Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Tony Campolo? (Part 3)

Continuing from the previous post where my friend Andrew in Australia wrote a letter to his church expressing his concerns about their invitation to Tony Campolo. This letter serves as a great example of how to graciously write to church leadership in expressing a concern. It also serves as an excellent profile of Tony Campolo's dangerous theology/teachings. Today we conclude with point 5 in Andrew's letter:

5. He promotes an ecumenism that includes the Muslim, Jewish and Catholic faiths. This flows from a Universalist perspective.

Campolo’s willingness to consider people of other faiths as “brothers and sisters” indicates that he believes that the other faiths are also correct. There are a myriad of quotes I could use to demonstrate his views but I will just highlight a couple from the interview with Shane Claiborne.

“We don't have to give up trying to convert each other. What we have to do is show respect to one another. And to speak to each other with a sense that even if people don't convert, they are God's people, God loves them, and we do not make the judgment of who is going to heaven and who is going to hell.”

“I think there are Muslim brothers and sisters who are willing to say, "You live up to the truth as you understand it. I will live up to the truth as I understand it, and we will leave it up to God on judgment day."”

“I don't think you have to compromise as a Christian the belief that Jesus is the only Savior but what I do think we have to say is that the grace of God extends way beyond the limitations of my religious group”

“It seems to me that when we listen to the Muslim mystics as they talk about Jesus and their love for Jesus, I must say, it's a lot closer to New Testament Christianity than a lot of the Christians that I hear. In other words if we are looking for common ground, can we find it in mystical spirituality, even if we cannot theologically agree, Can we pray together in such a way that we connect with a God that transcends our theological differences?”

(From: “On evangelicals and interfaith cooperation: an interview with Tony Campolo by Shane Claiborne” - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_55/ai_n13798048/ - Emphasis mine)

In these excerpts I see a number of major issues.

o Our God and Allah are not the same. Even a basic reading of the Bible and the Koran demonstrates this.
o The use of “brothers and sisters” to refer to Muslim people. In the wider evangelical scope, this is a term exclusively reserved for Christians. It is also highly problematic to refer to them as “God’s people”.
o Since we do not have the same God, it does not make sense to pray together (see above point)
o He denies that a person can only be saved through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12)


With all this in mind let me explain what I am hoping for from the leadership of this church.

1. That the leadership would set aside personal relationships or popular opinion and evaluate Tony Campolo based solely on his theology. I believe that yourselves as leadership should be willing to undertake personal research to evaluate the claims I have made in this letter.
2. That the church would resolve to not allow him to be a guest speaker if indeed his teachings are found to be heretical (that is, they contravene the primary teachings of the Bible in regards to the Scriptures, salvation and the nature of the Trinity).
3. That the church would withdraw the invitation to teach and challenge Tony Campolo to repent of his heretical views.

I am personally convinced that several of the teachings of Tony Campolo are nothing short of heresy and I submit this document in the hope that the congregation will be protected and made aware of the dangers of his teachings. I love the church, its members and its leadership. My wife and I have been more than willing to pour ourselves out in service because we feel that God has called us here in this season of our lives and we believe that part of that calling is to defend the flock from wolves.

We hope that you will be faithful in considering my research and that you will do what is necessary in this case to protect the flock over whom God has made you an under-shepherd.

Our prayers and support are with you at this time.

In Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.


Andrew went on to say that the leadership team pondered his letter for a couple of weeks before responding with (my cliff notes paraphrase) "Tony Campolo is a really nice guy and says he loves Jesus and we don't really think any of the issues you raise are really that big a deal" (how was that summation Andrew?).

Andrew signed off in his letter to me by saying:

From both his letter of response and a meeting I held with him a couple of weeks later, I came to see that my pastor and I look at this issue very differently.

When I look at Tony Campolo’s teachings, I see the few examples of heresy as sufficient to disqualify him if they are substantiated.

When my pastor looks at his teachings, he sees the bulk of his supposedly solid work as sufficient to overlook “minor” issues.

He clearly does not see the issues the way I do and neither does he see them to be of the same significance that I do.

Eventually, Tony Campolo did speak at our church and my summary would be:

• It was a moralising attempt to bully people into acting sanctified without actually addressing the root issue.
• He used Scripture 4 times and got it wrong… 4 times.
• He quoted a Catholic mystic, an existentialist and not one conservative Christian teacher.
• He told a couple of stories that made me question his moral character or at very least his wisdom.
• He made a bunch of veiled attacks at traditional conversion.

