Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thou Shalt Not: A Christian View on Gay Marriage

Two days ago, President Barak Obama announced his unequivocal support for Gay Marriage. See video here.  While no one should be very surprised, given the president's unbelievably Liberal agenda, what did amaze me was how nonchalant he was in talking about it.  He spoke about this earth-shattering announcement as if it were as unique and interesting as his last trip to the dentist.

It should also not surprise us that the only way he could defend his choice, and really the only argument anyone can make for Gay Marriage is that it is about "fairness".  In that viewpoint, marriage is a right that belongs to all people for any reason and there is a segment of the population that are being denied that fundamental right.  Suddenly it is a civil rights battle pitted between progressive, compassionate, Liberals and backward, cold-hearted, Conservatives.  Furthermore, the only reason the Conservatives might have for denying gays the right to marriage, that view would say, is parochial tastes.  I like vanilla, not chocolate.  If the argument remains couched in that sort of thinking, the fight for "traditional" marriage is already over.  I would like to give a more accurate representation for the "Conservative" side.

God created.  God spoke forth and all that is came into being.  He made things and he made them good.  They functioned the way they were supposed to.  Nothing died, nothing wore out, nothing ventured outside its role.  Adam and Eve were married in an idyllic state.  She was presented to her husband and they were blessed.  They were to live and be fruitful and rule over the earth forever.  Until, that is, they sinned by attempting to usurp God's authority and become gods themselves.  They moved outside their role.  Because of their sin, they were cursed with pain, suffering, more sin, and death, and they passed on, spiritually and physically, that curse to each successive generation.  Humanity has continued to sin for all these many years down through the ages.  We have a cancer that is virulent and terrible and cannot be cured by any science we possess.  Despite our best efforts, we remain cursed.  Only through faith in God's sacrificial atonement in the person of Jesus Christ can we be brought into right relationship with God once again.  That will not cure the physical condition of the curse in this life, but it does cure the spiritual one.

This concept, the Christian understanding of the depravity of man and the need for salvation, has largely been lost.  It is lost from our classrooms, it is lost from the public square, it is even lost from most of our churches.  It has been replaced by a narrative of recent development that says man evolved from simple creatures over many millennia and, therefore, there was no Creator, no design, no purpose or role, no sin or curse, and no (need for a) state of grace.  All there can be is what we can see and measure through our scientific achievement.  We are the only gods we are ever going to know.  Therefore, why on earth would one group distinguish against another group?  One action or belief is only as valid as another.

The argument for civil rights has taken a substantial turn.  Civil rights (abolition, integration, women's rights) used to be couched in the concept that these were humans created in the image of God, and therefore they deserved equal treatment in society and under the law.  Now civil rights (mainly homosexual rights) are couched in the concept of that all humans have evolved similarly so no one can say that their view is more "right" than anyone else's.

The argument for some is about fairness.  But I would argue that for those who hold to the Judeo-Christian explanation of the origins of life and humanity, the argument is not about fairness at all, but about what God has said.  Our understanding of marriage is based on Scripture because we believe God has spoken.  God's creation of one man and one woman and his desire that they be united in monogamy was for a purpose - the ordering of a family (Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:21-33), and the production of offspring (Genesis 1:28; Malachi 2:15).  Neither happens correctly within a homosexual relationship (or even in a "progressive" heterosexual relationship where roles are redefined and procreation is prevented).  God has ordered marriage in a specific way for several reasons.  First, because the marriage relationship glorifies him because it is how he created humanity to function in his wisdom.  Second, because he is glorified when we are satisfied with what he has given.  Third, because marriage protects the family (the needs of the husband to work, achieve, and be respected; the needs of the wife to care for those around her and to be loved and defended; and the needs of children to be loved, directed, and channeled toward fruitfulness).  Fourth, because marriage protects the fabric of our culture (the rise of crime and sin has escalated exponentially with the breakdown of the marriage covenant).  What some groups would call a relationship of controls, God calls a beneficial restraint of sin.

