What Good Will Come From the Bell Brouhaha?

Over the last few weeks, since Justin Taylor brought everyone’s attention to the trailer for Rob Bell’s new book, there’s been a good deal of debate, discussion… and a bit of name calling. Bell’s been making the rounds with the media, including a story in USA Today, a live webcast with Newsweek editor Lisa Miller, and even a stop with Martin Bashir at MSNBC.

Particularly in the last two events cited, it’s been fascinating to see how Bell reacts to pointblank questions. Lisa Miller asked him outright if he was a liberal mainline Protestant posing as an Evangelical, stating that everything he’s writing in this book has been said in the mainline denominations for the last 50 or 60 years. And he squirms for a moment before answering that he believes he’s totally an Evangelical and orthodox. And while some might think that Bashir was being uncharitable, he took the opportunity to ask the hard questions that many have been wanting to ask Bell for years, giving him ample opportunity to clarify. Again, he squirms and fails to ever give a simple or straight answer, which is incredibly frustrating.

Regardless of where you stand on the Rob Bell-arama of the last month, whether you’re for or against what he’s teaching, a question we all should be asking is, “What good is going to come of all of this?”

My wife and I have been talking about this since for weeks now and she made much the same point as Kevin DeYoung in his monster review/response:

Love Wins has ignited such a firestorm of controversy because it’s the current fissure point for a larger fault-line. As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism. The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.

This point is bang on. There is incredible division underlying the whole evangelical movement and this is only going to make it more evident. Because the place of the Bible within corporate worship and within the lives of so many of us has been downplayed in favor of entertainment or having a good experience, we’ve forgotten what it says, why it matters and who is in authority over us (that’s Jesus, if you’re wondering where I stand on that).

So as this divide becomes more and more evident, here are a few positive things that I can see coming:

1. People will eventually have to put their cards on the table. As Jared Wilson put it well, “Thanks to the inevitable picking of sides, we get to see who aligns with heterodox views and who doesn’t.” This will actually help us all to understand how to talk to one another if we actually want to have meaningful dialogue, as many profess is their desire.

2. People will learn the difference between asking questions and questioning. This, ultimately,has to do with motivation. If asking questions about essential doctrines is based on a desire to understand how they came to be and why they matter, it’s a good and God-honoring thing. If questions come unceasingly and answers are never accepted, perhaps there’s something more going on than wanting to know the answer.

3. Doctrinal clarity will emerge. Heresy and scandal have had a way of helping the Church come to a clear position on the key doctrines of the faith. It happened with Athanasius and Arius over the eternality of Christ. It happened with Augustine and Pelagius over the sinful nature of man and our ability to attain salvation on our own. It happened with Marcion and his dualistic view of God that ultimately led to the solidifying of the biblical canon. These weren’t mere dialogues over different perspectives. They were efforts to contend for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This debate opens the door for the Church to regain a robust understanding of, and appreciation for, the essentials of the faith and an opportunity for us to repent of being like the church at Pergamum and turning a blind eye to the false teaching in our midst (cf. Rev. 2:14-15). The Christian faith, if we really believe it’s true, is worth contending for and conforming to.

That, in a nutshell, is the good that I hope will come from the Bell brouhaha. How about you?

20 Things God Does When He Saves You

A helpful breakdown of 20 things that God does when He saves you, courtesy of Norm Millar, Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel London.

When God saves you, He…

  1. Regenerates you, moving you from spiritual death to life. (John 3:1-8)
  2. Redeems you, buying you out of slavery to sin. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
  3. Justifies you, declaring you innocent in His sight. (Romans 5:1-9)
  4. Sanctifies you, setting you apart as holy. (1 Cor 1:2,30)
  5. Forgives you of all your sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
  6. Cleanses you, removing from you the stain of sin. (Hebrews 9:14)
  7. Reconciles you to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
  8. Seals you with His Spirit as a guarantee of your future hope. (Ephesians 1:13)
  9. Indwells you, sending the Holy Spirit to live in you. (Romans 8:9)
  10. Adopts you, making you His child. (Romans 8:14-17)
  11. Baptizes you into Christ’s body, the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
  12. Illuminates your mind so you can understand the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
  13. Makes you a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  14. Reveals you as one of His elect. (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:29-30)
  15. Grants you eternal life. (John 11:25-27, 1 John 5:11-13)
  16. Names you an heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  17. Grants you an inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3-4)
  18. Declares you a saint. (Romans 1:7, Colossians 1:2)
  19. Grants you new citizenship, making your home heaven rather than this world. (Philippians 3:20)
  20. Makes you a slave of Christ, a slave with the greatest, most glorious Master that any could ask for. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)

Praise God for the assurance that comes from these great truths.

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Book Review: Who is Jesus…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Title: Who is Jesus . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)

In the first book of the Coffee House Chronicles series, Is the Bible True… Really?, co-authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett introduced readers to Nick, a freshman student at a State school in Texas who’s faith is put to the test when confronted with the hard questions about the reliability of the Bible.

In book two of the series, Who is Jesus . . . Really?, we find Nick has gone on to lead a student Bible Study that meets in a local coffee house and things are great—until the school’s atheist club arrives with a series of hostile questions about the identity of Jesus Christ. Among the group’s members is Nick’s friend Andrea, who had followed him along the journey of discovering the truth about the Bible, but rejected God after the death of a close cousin.

Nick and friends Jamal, Jessica and Mina begin a series of conversations with Andrea and her friends Brett, Scott and Lauren to discover if the claims of Christianity about Jesus are reliable. Along the way, they learn that:

1. If one trusts the historical evidence for the existence of Socrates, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, one must also accept the evidence for the existence of Christ. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that there is more evidence for Christ’s existence than of any of these men. Likewise, His existence is verified through multiple sources, not only Christian, but Greek, Roman and Jewish. Each source confirms the crucifixion of Christ and the subsequent worshipping of Him as God by His followers. [Read more…]

Book Talk: The Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade and Tim O’Connor

Kids’ Bibles are a strange animal.

There’s a lot of effort that’s put into making the stories of the Bible sensible to children; in the process, however, many important facets of God’s interactions with His creation can get glossed over or lost altogether.

Enter The Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book.

Written by Starr Meade and illustrated by Tim O’Connor, The Mighty Acts of God is intended to teach children the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from a Reformed perspective.

Recently, I received a copy of The Mighty Acts of God and in the video below, my wife Emily and I share our thoughts on the book and how it impacted our family.

http://vimeo.com/17315247

To summarize:

  1. The stories introduce key doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that children can understand;
  2. The content focuses on who God is and what He has done in creation;
  3. It’s extremely cross-centered, constantly bringing readers back to the gospel; and
  4. The “For me and my house” discussion section is one of the greatest strengths of the book, providing opportunities to discuss what’s been learned in the story and how it applies to our lives.

If you’re looking for a kid’s Bible that the whole family will benefit from, I would highly recommend The Mighty Acts of God.


Title: The Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book
Authors: Starr Meade & Tim O’Connor
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung

Title: The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)

When I was a kid, the only time I ever heard the word “catechism” was when a friend grumbled about how he couldn’t be wait to be done with it when he was thirteen. I had no idea what a catechism was, but sounded horrible—obviously it was some sort of hellish torture device. So imagine my surprise when I eventually learned that it was a simply a series of questions and answers about the Bible. (In all fairness, I’ve also come to realize that for someone who doesn’t believe the Bible or have a desire to know more about Jesus, it would seem rather hellish.)

Kevin DeYoung knows all about this. Growing up in the Christian Reformed Church, the Heidelberg Catechism was a part of his life. While he always appreciated it, it wasn’t seen as something terribly exciting. But it was in his seminary days, seeing the reaction of his fellow students, that he was reminded of just how meaningful the Heidelberg Catechism really is. “My classmates were seeing something many of my peers had missed. The Heidelberg Catechism is really, really good” (p. 16).

That, ultimately led DeYoung to write The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. DeYoung structures the book as a devotional commentary, sharing his insights on each of Heidelberg’s 129 questions over 52 Lord’s Days. The catechism’s questions are run opposite each of DeYoung’s essays, allowing readers like me to appreciate the Heidelberg for itself.

That, honestly, is one of the things I appreciate most about The Good News We Almost Forgot. I love learning about historical Christian thought and seeing the catechism’s structure—covering the broad topics of guilt, grace, and gratitude while explaining the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer—is fascinating. [Read more…]

Book Review: Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears

Title: Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe
Authors: Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Over the last three years, Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears have been releasing books at a mind-boggling pace.

Vintage Jesus focuses on the question of who Jesus is and why it matters; Death by Love looks at the atonement; Vintage Church explores what it means to be the Church.

And now they’ve released Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Based on Driscoll’s sermon series of the same name from 2008, Doctrine examines 13 essential beliefs of the Christian faith: the Trinity, Revelation, creation, image, the fall, covenants, the incarnation, crucifixion & resurrection, the church, worship, stewardship and the Kingdom.

In many ways, this is Driscoll’s most focused book. As the story goes, the book originally weighed in at over 700 pages. The authors were forced to do some serious pruning. The result is a sharp 464 page work that sacrifices cuteness for clarity.

This is a welcome change, particularly for those who really don’t appreciate Driscoll’s sense of humor (and even for those who do). While his personality is definitely present, it doesn’t overshadow the content (something that happened in certain passages of Vintage Jesus).  Honestly, this is exactly how it should be. The content in this book is compelling enough on its own.

Worshipful Connection

As the authors provide readers with a foundational knowledge of each doctrine studied, they manage to tie each doctrine together so that we can see how they all fit. This is particularly evident in the chapter on worship. Driscoll & Breshears write: [Read more…]

Too Staggering a Claim to Remain Neutral

“If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, then Christianity is alive,” write Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears in their latest, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (p. 279).

In support of the release of Doctrine, Crossway has released two sample chapters including a 24-page chapter on the Resurrection of Jesus:

Apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no savior, no salvation, no forgiveness of sin, and no hope of resurrected eternal life. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus is reduced to yet another good but dead man and therefore is of no considerable help to us in this life or at its end. Plainly stated, without the resurrection of Jesus, the few billion people today who worship Jesus as God are gullible; their hope for a resurrection life after this life is the hope of silly fools who trust in a dead man to give them life. Subsequently, the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection is, without question, profoundly significant and worthy of the most careful consideration and examination.

Driscoll & Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, p. 279

“Apart from the resurrection. . . people today who worship Jesus as God are gullible.” It’s a harsh truth. Is it one we’ve taken time to consider?

Around this time of year is when the TV specials and magazine articles begin appearing in an attempt to debunk Jesus & the resurrection. “Maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross,” they say. “Maybe he only looked like he did.”

Maybe everyone who claimed to see Jesus hallucinated.

Maybe the whole thing is a bunch of gobbledygook cobbled together from various mythologies. After all, at the time, everyone’s god had come back from the dead… right? [Read more…]

Jude: Contending To Keep Us From Stumbling


But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

—Jude 17-25—

Two weeks ago, I began a series here based on a small group study I wrote a year ago examining the epistle of Jude, by first examining “our common salvation” of which he was so eager to write, followed by an examination those of whom we contend against. This week concludes this look at Jude’s epistle with the call to persevere and how we should approach those that would cause division among us.

Do Not Be Surprised

We should not be surprised that there are a great many who would seek to lead God’s people astray. The serpent has been doing this since the beginning (see Genesis 3) and he is still hard at work today. Among those professing to be Christians today are fierce wolves who will not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). We have been warned throughout Scripture that this would be the case. And although it can be discouraging, we must not despair because it is a sign that Christ’s return is closer: [Read more…]

Jude: Contending Against False Teachers

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

—Jude 5-16—

Last week, I began a series here based on a small group study I wrote a year ago examining the epistle of Jude, by first examining “our common salvation” of which he was so eager to write. It is critical for us to understand “the faith once for all delivered” for which we must contend—because knowing what is right is critical for us to distinguish what is wrong.

As Jude continues down this road, so do we, looking at what he (and the rest of Scripture) tell us about those who have “crept in unnoticed.”

Perverting the Grace of God

Jude verse 4 tells us that, “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

This is a pretty serious charge, isn’t it? To say that some among us—leading, teaching, writing books, blogging, making videos—that some of these are not servants of Christ at all. They’re servants of Satan seeking to destroy God’s Church? Without question it is, but it’s one to which all believers must pay careful attention. [Read more…]

Jude: Contending For Our Common Salvation

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

—Jude 1-4—

Jude, the brother of James, and half-brother of Jesus, wrote these opening words, eager to write about “our common salvation;” to share about the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus with the church. Instead, compelled by the Holy Spirit, he wrote the New Testament epistle that bears his name—an urgent appeal warning believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered.”

About a year ago, I wrote a study for my small group on Jude’s epistle as we sought to build an understanding of the necessity of contending for the faith.

We began our study by looking at the common salvation Jude was so eager to write about. The following is adapted from this study.