I do have to hand it to him though. He is a very skilled communicator. All this was said with a steady flow of laughter and applause.

I hope to write a far more detailed review of the talk when I can stomach listening to it again.

Great effort Andrew, may your labor that has been shared on this blog be of benefit to the many readers who encounter these situations within their own local church contexts.

Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1

Friday, January 27, 2012

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Tony Campolo? (Part 2)

Continuing from the previous post where my friend Andrew in Australia wrote a letter to his church expressing his concerns about their invitation to Tony Campolo. This letter serves as a great example of how to graciously write to church leadership in expressing a concern. It also serves as an excellent profile of Tony Campolo's dangerous theology/teachings. Today we pick up at point 3 in Andrew's letter:

3. Involvement in Eastern/New Age/Mystic practices.

There are a number of practices that he [Campolo] affirms in his work but I want to pick on one that he is particularly open about. He often speaks of his affirmation of the practice of centering prayer, a practice that bears a very strong resemblance to trancendental meditiation as practiced in Eastern Religions, the Occult and the New Age religions. My wife was strongly involved in these practices before being saved and has a very good understanding of the dangers accociated with them.

“To do so, I have to drive back the animals--the "animals" being the hundred and one things that trouble me from the day before and the many things that are waiting to be done in the new day. I've got to push everything out of mind save the name of Jesus. I say His name over and over again, for as long as fifteen minutes, until I find my soul suspended in what the ancient Celtic Christians called a "thin place"--a state where the boundary between heaven and earth, divine and human, dissolves. You could say that I use the name of Jesus as my koan.”
(“Mystical Encounters for Christians” - http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2006/02/Mystical-Encounters-For-Christians.aspx)

Campolo speaks of this practice often and reaffirms this in a large number of other sources.

Roger Oakland observes:

“This term ‘thin place’ originated with Celtic spirituality (i.e., contemplative) and is in line with panentheism. ... Thin places imply that God is in all things, and the gap between God, evil, man, everything thins out and ultimately disappears in mediation”
(Faith Undone, pp. 114, 115).

There appear numeroustheological problems in Campolo’s quote :

o We don’t see anywhere in Scripture that this form of prayer is endorsed or modeled. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to empty our minds.
o We see in Scripture a conversive form of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Ephesians 3:14-21)
o In Psalm 119, the psalmist uses a word that we translate “meditate” which in Hebrew can be also translated as “ponder, converse, commune, complain, declare, muse, pray, speak, talk”.
o Jesus spoke against repetious prayers (Matthew 6:7)
o Much of the book of Leviticus speaks of God’s peope not adopting the pagan practices of the culture/faiths/peoples around them.
o This practice was historically rejected almost universally by Christian theologians.

With many of these mystical practices (particularly in the Islamic, Catholic and Jewish forms) we also see an undermining of the authority of Scripture. The scripture becomes subject to experience and we have the testimony of centuries of history to see how those involved in these mystical practices then interpreted God’s Word in “new” ways. This issue goes right back to the Gnostic traditions that were impacting the church in the first few centuries of the faith.

4. His own story of conversion is foreign to the Biblical pattern.

Campolo’s conversion experience is documented in his book “Letters to a Young Evangelical” where he tells the story of his very gradual becoming a Christian. He speaks of not having a born again experience like his mother had, but rather that he came to knowledge of Jesus though centering prayer.

“When I was a boy growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in West Philadelphia, my mother, a convert to Evangelical Christianity from a Catholic immigrant family, hoped I would have one of those dramatic “born again” experiences. That was the way she had come into a personal relationship with Christ. She took me to hear one evangelist after another, praying that I would go to the altar and come away “converted.” But it never worked for me. I would go down the aisle as the people around me sang “the invitation hymn,” but I just didn’t feel that anything happened to me. For a while I despaired wondering if I would ever get “saved.” It took me quite some time to realize that entering into a personal relationship with Christ does not always happen that way.”
(“Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 8)

In my case intimacy with Christ had developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholics call “centering prayer.” Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time—sometimes as much as a half hour—to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say.
( “Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 9)

“I learned about this way of having a born-again experience from reading Catholic mystics, especially The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius, a founder of the Jesuit order, was once a soldier and it was only when he spent a long time in a hospital bed recovering from a battle wound that his heart and mind focused on God. Like most Catholic mystics he developed an intense desire to experience a “oneness” with God. Gradually, he came to feel an intense yearning for the kind of spiritual purity that he believed would enable him to experience the fullness of God’s presence within.”
(“Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 30)

I want to stress here that I am not attempting to assert that he is not saved. I cannot and do not know where his heart truly sits with Jesus because although I can examine some of the fruit of his public ministry, I don’t know him personally. I am instead suggesting that his story gives insight into his understanding of the Gospel which as a logical consequence may have implications for his own salvation.

