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Category Archives: ROB BELL

“Will Only a Few Be Saved?” (Part 3)

This three-part discussion of Luke 13 in which a person asks Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be

Is GOD a tightwad?

saved?” provides a foundation for us to discuss neo-universalism and its charge that Evangelicalism is stingy and holds that God is not generous in salvation.

Rob Bell (and to some extent Brian McLaren) advocate endless opportunities in the after-death state for God to “melt every heart” and win everyone over to salvation.

The Bible indicates that God owes no one salvation.  His greatness (contra Bell) does not depend on His saving many, a few, or none. Let’s look at our Luke 13 one more time:

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

To review:  Jesus does not directly answer this question about “only a few” being saved.  Instead, he launches into an analogy involving a narrow door, a house, and a homeowner.  Jesus begins the story by encouraging His listeners to “make every effort” (the Greek word implies agony) to enter through the narrow door.

It appears that many will try to crash the house (“many will try to enter and will not be able to”) and will be turned away.  The homeowner will at some point get up and close the door, prohibiting any more from entering his house.

But those on the outside do not simply give up and walk away.  They began providing arguments why the door should be re-opened and they be allowed entrance.  They claim to have eaten and drunk with the Lord and to have heard Him teach in their streets.

The homeowner responds to their arguments by saying, “I don’t know you or where you are from.”  The clear implication is that entrance to the house is based on a relationship with the homeowner.  And they had none.

We are then told that He brings the conversation to a screeching halt by saying, “Away from me, all you evildoers!”  This hardly seems consistent with Hebraic hospitality.  But the issue isn’t hospitality, but salvation (remember the original question).

Jesus then describes the outside of that house as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  We pick up the text at this point.

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Let’s summarize and add a few questions for reflection.

Jesus uses the analogy of a house —

1.  there is a narrow door;

2.  effort is required to enter through the narrow door;

3.  there will be many (competition?) who will try to enter & won’t be able to (why not?);

4.  the house’s owner will get up and close the door (which, of course, is his prerogative — he’s the owner!);

5.  YOU will stand outside knocking & pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.” (v. 25)

6.  His response?  “I don’t know you or where you come from.” (v. 25) (= “you are a stranger to me — why should I trust you?”);

7.  YOU seek to identify yourselves:  “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” (v. 26).

8.  His reply:  “I don’t know you or where you come from.  Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27)

9.  CONCLUSION:  “There will be weeping there . . .”

What do we know from Scripture THAT WE LIKE?

1.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance!

2.  Jesus did not come primarily to condemn, but to save.  He came on a RESCUE mission!  Judgment is God’s “strange work.”

3.  The Lord’s arm is not short that it cannot save.  There is no INABILITY in the Lord that prevents most or ALL being saved!

4.  He wants His house FILLED!

5.  He does not delight in the death of the wicked!

6.  He has declared that people from every tribe, people, tongue and nation will be at the throne worshipping!

What do we know WE MAY NOT LIKE from Scripture?

1.  God is thrice-holy and is allergic to sin!

2.  He WILL judge!

3.  Hell is a real place!

4.  Not all will believe!

5.  Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers.

6.  Death ENDS all opportunities to be saved.

7.  We have an OBLIGATION to get the gospel OUT!

Discussion Questions:  Which of the above considerations need more attention by Evangelicals in light of the challenge of neo-universalism?  How might solid exegetical preaching help in providing answers to some of these questions?

 

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“FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A Biblical Response to Love Wins (available soon)

Friends:  I’ve been working hard the last few weeks to complete my response to Rob

me at hard labor

Bell’s Love Wins:   A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).   The book is finished and is being published through Amazon’s Create Space (print on demand).  Not a particularly long book (70 pages or so), “Farewell, Rob Bell:  A Biblical Response to Love Wins” deals with the primary questions Bell raises in his presentation of what I’ve been calling neo-universalism.

I’m extremely pleased with the original cover art by cartoonist Ron Wheeler.  Below is the cover (which probably needs no explanation):

Didn’t he do a great job? I’m trying to keep the price down, so I’m charging only $10 (which includes shipping to the USA and Canada).  Send a check or money order made out to me (Larry Dixon) + your address and I will ship your copy as soon as they come off the press!  My address:  117 Norse Way, Columbia, SC  29229

Sorry for the commercial, but I believe I’ve put together a solid response to Bell which will be of help, especially to those who have not or do not intend to read Love Wins.

 

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“Will Only a Few Be Saved?” (Part 2)

We began this three-part discussion by recognizing that there is a new challenge facing Evangelicals by a

"Hi, there. We're the NEO-UNIVERSALISTS!"

group I’m calling the neo-universalists.  Unlike classic universalists like Karl Barth, C.H. Dodd, John A.T. Robinson, and Nels F.S. Ferré, these neo-universalists are rather militant about their belief that God will (must) save all.  God’s very greatness, says Rob Bell in Love Wins, depends on God’s getting what God wants — and He wants all to be saved.

Part of the neo-universalist argument is that Evangelicalism is stingy, teaching a fewness perspective in which only a limited number will be saved.  The neo-universalists argue for endless opportunities after death to believe the gospel and mock the Evangelical perspective as “toxic” and as a “hijacking” of the Jesus story.

We suggested in Part 1 of this discussion that God is under no obligation to save any.  And His greatness is true with or without man’s salvation.

We then noticed that Jesus Himself was asked a very specific question about how many would be saved in Luke 13.  Let’s look at the whole passage:

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

We made several observations as we began our study of this biblical text.  To summarize those earlier points, we noticed that Jesus addresses His answer to the people, rather than to the individual who raised the question.  And He immediately launches into an analogy about a narrow door, a house, and a houseowner.

We saw in verse 24 that Jesus challenges the people to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Salvation in Jesus’ analogy sounds difficult:  the door is narrow, “every effort” is required to get into that house, and the many who try to enter (and won’t be able to) appear to present an obstacle to the ones Jesus commands to “make every effort to enter.”

Additional Observations:

1.  Moving on in the text, we notice that the one who is to make every effort to enter is faced with a greater challenge.  There is an owner of the house who may get up at any time and close the door!  What?!  Doesn’t God want His house filled?  How could He ever get up and close the door?  The neo-universalists argue that salvation’s door should remain eternally open.  Let’s notice exactly what Jesus says:  “25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’”

"This is MY house, right?" (God)

Notice the term “once.”  Jesus seems to be saying that the opportunity to enter through that narrow door into salvation’s house is limited.  It is limited by the Owner Himself!   He, as the homeowner, has every right to get up and close the door to His own house, doesn’t He?

Why does a homeowner get up and close the door to his house?  Perhaps the open door has made the house drafty?  Perhaps he’s keeping out wild animals?  No!  In this text the open door is shut because the time for people to enter is over!  It’s His house. It’s His door.  It’s HIS prerogative to close that door when He chooses to do so.

2.  But those who find themselves on the outside, on the other side of that door, do not simply go away.  The verse says,  “you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’”  The “you” is plural.  Those outside don’t give up.  They continue knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”   Apparently, they are unable to break down the door, or jimmy the lock, or go into the house through a window.  This door is the only way into the house, and if the houseowner doesn’t open the door, they won’t get in.

3.  There is then a discussion through the door.  The houseowner responds to the pleas of those outside who are asking for entrance.  We read, “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from.'” (v. 25).  Those asking for entrance are strangers to the homeowner.  They have no familial connection with the owner; He owes them nothing.   The owner of the house gives them two reasons why He is not going to open the door to them:  (1) “I don’t know you.”  and (2) “I don’t know where you are from.”

4.  But in this analogy Jesus says the conversation will continue.  He says, “‘Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'” (v. 26).  So they did have a connection with the homeowner.  They enjoyed at least one meal with Him and heard Him teach in their streets!  These outside have moved from asking for entrance to demanding entrance based on these factors.  But these do not qualify them as having a relationship with Him.  His response is shocking in its unqualified rejection.  Let’s carefully notice His response:

5.  Jesus says the homeowner will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from.  Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27).  Their claiming to have eaten and drunk with Him and to have heard Him teach in their streets was completely insufficient in providing a reason why He should re-open the door.  The homeowner repeats exactly His rejection:  “I don’t know you or where you are from.” (v. 27).  He then brings the conversation to a shocking and abrupt conclusion by saying, “Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27).  So these pleading for entrance are not just strangers to the homeowner, but evildoers.  And no sane person is going to knowingly allow an evildoer into his home!

