how to destroy a youth ministry...

So here we are. The Christian world has had a lot to focus on in the past couple of weeks and months. Recently, the earthquake in Japan has made the Rob Bell controversy seem stagnant. Well now the cat is out of the bag: Rob Bell is a universalist.

Bell's new book is now on the shelves and digital book shelves of all the iPad's and Kindles alike. People in the Christian world have been waiting for this day to come for months. During the time building up, this blogger, among many others have been speculating about what Bell is going to say, what his true beliefs are and if Bell is a hardcore Universalist or not.

After reading portions of Rob Bell's book, watching the interview, and interpreting things in the way I believe they were said: It is my assumption that Rob Bell is a universalist. This is a complete danger to youth ministries and churches alike. We as Christians need to investigate what other types of beliefs are out there in the world. It can only strengthen our relationship with Christ. However, Rob Bell can be the ultimate destruction of youth ministry as we know it.

In today's youth groups, statistics and studies show that students are now seeking ways to live how they want to and still get into heaven. People are planting the seed that we see hell on earth and that through these "occurrences" on earth, we see that Hell is not a real or tangible place. Students are not really sure if heaven is a real place either. Students are now searching for an answer to things quickly, and they look at hipster type churches and pastors like Rob Bell who really help people conceive the idea that heaven is where everyone goes. The one question that Rob Bell believes he has answered in his new book "Love Wins" is simply, "Does a loving God REALLY send people to hell?" Here is what Bell had to say about these things in his book:

How he asks the question is just as important as the question itself. "Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this `good news'?" They say that the person who frames the debate is going to win the debate. That is especially true when the debate is framed in this way, through these particular questions. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. No offense, and no pun intended.

Bell begins the book with surprising forthrightness: Jesus' story has been hijacked by a number of different stories that Jesus has no interest in telling. "The plot has been lost, and it's time to reclaim it." (Preface, vi)

"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."

You may want to read that again.

It really says that. And it really means what you think it means. Though it takes time for that to become clear.

Bell frames much of the book around time and place, around what the Bible means when it speaks of the when and where of heaven and hell. He points to Revelation 21, citing that the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, is coming down to the new earth. He also affirms that heaven is a real place where God's will alone is done and that at present, heaven and earth are not yet one (pp. 42-43). These are points that few Christians could seriously question.

His argument progresses to this: Because heaven will eventually come to earth, if we're to take heaven seriously, we must take the suffering that exists in the world seriously now. Therefore, we are called to participate "now in the life of the age to come. That's what happens when the future is dragged into the present" (p. 45). In light of this, humanity's role within creation is redefined so that we are not so much stewards as we are God's partners, "participating in the ongoing creation and joy of the world" (p. 180), and engaging in creating a new social order with Jesus (p. 77). This language of partnering and participating is frequently applied by Bell to causes of social justice.

But what about hell? Is hell a future reality or a present one? Is it an earthly reality or one that exists elsewhere?

Hell appears to be more about what we do to each other than what we've done to God. Bell reads Jesus' warnings of divine punishment as addressing only the temporal, rather than both the temporal and the eternal. These warnings were for the religious leaders of the day, and had very little to do with some other reality or some other time, he argues (pp. 82-83). Instead, hell is "a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep without our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God's world God's way" (p. 95). There's no fire and no wrath, at least, none that is extrinsic to us.

Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that's just a clever form of denial.

Understanding what Bell truly believes and what he is truly seeking to teach can be a battle. The reader will find himself following many rabbit trails and arriving at several dead ends. It seems that where Bell's arguments begin to break down, he simply walks away instead of pursuing consistency and logic. This book could not stand the rigors of cross-examination. It has little cohesion, little internal strength.

Not only does Bell confirm this in his book, he confirms his belief system as a "universalist" in his interview he did the night before his book was released. Bell, in his hipster preacher attitude, answers questions with vague answers, story telling, and very little biblical backing. In Rob Bell's interview, he mentioned pure scripture on four different occasions, while battling the tough questions with multiple stories, referring to heaven as a party that people can bring dark clouds over, and that heaven is also not a place with gold streets and ferrari's (as clearly stated in Revelation and from Jesus speaking and teaching in my Bible that I use).

People like Rob Bell, and I am using Rob Bell as an example because he is now a face for universalism, can completely destroy a youth ministry. In a generation that is seeking answered more than ever, we are treading on thin lines between reaching students and tearing them away from the church all together.

If we as Christians are going to preach from our respective "pulpits" each week, I am NEVER (let me be clear again) NEVER going to preach the Jesus was inadequate and that there is never in reason for Him to die for our sins in the first place. According to Bell, "
  • We see opression. Tyranny. Dictators using their power to eliminate the opposition with bullets, guns, and fire.
  • We create our own hell… others of us live in the aftermath of someone else’s."
According to Bell, we create our own hell. Because of this, a loving God will simply let us into heaven because we have seen and been through hell in our lives.
Let me be clear about something. I have been through a lot of hell in my life, but Jesus was the sole reason I got out of it. I surrendered my life to the Christ that saved me from my sins. Because of this, this does not mean I will not experience "hell" again. However, in the end of my blink of an existence, God will be honored.

Students question their lives today and their lives after death. Some come to a conclusion at an early age to be a follower of Christ. Others come to no conclusion and live their lives as to how they want, and by doing good deeds from time to time, earn a way into heaven.

Readers, we have to know that Jesus is the only way into heaven. Just because Rob Bell tells us that he is not the only way into heaven, does not mean we need to listen to him. Bell is an amazing speaker. He can convey things about the Bible most people are afraid to. Bell has made a career on asking the "tough" questions. One thing I have always told my students to question their faith and to question God. It will only draw them closer to Him.

Now through this WHOLE blog, it has been a complete verbal beat down of Rob Bell and his new book "Love Wins"; however, I am simply telling people who read this blog to find out what their faith really means. By seeking what the Bible tells us, by what Jesus said and did on the cross, by prayer and supplication, we can then make an informed decision. Is there a heaven and hell? Yes and Yes. Both are tangible places with eternal results.

I have set my faith in the rock of Salvation and the Son of Man. I have set my belief that I will be in heaven, but not before I do God's will for my life here on earth. I encourage many people to buy Rob Bell's book "Love Wins". Read the book and then read the real Gospels and see what Jesus references to. Was Jesus' death all that important? I believe so.

I am in no way condemning Rob Bell for his universalist beliefs. Everyone has freedom of choice and the freedom to believe what they want. I can understand where Bell is coming from and why he would want to choose this sort of belief system. No one can understand God fully and the same God that love us, loves justice for us and on us just as much. Decide for yourselves.


Yesterday was the start of a lot of things for most people involved in the church. Those churches that observe the season of Lent (40 days before Easter) more than likely had an Ash Wednesday service last night. Also, through this season, we start to see people give up things. I have noticed a trend, at least in my past, about giving things up; it becomes a second new years resolution almost. People are going to give up certain things for losing weight before swim suit season, or they want to give up soda because we just consume too much of it.

Recently I was talking with my best friend and mentor, Eric Hendrickson, about maybe doing a revival of sorts to my blog. I should update my twitter name, change a few things and do something that would brand myself as "Mark Hashtag" or "Hashtag Mark" Or simply #mark. The reason we talked about this is because it could give me daily things to blog about, using the trending topics on twitter. It also works because my last name, Ashby, sounds like hashtag ( a little bit).

I thought about that conversation with Eric as I started to sit down at my desk this morning. Maybe instead of getting ready to look good in a bikini...not me of course, I can start doing things that would really be possibly helpful or insightful on current issues, or trends depending on how well you are connected into the social network lifestyle.

However, for the lent season, I have decided to limit myself to 1 hour of facebook a day. For those that know me, I am pretty much on it 24/7/365. It is BAD. I even check facebook on the road at red lights from time to time. If facebook were a drug, it would be illegal.

During this time though, I am going to devote more time to God. I really feel like I will be honoring God with this. I am not giving up fast food, chocolate or soda because I eat my weight in each. I am not going to make a better chance of working out, because we all know the only work out I get is lifting the TV remote higher to get a signal to the cable box. However, I want to commend people that are trying to make these sacrifices as they too can be vices in your daily and spiritual lives.

Right now, I am social networking with my blog. Maybe it is time for an upgrade. Maybe it is time for some branding. Maybe it is time for my second new years resolution as well. Maybe it is just my time. I can't really be sure. What I do know is that the decluttering that I am going to do in m life is to not take other pastors words as gospel. I will not be as easily influenced by those who are the current flavor of the week. I will reduce my time to a simple Gospel that ranges to people with PHD's and people who have hardly any education.

Reading a devotional this morning, I read a quote from Charles Spurgeon that says, "God be thanked for the simplicity of the gospel. The longer I live, the more I bless God that we have not received a classical gospel, nor a mathematical gospel, nor a metaphysical gospel; it is not a gospel confined to scholars and men of genius, but a poor man's gospel, a ploughman's gospel; for that is the kind of gospel which we can live upon and die upon."

This is the Christ that I want to go after. I travel 193.63 miles every day to work and back. I pass and encounter so many people along the way. Paul had a route of 1,400 miles on foot preaching the Gospel to all who would hear it. I am challenging myself and those who are in earshot of this blog to maybe get back to the simplicity of the Gospel. Rebrand yourself in the image of Christ that is always trending and will always be topical with situations going on in the world today. Have a revival of sorts, in your own heart to seek out the Christ who seeks out you.

Share Christ's great message of love, grace, peace, and forgiveness to all who will hear it. You never know when you will have a farming moment...(a chance to plant a seed).
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