Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Love Wins? : A Look at Bell on Hell

American Christianity is full of fads. Almost every year, there's some hot new book that emerges on the scene with virtually everyone buzzing about the "new" insights it presents. Oftentimes, the commercial success of such a book leads to a whole cottage industry of rapidly-developed, similarly-themed products for the Christian consumer. (Can anyone say "Purpose-Driven ________ [just fill in the blank]"?)

Many of these popular works--like the various Purpose-Driven books--are quite legitimate and beneficial, in spite of our propensity to often go overboard in our response to them. Others, however, can be dangerously deceptive, tickling the fancy of modern readers while subtly drifting away from the moorings of biblical orthodoxy. Case in point: There's a hot new book out by a young, popular, trendy, "rock-star" preacher/pastor named Rob Bell. The book has a pleasant enough title--"Love Wins". But in this misguided effort, the author presents some supposedly "new" or "rediscovered" insights regarding the biblical teachings on Hell. These "insights", based on Robb's misinterpretation of scripture, are in reality quite erroneous and harmful. Unfortunately, "Love Wins" has been flying off the bookstore shelves like hotcakes and many deceived church people are embracing it enthusiastically.

So, what's the problem with Rob Bell's new book? Basically, in it he redefines the concept of Hell. On one hand, he sees much of Hell playing out in the hardships and injustices people have to endure in this life (i.e., we experience Hell on earth). On the other hand, Bell also still leaves room for a Hell beyond the grave. But it's definitely not your granddaddy's idea of Hell. Rob Bell envisions Hell not so much as an eternal destiny but as a temporary assignment. He envisions the Hell of the afterlife as a purgatory-type experience wherein all unbelievers--atheists, agnostics, and adherents of false religions--go through a necessary time of "pruning". During this pruning process, God's love melts and changes their hearts, enabling these unbelievers to then go to Heaven to be with Christ forever. Thus, in the end, according to Bell, "love wins!"

The dangerous thing about Rob Bell's skewed theology is that he carefully cloaks it in the wardrobe of one who claims to be an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian. He rejects the assertions of his critics that he is nothing more than a Universalist, emphasizing the fact that he still believes in the concept of Hell (albeit his own version).

FYI, Universalism is the unscriptural belief that in the end everyone--regardless of what they believed or did not believe, and regardless of how they lived their lives--is going to be saved. Universalists typically reject the idea of the existence of Hell altogether.

Universalism has been around for a long, long time. Rob Bell's theology is really nothing more than old-time Universalism dressed up in a new suit of 21st Century clothes. Bell may use a somewhat different vocabulary, and he may take a less-direct path to get there, but the end result is all the same.

Just to set the record straight, God's Love DOES win. But it never wins apart from the Truth. In order for Love to Win, Truth also must prevail. Love apart from Truth is sentimentality. And mere sentimentality will not get you into Heaven. It's only the Truth--God's Truth--that sets you free.

The church today is becoming increasingly fuzzy in terms of its understanding of clear biblical truth. This generation of believers needs to wake up to the reality that there's a lost and dying world out there--a world in desperate need of the good news of salvation available through Jesus Christ alone.

Make no mistake about it, Hell is real. But, thank God, no one has to go there. Because Christ--through the blood of His cross--has provided the way of forgiveness and reconciliation to Creator God.

And please be certain of this: There are not many paths to God. There is only One Way. And that One Way is Jesus. Indeed, Jesus unequivocally declared, in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; No man cometh unto the Father but by Me."

Ultimately, Rob Bell's popular book will salve many consciences. It will make lethargic Christians feel less guilt for not sharing Christ with others. It will allow Christian families to feel better about their loved ones who have rejected Christ. It will enable churches to feel free to turn inward, devoting less emphasis to the "unnecessary" tasks of missions and evangelism. And it will free up pastors to spend their time preaching feel-good sermons to meet the felt-needs of their self-focused parishoners. But, in the end, it will do nothing for the advancement of God's Kingdom. As a matter of fact, it will probably keep some people out of it.

Pastor Danny

NOTE: For a much more scholarly response to "Love Wins", see the helpful critique written by Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky--

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

British Isles Trip, Part 3: London

After 4 days in Northern Ireland, Sandy and I hopped on board a plane at Belfast Inter- national Airport and made our way back over to England to see our friends, the Eckers, again. The following day--Sunday--I preached at one of the two inner city London churches where Lewis serves as Associate Pastor. The small congregation was a diverse group, with members from Jamaica, Africa and (of course) the United Kingdom. It was a joy to worship together with these dear brothers and sisters in Christ. (This was the second time I had preached in London, having previously done so in 2006.)

