Rob Bell: Does Universalism Really “Win” In The End?

Rob Bell is an excellent communicator.

I read Velvet Elvis, and was charmed by the wit and creativity of the man and his unique approach to Jewish history and culture. I viewed a large portion of the NOOMA video series and was drawn in by the quality of the production and the calm winsomeness of it’s creator. Yet I had my quiet reservations with both of these works, and lack of a clear biblical gospel presentation was the heaviest one (that was my qualm with Purpose Driven Life).

I’m afraid these same reservations are manifesting with the upcoming release (March 29th) of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” The video released to promote the book (above) may be an overly provocative PR gag to sell books….if that’s case, Bell has issues of a different order. And before some opine here, “You haven’t even read the book! Why don’t you wait for it to come out and….”* Well, if Bell is saying what he actually seems to be plainly saying then Justin Taylor is not jumping the gun with his assessment. And if his publisher’s teaser honestly contains the content of the book then it is better to be proactive in our discernment than reactive: 

…in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Bell reaches a large impressionable world every time he speaks or writes, and the masses sometimes get blown by every wind of doctrine when they are drawn to human magnetism and a “cooler, fresher” brand of Christianity. Truth matters. Truth eternally matters no matter how bristled our human nature is with that fact.

Here’s some biblical issues with the primer video released by Bell to promote the book:

1. Bell has an issue with the anonymous note-writer who condemned Gandhi at his art exhibit. So do I. We shouldn’t presume absolutely that we know the fate of those who die. God will judge them rightly (Genesis 18:25). But this works both ways. It is equally presumptuous to assume they are saved and consign them to heaven so we may be soothed with a false comfort. Bell seems to be doing just that in order to appear nice, but not completely forthcoming.

2. Bell asks, “Is there really only a few saved?” and seems to answer his question with a resounding negative. If that’s the case Bell is diametrically opposed to the clear teaching of Jesus: “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). And “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

Bell is forcing his listener’s to a clear impasse: You can take the ordinary meaning of the Son of God’s words, or you can take the vague modern interpretation of a man with a wildly popular ministry.

3. Bell then groups a list of absurd and valid “conditions” to eternal life according to the strawman he is attempting to pummel. I don’t know why he pairs up being “born again” with the likes of “taking a class.” Within the context of the video it seems like a simple attempt to make the whole list absurd.

Fortunately for us, when answering these questions Jesus is not as ambiguous as Bell is: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3)

And regarding eternal life, it does matter who you know: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  

4. Bell says what is “subtly” taught is that “Jesus rescues us from God…What kind of God is that?” The concerns with this last part are manifold. Scripture does not just subtly teach the propitiatory (wrath bearing) atonement of Christ, rather it overtly teaches it. If pastors are only “subtly” teaching it, then it is because they are ashamed of the gospel “which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Apparently, even the “belief” part of the gospel is another rub to Rob Bell’s modern sensibilities.

And what of those who don’t believe? “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18)

Bell seems to create a false dichotomy between God’s love and God’s wrath. But for God to love He must also hate. This is evident in the very fabric of our human relationships. For me to love my wife I must also hate committing adultery against her. If I licentiously sleep with other women with no regard to the woman I’m married to then I do not love my wife. If you love children then you must also hate sexual abuse against children. If you say you love the Jewish people yet you’re neutral about the Holocaust I would have to call you on your inconsistency. In order for God to express justice, mercy, grace and righteousness he must also express His rightful displeasure against everything that opposes those attributes.

Scripture makes it clear: God hates sin. In a perfect Godly way, he even hates those who commit sin (Psalm 5). Because God hates sin He was compelled to send His Son as a decisive act of love to deal with it on our behalf (John 3:16). “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) The love of God is forever linked to the wrath bearing sacrifice of His Son on the cross. What God has joined let no man tear asunder. Thank God for his holy hatred. Otherwise, we would be lost in our sins with no hope (Proverbs 24:20).

5. Bell says, “This (the God who judges people for their sin) is why many people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.” Well, yeah, that’s true. And it’s nothing new either. It’s one of the primary reasons Jesus promised that the world would hate His disciples (John 15:18).

It is the primary reason Paul guaranteed the message of cross of Christ would seem foolishness to the contemporary philosophy of the day:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

 I sincerely hope this passage doesn’t apply to Rob Bell. I hope he really apprehends and proclaims the full message of the biblical gospel no matter what popular opinion would lead him to believe. Any other gospel that neglects the beautiful heaven-born truth of God’s holiness and love on the cross, is only a gospel of false hope. 

In two thousand years, nothing has changed. There is no other gospel than the one Jesus and Paul preached, and the one the host of saints and sinners throughout the history of world have fled to again and again. Treasure it, cling to it, and share it.

In the end be sure of this, the biblical hope of the gospel will ultimately win over the false hope of universalism.

Bryan Daniels

*If Bell does an about face and the book is the exact opposite of what he seems to be promoting, with a biblically rich theology of salvation through Christ alone, I will be the first to give him a public apology…

“Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit” by Francis Chan

Francis Chan is a bit of an enigma.

He has garnered great “success” by all cultural Christian accounts by becoming a popular conference speaker, best-selling author, and planting and pastoring a thriving and growing church body. Yet last year he abruptly left it all to spend time chasing down the specific call of God on his life by prayer, fasting and traveling the world abroad. Most in Christianity have praised him for this, some of have been perturbed by this. Chan has most recently been drawn to San Francisco, though he’s being intentionally careful about any public ministry implications in the future.

Chan’s sophomore release to “Crazy Love” is “Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” The book reflects its author. It’s enigmatic. Warm. Winsome. Generous. Thoughtful. But in the end, enigmatic.

If you are expecting a thorough doctoral treatise on pneumatology, this shain’t it, and Chan admits as much (p. 18). If you want to know what end of the spectrum Chan falls in the Cessationist vs. Charismatic age old debate, again, he remains enigmatic. He does give some gentle rebukes to both extremes, and he keeps a pastoral humble attitude throughout when addressing issues in the modern movements (p. 53). According to Chan, he was “saved in Baptist Church, attended a charismatic bible study, went to a conservative seminary while working at seeker-sensitive churches, partnered with Pentecostal movements, and have spoken at wide variety of denominational conferences.” (p. 57)

More than anything this work is a practical guide to discovering the basic attributes of the person of the Holy Spirit and what massive lifestyle implications He brings to a person’s world. “The reality is that the early church knew less about the Holy Spirit than most of us in the church today, at least in the intellectual sense. But they came to know the Spirit intimately and powerfully as He worked in and through their lives.” (p. 36)

The most helpful and endearing portions of the book are the soul probing and provocative questions Fran challenges the reader with:

On the Holy Spirit’s unction:”If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered?” (p. 91)

The Spirit’s guidance to sacrifice:”Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable?” (p. 107)

The Intimacy with the Spirit:”Do you listen to the Holy Spirit as you stand in line at the Post Office?” (p.131)

The fruits of the Spirit:”Do you exhibit more kindness than the Mormons you know? Do you have more self-control than your Muslim friends?” (p. 146)

Consistently, throughout the work Chan encourages the reader to literally “put the book down” and pray, search the Scriptures and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying personally right now (p. 110). Chan knows the limits of his own wisdom and ingenuity, and without the reader seeking a personal experience with the Holy Spirit his book will be another worthless clanging noise in the strange symphony of cultural Christian voices. I applaud him for that.

Though Chan briefly explores the theology (Ch. 3) and intimacy (Ch. 5) of the Holy Spirit, the central thrust of the book is this: the Holy Spirit has enabled us to live supernatural uncomfortable self sacrificial lives of love to others. As a result much of the book is not a revelation of the person of the Spirit Himself, but rather the sure affect the Spirit will have on the believer’s life. “The Spirit will lead you the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or comfortable or pretty place to be.” (p. 50)

At the end of most of the chapters there are some anecdotal stories of saints who were gripped by the Holy Spirit and yielded to His call in sometimes ordinary, sometimes spectacular ways. The subjects range greatly from the common folk Chan admires in his own church, to the notable Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer. These concrete illustrations give living examples to the reader of what it means to live a surrendered Spirit filled life. It may be adopting needy children, being content with a physical malady, enduring severe persecution, or just opening your home to others.

Francis Chan has a readable writing style that is accessible for all walks of Christian life. You will be challenged, but not berated by his encouraging analysis of the church’s tragic “neglect.” Though I made it a weekly study for a group of guys, the book could be easily ingested by a weekend warrior. I recommend it.

Bryan Daniels

Bike Man

 (I wrote this for a Creative Writing assignment in college. It’s based on a true character I met in downtown Panama City. If it sounds vaguely familiar then you probably have met him…)

I dropped the Washington into his lap as he rose to his feet boldly.

His bony cold grip surprised me

almost more than the living, determined gaze of those beady blue pellets,

set against the cracked and weathered wallpaper.

I pretended to listen intently

but my attention was stolen by the Elmer Fudd hat he wore shamelessly

Even in these blazing dog days.

I guess I can stretch out my good deed for the day.

“Son! There is hope for you,

Stop slouching towards Gomorrah with the rest of this nation!”

One stubborn solitary tooth

Stood as a lighthouse beacon in his barking mouth

As each word dripped with conviction no preacher had ever known

His dangling cattle prod of a finger

Punctuated every exhortation into my sternum

“Moral degenerates!” “The Second Coming is imminent!”

I began to see and almost believe

“It’s coming! Yes it’s coming!”

“Go, sell all you have and follow me!”

My senses immediately crashed back into the sidewalk below me

“You!” This poor and rejected Raggedy Anne of a man?

“You?” With those corduroys that barely reach your shins?

“Are we finished here yet?”

The first look of defeat resonated in his cerulean stones.

He set the dollar bill at my feet

and calmly descended into the shadows;

Remerging briefly to straddle his trademark

and pedal back off into obscurity.

Back in my hallow shell of security

I locked her doors from the outside

and wondered, “Am I the crazy one?”

Was this our last chance to heed the prophet’s final warnings?

He wanted no hand-out

just to be heard.

So I cranked up the only sure thing I knew, barely turning over;

And resolved in my mind

to never give a dollar to a homeless person again.

Bryan Daniels

God Loves Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church

There are few areas in life where I would joyfully side with the likes of a Bill Maher, Rosie O’Donnell, or Nancy Pelosi. But because of a certain maligned group of tortured souls masquerading as the prophetic voice of God I share a healthy disdain with these progressives. I do not share any mild fascination my leftist friends may have in attributing this group as Christian, Baptist or a Church though. A landmark false advertisement suit may be in order, right after the courts go after “Christian Science” for not even vaguely representing Christianity or Science. Rather, I submit to you the graceless vitriolic propaganda group hilariously called “The Westboro Baptist Church” is neither Christian, Baptist or a Church.

If their virulently offensive website “Godhatesfags.com” wasn’t a clear enough clue, maybe their picket signs that broadcast “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” should be. Could one group galvanize liberals and conservatives against them in a more unified and total fashion? It should be apparent that the “church” is really just the misguided extended family of “pastor” Fred Phelps, living a communal cultish lifestyle that propagates itself through the brainwashing of children.

My gripe though is not with the shockingly ungodly tactics of the group, but rather the theological nature of the group’s message. Much more can be said about the Fred Phelps propaganda machine, but the grand way in which it misses the core gospel message is enough in itself to deny it entry in the “church universal.”

Here is indictment numero uno on the WBC message: An ignorance of the purpose of the Law. The Law is the holy requirements and commandments of God and the deserving punishment from God for failure to keep those commandments. The Law threatens, exhorts, commands and warns of God’s judgment on unrighteousness. Yet it was never meant to grant righteousness in and of itself (James 2:19). The Law highlights what we cannot do, namely to live a perfect life of obedience before a perfect God. The purpose of the Law is to show the sinner how manifestly sinful he is before God, and how there is no hope to save himself (Romans 3:20). The Law condemns everyone, including the preacher preaching it (Romans 3:23). Homosexuality is not the only scourge on society. The whole host of unrepentant heterosexual sins will accumulate God’s wrath, as will religious pride (ahem WBC!).

WBC’s message is not just offensive because of its abrasive verbosity within ridiculous contexts (funerals?!). The WBC is browbeating people with a half truth that will save no one and only add to the yoke of their guilty conscience. When the WBC cherry picks a verse (as it does with Leviticus 20:23) it is almost always one intimating the Law: that God will judge sin and will pour His wrath out on the unrepentant sinner. But thank goodness, the Law is not the ultimate end of the biblical message regarding sin, though the Jones tribe acts as if it is. Fred Phelps gospel is the anti-gospel of the first century Pharisees and Judaizers of Jesus’ day, a gospel that stresses only what a person can do to be saved (the Law) and not what God has done to save them (the Gospel). To tell a person to “flee” from the wrath to come is of no value if they have no clear understanding what, or whom, they are fleeing to. 

The preaching of the Law alone will make a person twice the son of hell if there is no true gospel grasped (Matthew 23:15). Instead, the Law and Gospel were meant to go hand in hand in all biblical preaching. 

The bad news of the Law makes way for the gloriously good news of the Gospel:

“My friends, I want you to remember the message that I preached and that you believed and trusted. You will be saved by this message, if you hold firmly to it. But if you don’t, your faith was all for nothing. I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The ultimate measuring stick of a gospel message is how clearly it uplifts the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ is the only cure for the disease of sin and the wrath of God (Acts 4:12). As Martin Luther stated, “The Law kills so the Gospel can come and resurrect us.”

When one sees their utter helplessness to lift one finger towards earning salvation, they then turn with all their might to the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ who alone takes away their sins (John 1:29). The radical measures God takes by sacrificing his own Son sheds light on the radical grip sin has on our lives. Phelps and WBC makes much of God’s wrath and little of Christ’s wrath absorbing sacrifice. As a result, they preach a gospel of sadism, but not biblical Christianity.

Yes, some modern preacher’s have neglected the biblical reality of God’s wrath in Scriptures. But we are not being faithful to the text by swinging the pendulum the other way and completely ignoring the biblical reality of God’s love. No, these two attributes of God reveal two sides of the same coin.

God’s wrath for sin cannot be separated from God’s love for sinners (John 3:16, 1 John 4:16). What God has joined together let no man separate: “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and gave His Son to be a wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 

Those who claim Christ will be marked by this same sacrificial humble love (John 15:13). They will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And they will use their speaking gifts for the sake of love so as not to be a merely annoying clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). The Holy Spirit will birth in that person fruits that include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…gentleness” (Galatians 5:22-23) and maybe mostly, humility (Phill 2:1-5).

Those are the marks of a true Christian preaching the true biblical gospel. 

So instead of broadcasting a drive by pot shot that would include a “God Hates the WBC” moniker and rousing hate speech to match, I would say this:

God loves the Westboro Baptist Church. God loves Fred Phelps and his extended family. If any of you are reading: God, in His infinite mercy, gave you His Son as a perfect all-sufficient sacrifice for your sin, so that you would not have to live under the crushing weight of the Law you preach so passionately (and wrongly).

Flee from the wrath to come, yes. But flee to the God Who is Love. Even you, Fred.  

“Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love” (1 John 4:8)

Bryan Daniels

The God Who Makes A Whore His Wife

It may be the greatest love story in the Old Testament. It is certainly the most scandalous one. The implications this short book brings to us are heart rending and intensely personal.

The book of the prophet Hosea has intrigued me for years.

Hosea has some of the most provocative language of any book of the Bible. It begins with God telling Hosea to do the very last thing any respectable prophet would be expected to do. It begins with God’s command for Hosea to go and marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). This prostitute, Gomer, bore Hosea a son which God told him to name “Jezreel.” The prophetic name of “Jezreel” means “scattered”, “judgment”, or “exile.” This son was a sign God would soon punish Israel and scatter the prosperous proud nation in judgment.

After that, Gomer had two more children who were apparently not even Hosea’s. God commanded these two illegitimate children to be named  “Not Loved” and “Not My People.” And you thought the boy named “Sue” had it bad. These names signify the way Israel would be treated by God for a time because of its covenant unfaithfulness.

Then the prostitute leaves the prophet.

Not just to marry another man.

To be a slave to another man.

Let’s be honest. If Hosea were our brother we would try to slap him back to his senses. “Dump the slut!” would be our biblical plea. “Divorce her, you could do so much better!”

This love story is so ridiculous and far-fetched it is too good to not be true. No man in his right mind would subject himself to such treatment. We feel outrage rising within us over Gomer’s sinful disregard for Hosea. It is supremely unjust for a wife to treat her good and faithful husband in such a disgraceful way.

But our outrage is misplaced.

Hosea is just a man.

The real plot line is this:

God is the scorned lover here.

He is a good and faithful husband to His people. He has provided all His bride needs. He has done nothing but lavish grace and mercy on her. Yet His love has gone unrequited. Remember how God’s affections burn for us. How incredibly humiliating for the King of the Universe. His bride has played the whore to lesser lovers and despised the romantic overtures of divine royalty where eternal pleasures are found (Psalms 16:11).

I hope God would not follow my own advice.

For I am Gomer. I’ve played the harlot. My wandering heart has led me to bondage time and time again. Gomer is guilty of forsaking a man. I am guilty of forsaking the eternal King. Gomer’s not the outrage, I’m the outrage.

But thankfully, God is not done with Gomer and I. As if Hosea’s heart is not rent open enough already, God says go to your wife again. Abase yourself even more, Hosea. Buy her back from her slavery and willful rebellion. (Hosea 3:1)

So Hosea scraps together all of his resources and pays with cash and cattle to get back his wife.

Hosea is a living concrete illustration of our own relationship with God.

I’ve wandered away from Him so many times, without a second glance over my shoulder. I’ve chosen what is cheap and false over an eternally faithful Husband. My hasty indictment against Gomer is an indictment against myself.

Yet His love will not let me go. He buys me back. Not with shekels. With the precious blood of His dear Son. He washes me with the crimson overflow, and woos me with tenderness I don’t deserve (Hosea 2:14). He brings me to the foot of the cross again and again where He made His proposal. Where He offered not a ring, but His life. Where He stooped not down on one knee, but to the lowest of hells. No wonder the theologians speak so somberly of the “humiliation of Christ” (Phill 2:1-9).

Even the thorn bushes I get myself tangled in testify to His love for me (Hosea 2:6-7). Even the pain. Whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. I may turn to the right or to the left from His path, but He refuses to let me stray long. He’s relentless. His relentless pursuit of me will overcome my rebellious propensities.

We can take heart, for wandering worthless people are set free in Christ. Not just for a day, but for eternity. He will betroth us to Him forever (Hosea 2:19).

A glorious wedding banquet awaits us (Revelation 19:9).

There He will present us as a spotless bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).

No more sin.

No more shame.

No more doubt.

No more distraction.

No more sorrow.

No more straying.

For that, we wait in hope. For even a Gomer, in the midst of a self-induced captivity, can utter with assurance from a dungeon floor:

“Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” (Revelation 22:17).

Bryan Daniels

The Gospel According to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Look out Lifeway.

Justin Bieber has got his powerful sights set towards you and your corner on the Bible study market. Actually, Justin is not going to bring you down. In reality it’s the only person with more clout than the dreamy eye wonder boy, the one who holds the purse strings to his allowance and the sole curfew enforcer: his mom.

In addition to the mega movie release of “Never Say Never” on February 11, Justin’s mom, Patti Mallette, has co-wrote and released a movie discussion guide that is focused around Justin’s Christian faith. The guide, “Never Say Never: Nothing is Impossible with God,” is meant to complement the movie and introduce the reader to the Christian disciplines behind Justin’s success: Prayer, Godly friends, Hard Work, etc. You may be surprised to hear this from me, but a lot of the material is not bad really; I regret to admit there is more Scripture in this study than many a Sunday School study series I have partaken in during my adult life (yes, I have actually viewed the study, and no, you cannot have my man card). The depth is on par with any study you may observe in the education halls of your typical Southern Baptist or United Methodist Church. Other than a few prominent photos, Bieber is not really made much of or overly exploited (where have you gone Joe Simpson, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you?).

So it should come as no wild revelation that this is not an expository study exploring the propitiatory substitutionary atonement in the prophetic depiction of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 53. The audience is hyper-hormonal school girls with probably a third grade reading level and the theological background of Spongebob Squarepants. 

I’ve taken into account that the intended audience is pre-teeny boppers and not a fat balding twenty-seven year old white guy with a blog, and yet, there is still one justified gripe: There is no clear biblical gospel presentation anywhere in the literature, an unfortunate fact considering the idol Bieber is in the hearts of adulating middle school chicas everywhere. It would have made this Baptist dance a gig (in a very awkward white sort of way) if the guide had proposed the work and person of Jesus Christ as the only eternal cure for the worldwide outbreak of Bieber fever. But, then again, I would challenge you to find a clear gospel presentation in the Bible studies your church uses on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. Justin Bieber can’t be blamed for the shocking gospel ignorance of the American church. Like the old adage goes: If the tide gets low enough every shrimp has it’s own island.

And, yes, the tactics used do reek of seeker sensitive bait and switch models. Draw the masses in with their flesh (super hott teen idol) and then subversively slip a little Jesus in their juice. I don’t like it, but part of me has come to expect it by now. If the people are drawn in with carnal means, they will have to be kept in with carnal means. When the winds of adversity blow as they surely will, a revelation of the cross of Jesus is gonna keep them in the faith and in church, not a cultural icon.

I’m neither completely encouraged nor discouraged by this recent development. Just because greedy marketers have found a profitable niche in the family values populace, doesn’t mean a third (or second, depending on your view of history) Great Awakening is on the cusp of happening in American Christianity. And yet, through the Holy Spirit you never know what seemingly insignificant bible study points may bring an unsuspecting tweeny bopper to her knees in tearful repentant biblical worship.

For what it’s worth, Patti Mallette, seems to be genuine in her public projection: a young Christian single mom trying to rear her son as best she knows how. She has also constructed some much-needed security walls around her son, and keeps IRS like tabs on his time and relationships. I applaud her for this.

I know. The past is replete with the bones of teen idols who have crashed and burned long before this bright star rose out obscurity. No one can stand for long under the weight of their own worship. Yet because of his mom (read: the grace of God), I think better things of young Justin. Here’s to hoping Jesus gets His glory from this teen idol, and all the false worship will give way to the One with the only lasting fame: Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Bryan Daniels

Tallahassee (Alzheimer’s Valentine)

[I wrote this shortly after being the caretaker for my late grandmother for a year. It’s not meant to take a heavy subject (Alzheimer’s) lightly, rather it’s an observation of the strange effects this debilitating disease has on the mind (and family)]

This Inn is noisy but nice, the best part is it’s free; Watching Judge Mathis and World War reruns With mixed and strange company; Sure I’ll dance with that fella, only after I hide my purse; Cause they’ll take all my money my lipstick my ID my bearings my family or worse

I just want Tallahassee, show me the road to take

It’s not too far a walk from here, just another blank memory away

I- 10 and heartache can lead me I know

Point me east young friend, and I’ll recall where to go

My mother my daughter my grandson my brother

Whoever the heck you are

Take me back to the hills of my Tally

I know that it’s not very far

But really I must get back, my family is worried and sick; There is hair that needs cutting, shaggy dogs that need loving, Grab the Buick, they all need me quick; I miss the ‘ole white church next to Cobb The first time I got born again; I left a good group of fat goats and old hens And a hard lovin’, cussin’ Marine of a man

I just want Tallahassee, show me the road to take

It’s not too far a walk from here, just another blank memory away

I- 10 and heartache can lead me I know

Point me east young friend, and I’ll recall where to go

My mother my daughter my grandson my brother

Whoever the heck you are

Take me back to the hills of my Tally

I know that it’s not very far

I remember the old colored widow, with fresh pecan pie on the sill; Left for some poor white school kids,  said more than King ever will; Sir, Just Get Wilbur on the phone…Azalea trails will lead me home…

Bryan Daniels

The Perfect Bloody Antidote for Valentine’s Day

[This is an oldie but goodie, a remix, a regurgitation, a….just read the intro to this]

The more I study the scriptures I have had memorized since VBS, the more I am convinced of my ignorance of them. In my adult life I have often been guilty of neglecting the Sunday school stories of old: Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale, etc. This apathetic attitude overflows into the New Testament Scriptures too. My neglect is displayed specifically in what is probably the most celebrated verse in modern time: John 3:16. I can quote it frontwards and backwards and say all the doctrinally correct things about it, but rarely does this verse resonate deep within me anymore. 

You may feel the same way. But there is a multifaceted jewel here that we need to pick back up and dust off. We should not approach it lightly, as Spurgeon said, “like children, playing marbles with God’s diamonds.”

“For God so loved….”

We can never get over that truth. We can never “get past it” and on to deeper more substantial matters. If we believe we can God have mercy on our souls. There is still an untouched uncharted ocean that still dwells within John 3:16. This love that God loves with is an “agapao” love, or the highest form of love. It is the most emphatic love one can express. It’s not just that God loved the world, it is that he intensely loved the world. And the force of the word is coupled with way he loved (so loved), literally meaning, “God intensely loved the world in this way….”

God is a God who loves. That means He feels. He knows devotion. He knows affection. He knows heartache. He has emotions. Turn the computer off and let that settle within you. The transcendent One is an emotional being. Though human emotional makeup is so twisted with sin and prone to instability, we have emotions only because our gracious Originator had them first. And it is He who has granted them to us.

The Father is neither stoic nor unstable with His emotions. God’s emotions are perfect. His love is a perfect love (1 John 4:18). His hatred is a perfect hatred (Psalm 5:5). He even possesses a perfect jealousy (Exodus 34:14). When He loves, He does it with a precise intensity and purpose. He’s not a distant watchmaker or some general taskmaster living in a cloud of unknowing. He burns with perfect passion. He delights to love; and He delights to manifest this love to the world.

“For God so loved the world…”

This love was meant for the world. Not for Jews only, or Americans only, or the Reformed only. There are some intriguing ways to break down the word “world” here, which in the Greek is “Kosmon.” It could mean just the elect from all over the world (particular view), or it may mean every man, woman or child who ever lived on earth (most common view). A compelling article on the biblical usage of “Kosmon” can be found here. For now, lets take “world” in its most ordinary sense. That would mean the world God loves with such intensity is the great totality of fallen mankind. It’s incredibly provocative that a holy God would love such ones. It’s compelling because the great totality of fallen mankind is one mired and twisted mass of unlovables. If we seriously doubt this then just glance at the evening news, supermarket tabloids, or bathroom mirror sometime.

“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son….”

This is a love grounded in action. For an infinitely less significant analogy imagine this: You are a powerful King and you beckon your only son and heir of your throne for a mission. You tell him this:

 “There is something I want you to do for me: I have some enemies that deserve to die, and I want you to go and die in their place, so that they can have eternal life and inherit my kingdom.”

That’s what the Father and Son did at the cross; and incalculably more than that times a million millions.

We dwell too little on how undeserving we are of such a divine arrangement. My son would stay home safely in my arms forever before I would ever imagine sending him to die for even a thousand martyrs or missionaries. But the Father’s love was too great. God sends his son to die not for the righteous, but the blatantly unrighteous. His love is altogether not like any we have experienced. There is no category for this love in the human realm of categorizing.

This is one reason of many that universalism is a fatal and foolish heresy. A god who saves everyone regardless of unrepentant rebellion doesn’t need to send His own Son to atone for sins. If you are an atheist, Muslim, cultist, or open blasphemer of God it matters not to the universalist. This god saves all regardless of righteousness. But it cost this god nothing to save hell deserving sinners. As a result, this god is worse than worthless. He not only fails to give anything real in grace he also fails to judge anyone in righteousness.  It costs the false god of universalism/sentimentalism nothing to love humans. But the true God’s love is grounded in a decisive sacrificial act, not just a thoughtful feeling.

The love of God is not some theoretical sentimental feeling like butterflies, twinkling eyes, and fluttering heartbeats. God the Father looked at his perfect, precious Son in one hand, and the mass of wretched wicked unredeemed humanity in the other, and he literally crushed the blessed Son with His hand of wrath meant for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was the blessed eternally begotten Son, ripped from the bosom of the Father to endure an agonizing hell for mankind. This was a Father giving. But this was also a Father sending (John 3:17). The giving was not a giving over to, but a sending with a specific mission granted in eternity past. The Son came to die. And He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18).
 
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

All the groups and categories we place people in on earth are futile in eternity. It may be red state or blue state, black or white, male or female, or any other temporary niche one may find themselves in. In reality, there are essentially only two enduring groups: Those who will eternally perish and those who will eternally live. Namely, those who acquire God’s deserving wrath and those who acquire God’s undeserving mercy.  Where we fall between those two groups is the only question that will matter in one hundred years.
 
We are not left to our own devices. God graciously provides a means for us to accomplish His eternally good end. The God who loves and gave lavishly out of that love says, “Believe in Me. Trust in me. Put your faith in Me.”

There is much that the word “believe” entails.  It is a type of believing that perseveres for Christ. It is a type of trusting that exalts in Christ. It is a type of faith that knows the dead heart can only be raised with Christ. And part of that believing is a repenting before Christ.

Maybe repentance is the gift you and I really need this Valentine’s Day. Repenting of chasing lesser lovers because I believe Christ is not sufficient for all my needs. Repenting of allowing a fallen culture to tell me singleness is the same as aloneness. Repenting of my part in contributing to the commercialization and plundering of the word “love” in society. Repenting of believing God’s love is a reflection of human love and not the other way around. Repenting because the love of God set forth in John 3:16 has been memorized by me, but has not yet been realized in me.

The best gift we can get this Valentine’s Day is not cards, roses, fancy dinners, kisses or even companionship. The world says love looks like a good-looking young couple, dressed to the hilt, holding hands, giggling, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one another. God says love looks like a single Jewish man, stripped and forsaken, beaten beyond recognition, and scorned by all, even by his own Father. Do we desire the former love over the latter? May God grant us the gift of repentance if we do (2 Timothy 2:25).

And may we begin to return to the precious stones of our childhood, where the lost can become found all over again. 

Bryan Daniels

Adventures in NashVegas: The Way, The Truth, and The LifeWay

I’m coming down off a wild and blessed DiscipleNow weekend from a Nashville area Southern Baptist Church. The theme was “Focus: focusing on God in the busyness of life.” I got the opportunity to lead three large group sessions, and my main objective was having the students focus on the person of Jesus Christ, specifically his role as our final Prophet, Great High Priest, and sovereign King. The material from those sermons may be forthcoming on here, but it’s safe to say I probably received more edification out of the preparation and prayer time leading up to the weekend than the students did (which is usually the case).

When services concluded on Sunday morning, Johnny gave a brief tour of downtown Nashville (never been there before). We saw the Titans home stadium, the music city’s honky-tonk strip, Vanderbilt University and plenty of other interesting sites. But one stood out above the rest. It was one of the most impressive structures among the entire Nashville skyline. It was the Southern Baptist Mecca, the crowning gem of Sunday School Superintendent’s everywhere. No, I’m not talking about the Southern Baptist Convention building, that was a midget in the shadow of this great beast. I am talking about the LifeWay building. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, at the sheer magnitude of its immaculate presence. It took up a majority of two city blocks.

The EpiCenter of Southern Baptist Life

Apparently, church literature and research is a massive business. And let me tell you brethren, business must be a boomin’. I knew LifeWay had a corner on the Church resource market amongst Baptist churches, but I never imagined the monopoly could have reached this level; Walmart only wishes it had the same grip on its consumers as LifeWay has on its churches. I knew Lifeway had some Christian bookstores, its own publications, and a church statistics research team that would make NASA look like a middle school kid doing a volcano science project. But I never knew this.

If not for the massive cross on the side of the building, you would have thought LifeWay was some international corporation cluttering the Nashville airspace along with its skyscraper neighbor, AT & T. Much to my dismay I thought, “This was the Lifeway I commonly poked fun at for its sometimes watered down study material and its powerful molding of cultural Christianity?”

Dang.

Looks like I have been ignorantly biting off way more than I could chew all this time. Turns out I was like an ant bashing its head up against the Statue of Liberty, and Lady Lifeway never felt the slightest reverberation from my murmurings.

Now, before the Lifeway apologists flood my inbox with hate mail and cliche’d arguments like: “Lifeway does a lot of good for a lot of people, what exactly are you doing for the kingdom in comparison?” Hear this:

Lifeway has influenced many church members in a positive godly direction, and has streamlined a way for churches to get all their relevant ministry resources in a timely convenient fashion. You can be assured that a Lifeway study will not fracture off into a cultish heretical sectarian group bent on changing the nature of Jesus. By all accounts, Lifeway leaders like Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer are solid, theologically robust men with a real heart for biblical discipleship and evangelism. I would be remiss to fail to mention I also purchased an excellent book from a LifeWay store this weekend, Timothy Keller’s “Reason for God.” (as I sifted through the Creflo Dollar and TD Jakes selections)

The rub probably is not with Lifeway itself, but rather the authoritative position many church members (or more accurately, church leaders) have given to LifeWay. So I concede that LifeWay does do much good for the cause of discipleship and “biblical solutions.” I am not saying we should never use Lifeway materials, I am saying we should not feel coerced to always use Lifeway materials.

But some Southern Baptist leaders take it illogically personal when the validity of a Lifeway study is discussed. To express reservations about Lifeway material is akin to denouncing the faith (anathema!) or calling a person’s mother fat. For some leaders, vocational or lay, trying to pry the Lifeway grip off of a church education department is the kiss of death. But what’s really lethal is this: If we are not careful it will turn into the Evangelical Protestant version of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Or possibly worse, the JW’s Watchtower.

At many a SBC church, after lobbying for certain God honoring Bible saturating Christ centered studies that happen to not be Lifeway, I have found one will certainly come against varying degrees of opposition. Some good-humored godly friends of mine have confidentially shared my concerns (their names will remain anonymous to protect their identity and families). We thought it would be a relevant Baptist fashion statement to display local church T-Shirt campaigns with this slogan: “________ Baptist Church: The Way, The Truth, and the LifeWay.” It may be funny if there wasn’t some truth to it.

Some SBC leaders may be receptive to supplemental material to LifeWay, but then again some may crack you upside the head with a Holmon Christian Standard Bible.

So with fear and trembling, and much to lose regarding life and religious freedom, I testify these truths to be self evident: Lifeway is not Scripture. LifeWay is not the sole possessor of solid biblical resources. Lifeway, in some cases, maybe insufficient in its treatment of Scripture. As a result, churches, even of the Southern Baptist persuasion, should sometimes deviate from the Lifeway line, and provide resources that will profit its flock and not necessarily its reputation.

There. Now I would like to bid farewell to my friends and family. I don’t know where the relocation will be but I am sure it will be somewhere outside of the jurisdiction of the Bible Belt. If I ever contact you again it will be through a phone call from an undisclosed phone booth location….or maybe Facebook. : )

Peace.

Bryan Daniels

Jesus is Better Than the Superbowl?!

I came across this video last year before the Colts and Saints played in the Superbowl. It’s just awesome(ly bad). And it is not a joke; intentionally anyways. It seems the creators of this song are sincere in their attempt to point out the idolatry of football in many men’s lives. I hear that it may have even been sung at a church or thrice during Superbowl Sunday last year.

I tend to agree with the sentiment that football is an idol in American life, especially considering that college football is my drug of choice. But I have some serious reservations with this attempt at a rebuke. Though I know it wasn’t their intent, it’s hard to consistently draw comparisons with Peyton Manning and Jesus without beginning to sound superfluous and even a bit irreverent. Pairing Jesus up with a wide scope of forced football analogies in song doesn’t seem to qualify for Sunday morning praise. On top of that it’s woefully syrupy, the sound is off (I’m being generous), and it only gives credence to those who decry the quality of Christian music.

I miss the golden years when Christian music had a uniquely authentic sound and theological depth to match. I miss the days Christian music had the mind of John Calvin, the heart of Corrie Ten Boom, and the musical talent of Bach. I miss these guys: