This is a plea for those who, for whatever reason, think it is bad to warn people who follow Jesus (or those looking for Jesus) away from certain teachers:
Please understand that it is good, Godly, necessary, healthy, loving, and God-commanded to give such warnings.
But first, from my heart, understand that the following are not good reasons to warn against teachers/writers/leaders and I will not defend them:
1) Personal dislike (“I just don’t like his style”)
2) Theological arrogance (“His views are childish”)
3) A passion for argumentation for argumentation’s sake
Those are not my reasons, and they are not my heart in this plea.
My soul’s cry, my sense of urgency, is in the following:
1) There is a real and true God who has described Himself in Jesus and in the Bible. He is forgiveness and life.
But you see there are also imaginary, fictional creations we can make in our minds, can fashion from our own desires, which we can then call “God.” But simply saying something about God or wanting God to be something doesn’t make it so any more than me saying the Cincinnati Reds won the 2014 World Series makes it so. God is real, and He is who He is no matter what we say or feel.
There are false “gods” and there also false attributes given to, and distortions of, the true God. These are man-made ideas, mutations, exaggerations, or misrepresentations. And they lead at best down a more treacherous road to Jesus Christ and His cross, and at worst away from that cross and its Author. They lead in the worst cases to a dead idol that is no god.
We can create false gods or we can misrepresent the real God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We can so this by, for example, speaking only of His holiness and forgetting His mercy. Or (more likely in our place and day) by overemphasizing His mercy and forgetting His holiness (and judgment).
He describes Himself as love, a consuming fire, a Father, a righteous King, and holy enough to scorch sin and kill a person by His mere presence.
That’s what He says.
I can’t change who He is any more than I can rewrite gravity, drink the ocean, or tell a mountain to bend down so I can touch its peak. He is real, and I cannot change Him.
Rob Bell describes God in a soul-killing way. I have nothing bad to say about the man/husband/father Rob Bell. He seems like a nice enough fellow. My problem is that in his books and in his recent blog series on the Bible he makes the case that God did not do or say many of the things He did and said.
It’s that simple.
As an example, in his recent blog series on the Bible, in response to several questions from (apparently) genuinely curious people about why Jesus had to die, Bell guided people in this direction:
“God didn’t set up the sacrificial system. People did. The sacrificial system evolved as humans developed rituals and rites to help them deal with their guilt and fear.”
Now the Bible: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.'”
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, the historical books of the Old Testament, and the prophets all say that God demanded a sacrifice for sins.
And the New Testament then says that those were shadows of the eternal sacrifice for sins Jesus would be. Hebrews says His blood did what the blood of animals couldn’t. The apostle John said He was our propitiation, put forth as our substitute. Jesus Himself at the Last Supper said His blood was to be poured out as a part of the New Covenant.
But Rob Bell repeatedly says in his very influential blog online that God does not execute killing wrath, and therefore He would not do so on the cross. He writes in the post I quote above that that was simply the lens through which the Apostles saw it.
Earlier in the series he writes that God did not tell Joshua to do what the Bible says He did.
That God would not tell Joshua to do what the Bible says He did.
He describes a god the Bible does not.
He says things, big and life-altering things, the Bible does not say. And he denies things, big and life-altering things, that the Bible does say.
He uses questions that appear innocent, as well as fuzzy and kind-sounding language in his books (Velvet Elvis, Love Wins) and in his popular blog to point away from the God who shares Himself himself in the Bible.
The same is true for Joel Osteen, who says or implies that God’s will in this life is always material wealth, comfort, and the lifting up of humans.
The same is true for Greg Boyd, who has made it a focal point of his large ministry (see http://www.reknew.org) that God does not certainly know nor determine the future.
These are not small disagreements. In the case of all three of these men, fundamental elements of the God described in Jesus and the Bible are denied or added.
Bell says God would not command wrath, Osteen that God’s will is always financial success, and Boyd that God does not determine the events of His creation.
We can have disagreements on issues and worship the same Jesus.
Communion, baptism, the return of Christ, election, the nation of Israel’s place in the future, outreach… These are things God-lovers and Bible-believers don’t all agree on, and since God hasn’t made every single thing in in His Bible equally clear, that’s okay.
But His sovereignty? The fact that He has wrath? The fact that His glory is the point of creation?
We should not be silent as men boldly tell believers and non-believers things that aren’t true about these central points of God’s breathed-out Bible.
We can’t let lies obscure the only truth that offers healing and hope.
My passion is not finding what’s wrong with the man Rob Bell so I can smugly point it out. My passion is shouting out to sheep not to follow a stranger’s voice away from the real Shepherd.
2) The Bible offers and actually commands this sort of warning.
From 2 Timothy:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
“Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.”
From 1 Timothy:
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
From 2 Peter:
“The ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
We are told to do this. To defend the truth for the sheep’s sake and for God’s glory.
I understand that for a number of reasons it appears unloving in 21st century America.
But it is something those who love Jesus and live to share His Gospel must do with compassion, courage, humility, and hope.
There is a real God, and real souls are at stake.
If we care about God, we must warn against lies about Him, and if we care about souls, we must warn against what kills them.