Salvation


Rob Bell, a 41 year old senior pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan is all over the media now…more so than he has been in the past.  Have you seen or heard him?  My experience with Rob Bell actually began some years ago in an adult Bible study class one Sunday afternoon.  Bell does a series of short films, theologically related, called Nooma videos.  These videos are usually quite charismatic, theatrical, dramatic, high-tech, and either moving or informative.  That Sunday during class we watched one of those films.  I can’t say I remember the topic but I remember the images.  To be honest–I liked it and it did have an effect on me at that moment. 

Then some years later, a friend I work with gave me a video of him preaching.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I remember thinking, “Boy this guy is going to reach a  lot of young people.”  I have seen his face and sermons pop up around the web here and there, but I never payed too much attention.  Yet I have to say, I think the name of his church is cool…but I am not sure the world get’s it’s meaning.  He does have a 7,000 member church however, so he has gotten someone’s attention.

Recently, it seems, that the attention he is getting has picked up a lot of steam.  A couple of days ago my sister asked me if I heard of Rob Bell.  She said that she heard that he is preaching that there is NO hell.  The name sounded familiar but I was more focused on what she said he was preaching.  I wasn’t surprised, it is not the first time I have heard such teaching.  An ex-charismatic preacher/singer named Carlton Pearson broke off some years ago and started preaching the same theology…NO HELL! 

Then my curiosity really peaked on Monday when I was walking down the magazine aisle at a local grocery store and saw TIME magazine with an image of hell that looked like a sketch done in the form of Albrecht Durer one of my favorite artists.  The title on the front said, “Rob Bell: Does Hell Really Exist?”  I picked it up, read the article, and could empathize with the points the journalist was trying to make for Bell.  Even though I didn’t agree with many points, I know it has been an issue for millenia in the Church.  I was also able to connect all of the dots going back almost a decade of who Rob Bell is and the church he pastors.

When I got home I went on the web and did some more research.  What I found was mostly very harsh reactions from the Church.  People were criticizing Bell saying things like, “He’s going to hell!” to “That’s what a theology degree from Fuller will get you.”  Then I came across some interviews he did.  One interview in particular stood out to me and that was Martin Bashir interviewing Bell.  It was obvious that Bashir was pretty heated over the topic.  Apparently, Bell just released his newest book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  Bashir gave Bell his perspective of the book and it was not pretty.  In fact, Bell barely got a word in to talk about his book. 

Then I went to my seminary class and it actually came up in conversation before class with the professor.  He said a student from one of his undergrad classes let him borrow it.  The professor did not seem pleased with the book and basically thought Bell is a heretic and perhaps even a pagan.  Apparently, the conversation arose agian during our break in the lounge.  I was downstairs however and missed it.  But one of the students in my class came down and told me that it had come up and she was arguiing with the professor about the book.  She said to me, “I could have really used you up there Jeremy to help me out.”  “Are you sure?”  I thought to myself.  “I believe in judgment, hell, and eternal punishment.  But I also believe in God’s unconditonal love, and I do think it will win in the end.  But what does that mean?”  I thought further.

Bell claims that the reason he wrote the book, the motivation behind it was, that someone basically told him that Ghandhi was in hell.  This claim sent Bell on a contemplative roller coaster trying to determine if God really would send someone like Ghandhi to hell.  What about the woman who was abused sexually, physically, and verbally by her evangelist father?  What kind of emotional damage would something like that do to cause a wall between her and Jesus? 

I asked my fellow seminarian if she actually read Bell’s book and she said she had.  She said that he actually states he believes in hell and that people will go there.  She added that Bell is just unsure if live is our last chance to decide our eternal destiny.  He wonders if God’s love will give people another chance to decide when they die and experience him.  He raises questions that the Church has pondered for years but has remedied with speculative answers that do not necessarily have answers in scripture.  Now this was a different perspective that was not coming out in what I had researched or watched on interviews.  Most interviews didn’t even give Bell a chance to make his case, they just labeled him a heretic.

So this is what I have concluded.  1. I prejudged the book and Bell before I actually read it and gave him a chance to speak for himself.  So before I say anything else I am going to read it and I will blog my thoughts; 2. I wonder how many of his accusers have actually read his book.  Did Bashir read it or did he have some of his assistants read it and then fill him in? 3. Why is the Church always on a heretic hunt looking for witches to burn at the stake?  4. One thing is for sure, Bell has gotten a lot of people to have this discussion again and revisited our views and believes…and there is never anything wrong with that.  In fact, when you think you have it all figured out, and your theology is in perfect order…you are in a bad spot!

“… and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” –Nietsche (I am indebted to my sister for reminding me of this quote.  I must add I am aware of Nietsche’s philosophies and the irony of using him as a quote for my article.  The irony here though is…I don’t think Nietsche could hear the music either).