During our time in London, Sandy and I also enjoyed some sightseeing, taking in a few stops we had missed on our 2006 vacation itinerary. We visited the historic Tower of London and saw the famous Crown Jewels. Our guided tour was led by one of the uniformed Yeoman Warders (AKA "Beefeaters") who serve as the ceremonial guardians of the Tower. Their history dates back to 1485 when they originally worked as prison guards. Presently, there are 35 Yeoman Warders, plus a Chief Warder. We also got to meet and visit with Moira Cameron, who made history in 2007 as the very first (and still only) female Yeoman Warder in the group's 525 year history!

Another highlight of our trip was touring the British Parliament while it was out of session and open to the public. Most notably, I enjoyed visiting the House of Commons chamber which I've seen so many times on television. This often lively room is truly the center of action for the British government. I also found it quite surreal when we got to stand in the very spot where Prime Ministers such as Churchill, Thatcher, Blair and others have stood throughout the years as they debated policy and discussed world affairs. And now to think that our friend Jim Shannon from Northern Ireland serves in this historic deliberative body. This experience was truly a treat.

We also took in the world-renowned British Museum, which is filled with numerous antiquities from around the globe. The sheer volume of material representing ancient cultures is staggering. Rather than trying to cover everything, we selectively zeroed in on a few key preferences. The one essential that everyone absolutely has to see is the iconic Rosetta Stone, which provided the modern world with the key to understanding ancient Egytian hieroglyphic writing. I personally was enamored with the numerous Egyptian mummies and related artifacts on display. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians even mummified their pet cats? It's interesting to see the great lengths to which people have gone throughout the centuries in an effort to attain immortality and secure a place in eternity.

The various marble carvings from the ancient Parthenon in Athens, Greece were also quite intriguing. As I walked among these statues and carvings, it was fascinating to realize that the Apostle Paul probably viewed these very works of art when he first entered the city of Athens some 2000 years ago. (See Acts 17:16ff.)

Viewing these surviving icons from ancient civilizations made me think of the closing line of that classic poem about Jesus entitled One Solitary Life: "All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life." I also was reminded that phrase from the old Bill Gaither song that says "kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that Name." Indeed, countless kings and kingdoms have come and gone through the eons of time, but Jesus still reigns. In fact, He is "the same yesterday, today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Sandy and I enjoyed our time in London. But during our stay we were again reminded of the sad reality that Europe is very much a post-Christian culture. For many persons "across the pond", the things of Christ are simply the relics of an outmoded and irrelevant past. There is a faithful remnant of believers in Britain, but that remnant is very much in the minority. God is still at work, but secular humanism is rampant and widespread. Sadly, I think many of us see America moving in this same direction. While Sandy and I were at Keswick, one speaker, equating Christianity to marriage, memorably noted that Latin America and Africa are presently in the Honeymoon Stage...while North America has "settled in" at the 25th Anniversary Stage...but, tragically, Europe is very much in the Divorce Stage. Let's pray that, by the grace of God, Europe can miraculously reverse this trend, and that we in the United States can somehow stem the tide and avoid going down the same treacherous path.

Pastor Danny

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

British Isles Trip, Part 2: Scotland & Northern Ireland

After our week at Keswick, Sandy and I headed up to Scotland, while our friends the Eckers returned to London. We rode the train into Edinburgh, where we spent the next couple of days taking in the sites of that historic city. The centerpiece of Edinburgh is the famous Royal Mile, which is anchored on each end by Holyrood Palace, the Queen's official residence in Scotland, and ancient Edinburgh Castle, the highest point in the city...both of which we toured. One of the highlights of our time in Edinburgh was attending the 60th annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a renowned marching band and bagpipe festival that takes place each August. Using Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop, the Tattoo features bands from the United Kingdom and around the world.

After 3 cold, rainy days in Edinburgh, we flew over to Northern Ireland to see some other dear friends. On the eastern side of the island, we visited with two special Irish couples with whom we did a house exchange in 2006. (They came to our home in Florida while we vacationed in one of their homes in Northern Ireland). Gerald is a retired police officer (and a Gideon). His wife Audrey is a retired school teacher. Both are active lay leaders in their local Baptist church. Their lovely daughter Jenny is a nurse. Harold and Marlene are a retired Baptist pastor and wife. Harold preached at our church in Florida in 2006. It was so refreshing to enjoy the gracious hospitality of these Christian friends again.

We also got to see our friends Jim and Sandra Shannon. Jim was the very first person from Northern Ireland that I ever met. About 10 years ago, he and his family began visiting our church in Florida every summer during their annual holiday time in the States. We began developing a friendship at that time and would look forward to getting together each year. In Northern Ireland, Jim is a political figure on the rise. After serving for several years as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, he was just recently elected to the British Parliament.

For our next stop, we ventured over to the western part of Northern Ireland and visited with Baptist Minister Clive Johnston and his wife Sheila. Clive preached at Mount Hermon in Danville in early 2009. It was good to renew fellowship with him and to meet his whole family--including his 3 adult children (one of whom is a dentist and whose services I desperately required while there!) Sandy and I immensely enjoyed being with the Johnstons. They took us around to parts of Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland) that we had not previously seen. We visited the walled city of Londonderry (AKA Derry) and saw the historic cathedral where former slave-ship captain John Newton worshiped after his conversion to Christ. (Newton, of course, is best known as the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.) We traveled to the coast of Donegal and looked westward to the United States. (Did you see us waving?) We also got to visit the new Baptist work in Strabane where Joe and Darlene Cornell of Danville have been serving for the past year or so.

Ireland is truly a captivating place. Its beautiful rolling hillsides. Its picturesque coastlines. Its flocks of sheep grazing upon lush pastures. Its proverbial "forty shades of green" as immortalized in song by Johnny Cash. Its ancient rock walls, old churches, and rustic buildings. Its friendly, warm-hearted people. Its historic Christian heritage (a la St. Patrick and others). Its colorful music and culture. And its deep-rooted connection with the United States. Indeed, it was the Protestant Scots-Irish (Ulster Scots) of the northern part of Ireland who in the 1700s settled the mountains of Appalachia (my personal heritage). Later, following the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, a whole new wave of Irish immigrants--predominantly Catholic--descended upon our great Eastern cities (i.e., New York, Boston, etc.) to build a new life for themselves there. So there is a strong bond between our nation and the Irish people--both north and south.

Sandy and I enjoyed our all-too-brief stay in Northern Ireland. It was a great time for renewing old friendships and cultivating new ones, while being personally refreshed and renewed by "the Emerald of the Sea."

Pastor Danny

Monday, August 23, 2010

British Isles Trip, Part 1: Keswick

For years, one of my ministry dreams has been that of attending the annual Keswick Convention in England. This summer, after 25 years in pastoral ministry, I decided that it was time to pursue that dream. So, in late July, Sandy and I took a flight "across the pond" to enjoy a much-needed time of spiritual refreshment and renewal.

In England, we met up with our friends Lewis and Angie Ecker, who presently live in London. For nearly a decade, Lewis and I served together at the First Baptist Church of Clermont, Florida. In 2008, the Ecker family left Florida, so that Lewis could take up the role of associate pastor of two inner city churches in London. He also works with London's Street Pastors ministry. About 48 hours after Sandy and I landed at London's Heathrow Airport, we and the Eckers boarded a train for Keswick and made our way out into the English countryside.

The renowed Keswick Convention is a Bible teaching conference held each summer (since 1875!) in the village of Keswick in the beautiful Lake District in the north of England. In recent years, the attendance has grown so much that they offer 3 different "Keswick weeks" back-to-back-to-back. We attended the third of the three weeks for 2010. At the end of week 3, it was reported that some 12,000 participants attended the combined sessions. (Roughly 4,000 each week.) While some of each week's events are held at different smaller venues, the main worship gatherings are held in a massive tent that can seat approximately 3,500 people. The remaining attendees "spill over" to other nearby venues where they can watch the proceedings live via television.

The main speaker of the week was Alistair Begg, a Scotsman who pastors a large church in Cleveland, Ohio and who has a popular preaching ministry via radio and the Internet. When I lived in Florida I used to listen to Alistair Begg's recorded weekly sermons via our local Moody Radio station in St. Petersburg. Alistair spent the whole week at Keswick doing an exhaustive expositional study of Romans chapter 8. It was great! What a solid preacher of the Word he is.

The worship was led by famous British singer, songwriter, and recording artist Stuart Townend. Townend is HUGE in the United Kingdom, but less well known here in the States. On our side of the Altantic, he is best known for his popular worship song, "In Christ Alone." We would do well to learn more of his songs. They typically are rich in great doctrinal truths about the Person of God. Stuart Townend is not only a prolific songwriter, he also is a gifted worship leader. There is a special touch of God on his life. During our week in Keswick, Townend stayed in the condo right next to us. We enjoyed the opportunity of meeting him and fellowshiping with him. A very humble man of God with a worshiping heart.

Townend's "back up" band for the week was the British Contemporary Christian group Phatfish. Although I was not previously familiar with Phatfish, I have sinced learned that they are quite popular throughout the United Kingdom. (In fact, when we visited Northern Ireland the following week, we found out that some of our friends there knew all about them.) The lead singer of Phatfish is a young woman named Lou Fellingham. She's also a popular solo artist in Britain. She very recently had given birth to a new baby boy. Yet, she was in fine singing form at Keswick. Truly, she has a great voice with an exceptional range.

