But in the back of my mind, I always sort of wondered why it is that Alec Baldwin only played Jack Ryan once. After all, Harrison Ford is a cool guy, but Alec Baldwin was the original Jack Ryan, after all. Well, our questions are answered in a way, because Baldwin has written a blog at Huffpo where he gives his version of things. He appears to pin most of the fault for the fiasco on a producer named David Kirkpatrick.

Here's where it gets interesting: evidently, Kirkpatrick quickly posted a reply on his own blog, and guess what... Kirkpatrick is a Christian now and appears to have been quite humbled by his prideful existence for years as a producer.
In those days, both of us were unbridaled; we were big personalities. We were not under God. And we were not exactly meek. In fact, we believed we were golden, immortal and incapable of death; albeit he was the tall and good-looking god and I was the balding, beady-eyed one...

Fundamentally, the reason that Alec Baldwin and I ended our relationship over the character of the Jack Ryan franchise was an issue of trust. We did not trust one another to continue in the enterprise. The negotiations to continue as Jack Ryan had drawn out for almost a year and he was nervous over controls, as he was the man on camera and he had a right to be; yet, I had a responsibility, working for a publicly-traded company to keep the franchise alive.
Then Kirkpatrick gets very unpopular:
The greatest myth of the Twenty First century is that people are good. We aren’t. We’re not morally neutral. I know that’s a terribly unpopular thing to say in the world today, but it happens to be true. The fundamental problem with learning how to reason through ethical solutions is that it doesn’t give you a mechanism to override your natural tendency to do what is wrong. This is what C.S. Lewis-whose writings including Mere Christianity, have had such a profound influence on my life says. It’s not inclusive or popular or in vogue , but the only way to get beyond ourselves is to let God take over. As John the Baptist said,“ He becomes more as I become less” At the center of Christ’s teaching are only two fundamental laws: love God, love others.
He concludes:
Life is a miracle. And today, Alex Baldwin is going to be surprised with his Google alert tonight when he goes to his bed realizing he is linked not only to me and Charlie Sheen, but also to C S Lewis, Harrison Ford and Jesus Christ.
These are the sorts of surprises that I really enjoy when I get Google news alerts on celebrities. I also love reading the comments on Alec Baldwin's blog page seeing how uncomfortable people get when they see that Kirkpatrick quotes Bible verses in his very humble response.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Zanchi on Divine Causality

But since God by His providence doth preserve second causes which He useth in governing the world, everyone in her proper nature, yea, and is the mover of them--and of them, some are ordained of their own nature to certain and sure effects, and other some [others] are indefinite--we know and confess that although in respect of God, without whose foreknowledge and will nothing can happen in the world, all things are done necessarily (Matt. 10:29-30). Yet in respect of us, and of the second causes, many things happen and come to pass chanceably [by chance]. For what can be more chanceable [?] and casual, to a carpenter and travailer [traveller ?] than if the ax fall out of his hand and kill the other (Ex. 21:13)? Yet the Lord saith [sayeth] that it is he which killed the travailer [traveller]. And our Lord Jesus died willingly; yet He said, Christ must suffer (Luke 24:46). Herod and Pilate, of their free will, condemned Jesus; yet the apostles say they did nothing but what the hand and counsel of God had decreed to be done (Acts 4:28).
Jerome Zanchi
Confession of the Christian Religion
Chapter 6, Section 5

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Get this Atheist a Proofreader (And Perhaps a Mirror)!

A friend of mine pointed me to this website which addresses how an atheist ought to go about debating a Christian. The introductory paragraphs are full of naive statements about the universe and knowledge. Allow me to share only a couple.
Atheism is not a belief, nor a religion. There are no rules, regulations, or commandments to atheism...

And still to this day Theists attempt to expand Athesim into something it’s not. Whether by association, injecting some extenuating circumsatances, or just plain stretching the truth, the purpose becomes very clear. First, generally as an argument from ignorence by lacking the proper knowledge of atheism – or as an argument from authority they’re clearly lacking, they will assert some kind of claim about atheism based on their vast knowledge (claimed authority) such as; Atheism is just another religion that worships nature, humanism, materialism, the universe, etc...

