Archive for the ‘American Evangelicalism’ Category

How is the Lutheran Church Different from All Other Churches?

March 1st, 2013 Comments off


“The Lutheran Church differs from all other churches in being essentially the Church of the pure Word and unadulterated Sacraments. Not the great number of her adherents, not her organizations, not her charitable and other institutions, not her beautiful customs and liturgical forms, etc., but the precious truths confessed by her symbols in perfect agreement with the Holy Scriptures constitute the true beauty and rich treasures of our Church, as well as the never-failing source of her vitality and power.

“Wherever the Lutheran Church ignored her symbols or rejected all or some of them, there she always fell an easy prey to her enemies. But wherever she held fast to her God-given crown, esteemed and studied her confessions, and actually made them a norm and standard of her entire life and practise, there the Lutheran Church flourished and confounded all her enemies.

“Accordingly, if Lutherans truly love their Church, and desire and seek her welfare, they must be faithful to her confessions and constantly be on their guard lest any one rob her of her treasure.

“May God be pleased, as in the past, so also in the future, to bless our Church, and graciously keep her in the true and only saving Christian faith as set forth and confessed in the Lutheran symbols, whose paramount object is to maintain; the gem of Luther’s Reformation, the blessed doctrine of salvation by grace only, which most wonderfully magnifies the great glory of our God, and alone is able to impart solid comfort to poor sinners.”

— Friedrich Bente

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Concordia Triglotta—English: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, electronic ed. (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996).

The Problem with the “Hot New Thing” in the Church

February 14th, 2013 3 comments


Here is a fascinating interview with a person who has not one single possible bias or axe to grind or any emotional investment in any Lutheran squabbles about the liturgy. Check out what he has to say about the historic liturgy. It is always both amusing and quite pathetic to see that just when some Lutherans are breathlessly trying everything they can to out do each other coming up with new “best pratices” for conducting their ministry, the very thing we think of as irrelevant, out of touch, old, useless, only good enough for the old folks whom are shunted off to a “classical praise” service at some inconvenient hour on Sunday, the Evangelicals and others are slowly, but surely, discovering the riches of the Church’s great traditions and heritage: the ancient liturgical forms of worship being one of them! Oh, yea, and that whole “sin and grace” thing? The whole “I’m a poor miserable sinner” thing? Yup, that too. Lutheran congregations ditching their confession/absolution are doing so just while a lot of Evangelicals are viewing it now as a “best practice.” Go figure. HT: Stetzer

Daniel is the founder and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Sojourn Network. Mike is one of the founding pastors of Sojourn where he serves as the pastor of worship and arts. He is also founder of Sojourn Music and has helped us with elements of The Gospel Project.

I’ve seen Sojourn Church grow from a dream that Daniel and Mandy shared with Donna and me in our living room, to an amazing church and growing network. I am so thrilled with to see that vision come into reality– and very glad they have shared about it in Faithmapping.

“Faithmapping” is a very interesting word. What does it mean?

Faithmapping is our attempt to clarify the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the world. Each of these concepts is a big, broad idea, and in the Christian life, they can become quite confusing. So in Faithmapping, we are attempting to plot out each idea on the map, showing the various routes by which they connect and depend upon one another.

Why is there so much confusion among churches today about what the gospel actually is?

There are many reasons for this. One is our addiction to sound bites. Another is the perpetual fads that surround the church – the newest book, conference, or blogger that is the Hot New Thing.

But ultimately, the gospel itself is a message – an announcement really – that is simultaneously simple and complex, easily summarized and worthy of lifelong reflection and meditation. In the face of complexity, we’re often tempted to be reductionistic. Faithmapping aims to resist that temptation, painting a broad, multi-dimensional picture of the gospel.

Why is grace such a stumbling block for Christians?

Because most of us would love to believe that we can be good enough, smart enough, and righteous enough to earn God’s favor. The gospel demands that we encounter and acknowledge our sinfulness, and only then can we understand grace in its fullness. That’s an unattractive message to many.

