Monthly Archives: July 2011

Love Wins, But Does Rob Bell?

[This review can also be read at my Yahoo! Contributor Page here].

Long before Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, hit the shelves, John Piper left a tweet on his Twitter profile that simply said, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  The Tweet was motivated by the release of a promotional video for Love Wins in which Bell questioned whether Jesus’ sacrifice really saved us from a wrathful God and whether good people went to Hell.  Piper met with much criticism for this tweet and Bell himself might have even taken a subtle shot at Piper in a video that later came out on YouTube in which Bell says, “It’s best to only discuss books you’ve actually read.”

Yet, I believe Piper’s tweet did nothing more than demonstrate that he has the ability to apply biblical wisdom to discern when a false message is on its way.  Piper was simply reacting to snippets of information that preceded the book’s release.  These were not mysterious and cryptic signals that effectively concealed what Love Wins was really going to be like (Bell didn’t run a Dark Knight viral marketing campaign).  The promotional video essentially summarized fundamental themes of Love Wins—themes of universalism and a denial of a literal Hell with a burning lake of fire, which Piper rightly identified as bad doctrine.  If it is possible to discern that the train is coming in one’s direction, then it’s best to get out of the way—and that’s all Piper was doing.  One doesn’t need to experience the sensation of having your body crushed in order to know that it is not desirable.

Disregarding my own advice, I laid myself down on the train tracks, knowing it was going to be painful.  I read the book cover to cover, taking a lot of notes as I went and looking up relevant Scripture passages along the way.

To be clear, the book was not 100% wrong.  The first chapter of Love Wins (not the preface) is partially worthwhile.  Bell began the book by questioning a lot of commonplace practices and beliefs of the modern church.  I found myself agreeing with many, though not all, of his critiques.  He rightfully revealed the absurdities behind the “age of accountability” doctrine which many people hold to in order to get out of answering the question: “Do babies and children go to Hell?”  As Bell says, this belief entails accepting that “up to a certain age children aren’t held accountable for what they believe or who they believe in, so if they die during those years, they go to be with God” (p. 4).  Yet, as Bell points out, there’s no way to know what the “age of accountability” really is; the question arises about the eternal fate of an atheist teen who dies just a year after hitting this arbitrary “age of accountability,” etc.

Bell also rightfully critiques the proclivity of Christian evangelists to get people to chant “the sinner’s prayer.”  As the theologically conservative preacher, Paul Washer, points out, the sinner’s prayer is not found in Scripture and it is never something that could be rightfully considered to guarantee our salvation—as many contemporary pastors use it today.  Thus, I agreed with Bell’s critique of its use in modern evangelism.

With a few commendable critiques, Bell begins his book questioning some of the practices of modern churches.  However, this is not a feat worthy of great applause.  A child could, in some instances with the right questions, poke holes in what happens in much of the modern American church today.  One’s presentation of solutions to these problems is what really merits our applause—if such solutions are based on sound scriptural teachings and doctrine.  This is where Bell fails miserably in Love Wins.

Cosmic Humanism in Love Wins

Briefly summarized, Bell’s solution is to embrace an inconsistent, ethically bankrupt belief system that is not established by Scripture, but rather established by a plethora of modern viewpoints that have arisen in contradiction to Christianity.  The best way to describe Bell’s beliefs is that they are the result of taking Christianity and baptizing it into a fruity blend of cosmic humanism, postmodernism, and existentialism, none of which should have anything to do with establishing a Christian view of the life to come.  This might seem to be a harsh criticism, but as a student of comparative worldviews who has a deep interest in theology and philosophy, I couldn’t come to any different conclusion.