Sandy and I had such a great experience worshiping with other Christians from different lands. I love the corporate experience of 4,000 varied voices lifted as one in praise to God. And I just love meeting and interacting with followers of Jesus from different parts of the world. I always find that so refreshing, because there is so much we can learn from one another. The vast majority of the attendees at Keswick were from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. But there also was representation from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. One of the presenters on the program was from the good ole USA, but other than him--and our party of 4--I don't remember hearing anyone else with an American accent all week long.

After 7 spiritually-energizing days in the town of Keswick, it was kind of sad to finally have to leave. You sort of wished it could just go on and on. (But that's what Heaven is for, isn't it?) Nonetheless, our week in Keswick was an experience that Sandy and I will never forget (in spite of it being cold and rainy!) I wish you could have been there with us. Perhaps someday, Lord willing, we'll go again.

Pastor Danny

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Remembering Jack Kemp

This past week, political leader and former professional football player Jack Kemp died of cancer at age 73.

After a successful career as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, leading the team to consecutive American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965, Kemp decided to try his hand at elective politics. In 1970, at the age of 35, he was elected to a seat in Congress, representing Buffalo. But Kemp was more than just an ex-jock catapulted to office on the basis of his gridiron fame. Over the next 18 years, he proved to be one of the most effective and influential members of the U. S. House of Representatives, although he never held a major leadership position in the House. A voracious reader with a keen mind, Kemp—a physical education major in college—developed into one of Washington’s brightest thinkers and most knowledgeable students in regard to economic and fiscal issues. (My, how we could use him now!)

Kemp, whose tax-cutting philosophy significantly influenced the thinking of Ronald Reagan, was almost chosen to be The Gipper’s running mate in 1980. (He was 24 years Reagan’s junior.) In the end, however, he was passed over for George H. W. Bush. In 1988, Kemp made his own brief run for the White House, but his campaign never got off the ground. In 1989, he was named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which to me seemed not the best use of his abilities. (Treasury Secretary seemingly would have been a better cabinet position for him.) By the time he assumed the leadership at HUD, however, the most influential period of his political career was already behind him. When in 1996 he was finally named to run for Vice President on his party’s ill-fated national ticket, that was sort of his political swan song.

I always liked Jack Kemp. I think, if given the chance, he may have been a good president but, obviously, we’ll never know that. I do have a special memory of Jack Kemp, however, that I’d like to share with you.

In 1992, I was part of a group of Southern Baptists convening for a conference in our nation’s capital. The highlights of the week included a congressional prayer breakfast on the top floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building where we were addressed by two Southern Baptists then serving in the U.S. Senate, one from each party. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. There was a young whippersnapper from Tennessee named Albert Gore, Jr. and some good ole boy from Mississippi named Trent Lott. Talk about diversity. Hmm.

The other major happening of the week was being invited to the Old Executive Office Building (now the Eisenhower building) adjacent to the White House for a special White House briefing. And who spoke to our group on behalf of the Bush 41 Administration? None other than then-HUD secretary Jack Kemp. I was impressed with Kemp, not only because of his articulation of political issues and public policy from a conservative perspective, but also because it was on that day that I first learned of his personal faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, as he spoke of how he incorporated his Christian faith into his political life, he also made a humorous statement I’ve never forgotten. He said that the Old Testament figure Nehemiah, who was both a builder of walls and a builder of people, was actually the very first secretary of Housing and Urban Development! (I loved that, and actually wrote that quote in the margin of my Bible.)

The other day, when I heard that Jack Kemp had passed away, it was a very busy week, but I took time to read just one of the many Internet news articles reviewing Kemp’s career and evaluating his legacy. Afterward, I was glad that I read the one article I did. Written by Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, it was entitled “What Jack Kemp Accomplished”. After reviewing the achievements of Kemp’s political career, Barnes ended the article with one highly unusual and totally unexpected paragraph tagged on the end. It said this:

“Kemp died on Saturday at 73. He leaves a large family and a wife, Joanne, who has been enormously influential in her own way, conducting a weekly Bible study in their home for more than 30 years and leading an untold number of people to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

Wow! I was amazed. Not by the Kemp family’s authentic faith in Christ, mind you—I already knew about that—but by the fact that this wonderful statement was published in a secular political newsmagazine. I was so impressed, in fact, that I immediately emailed Fred Barnes and commended him for his courage in closing his story with this beautiful little paragraph, which brought glory to God.

Truly, of all the things the article talked about, those closing sentences were the most important. For in the final analysis, it’s not the accolades and achievements we attain here on earth that matter. It’s how we personally respond to our Creator and it’s the spiritual treasures we subsequently lay up in Heaven. When it’s all said and done, knowing Christ and serving Him is what it’s all about.

Thanks, Jack, for a job well done.

Pastor Danny