Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Visit my new blog- ReformingChristianity.com!


Well, I have not been blogging here at Jordan's View for a long time-- as you may have noticed.  I now blog at a new blog called ReformingChristianity.com.  Seminary studies at Reformed Theological Seminary have been taking up my time of late, so I haven't posted many articles there at this point.  But feel free to visit and please add it to your list, if you feel so inclined.

I will try to post more articles related to and inspired by my seminary studies, and to upload videos of original songs.  Thanks for visiting and may you find blessings in Christ.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Hell

Isn't the whole point of religion to teach us morals and to love and care for each other no matter what age, gender, sexual preference, religion or race we are?

The question was one among many comments posted on a recent YouTube video by Lady Gaga. In one segment of the video, titled “Gagavision No.41”, Lady Gaga sits in the back of her limo on the way to give a performance. She sees a Christian street preacher standing outside, protesting her show. He is carrying a large sign that reads, “Trust in Christ or End in Hell”. Rolling down her window, she cheerfully introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Lady Gaga”, to which the man promptly replies, “So?”

The man hands her a “Get Out of Hell Free” card, and says, “It’s gonna happen one day, darling”. She retorts, “Well, they better open up the gate”. In the further brief exchange, the man comes across as condescending and hostile. Gaga tells him that she and her fans believe in God and that she went to Catholic school for 13 years. He replies that growing up in that screwed-up religion is probably the source of her problems. Later in the video, Gaga reflects on her encounter with the man her video identifies as a “fundamentalist preacher”.

“What I’m trying to understand is, there’s 3000 people standing in my line and no one standing in your line. Who’s going to hell?”, Gaga says, laughing. “But I think what’s mostly confusing is why he printed up these things (referring to the man’s “Get Out of Hell Free” cards). If it was so easy to get out of hell, why don’t we just print up a bunch of these guys?” Becoming more serious, Gaga continues, “It just makes me sad that my fans have to see that. But I know that’s just part of what I’m supposed to do.” At that point in the video, words flash on the screen in black, ALL CAP letters against a red backdrop: IF YOU HAVE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL, THAN YOU HAVE A MORAL IMPERATIVE TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

As I began writing this blog article, Gaga’s video had already garnered more than 420,000 views and 5,000 comments. Since then, the video has racked up 950,000+ views and 7000 comments and counting. From such numbers, it would seem Lady Gaga is accurate in observing that her way of looking at life resonates with a lot of people. On the other hand, the Christian message has never claimed to be a popular one:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

But I want to respond in this article to the question posed by the person who asked, “Isn't the whole point of religion to teach us morals and to love and care for each other no matter what age, gender, sexual preference, religion or race we are?” I think the question reflects a quite common conception of what religion is supposed to accomplish. This view sees all religions, including Christianity, as basically a means of inculcating morals and helping people strive to be better, more loving persons. All paths to God are equally valid. This popular view is one held not only by non-religious people, but even by many who identify themselves as Christians. Before I discuss this further, I want to sidetrack for a moment.

In terms of "media time" it is already ages ago, but a firestorm erupted in the Christian blogosphere just 2 months back, when Justin Taylor posted an article titled, Rob Bell: Universalist? that strongly criticized Rob Bell's theological message. The article focused, not on Bell's soon to be released book, "Love Wins", but rather, on the publisher's description and video promo for the book .

The piece got thousands of views and elicited hundreds of comments (maybe not Gaga's kind of numbers, but for a reformed blog, it was lots of attention). Many who commented complained that it was quite unfair to criticize Bell's book and its ideas, since at that point, the book was not yet released. Others brought out the old, tiresome "we should never judge other Christians, it's not loving" speech. But many recognized that Taylor's article was on target and helpful in identifying, in advance of its release, the controversial ideas that Bell has been espousing for some time now.

In the wake of the March 17 release of Love Wins,
well-known Reformed writers, Michael Horton and Kevin DeYoung, each wrote thoughtful, detailed critiques. Southern Seminary president Al Mohler posted excellent articles engaging the discussion on Bell, and recorded and posted a panel discussion held at the seminary. Pastor John MacArthur has now written a series of articles strongly critical of Bell and his work, boldly calling out Bell as a false teacher (for these resources and more, see the links below).

But some will ask, why all the hoopla? Is it really that important that Christians focus so much attention on a book one does not agree with theologically?

Well, in a word, YES.

Because Christians have got a revealed message to proclaim, not a story that may be altered to suit one's own fancies, or re-fashioned to make it a better sell. Yes, the doctrine of hell is a turn-off. No one likes to think mankind is so sinful that all people deserve hell, and that apart from Christ, all of us are by nature "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). Such a thought pricks against human pride-- we protest: we're not that bad!

But the question we ought to be asking, especially if we claim to believe the Bible, and claim that we believe in the Jesus of the Bible, is not, "Why doesn't God save everybody?, or "How can a loving God send people to hell?" Rather we should ask, is Jesus telling the truth when He states that unless we believe in Him, we already stand condemned and the wrath of God remains on us? Everybody loves John 3:16-17. But what about John 3:18 and John 3:36?

[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God... [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:16-18, 36 ESV)

Christians gladly partake of the blessing of receiving Christ as Savior by believing what He says about going to the cross for our sins is true. But then we must also listen to and receive what He says about hell, for He spoke of it often. As John Yenchko has written,

This is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God. The One who held children tenderly in His arms spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible; and I, for one, am glad that it was He. If you will not hear Jesus on hell, then don’t pretend to hear Him on anything else. Let’s have integrity, shall we?

Jesus says in the parable of the weeds, Matthew 13, that all who do evil will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. He quotes the above sentence in Mark 9:48 where He describes hell as “the place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” He says of those who did not take in a stranger or provide for the needy: “They will go away to eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus told, the rich man is in hell and looks up to see Abraham far away in heaven, with Lazarus beside him. The rich man cries out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24). Abraham’s negative reply comes back, Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). So Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

In contrast to the Jesus of Scripture, whose continual theme is telling people to repent of their sins and escape the wrath of God in hell, there is the sentimental conception that Christian love is all about God unconditionally, uncritically loving all people, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors. In this view, true Christ-likeness is to be non-judgmental and “loving” towards all others, no matter what they do. Those who label certain behavior as morally wrong or sinful, have strayed from the original message of unconditional love that Christ meant us to emulate. Thus they become “haters”, “fundamentalists” and “judgmental” people who distort the “loving” message of Christ and give Christianity a bad name.

Now I understand that non-believers might believe this fluff-- they usually don't believe that the Bible is accurate, or they may question how faithfully it represents what Jesus really said. But those who claim to know Christ as revealed in Scripture must see that the same Bible that reveals Jesus as a gentle and meek in some ways, also shows Him issuing the sternest warnings about the hell that awaits those who reject Him. Jesus loved people enough to tell them the truth about hell.

Interestingly, Rob Bell’s book seems to paint a similar picture of God’s love as the view described above. Bell downplays the traditional understanding that God is angry towards sin and that the sinfulness of mankind is our biggest problem. Now Rob Bell has a huge, young evangelical audience, and is recognized as a gifted communicator, even by those who don't agree with his theology. This is why many well-known reformed teachers have worked overtime to present strong rebuttals to his teaching. They see the spiritual peril in the ideas Bell is spreading, the deadly consequences for those who might be swayed to adopt his views.

Bell’s new work pointedly questions the traditional understanding of hell, and attempts to clarify what he thinks is the the true nature of the gospel message. He argues that the primary message of Christianity, the prime characteristic of God Himself, is “God is love”. “Love Wins” says Bell, because in the end God wants everyone saved, and He is powerful enough to get what He wants. In Bell’s view, hell is not a literal place where unbelieving rebels will be eternally and justly punished by God. Instead those who reject God and don’t live in relationship to Him are already experiencing their “hell” in this life. If there is a hell in the next life, Bell surmises that it will not be eternal, because those who don’t accept and profess Christ consciously while on earth will no doubt get a second chance. Hell thus becomes a kind of purgatory.

Bell writes, [There will be] “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.”

Now what should be said in response to this? Is Bell's version of the Christian story superior because it will be appeal to and be embraced by those who've really wanted to be Christians, but just didn't like all the stuff about hell and sin? Yes, Bell's version of Christianity probably will be received happily by those who have a difficult time accepting the more traditional view. The problem, is what Bell gives them as a substitute is a lie and a mirage. Hell is real and literal. We don't have the luxury of "endless opportunities in an endless amount of time" to either accept or reject Christ. There is no biblical warrant to believe that those who do not consciously choose Christ in this life will get another chance to do so in the afterlife. In my next article, I will examine in greater detail the biblical evidence for hell and what happens after we die.

It's ironic, but sometimes we can get a true message even from a not-so-good messenger. The street preacher who spoke so condescendingly to Lady Gaga was not an accurate reflection of our Lord's compassion towards lost sinners. Yet his "Trust in Christ or End in Hell" message is much more accurate than a message that teaches that God doesn't punish evildoers in an eternal hell for their sins committed in this life, of which the greatest is to reject Christ.

From the beginning, there have always been competing versions of Christianity. Thus it remains always our responsibility as believers to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3)." False gospels and false Christs don't save. The world has its many gospels, but Christianity has but one faith and one message to give: Jesus Christ shed His blood to save sinners.

More Resources

Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton

Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton- PDF version

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins- PDF version)

We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology

Panel Discussion — Rob Bell and “Love Wins”

“A Massive Shift Coming in What it Means to Be a Christian?” — TIME Magazine Considers Rob Bell

MSNBC: Martin Bashir’s Interview with Rob Bell

Call it a Comeback: Evangelicals, Liberals, and the Problem of Hell

Love Never Wins When Truth Loses

The Blood-Drained Gospel of Rob Bell

Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist? (TIME cover article April 14 issue)

Articles by John MacArthur:
Bell’s Inferno

Rob Bell’s Unbelief in His own Words

Rob Bell: a Brother to Embrace, or a Wolf to Avoid?

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Shall This Man Do? The Paralysis of Analysis

It's been a long time since I've posted on my blog. My wife was in the hospital twice last year and it has been a difficult ever since. She's dealing with severe physical and emotional symptoms. To be available to offer my wife love and support and help, I dropped the course I was enrolled in at Reformed Theological Seminary last fall. Things have become a bit more stable for her, though the struggles continue. My wife often raises the question of why are all these things happening to her? Why does life have to be so hard for us?

So I have been doing a lot of ruminating-- in light of our challenges, what should be the next step? I have long wanted to be pursue my passions in music, writing and reformed theology, in such a way as to be able to do these things in a full-time career/ministry. But I have been hindered by indecision about how to best focus my efforts. Part of the hesitation is a practical concern about being able to make enough money to live on, if I do make a transition from my current work into more Christian-oriented work. So there's many questions-- do I resume seminary (which will take at least 5 years as a distance student)? Should I focus more on music? Is it possible to be disciplined enough to do both? In addition can I also do some writing and blogging, as well as serve in various church ministries?

In my free time, I continue to read on reformed topics. I have also been playing guitar a lot (learning covers of songs by artists I admire) and recording new song ideas. I played a couple of gigs-- one at a church function where I got to play a whole set of original songs-- and another gig at a coffeehouse in Manhasset where I also played my own stuff.

As I become a reformed thinker, I believe God is sharpening my understanding of the gospel. I attend a church that does a marvelous job of helping the congregation look to the gospel of Christ, not just for salvation, but also for living the Christian life on a day-to day practical level. When one learns to see God more and more as the Bible portrays Him-- majestic, sovereign, mighty, without equal, thrice-holy-- and learns to see themselves properly-- with the dignity we have as God's image bearers yet with the humble recognition that we are very sinful, weak creatures who can do nothing apart from God-- only then does one begin to live more in tune with God's purpose for one's life.

