Tag Archives: Rob Bell

Is Social Justice Biblical?

 

Originally published December 8, 2010.  In 2010, The Emergent Church was at the apex of its popularity and the promotion of social justice was one of its chief motivations.  Sadly, almost 8 years later, while The Emergent Church has faded, the movement towards social justice as the central message of Christendom is alive and well again.  Perhaps repackaged from wealth redistribution, this new social justice focuses on systematic racism and the promotion of the LGBTQ+ movement.

I realize that the title above will be an unpopular assertion, but before you rush to dismiss it or to leave a contrary response, please hear me out.  Social justice is without question a huge buzz word these days within not only the secular media, but within the evangelical church as well.  Because of this dichotomy, the phrase is often misused, misapplied, and generally flawed in its assumptions.

Here is the definition of social justice from Wikipedia  :  “Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating an egalitarian society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.”

 

Interesting, though a broad definition to say the least.  The idea that social justice creates an “egalitarian society” essentially means equality of religion, politics, economics, social status, or culture, i.e. that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.  (see also Wikipedia : Egalitarianism)  Digging a little further into the definition of social justice we find the following statement: “Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution.”  When we hear the term “social justice” from the media, this is generally in reference to the redistribution of wealth mentioned here.  Primarily taking from the “rich” and giving to the “poor” by means of taxation or other government mandate.  Is this the same message that so many evangelicals are trying to convey?  Well, because social justice is such a vague term, it mostly likely depends on who you ask as to what definition you get.  In his newly released book Generous Justice, pastor Tim Keller offers the following distinction:

“I used the term “generous justice” because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it’s just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I’m not generous with my money, I’m offending God, which means it’s not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor.”[1]

It would be helpful at this point if we defined “justice” and “charity”.  Dictionary.com defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness” also, “the administering of deserved punishment or reward”.  The same site defines charity as “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless; something given to a person in need; alms; benevolence; Christian love; agape.”  Just as Keller states, quite the distinction, but his own statement is troubling.  He asserts that some say giving to the poor voluntarily is compassion and charity but that the Bible claims a lack of generosity is offensive to God and thereby is not voluntary, but a mandate.  The difference between these two statements of Keller’s can be summarized by saying: “I want to give to the poor” vs. “I have to give to the poor”.  The former is a movement of the heart, the latter a letter of the law.  To his statement Keller adds, “It’s biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.” [2] Does that sound any different than the definition we read earlier which is so prevalent in the media?

Quite simply, it’s no different.  To say that “we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away” is to assume somehow that the “rich” of this world are indebted to the “poor”.  Where in the Bible does it state that?  (Actually Keller’s statement can be argued as to ask based on what standard is someone defined as rich while another is defined as poor?, but that might be a separate post)  What Keller has done is to erroneously replace the government mandate with biblical mandate, tag it with the social justice label, and state that it basically calls for redistribution of wealth also.  This is not in line with Scripture as he asserts, but is quite contrary as we’ll see in a moment.

Tim Keller did not provide the reference to Job in his interview with Christianity Today, so we are unable to follow up on his statement, but other times he has used Job 31:16 as a defense for his argument so it is there we can look for Biblical evidence.  In Job 31, Job is giving his final defense, his final argument as to his undeserved condition and in verse 16 he includes “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired….”  Is Job saying here that he neglected to give the poor as much of his money as he could possibly give away because he owed it to them?  Well we know that in Job 1:3 he was the richest in the land and we know in Job 42:10 that the Lord restored to Job twice as much as he had before his dire circumstances.  To conclude from Job 31:16 that Job was obligated to give to the poor is a poor exegesis for the purposes of defending the concept of social justice.  Job wasn’t talking about compulsion to give as a duty, but rather neglect to give from an improper heart.  In 2 Corinthians 9:7 we read “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Keller is not alone in his call for social justice, Emergent Church leader, author, and activist Brian McLaren asks, “And could our preoccupation with individual salvation from hell after death distract us from speaking prophetically about injustice in our world today?”[3] McLaren adds, When Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the Kingdom of God, it’s always closely related to social justice…. The gospel of the kingdom is about God’s will being done on earth for everybody, but we’re interested in getting away from earth entirely as individuals, and into heaven instead.”[4]

