Sometimes I can become so focused on the death of Jesus that I lose sight of the significance of the resurrection. I find that Easter is often a time to redress that balance.That has been my experience again this morning when I sat down to write the opening article for our church magazine. Here are the thoughts that I wrote:
Jesus' resurrection is hugely significant when we look at the Bible's teaching on salvation. As Paul writes, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Roms 4:25). By his death Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we could be forgiven. However, if he had not risen from the dead we would not be able to be forgiven, share in his righteousness and be made right before God.
The resurrection of Christ is also the grounds and basis of our hope. Peter writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Pe 1:3). What is the Christian hope? An eternity with Christ - impossible without the resurrection. Life with Christ in the new heavens and new earth with resurrected bodies - again, impossible without the resurrection.
The resurrection of Christ is also necessary in all that we enjoy in knowing Christ. The Bible is full of the work of Christ today. He is our advocate, defending us from condemnation (Rom 8:34). He is our high priest representing us before the Father (Heb 4:13). He is our shepherd providing for all our needs (Ps 23). He is our greatest friend (Jn 15:14) as well as our Lord and protector (Eph 1:22-23). Needless to say, none of this would be true if Jesus had not been raised from the dead.
Jesus died, Hallelujah! It didn't end there. Jesus rose, Hallelujah! He is alive today, we can know him, we can be saved by him and we have the hope of eternity with him.
Picture drawn by my friend, John Grindell. To view his pictures for Bible stories visit his website
Joshua Harris had this quote on his blog today. Thought I would share it:
"My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God's word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes--many times--my feelings are out of sync with the truth. When that happens--and it happens every day in some measure--I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of your truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth.
That's the way I live my life every day. I hope you are with me in that battle."
- John Piper, Finally Alive, pages 165-166
A question that I have been asking myself as I've been reading Velvet Elvis is this: why is it so popular?
As I have read it I have found the message unclear, yet clearly at odds with the emphases and focus as well as the truths of the biblical gospel. He comes across as a cross between 19th century liberalism and new-age sprituality. I am surprised that so many, particularly evangelicals, are being influenced by this.
Yet, in the epilogue I think he gives us a clue why so many might be going to hear him tomorrow night in Swansea. He talks about one occasion in a church. An occasion filled with religious hypocrisy. Thorughout the book he speaks in stereotypical terms of times when people have lost the plot or tradition has become so entrenched that people forget why they are doing things. He says we can have two responses to this. Either cynicism and rejection of Jesus, or break out and re-find the dynamic faith of the Bible.
Many people today recognise the problems that Bell identifies and puts his finger on. He is asking the right questions and in many ways seeing the right problems. In that I can identify with him and many others as well. But, there is a big 'but' here. He is not giving us the right conclusions.
That is the danger. It is easy to get so taken up with the guy because he is speaking to our frustrations that we assume he must have the right conclusions.The problem is not his questions, it is where he goes with them. What he ends up doing, certainly in Velvet Elvis, is to go beyond removing the strait-jacket, to removing the very foundations of the gospel. He takes our eyes away from the cross of Jesus Christ and onto the work that we can perform. He de-emphasises the problem of sin, the saving work of Jesus on the cross, the need for the preaching of the gospel and the call to repent and believe the good news. Instead, he portrays the true extent of the good news of Jesus as offering a helping hand along the way.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that there are no social implications in the gospel, or that society should remain totally untouched by Christians. What I am saying is that is not the main thing. The gospel is so much more than that and Bell's teaching will rob people of it.
Chapter 7 begins with the resurrection, but soon moves on. It is the introduction to his main theme. The Christian life is about restoring the world through our actions. He begins with the environment, moves on to caring for each other, serving each other and generally making life better for people. This is really the hub around which Bell's gospel rotates.
Nearly at the end. To be honest, I can't wait to finish this book, except I've got another Rob Bell book to read afterwards. I started out trying to be impartial and give Bell the benefit of the doubt. I didn't want to prejudge anything. Yet, as I'm reading Velvet Elvis I am realising more and more how dangerous this book could be, chapter 6 perhaps more than any other.
Here he begins by recounting a conversation he had with someone who was feeling low and caught in the cycle that they were a sinner and couldn't seem to do anything about it. His answer, the Bible doesn't talk about us very much as sinners, but as people who have been changed and made holy through Jesus.And that's true for everybody, but not everyone knows that God has done this for them. We can chose whether to live in this reality or deny it. To embrace it is to believe it and live like it - bringing heaven to earth in the way we act towards others. To deny it is to live in a false reality and bring hell to earth and go to it. Whichever way we choose to live we are still forgiven and holy before God:
Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust."
In the next chapter of Velvet Elvis (chapter 5), Bell shares something of the view of Jesus he has formed through a study of the Jewish rabbinical system. As he says, 'as I have learned more about Jesus the Jewish rabbi, I have come to better understand what it means to follow him' (pg 124). He speaks about the schooling system of the time and how only the best of the best went on to become disciples of a rabbi. It is a real shock then that Jesus called those that he did to be his disciples.
So far, I am following him, but then he gives us two strange interpretations of scripture. First, the rock on which Jesus will build his church (in Matthew 16:18) turns out to be the followers of the goat god Pan. whose base is in Caesarea Philippi(or people like them). Second, Peter's doubt when he walked on the water was in himself and not a doubt of Jesus. His loss of faith is in his own personal ability, something, Bell says, Jesus believed in.
Last night I was up late building a website with the radio on in the background. Part of the programme was a debate on the promiscuity of celebreties after several revelations and confessions of affairs in the last couple of months. As is common practice, there was a so called expert calling in to join in the discussion. His words went over my befuddled head at 1am, but rang with frightening clarity this morning. Something like:[blockquote]We need to remember that human beings are animals not built for monogamy[/blockquote]
At youth yesterday we were discussing how differently teenagers behave today as opposed to 40 years ago - it amazes me how often this is a topic of conversation. So I asked, 'well why?' The answer we looked at is the change in our society from one side of the pendulum - with quite rigid standards - to the other - with a great deal of permissivity. I still think there is something in that, but perhaps the main reason is what is implied above.
As a whole, we have lost site of what it means to be human and made in the image of God. If we are just animals, we are not morally responsible and survival of the fittest is the order of the day. I don't know about you, but I see that pervasively as I walk through this world.
In chapter 4 Bell relates his own story of discovery that Jesus wanted to heal his soul. He speaks openly about a painful time in his experience when, burnt out and at the end of himself, he nearly turned his back on pastoring the church he planted.
He doesn't end there, he continues to speak about the lesson that he learned and the advice that he found so helpful from his counsellor, 'your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be, And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.' (Pg 114.
Chapter 3 of 'Velvet Elvis' is about the all present nature of God. God is everywhere which means, according to Bell:
In chapter 2, entitled Yoke, Bell explains something of his understanding of how we should read the Bible. His first sub-heading is, 'it's difficult', and that's certainly what he does for anyone reading this chapter. His main points appear to be: first, we cannot get at the simple meaning of a passage, only our interpretation of a passage, then second, we have the authority to say what the Bible means in our day.