Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love May Win But Bell Strikes Out

Rob Bell’s Book, Love Wins is not a theological treatise on heaven and hell but an emotional appeal to those post-modern and post-Christian types that see the traditional church as the problem rather than the solution.

This is unfortunate as Bell asks a lot of questions and casts much doubt on traditional orthodoxy but never provides a true replacement. There are already all too many that are distrustful of Christianity and skeptical of scripture. After reading the book, none of these people would have been helped by Bell.

Is reading the book just time wasted? If it were only a waste a time I wouldn’t bother to write this review.

Reading his book is something that I knew I would do and it took me a little less than two hours to get through the 198 pages of Rob Bell speak.

Bell starts off harsh and attacks your sensibility by provocatively asking questions such as if we believe that children that die before the ‘age of accountability’ go to heaven, then wouldn’t prematurely terminating a child’s life anytime before they reach this age be a “loving thing to do” guaranteeing that the child would end up in heaven? He also mentions Romans 10 where Paul says, “how can they hear without someone preaching to them” and then Bell goes on to describe this false straw-man argument of a hypothetical missionary that gets a flat-tire and can’t do his part in delivering the truth of the gospel. What then? He obviously expects us to gasp in the horror of the injustice.

Many of Bell's questions will make us cringe. We cringe in some ways because we recognize the paradox and know how confusing the reality of the entirety of scripture can sometimes be for all of us. Bell however never embraces the paradox of the gospel, the paradox that two seemingly contradictory statements can both still be true. He instead throws these hundreds of questions out that can only dissuade and discourage a more serious consideration of the truth of the Gospel.

The answer for Rob Bell regarding Heaven is not that dissimilar to what we may assume. Heaven, for Bell, is much more wonderful than we talk about and begins now and not at some time in the future. I would agree with his ‘better-than’ view of heaven however I would say that it is eternal life that begins now and the new heaven and the new earth are pretty well described in Revelation 21 and 22.

Bell’s description of Hell is more of what it isn’t than what it is. He rejects any conventional and orthodox view of hell particularly with regard to it being an eternal state. He bristles at the concept of ‘never-ending punishment’ and says that given enough time “everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence”. He however offers no answers to where, how long or to what end this intermediate Hell exists.

Often Bell is intellectually dishonest. He offered up the esteemed Gandhi in the first chapter as an example of someone many would assume to be worthy of heaven. Bell's audience is expected to agree as there is always a 'someone' that lived a good enough life that would be an exception to the "only through Christ" reality of the gospel. However, Bell avoids any mention of Hitler who was responsible for tens of millions of deaths. What about Idi Amin or your local serial killer? Does anyone truly deserve hell? According to Bell, everyone eventually ends up in heaven.

Bell claims that ‘never-ending punishment’ does not give God glory. However, neither does a cheap, universal grace that is also described by Bell.

Bell’s arguments against the more traditional views of eternity and hell are spurious. Early in the book he claims that he is not alone in his less-than-traditional view and states that since the first century, there have been a number that insist that “hell is not forever”.

Yes, there have been people like Origin, Clement of Alexandria and others that argued for what we now know as ‘universalism’. What is interesting is that Rob Bell names these early theologians as part of the proof of his discourse. Historical evidence abounds however that the early church renounced these theologians and some of the creeds that we have today have a statement of belief in both heaven and hell as a result of this very controversy. These creeds have been pretty much considered orthodoxy within the church for about 1900 years.

Interestingly, while Bell doesn’t describe his version of hell, he embraces what many would recognize as the Catholic’s view of purgatory. He describes a second chance for people that die; God providing “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time” for people to say yes to God.

Kevin DeYoung, the pastor of a growing church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of Rob Bell closes his excellent and much more developed review of Love Wins with these comments that are worth noting:

“If Love Wins is wrong…. then what damage has been done to the souls of men and women? Bad theology hurts real people. Is Love Wins true? Open a Bible, pray to God, listen to the faithful Christians of the past 2000 years, and answer the question for yourself.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Website is Irrelevant

You may be the last group in America that finally has a website or you may have been an early adopter and were one of the first in America to have a URL with your organization's name.

Regardless of how long you’ve been at it, you are likely to now have a website that is completely irrelevant. Irrelevant from a marketing perspective (few, if any, are attracted to your organization because of your website), irrelevant from a source of relevant information, and irrelevant to your members in seeking timely information on activities, class offerings and messages.

Increasingly, shoppers and visitors have learned to find out honest, authentic information from peers and friends online rather than visiting an organization's website. At the same time, social media is highly effective in reaching a local community and the best organizations have found the way to integrate social media with their existing websites and information channels.