They’d truly like if atheism was a religion, because beleifs are far easier to attack then true knowledge. As atheists we know this from fighting their beliefs, they know this as well. By asserting a hypothetical argument somehow equals a litteral beliefs in a god, they again get to assert Atheism is a belief structure. And by asserting a stereotypical belief that ALL atheists are materialists, naturalists, humanists, etc. this again allows them to attack these other “isms” rather then atheism. Not a single one of these attack tactics holds a drop of logical reasoning or proper debate capabilities...
From reading these quotes, we've only scratched the surface of the information on this particular web site. But we have learned at least a couple of things:

1. Somebody at Atheism Resources needs to get a proof reader. Good grief! ("equals a litteral beliefs"? circumsatances? beleifs? ignorence?) I know it's the internet, and so we can have lower standards, but it doesn't take a genius to use a spell-checker! For having such a high opinion of his handling on the laws of logic, maybe he should go to square one and learn the laws of proper grammar and spelling, first.

Sorry; that's as ad hominem as I plan on getting. It's like I have an itch I'm not supposed to scratch. And yes, I know that the previous statement is a sentence fragment; however, in the internet age, sentence fragments are allowed, but poor spelling is still uncool unless you're spelling "kool" with a "k," which is always awesome, every time.

2. This particular author really is blissfully unaware of his own philosophical commitments being brought to the table. And he is also unaware of where he got those beliefs from - otherwise he would not insist that what he has is knowledge and what everyone else has is religious faith.

3. The author concedes that we Christians will have a much easier job of debating them if we can somehow demonstrate that their worldview is belief rather than knowledge. I would compare this to a boss at the end of the video game showing you where his weak spot is. Also, it is the biggest and easiest weak spot on the planet to hit. See point #2 above.

There are more problems, but I'm trying to mock, and not be comprehensive. So there you are. I hope you enjoyed your helping of naive atheism.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Anderson Responds to Reiter

James Anderson from Analogical Thoughts has posted a response to Dr. David Reiter's article "A Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence" that appeared in Philosophia Christi back in '09.

This whole exchange is very interesting for both Josh and myself, as we both sat under Dr. Reiter's teaching during our undergraduate studies in Philosophy while he was still teaching at Grand Canyon University. As I recall, Dr. Reiter was very amused by our obsession with Van Til and Bahnsen, but the TAG never seemed to impress him much. By the way, C.L. Bolt at Choosing Hats is quite mistaken when he deduces that Reiter does not have much familiarity with Van Til or Bahnsen. We spent, as I recall, a great deal of time discussing Bahnsen's legendary and impressive performance destroying Gordon Stein, and Josh and I were both constantly turning in papers to him regarding the TAG. In truth, Reiter is a Plantinga man through and through.

I have yet to read James' reply, but am moments from digging into what he has to say.

[Update: Dr. Reiter tells me that he has already prepared a reply to Anderson and that Philosophia Christi should be publishing it in the near future.]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jonathan Edwards vs. The Westminster Confession(?)

I keep coming back to Richard Muller's lecture on Jonathan Edwards because I still sense an uneasiness about the implications of Muller's conclusions. In particular, I want to focus on a few things which Muller said in his Edwards lecture.

The first is that Edwards' redefinition of "contingency" sets him against his Reformed heritage. According to Muller, the old notion of contingency had to do with the possibility of the contrary. Edwards, on the other hand, sees contingency as being something without a cause.

Since Edwards argues that contingency is impossible (again, according to his "new" definition of contingency), and that all who affirm contingency are grouped together with the arminians. Well, since the older standardbearers of Reformed Orthodoxy affirmed contingency (albeit by a different definition), then Muller reasons Edwards to be opposing the old Reformed Orthodoxy.

The problem, which should be obvious, is that Edwards is not directly opposing the old Reformed standardbearers. He is opposing a different view of contingency - one in which acts of the will can occur without any direct causal connections. If anything, Edwards is talking past those who went before him. Edwards' obvious developments do not represent a true sea change so much as a contemporization. It is not an opposition, but rather, an improvement.