A completely different aspect of this argument is whether or not we should ensconce support of sinful behavior as a part of our laws.  God has declared homosexuality to be a sin (Leviticus 18:22; Genesis 19; Judges 19; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Currently, in most (all?) states, there are laws that punish homosexual behavior (they are usually unenforced).  While I think some of these laws should be removed, I don't think that we should also enact laws that support homosexuals and their activity.  Some would say that homosexuality is a victimless crime, but homosexuality rips at the god-ordained and defined sanctity of marriage and so destroys marriage and its preserving influence on our culture.  Further, homosexuality is a diversion from god-ordained sexuality in form and purpose.  God did not design male or female bodies for same-sex sexual function.  Medical journals have shown the many problematic effects that can occur from homosexual activity, particularly between men.  Sinful sexuality (particularly homosexuality and bisexuality) introduced the world to AIDS.  Even if these situations were not the case, however, homosexuality still stands in opposition to God.  Should we, as a nation of law and order (if that is even what we are anymore) enact laws that make us all complicit in this sin?

The issue is not and has never been about fairness, but whether or not God has spoken.  Those who hold that he has cannot and will not support Gay Marriage or laws that support homosexuality.  Furthermore, I will not vote for any president or presidential candidate who will advocate for or support it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Minnesota Marriage: Homosexuality, Rights, and the Gospel

There has been a lot of debate about state or even national votes for the legalization of same-sex marriage.  Several states have already legalized it.  Now an amendment the Minnesota state constitution has been proposed to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  While to some this may seem redundant, given that there are already somewhere around 515 laws currently on the books that operate from this understanding, but the amendment would make it much harder to pass a new definition of marriage law or amendment.

Last Friday, I went to a performance by the 515 Players, an advocacy and lobbying group that puts on short plays in order to shed light on the homosexual civil rights struggle and convince people to vote "no" on the amendment, set for popular vote early this upcoming November.  This was informative, yet pretty much what I expected.  I had not realized before I went to the play that there are at least 515 statutes that discriminate against homosexual couples - in the play they mentioned probably about twenty.  However, the way it was presented was a series of vignettes of historical gay civil rights battles, and emotional appeals designed to remind people that homosexuals have the same feelings and desires as everyone else and therefore deserve the same rights under the law as everyone else.  They have a point.

There are several elements that need to be examined in the consideration of the upcoming amendment vote.  The first is ethical, the second is legal, and the third is theological (not necessarily in the at order).  Ethically speaking, no human being should be considered as part of a sub-class of humans.  As Christians, we have fought hard for this against . . . Liberals.  We Christians feel that Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians (etc.), the aged, the infirm, the mentally challenged, and the unborn all should have full human status.  If we are to be consistent, we must include homosexuals.  Based on those ethics, all humans should have the same legal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That being the case, laws that discriminate against specific groups of people should be challenged.  Theologically speaking however, homosexual behavior is blatant sin, and embodies idolatry, because it denies that God created man and woman for specific functions and roles.  Therefore it also denies Yahweh is God in the fullest sense, even where you have some form of mixture in those calling themselves Christian yet supporting, encouraging, or engaging in homosexual behavior.

Here we find ourselves, if we are Christians, to be in a bit of a quandary.  How do we support legal rights for fellow humans while not supporting sinful behavior or recognizing homosexuality as a viable lifestyle option (and this is based on theology, medicine, and science)? Here is my proposition.  First, that we should vote "yes" for the definition of marriage amendment - to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Second, we should contact our local representatives and congresspeople and request that as a second popular vote, a task force might be created, made up of both liberals and conservatives, to identify laws that might discriminate against same-sex couples and that they be posted publicly, and then voted upon statute by statute in a further popular vote.  I suggest this because some of the "discriminatory" statutes support biblical understandings of marriage and must be supported, while others make very little sense and actually go against the ethics we Christians say we support.

Before I list examples, let me just say this.  Homosexuality, while aberrant and sinful, has been with humanity a long time and will always be with us because it is human sin.  Because humans are, on their own, idolaters, we will never see the end of this until the Lord returns.  But we Americans have drafted a bill of rights and a constitution that we have said is for all Americans.  And Minnesotans have drafted state laws that should be for all Minnesotans.  Because homosexuals are people, and live among us, we must be careful to provide for them and their needs while not, effectively, supporting their behavior.

Now for a couple of examples - survivor benefits and end of life decisions.  Those who have partnered with someone else of the same sex cannot necessarily claim any survivor benefits that would normally go to a heterosexual spouse.  This should be examined.  These laws were created in a time when people were generally paid a "family wage."  It was expected that there was one income-earner in the home and that the (female) spouse would be left destitute if the male spouse died.  Most positions no longer offer a family wage (some don't even offer a living wage based on the market) and so a surviving spouse would be able, and expected, to work.  Therefore the law is archaic.  Even so, the same consideration, under the law, is not available to a surviving partner in a same-sex couple.  While it may seem like a bit of a moot point given our current economic culture, there may be cases in which a surviving partner might be denied needed benefits.  This is unfair ethically and legally.

