Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why is Rob Bell so Alarming?

Dear friends,

If you are at all in tune with modern trends in theology, you've likely already heard about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lives, which I've heard is the 4th most popular on Amazon.  His usual publisher, Zondervan, refused to publish it, which I think was a wise decision.

Theology junky that I am, I have been trying to track information about the Emergent church movements and its main proponents (such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell) for a few  years, so this bell rings pretty loudly for me.  My introduction to it was McLaren's novel The Last Word and the Word After That, which former Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky gave me from his review pile after he interviewed our family for his book A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed.   But I digress.  As opposed to the more theologically orthodox Emerging church movement, the Emergent (note the different suffix) church movement is not just a matter of the style of church worship or living missionally (which basically means serving others like Jesus did). I get that part!  I am somewhat of a post-modernist at heart, since I love stories, artsy eclectic stuff, beauty, being kind to others, thinking globally, helping the poor, and promoting social justice.  It goes beyond that, though, to core theology, such as whether Jesus died as the substitutionary atoning sacrifice so that those who believe in him can escape eternal punishment for sin.  Can we handle the Bible message straight up, or does someone somehow need to make it more palatable for our modern ears?  

As an evangelical, I am personally alarmed by the inroads that Emergent theology is making in the church at large. I understand that Rob Bell's Nooma videos are quite popular in Bible study groups, his books are widely read and carried in church bookstores (like I said, Love Wins was 4th on Amazon when it came out this week), 50,000 people listen to his weekly podcasts, and he was just interviewed on MSNBC (video embedded below).  So we're not talking about a little drop in the bucket, but rather significant infiltration. I don't think most people fully realize what is at stake doctrinally and why it matters.  It's like a stealth bomber.

I for one want to make sure that my kids don't get mixed up about what the Bible really says.  I also want them to be aware of who is who and what is what in the world of historical and contemporary theology so they can make sense of what they are sure to hear in the years to come.

I wish I had time to research and write my own in-depth analysis of the issues. Thankfully, I don't have to do this since others have already done it.  Instead, I'm going to give you several links for articles and one for a video about Rob Bell, his new book, and the Emerging/Emergent church.  

One last word.  I know that many of my friends, relatives and others who read this will disagree with me somewhat vehemently about this issue. At this point, I'm really not up for a debate.  I already hear where you are coming from.  I'm just trying to raise the issue and give people food for thought.  I've already had several people thank me for posting some of these links on Facebook, which confirms that this is pertinent stuff at the moment.

Without further ado, here goes...

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” by Kevin DeYoung  One quote: “If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming.” 

Love Wins - A Review of Rob Bell's New Book by Tim Challies and Aaron Armstrong 

The Rob Bell Debate: A Reader's Digest, with Suggested Resources by Tony Reinke -- lots of links to other articles and reviews

7 minute interview with Martin Bashir

(If you are reading this via Facebook, e-mail or Google Reader, the video might not show up, so click on my original blog post or the YouTube link above.)

Rob Bell: Universalist? by Justin Taylor at

Keeping Up the Conversation: Understanding the Emergent Movement and the Emerging Church is a sermon by Dr. D.A.Carson, a well is a well-respected theologian who is the author of  the book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  He talks some about Rob Bell.

Navigating the Emerging Church | The Resurgence by Mark Driscoll (Disclaimer on this link: Please note that even though I agree with Driscoll on this issue and some others, I am not a fan of his ministry.  I think he is crass in the pulpit and brash in his leadership style, and that his overall attitude toward women is derogatory.  But that is a story for another day.  Just saying.)

OK, now that I've stepped on everyone's toes, I'll sign off! 

Oh, one more thing!  If you want to see how I describe the essentials of the Christian gospel, click here: 

Lord Have Mercy!

Grace and truth,
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekend Gratitude for Synergy and Little Bits Working Together

Dear friends,

Welcome to the 7th week of my "Weekend Gratitude" series!  What am I grateful about from this weekend?  Well, besides the little things like getting housework and home school lesson planning done, the big thing is...