So I desire to blog again, sharing any insights I may gain in these current struggles, or at least to point to helpful articles and resources I encounter. My motto right now, is 'Just do it!' I want to break my 'paralysis of analysis'-- and get feedback from reality by taking action-- whether it's to write an article, record a song, play a gig, perform special music at church, do a teaching or whatever. In this way, I hope to get past the theoretical and my cursed perfectionism, to gain a better sense of what God would have me to do. Won't you remember me in your prayers?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My First YouTube Video- An Original Song: New Day

At last, my first YouTube video. My friend Jim recorded me over at his house last Saturday while I sang and played an original tune, New Day. I've been meaning to record my songs and put them up on YouTube since...well, since the beginning of time itself. But I've hesitated because I wanted to make sure the video would have decent sound. Jim's Nikon seems to have recorded the sound quite nicely, so I'm pretty happy with that aspect.

Also, he simply recorded it and immediately uploaded to YouTube. Like, it was all over in 10 minutes! I nearly fainted (Really? No, not really). But, left to myself, I probably would have edited the video; I would have procrastinated and tinkered with it endlessly and most likely, would never have uploaded it. But Jim got me up and on there, just pushed me right in the water, so to speak. And now that I've got my feet wet, to continue the water metaphor, I need to keep swimming. So hopefully I'll record more songs, sooner rather than later, and get them uploaded via my own YouTube account. Now, I may labor over them a wee little bit, but the idea will be to just continue to get them recorded relatively quickly and put them out there, without driving myself mad with insane perfectionism, as I'm wont to do. Yes, I love to torture myself. Now if you don't see any videos in the near future, feel free to contact me and give me grief. Thank you in advance.

Anyhow, I do hope the song blesses somebody.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Facelift for Jordan's View

UPDATE: May 12, 2010-- I've been working on adding a functional horizontal menu near the top of the blog but I don't really know how to do it. Please be patient if you click on something and it doesn't work...

Well I just couldn't take it anymore. I was looking at my old blog layout and I just couldn't stand looking at it for even another minute and I had to change it. So I used the "blogger in draft" template designer to find a new template and installed it. I'm quite happy with the results of just a few hours work. And it didn't even take that long to actually apply the changes, it was more previewing various templates and deciding which one to go with that took up the time.

What I like about this particular design is that it will be easy to modify in the future using the template designer in blogger draft. I can just select a different background picture, tweak some elements, click apply to blog and I'm done.

So I plan to update periodically, whenever I'm getting bored with looking at the same old layout... and next time, will not wait till I can't stand to look at it anymore and I'm just going to puke from looking at it.

OK. Well now that I have got that off my chest I do hope you like the new look. And I think that the blog will hopefully open up more quickly since I've discarded some of the old widgets that made it so slow to open and was probably torturing anyone visiting the blog. But you'll still find most of the resource links -- some of the best sidebars in the East.

Still quite busy with seminary and over the next few weeks will be finishing up work for two courses. Yet it is still my hope that I can get back to more regular blogging, one of these days.

So welcome to the new Jordan's View. Hope you like the new view.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Happy New Year 2010...Belated

Greetings to everyone in 2010!

I've not been posting here on Jordan's View lately and I'm quite frustrated about that. But I can say that one of the reasons behind my lack of posting is very good news-- I was accepted to the distance Masters of Religion (MAR) degree at Reformed Theological Seminary and officially began my studies a few weeks ago. So this has been keeping me quite busy. I think I've mentioned here a few times that I was contemplating going to seminary and I had been doing research on possible seminaries for several years. Although it was my desire to get the best possible education and therefore I considered the top reformed schools such as SBTS, RTS or Covenant, all seemed prohibitively expensive. But God worked that out now, and I am happy to studying at a very fine and well-regarded school.

In other good news, my wife and I officially became members of the very solid reformed Baptist church we've been attending. We're now part of a church discipleship group that includes three other couples, and we're reading and studying through a book called "The Love Dare". It's related to the recent movie "Fireproof" that starred Kirk Cameron as a firefighter with a failing marriage, and how he was helped to save his marriage by applying Christian principles.

So good things are happening but at the same time I do get frustrated in not being able to spend time doing everything I'd like to do-- including working on my music and writing on this blog. I am hoping to develop a routine where I somehow fit all these things into my schedule on a daily basis, but it will require a discipline that I admit has eluded me in the past.

Also, get this-- I have to memorize portions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for an upcoming quiz, and to get credit you have to be spelling and punctuation perfect! Pray for me!

But I do want to say I am thankful for progress-- I never would have thought a few years ago that I'd be calling myself reformed in theology and studying at a reformed seminary now. Yet I believe that the truths I am learning in seminary will be be of great value to my spiritual life and ministerial goals, both now and into the future. I just have to try to be patient-- four years of school (which is what I'm anticipating) seems like a very long time.

My wife seems to making progress with her health and vitality also, thank God! So I am encouraged by that and hoping that if it is God's will that we should have children that she'll be well enough to pursue the vocation of motherhood and that I will have the faith to believe that we'll have all the resources necessary to raise a family.

So Happy New year to you all... sorry it's already February.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ in you: The Greatest Christmas Gift of All

Today of course is Christmas Eve and many of us are eagerly looking forward to getting together today or tomorrow for happy moments with our families, exchanging gifts and enjoying hearty food, basking in all the abundance God so richly provides. Others are not so fortunate; they may have no one to celebrate this day with, and perhaps don't even feel much like celebrating. And perhaps because they are lonely or feel disconnected from family, the holiday season for them brings on sadness.

Pray today for the lonely ones; lift them up to the Lord. And if you can do more, like inviting a lonely one to your gathering, dropping off gifts at a homeless shelter or serving a meal to the hungry, why not do it?

As I celebrate later tonight with my family, I will try to enjoy all the blessings of family itself-- to have loved ones you can be with is far more precious than whether or not we can lavish one another with gifts, or whether the time together is a successful social occasion. How easy it can be to get all wrapped up (pun intended) in gift-giving and merriment, and lose sight of deeper blessings.

Yet though having family and friends to celebrate with is a truly wonderful blessing, the true riches of Christmas go beyond our natural families and loved ones. At the heart of Christmas, after all, we are celebrating the entry of Christ into human history, the God who loved this world so much that He became one of us, lived with us and died for us, to take away our sins (Matthew 1:21, 1 John 3:5).

Do we recognize this? If Christ does not take away our sins, what are we to do with them? One may object, "but I am not so bad! I may not be perfect, but I do many good things. My good outweighs my bad. God will accept me"

Perhaps your good deeds do outweigh your bad. But is this the basis upon which God evaluates our lives? Why then did Christ come into the world and deliberately die upon a cross, as the many prophecies recorded in Scripture hundreds of years earlier predicted He would? Jesus' death on a cross was no accident. It was not God's reactive plan to a world gone wrong. God planned before the foundation of the world to bring spiritual blessings to His chosen ones. To believers the Scriptures declare,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1: 3-10)

The provision of redemption through Christ's blood (shed at the cross of Calvary), the forgiveness of sins (paid for by His death at Calvary), fulfills God's eternally conceived purpose. It is a purpose that expresses God's lavish grace, wisdom and insight, one which will culminate in the uniting of all things in Christ, things on heaven and things on earth.

Is this really true? If it is then God's great Christmas present is to save people from the consequences of their sins and make them into His children, in fulfillment of the plan He made long ago. Let us not miss the greatest, most critical gift of all, God's own son, the One who alone can save us from sin.

There's more to life than family and presents and earthly blessings, lovely as these are. Sin keeps us apart from God. Sin will keep us from being part of God's family and living with Him in His heaven, where all gifts are perfect and never-ending. As Scripture declares, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9-10).

There is no greater Christmas present we can receive than to humbly recognize that Jesus became a human baby, grew up into a man and lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father, and then died in our place upon the cross, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He performed what we could not do-- we cannot rid ourselves of our sin, nor as weak and sinful human beings can we live in such a way as to meet God's standards of holiness. Jesus' perfect obedience and His death on the cross justify us before God, as we by faith put our trust in Jesus as our substitute. And "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Receive today the greatest Christmas gift ever given-- the gift of eternal life through Christ. No gift on earth can be compared to it. This salvation is what every one of us truly needs, more than any earthly gift.

Receive the real gift of Christmas-- Christ in you (Romans 8:10-11).

Merry Christmas!