As for end of life decisions, decisions about care, tissue and body donations, and even resuscitation legally stand with a heterosexual spouse instead of the biological family.  This is not the case in a same-sex relationship.  Therefore decisions that may be at odds with the deceased person's wishes, or his/her partner's wishes may be enacted.  While we might say something along the lines of, "We wouldn't give those rights to a heterosexual couple who were merely living together either", I would remind us that we have not legally allowed these people the opportunity to be legally bound to each other.

I do not advocate gay marriage - I stand strongly opposed to it.  Yet I think we need to provide reasonable laws suited for the realities of our broken culture.  Should we look at civil unions as an alternative? Shall we just change or abandon statutes that are on the books that unfairly discriminate?  I think that we should merely do for these people what is consistent with our theology and ethics for humanity.  I also think, if we turn a blind eye to this issue, we will lose marriage altogether as well as all rights as Christians in the eventual backlash.

P.S., I would love respectful feedback on this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas without A Literal Christ: Tim Padgett's Christmas for All

I recently read an online article about Christmas from Tim Padgett at Time Magazine. He covered the gamut from strained relationships between Christians and Muslims to the strained relationships between Christians and atheists. On his way, he took potshots at Fundamentalists and mentioned the death of Christopher Hitchens (a man with a very ironic name). But the thing in his article which stood out to me was his solution to the strained relationships - Christian doctrinal acquiescence in the face of any opposition, and the adoption of a subjective, emotional, and innocuous faith.

Padgett suggests that Christians should believe doctrines, but also suggests that they should believe not because they are true, but because these doctrines are inherently Christian. He says,
Christians believe that Jesus' nativity was a virgin birth . . . [b]ut if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that . . . miracles didn't occur, they would shrug -- because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the power of the story.
The problem with this way of thinking is that if it isn't true, if the miracles didn't happen, if God does not exist or has not broken into our world, then the story has no power whatsoever. At that point, the story must become whatever helps us sleep at night. His theory makes the Gospel subjective, and insinuates that it could be, or is, untrue. To him that is alright. But the theory has subtly gutted the Gospel of all power and left us all in sin. His theory also reduces any believer to a pitiable, ignorant, wretch. The Apostle Paul once wrote, "[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:17-19)."

Padgett also writes, "Most of us don't believe in God because we think it's a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God -- our belief in the living ideal of ourselves . . . instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness. . ." It sounds like he is here equating God with either a sense of a divine self or at least some kind of self improvement. This sounds like theology a la Oprah. But again, without a God who has spoken, without a measure of good, what self improvement can there be? All there is left is man-made, agreed-upon standards which shift at a whim. The subjective is a dark, cold place without bounds or stability. This is not Christian theology. This has no place alongside Christian doctrine. This is a Christmas without a literal Christ and a subjective Advent without hope of salvation. I hope we all can see that Padgett's Christmas cannot defeat sin and will not provide answers to the Muslim or the atheist.

Instead, I hope that you are able to celebrate the Advent this year with the peace of the knowledge that the God who created and spoke has broken into our world through the virgin's womb, has lived sinlessly, has died ignominiously (and vicariously), has risen gloriously, and is poised to return to destroy all opposition to his dominion and to claim all who are his. Merry Christmas!

What Christmas Is Really About

Here is a great video from Grace in Cranberry. This video is an artistic representation of biblical theology covering the overall biblical story from Creation to the New Creation and places the Advent story in its proper context.

The Story of Christmas - An Animation from Grace in Cranberry on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Lone Wolf' Terrorists are Government's Biggest Fear

President Obama came out yesterday with a statement that he is less worried about an orchestrated large-scale terrorist attack on the United States than he is about the 'lone wolf' extremist. This is made obvious by the tightened government controls over its own population. The Patriot Act was a bill signed into Law by President Bush in 2001, and has been extended and expanded under Barack Obama. Essentially, this act allows the government to suspect, conduct surveillance upon without a warrant, and arrest people with which the government does not agree under the auspices of preventing 'domestic terrorism.'

The FBI and Homeland Security have been given increased roles in monitoring U.S. citizens. They are able to monitor all phone conversations by computer and flag specific words of interest through voice recognition software for investigation. They review medical records, financial interactions, and other personal information for possible suspicious activity. They have access to permits granted for all buildings, satellite topography, and the GPS built into our phones, computers, and cars.

