Monthly Archives: February 2011

Rob Bell and the Judgmentless “Gospel”: Holy Love Wins

In 2003, I was a college student in Romania in need of some encouragement from pastors and teachers back in the U.S. An American pastor friend of mine recommended I listen to the preaching of two pastors: Rob Bell and James MacDonald. (Amazing that just eight years ago the ministries of these two men were seen as complementing each another!)

I downloaded dozens of Rob’s sermons from his early years at Mars Hill. I liked his preaching style and enjoyed his sermons from Leviticus. His most memorable message, “The Goat Has Left the Building,” ended with a powerful illustration of the truth that Christ bears our sins.

Two years later, I was less impressed with Rob’s teaching. I read Velvet Elvis as charitably as I could, but I was concerned by some of Rob’s affirmations. Rob likes to ask questions that appear to lead in one direction; he then pulls back and says something more akin to Christian teaching. (The “virgin birth” section, for example.)

The last time I listened to a Rob Bell sermon was in 2006. Rob had come under criticism because some were saying he denied that Jesus is the only way to God. Answering the criticism, Rob told his congregation: Let me set the record straight. Jesus is our only way. After that, I tuned out. “Jesus is our only way?” That was Rob’s way of having his cake and eating it too. He sidestepped the question in a way designed to deflect criticism, but leave the door open …

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Worth a Look 2.28.11

Younger people not starting blogs:

Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people — particularly the younger generation.

Are you smarter than an eighth-grader (from 1895)?

The Salina Journal, a daily newspaper in Salina, Kansas, has published a final exam that was given to local eighth-graders in 1895 (via this friendly website). (“It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS.”) The PDF is available here. I would be very curious to know how modern eighth graders would do on the test…

John Mark Reynolds on Mike Huckabee:

Huckabee says that Islam is the “antithesis of the gospel of Christ.” This is as shocking as discovering that capitalists are opposed to communism. The gospel of Jesus says that Jesus is God in the flesh and that this bridged the gap between God and humanity. Islam thinks this is exactly wrong.

It is not offensive to point out differences.

Bob Kauflin on receiving compliments:

Usually we’re battling the fact that we love being encouraged but don’t want to be proud. We wish people wouldn’t say anything, but another part of us is crying out, “More! More!” It’s the dilemma of Romans 7:21: “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Here are some practices I’ve learned to help me receive encouragement (at …

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Wave Upon Wave

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
strengthens my will,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
rules throughout my inner man,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me thy immeasurable love.
How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!

– Puritan Prayer, from Valley of Vision

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C.S. Lewis on Life's Interruptions

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

(from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis)

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Trevin's Seven

Seven links for your weekend reading:

1. Eight Tips for Talking to Your Kids about the Sermon

2. Parents are Taking the Fun Out of Toys

3. The Bart Ehrman Project: “Numerous Biblical scholars profoundly disagree with Ehrman’s findings. This site provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.”

4. Disappearing Languages: Every 14 days, a language dies. (HT – Challies)

5. Tim Keller on preaching to himself daily through his prayer life.

6. Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

7. Histories of mid-19th century America tend to separate its two most important threads: a war over slavery engulfs the East, while mineral rushes transform the West. But while these developments are geographically distinct, they could not be more interdependent.

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Gospel Definitions: Josh Moody

The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is that Jesus was born, and he died and rose again, and that his death was for our sins that we might receive forgiveness and new life in relationship to God now and forever through faith alone.

– Josh Moody, No Other Gospel

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Worth a Look 2.24.11

Next month, I’ll be joining Tim Challies and other speakers at Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, SC for the Psalm 119 Conference. Check out more info here.

John Starke responds to my recent post on child baptism by claiming that we should indeed baptize small children who profess faith. Here’s the crux of John’s argument:

Setting up a probationary period or age before a child can be baptized seems to imply a number of things contrary to the very gospel we are encouraging our children to believe. We have reacted against an “easy-believism” Christianity with a “prove yourself” mentality.

Keith Mathison reviews The Symphony of Scripture:

The main goal of the book is to demonstrate how the key people, events, institutions, and books of the Bible fit into the overall story. In other words, Strom provides a map of the forest with a guide to important landmarks along the trail. The book is an introduction that is as useful for those with no prior knowledge of Scripture as it is for those who have studied the Bible for many years.

The Christian Divorce Rate Myth (What You’ve Heard is Wrong):

Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!” It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate. Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

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The Gospel as a Three-Legged Stool

Yesterday, we looked at three ways that Christians define the gospel:

    Story for the Individual
    Story of Jesus
    Story of Creation to New Creation

My online collection of “gospel definitions” has led me back to the New Testament, where I’ve spent significant time studying the way the word “gospel” is used. I’ve also compared New Testament usage to the gospel definitions on my blog. In the end, I am convinced that the different approaches to “the gospel” are more complementary than contradictory, but that we could be helped by a conceptual framework for the gospel and its implications.

Putting it All Together

From an exegetical standpoint, the word “gospel” is used in the New Testament primarily when speaking of the announcement of Jesus Christ. So, at its core, the gospel is the specific announcement about what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to bring about our salvation. The announcement of Jesus is the gospel.

Yet this Jesus-centered message needs context. The “Story for the individual” group is right to insist that the back story (God’s character, our sin, etc.) is needed if the gospel announcement is to make sense. And the New Creation crowd is right to insist that we place our individual salvation within the bigger picture of God’s glory in the renewal of all things and the calling out of a people. This discussion brings us to the image that forms the heart of my book on the gospel.

The Three-Legged Stool

I propose that the gospel is …

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Worth a Look 2.23.11

Interesting article from a pro-choicer - Pro-Choice Advocates are in a Time Warp:

We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible. We can no longer seek to banish the state from our lives, but rather need to engage its power to improve women’s lives. We must end the fiction that an abortion at 26 weeks is no different from one at six weeks.

Boys Wrestling Girls – a Clash of Worlds and Worldviews:

The general direction of the culture is clear: We are moving out of Joel Northrup’s world into Rick Reilly’s world. Along the way, something immeasurably more important than a wrestling match is about to be forfeited.

Love Your Wife More than Seminary:

At the end of the day, I gave heart service to my time at seminary, but only lip service to Ephesians 5, and it cost me my marriage.

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3 Ways of Defining the Gospel

In February 2008, I began a blog series called “Gospel Definitions”, in which I posted (without comment) any and every definition of “the gospel” that I came across in books or online. Eventually, that series became the largest group of gospel definitions on the web. (See a full list or pdf here.)

As I have posted various definitions of “the gospel” on my blog, I have noticed that people hear the question “what is the gospel?” in different ways.

Telling the Story for an Individual

Some hear this question and immediately think about how to present the gospel to an unbeliever. Their presentation systematizes the biblical teaching of our sin and Christ’s provision. They usually begin with God as a holy and righteous judge. Then we hear about man’s desperate plight apart from God and how our sinfulness deserves his wrath. But the good news is that Christ has come to live an obedient life and die in our place. We are then called to repent of our sins and trust in Christ. (Greg Gilbert takes this approach in his helpful book, What Is the Gospel?.)

Telling the Story of Jesus

Others hear “What is the gospel?” and think of how the New Testament authors would define the word, which leads to definitions that zero in on the announcement of Jesus. They focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel, according to this second group, is telling people who Jesus is and what he has done. (Martin …

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