Posted: April 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Here is what’s happening on the interweb the kids are all crazy about:

1. Scot McKnight has been carefully working through Rob Bell’s Love Wins, it is worth checking out here: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/

2. If you haven’t ordered Tim Challies’ The Next Story than shame on you.   Check out Tim’s blog (if you are one of the few people on earth who haven’t visited it (www.challies.com) and then buy the book.  I tried to upload the book trailer and his interview but my cheap WordPress software is acting up today. 

3. If you aren’t reading Alex Speaks on a weekly basis then, frankly, I’m embarrassed for you.  Check it out here: http://alexspeaks.com/

4. My friend David French, an Iraqi war vet, takes issue with Rolling Stone’s latest piece on American soldiers serving overseas.  Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/The-Story-Rolling-Stone-Wont-Tell-David-French-04-04-2011.html

5. The 10 greatest post-apocalyptic music videos?  http://io9.com/#!5789871/10-greatest-apocalyptic-and-post+apocalyptic-music-videos I agree with including Billy Idol, Tom Petty and Pearl Jam but where is Motley Crue’s “Looks that Kill” or Kiss’ “All Hell is Breakin’ Loose”!  I am outraged! 

As an aside, if you are a hard rock & metal guy like me then be sure to check out the documentary on Rush “Beyond the Lighted Stage” (it is amazing!) and the new Whitesnake release.  The best hard rock album in years.

 The new & improved Pastor Matt blog launches soon.  Stay tuned.

Precisely because divine revelation is for man’s benefit we dare not obscure its informational content nor mistake God’s disclosure as automatically saving. Supplying sinful mankind with a lucid divine assessment of its woeful predicament, God’s revelation informs us as well of God’s gracious provision and indispensable condition for reversing that condition.

Simply hearing God’s revealed good news, his dramatic offer of redemption, does not redeem us automatically. In William Temple’s words, “No greater gift can be offered to men; yet many refuse it” (Readings in John’s Gospel, p. 50). We are not redeemed by “good tidings” alone.


-Carl F.H. Henry

The current controversy over hell is nothing new.  Henry wrote in the mid-‘70’s, “The concept of divine wrath is, to be sure, offensive to many moderns, as are other divine truths; some find even the reality of God repugnant. But to delete the concept of divine wrath violates both the teaching of Scripture and the moral nature of the self-revealing God.”  Henry was not facing a cool, postmodern crowd of neo-Christians but the mainline denominations’ embrace of theologian Karl Barth’s universalism.  In response to Barth, Henry wrote,

In his majestic vision of the totality of God’s triumph, and in deference to the irresistible power of grace, Barth ignores the conditional elements of the biblical revelation. He turns the sure triumph of divine grace into an implicit universalism of redemption that obscures the context of faith and obscures the indispensability of personal decision in this life for the inheritance of salvation. For Barth, unbelief in no way nullifies God’s decision. God’s liberating work is done, and therefore no one can undo that work. Since salvation is an accomplished fact, human beings need only to “know” that all is well.

Emil Brunner protests this view. If Barth is correct, he says, then we can no longer speak as does the Bible of lost mankind, and we remove all possibility of final judgment and damnation. In this notion that “all, believers and unbelievers, are saved from the wrath of God and participate in redemption through Jesus Christ,” writes Brunner, “Barth is in absolute opposition, not only to the whole ecclesiastical tradition, but—and this alone is the final objection to it—to the clear teaching of the New Testament” (The Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 348 f.). For Barth the “turning-point” from “being-lost” to “being-saved” does not exist, says Brunner, “since it is no longer possible to be lost” (p. 351). But the biblical gospel is rather “the summons to decision” (p. 353). In short, the New Testament invariably associates “no condemnation” with the requisite of personal faith.

Recently, Chris Seay, a friend of Rob Bell’s, preached on hell.  He opened his sermon with a clip from N.T. Wright who stated that it would be nice to be a Universalist but he believed our decisions are more important than that. 