As one example of the influence of Bell’s cosmic humanism in Love Wins, Bell teaches that “The gospel Jesus spreads in the book of Luke has as one of its main themes that Jesus brings a social revolution, in which the previous systems and hierarchies of clean and unclean, sinner and saved, and up and down don’t mean what they used to.  God is doing a new work through Jesus, calling all people to human solidarity.  Everybody is a brother, a sister.  Equals, children of the God who shows no favoritism.  To reject this new social order was to reject Jesus…” (p. 75-76).  Elsewhere, Bell says that when God brings the new heaven and new earth, he’s going to eliminate a host of terrible things such as “war, rape, greed, injustice, violence, pride, division, exploitation, disgrace, etc.” (p. 36).  Even further, Bell says that God will act decisively on behalf of everyone “who ever been stepped on by the machine, exploited, abused, forgotten, or mistreated.”  (p. 39).  Notice throughout all of this, Bell has not said once that God will get rid of sin.  This is ultimately because Bell can’t believe that God can do that, since as he later says, humans will always have the choice to reject God even beyond the grave.  But since sin inherently begins and is defined by “not choosing God,” then God can’t get rid of sin, according to Bell’s own premises.  Yet, if God can’t get rid of sin, then Bell’s utopian vision of a perfect future without evil is lost since all evil is the product of sin.  Now, to get back on track to the point of cosmic humanism…

Nowhere in Scripture, much less in Christ’s words, can Bell’s westernized, modern view of a new coming social order ever be found.  I’ll pull a Rob Bell and use a one-word sentence to emphasize what I just said.

Nowhere.

Yet, as James W. Sire in his book, The Universe Next Door (2009) says, one of the tenets of the modern strand of cosmic humanism within New Age worldviews is a belief that “the human race is on the verge of a radical change in human nature; even now we see harbingers of transformed humanity and prototypes of the New Age” (p. 181).  This is a central theme of Love Wins: heaven is fully now and fully then, for as Bell says, “Jesus invites us, in this life…to experience the life of heaven now.”

Ultimately this sounds more like a cosmic humanist simply making Christ the convenient force that brings about his utopian view of human solidarity.  Whether or not Bell realizes this is not the case in my argument, let that be clear.  My point is that Bell’s teaching shares much more coherency with cosmic humanism—that is itself a symptom of modern social beliefs and democratic conditions—rather than biblical theology backed up by thousands of years of church history.  One educated in the wisdom of the political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, would immediately know that Rob Bell’s belief in Christianity as a means for human solidarity and establishing equality is merely a product of democratic notions within a modern society driven by an undying passion for equality.  Thus, Bell’s beliefs are not grounded in divine revelation, and therefore, are not ultimate truths that transcend time periods and cultures.

Postmodernism in Love Wins

Further, Bell exhibits his prior commitment to postmodernism throughout Love Wins.  A specific and brief example will have to suffice for now.  Toward the end of the book, Bell rejects the notion of a violent God that punishes sin out of righteous anger because “the good news is better than that” (p. 181) because God couldn’t want to “inflict pain or agony on anyone” (p. 177).  Disregarding the fact that Matthew 25:41 (ESV) very explicitly says “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (implying that God prepared the eternal fire for the devil and his angels), let’s look at the reasoning here.

The view that God is just, the punisher of sin and the redeemer who brings his elect unto himself is just not a good story, according Rob Bell.  So he rejects it.  Let me pull another Rob Bell, but this time, I’ll use a fragment as a complete sentence in addition to a one-word sentence:

Not a good story.  Rejected.

It’s not a good story that 9/11 happened.  I don’t believe it happened.  It’s not a good story that the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.  I don’t believe it happened.  It’s not a good story that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  I believe he does.

The problem of reasoning from “good story” to truth is a fundamental error that affects   much of postmodern thinking.  Accepting it, as Bell does, will inherently lead to false conclusions because it is a bad methodology.  Again, according to Sire, postmodernism gives stories the primary position in the race to discern truth.  Specifically, this is because “the truth about the reality itself is forever hidden from us.  All we can do is tell stories.” (p. 222).  Clearly, such a position makes absolutely no sense to the educated and scholarly student of truth, but we see Bell employing postmodern techniques of reasoning even if he is not himself an openly committed postmodernist.  Just as Bell is a cosmic humanist without knowing it, he is also a postmodernist without knowing it.

