My Sunday at an Atheistic Church

An atheist church (yes, you read that correctly) has been receiving national attention lately. One of our pastors, Kyle, was fortunate enough to attend the group’s second-ever service. Read about his experience below.

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Originally posted in February 2013

Last month I stumbled upon an article about an atheistic “church service” in London.  I didn’t even read the whole thing before I decided I had to go.

The Sunday Assembly, as the group is called, meets once a month at The Nave in North London for “anybody searching for a sense of community, to meet and ‘turn good intentions into action.'”

It is, all things considered, an atheistic church.

Yes.  A church for atheists.

IMG_1700
The Nave – new home to the atheistic church The Sunday Assembly

This morning I woke up, sacrificed hearing Os Guinness speak at my own church, and ventured down to Islington with my wife who is used to being dragged to peculiar things like this by now.

We showed up 40 minutes early, but weren’t the first ones there.

In typical British fashion, we all politely “queued up” as we waited for the doors to open.  The press was there catching interviews.  (They also recorded the entire service along with the attendees to a point that it made it uncomfortable).

In fact, I’ll probably end up in The Guardian or The Independent.  I can see it now: Local Atheist Londoner Worships at The Sunday Assembly.

You can’t trust everything you read in the news.

People "queuing up" to attend the second-ever service of The Sunday Assembly. Media reporters captured every moment.
People “queuing up” to attend the second-ever service of The Sunday Assembly. Media reporters captured every moment.

Once the doors opened, the church filled up fast.  In fact, by the time the service started there was standing room only.  There had to have been about 200+ in a church meant to comfortably hold 150.

After snagging two great seats, I surreptitiously wandered around taking photos of the event.  I was, after all, running a clandestine intel-gathering mission behind enemy lines.  In just three months, I’ll be joining the staff of a church.  Before then, however… game on.  (Sarcasm, for those who don’t know me.)

Standing room only in the back. Eventually, the balcony was full as well.
Standing room only in the back. Eventually, the balcony was full as well.

To be honest, I was taken aback by how many people showed up.  Church planters dream of a second-ever service this full, and here I was in the midst of atheists, humanists, and agnostics who were all anticipating something new, something fresh, something exciting for their movement.

Just ten minutes before the service was set to start and the place was packed. More were in the balcony, standing in the back and in the foyer.

Once 11:00 came the service kicked off with the band.

Yes.  There was an atheistic church band.  (Bet you never thought you’d read that in your life.)  It was led by comedian Pippa Evans.

IMG_1702
A (perhaps first-ever) atheistic church band leading the congregation in hits from Queen, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone.

Once the band had captured our attention, the “pastor” figure of this service exploded onto the stage.  And he was hilarious.

Rightfully so, as the entire service was led by British comedian Sanderson Jones.  Jones kicked the service off by warmly welcoming everyone and offering an amusing story of how he had learned that it was actually fellow atheists, not Christians as he had expected, who vocally disapproved of The Sunday Assembly.

He displayed a screenshot of his twitter feed from one disgruntled atheist who claimed that the term “church” to all atheists is like the term “concentration camp” to all Jews.  Jones made short work of the mystery atheist – it was pretty funny.

After his introduction, we sang a Queen song as the service moved along.

ONE IN A BILLION

After some singing, the service shifted to the talk.

It was given by the (wonderfully articulate and intelligent) guest speaker, Harry Cliff – a researcher at the University of Cambridge and super particle physicist from CERN.  Cliff delivered a great talk, which I believe ironically pointed to the very God of creation that the church was disavowing.

His talk, entitled “It’s a Wonder We’re All Here” in keeping with the theme of “wonder,” centered around the seeming impossibility of all matter (and consequently us) of existing at all.  Why are we all here to wonder why we’re all here in the first place?

As Cliff explained, according to a theory from physicist Paul Dirac, nothing should exist.  The stars, the planets, us, all matter… none of it should exist.  But it does.  So why?

