The dangers of trying to make God look good

We have all been tempted to or have actually tried to make excuses for God before.  We can’t stand the thought of someone thinking that God let something bad happen and so we try to explain, try to give answers in an effort to help God’s reputation.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  It’s that thing in us that makes us feel like we have to defend God when things don’t fall into place the way we think a good God would have them to.  But then, we are looking at things through the eyes of a human being who cannot begin to have any comprehension of the mind of the Creator of the Universe. 

Sometimes the better answer is simply…I don’t know.

Because the reality is that sometimes…we just don’t know.

I read Rob Bell’s book today.  The new one that’s caused so much controversy.

Love Wins.

And I must say, he does ask some pretty hard questions.  Questions that I’m sure many people in their hearts have asked about God before.  And I’m all for questions.  I don’t really think God minds questions either if that means it puts us into a dialogue with Him.  In fact, I think God would encourage questions if they will draw us deeper into Him.  So Rob’s questions aren’t really the problem.

It’s his answers.

In his efforts to try and answer some of these hard questions, he’s presented what is at times a somewhat skewed gospel and at other times a gospel that is just plain not the gospel…at least not the one Jesus preached.

In fact, to some degree Bell almost takes on a bit of arrogance towards Jesus’ teaching by citing several different places in scripture where Jesus speaks of how salvation is gained (Luke 23 with the criminal, John 3 with Nicodemus, Matthew 6 on forgiveness, Luke 19 with Zacchaeus, and Mark 2 with the paralytic to name a few) and Bell almost demands in response:

Which is it?

Is it what we say or what we are or who we forgive or whether we do the will of God or if we “stand firm” or not? (p14)

Again, I’m all for questions but we must remember to Whom the question is being asked and have a little reverence, don’t you think?

Aside from the somewhat irreverent and borderline arrogant tone of the majority of the book, another thing that really bothered me a lot was how vague his scripture references were.  At best, he gives the book and chapter but no specific verse references.  Also, in many cases he’s using only bits and pieces of scripture here and there and well, it felt like at times he was really pushing the envelope in his interpretations of these little bits and pieces.  I mean you can take any little tidbits of scripture here and there, put them in an entirely different context and make them say pretty much anything you want, no?

The one thing though about this book that left me more unsettled than anything else is Bell’s implication that although Jesus is in fact the only way to the Father, there’s more than one way to get to Jesus.  Check this out:

And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.  This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.  Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. (p155)

Say what? 

That just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.  Sorry, but it does make me uneasy, it does say to me then that Jesus doesn’t matter, that the cross is irrelevant and that in fact we can all just believe whatever we want to believe.  In fact, it sort of sounds like somebody more concerned with being politically correct than delivering a true representation of the Word.

And then in the next chapter, Bell uses the prodigal son story to pretty much cause me to want to fling this crazy book across the room.  His implication here is that heaven and hell somehow exist together and our attitude – how we perceive our “story” – somehow determines in which place we find ourselves.  Huh?

I could go on and on really.  In an effort to give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt, I want to believe that his heart is in the right place.  That he is desperately trying to present God as fair and just and loving and full of grace and mercy.  Problem is, he’s bending and stretching and reshaping the gospel to do it.  And that friends, is not cool.

Thoughts anyone?

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2 thoughts on “The dangers of trying to make God look good

  1. From the passage that you gave, I do agree with him on one very pertinent issue: A big portion of Western Christianity as a very narrow worldview is extraordinarily exclusive to only Western Christians. Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost, and He is no respecter of persons, and throughout the entire New Testament, he makes several references to bringing the Church together, unifying it. It is true that Jesus is willing to accept anyone from any nation tribe, or tongue, as long as they profess Him as Lord. This may or may not be what Rob Bell is referencing–I don’t know, so yeah, we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

    However, he seems to be implying that Christians are intolerant of other religions, and that through other religions, it’s possible to go to heaven, because there is no true religion, which is ABSOLUTELY not true. “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and NO ONE comes to the Father except THROUGH ME” (John 14:6, emphasis added). A pretty bold statement coming from Jesus, the ramifications of which affect the world and all its religions as a whole. Reminds me a little of one of the chapters on other world religions in John MacArthur’s “Hard To Believe,” and the famous quote about the Jesus Trillema, observed by C. S. Lewis in his “Mere Christianity” comes to mind (about him either being a liar, a lunatic, or Lord). Also, R. C. Sproul, in “The Holiness of God,” touches very pertinently on the issue of the afterlife, and what the criteria for making it to either heaven or hell, are. Very biblical, and very absolute. He is a Five-Point Calvinist, but I find more and more that Calvinism is more accurate from a biblical standpoint than Arminianism, however arbitrary it may sound to us.