His account of salvation raises serious questions due to the clear teaching of Scripture that someone must be born again (John 3:3) and also the clear example of Scripture which speaks of a clear sharp conversion:
o the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)
o Paul (Acts 9)
o Cornelius (Acts 10)
o Lydia (Acts 16)
o the Philippian jailer (Acts 16)

That is not to say that people cannot come to faith over a season of life where God does many things in them, but we see both from Scripture and our experience that there is always a clear conversion experience, even for those who have grown up inside the church.

Completely lacking from his account (at least from the excerpts I have) is any mention of:
o Sin
o The cross
o Repentance
o Forgiveness
o Judgement

Instead we see mention of “oneness with God” and a strong dependence on feelings.

The essence of the problem is that his testimony and preaching indicates a different Gospel to the one clearly taught in Scripture and we are told to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Romans 16:17). He does not appear as theologically naive as to not be aware of the Biblical elements of salvation, or to orthodox thinking.

Thanks Andrew, I'll pick up this letter again and finish it on Tuesday. In the mean time just take a peek at Campolo's bizarre explanation of what it means to be "born again". See if you can figure out what part of Scripture he is referring to . . .

Go On To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Tony Campolo? (Part 1)

How would you deal with a situation where you are a member of a local church that you love and suddenly find out that they have invited a known heretic to come and fill their pulpit? Would you respond? How would you approach this?

My friend Andrew in Australia was recently confronted with this situation and he responded to it. In fact, I was so impressed with Andrew's careful research and gracious presentation that I wanted to post it here over the next week as a very helpful example of a God honoring way to go about responding to such a dire situation. Andrew also compiles an excellent and helpful profile on the beliefs/teachings of Tony Campolo. Take it away Andrew . . .

Earlier this year, our church announced that they would be hosting Tony Campolo as a guest speaker. This immediately raised a red flag for me as I had heard him referenced many times in a negative light and so I began to research his teachings. I also informed a couple of the pastors at our church that I was aware of some theological issues and that I was going to investigate further.

I want to release some of the work I did to the general public for a couple of reasons.

1. I want people to gain a better understanding of Tony Campolo and his teaching. I do not believe he is theologically sound and as such I want people to see the wolf that he is.
2. I want people to learn from my attempt at challenging church leadership. My attempt was by no means perfect, and I don’t want it to be held up as “This is how you should do it”. I was very fortunate to have a number of people come along side me in this process to read and re-read what I wrote. I believe that it is possible to graciously but firmly warn a church that they are hosting a wolf.

I want to emphasise that the leadership of this church are people I consider friends and the church community is one that I dearly love. To this end, I have been careful to remove all names of the people and the church involved so that this cannot be seen as an attack on the church or its leadership.

Below is a letter that I submitted to the church leadership summarising my research.

Dear [Pastors],

I want to bring you up to speed with my research into Tony Campolo and what I have learned.

I want to make a couple of things very clear before I get into specifics:

• I am raising these issues out of a heart for the church and a love for God. I am not interested in causing division or making a scene but rather I am genuinely concerned for protecting the theological integrity of the church and its members.
• I have always placed a high value on supporting, assisting and encouraging you as leaders of this church and this remains my commitment. I am not seeking to judge you in any way for this decision to allow Tony Campolo to speak here nor do I wish to undermine you in any way.
• I am conerned only with Tony Campolo’s theology. His character and behaviour are not in question. Everything I hear, including from his critics, is that he is a really nice guy and a very skilled communicator, however what concerns me and I have therefore examined are his teachings. I do not have relationship with him and do not need to in order to evaluate his teachings and whether or not he ought be invited as teacher. We must be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who closely examined the scriptures to examine the claims that Paul made. We are also commanded to identify those whose teachings are not in alignment with scripture and beware of them (Rom 16:17). To do this we must look at the breadth of his teachings both in what he has written and said publically.

To that end I have endeavoured to work from primary sources rather than potentially out of context secondary sources:
• I have read a number of articles that he has written that are published on the beliefnet website.
• I have read transcripts of interviews that he was involved in.
• I have also listened to audio of him being interviewed.