They also use corporations and financial institutions for information gathering. When I worked at a particular bank chain, I was required by law to send a report to the FBI any time someone transferred a large amount of money. The criteria were: if the amount was $10,000.00 or above; if the amount was unusual given the individual's account history; or if anything about the transaction made us personally suspicious or uncomfortable. (and we were subtly encouraged to profile based on race or economic background). The purpose was clearly spelled out, the FBI collects this information to prevent drug trafficking, terrorist funding, and to prosecute fraud. The FBI needs no warrant to conduct these investigations.

More recently, while working for a "big box" hardware retailer, I was notified that we are now required to take notice of people's purchases and look specifically for items that could be used for creating explosive devices or used as other weapons. We are to report the "incident" to our manager who will review it and if it appears suspicious to them, they will report it to police. The police will in turn hand the investigation over to the government. Thus we have turned our everyday transactions into spying operations.

One may object and say, "If you are not guilty, you have nothing to fear." The problem is, that sentiment does not deal honestly with our current political climate. When "terrorism" is such a charged word and so broadly defined; when those accused of "terrorism" are swept up and held or even tortured without rights or aid; and when our politicians are accusing other political parties of being "terrorists;" we have entered a dangerous time. What happens the next time you head into your local hardware store to buy some nails and steel pipe fittings? You may just be quietly investigated as a terrorist.

Why am I making such a big deal about this? For one reason. The Patriot Act, for as much comfort it may give us from the Bogey Man, stands blatantly against the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights on several points. First, all citizens have the right to Habeas Corpus - the right to a court date or possible release under the Constitution Article 1, Section 9. This right is removed under the Patriot Act. Second, Treason against the United States (and isn't that what domestic terrorism should be defined as?) consists only in levying war or adhering to her enemies - and no one may be convicted except by two witnesses or open admission in court (Constitution Article 3, Section 3). Amendment II of the Bill of Rights states that the right to bear arms (within a well regulated militia) shall not be infringed. This means Sam Smith could own or build a bomb, but it depends on how he uses it, if he uses it, as to whether or not he is guilty of a crime. Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. . ." Is a box of nails probable cause? Is a large amount of money probable cause? Amendment V of the Bill of Rights states that no one is to be held to answer for a crime unless indicted. Amendment VI of the Bill of Rights entitles people to a speedy and public trial by jury. (V and VI are saying citizens cannot be held for long periods of time without official charges which would lead to public trial.) Amendment VIII of the Bill of Rights prohibits cruel and unusual punishments of either the accused or the convicted (i.e., no torture).

The Patriot Act contravenes our founding articles of law and freedom and allows our government to move against its own populace by fiat. Don't fear the Bogey Man or lone wolf, yes these situations can occur, but they are very infrequent and result in relatively little loss of life (although I agree that no loss of life is really acceptable). Rather, fear the government that removes rights previously given and then redefines criminal activity in order to retain power and influence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Horse of a Different Color: What Makes the Difference between Liberals and Socialists?

As President Obama has been making his stumping rounds for re-election, he is running into opposition. An Iowa Tea Party member, Ryan Rhodes, accused the president of being a Socialist. What would make Barack Obama a Socialist or just an extreme-left Liberal? Maybe a working definition would help.

In order to define liberalism and socialism best, I think we need to split the two terms along certain lines, under social, religious, and political headings.

Social: How do liberals versus socialists order society? What decisions do they make and what is their reasoning behind it? Liberals tend to desire a free society in which people can make make decisions for their own life apart from government involvement, but who can also count on their government as a source of consistent help. Society, in this utopian vision, bands together in order to use the government for the good of all citizens. The ideal of this system may be closest to a true Democracy. Government programs are used for one end alone, a happy and free society.

Socialists, at least under the Communist system, see freedom a little differently. The people rise up and form a proletariat government, in which the government is given the power to make decisions for the people by the initial will of the people. In Communism, the only form of Socialism the West is really familiar with, the wealthy are unburdened of their wealth and it is in-turn supposed to be redistributed to those who are poor. This is supposed to have a leveling effect on society and make all people equals. Education, money, and talents are all to be equal throughout society.

Religious: The Liberal would tend to remain somehow religious. Historically, they would be Christian or Unitarian. Liberalism would like to see God's gifts and resources used to the optimum societal impact. However it tends toward the Social Gospel - seeing societal and physical care as almost the sole function of the Church. Freedom of religion is still important and the Church is still "useful."

