Sunday, March 06, 2011

The 3 - March 5, 2011

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, I unpack a recent Supreme Court decision that aims to protect free speech, even a brand that might be considered offensive. Also, Michigan pastor Rob Bell has stirred the pot with a pre-release video related to his new book on heaven, hell, and the love of God. And, Christian broadcasters assembled in Nashville recently to be motivated, instructed, and challenged.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court upholds free speech rights of Westboro Baptist Church

In a decision that had been met with quite a bit of expectation, the U.S. Supreme Court, by an 8-1 margin, ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is best known for its protests at military funerals, contending that soldiers are dying for a nation that is being judged by God because of its support of homosexuality.

While a variety of groups, including evangelical Christians, find the activities of the Westboro group offensive, the issue at hand was whether or not they had the free speech rights to carry out their protests. A decision against Westboro could have had a chilling effect on the rights of other groups to demonstrate publicly in support of their beliefs. But, the one dissenter on the high court, Samuel Alito, said that the First Amendment did not permit Westboro to engage in their offensive displays, and that the Matthew Snyder, whose father was the plaintiff in the case, deserved to be buried in peace.

Christian and pro-family groups lauded the high court's latest decision. Liberty Counsel had filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Westboro, and issued this press release. This paragraph from that press release is notable:

The First Amendment does not grant to anyone a veto right over another
person’s speech, simply because it might be offensive. Free speech needs
breathing room. It is better to tolerate a person’s offensive speech than be
silenced by the force of law.

Free speech is a cornerstone principle of the history of this country. Even when we as Christians find another person or group's words or actions to be offensive, we have to keep in mind that they have the right to speak, just as we do. A huge question would deal with who actually has the right to determine what is offensive - if Westboro's words are deemed to be offensive today, could the words of preachers proclaiming Biblical truth be considered offensive tomorrow (because we know that there are many that find the speech of Christians offensive
and would like to silence our voices!)? Wisely, in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court did not open a door that could have proven troublesome to Christians in the future.

2 - Heaven, hell, and Rob Bell

Is it a declaration of belief or a provocative marketing campaign, simply raising questions in advance of a book release? This is the heart of the controversy surrounding Michigan pastor Rob Bell, who has endeared himself to thousands through his creative NOOMA videos and books such as Velvet Elvis. Now, the online discussion is raging surrounding the video trailer for his forthcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, where Rob Bell asks a series of questions related to the afterlife and the nature of God.

View it for yourself:

So, what did you think? Is he merely asking a few questions from the perspective of someone that is attempting to gain a greater understanding of God and matters of eternal judgment?

Jesus rescuing us from God? Really?

But, does Rob ever state what HE believes on these questions?

Well, the video - combined with the statement from the publisher - combined with some excerpts of the book have led some to question Bell's theology. The controversy really accelerated when blogger Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition and Vice-President at Crossway Books questioned whether or not Bell is a "universalist", in other words, embracing a theology that allows people other than Christians to go to heaven and avoid hell. Before you know it, leading theologians like John Piper, Albert Mohler, and to a lesser extent, Rick Warren, were chiming in. Christianity Today has a delightful recap of the way the situation has developed. Even The New York Times has covered the brouhaha.

In the meantime, the book release date has been pushed from March 29th to March 15th.

I can see where Scot McKnight is coming from when he says:

Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.

As someone who believes that Jesus is the one way to heaven - the way, the truth, and the life - the only way to the Father, and therefore the way to eternal life - I have to admit, I'm a bit skeptical about where Rob Bell may be going with this new book. Perhaps we do need to reframe the argument and place it in a different context, with a less dogmatic approach, if that's possible. My understanding is that the book concentrates less on heaven and hell than on the love of God, who desires for everyone to be saved. So, I'm willing to cut Bell some slack and wait on the book to actually be released. But, one has to be very careful when you're treading on the area of theology dealing with one's personal salvation - a little latitude and you can lose the essence of the gospel. The good news is that God is not sending people to hell, but through Christ, He provides a way out of the judgment we deserve as a result of our sin.

1 - Christian broadcasters assemble for annual convention

Recently, I had the chance to attend the annual National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a gathering of representatives of various forms of Christian media, including radio, television, Internet, and even church-based media. Various general sessions featured high-profile speakers such as Chuck Swindoll, Ravi Zacharias, Voddie Baucham, Jay Sekulow, and James MacDonald. Special workshops were tailored to the variety of forms of media that were present, with a major concentration on the use of social media to share the gospel message.

Faith Radio and The Meeting House had a booth in the exhibit hall again this year, and I was privileged to interview dozens of speakers, authors, and musicians, such as: Dr. Tony Evans, Kay Arthur, Dr. Frank Wright, Joni Eareckson Tada, Thelma Wells, Nicole C. Mullen, Phil Keaggy, and Bethany Hamilton (profiled in the forthcoming movie, "Soul Surfer"). I also had the chance to feature Thomas Nelson's 400th Anniversary Celebration of the King James Version of the Bible, which was highlighted in a special exhibit at NRB this year.

It was a pleasure to meet and interview these and many other notable guests. To gain a sense of this year's convention, you can visit

Honorable Mention:

Pakistani Cabinet minister, a Christian, slain

Boehner says House will defend DOMA

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