They Always Blame the Christians

piling onThe corrupt leaders of ancient Rome wagged the finger of blame at Christians, making them convenient scapegoats for society’s ills, ranging from run-away taxation to crop-failure. Because Christians have a built-in mechanism to admit their imperfections, they didn’t defend themselves very well. This, in turn, made them food for lions.

I witnessed yesterday yet another popular Christian author piling-on the church as the “main cause of atheism.” His quote made the rounds on Facebook. If we Christians weren’t so dang un-Christian, the popular author implied, the atheists of the world would quickly bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not so fast.

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There’s never been a culture more desperate for answers to life’s big questions; and never a culture more convinced no answers exist. As a Christian, I believe answers do exist. God has spoken in his Word. He has lifted the veil, and offered a glimpse into the deepest truths of life, love, and existence. We may not understand completely, but we can understand truly. Here are the chapters:

1 FOUR LETTER WORDS. In today’s global village, isn’t it unreasonable to suggest the Bible has a monopoly on truth? Is the message of Jesus a lunatic’s curse or heaven’s blessing?

2 TRUE. Who says your truth has to be my truth too? Can’t we both be right? What is truth and where can I find it?

3 KNOW. How do we know what we know? Is faith a weak link in the Christian’s chain of knowing? Doesn’t science contradict the Bible?

4 PAIN. Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why does my life hurt? When will God stop the pain?

5 OUCH. Is suffering real or just an illusion? Does Jesus care? Is he strong enough to heal my wounds?

6 EVIL. Do good and evil really exist? How do I tell the difference? Should Christians be judgmental? Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

7 WORD. What makes the Bible so special? Isn’t it just one among many valid options? Isn’t all truth God’s truth?

8 DAMN. Is hell real? Will God send people there? Why? How can hell be consistent with God’s love? Doesn’t love win in the end?

9 WAIT. Sexuality is a normal part of life, so, if we love each other, why wait? Wasn’t the Bible written for a different time and place? Why should we enforce its ancient values today?

10 HOPE. No philosophy or religion has ever given the world as much hope as biblical Christianity. A beautiful story of interlocking truths, revealing the heart of a Father who loves you. Why not try Jesus?

WORD

[Four Letter Words is available at a special price, one day only: $5.99 (list $13.99). Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, WORD, click here to purchase specially inscribed/autographed copies of Four Letter Words] Please spread the word. Thanks.

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God Is…

The Apostle John detonated a religious explosion when he wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He actually wrote it twice (v. 16). No other religion ever made love the heartbeat of God.

Christians own “God is love.”

We might not have always radiated his ideal standards, but we’ve never budged from this mother of all religious premises. We don’t simply say God has love, or that God shows love, or that God—after he’s been fed enough sacrifices—is loving. No. We say, God is love. Followers of Jesus brought that message to the world. Like the original, original, Original Pancake House, there are many copies, but only one original.

That original, found in John’s first Epistle, only echoes a thousand whispers of biblical teaching. John didn’t invent this truth; he only summarized it from all that Scripture already said.

He supremely learned it from Jesus. Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Does love prove the superiority of the Bible? Only if a loving God is important to you. Otherwise, it makes no difference.

The Main Thing

The love of God is the main theme of the whole Bible. The different authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books, hold up God’s love like a diamond, and make it sparkle from a million angles.

Moses highlighted this love as part of God’s abiding marriage covenant with his people. If God was jealous, it was only because the people he loved went after other lovers.

David composed songs about God’s love—friend to friend, and man to God. For David, God wasn’t just “the Big Guy up there,” he was closer than a brother, and more gentle than a shepherd.

The Prophets painted God’s love as a portrait of a mother nursing her child, or a lover wooing his beloved. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The Gospels depict God’s love as a fire burning in Jesus’ heart. Sometimes it was warm and tender: when Jesus ate fish with his disciples, when he turned water to wine, and when he healed lepers and embraced society’s outcasts. Other times, his love burned red hot: when he drove the crooks out of the temple with a homemade whip, when he shredded the Pharisees for loading impossible burdens on people who sought God, and when he died for our sins—the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

The Epistles (most of the rest of the New Testament) analyze God’s love. They tell us it flows from the heart of God in infinite measure, and that it’s grounded in the death of Christ. These books humble us by comparing our puny love to God’s massive love: “This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

Every major part of the Bible teaches the love of God. In symbols, in ceremonies, in parables, in healings, in miracles, and in plain teaching, the love of God pulses from the Bible’s beginning to its end.

