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Herod the Great: The Rise to Power

The Civil War

After decades of peace and prosperity, a battle began brewing between the two sons of  Salome Alexandra, Queen of the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom. Both Hycranus II and Aristobulus II claimed they were the rightful heir to the Jewish throne. Without outside interference, it was almost inevitable that this political schism would end in civil war. Such an internal war threatened to divide the Kingdom of Israel, undoing all the work accomplished by Judas Maccabee some 100 years earlier.

Officials in Rome saw a potential civil war as a direct threat to their partial control of the area. In response, Pompey the Great, the Roman general appointed to the area, sent spies to keep an eye on the kingdom. Seeing Rome as the deciding factor in the struggle for power, both brothers appeared at Pompey’s table pleading for his military support. In the end, it was Hycranus II who won the support of Pompey.

In 63 BC, (when Herod was 10 years old) Pompey and his Roman armies laid siege of Jerusalem. Both Antipater and Hycranus the High Priest supported the Roman take over of Jerusalem. Aristobulus II tried to hold out against Pompey in Jerusalem, but ultimately was captured and sent to Rome. He was later executed by Mark Antony at the request of Herod the Great. Hycranus II, Aristolbulus’ brother, continued on as the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Herod’s Family Seeks Power

It was into this that Herod the Great was born in 73 BC. He was the son of Antipater the Idumaean. Their family came originally from the area of Idumea just south of Judea. Although it had been an area populated by pagans, it had been converted to Judaism by force by Judas Maccabee during the Jewish revolt against the Greek Kingdom. This meant that the Herod’s were known, and even derided, as being half Jewish and half Edomite. And the Jews were no friends to non Jewish rulers.

This helps explain why Herod was so nervous about revolutionaries, but in order to truly understand why Herod would order the death of all the baby boys in Bethlehem, it is important to know about his father, Antipater, and how Herod followed in his father’s footsteps.

First, it is important to know that Antipater was power hungry. He saw Rome’s power grab in the middle east as a chance for him to gain political control of Judea. So Antipater and his family spent years developing a comfortable political relationship with the Romans.

By the time Hyranus II became high priest, Antipater already had a long track record of supporting Julius Caesar in his bid to gain political power in Rome. For example, during Julius Caesar’s campaign in Alexandria, Egypt, Antipater sent Caesar military assistance. Julius Caesar repaid Antipater’s ongoing support by appointing him Procurator of Judea. Caesar also declared that Hycranus II and his family would be High Priests over the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Herod Become Governor of Galilee

In 47 BC, as Procurator of Judea, Antipater appointed Herod Governor of Galilee and Herod’s elder brother, Phasael, Governor of Jerusalem. Both were backed by Rome and each set about consolidating their power in their own way.

Herod wasted no time, and in that same year he put down a Jewish resistance movement led by a rebel named Hezekiah. When finally captured, Hezekiah was dealt with the Roman way: He was summarily executed. This action immediately brought down the anger of the Jewish High Court. The Sanhedrin accused Herod of breaking Jewish Law by killing Hezekiah without giving him a fair trial. That was how pagan’s meted out Justice; God demanded higher standards.

The Trial Before the Sanhedrin

Soon, the Sanhedrin confronted Hycranus II the High Priest concerning Antipater and Herod. They told him to open his eyes. Antipater and Herod were the real rulers of Israel on behalf of the Romans and that Hycranus II was a political and religious leader of Israel in name only. Hycranus II took this to heart and eventually convinced Herod to stand trial before the Sanhedrin.

If the people weren’t already convinced that Herod was a pagan king, Herod marched into the court of the Sanhedrin in full military regalia. Herod elevating himself above Jewish law. In the minds of many, Herod was no longer a Jew. So it came as no surprise that, after a trial before the court, the Sanhedrin pronounced the sentence of death upon Herod.

Hycranus II, the high priest, advised Herod to escape before the Sanhedrin took action. Herod quickly escaped to Damascus. Herod’s father and brother convinced him not to take vengeance upon the Sanhedrin, but to continue in his role as Governor of Galilee.

In the next article, we will at Herod’s elevation from Governor of Galilee to the King of Judea.

Herod the Great: Herod and Jewish Independence

Herod the Great

Article #1: Herod and Jewish Independence

The source of Herod’s trouble: The thirst for Jewish Independence

November 2016 witnessed the death of one of the last soviet era communist dictators, Fidel Castro. He was a man responsible for the death of nearly ten thousand people, most of whom simply wanted human freedom and independence. As with most 20th century communist dictators, Castro thought very little of the value of any single human life.  So it should come as not surprise that, during his time as leader, it is estimated that up to 40% of Cuba’s population tried to flee. It was a terrible era that has now come to an end.

Herod the Great - King of the JewsTwo-thousand years ago, there was another wicked dictator who ruled over the land of Judea in what is modern day Israel. He was Herod The Great. Like Castro was a vassal of Soviet Russia, Herod was a vassal of the Roman Empire. He enforced their rules and kept the population at peace.

Still, what Herod the Great is most famous for is an event that happened around the birth of Jesus. Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and told Herod that they had seen a star in the East. This star, the said, signified the birth of a Jewish king and they had come bearing gifts for the “King of the Jews”. Herod was enraged! He was the only King of the Jews! That child must die!

Herod then calmly asked the wise men to let him know should they find the child. He had a gift of his own to present. God warned the wise men of Herod’s plan to assassinate the child, and the wise men returned home a different way while Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt. When Herod discovered he’d been tricked, he sent out soldier to kill all the children two years and under in Bethlehem.

So what kind of man would order the death of every young child in an entire town in a vain attempt kill the promised Messiah of Israel? In order to understand Herod’s actions in killing the baby boys of Bethlehem, we need to briefly understand the historical background leading up to the life of Herod the Great. We also need to take a brief look at the history of the Jewish struggle for national independence to understand Herod’s  fear of the birth of this new Jewish King.

Jews Exiled to Babylon and Their Return to Judah – (586-536 BC)

Tissot - The Flight of the PrisonersIn the early 6th century, the people of Judah were given into the hands of Babylon for their refusal to give up their idols. They were deported and left in exile in Babylon for 70 years. God gave them warning after warning through his prophets. Return to Him, serve your God, but they would not. So God said through the prophet Jeremiah that they would be sent into exile for a period of 70 years and then they would return.

That is actually extremely merciful of the Lord. He could have simply wiped the nation completely from the face of the earth for their disobedience. But God remembered his covenant with Abraham. It would be through his line that all nations would be blessed. Today we know that Jesus is the blessing he promised to all peoples and all nations. God was faithful despite Israel’s unfaithfulness.

As promised, when the 70 years was up, the exile ended. The empire of Babylon was overthrown by the empire of Persia. Cyrus, the head of the Persian empire, was used by God to fulfill the promise that he had made. Judah would only be in exile for 70 years. And so Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home.

The Greek Empire Rules Over Israel – (333 BC-167 BC)

Mosaic of Alexander the GreatFor about two centuries (333-167 BC), the Jews were ruled by the Greeks. Alexander the Great had swept across the middle east and Asia, conquering all in his path. Greece fell; Egypt Fell; Babylon fell. Persia fell. In a few short years, Alexander had formed a great Greek empire that stretched from Egypt to Greece to India. Alexander and his armies conquered vast areas of land in his brief lifetime.

When Alexander died unexpectedly at the age of 33, his generals ended up ruling over an empire split into three pieces. Then the fight began to reunite the Greek empire under a single ruler.  The land of Israel was ground zero for the war between the Egyptian Greek empire and the Persian one. By the second century B.C., Antiochus the fourth had become ruler over the eastern Greek empire, and he ruled Judea with an iron hand. As the book of Maccabees records, he was very oppressive to the Jews.

Maccabean Revolt – (167-142 BC)

By 167 BC, the Jewish people had had enough of Greek rule. Antiochus the fourth, angry at the rebellious Jews, wanted to carry out an early version of the Nazi “final solution” against the Jews. He tried to prevent the Jews from circumcising their children. He began a campaign to destroy Judaism, but the Jews could only take so much of this. They remembered how they had been exiled into Babylon by God because of the very sin of idolatry, and they did not intend on committing the same sin again.

Maccabean RevoleOne Jewish priestly family, the Hasmoneans, took up arms against Antiochus the fourth. It was Matthias and his five sons who led this Jewish revolt against their Greek rulers. Judas Maccabee was the eldest son and the first of the brothers to lead the Jewish revolt. This Hasmonean Independence movement won many military victories in the span of 3 years.

They eventually captured Jerusalem from the Greeks and rededicated the Jewish  Temple on December 25, 164 (yes, the traditional date of the birth of Jesus).  The Jewish people finally achieved full independence in 142 BC under the leadership of Simon Maccabee, the brother of the Judas Maccabee.  The Jewish nation hadn’t been independent since the time of the Babylon conquest and he founded what is now know as the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmonean dynasty continued for generations through the descendants of Simon. This royal line would include Hycranus the first, Aristobulus the first, and Alexander Janneus. These men acted as both the political and religious leaders of this new Jewish independent state.

This arrangement worked for awhile. However, human nature being what it is, absolute power began to corrupt absolutely. Eventually, a queen rose to power over the Jewish state. She was Queen Alexandra. When it came time for her sons to rule, her two sons, Hycranus the second and Aristobulus the second, embroiled themselves in a bitter struggle for control of the empire. This was a full blown civil war.

The Romans had made an earlier agreement with Judas Maccabee to help him achieve Jewish independence. When civil war broke between Queen Alexandra’s two sons, Rome saw they were rapidly losing out on their investment on partial control of Judea, and decided to take full control of Judea. Thus began the Roman period.

In the next article, I’ll use this background about the thirst for Jewish independence to explain the actions of Herod the Great after he arrived on the scene as the principle stooge of the Roman Empire.

Responding to Bart Ehrman (part 2): Ehrman’s Agnosticism

Ehrman’s Agnosticism Concerning God

and the Cosmological Argument

After the brief spiritual biography of Dr. Ehrman given in the last article, it is important to identify the two sets of presuppositions that  he brings to the table. The first set makes presuppositions about the existence of God and the second set about the possibilities of miracles. Each set builds on and reinforces the other in his books. However, since this article only deals with his agnosticism, I’ll begin there.

Dr. Ehrman’s presuppositions about the existence of a “supreme being” are fairly straight forward. Dr. Ehrman considers himself an agnostic when it comes to whether a supreme being exist and the God of the Bible most definitely does not exist. In his mind, all the pain and suffering in the world makes much more sense if there is no supreme being than if there is.

Angelic Star FieldSo a good place to begin responding to Dr. Ehrman’s agnosticism is at the beginning; The beginning of the universe. Unless we are going to invoke magic, Dr. Ehrman needs to address the both philosophical and scientific question: How did the universe get here?

Considering that Dr. Ehrman doesn’t believe in the supernatural, he must appeal only to science, and it is clear from Dr. Ehrman’s writings that he hasn’t really considered what it means that the universe had a beginning. Considering this would lead him to the necessity of a “creator”. Apart from any supernatural assumptions, the scientific disciplines of Cosmology, Physics and Astronomy all agree that the universe had a beginning. And if the universe had a beginning, then it had a cause.

So Dr. Ehrman needs to deal with the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe whether or not anything supernatural was involved. This evidence can be summarized into 5 major lines of evidence.

First, there are three major scientists, Einstein (1916), Tolma (1922) and Gamov (1946), who all found that the background temperature of the universe is cooling down.2  Right away this tells us that at one point it had a maximum temperature and that the universe can’t be eternal.

According to the Big Bang theory, at some point in the past all the matter and energy in the universe existed as an infinitely tiny point. Where did this come from? What was it made of? That is still the subject of speculation. Regardless, the theory states that suddenly this tiny point of intensely hot energy expanded faster than the speed of light. Immediately following this event, the temperature of the universe was at its maximum. Since then the universe has been in the long process of cooling down.1 

If the Universe had always existed, it would show a constant amount of usable energy (i.e. heat) and thus have a constant temperature. Since the universe is constantly losing usable energy, it can’t be eternal. Thus the universe had a beginning.

Big Bang VisualizationA second line evidence, once again using the Big Bang theory, is that when the tiny point of energy expanded at the beginning, all matter and energy emanated from that point outward. We should then expect to see this expansion.

Space, with all of its galaxies, solar systems, stars and other heavenly bodies is expanding from that original point of the big bang.3 Three of the most important scientists in astronomy discovered this expansion of matter throughout the universe; They were Albert Einstien (1916) Edwin Hubble (1929) and George Gamov (1946). If the universe has always existed, all the matter in the universe would be evenly distributed throughout the universe. It is not.

Penzias and WilsonThe third major line of evidence for the beginning of the universe is the Cosmic Microwave Background (the CMB). This is the original radiation wavelengths from the initial expansion we call the Big Bang.

In 1965 two astronomers, Penzias and Wilson, were listening on a special astronomical instrument designed to detect certain types of energy waves. Right away, they heard static. After an investigation, they decided that it was bird droppings on the instrument causing the static. Yet after they cleaned off their instrument, they still heard the static. Moving the instrument around, believing the source to be terrestrial, it was soon discovered that the static was coming all parts of the universe.