Some have narrowly defined the gospel as kingdom, cross, or grace–but rarely connect all three. What are the dangers of over-emphasizing one facet of the gospel against the others?

We miss out on the life-shaping impact of the scriptures. The Bible has no problem with revealing a gospel that is multi-dimensional (referencing it as the gospel of the Kingdom, the cross, and grace, as well as many other modifiers), and that depth enriches our understanding of Jesus’ work. If we emphasize the cross without grace, we can end up being nothing but miserable sinners. If we emphasize grace without the cross, we get a sentimentalism that doesn’t understand sin. On the other hand, when we understand the whole thing as complex, and interdependent, it’s a much richer picture. At times, we particularly need to hear on or the other aspects.

Only by holding them aspects in tension and dialogue with one another can we fully understand the message of the gospel.

Why can it be dangerous to measure one’s spiritual health by their quiet time or prayer performance?

Because our standing before God isn’t defined by our performance. It’s defined by Jesus’ finished work! Our prayer and Bible reading is an absurdly insufficient effort to please a God who can only be satisfied by perfect, unblemished sacrifice. By a miracle of grace, our messy, flawed, insufficient lives are wrapped up in Jesus and offered to God as a “living sacrifice,” which he joyfully receives on our behalf! It all has very little to do with our actions.

If we see that God’s acceptance of us is primary, and prior to any of our spiritual disciplines, then we can understand these disciplines as invitations to the good life – to life with God in a world he’s at work redeeming.

How does viewing your life (even in the mundane, ordinary, or secular areas of life) as worship revolutionize the way you work? Parent? Do ministry?

It’s crucial that we see these mundane and “secular” areas of life as worship. Worship isn’t just a gathering of people, or a set of actions; it’s a way of life. It’s a life lived for the glory of God, and it’s rooted first and foremost in trusting Jesus’ finished work on our behalf.

If we know that Jesus is our brother and God is our father, and that our lives are lived before his gaze, the ordinary moments of life are transformed. Every moment – at work, at home, or in a drive-thru – is a call to worship, an opportunity to live in a way that says, “yes” and “amen” to God’s work in the world.

How do you fight for unity in your church? Or deal with conflict in your church?

Rather than call people to a vision statement, or a particular leader, we call them again and again to the gospel. It really is the key to all of life and ministry: it’s the rallying cry for the church, the point at which unity is possible, where sinners gather before God. Practically speaking, if you call all of your ministries to be centered on the gospel, then it unifies their language and opens doors for a lot of commonality. In other words, you don’t learn one vision and set of language for mercy ministry, and another for music ministry; both are calling people to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

In dealing with conflict, Paul’s words to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry have become more and more important to me as a leader. Most of the time, when conflict emerges, one or both parties just needs to be heard. Great leaders listen, and work hard to acknowledge that the other person has been heard and understood. That’s where conflict resolution will always begin.

How do you cultivate an authenticity among staff and leaders at your church?

You have to fight for an atmosphere where sin is expected. You have to act as though it isn’t surprising when a staff full of sinners demonstrates sinfulness. If people feel safe confessing sin, weakness, sadness, and frustration, then you can have real authenticity.

That said, you have to fight for joy as well. Sometimes, the church can spiral down a well of sin-hunting misery, and you have to guard from that too; it’s as inauthentic as plastic-faced joy. So laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep; allow for highs and lows in the life of the church culture.

With “gospel-centered” as a current buzzword, how can we keep the familiarity of the gospel message from becoming something that no longer stirs and moves us?

This is a great question. I think there are some great answers from church history. The old Liturgy of the church was a dialogue between the congregation and the word of God, rehearsing the basics of the gospel story: God is holy, I’m a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins and sends me into the world. In many ways, historic worship never got past that basic story.

