I’m reading In Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, written by Michael E. Wittmer. This is an old controversy … but it really isn’t new, either. They say a sucker is born every minute … well, so are heretic teachers. The problem is … I think the suckers are the ones responding to the heretics!
I’ll get to the book in a moment, but I want to preface it by another example. A while back I listened to a debate on baptism between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.
Hear the debate below:
The positions are well argued, generally. R.C. falls back on an argument of “deafening silence” regarding the practice of baptizing infants in the early church, and then attempts to string together the usual disconnected and out-of-context passages to build his defense of straight up idolatry.
MacArthur, while presenting the Biblical case for believer’s Baptism founded upon the actual teaching of Christ and the Scriptures, falls short in the end.
He succumbs to the same problem I’m seeing with Michael Wittmer in his response to Rob Bell’s heretical Universalims-tinged paganism.
I’m going to step back and just remind those who read this what’s at stake: Jesus talked about salvation as the “narrow gate.” (Matthew 7:13-14).
It’s salvation we’re discussing. This isn’t a debate over the politics of capitalism vs. socialism. It isn’t an intellectual volley regarding free markets vs. controlled economies. It isn’t parliamentary systems vs. a democratic republic vs. monarchy.
It’s people’s eternal souls we’re talking about.
Oddly enough, public discourse seems to reserve the sharper distinctions for the former more than the latter.
Never does MacArthur suggest that Sproul is being openly disobedient to the command of Christ and then elevating water to an idolatrous symbol in place of Christ (but that’s exactly what he’s doing with infant baptism).
As for Wittmer, he opens by saying how much respect he has for his friend Rob Bell. He even spells out why he refers to “Bell” as Bell, rather than Rob (though they are on a first-name basis, I guess).
Throughout the book–so far–he uses terms like evangelicals, theologians, and orthodox view. These terms, and the I-know-Rob-Bell insider comments convey the same collegiate parley demonstrated by MacArthur and Sproul. It comes across as an academic paper stating an alternate, viable viewpoint with supporting arguments. He even states that at the end of his book the reader will be able to make their own, informed decision–as if this were simply a position statement on theoretical physics!
He gives passing lip-service to the idea that Bell’s book might not convey the gospel message sufficiently for someone to be saved. But fails to mention the obvious issue that Rob Bell is a lost sinner in open rebellion to God. In more stark terms, he’s an anti-christ heretic, a false prophet.
But we don’t live in a time when Christians–much less those who have claimed the mantle of teachers–will stand up for the truth of God’s Word. Not in the way Menno Simons did back in the 1520s and 30s. He pointed out what God’s word says–in no uncertain terms–and denounced the human depravity that attempted to present anything else.
Why is that so hard today?
Actually, it was hard back then, too. Menno surrendered his whole life because of the truth. Unlike Luther or Calvin, he was driven out of his position as a priest. He was labeled with a hated term–Anabaptist–and was hunted and kept in exile.
Others, like Luther and Zwingli, members of the Reformation, failed to do this. They valued their earthly comfort and their alliance with the State powers. While what they proposed was radical, it fell short of the truth. And, conveniently, allowed them to retain their creature comforts.
Today, it seems that no one wants to stand up for truth in the way Menno Simons did. MacArthur, to his credit, does this more than others. He called out Mark Driscoll as unfit for the role of pastor, while others–like John Piper–were wowed by Mark’s popularity. He also nods to the fact that he would have been killed–rather than debated–had he and R.C been living in the 1500s.
What irritates me, though, is what is not mentioned–or even noticed: The discussion of Biblical truth only occurs among the “theologians.” They have their cordial debates. They exchange their scholarly books in response to. We laypersons just sit and watch. We followers must be swayed by one position or another.
I prefer to believe what John wrote to us in 1 John 2:27:
But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
If you are saved and have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, you can–and should–study the Bible for yourself. You have no need to be instructed or get a degree before you can learn about God and His truth.
Finally, if someone is given more responsibility–as in the case of those who lead congregations–much is required of them. They should have teeth in their arguments. They should declare the truth boldly, as John the Baptist did when he decried the Pharisees by saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7).
Wow. That’s some teeth. That was also how Jesus spoke. He didn’t mince words. He taught about the narrow gate. He taught about those who believed they did things in His name, whom He would reject because He never knew them. He spoke against the Pharisees (read, pastors) who loved the respectful greetings in the marketplaces and the seats of honor.
Christianity that has teeth belongs to the poor, hunted, disenfranchised, despised of this world. God’s true Kingdom is made up of children whom the elite would rather hush and shuttle off to some nursery.