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the Grace Outpouring by Roy Godwin
Becoming a People of Blessing

This book has been one of the most popular of recent times so when I was prompted, I thought it was time I got round to it.

It's the story of Ffalder-y-Brenin (fal-duh-brenin), a retreat house in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and how Roy Godwin and his wife Daphne became the managers and the extraordinary experiences visitors have there.

The first chapters describe how God overcame their resistance to becoming Christian Retreat managers ( or rather Roy's ); is quite extensive and reasonably so, as it reveals how God gets his way in the life of a Christian leader who thinks he's on top of God's will for his life.

It then describes how God showed Roy that Ffalder-y-Brenin was to become a house of prayer, with the emphasis on blessing visitors and those living nearby, in the local village. The accounts of how God manifest himself to visitors, even quite sceptical ones are quite startling as people experience the presence of God, even as they enter the grounds, or visit the chapel; and then there's the cross on the hill!

Godwin goes on to talk about Houses of Prayer and how to set one up.
This new edition concludes with a study guide.

An easy, encouraging and rewarding read, that's worth giving to non Christians as it demonstrates the reality of God.



Weakness is the Way - J.I. Packer

In 1973, J.I. Packer published  a book called 'Knowing God' and its still in print and popular. It's the most influential book I've read. In 2013, Packer published 'Weakness is the Way' - Life with Christ our Strength.
Inspired by 2 Corinthians, it has three parts.

Part one, 'Christ the Christians Calling', where he speaks of how Paul, in weakness, re-establishes his relationship with the Corinthians and expresses how this enables him to take strength from Christ in his ministry. Packer develops these thoughts in his teaching.

Part Two, 'Christ and the Christians Giving' deals with principles and attitudes, rather than percentages. It is thorough and helpful.

Part Three, 'Christ and the Christians Hoping' expands in strength in weakness and what is truly meant by 'comfort' in the 2 Corinthians sense. Packer contrasts the 'treasure' Gods servants have and the 'jars of clay' they have it in.

Love Wins – Rob Bell

In his book, 'Love Wins', Rob Bell has been accused of 'universalism', the idea that all people will be saved from the wrath of God, that none will be damned to hell.
Reading the book, you get the impression that RB likes to have his cake and eat it; he suggests that people will continue to have opportunity to repent and turn to God, even after death; that ultimately, no one will be able to resist the love of God.
Page 6 is typical of how RB uses words and language.
In chapter one, RB challenges traditional forms of Christian conversion and implys that all Christians regard this as the end of the matter. He says

some Christians believe and often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that what life is all about? Going somewhere else? If that’s the gospel, the good news – if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else – then the central message of the Christian faith has little to do with this life, other than getting you what you need for the next one. Which of course raises the question: Is that the best God can do?
 
Sure some Christians can tend to think like this; but what a generalisation! What a misrepresentation! I'm afraid this is typical of Bells arguments throughout the book.
Bell goes on:

Which leads to a far more disturbing question. So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn't ultimately matter, as long as you've said or prayed or believed the right things?
 
He goes on at length to describe a theology of believers who don't care about the world or the people in it. This a huge distortion of the truth. There are those who, in error; think that way but they are not common.
But what could have coursed RB to think like this?
I suspect its an over-reaction to the attitudes and behaviour of many in his own country.
There are those who are dower and overly rigid in their practise and beliefs, I have seen them in their dark suits, stern faces and empty stands at the 'Christian Booksellers Convention'... mercifully, they were a very small minority.
Then there's a tendency for believers over the pond to be rather 'prescriptive' in the way the faith should be lived out; and prone to taking Gods judgement into their own hands!
In 'Here Is The New There'; Bell implys that the new earth is this one only sanctified. This theology is promoted by Tom Wright with his 'putting the world to rights' teaching. But even Tom would not suggest, that this world will not pass away, to be replaced by a new one, the clear teaching at the end of the book of Revelation.
In his third chapter, RB describes 'Hell' as the existence of people who live in terrible circumstances in this world. There is no doubt that many do exist in a living 'hell' to the utter shame of the rest of us, but that is quite different from 'hell' being another place. Teachers should be very careful before diverting from orthodox Biblical theology.
But the chapter that really drove me up the wall, was Ch 4
'Does God Get What He Wants'!
Bell bases his ideas in this chapter on 1 Timothy ch 2
God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”
 
Here is where he expresses the idea that even after death, God will continue to reveal himself to those who have not accepted him, until they give in. He says that to see it any other way would mean that God does not get what he wants!!!!
Surely this is dangerous teaching. Oh that it were true but we can't have God on our own terms. Its such a radical idea that if he were wrong, the consequences for all involved could be dire! James ch 3 warns that 'teachers will be judged more strictly'.
This teaching is based on Peters remarks in the forth chapter of his first letter where in verse 6 he talks about Jesus going to preach to the dead. This is a well known to be an obscure passage, surely it is dangerous to build a major theology on it.
Earlier, Rob Bell says that there would be no point in evangelism if God knew those that were being saved and those that were not.
What on earth does he think this teaching implies!!!! What is the point of evangelising if everyone will eventually be drawn into Gods Kingdom!
 
The next chapter makes much more satisfying reading. In 'Dying To Live' he talks about the gospel in very real terms, though he does avoid the matter of Christ taking the wrath of God, the matter that got Steve Chalk into trouble.
In 'The Good News Is Better Than That' RB gives some really helpful insights into the parable of the prodigal son, especially where the older brother is concerned. His insights into his deeply ingrained attitudes are really helpful, as are his suggestion that these attitudes are prevalent in Christian workers, I think he might be right about that.
 
The difficulty is, that RB is explicit about nothing, and this is my biggest problem with Rob Bell's teaching and that of the 'emergent' leaders. Teachers are called to lay and build, on a firm foundation but what one is left with is a vague impression of a God who loves with minimal consequences of rejection.

The final chapter of 'Love Wins' is warm and compelling. He describes his prayer of commitment as a child with his parents either side, and expresses all that that means to him, then and now. But he goes on to describe Jesus's parables of warning; the man who buried his treasure; the foolish virgins; sheep and the goats; the tenants in the vineyard and the wheat and the weeds as' missing out on rewards, celebrations and opportunities. This is as far as 'judgement appears to go in Rob Bell's theology but surely Jesus intended us to accept a more dire warning than that!

Rob Bell is a gifted word-smith, a master of his craft. Its just a pity that he uses his observations of the weaknesses of evangelicalism to produce something contentious; and selective in its use of scripture.