While I don’t think everyone needs to resurrect a historic liturgy in their congregation, I think they definitely need to consider ways in which their gatherings – whether they’re a house church or a church of 10,000 – rehearse the gospel story beyond just preaching. We absolutely need good, Christ-centered preaching too, don’t get me wrong! But the gospel is a story we live in as well.

The richness of the Bible and the depths of the gospel are such that I believe a determined pastor, looking The story itself is the story of our lives, and it’s the challenge of pastors to make sure that the story is connecting – that people are seeing themselves inside the story.

Your chapter on being a servant contains a striking sentence: “We might fly across the world to feed children in a ghetto, but ignore our neighbors who need help carrying in their groceries.” Why do you think it’s sometimes seems easier to serve in high-profile ways? How can we learn to love and serve those in our everyday lives, especially when there is no chance of being recognized for doing so?

This is a tremendous challenge for our culture. In our day, even carrying a neighbor’s groceries is something that can become high-profile; we can broadcast it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and Google Plus in seconds. We have trained ourselves – and to a much larger degree, we’re training our children – to tell the world every time they do a good deed (or eat a good cheeseburger). Marketers have caught on to this. They know we want to do good and get credit. The whole phenomenon of Tom’s shoes (a company that gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold) is simultaneously a good, generous thing, and a brilliant bit of marketing. People who wear Tom’s are not only making a fashion statement, they’re making a values statement, and that has made them a huge-selling phenomenon.

The cure for this is a spiritual discipline that church fathers before us called “secrecy,” which was a practice of doing good and keeping your mouth shut. Choose some opportunities to do good – to serve neighbors or family members – and not tell anyone about it. It’s small disciplines like this that help to shape our hearts, transforming us into the kind of people who are serving others in small ways, with no recognition, but with great joy.

The Three Types of Churches

February 8th, 2013 4 comments

How to Write a Worship Song in Five Minutes or Less

February 6th, 2013 8 comments

I’m taking up the ukelele again after a lot of years away, and one of the delightful aspects of it is that there are about a bazillion songs you can play and sing that are only three or four chords. I may add worship song composition to my ukelele playing, and if so, I expect CPH to publish my Praise Songs for Ukelele volume. Lots of great hints and tips on this video for all budding praise song composers (and, hey, who isn’t these days?).



Southern Baptists and the Lord’s Supper — But What About Lutherans?

September 18th, 2012 12 comments

It should come as little surprise to learn that, in the most recent survey of Southern Baptist pastors, the Lord’s Supper is offered only once a quarter and even less often by the vast majority of SBC congregations. This is a natural result of the SBC’s lack of a means of grace theology. The Supper functions as memorial meal that is done, well, perhaps out of a sense of duty more than any sense that the Lord actually gives through it, to His people the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

The question for Lutherans to ponder is this: is the Supper the beating heart of the Church’s life together, as well it should and must be, or is it simply a nice “extra” that adds fifteen minutes to the length of the worship service? I am casting this question in as starkly a way as I can.

Here’s the link to the survey

Do Megachurches Give You a Good Buzz?

August 22nd, 2012 7 comments

Do U.S. megachurches create a spiritual “high”?

ENI-12-0493 By Chris Lisee — ENInews/RNS 21 August (ENInews)