Please let me save some of you from posting nasty comments that I will have to delete.  I understand that Bell is not strictly a Universalist because he believes that some people will choose to reject God’s love.  Bell, however, does argue that God will grant those who reject Him a second chance.  I’m not sure who spends any time wallowing in hell and decides they prefer it to heaven but that’s beside the point.  The only point I want to draw from Henry today is that this is all nothing new.  Revelation (in Bell’s mind “God is love”) has been equated with salvation by many of the 20th centuries’ most influential theologians.  Yet, as Henry points out so eloquently again and again, Scripture claims to be divine revelation for the benefit of man and how can it benefit man if it is unclear and how much clearer must the warnings of eternal judgment be? To muddy the clear witness of Scripture to conform to our own cultural prejudices does not just call into question the validity of the Bible but also the ability of God to successfully reveal Himself.

I end with Henry’s own wonderful prose,

The comprehension of revelation must therefore not be confused with the appropriation of salvation. While salvation forms the main theme of the special revelation of God, salvation is not the one and only theme of divine revelation. Knowledge of God’s revelation invites punishment for rejecting its light and opportunity as surely as it points the way to redemptive rescue on condition of repentance and obedience. The Psalmist writes: “My people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Ps. 81:11, rsv). The weight of the biblical witness is that man stands condemned not simply for ignorance of the true and living God, but especially because of his revolt against the light of revelation. The writer of Hebrews warns: “If the word spoken through angels had such force that any transgression or disobedience met with due retribution, what escape can there be for us if we ignore a deliverance so great?” (Heb. 2:2–3, neb). In other words, what hope is there if we ignore the revelation given in Jesus Christ himself who crowns the earlier revelation of God? Salvation divinely disclosed can be forfeited precisely because unbelief can resist and neglect revelation that carries the offer of redemption. To emphasize the gravity of neglect, and the inevitability of judgment for such heightened culpability, the Epistle to the Hebrews rivets attention on the deliverance “announced through the lips of the Lord himself” (2:4, neb), confirmed by the apostles and authenticated by miraculous signs. Those to whom the glorious news of deliverance comes can by choice or default spurn the very salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ himself. If, on the other hand, revelation were salvific, then the very possibility of such rejection of God’s disclosure and of consequent punishment for human culpability would be precluded.

 God’s revelation is given for human benefit. But even in the twentieth century multitudes of human beings can and do know and hold down the truth of God in unbelief and rebellion. The witness of the Bible is that our sinful race swaggers in revolt against the light of revelation, turns aside from God’s Word and is therefore doomed to divine judgment. For all that, God still proffers a gracious last-days message of rescue, offering man as the alternative to endless doom a place of fellowship in the kingdom of God. One of the most sobering doctrines of Scripture is that even as life on earth can carry expectations of a blessed destiny through the present possession of eternal life, so too it can contain anticipations of eternal judgment: the time comes when God gives the inordinately wicked up to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28). Equally sobering, and more gratifying, is the fact that the day of grace and opportunity for decision remains with us for yet another day. Both heartening and ominous is the message of John’s Gospel that the Light is shining (ongoingly) in the darkness, and not even the direst darkness has been able to extinguish it (John 1:5).



The rider in the video is a guy named Danny MacAskill.  He has mad skills and travels around the world taping himself doing stunts.

The video is awesome yet if you think about it, Danny MacAskill is stupid!  Who risks their life for a free Youtube video that people will post nasty comments under?  It doesn’t make sense

Of course, sometimes God doesn’t make sense either.

Look at Genesis 22:1-19,

22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

Hebrews 11:17-19 and Gen. 22:5 tells us that Abraham had faith that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead.  But he still may have had to plunge a knife into his own son…what kind of God does that?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

I get the theology behind it–it points to God’s offer of Christ and it assures Abraham of the faith God has given him.  I get it…but…

A few years ago, my son nearly died.  He fell into a pool, my wife pulled him out and administered CPR but she panicked and was doing it wrong.  My son was turning blue and dying in her arms.  She screamed and that sound drew a nearby nurse who, by God’s grace, was outside at the time.  She grabbed my son and saved his life with no after effects at all. 

On the way to the ER, all I did was pray over and over again, “Thank you, God! Thank you, God!” 

But my wife had a different reaction.  She was haunted for months by nightmares.  In her dreams, our son continued to turn blue and no one came to help.  She became angry with God.  She was upset that God would put her through such a traumatic event.  What kind of dreams did Abraham have? I’m sure they weren’t pleasant.

Why would God do that?

Have you ever read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?  My favorite line in the book, which they screw up in the mediocre movie, is from a scene where the four children are speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the great lion Aslan, who is the Christ figure in the novel.  The children ask why they shiver in fear when they speak of Aslan if he is good and they respond, “He is not a tame lion.”

God often doesn’t make sense and always calls for what we don’t want to give Him. 

Yet, thankfully, He doesn’t do what we would expect and our very salvation depends on Him not doing what we would expect.

God asks Abraham to offer his son but not sacrifice him but God offers us His son and not only sacrifices Him but abandons Him so that we, who deserve to die shall live.  That’s what Christians call “the Gospel” or “good news.”  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, takes the punishment for our sins upon himself on the cross.  In doing so, God abandons His own son because He cannot be in the presence of sin.  Jesus also grants each of his followers His own perfect, sinless life so that we are judged by His life not our own.  That is truly good news. 

It doesn’t make sense that God in the flesh gets what we deserve and we get what he deserves but it is beautiful and ultimately will save the world.

So often, what God calls us to do doesn’t make sense like leaving a law practice to pastor “ghetto church” or forego buying a church building in order to purchase homes in a crime riddled area to reach out to drug addicts and prostitutes.  It doesn’t make sense but like an acrobat on a bike it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders and Romans for hours.  Why?

I don’t think Christ’s alienation from the Father and Spirit and death on the cross had to last a certain amount of time.  Why so long?

I remember asking myself that question when I first read the Bible from cover-to-cover in 1997.  It wasn’t until years later after reading the Gospel accounts several times that it hit me–It took that long to save the thief on the cross next to him and the Roman solider who declared him to be the son of God.  Jesus suffered for hours to save one man (who began the day mocking him) and hours later to save another who assisted in his crucifixion.  Such an ordeal doesn’t just take love (although it certainly takes a lot of it) and it doesn’t just take bravery (although it takes a lot of that too), it takes discipline and focus.  Love and courage without discipline and focus is often ineffective if not foolish.

Uber-blogger Tim Challies argues in his forthcoming book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Zondervan 2011) that the technological tools we surround ourselves with (smart phones, iPads, etc). are impairing our ability to focus.  He doesn’t condemn high-tech devices, in fact he is a bit of a gadget hound, but he worries that we are not approaching these resources with prayerful discernment. He is right to worry. 

Have you noticed over the last decade how difficult it is to have a focused conversation with some one? How often do you check your phone? Has technological advances given you more free time to spend with family or engaging in the spiritual disciplines? Have new device helped to relieve or increase your stress level?  Do you find yourself skimming pages instead of reading them?

Challies writes, “Thinking about technology in a distinctively Christian way means that we consider these three key ideas:

1. Technology is a good, God-given gift.  Created in God’s image, we have a mandate and a desire to create technology.  Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.

2. Like everything else in creation, technology is subject to the curse.  Though intended as a means of honoring God, our technologies often become idols and compound our sinful rebellion against our Creator.

3. It is the human application of technology that helps us determine if it is being used to honor God or further human sin.  Discerning the intended use of a technology, examining our own use of it, and reflecting on these purposes in light of Scripture disciplines our technological discernment.” 

Challies goes on to unpack what such discernment looks like for a follower of Christ.  In conversational prose, he uncovers the seeming innocuous character of the digital age and then directs us to the wisdom of Scripture.

Challies’ new book is not just a good book (although it certainly an early contender for book of the year in my humble opinion), it is an important book.  I pastor a church in which the average attendee is 24 and they are not “digital immigrants” like me but barely known any other world than one of constant technological access.  Each one of them needs to read (not skim) this book and carefully consider the arguments therein.  In fact, I plan to use it in our church’s small group ministry.  If the church is to be salt and light then we must be prepared to confront not only idols such as sex and greed but the sirens of digital distraction that also can lead us away from radical discipleship.    

