Rob Bell and Hell in My Life

The controversy of the week in the Christian blogosphere regards Rob Bell and his apparent leap into universalism – (not surprising to me given the Wheaton and Fuller pedigree). I had never heard of Bell until last week, maybe because I don’t much care about celebrity preachers in general. What has been interesting to me is watching the reaction of people that I follow to Bell’s position, from the “left” and “right” theologically. But this post isn’t really about Bell or the reaction to him as much as it is about my own experience with the doctrine (and reality) of hell.

I had a period of apostasy that lasted for about eight years. During the last year of that time I was consistently worried about the possibility of death and an endless eternity in hell. This fear was part of what God used to bring me back to Him. For some folks, the gracious message of love and forgiveness, new life and cleansing, is what draws them back to the faith or to Christ for the first time. For me, the fear of hell was very real and very terrifying. It spurred me on more than the idea that I could be forgiven, which I always took as a given.

Removing the concept of hell from our lexicon is removing an effective means of spurring people to salvation. It is also a gigantic and terrifying lie. If hell is a reality – and if we take the Scripture seriously it most certainly is – then we may be condemning people to that very place if we backhandedly assure them that they need not worry overmuch about the possibility of spending eternity there, because in the end everyone is saved and “love wins.” That is something I would not want to stand before God and explain on the Last Day.

Do Not Know Thyself

Writing on the Wrightsaid email list some time ago, James Jordan said:

And it is spiritually dangerous to speak in such a way as to encourage people to inspect their own hearts. “Know thyself” is Socratic and demonic. We CANNOT know ourselves, and must trust in God to know us. We must accept what He says about us. We can judge ourselves in particular matters, but the heart is hidden from us. Our “heart experiences” are untrustworthy. We must trust God and His Word.

How contrary is this to most of what passes for even “Christian” thinking today? We have accepted the “know thyself” formula as if it is the key to enlightenment, when in fact the Bible tells us:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

 

A Theology of Space Travel

Is Earth our only home? As a Christian, what should we think about space travel, colonizing planets, and transforming the universe? Could other life be out there? One of my long-term goals is to think through these issues a bit from a Christian standpoint. Some of my foundational assumptions are (not in order of priority):

[1] Postmillenialism

[2] Creation

[3] Human uniqueness

[4] Endurance of the Earth

[5] Inspiration of Scripture

Postmillenialism means that we may be here for 200,000 years more before the return of Christ. James Jordan addresses this a bit in his essay, “An Antidote for Yuppie Postmillenialism.”, He writes:

…does the Bible anywhere say that planet earth is our only project? If God has given us the ability to travel to other planets, perhaps they also are to be developed and glorified as part of his universal plan – all before Christ returns. This could take hundreds of thousands of years. (One reason I enjoy the marvellous science fiction stories of Cordwainer Smith, a devout Christian, is because they communicate a feel for such a universal development and glorification.)

So I hope to dig into this from time to time, both in private and on this blog.

More on Antinomianism

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

 

Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:

Contents:

1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized

I CAN”T WAIT!!!!

I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

Dead Sea Scrolls: The Scroll of the Rule

I have been reading the Dead Sea Scrolls and I am currently in the Scroll of the Rule. Some things that have caught my eye are:

[1] The interpretation of Isaiah by these Essenes…close, but yet so far off to the truth. The Essenes had to leave the cities for their desert caves, and the Scroll refers to this by saying:

…they shall be separated from the midst of the habitation of perverse men to go into the desert to prepare the way of ‘Him’: as it is written, In the wilderness prepare the way of …. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This (way) is the study of the Law which He has promulgated by the hand of Moses, [Scroll of the Rule VIII:13-15]

So just as John the Baptist went into the desert and lived apart from the mass of Israel, calling them to repentance and fulfilling the Isaiah passage, the Essenes withdrew. But they missed both the forerunner and the Messiah with their interpretation of the passage.

[2] The Essenes forsook the sacrificial system of the Temple much as later Rabbinic “Judaism” would do and yet claimed to be zealous for the law. I don’t know how they squared this circle. The law contains the sacrificial system for atonement but the Essenes believed the priesthood and the Temple to be corrupted and impure. The Scroll says:

…they shall expiate guilty rebellion and sinful infidelity and (procure) Loving-kindness upon earth without the flesh of burnt offering and the fat of sacrifice, but the offering of the lips in accordance with the law shall be as an agreeable odor of righteousness, and perfection of way shall be as the voluntary gift of a delectable oblation. [Scroll of the Rule IX.3]

and yet:

And they shall not depart from any maxim of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their heart. [IX.10]

Just as modern Judaism and Islam claim to keep Torah but in no way keep the sacrificial system, so the Essenes forsook the Law while claiming to keep it. I am interested to see if the other scrolls address these subjects in more detail.