Maybe religion really is the opiate of the masses — just not the way Karl Marx imagined. A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches (those that attract more than 2,000 people at a service) can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry — a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more, Religion News Service reports. “We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study. The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on 19 August at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver. Large gatherings of shared experience like concerts and sporting events also trigger feelings of euphoria, said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the paper. But, she said, “churches seem to be somewhat unique in that these feelings are not just experienced as euphoria but as something transcendent or divine.” The authors theorize the spiritual high from megachurch services is experienced as an “oxytocin cocktail” of shared transcendent experience and the brain’s release of oxytocin, a chemical that is thought to play a part in social interaction. Emotion and group experience have been shown to raise levels of oxytocin. One congregant reported, “God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.” Another said “you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game,” Corcoran said. Megachurches create this high through their unique style of worship, Corcoran said. Megachurches use technology and appeals to emotion to create a shared experience in congregations that number in the thousands. “The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” Corcoran said. The pastor functions as an “energy star” who engages the congregation through an accessible, informal and emotional sermon. Rather than being analytical or theological, the message “just feels right” or “just makes sense” for congregants, Wellman said. To extend the spiritual high beyond Sunday, churches feature small group activities such as Bible study, book clubs, and volunteer activities, the researchers said. But it is Sunday worship that brings people back. The study bucks the idea that larger churches produce weaker member commitment; nearly 80 percent of congregants said church size did not hinder their spiritual growth. An estimated 10 percent of American Protestants — 6 million worshippers — regularly attend one of 1,600 megachurches. Researchers observed services and conducted 470 interviews and about 16,000 surveys at 12 megachurches for the University of Washington study. Eds: A file photo of a megachurch is available via ENI News Headlines and Featured Articles are now available by RSS feed. See All articles (c) Ecumenical News International Reproduction permitted only by media subscribers and provided ENI is acknowledged as the source. Ecumenical News International PO Box 2100 CH – 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland Tel: (41-22) 791 6088 – 6111 Fax: (41-22) 788 7244 Email:

How God Turned Around Nixon’s Hatchet Man

April 19th, 2012 Comments off

When I was growing up I remember as child being absolutely amazed and frightened when our nation when through the great Watergate scandal. When I was in the eighth grade, I read a book written by one of the most fascinating characters during that scandal, Charles Colson, one of Nixon’s bad guys, his “hatchet man.” The book was Colson’s autobiography titled simply Born Again.

It was Colson’s book that introduced me to one of the best Christian writers in recent history: C.S. Lewis, and specifically Lewis’ book titled Mere Christianity. Now while I always also recall cringing at the “decision theology” that was and is very much part of that story, I also remember being very impressed by how Jesus Christ turned this man around and filled a very empty, lonely and purposeless man into a man with a true mission. Here is Charles Colson talking about how God got ahold of him and turned him in a different direction though the power of the Holy Spirit Who converted Him to Christ.

Mission Trips — Something to Consider

March 16th, 2012 13 comments

Which One is Your Church?

January 14th, 2012 8 comments

What’s Up with the Evangelicals and Reformed?

December 28th, 2011 34 comments

Last June, an Evangelical/Reformed blogger, Kevin DeYoung, wrote an article on his blog asking what’s up with the Lutherans? In it he expressed concern that Lutherans don’t seem to be very active or present in his blogging and theological circles. I think Kevin was attempting to offer a gentle criticism and somewhat laying the blame for this on Lutherans.

The response to his post by a number of pretty well known blogging Lutherans was very vigorous and positive, with offers to be more involved in whatever forum, or conferences, or gatherings, or organizations Evangelicals have where they would welcome Lutheran input.

Despite some polite expressions of thanks for this offer, including even an interview with yours truly featured on Kevin’s blog, the response now sounds like chirping crickets, for, you see, I honestly do not believe Evangelicals or Calvinists or Reformed, or whatever term they wish to use to describe themselves, actually really do want Lutheran input nor are they really interested in the Lutheran Church. What they actually like is Martin Luther, or, frankly, the version of Luther that Evangelicals/Reformed/Calvinists have created, a Luther that does not challenge many of the core presuppositions about things like the nature of original sin, the nature of grace, faith, the sacraments. Reading many Evangelical/Reformed blogs out there I remain convince there is a deep amnesia in these circles about Church History and a very low view of and understanding of the Church as being, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

This reality is no different than the one Hermann Sasse experienced in his many contacts across Christendom, both East and West, Reformed or Roman. He termed the path of the Lutheran Church to be the “lonely way” precisely because in spite of polite expressions of interest, and expressions of love for Martin Luther, the reality is that Lutheranism is not compatible with, nor supportive of, Calvinism and all its various offshoots, up to and including various forms of Evangelicalism.