Equally troubling are the views of pastor and author Rob Bell, who shares McLaren’s association with the Emergent Church.  In a 2009 interview with Christianity Today the interviewer asks Bell to expound on his statement of “Jesus wants to save us from making the Good News about another world and not this one.” To which Bell replies,

“The story is about God’s intentions to bring about a new heaven and a new earth, and the story begins here with shalom—shalom between each other and with our Maker and with the earth. The story line is that God intends to bring about a new creation, this place, this new heaven and earth here. And that Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning, essentially, of the future; this great Resurrection has rushed into the present.”[5]

Note here that the resurrection Bell talks of has nothing to do with Jesus dying for the sins of those who believe, has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin, with grace, mercy, God’s wrath poured out on His own Son.  There’s no talk of becoming a new creation in Christ when those who believe in Him are raised from the dead with Christ.  No, instead Bell’s talk of “resurrection” signifies the beginning of a new heaven and earth, i.e. one of the central goals of social justice that McLaren mentioned earlier and the primary focus of the Emergent Church mission.

What then is our response to this?  Am I saying that as members who make up the body of the Church that we should not help the poor, widowed, and orphaned?  Certainly not!  What I am saying is that phrases like “social justice” are not always benign and laced with good intentions.  They are often agenda driven and in this case can often be used to subvert the true Gospel message***.  Social justice was spawned out of liberalism in the late 19th century and today’s movement is simply repackaging of that same program.  Theologian and Author Dr. R.C. Sproul offers much needed balance on this topic,

“The false assumption of this so-called social justice was that material wealth can be gained only by means of the exploitation of the poor. Ergo, for a society to be just, the wealth must be redistributed by government authority. In reality, this so-called social justice degenerated into social injustice, where penalties were levied on those who were legitimately productive and non-productivity was rewarded — a bizarre concept of justice indeed.”[7]

Likewise, Sproul provides guidance for direction of the Church with regards to helping those in need, “The choice that the church has is never between personal salvation and mercy ministry. It is rather a both/and proposition. Neither pole can be properly swallowed by the other. To reduce Christianity either to a program of social welfare or to a program of personal redemption results in a truncated gospel that is a profound distortion.[8]

Our definition from earlier was that social justice should be a means by which all men are brought to equality, through economic means, regardless of race, religion, economic status, social status, culture, etc.  This however assumes that we are on unequal ground from the start.  When it comes to equality we have 2 distinct biblical themes which we can apply: 1) All men are equally created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) 2) None are righteous and all have fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:10, 3:23) It is helpful for us to return to the ground level and work up from there.  We must ask then based on the biblical equality of men, what is justice?  From our dictionary.com definition earlier justice was “the administering of deserved punishment or reward”.  From the Bible we read of justice in Isaiah 42:1-4:

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed He will not break,
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till He has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

The ESV Study Bible offers the following note on this passage: Justice is “the key word in 42:1-4.  In the Bible, justice means fulfilling mutual obligations in a manner consistent with God’s moral law.  Biblical justice creates the perfect human society.  The messianic servant is the only hope for a truly just world.”  Biblical justice is dependent on the Messiah, Christ Jesus.  Like Isaiah says, He will establish justice.

Additionally we find that based on the sinful condition of man as we read in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death.  Therefore justice from God would be giving each person what they deserved, namely eternal death.  So it is here we ask, is it justice we want?  Or is it perhaps mercy that we desire?  The justice that society deserves is not wealth and equality in this life, but eternal damnation and separation from God.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-6

Perhaps a more biblical phrase would be “social mercy”.  We as a church body of believers are not called to work toward justice as defined extra-biblically, but to show mercy to those who need it.  It is not the Church’s job to demand justice and work towards that end in order to create a utopia of equality and better earthly lives for everyone.  Nor is it her role to prop up and become enabler to those who are able but unwilling.  The role of the Church is to preach the Gospel and in doing so establish mercy ministries along the way.  We are to show mercy because that is what God showed us, not justice.  We were naked and He clothed us with righteousness.  We were starved and He gave us the Bread of Life.  Thirsty yet Jesus provided Living Water.  Homeless but even now He prepares a mansion for us.  This isn’t justice, it’s mercy through the grace of God that has been given to us.  We cannot be so quick to follow men and jump on board their plans to execute justice in this world without examining what it is they are saying.  Instead we should follow Christ, the one who was executed for our justice.  He alone can bring justice to an unjust, sinful world.

