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Many Western Christians on both sides of the political spectrum feel called to ‘biblically transform’ society. How much should we do in this regard?
R Scott Clark has many resources on the Reformation concept of two kingdoms (2K), divine and civil, which Lutherans and Calvinists largely adhere to, although there are exceptions. Many Catholics also separate their church and civic lives.
I just returned from a weekend visiting friends and their emergent church that they go to. The person, “the grassroots pastor”, who leads this emergent community reads a lot of Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Brian Mc[L]aren, especially Greg Boyd, and surprisingly N.T. Wright. In fact, almost every spiritually conversation I had, someone mentioned something about N.T.Wright. And in those same conversations the favorite phrase that always jumped out most was “the kingdom of God”. Now here is a reactionary community that is rebelling from pietistic fundamentalism which taught them their Christian lives are only as meaningful as their involvement in evangelism. This same emergent community now seeks to justify all their lives in terms of the service and being “agents of the new creation” to spread the “kingdom of God.” On Sunday morning the “grassroots pastor” said “the kingdom of God” essentially means everybody doing their share and “serving their brains out”. At the end of the service, the pastor pointed to the table in the back where United Way provided hundreds of ways to volunteer in their local city. And he encouraged everyone to sign up for at least one volunteer organization. The “grassroots pastor” said Christians are in the business of serving people, of volunteering, of ushering in the kingdom of God, of being conduits of the new creation. He said Christians are to be “ministers of the reconciliation.” This was a sermon full of imperatives. And I left feeling condemned especially because I am not “serving my brains out.” So my questions are:
1.To what extent does God call us to be agents of new creation involved in spreading the kingdom of God?
2.Does preaching like this, with emphasis on “serving our brains out”, fall under preaching Law and not Gospel?
3.Does serving the poor or doing other charitable work means someone is being a “minister of reconciliation” or does this phrase have a different meaning in the Bible?
4. What would you add to better explain what Guy Waters meant with his quote above?
To which Dr Clark replies:
… This is a category of analysis that the emergent guys, who are really just pietists with hip glasses, don’t have. They assume a transformationalist model of social engagement. My question is this: where in the NT is social transformation unequivocally taught? I can show where we are clearly and unequivocally taught to do our work in this world quietly but I’m hard pressed to find a single, clear, unequivocal command to transform society.
No question whether God is sovereign over all things. The question is: how has God willed to administer his sovereignty over all things? I would say that he has willed to do so in two distinct spheres. The KOG [Kingdom of God] is primarily (solely?) manifested in the visible, institutional church to which he has given the keys of the kingdom. Christians also live in what we may call the common realm or which Zacharias Ursinus called the kingdom of God most broadly considered — that is the realm of his general providence. In that realm Christians serve Christ but not by “transforming” the common but by being faithful in the common realm to their vocations and to the Lordship of Christ. Christians are Christians 7 days a week but not everything they do is under the Kingdom narrowly considered …
… So McLaren insists we are to seek justice. Or as N.T.Wright would say, ” putting the world back to rights.” Furthermore, emergent types will go to passsages like Mat[t]hew 25:31-46 and say, “Look there, Jesus says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” So they will say helping the poor, the powerless, the widows, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned is a major part of spreading the KOG. Another words as the “grassroots pastor” mentioned, “serving our brains out” is the way the KOG spreads. How would you respond to these issues I raised above? Thanks.
Dr Clark responds:
I wouldn’t trust Brian McLaren to help me understand anything let alone God’s Word … The truth is that the whole over-realized eschatology proposed by BM is no more than modern day revival of the Anabaptist eschatology [‘end times’ study].
Show me one concrete, unequivocal, passage where were are called to transform society. I didn’t ask for a deduction or an inference. It can’t be done because it doesn’t exist. The NT never once called Christians to transform anything. They are called to be transformed. The church as such is called to be transformed and Christians are called to fulfill their vocations in the world before God under his Lordship.
And this is but one of the exchanges and blog posts from Dr Clark — as well as his colleagues at Westminster Seminary California and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia — which got me interested in Calvinism.
Now, there are derivatives of John Knox (Calvin asked him to dial down the rhetoric and persecution) as well as Cromwell, not to mention today’s American Evangelicals in strange attire who are well meaning but are largely agenda-driven. They are derivatives of Christianity to such an extent that they are unbiblical.
And this is where we find ourselves today.
We Christians must choose our battles wisely.
This is what makes many wary of so-called ‘prophets’ and ‘believers’ of the past few decades who dishonour Christ and His redemptive power with their efforts to transform society through legalism, whether Left or Right.
A couple of weeks ago, news appeared in the blogosphere that the well-known Baptist pastor John Piper and the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina proponent Beth Moore appeared recently at the Passion 2012 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. (H/T: Anna Wood)
The Revd Ken Silva from Apprising Ministries carries the story (emphases mine):
It’s an incontrovertible fact that right from its hatching in hell corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), such as that taught by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster along with his spiritual twin and Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard, was a core doctrine …
It’s also giving rise to a rebirth of Pietism; this isn’t surprising when you consider that CSM flowered in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism. As the evangelical fad of CSM expands there’s a decided charismania also developing, which is producing a syncretism where Word Faith heretics like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are essentially considered mainstream now. With all of this has come more and more people claiming to have direct experience with God …
Hosted by Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Passion featured an interesting lineup of speakers such Francis Chan, Beth Moore and New Calvinist mentor John Piper. Not surpisingly the conference had a distinctive charismatic and even contemplative flair; e.g. prayer walking. After one session the crowd was urged to break into “love groups” and go out to pray and “take back the city of Atlanta.”
One can certainly point a finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but, as I wrote in the comments on Anna’s site, what has occurred at Passion 2012 is more symptomatic of 17th century Lutheran/Moravian pietism in general and of the Holiness movement which dates back to 19th century Methodism and advanced in the following century through the many Holiness denominations. Ultimately, this led to our current charismatic services and Pentecostal churches.
John Wesley borrowed heavily from Moravian pietists whose acquaintance he made on the journey from England to America. After his return to Europe, he even studied at their HQ in Herrnhut, Germany.
Although pietism has its most ancient beginnings in the earliest days of the Church, it was later revived when Germans and Scandinavians became disillusioned with ‘staid’ state churches and wanted something more.
Today, however, I am sorry to read that Dr Piper — a confessional, or Particular, Baptist — has fallen for more pietistic holiness (Rick Warren being the foremost example), hallmarks of which include contemplative prayer, Quaker quietism (‘let go and let God’ — wait until you get a ‘sign’ of some sort), small groups, personal accountability, public confession, overt sentimentality, strong emotional worship, receiving ‘divine messages’ and personal testimony over doctrine (or the Bible).
Yet, these activities are everywhere. Even Church of England vicars encourage them — contemplative prayer, especially. A number of Anglican churches offer days or mornings of ‘silent prayer’, which is the same thing.
Pietism is known for its ecumenism, so it’s no surprise that Passion 2012 featured speakers from a variety of Christian denominations. Unfortunately, those denominations which practice pietism — holiness churches, in particular — will be affected by these cross-currents. The Church of the Nazarene has experienced an onslaught of Fuller Seminary and Roman Catholic influence: The Reformed Nazarene blog chronicles them in detail. I empathise with Nazarenes who wish to keep their denomination pure, but, ultimately, this is the outcome of pietism and the holiness movement. The Nazarenes emerged from the Wesleyan holiness movement in the 19th century.
Pietism is experiential, emotional and introspective. It seeks to transform denominations, if not the Church as a whole, in order to bring about personal and moral change.
Bob DeWaay, who has been in discernment ministry most of his life, admits to having fallen prey to pietism:
My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t.
My dissatisfaction with the Christianity taught in Bible College led me to join a Christian commune some months after graduation. That group’s founder taught that all ordinary churches and Bible Colleges were caught up in “religious Babylon.” He taught that the kingdom of God was to be found by quitting one’s job, selling one’s possessions, giving the money to the commune, and moving in together to be devoted to the “kingdom” twenty four hours a day. So in my search to become an extraordinary Christian I did what he said and joined …
By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …
Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings …
These appear to most poorly taught Christians to be what the Lord wants. They reason, “Of course God is happier with a person who sells all and moves into a convent where he takes an oath of poverty than He is with someone who goes to work forty hours a week and uses some of the money to buy things.” Is He? When I was a pietist, if someone told me he prayed two hours a day, then I had to pray three hours to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I reasoned, “Of course God is happier with a Christian who prays three hours than one who prays two.” Is He? When I was a pietist I would work on cranking up my desire for holiness because I reasoned that holiness is found through something in the person rather than through God’s grace. Based on sermons I’d heard I reasoned, “Christians are not experiencing a higher degree of holiness because they do not desire it enough.” Is that true? No, none of these pietistic statements are true. Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
I, along with confessional Lutherans, would disagree with DeWaay when he goes on to say that Spener was not a pietist but only reacting against a State Church. Spener’s theology was deeply pietist in that he promoted small groups (conventicles), agonised repentance and giving up worldly entertainments. He promoted justification by works through holiness and self-deprivation.
However, DeWaay rightly cites John Wesley as being a pietist:
Wesley’s Methodism and perfectionism were themselves pietistic. Wesley is an example of a much less extreme pietism. But the idea that some humanly discovered and implemented method can lead to the achievement of a better Christian life than through the ordinary means of grace is nevertheless pietism.
He is careful to draw a line between Wesley and Charles Finney, pre-eminent during the Second Great Awakening in the United States:
Wesley at least held to prevenient grace so as to avoid Pelagianism. Finney was fully Pelagian in his approach to both salvation and sanctification. And his innovations permanently changed much of American Evangelicalism. After Finney other perfectionist movements arose. The Holiness movement, for example, came not long after Finney. Both the Holiness movement and the subsequent Pentecostal movement held to second blessing doctrines that by nature are pietist because they create an elite category of Christians who have had a special experience that ordinary Christians lack.
DeWaay calls our attention to the Emergent Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church as the most recent examples of pietism:
Today the largest new pietist movement is the Emergent Church. As I pointed out earlier, pietism often arises in response to the perception (sometimes warranted) that the church has become too worldly and it seems true once again today. Some now assume that since ordinary Christianity is compromised, they must discover an extraordinary way to become better Christians. One Emergent leader has even entitled one of his works, “A New Kind of Christian.” But this movement really isn’t all that new. It draws on teachings and practices found in other pietist movements in church history. In fact, a recent Emergent book includes essays by those experimenting with communal living, something I tried in my pietist days!
Furthermore, the Purpose Driven movement is also a pietistic movement. Rick Warren claims there are world class Christians that are in a better category than ordinary Christians. He had his followers take a long oath at a baseball field to pledge themselves to serving his new reformation. I already mentioned the apostles and prophets movement that is pietistic. So ironically, three huge movements in American evangelicalism (Purpose Driven, Emergent, and C. Peter Wagner’s latter day apostles) are all based on pietism. The three movements seem radically diverse, but each one claims to be a new reformation and each offers a higher status than that of ordinary Christians.
He cautions us against movements preaching against ‘dead orthodoxy’ and notes that the Charismatics are also pietist in this regard.
