Rob Bell: No Hell Debate

Rob Bell: No Hell Debate
Whenever a global trend emerges, JOY! as a media platform, has a responsibility to discuss, analyse and profile the philosophy or author and to offer a Biblical perspective. This comes with criticism though, as (understandably) people presume we are making definitive judgement calls and supporting or condemning the particular subject matter.

Often the problem with printed media is that tone and intention is lost and people read articles from their own perspective and unique context (thus the wide array of response letters we receive concerning contentious topics). JOY! is not the sum of one person’s beliefs. We prayerfully select qualified and anointed local and international experts to offer the Scriptural standpoint so as to educate our readers, but this still remains a challenging task as our readers encompass the entire spectrum of denominational  groupings and theological leanings (including Orthodox/Evangelical/Charismatic and Emergent). 

The problem with printed media
It must be reiterated that the most challenging aspect of compiling articles in magazine format, is the limited word limit and space available for covering complex topics. Global research has shown that readers do not want to read 6 000-word treatises, or 10 page articles; rather they need comprehensive overviews. A topic as controversial as Rob Bell’s book and his theology requires (and deserves) an in depth analysis. Obviously we cannot afford it this, so when publishing critical articles, we take a risk, hoping that we cover as many bases as possible – but knowing we are bound to offend some with a ‘superficial summary’.

The heart of the debate…
Regardless, JOY! is duty bound to provide a Biblical perspective and stimulate debate. The ‘Rob Bell: No Hell’ articles certainly hit a nerve (as we expected it to), and as one can see from the extracted letters on these pages, opinions have been varied and often vastly juxtaposed. Debate is always a good thing, as it causes one to examine what you believe and why, and to also engage in dialogue with people of differing opinions and theological standpoints. It is imperative though, that when initiating debate, a person is informed and respectful.

All the relevant contributors to the Rob Bell story (and our editorial staff) read ‘Love Wins: A book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who ever lived’, as well as the international debate around the book and Bell’s theology, before assimilating any commentary. We also (obviously) consulted the critical Scriptures concerning hell, wrath, judgement, salvation, etc before ‘judging’ Bell’s book.

The clash of culture and Scripture
I do not think Rob Bell is a false prophet; he loves the Lord and people very much – this is evident from his missiology, church activity and writings/sermons. Bell is a gifted teacher, and influential leader; most of his NOOMA DVDs feature remarkable teachings that Christians around the world have used to great effect. What is concerning is Bell’s continued departure from Evangelical Christian theology and accelerated move toward emergent thinking. No one can authoritatively classify Bell as a universalist or a heretic – his latest book is too vague anyway (intentionally) for someone to do that. But, through Bell’s leading questions and subtle theological innuendos, it is wise to  read the book critically and with a Bible in hand.

The fact that Rob Bell deliberately omits the harsh, direct Scriptures referring to hell, wrath and judgement, clearly reveals his uncomfortability with facing the totality of God’s Word and its application to all areas of doctrinal belief. That said, hell and God’s wrath are topics that most Christians avoid talking about, as it seems incompatible with our limited understanding of God and the humanistic culture we are all so immersed in.

Knowing God’s Word is critical
As a publication, we have a moral imperative to analyse popular doctrine and its influence on Christian society. This may appear judgemental, but that is an incorrect perception – judging a person’s character is not the same as testing their doctrine. If the ‘Harold Camping’ debacle has taught people anything, it should be the absolute necessity for every Christian to know exactly what the Bible teaches around key issues and doctrine. And, to pray for Christian leaders and teachers.

by Jackie Georgiou

Skeptics Answered: How Can Hell & Judgement Be Trait of a Loving God?

Skeptics Answered: How Can Hell & Judgement Be Trait of a Loving God?
The doctrine of hell and the wrath of God has never been popular and recently a big controversy erupted worldwide with the release of Rob Bell’s book on the subject matter. (‘Love Wins’ see JOY! June issue).

According to surveys a large majority of Evangelical Christians believe more or less, that people of other religions and faiths will go to Heaven, regardless of what their church and theologians may argue. This is worrying because born-again, Bible believing Christians are disregarding the Word of God, in favour of their own opinions.

Creating a more ‘palatable’ Gospel
AW Tozer (1897 – 1963) noted the following:   “It would be impossible to overemphasise the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching.”
Bell (and others) repeatedly ask “How could a loving God be wrathful toward people He created?” This is a valid question, but it is incomplete; we need to look at what the Word of God says, not what our humanist thinking dictates we ask. The problem with Bell’s book and Liberal Christianity is that it creates a gospel that is a little more palatable and a “better story” as Bell puts it.