Resources:

1 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/10.69.html?start=1

2 Ibid

3 McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That, p. 84.

4 Ibid., p. 149.

5 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/26.34.html?start=2

6 http://www.svchapel.org/resources/articles/21-church-trends/505-the-emerging-church-part-2#_edn33

7 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/do-we-believe-whole-gospel/

  1. Ibid.

***For more insight into Keller’s point of view, see also his interview with Kevin DeYoung: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/10/26/interview-with-tim-keller-on-generous-justice/

The Unsurprising Descent of Rob Bell

 

I began writing this blog in January 2009. Initially, it was a way to communicate truths about God’s Word to others while also serving to help me grow in my walk with Christ and my own personal understanding of the Bible. Those early days were marked with semi-frequent posts on the Emerging/Emergent Church and certain trends in evangelicalism that some might’ve read in greater detail on so called discernment blogs. I suppose in part, some errors that I had been exposed to either within the church or online through these types of blogs began to spill over into the content that I wrote on my own blog. An example of this was numerous posts on Rob Bell, then pastor of Mars Hill (not the same as Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill).

At the time, I was so concerned about the influence and teaching of Rob Bell that I tried to make his name and heretical beliefs known to as many people as I could. His books, sermons, and videos had begun trickling into the youth group that I was serving in at the time and as Scripture states clearly, a little leaven, leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6). There was really no other option but to confront those who endorsed Rob Bell, give them opportunity to dissociate from him, or otherwise ask them to leave (Matthew 18:15-20). That final step is what ended up happening on several occasions. I am deeply indebted to the Lord who through His grace granted me discernment in these matters, constantly forcing me to examine what I had read or heard in light of His holy word. As much as the popular evangelical establishment dislikes discernment blogs, they were right on Rob Bell then and the fruits of his ministry are even more evident now.

More recently, Rob Bell has stepped down from his pastorate and moved to California to begin a television/entertainment career and now has his own show on Oprah’s OWN network. In the past year or so, Bell has published a new book with his wife titled The Zimzum of Love and has recently appeared with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday program (the irony is overwhelming) to endorse and promote the book. Before we get to some interesting things in that interview, a word about the book’s title.

suessismsZimzum. Sounds catchy, almost Dr. Seussian isn’t it? Here is how Bell defines Zimzum on his website:

“Zimzum is a Hebrew term where God, in order to have a relationship with the world, contracts, creating space for the creation to exist. In marriage, zimzum is the dynamic energy field between two partners, in which each person contracts to allow the other to flourish. Mastering this field, this give and take of energy, is the secret to what makes marriage flourish.”

I’ll admit, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. It sounds philosophical and intellectual and this creates intrigue I suppose, but I actually think this pseudo-intellectual language is gibberish. In order to have a relationship with the world, God sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, that the world through Him and Him alone, might be saved if they repent of their sins and believe the Gospel. That’s crystal clear. Additionally, God’s Word clearly defines the “secret” to what makes a marriage work:

“22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:22-33 Again, clarity abounds.

Back to the philosophical gibberish. While the indication that Zimzum is a Hebrew word is strategic to help the readers feel more comfortable with it, as though it is a biblical word or at least has biblical roots, it is actually an unbiblical anti-God concept because it finds its developments in the Kabbalah religion, made popular more recently by Madonna and several prominent members of the entertainment industry. Kabbalah itself has Hebrew origins and sounds very intellectual and philosophical much like the definition of Zimzum given by Bell above. Here’s what CARM says about Kabbalah:

“Kabbalah is difficult to categorize because it is a subjective non-falsifiable belief system. In other words, it rests in non-verifiable philosophy, not in historic fact. Nevertheless, Kaballah is a mystical and esoteric system of observing and interpreting the universe and mankind that also seeks to reveal the true relationship between God, man, and the universe. It teaches that there is a divine being, neither male nor female, that has 10 primary aspects called sephirot which are represented in the Tree of Life. Kabbalah teaches that the supreme being created the universe through a series of those 10 aspects that descended through various levels until creation was fully realized.”TreeofLife

They go on to summarize Kabbalah as follows:

“Because there is no way to verify the truth of the 10 aspects of God, that Kabbalah was given to the angels for the creation of the world, etc., the Kabbalist is left to either believe or disbelieve based upon his preferences. Instead of believing what the Bible actually says, the Kabbalist is left with following the baby and mystical interpretations of a few ancient Jews.

