I have a confession to make. I quite often agree with one of the Pyros.* Despite his occasional tendency to throw a non sequitur into an otherwise brilliant post, thereby unnecessarily alienating half of his audience, I have found that Dan Phillips often has some great insights. And even the post that I want to talk about has some great stuff in it. But some of the turf that it wanders into disturbs me, probably because I’ve been there myself.
Pastor and author Tim Keller wrote an article some time ago on how he would speak to a post-modern person who grasped many of the ideas of Christianity, but had a hard time with the concept of hell. In his analysis**, Dan notes:
- This is how Keller does it
- This is how I do it
- This is why I do it that way
Certainly, the concept of not all Christians approaching every situation in the exact same manner is quite laudable, and is probably one of the applications of the instruction to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). And there is also validity to demonstrating differences in style, especially when one is careful (as Dan was) to show that one is not criticizing the other person, but simply showing contrasts. Such articles allow the reader to see things from different perspectives, and better understand himself and others.
What bugs me, though, is part of the “why”. Leading up to his main point, Dan says:
I think the problem with apologetics today is that too much apologetics is too apologetic. Too often, we actually come across as if we’re saying, “Yeah, sorry… but I do believe this. Sorry. I know it’s lame. It’s true for me. You don’t have to believe, if you don’t want to. That’s cool. But there you have it. Uh… Sorry!”
Now, maybe I’ve been under a rock, but I’ve never heard anyone say something like that, or even seem to be implying that. But I’ll give Dan the benefit of the doubt that he’s not knocking down a straw-man, and affirm that if such a viewpoint exists, it’s wrong.
A bit later, Dan goes on:
Because to me it feels like [Keller's] approach says, “You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards.”
And so the person who accepts Keller’s line of reasoning may be saying, “Okay, now that makes sense to me, so I can accept it. It’s okay with me if God is God in that area. He has my permission.” (And then I guess God says “Cool!”, and goes on being God.)
OK, much of this (again) comes off to me as very straw-man-ish (or at least, highly exaggerated) and I don’t intend to address it directly.
Sidebar: Major kudos to Dan for admitting that this is how Keller’s approach feels to him. This is a mind-blowing contrast to what would appear in many blogs whose authors generally agree with the Pyros. Many of those blogs would tell us exactly what Keller’s motivation definitely was, why he was going to hell for it, and why Dan was in questionable standing for not using better “discernment” and utterly slamming Keller.
But the first part of Dan’s impression gives me pause, in which he decries the concept that “[y]ou have a right to challenge God”. Now perhaps “right” is, indeed, too severe of a word. But God does not demand that we simply accept His ways blindly.
Right at the outset of the book of Isaiah, God spends Isaiah 1:2-17" target="_blank" href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%201:2-17;&version=50;">16 verses basically telling the children of Israel, “You clowns couldn’t be more messed up if you tried.” After that accurate and severe condemnation, what is the Isaiah 1:18" target="_blank" href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%201:18;&version=50;">very next thing that God says (emphasis mine)?
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”
Do you see that? God just (rightfully) blasted these people for 16 verses, and then appeals to their reasoning. Lest I incorrectly interpret this verse, I checked a couple of online commentaries to see how they viewed it. The 1599 Geneva Study Bible notes that God presents this statement:
- [So that Israel can] know if [God] accuse[s them] without cause.
- Lest sinners should pretend any rigour on Godâ€™s part, he only wills them to be pure in heart, and he will forgive all their sins, no matter how many or great.
And the Jamieson/Fausset/Brown commentary notes that:
God deigns to argue the case with us, that all may see the just, nay, loving principle of His dealings with men.
This isn’t a case of God being a wimp or subjugating Himself to our reason. This is pure grace on His part that He even bothers to stoop down and help us to see our sorry state from a level that we can actually grasp. I believe that this was actually one of the points of Jesus’ incarnation.
God would have been perfectly just to simply wash His hands of us and tell us all to (quite literally) go to hell. But He did not do that. And what’s more, the graciousness doesn’t end with Christ’s ascension back into heaven. The writer of Hebrews Hebrews 4:15" href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews%204:15;&version=50;">tells us that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses”.
Ought we to question everything? Certainly not — we’d be wasting our time. And there are going to be some things that we just don’t understand because of the finitude of human minds. May God grant us the grace to accept those things, trust Him, and move on.
But are there going to be times that we question — or even rail against — God? Yes. And at the risk of sounding flip: He’s a big boy; He can handle it.
* Actually, in a sense, it’s an understatement to say “one”. At times, they’ve all said some pretty good stuff. Truth where you find it, and all that. But I find myself in agreement with Dan most.
** By the way, it is interesting to note that Dan’s article is titled “The Hell, you say? (Keller on Hell, discussed)” — emphasis on “The” is Dan’s. He has taken a common phrase in current-day culture — which even contains profanity, in the way that the phase is normally used — and used it as an illustrative point. While Dan doesn’t bang the “contextualization is evil” drum much (if at all), I’m waiting for the real drum-bangers to call him out for doing this. Don’t worry — I’m not holding my breath while I wait.