Existentialism in Love Wins

Lastly, Bell presents a strong commitment to a hedonistic existentialism that might be one of the most destructive aspects of Love Wins.  Again, I have to limit myself to one small example, but there are many more to choose from.  When Bell tries to define what Heaven is, he returns to using more modern 20th century humanistic assumptions about the concept of happiness.  For Bell, Heaven is the place where we get to do what we love to do on this earth forever.  Specifically, he says, “So when people ask, ‘What will we do in heaven?’ one possible answer is to simply ask: ‘What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come?’  What is it that when you do it, you lose track of time because you get lost in it?  What do you do that makes you think, ‘I could do this forever’?  What is it that makes you think, ‘I was made for this’?” (p. 47).

Therefore, Heaven, for Bell is merely the extension of what we love to do on earth.  What makes this so problematic is that, since Bell does not understand the doctrine of original sin and human depravity (as I already demonstrated), he cannot account for the infinite amount of ways in which people love to spend their time that is directly contrary to the holiness of God.  The Marquis de Sade (from whom we get the word, “sadist”) loved to sexually abuse women.  It was what he lived for.  Jack the Ripper derived his pleasure from murdering women.  The 9/11 terrorists probably were chanting passages from the Qur’an as they flew planes into the World Trade center and the Pentagon.  Michel Foucault, one of the most influential postmodern thinkers, is reported to have knowingly transmitted the AIDS virus to homosexual partners because he couldn’t give up such a lifestyle.  The point is that people all around us exist for distinctly evil purposes and it hurts others.  Bell will simply say, “They aren’t believing God’s version of the story, so they’re in they’re own sort of Hell.”  But isn’t Heaven that which you could do forever?  Which is it, Rob Bell?

Amidst its absurd inconsistencies, such a view cheapens, if not obliterates, what Heaven really is.  If one wants to know a more definitive and biblical picture of what Heaven will be like, read Revelation 5 and 7, which don’t talk at all about the pursuit of mere existential and temporal pleasures.  For me, I will be content to stand before God and worship him for the rest of my days for what He has done in me through Christ.  I could care less about reading theology books and competing in a debate round (things I love to do now) at that point.

How Does Rob Bell Use Scripture?

Any review of Love Wins at this juncture would be incomplete if it overlooked the absolutely non-existent exegetical practices employed by Bell in his interpretation of Scripture.  Outside of a select few instances where Bell decides to analyze the original Greek or Hebrew behind a specific phrase, Love Wins is rife with scripture verses that are quoted partially, out of context, and without any critical effort to understand what they mean.  As bad as the modern church has become at using Scripture for its own purposes and its own agenda, Love Wins is much worse on this issue.  Even when Bell does try to analyze the original Greek, his arguments are highly suspect because of his flippant approach to scriptural interpretation.  As a specific example, Bell tries to argue his way out of Matthew 25:46, which says “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

To show how this passage does not really mean that there is such a thing as “eternal punishment,” (since that can’t fit in with Bell’s preconceived notions of what a good story is), Bell says that the Greek term that Matthew used for the English phrase “eternal punishment” was “aion of kolazo,” which really means “a period of pruning or a time of trimming, or an intense experience of correction” (p. 91).  And Rob Bell might very well be correct on this translation of the phrase “aion of kolazo.”  If he is, it would totally transform  our understanding of Hell as a permanent place of punishment into a view of Hell as a temporary period of correction.  The problem?

This is not the actual Greek phrase used in Matthew 25:46.

