Wednesday, March 09, 2011

If my kids asked Rob Bell's questions

Bell's video hit the internet a little more than a week ago, and the book is due out next week - yes, the PR whore is seductive - I ordered my copy. It's sparked a lot of heat, and rightly so. Christians are to be charitable...but, not when wolves enter the sheep pen. Yes, that's how I view Bell - a false teacher in the church who must be to taken to task for his false teaching. The Bible doesn't use nice words for false teachers - they are accursed (Gal. 1:8-9), corrupted in mind (2 Tim. 3:8), dogs (Phi. 3:2), and more. Challies offers a good review of his advanced copy here.

I'm thankful for the many people who are calling Rob Bell to task on this, but I wanted to do something a little different. The video is filled with questions. It's probably a good idea to think about how we'll respond to them when confused Christians ask or genuinely curious nonbelievers. So, I'll ask myself, "How would I respond to them if my sons asked, without the snide tone?" (They already have after they saw the video on my blog). Here's how.

So, dad, is Gandhi in hell? Really. Do we know that for sure?

Well, I don't know for sure because I wasn't there next to Gandhi's deathbed. He may have repented of his sins, including the sin of worshiping false god's. He may have placed his hope and trust in Christ instead of his good deeds or some other god. I don't know, but I doubt it. Here's what I do know. If he continued in his Hinduism, rejecting Jesus or treating him as one-of-many gods to be worshiped, then yes, Gandhi is in hell.

Guys, listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in a letter to the Romans. He said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, for it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17). You need to see here what Paul is saying. In the gospel - the good news that Jesus came, died and rose again - there is salvation. Salvation from what? Alienation from God? Yes. Slavery to sin? Yes. Guilt and shame? Yes. Hopelessness? Yes. But what are the ultimate results of alienation from God and slavery to sin and guilt? Punishment! What does Paul say in Romans 6:23? "The wages of sin is death." Death isn't just a natural part of God's creation, it's punishment for sin. And apart from the good news it is an eternal death an eternal punishment in hell (Heb. 6:2; Rev. 20:14-15; 2 Thess. 1:9).

Guys, does Paul say, "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone?" What does he say? He say's it's the "power of God for salvation to everyone who believes"! Look too at what Peter said when he was preaching in Acts 4, "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12). Who was Peter talking too? He was talking to Jews - and not just that, he was talking to the religious leaders. These people knew religion, knew Moses and the commandments and observed them. You could say they knew the true God more truly than any other people. But, even to these people, their religion and commandment keeping and doing good wasn't enough. What did they really need? Jesus. Right. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Jesus taught this too. Did Jesus say you can get to God any way you please? Did he say you can get there through the popular religion of your country? Did he say you could get there by your hard work, or by being a nice person? How then? Though him, right! Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

I know Gandhi looks great. His good deeds are humbling to me - and a call to live out my faith better than I do now. But, Gandhi was a sinner. There's no way around that unless you reject clearly what God has told us (Rom. 3:23). Gandhi was not perfect. We aren't perfect (And boys, you aren't - don't ever forget that. Your good kids and we're proud of you, but you aren't perfect. You're well accomplished little sinners!). But God is perfect, and he commands us to be also (Matt. 5:48). Do you see the problem?

How can a good and holy God just ignore sin? Would your mom and me be good parents if we just ignored your rebellion and disobedience? Would a judge be good if he let the criminals go free just because he forgave them? God is forgiving, but he's also holy and just. So what's the solution? How can God save anyone without giving up his justice and his holiness?

Yep, the answer is Jesus again. On the cross, "Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). On the cross, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), dying in their place (Rom. 5:8), suffering the punishment they deserve so they don't have to (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). And Jesus' death wasn't a stand alone event - it was the end of a whole life lived in perfect obedience to God. And that's important, because not only are we forgiven, but we're made righteous.

And this takes us back to that first passage in Romans. What did Paul say? "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, for it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17). The righteousness of God is the righteousness of Christ for us. He was righteous and that becomes our righteousness. What's another way of saying "believe"? Right, have faith. Those who have faith are connected to Christ in an awesome way. Some people refer to it as the 'mystical union'. Sounds cool, doesn't it. It means there is some powerful but unexplainable way in which we're connected to Christ - he's in us and we're in him. Because we're connected to Christ through faith, his righteousness becomes ours! So we don't have to work to be saved, Christ worked for us!

Now because we're saved and Christ is in us, we will work. It just natural - Christ's image will work itself out in real ways in our life, but we can't get that backwards. We don't work to get Christ or get saved. Because we're saved and have Christ, we do good things. If you don't have Christ, if you aren't connected to him and his forgiveness and righteousness through faith, then all the good deeds you do, or Gandhi did, don't count for anything. Actually, the prophet Isaiah says their filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Filthy rags don't save. Only Jesus can.

Go think about it and come back if you have more questions...

Ok, that was a little more in depth than my answer to the boys earlier this week (but only a little).

2 comments:

Melissa said...

Thanks for this, Dan. I was really sad when I saw the new promo video for Rob Bell's book. Thanks for reminding us all of the truth of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

A compelling response. That said, I'm reminded of some comments from Billy Graham in a Newsweek (I believe) article a few years back: "Those are decisions [if Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus will go to heaven] only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

I suppose I have a few questions, in part because I'm wrestling myself with these thorny concerns. First, is Graham, like Bell, a false teacher? Should we give certain people the benefit of the doubt because we know their previous theological positions? Do you think Graham here is saying what you're saying, but in a less direct way?