Talking about hell is an act of grace
If we look at the number of times Jesus spoke of hell, judgement and the wrath of God, it is alarming that the Church is nervous to speak about it. Judgement, wrath and hell are widely misunderstood doctrines that come under fire frequently, yet it is an act of grace to preach on hell. It is our duty as Christians to speak about the reality of hell and eternal judgement.

The intent of liberal Christianity
When I warn my boys about something that is dangerous for them (like playing with fire), and in that I spoil their fun, I am not being harsh. I am being loving and gracious toward them. Preaching about hell shows that we care about people. We speak about hell precisely because God wants everyone to be saved. Hell leads people to the Cross.

Richard Niebuhr a leading 20th Century theologian said that “liberal theology removes the critical elements out of our Gospel. It says that essentially, ‘a God without wrath, brought men without sin, into a Kingdom without judgement, through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

The Bible is clear
We instinctively tend towards understanding the Bible in the way that justifies our actions and attitudes. But we cannot isolate God’s attributes. Just as one can’t separate eggs and sugar from a baked cake, you cannot accept some of God’s attributes and not others. You can’t have God’s love without His holiness; His mercy without His justice.

The Bible is clear: “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed. He will render to each one according to His works:  to those who by patience seek for glory and honour and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good…For God shows no partiality.”  Rom 2:5-11.

The Lord’s anger is holy, justified and fair. The language the Bible uses about hell and God’s wrath is harsh and hard.  Liberal theologians would have us diminish this language because it does not ‘fit’ with their picture of God. People don’t like the idea of an angry God, because they see angry men and teachers and they think it’s the same thing.

Man is to die once
There is a Day of Reckoning coming and a just and righteous God will judge us fairly – whether we want to accept this or not. Liberal theologians (like Rob Bell in his book) would like to think that after you die you get a second chance – that “love  wins in the end.”  The Bible is clear on what will happen when we die and the language the Bible uses is direct: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes Judgement.” Heb 9:27.

God’s holiness demands His wrath
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30

[Interestingly Bell does not use these or any other commonly referred to Scriptures on hell and wrath in his book]. The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all things unrighteous. He detests our sin and hates it with a passion. God has made Himself  known to every person who has ever lived. We may not know how He has done this, but the fact is, God has done it. The Bible assures us everyone will hear the truth and no one will have an excuse. That is what we believe, even if we don’t understand how it works. (Rom 1:18-20). If we believe in a God who is holy and completely righteous, then by virtue of His very nature and character, unholiness goes against all that He is. And if He just keeps quiet about sin and injustice, then what kind of God is He?

What Bell should have asked in his book is, “How can God be holy and not display His devastating disapproval of sin?” It would just be lip service if God did nothing. We don’t respect a government that leaves murder unpunished, or a husband who says he loves his wife but treats her badly – yet the world wants a God who is fair, but doesn’t deal with sin.

Why should we rejoice God’s wrath?
1. It preserves His God-ness. He is angry with anyone who rebels against His authority. This is not some insecure reaction. It’s just the reality that God is God and He will have His way
2. It keeps us safe from the effects of sin. Understanding God’s wrath should scare us and make us hate sin too. No one would want to live in a society where sin is unpunished – that would be hell. A place devoid of God and all His influence.
3. It’s a catalyst for our appreciation of God’s great mercy. When we understand His wrath, we appreciate His grace in affording us shelter in Christ from that wrath. A father loves his children and wants to protect them, but he also lets them face the consequences of their choices so that they may grow and mature. God is a Father: People who do not understand the wrath of God cheapen the grace and mercy of God and turn it into a commodity that allows them to live sinful lives.

God has given us hope in Christ
It is from God’s wrath that we are saved (despite what Bell and others may say). This is  a concept difficult to reconcile for those who are in search of a cushy God of their own design. The reality is we are rescued from God’s wrath by the self-giving love and sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” Rom. 5:8-9.

Will people appreciate God’s mercy if they did not know what His wrath and judgement is like? Look at it in the context of a father and child: if my child makes a mistake and I choose not to punish him for that, how could he appreciate that grace if he had never been punished before when he deliberately disobeyed me?

Hell is a real place
Those who try to negate the Word of God, turn Jesus into a liar. Though people say we see hell on earth, and we do see terrible situations of poverty, abuse, violence and injustice – this is not the true hell that the Bible speaks of – regardless of what people would like to believe. If hell is not a real place, it mocks the Cross and Jesus’ sacrifice. The difference between the so called hell on earth and the real hell awaiting is that in the real (true) hell there will be not one person who will think: “I don’t deserve this.”

John Piper says that “what sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer. “

The point is this – if people knew what hell really is, they wouldn’t choose it. They have been seduced by sin.

How can a loving God send people to hell?
Well that is the very definition of love – to get to hell, someone must have rejected God’s sacrifice for their sin, reject the Crucified Son of God who died for them, reject the Spirit who draws them to the Father.

Is God intolerant? By no means – He gives all a fair chance in receiving Him. Should God be more tolerant? Just like a father is not tolerant of a predator to his kids; a rapist of his daughter; God separates sin from Himself and from His children. If you want to fight for a ‘tolerant’ God then we should stop sentencing murderers and rapists. Somehow people have found it acceptable to think love means no boundaries or consequences. Is it loving to allow our kids to do exactly what they want? Is it loving to let them be exposed to that which can harm them? If we understand God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we cannot argue about God’s commitment to righteousness and justice.

By displaying His wrath to us, He displays His mercy. Without that, I don’t know if anyone would choose Him. This ‘love’ would just be an idea…it would require no decision. There is only one way to God – through Jesus; but there are many ways to Jesus and God gives each a fair chance.

by David Louw

What Can Harold Camping Teach Us?

What Can Harold Camping Teach Us?
Not too many people in South Africa would have known of Harold Camping, until May 2011 that is. Since 2005, this radio preacher from the US has been boldly proclaiming that the Rapture would occur at 6pm 21st May, 2011. The press soon got hold of this and gave him a prominence he didn’t deserve.

I remember reading a book, ’88 reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988’ and I also remember throwing it in the bin in January 1989! The book apparently sold more than 4.5 million copies – can you believe it? Well, in similar vein, so Pastor Camping’s teachings also need to be binned. Actually, they should never have been aired to start with.

Camping’s methodology
I don’t have much sympathy for Pastor Harold but my heart goes out to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of his followers. I wonder how they are feeling right now? I am sad to think of so many people being disillusioned and broken. But God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28) and so we need to identify what we can learn from this stupid non-event.

A major lesson concerns the way Camping interpreted the Bible. He used two methods of calculating the day he believed the true saints would be caught up to Heaven. The one involved a weird and convoluted number manipulation, the other was based on his reading of the Genesis account of the Great Flood. Genesis 7:4 records how God warned Noah that the flood would start in seven days time.

We are not to make assumptions
The Great Flood was a judgement on all humanity and so Camping reasoned that it must be a type (a sort of spiritual template), for the coming Judgement. This is Lesson One: we are not entitled to make assumptions like this unless the Bible actually makes the connection for us. Next, Camping arrived at a date for the Great Flood of 4990 BC. I don’t know how he arrived at this date. Bishop Ussher’s chronology placed the flood in 2348 BC while others place it at 2304 BC or even 2750 BC. All of these are more than 2 000 years from Camping’s date. Somehow Pastor Harold thought that Genesis 7:4 contained a hidden warning concerning a coming calamity. To unveil the meaning, he multiplied 7 x 1 000 and subtracted the 4990 BC date. He then added 1 to allow for the change from BC to AD and, hey presto, we have 2011! Why did he multiply by 1 000? He did so because 2 Peter 3:8 states that one day is like a thousand years to the Lord. Lesson Two: we can’t selectively apply one text, out of context, to another text. Genesis 7:4 also states that the flood would last for 40 days, so does this mean that the coming Judgement will last for 40 000 years?

Looking for ‘hidden’ meanings
So much for the year, now what about the day? Well, according to Camping, the Great Flood started on 17th of the Hebrew month Iyyar which equates to 21st May in the year 2011. I presume he chose 6pm as the ‘lift off’ time because the ancient Hebrew day started at 6pm on the previous evening…but that would make it the 22nd May…!

Harold Camping’s interpretive methods come from a belief that the Bible needs to be interpreted allegorically. Preachers in the Middle Ages used this method extensively because they, like Camping, thought that every text in the Bible contained a hidden meaning. They taught that these veiled meanings could be revealed by relating the text to other texts, irrespective of context, or simply by applying ‘Spirit-led imagination’.