The actual Greek words that are used are aiōnion and kolasin.  Look it up (or click on the links I’ve provided for these definitions).  While sharing similar roots with the words in Rob Bell’s phrase, they do not mean what Rob Bell would want them to mean.  Strong’s definition of aiōnion says that it means “eternal, unending” and it is the same word used to describe the unending nature of eternal life with God in the same verse.  Further, according to Strong’s definition of kolasin, the word means “chastisement, punishment.”

In short, the proper Greek phrase (not Bell’s Greek phrase), literally means “eternal punishment,” just as it says when we read it in our English translations.  If Bell can make this kind of mistake, whether ignorantly or intentionally, how can we really accept any of his use of Scripture with any kind of serious consideration?  It is a serious and dangerous flaw to mishandle the Word of God, especially for someone who calls himself a preacher.

So Does Love Really Win?

Yes, it does, but not according to Rob Bell’s definitions.  In fact, it can’t according to Rob Bell’s definitions.  If one does not have a view of God that recognizes his holiness, his justice, and his hatred of sin but that he loved sinners so much that He sent Christ to bear the unbearable punishment of His justice, it is impossible to appreciate the magnitude of God’s love.  It minimizes and cheapens it.  Bell gets so close on this point when he says God as righteously angry and just  would be too “psychologically crushing.  We can’t bear it.  No one can.” (p. 174).  And for the last time, I’ll pull another Rob Bell:

Exactly.

No one can handle that kind of punishment, yet Christ did for us.  How in the world does this not constitute the greatest victory of love in all of history?  He did this so that his sheep would be reconciled unto himself and his love would be made manifest to them.  When Rob Bell rejects the idea that God poured out his just wrath upon Christ, he destroys the only way in which love can truly win.  As this review has demonstrated, he replaces God’s love with a vague concept of human solidarity and equality that relies upon God as the convenient motivator that makes it all happen, but it’s not really love, properly understood.

But Rob Bell’s version of the story is not correct.  Love will win, because Jesus saves and God justifies.  Love will win because God’s story is correct and Rob Bell’s is not.

Conclusion

Love Wins is not a book that shares its teachings with Christianity, properly defined.  It instead takes Christianity and molds it into a new blend of postmodern, cosmic humanist, and existentialist philosophy that uses the name of Christ to advance agendas that are not found anywhere in Scripture.  I wish I could take the time to refute the teachings in Love Wins page by page, point by point, line by line, because there’s so much of it that flies in the face of what truly biblical Christianity has stood for in over two millennia.  Moreover, I wish that I could take the time to individually analyze the multitude of very poorly used Scripture passages.  Yet, it is not possible for me to do so in this medium, so I trust that my review has demonstrated enough support to justify my conclusion on Rob Bell’s Love Wins:

Thanks for the warning, John Piper.

"Thus, also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven." - Jonathan Edwards, "Heaven, a World of Love"


If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Back in the Kitchen

Not to be offensive or anything, but I don’t like feminists.*  Today, I just experienced a small reason why. A friend of mine on facebook shared a blog article by a self-proclaimed “feminist economist” who praised deficit spending as a “Grrrl’s best friend,” because it stimulates the economy.  One of her points was literally that we can always have as much money as we want because, don’t you know, we have these magical things called bonds! How wonderful is that!  (How often have we heard that line before?)

*An intelligent, competent, reasonable, and respectful woman is great.  It’s just that feminists are generally the opposite of these traits.

I’m not going to link to the post because I’m not a big fan of giving positive SEO signals to search engines for worthless content. However, google “feminist economist grrls best friend” and it’ll be your first hit if you want to read it.

Well, I took issue with this mess of an article for its poor economics and lack of intelligent reasoning. So much so that I again violated the rule that “I should not care if someone is wrong on the Internet.”   I decided to post a lengthy comment that was admittedly opinionated and significantly opposing the viewpoint of the original post, but I figured she’s a feminist economist, so she could take it. And if she’s a good open-minded liberal, I figured my comment would be accepted. There was no profanity, no name-calling, no threats, nothing that could be interpreted as anything but an opinionated presentation of an opposing view.

I mean, if you can’t take the heat…

Anyway, I saved my comment as a precaution just in case it wouldn’t be accepted.  Sure enough, I just checked the post and my comment is gone while a ton of new comments are in.   So, it’s safe to assume that mine is out.

Not to fear.  Here’s my comment re-posted.

For those who think this might be spiteful, it’s really not.  I’m just pointing out the:
A) Horrible reasoning by those who like to advocate deficit spending
B) Inconsistency of the “open-minded” mantra
C) The lack of backbone by this particular feminist…

..who just doesn’t know how to take the heat.

Enjoy.

“Here are the facts: U.S. government borrowing creates interest-bearing assets. The bonds are bought with dollars, the interest on them is paid in dollars and, at maturity, the bonds are paid off in dollars. Since the U.S. government is both sovereign in its own currency and the sole issuer of dollars, it can never run out of them. How could it?”

In simple language, it’s called counterfeit money. U.S. government monetary policy is in no way any different from what a counterfeiter would do. If I were to just cut up random bits of paper and say, “Here, use this, it’s worth $100!!!” you’d look at me like I was crazy. But the feds do it and all of a sudden, simply because the feds do it, it turns worthless paper into some form of valuable currency.

Here’s a simple fact: to my knowledge, most (if not all) nations that have introduced paper fiat currency into their economic system have always suffered severe inflationary whiplash afterwards. Of course, these nations introduced paper fiat currency because they wanted to spend more by creating money out of thin air. Well, they accomplished that goal, but it eventually crushed their economy.

I would like to thank the author for pointing out that U.S. infrastructure is failing, specifically bridges,
aviation, and dams. News flash: most of these infrastructure projects are built, maintained, run by, or overseen in some part by the federal government.  If you want to make such projects safer and more cost efficient (but I guess the author doesn’t care about the latter, since it isn’t consistent with a “MAXING OUT MY CREDIT CARDS…LOLZ!” philosophy), then privatize them.

The fundamental error of the author is that she believes that government somehow magically can violate economic and mathematical principles that the rest of us can’t. Another news flash: government is run by humans subject to the same physical and social laws that govern the rest of us. It’s amazing how in a modern society that has long ago left behind such ancient and ridiculous practices as child sacrifice, chants and amulets to ward off evil spirits, mystical oracles, and roaming druid priests, we still chant the hymns of political magic as if we expect to escape mathematical and economic laws by wishing they weren’t there.

Very poorly thought out article.

Special thanks to Shaun Connell of Stand Strong Research for pointing out the existence of this article and joining me in finding it absurd (I figured if I was going to share a link on this post, I’d actually do it to some worthwhile content).

P.S. My long-in-coming “Love Wins” review will hopefully be done this weekend at some point.  Depending on how high-quality it is, it may end up on  my Yahoo Contributor page, but regardless, I will let you know of its existence.


A Political Thought From H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville)

I have thoroughly enjoyed three of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novels in the past few weeks: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and just today, I was completely enraptured by his telling of The Time Machine.  Admittedly, there’s some decidedly communistic analysis of both present and future conditions in The Time Machine that frankly is just wrong.  However, I think Wells himself was somewhat disenfranchised with the Communist/Socialist utopia embodied by many intellectuals of his day.  I gathered this from the insights of the Time Traveler regarding his experience with human civilization in the year 802,701 A.D.

During that year, (spoiler alert), the Time Traveler finds two classes of men co-existing.   One class, the Eloi, live in a naive and childlike daze above ground.  They frolic in the daylight sun, eat fruit off the trees, bathe in sparkling streams of water, and have no economic, rational, or otherwise laborious concerns that would cause stress.   The other class, the Morlocks, lives in a brutal sub-world underneath the earth’s surface.  Their lives are run by machines and they are scared and bedazzled whenever confronted with light.  Their long existence underneath the earth has transformed them into hideous and bleached creatures with enormous and dilated eyes.   Nevertheless, they are humans–degenerate, ugly, and barbaric–but still humans.

