Tag Archives: orthodoxy


A new orthodoxy


We are in the age of post-modernism. The modernist era which begin around the time of the enlightenment was all about certainty, scientific and industrial progress, the putting away of old fashioned myths and stories, and the eroding of faith. This was the era of proof. And what couldn’t be proven would almost certainly be at some point in the future. Truth was out there, and it could be found, but most probably not in the church.

By the time we got to the final third of the 20th century, things weren’t all that certain. Yes, there had been huge strides in medicine, healthcare, poverty, democracy, civil rights, and welfare, but we were coming to the realisation that some problems would always be around, and some questions were not answerable by scientific method and social progress. This, combined with increased multiculturalism and globalisation opened us up to alternative perspectives from all around the world. Suddenly, your solution or opinion was deemed as good as mine and equally valid. There was now no absolute truth and no way of discerning one truth from another. Everything was subjective.

We are in the age of post-modernism. Or are we?

I’m not so sure.

The rise of twitter has made it abundantly clear that there are still many, many opinions out there. But a number of recent events have led me to question whether society in general really does still hold to the postmodern mantra of no absolute truth, with all opinions equally valid.

First we had the Luis Suarez racism debate. What was said, what what meant, and how was the translation? Was he a racist, or was something else meant by the remarks? I the midst of that we had Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole embroiled in a twitter row over the term ‘choc-ice’. For example, what constitutes racism? Simply inserting the word ‘black’ in front of an insult?

Second, the failure of the Church of England to pass the legislation to allow women to become bishops. The three chambers of the house. made up of bishops, clergy, and laity (non-clergy) were overwhelmingly in favour, with just the house of laity narrowly failing to get the two thirds majority required. The Twitterverse couldn’t believe it and there was very little attempt to understand the reasons why it might have failed.

Third, the debate and passing of the first reading of the equal (same-sex) marriage bill in parliament yesterday.

In all of these cases, the general feeling of society perceives that there is a ‘correct’ answer. In a true postmodernist society, both those speaking for and against the issues would have their voices heard, and their arguments engaged with. Sadly this no longer seems to be happening. There is a conformity to which we are expected to adhere. The debate on these subjects is shut down, often with the throwing around of insults, such as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, and the catch-all, ‘bigot’. Tosh is last term in particular has been bandied around a lot this week during the same-sex marriage debate.

I heard someone today call this new way of thinking a ‘militant liberalism’, to go alongside the new or militant atheism that has risen up with the loss of religion, but is it not liberalism in the truest sense, neither is it tolerance. It is simple the expectation that everyone should conform in belief and practice, or else stay out of the debate and keep their opinions private. The views and morals to which we are to conform are vastly different to what they were a hundred years ago, but the expectation is that these views are the norm and there is an intolerance for anything else.

Some time ago, Ed West, in The Telegraph echoed this as he was commenting on the suggestions of some contemporary philosophers that atheists take the best, but non-spiritual, parts of religion.

The real problem is that religion is always replaced by something else. The rise of fads such as homoeopathy is well documented, but more commonly people’s religious desires for certainty, morality and community are transferred to their politics; that is why there is this sense that those outside the communion of correct beliefs today are morally unclean, and new sins such as “racist” and “sexist” replace “heretic” and “sinner”. That is the real “religion for atheists”.

Post-modernism was always difficult to define. What was agreed was that it was the time after modernism, but there was no consensus on what would take it’s place. I think it is emerging. We could call it ‘neo-orthodoxy’ or ‘neo-conformity’, but what seems to be clear is this: there is a new set of right beliefs not based on any faith position. What worries me is, without a theological foundation, where might these lead us?

Rob Bell – a review from someone who has read the book

The question that has been setting the twittersphere alight over the last few weeks is this: Is Rob Bell a Universalist? It was all started off by a rather uncharitable review of his latest book, Love Wins, by someone who had not read the book. This led to a spate of similar reviews, also by those who had not read it, and a lot of name calling.

Now a review has been written by Tim Challies, and he has actually read the book. Excellent. What does he have to say? Well, the first thing to say is that Tim’s review is not written in a spirit of triumphalism and one-upmanship that characterized so many of the other reviews. However, from what Challies has written it seems that Bell might actually be promoting a universalist position. Christianity Today’s Mark Galli who has also read a pre-publication copy of the book agrees, saying Bell advocates a universalist position and fits into the liberal protestant mould which has evangelism at its heart.

Here’s a relevant quote from Bell’s book that Challies quotes:

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody.

And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.

Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.”

What we see Jesus doing again and again—in the midst of constant reminders about the seriousness of following him living like him, and trusting him—is widening the scope and expanse of his saving work.