Interpreting Scripture correctly
Unfortunately, Camping is not the only one who interprets the Bible in this mystical way. Several years ago I heard the leader of a major church group preach on how the twelve gates in the walls of ancient Jerusalem each stood for a particular church age. He went around the gates in a clockwise direction and concluded that we were currently in the age signified by the Dung Gate – phew!

Some texts may have more than one meaning, but any ‘deeper’ meanings must be governed by the meaning the original readers/listeners would have attributed to the text. There are some exceptions to this in the Bible itself  (for instance the 1 Corinthians 2:16 use of Isaiah 40:13) but the general principle is sound and will guard us from misleading and irresponsible theology.

by Dr Christopher Peppler

The JOY! Tour to Egypt, Jordan and Israel

The JOY! Tour to Egypt, Jordan and Israel
We all arrived at OR Tambo airport a little nervous and very excited for the 11 day tour that was to commence. What would the political situation be like in Egypt and would the Israeli Holy Land live up to expectations?

Jannie du Plessis (Owner of Sure Makro Travel) waved us goodbye, and as family and friends gathered to see off the Gautengers, the rest of us (from all over South Africa including Cape Town, Bloem and Durban) waited in line with our passports. After quick introductions, we boarded our Egypt Air flight and jetted off for sunny Cairo. Upon landing we met Michael (of Nawas Travel), the most professional chaperone a tour group could wish for! Michael took care of all our arrangements and introduced us to Wahid – our tour guide in Egypt. The group was itching to see the pyramids, so  our bus driver   expertly navigated the chaotic streets of Cairo.

A day to remember in Cairo
As we approached the pyramids (which tower over the city and surrounding architecture), tour members quickly grabbed their JOY! caps and blue pashminas to shade them from the beating sun.

‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ resounded as we neared the base of these colossal structures (built as burial monuments for the Pharaohs by slaves). Cameras were whipped out for photo opportunities, especially when local herdsmen came running with offers for camel rides. Most of the group jumped at the opportunity to experience transport the ‘Biblical way’ and Vuyelwa was all smiles when her camel hoisted her up for a ride. Shrieks could be heard throughout the barren land as Jenny and Lana posed for pics. Judging from the smiles on their faces, Jimmy and Cathy also enjoyed themselves!

Next stop was the Sphinx, which was a lot smaller in real life (especially according to Elsabé who spent ages staring at the stone statue). A qualified archaeologist, Wahid was excited for the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the world’s most priceless artefacts. Some tour members, like Etha, weren’t up for the museum tour (it had been a very long day) and instead chose to relax by the pool at our hotel and soak up the sun!

Standing in Tahir Square
Freddie and Greer couldn’t wait to see the Museum, as it is located next to Tahir Square (where the January revolution took place). Seeing the burnt buildings and standing at the exact spot where over a million people gathered in protest months earlier, was a historic moment for me – a political journalist by study! The next day it was off to Jordan, a beautiful country with very friendly people. First up was Mount Nebo, the area Moses viewed the promised land from and is believed to be buried near. Seeing the valleys and hills of the promised land from Moses’s vantage point was a highlight for everyone, especially Hennie and Erna who listened intently as Kevin and Di preached a quick sermon.

Exploring the country of Jordan
Next was the spot where people believe Jesus was baptised (on the Jordan side of the Jordan river), and though it was muddy, Kwena couldn’t resist putting her feet in this special water. After some shopping (which  fashion boutique owner Gilda and her husband Alvaro seemed to enjoy), we retired to our five star hotel.

After dinner, we had a devotional meeting and everyone was given an opportunity to share their hopes for the tour. Friends Debby and Jane spoke of their life-long dream, as well as Tina and Eugenie, who had signed on at the last moment and were so excited to join the JOY! team.

Crossing over to the promised land
The next day we crossed the border into Israel and the group was buzzing with excitement for the baptism service that was to take place. Selma and André were rearing to go, and went into the water full of expectation. Kevin gave each person a word before lowering them into the water, and the smiles on Paul and Elsie’s faces were priceless! Dalene and the bubbly Ranjini  kindly helped me lead the praise and worship, as it took an hour and a half to get through everyone!

A lifetime of memories
There were so many places we visited on this trip (and not enough space to mention them all), but a few other special highlights included worship on the Sea of Galilee. Thomas and Elaine really enjoyed this, and Memory seemed to be in her element, taking in the quiet splendour of the lake that our Lord spent so much time on.