As the Time Traveler spends his first days in this future world, he theorizes that the Eloi are in a state of communist perfection (not knowing of the existence of the terrible Morlocks yet).  To him, the Eloi live a life of no worries, no labor, and no danger, just perfection and utopia.  However, when he discovers the existence of the Morlocks, he hypothesizes that the Eloi are remnants of the capitalist overlords, which is why they live in wealth.  Meanwhile, the Morlocks are leftovers of the proletariat, living in misery.  But when the Time Traveler actually descends into the nest of the Morlocks, he discovers that it is they that hold the power over the Eloi.  They make everything above the world easy and peaceful for the Eloi until the time comes to eat.  At that point, the Morlocks capture and kill the fatted Eloi that they’ve been harvesting for the purposes of consumption all along.  In other words, the human race has degenerated into two groups–one that is lazy, non-intelligent, frivolous, and cripplingly innocent; and the other that is savage, brutal, and cannibalistic.  I truly appreciated this because it seemed to me to show that that Wells, at least at the time of this writing, might have believed there was a pitfall behind the coming revolution of the proletariat as predicted by Marx and other communists.  Wells seemed to acknowledge that such a revolution would create an illusion of utopia, but otherwise continue to perpetuate the use of force by one group to dominate another group.

And so, in chapter 10, the Time Traveller takes time to contemplate this miserable state of the human condition in the year 802,701.  His thoughts were to me extremely prophetic, and at the same time, highly sobering.  Although we do not face a future tomorrow of barbaric Under-World Morlocks and idiotic Upper-World Eloi, it is the kind of direction we should not want to take.  We obviously don’t want to be like the Morlocks, but just as importantly, we do not want to be like the Eloi.  At this, let’s see what Wells had to say through the eyes of the Time Traveller as he gazes over this new world (with my emphasis added):

“Here was the same beautiful scene, the same abundant foliage, the same splendid palaces and magnificent ruins, the same silver river running between its fertile banks. The gay robes of the beautiful people moved hither and thither among the trees. Some were bathing in exactly the place where I had saved Weena, and that suddenly gave me a keen stab of pain. And like blots upon the landscape rose the cupolas above the ways to the Under-world. I understood now what all the beauty of the Over- world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.

I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes – to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.

To me, these are clearly the words of a man who recognizes that, despite the wonderful predictions of a utopia brought about through the overthrow of the capitalists, there is something more sinister in its victory than anything that the previous civilizations had to offer: the death of the intellect and the nullification of the human soul.

I end this with (as the title of this post promised) a footnote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America.   Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the future of America was that it would turn into a nation of sheep, governed by shepherds who only pretend to care about the sheep on the outside.  So Tocqueville feared that they would keep the sheep very happy and content with themselves, allowing the shepherds to do as they would in the shadows (sounds just a bit like the Morlocks and the Eloi, doesn’t it?).  The nature of this power is that it,

“does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.” (Democracy in America, p. 662, Mansfield and Winthrop translation)

So it appears to me that Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi, upon closer examination, are just Tocqueville’s concerns carried to very extreme conclusions.  However, the principle is the same.

Tomorrow, we will not literally be the Eloi cattle to feed the Morlocks, but I ask you: are we becoming the timid and industrious animals that are content to allow our political masters to make us fat and happy while they work their schemes and systems upon society?  Are we becoming like the Eloi in that we don’t know (and don’t care) about the fundamental things of life and the expansion of our intellectual capacity and the strengthening of our moral fibers?  Do we just want comfort and ease under a seemingly benign slavery to bureaucrats, congressmen, and presidents,  or do we want to hardship, sacrifice, endurance, and liberty under the sovereignty of God’s power?

Just a thought from my reading of H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville).

"Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same." - H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine"