Humility in Discernment and Focus on the Cross in a Critique of Rob Bell

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C.J. Mahaney writes in his blog about humble discernment and refers to a humble critique of Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. C.J. Mahaney is the leader of a Reformed-Charismatic church association called Sovereign Grace Ministries. I got to know about them over 10 years ago attended one of their Small Group Leaders Conference in America about 10 years ago. They’re a great family of churches. I once identified myself as Reformed in theology. Now I don’t really care, although I do appreciate its teachings – though don’t always agree with this “tradition”. And of course I was and still am Charismatic. And so when I was Reformed-Charismatic a while back, Sovereign Grace Ministries (back then called PDI) was one of the few ministries or church associations that was both Reformed and Charismatic at the same time. For those who know, the two don’t often mix. One’s strong in doctrine; the other strong in the things of the Spirit. Reformed Christians are often anti-Charismatic and vice-versa. To get two together is balance! Anyway, now eventhough I don’t identify myself as a Reformed-Charismatic, I still have a lot of respect for Sovereign Grace Ministries and recommend them to my friends always.

Besides a good balance of Word and Spirit in their ministry (though probably leaning more towards the Word side), I’ve also loved their focus on the gospel and the cross of Christ. To have that focus is so wonderful. I mean, if there’s anything you want to be known for in your ministry, it’s the focus on the cross of Christ. Three passages come to mind:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Galatians 6:14)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Christianity is all about the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s all about His death and resurrection. That’s the main message of the Bible. That’s the gospel. There’s nothing more important than that. And Sovereign Grace Ministries understand that focus. C.J. Mahaney is passionate about the Cross. And their music is utterly cross-centered. I love it!

So anyway, back to Rob Bell. Read the critique of Rob Bell. I’ve heard so much about Rob Bell and seen some of his NOOMA videos. In fact, just a few days ago I sent an audio version of Lump to some friends coz I thought it was quite good. But I’m no expert on Rob Bell and so I’m in no position to say much about his theology. I’ve heard some troubling stuff about him, but then again I tend to turn off a bit when I hear criticisms of his teachings from those heresy-hunting Christians that love to pick a fight with every Christian that falls short of their version of perfect theology. Here are two things I wanna say:

1) I liked C.J.’s post and also the critique he referred to. I liked them because both were humble in their criticism. Whether their criticism was right or not is not the point. If you want to criticize other Christians’ theology, do it humbly. Be fair. Be gracious and loving when speaking what you believe is truth. There is a place for criticism when done correctly. There is a place for disagreeing with another’s theology. There is a place for standing for truth. But boy, if you go around the Internet, you can find plenty of sites that just don’t bring glory to God in the way Christians criticize other Christians. Regardless of the merits of the criticisms of Rob Bell’s theology, I think both posts/articles were written in the right spirit. I read so many posts of people saying they are pointing out another Christian’s errors out of love – you know, “speaking the truth in love”. But read their words and their tone and you’re kinda not sure if it’s done in love.

I wish there were more people writing in the spirit of Mahaney and the author of the above critique. I wish that people who criticize New Creation Church or City Harvest Church or certain Word of Faith teachers or Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or whoever would do so in the right spirit. Because it’s just so easy not to, you know?

Nasty criticisms abound in Christianity and especially on the Net. They’re normally over-reacting emotional responses, rather than the calm and well thought out critique in the piece above. People who write nasty criticisms that tear down other Christians don’t realize one thing. They don’t realize that their criticisms only work with their church choir, to those already converted to their viewpoint. Because they show a lack of grace and write in a proud spiteful tone, those who believe the opposite from them and those who are neutral in their viewpoint tend to ignore what they write. But they do get a lot of, “Praise the Lord, brother/sister, I thank God for what you wrote…” from their own fans. And they think that they’ve done the good work of standing for truth. Little do they realize that they’ve hardly challenged other Christians to think through what they believe because most Christians want to see balance and grace, not nastiness and overreaction.

It’s just like politics in Singapore – or anywhere else. Politicians who hold rallies during election period need to realize that while a lot of people who attend their rallies are their die-hard supporters, there are a lot of neutrals (and also those supporting opposing politicians) attending their rallies. The challenge isn’t to say things that work your supporters up and that creates a lot of noisy support. Anyone can do that. The challenge is to present your message in a way that challenges those not already converted to your viewpoint to consider what you say. Rhetoric can stir your supporters in the crowd, but it’s presenting a well-reasoned discourse that will convert the neutrals and opposition supporters to your view and increase your support base.

So for those who criticize other Christians or ministries or theologies because they truly want other Christians to flee error embrace the truth, my advice is to do it in humility and seasoned with grace. When you do that, more people would be willing to listen to you and you’ll have a better chance of succeeding in getting others to think through the issues and interpretations involved.

2) As I said, I don’t claim to be an expert on Rob Bell. But if the critique of his videos are correct, then it’s something we need to be careful of. The overall criticism is that the gospel – i.e. the death and resurrection of Christ – is not clearly preached in Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. Maybe even, it’s seldom found in his videos. That’s a pretty serious charge against a Christian preacher because the gospel is everything. Christ’s death and resurrection is everything. To me, at least. To C.J. Mahaney. To Paul in the Bible. You don’t become a Christian, you don’t understand what Christianity is all about until you understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Christianity is not about good advice or motivational speeches that help you live your life better. If that’s all we have to offer, then Christianity is not worth embracing. Every religion tells you how to live better. Every religion inspires you to be a better you. And every motivational talk you attend does the same thing. Is Christianity any different? You bet it is. It’s first and foremost about how God came in the form of Jesus to die for our sins and reconcile us to Himself.

I want to go to a church and listen to speakers who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly. I want to go to a place where the people are not ashamed of preaching the gospel, where the message of the death and resurrection of Christ is heard so loudly and so clearly every Sunday. The message of the cross ain’t just words. It’s a message that gives life. It’s a supernatural message. I believe that when you preach the gospel, you’re honoring and glorifying God in the greatest way you can. It’s God’s message for us. When a person preaches the gospel, the Spirit comes in power. The gospel is not just any message. It’s the most important message in the Bible. Paul wanted to boast in nothing but the gospel. Paul declared it of first importance. Paul resolved to know nothing but it. That’s how important the gospel is.

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  1. Hi

    I appreciate this post very much cos that’s what on my mind these few days. I’ve come across the kind of blogs u mentioned above, by godly christians & wondered why do they think & write what they wrote. Often I can’t comment & wont comment cos I think I dun know enough to. And other times when i think i do, I actually don’t. Confused? :p

    I like what another blogger wrote abt humility:

    Yet, it’s hard to empty all of ourselves and leave not an ounce of pride.

  2. Hi stilllearning,

    Indeed, we’re all still learning! I’m confused about many things too. But one thing I really believe in is that the way so many Christians attack each other is surely not of God. I think the devil is having a heyday seeing so much division within Christianity.

    God help us all to understand what’s most important to Him!

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