At first, this the microwave radiation was assumed to be the “left overs” from the original Big Bang as predicted by earlier scientists!4 However, it was far too large and too hot. Later discoveries confirmed this. Unfortunately for scientists of the day, it was found that many bodies in the universe give off cosmic microwaves.

It was decades later before satellite data gave scientists what they believe is a picture of the residual cosmic microwaves from the original Big Bang event. If this is true, and the map they created accurate, this confirms both the expansion of the universe and its cooling trend.

If the universe never had a beginning, known sources of microwaves would have accounted for what is measured. If the CMB had been absent, it would have been the end of the Big Bang theory altogether. Another theory would have been needed to replace it.

This was the most important discovery in astronomy in 500 YEARS! It was yet another indication that the universe had a beginning.

Fourthly, if the universe was caused by a Big Bang event, there should be some evidence in the structure of the universe. If the universe has always existed, telescopes should show us a very ancient universe that is almost identical to the present one since all the galaxies, stars, and planets should have existed eternally into the past.5

Dr. Hugh RossIn 1992, the scientific satellite, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) offered astronomers an important clue about the formation of galaxies. The data seemed to confirm that the energy which came forth from the initial Big Bang explosion was used in the formation of the first galaxies. Hugh Ross, an astronomer, states that this is “perhaps the most concrete Big Bang evidence is that stable orbits and stable stars are possible ONLY in a big bang universe. Physical life would be impossible unless planets orbit with stability, stars burn with stability and stars orbit galaxy cores with stability.”

If galaxies had existed from eternity past, galaxies would look very different  from what we see today. Life may not even be possible in such a universe.

Albert EinsteinThe fifth line of evidence for the beginning of the universe has to do with the scientific work of Albert Einstien. When one takes a bird’s eye view of the entirety of Einstien’s work, especially his theory of Relativity, it is shown that this theory shows that the universe must have had a beginning, and if the universe had a beginning, then it had a beginner. It was Einstien’s work that laid the foundation for the first four lines of evidence cited above to show that the universe had a beginning,

Dr. Ehrman has to account for the existence of the universe. Science has shown that the universe began to exist, that it did not always exist. No contemporary scientist believes that the universe is eternal. Whatever problems Ehrman may have with the God of the Bible and the problem of suffering does not make these 20th century scientific discoveries disappear. He has to refute each of the five lines of scientific evidence that shows that the universe had a beginning and therefore had a beginner. In the next article, it will be shown that the universe and the world shows evidence of having been designed. And if there is evidence that the universe is designed, then it must have a designer.

2 Ibid 4

3 Ibid.5

4 Ibid. 5,6

5 Ibid. 7,10

6 Ibid 7

7 Ibid. 9

8 Ibid. 9-11

9 Ibid. 12

10 Bart Ehrman, God’s Problem 3

Responding to Bart Ehrman (part 1): Biography

Did Jesus Exist (2013)Who is Bart Ehrman?

Dr. Bart Ehrman is an accomplished scholar and teacher in ancient biblical texts. He holds a teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also an atheist who writes extensively about Jesus, except that the Jesus he writes about is not the Jesus of the Bible.

His latest book is entitled “How Jesus Became God” Some of his other books include: “Jesus Misquoted” “Jesus Interrupted” “Lost Christianities”, and “God’s Problem”. In each of these books, Dr. Ehrman attacks some aspect of the Historical Jesus, the Bible, or the accepted Christian Gospel.

Of course, numerous Christian scholars have written researched and well documented refutations of his books. Surprisingly, very few doubt the evidence he presents. The biblical texts do contain both different accounts and personal retellings. What they accuse Dr. Ehrman of doing is making invalid presuppositions in his argumentation. These presuppositions skew both his view of Jesus and his view of the biblical texts.

Bart EhrmanA look at Dr. Ehrman’s personal biography shows his transformation from an evangelical Christian, to an agnostic, and finally to an atheist. Dr. Ehrman states that he’s an agnostic on the existence of God, but is most certainly an atheist concerning the personal God of the Bible. The reason for his atheism is actually a common one: the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Dr. Ehrman just couldn’t reconcile how a “supposedly” loving and caring God, as we read about in the Bible, could allow so much suffering and evil in the world. This eventually led him to the conclusion that the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible does not exist.

Dr. Ehrman grew up in Kansas in the mid 1950’s. His family faithfully attended an Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas. During his high school years, Bart had a “born again” experience and began attending Youth for Christ. Bruce, a leader of the local Youth for Christ group, help to lead Bart into a “born again experience.1

Bart was very impressed by Bruce’s knowledge of the Bible and decided he wanted to be a serious student of Bible.

Bart EhrmanWith that desire deep in his heart, young Bart Ehrman went to Moody Bible Institute in fall of 1973. During his time at Moody, Bart took traditional Bible courses such as biblical and systematic theology.

At the time, Moody Bible Institute had a strong emphasis on a particular type of Biblical inerrancy called “verbal plenary inspiration.” This view taught that there were no errors in the original manuscripts.

College student Bart Ehrman soon discovered that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts of the New Testament. He then began to wonder about the accuracy of the texts we do have. Did the scribes who copied the New Testament manuscripts change, alter or distorted the written texts? Whether intentional or unintentional, could scribal errors and changes, made for theological or political reasons, have corrupted the New Testament texts? These questions concerning the transmission of the New Testament manuscripts led Bart to take additional courses at Moody on textual criticism.3

Scrap of the John Ryland PapyrusAfter graduating from Moody in 1976, Ehrman had an even stronger desire to be a Christian scholar. Despite his doubts, he continue his education at Wheaton College, a major American Evangelical college.4 While at Wheaton, he took courses in New Testament Greek. During his time there, he increasingly questioned the relevancy of believing in Biblical inerrancy. We don’t have the original manuscripts of the New Testament. Scraps do exist from the late first and second century, but the only complete manuscript copies we have were supposedly written hundreds of years later.5

After graduating from Wheaton with these questions still in his mind, Ehrman went on to Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under the renowned Greek scholar, Bruce Metzger. He took even more courses in Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek. The deeper he went into these courses, the further Bart’s confidence in the doctrine of inerrancy continued to erode.6

Dr. Ehrman’s total abandonment of his view of biblical inerrancy came when he did a term paper on a passage from the Gospel of Mark for his professor, Cullen Story. For his term paper, Ehrman looked at the story 2 where Jesus has a confrontation with the Pharisees over the disciples picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In the course of the confrontation, Jesus justifies his actions by appealing to the Old Testament. When David was on the run from King Saul, David went into the temple to eat the consecrated bread “when Abiathar was the High Priest.” Bart then looked at 1 Samuel 21:1-6 where it describes that during this very time when David ate the sacred bread in the temple, it was Abimelech who was the High Priest. Abimelech was the father of Abiathar. So Dr Ehrman started to wonder if the author of the Gospel of Mark made a mistake. Was the text in error by recounting the wrong man as high priest when David ate the consecrated bread?

When he handed in his term paper to Dr. Story, Dr. Story agreed with Dr. Ehrman by writing a one liner on his term paper that said, “Maybe Mark did make a mistake“.7

Everything went downhill for Ehrman from this point on. He found more supposed errors in the Bible. By the time he left Princeton Theological Seminary, he completely rejected the evangelical doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.8

The Late, Great Planet Earth coverHal Lindsay’s book “The Late Great Planet Earth” also contributed to Bart’s erosion of confidence in Biblical inerrancy. One of Lindsay’s assertions in the book is that Jesus would return in 1988, a generation of forty years after the modern rebirth of Israel in 1948. When Jesus did not return in 1988, that only confirmed Bart’s doubts about the inerrancy of the Bible.9

Dr. Ehrman states that his problems with the Bible led him away from his evangelical beliefs that he had learned in Moody and Wheaton. Though he had abandoned his evangelical beliefs about the Bible, yet he still considered himself a “liberal Christian.”

It was not the problem of missing original New Testament texts, it was the problem of evil and suffering that led Dr. Ehrman to totally reject Christianity. He states that the facts of scripture do not match with the hard facts of life. Given all the suffering and pain in the world, the God of goodness and love that Bible proclaims simply does not exist.10

Now that we’ve looked at the reasons for Dr. Ehrman’s presuppositions about the bible, in the next two articles Dr. Ehrman’s agnosticism will be answered. Then Dr. Ehrman’s atheism concerning the God of the Bible will be examined: Can he justify his atheism concerning the God of the Bible based on the suffering and pain in the world?

1 Bart Ehrman Misquoting Jesus 1,2
2 Ibid 4
3 Ibid.5
4 Ibid. 5,6
5 Ibid. 7,10
6 Ibid 7
7 Ibid. 9
8 Ibid. 9-11
9 Ibid. 12
10 Bart Ehrman, God’s Problem 3

Review of “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (Part 2)

First Things First

All good biblical theology stems from a proper Biblical understanding of the nature of God. An incorrect view of the God’s nature will inevitably skew one’s view of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the nature of salvation. When reading Bell’s new book “What we Talk About When We Talk About God”, it becomes clear that Rob Bell did not begin with a proper view of God’s nature. Rob Bell’s “god’, rather than the personal and loving God of the Bible, sounds more like the impersonal “force” professed by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy or the undefinable “consciences-bliss” called the Brahman in Hinduism.

Rob Bell begins his book by correctly citing famous physicists and astronomers such as Hubble, Penzias, Wilson and Einstein, whose research suggests that the universe began some time in the distant past with an event called the “Big Bang”. Other researchers, like Dr. Alexander Vilankin, built upon this foundation to prove that any universe which is expanding must have had a beginning. Thus, despite decades of attempts to prove the contrary, according to the most popular model, the universe is not eternal. The universe had a beginning.

The Solar SystemBell rightly claims that the universe, if it had a beginning, needs a cause; It didn’t just pop into being from nothing. Here he appeals to what is called the Kalaam cosmological argument. However, Bell seems to indicate that the external cause of the universe is an impersonal force we call God. To make this point, Bell constantly uses words such as “energy”, “force”, and “electricity” in describing God. (Bell Talk/God 19,109)

At this point, I think it’s worth offering evidence for a personal Creator. What does science tell us about the nature of the universe? Does this suggest a personal creator or an impersonal force? What is the evidence?

For starters, no matter what our belief about the origins of the universe, science offers us several reasons to believe that there is a creator of the universe. This creator, what Aristotle called the Prime Mover, must be intelligent, must not exist in time or space, must have unimaginable power, and should be omnipresent throughout creation. Indeed, it should be obvious that if the first cause chose to create the universe, it must be a personal being with the ability to make decisions.

The Anthropic Principle

Since we believe the universe was designed by a creator, what evidence is there to support this belief? When astronomers and astrophysicists gaze at the universe, which they do in every conceivable spectrum, what do the galaxies, our solar system, and the earth tell them about our universe? Everywhere they look, the sky speaks clearly that our universe shouldn’t exist like it does. It is so well balanced in so many ways that it appears to be designed. This is called the “anthropic principle”. And any evidence for intelligent design indicates an intelligent designer.

For example, life existing on earth is only possible because hundreds of perfectly balanced physical laws and universal constants maintain the kind of order necessary for stars and planets to exist. Given that, in order life like our own to exist, our sun needs to be stable and our planet just the right distance from the sun. That life would survive long without liquid water or protection from cosmic rays or the suns powerful rays.

In other words, many researchers readily admit that there appears to be a grand control board for the universe. All the dials on this board are perfectly set, within a very narrow range, for life to exist on earth. If any one of these grand dials for life were off just a little, one way or the other, life on earth would not be possible. This is good evidence that there is a “someone”, an infinitely intelligent someone, who set the dials.

Here are some other examples.

Let’s consider the universe itself. Just like with life, certain “dials” must be set perfectly for the universe to continue to exist. Bell correctly states the premise of the “Standard Model” that at the moment of the Big Bang, the universe came into existence. Since then, it has been in a state of expansion. If we assume this model, it is pretty amazing that the “dial” which controls the rate of expansion is perfectly set to keep a stable and life permitting universe in existence.

Big BangT imelineIf the rate of this universal expansion were larger, according to the Standard Model of stellar evolution, no galaxies could have formed. Without galaxies, our sun wouldn’t have a friendly and protected environment to exist in. In turn, the safety necessary for life to exist would be absent. On the other hand, if this expansion were smaller, according to the Standard Model, the entire universe would collapse back in on itself. Stars wouldn’t form, planets wouldn’t be warmed by their heat, liquid water wouldn’t be possible, and no life would exist in the universe.

As a matter of fact, if the distance between the millions of visible stars in our galaxy were much larger or smaller, the existence of planets, including the earth, would not even be possible. (Ross Creator/Cosmos 154-157) According to the Standard Model, the size, expansion rate, and stellar distances in our universe are just right for life here on earth.

A second example is the design of our galaxy and solar system. Examining our galactic neighborhood, we discover that many more of the grand dials for life have been perfectly set. The rotation on its axis and the tilt of the earth are all perfectly set to provide even heating and seasons, something necessary for human life to exist. The amount of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere and in the crust is in just the right proportions for human life to exist on the earth. There are many more of these “dials of life” that have seen set with pin point accuracy for life to occur. If you believe the Big Bang happened, is it hard to imagine that some super intelligent being is behind it? (Ross Creator/Cosmos 190-193)

Is God The Creator?