Over at Wes White's blog, he had mentioned in a brief exchange, Muller's citation of WCF 9.1 as a potential ground for seeing Edwards as unorthdox. Permit me to quote that section of the Confession, for clarity's sake:
9:1 God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.
At first glance, this may appear to be a painful blow to Edwards. But consider that if we understand this section to be denying the necessary connection of the will and the nature (as a condemnation of Edwards via WCF 9.1 would require), one must shoot themselves in the foot, because then in WCF 9.3, the absolutely necessary connection of the nature and the will are affirmed, though not in as many words. Observe:
9.3: Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
Even if the language of absolute necessity is absent, it should be obvious that the understanding of 9.1 which condemns Edwards (lets call this understanding "Schema One") cannot then make sense of 9.3.

Let me suggest an understanding of 9.1 which also comports with 9.3 and Edwards (we'll call this "Schema Two").

"God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced..." Lets stop here for a moment. By bringing in the language of "force," the Confession is referring to an external coersion. It is not rejecting an internal coercion, because that would make hay of 9.3. The language of "force" here is a reference to external influences which necessarily move the will. in other words, we are not robots.

"...nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil." This is a denial of a strictly physicalist understanding of human nature. Hobbes was a physical determinist, but Edwards was not. This portion of 9.1 is a denial of the sort of determinism one might find in Hobbes, for example. (By the way, I believe that the interpretation presented by Schema Two is affirmed by A.A. Hodge in his commentary on the Confession (pg. 219-220).

Again, if you deny Schema Two's understanding of this last quoted portion, you are left in a badly compromised situation of trying to explain how one's nature can be wholly unable, per 9.3, to will any spiritual good while denying that one's nature can be necessarily determined one way or another.

Look at Turretin on the idea of physical determinism:
Predetermination does not destroy but conserves the liberty of the will. By it, God does not compel rational creatures or make them act by a physical or brute necessity. Rather he only effects this – that they act both consistently with themselves and in accordance with their own nature, i.e., from preference and spontaneously (to wit, they are so determined by God that they also determine themselves). (Turretin, Page 569-570)
It is this sort of determinism ("a physical or brute necessity," as Turretin calls it) which WCF 9.1 opposes, according to Schema Two. I wish to strongly suggest that it is not the sort of compatiblistic, Edwardsian necessitarianism which WCF 9.1 is opposing.

In fact, if WCF 9.1 were opposing the sort of necessity being suggested by Edwards, we would find ourselves in quite a strange spot. On the one hand, the claim is made by Muller that nobody was using this sort of language to explain the activity of the will, prior to Edwards. Yet on the other hand, it is suggested by Edwards' opponents in this matter that it is precisely Edwards' sort of view of the will which is being condemned by 9.1. So we essentially have a non-existent model of the will being rejected in WCF 9.1, if, in fact, the proponents of Schema One are correct. It would be most unusual for the Westminster Divines to feel compelled (no pun intended) to include a renunciation of a non-existent understanding of the will, a hundred years before it sprang into existence.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Canon is FOR the Church, Not FROM the Church

The idea of a New Testament canon was not something developed in the second century (or later) when the church was faced with pressing needs, but rather it was something that was handed down to and inherited by the early church from the beginning. It was the foundation for the church, not the consequence of the church. The idea of canon, therefore, does not belong formally to church history, but is more accurately understood as a central plank in redemptive history.
The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J. Kostenberger, Page 117

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Hunch Met With a Return Hunch

In his brief review of Rob Bell's new book, Brian McLaren is still talking about conversations that lead nowhere:
One can only hope that after the initial inquisitorial tsunami has crashed, more and more people will realize that a deeper conversation is going on, deeper questions are being asked, and something very powerful and important is afoot....My hunch is that many Evangelical leaders will adopt a defensive, combative position towards Rob and his book, worried about their status in front of the most conservative wings of their constituencies, without giving even twenty minutes to considering the possibility that their traditional understanding of the biblical narrative is compromised - with Greek philosophy, with imperial/colonial politics, and so on.
I've got a hunch of my own, Brian. Lets see: spiritually curious evangelicals will read your books, feel shaken in their faith by your "harmless" conversation, and eventually abandon that Faith altogether. Oh wait; that's not a hunch. I've seen it happen with my own eyes.

