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Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (2011), argues hell doesn’t exist—as it’s been understood for centuries—that God is a god of love who couldn’t possibly punish sinners for eternity, and that eventually everyone is saved and goes to heaven. Why? Because “love wins,” that is, God is love and “God always gets what God wants.”

Bell says the traditional presentation of the Gospel in which some are saved through faith in Christ, while those without Christ are damned to eternity in hell, is “misguided and toxic.” The doctrine of election is clearly on trial in this book.

Bell complains that evangelical or fundamentalist churches don’t permit people to ask questions, so he asks them here. He paints a jaundiced picture of such churches and then claims there are a “staggering number” of people who don’t like the biblical message or the “vicious,” “cruel” God these churches present. He says the traditional story of historic orthodox Christianity, which he still claims to represent, is not a good one and that “the Good News is better than that.” t;/p>

Bell believes in hell, although given the varying ways he defines hell it’s difficult to be sure what he believes. He uses the term “hell” like one might use the word “hellish.” It more or less describes anything evil, bad, or discomforting.

When General William T. Sherman famously said, “War is hell,” he meant it metaphorically. That’s what Bell is doing with the word—and a lot more. He says there are “all kinds of hells.” For Bell, hell is genocide in Rwanda, it’s “what we want,” it’s individual hells, communal, society-wide hells, hell now and later, it’s refusing to trust. Whatever it is, for Bell hell is a lot of hellish things other than the Lake of Fire referenced in Scripture.

Bell says failure is not final and hell is not forever. He conceives of hell as something akin to the Catholic belief in purgatory, an undefined but apparently limited period of time when some people experience a “period of pruning” or “internal experience of correction.” However long the time in this netherworld, in Bell’s theology, people do not stay forever. He says there’s hope for Sodom and Gomorrah and suggests Mahatma Gandhi might be in heaven (though there is no record in Gandhi’s voluminous writings that he embraced the Christ of Christianity; in fact, there’s the opposite). He even suggests people can be saved after death.

Rob Bell clearly possesses a gift for communication. I’ve heard him speak a number of times, enjoyed his ability to take listeners through a long list of Scriptures without losing them, and appreciated his teaching talent. I’ve also wondered how long people could sit under his youthful shtick or imbibe his perpetual flippancy, particularly as he grew older and the shtick didn’t align with his age.

Bell’s gift for communication shines through in Love Wins. For example, he coins a creative and thought-provoking phrase like “garage full of nouns” to describe the excesses of materialism. The man can write and he can teach, no question. His ability to create word pictures is why he’s highly regarded as a speaker, why his Nooma DVD series are best sellers, and why he’s attracted a large following.

But now comes Love Wins. The book saddens me, not only because it presents a watered-down, which is to say false, version of biblical teaching, but also because it will undoubtedly mislead a lot of people. I’ve read Bell’s earlier books. In those he attempted to re-think tradition, something the conservative church always needs. This book is different. In Love Wins, Bell attempts to re-think doctrine, central teachings of the Bible and the Christian faith.

Bell’s book is one long reconstruction of the Christian faith in terms he thinks postmodern sensibilities can handle. While he quotes a myriad of Scripture, he picks and chooses, curiously omitting entire passages relevant to his topic. So the primary evidence for his claims, especially those related to how people respond to the Church, is his own experiences and perceptions.

And therein lies an odd point: I’ve read many books written by people who grew up in the fundamentalist church. Many times the authors work very hard to demonstrate how they’ve grown beyond their spiritual roots. It’s almost like a rite of passage—in their effort to say, “I’m not like that” they bite the hand that fed them. Bell’s book is another example of this sort of public therapy session.

Bell is clearly wrestling—I’d say struggling at some points—with his spiritual heritage. He claims he’s not saying anything new, that he’s part of a “deep, wide, diverse stream” of “historic orthodox Christianity.” Then he proceeds to debunk his own caricature of evangelical Christianity and turn historic orthodox Christian doctrine upside down. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. He keeps implying, “I’m one of them,” while at the same time hinting, “I don’t believe what they believe.”