Assuming that Challies representation of Bell’s book is correct, this raises some questions.

1. As Bell is advocating a universalist position, is he therefore saying that there is no need for the cross of Christ? Although one of Tim’s commenters seems to think so, it does not. Bell still claims that Jesus’ sacrifice is required in order for everyone to be saved. There is still only one way to God – through Jesus –  Bell just believes that all people will eventually get to it. When people start saying that it doesn’t matter how people come to God, that is pluralism, not universalism, and only then does the death of Christ becomes irrelevant.

However, I still maintain that Universalism is wrong, but not heretical. It raises questions about why, if everyone is going to be saved, should we bother with evangelism? Why did Jesus give the great commission if he knew everyone was going to believe anyway? It can only be about a better life now, knowing God in the present, as it cannot be about life after death.

Nevertheless, the weight of scripture is against such a position. Only this morning I was reading through 3 chapters of Luke and came to 4 or 5 references to hell being real and people going there. Now, we can have a debate about what that hell is like or why a loving God would allow some to go there, but those are different questions.

2. Can God still speak through someone when we disagree on a couple of points? The answer has to be ‘Yes’. I like Rob Bell and have been greatly helped by some of his teaching. Because I disagree with him on this does it mean that I cannot hear what God is saying through him on anything else? No! When we look carefully there will not be a single other Christian teacher that we agree with on everything. Calvin – great reformer, but I disagree with him on double predestination. Roy Clements wrote some decent books before he ran off with another man.  The books are still good even after his public fall. Steve Chalke still says some good things even though I think he is wrong by denying penal substitution. If we want to agree with our pastor or Christian teacher on everything, we will find ourselves in a church of one. Whomever were are listening to, we need to think and engage with their words and the scriptures and not just accept their words assuming they must be right. We listen with our brains turned on.

3. How do we react when we are right and someone else is wrong? One of the most distasteful parts of this whole debate has been the triumphalism. Many seem to be rejoicing because their view of Rob has been proven right. Others are talking about the ‘tragedy’ of all the people that Rob is going to lead astray, sometimes appearing arrogant and self-righteous in their prayers for others who follow Rob. We must remember that God is Sovereign and in control and that we are not. We may not even be right on everything ourselves. We must humbly examine ourselves, be willing to be wrong on some issues,  and constantly pray that God will keep us close to him, true in our motives and clear in our understanding.

4. Is it essentially different from vast portions of the church throughout history? So, one Christian leader, albeit one with a huge church and a worldwide public ministry, has said something that the reformed orthodox position would disagree with. Shock Horror – has that ever happened before? Of course it has, all throughout history. And the church is still here, and people are still Christians. As i said earlier, we must humble come before God and try to teach his truth ourselves, and we must be willing to have a debate in a spirit of humility, but it isn’t the end of the church. God is in control.

A hell of a storm for Bell

I’ve been away for the weekend and been off the internet and I’ve returned to find Rob Bell mired in the middle of an orthodoxy controversy over an upcoming book on love and grace and hell. Here’s his video.

As you can see from the video, mostly Bell is just asking questions.

Justin Taylor decided to deride his views based on the video and some sample chapters that he has been sent. He hasn’t read the whole book but feels it is necessary to declare what he thinks Bell is going to say as heresy.

Stand Firm took a sarcastic ungracious tone in their response, again declaring Bell a false teacher and heretic without having read the book. Neither of these responses seem to me to be very Christian.

For the record, I prefer Scot McKnight’s response:

I’ve not seen anything like [the storm surrounding this]. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue … today … and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP’s book by Tom Wright on Justification.

Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.

The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke — and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity’s provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.

Words like ‘heresy…’ and ‘false teacher’ are flying around the blogs and the comments.

One thing to think about is this ‘what exactly is heresy?’ and ‘when is a difference of opinion merely a difference of interpretation within Christian orthodxy, or when it is taking us outside of it?’ What do we do when we have a difference of interpretation like that? Do we need to shout until everyone thinks we’re right?

Is universalism heresy – When I originally wrote this post I would have said  ‘yes’ as it is very clear from scripture that not everyone is saved. However I would now say that although I think universalism is wrong, it is not heresy, as it is a belief that all are saved through the work of Jesus. Pluralism on the other hand, is as there is no reliance on the work of Jesus. Any means will do.

Is annihilation heresy? I would argue no as scripture can and has been read either way. I vary from day to day on which interpretation of hell i think is right. One thing I don’t vary on is that hell is real. (Ultimately, if you get the judgment of God in its right and huge perspective, i don’t think it matters)

Christianity Today have summarised the debate.

UPDATE: If you’ve read the above you may have worked out what I was trying to day. Jason Boyatt has said it much better.