But, of course, this does not mean we Lutherans won’t stop doing our best to be a positive influence in Evangelical and Calvinist circles, but we will still keep being Lutheran. And that’s probably going to continue to be a problem for those who wonder where the Lutherans are. We are right where we have always been, and we will continue to be here and eager to contribute to your conversations. We are still waiting and asking ourselves “What’s up with the Evangelicals?”

Congregation Struggles to Learn New Mission Statement

December 2nd, 2011 7 comments

 “First Covenant Church exists for the passion and purpose of inspiring, discipling, equipping and sending out Christ followers with the destiny of transforming the world to the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and fostering a graceful yet convicting church environment in which people of all faith experiences and backgrounds are molded into the image and reflection of Christ, together creating a God-honoring community of authentic worshipers deliberately focused on reaching their community, the nation, the next generation of believers and the world through missions works, innovative programs and prayer.”

VISALIA, Calif. — First Covenant Church unveiled a new mission statement last week, hoping to launch the church into an era of greater unity and spiritual effectiveness.

But response to the two-page statement has been decidedly mixed among church members who despair of memorizing it as the church has requested.

“It’s a verbal tangle of quasi-eloquent nothingness,” grumbles one man. “I can’t even say it right when it’s projected on the screen. I end up with a mouthful of blah.”

The church has gone into a full-court press to get members to memorize the statement. The full text is posted on every door in the church, in bathroom stalls, in the bulletin and on all church correspondence and emails. The church is running a half-page ad featuring the statement in the local newspaper for two weeks. They were unable to fit it into their usual quarter-page space.

Services now begin with everyone holding up their Bibles and reading the statement off the screens together with the pastor. All church-sanctioned events, from small groups to softball games, must now begin with participants reciting it together.

“It takes longer to get through than the national anthem,” says one softball team captain. “The other teams laugh at us.”

Pastor Jack Lewine says he felt obligated to promote the statement mainly because his associate pastor Glen Pamplin had labored over it for six months before presenting it to the church. But even Lewine admits he had to delay the unveiling for two weeks so he could “get my own head around it.” He can now recite it in less than 90 seconds, of which he is proud.

Pamplin is reportedly irritated by people’s “reluctance to get on board with what God is doing at First Covenant.” He says the statement’s length simply reflects that God has a lot in store for the church in the future. Bristling at the criticism, Pamplin recently floated the idea of throwing a contest with a cash prize to see if anyone in the congregation can come up with a better statement “that still fully encompasses, embodies and encourages our fundamental mission as an outpost of grace, joy and love for Christ in the city to which he has called us at this time in history,” he says.

Suggestions are already rolling in.

“How about, ‘Jesus rules,’” says one seventh grader. “They should pay me by how many words I didn’t use.” •

Source: Lark News

File under: Humor with a point.

Condemning Millennialism as False Doctrine: The Real Lesson in the Camping Prediction

May 21st, 2011 15 comments


“Where is the Promise of His Coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the Creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)

Harold Camping managed to attract a lot of media attention with his prediction that today the so-called “rapture” would happen today. Consequently, he has made it possible for non-believers to do what they have always done: scoff and laugh and poke fun. But Harold Camping has done far worse than merely confess what the Bible teaches: that Christ will return again on the last day, he has subjected the entire Christian church to scorn and ridicule because of fanciful predictions, which are all grounded in a common false teaching among many protestant evangelical Christians: believe in a literal millennial rule and reign of Christ. Such teachings, and teachers, and church bodies that tolerate in their midst the heretical view that there will be a literal reign of Christ, on earth for 1000 years, must be rebuked and rejected.