                How do we Christians stand against the attacks of the world, particular the reason of the “New Athiests?”  They say our God is not real and doesn’t exist.  To that I say, “We are dancing to music they just can’t hear.” If they could only experience the power of the over whelming love our hearts experience when he touches us with his gentle hands.  If they could only experience the perfect peace we have amidst the worst storms of life.  If they could only experience the impregnable joy we have when we have no reason to laugh or rejoice.  If they could only experience the belonging to a community of believers when we have every reason to feel alone.  If they could only experience the closeness we feel to a father, friend, companion, shepherd, and king when we are in the presence of the God they can’t see. 

                 What do we say to those who can not hear the music we are dancing to?  What do we say to those who have not felt the touch of the Master’s hand?  What do we say to those who have become so calloused toward the idea of God?  What do we say to those who have not experienced the power that we have experienced?  It’s that experience of God that has caused us to entrust ourselves to him; that experience that has allowed us to know that there is a God who loves us in a way that no outsider could possibly understand with all their human faculties; that experience that has evolved into a relationship that is deeper and more real than any relationship we have ever had or will ever know in this life or the next?  I don’t know what to say sometimes, except “Come. Come. Come and meet the Lord I have come to know and love; this new life; this joy; this peace; this deep, deep love.  Hear the music.  Hear the music and dance!”

 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift (Revelation 22:17 NRSV).

In John 8:31-38 Jesus describes to the Jews who had believed in him what true discipleship is exactly.  He says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  There response however, always strikes me as being a bit ironic.  They say, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free (NRSV)?”

Uhhh–what?  “Never been slaves to anyone”?  What about Egypt for starters?  What about all the times Israel and Judea were reduced to paying tribute to great empires?  What about the exiles?  What about being conquered by the Greeks and Romans?  Obviously Egypt is the strongest case but according to much of the extant literature of ancient times many Jewish leaders and rabbis thought exile was worse than slavery. 

Jesus doesn’t bring up the points that I just mentioned but perhaps he didn’t need to because he was making another point.  They were not free because they were bound in slavery by sin.  Sin is a horrible task master; the worst task master in fact.  Sin will drive you to do things that you don’t want to do.  It seduces you with lies and deceit.  It convinces you that its way is rewarding and fulfilling.  No matter how hard you try to resist its will…it fights against you and knows your weaknesses. 

Slavery has always been a part of our world.  Slavery plagued Africa and still does in some places far before Africans were enslaved by Americans and brought to labor for wealthy plantation owners.  Slavery existed among the Native Americans often a result of lost wars.  Slavery is an evil oppression.  But there will never be a more oppressive slavery than to that of sin. 

Thankfully, Jesus points to our emancipation from this slave master.  The solution is Jesus the Son.  Only Jesus can make us free.  And if he makes us free we are free “indeed.”  That is, absolutely free.  Yet there is a condition…we must continue in his word to truly be his disciples.  When Jesus says “in his word” what does he mean?  Does he mean the Bible?  Well yeah…sort of.  But I think it means to continue in his message, his teaching.  Obviously his teaching is recorded in the Gospels namely, and also in the rest of the NT.  But in addition, he is still teaching us through his Holy Spirit who leads us into ALL truth. 

“But what is truth?”  asked Pontius Pilatus.  We have to know what truth is to be free.  After all this is what Jesus says: “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  So if we are going to be free from the slave master SIN, then we have to know what truth is and know it intimately.  But to know the truth we have to continue in Jesus’ teachings. 

Well, a little later on John reveals what the truth is in 14:6.  Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the light; no one will come to the Father except by me.”  This passage is pregnant with meaning but it reveals one element that we are focusing on now.  Jesus is truth.  So when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?” sarcastically and arrogantly; he was looking right at it.  Jesus is truth and only Jesus can set us free from the power of the slave master. 

Once we are free however we have some responsibilities in staying free.  1. John 8:31 “continue in my word”; 2. John 15:1-17 “Remain/abide in Me/Jesus/truth”; 3. Gal. 5:1 “For freedom Christ/truth has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [sin].”  What these passages communicate is an ongoing process of us committing our lives to continuing, remaining, and standing firm in Jesus and his teachings.  This daily process will keep us free.  

Therefore I encourage those of you who are struggling with sin to be persistent in pursuing Christ and his teachings.  Be tenacious about fleshing out the live of Christ and his teachings in your life.  This will strengthen you and purify those sinful desires from your life.  Those of you who feel pretty safe and comfortable in your freedom…do not take it for granted.   Be even more purposeful in your pursuit of Christ because the devil loves to trap us when we are feeling the best about ourselves and strong.   

Stand firm therefore like a Roman Legion!