The answer is found in anti-matter.  “Whenever you create a particle of anti-matter,” Cliff explained, “you also have to create a particle of matter.”  Likewise, whenever matter and anti-matter meet, they annihilate each other, a la the spectacular climax to Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons.

Couple this with the theory of the Big Bang, when energy was converted into matter, and the symmetry of one particle of anti-matter to one particle of matter should have made everything disappear.  What should have happened after the Big Bang is not the universe we know today, but rather a cold, empty universe of nothing.  No stars, no galaxies, no us, no nothing.

But, again, here we are.  So, what happened?

Cliff, in his own words, explained what happened.

Harry Cliff gives his talk "It's A Wonder We're All Here"
Harry Cliff gives his talk “It’s A Wonder We’re All Here”

“At the Big Bang, matter and anti-matter annihilate each other producing particles of light so every billion particles of light corresponds to one of those annihilations.  So everything in the universe is just one-billionth of what was originally there – we are just a tiny leftover of what was there at the beginning of the universe.

All of that is enough to create all the galaxies, all the stars, all the stuff of you and me.  So we are basically talking of absolute, tiny asymmetry of matter and anti-matter that allowed us to exist.  In fact, if the asymmetry hadn’t been there, we would live in a completely empty universe.”

“So,” I thought to myself, “at the creation of the universe from nothing there was an inconceivable amount of light followed by the most improbable conditions that allowed for the entire universe to exist.”

I couldn’t hold back a huge smile.

Why?  Because Cliff’s talk sounded an awful lot like this:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The earth was without form and void…

and God said, ‘Let there be light.'”

Genesis 1.1-3

Here we were at an atheistic church service being delivered evidences of both God’s existence (the improbability of asymmetry at the Big Bang) and the Bible’s trustworthiness (the fact that God’s first creative act was light).

Awesome.

Although, I doubt anyone else in the church shared my sentiment.

My only complaint about Cliff’s talk was that he never discussed the obvious question of how the most improbable condition was probable in the first place.  What made the asymmetry, well, asymmetrical?  He essentially sidestepped the chicken-or-the-egg issue with the Big Bang.

Perhaps it’s because there needed to be an intelligence behind the asymmetry of matter and anti-matter in order to bring about the creation of the universe in the most explosive display of light in the universe’s entire existence.

The answer is clear – God caused the conditions for the asymmetry.  Furthermore, an ancient culture of divinly-inspired Jews nailed it on describing the event.  If you’re not looking at this data from a theistic perspective, the obvious will always evade you.

But, hey.  That’s just me.

“I WANTED MUSIC AND COMMUNITY AGAIN”

Throughout the service, I began to notice a consistent theme with almost everyone we spoke with, overheard, or witnessed in the service – everyone missed the music and community of their childhood experiences in church and want to bring it back into their lives.

I feel comfortable saying that many of the atheists in attendance were there precisely because they missed the community and songs of church.

The leader, Jones, mentioned that he missed the community and songs that his childhood church had given him.  The woman seated behind us made a similar claim.  Another woman, I overheard, said she missed singing songs and being with other people.

“When I was a kid, at church there was always music and other people.  I wanted music and community again,” she said in a conversation with a fellow atheist.

It seemed that most people were there for those very reasons – community and singing.  Or, what we Christians like to call, fellowship and worship.

The congregation listening to Sanderson Jones speak.
The congregation standing just before singing “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder.

People missed the fellowship and worship they left behind in their childhood churches, but have since yearned for a return to them.

The more I came to realize this point, the more obvious it became – all of these people, made in God’s image, are simply trying to fill the void of their design and purpose without actually knowing how.

Every human is created in the image of a triune God (community) who designed us to worship.  That doesn’t go away simply because you don’t believe in Him.

Deep down in every human being, we yearn to be in community and fellowship, just like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed for eternity.

Deep down in every human being, we are compelled to worship, because it’s what we were created to do.

Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean that all goes away.  And today only drove that point home for me.  It’s doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God, every human being still desires community and wants to worship.  Where we find our community and what we worship, however, is what will eventually define our joy, lives, and destinies.

Everyone at The Sunday Assembly seemed to believe that by adding community once a month and singing random songs, they will fill that nagging void in their life.

The more I though about this, the more I wanted to stand on my chair and yell “You’re missing the point!  It’s not enough!” But, perhaps the unusually large amount of cameras and journalists stopped me in my tracks.  After all, I didn’t want to be that guy.

It doesn’t matter how many songs you sing or how many people you hang out with – if it’s not centered around Jesus (the true reason for church in the first place) it’s never going to be enough.

The Sunday Assembly was gathered today in celebration of life, but not the life.

The Sunday Assembly attempted to instill wonder, but without the God of Wonder behind it.

The Sunday Assembly tried to experience a spirit in singing, but without the Holy Spirit of a good, perfect, and loving God.

They are missing the point entirely.

Church isn’t about music, it isn’t about making people feel happy, and it isn’t about instilling wonder.  Church isn’t even about getting together in community to get your felt needs met.

Church is about Jesus.

Because we were designed to worship and to live in community, we do get some felt needs met at church, but it’s not the entire focus or purpose of church.  The entire focus and purpose of church should be Jesus.

Until the good people of The Sunday Assembly understand this simple truth, they will never fill that missing void of worshipping Jesus in the community of imperfect yet redeemed people, no matter how many songs they sing, guest speakers they have, or good works they promote.

THE “REAL CHURCH” NEXT DOOR

Next to The Nave was a small (in comparison, tiny) chapel annex that was housing an African worship service.  While we were first “queuing up” to get in The Nave, a woman dressed in Sunday’s best squeezed her way past us.  “Excuse me,” she politely asked for a clearing to walk through.  Two women behind us giggled as one muttered, “I bet she’s going to real church.”

The real church service started before The Sunday Assembly and was still running after our service had ended.  I snuck into the back of the chapel annex to hear the prayer that the pastor of this tiny church offered his congregation in the shadow of their new atheist neighbors next door.

The annex next to The Nave where "real church" was being held.
The annex next to The Nave where “real church” was being held.

His voice filled the room.

“We love you Jesus,” he said with a thick African accent. “We love you so much and want other’s to know you, so they can experience your love and, in return, love you simply for who you are and what you’ve done for us.”

“Amen,” I thought to myself. That was the most encouraging thing I had heard all day.

A group of people, most of whom were down-and-out, gathered together in community to worship Jesus in song and prayer.  No media attention, no comedian-led entertainment, no high-profile speaker.

Just a few Jesus people getting together to worship, fellowship, and pray on a Sunday morning.

Now that’s church.

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A special thanks to The Christian Post for picking up this post.

UPDATE: The Guardian did a piece on this service.  In it, an interesting quote;

“‘I feel sorry for the church next door, waiting for their three people to trickle in,'” says Nick Julius, glancing at the small adjacent hall that will shortly be hosting its own gathering.”

Don’t feel sorry for them, Nick.  They were the ones attending church this morning.

Also, check out BBC’s piece on the service.

Did Roman Aristocrats Fabricate the Jesus Story?

covert

An article has been floating around the internet about Joseph Atwill’s upcoming event “Covert Messiah” taking place in London this week. Atwill maintains a theory that the Flavian dynasty (a Roman aristocratic family) fabricated the Jesus narrative as an attempt to quell Jewish rebellion in Palestine during Rome’s occupation of the land in the first centuries. Instead of continuing a costly military campaign, the Roman government decided to wage “psychological warfare” in the form of inventing Christianity.