Search the religious literature of the world. Dig through the annals of history. Explore religious books from any culture, anywhere in the world. You’ll never find a match to the Bible’s beautiful claim that God is love.

Yes, God is more than love. But that he is love, and that his love is such a big part of him, makes me feel secure. In the Bible, I read a grand narrative of a God who made me, lost me, and loved me enough to buy me back at immeasurable cost. I feel safe with this God, and safe in his universe, now and forever. God’s love is a crazy big love, and I’m glad to rest in it.

Because of Love

Even so, we who follow Jesus still get in trouble for believing the Bible. How can we be so narrow to say that the Bible is God’s only book? Hasn’t God revealed himself in all the religions of humankind?

I know I’m only digging my hole deeper with some friends in this conversation, but I will say that if there is any truth or goodness in any other religious book or teacher, it is only a distorted memory from a race created by the Bible’s God, but now wandering in darkness away from him. The Bible’s teaching is original. Everything else is a copy of a copy of a copy.

I’ll hold up my shields till the spitballs subside.

If a God of love has inspired any book, the only real contender is the Bible…

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Word! (Chapter 7 from Four Letter Words)

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.

Attributed to Mark Twain2

TOUCHY IDEAS

1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.

2. The Bible is God’s only and final Word, in its own class, above all other religious literature.

3. The theology and ethics of the Bible transcend time and culture and are as applicable today as when originally written.

4. No other book has improved society or benefited mankind as much as the Bible.

TOUCHY SCRIPTURES

1. So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. (Exodus 19:7).

2. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food. (Job 23:12).

3. The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers. (Acts 28:25).

4. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

5. For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21).

6. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (Revelation 22:7).

 * * * * *

EVIDENCE, VERDICTS, AND MAKING THE CASE

I’ll never forget the first time I opened Evidence that Demands a Verdict. First published in 1972, the book rocketed to best-seller status. Josh McDowell blew my high-school mind with his flawless logic and undeniable evidence for Christianity. He spoke my language. His book assembled massive amounts of data to support the Bible as God’s Word and Jesus as God’s Son. When I read his book, I felt excited. It was like an encyclopedia of unbeatable arguments for Christianity.

Surely my skeptical friends would be convinced. I was right; they were wrong. God rules! That’s how I felt, at least.

To my young mind, McDowell proved beyond doubt that no other religious book compares with the Bible in terms of the number and quality of ancient copies. He laid out proof of Christ’s resurrection that would stand in any court. He contrasted the Bible’s historical accuracy with the inaccuracies of other religious works. McDowell made the case. He put forth evidence that demanded a verdict.

I thought any rational reader would be convinced.

I was wrong.

For most people, the jury is still out on the Bible. I don’t know if it’s postmodern cynicism toward truth, or our inborn allergy to accountability. Maybe it’s a sincere disagreement with the facts, but the evidence that looks so conclusive to me is blatantly inconclusive for a whole lot of my friends.

But for me, there is something about the Bible that sets it in a class by itself. Unfortunately, I can’t prove it like a scientist can prove that a virus causes the flu. It’s hard to subject the Bible’s claims to empirical or rational verification.

So I won’t try. You can find hundreds of excellent websites and books that make the case for the Bible from logic, evidence, and history (you can find links on the Four Letter Words website). I’m all for that, and I’m convinced. But in this chapter, I’d like to take a different approach.

I’d like to look at the Bible’s beauty and love.

WHOSE GOD IS LOVE?

In the history of world religion, it is Christianity alone—drawing from its roots in Judaism—that demolished preconceptions by offering a God of boundless love. If you erase the Bible from history, good luck finding an all-loving deity.

Here are nine major religious perspectives and their core concept of god:

Buddhism

Buddhists do not proclaim a god of love, because Buddhists do not proclaim any god at all. According to BuddhaNet, a major online resource,

“There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly [sic] Judgement [sic] Day. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.”3

Buddhists, like Hindus and others, believe in karma, a soulless force that makes sure the bad guys get what’s coming to them—either in this life or the next life, or the next life after that. No doubt, Buddhists can be extremely loving people. But, if you need a God of Love, look elsewhere.