I am very grateful that I attended the Saturday evening session of the Synergy conference here in Orlando with my 21 year old daughter Julia.  Synergy was founded by author and speaker Carolyn Custis James, whose books When Life and Beliefs Collide and The Gospel of Ruth I had been reading lately. Mrs. James has a real heart for women to become active in ministry and outreach around the globe.  While she was writing her most recent book, her husband told her about a best-selling book by journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. (Kristof and WuDunn are the first married couple to win a joint Pulitzer prize for covering the Tienanmen Square uprising in Beijing.  WuDunn is Chinese-American, and has masters degrees from Yale and Princeton.)  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a heart wrenching read about women around the world who suffer gender based injustice such as trafficking, children being forced to marry and bear children before they are physically mature, fistulas, female mutilation, bride burnings, honor killings, sexual exploitation, denial of basic health care, lack of education, and poverty.  More than that, it is a call for change, and a plea for help from the first world countries.  

Deeply affected by the Kristof/WuDunn book, Carolyn James named her own book Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women.  This new book was released this weekend at the conference, and I've read a few chapters so far. I also checked out Half the Sky from the library and read the whole thing in two evenings  ~~ WOW!  That's quite some heavy stuff!  

Anyway, back to the Synergy conference...  Sheryl WuDunn was slated to speak Saturday night, so Julia and I drove down there for just that session.  We saw a few familiar faces among the 450 attendees, mostly people from our own church who work for Campus Crusade, the organization which co-sponsored Synergy.  Ms. WuDunn did not identify herself as a Christian believer, although she could very well be one.  Either way, I don't agree with some of her conclusions.  However, I am grateful for her in-depth research into the problems, and for her passion for empowering women worldwide to overcome oppression and be the solution instead of the problem.  As an extra treat at the end, during the Question and Answer session, the venerable Vonette Bright (wife of the late Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright) rose to offer a few words of encouragement and offer Ms. WuDunn a booklet about Jesus, explaining that as an adult she had heard the Christian message and realized the true change comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.  What a sweet and tender moment!  I am grateful for the legacy of Bill and Vonette Bright and their decades of service to Jesus Christ.

As I think back on Saturday evening's message, I am thinking about what Synergy really means.  Basically synergy is cooperating, working together to accomplish a larger purpose.  I took a picture of a chandelier hanging above us that night, one made up of dozens -- maybe even hundreds -- of small but bright lights, radiant in their togetherness.  I looked around the room and saw the potential in all of the women and men gathered there that night, most of whom (like Julia and me) had already served overseas at some point in time.  This was echoed on Sunday  morning at church when in his sermon on Jonah 3, Mike Tilley reminded us that "revival" is not just an old-fashioned camp meeting with sawdust on the floor, but little drops of water flowing down the mountains, converging into streams which flow together into rivers and turn into a mighty flood.  In other words, each person seeks God's fullness of life in the heart, and then does his or her own unique part, along with others doing their parts, to change the world.   Can I hear an "AMEN!" in the house?  I am grateful that, though I am only one person, my life counts.  As the old poem says: 

"Little Things"
by Julia Fletcher

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

Or to rephrase this, "Thus the little people, humble though they be, make a huge impact on earth for eternity!"  What is your part?  Who is your partner in the work?  Think about it!

I think about my own small part in impacting the Third World.  Many years ago, I started corresponding with Headson Makazinga, a pastor and church planter in Malawi who oversees dozens of churches in his country and neighboring Mozambique.  Since then, we've regularly sent him money for Bibles, hymnals, orphan care, and conferences. We have also put together care packages of small items such as reading glasses, office supplies, tea, vitamins, Christian books, etc.  Then we began producing Chichewa language Bible tracts that he wrote.  We've printed and shipped thousands of copies to him. But there are always needs there, and we can't do it alone.   I know that he desperately needs a bicycle since he walks everywhere and he is an older man not in the best of health.  (He was even in the hospital recently.)  Parts of a note I received from him just this morning: 

Shalom to you and greetings with rich love from Malawi in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ the soon coming King. I hope you are doing well in Him. In Malawi we are doing well spiritually and physically. The Lord is good. Only we have the problem of rain since it came once on 6th December 2010 and on that time of course we planted.  The badness is from the time we planted there is no rain and all of our crops have been dried and we don't have harvest this year.  Now this is the third time of hunger situation, to say the truth it is a very big problem than the two years past.  We are going to depend in the hands of God.  He is the owner of everything....  The work of God is going very well, as today I have been here at Mphonde for two days meeting and then I have to go back home and we are planning to have EASTER CONFERENCE.  The conference will start on 22nd April 2011 and finish on 25th afternoon time.  Therefore, I would like to ask you my beloved sister to join hands with us and pray for this conference and also I would ask the good wishers whom you know if they can be touched and concerned to assist us with a small gift that we can have something to buy food for the conference, I will appreciate if it will be possible. As all of our brothers and sisters from Mozambique and all of our churches in Malawi will come together and there there is the need of more food. And people are in need of aid.  Pass over my love regards to the brothers and sisters to the church where you are attending and it is my prayer that God should open the hearts of those who had the hearts of ministering in other countries such as Africa (Malawi) and it is our desire to have that kind of people to come and encourage our congregations... With your love heart I have hope that you will try your best to send someone to us.

How about it folks?  Would any of you like to join with us in reaching out to Malawi, either with financial gifts or by going for a visit?  Let me know!  You can read more about him here What in the World Is This? and here Out of Africa (A Letter from Headson Makazinga).  I am grateful for the work that Headson Makazinga and other faithful native pastors are doing in the Third World.

On a local level, I am finding myself equipped again by Synergy.  I spotted a booth where they were giving away free copies of the movie Magdalena, which was produced by the folks at Jesus Film Project, a ministry of Campus Crusade.  Magdalena was originally filmed as a ministry to women in the Middle East, as a means to show them how much Jesus cared about women and their problems.  It has been translated into dozens of languages!  I've decided to host a Magdalena movie night for the women in my neighborhood, and I'm partnering with my friend Debora, who goes to my church, is a member of our Communitas home group, and knows many women in my neighborhood since she used to live just two blocks away from me.  (Our mutual friend Denise, who is also in our church and Communitas group, was working the Magdalena booth at Synergy.)  My daughter Mary is also going to come and help.  Mary was mentioning to me that Wycliffe Bible Translators, where she works as a writer, is involved in Third World practical socio-economic service through teaching literacy and basic health skills in the communities where they translate Scriptures. Mary said she thinks Wycliffe president Bob Creson also attended Synergy.  I am grateful for the creative work of ministries like Wycliffe and Campus Crusade who have such a heart for multi-faceted global ministry to body and soul.

I leave you with three short video clips. If they don't appear (such as if you are reading this via e-mail, Google Reader, or Facebook) visit the original blog post on-line here: Weekend Gratitude for Synergy and Little Bits Working Together

A seven minute excerpt of Carolyn Custis James introducing Ms. WuDunn and the issues of global injustice against women: "the paramount moral challenge of the 21st century."  I am grateful for her taking a stand, not only on this topic, but also on the need for women to learn theology and get involved in ministry.

A five minute excerpt of Sheryl WuDunn telling the story of a young teenager in Ethiopia, married against her will, with a devastating obstetric fistula and stillborn child from unattended childbirth.

The Antioch Missionary Baptist church choir from Oviedo, Florida, with an excerpt from "Behold He Comes" -- their voices joined together to make a big sound!  I am grateful for heartfelt music to glorify God.

Behold He comes riding on the clouds

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call

Lift your voice!  It's the year of Jubilee!
Out of Zion's hill, salvation comes!

There is much more I could say about this weekend, but I'll leave it at that!  Let this be a motivation to think about what you can do to make this world a better place.  Lift your voice!  It's the year of Jubilee!

I am grateful (in advance) for what you are going to do!

Virginia Knowles