Sunday, November 12, 2006

Irritating Nonsense

A few days ago, someone left a comment on my article, “Rob Bell’s Rendition of Faith” that I published in May. The comment displays the thinking of those who have become captivated by Bell’s approach to ministry, as well as the thinking of the emerging “conversation”. To make matters worse, I have a hunch who this person may be. If this person is who I think he is, he should know better. Here is the comment that was left.

Eric,You are using Rob Bell's word's out of context. Rob look right back into the original context of what was really going on in the time of Jesus. I have listened to many of his messages at Mars Hill and much of what you are saying is out of context. Don't judge a book by it's cover or a man by his choice in literature.


First of all, I have not taken Bell’s words out of context. My question is this; what context are we referring to? This individual talks about context and refers to messages that he has listened to from Mars Hill (in Michigan, not to be confused with Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, which is Mark Driscoll’s church). The analysis I made was based on the information contained in the article in Christianity Today, entitled “The Emergent Mystique”, and also his book “Velvet Elvis; Repainting the Christian Faith”. I don’t doubt that much of what he may “preach” at his church may indeed be biblically orthodox – at least on the surface. But that matters little when he makes outlandish statements concerning the core doctrines of the Christian faith, treating them as if they are optional truths that really matter little in the big picture. The truths contained in Scripture, especially those that pertain to the person and work of Christ, are not items at a smorgasbord that we can pick and choose what we want to believe, cafeteria style. Augustine put it this way:

"If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

The argument seems to be that Bell is attempting to strip away the excess baggage that has been added to Christianity and paring it down to its basic elements. Now that may seem like a noble endeavor, and if the intention is to accomplish this without dumping the core essential doctrines of the Christian faith, I am all for it. It is true that man has added many man-made traditions to the church, that the message of Scripture becomes obscured and distorted. However, as is the case with most of the emerging church movement, these men take things far beyond stripping away the dross, going so far as to strip Scripture of its inherent authority. I am so fed up with the nonsense that everyone is misunderstanding what Bell, McLaren and the rest of the emerging crew are saying. Even Mark Driscoll was forced to separate himself from Brian McLaren and the rest of the emergent cohorts, once he observed them taking a detour down the road to heresy. Driscoll used to work with McLaren during the very early days of the so-called emerging “conversation”. His observation was that it was just the latest version of liberalism, the same basic liberalism that invaded so many churches in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Driscoll sums up the Emergent church like this.

"...the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity." - Mark Driscoll, “Confessions of a Reformission Rev.”, pg. 21

The claim that these people are merely looking back to the time of Jesus and looking into the “original context” is misleading. This is especially true with the philosophy of Rob Bell when it comes to his attitude toward doctrines such as the virgin birth. When he can treat the doctrine as something optional that we can ultimately question and eliminate, I am sorry, but that is going far beyond just looking back to the context of the time of Jesus. When Bell can make the following outlandish statement, he loses credibility as someone who merely wants to return to a more primitive, authentic brand of Christianity.

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologist find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word “virgin” you discover that the word “virgin” in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word “virgin” could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?”

-Rob Bell, “Velvet Elvis; Repainting the Christian Faith” pg. 26

Rob, no, a person cannot keep on “jumping”. Take away the virgin birth and you no longer have Jesus. Christianity is more than merely a lifestyle that we can adopt to have a great life here. The above quote really attacks the authority of Scripture if the writers just threw in the virgin birth as “just a bit of mythologizing” merely “to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults”. If that is true, then Scripture really cannot be trusted as being truthful.

When Bell and his wife can make comments such as not having any clue about what most of the Bible means coupled with the above quote from his book, I think that it really reveals he is not merely striving to return to the very basics of Christianity. Rather, he is being influenced by the poison of men like Brian McLaren.