This is not the diplomatic face I wanted to put forward with regards to the new Rob Bell book. I wanted to be a self-controlled, fair-minded grown-up. Instead, McLaren showed his face. Yes, I have an axe to grind with Brian McLaren. I watched a dear friend walk away from the faith and his marriage, and it all started with McLaren's books. I have no sense of humor about this man, and I have no sense of humor about those who think that a hallmark of true faith is being completely indifferent in these sorts of matters.

Some day my humor will return.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jonathan Edwards' Ethic of Virtue and Love (Part 3)

Edwards Addresses Contemporary Ethicists

Edwards finds an inconsistency in some of the modern ethicists (of his own day), namely that “they do not wholly exclude a regard to the Deity out of their schemes of morality, but yet mention it so slightly, that they leave me room and reason to suspect they esteem it a less important and subordinate part of true morality; and insist on benevolence to the created system” (126). In other words, by his estimation, the philosophers of Edwards’ day paid mere lip-service to God and yet really made God no part of their ethical theory. He offers many criticisms, but for our purposes I will mention three of them:

1. Such a system of independence from general being sets one as an enemy against the public.
2. Such a system of independence from general being has a tendency to enmity against being in general.
3. Such a system would actually become an opposition to being in general, for to regard oneself as higher than (for example) one’s prince is to commit treason.

His conclusion of the criticisms he offers is that “no affection limited to any private system, not depending on nor subordinate to being in general, can be of the nature of true virtue.”

Implications for God

Edwards concludes that just as we, finite humans, must have a benevolent love for God, the greatest of all beings, so God must have himself as the supreme object of his affection. He states, “The virtue of the divine mind must consist primarily in love to himself, or in the mutual love and friendship which subsists eternally and necessarily between the several persons in the Godhead, or that infinitely strong propensity there is in these divine persons one to another” (127).

Now, here comes a statement that may shock some of us modern evangelicals who think that we are the center of God’s world: “It will also follow, from the foregoing things, that God’s goodness and love to created beings, is derived from and subordinate to his love to himself.” God naturally and properly must love himself and regard himself as more important than mortal men! So, we see, that not only do men have a virtue ethic, but that there is also a virtue ethic for God: love of self.

Next, Edwards states that God’s “supreme, governing, and ultimate end” is his own glory. This is the reason for which God created, and it is the goal in all events of history. Every event tends towards this goal. What does this “glory” consist of? His answer: “The expression of God’s perfections in their proper effects, - the manifestation of God’s glory to created understandings, - the communication of the infinite fullness of God to the creature, - the creature’s highest esteem of God, love to, and joy in him, - and in the proper exercise and expressions of these.”

Does this precedence of God’s glory have implications for us as humans? Does this mean that we are not important, that we are disposable, that we are only means to an end? Edwards does not think so. His answer is essentially that God, by seeking his own glory and his own love of Himself is actually seeking the good of us as his creatures, because to know and pursue God’s glory is the most pleasing and joyful thing that we can ever do. Thus, by Edwards’ estimate, God can seek his own glory as the end of creation and also give us our greatest and most fulfilling pleasures of having Him as well!


Edwards concludes chapter two of The Nature of True Virtue by commenting on the inadequacy of the modern secular ethic:
Those schemes of religion or moral philosophy, which have not a supreme regard to God, and love to him, laid as the foundation, are not true schemes of philosophy, but are fundamentally and essentially defective, and there is nothing of the nature of true virtue or religion in them. And it may be asserted in general, that nothing is of the nature of true virtue, in which God is not the first and the last; or which, with regard to their exercises in general, have not their first foundation and source in apprehensions of God’s supreme dignity and glory, and in answerable esteem and love of him, and have not respect to God as the supreme end.
For Jonathan Edwards, God is the most important person, the greatest person, the most beautiful person, and the most complete person. He is the only person who is worthy of our worship, and to do anything less (or to construct an ethic which does not hold a supreme regard to Him) is to act inconsistently with the nature of true virtue.