Socialists, however, reject religion in general and Christianity in particular as the "opiate of the masses." The socialist believes that society is all there is and is all that is needed. This is Secular Humanism and is a direct result of the acceptance of Darwinian evolutionary theory. In the case of Communism, religion is either tightly controlled or it is entirely, and often violently, removed from society. This model would tend toward freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Political: As mentioned earlier, Liberals like Democracy; the will of the majority is what should organize and move the political process. If the majority can be swayed, then its new will should be enforced. Therefore, the media is seen as a very useful tool in swaying minds to Liberal ideals. (Historically, the only democratic processes that are built into the United States' political system are voting for political candidates and voting on bills within the Congress. The other checks and balances were put in place to ensure a Republic rather than a Democracy.)

Socialists, again in the Communist system, form a strong centralized government, often led by a dictator or cabinet, which makes decisions about who gets what and where resources will go. In a more pure Socialist system, the government would be a loose faction of representatives sent by the people to determine how to properly use the commune's resources. (Again, the concept of representatives is reflected in the United State's political structure, but does not reflect the ideals of Communism particularly because the U.S. has an executive branch and a bicameral legislature).

So given those criteria, how can we determine where President Obama stands? Is he a Liberal or is he a Socialist? Socially, he is for big government and giving breaks to the poor while seeking to heavily tax the rich. While he has not directly advocated "redistribution" of wealth from the rich to the poor, his policies would take in larger and larger amounts from the wealthy to the government to cover debts incurred by decisions made by his administration, ostensibly for the good of the people. While this wouldn't land him quite into the Communist camp, I believe it lands him solidly within Socialism.

Religiously, Obama has attended a very socially and religiously Liberal Church. He does not regularly attend services as President, and has made comments for evolutionary explanations of existence and against conservative interpretations of the Bible. He also has made comments against Christian beliefs. He keeps his cards relatively close to his chest here, but it is a pretty safe bet he is neither a believing Christian or a friend of the Christian Gospel. His policies also seem to indicate that he is not merely interested in the Social Gospel, but in humanistic social advocacy. Hence his original slogan, with all its quasi-religious undertones, "Change we can believe in."

Politically, President Obama has further centralized an already highly-centralized government, setting up "czars" over several social, financial, and industrial domains. These czars make decisions on what standards and taxes will be put in place and exert control over an entire field. This centralization is exactly what we would see from a socialist or even a Communist taking the executive office.

While he protests the Socialist moniker, I believe by this simple definition we can see that President Obama is, indeed, a Socialist and not a Liberal. Further, I think we would be surprised to find that many, if not most, Conservatives are actually Liberals and most Liberals, if pressed, are actually Socialists.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Credit Ratings, Debt Limits, and Fiscal Responsibility

The United States' national credit rating has been downgraded by Standard and Poor's (S&P) from AAA to AA Plus. A move that it promised it would not pursue if an agreement was reached by Congress on the debt limit. Both sides acquiesced in order to prevent the rating downgrade. That the S&P reacted so quickly is shocking, but more shocking still is message it sends.

Internationalism is the name of the game. How do we raise the debt ceiling? By agreeing to take on more foreign borrowing and interests. This is what we have been doing unabated for years. Further, we are spending far more than we are bringing in by taxes. How do you think that happens? By operating on foreign lines of credit. As long as we become further indebted to other nations, the more we need them and the happier they are to offer more. Its great to have a seemingly unending supply of money . . . until the money is cut-off and the debts are called-in. So what of raising taxes to cover those debts? How quickly can we crawl out of a $17 Trillion debt? And why should the tax-paying citizenry foot the bill because a batch of bureaucrats said we should fight seemingly endless wars, send foreign aid, sell off U.S. land to foreign interests, and bail out companies that cannot get basic economics right? I believe the amount owed to cover this is a bit above $45 K.

If everyone could pay $45 K this year (beyond what we normally pay to keep the government running and providing its services), we could be out of debt 12 months from now. Yet the average income per person in the U.S. (as of 2006) was somewhat above $26 K. So we easily see that we are talking years, likely many years, to pay off this debt, assuming a realistic tax rate, no more economic downturns, no accrued interest (either to our government or foreign creditors), and no further escalation of the debt.

So who can afford to pay more of this debt than others? The Rich! Raise the tax upon the rich (who can afford to pay more tax after-all) and we will pay this down faster! Yet if we tax the rich more, to decrease the debt, how far do we tax them? We already have a tiered bracketing system for income taxes. Do we just tax them down from insanely wealthy to incredibly wealthy, or all the way to average joe? What incentives do they have to remain wealthy (and how can we assume they will remain earning the large amounts that made them wealthy on a constant timeline)? Why work for what you can't keep? Robin Hood may have pursued noble causes, but try telling that to the land-owners he robbed.

Does the elected government know better what to do with our money than we do? Is it right to take what is earned by one to give it to another who doesn't work? the USSR said yes; where did it lead them? Why are we not gleaning lessons from history? How, also, have GM and Chrysler, and the financial institutions paid back the bailouts and all the fraudulent loans they promised and reneged on?

After witnessing about 150 years worth of bad financial and business decisions within this nation, I am not surprised that our credit rating has been downgraded. The bad decisions have inundated Washington (which is prone to this sort of thing even without encouragement). Spend huge amounts of money you don't have to bailout companies that can't keep themselves solvent because they catered to (created?) a culture that cannot save or responsibly handle income. Sounds reasonable. We have not deserved our stellar credit for a long time. We have played the same con-game that brought down Enron.

The liberal policies of spending what isn't there and giving away what they didn't earn has led to this. The welfare state cannot exist for long because it is an ever-growing black hole. Look at Spain and Greece. There will never be enough to satisfy. And if you find yourself unlucky enough to have worked for wealth, you will run afoul of all the slavering money-hounds (right Germany?). Good luck!

What's the solution? A truly balanced budget in which we do not overextend ourselves or give what was never ours, no matter what they do to our credit rating. Where is the adage: never a borrower but a lender be? Where are the debts America can call in? Where is our repayment for what we have given? All I can say is Chrysler better be making one heck of a car - I expect mine delivered tomorrow, in red please.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

C.A.S.T. Pearls - "Robbed Hell"

This was an extremely humorous, yet astute, critique on Rob Bell's recent video advertisement for his new book, Love Wins.

Robbed Hell - C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

Well done guys!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rob Bell: A Focus on Man Trumps the Authority of Scripture

Most of you have probably already read or watched some of the hubbub about Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. I will admit up front that I haven't read it. I have only read the description of the book, some editor's notes, and the reviews and interviews of many people whom I respect a great deal. The basic gist of the book is that God loves the world and its people so much, and God himself is so loving, that he could not possibly leave people to suffer in hell for eternity. Instead, God will probably give all people the opportunity to hear the Gospel, repent, and believe in Christ after their deaths. In light of God's glory and an illuminated mind, all people would certainly choose Christ and be ushered into heaven. Therefore, God's love wins.

On the surface, this sounds like good news. All people, everywhere, will be saved! God's power over the fallenness of man, death, and hell is completely vindicated. God's love is all powerful. Now we can relax and not worry so much about our eternal destiny. From a pastoral position, what could assuage the pain of losing an unbelieving family member, or convince a congregant struggling with assurance, more than this? This would appear to be the silver bullet gospel.

There's only a few problems with this way of thinking: Scripture, God, Jesus, and the early Church all stand in opposition to this way of thinking. Because we believe that the Canon of Scripture is closed, and because we are not seeing God showing up in dramatic ways or raising-up prophets from among us, we must look to the Bible for truth concerning these matters.

So what does the Bible say about Hell? The Old Testament speaks of "She'ol," "the pit," in which the dead are held (Job 7:9; Psa 18:5-7; 139:8; Prov 30:16). It also talks about this place as a place of darkness (Psa 88:10-12; 143:3) and the land of the Shadow of Death (Psa 23; Isa 9:2). Here the concept is that regardless of one's morality, the soul will live on in a holding place. This is a similar concept to the Greek "Hades," and that word was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) and in the Greek New Testament.

The clarification of the concept of "Hell" largely comes from Jesus' teachings within the New Testament. Jesus reiterates the description of the darkness of the place of the dead and associates it with misery and judgment (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Torment awaits the wicked (Mark 9:47-48). The word used for this place of torment is "Gehenna," which actually means the Valley of Hinnom, a valley outside of Jerusalem where trash, excrement and the bodies of criminals or animals were dumped and burned. The concept is that the soul has been given over to disregard and destruction.

This destruction is not a momentary punishment, nor is the soul actually destroyed in the sense that it ceases to exist. Rather, this destruction is an eternal one. Jesus himself says in Mark 9:48, "Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." There is also an association between Hell and the Lake of Fire. Revelation indicates that Satan and his demons, as well as the wicked of Hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 19:19-21; 20:10). Again, Scripture declares that this will be eternal punishment.