Unlike the Gospels, Kabbalistic literature is full of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, unverifiable and subjective ideas, and words that are strung together in such a way as to appear to be semi-coherent. The problem is that Kabbalah contradicts the Bible. Therefore, it is not true.”

In its philosophical nonsensical way, Zimzum is trying to express the presence and absence of the divine. As it relates to marriage, Bell is seemingly trying to correlate this term and apply it to knowing when to be present and knowing when to give space. In reality, what Rob Bell has done then is to co-opt a Kabbalah philosophical term, as to create nuance and intrigue and then apply it to the idea of marriage between professing Christians such that the audience broadens to include not only New Age/Kabbalah followers, but also appeal to Christians who may already be familiar with him. Simply put, this is the classic methodology of Satan whom the Apostle Paul says disguises himself as an angel of light.

If his outright embrace of Paganism wasn’t enough, nor his association with Oprah who has promoted such New Age philosophers as Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Oz and such books as The Secret, A New Earth, and A Course in Miracles, then allow the interview of Bell and Oprah to shed additional light on the further shift of Rob Bell away from Orthodox Christianity (if he was ever truly there to begin with).

 In addition to the esoteric language and conversation which says little of substance while saying a lot in quantity, here are some takeaways:

  • 23:27 Marriage is an opportunity to find God in each other
    • The theologians call it incarnation, when the divine and the human exist in the same place.
  • 29:20 “Marriage – gay and straight is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, and sacrifice.”
    • Discussion on the embrace of homosexual marriage begins here
  • 30:00 Oprah: When is the church going to get this? Bell’s: We are a moment away from the church’s embrace of homosexual marriage.
    • Culture is there, church will be irrelevant if it continues to quote letters from 2000 years ago as their best defense.
  • Exactly Zero Scripture references/quotations

dont-drink-the-kool-aidChristians, this video should disturb you; from the talk of energy fields and spirituality, the debasing of the Bible, to the embrace of homosexual marriage intertwined with an appeal to the emotional desires of people to be loved. This material is presented in such a way that makes you less likely to recognize the cyanide and drink the Kool-Aid unsuspectingly.

Rob Bell is a false teacher. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing when wolf-572x368making his Nooma videos and writing such books as The Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Love Wins, but now he is making perfectly clear the sheepskin has come off to reveal an extremely dangerous teacher who claims Christ but mixes truth with error. In an age of Christianity where believers are seen as intolerant and violence against Christians is at an all-time high, need there be more compelling evidence for the call to be even more vigilant, even more discerning, and even more willing to stand as Ezekiel and be a watchman for the Church.

The Danger of Isolating the Love of God

It has been an extremely busy few weeks for me and I’ve been unable to post blogs as regularly as I would like.  In addition to helping raise our 1-year old while also remodeling a house my wife and I recently bought, the Lord has placed me in an interim Youth Director position at my local church.  Between preparing for that and a Bible study that I’ve been fortunate to lead, much of my Bible preparation time goes toward that, rather than here.  I hope that once we get moved this month I can return to a more regular posting schedule.  I apologize to those of you who are regular readers, but I pray that you bear with me during this transition.  Having said that, I do have a backlog of posts prepared that I hope to begin publishing in the next few days, beginning with this one.

 “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

It’s likely that those of you reading this are familiar with the passage above.  If not with the Scripture passage from the Apostle John, then certainly with the statement “God is love”.  Perhaps second only to John 3:16, this statement has been frequently quoted, oft out of its original context in the passage and has been declared the final word the Bible has to offer about who God is.  Is the love of God all the Bible says about the character of God?  Is that all that the unbelieving world needs to hear?  As Christians, is God’s love our primary focus?  Similar questions like these are what J.I Packer tackles in a chapter from his book  Knowing God, entitled “The Love of God”, which we discussed in detail in Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Misunderstanding the Love of God.  As we saw, Packer concludes that “God is love” is not the final word that the Bible offers concerning who God is, but that for believers it should be our primary focus.  As believers we should rejoice in the love of God, resulting in worship, praise, and adoration to the glory of God, for God is love. 

Here is where I think today’s modern evangelical world has become so confused.  Due primarily to a lack of biblical knowledge and an immature understanding of who God is, they simply take God is love in isolation and spread it like a blanket over everything and everyone regardless of sin, situation, or circumstance.  Instead of being properly placed as an attribute, among infinite others, intrinsic to God’s nature, God’s love is placed directly at the center and all other attributes must then be subordinate to love.  God’s justice, must follow God’s love.  His wrath, again subordinate to His love.  Is God first holy, no they would say God first is love.  What this view actually does is distort the character and nature of who the Bible tells us God is.  It creates a god who is unable to uphold His own righteousness and holiness because He must love.  It says that a god who is love cannot, nor would not, send any person to hell as punishment for offending His holiness.  The reality of this is that it actually strips away God is love and skews it to say “Love is god”.  As should be familiar to all of us, the LORD clearly states, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me”, to do so would be idolatry.  Yet this is precisely what so commonly happens when people take an attribute of God in isolation and fashion a god out of it, all the while rejecting the rest of what the Bible has to say about who God is.  In essence, an image of God is created in the mind that is inconsistent with the God of the Bible and this is idolatry.  This is not to say that we cannot individually study an attribute of God, nor does it say that we cannot meditate on or thank God for His love, mercy, grace, etc.  But it is certainly saying that biblical knowledge of God is of the utmost importance.  There is a reason why Jesus states in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom  you have sent.”

As we’ve seen the past couple of weeks with the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins, an improper view of the character of God leads to confusion and quite simply heretical beliefs.  God’s love does win, first for Himself and secondly for those who are His children.  But it is not the end of the matter, because God also must be just and as such His wrath must reign down on all those who have rejected Jesus as Savior.  Romans 3:25-26  It is a difficult truth, but nevertheless, God’s love for His children is complimented by His wrath towards unbelievers as He is glorified both in His giving of salvation to believers and in the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Romans 9:22-24

God is equal in all of His attributes.  If one were to be out of balance, then God would be less than perfect.  Because our minds are so finite, we have a limited understanding of the nature of God’s love.  We know of only a love that, let’s face it, is mushy and sentimental.    Human emotions generally run hot or cold, are imbalanced, and are usually dictated by situations.  This makes it difficult, nigh impossible, to love and hate at the same time or to grant mercy yet give justice simultaneously or to put our wrath on display and be justified and glorified for doing so.  Yet God can.  When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all those who believe, God poured out His wrath on His Son, yet He didn’t stop loving Him.  He was perfectly capable of displaying both His wrath, in His punishment of sin, and His love by offering His only Son as a sacrifice for sinners.  Again, His love was complimented by His wrath, yet in His wrath His love was displayed.  This is why the Apostle John can say with confidence, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  1 John 4:10 Simultaneously, the fulfillment of God’s love and the satisfaction of God’s wrath.

God is love on the surface is a simple, yet profound statement, the depth of which we will never know (Ephesians 3:19).  But unless we take the due diligence necessary to understand what the Apostle John is talking about in 1 John 4 and who he is talking to, then there is an imminent danger of isolating the love of God from His true nature.  If you are a believer in Christ, then rest firmly in the infinite depth and riches of God’s love.  But, dear friend, if you are yet without Christ, then you must know the “wrath of God remains” on you (John 3:36).  Repent of your sin and Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!

Below are several follow up blog posts by Pastor/Teacher Dr. John MacArthur on the saga of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins.  I introduced you to the first post in his series here:

Rob Bell: “Evangelical and orthodox to the bone?” Hardly

Rob Bell: A Brother to Embrace or a Wolf to Avoid

Bell’s Inferno

Rob Bell’s Unbelief in His Own Words