He also notes that the problem is not with orthodoxy but with church members, who are often spiritually dead:
Pietism misdiagnoses the problem and creates a false solution. It sees a compromised church that is apparently caught in dead orthodoxy. The real problem is not dead orthodoxy but spiritually dead sinners who give mental assent to orthodox truth but show no signs of regeneration. If indeed such a church existed (if truth really is there God has His remnant there as well), that church would be characterized by worldliness and sin. This is the case because dead sinners do not bear spiritual fruit. There was a church in Revelation that Jesus called “dead.” Pietism that holds to the true gospel but goes beyond it imagining that the dead sinners who are church members are Christians. When some of them become regenerate through the efforts of the pietists, they assume they have now entered a higher class of Christianity. They posit two types of Christian: “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians. But in reality there are only Christians and dead sinners.
DeWaay writes that pietists end up ignoring the Gospel message in favour of works righteousness:
When I was a pietist I thought salvation was an interesting first step a person took, but mostly lost interest in the topic unless I ran across someone who needed to pray the sinners prayer, which I imagined was the first step. The gospel of Christ was only of marginal interest to me as I sought the “deeper things.” The more I tried to be a very special type of Christian, the further my mind wandered from the cross. I was guilty of the very thing for which Paul rebuked the Corinthians.
It seems that people fall for pietism in its various guises because it gives them a sense of reassurance — misguided though it is. Charismatics and Pentecostalists enjoy the heady experiences of being ‘born again’ — speaking in tongues, for instance — something they can do and feel. Others believe that dressing differently sets them ‘apart’ from the world as does abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and certain foodstuffs. Hence, some desire to join faith communes, which is radical pietism. Then, there are the ‘mystics’ who follow Lectio Divina and believe they are channelling a ‘higher consciousness’, who are most likely Christian refugees from the New Age movement. This leads to a Gnosticism of sorts — a supposed special, secret knowledge or spiritual attainment that other people lack.
Sadly, this desire to ‘experience’ Christianity can lead people down the paths of error: Pelagianism and Gnosticism are heresies. The rest of us would do well to pray for these people and hope that God’s grace leads them to a true confessional denomination.
A few other blogs have posted the following videos where John MacArthur — live, for a change (no stills!) — discusses young, high-profile pastors now dominating the American Young Restless and Reformed and Evangelistic landscapes.
Recently Christianity.com’s editor, Alex Crain, interviewed MacArthur about his most recent book, Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ (published by Thomas Nelson). The discussion is in two parts.
In the first part, whilst MacArthur is delighted about a renewal of the evangelical and Reformed aspects of the Church, he warns us about their pastors. Should we be paying attention to someone who stands in front of a congregation looking grungy? Why are some of us attending so-called churches, which are, in fact, no more than boxes which stage religious events, complete with sound stage? What is the congregation learning about Christ? Do the pastors understand salvation or sanctification? Even worse is the emergence of pastors who appear remotely via video feed. How can they administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? How can they give prayerful guidance and comfort to the bereaved, the troubled?
The Sola Sisters have helpfully provided part of the transcript for those who are unable to view the videos. From Part One (emphases mine):
I also have a great fear in the future that the churches that are going to suck up everybody are the churches with the most powerful personalities. There was a video circulating about a couple of these guys with their flat screen churches, counting how many flat screens there are on every Sunday, all across the country, multiplying flat screens … The Bible knows nothing of a pastor who isn’t there, whose family isn’t there, whose life isn’t exposed, who doesn’t touch the lives of his people on a regular basis, who can’t be evaluated so as to the fitting of the qualifications [of a pastor]. How do you evaluate a ‘flat screen preacher’ a thousand miles away? Where is his life on exposure? How do you know his children, his wife, his habits, his life in the community, all of which is critically essential? How does he develop leaders? How does he pour his life into others? This is an aberration. And again, the culture is pulling all of this, and I think it’s pulling it away from the core of sound doctrine.
Don’t go to a flat screen church, period. Don’t go. Don’t make it successful. Don’t feed that. Now, if you go to the original church, wherever the guy is, that’s an option. You can see his life, and you can see his family and his children, and the way he shepherds and cares for the flock, and whether he gives himself to the Word and to prayer, on a regular basis, whether he’s consumed with the spiritual direction and the feeding of the flock of God.
My fear is that the further this thing goes in trying to accomodate the culture, the less it’s going to be able to hang on to that core doctrine … And even when you have some of the people who are the most well known for reformed theology partner up in conferences with the people who are the most extreme pragmatists. I mean, this is happening. Who would have thought that, say, John Piper would have Rick Warren at a Desiring God conference? … So I don’t know that the heart of this Reformed theology, kind of existing freestanding like an island, can really survive the pull of the culture which is attracting these young guys, and which these young guys are using to attract people … [the thinking] that you’re not going to reach them unless you adapt this. And I think it’s hard to say to that group of people: Hate yourself, hate your own life, hate all the things that are precious to you and come be a slave of Jesus. I don’t know how that message would fly. But that is the message.
In the second part, MacArthur discusses future trends with these pastors and their churches. There is a bit of repetition between the two videos, by the way. However, halfway in he states that his Grace Community Church — which has grown into an inviting complex of the church and adjacent buildings — receives 150 new members every month. That’s pretty astounding! As it is located near Los Angeles, the mix is diverse in age, generation and culture.
MacArthur notes that his congregation is hungry for the Word of God. They’ve tried other churches — probably some of the ones to which he alludes above — and have left ‘frustrated’. Consequently, MacArthur’s GraceToYou ministries is developing a programme for doctrinally-correct, biblically-grounded pastors to not only plant churches but engage with their surroundings to preach and teach the way MacArthur does. He already has 160 applicants from the theological school affiliated with GraceToYou, Masters Seminary.
There is a real hunger in the world for proper teaching of the Scripture. It doesn’t involve church growth, small groups, public confession, special diets, Sunday spectacles or signs and wonders. We need more pastors like John MacArthur and his GraceToYou associates.
One of the reasons I am drawing these videos to your attention is because of a comment left on Lane Chaplin’s blog with regard to the first video. This is from a man in the UK:
I see what he is talking about, here in my town in Helensburgh, Scotland where Reformed minded folk are getting sucked up in the emergent stuff, where people have seen Piper with Warren and think its ok. We have over 10 churches in our town and not one follows what MacArthur describes as a true church and it will take a lot of hard work to get people out of them to start something proper because they have become to[o] comfortable and egoistical.
Churchmouse Campanologist continues an examination of St Peter’s epistles. Whilst brief, they are powerful. He wrote them before his death and wanted to impress upon his new converts the importance of holiness and discernment.
Before Easter, my last entry concerned the first nine verses of this chapter, which you might wish to read before looking at this post in more detail, particularly since verses 9 and 10 are part of the same sentence. The shorter and equally intense Jude 1 covers the same themes.
This is a particularly strongly-worded letter about false teachers. It is as relevant today as it was when Peter first wrote it. Unfortunately, it has been excluded from the standard three-year Lectionary, making it ideal for my continuing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, which are also essential to our understanding of the Holy Bible.
Today’s reading is from the ESV (English Standard Version). You can find exegetical sources at the end of the post. They come from the 17th century Calvinist minister Matthew Henry and the Revd Gil Rugh, pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
10and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and(B) despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
As I mentioned above, this is a particularly intense epistle and one can only wonder what those hearing it firsthand in their small church group must have thought. If you have ever received a letter from a loved one or a longtime friend which has content which communicates a sense of urgency and depth, you’ll know what I mean. It is not unknown for people to write something which seems ‘out of the blue’ or slightly dramatic to the one reading it. Yet, the letter writer often knows that their communication might be the last for a very long time, if not forever. This is St Peter’s vantage point at the time he wrote and the context in which we should understand it.
In verse 9, Peter said that the Lord protects His believers and reserves punishment for those who sin against Him. Verse 10 completes the sentence, clarifying that special judgment will be passed not only on those who indulge in lusts and appetites which defile the flesh but also on those who mock and subvert authority. Note that he says those who defy authority do so in a wilful, knowing manner, free from fear. Yet, even the angels — as powerful as they are — do not pass judgment on them (verse 11). Note the parallel in Jude 1:8-9:
8 In the very same way, those dreamers pollute their own bodies. They don’t accept authority. They speak evil things against heavenly beings. 9 But not even Michael did that. He was the leader of the angels. He argued with the devil about the body of Moses. But he didn’t dare to speak evil things against the devil. Instead, he said, “May the Lord stop you!”
In verses 12 and 13, Peter firmly labels these false teachers as ‘irrational animals’ who follow their own carnal appetites. Those appetites may be for excesses and sin involving sex, food, drink or greed. He says that, like animals living by instinct, they are meant to be ‘caught and destroyed’, inferring that God has judgment and death in mind for them. These people will suffer for what they have done. They have offended God, made light of His Son’s sacrifice on the Cross and also led vulnerable, ignorant souls astray. They will suffer — the ‘wage’ for their wrongdoing. As St Paul says in Romans 6:23 (emphases mine):
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peter tells his audience in the latter sentences in verse 13 that these pleasure-seeking false teachers love pursuing daytime pleasures instead of working for God in diligence and truth. Their deceptions which they discuss at mealtimes make them no better than blots and stains. Note another parallel with Jude, verse 12 (same link as earlier):
12 They are like stains at the meals you share. They eat too much. They have no shame. They are shepherds who feed only themselves. They are like clouds without rain. They are blown along by the wind. They are like trees in the fall. Since they have no fruit, they are pulled up. So they die twice.
And they take innocent, misguided people along with them into the abyss (verse 14). Matthew Henry explains:
Those whose hearts are not established with grace are easily turned into the way of sin, or else such sensual wretches would not be able to prevail upon them, for these are not only riotous and lascivious, but covetous also, and these practices their hearts are exercised with; they pant after riches, and the desire of their souls is to the wealth of this world: it is a considerable part of their work to contrive to get wealth; in this their hearts are exercised, and then they execute their projects; and, if men abandon themselves to all sorts of lusts, we cannot wonder that the apostle should call them cursed children, for they are liable to the curse of God denounced against such ungodly and unrighteous men, and they bring a curse upon all who hearken and adhere to them.
Isn’t this just like the easy-believism gospel? Just ‘come up to the front, say a prayer and you’ll be saved’? Or the get-rich-quick gospel? ‘God wants you to have a beautiful home and a new Cadillac’. Wow — God really caters for our sinful appetites (not!). I’m afraid you’ll find no Bible verses supporting such falsehoods.
In verses 15 and 16 Peter discusses the story of Balaam’s ass, found in Numbers 22. Balaam rebels against the Lord, even when an angel intervenes to try and stop him and when Balaam’s donkey speaks! Balaam’s reaction is to start thrashing the beast. This is a wonderful illustration of God’s omnipotence and providence as well as man’s innate stubbornness! Here is an excerpt from verses 24-34:
24Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” 31Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”
Note that Jude also mentions this episode from the Old Testament in verse 11:
11 How terrible it will be for them! They followed the way of Cain. They rushed ahead and made the same mistake as Balaam did. They did it because they loved money. They are like Korah. He turned against his leaders. Those people will certainly be destroyed, just as Korah was.