Further, Scripture tells us that those who are saved from this torment are an exclusive group. Revelation 20:15 says, "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." This book of life is that by which all people are judged. This book contains the names of those who believe the promises of God and are in Christ (Psa 69:28; Rev 13:8). Scripture makes it clear that those who do not believe in God and his promises, specifically the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ, will be permanently separated from him and will be eternally tormented.

Why does Scripture portray such an horrific picture? For the reason why, we must look to the overarching theological narrative of Scripture. God created humanity in his image to rule in his stead over creation (Gen 1:26-28). Long after the fall, he selected a specific man and his offspring through which to show his blessing and will to the world (Gen 22:15-18). As the ultimate King (Num 23:21; 1 Sam 10:18-19; 12:12), God has mercy and blessing for those who serve him, and curses and death for those who oppose him (Deut 20). Because of Israel's overall failure in their mission, Jesus, both man and God, came to redeem creation (Col 1:19-23). Yet Jesus did not merely come to die for sinners; he came to be King (Matt 27:11; John 1:46; 18:36-37). He performed the kingly duty of instructing his people in right worship and love for God and sacrificed his life for them (Deut 17:14-20; 1 Kings 8; Heb 9:26-28). When he returns, however, he will not be coming as a meek lamb but as a mighty lion (Rev 5:5). And just as Yahweh commanded the Israelites to do to their enemies in the Pentateuch, Jesus will do to those who oppose him (Rev 19:11-21; ). This is because Jesus is a Hebrew King who will be continuing to live out the purposes of the Law within the world.

We are confronted here with a kingdom understanding. This is what Rob Bell has either never learned or forgotten. He has become so focused on human feelings and on the idolatrous self-worship within his congregation that he has moved away from what Scripture says explicitly. Those who oppose king Jesus, within the world and within the church (Matt 7:13-27; Matt 25; Rev 2:16) will meet Satan's fate in the end.

What is the Gospel message? It must not be that God loved you for who you are and therefore died for you in order to leave you who you are (in your sins) and yet be reconciled. That is a vacuous and completely unbiblical notion. The Gospel message is that God will finally, violently, destroy sin and has given us a way to be reconciled to him (the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and covenant faithfulness through the work of the Holy Spirit in us) in order to escape his coming wrath. Those who cannot see God as wrathful have had a snow-job pulled on them. God's love only wins as people rightly cling to Jesus for salvation and to worship God rightly. Only then can they be saved from God himself.

Rob Bell has, in the past, brought up the fate of Ghandi. "Ghandi's in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?" Yes, Rob, we do. Not because he was a particularly "bad" man, but because on his own he could not please God (Isa 64:6; John 15:5-6). He died apart from covenant faith in Jesus Christ and thus he is the enemy of God, so God's wrath is currently being poured out upon him. I say that with absolutely no pleasure at all. This is why Paul could say to King Agrippa, "I pray that [you] may become what I am, except for these chains." This is why evangelism is so important.

Rob Bell also seems to indicate that people will have the ability to choose to believe differently after death, thereby escaping judgment and wrath. Again, this is not evidenced by Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 says, "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." In a parable about those held in She'ol, Jesus talks about a rich man who is suffering for his wickedness (Luke 16:19-31). If Bell's theology is true, why did this man not believe in Christ or at least in the promises of God and be released from torment? Scripture and the teachings of Jesus do not support Bell's view.

There are many "Christian" writers today who advocate that a "god of love" is superior to "a god of wrath." This concept is a false dichotomy. Scripture shows Yahweh to be both. In order to demonstrate God to be only one way or another, much Scripture must be ignored. Our God is ultimately concerned with his own glory and his creation rightly living in relationship with him. He has demonstrated both wrath upon his enemies and grace through covenant love (Heb. "hesed"). This covenant love is not merely the fleeting emotion that we humans experience, but a love that is governed by a covenant structure (e.g., Deuteronomy). Without bounds and without structure, love is fickle and ephemeral. We do not serve a fickle or ephemeral God. He is not a man that he should change his mind (Num 23:19).

