Browsing articles tagged with " Rob Bell"
Sep 30, 2011
neil

More drama from Rob Bell

Some would say that Rob Bell has been writing fiction for some time now (yes, I know, only a joke). But this is an interesting development.

 

May 25, 2011
neil

The cost of being controversial. Godly advice from John Newton

John Newton wrote a short but compelling letter to a fellow minister who was about to write a publication criticising a minister for his unorthodox beliefs. The letter is a masterly treatment on the theme of controversy and in just a few lines brings the gospel to bear on how to argue in so many ways. Reading it got me thinking about what it means to contend for the faith and how to argue well along with the hidden dangers of entering into controversy.

I’m preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday evenings and am reminded of Paul’s opening appeal to Timothy to fight the good fight but with a real warning not to be like those who have ‘an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels and words that result in envy, strife’

Paul charges Timothy (6:11) ‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’

So how do you contend for the truth of the gospel and fight the good fight with love and gentleness?

How do you argue with gospel motives and gospel motivations?

Here are some gems from John Newton’s letter as to how the gospel informs our interaction with others whether in church, in an e-mail, on a blog, etc..

A. Arguing with a fellow-believer

1. Argue with gentleness out of love

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.

2. Argue remembering you WILL be reconciled if not now then in heaven

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

B. Arguing with an unbeliever

1. Argue with great compassion because of your great privilege over him

He is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.”

2. Argue remembering that apart from God’s grace you too would have held his views!

If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature.

C. Remembering the reading public

When we argue, publically, in a blog or through a publication we have a second, sometimes forgotten, audience. John Newton highlights three readers and offers his advice.

1. The reader who disagrees with you in principle

Newton urges you to remember them in the same way as your recipient above.

2. The reader who is naturally sympathetic to your point of view but who have little knowledge

These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper.

From us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.

3. The reader who shares your view

You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

D. Watch out and pray for your own heart

Most striking of all in Newton’s letter is his concern for what controversy can do to us and the natural temptation to a self-righteous heart. It is sobering when Newton writes

We find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it….If the service is honorable, it is dangerous.

Pray for your own soul that you will not be corrupted by your own defence of the gospel!

E. Pursue God’s glory and your fellow mans good in how you write

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

Apr 26, 2011
neil

Rob Bell makes it into Time Top 100

Along with Barak Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi the Time magazine top 100 of world’s most influential people for 2011 includes Rob Bell.

What the feature on Bell reveals (alongside the cover article focusing on Bell’s book in the previous edition) is the fact that if it’s a tricky business for Christians to grapple with Bell’s new look at the reality or not of hell what we can be pretty sure of is that it’s not just challenging for the church but damaging to our witness to the world.

Here is how Time summarises (inaccurately admitedly) the debate in the book.

‘Is Hell real?..He [Bell] thinks we can’t know, because the biblical discussion of salvation (as with so much else) is contradictory. Some passages say only those who explicitly acknowledge Jesus as Lord will find eternal peace. Others claim that, in Jesus’ own words, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail’ and Jesus’ sacrifice means universal salvation.’

Now I don’t think Bell would want to use the word contradictory to describe Bible texts. He would no doubt prefer to describe texts that teach on heaven and hell as ‘in tension’ and should be left to sit alongside each other in such a way that cannot be resolved by us in this life.

But the damage is done when the world looks in and sees what appears to be an evangelical pastor prefering to talk of salvation as a mystery and the Bible as a book which does not speak clearly about heaven and hell. He goes so far as to say in interview with Time ‘I don’t take a position of certainty because of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.’

That Time includes an evangelical pastor in their top 100 most influential people in the world ought to be good news. The tragedy is that they include Bell because he is an evangelical who prefers to ask questions about final realities and to do so in a public way in the publishling of his book and tour.

The consequence of Bell’s position is, as the Time feature reveals, to leave non-Christians confused as to the message of the church and confused as to whether it’s possible to really know anything from the Bible which appears to be a book of contradictions.  After all if a mega-church pastor revels in the ‘contradictions’ of the Bible and finds himself with more questions than answers why should a non-Christian looking in from the outside believe they should arrive at any answers.

Apr 4, 2011
neil

Rob Bell isn’t a universalist but he probably should be

It was AW Tozer who said ‘What comes into a person’s mind when they think about God is the most important thing about them.’ Nowhere is that statement more obviously true than in chapter 4 of Bell’s book ‘Love wins’.  It is in this chapter that he is at his most controversial and it is his doctrine of God that enables him to consider the possibility that perhaps in the end all will be saved.