If there is a weakness in Challies work (and this borders on nitpicking) it is that he doesn’t seriously interact with a number of recent works that touch on the subject such as Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps or You Are Not Gadget by Jaron Lanier.  Yet, there is not much else to quibble with in The Next Story

Tim Challies rightly calls us to use technology but not be a slave to it.  If we who follow Christ are to truly bear light into darkness then we must love with discipline and focus as our Lord did lest we squander the talents our God has given us.  We cannot center ourselves on our mission if we are constantly reacting to buzzes, beeps and personalized ring tones.

Carl Henry begins volume 2, chapter 2 of his 6-volume magnum opus as follows:


Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God.

“God who reveals himself in sovereign freedom does so first and foremost for his own glory. While divine revelation is indeed ordained for human benefit, it primarily unveils God’s glory through the disclosure of himself and his numerous purposes and objectives.”

 Why did God inspire Scripture? I don’t care what your theory of inspiration is as much as I care about why you believe God allowed, wrote, dictated or worked within the canonical process to give us the Bible?

Given the way we all sin against God, each other and His creation, it is not a stretch to argue that what we all deserve is punishment but in an act of grace, we receive divine revelation. 

Henry writes,

God’s purpose in revelation is that we may know him personally as he is, may avail ourselves of his gracious forgiveness and offer of new life, may escape catastrophic judgment for our sins, and venture personal fellowship with him. “I … will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12, kjv), he declares. His revelation is not some impersonal mass media commercial or routine news report of the “state of the invisible world”; it is, rather, a personal call and command to each individual. God discloses priceless good news. Because of it human beings everywhere at this very moment have the prospect of peace and hope, of purity and happiness. Not forever to be sure, but for the moment redemptive rescue remains an immediate possibility for every race and for every land, for Jew and Arab, Chinese and Russian, and Latin and North American.

The recent Rob Bell controversy has raised a number of questions about salvation.   Yet, as Henry points out with text after text after text, it is clear that Jesus saves His followers from something more than an empty life here and now—one cannot read Paul and come to a different conclusion. 

 It is clear to me that the Bible is given, at least in part, to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus and set forth how one might come to share in the Kingdom through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  If this is so, would God muddle such an important message so that conflict interpretations are equally valid?

 Even if our eternal fate were not at risk and Scripture is simply a guide to walk in God’s ways here and now (for all eventually will be saved), is not our life here and now important enough to justify reliable instruction for all those interested regardless of education?

 In short, if Henry is write that Scripture is given by God for our benefit to His glory then how can progressives like Bell affirm the inspiration

We will turn to the specific question of salvation as it relates to Scripture in the next chapter but given the current climate in “evangelicalism,” I wanted to raise the question now.

I grew up in a house haunted by sectarianism.  My parents had ministered in a tradition that contained a wide stream within it that taught that those who disagreed with them theologically were not truly Christians.  My parents were eventually able to carefully separate orthodox theology from sectarian theology but others have not been so lucky.

The Rob Bell controversy has generated a lot of discussion among current and former members of traditions with a sectarian history.  Many of the young pastors from these streams have either hotly defended Bell or, at the least, expressed sympathy for his progressive theological trajectory.  Now, many of these young men and women may have carefully worked through the pertinent texts, studied church history and resolved why the Holy Spirit would allow so many churches to stray off the beaten path on such an important issue but I suspect that many are reacting emotionally more than theologically.

I left my parent’s church in 1998 to attend a seminary in west Texas that was emerging from an even deeper and divisive sectarianism than my parents had ever experienced.  The students and profs were extremely sensitive to what one staff member called, “churchers” or those who continued to fight for the “movement’s” core beliefs that there is a narrow pattern laid out in the New Testament and that any community, which refuses to follow the pattern is not a part of the Body of Christ.  The divisive, and sometimes traumatic, dynamics of these communities left deep scars among many of my professors and fellow classmates.

These sectarian traditions largely held evangelical or fundamentalist theologies and even regularly cited conservative scholars outside of their traditions but added patternism as a hermeneutical key.  When these traditions began to finally break from their sectarianism they also began to reject evangelical scholarship as well.  Within a few decades, the seminaries that train the future ministers of these traditions swung from the right to the left.  Why did they kick conservative scholarship to the curb along with sectarianism? Was that a necessary move? I don’t think so.

I noticed when I was in seminary that there was an aversion to almost anything traditional including penal substitutionary atonement and inerrancy.  It struck me that such a radical shift from a strand of evangelicalism to an easy embrace of theological liberalism, despite its disastrous effects on mainline Christianity, was part of the emotional need of these men and women to distance themselves as far as possible from a traumatic past.    

In the wake of the debate over hell sparked by Rob Bell’s book, I have seen blog posts from members of these traditions stating things like, “I used to believe that everyone but those who believed and worshipped like me was going to hell but now I have grown tired of speaking of judgment.” I want to ask these folks if such an attitude is an overreaction to their upbringing rather than a truly Biblically grounded theology but they tend to be very touchy about it, so I let it go because I know that it won’t do any good. 

Yet, I pray that they will be able to differentiate sectarianism from true evangelicalism.  I want them to see with unbiased eyes what churches such as Sojourn in Louisville and The Village in Dallas are doing by combining sound doctrine with true love and grace.  I want them to see that it is possible to hold to the core beliefs of Clement, Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, Billy Graham, etc. and still be humble and care for the poor and all the things that are so beautiful about the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

So may it be.

 I apologize for the delay but the whole Rob Bell controversy and life in general interfered.   Now back to our regularly scheduled overlooked evangelical masterpiece…

Carl Henry sets forth 15 theses in his 6-volume magnum opus and today we unpack the first.

 Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communications by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.

 God freely chose to reveal Himself and chose how he was to be revealed.  This is grace upon grace for, as Henry writes, “Apart from God’s self-unveiling any affirmations about the Divine would be nothing more than speculation.”  The false man-made gods of liberal theologians and deistic philosopher is easily known for it is purely an intellectual construct but the one true God of creation can only be known to the extent that He has chosen to do so and the medium He has chosen is Scripture.
What are the implications of such a choice?  Henry writes,
The content of church proclamation is therefore not just anything and everything. The church’s message to the world is not about the energy crisis, pollution, white or black power, détente, the Israeli-Arab conflict, ad infinitum. It is the very specific Word of God. The church is called to proclaim what God says and does. Unless it verbally articulates and communicates the revelation of God, the church has no distinctive right to be heard, to survive, or even to exist.
Nor is the Christian minister anything and everything—a fund-raiser, marriage-counselor, pulpit orator, public relations specialist, ad infinitum. He is primarily the proclaimer of God’s revealed Word. Unless he declares the revelation of God he has no unique vocational claim and standing.
Such concerns as war and peace, environmental pollution, discrimination, and so on, are far from unimportant. They are indeed crucial, as are also the minister’s role in marriage counseling and community affairs. But these matters are nonetheless footnotes on the main text, namely, that God has spoken and that what God says is what bears determinatively on all existence and life. The unmistakable priority of God’s people, the church in the world, is to proclaim God’s revealed Word. Divorced from this calling, the church and Christians are undurable and un-endurable phenomena. By stifling divine revelation, they are, in fact, an affront to God. Devoid of motivation for implementing Christ’s cause, they become both delinquents and delinquent in neighbor and world relations.
Yet, as Henry noted in the mid-sevenies and is still true today, “Nowhere is the repudiation of Christian belief in recent modern learning more insistent than in the rejection in philosophical and theological treatises of the very idea of transcendent divine revelation.”  Secular academics may deem to converse about exploring the depths of our own psyches or general religious experience for clues to the divine but they scoff at the idea of divine revelation.  Even liberal universalists like Karl Barth were belittled by philosophers for insisting on the possibility of divine revelation. 
Why do we reject the possibility of divine revelation? Why are we more comfortable studying experience than Scripture?  Does the Bible claim to be what Henry states it is?  He quotes a great deal of Scripture such as 1 Cor. 2:9-10, Galatians 1:12 and John 5:39-47 but can these texts carry as much weight as Henry placed on them? What do you think?
Thesis two later.  Stay tuned.