Jeanette loved floating in the Dead Sea and Johnny, our fantastic tour guide, enjoyed the interview I conducted with him on the long drive up to Jerusalem. Our time at the Garden of Gethsemane was very special, as we considered Jesus and what He endured the night before His crucifixion. The group prayed for the sick, and Phuti was instantly healed of a long term shoulder injury. We also prayed for Era and Wilco, trusting that the Lord is going to do a miracle in their lives. Pierre and Zelda were moved at the Garden Tomb where we had communion and worship and Heide and Vernon enjoyed touring the bustling streets of the Old City.

The end of a special tour
Petra was a significant highlight; Erin (our editor) couldn’t stop talking about the breathtaking scenery, and Sanietha (who had attended a previous JOY! tour) loved this extra excursion in the desert. Petro and Anna chatted to the local people, even praying over Muslim babies whilst Hermien was focussed on ‘Zorro’ the dashing Arabian horse rider who followed the group around. Sean and Cindy took thousands of photos and have a fantastic collection of memories to look back on, and I will never forget my 45 new friends.Every Christian should try and visit Israel. JOY! will be hosting more tours, but we also encourage you to consult the companies that advertise with us, as they regularly take trips abroad.

by Jackie Georgiou

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A Theology Too Small

A Theology Too Small
In the 1980’s, I ventured to hold a campaign in Birmingham, England. This was the first crusade outside of Africa. Then, early in 1983, another invitation came to hold a crusade in the city of Perth. Our friends in that city had acquired the use of the 8 000-seat entertainment centre.

The first night the hall was packed. The local news team arrived to find a story. “What will you do here tonight, Lord?”

Proclaiming a miracle
My eyes were drawn to the far right side of the auditorium where a lady in a blue vest and jeans sat in a wheelchair. The Lord said to me, “Tonight I will heal that woman there.” I took the microphone and announced, with great excitement, “Today a great miracle is going to happen here. I pointed to the woman in the blue jeans, “That woman over there is going to be healed, and she is coming out of her wheelchair.” The local TV news team took eager notice of it.

When I made this announcement, I hoped to stir up an expectation in the crowd – I had learned that this can help build an atmosphere of faith. In the Gospel of Matthew and Mark, we read that Jesus’ miracle-working power was limited by the unbelief of the people in Nazareth. Certainly, if a lack of faith can limit Jesus’ power to do miracles, it can limit mine. If Jesus credited miracles of healing to the faith of a sick person, so must I. This was my theology of faith in a nutshell.

The faith of others can heal you
As I made my bold announcement it did not seem to build an atmosphere of faith in the room. In fact, the opposite happened. The woman did not receive my announcement as good news. She ducked her head under her arms and tried to hide herself. I must have sounded to those people like an insensitive South African preacher who had presumed upon a poor woman’s illness. The crowd did not respond positively. What I did not know was that this woman had merely come as an invited guest. She was not religious at all. She had no knowledge or expectation of healing. It turns out the woman had a degenerative disease called ‘brittle bone’ disease. To stand up would cause her bones to crack.

As I waited for the time for preaching, I said within myself, “Oh Lord, she doesn’t have faith. How’s this going to work?”

In a moment the Holy Spirit spoke back to me, “Today it’s not her faith, it’s your faith. You are going to see a great miracle.”

Immediately, my mind raced through the Scriptures. Could I find an example in the New Testament that would demonstrate that Jesus healed someone based on the faith of another?

Feeling like you are all alone…
Suddenly it came to me: the story of the paralysed man who was let down through the roof to Jesus. In the story, the man shows no faith of his own. His friends take him to Jesus. They cannot get into the house where He is teaching, but they are so sure of Jesus’ power to heal that they remove the roofing material, and let the man down next to the Lord inside the house.

The Bible says that when Jesus saw their faith, He forgave the man’s sins and healed his body. When I got up to preach, I preached to myself as much as to anyone else. I built up my own faith by this Bible story so that when the time came to pray for the woman, I would not expect her faith to be present.

At the end of the sermon, I announced that I would now pray for the woman in the wheelchair, as I had promised. On the platform with me was a pastor friend from South Africa. He whispered, “Reinhard, you’re on your own now.” By this he meant that he had seen the woman’s lack of faith, and was not going to share my embarrassment. The TV crew got in position to record the event. “What is your name?” I asked. “I am Mrs McKelt” She replied. “Mrs McKelt, God has told me that you are going to be healed today,” I told her.