Pre-publication controversy about this book, and much of it since, centered on whether Bell is a “universalist.” There are varying versions of universalism, a belief that all people will ultimately be saved, escape hell, and live in heaven eternally. Universalism is not historic orthodox Christianity. Bell has repeatedly said in interviews that he is not a universalist, yet his entire book makes a case for just that.

His first chapter is entitled “What about the flat tire?” This is his dumbed down way of not dealing with the sovereignty of God and of ostensibly demonstrating how a person’s spiritual fate might turn upon whether a missionary got a flat tire on the road to share the Good News. Herein he deconstructs scriptural teaching indicating people must hear the Gospel in order to respond to it (Romans 10). He says he agrees; yet he doesn’t. He basically says it doesn’t much matter. Eventually, whether a person heard or not, whether a person responds in faith to the Gospel or not, people will be saved because love wins.

Bell does not deal coherently with the holiness of God or the biblical teaching of judgment. He talks about sin, believes it exists, yet somehow whitewashes it in terms of a sentimentalist version of God he considers palatable for contemporary culture. He works hard to rewrite Christianity as a “good story.” In the process he reveals an astoundingly underdeveloped theological understanding of the sovereignty of God.

After writing a book like this, I don’t know why Bell bothers to ask, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”

This transparency, it seems to me, evidences confusion and makes the fact he argued as he did an even greater theological and spiritual train wreck. First, he makes a case for not believing (affirming “the story”) in foundational doctrines of the biblically Christian faith. Then, with this last set of questions he indicates he’s not sure of any of it. So he’s done the classic postmodern thing—he’s deconstructed an argument only to toss what’s left into ambiguity. He doesn’t believe like he used to believe. Now he’s not sure what or if he believes at all? So where does that leave all those who follow him?

Love Wins strips God’s love and the Gospel of the power and majesty Bell wants to provide spiritually bereft people. Sadly, he teaches error and leaves them adrift.

Check these theologians’ blogs reviewing Love Wins: seminary president Albert Mohler; author Randy Alcorn, and pastor Kevin DeYoung.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

A Nation in Crisis: The Meltdown of Money, Government, and Religion (2010) is about economics, politics, and religion, or primarily about economics. Dr. Larry Bates and his son Chuck Bates are both economists with long experience in business, political office, and Christian leadership.

Their book is a clarion call for common sense values, certainly ones borrowed from the Christian faith yet ones that used to be embraced by anyone who watched how the world operated. Bates and Bates are concerned, to say the least, about the debt-oriented, live-beyond-our-means culture that’s driven politics at the state and federal level the past few decades. Now we find ourselves with record national debt, huge budgetary deficits, a struggling economy, and mountains of personal debt.

The book’s title uses the word “crisis” because the authors rightly believe our culture and country are standing on the edge of a cliff. It isn’t too late, from the Bateses’ point of view, but we need to act wisely and quickly. Unfortunately, most politicians, it seems, don’t have the wisdom or will or both to make necessary changes.

The authors’ prescriptions for a better way include: don’t go into debt, buy homes that cost less than banks say you can afford, take affordable vacations, invest in gold, build your family. At the government level: cut taxes, deregulate health care, reform entitlements, reinforce the family unit.

One doesn’t have to look far to discover other countries whose profligate financial practices have led them to the brink. Greece comes to mind, presently waiting for Germany and the rest of the European Union to bail them out. Meanwhile, several other countries in Europe, like Spain, for example, are also struggling with finances not simply because the economy has taken a dip but because of their own choices in the past few decades. Sounds like the United States.

Debt is a killer of initiative and vigor. It weakens a family or a nation against the inevitable day when storms come. Debtors owe lenders, which is to say, in time, debtors can be controlled by lenders. It is not wise for the United States to owe so much to nations like China.

We need more common sense economics like you find in this book and more writers and pols like Bates and Bates. Here’s to praying more leaders on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C. and our state capitals find their way back to responsibility and accountability, which ironically, frees us all.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

David Eisenhower with his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower remember David’s grandfather, General, as he preferred to be called, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This book, published by Simon and Schuster, 2010, focuses upon David’s high school through college years at the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm General and Mamie Eisenhower made their home after the presidency. These years, the 1960s as noted in the title, proved to be General Eisenhower’s final decade.

The book is well written and readable. It is full of personal asides and memories David or later Julie provide that perhaps no others aside from the General’s son, John, could provide. But the theme throughout is General Eisenhower the man, the leader, and the reluctant politician, what he believed, why he believed it, and what made him tick in these last years of his life. Both perspectives, the personal and the political, are woven into an interesting tapestry of Eisenhower’s life, times, and philosophy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower is the first president I can remember. He was elected President in 1952, just days after I was born, and the fact that he served two terms meant he was in office when I gradually awakened to the bigger world around me. I can still see him speaking over black and white television during my First and Second Grade years of school. I can hear his voice.

It’s amazing how President’s voices find their way into our national and individual psyche. Years later, sometimes long after they’re gone, we can once again hear that voice and it brings back a flood of memories.

A year ago I visited for the first time the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas. I wrote a blog about it. Eisenhower’s museum properties are a bit dowdy and in need of a facelift, sort of like the nation has forgotten who this man was and what he accomplished in his life. But the visit is worth the time and out of the way trip. Perhaps most impressive is a very long glass-encased tabletop featuring scores of medals given to Eisenhower by grateful nations after the victory of the Allies over the Axis.

David Eisenhower presents his grandfather fairly well. Of course he is proud of the General, and he defends him at certain points. But he also comments on General Eisenhower’s relative lack of ability to connect with Mamie or his family on a more intimate level, though his love for them was real and apparent. David also disagrees with a few policy perspectives. But for the most part, as one would expect, this is not an expose but a celebration of a life of accomplishment.

I recommend this book for anyone but especially if, like me, you lived during the 1950-1960s when so much change took place in American culture. Reading about how Eisenhower processed this change is educational and enjoyable.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

The meltdown of the global economy has been front and center in the evening news for at least the past year and one-half. Not that economics is ever far from news coverage. It’s just that since stock markets went awry, real estate plummeted in value, pension plans lost thirty or forty percent of value, and countries like Greece teetered on the edge of bankruptcy we can’t get away from bad economic news.

Add to this scenario terrorism since 9/11, wars and rumors of wars, unemployment, national debt and deficits, inflation, debt juggling, and political divisiveness. People are running scared. The new normal seems to be no normal, at least not like any we’ve seen since the Great Depression. We’re now in the Great Recession with few prospects of a true end in sight. Very few of the rich are getting richer and the rest of us? Forget it. We’re toast.

What to do? Dr. David Jeremiah, Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and popular national radio speaker on his program “Turning Point,” has written The Coming Economic Armageddon, examining economic trends and interpreting them in terms of biblical prophecy.

If you care at all about economics the book is easy to read and engaging, though it’s not fun. The doom and gloom is, well, too doomy and gloomy. But the story told is an important one.

Jeremiah believes we are living in what the Bible calls “the End Times,” the period leading to the bodily return or Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Reviewing both economic indicators, U.S. and some global, and biblical teachings on prophecy, Jeremiah concludes all the signs point to Jesus’ return. When? No one knows and Jeremiah thankfully doesn’t try to pick dates.

Jeremiah discusses political concepts like the “New World Order,” tracks the breakdown of the American economy and the consolidation of governmental power resulting from it, reviews Scripture telling of the Anti-Christ, False Prophet, Mark of the Beast, and more. He is particularly, and rightfully, concerned and incensed by the fact we’ve largely done this to ourselves. In other words, we’ve lived well beyond our means for decades, have piled entitlement program upon entitlement program—like prescription plans, Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits—have put the country into $13 trillion in visible debt, and have done nothing about it.

Jeremiah’s concerns are well taken. The real problem in America is not economics but moral character. We want, we borrow and spend, we acquire, we ignore accountability and stewardship, and we act like there really is a free lunch. All the while, we’re mortgaging our country, culture, and children’s future.

I liked this book’s timely topic and its research coupled with explanations of biblical prophecy. And I especially appreciated that Jeremiah did not write like an alarmist or make you want to jump off a bridge. Yes, he’s genuinely alarmed, but he isn’t crying in despair.