Islam

The one God, Allah, is bigger than, and outside of, creation. Though we can know his will, we cannot know him personally. Muslims do not normally speak of a relationship with Allah. Even when they speak of God’s mercy, it is usually set in the context of justice rather than relationship. One Islamic scholar states, “God does not reveal Himself to anyone.”4 Instead, he reveals his will, and we’re stuck with it. No one can question kismet—the unbending will of Allah. The God of Islam leads with authority, not love.

Hinduism

I struck up a conversation with a gas station attendant in Los Angeles. A calendar hung on the wall behind him with a drawing of a man in a golden suit. I asked the attendant about the picture, figuring it was a politician or celebrity. He answered, “Oh, that is god.” The calendar displayed a different god for each month. Scholars debate how to classify Hinduism. By offering a menu of thousands of gods, it is polytheistic. By claiming that ultimately all things dissolve into oneness—including the gods—it is pantheistic. By suggesting that all gods are aspects of a single Supreme Being, it resembles monotheism. Hindus are comfortable in all three camps. The main gods of Hinduism form a kind of trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. “They are respectively the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.”5 Each one has a female partner-god or consort. Though some of the gods may love their people—especially Devi, the Mother-Warrior goddess—Hinduism offers no all-supreme god of boundless love.

Animism

Animists find spirits lurking behind all things, including people, animals, plants, rocks, streams, trees, and thunderstorms. When the spirits are angry, worshippers appease them through rituals, spells and sacrifice. In the past, this has included human sacrifice. The spirits of animism do not love mankind in any special sense. Most animists resonate more with fear than with love.

Deism

There is a Supreme Being who created the universe and no longer interferes with its operations. Deists threw out any idea of miracles or supernatural influence in the world. Thomas Jefferson stitched together his own Bible by literally using scissors to cut out Scriptures he judged miraculous and therefore unworthy of Jesus. He claimed the true history and sayings of Jesus shined out from the false ones, “like diamonds on a dung heap.” He left the dung heap in the dung heap, and pasted up a 48-page Bible. It told the story of Jesus from his birth (minus angels and a virginal mother) to his burial (minus a resurrection).6 Deism offers an emotionally icy God of High I.Q. who watches from a distance, like a father who left behind a pile of money, and then abandoned his family.

Atheism

There is no god of love because there is no god. Would it annoy you if I pointed out again that ideas have consequences? Strip mankind of its Creator God of Love, and the most heinous crimes become not only thinkable, but actual. It is estimated that communism – in the service of atheism – has slaughtered more humans than any other system ever devised. Death by Government author, R. J. Rummel, estimates that communism in the Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia, killed (or let die) over 110,000,000 people—almost three times the number of humans who died in all the world’s wars during the twentieth century.7

Before you accuse me of breaking the needle on the “moron-meter,” I’m not painting every atheist as a genocidal maniac. One of my good friends is an atheist, and he’s a good-hearted, thoughtful, fun-loving guy. But how can you subtract God’s love from the core of the cosmos, and expect the world’s rulers to curb their lust for power? Why should they?

Wicca

Wicca is an animist religion, and like animism, believes in the spirits of trees and rocks and birds. Through spells, incantations, and rituals, Wiccans hope to persuade these spirits to play nice. Wiccans can exhibit great love for others; I have a couple of ex-Wiccans in my church, and they are kind-hearted people. But while they were in Wicca, no one ever offered them a God of love.

Gnosticism

This ancient philosophy/religion is on the rise, thanks to movies and books like The DaVinci Code.  It comes in many flavors and gloms onto a lot of religions: Gnostic Christianity, Gnostic Judaism, Gnostic Islam (the ‘g’ is silent). It’s basically a shape-shifter, except for a few core beliefs: Gnostics taught that matter was evil (your body), and spirit was good (your soul, all the invisible stuff). Since god is good, he has nothing to do with humans made of matter, like us. So he didn’t create us, and doesn’t relate to us. Instead, he spun off legions of mini-gods, called emanations or demi-urges, who spun off their own mini-gods, who eventually spun off mankind.

In essence, the Gnostic god distanced himself from filthy humans by creating myriads of go-betweens, like clerks in a government office, whose main job is to shield the boss from rabble like us. Can you feel the love?

Ancient Pantheons 

A pantheon is a roster of gods, and the ancient world offered loads of them. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons listed literally hundreds of gods. None of the big ones—Ra, Zeus, Jupiter, or Odin—could ever be mistaken as a god of love. Yes, there was love and an occasional spasm of kind-heartedness from them. But it never dawned on ancient people that an Almighty Creator God loved them and had their best interests at heart.