A miracle healing
As I prepared to lay my hands on her I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my South African friend. “One shall chase a thousand,” he whispered, “but two can chase ten thousand.” He was speaking now of joining his faith with mine in this prayer.

I would have prayed without him, but I was glad to see him there. I laid my hands on her head and commanded, “In the Name of Jesus, get up and walk!”

Signs and wonders
Slowly, unsteadily, she stood to her feet. The people seemed to be holding their breath. The news team was filming away. “Now walk,” I said. She began to walk like Frankenstein – clump, clump, clump, across the floor. She moved like she was wearing lead boots. “Run in Jesus’ Name!” I shouted. “Run!” Suddenly, she took off like a shot. She began running, and screaming, and laughing, and jumping.

The news team ran a story. The next day they did a follow up taking their camera to the house. When she answered the door the camera revealed her wheelchair folded up in a corner of the entryway.

Don’t put God in a box
Years later, Mrs McKelt attended a Christ for all Nations partners banquet in Perth. She came to show me that she was completely healed. She was a child of God set free. Through Mrs McKelt, I learned to be careful about putting God in a theological box. Today, when I pray for someone and that person is not healed, I do not blame the person (in my mind) for a lack of faith.

The longer I live, the less I pretend to know about the mind of God. I do not know why some are healed when others are not. I only know that sometimes it is the gift of another’s faith that can make a person whole.

by Reinhard Bonnke

Bear Grylls: God’s Ultimate Survivor

Bear Grylls: God’s Ultimate Survivor
He has trekked the perilous jungles of South America, mountaineered the arctic tundras of Greenland and consumed countless worms, scorpions and bitter shrubs in the Saharan Desert. He has swum across hippo-infested waters and been attacked by wild animals. He is tough. He is adventurous. He is Bear Grylls – media phenomenon and ‘Ultimate Survivor’.

A devastating accident…
Christened Edward Michael Grylls by his British parents, Eddie (37) was nicknamed ‘Teddy’ at primary school, which later shortened to ‘Bear’ (not a very manly origin, but almost prophetic when one considers his wild adventures!). Having spent his youth climbing cliffs on the Isle of Wight with his politician father, Bear dreamed of protecting his country and exploring the world.

This determined soldier went on to serve in the British Special Forces, where he was trained in unarmed combat, desert and winter warfare, combat survival, medics, parachuting, signals, evasive driving, climbing and explosives. However, after three years, Bear’s time in the Forces ended abruptly with a parachuting accident.

“In 1996, I suffered a freefall parachuting accident in Zambia when my canopy ripped at 4 900 metres. It was partially opened and I landed on my back, crushing three vertebrae.”

Unwavering determination
Lying in hospital, the doctors said Bear came within a ‘whisper’ of paralysis and that his long road to recovery excluded any physical activity for years to come. Bear was devastated. ”I remember lying there during those long 18 months of recovery; my dream of climbing Everest felt a million miles away…I remember looking at the pictures my late father had given me of Everest years earlier, and taking them down. I dismissed the dream as something childish…”

Though he felt  defeated at the time, Bear refused to give up on his ambitions and with his trademark determination and positivity, started walking within months. Two years later, at 23, Bear went on to climb Everest, setting a Guinness World Record for being the youngest Briton to summit this ominous mountain. “I came away from Everest a very grateful, pretty broken person, never wanting to return. Four of my teammates had been killed: two from falling and two from the cold. It’s a big bad mountain. I still feel that way.”

The making of a celebrity
Having followed his summit and picked up Bear’s autobiography, The Discovery Channel approached him to do a TV show aimed at teaching viewers basic survival skills in remote locations. At first Bear was not convinced and turned them down three times. But eventually after a bit of encouragement from his wife Shara, Bear decided TV was a good platform to do what he loved, raise awareness for charities (like the Scouts) and earn a living.

To say that Bear’s popularity skyrocketed after filming his first series, ‘Man vs Wild’, would be an understatement!

Man vs Wild
Within months of broadcast, Bear became an international celebrity, motivational speaker and the most admired man in the UK (declared by a national British poll amongst teenagers). Bear later signed on as an ALPHA spokesperson too. Bear had known the Lord from a young age, but it was in tough survival situations that he really came to trust and rely on God. And his TV show has afforded him many opportunities to share this faith with others.