As a source of information, unfortunately most websites are still pretty static. The information about the doctrines, beliefs, organizational and governance structure are not only completely boring for visitors but also typically so non-compelling and un-welcoming that most organizations would be better served not posting the information at all.

More up-to-date information is easily archived on places like YouTube, Vimeo and Google Video and referenced from the website. Video archives of teachings and audio podcasts are best located on places like iTunes where people can subscribe for free and easily search for the topics that they are looking for at the time.

Customers, partners and attendees that are web-savvy that are the most likely to use the organization's website, can also be savvy enough to embrace Twitter and Facebook. While many have correctly identified the hazards of these social networking phenomena, there is still a lot of baby there that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater. Having attendees naturally connect online and share information and ask for prayer and support is a recent innovation that unfortunately most of us have not been able to figure out how to fully embrace. One of the simple ways to embrace tools like Facebook and Twitter is to have 'share button' icons on your website that allows visitors to immediately share and comment via their social media sites.

You website doesn’t need to be irrelevant and it can still be a very useful tool. Organizations just need to continue to go where the people are. We understand that intuitively when it comes to buying’s all about location-location-location. Follow the same thought process when it comes to your online presence and source of information for both visitors and guests as well as regular attendees.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Know the Why

I’ve recently returned from a church conference and I was so happy that there wasn’t a lot of ‘what’ being demonstrated.

You’ve likely been to a ‘what’ conference. These conferences tell you this is ‘what’ worship is like, this is ‘what’ student ministries offers, this is ‘what’ your church website should look like.

What’ isn’t all bad since knowing the ‘what’ is important as it allows us to offer something that ministers to people. The world is full of people needing a ‘what’.

However, I loved hearing about the ‘how’. Successful churches and ministries that do ministry well understand that the ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’. ‘How’ helps the people and churches that are doing ministry replicate themselves. They can teach, demonstrate and use themselves as an example. The ‘how’ also allows for systems and processes to be developed to measure and make the ministry both efficient as well as effective. Knowing ‘how’ helps a church replicate ‘what’ they do to a larger and growing audience.

ltimately, great leaders and great churches not only get the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but they also understand the ‘why’. The ‘why’ is even more important. Answering the question ‘why’ gives context, permanence and visualization to that which is being accomplished.

If we know ‘why’ we also know the ultimate direction or vision of the ministry or activity. If we know ‘why’ we are using particular methods or using specific language, we have the opportunity to have a greater impact as when we teach, we are constantly casting vision rather than just giving instruction.

f knowing ‘what’ allows us to minister one-to-one; and knowing ‘how’ helps us replicate ourselves and our ministry through systems and processes, then knowing ‘why’ has the opportunity to build a movement.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Prepare for the Impossible

To prepare for the impossible may seem like an unlikely assignment. However, I believe that as church leaders it is exactly the assignment that Christ has given to us.

All too often, many of our churches resemble the church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation. We may think, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing (Rev. 3:14).” While we may not ever say something like that out loud (knowing the context), we often wait until conditions are just right before breaking new ground, reaching into the community with the love and hope of Jesus, or hiring staff that would equip and empower others to do the work of ministry.

The needs around us are overwhelming. There are hundreds of thousands that are hurting. Our communities are full of people that need to know Jesus and our families, even within our churches are falling apart.

We have been called by God to make a difference. We are the sent ones—a people appointed by God to fulfill the Great Commission. We are the ones that are responsible to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … (Matt 28:19-20).”

We have neither the luxury nor the time to wait until we are fully resourced, have plenty of money in the bank and have all contingencies identified and planned. People are in desperate need and we are to be the salt and light to this generation.

In preparing for the impossible and allowing God to confirm the timing and provide the necessary resources I believe we need to follow three simple steps.

We need to embrace our need. As pastors and teachers we need both human and financial capital. We need people to come alongside us and help us in ministry. We may need other churches and ministries that we can partner with to be more effective in mobilizing resources. Preparing for the impossible would involve identifying and praying for the capital needed and selecting and training up those that will be equipped and even employed in ministry to meet the needs.

We need to recognize our calling. We are the ones that are to take this message of hope, peace and salvation to the world.

We need to affirm our anointing. The Apostle John tells us that we have an anointing from God (1 John 2:20). We know the need, we know the truth, and we also know the source. Later, in the same letter, John says, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.”

Preparing for the impossible is necessary if we are going to move out of our comfort zone within our churches and get back into the communities. Out of our need, God provides. I have found he is never late but will also never get ahead of us.

Ken Behr

Reprint from ChurchExecutive March 2011

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