What comes into Bell’s mind when he thinks about God is that ‘God is love.’ For Bell that is God’s essential attribute and it shapes the discussion of the chapter.

There is no talk in the chapter for example of God’s holiness and Bell’s decision to single out one attribute to which all others must eventually give way (why else the title of the book) leads to his tentative conclusions that for God to be God almost requires the final salvation of all.

Does God define himself as love above all else?

The book of 1 John is so instructive for us on this matter for in it we find two statements from John about God’s very nature. God is love John tells us in chapter 4 but God is light we are reminded in chapter 1.  God in the scripture reveals himself as a God of love but not a God of love only, also a God of holiness. God’s punishment of sin is an outworking of his holiness. If God’s holiness must give way to his love we find ourselves ever-closer to the position of Bell. The problem for Bell is that Jesus never does this and neither do the New Testament authors.

So what happens when one attribute of God is singled out in this way?

Well with his doctrine of God clear in his mind Bell turns to his doctrine of salvation.

Bell does not give us a lot of Bible in this chapter but he does choose to quote Paul and 1 Timothy 2 where Paul writes ‘God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’

Given God is love and given what therefore God wants ‘will all people be saved or will God not get what God wants?’

Does this magnificent, mighty, marvellous God fail in the end?

And Bell is absolutely right to recognise that the God of the Bible does get what he wants. We are reminded time and again in scripture that God’s plans and purposes are unstoppable.

In the Bible, God is not helpless, God is not powerless, and God is not impotent.

This God doesn’t give up. Ever.

What has the church taught?

So if we only get this life to choose heaven and hell in this life by the response we make to God.  If it really is  ‘One or the other, forever.’ Then Bell logically concludes ‘God in the end doesn’t get what God wants

No wonder Bell leaves the door open to what is sometimes called post-mortem salvation. The idead that after death given enough time, some people could eventually move into a new state?

Now Bell realises that this will sound heretical to many ears especially coming from a bible-believing evangelical. So it is important for him to establish that his view has a history. It has no such pedigree amongst evangelicals and his abuse of a Martin Luther text in his book to suggest it does is something that has been highlighted by a number of critics notably Carl Trueman. One can only hope that for the sake of integirity it is removed from any future editions.

So with no history of evangelicals adopting such a view Bell turns to the ancient church fathers

Beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who bleive that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody.

Bell cites Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nysaa and Eusebius in support of his views. It was certainly the case that a number of the fathers held that punishment in hell that was restorative.

Here is an extract from one scholar on the view of the early church on the doctrine of universal salvation:

Early Christian theology offered three major readings of the manner in which the story concludes for those who have not responded positively to the divine work of salvation during their earthly lives. The majority reading, represented by Tertullian and Augustine, understands the eschatological punishment of such persons as eternal in duration—the everlasting torment of separation from God. Some of the second- and third-century apologists, represented by Justin Martyr and Arnobius, offered what was ultimately a minority reading in which punishment is eternal in effect rather than duration—following the resurrection, the wicked are destroyed, evil therefore ceases to exist, and God is “all in all.” The other minority reading is represented by Clement, Origen, and Gregory—punishment is eternal in effect rather than duration, but its effect is not destruction but transformation.

What brings God glory?

But we find ourselves returning again to the major note of Bell’s book. If God is love then everlasting punishment cannot bring God glory.

Central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t.

God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest of hearts

If Bell is right on this point then one has to ask could it bring glory to God for Satan to be in hell. If eternal torment does not bring glory to God then how can the torment of angels, created by God as good creatures, bring God glory? Surely Satan given enough time will choose life and does not God’s own glory demand it.

Of course those of us who seek to affirm that God is love but God is also holy see God’s glory made manifest in the salvation of some but also the condemnation of others. Paul in Romans chapter 9 writes:

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

For Paul God’s glory is revealed in the revelation of his perfect justice as an expression of his holiness in the punishment of sinners. God’s glory is revealed in the revelation of his perfect love in the salvation of sinners. Both reveal God’s glory. One should not be set over the other. Heaven and hell together manifest God’s glory, wisdom and power.

What then do you have to believe to be a Christian?

For Bell ‘you don’t have to believe it [eternal hell] to be a Christian.’ Clearly he regards it as no heresy to believe in a hell in which punishment is finally restorative and he may be right. And if heresy is understood as a denial of the gospel on a par with a rejection of the deity of Christ or the bodily resurrection or the trinity he I guess has a point.

