Wednesday, March 30, 2011


After I posted on Facebook the article to which I referred in my previous post, I received a message from a friend referring me to Rob Bell’s new book:  LOVE WINS.  He wasn’t recommending the book; it had just stirred his thinking and he said he’d be interested in my comments.  He gave me the link to Amazon ( and to the ABC news commentary (

After viewing Bell’s video and reading a few of the readers’ comments on Amazon, some of which were favorable, some unfavorable, I decided that the book is not worth purchasing and reading.

Apparently Bell is troubled by the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment.  Bell objects to the idea that Ghandi (and apparently anyone else) could be in hell.  And apparently,  (if his critics are correct), he uses some faulty exegesis to “prove” that, contrary to what most evangelicals as well as other Christians believe, what is known as eternal punishment is really only temporary.

Interestingly, the unfavorable reviews that I read all homed in on what appears to be faulty exegesis, while the favorable ones simply admit that the writers know little about theology but find Bell’s thesis to their liking.  It sounds to me like Bell is revising theology to make it more palatable.  If so, he is not the first.

Bell is apparently one of the spokesmen for the Emerging Church, a movement that I must confess, I have pretty much ignored.  So the comments that follow are mostly the product of my own observations and meditation.

Evangelicalism appears to me to be becoming more and more schizophrenic.  On the one hand evangelicals hold to the inspiration of the Scripture and to a theology based on the inspiration and authority of the Scripture.  Yet on the other hand, evangelicalism has become more and more closely identified with a brand of legalism that seems to contradict many of their core biblical beliefs.

This is not just a recent phenomenon.  Legalism of one form or another has, at least for my lifetime, unfortunately been associated with evangelical faith.  It appears, however, in the last 30 years or so, to have been moving more and more to the political right, until now it is almost assumed that to be an evangelical is to be a political conservative of a particular kind.  (See:  DO EVANGELICALS REALLY HATE JESUS?)   I believe that many have a real problem with this.  I do!

Some have rejected and left evangelical churches because of this dilemma.  They want to shake off the politics and legalistic practices of evangelicalism, many of which they believe are offensive and contrary to the gospel.  I sympathize with them.  There are many times when I have felt like joining their ranks.

However, I believe there is a real danger here of throwing out the baby with the bath water.  We must be careful that in rejecting offensive practices we do not also reject offensive truths.

There are many doctrines taught in the Scriptures with which I (and I suspect many others) am uncomfortable.  The doctrine of eternal punishment is one of those, as is all the violence in the Bible.  (See:  IS GOD VIOLENT?)  However, I cannot, as some Emerging Church spokesmen, simply reject these doctrines along with the legalism and politics.  I do not know exactly what Bell’s and others’ motives are.  It is not my responsibility to judge another’s motives.  However, I believe it is my responsibility to examine and judge truth claims.  From what little I have seen, I feel I must reject Bell’s claims as false, whatever his motives, and, however, much I may find them appealing.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  John’s gospel tells us , “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life.  The one who disbelieves the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:35).

Friday, March 25, 2011


A while back, a friend forwarded to me on Facebook an article in the Huffington Post, entitled Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus, co-authored by Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA and Dan Cady, assistant professor of history, Cal State, Fresno, CA.  My friend’s accompanying comment was, “I think you will agree with this; I do, more than I like to admit.”

I read the article, thanked him for it and posted it on my Facebook status with the comment, “To all my evangelical Christian friends, please read this article!  This has been a concern of mine for many years.  I have felt torn in my evangelical beliefs because of what I have seen as a major contradiction in our faith.  Perhaps you’ll agree with me that this article hits the nail on the head.  Even if you don’t, please consider what it has to say.”

The post received a number of comments and a couple of personal messages, some expressing agreement, and some giving qualified or partial agreement.

The article began with a reference to a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.  The results of the poll reveal, we are told, that “White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus.”  It described this finding as “one of the strangest most, dumbfounding ironies in contemporary American culture.”

Of course, the article clarifies that “Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus.”  This was simply an assertion made to catch our attention.  Evangelicals do love Jesus; but it is because of what He does for them.  It goes on to (a bit sarcastically) describe what He has done and will do in saving them.  It is His teachings that they don’t like!  “And yet, as for Jesus himself,” the article tells us “… his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill .. most Evangelicals seem, to have nothing but disdain.”  I can’t help but sadly agree, at least in part.

Before I proceed further, however, I believe we need to look at a few qualifiers:
• The authors are writing in generalities.  They are writing about evangelicals as a group, not about every individual.
• They appear to be observing evangelicals from the outside as a social or cultural group.
• Other studies and statistics show that evangelicals are among the most giving.  They give a higher percentage of their income and time to works of charity.
• I personally know many evangelicals who are “imitators of Christ,” who devote a large amount of their time and money to ministering to the poor, the prisoners and aliens.

However, the above facts simply emphasize the anomaly.  Why do people who can be so loving support political policies which seem to be in direct contradiction to Jesus’ teachings and behavior, as well as their own behavior?

The authors claim that “Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment … torture … easy access weaponry … violent military invasion … corporate greed and capitalistic excess … and the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor …”  They point out Jesus’ teachings on wealth and the rich and how evangelicals’ attitudes are totally opposed.

The article goes on to point out historical developments over the last century, as well as what is referred to as “an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process,” how people tend to “pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook.”

As I said, I can’t help but agree with this article.  I could even point out a number of other contradictions within evangelicalism:
• While they deplore any government interference with the pursuit of wealth, or government care for the poor and less-privileged, they demand government regulation in areas of personal sexual morality.
• Theological matters seem to take a back seat to political matters.  A person could deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith and find acceptance with them easier than one who denies certain political or ethical dogmas.  (Examples: Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich.)
• The acceptance and promotion of conspiracy theories and just plain lies, if these serve the right political ends.

If anyone has read this blog regularly, they would know how these matters have troubled me.  I still call myself an evangelical Christian and I hold to the great doctrines of the faith.  Jesus Christ is my Savior and my Lord.  I have attempted to be an imitator of Jesus.  I find, however, as I study the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, that I am led to positions that contradict many, if not most, of the ethical/political positions my fellow evangelicals.

I have not come to these views lightly or quickly.  I have been a follower of Jesus for over 56 years.  I attended an evangelical seminary and have served as a pastor and a professor at an evangelical Bible college.  My position is the result of years of study and meditation, although the seeds were planted very early in my mind.

I feel that I have a dilemma, and I suspect that this is also a dilemma for many others.  I have been at home in the evangelical community for most of my life, yet often feel uncomfortable in the presence of my fellow evangelicals.  I can only discuss these matters with a handful of family and friends.  I speak of my thoughts in the company of good church folks, (especially those my own age) I am at best considered odd, or at worst a troublemaker.  Yet at the same time, I am often forced to tolerate the “hate Jesus” views of others.

What to do?  No alternative appeals to me.
• I could continue to refrain from speaking out among these folks.  I’ve done that and sometimes feel like a hypocrite.
• I could speak out as I have opportunity.  I’ve also done that and lost a few friends and/or been considered a troublemaker.
• I could, as some have done, refuse to be called an evangelical Christian.  I actually, very seldom use that label anymore, but simply call myself a follower of Jesus.
• I could, as I believe many have, simply walk away from the church and avoid the problem. But this is my family.  These are those I minister to and who minister to me.

What would Jesus do?