Archive - February, 2011

(Holy) Love Wins

Timothy Stoner writes:

… The love that wins is a holy love.

The love that won on the cross and wins the world is a love that is driven, determined, and defined by holiness.

It is a love that flows out of the heart of a God who is transcendent, majestic, infinite in righteousness, who loves justice as much as he does mercy; who hates wickedness as much as he loves goodness; who blazes with a fiery, passionate love for himself above all things.

He is Creator, Sustainer, Beginning and End.

He is robed in a splendor and eternal purity that is blinding.

He rules, he reigns, he rages and roars, then bends down to whisper love songs to his creatures.

His love is vast and irresistible.

It is also terrifying, and it will spare no expense to give everything away in order to free us from the bondage of sin, purifying for himself a people who are devoted to his glory, a people who have “no ambition except to do good”.

So he crushes his precious Son in order to rescue and restore mankind along with his entire creation.

He unleashes perfect judgment on the perfectly obedient sacrifice and then pulls him up out of the grave in a smashing and utter victory.

He is a God who triumphs…

He is a burning cyclone of passionate love.

Holy love wins.

-Timothy Stoner, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith

HT: Trevin Wax, whose forthcoming book Counterfeit Gospels sounds excellent

Is Rob Bell a Universalist?

Note: Update at the bottom.

The answer seems to be yes, given his most recent book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
The publisher’s description:

Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

This short promo video seems to reinforce the notion that Bell himself thinks “love winning” means that hell cannot be populated.

If this is an issue you’re wrestling with, I highly recommend Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper, who has a lengthy chapter dealing with this issue.  Also, the audio and transcripts from the 1990 Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastors Conference, which dealt with this theme in detail, are available. [Some of these messages reference George MacDonald, who also seems to have embraced universalism, his many beautiful writings notwithstanding.]

HT: Justin Taylor


1.  Some have questioned the appropriateness of posts like this, given that Bell’s book has not yet been published (and I’ve not read it).  But I think the promo video is so damaging that it merits a public rebuke.  Did you notice how glibly he cast aside the necessity of the re-birth?  None less than Jesus Christ establishes the necessity of being born again (John 3:3, John 3:5) to enter the kingdom of God. [See also I Peter 1:3-7, 23.]

2. The nature of Bell’s questions, as Kevin DeYoung has pointed out, is decided non-neutral.  Bell is saying that a loving and merciful God cannot send people to hell simply because they do not embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior.  Bell is also saying that Jesus does not “rescue people from God.”  In doing so, Bell trivializes sin and minimizes the holiness of God, contrary to Romans 3:21-26, I Thessalonians 1:10, and other passages.

3. I’ve seen some bloggers liken Bell’s perspective to that of C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce — in which souls in hell were being beckoned to repent and come to heaven.  Possibly so (Rory’s comment seems to suggest as much).  But it should be remembered that while Lewis was a skillful writer and helpful in many ways, he was not a reliable theologian.  In addition, Lewis was strongly influenced by George MacDonald, who by all accounts was a universalist. Though I don’t recall MacDonald ever working out a detailed systematic theology, his writing certainly pointed in that direction, as others have noted.

4.  I recommend this reflection by John Piper on the extent to which people willingly go to hell.  Piper’s point (contra Lewis) is they don’t — they want sin, not hell.  An excerpt:

What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.

Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).

I don’t think there is any contradiction between Piper’s position and this essay by Tim Keller on The Importance of Hell.  Keller argues that hell is both God’s active judgment and our choice. It’s impossible for sinners without the Holy Spirit to want to be with God at all  (see I Corinthians 12:3 — this is true Philippians 2:10-11 notwithstanding). The more an unregenerate sinner is forced to admit what the real God is like—holy, transcendent—the more he or she will want to stay away from him.  See Keller’s discussion of Jesus’ account of a rich man in hell  (Luke 16:19 and following).

5.  The Calvinist position does not require that one hold to active hardening. In other words, the “double predestination” of which we speak is not symmetrical.  The reprobate freely choose to reject God’s terms of pardon — the door to hell can be “locked on the inside,” and simultaneously be according to divine decree. As someone once said, “What man freely chooses in time, God ordains outside of time.” The elect (who consciously embrace Christ in this life) are actively regenerated. The reprobate are passively hardened; God simply leaves them in their sin. He doesn’t actively push them toward greater sinfulness so that they’ll merit more hell (the way he actively regenerates the elect and effectually woos them to repent of their sinfulness and hardheartedness and to embrace Jesus Christ as their Substitute, Sin-bearing Savior, Lord, and Treasure).  For more on this matter, I highly recommend Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul and Chosen For Life by Sam Storms.


In terms of a detailed exegetical response to the kinds of questions Bell is raising, I commend to you a few resources from Dr. Christopher Morgan and Dr. Robert Peterson: Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, What Is Hell?, and Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism. On the latter, I previously interviewed Dr. Morgan.

Said Musa Has Been Released

International Christian Concern (ICC) is reporting that Said Musa was released from prison in Kabul, Afghanistan and is safely out of the country.  However, Shoaib Assadullah, an Afghan Christian arresting for giving a Bible to a man, remains imprisoned, awaiting execution for apostasy.  Read more from ICC.

HT: Denny Burk

Update on Said Musa

Bob Smietana of The Tennessean has a positive update on the status of Said Musa, imprisoned in Kabul, Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity.  Aidan Clay, Middle East regional manager for International Christian Concern, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on religious persecution, has apparently been keeping up with the Musa case for sometime now.  Smietana reports:

Clay said that Musa, 46, was moved recently to a new jail, after American officials intervened on his behalf, and there’s no immediate threat of execution. He credited media reports about Musa for the improvement and predicted more public outcry could lead to his release.