As a secondary source, I have also used large sections from his books cited on a couple of blogs. I refer to these as secondary because I do not have complete copies of his work. In these cases I have been careful to examine the blog writer’s integrity with quoting work by comparing quotes to primary sources that I did have access to. For the moment I am prepared to trust these quotes as accurate unless I am shown that they are out of context or otherwise inaccurately reproduced in which case I am more than happy to reconsider their use in making my case.

I have found multiple areas that are of considerable theological concern and I have summarised them below.

1. He denies God’s omniscience and omnipotence

Following hurricane Katrina’s destruction in the US in late 2005, Campolo weighed in with his view that clearly undermined both God’s foreknowledge of the event and his ability to intervene.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God's great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)”

“I don't doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster. When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.”

“Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent.

Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.”
(“Katrina: Not God's Wrath--or His Will” - http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2005/09/Katrina-Not-Gods-Wrath-Or-His-Will.aspx)

To imply that this was not God’s will (in the title of the article) implies that the creation is not subject to God. He reinforces this in the later quote by Rabbi Kushner. That is flat out historical heresy.

It is a concession by someone who does not have a Biblical understanding of suffering.

2. He does not understand the Biblical Gospel

In an interview with Shane Claiborne he states:

“Catholicism would say that at the moment of death every person is confronted in that split moment with Christ and is given the opportunity of saying yes or no. To say otherwise is to say God has got to be a pretty unfair deity, to condemn three quarters of the human race to hell without them ever having a chance.”

“There is much in Christianity that would suggest exactly the same thing, particularly Romans the 2nd chapter, where the apostle Paul says "What do we say of those who do not accept the law of God," and I would add "as we understand it," "and are faithful to all the things that God calls us to do--will God not have to make room for them?" He asks that as a rhetorical question, leaving the reader with the obvious sense--"but of course." So I think that the apostle Paul would be a lot more generous towards Islamic people than most of my evangelical brothers and sisters are.”
(From: “On evangelicals and interfaith cooperation: an interview with Tony Campolo by Shane Claiborne” - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_55/ai_n13798048/ - Emphasis mine)

In this statement, he shows a lack of understanding of the justice of God. In his words, “God has got to be a pretty unfair deity” if he punishes people for their sins. This is seen again as he dramatically misinterprets Romans 2:14-15 which clearly speaks of the fact that all people, Jew or Gentile understand God’s standards because he has written his law on their hearts in the form of a conscience and that he has revealed some of himself through nature so that this will leave them without excuse (Romans 1:20). He doesn’t appear to understand that all of us have enough sin to condemn us (Romans 3:23) and that lack of belief in Christ is not the primary reason someone should be condemned (Romans 2:6, 8, 12, John 3:18). It would appear that to satisfy his lack of understanding he has taken on a Catholic teaching which has no basis in scripture.

In addition to this he clearly promotes a work-righteous salvation where a “good Muslim” (see Romans 3:10-12) can have a relationship with Jesus (without knowing his name) if he fulfils the Muslim command to give to the poor.

“When it comes to what is ultimately important, the Muslim community's sense of commitment to the poor is exactly in tune with where Jesus is in the 25th chapter of Matthew. That is the description of judgment day. And if that is the description of judgment day what can I say to an Islamic brother who has fed the hungry, and clothed the naked? You say, "But he hasn't a personal relationship with Christ." I would argue with that. And I would say from a Christian perspective, in as much as you did it to the least of these you did it unto Christ. You did have a personal relationship with Christ, you just didn't know it. And Jesus himself says: "On that day there will be many people who will say, when did we have this wonderful relationship with you, we don't even know who you are ..." "Well, you didn't know it was me, but when you did it to the least of these it was doing it to me."”
(From: “On evangelicals and interfaith cooperation: an interview with Tony Campolo by Shane Claiborne” - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_55/ai_n13798048/ - Emphasis mine)

Again he mishandles Scripture by misinterpreting Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus does not say in this account of end times (which we need to show great care in interpreting) that the good deeds make someone righteous but rather by taking this passage in conjunction with others on the same subject, we can see that Jesus is saying that the fruit of the righteous is good works (i.e. Righteousness causes good works, not good works causes righteousness). In a passage such as this, we must interpret the text in light of clearer Scriptures (Matthew 7:15-20, Ephesians 2:8-9, James 2:14-25, Galatians 5:16-26).

Jesus did not place upon us the yoke of work-righteousness. Christ has declared me righteous through His finished work on the cross and that there is nothing that I can do to contribute to my own salvation. My works and my sins are not judged when deciding my eternal fate. This is not true for Islam, Judaism or Catholicism. It is through a work-righteous theology that Tony Campolo is able to rationalize his ecumenism.

His commitment to the poor is to be highly commended and his work is well known however, I must reiterate that we are not judging his works but his theology.

Go On To Part 2

Friday, January 20, 2012

Does Jesus Hate Religion - Follow Up 2

This week marks the official first week of my studies at The Master's Seminary (TMS) and it is quickly dawning on me that I really do live in another universe now. René, who is my blogging friend from Denmark (klik her hvis du er Dansk) responded to my previous post by informing me that Jeff Bethke may have responded in gracious agreement to Kevin De Young's criticism of his Why I Love Jesus But Hate Religion video but Bethke had not subsequently taken the video down nor changed it. I think René raises a good point here and it is an issue of concern to myself. One small issue that I differed with De Young's critique was that I argued that the video should either be replaced or edited whereas De Young, in his correspondence with Bethke, suggested a follow up video of clarification. As of now, to the best of my knowledge, neither have been forthcoming.

I considered René's words as I drove into TMS yesterday morning and thought to myself how nice it would be to speak with Kevin De Young about this issue. I thought it would be great to hear his thoughts on my suggestions since Kevin is in contact with Jeff Bethke. When I arrived at the TMS library very early in the morning I asked one of my fellow students about who would be the chapel speaker for that morning. Well it just turns out that in the Providence of God, Kevin De Young just happened to be visiting California from his native Michigan and just happened to have been invited to come and preach to all the TMS students that morning.

Well, I got my chance to speak with De Young after his excellent sermon. I informed him of the disturbing fact that many of the millions who have watched this video are people who are finding affirmation in a video that should be convicting them. I also mentioned the serious issue of re-interpreting the cross and how I believe we should be zealous over that as well. René, you will be pleased to know that Kevin De Young was in full agreement and will attempt to pursue the matter further. Let's keep an eye on cyberspace over the next week and see if something develops!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does Jesus Hate Religion - Follow Up

There is a lot of debate about my previous post concerning the massively viral "Jesus > Religion" video. The spectrum of responses runs from warm appreciation to accusations of "theological nitpicking". Although I completely fail to see how a debate over the meaning of the cross qualifies for an exercise in theological nitpicking. There are also those who are trying to defend Jeff Bethke by claiming that he is not a theologian and that this is not meant to be a "John MacArthur" sermon. Again I would respond that everyone is a theologian - the question always is whether you are a good one or a bad one. I was never looking for the expository depth of a MacArthur sermon as is evidenced by my willingness to post another video of similar style but greater Gospel accuracy. I am not against the style and innovation but I remain biblically convinced that we must be clear and accurate when it comes to the meaning of the cross - it is the epicenter of the Christian faith. Please hear me on this, I am not against Jeff Bethke or looking for a target to shoot at. I responded to this video because of the massive number of people being influenced by it, and because of the confirmation of my fears evidenced by the number of websites and people who oppose the biblical Gospel but love Bethke's video. The ambiguity has clearly stretched its appeal beyond the boundaries of service to the Great Commission.

I would also like to elaborate on another point that, in the light of recent developments, is worth expanding upon. Bethke's video gets a lot right about the Gospel. This is a video that could be easily improved into an outstanding Gospel centered statement full of redemptive value. If certain terms were defined much more clearly, and the cross defined correctly, it would eradicate the wrong affirmations many lost people have found in it. Bethke is tapping into the very real modern evangelical plague of moralism and rightly pointing out that our justification depends fully on the finished work of Jesus Christ alone. And, it would seem, Jeff Bethke is a humble man who can receive a solid biblical critique and alter course.

Kevin De Young also recently posted a critique of the video and was also able to engage in email correspondence with Bethke. What transpired is very pleasing and gives me great optimism that this situation can be redeemed and utilized for God's glory. Bethke's email response, not only affirms the validity of the criticism, it is also a very positive story of the Body of Christ behaving like it should:

I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth. Blessings. Grace and Peace, Jeff

Kevin De Young responded again and wrote:

Thanks for your email. It confirms my impression of you—humble, sincere, a real love for God and the gospel. I can’t remember ever receiving such a teachable response to criticism. I’m grateful for you and your courage in taking time to write me a note. Really grateful.

