On Internet Saturation

There are few high-profile blogs I frequent, and even fewer I would recommend to a wide audience; but The Gospel Coalition is just such an exceptionally worthwhile site.  Virtually everything I’ve come across there has been valuable and preeminently biblical–which is saying a lot, given the quantity and variety of content they regularly put out.

Of particular note on TGC is the blog of pastor Kevin DeYoung.  In the course of my own blogging, I’ve already linked to DeYoung on two occasions: once in discussion of pastor Rob Bell’s woefully unbiblical Love Wins, and again in response to the tidal-wave popularity of Jefferson Bethke’s video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”  A couple weeks ago, DeYoung published a brief and insightful pair of posts called “Don’t Let the Screen Strangle Your Soul.”  In them, DeYoung describes his realization of just how techno-centric and internet-saturated his daily life has become in recent years and discusses some of the more treacherous liabilities of such a mode of living.  Without condescension, he succinctly describes the fascinating and troubling effects of constant internet exposure on an ever-increasing segment of our culture, a segment which admittedly includes both him and me.

As I read DeYoung’s posts for the first time, my heart resonated so deeply with the problems he describes that I was appropriately frightened.  I saw how my habit of staying constantly connected to facebook, email, and my cell phone was not so much a well-intended effort to “make myself available to others” as it was a desperate desire to maintain a constant buzz of interaction, no matter how (typically) trivial.  I have learned all too well how easy it is to seek insulation from true and vital solitude through the endless parade of hollow amusements that the internet offers; and I have grown pitifully accustomed to the siren call of cyberspace haunting the back of my mind whenever I try to focus exclusively on a book or assignment.

Thus, in this matter I find myself needing not only repentance but reprogramming–a difficult process which nevertheless promises true life and peace.  As the Lord says,

“Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9).

“[The Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

I have joined DeYoung in the confessional; let me now join him in striving for maturity and renewed obedience in Christ.  We will reap, if we do not give up.  What about you?

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Why I Love Religion (And So Does Jesus)

I spy with my little eyes… an interesting video for you to watch!  (Twelve million people have in the past week alone, so you’ll be in good company.)

A while back, we spent a lot of time talking about how younger Christians are now tending toward alternative titles or expressions to identify their spirituality besides Christian.  I use the term spirituality very intentionally, because it appears that many younger Christians have also come to eschew the term religion itself.  Whereas a religion used to be simply a group of people organized around shared beliefs and practices, our poetic friend Jefferson Bethke’s video verbalizes an increasingly prevalent anti-religion bias among the rising generation of Christians, characterizing it as a cold, dead, empty formalism that Jesus hates.

There is so much to be said about this issue that I hardly know where to begin.  So, instead of launching another full-scale investigation and critique like I did with the Christian issue, I happily point you to the blog of pastor Kevin DeYoung.  This is not the first time I’ve commended DeYoung’s work to you (as his review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins is a veritable paragon of winsome AND biblical Christian argumentation), and I am pleased to report that his response to Bethke’s video is equally articulate, edifying, loving, and scriptural.  DeYoung grapples with the issues raised in the video with a grace and care that I almost certainly would have lacked in any attempt of my own.

Of course, another indication that DeYoung has penned the definitive response to the video is that Bethke himself emailed DeYoung about it, which precipitated a series of replies and even a phone conversation between the two.  Fans and critics alike are definitely going to want to read what Bethke had to say in response to DeYoung.

And so I leave you in very capable hands.  Read on!
“This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules.  You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.  You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice.  And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.” –Deuteronomy 26:16-19

A Fire Sale on Brimstone

In terms of celebrity status and public perception, I would like to assert that Rob Bell is the Barack Obama of the current Christian culture.  Take a look:

A few years ago, Barack Obama stepped onto the national political stage as a man looking to shake things up in a big way.

Obama’s message hinged on notions of hope, change, and inclusiveness:  Our nation is in a bad place today.  Many people are getting unfairly excluded from prosperity because our current understanding of America–and the policies and institutions based on this understanding–are wrongheaded, but my vision for America–based on the right ideas–is one of hope and optimism for all people.  Together, we can recapture what America is really about.  What Obama wanted for America was indeed a radical departure from her current trajectory, and hence he instantly became an incredibly polarizing figure; many were attracted to his message and became devoted supporters, while many others entrenched themselves against his ideas and policies.  Naturally, he also became a media darling in no time, being affixed at the epicenter of national political conversation and winning a coveted cover story in Time magazine.  As his first term has played out, the divide of public opinion has only become clearer and wider, with liberals hailing him as a political “messiah” and conservatives branding him the “worst president in U.S. history.”  Recently, Obama’s wave-making earned him a spot in the “2011 Time 100,” which counts him among the “most influential people in the world.”