6.  We then have Jesus’ conclusion to the matter.  Remember, this conversation began with someone asking Jesus a specific question: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  Jesus concludes His analogical response by saying, 28“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

If we have correctly understood Jesus’ analogy as referring to eternal salvation, then His conclusion emphasizes several matters:

(a) Jesus describes the outside of the house as a place of “weeping . . . and gnashing of teeth.”  Those who

The agony of those outside . . .

don’t get into that house are on the outside and it is not a pleasant location!  It is characterized by weeping and teeth-gnashing. Edersheim, referring to the expression ““weeping and gnashing of teeth”” (used in Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; and here in Luke 13:28), points out that ““weeping”” is associated in Rabbinic thought with sorrow, but ““gnashing of teeth”” almost always with anger (not, as generally supposed, with anguish). [Is it not, therefore, reasonable to assume that those who reject the work of Christ, if they were offered the opportunity to leave hell, would rush to spread their sin and unbelief among the blood-bought children of heaven?]  Those outside the house are not in spiritual or eternal neutrality.  They experience terrific pain.

(b) Those who are outside will see the celebrated leaders of Judaism (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets) in the kingdom of God.  [This reminds one of the rich man’s experience in Luke 16:19-31 who sees Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom (heaven)].

(c)  Those outside will not only see Israel’s leaders in the kingdom of God.  But Jesus says, “you yourselves [will be] thrown out.” (v. 28).   (TO BE CONTINUED)

Discussion Questions:  When Jesus says in John 1:12 that one receives the RIGHT to be called a child of God, how do these pleading to be let in assume a RIGHT they do not possess?  How ought the fact of the owner of the house getting up and closing the door to His house motivate every believer to systematic, strategic, intentional evangelistic efforts right now?

 

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“FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO LOVE WINS — SOON TO BE RELEASED (Part 3)

Rob Bell’s book,  Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, raises many questions about God’s justice, love, and greatness.  He quite obviously believes “the old, old story” about Jesus and the need to believe in Him in this life is not the biblical story and is, in fact, toxic.  My book, “FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO LOVE WINS, challenges Bell’s theology.

I’ve called Bell a representative of the “new universalists.”  Universalism says that allwithout exception will be saved, even if it takes eons for God to “persuade” them to believe.  No one will be eternally lost.

I am amazed that someone as respected as Eugene Peterson would say that “Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination [about heaven] — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”  Peterson, the author of The Message, believes that Evangelicals need to reconsider their doctrine of eternal punishment and that Bell is a voice worth listening to.

I suggested that three questions occur to me in light of Bell’s advocating post-mortem (after death) opportunities to believe the gospel.  The first question was: Does Bell’s position not make “decisions” for Christ irrelevant in this life?  The second question was:  What is the biblical evidence that opportunities for believing the gospel will be given in the post-mortem state?

The third question that occurs to me is:  How does Bell explain the imperative of missions and evangelism as commanded by Jesus and practiced by the Early Church?  Matthew 28:18-20 records Jesus as giving marching orders to His disciples:

18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It sure sounds to me that Jesus is serious about getting the gospel out now, to the whole world, and promises His presence to the very end of the age.

Discussion Questions:  If there will be innumerable opportunities in the after-death state to believe the gospel, does this not rob missions and evangelism of their imperative?  How might this perspective be a variation of the devil’s original “You shall not surely die!” of Gen. 3?

 

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“FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO LOVE WINS — SOON TO BE RELEASED (PART 2)

My book, due out soon from Amazon, is a refutation of the new universalism presented by Rob Bell in his best-selling book, Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).

Bell’s position is that death does not end all opportunities for salvation, that God will use as much of eternity to turn the screws tighter and tighter until all hearts are melted and all are brought into God’s family.

I said yesterday that three questions occur to me.  We looked at the first question:  Does that position not make “decisions” for Christ irrelevant in this life?  In his response to interviewer Martin Breshir, it seemed that Bell HAD to say that faith in Christ in this life is absolutely essential, immensely important.  But he did not explain why.