I know that criticism can be hard. You are probably getting it from right, left, and center, from Christians and non-Christians. I’m sure you are getting a lot of affirmation too, and that presents its own challenges. I tried to my write my post as a friend, not as a hater. I am rooting for you, not against you. I wanted to approach this like Acts 18:26. Thank you for receiving it in that spirit….

What can I do to help you? Have you thought about posting a clarifying follow up to the video? Or maybe writing something on “what I wish I had said differently?” It could be a powerful example of the things you were talking about to come back and say, “Hey, I didn’t get everything right here. I don’t want people to take this in the wrong direction.” Do you want me to post some of your email to me on my blog so people can see your heart in this? Let me know if there is something I can do. Your friend, Kevin

Later Jeff wrote back. This is part of his reply:

Wasn’t expecting such a quick response. I appreciate you a ton, and your words really hit home…My biggest fear is that I will say something and it will be out on the internet forever. But already quickly learning all praise goes to Jesus, and same with critique…Feel free to share parts of my email on the blog if you’d like! The tone is already gracious enough but it’d be cool to show that we have had some correspondence and it’d mean a lot.

The only suggestion I would make that differs from De Young's would be to reshoot the original video because a small amount of alteration would make a massive amount of difference!

Click Here To Read The Latest Development
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Does Jesus Hate Religion?

Yesterday my wife drew my attention to this edgy hip hoppy poetic video by a guy called Jeff Bethke about Jesus v Religion which has gone very "viral" on youtube and is popping up all over the place in social media. The use of poetry is very clever and the video is well presented but I got a lot of red flags the first time I watched this. Have a look and see what you think . . .

This video serves as a great example of why pastors must train their flocks to practice biblical discernment. The fact that ultra liberal websites like Sojourners (run by Jim Wallis) love this video affirmed a lot of my initial fears about the type of people who would gravitate towards a video like this. This was also confirmed by the people I know who posted this video on Facebook but aren't too fond of biblical Christianity.

Bethke does say a lot of things that are true, which is a great way to package something deceptive or leave something too vague on a lot of points. And my initial impression was that a lot of Bethke's terms were too vague, undefined, and sometimes missed the point. Did Jesus die to set us free from the bondage of religion? Chapter and verse please Jeff because that is not what I read in my Bible (try reading Romans 3:10-26). Is all religion bad Jeff because the book of James tells us that:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

I don't think Bethke would disagree with the Epistle of James but it does highlight the need for him too tighten up his use of language and define his terms more clearly. His railing on self-righteousness is absolutely correct but again there is too much missing information. If I was a prostitute watching this I could easily feel like a victim who can receive affirmation from Jesus because those are the people Jesus hung out with. We need to remember that Jesus did hang out with drunks, whores, poor people, and pagans - but He also hung out with sober people, chaste people, rich people, and Pharisees. He hung out with all types of people because all types of people are sinners and he told them things like "go and sin no more" and often demanded repentance. Was Jesus imposing his religious legalism on these people? I wonder what Jeff Bethke would do with Jesus' closing words in Matthew chapter five (the Sermon on the Mount):

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven . . . You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:20,48)

And this again points to the main meaning of the cross which gets completely missed in this video now seen by over 6 million people. Jesus death on the cross was necessary because of our violations of God's law. It was not to "set us free from religion" but to fulfill that law and then endure God's just wrath against sinful people. God's law requires sinless perfection which is why we require a Substitute to accomplish that in our place. Bethke may argue that the religion we need to be set free from is that of human works, but if that is the case then why didn't he point that out? Furthermore, the biblical reality is that sinful men are not pursuing God and trying to earn salvation. The Bible describes the sinner as "dead in trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus describes the sinner (just after John 3:16) as someone who "loves darkness and hates the light", someone who will not will not come to the light because it will expose his evil works (John 3:19-20). So do we need freedom from religion, or do we need to repent from our sins and put our faith in the Author of the one and only True Religion?

Christianity is a religion as well, it's just that it is right and all the others are wrong because no other religion deals with atoning for our sin against a holy God. No other religion points to the finished work of Jesus instead of our futile and evil human efforts. That is why Jesus said "it is finished"!