    My pastor gave a very good sermon on this today, and I think God is using it to give an answer in this context: http://www.lifechurch.org/media.php?pageID=53

    Hope this helps. I just wish people would stop misrepresenting true Christianity in such fashions as books like this. Does Rob Bell claim to be a Christian?

    -AT

    Wow… that turned out to be way longer than I thought it would be…

    • Sometimes long is necessary! 🙂 And giving him the benefit of the doubt was why I decided to read the book. I’d heard so much hype about it and wanted to be able to decide for myself. But it left me quite unsettled…sort of like that uneasy feeling in your gut that says, this all sounds really good but something’s just not quite right.

      I totally agree that unity within the Church, which includes people of all nations, is a must. The love of Jesus extends to all peoples. It’s just that prior to the paragraph I quoted he says things like:

      This mystery begins wtih God’s pleasure. And this pleasure comes from God’s purpose, which is to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Unity. To all things.

      He says in John 12, “And I when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He is sure, confident, and set on this. All people, to himself.

      These two statements are very true. Jesus is for everyone…but God’s Word is also very specific in what we are called to believe about Him. Muslims explicitly disregard Him as the Christ. Buddhists from what I’ve read at best believe he was a prophet or teacher, but not necessarily divine. Hindus from the best I can understand believe that when Jesus said that He and the Father were one, it wasn’t referring to He being God in the flesh but rather that he was referring to a state of God-consciouness that everyone could reach with spiritual discipline. Either you believe He’s the Messiah or you don’t. He can’t just be a good teacher or one among many other gods. He is Jesus, the One and Only.

      At the same time, there are Christians who have raised support, gathered supplies, traveled thousands of miles into the farthest reaches of the globe to share the good news of Jesus with “unreached people” who upon hearing of Jesus for the “first time” respond, “That’s his name? We’ve been talking about him for years…” As Jesus says in John 10, “I have other sheep that are not of this pen.”

      In this scripture, Paul is clearly referring to the Gentiles as being the other sheep, but the way it’s inserted in Bell’s book, it’s like he’s implying that there is some other-worldy pen in which God has different sheep who mystically believe in something like Jesus although maybe not exactly like Jesus but close enough to count.

      The thing with this book is that for a seasoned follower of Christ, one who will seek God out for themselves, get into the Word, read what God says about this or that, I can see where some of what Bell says makes sense in a very far out way. But it felt like he has an underlying agenda beneath it all…I’d rather he just come on out and say, “war is bad and poverty is wrong” than circle around it with bad theology. His loose interpretation of certain ideas in scripture could be dangerous if taken as implied. And he’s very back and forth. One minute he says Jesus is the only way and the next minute it’s almost like he leaves Jesus open for interpretation. One minute he’s talking about the world to come and the next minute he’s saying heaven and hell are here on earth or even a state of mind. He almost seems to imply at one point that heaven is a place that you could somehow wander in and out of…that the gates of that city are always open (which is in Revelation) but then he says that God will have banished evil and people who continue to do evil from this place. Again a subtle implication but it’s there nonetheless – implying that people will somehow have a choice to do good or evil then. But we are told specificly that when we see Him, we will be like Him. Can you picture God trying to decide whether to be good or evil?

      Maybe I’m picking it apart too much, but I just feel like in an effort to make God fluffy and openminded Bell has poetically watered down the gospel…and has to a degree like you mentioned, misrepresented God. Bell does claim to be a disciple of Christ but he speaks of Christianity with such distaste at times that I’m not sure if he’d used that particular title.

      And thanks for the sermon link! I can’t wait to give it a listen!! Sending prayers your way, my friend.

      J

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