The event this week will most likely follow the same flow of thought found in Atwill’s work “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.” In it, Atwill, a self-proclaimed “successful businessman” and “long-time student of Christianity”, lays out a lengthy argument that the Flavian aristocrats “created [Christianity] to serve as a theological barrier to prevent messianic Judaism from again erupting against the empire (Atwill, 333.)” Additionally, he argues that the Gospels were created as a satire of Titus’ military campaign throughout Judea.

So, does he have a point? Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the Jesus story in order to pacify the rebellious Jews? There are some major assumptions in Atwill’s work that must hold true in order for his theory to work. Let’s look just six of them.

1. The Entire New Testament Was Fabricated in Support of the Jesus Myth

In order for Atwill’s theory to be correct, the Flavian intellectuals would have needed to fabricate four different Gospel accounts (not including the pseudepigrapha) along with the Epistles, one history book, and a prophetic vision of the future.

This seems highly unlikely. The New Testament is a library of an array of voices, literary types, writing styles, and intellectual expressions. It is apparent that they were written by different authors at different times with different messages in mind. A consistent and fabricated theme is simply not found in the New Testament.

2. A Handful of Parallels Out of Dozens of Narratives Are Sufficient Evidence for Fabrication

Atwill gives a handful of parallels out of dozens of narratives found in the New Testament as proof of a Jesus–Titus parallel connection.

One would expect many parallels between Jesus and Titus to exist in order for Atwill to make such an astonishing claim. However, that’s not the case. In fact, when you get into his book there are only seven major parallels (as far as his conclusion is concerned – Atwill, 336-337). Seven parallels out of dozens of episodes in Jesus’ life. That does not seem like enough evidence to warrant the conclusion that the entire New Testament was fabricated in support of the Jesus myth.

3. The Pacification of the Jews Was Accomplished Through The Demolition of Their Religion

The Flavian aristocrats must have believed that changing the Jewish religion to Christianity would help pacify them.

This seems highly unlikely. Many foreign cultures attempted to stamp out the Jewish religion, which they saw as a source of rebellion. As history shows, that never worked. The Greeks attempted to replace Jewish culture with their own (Hellenism), but that failed. The Romans attempted to replace Jewish government with their own government, but that also failed (until well after Jesus’ life).

Furthermore, we see in the Book of Acts that the early Christian church caused all sorts of problems with the Jewish community. How was this supposed to quell Jewish rebellion?

4. The Romans Traded Warfare for Philosophy

The Romans, who were incredible military strategists, would have cast aside what they were good at for something they weren’t.

If there was one thing Rome did well it was warfare. Philosophy, on the other hand, didn’t come naturally. They borrowed much of their thinking from Greek culture and expounded on it. It seems unlikely that the Romans, after decades of trying to suppress the Jews, would give up militarily and give “psychological warfare” a try.

siege
The Romans were brilliant military strategists who relentlessly beat their enemies into submission. Fabricating worldviews was not in their arsenal…

5. Atwill Is the First Guy to Make This Discovery in 2,000 Years

No one in 2,000 years has made a Jesus–Titus connection until Joseph Atwill.

Atwill is claiming that he discovered something that thousands and thousands of scholars have over looked for the past 2,000 years. Well… if anything, at least his hubris is in check.

Also, Atwill is not in good company. Jesus mythicists have not found many friends in the academic community. Even New Testament critics such as Bart Ehrman believe Jesus was real person.

6. The Romans Fabricated A Story, Then Persecuted People for Believing It

Roman persecution plagued the early church for believing in something the Romans made up.

This makes no sense at all. Why would the Roman government fabricate a religion, trick everyone into believing it, and then punish them for believing it?

CONCLUSION

Atwill sees parallels where parallels don’t exist. He gathers a small pile of questionable evidence and heralds it as a mountain of condemnation for Christianity. He does this alone, having been the only person in 2,000 years to make such connections, but rarely questions why he’s the only one who came to the conclusions that he has.

Unfortunately, many people will buy what this self-described “successful businessman” is selling them, which is a convenient lie to disbelieve in the savior who loves them. And by selling I mean literally selling. The cost to hear Atwill share his rocky logic is $40.00 (£25) a ticket. The market is demanding reasons to disbelieve Jesus and Atwill is willing to supply that demand.

Perhaps he should change his seminar’s title to “Covert Me$$iah”

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Joseph Atwill, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus (Berkeley, Cali.: Ulysses Press, 2009).

Associate Contributor: Alan Reynolds (@walanreynolds)

Why Ray Comfort’s “Evolution vs. God” Isn’t Actually That Helpful

Livingwaters.com
Image / Livingwaters.com

Recently, Ray Comfort released a documentary titled “Evolution vs. God: Shaking the Foundations of Faith.” Comfort, an ardent proponent of young earth creationism (YEC), which promotes biblical literalism concerning Genesis 1–3, created the video in hopes of instilling doubt in the minds of the general public about the trustworthiness of evolution.

Presumably, the hope behind such a documentary would seek to bolster the trustworthiness of scripture for evangelism purposes. Having viewed it a few times, there is no doubt in my mind that Comfort is well-intentioned; however, I believe this video is not actually that helpful to the greater Science v. Faith public dialogue.

To be sure, Evolution vs. God will most likely not turn many heads. A quick scan across the internet reveals that it has already become the laughing stock of the non-theist community – a moot point, of course. Yet it is the other audience viewing the video, the Christians, who may well receive a false hope that Comfort’s documentary is an extremely effective tool for the gospel.

Why? Because Evolution vs. God just isn’t really that helpful whether you’re a YEC, intelligent design proponent, theistic evolutionist, or any other flavor of theistic creationism. It is unhelpful because it is poorly executed and falsely advertised as having accomplished something it has not.

GOTCHA JOURNALISM

So what’s the big deal? Why isn’t this video helpful? Two words: gotcha journalism. Unfortunately, Comfort’s video is a classic example of it.

Throughout the entire video, Comfort interviews students and university professors about their belief in evolution. He repeatedly commits that most notorious of philosophical fallacies, appeal to authority, by supposedly stumping evolutionary experts in their own fields of research.

The unspoken message comes across very clear – since studied evolutionists cannot provide observable evidence for evolution, it must be false. However, it should be observed that the authority Comfort appeals to isn’t the best pool to draw from. Throughout the video, he speaks with 26 students (presumably undergraduates) while only speaking with 4 professional academics. Not to offend, but this may not be the best sample of evolutionists to draw conclusions from.

Not only this, but there were many students who weren’t even biology majors. Some were geology, chemistry, bio-chemistry, environment science, and physics majors. Stumping a geology major in evolution does not disprove the theory, just as stumping a criminal justice major in theology doesn’t disprove the existence of God.

(There was just something cringeworthy about watching Comfort question geology and physics majors about evolution, recording their confused reactions, and heralding it as a victory for creationism.)

Furthermore, when questioning his interviewees about evolution, Comfort devotes a substantially smaller amount of attention to professors or academics compared to students.  Obviously, students will not formulate the same calibre of responses that professors or academics will, and Comfort is well aware of this.

All this leads to a documentary full of gotcha journalism. It comes across as tacky, misleading and, frankly, ineffective. So, after watching a documentary laden with gotcha journalism, as Christians we should honestly ask the question, “How is this helpful for Jesus?”

BACK TO WHAT MATTERS

In my opinion, Comfort needs to get back to what matters – the gospel. Of course, he presents a version at the end of the documentary, but gets to the gospel only after wading through a thicket of loaded questions and, presumably, highly edited responses. (After all, we cannot know for sure the extent or persuasiveness to which the interviewees answered Comfort’s questions.)

What Comfort is doing through Evolution vs. God is mirroring the same boorish tactics used by New Atheists in order to instill doubt in the minds of Christians. We complain about the ornery antagonism from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but when it is done in reverse do we cheer? When Comfort corners an undergraduate geology major about the massive implications and issues surrounding evolution, do we not see the correlation of Harris broad stroking Christians are backwards, unthinking fools?

