Around the Interweb

“Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?”

David Platt offers a powerful challenge to fight not only intellectual universalism, but also functional universalism:

HT: JT

Also Worth Reading

Satire: A Recently Discovered Letter of Critique Written to the Apostle Paul

Encouragement: No longer a slave

Quote: “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.” R.C. Sproul (via Twitter)

Thought-Provoking: The New Evangelical Virtues

In Case You Missed It

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

Perspicuity and Presuppositions

The Excellency That Not Everyone Saw

Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

So, What is Universalism, Anyway? (from John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God)

My Memory Moleskine: Do Not Be Anxious

Thomas Watson: A Sickbed Often Teaches More Than A Sermon

So, What is Universalism, Anyway?

In all the discussion of the eternality of hell ignited by a certain book,  the term universalism has been thrown around a lot, as has another question:

What exactly is universalism, anyway?

I’m reading (and listening to) John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved; there, Piper provides a very thoughtful description of universalism from his personal experience reading the works of George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle:

Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing.

I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly… Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation in Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: “From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing.”

Those are strong words spoken about the God I had come to see in the Bible and to love. I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: “There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together—an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.” And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for.

MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.” And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”

I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Faithfulness Means Full of Faith

Wisdom from Jared Wilson:

I’ve already been taken to task by some inclusivist types for misunderstanding the theology here: Ghandi would not be let into heaven on the basis of his good works, they say, but on the basis of Christ’s righteousness which he unwittingly was exhibiting. (This probably makes Angelina Jolie a better Christian than you, although making such judgments is silly, of course.) Aside from the idea that one can do good works unwittingly to Christ while explicitly rejecting Christ’s gospel – as Ghandi did — being utterly unbiblical, it makes nonsensical both the Bible’s passages on justification by faith alone and the passages on good works. For instance, Paul should have saved his breath with that letter to the Galatians.

The means of condemnation in the Scriptures is simply this: rejecting Christ. The idea that rejecting Christ while doing all sorts of charity — which the Bible calls self-righteousness, which is idolatry, which God forbids and for which he promises wrath — is still in keeping with the righteousness of Christ is ludicrous.

Read the whole thing.

Also Worth Reading

Biblical Education: So You Are Thinking of Going to Seminary?

Free Books: This month’s free book at ChristianAudio.com is The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Don’t let this one pass you by!

Cheap Books: Get Tim Challies’ next book, The Next Story, for cheap

A Head’s Up: I’ve finished reading Rob Bell’s new book. A review will appear this week.

In Case You Missed It

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

Richard Baxter: Orthodox Heads and Unorthodox Hearts

Book Review: The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg

Archaeology and the Seven Churches

Bear Testimony Not To Yourself, But To Christ

My Memory Moleskine: Jesus’ Righteousness, Not Rubbish!

Thomas Watson: The Lord Keeps Mercy For Thousands

Rob Bell + Universalism = Fireworks

Update: My review of Love Wins was posted 03/09/2011.

This weekend a big stink was kicked up about the trailer and marketing copy of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Indeed, the brouhaha led to Bell’s name trending on Twitter!

So as you can imagine, this thing is causing quite the commotion among Christians on the interwebs.

The issue came onto my radar yesterday when I saw Emily had been reading this post from Justin Taylor. I read the marketing copy, which after some fairly heavy-handed selling of Bell’s credentials, we get to the heart of the controversy:

Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

The accompanying video doesn’t help much:

In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?

With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretence of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.

However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:

  1. He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
  2. The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel

My hope would be the former. But if I had to be honest, my expectation is the latter. And  this is not something I find delightful or comforting.

Here’s what I would hate to see: If it turns out that he has indeed abandoned the gospel and embraced universalism (“Christian” or otherwise), that is cause to weep. Rob Bell’s influence is enormous and, if he does indeed advocate for universalism, then he will be preaching people straight into hell.

We can’t get away from the reality of hell. The Bible is clear that there will be eternal punishment for those who do not repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.

And love doesn’t win unless there’s something from which to flee.

(Thanks to Erik from J.C. Ryle Quotes for the title of the post.)