All these teachings subject the Church and all Christians to ridicule. When we suffer persecution, it must be persecution for the truth, not because of a nut making crazy predictions. But he is not alone. Look at the fortune raked in by the authors and publishers of the “Left Behind” books. Shame on any Christian who read those and “enjoyed” them. Shame on those church bodies and church leaders that teach a “millennium” and encourage others to do so.

It is interesting to me to see how silent churches that advance these teachings have been during Mr. Camping’s predictions. They are complicit with such predictions. Mr. Camping just happens to have taken matters further than they are willing to go, but for how long have we been bombarded by apocalyptic predictions, claiming the Book of Revelation is a “road map” to the end times and to fanciful and fanatical distortions of the text of Scripture. Far too many Christians have been willing to be caught up in spending to much time thinking and talking about the “End Times” that they truly have become “so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”

Holy Scripture explicitly warns against those who claim to know when the end of all things shall be. Our Lord says to be prepared for the end, much as one might prepare for a thief to come in the night. You make your preparations, you get ready, but you never know when He will return.

So, rather than chuckle and make fun and jokes, let us lament that Mr. Camping is simply taking what is latent in much of American protestantism to an extreme degree, but it is rotten fruit born of the rotten tree of millennialism. Repent therefore of any temptation you have felt to believe all this false teaching and nonsense and then, dear friend, turn to the Lord of the Ages who welcomes you into His eternal kingdom, in the hear and now, through the precious Gospel that gives you complete forgiveness and a home forever in heaven with all the saints and those who have gone before.

Archeologists Discover Letter Written to St. Paul

March 25th, 2011 31 comments

Word is now coming out that a letter has been discovered that was written to St. Paul, in response to his letter to the churches in Galatia. Here is an English translation.

Parodios, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to our brother Paulos.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our church recently received a copy of the letter that you sent to the church of Galatia. We hope you will not mind hearing our humble concerns. In the past we have noticed you are more interested in confronting people rather than conversing with them, but we hope you will receive this letter as an invitation to further dialogue.

First of all, we are uncomfortable with your tone throughout the correspondence. We know it is difficult sometimes to discern tone of voice from written communication, but you should keep this in mind as well. One could gather from your careless use of words that you are losing your temper. You certainly sound angry. This is unbecoming a spokesperson for the faith. As you say yourself, one of the manifest fruit of God’s Spirit is gentleness.

Aren’t you being a hypocrite to preach grace but not show it to our Judaizer brothers? They may not worship as you do or emphasize the same teachings you do, but our Lord has “sheep not of this fold,” and there is certainly room within the broader Way for these brothers. Their methodology may differ from yours, but certainly their hearts are in the right place.

You yourself know that our Lord required personal contact when we have a grievance against another. Have you personally contacted any of these men? Have you sat down to reason with them personally? Have you issued a personal invitation? Some of them may even reconsider their viewpoints if you had taken a different tack. We know that your position is likely that public teaching is open to public criticism, but we can do better than what is expected, can’t we?

In one portion of your letter, you indicate you don’t even know these persons! “Whoever he is,” you write. Our dear Paulos, how can you rightly criticize them when you don’t know them? It’s clear you haven’t even read their material, because you never quote them. We implore you to see that they are plainly within the tradition of Moses and of the Prophets. They understand the context of the covenant in ways you appear deaf to.

Similarly, we find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

Paulos, what will unbelievers think when they read this letter? Do you think this will commend the gospel to them? This kind of harsh language just makes us look like a bunch of angry people. They see we can’t even love each other, and over what? Circumcision? This is a terrible advertisement for God’s love to an unbelieving world. You have given plenty of people permission now to disregard Jesus, if this is what his mouthpieces sound like.

We hope you will reconsider your approach. We know that you catch much more flies with honey than with vinegar. We are concerned that your ill-worded letter signals a divisiveness that threatens to fracture the church. We beg you to reconsider how important these minor issues are, and how in the future you may speak in ways that better reflect God’s love.