But it’s crucial to remember that Bell is asking for a lot more than that. He is asking for this minority view to have an equal place at the table. To be considered a valid option alongside traditional interpretations despite the weight of Biblical evidence against him.

To shun, sensor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now.

But the tone of the book goes even further. Surely Bell, in presenting his own views in the way he does is not actually arguing that his view is one of a number of valid options but really the only view that presents a true picture of the God of the Bible and the view that alone brings glory to God!

God’s love means human freedom to choose heaven or hell

So will hell eventually be empty? Bell certainly is hopeful but he is not dogmatic. In a sense neither he nor God can decide. For it is the choice of every individual, even in hell, to choose.

Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.

We see people choose another way all the time. That impulse lurks in all of us. So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides the possibility.

So is Bell a Universalist?

If God is love but human beings have a real freedom then it’s a question he can’t answer. It’s a question no-one can answer.

Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t.

If Bell is not a universalist he should be

The more I’ve reflected on this chapter of the book the more I think that Bell ducks the question in his conclusion and the more unsatisfying I find his final position..

1) Bell has maintained that God wills the salvation of all and he rightly asks can God’s will fail. Surely his will cannot fail.

2) Bell has maintained that the torment of souls in hell cannot bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t

3) Bell believes in the sovereignty of God. Surely such a God knows the end from the beginning. Surely Bell believes, therefore, that God would only make a world in which his will could be finally done.

4) Bell, wisely, is unwilling to be counted as a dogmatic universalist.  He cannot find definitive proof in the Scriptures for universal salvation nor can he work out how God will ensure his will is brought to pass. But his doctrine of God should make him an optimistic universalist.

How God’s will will be done he does not know that his will will be done he should be ready to affirm.

Mar 26, 2011
neil

Bell’s Hell

Fury, wrath, fire, torment, judgment, eternal agony, endless anguish.

Is that how we should think of Hell? A place of conscious eternal torment. Is that really the response of a God of love to those who do not worship him in this life? Is that what Jesus taught? Bell is not so sure.

I have a hard time believing in hell not least because most of my family and friends don’t follow Jesus. There is a part of me that so much wants Bell to be right on Hell.

What does the Bible mean by hell?

Bell argues, perhaps rightly, that the Old Testament picture of what happens after death isn’t very clear. ‘Sheol, death, and the grave in the consciousness of the Hebrew writers are all a but vague and ‘unworldly’.

In the New Testament the word ‘hell’ is used almost exclusively by Jesus. He takes the word Gehenna which was literally the city dump outside of Jerusalem. The place where rubbish was thrown and a fire continuously burned. The other word used occasionally in the New Testament being ‘Hades’ the greek equivalent of ‘Sheol’ which we find for example in Revelation 1,6, and 20. But actually there isn’t much in the Bible.

And that’s it’ says Bell.

So is the concept of hell outdated?

Bell says a resounding ‘No’. At least in that sense Bell is clearly not a universalist.

Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course.’

There is too much evil in the world. Think Rwanda. Think rape and murder.

I’ve seen what happens when people abandon all that is good and right and kind and humane.’

So Jesus teaches ‘hell’ and Rob Bell believes in ‘hell’. What then are the big theological ideas in Bell’s understanding of Hell.

The two big ideas in Bell’s Hell.

1. Hell is what we do to ourselves

Hell is less the place that God in his judgement consigns those who reject him and more a place that we send ourselves.  It is a self-imposed exile from God and all that is good.

God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free.’

Hell in Bell’s language is ‘a volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity.’

So far is Bell ready to take this idea that in the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16 that when Abraham says ‘between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, not can anyone cross over from there to you’ Bell argues ‘the chasm is the rich man’s heart!

So hell is what I do to myself. It is a subjective experience rather than an objective place of punishment. It is where I experience the torment of my own sin and that means it looks different for all sorts of people.

‘There are all kinds of hells’ says Bell.

‘There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.’

‘There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously

2. Hell might not be forever

Secondly Bell wants to show that there is still hope for people in hell.

Failure we see again and again, isn’t final, judgment has a point, and consequences are for correction.

So he takes us through a most unlikely interpretation of Jesus teaching on Sodom and Gomorrah along with some selected words from the prophets of Israel that promise an end to the judgemtn on hte nation and concludes

‘I list them to simply show how dominant a theme restoration is in the Hebrew Sciptures’.