The Gospel—Once for all Delivered

How would you articulate the gospel? Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, it’s described in a variety of ways, sometimes with subtlety, other times with great power.

Genesis 3:15 offers us our first hint at Christ’s victory over Satan, sin and death, while Isaiah 52:14-53:12 provides with one of the most powerful descriptions of the work of Christ, notably: [Read more…]

Around the Interweb (02/28)

Ruined for Anything Else

Tim Challies shares a story from his life as he looks at the resurgence of Reformed theology. An excerpt:

I once went on a weekend men’s retreat that featured teaching from several local pastors. We heard some interesting messages about serving our wives, about being men of integrity and so on. . . . The thing that has remained in my mind, though, was one of the sermons delivered that weekend. While we had received a steady diet of topical sermons, one of the pastors stood and delivered what was, in effect, a biblically-grounded expository message. He simply opened up the Bible and explained to us what it meant and how we could apply it to our lives. He gave us real doctrine—true meat instead of mere milk.

As we walked from the meeting room to our cabins I could tell there was a buzz running through the crowd of men. They had enjoyed the sermon and had been electrified by it. But they had no category for it. I heard comments like, “I don’t know what that was, but it was amazing! I wish we could hear more teaching like that!”

It was a pivotal moment for me. It drove home to me something that the Bible teaches but something I had never really seen before—that true believers want and eventually need to move from milk to meat. Though they may not have a category to describe what is missing from their lives they will feel a restlessness. The Spirit works in them to give them a craving for solid food. And when they take a bite of that food, their eyes light up and they know that they are experiencing something that they were meant to enjoy.

It’s a pretty powerful piece; go read it in it’s entirety.

In Other News

Another bit of news from Tim Challies: His redesigned blog is now up and running. It’s quite nice.

Matt Chandler will be a special guest at Together for the Gospel this Spring. He’ll be taking CJ Mahaney’s spot to share what God’s been teaching him through his struggle with brain cancer. The latest video update on Matt’s health is up at the Village’s pastor’s blog.

Ray Ortlund: How the Devil spoke through Peter

Another update on Michael Spencer’s health.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Erwin Lutzer’s latest, When a Nation Forgets God

Are you being confident or presumptuous when you take risks?

Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Charles Spurgeon on the difference between true and false humility

If This is Dull, Then What is Worth Being Called Exciting?

"He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power..."

While reading The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton, I came across a provocative quote from Dorothy Sayers, the late English playwright, mystery novelist, poet and essayist. Sayers writes,

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as “a bad press.” We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—”dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—the drama is the dogma. . . . This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worth being called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. . . .

That God should play the tyrant over man is the dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Now we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all.

Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos, as quoted in The Gospel Driven Life by Michael Horton, pp. 63-64

[Read more…]

Book Review: Making Sense of the Trinity

making-sense-trinity

The Trinity.

It’s one of the most confusing doctrines in all the Christian faith.

But it’s also among the most crucial.

In Making Sense of the Trinity, Millard Erickson shows readers the relevance of this doctrine, as he answers three crucial questions:

  1. Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?
  2. Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense?
  3. Does the doctrine of the Trinity make any difference?

Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?

This is an important question, perhaps the most important.  As Erickson writes in the opening pages, if “this strange-appearing doctrine is taught in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, we must accept it, or at least take it very seriously. If, on the other hand, the Bible does not assert such a teaching we may not be required to believe it… There is no virtue in continuing to hold such a difficult doctrine of the trinity if it is not actually taught in the Bible” (p. 17-18).

Erickson lays out the biblical foundation of the doctrine, showing where the doctrine is implicitly taught within the Old and New Testament, looking at support for the unity of God, the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (all of whom are referred to in multiple passages as God), and the three-in-oneness of God. And honestly, there’s a lot there. As you look at the Baptismal formula, Jesus repeatedly identifying himself as God by implication throughout the gospel of John and a host of other passages, we’re lead to the inevitable conclusion that the doctrine is, in fact, biblical. Erickson writes,

We may say, then, that when the whole text of Scripture is taken seriously, the doctrine of the Trinity emerges. It teaches clearly that God is one and is unique, that he is the only God that is true and exists. It teaches, either directly or indirectly, that there are three persons who are fully divine, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And it also teaches, indirectly and by implication, that these three are one (p. 42).

Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense?

With a biblical foundation in place, Erickson asks does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense? Must we, as he puts it, “choose between our Christian commitment and our rationality” in order to believe it? [Read more…]