 “As a child, I never questioned the existence of God. I had a really natural faith. I knew God existed; I felt loved, and [my faith] was there. But I lost it. I met Christians as I grew older, but they seemed judgemental and boring. I thought, ‘I don’t want that,’ and I walked right away from it.”

Bear thought his life was OK until his teen years when some close friends suddenly abandoned him. “It’s so easy to be brave when everything’s OK, but real bravery is being OK when everything else is not.”  Sitting alone one day, Bear began to pray. “I wanted that same faith and friendship with God that I had known as a young boy. I wanted that freedom again. I remember saying to God, “If You’re there, will You be that Friend to me again? Amen.”

That was the end of Bear’s simple prayer, and the start of a lifelong relationship with Jesus.  Years after that conversation with God, Bear and Shara attended an ALPHA course, where they settled the ‘big’ questions of life. (ALPHA is an evangelistic course adapted by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the UK, which has a global reach and has seen 12 million attendees hear of living faith in Christ).

A private and some-what shy person, Bear was not always outspoken about his faith. But he was drawn to ALPHA because of its simple, non-threatening approach to Christianity. “Alpha was a really good excuse for me to ask questions, about God and His plan for humanity and me. It was easy and it was fun.” Bear and Shara soon signed on as spokespeople for ALPHA and are passionate about spreading the Good News to all people, including those in prison (where Bear sometimes does motivational talks).

Fearless and full of faith
Though his TV contract is relatively strict when it comes to speaking about religious matters, Bear has a natural and gentle way of bringing across his beliefs. In one particular episode, Bear was in Patagonia trying to start a fire (without much success) by rubbing two sticks together. Wet, cold and tired, it took Bear 30 minutes to generate enough friction for a small spark to light the tinder, and during this tedious process he shared his thoughts on life saying:
“I think the magic of places like this is that everything slows down and life becomes much more rural. Those things that keep you going in life suddenly become much more prominent. For me, certainly that’s my Christian Faith. [It] is a big part of that and it’s helped me through so many difficult and often quite lonely times. Some say Christianity is a crutch. I say it may be so, but it is also my backbone.” And boy, does Bear need backbone for some of the stunts he does! Whether it is parachuting out of a moving plane into the barren Australian Outback (Bear has a fear of heights) or sailing in the swamps of Indonesia (after the 2006 tsunami hit) in a rotting Zebra carcass, Bear puts his money where his mouth is (literally) to bring the viewer a ‘realistic’ experience.

“Ordinarily I exercise six times a week and eat as healthily as possible, avoiding processed food, meat and dairy, but out in the wild, I have been forced to forage for whatever food is available. My worst experiences include eating frozen Yak eyeballs, goats testicles and maggots the size of a baby’s hand.”

A team of best friends
Although he is respected, Bear has not been free of controversy. Critics have accused him of faking many of the scenarios on his shows, of having a team of experts helping behind the scenes and of staying in hotels during filming. In response to the allegations, Bear is quick to acknowledge the efforts of his team who undertake every adventure with him.

“There are generally about four or five of us on a shoot – including a cameraman, sound man, director and our rope safety guy to get the crew in positions to film on cliff faces. They are all trained climbers and we share many experiences (like eating maggots!). On overnight shoots, the crew sometimes retreat to a nearby hotel, but I always spend the time out in the wild. We are all best friends and those camera guys, are the real heroes of the show!”

The toughest challenge…
Bear does extensive preparation before every series, but he also relies on the expert knowledge of several researchers who check out the landscape, fauna and flora and how to defend oneself against predators – very handy when he is charged by a rhino or attacked by a black bear.

Filming takes place for about seven months a year, and this is actually the most challenging part of what Bear does. “Being away from my family for months at a time is very difficult. But fortunately I have a very understanding wife, and my boys (Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry) don’t mind me being away, as long as I camp and fish with them.”

For now, Bear has some time to spend with the family (he takes July and August off every year) on their barge on the River Thames (in the centre of London) or at their country house in Wales. And downtime is certainly needed, as Bear is always in demand for TV interviews, men’s magazine shoots, military functions, product endorsements, motivational talks and book signings (he is currently working on a new book and feature film).

Bear is a living example of God’s grace and how one is able to survive whatever life throws at you. For Bear, Phillipians 4:13 gives him the encouragement he needs to endure every tough situation. He also takes comfort from Psalm 73:23, knowing that God is in control. “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand…”

by Jackie Georgiou