Matt Chandler and Bull Balls

My church has bought something a lot of churches are buying— videos that teach so you don’t have to.

I’m sure you can tell I’m not too excited about the proposition, but I understand the need. Most folks aren’t scholars so having good, introductory-level educational resources is a must. And if you can stream it to your iPhone, all the better.

So my church is using RightNow Media, which allows users to stream “discipleship” videos from folks like Chip Ingram, Tommy Nelson, Margaret Feinberg, and Francis Chan. Already I’m nervous cause this has potential to continue the turning-leaders-into-celebrities syndrome that Derek Webb has sung ad nauseum about.

But you gotta try it before you knock it, right? So I see Matt Chandler has a new video series up called “Apologetics”. Matt Chandler has been the speaker at more than one youth camp I went to as a kid, so his was a recognizable face. I’ve also gone from reading Norman Geisler to Mark Noll, so I’m familiar with apologetics and what its proper place is.

Chandler’s first video in the series is called “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Tragedy?”. Some of the things Chandler says are helpful. Some things he says are stupid mistakes from the best of intentions. But some things he says are scary and dangerous, I think.

Good things– Chandler takes suffering seriously. He shares some of his own medical history and how it debilitated him for a time. He honestly shares that Scripture in the face of that pain seems trite and even rude to the person suffering. He also reminds victims of abuse that “no one gets away with injustice”. Its a confession Christians must repeat and remind ourselves of.

Not so good things – Chandler also makes some stupid mistakes that are easily fixed by doing your homework before you open your mouth. The first happens a few minutes. Chandler says,

“When he (God) created the world we live in, he created it good. The Hebrew word is shalom. He created it at peace, or really, in rhythm.”

Actually, the Hebrew word is טוב tov (good). In fact, the Hebrew word שלום shalom doesn’t happen in the Bible until Genesis 15. I’m not sure what source says that God created the world in shalom/rhythm, but it isn’t the Bible. Sounds like Chandler needs a Hebrew refresher before he preaches from the OT publicly. (He and 1,000 others here in North Texas. But you’d figure folks who put this up on the internet would know to check it with the biblioblogging community first. Sheesh.)

Sadly, Chandler builds a theology from this mistake and claims that God’s shalom was fractured when sin entered the world. But shalom doesn’t just mean peace in the shallow way we Americans talk about it. Shalom means wholeness, completeness. So to say that God’s shalom has been fractured is to say that God is not whole. But you’d have to read the Bible to get that. And who has time? Isn’t that why we need to stream these videos?

Another item that shows OT ignorance is a statement that Chandler makes that I hear a lot of people make. In fact, my old systematics prof said it too and he said it started with Augustine. The statement is “God uses, he does not cause, he uses suffering”. Well the Bible says the opposite. In Isaiah 45:7 Yahweh tells Cyrus and the prophet that there is none like him who creates light and dark, peace and violence. That word for violence (רע) is the same word that gets translated “evil” often times in King James style Bibles. No matter how you translate it, Isaiah says that God causes pain. (I’d like Chandler to answer the question “Why did God make the snake?”)

Okay, now the scary dangerous part– Chandler turns to Romans 8:18-22 to find encouragement in the face of suffering. He, like Paul, admits that the world is still waiting to be fixed. So how do we live in the midst of this suffering? Chandler says,

“If we can get our minds on 10,000 years from now, when Jesus Christ has made all things new, and everything has been redeemed, and restored, and put back into that Shalom— if we keep our minds there, our hope there, then we have hope for tomorrow.”

This is a common answer to people who suffer: One day, you won’t suffer anymore, so try to focus on that time to come. But this is cheap comfort. This is a back without a spine. This is scary in the face of suffering. And it is not the gospel.

Chandler should finish reading chapter 8 of Romans (v37 is a doozy!), because Paul certainly does not tell Roman Christians (some of whom were slaves) to focus on a liberating day 10,00 years down the road. Instead, Paul tells us to hope in what Jesus has already done. Jesus’ faithfulness  is evidence that God keeps his promises. And since we share in his death, we also share in his resurrection (which has already happened! Ya’ know— Easter!). Because God makes good on his promises, we are more than conquerers even while we suffer in slavery. Paul raises Christian tolerance for pain, rather than convince us to focus on something else (or somewhen else) that is not painful. In this regard, Chandler’s ethic is more Buddhist than Christian or Jewish.

So, my church… This is level of education and excellence we expect from our preachers and teachers and its lower than a bull’s balls are to the floor. WTF.

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