Our second question is this:

2.  What is the biblical evidence that opportunities for believing the gospel will be given in the post-mortem (after death) state?  Does Scripture not indicate that “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Heb. 9:27-28)?   A number of passages indicate that the WORSE thing a human being could possibly do is to die unprepared to meet God!  Jesus indicates this in Luke 13:15 by essentially saying, “Life is dangerous.  Be ready to meet God!”  He also teaches the same by the story of the foolish farmer who is in his LazyBoy recliner pouring over John Deere tractors as he prepares to tear down his old barns to build bigger ones.  He hears a voice, the very voice of God, which says, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20).

As I’ve tried to show in my book The Other Side of the Good News, there is no biblical evidence that salvation will be available to any beyond the grave.  Where’s Bell’s evidence of his position?

Discussion questions:  The idea of post-mortem opportunities for conversion is necessary in the universalist’s theology.  Why is this the case?  If Bell is wrong — and I believe he is — what difference should this make in our sharing the Good News about Jesus with others?

 

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“FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO LOVE WINS (BOOK AVAILABLE SOON ON AMAZON.COM)

In several days I hope to have my short book entitled

“Farewell, Rob Bell”:  A Biblical Response to Love Wins

available on Amazon.com.  As much as I appreciate you Christian publishers out there (I’ve written for about five of you), I’ve decided to make my work available through Amazon’s “Create Space” medium.

This is a print-on-demand work and I’ll do my best to keep the cost low. You will be able to order a paperback copy at a modest price.

Some Christian workers may not have the time to read Love Wins, so my book is intended to provide brief, biblical responses to some of the key issues he raises.

Here’s a sample from the first page:



 

“Please do not panic — but you must remain in your seats!  We are in control of this aircraft now and no one will get hurt if you do exactly as you are told.  This plane is being hijacked!”

Imagine how you would react if you were a passenger on that airplane.  How much worse would you feel if you realized you were one of the hijackers?  A hijacker puts the lives of others in grave danger, attempting to take control of that which does not belong to him.

According to Rob Bell in Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011), if you are an Evangelical Christian, you are a theological hijacker of the Jesus story.  And all Evangelicals are guilty of replacing that story with one that consigns the majority of the human race to hell.  Bell believes that the very idea that billions will suffer eternally isn’t a very good story, minimizes the greatness of God, and is, well, to use his word, toxic.  So, Mr. or Mrs. Toxic Evangelical Hijacker, how do you feel?

 

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A LITTLE BIT OF SARCASM: PIPER NEEDS NO DEFENDING!

In all the hub-bub about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, a number of us Bible-thumping, Jesus-story-hijacking, toxic Evangelicals have responded with virtual tomes of refutation.  Bell raises significant questions (350 of them by one person’s count!) and has a clear agenda of trying to prove that the traditional view of eternal conscious punishment should be replaced by a much better story.

Frankly, I think Pastor John Piper might have had the best response when he simply tweeted “Farewell, Rob Bell!”  Piper has been castigated for “dismissing Bell from the Evangelical fold.”  I think Bell did that quite well by himself.  Doug Pagitt criticized Piper for such a dismissive comment.  Some of us were castigated for criticizing Bell’s book before it was

"See ya', Rob."

released (the promo video was quite incendiary).   Pagitt skewers Piper for his tweet, accusing him of threatening all young Evangelicals of the penalty of following Bell!

Frankly, I’m going to side with Piper on this one.  Sarcasm can be either hurtful or therapeutic!  Sarcasm has a long tradition in the Scriptures (see the many OT texts which mock idolatry), and is used by the Lord Jesus on several occasions.

Sarcasm might bring someone to their senses, a verbal cup of cold water

thrown in the face as it were.  It might seem like pepper spray, but “peppered by Piper in the puss” might shock one back into Scriptural reality!

Discussion Questions:  What do you think?  Was Piper’s dismissive comment about Rob Bell well-intentioned sarcasm?  Wouldn’t it be GREAT if Dr. Piper responded to this blog with his explanation and comments?!

 
 

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