Pity that Balaam’s story is also excluded from the Lectionary. I’ll cover it in a separate post.
The Revd Gil Rugh warns us about false teachers and our own spiritual state:
Don’t be enamored by their claims. Distance yourself from them. Have nothing to do with them. Look for what is wrong with them, not what you might find that you like about them …
There’s no real difference in character between a false teacher and a plain unbeliever. If you have never come to grips with the reality of your sin, the reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross; if you have never turned from your sin and believed in Him and Him only, letting go of everything else, then you are in the same position as these false teachers. That may be why nothing comes together for you in the Scripture. We study it, and it doesn’t make any sense. This may be why you don’t have any spiritual perception. That’s not said as an insult. That is said as simplistic fact.
In verse 17, Peter describes false teachers as clouds which promise to bring refreshment but never do. And, as one of my grandmothers used to say, ‘God will punish!’ How many clergy can we think of — personally and on the world stage — who are silver-tongued foxes. Oh, they speak so well, they’re glib, they quip, they sound so sincere. We feel so much better for having heard them or read their books. Yet, when we check their sermons and speeches against Scripture, we come up empty-handed. They are speaking falsely in the name of God and His Son.
Jude (verse 13) also uses a water analogy and emphasises God’s promise of darkness as punishment:
13 They are like wild waves of the sea. Their shame rises up like foam. They are like falling stars. God has reserved a place of very black darkness for them. He will keep them there forever.
Peter (verse 18) says that false teachers will boast, yet delight in their slavery to carnality. Their demeanour can lure vulnerable new enquirers into serious sin. Jude — in verse 16 of his letter — observes of false teachers:
They find fault with others. They follow their own evil longings. They brag about themselves.
In verse 19, Peter warns us against being drawn in by promises of freedom. This refers to antinomianism, which we can see today in easy-believism and the error of ‘once saved, always saved’. Not strictly true, even if we have received the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. We can fall into a long-term trap of thinking we can live like libertines, like the Nicolaitans whose practices Christ condemned in Revelation 2:6 and in Revelation 2:15. And we should not wish to die suddenly in the midst of serious sin. An obvious illustration of this would be in flagrante delicto. It does happen, and I do recall reading many more stories about such deaths in the past than I do now. It seems that, by reporting it, the news items also served as cautionary moral stories for instruction.
Note the second sentence of verse 19:
For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
Mr Rugh explains (emphases in the original):
There is a permanence about the slavery – “…by what a man is overcome…” is in the perfect tense in the original Greek. Perfect tense is where something happened in the past and the results continue in the future. So this text denotes something permanent. It is a settled condition of these people. We are not talking about a Christian whom we say is overcome by temptation and has sinned. We are talking about people who live in the realm of being overcome. That which overcomes a person dominates their lives; “…by that he is enslaved.” The word enslaved is also in the perfect tense. What continues to overcome you, dominates your life, enslaves you. John 8:34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.'” A characteristic of sin is that it enslaves, and everyone who sins is the slave of the sin …
You see, there is no such thing as the kind of freedom false teachers are promoting, a grace without restraint, a freedom without balance. True freedom is the ability to function as I was created to function. A fish is free in the water because the fish was created to function in the water. I was created for a personal relationship with the living God who created me in His image. I am free when I can function as he created me to function. Everyone in the world is a slave either of sin or of righteousness, either of the devil or of God. There are only two kinds of people, and both kinds are slaves. But one slave is a free slave because that slave is functioning in the relationship in the manner for which he was created in the image of God. That is true freedom. Jesus said, in John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
There is a real spiritual danger in thinking, ‘Well, I’m only making a temporary detour from my Christian life. Normal service will resume tomorrow’. Peter warns us about this in verses 20 and 21, repeating Jesus’s words in Matthew 26:24 (also in Mark 14:21):
The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
Peter draws an apt metaphor in verse 22, comparing fallen Christians to animals with a liking for filth. You can try to keep a dog and a pig clean, but they will always be drawn to waste or dirt. And the same might hold true for Christians who fall away from the Lord, lured by the excitement and satisfaction of serious sin. Sometimes, there is no turning back. If we are obstinate enough, the Lord may leave us to our own devices in time.
Two more verses from Jude — 4 and 7 — tie in with Peter’s letter:
4 Certain people have slipped in among you in secret. Long ago it was written that they would be judged. They are godless people. They use the grace of our God as an excuse for sexual sins. They say no to Jesus Christ. He is our only Lord and King.
7 The people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the towns around them also did evil things. They gave themselves over to sexual sins. They committed sins of the worst possible kind. They are an example of those who are punished with fire. The fire never goes out.
Matthew Henry has this to say to Christians, still relevant 300+ years later (emphases mine):
Those who have, for a time, escaped the pollutions of the world, are at first ensnared and entangled by false teachers, who first perplex men with some plausible and specious objections against the truths of the gospel; and the more ignorant and unstable are hereby made to stagger, and brought to question the truth of doctrines they have received, because they cannot solve all the difficulties, nor answer all the objections, that are urged by these seducers … When men are once entangled, they are easily overcome; therefore should Christians keep close to the word of God, and watch against those who seek to perplex and bewilder them, and that because, if men who have once escaped are again entangled, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
Now, this chapter has as much to do with the emergents (e.g. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren) and legalistic Social Gospel Evangelicals (e.g. Rick Warren). However, it also pertains to legalists of all denominations who may be latching onto the latest craze of the moment (e.g. extreme headcoverings for women, total female submission to men) or dominionists who wish to conquer the world through the seven cultural mountains (e.g. C Peter Wagner). The dominionists and extreme legalists often embark on moral crusades, like Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver, to ‘clean up’ the world.
Mr Rugh advises us that such moral clean up operations are misguided, dangerous and Pharisaical:
There is great danger in moral reformation. We don’t need reformation. We need regeneration. Keep that in mind. The church loses sight of this as it loses its hold on its responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth. It gets caught up in all kinds of movements of moral reformation to clean up a life. But, do you realize we are making that person more a convert of hell? If I talk to a drunk, I don’t tell him he ought to clean up his life and stop drinking. It would make his relationship with his wife better, it would make his relationship with his children better. It would give him a better job. No. My goal is not so sweep clean the house. Do you realize that before, he was a drunk on his way to hell, and now he is a non-drunk on his way to hell. He is harder to reach now because he’ll go around and give testimonials about how he cleaned up his life. He may acknowledge that you have to believe in God, whatever that God is to you, as a higher power. We as Christians would be more comfortable living in a world where sin was not so openly displayed. Do I want to get in an argument with someone over abortion? Do you realize people who are pro-life, or whatever you want to call them, are on their way to hell just like those who practice abortion? I’m not minimizing the ugliness of the murdering of unborn babies any more than I am minimizing the seriousness of the sin of drunkenness. I am saying people become anti-abortion, parade against abortion, and when it is all said and done and life is over, they will go to an eternal hell. What is the church doing giving some kind of idea through the political process or whatever that if we can only clean up this country…? The church is becoming more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They are telling people to clean it up. Stop doing these vile things. God is unhappy because of those vile things. Do you realize that if they stop doing those vile things they will be like the Pharisees who cleaned up the outside? We as Christians go around and say, “My, haven’t we done something? We stopped abortion. We did away with drinking. We got laws passed so you can only have sex within marriage. We have really done something.” We have turned our country into a country of Pharisees, twice the subjects of hell than when we began. You want to stand before the bema seat and tell God that’s what we did? There’s great danger in moral reformation. The true believer has no part of it. And this is where false teachers are infiltrating the church. They are great reformers. I could give you a list of some of the false teachers. What they do is they come in and they lead the church astray by saying, “Let’s reform people. Let’s reform society. Let’s make a difference. Your vote can count. We can clean up our country and turn it back to God.” But this will happen only by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. When sinners are born again the drunkenness will be taken care of. When they are born again the abortion stance will be taken care of. When they are born again the immorality will be taken care of. Moral reformation brings great danger.
Next week: 2 Peter 3 — selected verses
‘The Characteristics of False Teachers’ – Revd Gil Rugh, Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, NE
‘The Deceptions of False Teaching’ – Revd Gil Rugh
‘The Awful Judgement of False Teachers’ – Revd Gil Rugh
This is really weird. As I’ve said before, I don’t know about all the trends in American society, but, inevitably, they seem to come to our sceptred isle sooner or later.
Take, for instance, the Zeitgeist films, which a UK blog, Revolution Harry, aptly discussed a few weeks ago in ‘New Age Communism: The “Zeitgeist” Agenda’. I had read it when it first appeared on March 6, 2011, but because it didn’t mean anything to me, I forgot about it.
Then, Linda Kimball of Patriots and Liberty commented on one of my posts at the end of March, which got me thinking about it again. This is what Linda said in response to my ‘Dissecting American leftist rhetoric’ (emphases mine):
At bottom, the Left’s bloodlust is grounded on a view of evil. In the secular “Gnostic” materialist view, private property is the great evil because it causes envy. Atheist Communism was an attempt at erasing all conditions that cause envy.
In its’ occult Neo-Platonist, Gnostic counterpart, matter is the great evil. In this view, God the Father created the matter into which the divine spark fell, thus becoming trapped within matter (body).
Whether secular materialist or occult Neo-Platonist, both converge on the condemnation of God the Father simultaneous to the exaltation of Lucifer as the first free thinker and liberator of mankind. By extension, all people who worship God the Father are evil while all who exalt Lucifer are good.
Slowly but surely the West has been falling into unconscious satanism. As the rest of the world becomes infected by Western “thought,” it too will fall into unconscious satanism.
Revolution Harry’s aforementioned post says something similar about the Zeitgeist series and its parent, the Venus Project:
I’d seen the first two films and felt a little uneasy about them. The section in the first film ‘exposing’ Christianity was deeply flawed and the ‘solution’ proposed in Zeitgeist Addendum, namely the Venus Project, seemed more than a little suspect …
I did feel, however, that there was more to the Zeitgeist Movement … I’d come to understand that much of the so called ‘Truth Movement’ was a controlled ‘psy-op’ with one of its main aims, in simple terms, being to steer those who had woken up to the Orwellian New World Order being developed, in the direction of a ‘good’ world government. In addition this ‘good’ world government would have New Age (Theosophic) overtones.
The reason I’m writing about this is that it will help shed light on the next few posts about New Age influences on the Church. Bear with me, as a common thread links the secular and the Christian movements in this direction.
Harry mentioned ‘New Age (Theosophic) overtones’ and Linda Kimball ‘the exaltation of Lucifer’. Helena (‘Madame’) Blavatsky (1831-1891) developed Theosophy and co-founded the Theosophical Society. Blavatsky taught:
that all religions were both true in their inner teachings and problematic or imperfect in their external conventional manifestations. Her writings connecting esoteric spiritual knowledge with new science may be considered to be the first instance of what is now called New Age thinking.