The grace—and the love!—of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother.

HT: Justin Taylor

Rob Bell’s Deceitful Use of Martin Luther to Advance His False Doctrine

March 17th, 2011 Comments off


One of the many examples of deceit and sloppy scholarship in Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins, is his assertion that Martin Luther supports his theories. Dr. Gene Edward Veith has an excellent blog post on this:

The evangelical blogosphere is all abuzz over a new book entitled Love Wins by the influential evangelical pastor and author Rob Bell, in which he argues for universalism, the notion that God will save everyone, whether or not they have faith in Christ.   I had assumed that this debate did not concern us Lutherans, since we have our theology thoroughly worked out and this is just not an issue in our circles.  But now I learn that Bell enlisted Martin Luther in his cause, quoting a letter from 1522 in which he  said that no one could doubt that God could save someone after death.
Now Luther, in his long and tumultuous and developing career, said all kinds of things, including things that were flat out wrong.  They mean nothing for Lutheran theology, which is defined by the confessional statements collected in the Book of Concord.  But Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman dug out what  Luther actually said (with Bell’s quotation in italics):
If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Tim. 2:13]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood, no matter how reluctant the old wineskin is to hold this wine–yes, is unable to hold and contain it.
It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God’s ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary. (Works, 43, ed. and trans. G. Wienke and H. T. Lehmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], 53-54; WA 10.ii, 324.25-325.11)
Talk about taking something out of context!  Bell takes a sentence out of Luther while ignoring what he says about it!  And ignoring Luther’s conclusion, that, yes, faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.
HT:  Cap Stewart

“Love Wins” Loses: A Thorough Review and Rejection of Rob Bell’s False Doctrine

March 16th, 2011 2 comments

Here is a link to the longest and most thorough-going refutation of Bell’s errors in his new book Love Wins I’ve read, to date.

Here’s a portion of the review that gets to the very heart of the problems with the book and the problem with the “Yes, but…” reactions to his book I’m already seeing among Lutherans.

I’m sure that many people looking to defend Bell will be drawn to a couple escape hatches he launches along the way. As you’ll see, the book is a sustained attack on the idea that those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ in this life will suffer eternally for their sins. This is the traditional Christianity he finds “misguided and toxic” (viii). But in one or two places Bell seems more agnostic.

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. (115)

These are strange sentences because they fall in the chapter where Bell argues that God wants everyone to be saved and God gets what God wants. He tells us that “never-ending punishment” does not give God glory, and “God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts” (108). So it’s unclear where the sudden agnosticism comes from. Is Bell wrestling with himself? Did a friend or editor ask him to throw in a few caveats? Is he simply inconsistent?

Similarly, at the end Bell argues, rather out of the blue, that we need to trust God in the present, that our choices here and now “matter more than we can begin to imagine” because we can miss out on rewards and celebrations (197).  This almost looks like an old-fashioned call to turn to Christ before it’s too late. When you look more carefully, however, you see that Bell is not saying what evangelicals might think. He wants us to make the most of life because “while we may get other opportunities, we won’t get the one right in front of us again” (197). In other words, there are consequences for our actions, in this life and in the next, and we can’t get this moment back; but there will always be more chances. If you don’t live life to the fullest and choose love now, you may initially miss out on some good things in the life to come, but in the end love wins (197–198).

For anyone tempted to take these few lines and make Bell sound orthodox, I encourage you to read the whole book more carefully. Likewise, before you rush to accept that Bell believes in hell and believes Christ is the only way, pay attention to his conception of hell and in what way he thinks Jesus is the only way. Bad theology usually sneaks in under the guise of familiar language. There’s a reason he’s written 200 pages on why you must be deluded to think people end up in eternal conscious punishment under the just wrath of God. Words mean something, even when some of them seem forced or out of place. Take the book as a whole to get Bell’s whole message.