* * * * *

I attended three colleges and flipped through five majors to finally get a bachelor’s degree. During my stint at the University of Illinois (Chicago), I was one of a handful of “Classics” majors. We studied Greek and Roman languages, literature, and culture. I took my first classes in ancient Greek with a Jesuit priest named Father Tracy. Good stuff.

But I don’t remember ever hearing about any deity’s love in any of my classes. Credit Jesus and his people for first injecting a loving God into the theological bloodstream.

GOD IS…

The Apostle John detonated a religious explosion when he wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He actually wrote it twice (v. 16). No other religion ever made love the heartbeat of God.

Christians own “God is love.”

We might not have always radiated his ideal standards, but we’ve never budged from this mother of all religious premises. We don’t simply say God has love, or that God shows love, or that God—after he’s been fed enough sacrifices—is loving. No. We say, God is love. Followers of Jesus brought that message to the world. Like the original, original, Original Pancake House, there are many copies, but only one original.

That original, found in John’s first Epistle, only echoes a thousand whispers of biblical teaching. John didn’t invent this truth; he only summarized it from all that Scripture already said.

He supremely learned it from Jesus. Jesus taught,

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Does love prove the superiority of the Bible? Only if a loving God is important to you. Otherwise, it makes no difference.

THE MAIN THING

The love of God is the main theme of the whole Bible. The different authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books, hold up God’s love like a diamond, and make it sparkle from a million angles.

  • Moses highlighted this love as part of God’s abiding marriage covenant with his people. If God was jealous, it was only because the people he loved went after other lovers.
  • David composed songs about God’s love—friend to friend, and man to God. For David, God wasn’t just “the Big Guy up there,” he was closer than a brother, and more gentle than a shepherd.
  • The Prophets painted God’s love as a portrait of a mother nursing her child, or a lover wooing his beloved. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • The Gospels depict God’s love as a fire burning in Jesus’ heart. Sometimes it was warm and tender: when Jesus ate fish with his disciples, when he turned water to wine, and when he healed lepers and embraced society’s outcasts. Other times…

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You’ve been reading an excerpt from FOUR LETTER WORDS: Conversations on Faith’s Beauty and Logic, by Bill Giovannetti.  © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

REVIEWERS: For an advanced digital copy for review, please email the author.

Damn! (ch 8 from FOUR LETTER WORDS)

Time Magazine Apr 25, 2011

Spurred by the sizzling sales of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the April 25 issue of Time Magazine features the Cover Story: WHAT IF THERE’S NO HELL? 

Here is an excerpt from Four Letter Words, my latest book. Leave your email at the end to continue reading, and I’ll notify you as future chapters released. Please share this link…   

Chapter 8

DAMN

The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.

A.W. Tozer[i]

TOUCHY IDEAS

  1. Hell is real.
  2. God’s justice and God’s love exist in perfect harmony; therefore, the teaching of Hell in no way contradicts the loving heart of God.
  3. Love can’t win if holiness loses.
  4. A person’s response to Jesus in this lifetime determines his or her destiny in the next lifetime.
  5. This destiny is permanent and unchanging; Scripture describes no post-mortem second chances.

TOUCHY SCRIPTURES

  1. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27.
  2. “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:31.
  3. “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Romans 2:5.
  4. “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15.
  5.  “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:11, 12.

* * * * *

CHEERLEADING THE UNDERWORLD?

In researching this chapter, I stumbled upon some ultra-disturbing statements. In these statements, famous leaders of church history celebrate the damnation of lost people. In the interests of full disclosure, here are some horrid examples.

I apologize in advance.

  • Tertullian, pastor, author, (A.D. 160-220). “At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness…”[ii]
  • Jonathan Edwards, pastor (1703-1758). “[T]he sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever… [I]t will really make their happiness the greater…”[iii]
  • Samuel Hopkins, pastor (1721-1803). “This display of the divine character will be most entertaining to all who love God, will give them the highest and most ineffable pleasure. Should the fire of this eternal punishment cease, it would in a great measure obscure the light of heaven, and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of the blessed.”[iv]

“Entertaining?” Are you kidding? Grab your popcorn, and I’ll race you for a front row seat to watch the torment of the damned.

If this reflects the spirit of Christ, count me out.

The premise of this book is that Christianity is the most plausible, coherent, and beautiful system ever offered the world. But this “I [Heart] Hell” theology spoils that beauty like a stink bomb in an elevator.