Considering the circumstantial evidence science provides, as Christians, can we trust that this evidence points to the infinite, Personal Creator the Bible writes about. Does our God meet the requirements? Is the God of the Bible a super intelligent, super powerful being who is also personal? Does God exist outside of time and space so as to be able to cause it to exist?

Jesus TeachesGod is able to remember things. When we come to Him forgiveness, He chooses not to hold our sins against anymore. He no longer remembers our sins. (Isaiah 43:25, Psalms 79:8 and Jeremiah 31:20) God is able to speak to Man concerning Himself. (Isaiah 42:8, Isaiah 43:10-13) God is able to see what people do on earth. He heard the cries of his people Israel enslaved in Egypt. (Exodus 2:24) He heard his own people, whom he had set free from Egypt, later complaining against Him in the desert. (Numbers 11:1) God has the ability to know things, such as those who are his children and those who are not. (2 Timothy 2:19) God is a bodiless infinite Personal Spirit (John 4:24) (Martin Kingdom of the Cults 146-149)

Wrong Doctrine, Wrong Beliefs

Rob Bell’s God, the impersonal “force” or “energy” he writes about, does not sound anything like the God of the Bible. As stated at the beginning of this article, if one starts out with a false view of the nature of God, as Rob Bell has, this will trickle down into other areas of Christian Doctrine.

For example, rather than being clear about Jesus being God incarnate, Rob Bell seems to be very vague (at best) when describing of the incarnation of God. In his current book, Bell seems to use biblical terms to describe the incarnation. He states that Jesus is “the divine and the human existing in the same Body” (God/Talk 131) Yet there are other statements in his previous book “Love Wins” that seem to indicate that Bell believes that the impersonal force that He calls God became Flesh in Jesus (Love Wins 144-146) This is not the Biblical doctrine of the Incarnation.

The Biblical doctrine states that there is one God in three Persons. It was the second person of the Godhead who took on flesh and became a Man for our salvation. It is only a short step from saying that this generic impersonal force was incarnated in Jesus to saying that this generic impersonal force was also incarnated in the founders of all the other world religions.

Seattle Multifaith PanelBell seems to do this implicitly while Bishop Spong does so explicitly. Yet in this day and age, it seems this is the politically correct thing to do. I assume he doesn’t want anyone to get offended. Following this logic, some believe today that the founders of all the major world religions are all equally valid and in some way express God to humanity.

When Rob Bell appeared on the interfaith faith panel in Seattle in 2008, he offered no comments nor defense on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Sitting in the presence of leaders of other world religions, this spoke volumes about his beliefs. You know something is seriously wrong with a pastor when the very words of Christ are set aside for political correctness.

Conclusion

In this second article, we have covered the unique nature of the God of the Bible as Creator. He is a Personal Being rather than an impersonal force, able to create a universe full or miracles and made just right for human life.

Despite claims Bell makes about the nature of god, only the God of the Bible is truly able to love all human beings. This Love was shown in Him personally becoming a Man, dying on the Cross and rising from the Dead on the third day to give us eternal life. This love is manifest to everyone in creation.

The god of Rob Bell might sound more tolerant and less judgmental than the traditional God of the Bible, but this “god” did not go extraordinary lengths in order to redeem Man from sin and death. His god is impotent to save.

Review of “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (Part 1)

THE DISTURBING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ROB BELL’S NEW BOOK AND BISHOP JOHN SHELBY SPONG

It’s been two years since Rob Bell published his first real controversial book entitled “Love Wins”. In it, Bell set out to challenge the traditional view of Hell among Christians. For Evangelicals, it sparked months of discussion and debate. What followed the confusion was a long series of stinging and harsh rebukes from eminent theologians.

Yet as thought provoking as that book was, Rob Bell is not one to shrink from controversy. In March of 2013, Rob Bell introduced his newest book ”What We talk about When we talk about God.”

What We Talk about When We Talk about God CoverThis book introduces us to Bell’s vision for future of the Evangelical Church in America. Unfortunately, the theology of this imagined future looks a lot like that of a Biblical critic from the Jesus Seminar: Bishop John Shelby Spong. Well known for their skeptical view of the supernatural and the sayings of Jesus, the Jesus seminar holds many views seen a heresy by main stream Christian theologians. This is why so many find the similarities between Bell and Spong quite disturbing.

Has Rob Bell really decided to follow Spong’s false doctrine chapter and verse or did they come to these false doctrines as all men do: By doubting the God of the Bible. As Satan so cleverly began his deception in the Garden, “Has God really said … “

In this article we will look at these disturbing similarities between Bell and Spong chapter by chapter. Then in following articles, the errors of Bell’s newest book will be examined and refuted.

CHAPTER 1: HUM

The first chapter in Bell’s book is entitled “Hum”. True to form, Bell begins with an analogy; something easy for everyone to understand. He compares Oldsmobiles to our understanding of God. The idea is that the traditional concept of a personal theistic God, which most evangelicals hold to, is simply outdated. Like the Oldsmobile, it is an old, ugly, and ill suited relic from a different era. Our understanding of automotive technology has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. Cars have become better as a result. Why, asks Bell, haven’t our our beliefs done the same?

Bell goes on to cite several examples of people for whom the traditional understanding of God simply did not work. In response, Bell says that a new way of talking about God “is being birthed”. (Bell Talk/God 2,3, 5-8, 11) Here Bell echoes the beliefs of Jesus Seminar member Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has stated publicly that we need a new and improved Christianity; The one that has been handed down to us over the past 2,000 years is simply outdated. It doesn’t work in the modern, complex world that we live in today. (Spong Change or Die 29-31,40-42)

CHAPTER 2: OPEN

In the second chapter entitled “Open”, Bell attempts to use the latest scientific discoveries to downplay the idea of a personal, infinite God. He mentions such scientific celebrities as Hubble, Einstein, Penzias, and Wilson who have apparently produced evidence to show that God is an impersonal force rather than an infinite personal being. (Bell talk/God-24-63) This “impersonal force” creates, pervades and sustains the world. (Bell talk/God—46-48, 62-63)

Why Christianity Must Change or DieThus, Bell believes it is counter productive to show that a personal, infinite God exists. It goes against all the evidence revealing to us a God which ”surrounds us, courses through our veins and lights up the sky here, right now”. (Bell talk/God 79)

Similarly, Bishop Spong writes about key events in the history of science which justify his claim that a personal, infinite being simply does not fit what we know of the universe. Specifically, he mentions 8 figures in the history of science whose findings show that a personal, infinite God does not exists. Rather … it’s a force. (Spong Change or Die 31-40)

CHAPTER 3: BOTH

In his third chapter, entitled “Both”, Bell asserts that all language is inadequate when talking about God. Language can be helpful but any descriptive words about God is not God. (Bell talk/god 90-91) Bishop Spong says the same thing. He writes that all human language about God is inadequate and doesn’t do God justice in describing Him. (Spong New Christianity/New World—60-63)

CHAPTER 4: WITH

The heart of Bell’s book is found in chapter 4, entitled “With”. In this chapter, he deals with the nature of God.