Comfort does apologetics evangelism an injustice with this documentary while heralding it as having shaken the foundations of faith in evolution. The formula we should engage in does not start with “debunking” evolution. What matters in sharing the gospel isn’t trying to “disprove” evolution outright.  Sharing the gospel is about getting straight to the point – starting at Jesus – and working your way outwards from there.

Watch “Evolution vs. God” here.

Innovation of Loneliness (Video)

Many people have asked about the loneliness video shown this past Sunday. It is an interesting demonstration of biblical truth shown from a secular perspective on why social media ironically makes us lonelier.

Nothing can substitute real community and no one can bring us to real community except Jesus.

Script, Design, and Animation: Shimi Cohen

Mentor: Eran Stern

Sound Design: Soundance Studio

What Rob Bell Talks About When He Talks About God

WRBTAWHTAG

Rob Bell’s latest work What We Talk About When We Talk About God is his first book after the controversial Love Wins

Bell, former evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, moved to California after Love Wins became too divisive of an issue within the church.

Since his departure from his pastoral role, some individuals in the evangelical community have questioned his relevance. Does he even matter any more? Others argue that he does still matter.

I tend to agree with the latter – Bell still matters to our culture, and we need to be keenly aware of his sway over the spiritual matters of our day. So, when Rob Bell writes a book about God, I think it’s important to give it a look and separate the good from the bad and the ugly.

Others have already given much better reviews than I could ever give.  There will no doubt be many more reviews coming, but there are a few things that crossed my mind as I read through the book that I wanted to share.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

SUMMARY

First, a quick summary of the book. What We Talk About is a quick read – don’t let the 207 pages fool you. In typical Rob Bell form, the book is

empty and

white and

small and

bite-size and

filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence to give you a sense of urgency! followed by calmness and reflection because Rob Bell is avant-guard.

So, if you choose, pick up a copy and skim through it in a couple of hours.

But, when it’s all said and done, What We Talk About argues that science is slowly proving that God exists. The God that science is discovering is a God who is for us as humanity and will save the world by pulling us forward through history to a more evolved, enlightened, and better future.

So, Bell invites (or warns), join in the trajectory that God is pulling culture or be left behind.

THE GOOD

There are good aspects to What We Talk About. Like most of Bell’s writing, I agree with about 50% of what I read. I want to like him for his amazing communication skills and boldness to maintain (if even loosely) a Christian identity, but it’s that other 50% that makes me cringe at the thought that people might be influenced by the theologically baneful aspects of his writings. Especially because of that Christian identity.

So what was the good?

Bell kicks off the book by bringing to the reader’s attention current scientific discoveries that are forcing us to realize that the universe is much, much weirder and unpredictable than we ever thought. He argues that there is plenty of room for God in science. Indeed, science is actually providing evidence that such a being could exist.

This is great stuff for conversations with atheists and agnostics. It’s very compelling and begins to break down the rigid divide of Science v. Faith.

Also, along the same lines, Bell reminds his readers that the spiritual isn’t categorically separated from everything else. We don’t have a spiritual life – life itself is spiritual.

In fact, God’s creation of the human body and soul are connected to each other, which is why the resurrection of Jesus was a real, physical and spiritual event. It’s also why the resurrection at the end will be both a physical and spiritual event. Heaven is not simply a spiritual, ethereal dimension lacking any tangible matter. Heaven will be a combination of both – much like it is now – only recreated without sin and death.

But just before the reader begins to think along the lines of pantheism, that God is literally everything, Bell puts the kibosh on that (Pg. 109) and maintains that God is both separate from creation as its Creator yet intimately involved.

This is a reminder I think we all need once in a while. The spiritual and the material aren’t categorically separated. Need proof? Just look at the incarnation of God where the spiritual meets the physical in Jesus.

THE BAD

Unfortunately, What We Talk About seems to be a continued departure of Rob Bell from biblical Christianity. Of the many examples in the book, the one that stuck out the most to me was on Pg 128.

“It’s time for a radical reclaiming of the fundamental Christian message that God is for us. God, according to Jesus, is for us because God loves us.”

This sounds great, but it’s also greatly misleading. Yes, God loves us, but God isn’t necessarily for us; rather, God is absolutely for Himself and His glory.

Why? Because God, according to Jesus, is for His own glory and invites us along in a radical reformation of our lives, minds, and souls for now into eternity.

God is not on anyone’s side but His own. If we claim otherwise, we fall into the very same tribalistic trap that Bell has accused many religious institutions of falling into – God is on my side but definitely not theirs. Or we might believe that God is our own personal, divine life coach – God is on my side to make me a better me.

*cue applause from Joel Osteen fans*

On the other hand, if we believe God is on God’s side and invites us along, then we will come to understand that everything we do and are we owe to Him.

This dramatically shifts our focus off ourself and onto God. Because, at the end of the day, we were created by God to worship Him and to reflect His glory. We messed that up, but by God’s grace, we’re invited to participate in how He’s fixing it.

This is displayed in a very intimate prayer that Jesus prayed before His crucifixion. John 17:1-2 (emphasis added) reads:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to…”

Pause there for a second. What do you suppose comes after?

God gave Jesus authority over us all to be for us? To encourage us to be the very best us we can be? To pull us forward in a trajectory of an ever-evolving culture? No…

“…to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

There it is. Eternal life through Jesus to the glory of God. That is the fundamental Christian message – not that God is for us, but that God is for His own glory and invites us to experience that glory through eternal life starting now and spanning through eternity.

THE UGLY

I have to admit, Bell has four really great lines about the gospel in What We Talk About. But then later deflates the amazing point these first four make, which turns out to be the ugliest part of the book in my opinion.

“Gospel insists that God doesn’t wait for us to get ourselves polished, shined, proper, and without blemish – God comes to us and meets us and blesses us while we are still in the middle of the mess we created.”

Absolutely.

“Gospel isn’t us getting it together so that we can have God’s favor; gospel is us finding God exactly in the moment of our greatest not-togetherness.”

Amen!

“Gospel is grace, and grace is a gift. You don’t earn a gift; you simply receive it. You don’t make it happen; you wake up to what has already happened.”

Hallelujah!!

“Gospel isn’t doing enough good to be worthy; it’s your eyes being opened to your unworthiness and to Jesus’s insistence that that was never the way it worked in the first place.”

Preach it, brother!!!

But then, the ugly. Bell later concludes that the gospel accomplishes all this through Jesus, “announcing who we truly are and then reminding us of this over and over and over again (Pgs 151-152).”

This is completely contrary to the gospel.

Jesus accomplished (past tense) our liberation from sin and death on the cross, then proved it by His resurrection three days later. Now, today, God saves us by that work, His grace, and through faith. He then sustains us in our salvation through Jesus, announcing who He truly is and then reminding us of His person and work over and over and over again.

Throughout What We Talk About Bell has shifted the focus of the gospel away from Jesus and onto the individual. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect to the entire book.

We cannot take the focus of the gospel off Jesus and onto ourselves, even for a moment. The gospel is about Jesus, not about us. But the gospel is for us. If Bell wanted to write about what is for us, then he could have picked the gospel.

Bell has blurred a very fine line that can cause a lot of confusion in our lives. God is not for us, God is for His glory. The gospel is not about us, but it is for us.

Bell needs to shift the focus off of us and back onto God – that’s truly avant-guard, revolutionary, controversial, novel, fresh. In today’s modern (evolved and trajectory-driven) world, we are becoming more and more humanity-centered. It’s all about us. And Bell falls right in line with this us-centeredness.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

Us. And God is simply the supporting actor.