Friday, March 4, 2011

Cooling the Fires of Hell

Bad theology is rather easy to see. We have been given a true and trustworthy Book. When our convictions clash with rather than flow from that Book, we are wrong, and it is right. What is slightly harder to discern is how, given the clarity and truth of that Word, and our purported commitment to it, we can end up so wrong so often. The Word, however, gives us wisdom even on this question.

Consider Peter, the poster child for heroes of the faith who end up doing and saying some pretty stupid things. While Paul was certainly the Apostle to the Gentiles, it was Peter who first opened that door. Acts records His proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, and his insistence that they be welcomed in. It includes the story of the Jerusalem Council that publicly codified the glorious truth that Israel and the church are one. What it doesn’t record, though we know about it from Paul, was Peter’s shameful betrayal of this great truth. When the Judaizers came to town, Peter suddenly turned his back on the Gentiles. Why? Because he wanted to be loved, to be welcomed, to be accepted by exactly the wrong crowd. He stood up for the dogs, the outcasts once. But later, he turned his back on them so he would be welcomed by the cool crowd.

Which is precisely what we do. We fail to believe the Bible because we want to be liked, to be thought well of. We want to be cool. The only recent change that I have discerned is the proliferation of demographics by which we hope to be deemed cool. Sixty years ago the church was dominated by those who desired to be thought cool by the academics at the highest institutions of higher learning. Thus mainline seminaries and churches jettisoned such jejune ideas as the Virgin Birth of Jesus, His resurrection, even the existence of God. They threw over anything that would get in the way of being considered high brow, sophisticated, urbane. Of course it didn’t work. It never does. Desperate attempts to be welcomed into any clique breed only contempt. All that happened is that those trying this strategy agreed with each other that they were cool. You know, like the kids in the marching band in high school.

Thirty years ago the spirit of Peter blew into the evangelical church. What the seeker sensitive movement sought was admission into the cool club, this time among the suburban middle class. And all we had to give up was our stodginess. We gave up the music of our fathers in favor of praise bands. We gave up the preaching of our fathers, replacing sin with a meaningless grace. Once again, it didn’t work. The church didn’t reach the lost, but instead grew by appealing to the weakest elements in the church, by feeding the flesh of the faithful.

And now the ghost of Peter past emerges again. Rob Bell is the buzz on the internet because he seems to have consigned hell to the fires of the uncool. The po-mo promo for his latest book, Love Wins, demonstrates that the demographic he is trying to reach is the baristas down at the local Starbucks. Long ago the emergents gave up on the notion of knowable truth to get in with this crowd, so I’m not real clear why the hubbub over the rejection of one particular truth, the biblical doctrine of hell. Once again, however, the emergents are still just geeks that are unwelcome by the cool crowd.

My demographic is different. I want to be deemed cool by the TR’s of this world, the thoroughly Reformed. We are the ones who rant and rave against theological liberalism. We are the ones who mock the desperate hunger for acceptance in the seeker sensitive crowd. We are the ones who write incendiary blog pieces against anyone with a soul patch and those narrow little glasses the hipsters go for. Which means, of course, that we are caught in the same trap. We just have a more narrow audience.

The truly cool are those who are on fire. They are the ones who truly don’t care what others think. You will find them warning the lost of the wrath of God. You will find them preaching on the streets. You will find them being called fools by the world, and that which is of the world in the church. May we all find grace to be such fools.

No comments: