Arlington, Texas-based “Watchman Fellowship is an independent, non-denominational Christian research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age.”
I just received a notification that they have just completed a profile on Rob Bell, Emergent (read: “Postmodern Liberal”) rock star and author of the controversial book Love Wins. The profile summarizes Bell’s personal and ministry history, and his doctrinal stand on issues such as “God’s Immanence in Other Religions” and “No One Reaches a Point of No Return“, “Hell Leads to Restoration” and “A Violent God is not the God of the Gospel” and provides a Biblical Response to “Inclusivistic Universalism“, on how “Reconciliation of ‘All Things’ does not mean All People“, and points out that the “Final Judgment is not Redemptive.”
Read Watchman Fellowship’s Profile on Rob Bell here.
Read their other profiles here.
Notice that Watchman Fellowship is one of my “Featured Sites” to the right. Their logo in my list links to their website. I highly recommend their informative work to you.
Bound up in the recent controversy over Rob Bell’s popularization of universal reconciliation is the New Testament term, apokatastasis. This word is found in Acts 3:21:
whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastasis) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:21 ESV).
Orthodoxy defines this term in accordance with the context of the word in its passage, its book, and the broader context of the Bible’s history of the redemptive work of God. The ESV Study Bible, therefore, illuminates this usage of the word in the following way:
the time for restoring all the things looks forward to when Christ will return and his kingdom will be established on earth, and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall (see note on Rom. 8:20–21).
Universalists like Origen and those who buy into his notion of universal reconciliation, however, prefer to read ancient Hellenistic philosophy into the term in order to wrest it from its biblical context. In Quodlibet Journal, an apparent proponent of Origen’s view, Edward Moore, writes in “Origen of Alexandria and apokatastasis: Some Notes on the Development of a Noble Notion“,
This term occurs in only a single New Testament passage; its provenance is not intrinsically Christian or even Jewish, but Hellenistic, and bound up with the cosmology and anthropology of the era–a system of belief which Origen, in his day, was obliged to undermine in the interest of Christian teaching.
In my humble opinion, Origen wasn’t terribly successful at undermining the Hellenistic associations of the word. It would be more accurate to conclude that what he actually did was reconcile the Bible’s usage with its prior usage by pagan Greek philosophers (that went on a lot in the ancient church, with greater and lesser degrees of success). Origen basically (and I do mean basic) believed in the pre-existence of absolutely free souls as springing originally from God, freely falling into our current state of relative goodness or its antithesis (see Moore’s article), being guided by the instructive providence of God to relearn how to embrace “the Good,” even if this means some time in hell under God’s pedagogical judgment until such a time in the distant future, in which that free soul ultimately embraces the Good and is finally reconciled, or returned to the deified state from which he fell. As I read the many reviews of Rob Bell’s book (here’s Kevin DeYoung’s review, for example) that are now all over the interwebs, I couldn’t help but recognize some of these themes as being reflected in their citations of Bell’s teaching. It was kind of creepy.
I wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of Origen’s views regarding apokatastasis to be released by HarperOne under Bell’s name.
Remember, students, “Rob Bellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”
The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.
The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.
In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”
Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.
This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.
Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.
The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.
In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.
You just have to listen to this program. Martin Bashir, the MSNBC journalist who gave Rob Bell a challenging interview about the contents of his new book Love Wins, was interviewed himself on the Paul Edwards Program about that interview. Edwards not only wanted to know how Bashir prepared for his interview with Bell, but also wanted him to confirm or squash the rumor that’s been going around that he is himself a Christian and a member of Redeemer PCA in New York City. Bashir explains his own motives and methods for his Bell interview.
It’s an awesome program! Gene Veith or someone else well versed in the Protestant doctrine of vocation should interview him further as an example of a Christian pursuing excellence in his journalistic vocation for the glory of God. I think that would be an interesting discussion.
Listen to “MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on the Paul Edwards Program.”
Also listen to this special episode of the White Horse Inn, “Heaven and Hell,” in which the “usual cast of characters” discuss Rob Bell and Love Wins with Kevin DeYoung, a leader of the so-called “New Calvinism,” or “The Young, Restless and Reformed” movement, the orthodox alternative to the postmodern liberalism of Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, etc.
The following was posted today on R. C. Sproul, Jr.’s Facebook page. Presumably motivated by the current controversy over Rob Bell’s upcoming book, in which he teaches “universal reconciliation,” a doctrine first put on the theological map by the ancient church father, Origen, who suffered from many theological maladies, it is crucial that more self-identified “evangelicals” got back in touch with the true heritage associated with being evangelical, lest the wolves in sheep’s clothing arise, not sparing the flock of the Lord (Matthew 7:15).
The difficult truth of the matter is that language, while actually having the ability to communicate, is not static. Words have real meanings, but those meanings are grounded both in history and in usage. Sometimes those two come apart, and a word is caught in the tension. “Evangelical” is just one of those words.
Historically speaking evangelical was a redundant term for Protestant. In both cases the term referred to those who affirmed the binding authority of the Bible alone and that one could have peace with God only by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone. Contra Rome then the term affirmed sola scriptura and sola fide.
Three hundred years after the Reformation, however, the term took a small turn, a tiny nuance was added by the beginnings of theological liberalism. Institutionally theological liberalism was found within Protestant churches. Its defining qualities, however, were a denial of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible and a denial of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Evangelical suddenly became not a synonym for Protestant, but a sub-category. It was how we distinguished actual Christians from liberal “Christians.” Thus Machen’s later great work, Christianity and Liberalism affirmed that the two were utterly distinct.
One hundred years ago there was yet another shift.The evangelical wing of the Protestant church offered competing strategies for dealing with the liberal wing. One side was slightly less sophisticated, slightly less academic, and, given its accompanying pessimistic eschatology, more retreatist. They, distinguishing themselves from evangelicals, called themselves fundamentalists. On the fundamentals both fundamentalists and evangelicals agreed. Evangelicals, sadly, were slightly more accommodating of theological liberalism, slightly less ardent in denouncing it.
Over the last thirty years that spirit of accommodation has mushroomed inside the evangelical church. Indeed if evangelical has any meaning at all in current usage, it is far more about a mood, a posture, than it is about an affirmation of cardinal doctrines. Evangelicals, on the whole, do not scoff at the Bible like theological liberals. They are willing to affirm, at least in principle, biblical miracles. They are even willing, in a nuanced way that ultimately neuters that authority, to affirm the authority of the Bible, at least parts of it. That nuance typically softens the edges of the Bible by interpreting it in light of our post-modern wisdom. Suddenly the “clear” passages by which we must interpret the less clear are those passages that best reflect current common wisdom. “God is love,” which the Bible clearly teaches, suddenly means that its condemnation of homosexual behavior, or women ruling over men in the church, are suddenly open to re-interpretation.
More important, however, is the notion that “God is love” undoes the necessity of trusting in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Now, either due to a generous inclusiveness that welcomes Romanists, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims, ad nauseum, or a denial of the reality of hell, we no longer must embrace the work of Christ to be with Him forever. This, historically, is nothing like evangelicalism. It is a denial of the most basic element of the word’s historical and etymological root- the evangel.
If current trends continue, evangelical will no longer be a synonym for Protestant, because there is no error so grievous that it must be protested. It will instead become a synonym for liberal. To be acceptable, respectable, we now must give up our narrow evangel. Will we, no are we willing to confess this hard truth- we are all fundamentalists now?
Please pray for reformation and revival in American evangelicalism, and that throughout the world.