Another major problem with Rob Bell's theology is that it would force God to disregard his own glory and wink at sin and suffering, which is exactly what Bell wants to balm. God becomes anemic to stop or punish sin, but his love will, after death, forget human sin and usher everyone, no matter what they've done toward God or each other, into bliss. Where is the Scriptural warrant for that, and how is it satisfying? I wonder how much comfort the Holocaust survivors would have if they thought that Hitler will be enjoying God's blessings forever? Maybe that seems ungracious, but the implications of his theology are broad and dissatisfying. It also does become universalistic. If all people, including Ghandi - a non-Christian, will be saved apart from belief in Christ here on earth or covenant fealty, what's the point of believing anything, or doing anything? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die [and be ushered into eternal happiness] (Luke 12:16-20). How is that different from Universalism?

Bell's theology, as winsome as it may first appear, is an emotional appeal to a postmodern audience who have never heard of (or rejected) covenants, absolute truth, and the actual personage of the returning King Jesus. Love will certainly win, but not through the gutting of the Gospel in favor of personal feelings. Love will win when sin and its purveyors are finally destroyed and those who have placed trust in the King are finally saved and given eternal relationship with their God. To him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Devastation of Divorce

A good friend of mine recently told me that his wife and he were separated and divorcing. The news has gutted me, in part because of the friendship the four of us have shared, and in part because I supported them in their friendship, courtship, wedding, and marriage. The end of the marriage is like the death of a friend.

What has hurt me even more deeply is that he is no longer a believer. He has taken a stance he considers to be agnostic, but has certain undertones of unbelief in and hostility toward the Gospel. He does not believe he can trust in the claims of Scripture or apply it to his life. He said this shift began years ago, and in retrospect I did see it. I had shared my concerns with him, but only too late. I had not realized how far he had traveled down the road of apostasy.

His wife has traveled the same road, but apart from him. I remember her staunch advocacy for the inerrancy of Scripture. I remember their desire to know all they could about the Bible and apologetics. Those days are long gone.

My friend told me that he did not believe the Bible or biblical instruction was necessary to live a moral life, and that he sees no punishment or reward at the end of life. He feels that to live for such a thing would be to cheapen life's experiences.

The sad irony is that this thinking is exactly what leads to corruption. He abandoned sound biblical faith and his marriage is dissolving because of it. Things may not have been going right before, but without the mooring of Scripture and biblical marriage commands, there was no reason to continue to fight for the marriage.

Each person operates under a philosophy. He or she must find meaning to enrich life. Why do we exist? If the answer to that question is anything other than "to glorify God," the impact of alternative philosophies will be far reaching. The philosophy is the earthquake that begins the tsunamis of life, which, in turn, wipe away the structures built for joy.

My friend and his wife have abandoned the truth, as foolish as it may seem sometimes, for intricate and dazzling lies. And their marriage is ending because of it. While I remain friends with them, inside I grieve for them because they are, after a fashion, dead. Mere ghosts who walk around in the sunshine. So I truly grieve three deaths right now.

My prayers right now are that, in desperation, they may look to Scripture with hope, and that the Holy Spirit would illuminate their eyes. Even now, it is not too late for healing of their souls and their marriage. I pray that the hardness of their hearts and the stiffness of their necks would be softened so they would repent of their sin and turn to their only healer.

I also take many things away with me from this situation. I have spoken with my wife, and grieved with her. We have talked about our own areas of sin and hard-heartedness. We have also committed to spending more time in prayer and Bible-study together. Our vows mean everything because God means everything to us. Without him, marriage is reduced a contract of convenience. We must not live that way.

Please, friends, pray for these friends of mine. Please pray without ceasing, even though you don't know them, because it pleases God for you to do so, and because you would want other believers to do this for you. Pray because we believe in a God who resurrects the dead.

Japan: A Land Devastated yet Full of Opportunity

The Headlines are everywhere. Japan has been rocked by earthquakes, tsunamis, and explosions at nuclear power plants. There are many thousands missing, and many dead washing up on shore. Japan will never be the same again.

Japan is a land that has embraced modern hedonism and still holds closely to Buddhism and native Shinto. The regional warlords of their feudal age, known as Daimyo, were cruel toward Christians, even crucifying some at Nagasaki Harbor in 1597. Japan is still largely non-Christian.

The devastation of Japan is horrifying. But this is also a great opportunity for believers in Jesus Christ. This is a time when hearts and ears are open. We who are believers outside of Japan should give humanitarian aid for assuaging the physical agony of the Japanese people, but even more importantly, we should give Bibles and money to Japanese churches for their use in aid and evangelism efforts. We should also pray that the Gospel would spread and that those who are left would be spared eternal torment. You believers in Japan, I urge you on to do good works and to live out the Gospel that has been entrusted to you. Ephesians 2:4-10 says,
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raises us up with Christ and seated him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.