Even if Musa were to be released, however, he would remain a controversial figure and would not be safe, Clay said. Another convert, Shoaib Assadullah, 25, also has been jailed and faces death threats. Officials from the United States and other nations are trying to get both men released.

“It would be safer for them to leave the country,” Clay said.

Musa’s wife and children are already in Pakistan, last I heard. Read the whole thing.

HT: Denny Burk

Tim Keller – King’s Cross – 60% Off!

WTS Books is running a 60% off sale on every first copy of Tim Keller’s latest book, King’s Cross (previewed here). It’s 60% off your first copy (happens automatically when added to cart). All additional copies 45% off. Sale ends February 28th. Keller’s description of the book:

“The whole story of the world—and of how we fit into it—is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.”

“[The Gospel of] Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like ‘immediately’ to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. This Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today. In his very first sentences Mark tells us that God has broken into history. His style communicates a sense of crisis, that the status quo has been ruptured… Jesus has come; anything can happen now. Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”
— Tim Keller (from the Preface to King’s Cross)

How Some Universities Are Seeking To Address Grade Inflation

A good NYT article about efforts at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and a few other institutions to bring more transparency to the grading process as a means of at least curbing the nationwide tend toward grade inflation.   For example, at UNC:

A sociologist Mr. Perrin now leads a committee that is working with the registrar on plans to add extra information — probably median grades, and perhaps more — to transcripts. In addition, they expect to post further statistics providing context online and give instructors data on how their grading compares with their colleagues.

Dartmouth, Columbia and Reed College have taken similar measures:

Dartmouth transcripts include median grades, along with the number of courses in which the student exceeded, equaled or came in lower than those medians. Columbia transcripts show the percentage of students in the course who earned an A.

At Reed College, transcripts are accompanied by an explanatory card. Last year’s graduating class had an average G.P.A. of 3.20, it says, and only 10 percent of the class graduated with a G.P.A. of 3.67 or higher.

Is there push-back?  You betcha:

In 1996, Cornell’s faculty adopted a “truth in grading” policy, and median grades were posted online starting in 1998. The policy called for median grades to be shown on transcripts as soon as student-records technology made that possible, but that did not happen until a full decade later.

And while the median grades were available only online, a study by three Cornell economists found a large increase in enrollment in courses with a median grade of A — further driving grade inflation.

Students can easily go to sites like and avoid tougher graders. They have an incentive to do so, since their GPA matters and some profs give higher grades than others.

So how’s UNC doing?  “The average G.P.A was 3.21 in the fall of 2008, up from 2.99 in 1995. A’s have become the most frequent grade, and together, A’s and B’s accounted for 82 percent of the 2008 grades.”

Read the whole thing.

Pray (and Tweet) for Our Brother, Said Musa

Since the Fall of the Taliban, it appears Said Musa might be the first convert from Islam to be executed by the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. A Christian for the last eight years, Musa was one of about 25 Christians arrested on May 31, 2010, after a May 27 Noorin TV program showed video of a worship service held by indigenous Afghan Christians.

In fact, he was arrested as he attempted to seek asylum at the German embassy.  Musa has no Afghan lawyer, and has been held in prison for several months, where he’s been beaten and sexually abused.  Please continue to pray for him. Many have been tweeting messages to @barackobama, asking the President to intervene.

The Christian Post reports on the twitter campaign, which seems to be gaining significant momentum. National Review also weighs in:

The U.S. government — reportedly including Secretary of State Clinton — and other governments have pushed for his release, but to no avail.

But the president has been silent, even as we fight a war that has among its goals the creation of a government that conforms to international human-rights standards.

Kay S. Hymowitz on Delayed Adolescence

Kay S. Hymowitz has an essay in yesterday’s WSJ arguing that too many men in their 20s are living in a new kind of extended adolescence. I’m not sure that male diminishment is solely attributable to female advancement, but Hymowitz lays out an ambitious case:

What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Agree or disagree, at least check out the bar graph in the middle of the article. Hymowitz is the author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, which releases March 1, 2011.

The Myth of Inevitable Teen Rebellion

Dr. Robert Epstein (Ph.D., Harvard University) is a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind and a former editor in chief of Psychology Today. In the April/May 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, Epstein penned an outstanding article entitled The Myth of the Teen Brain.  It goes right after the notion, regularly popularized on the covers of magazines like Time and U.S. News & World Report,  that incomplete brain development accounts for the emotional problems and general irresponsibility for which teenagers in our day have gained infamy, and that, consequently, rebellion and general incompetence among teens is inevitable.

Epstein’s perspective is the polar opposite: “any unique features that may exist in the brains of teens,” says Epstein, “–to the limited extent that such features exist–are the result of social influences rather than the cause of teen turmoil” (emphasis original).  He sites anthropological research data on teens in 186 preindustrial societies which found that “about 60 percent had no word for ‘adolescence,’ teens spent almost all their time with adults, teens showed almost no signs of psychopathology, and antisocial behavior in young males was completely absent in more than half of these cultures and extremely mild in cultures in which it did occur.”

Continue Reading…

Tim Keller’s King’s Cross

I was happy to receive this book in the mail earlier this week — Tim Keller’s latest, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, releases February 22.  In the Preface, Keller calls it: “an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives.”  Keller continues:

Said another way, the whole story of the world–and of how we fit into it–is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.

In this book, Keller chose to examine the life of Jesus through the “single, coherent” narrative of Mark’s gospel.  He notes that Mark’s gospel can be divided into two symmetrical sections:  “Jesus’ identity as King over all things (in Mark chapters 1-8), and his purpose in dying on the cross (in Mark chapters 9-16).”   Similarly, Keller has structured this book into two sections (“The King” and “The Cross”).

Looks like another very engaging read from Pastor Keller.

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