In a day when the so-called “prosperity gospel” seems to be growing in popularity, there are many passages in the Bible that are becoming unpopular.  On the one hand we may be aware of Jesus’ invitation to everyone to “follow me.”  On the other hand, we are not preaching enough about what this may cost us or what it all entails.  You see, scripture does not hold back on conveying the reality of following Christ.  It communicates to those who may consider discipleship that it is not all a bed of roses. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there is much to be attracted to and life in many ways will be better.  Yet it may not be the kind of improvement the world may expect.  Jesus does say that he came to give us life and life “more abundant” (John 10:10).  The Greek word for abundant is perrison in this passage and communicates a superlative.  That is, he came to give us a life that will be best, a life that will be full, a life that will be awesome.  Unfortunately, many have turned this term into a mainly financial word.  However, it is best thought of as an equivalent of zoen aionion, “eternal life.”  Eternal life is one of John’s main themes (John 3:15, 16; 5:39; 6:54, 68; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2,3; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11,13, 20).

Yet the reality is that with this great blessing of salvation and eternal life there is sacrifice.  There is a price to pay; there is a cost for following Jesus.  It is a sacrifice that is different for all of us.  For the rich young ruler it was his wealth and for others it is all that they possess (Luke 18:18-30; 14:33).  For many disciples it was leaving behind house and family (Luke 18:28-29).  For others it is not being able to do those things that seem like the right thing to do; duties that we regard as sacred and things that we must do.  For one man it was burying his father (Matt. 8:18-22).  In that culture to not bury a body was a dishonor to the body and the children who did not bury it (Deut. 28:25-26).  Everyone was supposed to bury their parents because of the command to honor one’s parents (Exod. 20:12).

Then there are those that are called to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.  Every time this is brought up in conversation it never goes over very well.  I believe this is partially due to the prosperity gospel we have been infected with in America.  It is a belief that all will go well for you as a disciple if you just do the right things.  However, scripture does not speak to this as being a promise.  On the contrary, we are guaranteed that things may get pretty rough because we are Christians and the world hates our message because they hate God; which brings me to John 21:15-19.

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Each time Peter becomes a little more frustrated and says, “Yes I love you.”  Each time Peter responds Jesus says, “boskeh ta arnia mou,” that is, “feed my lambs/sheep.”  Here Jesus equates loving him with feeding his lambs.  It is clear from scripture that his “lambs” are his disciples.  If Peter truly loves Jesus then he will feed Jesus’ disciples. 

However, through some imagery Jesus speaks to the fact that Peter would be martyred: “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  This enigmatic statement is clarified for the reader by the parenthetical statement that Jesus was speaking about the death Peter would suffer to glorify God.  As if the shock value is not strong enough here, Jesus then adds, “Follow me.”  Peter did follow Jesus. In fact, early church tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome on an upside down cross with his hands outstretched on the cross.   

This is not a passage that you will hear in a prosperity gospel church.  If you do, it will greatly be watered down and twisted.  Yet it is obvious that Jesus is inviting Peter to feed his disciples and that such a commitment will end in a violent death.  So the question must be asked.  Am I willing to follow Christ?  Am I willing to follow and be obedient to a calling that may end in a violent death?   What if that death somehow glorifies God?  Will you?  Will I, take up my cross and follow Christ?

“Brothers, what should we do?” asked those who had heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 as the apostles had spoken in tongues with cloves of fire upon their heads.  Peter had basically preached the gospel message to these stunned hearers and they were “cut to the heart.”  They felt such conviction that they asked Peter “What should we do [then]?”  Peter’s reply is simple but vital to every human beings eternity.  “Metanoia,” is Peter’s response.  That is Greek for, “Repent.”  Repent may sound a bit technical or at least “religious.”  But the literal meaning in Greek means to “change your mind” or “a change of heart.”   The Hebrew word for repent is “teshuva” which means “to turn” or “turn away from.”  They basically imply the same idea of giving up an old way or direction for a new/better one. 

Are you going in a wrong direction or feel that your mind and heart are in the wrong place?  I have.  I mean I once was on a very good road with God and I diverted to another direction.  I knew I was leading away from him but I never looked back to see just how far I had strolled.  When I was awakened to the foolish exit I had taken I realized the error of this path.  Fortunately, I responded to the conviction the Holy Spirit brought upon me through a variety of means in a positive manner.  I repented.  Better put…I was persuaded powerfully by the Holy Spirit that the direction I was going in was not the right one (to put it lightly) and I chose to have a change of heart/mind; turning and going in the right direction (also to put it lightly).

Now this is a very simple way of describing a life changing event/moment that changed the direction of my life.  However, I think you get the idea.  Any path that is not in a complete pursuit of God is the wrong path.  The Jews that were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost while the apostles were gathered in the upper room most likely considered themselves quite devout and pious.  However, there was something missing in their lives that caused the words of Peter and the workings of the Holy Spirit to cut them to the heart and cause conviction.  They cried out, “What must we do?” 

I pray that you are able to reach a point of crying out to God, “What must I do?”  Do not be afraid of what others might think.  Allow yourself to be humble and honest.  Your relationship with God is the most important task you have in this life.  It is never too late to change and turn around.