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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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“Will Only a Few Be Saved?” (Part 1)

One of the arguments used by the neo-universalists (such as Rob Bell, Thomas Talbott, Philip Gulley,

CarltonPearson, etc.) is that the traditional gospel is STINGY, representing a God who is NOT generous and does NOT want all to be saved.  Evangelicals, it is charged, are guilty of holding to a fewness doctrine in which only a limited number will be redeemed.

First of all, I reject the notion that God is under obligation to save any!  Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read of God’s obligation to rescue any of us from our sins.  Jesus’ rescue mission flowed out of LOVE, not DEBT.  Bell argues that God’s very greatness is dependent on His melting every human heart.  He writes, “How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, medium great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great.” (Love Wins, 97-98).

Did Jesus ever face this question of whether FEW or MANY (or ALL) will be saved?  If so, what did HE say?

We read in Luke 13:

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.”

Several observations are in order as we look at this biblical text.

1.  This specific question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” was directly asked of the Lord Jesus.  Are we really interested in hearing His answer?

2.  The question is asked by “someone.”  We are not given any more specifics than that.  We are not told that it is a trap by the religious leaders.  “Someone” asks Him this most critical of all questions:  “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

3.  It sounds very much like the questioner is a believer in Jesus, for they seem to expect Him to be able to answer the question!  And the way the question is worded sounds like the assumption is that “only a few people” are going to be saved.

4.  We are told that “Jesus said to them . . .”  Apparently, He used this question as an opportunity to continue His teaching ministry to the people of the towns and villages He was traveling through as He was making His way to Jerusalem.

5.  To a simple, although profound, question (“Are only a few people going to be saved?”) which could have been answered with a straightforward “yes” or “no,” Jesus’ answer is neither.  He launches into a personal appeal to those listening to His answer.  Jesus does not deal in hypotheticals.  Instead, He issues a personal challenge to those listening to Him to make sure they are going to be saved: 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.” 

6.  As is so often His way, Jesus immediately employs a figure of speech, a metaphor, to communicate His answer.  He discusses a door and a house and a homeowner.  One point might be that the house of salvation does not belong to us!  It belongs to Someone else who has every right to set the conditions for welcoming people into His home.

7.  And Jesus says that the door to that house is a “narrow door.”  Why would the door to salvation be narrow?  Doesn’t God want His house filled (refs?)?  Why isn’t the entrance into salvation a wide, rapid, moving sidewalk that will accompany any who want to step onto it?

8.  Note that Jesus’ challenge is “Make every effort to enter . . .”  It sounds as if getting into salvation’s house is difficult (see issue of rich man & “with man this is impossible”– who then can be saved?).  Perhaps those efforts to enter are difficult because of the “many” that “will try to enter and will not be able to.”  What in the world would keep people who want to enter that house from not being able to?!  This part of Jesus’ answers sounds like He is saying there will be FEW who will get into that house because MANY are trying to get in but won’t be able to!

9.  If Jesus’ answer stopped at this point, it would be very discouraging.  He appears to be saying that the most important matter is to make sure you are making every effort you can to get through that narrow door because many are trying to enter and aren’t able to.  (TO BE CONTINUED)

Discussion Questions:  How can we show from the Scriptures that Jesus’ expression “Make every effort” does not mean that we are saved by our good works or by our best efforts? Before we consider the rest of this text, do you get the impression that salvation is hard or easy?  That it is intended for the MANY or the FEW?

 

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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 — SOON TO BE RELEASED

Friends:  I’ve been working very hard recently to evaluate Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).  I believe this book raises a lot of serious questions with which Evangelicals must grapple.

My evaluation of Bell’s book is entitled “Farewell, Rob Bell:”  A Biblical Response to Love Wins and will be available from Amazon soon.  This is not a Bell-bashing book, but a careful consideration of his major thesis that God’s love will eventually “melt every heart” and all will be saved.

There is really nothing new in Bell’s book.  His perspective is called universalism and appeals to the emotions.  How could God eternally punish anyone?  What about those who have never heard?  Bell refers to a young man who committed suicide, dying as an atheist.  When Christians say he died with no hope, Bell’s response is:  “NO HOPE?  That’s our message? NO HOPE?”

Bell refuses to acknowledge that death ends all opportunities for salvation.  Instead, he argues that God will take as long as he needs to — even eternity — to bring all into His family.

Some would argue that it is a generous position to believe

"Repent! Or I'll turn these TIGHTER!" (God)

that God will never give up on any of us, that He will use as much of the after-death state that He needs to, to turn the screws tighter and tighter until we all come to salvation.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Bell is right — that God will have all eternity to persuade sinners (of their own “free” will) to turn to Christ and believe.  Three questions occur to me:

1.  Does that not make “decisions” for Christ irrelevant in this life?  This was the point being made by Martin Breshir in his interview of Bell.  Bashir gives his own take on Bell’s book: “You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture. . . . What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?”  (TO BE CONTINUED)

 

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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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Questions Evangelicals Need to Work on in Light of “Love Wins”

Friends:

This vimeo is of the luncheon we had at Columbia International University after my talk (April 7, 2011) in chapel on Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.”  By my count — but I’m a preacher so numbers tend to be exaggerated — there were about 90-100 students who attended and there was some lively discussion on the questions I (and others) raised.

I will post two vimeos here.  The first is of our luncheon talk; the second (which was posted on this blog earlier) is of the chapel message.  The luncheon vimeo was recorded with my Shih Tzu Scrabble by my side.  His picture is here and you can hear him grunt approval of what I am saying.  If some of you want to record your grunts of approval — or disapproval — please feel free to do so!

Discussion Questions:  What issues are raised in this vimeo that you would put at the top of the list for Evangelicals to work on?  What makes those issues so important?

Luncheon discussion after chapel talk:

Chapel message on “Love Wins”:

 

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My CIU Chapel Message on Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins”

Friends:

Here is a 19-minute video of the message I gave at Columbia International University’s chapel this past Thursday (April 7th).  A good number of students came to the open luncheon afterwards and we had some good discussion, especially concerning theological areas we Evangelicals need to focus on.  I’ll post that list in my next blog.

Always interested in your comments.

Discussion Question:  What is the place of public debate on theological issues?  What steps can church leaders and churches take to correct false teachers, especially if their leaders support them?


 

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My Review of Rob Bell’s “LOVE WINS”

Friends:

Please click on the link below for my review.  Always glad to get your comments.

REVIEW OF LOVE WINS PDF

 

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