Saturday, February 26, 2011

Matthew 9:37 & Universalism

I'm prepping for my sermon tomorrow and I was thinking through Matthew 9: 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."

And I was thinking: sometimes we, as Bible believing Christians, miss that the harvest is really big! A passing thought was: there is one thing the universalist, in his twisted theology, gets right (in the sort of way that a stopped clock is right only in two small minutes out of the whole day) --the harvest is LARGE.

Ironically: the universalist often then pits: "are only a few small select few saved" vs. "or is God's love so expansive that everybody gets in regardless of what they believe." What a horrendous false dichotomy. 

Without refuting the whole of universalism in a long post: Jesus says:

John 3:36  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 
John 8:24 "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” --'perish in your sins' is not a way of saying 'oh we all die anyways and then you'll get in-- in the context of John and the whole Bible it means you die under the penalty of sin and you perish eternally.

The point though is we are often told by the universalist that "either only a few get in" or "everybody gets in regardless of conversion." I was think about this and wondering how much to say in my sermon when I notice on my blog feeds: Justin Taylor just posted information on a new Rob Bell book. Apparently Rob Bell comes out clearly in his own words as a universalist (see video). Rob Bell sets up the very same dichotomy in the video clip posted over there.

I would propose that when Rob Bell says many people see the Christian faith is an endless list of inconsistencies and absurdities, it because he has just framed them that way rapid firing a whole bunch of caricatures and strawmen and letting them stand. The questions he poses (a) he should know the answers to as a pastor and (b) have long been answered by faithful theologians handling the text of Scripture, if we have the patience to listen. Sadly because he caricatures historic Christianity, it is worth noting that faithful Christians have long sought to guard against and put up guard rails from people misunderstand the views in such a way that Bell makes the sort of 'logical conclusions.' Guard rails are for both sides of the road.

Let me state something else obvious: of course 'love wins.' Everybody agrees with that. But what is the nature of love? What kind of love? What does it look like? The dichotomy is not: universalist = love wins vs. traditional Christian where hate wins too. Rather the question is between the two types of loves. Which type of love is real? No doubt the universalist would argue that traditional Christianity is not loving enough because the love is limited in scope of persons. I would suggests that the universalist limits its love in specificity. I would suggest that without specificity love is not love, it is not really love but just a vapid emotionalized term with no particularity to it. To us an admittedly crude (e.g. finite/limited) analogy my children and neighbor kids know what love is partly because I love my kids in a way that I do not love my neighbor kids. 

My point in arguing that last paragraph that way is not to say all that we can say on the issue or even to make an ultimate (or partial) refutation. Rather (please here this) universalism thinks it adds all the positives and gives up all the negatives but instead it ignores a new set of real negatives that brings upon itself. In other words, just from the perspective of an internal critique it contains elements of its on downfall. It sets up new structural weaknesses that internally erode its own supposedly better foundation. The house is built with rotten wood.

We could say more about this, but I'll leave it general. Don't want to nit pick something I haven't read in full.

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Update: Why in the world send workers into the field if everybody gets in already? If everybody is harvested, then we don't need workers. But if we take God's word seriously there are tares amongst the wheat and they will be burned with fire (e.g. judged and condemned) at the end of the age. See Matthew 13:36-43.

Harvesters are sent because people are lost and those who reject will be judged. For example see the context of Matthew 9 where in 10:6,14-15, 32-33.

Equally there is really no call for discipleship if we all get in anyone, or at least Jesus doesn't really mean what he says in 10:38-39. (unless you existentialize "he would has found his life will lose it").


Carson T. Clark said...

An Open Letter to Justin Taylor Regarding His Condemnation of Rob Bell

Tim Bertolet said...

Normally I don't let links stand, but I will let this one stand. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you actually read what I wrote. I do not judge the whole book but make some comments about how Bell's video frames the discussion.

Here's what I put in the comments over at Justin Taylor's blog. I think it speaks to your point:

A few have noted that we shouldn’t go overboard on this clip, but I don’t see how this blog [Justin Taylor's] post does that (maybe it will send some readers foaming who will rant in their own posts, who knows).

But there is a difference between judging ALL Bell believes from one short video clip (which would be wrong) and saying “what he says in this clip is wrong.” I think this post clearly does the latter.

Look at the clip: you either have to say (1) ‘Well Bell is naive or stupid for framing the discussion this way and doesn’t realize this is opening himself to universalism and putting down traditional Christianity” or (2) Bell knows exactly what he is doing and is framing the issues to make his idea be enlightened, wiser and more gracious against the traditional view.

Bell is a perceptive communicator and knows how to get his message across particularly in today’s medium and to today’s culture. I think its more disingenuous to try to argue #1 than it is to just state, “hey in the clip he’s being unbiblical.”

Is it not fair to say “just what he’s said so far and just as he’s said it at this point is wrong” ?

Two other thoughts:
(1) If this account is to be believed (excerpted Timothy Stoner's book The God who Smokes) people at Rob Bell's church have clearly understood for a while what he believes.

(2) Justin Buzzard pointed out years ago that Bell was pretty much a universalist. (here)

And since you bring up the Rob Bell's view of the virgin birth, I'll point you to this post here for my thoughts.

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