So what should we conclude about Bell’s hell?

One of the things that make this book a difficult one to weigh up is that Bell is very selective in his use of the Bible. To assess Bell’s book we need to spend as much time considering what he leaves out as we do what he puts it. The sin of omission is as important as the sin of commission.

When a doctrine of hell is formulated without any mention of crucial bible texts that speak directly on the subject we have to be concerned and that is what we find here.

God has given us the whole Bible for a reason, that we might know his mind. We need all of scripture to know God’s will.

A number of years ago Jim Packer said in words that seem so apt to describe our concerns about Bell’s book ‘part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.’

And that is what we find with Bell on hell.

So where in Bell’s chapter do we find , for example, the book of Romans?

Where in his book is there mention of Romans 2:5-11?

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Where in the book does he mention 2 Thess 1:8-9?

8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.

Where does he deal with the most sobering text on hell in the New Testament, Revelation 14:9-12

9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.

These texts are conspicuous by their absence and yet they change everything.

Hell is a place of punishment. It is the final expression of the holy and righteous anger of God against all godlessness and wickedness (Romans 1:18).

Hell is forever. Not because I like that fact but because the texts that Bell omits teach that fact.

Hell is the place of conscious eternal torment. There is no rest day or night. (Rev. 14:10-11).

Conclusion

In this chapter Bell sets the tone for the remained of the book and builds the platform on which his hopeful-universalism will be built.

Bell wants us to think of hell as where I put myself rather than where God sends me. He wants me to think that if I change (repent) in hell then because it is a self-imposed exile there may be a way back. If the chasm that separates heaven and hell is not the one fixed by God (objective) for all eternity but exists in my heart (subjective) then hell can reform me and maybe all will be free.

The problem for us all is that Bell’s view of hell falls so far short of what the Bible teaches.

Mar 21, 2011
neil

‘Jesus didn’t come to tell us how to get to heaven’ or ‘what happens when you switch off before the end of the story Jesus is telling.’

We don’t spend enough time thinking about heaven so any book that devotes 40 pages to the subject is a good thing, or at least should be. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a book that wants to take a fresh look at the Church’s understanding of heaven and hell. The promotional video that kicked off a huge debate did so by raising a variety of questions that Bell sets out to answer in the book.

Rob Bell – Love Wins. from Hunter Hampton Richards on Vimeo.

Bell’s claim is that the church has got heaven and hell wrong and that it is time to set straight the story Jesus came to tell and to reclaim it.

There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.

I’ve decided to start my review with the chapter on Heaven.  Why? Well it’s the longest in the book, easily the best chapter in the book.and also the least controversial. There are still serious problems with even this chapter 3 of which are highlighted below.

How should we think about heaven?

Bell starts by questioning the evangelical understanding that he inherited as heaven as somewhere else; as somewhere other-worldly, disconnected and unrelated to our present lives.  In the chapter he challenges two big assumptions evangelicals carry around with them.

Heaven as somewhere else.

Heaven as something else.  Something unreal. ‘harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes.’ Heaven as a never-ending church service!

Bell turns to Jesus and his encounter with a rich young man in Matthew 19 . The man asks Jesus a great question ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?

Bell is curious as to why Jesus doesn’t simply tell this man the ‘gospel’. Why doesn’t he call on him to repent and believe in Jesus but rather say ‘if you want to enter life, obey the commandments

He suggests that maybe Jesus bottled it and ‘blew a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity? (p.29)

But here is Bell’s surprising conclusion:

When the man asks about getting ‘eternal life,’ he isn’t’ asking about how to get to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus. This is why Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven.’ It wasn’t what Jesus came to do. (p,30)

Jesus, Bell suggests, is not interested in heaven as much as he is concerned to teach about ‘this age’ and ‘the age to comeContinue reading »

Mar 18, 2011
neil

Must listen: Martin Bashir discusses the Rob Bell interview & his own faith

Mar 16, 2011
neil

12 lessons Rob Bell has taught me

1. Heaven and hell really do matter. It’s important that we talk about it.

2. Heaven and hell matter because God’s reputation is at stake.

3. When you write a controversial book be sure to get your history right. Especially if you want to claim someone is on your side. If you misrepresent someone’s view chances are it will be spotted.

4. ‘Asking questions’ is NOT asking questions if you ask them in such a way that suggest there is only ONE reasonable answer.