Now we just do a little name-swapping, throw in some Christianity, and voilà:

A few months ago, pastor/author Rob Bell catapulted onto the Christian radar with the unveiling of his new work Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, a book intended to shake things up in a big way.

Bell’s message hinged on notions of hope, change, and inclusiveness:  The world is in a bad place today.  Many people are being unfairly prevented from coming to know God’s love because our current understanding of God–and our beliefs and sermons based on this understanding–are wrongheaded, but my vision of salvation–based on real biblical ideas–is one of hope and optimism for all people.  Together, we can recapture what the gospel is really about.  What Bell wanted for the Church was indeed a radical departure from her current orthodoxy, and hence he instantly became an incredibly polarizing figure; many were attracted to his message and became devoted supporters, while many others entrenched themselves against his ideas and doctrines.  Naturally, he also became a media darling in no time, being affixed at the epicenter of national Christian conversation and even winning a coveted cover story in Time magazine.  Since the release of Love Wins, the divide of church opinion has only become clearer and wider, with emergents and other sympathizers hailing him as a modern-day prophet and theological conservatives labeling him a false prophet of the most deceptive and dangerous sort.  Recently, Bell’s wave-making earned him a spot in the “2011 Time 100,” which counts him among the “most influential people in the world.”

See what I mean?

Now here’s the part where I reveal what this post is really about.  Is it about politics?  Not really, no; I just thought that the Obama comparison would be a good way to introduce the topic.  (By the way, if you want to play a bonus round with the comparison, it works pretty well with Ronald Reagan too.  Go ahead, try it out.)  Is it my turn to take a shot at reviewing/critiquing Bell?  Mostly no; I don’t think I really have anything to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said much better elsewhere.  (More on that in a little bit.)  So what’s the point?  The point is simply to make you aware, and to prompt you to think.  Of course, it may seem unnecessary given the fact that, well, Bell’s book has already been discussed to death all over the internet, and the odds of you finding this blog without having already tripped over a pile of articles about it are pretty darn small.  But perhaps a few of you really are hearing about Bell’s book for the first time.  If so, welcome to the conversation.  Please keep your seatbelts fastened and don’t leave small children unattended.

On top of that, the stakes are high in this discussion.  In fact, I daresay they are too high to ignore.  A couple summers ago, when I was working at Wal-Mart, I found a gospel tract on the sink in the bathroom.  As I perused its brief exposition of the good news, I found a page which sums up the afterlife of the unsaved in these words:  “Hell is a terrible place where fire is.”  Now I know that brevity is the soul of wit, but this, brothers and sisters, is not enough.  As Bell says in the video above, “What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”  The existence or nonexistence of hell is inextricably tied to attributes of God’s character that are critical in determining how we approach Him and how He relates to us–attributes like justice, sovereignty, and yes, love.  I maintain that my life is defined by three words, Jesus loves me, and this conversation about hell is important to the meaning of each of those words, as Bell rightly recognizes.  If we the Church persist in interpreting the Scriptures in a way that affirms the reality of hell, then we must also be ready to supply biblical answers for the questions Bell finds so lethal to the traditional doctrine–answers that go beyond “blind faith” and substantively point us to the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

If you would like to read a thorough and thoughtful orthodox response to Love Wins, I highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s review over at The Gospel Coalition, a wonderful example of a critique that is both respectful and biblically substantive.  Don’t let the size of the review scare you; if you’re like me, you may occasionally find yourself moved to pause and praise God as you read.

Finally, I’d keep an eye out for Francis Chan’s newly finished book Erasing Hell, which hits store shelves on July 6th.  If you need to be convinced that Chan’s book will be a worthwhile investment, or if you just want to be challenged and edified by the humility of a remarkable man, see the video below.

[Sorry about the back-to-back posts about death and hell.  For the record, I am not obsessed with death OR hell, and I do not plan to write my next post on the lake of burning sulfur.]