In his writing, Bell consistently uses impersonal terms to describe God. For Bell, it seems that God is an ”it” rather than a “Who”. He already hinted at this impersonal concept of God in chapter 1. (Bell talk/god 18) In this chapter, he begins to give the reader further descriptions of his concept of this impersonal “it”. (Bell talk/god-103)

In addition to his constant use of the word “it” when describing God, Bell also uses the Jewish word for “spirit”, ruach. In this way, he attempts to connect the Old Testament God with this impersonal entity. (Bell talk/god 105-110) Bell also uses impersonal terms such as “energy,” “the force”, “the power” (Bell Talk/God 106,108) Oddly, even while explaining how God is an impersonal force that, Bell denies pantheism, which asserts that God is an impersonal power, a force which is identical with the universe. (Bell Talk/God 109/117)

To no surprise, Bishop Spong also uses some of the same impersonal wording for God ( “it” “force” and “energy”). In his Sunday School class in New Jersey, Bishop Spong writes how members of his class speak about God in impersonal terms. (Spong New Christianity/New World 65-66) Instead of the personal deity Christ spoke of as Father, Spong recommends Buddhism and other “eastern faith traditions” as ways to explore an impersonal understanding of God. (Spong Change or Die 57)

Both Bell and Bishop Spong use the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, to refer to God. Both try to connect the impersonal force they describe to the God of the Hebrews with it. (Spong Change or die—60) As evidence, both Bell and Spong cite liberal Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who also taught that God is an impersonal force. (Spong Change or Die-64-70)

CHAPTER 5: FOR

In his fifth chapter, entitled “For”, Bell gives his understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Bell seems to affirm the incarnation, but is this Jesus the Incarnation of an impersonal force or a personal Being. Is Jesus the second person of the Triune God or not? Bell offered little information on his view of the incarnation in his previous book ”Love Wins.” Instead, Bell asserts that Jesus is the incarnation of impersonal energy, a spark, the electricity that created the universe. (Bell Love Wins 144-147, 159)

CHAPTER 6: AHEAD

In chapter 6, Bell starts giving this impersonal force some personality. God is pulling humanity forward, away from dogma and exclusiviRob Bellsm, and towards greater love, tolerance and understanding. Bell offers two examples of how he believes God is moving humanity ahead: religious pluralism and gay marriage.

Bell shares a story about his trip to an interfaith conference in Seattle in 2008. While there, he joined a panel which included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Pastor Mark Driscoll, as well as other religious leaders. Attendees included leaders and representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism and several Christian denominations. While there, Bell noticed a group Christians outside protesting the interfaith conference. This bothered him. He writes, “God was there, at that event, as God has always been, present with all of humanity…” (Bell Talk? God 155)

Bell seems to be saying that God moving us ahead by helping Evangelicals see how all religions are simply different paths to Him. Christians need to move on from stodgy, Evangelical traditions and see the real God of this universe; Who apparently is a universalist. Christians need to rid themselves of the Oldsmobile understanding of God. The exclusive claims made by Jesus can be very offensive to people in other religions. In fact, it is “unloving” to insist that Jesus is the only way.

At this point, it seems pretty clear that Bell is following Bishop Spong down a road towards religious pluralism. Spong affirms the “truth” of all religions when he states that the impersonal ground of being is found not only in Jesus, but also in Buddha, Mohammed, and in many other spiritual beliefs. (Spong New Christianity/New World—137-146)

Since the publication of his latest book, Rob Bell has come out in favor of gay marriage. In recent interviews, Bell has made the following statements:

– “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and coworkers,”

– “I am for fidelity. I am for love. Whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed, and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are,”

– “I think it’s time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay and want to share their life with someone,”

– “This is a part of life in the modern world and that’s how it is. And that cultural consciousness has shifted, and this is how the world is and that what’s happening for a lot of people, is that they want nothing to do with God and Jesus because they can’t see beyond that particular issue.”

All four statements are found online at Christian Post news.

Needless to day, Bishop Spong has made many similar statements throughout his writings.

In conclusion, let it be remembered that both Rob Bell and Bishop Spong have given us a complete systematic theology of false doctrine.

In the next article, the theological errors of each of the main chapters of Bell’s latest book will be examined and refuted.

The Theology of “Love Wins”: The Gospel

In the first article of this review, I touched upon the nature of God and His attributes. Rob Bell’s vision of God’s attributes, as described in his controversial new book Love Wins, was compared and contrasted with the scriptures. In his writing, Bell seems very comfortable with the Love of God, but shows little interest in interacting with attributes of God he is not personally comfortable with.

The Bible teaches that God manifests all of his attributes all the time. They exist in perfect harmony with one another. There are no contradictions within the nature of God (e.g. love vs justice). As I wrote in the previous article, on this issue Rob Bell does not rightly divide the Word of truth.

Pastor Rob BellError usually enters a church or denomination when the whole counsel of God is not seriously considered. Often, blinded by pet doctrines or new theological fads, the leadership will pick and choose from the scriptures to feed certain doctrines while ignoring those scriptures which refute or qualify them. In effect, they create a god in their own image; One they can be personally comfortable with.  Before long,  this new theology becomes church doctrine. I believe that this is the case with Rob Bell. It seems as if Bell wants to scold the God of the universe for manifesting any attributes not conforming with his personal theology.

In this article, the second in the series, the version of salvation presented in Love Wins will be contrasted with Biblical salvation. My contention is that if a person attempts to come to God on their own terms, that person will end up eternally separated from God; God has the right to set down the terms for a person’s salvation. He has done so clearly in His word.

Let’s start by looking at specific statements from Rob Bell’s book concerning how a person is saved.

If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift that we cannot earn by our own efforts, works or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs? And aren’t verbs actions? Accepting, confessing, believing — those are things we do. Does that mean then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do? How is any of that Grace? How is that a gift? How is that Good News? Isn’t what Christians have always claimed set their religion apart – that it wasn’t in the end a religion at all – that you don’t have to do anything because God has already done it through Jesus.” (Love Wins – 11)

It is here that we encounter one of the most serious errors in Rob Bell’s book: a radically distorted understanding of the Gospel. For Bell, as stated in this passage and in many other passages throughout his book, salvation is a universal fact. When Jesus died on the Cross, salvation wasn’t just available to everyone who believes, but everyone, regardless of whether they actually believe the Gospel or not, is saved. According to Bell, the “Good News” really isn’t “good” if one has to place their faith in Jesus to be saved. Bell believes that the mainstream view of salvation is just plain wrong; It is anything but Good News. As far as he’s concerned, Jesus died and as a result, everyone is saved . Personal Trust in Jesus is not required.

However, according to the Bible, neither Jesus nor his Apostles taught anything like Bell’s universal salvation. It must be remembered that Jesus of Nazareth presented clear and undeniable credentials to show that he had authority to speak for God the Father on earth. Moreover, he claimed to be God. He backed up this claim by fulfilling Old Testament prophesy, performing miracles and then rising from the dead.

So then, if we claim to believe the Bible, we must also believe that Jesus has the right and the authority to spell out the terms of salvation. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead alone validates everything he taught during his 3 ½ year ministry. I would hope and pray that Rob Bell would not disagree with this as being the foundation for why we as Christians accept the authority of Jesus.

What this all boils down to is this question: “What is the Message of the Gospel?” Rob Bell asks this same question in many different ways throughout the first chapter of his book. The content of the Gospel involves the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Consider the following passages:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. – Luke 24:44-48

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Jesus Teaching his ApostlesThus, the Gospel involves what Jesus did for us, on our behalf. We could not save ourselves. We did nothing to earn God’s sending of his Son. Yet, contrary to many statements that Rob Bell makes throughout the book, Jesus’ death and Resurrection for our salvation does not mean that everyone in the world is automatically saved. A person needs to believe that what Jesus did, He did for him or her individually. Consider the words of Jesus:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lift0ed up; 15so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” – John 3:14-18

I would suppose that Bell could easily go along with John 3:16,17, because Jesus talks about how God sent him into the world to redeem it and not to judge it. But I wonder what Bell would say concerning verse 18. Would Bell tell Jesus that he was not presenting Nicodemus with Good News because those who do not believe in Him already stand condemned for not believing in Him? Would Bell find fault with Jesus for spelling out the consequences of rejecting his specific gift of salvation? Is Jesus, in verse 18, being too narrow minded and unloving for Rob Bell? Is Rob Bell more loving than the Son of God himself?

“What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” – John 6:27-29

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40

Based on these passages ALONE, we can get a very clear understanding of what Jesus deemed to be necessary for salvation. Jesus said that personal trust and belief in Him was absolutely necessary for a person to be saved.

Bell would say that there is nothing gracious in God instructing people to believe in Jesus for salvation. Bell would say this is too narrow. For Bell., God would have been much more loving if, at the moment that Jesus died , He had automatically forgiven everyone and not put a burden on people by declaring, through the preaching of the Apostles, that one must individually believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. That sounds narrow and not grace filled for Rob Bell.

The Apostles also stated that personal trust in Jesus and what did is necessary for salvation. Peter stated twice that personal trust in Jesus and the turning away from sin are necessary for salvation.

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38

“And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” – ACTS 10:42-43

Paul the ApostleThe Apostle Paul, the Apostle of Grace, also stated many times that while there was nothing that we could have done to motivate God in the sending of his Son for our salvation, there is something that we need to do to receive that salvation personally. That one thing is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and in what He did in his death and resurrection for our salvation. Consider the following four passages below from God’s Word.

”……suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:26-31

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” – Romans 3:21-24

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:8

Peter the ApostleNow if Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles stated that one needs to put his or her personal trust in Jesus for salvation, how can Rob Bell come along and state that the Apostles were not really full of grace, did not understand that salvation is a gift and did not have a correct understanding of what the Good News is? Peter traveled with Jesus during his 3 ½ year ministry. Peter saw Jesus’ mighty miracles and heard his powerful sermons? Peter was an eyewitness of the Resurrected Jesus. Jesus vested Peter with Apostolic authority and power to proclaim the Gospel.

Does Rob Bell know something more than what Peter experienced? Has Rob Bell seen the physically resurrected Jesus like Peter and Paul did, which officially made them Apostles? Does Bell know more about the Grace of God than Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles? People’s souls are at stake when they read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” and come away with a false sense of security thinking it’s okay if they reject what Jesus did for them on the cross,……because they are already automatically saved by the cross anyway regardless of what they do with The cross. False security is the worse kind of security!

The Theology of “Love Wins”: The Attributes of God

Guest Post by IBD contributor Kyle Larson

Let’s face it, controversy sells. In today’s media-driven, instant-access society, we are prone to skip the facts and report the controversy. The endgame being, of course, to sell more books, gain more viewers or entice readers to frequent your awesome blog. When we hear about Rob Bell’s latest book and the very controversial nature of its content, one wonders if this is what he had in mind. Rather than a treatise on the nature of salvation, one wonders if this a response to the shrinking bottom line. This would explain why someone so well respected as Rob Bell would create a book like Love Wins.

Love WinsIn this book, Rob Bell lays out his philosophy concerning both the nature of God and the extent of His salvation. When reading it, the first thing that came to mind, at least for me, were the controversies that plagued the early church regarding the nature of Christ. From the beginning of Christianity, the apostles taught that Jesus was both God and Man at the same time. For this reason, their writings in the New Testament speak about both the deity and humanity of Jesus. In the early church, neither aspect of Christ’s nature was overemphasized or under emphasized at the expense of the other. Yet during the first three centuries, each new heresy regarding the nature of Christ either overemphasized his deity at the expense of his humanity or overemphasized his humanity at the expense of his deity; Both extremes are simply different forms of the same heresy which denies that Jesus is fully God and fully man.

When reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, one sees the overemphasis of one of God’s attributes at the expense of others. Bell is absolutely correct in emphasizing that God is Love. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible describes the Christian God as a God of Love. There are many passages in the New Testament that state that God sent his Son into the world out of pure and perfect love for humanity.

When we look at the book of Psalms in the Old Testament for example, we see a great emphasis on the love of God. It’s hard to miss. Yet, the book of Psalms clearly speaks of other attributes of God. The book of Psalms, as well as the rest of Scripture, maintains an emphasis on God as a being with many attributes, each an equal part of the whole. If one overemphasizes God’s holiness at the expense of his love or goodness, we come up with an inaccurate picture of who God is. This is true regardless of what attribute of God is being overemphasized. If one attends a church where the wrath of God is always preached on and the love of God is hardly mentioned, that church has lost balance. In the same way, if God’s love is overemphasized at the expense of his holiness or wrath, then that church too is off balanced.

Rob BellThis off balanced understanding of God’s attributes begins in chapter 1 of Love Wins, which is entitled “What About The Flat Tire?” In it, Bell asks a series of questions regarding the nature of God when it comes to the eternal punishment of the unsaved. Bell asks if God can still be loving if He allows people to be lost in Hell.

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?”

What kind of faith is that? Or more important, What kind of God is that?”

The ONLY way that we can discover what God is like is by reading what He has revealed about himself in his Word, the Bible. We don’t have to guess what God is like; He has told us. While there are some specific attributes of God that will be explored in this article, there are some very fundamental basics concerning the attributes of God that need to be made clear at the very beginning.

God has no beginning and end; He is eternal. (Exodus 3:14) No other being can say this. God is the creator who created all other things (Genesis 1:1). God is Omnipotent. This means that God has all power and is unlimited. (Jeremiah 32:17, Jeremiah 43:13, Jeremiah 49:`19) God is also Omniscient; He knows all things. (Job 37:16, Psalms 139:2-4, Matthew 6:8) God is also Omnipresent; He is fully present everywhere at the same time all the time. (I Kings 8:27, Psalms 93:3-5, Psalms 139:7-10)

With these basic attributes of God in place, we can now deal some other specific attributes of God as they relate to Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins.

GOD IS HOLY

God is holy in that He is separate from all creation. The primary reason for this is that God is not a creature. He has no beginning and no end. All creatures have a beginning at some point in time. Not so with God. Being therefore holy, God cannot stand in the presence of evil or sin

Several passages in the Old Testament speak of the Holiness of God:

“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” – Exodus 15:11

‘For I am the LORD your God Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.'” – Leviticus 11:44-45

“There is no one holy like the LORD. Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God” – 1 Samuel 2:2

 

GOD IS RIGHTEOUS AND JUST

Painting of God from the Sistine ChapelThe Greek word for “righteous” means “to be just”. God, being the God revealed in scripture, cannot be anything other than totally just and righteous. If we believe the scriptures, and Rob Bell claims this, God will forever be righteous and can do nothing wrong; That would be against His nature.

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether” – Psalm 19:9

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Loving kindness and truth go before You.” – Psalm 89:14

In the second passage particularly, we see several attributes of God together, all in perfect harmony with each other.

God is absolutely holy and righteous along with being absolutely and perfectly loving. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony with each other because of who God is. For Rob Bell to elevate only one attribute of God, his love, while deemphasizing other attributes of God he may not be comfortable with is not accurately handling the word of truth. Only after balancing all of his attributes, each perfectly working together, are we offered an accurate and complete and accurate picture of who God is.

GOD IS MERCIFUL

The Mercy of God is emphasized throughout the Bible:

The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19“Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” – Numbers 14:18-19

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving kindness is everlasting.” – Chronicles 16:34

The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving praise to the LORD–‘for His loving kindness is everlasting'” – 2 Chronicles 7:6

Rob Bell does a good job giving many other passages throughout the book that speak of God’s love and mercy. We have no argument with Rob Bell here.

THE WRATH OF GOD

Yet the Bible also solemnly speaks about the Wrath of God. Some of these passages include the following:

… and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” – Exodus 22:24

“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” – Exodus 32:10

“When he fills his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him and will rain it on him while he is eating” – Job 20:23

These are just a few of the many passages that speak of the Wrath of God

God’s mercy and God’s wrath are not contradictions , rather, as Dr. Norman Geisler explains in his Systematic Theology series, God’s Wrath acts upon one person and his mercy on another person. It would be contradictory to say a person is both a Christian and a non Christian at the same time and therefore also a contradiction for this person to end up both in Heaven and Hell at the same time. Rob Bell would be correct if he reached this conclusion, but he never follows his own reasoning to this conclusion. In fact, he peppers the book with statements on how terrible God would be if He sent a person to Hell for rejecting Jesus.

In writing about a situation in which a person hears the Gospel, rejects it and later on that same day dies in a car accident, for God to send that person to Hell, Rob Bell writes:

God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly Father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly Father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.” (Love Wins, pg 174)

This statement reveals a serious misunderstanding of the immutability of God. God is unchanging in his nature and in all of his attributes. He retains all of his attributes at all times. He doesn’t discard one attribute in order to display another of his attributes. Again, all of God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony, but they are also eternally constant and unchanging in nature.

GOD IS UNCHANGING IN HIS NATURE

“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” – 1 Samuel 15:29

“Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” – Psalm 102:26-27

“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” – Malachi 3:6

Bell uses certain words to describe God’s right to exercise his attributes of justice and righteousness. Some of these words include: “vicious”, “cruel” and “relentless”. It’s almost as if Bell is saying to God, “You can display only your attribute of Love. If you manifest any of your other attributes, such as justice, righteousness or Your wrath, then you are cruel and mean and vicious.” But if that were the case, then is Bell appealing to some greater being than the God of the Bible? He must if he is going to use some other standard or a measuring line to judge the God of the Bible. Of course, this simply cannot be the case if Rob Bell truly believes there is only one eternal being, the God of scripture.

In a related extended passage from the Book, Bell writes:

… if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years, then no amount of clever marketing, or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one true, glaring, unacceptable, awful reality.” (Love Wins 175)

Bell also says that this kind of God has something “wrong” with Him. (Love Wins 175)

Again, what is Bell’s standard of measurement? Does he know a God greater than the God of the Bible to whose greater moral standard he can appeal? Bell, who cannot stand a God of judgment, ends up judging God himself. Words such as “cruel”, “mean”, “vicious” and “wrong” are all words that imply a judgment. The two previous extended quotations from Love Wins remind us of the long series of questions that God asked of Job, who was questioning the way that God does things.

Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.’ Then Job answered the LORD and said, Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add nothing more.’

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said,Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?’” – Job 40:1-3,6-9

Is Rob Bell a fault finder of God? Is Rob Bell reproving God for being who is He in his very essence, nature and attributes? Is Rob Bell trying to instruct the eternal God who has all power, knows all things and is everywhere present at the same time? Is Rob Bell trying to annul the righteous judgments of God? Is Rob Bell condemning God so that he can be justified in his understanding of who God is? These are serious questions that Rob Bell needs to answer

GOD IS THE CREATOR

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk or who laid its cornerstone … “ – Job 38:4-6

GOD IS ALL POWERFUL (OMNIPOTENT)

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea Or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season and guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the (ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?” – Job 38:16-18,22

As we conclude this first article, we can only hope that Bell’s response will be the same as that of Job

Then Job answered the LORD and said, I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.'” – Job 42:1-6