The Bible does not whoop it up over hell. Jesus wept over the lostness of people (Luke 19:41). St. Paul wished he could accept damnation himself in place of his countrymen (Romans 9:3). God is not willing that any should perish, declared Peter (2 Peter 3:9). No damnation “happy feet” in sight.

The celebration of hell perverts biblical Christianity. As a pastor and a follower of Jesus, I apologize if this creepy teaching has ever messed with your mind. I’m sorry.

Yes, we have our share of nut-job God-defenders, picketing their hate, but this attitude does not reflect the majority of Christ’s followers today. None of the churches, seminaries, or organizations I’ve been a part of has ever fanned the flames of hell. In fact, the opposite is true. The idea of hell has only prompted sadness and concern among the Jesus-followers I’ve known.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a refined, highly-educated London preacher named R.W. Dale encouraged a rough, uneducated American evangelist named D.L. Moody. Moody conducted a preaching tour in England, and many of the snooty British pastors boycotted him. Dale however, joined forces with Moody. He said, “Moody is the only preacher who has the right to preach on Hell, because he can’t do it without tears in his eyes.”

The Bible’s revelation of Hell should melt your heart. Divine justice should cause silent awe, not giddy happiness. When Jesus unleashes the forces of judgment in the future apocalypse, the universe responds with stunned silence, not clap-happy glee (Revelation 8:1).

If you’re doing a slow burn right now, I get it. For some, even the idea of hell seems obscene. And, nobody can prove heaven, hell, or an afterlife. Like everything else we’re talking about, it’s a matter of faith. I’m just asking if it’s a plausible faith. I think it is, and I’d like to explain why. Right after we explore five hellish viewpoints that wave the “Christian” banner.

VIEWS ON HELL

1. Universalism, a.k.a., Pluralism

Universalists believe all will be saved through sincere devotion to the religion of their culture, choice, or upbringing. Under this view, Christ is not the only way to God. All roads lead to heaven, like hiking trails converging on the same mountaintop. Universalists claim scriptural support in verses that say God desires “all” people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that God reconciled “the world” to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). For them, the character of God begins and ends with love.

In their world, God’s love wins, even at the expense of his other attributes of holiness, purity, and truth.

Carlton Pearson, a prominent pastor in the United Church of Christ said he did not believe “God would consign countless souls – or anyone, for that matter – to hell.” He teaches a “gospel of inclusion” which he describes as “basic universalism.”[v]

My Inner Nice Guy wants to be a Universalist. No hellfire. No smoldering brimstone. No four-letter words hurled my narrow way. No knots to unravel about why I was born in a Christian land and some jungle guy wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. The story of humankind is one, gigantic happily ever after.

You’ll find universalism in churches that call themselves Unity, Universalist, or Unitarian. It is the unofficial position of what can be called liberal Christianity; segments within mainstream groups like some Methodists, Episcopalians, or the United Church of Christ tilt toward Universalism. So do some Ivy League seminary professors, populist authors, many leading institutions of western civilization – arts, media, education – and celebrities like Oprah.

Warning: from here on, the names get extra confusing. Sorry. I didn’t make them up.

2. Universalistic Inclusivism

If my Inner Nice Guy wants to be a universalist, my Inner Conflict Avoider wants to be a universalistic inclusivist. That way I find salvation in Jesus alone and still unclench my hell muscles without losing my evangelical street cred. How does that work?

Universalistic inclusivism works by creating a nifty category called “Anonymous Christians.”[vi] Under this view, salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone, but people can be saved by Jesus Christ without knowing him by name. Sincere non-Christians benefit from the work of Christ just as much as Christians. Their sincerity proves their “implicit faith.”

Sounds like a win/win situation.

The Catholic church tilted hard this way in the mid-1960’s in an epic update called Vatican II. It said,

“Those [who have not yet received the gospel] also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds [emphasis added] to do His will as it is known unto them through the dictates of conscience.”[vii]

This position appears so win/win, in fact, it’s also called, “Lenient inclusivism.” Who wouldn’t want both sides of that label?

If you’re looking for universalistic inclusivism, check out your radically up-to-date nearby Catholic church. Also visit some non-Catholic churches formerly known as “emerging,” i.e., younger, hipper churches heavily influenced by popular authors like Spencer Burke,[viii] Brian McLaren,[ix] Rob Bell (?),[x] and Chuck Smith Jr.[xi]

3. Universalistic Exclusivism

A really nice group of friends began attending my church. They volunteered to duplicate audio and print media for our ministry. They were fun people. As I got to know them, they explained how they had spent most of their lives in a cult, and that their whole cult repented of their false teachings, and came to Jesus.

That got my attention…

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REVIEWERS: For an advanced digital copy for review, please email the author.

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[i] The Knowledge of the Holy, 1975, p. 95.

[ii] De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX.

[iii] From his sermon, “The Eternity of Hell Torments.”

[iv] Quoted in Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, The Christian Hell: From the First to the Twentieth Century (1913?), p. 38.

[v] In Nancy Haught, “Ten Minutes with the UCC’s Carlton Pearson” on the United Church of Christ website, retrieved August 13, 2009.

[vi] The term, “Anonymous Christians,” was coined by Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner. For a discussion, see LeRoy Miller and Stanley James Grenz, eds., Fortress Introduction To Contemporary Theologies (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998), pp. 194, ff.

[vii] From Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 35, as cited by K. Neill Foster, in “Implicit Christians: An Evangelical Appraisal” in Alliance Academic Review.com, retrieved on July 29, 2009, http://www.allianceacademicreview.com/1998/AAR1998-7Foster.php

[viii] “I’m a Universalist who believes in Hell… [Grace] is ours simply because God has invited us to the party. We’re in unless we choose to be out. That is how grace works. We don’t opt in to it – we can only opt out.” Spencer Burke, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity (John Wiley and Sons, 2006), pp. 196, 202.

[ix] Brian McLaren describes a conversation with his daughter, Jess: “I tried to help Jess that Saturday afternoon by telling her about “inclusivism,” an alternative to the “exclusivist” view she was unhappy with. While exclusivism limited eternal life in heaven to bona fide, confessing Christians, inclusivism kept the door open that others could be saved through Christ even if they never identified as Christians… Exclusivism was my starting point, inclusivism was my fall-back, and conditionalism [that Hell and/or its punishment is temporary] was my last resort.” In his article on Beliefnet.com, “If Christianity Is True, People I Love Will Burn in Hell,” retrieved July 30, 2009. McLaren has not yet self-identified with any specific position on universalism other than to say he is not a universalist, though his writings flirt with and tend toward universalism.

[x] Rob Bell. Love Wins. 2011. It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint Bell’s position. He might be classified as a universalist exclusivist, see below. 

[xi] “New-school believers are asking if it is possible for people who do not know the true Jesus to still be covered by his re­demptive work, because he (alone) knows their hearts.” Without explicitly affirming universalism, the authors hint at it strongly in this chapter. Chuck Smith Jr. (not to be confused with his father, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement) and Matt Whitlock,Frequently Avoided Questions (Baker Books, 2005), p. 166.


FOUR LETTER WORDS

I’m super excited about my new book, Four Letter Words: Conversations on faith’s beauty and logic, scheduled for release September, 2011. Here’s the cover… you’ll be hearing more about this right after Easter! Consider it “conversational apologetics.” Please share with your friends… For everyone who’s been stuck trying to explain why Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…

On pre-release sale now at www.FourLetterWords.org! I believe in this message, and think every student and young adult should get a copy. Please pray for God’s blessing on this project.  Thanks.

The Bible’s Top Ten Worst Verses

masthead_452_100Ship of Fools just released the results of its survey: What is the Bible’s worst verse? They asked readers to contribute verses and then conducted online polling to determine the worst.  Here’s how they phrased it:

We want you to tell us: which sacred text makes you reach for the red pen? Which hallowed verse makes you laugh for all the wrong reasons? Which blessed passage leaves you groaning with embarrassment? Which piece of holy writ troubles you at night, but at least keeps you awake in sermons?

The survey’s results were just reported in the excellent newletter from the Evangelical Alliance, a British organization.  Here are the Top Ten worst Bible verses, according to this online poll.  As I’ll discuss below, THEY MISSED THE WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL!!!!!!!! (sorry for shouting and exclaiming).

SHIP OF FOOLS’ WORST VERSES IN THE BIBLE

  1. The ban on women teaching in church (1 Timothy 2:12)
  2. Samuel’s instruction to ‘totally destroy’ the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3)
  3. Moses’ command ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live.’ (Exodus 22:18)
  4. The ending of Psalm 137 ‘Happy are those who seize your infants and dash them against the rocks’
  5. The gang rape and murder of a concubine (Judges 19:25-28)
  6. The condemnation of homosexuality (Romans 1:27)
  7. Jephthah’s vow which led to his daughter being sacrificed (Judges 11)
  8. God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2)
  9. The instruction that wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22)
  10. The instruction that slaves submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18)

As I said, they missed the TRULY WORST verse in the Bible, which I’ll get to soon. The incentive for this poll seems to be a desire to make the Bible palatable to our larger culture. This, surely, is a good thing… or is it? As the website says,

[The Bible] doesn’t have to be a textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws to be God’s book. And it doesn’t have to be one big pile of lies and atrocity just because it has its dodgy bits.

Interesting. It doesn’t have to be “infallible” and its laws don’t have to be “unbreakable” to make it God’s book. Uhhhh… meaning the Bible is God’s book of potential errors and optional suggestions?

If the Bible has errors in it, would somebody kindly tell me where they are, because I’m banking my life on this book. Ditto for the “breakable laws.” Which ones? I’d like to know so I can teach my children which of God’s laws are mutable. Same for the “dodgy bits” which, if my dictionary defines British English correctly, means “dishonest or unreliable.”

So, the motive for the poll seems to be as follows: Let’s be good chaps, and ‘fess up to the dishonest and unreliable parts of the Bible, so that our unbelieving friends will know that we’re good chaps and feel better both about us and about the Bible, and perhaps give it another look, now that we’ve abandoned the brittle assumption that God’s Word is infallible and his laws are unbreakable.

God help us!

Yes, let’s VOTE on which parts of the Bible must be uprooted in order to make it palatable for society. Let’s create a Bible for the masses — a Bible edited under the principle of MAJORITY RULES.

Right. All it would say is, “God is love” and even that would be questioned.

I’m not suggesting that these verses and others pose no problems. I’m not suggesting they make me feel good, or seem right by my standards. I’m not suggesting that the poll is inappropriate — it’s important for us to know where the offenses lie so that we might be better equipped to evangelize. In context, most of these verses do not represent God advocating anything, or if they do, he’s just going  with some then-cultural norms.  (Check out the excellent analysis at the Evangelical Alliance).

Regardless of what these difficult verses are saying, the poll has a built-in dishonesty, because it omitted the WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL TIME… (you have to click “read the rest…” to get the big reveal).  Here it is… Continue reading

Great Worship… then Great News…

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Great worship service last night at Neighborhood Church.  Worship led by Mike Baldwin… our assistant worship director who just took the job as lead worship pastor at CrossPointe Church.  Congratulations, Mike!  We appreciate all you’ve done, and are excited with you for this new stage in your journey.

Our regular worship pastor, Jon Lepinski, delivered the message. He hit a home run in his sermon called Your True Greatness, based on God’s call of Gideon. I’ll link to the audio/video once it’s online.  Jon has 3 more times to preach today, so pray for him! It’s nice for me to hang with my family and to have such confidence in the team…

Jon gave an invitation, and about 3 or so people put their faith in Christ!  Nice job, everybody. Dozens more indicated a rededication of their lives to Christ.

And don’t forget Jennifer Beaver, our new Community Life Director, who gave the announcements for the first time on stage.  Great job, Jennifer!  Personable, and fun. And you didn’t even talk too fast!

fourletterMargi and I got home, thinking about the powerful worship and the great message… and an email arrived from my book agent, Janet Grant.  Odd, to get an email late Sunday night from her. She gave me the great news that my publisher had just accepted Four Letter Words and would issue a contract by mid-April!

We’re super excited, and grateful to God.  Thank you for your prayers.  You can continue praying for me as the really hard work begins now… writing, writing, writing.  Pray that God uses this book, along with Inner Mess, to strengthen, encourage, and equip his church worldwide.

PS… I’ll be at a book signing at another new Christian bookstore. They have a full line of books and Bibles, and I hope we can support both Christian bookstores in town. So, you’re invited!  Here are the details:

  • Where: Holy Family Books, at Churn Creek Rd and Hartnell Ave.
  • When: Saturday, March 28.
  • Time: 11:00 a.m. till 1:00 p.m.
  • What:  just come in and browse, have some coffee, visit, browse, and maybe buy a book or two or ten!

P.P.S… I’ll also be signing books at Barnes and Noble, on April 25… and I’d like us to have an excellent testimony there. Detail to come.