Another part of the comment left this week that really irritated me, was that I was merely “judging a book by its cover”. No, I was judging the content of the “book”. Furthermore,
as far as judging a man by the literature that he reads; yes, I think one can indeed judge a man by the literature he reads. If most of the books and materials they read and claim are most influential in their thinking are centered on errant theology, I think it is a safe bet that that is the inevitable direction of their teaching. It is one thing to read material that contains questionable teaching because you are investigating someone’s doctrine or gaining insight into the perspective of an opposing viewpoint. But if one walks away from those books and materials and can say that they have totally revolutionized their thinking, then I think it is a fair assessment that they have adopted their thinking. I have read much of Brian McLaren’s material, not because I think it is beneficial or because I think it will revolutionize my Christian walk, but so I can get a glimpse first hand about what he believes. This way, I am not just taking for granted that everyone’s assessment of McLaren’s philosophy is true. But if most of my reading material comes from sources like this, I begin lauding the material as revolutionary and my thinking begins reflecting their rationale, then any accusations toward me as being in line with their teaching is clearly warranted. Yes, much can be gleaned about a person concerning the literature they read, especially when their thinking begins to reflect the content of that literature.

Many of the assessments that the emerging movement has made concerning evangelicalism is true. The marketing of the church into a consumer commodity has produced an empty and shallow faith especially in the U.S. There is generally a preoccupation with “doing” church rather than “being” the church. Sadly though, the emerging conversation has generated a poor resolution to the problem, questioning the authority of the Bible and the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

I have had many of the same issues as I have observed the state of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. In fact, many of the same gripes are the same ones that I had long before the emerging crowd came along. My contentions concerning the shortcomings of evangelicalism go back to the late 80’s, long before Brian McLaren and his crew “emerged” on the scene.

I am really not fond of man-made church traditionalism. There is nothing more sacred about a piano or an organ as opposed to a guitar or drums. Nothing in Scripture says that a church needs to have a choir as opposed to a praise and worship band. We can benefit from harnessing the power of current technology in getting the message of Scripture out to the world. I have nothing against changing methods as long as those methods do not stand in opposition to biblical teaching. In other words, as long as the method does not distract from the message or in some way alter or change the message or principles taught in Scripture, then the method is fine. But it is irritating when I see things like conversational dialogue rather than the straight forward preaching of the Word of God, Bible “study” groups where everyone can merely express what they think a passage of Scripture means to them, rather than first determining what a passage means within its grammatical-historical context. This shows an utter disrespect for the authority of Scripture and ultimately a disregard for God. It is essentially a very subtle way of dethroning God and placing man in a position ultimate authority.

We need to beware of how false teachers and their doctrines enter into the church. It is very subtle. I wrote some posts on the subject of false teachers, how they enter into the church and how destructive their teaching is back in September:

"Where Did They Come From?"

"The Pervasive Nature of False Teaching"

I think evangelicalism and fundamentalism is indeed in need of reform, but let’s not begin throwing out solid biblically based theology and the expositional teaching of Scripture in favor of culturally based fads of the moment. Church history shows that it always leads to the detriment of the church.


Anonymous said...

"Yes, much can be gleaned about a person concerning the literature they read, especially when their thinking begins to reflect the content of that literature."

So in Acts 17:28-29 when Paul quotes some pagan poets, what can we glean about Paul? Just throwing that out there.

AuthenticTruth said...

When Paul quotes the pagan poets, he was merely utilizing the quotation as an entry point to launch him into the truth of the Gospel. Paul was not attempting to introduce pagan philosophy and twisting the message of Scripture to accommodate pagan teaching. He merely takes a fact from their culture as it intersects the message he was preaching. Paul certainly was not attempting to learn from pagan literature. The quote was probably well known in the culture and Paul briefly utilized it to aid him in illustrating the truth. If you read carefully through that passage, you find him unashamedly proclaiming the truth, regardless of what pleased the people. In fact, many were quite resistant to the teaching of the resurrection. Paul did not accommodate their pagan philosophy.

Paul does something similar in Titus 1:12, where he quotes a Cretan poet. There he is simply stating a fact. (“One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Titus 1:12, NASB)

Anonymous said...

I just came across your article - very nice btw and unfortunately nearly a year later the "emergent" movement still seems to be moving. It amazes me how many young Christians seem to unquestionably jump on the Bell Bandwagon without really knowing or studying scripture to weigh what Bell and others like him are really saying. The thinking seems to be along these lines; "it sounds good so it must be true" but that always seems to be the case with half truths. It is disheartening to say the least. I believe we must as believers pray against this movement and the enemy who is using it to deceive so many. Pray that God will raise up Christian leaders who are as "young" and "hip" as Bell the "Golden Cow" but who are unwilling to compromise scripture. It is as the quote of Augustine's you posted; if we don't believe all of scripture then it is not God who we believe, but ourselves.