I don't doubt that Jeff Bethke genuinely loves Jesus and wants to honor Him with this video. But redefining the core of the Christian faith is a very bad way to do that. Millions of undiscerning people are watching this every day and being deceived by a message that totally misrepresents the meaning of the cross. If Jeff loves Jesus he should apologize, pull the video down, and consider the option of remaking the video in a way that is faithful to the Gospel . . . like this one!

Here is some great and helpful discerning insights on the Jesus > Religion video courtesy of Jonathan D. Fitzgerald:

The poem is about “how the gospel of Jesus is the good news that breaks us free from the chains of religion.” Ah yes, the chains of religion. For four minutes, Bethke rhymes his way around all kinds of false dichotomies and outright bad theology.

He begins by suggesting that Jesus came to abolish religion, a popular claim among evangelicals, particularly those of the non-denominational persuasion, but one that has no theological foundation. He then goes on to say that “Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian,” which is true, if not slightly off topic. Then, returning to the subject of religion, he plays right into the hand of the so-called New Atheists by asking “if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” There’s some stuff about single mothers, poor people, whores, and John the Baptist, all by way of showing the inconsistencies of religious people.

Religion, according to Bethke, never “gets to the core,” rather, he calls it “behavior modification” and says it’s like “a long list of chores.” Then he gets to what he’s actually talking about. See, he’s not actually on about religion, but about people whose expression of their faith doesn’t match his criteria. It’s not religious people he’s talking about, it’s what we used to call Sunday Christians. “It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey,” he says before digging into his own biography to show that he was once like you.

At just about 3 minutes, though, he returns to religion, claiming that “Jesus and religion are on opposite ends of the spectrum.” One is the work of god, he explains, and the other is “a man made invention” (slant rhyme). He continues, “one is the cure, and the other is the infection.” And now he’s on a roll, “religion says do, Jesus says done. Religion says slave, Jesus says son. Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free. Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see.” He is building toward this, “And that’s why religion and Jesus are two separate clans,” before his grand finale, ”So for religion, no I hate it. In fact, I literally resent it. Because when Jesus said ‘It is finished,’ I believe he meant it.”

Where do we begin? The number of false dichotomies and ridiculous claims is astounding. Religion is an infection? Religion puts you in bondage? Religion makes you blind? Is he just quoting Sam Harris here?

I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “It is finished,” as well, but I’m sure the “it” he meant wasn’t religion.

See the problem is, Bethke doesn’t mean religion either, but he’s rehearsing a popular evangelical trope, that the freedom that Christians find through Jesus is freedom from structure, organization, and authority. Of course, Bethke, like all Christians, is a member of a religion, he holds “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs,” as Dictionary.com defines it. What Bethke is actually railing against is people whose expression of religion doesn’t look like he believes it should. Thus, rather than discounting religion, he is just discounting other religions, or even just other manifestations of his own religion.

Had this poem, with its dramatic music and epic setting, simply been called “Sunday Christians,” and if every reference to religion was replaced by something like “hypocrisy,” this video would have been as easy to ignore as his others. But, here Bethke is doing far more harm than good by playing into hurtful stereotypes about religion–his religion and mine, as well as the other major world religions. Denouncing this video takes stepping outside of evangelical subculture to see its actual implications beyond our little playground, but doing so, I think, is extremely important.

Click Here To Read The Follow Up To This Post

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Great Christopher Hitchens Moment

If I were to ask you what is more evil (or dangerous) between an atheist and a "liberal christian" how would you answer? I know how I would answer - I would rather deal with a wolf that dresses like a wolf!

I recently posted an obituary to express my reflections and sadness over the recent death of fervent atheist Christopher Hitchens. I thought it worthwhile today to add one closing postscript on the life of Hitchens. There is some sort of delicious irony when an atheist schools a professing Christian on Christian doctrine. I have featured posts on this before, most particularly when Penn Jillette (a very publicly recognized and vocal atheist) rebuked professing Christians who don't evangelize and/or warn about hell. There was also the stunning moment when Kirk Cameron schooled Stephen Hawking on the scientific method!

Today, I will share a great Christopher Hitchens moment when he does a better job of exposing "liberal theologians" for the frauds they are than many others who fill pulpits that are silent on the issue. I was unable to find the video of this so we will have to settle for the transcript of this beautiful exchange between Christopher Hitchens and a liberal priest.

Liberal Priest: The religion you cite in your book is a generally fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Sewell: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary, I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might, as a matter of fact—as “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?

Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of Statements That Have No Meaning—At All. Christianity, remember, was really founded by Saint Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying to convince me. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you, I wouldn’t have to write the book.

I'll take a Hitchens any day over a cowardly and passive "minister". He will be missed and I sincerely hope that Hitchens repented of his wicked rebellion and trusted in Jesus Christ before his heart stopped beating.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Just Added - The Cup And The Glory

Greg Harris' excellent book on suffering and prayer has just been added to the resource directory.

Greg Harris

Category: Prayer
Click Here To Order
The Cup and the Glory explores the lessons of suffering and the glory of God. Using his own story as a starting point, Greg Harris transparently shares the confusion and misunderstanding that can come into a child of God's life when suffering encroaches. Honest, sensitive, and biblical, this book is full of hope for those who are suffering. God beckons 'place your life in my hands.' It is only when we reach the point of absolute surrender that we embrace the absolute sovereignty of God. God then allows entrance into the pathway of His will and wonder of His glory. In The Cup and the Glory, Greg Harris unlocks the Scripture and opens the doorway into his personal experience so we see more clearly that we can trust God with our lives.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Entering The Arena

Blogging can lend itself to voyeurism. And people like Rick Warren and Perry Noble have latched onto this stereotype as a great way of deflecting legitimate biblical critiques of their ministries. Chris Rosebrough had this to say on the subject:

You can't let bloggers look like they have any credibility at all. And remember, whenever somebody talks about bloggers - and by the way I'm one of them - they don't ever address the content of the bloggers' points, they always instead go to an ad hominem argument where they basically say 'Listen, these bloggers, they're a bunch of people in their 40's who live in their mom's basement and probably sit on bean bag chairs in their underwear eating Cheatos all day . . . these are people who are malcontents and really mentally unstable.'

Undoubtedly there are bloggers who fall into this stereotyped category, but I like to think that The Bottom Line defies that stereotype (except for the 40's part). I'm not anonymous, my ministry activities are publicly known and accessible, I offer biblical critique that is Gospel centered, and I counter what is false with something that is true. Having said that, I am now faced with several years of seminary education and a heavy academic workload. With that in mind, I will try to continue this blog but post less frequently. I hope you, the reader, will continue to check in, contend, discuss, and pray for me in this coming season. I am so thankful for the many readers who have been such an encouragement, to those who have been genuinely helped by content in this blog, and to those who come on here and argue for an opposing viewpoint - to all of you I ask you to join me for this ride I am embarking on (with my family!!!!) at The Master's Seminary in California.

I need to tread carefully now and manage my responsibilities well as a husband, father, student, provider, and priest in my home. So the servings might get a little smaller but the content should remain as spicy as ever!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Chick Fil A Welcome To America

I have to admit there is something special about the fast food franchise known as "Chick Fil A". My more sophisticated, puritanical, or health conscious friends will all be rolling their eyes right now at the fact that I could have such affection for mass produced chicken burgers - but hey, how can you not love Chick Fil A, the ultimate fast food way, who always close on Sunday!

I have only recently arrived in the USA and am just settling into the city of Santa Clarita where most of the Master's Seminary students live (yes I am now enrolled in TMS and begin next week). Santa Clarita is a nice place and the part I live in is known by many as "seminary row". On our first day here I had the inspired idea to head down to the local Chick Fil A, enjoy a spicy chicken sandwich and embark on my cultural adaptation. Another thought I had in the back of my mind was that I might meet some local Christians and perhaps even a fellow TMS student as Chick Fil A is well known for its strong Christian stance and ownership.

No sooner had we walked through the doors of Chick Fil A Valencia (Santa Clarita) when we were greeted by super friendly staff who all were students at the nearby Master's College (also connected with Grace Community Church pastored by John Macarthur). The manager asked what I was in the US for and when I told him he informed me that his wife worked at TMS also. My Rob Bell video also got mentioned and when the manager found out that I had exposed Rob Bell as a false teacher he became very excited and proceeded to provide meals for my children free of charge! While I was pinching myself (to check this was not some fantasy dream sequence) two families of fellow TMS students entered the store. We then became "occupiers" in the back corner of the store where the staff kept refilling our drinks free of charge (a welcome change from Europe) while all the children "occupied" the playground, the ladies got to know each other, and the guys "chewed the theological fat" together. At this point I stopped pinching myself because it was now too surreal for reality! Especially when one of my professors and his family came over to greet us.

We had a great night and I didn't want to leave. The cultural elite can all mock away, but I don't care because I love Chick Fil A. I'll leave y'all with a momento of the grand occasion!