5. Ambiguity only leads to confusion. Write to be understood. If in doubt say it again.

6. Releasing a provocative video with provocative questions that you intend to wait four weeks to answer will only damage the church. It might also suggest you’ve written the book to make a name for yourself rather than bless the church.

7. Asking questions is good but setting forth Jesus’ answers is better. Jesus didn’t intend to confuse us about heaven and hell. Ask self ‘have I said everything Jesus says about hell in my book?’

8. Be careful who you let interview you – especially if they are theologically sharp and don’t intend to let you get away with not answering the question. In fact it may be best to avoid interviews altogether.

9. Pray that you might be more passionate to save people from hell than you are to prevent people teaching wrong doctrine about hell.

10. Don’t enjoy falling out with other Christians and don’t even give the impression that you do.

11. Mourn over division in the church whos unity brings glory to Christ.

12. There is no love where there is no truth.

Mar 15, 2011
neil

Who is the better theologian Martin Bashir or Rob Bell – you decide

Famous for his interview of Princess Diana, Bashir is not so gentle with Rob Bell in this one!

Mar 10, 2011
neil

How to have a good argument with Rob Bell

No-one should set out to be controversial for the sake of it and its certainly a worrying sign when someone revels in the reputation of a controversialist.  Nevertheless, in a world in which the gospel will always be under attack (often by those inside the church) at times it is necessary to be controversial. If the leader is to protect the flock then he must expose error in order to guard the gospel.  Defending the truth must mean contending for truth.

The ideas contained in Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins are ideas that need to be opposed and opposed in the strongest terms. It matters. It matters because the gospel is at stake in what he writes. Is salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus or not? Bell has concluded that it is not, or at least not in faith in the way in which the Bible presents it. Ahead of publication a promotional video was released in which Bell raised a number of provocative questions that only buying the book would answer.  Some Christians have been critical of those who they believe have condemned a man for just asking questions.

Now that advanced copies sent by the publisher are being read we can see that the initial concerns of many are proving well founded.

Tim Challies in his review,based on reading an advanced copy of the book, quotes a couple of quite extraordinary statements.  As Bell looks at the subject of heaven and hell he states:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.

And in case we are in any doubt as to Bell’s conclusion. He comments:

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.

I’m not sure whether Bell is a full-blown universalist (all we finally be saved) but what I am sure of is that his message of a Jesus who saves people who don’t even know that he has saved them is poison to the church. As a result the book is one that for the sake of the name and honour and reputation of Jesus must be opposed.

But how do we have a good and godly argument?

Nathaniel Dimock (1825-1909) was a Church of England minister and an evangelical. Although not widely known JI Packer commends him as ‘the saintly controversialist’.

He happened to live and minister at a time of great controversy in the Anglican church when truth was under attack from Enlightenment Rationalism and the Romish Ritualism that flowed out of the Oxford Movement.

As a result Dimock gave himself to writing extensively for over 30 years to countering error in the church. We can learn much not only about the need to refute error, as a sacred duty, but also the manner in which we ought to conduct ourselves.

Dimock wirtes in 1876 at the end of a work on the Eucharist.

It belongs to Christian controversy to set forth the truth, and the whole truth, but to set it forth in love. This conducted, controversy itself, though often a painful duty, is really a very sacred thing. And while earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, we may surely ask for God’s blessing on consecrated controvery. And asking, we surely expect that in His own good way God will graciously employ feeble efforts made in a sacred cause.

His manner was well recognised by those who knew him. After his death, Handley Moule (then Bishop of Durham) wrote in the foreward to the memorial edition of Dimock’s collected works:

In him the grace of God combined in perfect harmony a noble force and range of mental power, an unshakeable fidelity to conscience and Revelation, and a spirit beautiful with humility, peace, and love.

Even those who opposed him theologically could not help but comment on his gracious method.  A critical review of one of his books still recognises;

The courtesy and calmness and Christian spirit which Mr. Dimock shows in this pamphlet certainly entitle all he has to say to consideration, and demand grateful recognition from those who cannot agree with his conclusions

The conclusion of the matter is this: How we disagree with someone as well as how we contend for the truth are both gospel issues.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy about how a godly minister will conduct himself:

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

As many of us will no doubt enter into debate with Rob Bell (or at least with those who support his views) Dimock asks us a question to which we all know the answer;

Does anyone really suppose that the cause of Him, who would have us love one another, can be forwarded by nourishing in our hearts the bitterness, wrath, and anger of our grievous odium Theologicum, or that the truth of the Gospel will be advanced by addressing unseemly language?

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