… she wrote: “It is ‘Satan who is the god of our planet and the only god,‘ and this without any allusive metaphor to its wickedness and depravity.” In this reference Blavatsky says that he whom the Christian dogma calls Lucifer originally was never the representative of the evil but, on the contrary, was the light-bringer (which is the literal meaning of the name Lucifer). According to Blavatsky the church turned him into Satan (which means the opponent) to fit him into the newly framed Christian dogmas. A similar view is also shared by the Christian Gnostics, ancient and modern.
It should be noted that Theosophy was a prominent belief not only amongst ‘esoteric thinkers’ in the United States but among Fabians in Britain. One of Mme Blavatsky’s closest disciples was Annie Besant, who became a close companion of Fabian George Bernard Shaw. Shaw sponsored her for membership in the Fabian Society. At the time Besant joined the Fabians, they were more interested in spiritual advancement than politics, although, as my regular readers already know, they went on to found the Labour Party and the London School of Economics.
At the turn of the 20th century, one of Besant’s protegés, Englishman Charles Webster Leadbeater (pron. ‘led-better’), an ex-Church of England clergyman and author on the occult, teamed up with Anglo-Catholic priest James Ingall Wedgwood (yes, the china family) to form the Liberal Catholic Church. (This church has no affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church, incidentally.) It is a fusion of Catholicism with Theosophy and still exists today.
Another prominent English theosophist, Alice Bailey (1880-1949), founded Lucifer (now Lucis) Trust and is often referred to as the founder of the New Age Movement. She wrote of ‘the Christ’, saying that:
the new Christ might be “of no particular faith at all”, that he may be from any nation, race, or religion, and wrote that his purpose of returning will be to “restore man’s faith in the Father’s love” in a close personal relationship with “all men everywhere”.
She stated that no one particular group can claim Him—that the New Age Christ belongs to whole world, and not to Christians alone, or to any nation or group. (Bailey, p 109) Bailey was highly critical of mainstream Christianity; she wrote that much of the Church’s teaching about Christ’s return is directly opposed to His own intentions and that “The history of the Christian nations and of the Christian church has been one of an aggressive militancy” (Bailey, p 110)
And for the Rick Warren watchers out there, here is how Bailey interpreted ‘discipleship’. Bear in mind what Warren says about ‘deeds over creeds’. Bailey’s perspective was
discipleship means work—service—and the evolution of those sensitivities and powers that enhance that labor. Disciples will never gain such powers or awareness unless and until they will be used solely for unselfish service. (Bailey, p. 38)
So, when Rick Warren talks about getting closer to Christ through serving church and community, this is what he means. Is he reading Alice Bailey’s works? If he is typical of today’s Baptist pastors, we are on the road to perdition.
The New Age theosophical interest in Eastern religions developed from Mme Blavatsky’s years spent in India. This is what she said in The Key to Theosophy (emphases in the original):
Q. What are the objects of the “Theosophical Society”?
1. To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, color, or creed.
2. To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the World’s religions and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely, of the Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies.
3. To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially.
Alice Bailey, originally an Anglican, also lived in India. She also felt the influence of Eastern religions (emphases mine):
Bailey wrote that, in 1919, she was contacted by a Master known as The Tibetan (later associated with the initials D.K., and eventually the name Djwhal Khul) …
Bailey associated … spiritual hierarchy and its branches with the system of Sirius, the planet Venus, and the mythical land of Shambhala (which she spelled “Shamballa”), the residence of Sanat Kumara, “Lord of the World”. Bailey wrote, “The energy of Sirius by-passes (to use a modern word) Shamballa and is focused in the Hierarchy. […] The entire work of the Great White Lodge is controlled from Sirius….” Monica Sjoo, in an essay about the New Age movement, explained her interpretation that “Bailey taught that the Hierarchy of Masters exists in Shambhala and that Venusians founded this fabled city some 18 million years ago on the sacred Gobi island, which is now in the Mongolian desert.” It may be noted here that, in Bailey’s concept, “city” is figurative since she states that Shamballa is not physical in the common usage of that word but is rather located in “higher ethers.”
Hold that thought on Venus. Before we go into that, here’s what she had to say on religion. Doesn’t this sound a lot like what the Emergent guys and Rick Warren say?
Bailey taught a form of universal spirituality that transcended denominational identification, believing that, “Every class of human beings is a group of brothers. Catholics, Jews, Gentiles, occidentals and orientals are all the sons of God.” She stated that all religions originate from the same spiritual source, and that humanity will eventually come to realize this, and as they do so, the result will be the emergence of a universal world religion and a “new world order.” Bailey described a world where there would be no separate religions but rather “one great body of believers.” She predicted that these believers would accept unified truths based on brotherhood and “divine sonship”, and would “cooperate with the divine Plan, revealed to them by the spiritual leaders of the race.” She wrote that this was not a distant dream but a change that was actually occurring during the time of her writing. (Bailey, p 140)
Despite her focus on unity of religion, Bromley and Hammond point out that Bailey and other “occultists” “…hammered home the central idea, ‘The East is the true home of spiritual knowledge and occult wisdom.’” 
Author Steven Sutcliffe wrote that Bailey’s “World Goodwill” organization was promoting groups of “world servers” to, as he quotes Bailey, “serve the Plan, Humanity, the Hierarchy and the Christ.”
Okay, enough. There is much more at the links. However, here are the takeaways you can discuss with family members, particularly high school and university students who find this an attractive philosophy:
– The God of Theosophy-New Age is not the God of the Bible
– Christians refer to ‘Christ’, not ‘the Christ’
– We have no divinity in us
– Discipleship does not mean service but following Christ
– Not all are saved: ‘Enter by the narrow gate’
– The Bible says nothing about utopia or one-world harmony: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’
Now, on to the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist films, which have won UN-sponsored endorsements. Revolution Harry reproduced a post from Henry Makow’s site, ‘New Age Communism: The “Zeitgeist” Agenda’. Here are a few excerpts:
After the negative reception Zeitgeist received for it’s gratuitous anti-Christian content written by “Acharya S,” we hoped that was the end of Zeitgeist.
But a year later in 2008, filmmaker Peter Joseph was back with “Zeitgeist Addendum.” (Joseph’s real name seems to be P.J. Mercola.) This time P.J. seemed to kowtow to a wild eyed little old man named, Jacques Fresco.
Joseph said, ” Zeitgeist is the activist arm of the Venus Project”. The Venus Project is 94-year old control freak Jacque Fresco, born in the Bronx in 1917. It is associated with the UN …
Fresco started out as an aircraft designer with a government contractor during the 1930’s.
After WWII he founded R[e]vell Plastics. If you ever assembled model airplane kits you probably bought some of his products. If you were into model airplane kits in the 1950’s-60’s, you remember the powerful airplane glue in the box, and you may recall getting headaches or even passing out.
In Zeitgeist Addendum, Fresco shows his plastic model Utopia. He explains that all current social problems will be solved by technology. For example, his solution for drunk driving is cars that won’t start if alcohol is detected. That sounds good……..to a control freak. In reality, when you create more technology you have to create more solutions to solve the problems it creates. To see what I mean, visit the technological utopias in the movie “Brazil” (1985).
Fifty years ago, Fresco’s R[e]vell model airplane kits included a powerful toxic airplane glue in the box. That glue was eventually banned because the breathing the vapor killed brain cells. If the engineer is infallible, was lowering intelligence of boys during the 1950’s-60’s part of his plan?
It was actually quite alarming at the time and probably the first media scare I can recall. Anyway:
Plato’s Republic is the 2500-year-old blueprint of the New World Order. Plato wrote it as a fictional dialogue proposing humanity be ruled by a special class of people he called “the Guardians”. The premise [of] Plato’s utopia is that the majority of people aren’t entitled to their opinion, and for the good of society need to be told what to do from cradle to grave.
That sounds not only like the elites but like Rick Warren, too. Think of the Daniel Plan, where Saddleback Church maintains not only a database but checklist of activities participants are required to complete and fill in online.
Meanwhile, it transpires that Jacque Fresco was a Communist Party member but left because they did not share his enthusiasm for technology.
An article at an Irish site, Sovereign Independent, tells us that
Fresco spoke at the 10th anniversary of the UN’s Earth charter last year and subsequently attended Mikael Gorbachev’s congress, which you will find on thevenusproject.com hidden away in the Netherlands section. Hell even if for some reason you think rubbing shoulders with those mid level elites is okay, what about Fresco’s co-speaker Ervin Laszlo, (who he “spent time with”) who FOUNDED the Club of Budapest, with Aurelio Peccei, founder of the CLUB OF ROME, full of lovely illuminati globalists, who want a one world order, unified, worshipping the earth, under a new age religion. What about him being invited to dinner in the Dutch queen’s palace? As in Queen Beatrix…. of Bilderberg.
Fresco’s Venus Project:
is an organization that is founded on the ideas, designs, and direction presented here. It represents many years of research and dedication on the part of its originator and Project Director, Jacque Fresco. Its 25-acre research and design center is located in Venus, Florida where the future is taking shape today. The function of The Venus Project is to design, develop, and prepare plans for the construction of an experimental city …
This new experimental city would be devoted to working towards the aims and goals of The Venus Project, which are:
1. Conserving all the world’s resources as the common heritage of all of the Earth’s people …
4. Reclaiming and restoring the natural environment to the best of our ability …
12. Assisting in stabilizing the world’s population through education and voluntary birth-control to conform to the carrying capacity of the earth.
13. Outgrowing nationalism, bigotry and prejudice through education …
15. Arriving at methodologies by careful research rather than random opinions …
17. Providing not only the necessities of life but also offering challenges that stimulate the mind, emphasizing individuality rather than uniformity.
18. Finally, preparing people intellectually and emotionally for the possible changes that lie ahead.
Apparently, the workers will be robots and society will be cashless as:
Money is only important in a society when certain resources for survival must be rationed and the people accept money as an exchange medium for the scarce resources. Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will. It is neither a natural resource nor does it represent one. It is not necessary for survival unless we have been conditioned to accept it as such.
Only nutritious and healthy food would be available
Ugh. Sounds terrible.
Back to Richard Evans at Henry Makow — he mentions another Fabian, Bertrand Russell:
Lord Bertrand Russell wrote in his 1951 book “Impact of Science on Society” that the electronic cashless society will be a form of social control.
Like Lord Russell, Fresco is a plutocrat whose retirement hobby is social engineering and raising an army of useful idiots.. During the Cold War hoax, Russell founded the “Pugwash movement” which used the fear of nuclear holocaust to trick hippies into holding rallies in Washington DC begging for world government. They must have been high, or didn’t have the vocabulary to comprehend his wordy books …
Zeitgeist One told people to lose their faith in their religion,
Zeitgeist 1,2,& 3 told people that private property, savings, elected national democracy, and the right to your own opinion caused the economic crash, the ‘war on terror’, and ‘global warming’.
Now The Venus Project (Jacque Fresco) is telling you to withdraw all your money, savings and all and throw it away.
If there were any doubt that Zeitgeist has been predictive programming to coincide with the ‘flash mob’ ‘Global revolution’, the last 11 minutes of Zeitgeist Moving On leave no doubt.
He explains this last sentence in the comments:
I intended the article review of the last 11 minutes to show how the revolutions in the Middle East aren’t coming from the people at all. It’s a psychological operation.
I see I should have made that the only message of the conclusion.
He tells us what the next Zeitgeist project will include:
Fresco’s vision of a[n] atheist Utopia alienated Buddhists, Hindus, and those into the galaxy of “new age” people. Aware of that, Peter Joseph is currently working next installment for 2012, dropping the ‘Zeitgeist’ branding, titled “Earth 2.0”.
It will push exactly the same cashless, collective society, but Zeitgeist’s open atheism will be candy coated with a section on human consciousness as God. Quantum metaphysics Cabala camouflage will replace Jacque Fresco’s overt assault on faith and metaphysics.
Wow — we have really got ourselves into a muddle during the last century.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot:
JACQUE FRESCO: “If we try to visualize the future without families, there’s fear, so when we make movies we put families in there. There will be no families. Those people won’t want children. We do a survey of the carrying capacity of the earth, and that tells us how many people the earth can support” …
CLUB OF ROME: “This is the way we are setting the scene for mankind’s encounter with the planet.”
Tomorrow: More New Age and UN influences on today’s Christianity
Today’s post continues (see yesterday’s about Eckhart Tolle) with excerpts from the South African blog Waak en Bid (Watch and Pray), which offers sound scriptural guidance to those entertaining the idea of attending an emerging church.
In Tom Lessing’s post entitled ‘Doctrines of Demons and E-Church Heresies’, he uncovers more false teachers — Ron Martoia and Cynthia Bourgeault. You might say, ‘Churchmouse, I’ve never heard of them.’ Perhaps this is true today, but you never know what tomorrow could bring.
Ron Martoia’s Transformational Trek Tribe tells us (emphases mine):
The church, one of the primary institutions charged with changing lives, hasn’t and can’t. The statistics are everywhere. As one of my first leadership mentors said, ‘Mediocrity is the standard of excellence for the incompetent’. I fear mediocrity might be the kindest word we can find.
Strong words. Consider the people who have filled the pews not only in Europe but around the world for the past few centuries. Not only have they attended services faithfully each week, but they have also built churches, funded pastoral discretionary funds for those in need and kept the local congregations alive — and, until recently, in faith. Apparently, that’s not enough, even though it is in the spirit of the Epistles and the Book of Acts.
So, Martoia proposes
For a new century, you understand. Because a new age demands them. You can read more at the link, especially the comparison between the ancient 17th century and the current age.
Tom Lessing of Waak en Bid (Watch and Pray) explains (emphases in the original):
Faith in Jesus Christ and his immutable doctrine is OUT. Experiencing, sensing and being is IN.” What are the practices designed to bring about a metanoic awareness (a bigger mind) and to experience and sense the larger invisible reality? How do you become a part of something that changes the game and how do you determine who may partake in the “pretty big shift” in consciousness. In the very last paragraph of his manifesto Ron Martoia gives the answer (emphases his):
Their religious or lack of religious affiliation does not matter at all. This tribe will be composed of all sorts of people, many considering themselves spiritual but not religious.
This explains why Ron Martoia says that “we will not be believing our way into this reality – we will be practicing and experiencing it. No bible studies or small group meeting will help.” Faith in Christ Jesus, his cross and the Bible is a stumbling block to peoples’ of other faiths and the irreligious but spiritual people. So there must be another way we can assemble peoples’ of all faiths into one big united and loving tribe — MEDITATION!. Yep! MEDITATION in all its various formats, i.e. contemplative prayer, meditation (insight meditation), stillness and even yoga, is supposedly the doorway that leads to God’s Kingdom on earth here and now where people of all religious persuasions may partake of the benefits of the new golden age as one united tribe.
There is absolutely no difference between Ron Martoia, his e-church buddies in South Africa and New Agers who follow Eckhart Tolle’s teachings.
But, there is another New Age Teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, an American Episcopalian who believes (emphases mine):
Whatever form of meditation you practice, it is in essence simply a method for detaching yourself from thinking (which tends to reinforce the egoic process) long enough for you to begin to trust this other, deeper intelligence moving inside you. It provides you with another way to think: from “beyond the mind” — which, incidentally, is what the word metanoia, usually translated as “repentance,” actually means.— Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope
Tom Lessing clarifies this for us:
The “deeper intelligence” moving inside you is not the “higher self” or “the real essence of your own godhood” (aka Eckhart Tolle) which you encounter when you do your metanoiac meditations. They are demonic entities with whom you come into contact when you deliberately shut down your divinely given faculty to think and reason actively and not passively. Passivity brought about by stillness or any form of meditation is very dangerous. In fact, most of the doctrines of demons are transmitted or channeled through meditation.
Tomorrow: global utopianism
Wow — another morning of random sites on the Internet. You really can learn something new every day.
A couple of weeks ago I read an article in a Catholic university magazine by a young Catholic woman who wrote that Eckhart Tolle (at left) was her favourite author. She found him ‘so inspiring’. I’ve seen Tolle’s name once or twice, but one of the advantages of living overseas is that (so far) we’ve been spared a lot of New Age – Emergent Church thinking.
Having said that, what did I find a couple of days later? Several relevant posts on the South African blog, Waak en Bid (Watch and Pray), which debunks the emergent church there.
For those who are unfamiliar with Christianity in South Africa, the country has a long tradition of Calvinism amongst its white population. So, it is not surprising that, in a post-apartheid nation, Christian orthodoxy is seen as part of the past by those who wish to promote greater racial harmony. I’m not in the slightest trying to cast aspersions on the Reformed churches there, but recent thinking in the country appears to be part of the postmodern zeitgeist of ‘let’s try something new for a new era’.
In ‘Doctrines of Demons and E-Church heresies’, Tom Lessing observes (emphases mine):
The motive, therefore, is not that the population of South Africa (white, black, colored and Indian) should be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ but that peace should prevail throughout the country — at what cost? Well, of course, at the cost of setting aside our doctrinal issues. Neither you nor your “aside-setting-of-doctrinal-issues-brethren” will be able to say as Joshua did in Joshua 24:15 “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” if you disregard God’s doctrines. You can only serve the Lord with all your heart when you love and obey His doctrines. Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? …
Their plea for peace, unity and love may seem to promote a horizontal kind of love but it certainly does not enhance a vertical love toward God, simply because they are ruling out the proof for one’s love for God which is in the observance of the doctrine of Christ (John 15:10; 2 John verse 9). In fact in their endeavor to promote unity and love they are echoing the very same sentiments of the New Age …
We may conclude that the very first doctrine Satan and his devils devised to deceive mankind is a “love” doctrine that looks and sounds so much like the real thing, the result being that a multitude of saints are continually falling into their trap. This false love has given rise to a new rallying cry which you may have noticed on the internet many times: “The first Reformation was about belief; this one’s going to be about behavior. . . . The first one was about creeds; this one’s going to be about our deeds.” (Rick Warren). Whose deeds are they — “our deeds” as Warren says or are they the deeds of devils?
He then follows up with a section on Eckhart Tolle with quotes from two of Tolle’s books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (note the word ‘purpose’, à la Rick Warren) and The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. It’s a strange admixture of gnosticism, pantheism and Buddhism. Here’s a sampler (emphases in the original):
“Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. . . . The ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to say, your purpose, is to bring that power into this world.” — Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose). (Emphasis added)
“Don’t get attached to any one word. You can substitute ‘Christ’ for presence, if that is more meaningful to you. Christ is your God-essence or the Self, as it is sometimes called in the East. The only difference between Christ and presence is that Christ refers to your indwelling divinity regardless of whether you are conscious of it or not, whereas presence means your awakened divinity or God-essence.” — Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Novato, CA: Namaste, 1999), p. 104.(Emphasis added).
So, yes, I can see how attractive this would be to a university student. I also found such thinking rather seductive when I was that age. It all ties in with the seeming invincibility of youth.
Mr Lessing points out a discussion thread from April 2008 about Eckhart Tolle on Oprah Winfrey’s website, which you must read to believe. I draw it to your attention, despite its age, because people take Tolle seriously. And if you are unfamiliar with his teachings, it’s well worth a read. This comment appears to sum up Tolle’s beliefs about himself, God and Jesus Christ (emphases mine and grammar as in the original):
He says he is already divine since he was born. He never needed anyone other than himself. He does not recognize the person claiming to be Jesus, as any Savior to him. His phrase “Christ consiousness” means he already “is” christ inside of his soul ,all the time he has been living. He does not believe in any way that Jesus claims, of being our Savior, or our redeemer, as Jesus Himself , stated , are true. He believes he is enough. and everyone else is “christ” , or holy enough, inside., their souls, with nothing added. That we need absolutley nothing from Jesus Christ, outside of some writings that say a few things, he likes. But not the writings or claims of Jesus as the Son of God. And Jesus death on the cross for sins , is a false claim. That means , this is a new religion. Not the religion of the Bible. iI is a religion of man as Christ. Or man as “already” god, and saying or thinking this idea, is the ‘awakening”. It is a religion of your own thoughts. Not directed by any God, but yourself.
Wow, what a heresy. I thought back to the article I had read last week by the Catholic student and wondered, ‘Does anyone at that university know what Eckhart Tolle is about? Or is this part of the new zeitgeist paradigm shift they want to promote?’
Mr Lessing then turns our attention to a Herescope post, also from Spring 2008, which explores Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle’s mutual admiration in more detail. In ‘The Great Heretical Idea – Part 1: Oprah and Eckhart Do the New Age Shift’, Warren Smith writes:
With friend and New Age author Marianne Williamson simultaneously teaching A Course in Miracles daily on Oprah & Friends XM Satellite Radio, Oprah now offers two very public New Age classes. These classes are teaching millions of people that the way to save themselves and the planet is not by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but rather by accepting “the Christ within.” For someone who probably has an aversion to traditional proselytizing, Oprah is giving new meaning to the word “proselytize” as she continues to push her New Age beliefs upon the world. But, in defense of her role as a New Age proselytizer, Oprah would probably be the first to tell you – it’s all for the good of the world. She would also probably argue that what she is teaching is not New Age, but a “New Spirituality.” Curiously, that just happens to be the same term that some emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren are using as they introduce New Age ideas and language into the church.
… As Marianne Williamson writes, “We are all one, we are love itself. ‘Accepting the Christ’ is merely a shift in self-perception.”
… “Shift” is the key word. It means to move from one position to another – as in shifting one’s awareness away from the mind and “ego” to the collective “Christ consciousness” or “Christ within.”
In her first class with Eckhart Tolle, Oprah asked if people had experienced the “shift” while reading Tolle’s book, A New Earth. The question reminded me of Werner Erhard’s New Age EST program in the 1970s that taught this same idea of shifting one’s perception, and then similarly asking – “Did you get IT?” Obviously, there is pressure to “get IT” – to feel the shift: Oprah felt the shift – did you? Are you understanding this new [age] way of looking at yourself and the world? Or, are you being blocked by your mind and your ego from seeing this New Spirituality that can save our planet? Keep logging onto our classes. Keep reading Tolle’s book – you’ll ‘get it.’
EST (Erhard Sensitivity Training — now called Landmark Forum), which I read about quite a lot in Time magazine in the 1980s, worked on the basis of weekend seminars which you weren’t allowed to leave. Some people attending were publicly humiliated in front of others. They went on stage and were ‘torn down’ before a crowd so they could be ‘built up’ again and leave as new people. But, according to the articles I read, some suffered severe trauma and required ongoing psychotherapy afterward.
Back to Warren Smith, who explains the origins of ‘shift’ and ‘paradigm shift’:
Years earlier, when launching the New Age movement publicly with her book The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson introduced this concept of the “shift,” connecting it to the mystical ideas of Teilhard de Chardin – the father of the New Age movement – “whose new perspective would trigger a critical contagion of change” which would result in the “rapid transformation of the human species, beginning with a vanguard” of emerging leaders. She explained how scientist-philosopher Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to describe “a distinctly new way of thinking” which entailed accepting new truths. When “the new paradigm gains ascendance” and “a critical number of thinkers has accepted the new idea, a collective paradigm shift has occurred.” Ferguson said the “shift” would result in a “new knowing” of the occult world called an “awakening” of “deep inner shifts.”
Hmm. The ‘occult world’.
Note the other words used there: ‘new truths’, ‘transformation’, ’emerging’ and ‘leaders’. We see those being used not only by the emergent pastors but also by Rick Warren, who is keen to train as many ‘leaders’ through his programmes as possible. Whereas the emergents talk about ‘new truths’, Warren looks to ‘leadership’. This is the way ahead along with the phrases ‘evolve or die’ and ‘change or die’, which Rick Warren also uses. Mr Smith explains:
In both his book and his class with Oprah, Tolle reiterated the words that New Age leader Barbara Marx Hubbard was given by her New Age “Christ” – “evolve or die.” In other words, don’t feel any pressure, but if you don’t “shift” your point of view, and “get it” that “we are all one” and that “we are all God,” our planet will probably be destroyed and our human species will become extinct.
How can pastors such as Warren — a lifelong Baptist — use phrases like ‘change or die’? Scriptural they are not. However, it seems as if this means something more than planetary extinction. Mr Smith goes on to say:
Tolle and Oprah stayed away from the harsher aspects of this “evolve or die” dictate in that first Internet class. Hubbard, however, has made it clear that in the future, those who refuse to make the “shift” by seeing themselves as “God” will be eliminated by something called “the selection process.”
‘Selection process’? ‘Eliminated’? ‘Die’? In what sense?
Hubbard’s New Age view of the future inspired her to be one of the co-founders of the World Future Society and she is currently listed as a member of its Global Advisory Council. Emergent leader at the “vanguard” of church “transformation,” Brian McLaren, has also written about an Armageddon alternative  and just happens to be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming World Future Society’s annual gathering.
However, as Mr Smith points out:
Eckhart Tolle erroneously states that once you “awaken” to your Christ-consciousness and your own godhood, the shift is “irreversible.” What he neglects to take into account is that there are large numbers of us who formerly made the “shift” to these New Age beliefs only to discover – by the grace of God – that we had been greatly deceived by these New Age teachings. The Bible proved itself to be true as it exposed the New Age/New Spirituality for what it was – a lie. It was very humbling for us to realize that the Bible was true after all, and our New Age beliefs were wrong. God was God and we were not. Jesus was the one and only Christ. There was no universal “Christ-consciousness” or “Christ within.” We were amazed to discover that there really was a deceptive spirit world and an actual devil; that we really were sinners that needed to be saved by Jesus Christ. What we came to understand was that the whole New Age plan to save the world was part of the very deception that Jesus warned would come at the time of the end (Matthew 24). We were stunned by the truth of the Bible and shocked at our own gullibility to have believed that we were “God” and “Christ.” We had been very sincere about our New Age beliefs, but we were sincerely wrong – as are Oprah and Tolle.
I had never read Matthew 24 until a couple of years ago. It is not included in the three-year Lectionary readings — yet another entry in my Forbidden Bible Verses series. In it, Jesus explains so much about false teachers, natural disasters and the end of the world. (Nothing about burlap bags or eco-friendly lightbulbs, I hasten to add.) A clergyman could derive a month’s worth of Sunday sermons from it.
At the end of last week, I remarked to my regular commenter Lleweton that it wouldn’t be long before Rob Bell came to the UK. No sooner said than done. Okay, admittedly, I thought it might be at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who rather likes the emergent church. (Maybe it keeps him young.)
But, no, it’s an organisation called Greenbelt which is a fusion of emergent-type Christianity with secular events such as music and arts festivals. They’ve scheduled four events around England so that people can see and hear Bell in person. (And buy his new book, Love Wins, which I featured in last week’s posts.)
You can read more about Greenbelt on their site, but here’s a very brief summary:
The diversity of content not only demonstrates our commitment to the arts, faith and justice, but also our underlying values of tolerance, dialogue and hope.
Our 37-year history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition which is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged. Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes. And, as such, the Festival is family-friendly celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.
Bell will be appearing in London (Central Hall, Westminster – April 18), Cheltenham (Centaur, Cheltenham Racecourse – April 19), Liverpool (Anglican Cathedral – 20 April) and Cambridge (Corn Exchange – April 21).
Maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury will be in Liverpool on April 20. The two would get on quite well.
Here’s what some of the members of Puritan Board had to say about Rob Bell (emphases in bold mine):
‘I am from Grand Rapids, so I oftentimes feel like I am on the front-lines of the war on heresy. Rob Bell is a very dangerous man.’
‘It is deception, pure and simple; he is twisting a beautiful thing and whoring a pure woman. And some of my family would make a hajj to Grand Rapids just to hear him in person.’
‘This is nothing new. There will always be false teachers among God’s people. Flee from them and don’t cozy up them like Korah’s tent.’
‘Providentially we also found ourself in a text that deals directly with this issue. Amos 5:16-27 which specifically mentions the “Day of the Lord” and Israel’s failure to prepare for it and its false hope in its own righteousness.’
‘It is not like we need this book by Bell to know he has universalistic teaching.’
And from a member who is also a Fuller graduate but has since adopted orthodoxy:
Mr. Bell is one of the most “illustrious” graduates of my alma mater. Inhaling the heady air of Pasadena, he heard these things the same place I did, from our profs. Graduating several years before Bell, annihilation was taught/promoted in my Sys Theo III class way back in the ’70s when Bell was in 1st grade!
To my extreme dismay, he is uber popular with many young evangelicals.
Now, this cautionary note from Trevin Wax at Kingdom People:
Whenever theological discussions like this erupt, it’s always a good idea to think about why certain views are popular. One of the six counterfeits I discuss in Counterfeit Gospels is “The Judgmentless Gospel” and in that chapter, I point out three reasons why it is attractive:
1. It removes an emotional barrier to Christianity.
Let’s face it. One reason we are attracted to this counterfeit is because it helps us get past a significant emotional barrier to sharing our faith. If we remove the obstacle and offense of eternal judgment, we will be in a better position to make Christianity more palatable to a society that has no room for judgment in its understanding of God.
Unfortunately, when we downplay or deny judgment, we lose one of the reasons to share our faith in the first place. Our desire to remove the obstacle actually removes the urgency.
2. It eases our conscience.
Another reason this counterfeit is attractive is that it eases our conscience when we fail to evangelize. It would take a load off my shoulders to affirm, along with Origen, that all will eventually be saved, including the devil. But the Bible doesn’t let me go down that road. Adopting the counterfeit also helps us deal emotionally with the fact that we have unsaved friends and family members who have died. We don’t want to imagine that Grandpa may be in hell. Downplaying judgment helps us cope.
3. It keeps us from having to come face to face with our own evil.
Most of us in the West have been shielded from the atrocities of humanity. If we were to have experienced Cambodia’s killing fields, or Auschwitz, or Rwanda, we might be more concerned about justice. Os Guinness quotes Winston Churchill as saying that the evidence that God exists was “the existence of Lenin and Trotsky, for whom a hell was needed” …
In the end, though, the judgmentless gospel is no gospel at all. It leaves us with a diminished God and no need for grace …
I pray that Rob will once again preach the glories of the God who truly loves, the God who upholds his own glory at all costs, the God who loves us despite our sin, the God who takes on flesh and dies for us in order that we might find eternal satisfaction in him. In the words of Tim Stoner, Holy love wins …
I’m sorry to say that Rob Bell will likely build a significant fan base here in England. I’ll keep you posted …
Rob Bell’s Love Wins has caused a furore not only among Christians around the world but those at his own church, Mars Hill Bible Church (MHBC) in Grandville, Michigan. As people in the North of England say, ‘There’s trouble at t’mill’.
Pastor Ken Silva at Apprising Ministries received a grudging but grateful email from one of Bell’s congregants, excerpts of which follow. First, Pastor Silva gives us a bit of background from March 11, 2011 (emphases mine throughout):
The other day in Latest On Firestorm Around Rob Bell I reminded you that numerous sources have now confirmed that there will be “a church meeting this Sun [night], March 13 in the evening to discuss the book.” It’s only for “covenant members only by invitation” and apparently people “must register and be approved to attend” this question and answer session. I’m being told “many” at Mars Hill Bible Church are seriously wondering if Rob Bell is a universalist. As I’ve said before, I actually don’t think he is; I offer that Bell’s already been leaning toward this Christian Universalism, which is also known as Universal Reconciliation/Redemption. For many of those who do believe this heresy—with its false gospel—there is a literal hell; but they dream, after each is punished temporally eventually hell will be empty.
In building the case that there is real unrest beginning to bubble up at MHBC I want to be crystal clear that there are many sincere believers there; my concern is while they are trying to follow Jesus, there seems to be something seriously going wrong within the leadership of MHBC. So I’m calling to the witness stand one of my unnamed sources from inside who is personally involved with lower level leadership there to offer their eyewitness testimony; unfortunately leadership cannot be reached so Apprising Ministries is still attempting to further corroborate their testimony elsewhere. I’m satisfied after talking with this source that I have gotten enough confirmation of what I’m told to consider them reliable …
… my source also pointed out that this “elites only” meeting is “really infuriating.” They assure me that their “(not so) little group of rebels” is planning to “show up despite our lack of invitations” and believes “hopefully will bring this thing to a head.”
Let us be in prayer for my sources, this one has graciously given me permission to share the following from their emails to me; and let’s also be praying for all those at MHBC who may now be seeing things in a new light. I can tell you that there may be some very serious problems which lie dead ahead for Mars Hill Bible Church because Rob Bell and his new book …
Here’s what the email from a MHBC member to Pastor Silva said in part:
Just to let you know, I still think a good 90% of your Theology is wrong and in NO WAY points to a loving, good God who is restoring all things to Shalom. But you might have actually have been on to something with your last few blog entries. IF Rob is a Universalist (which I’m praying he isn’t) then you will have helped expose that. And for that I would thank you (even though I don’t want to and even though you still might be wrong).
… Rob had a message entitled “Everything’s Spiritual” which I loved at the time, but now I’ve listened to it in a different light. Then when I look on my bookshelf and see The Gods Aren’t Angry (Rob’s DVD), it just sticks out. I have to admit that I hadn’t even come close to thinking this way for years because Rob hasn’t ever really said anything that would make me believe he’s a Universalist, but his friends kind of have …
… there are so many people verifying what you say that I really can’t argue. I can’t help but feel that we need to be a bit more vocal about our displasure with the way MHBC is going …
… feel free to publish any of this since I have a sinking feeling that I’ll be looking for another church anyway (any reccomendations?). Hopefully others from MHBC will see it on your blog … I guess I have to thank you for reaching halfway across the country to affect change in MHBC. If it weren’t for [discerning ministries] like yours, I know I wouldn’t have noticed anything.
We shall see what happens in the coming months. In the meantime, let’s continue with the Rev’d Kevin De Young’s 21-page review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Previous entries on Love Wins can be found in posts dated March 21 (also includes a large selection of Bible quotes), March 22, March 23 and March 24. The following excerpts cover pages 13-21 of the PDF.
5. Christological Problems
Most readers of Love Wins will want to talk about Bell’s universalism. But just as troubling is his Christology … Some call him Jesus; some have too much baggage with Christianity, so they call him by a different name (159).
Bell finds support for this Christological hide-and-seek in 1 Corinthians 10. This is where Paul calls to mind the Exodus narrative and asserts that the rock (the one that gushed water) was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). From this Bell concludes, “There are rocks everywhere” (139). If Paul saw Christ in the rock, then who knows where else we might find him (144)? Jesus cannot be confined to any one religion, Bell argues …
This does not mean Christ is whatever you want him to be. Some Jesuses should be rejected, Bell says, like the ones that are “anti-science” and “anti-gay” and use bullhorns on the street (8). But wherever we find “grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness” we’ve found the creative life source that we call Jesus (156, 159) …
These [Eucharist] rituals are true for us, because they’re true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody. These are signs and glimpses and tastes of what is true for all people in all places at all times—we simply name the mystery present in all the world, the gospel already announced to every creature under heaven. (157)
This is all immanence and no transcendence. This is not the objective gospel-message of Christ’s work in history that we must announce. This is an existential message announcing a rival version of the good news, the announcement that you already know Christ and can feel him in your heart if you pay attention.
To suggest the Lord’s Supper unites all people makes a mockery of the sacrament and the Christ uniquely present in the bread and the cup. The Table is a feast for those who trust in Christ, for those who can discern his body, a family meal for those who together will proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. It brings us together under the sign of the cross. The sheep “not of this pen” are not adherents of other religions who belong to Christ without knowing it (152), but Gentiles who can now fellowship with Jews through the blood (Eph. 2:11–22).
And let’s not forget all of this rests on an illegitimate reading of 1 Corinthians 10. First, the fact that Paul found a type of Christ in the Old Testament does not give us warrant to find whatever types we like in the world. Second, Paul did not mention the rock willy-nilly because it seemed beautiful to him. The gushing rock was a picture of God’s provision and salvation for his people in the Old Testament just like Christ is for the church in the New Testament. Third, the rest of 1 Corinthians 10 militantly opposes everything Bell wants to get out of the chapter. The reason Paul brought up the rock in the first place was as an example, “that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid being “destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10) and to “take heed lest [they] fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). There’s no thought that the Corinthians should find Christ in ten thousand places. The whole chapter is a warning against idolatry, to flee from it (1 Cor. 10:14), not to embrace it in the name of mystery.
6. Gospel Problems
This review is too long already, but I really must say something about the two most grievous errors in the book: Bell’s view of the cross and his view of God.
According to Bell, salvation is realizing you’re already saved. We are all forgiven. We are all loved, equally and fully by God who has made peace with everyone. That work is done. Now we are invited to believe that story and live in it (172–73).
Bell is not saying what you think he might be saying. He’s not suggesting faith is the instrumental cause used by the Spirit to join us to Christ so we can share in all his benefits. That would be evangelical theology. Bell is saying God has already forgiven us whether we ask for it or not, whether we repent and believe or not, whether we are born again or not. “Forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up—God has already done it” (189). This means the Father’s love just is. It cannot be earned and it cannot be taken away. God’s love is simply yours (188). Heaven and hell (however Bell conceives them) are both full of forgiven people …
You may wonder where the sacrificial system is in all this. After all … years ago Bell was best known for being the pastor who started his church by preaching from Leviticus. I’m not sure what Bell taught back then, but now it appears his understanding of sacrifice is almost entirely negative …
Bell categorically rejects any notion of penal substitution. It simply does not work in his system or with his view of God. “Let’s be very clear, then,” Bell states, “we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer” (182). I see no place in Bell’s theology for Christ the curse-bearer (Gal. 3:13), or Christ wounded for our transgressions and crushed by God for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10), no place for the Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) … no place for the sorrowful suffering Servant who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for our sake (Mark 14:36).
“Jesus’ story,” Bell says, “is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love and it is for everybody, everywhere” (vii). Therefore, he reasons, “we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anybody else’s” (152). This is tragic. It’s as if Bell wants every earthly father to love every child in the world in the exact same way. If you rob a father of his unique, specific, not-for-everyone love, you rob the children of their greatest treasure. It reminds me of the T-shirt, “Jesus Loves You. Then Again He Loves Everybody.” There’s no good news in announcing that God loves everyone in the same way just because he wants to. The good news is that in love God sent his Son to live for our lives and die for our deaths, suffering the God-forsakenness we deserved so that we might call God our God and we who trust in Christ might be his children. The sad irony is that while Bell would very much like us to know the love of God, he has taken away the very thing in which God’s love is chiefly known: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
7. A Different God
At the very heart of this controversy, and one of the reasons the blogosphere exploded over this book, is that we really do have two different Gods. The stakes are that high. If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. I do not use the word lightly, just like Bell probably chose “toxic” quite deliberately. Both sides cannot be right. As much as some voices in evangelicalism will suggest that we should all get along and learn from each other and listen for the Spirit speaking in our midst, the fact is we have two irreconcilable views of God.
Here’s how Bell understands the traditional view of God:
… If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted. Let alone be good.
Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye …
That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can. . . . That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable. (173–75)
Of course, this is a horrible caricature that makes God seem capricious and vindictive. No one I know thinks God is loving one minute and cruel the next. But God is always holy. And holy love is not the same as unconditional affirmation. Holy love is more terrifying than even Bell thinks and more unbelievably merciful and free than Bell imagines …
But, you may reply, the Bible says God is love (1 John 4:16). True, but if you want to weigh divine attributes by sentence construction, you have to mention God is spirit (John 4:24), God is light (1 John 1:5), and God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). The verb “is” does not establish a priority of attributes. If anything, one might mention that the only thrice-repeated attribute is “holy, holy, holy.” And yet this is the one thing Bell’s god is not. Having preached through Leviticus he should remember that holiness is the overarching theme. The sacrifices are a pleasing aroma in God’s nostrils because they satisfy his justice, making way for a holy God to dwell in the midst of an unholy people … Christ’s sacrifice is the same pleasing aroma to God (Eph. 5:2) …
It would be unfair to say Bell doesn’t believe in sin. He clearly does. But his vice lists are telling: war, rape, greed, injustice, violence, pride, division, exploitation, disgrace (36–37). In another place, he says that in heaven God will say “no” to oil spills, sexual assault on women, political leaders silencing by oppression, and people being stepped on by greedy institutions and corporations (37-38). These are real problems and throughout the book Bell mentions many real, heinous sins. But all of these sins are obvious to almost everyone in our culture, especially progressives. What’s missing is not only a full-orbed view of sins, but a deeper understanding of sin itself. In Bell’s telling of the story, there is no sense of the vertical dimension of our evil. Yes, Bell admits several times that we can resist or reject God’s love. But there’s never any discussion of the way we’ve offended God, no suggestion that ultimately all our failings are a failure to worship God as we should. God is not simply disappointed with our choices or angry for the way we judge others. He is angry at the way we judge him. He cannot stand to look upon our uncleanness. His nostrils flare at iniquity. He hates our ingratitude, our impurity, our God complexes, our self-centeredness, our disobedience, our despising of his holy law. Only when we see God’s eye-covering holiness will we grasp the magnitude of our traitorous rebellion, and only then will we marvel at the incomprehensible love that purchased our deliverance on the cross ...
Hell is not what we make for ourselves or gladly choose. It’s what a holy God justly gives to those who exchange the truth of God for a lie. The bowls of wrath in Revelation are poured out by God; they are not swum in by sinners. The ten plagues were sent by God, they were not the product of some Egyptian spell gone wrong. God’s wrath burns against the impenitent and unbelieving; they do not walk into the fire by themselves ...
God is God and there is no hope for non-gods who want to be gods, except through the God-man who became a curse for us.
That’s bad news for some, and unfathomably good news for all those born again by the sovereign Spirit of God unto faith in Christ and life eternal.
A Concluding Pastoral Postscript
The tendency in theological controversy is to boil everything down to a conflict of personalities. This is the way the world understands disagreement. This is how the world sells controversy. It’s always politician versus politician or pastor versus pastor. But sometimes the disagreement is less about the men (or women) involved and more about the truth.
… this is not about a single author or a single church. This is about the truth, about how the rightness or wrongness of our theology can do tremendous help or tremendous harm to the people of God. This is about real people in East Lansing where I serve and real people an hour down the road in Grand Rapids where I grew up. This is about real people who have learned from Bell in the past and will be intrigued by his latest book, wondering if they should be confused, angered, or surprised to hear that hell is not what they’ve been told.
Just as damaging is the impact of Love Wins on the nonbeliever or the wayward former churchgoer. Instead of summoning sinners to the cross that they might flee the wrath to come and know the satisfaction of so great a salvation, Love Wins assures people that everyone’s eternity ends up as heaven eventually. The second chances are good not just for this life, but for the next. And what if they aren’t? What if Jesus says on the day of judgment, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23)? What if at the end of the age the wicked and unbelieving cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16)? What if outside the walls of the New Jerusalem “are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15)? What if there really is only one name “under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)? And what if the wrath of God really remains on those who do not believe in the Son (John 3:18, 36)? …
Is Love Wins true to the word of God? That’s the issue. Open a Bible, pray to God, listen to the faithful Christians of the past 2000 years, and answer the question for yourself.
Delight or deception, suffering or salvation—yes, even heaven or hell—may hang in the balance.
End of series
Dr R Albert Mohler Jr, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, ‘We Have Seen All This Before’ (emphases mine throughout):
Protestant Liberalism emerged in the 19th century as influential theologians argued for a doctrinal revolution. Their challenge to the church was simple and straightforward: The intellectual challenges of the modern age made belief in traditional Christian doctrines impossible.
The liberals did not set out to destroy Christianity. To the contrary, they were certain that they were rescuing Christianity from itself …
This brings us to the controversy over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins ... Reading the book is a heart-breaking experience. We have read this book before. Not the exact words, and never so artfully presented, but the same book, the same argument, the same attempt to rescue Christianity from the Bible.
The first problem with this is obvious. We have no right to determine which “story” of the Gospel we prefer or think is most compelling. We must deal with the Gospel that we received from Christ and the Apostles, the faith once for all delivered to the church …
But there is a second problem, and it is one we might think would have been learned by now. Liberalism just does not work. Bell wants to argue that the love of God is so powerful that “God gets what God wants” … But he cannot maintain that account for long because of his absolute affirmation of human autonomy. Even God cannot or will not prevent someone from going to hell who is determined to go there. So, if Bell is taken on his own terms, even he does not believe that “God gets what God wants” …
In the opening pages of Love Wins, Rob Bell assures his readers that “nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me.” That is true enough. But the tragedy is that those who did teach, suggest, or celebrate such things were those with whom no friend of the Gospel should want company. In this new book, Rob Bell takes his stand with those who have tried to rescue Christianity from itself. This is a massive tragedy by any measure …
The past few posts (including one with many New Testament verses refuting what Bell says) have explored the Revd Kevin De Young’s 21-page review of Love Wins. Let’s have a look at what Mr De Young says about Mr Bell’s exegesis (Scriptural analysis) and eschatology (theology of salvation), pages 8 – 13 of the PDF. As Mr De Young has taken the time to read and digest this book so that we do not have to, I shall offer the main highlights and suggest that you read his review in full.
Time after time, key points in Bell’s argument rest on huge exegetical mistakes.
A partial list—an even ten—in no particular order:
One, Bell cites Psalm 65, Ezekiel 36, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Philippians 2, and Psalm 22 to show that all peoples will eventually be reconciled to God. He does not mention that some of these are promises to God’s people, some are general promises about the nations coming to God, and others are about the universal acknowledgement (not to be equated with saving faith) on the last day that Jesus Christ is Lord. Not one of his texts supports his conclusion.
Two, similarly, Bell lists a number of passages that point to final restoration–Jeremiah 5, Lamentations 3, Hosea 14, Zephaniah 3, Isaiah 57, Hosea 6, Joel 3, Amos 9, Nahum 2, Zephaniah 2, Zephaniah 3, Zechariah 9, Zechariah 10, and Micah 7 (86–87). Anyone familiar with the prophets knows that they often finish with a promise of future blessing. But anyone familiar with the prophets should also know that these promises are for God’s covenant people, predicated on faith and repentance, and fulfilled ultimately in Christ.
Three, Bell seems to recognize the covenantal nature of the promised restoration, so he goes out of his way to point out that the restoration is not just for God’s people. To prove this point he cites a passage from Isaiah 19 where it is predicted that an altar to the Lord will be in the midst of the land of Egypt. Bell concludes that no failure is final and that consequences can always be corrected (88–89). But Isaiah 19 is not remotely about postmortem opportunities to repent … God makes no promise that every soul in Egypt will be saved. Rather he promises, like the prophets do time and time again, that if they call on the Lord he will have mercy on them. There is no thought that they will do this calling in the afterlife …
Five, Bell thinks the rich man’s question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” has nothing to do with the afterlife. He isn’t asking about how to go to heaven when he dies (30). He’s simply wondering how to get in on the good things God is doing in the age to come (31, 40). Again, Bell ignores all contextual clues to the contrary. Given the resurrection discussion alive in Jesus’ day (see Mark 12:18–27), the rich man is likely asking, “How can I be sure I’ll be saved in the final resurrection?” He is thinking of life after death. That’s why he says “inherit” and why the previous section in Mark discusses Bell’s dreaded “entrance” theology (Mark 10:13–16). What’s more, verse 30 makes clear that some of the blessings in following Jesus come in the next life, what Jesus calls “in the age to come, eternal life.” If eternal life is equivalent to saying the age to come (31), then Jesus is the master of redundancy. But the two terms are not identical. Eternal life here means life that lasts forever ...
Eight, Bell’s overview of Revelation skims along the surface of the book in a way that misses all the hard parts he doesn’t want to see …
First, he explains the judgments by reminding us that people often reject the love and joy in front of them and “choose to live in their own hells all the time” (114). But even a cursory read through Revelation shows that violent judgments issue from God’s throne …
Second, Bell suggests that maybe the gates in heaven are “never shut” because new citizens will continue to enter the city as everyone is eventually reconciled to God (115). This interpretation is clearly at odds with the rest of Revelation 21-22 which emphasizes several times that there are some accursed ones left outside the city (21:8, 27; 22:3, 14–15, 18–19). The theme of judgment carries through right to the end of the book. What’s more, those facing this judgment will be thrown into the lake of fire where torment never ends, which is the second death (20:10; 21:8). There is never a hint of postmortem second chances and every indication of an irreversible judgment decreed of every soul at the end of the age. The gates are open as a sign of the city’s complete safety and security, not as an indication that more will be saved after death.
Third, according to Bell, the announcement “I am making all things new” suggests new possibilities. This, in turn, means we should leave the door open that the final eternal state of every person has not been fixed (116). Again, this is a supposition without any warrant in the text, where the newness of heaven speaks of a new holiness, a new world, a new pain-free existence, and a new closeness with God. Heaven is not new because people in hell get new chances to repent.
Nine, what Bell does with Sodom and Gomorrah should make even his most ardent supporters wince. Really, you have to wonder if Bell has any interest in being constrained by serious study of the biblical text. In one place, Bell argues from Ezekiel 16 that because the fortunes of Sodom will be restored (Ezek. 16:53), this suggests that the forever destiny of others might end in restoration (84). But it should be obvious that the restoration of Sodom in Ezekiel is about the city, not about the individual inhabitants of the town who were already judged in Genesis 19. The people condemned by sulfur and fire 1,500 years earlier were not getting a second lease on postmortem life. The current city would be restored …
If that weren’t bad enough, the other discussion on Sodom is even worse. Because Jesus says it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for Capernaum (Matt. 11:23–24), Bell concludes that there is hope for all the other Sodoms and Gomorrahs (85). Bell takes a passage about judgment—judgment that will be so bad for Capernaum it’s even worse than God’s judgment on Sodom—and turns it into tacit support for ultimate universalism. Jesus’ warning says nothing about new hope for Sodom. It says everything about the hopelessness of unbelieving Capernaum.
Ten, not surprisingly, Bell frequently harkens back to the Pauline promise in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 that God is reconciling or uniting all things together in Christ (149). These are favorite passages of universalists, but they cannot carry the freight universalists want them to … The uniting of all things does not entail the salvation of all people. It means that everything in the universe, heaven and earth, the spiritual world and the physical world, will finally submit to the lordship of Christ, some in joyful worship of their beloved Savior and others in just punishment for their wretched treason. In the end, God wins.
One last general point about Bell’s exegesis: Bell has a reputation for being brilliant and creative, and he probably is in certain spheres. But his use of Scripture exhibits neither characteristic. In fact, it is naïve, literalistic biblicism. He flattens everything, either to make traditional theology sound ridiculously inconsistent or to make a massive point from one out-of-context verse … His style may be engaging to some, but look up the passages for yourself and then pick up a reputable study Bible or a basic commentary series. You’ll seriously question Bell’s use of Scripture.
4. Eschatological Problems
Bell’s eschatology is muddled. On the one hand, he goes to great length to argue that eternal life is not really forever life, just abundant life or life belonging to the next age (57, 92–93) … But on the other hand, he seems to leave all these arguments behind later when he talks about an eternal postmortem existence. He does believe in heaven after you die, and he believes in hell.
But in a strange bit of logic arising out of the parable of the prodigal son, Bell maintains that heaven and hell exist side by side. It’s not always clear what Bell thinks, but it seems he believes everyone goes to the same realm when they die; but for some people it is heaven, and for others it is hell (170). If you don’t accept God’s story about the world and resist his love, heaven will be hell for you, a hell you create for yourself …
In a similar vein, Bell seems unaware that theologians of various traditions have talked about the two sides of God’s will (or two lenses through which God views the world). To be sure, there is mystery here, but it’s common to distinguish between God’s will of decree, whereby everything that he wills comes to pass (Eph. 1:11), and his will of desire which can be rejected (Matt. 7:21). And yet one of Bell’s main planks in support of universal reconciliation is that if God wants all people to be saved, then all people must eventually be saved. “How great is God?” Bell asks. “Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great” (97– 99). The strong insinuation is that a God who does not save everyone is not totally great.
All this is built on the statement that God wants everyone to be saved. There’s no exegetical work on the meaning of “all people” and no discussion on the dual-nature of God’s will. In Bell’s mind, if all people do not end up reconciled to God its tantamount to God saying, “Well, I tried, I gave it my best shot, and sometimes you just have to be okay with failure” (103) … The result is a simplistic formula: “God wants all people to be saved. God gets what he wants. Therefore, all people will eventually be saved.” This is a case of poor theologizing beholden to mistaken logic …
In the blog buzz leading up the release of Love Wins, there was a lot of discussion about whether Bell is or is not a Christian universalist. After reading the book, I see no reason why the label does not fit. Now it’s true, Bell believes in hell. But he does not believe that God pours out his wrath on anyone forever (I’m not sure he thinks God actively pours out wrath on anyone at all). Hell is the sad suffering of this life (71). Hell is God giving us what we want (72). Postmortem hell is what we create for ourselves when we refuse to believe God’s story, when we resist his love (170-71, 172, 177). There is hell now and hell later. “There are all kinds of hell because there are all kinds of ways to reject the good and the true and the beautiful and the human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next” (79).
So why do I say Bell is a universalist if he believes in hell? Because he does not believe hell lasts forever. It is a temporary “period of pruning” and “an intense experience of correction” (91). Bell’s hell is like purgatory except his “period of pruning” is for anyone, not just for Christians who die in a state of grace as Catholicism teaches. For Bell, this life is about getting ourselves fitted for the good life to come. Some of us die ready to experience God’s love. Others need more time to sort things out. Luckily, in Bell’s scheme, there is always more time. “No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts” (108). Bell does not believe every road leads to God. He is not a moral relativist. You can get your life and theology wrong. Heaven is a kind of starting over, a time to relearn what it means to be human. For some this process may take a while, and during the process their heaven may feel more like hell. But even those who get everything wrong in this life, will eventually get it right over time in the next life. In Bell’s theology, ultimately, everyone will be saved. If he’s right, most of church history has been wrong. If he’s wrong, a staggering number of people are hearing “peace, peace” where there is no peace.
What’s wrong with this theology is, of course, what’s wrong with the whole book. Bell assumes all sorts of things that can’t be shown from Scripture. For example, Bell figures God won’t say “sorry, too late” to those in hell who are humble and broken for their sins. But where does the Bible teach the damned are truly humble or penitent? For that matter, where does the Bible talk about growing and maturing in the afterlife or getting a second chance after death? Why does the Bible make such a big deal about repenting “today” (Heb. 3:13), about being found blameless on the day of Christ (2 Pet. 3:14), about not neglecting such a great salvation (Heb. 2:3) if we have all sorts of time to figure things out in the next life? Why warn about not inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10), about what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31), or about the vengeance of our coming King (2 Thess. 1:5–12) if hell is just what we make of heaven? Bell does nothing to answer these questions, or even ask them in the first place.
Mr De Young’s last paragraph illustrates the questions I had when I was coming out of my own Christian Universalist wilderness. And, yes, I would have denied being a universalist of sorts. Fortunately, I was able to crack open a Bible and read to see how wrong I was.
Tomorrow: Christological problems with Bell’s theology