Jeremiah knows God is Sovereign and in charge, and he reminds us of this vital and liberating truth. He concludes by saying “Keep your head in the game,” meaning stay informed. “Keep your house in order,” meaning minimize personal indebtedness and manage your money well. “Keep your heart in your faith,” meaning obey the Lord and follow him no matter what. As Jeremiah says, “Though the world may seem to be crashing down around us, it really changes neither our basic duty nor our ultimate security.” And finally, “Keep your hope in God,” meaning we only lose hope when we take our eyes off the God of hope. I recommend this book.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Ten P’s in a Pod: A Million-Mile Journal of the Arnold Pent Family (The Vision Forum, 2004) is a remarkable and heart-warming story of how a family of ten traveled across two nations to share salvation in Christ.

Ten P’s in a Pod was compiled from journals written by Arnold Pent III during his seventeenth to nineteenth years. First self-published in 1965, the book became a word-of-mouth success nationwide among Christian families inspired by this engaging story of dedicated parents, a musically talented family of eight siblings, a vision for evangelism, and God’s blessings.

Arnold Pent III is the third child and second son of Arnold and Persis Pent Jr. His account is therefore personal, funny, poignant, and respectful, and its spiritual depth is a testimony to the parents’ instruction and the Scripture’s impact upon the teenage author.

The story reveals a Father who was a man of astounding faith, innovative spirit, and vision for evangelism, along with a Mother who was a person of equal faith, faithfulness, and servant’s heart. How these two were able to take a family of eight children across both the United States and Canada throughout the 1950s in various old cars is a story worth reading.

The family eventually earns the sobriquet “the world’s most unusual family.” Their incredible facility with long, memorized passages of Scripture, their musical presentations, and their 10 P’s story of making their way without knowing how or when necessary funds would come, all while driving thousands of miles, is, in a word, amazing.

The Pent family home-schooled their children before home-school became a verb. They traveled as a family music program and reached all manner of churches and people with God’s message. Their story demonstrates that it’s possible for siblings to love one another and for a family to stay together as a productive unit during a time when cultural trends began pulling families apart.

Lessons are apparent throughout the book: God is faithful, God provides, exercise and good eating habits really can preserve health, Scripture memorization is good for the soul as well as practice of the Christian life, family matters, the Good News can reach the seemingly most hardened individuals.

Not long ago I happened to become acquainted with Arnold Pent III, so I can attest that his love for the Lord and his desire to reach the lost continue fifty years later. His family’s story is engaging and enjoyable. I recommend it, both as a “good read” and as a source of inspiration.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Jim Samra’s The Gift of the Church: How God Designed the Local Church to Meet Our Needs as Christians (Zondervan, 2010) is a pastor’s passionate answer to the question, “What benefit is the church?” In his first book, Samra states his conviction early: “Nowhere is God as present as he is in the midst of his gathered church.”

Samra cares about the universal Church, but his heartbeat is the local church, the one we attend or should be attending on a regular basis. Samra acknowledges the value of other Christian organizations, parachurch ministries, and gatherings of two or more believers, all of which matter to the Christian life. But in Samra’s view only the church is created by God for specific purposes of community, and Jesus proclaimed this uniqueness when he said, “I will build my church,” (Matthew 16:18).

Samra argues the church offers an opportunity for God to speak in a special way. Through the Holy Spirit, Samra believes people hear from God other than simply in the preacher’s actual words. He relates several anecdotes about people who later credited him with spiritually energizing statements he never made, yet some of these people had the statements documented in their notes. Samra believes this is evidence of God’s unique presence in the church.

Church is a place where God brings believers together in concert with him and others, a place where diverse talents are combined in productive unity. Church is the City of God or place of koinonia, God’s design for countering the lonely crowd and alienation so often characteristic of the City of Man. Despite the flaws in the church, the result of sinful human beings gathered together, Samra strongly contends the church is God’s vision, an organization and an organism of great beauty.

The book’s theological analysis is interspersed with stories and illustrations drawn from the author’s church experience both as a parishioner and as a pastor. The stories are especially helpful making the otherwise scholarly text more interesting and understandable.

Overall the book is a love letter to the church. It’s written by a pastor with a clear sense of calling. It’s written with a great appreciation for the spiritual blessings of family, of home church, and of church-as-family. It’s written with both a faith and an empirically based confidence in the profound benefits awaiting all believers who accept the gift of the church.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.