recent show, Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For the Faith deconstructed a sermon by well-known author and mega pastor Rob Bell that he delivered along with his co-pastor, Shane Hipps. Besides the silliness of a sermon being delivered by what sounded like a comedy duo at times, there was a more serious problem with the sermon itself: panentheistic Universalism. The sermon, based on Ephesians 1:15-23, entitled "Uncaging the Lion," took a decidedly panentheistic turn when Rob Bell, using the Scripture as a proof text, began to discuss how Jesus is so omnipresent that He "fills" all the world, including cultures that evangelicals traditionally recognize as pagan, lost, and in need of the gospel and the message of salvation. This thought, that God "fills" all the world and is "in" all things is not Christian, but is in fact an eastern view: "God" as an essence, an energy, a force, that fills all things and is "in" all things. This view - panentheism - typically leads to a view of universalism: that since God is already "in" things, then all things will be reconciled back to Him at some point:
"(W)hat you will sometimes hear in religious circles is that we're supposed to take Jesus to a land or a people that don't have him, and then like, sort of deliver him. Like, here, where do you want me to put Him? Is witnessing or sharing your faith, is it transporting Jesus to some place: here is our Jesus! Or, is He already in some profound way already present in that place with that person, giving life? Is He not holding things together already, and your job is simply to name that which is already real, true and present?......Is it, Jesus over here, and then all the people who need him over here, or is He in some way already present and your job is naming the reality that they are already in, they just haven't recognized it yet?......How many of you.......coupled with your first encounter with Jesus was this realization that He had, in some way, been with you the whole time?"This panentheistic Universalist teaching is identical to the teaching of New Age/Integral Spirituality thought. New Age/Integral Spirituality teachers like Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Oprah Winfrey, etc. teach that ALL is God. The idea that "all is God" and God is "in" all things is panentheism, and is the core of eastern religious thought, which is what undergirds New Age/Integral Spirituality teaching. This is not Christian thought.
New Age/Integral Spirituality teaches that since all is God, we simply have to "awaken" to the presence of God already in and around us. We've got to find the little "God spark" inside of us, and fan the flame, get better and better, and one day reach enlightenment. This is utter heresy and is in direct contradiction to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in Chapter 2. (And incidentally, as Chris Rosebrough pointed out in his sermon review, this is where Rob Bell stopped his sermon text because going forward in Ephesians would have made a mockery of the panentheistic Universalism that he was going after with his proof-texts from Ephesians, Chapter 1):
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:1-3)So, rather than having this little God spark inside of us that we just have to awaken to, the Biblical position is that until we repent and place our faith in the atoning work done on our behalf by Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and under the wrath of God. God's wrath is a holy, burning anger that righteously condemns everyone who will not bend the knee and bring their thoughts and beliefs in alignment with God's truth as presented in the Bible.
But Rob Bell's teaching, sadly, as heretical as it is, does not set off alarm bells because a version of this teaching has already been prevalent for almost 40 years, in, of all places, the mission field. In the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, Ralph Winter, who was a huge, well-respected figure in the missions movement, first introduced the idea of allowing people groups to maintain their cultural identity, even to the point of keeping their pagan worship practices. Over the years, Winter worked hard at "re-educating" American Christians involved in missions into thinking that the gospel must be contextualized and that lost people groups could follow God in their own way. Ralph Winter believed and taught that lost people groups could blend their pagan ideas and beliefs about "God" and "theology" with Christian views and could come up with their own culturally unique ways of "following God." As in, a Buddhist following God in the way of
"In Afghanistan it may be common to demand that a spiritually seeking person distinctly recognize the divinity of Christ, thinking that that is the key point. Curiously, the millions of Ismaili Muslims (many in Afghanistan) already believe Jesus was the Son of God. But, since they still call themselves Muslims, we may demand that they learn and acknowledge still more of our “Christian” doctrinal tradition—and begin to call themselves Christian? Do we preach Christ or Christianity? If the latter, it may be the greatest mistake in missions today."The problem is that, contrary to what Ralph Winter taught, recognizing and understanding the divinity of Christ is a very key point, without which no-one can be saved. It is also somewhat disingenuous to say that Muslims believe that Jesus was the Son of God in the same way that orthodox Christians understand this. This is not true. Muslims believe Jesus was the "son of God" only in the same way that they believe that all who follow God are sons and daughters of God. So, an Ismaili Muslim simply cannot "follow God in the way of Allah
Please also bear in mind that "doctrine" is not a word that belongs only to Christians. "Doctrine" simply means a set of beliefs, and obviously, when speaking of Christian doctrine, this would mean Christian beliefs or teachings pertaining to the true character and nature of God, and the way of salvation. Bearing this in mind, please also understand that ALL lost and pagan cultures have beliefs about the character and nature of God, and what the way of salvation is....but they are wrong beliefs. Damning beliefs. Not according to Ralph Winter, who taught that lost people groups could maintain their (false) doctrines. This teaching has profoundly impacted not only the missions culture, but also trickled down eventually into the church in America and became widely accepted and taught in such movements as the Emergent Church and the Purpose Driven Church.
The Christian view, on the other hand, is rather simple: we believe that all we need to understand about a culture is that it is filled with men and women who are dead in their trespasses, alienated from a holy God, and that these people need the life-giving truth of the gospel message.
But with the "embedded clues" view in mind (which is nowhere taught in Scripture), what Ralph Winter, the Lausanne Movement, and now Rob Bell today are doing is attempting to take what is known as "General Revelation" and imbue it with enough salvific power to be "Special Revelation." This is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Scripture plainly teaches that yes, while God does give enough of a revelation of himself in nature for man to plainly know that there is a God to whom he is beholden, this is NOT enough revelation for man to be saved.
This is why Christians since apostolic times have taken seriously their commission to "go into all the world, and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation," so that "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." The gospel is a specific message, comprised of words, which must be spoken.
To be in a position of leadership and give any other message than Jesus Christ and him crucified is to teach "another Jesus" and to damn those seeking answers. Rob Bell and Shane Hipps, with their cutesy little routine in the pulpit, are serving up another Jesus, a Jesus who supposedly masquerades in all cultures in embedded cultural markers that simply have to be uncovered and interpreted to the people in that culture. What utter heresy. Rob Bell and Shane Hipps are damning the people in their care with their false gospel. They have blood on their hands, and for their own sake, they should repent and believe on Jesus, the one true Jesus, who said "Narrow is the way and few be those who find it." He can and will forgive even them.
Chris Rosebrough's show deconstructing "Uncaging the Lion" can be listened to in its entirety here.
photo credit: Christian Selvaratnam via photopin cc
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