If you’ve never read Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, you should do so. It is a delightful tale of the undoing of collective denial. It has been said that Anderson’s tale was written as political satire, and although that may be true, I believe it is much more than that. Anderson’s tale is a remarkable analogy for the religious pomposity that has had the world by its balls since the beginning of time. This is evidenced by Anderson’s explanation about how his views on Hell differ from those of his teacher of Greek and Latin studies in his book, True Story of My Life, how he reacted at first, and finally, how those views surfaced in his writing:
…everything tended to assist me in my Greek and Latin studies; in one direction, however, and that the one in which it would least have been expected, did my excellent teacher find much to do; namely, in religion. He closely adhered to the literal meaning of the Bible; with this I was acquainted, because from my first entrance in the school I had clearly understood what was said and taught by it. I received gladly, both with feeling and understanding, the doctrine, that God is love: everything which opposed this–a burning hell, therefore, whose fire endured forever–I could not recognize. Released from the distressing existence of the school-bench, I now expressed myself like a free man; and my teacher, who was one of the noblest and most amiable of human beings, but who adhered firmly to the letter, was often quite distressed about me. We disputed, whilst pure flames kindled within our hearts. It was nevertheless good for me that I came to this unspoiled, highly-gifted young man, who was possessed of a nature as peculiar as my own.
That which, on the contrary, was an error in me, and which became very perceptible, was a pleasure which I had, not in jesting with, but in playing with my best feelings, and in regarding the understanding as the most important thing in the world. The rector had completely mistaken my undisguisedly candid and sensitive character; my excitable feelings were made ridiculous, and thrown back upon themselves; and now, when I could freely advance upon the way to my object, this change showed itself in me. From severe suffering I did not rush into libertinism, but into an erroneous endeavor to appear other than I was. I ridiculed feeling, and fancied that I had quite thrown it aside; and yet I could be made wretched for a whole day, if I met with a sour countenance where I expected a friendly one. Every poem which I had formerly written with tears, I now parodied, or gave to it a ludicrous refrain; one of which I called “The Lament of the Kitten,” another, “The Sick Poet.” The few poems which I wrote at that time were all of a humorous character: a complete change had passed over me; the stunted plant was reset, and now began to put forth new shoots.
Julie Ferwerda uses Anderson’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, to set the stage for her book, Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire. Anderson’s story, coupled with Sam Walter Foss’s The Calf Path, serve as Ferwerda’s powerful double punch that knocks the hypocritical and complacent snot out of the religious mind before round one (I mean, chapter one).
Because of her life-changing personal discovery, I believe that Ferwerda needed to write this book. To her “was granted this grace: to bring the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ to the nations, and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all…” She can’t help but express “that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord;” in Whom we have boldness and access with confidence, through His faith.” (Ephesians 3:8-12) To state it plainly, those of us who have Amazing Hope are too full of joy NOT to share what we know. Believe me, I tried to keep it to myself when I was still shackled in religious chains, still allowing myself to be intimidated into silence by spiritual police, but one year later it burst forth from me. His glory simply cannot be suppressed. The whole world could not contain enough books to express the riches of His glory.
Raising Hell is written from the POV of one who once believed and vigorously defended the doctrine of eternal torment, a doctrine which her daughter was not willing to accept and which she regularly challenged. Ferwerda writes,
In my mother-knows-best reasoning mode, I patiently yet dogmatically explained to her each time what I had been ingrained to believe over a lifetime: “God deeply loves every person He ever created, but in that love, He had to give them a choice to love and accept Him or to reject His free gift of salvation. God doesn’t send anyone to hell, people choose to go to hell by rejecting Him.”
Her first confrontation with evidence which she says, “found me” was when she began to study with a Messianic Jewish woman. She says, “…it seemed a whole world of understanding began to open up in our Bibles, particularly in the Old Testament.” She found errors and inconsistencies between translations, not just in peripheral and obscure passages but in “what appeared to us to be arbitrary or slanted renderings of passages that are foundational to certain Christian orthodox doctrines.” She cites as an example, Hebrews 1:2 which says in the various translations,
NIV: “…through whom he made the universe.”
NASB: “…through whom also He made the world.”
KJV: “…through whom he made the worlds.”
BBE: “…through whom he made the order of the generations.”
YLT: “…through whom also He did make the ages.”
She also noticed that Jeremiah (8:7-9) said, “But My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD. How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, and what kind of wisdom do they have?” Ferwerda concludes, “Right there, Jeremiah confirmed that the scribes had inserted lies into Old Testament writings, many centuries before the Bible was ever established or canonized. I’m not suggesting that all translation errors are intentional, but somewhere along the line, people with the authority to influence the theology of billions, mades some serious mistakes. On the heels of this discovery, Ferwerda’s daughter referred her to this article on Savior-of-All.com, along with a bunch of scripture references, and she thought, “How had I never noticed all those verses before – verses that seemed to express a much more inclusive Gospel than what I had always believed?” After a few months (taking time to be sure), Ferwerda discarded the doctrine of eternal torment and became convinced that God would reconcile everyone to Himself eventually.
In an effort to express the validity and soundness of her belief that Jesus is the Savior of all mankind, Ferwerda takes the readers on a tour of both important information and her personal experience. The book is peppered with relevant stories to illustrate important points, as well as evidence to back claims. She asks plenty of questions and offers good, solid answers, as well as some speculation as food for thought. I believe the intended audience for this book to be the orthodox, mainline Christian. Unfortunately, studies have shown and my personal experience has proven that this audience is not receptive to exposure to belief-opposing information, at least when others are watching. Perhaps if Ferwerda offered a free book cover along with the book… But seriously, I think that God is doing something amazing in the world, opening people’s eyes to Who He really is and what He really does, showing them the difference between Churchianity and spirituality, giving wisdom to fools and making the fools of the wise. This book will help do both – orthodoxy will be further entrenched in dogma and fear because of rejecting God’s message (which is plainly explained in Raising Hell), and those who are designated to attend the School of Love will be given eyes to see and ears to hear.
Ferwerda’s informal approach to addressing opposing views is very non-threatening in its tone, but devastating in its content. Because of her background, she is able to answer objections and brings satisfying resolution to questions such as:
If there is no hell, what did Jesus die for?
What about all the Scriptures that mention hell and eternal punishment?
Does everyone get off scot-free, no matter how they live their lives? Why not live however we want if we’re going to be “saved” regardless?
Why evangelize or tell people about Jesus at all?
How could millions of devout Christians over many centuries have been duped, especially intelligent people who have devoted their lives to Bible scholarship?
Isn’t this some New Age teaching in an attempt to make God more palatable to the lost?
How could this satisfy God’s demands for justice?
Isn’t the Bible clear that people only get one chance to accept Jesus in this lifetime?
Doesn’t Jesus talk about hell more often than heaven in the New Testament?
The content of chapter six, When Hell Became “Gospel Truth”, is a concise introduction to later chapters which more thoroughly examine what Christianity used to be before it was hijacked. She says,
If you study a bit about Church history since about the second century, the term “orthodox Christianity” really becomes an oxymoron. Merriam Webster defines orthodox as, “conforming to established doctrine, especially in religion.” You might also hear it defined as “right doctrine.” Orthodox suggests that there are certain truths and doctrines that have always been peacefully and consensually agreed upon, accepted by the majority of “people like us” throughout all the centuries. Those who have opposing ideas or who question too persistently are usually labeled as liberal or heretical. in fact, these are the assumptions I grew up with in church, and no one ever suggested anything to the contrary. It’s as if mainstream Christianity wants you to think there has always been this harmonious consensus, and if you are to question, you will be singlehandedly going against 2000 years of what “those who are in the right and who are following the Spirit of God” believe and accept as truth.
For instance, many Christians insist that if you question hell, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church, yet the doctrine of eternal torment was not a widely held view for the first five centuries after Christ, particularly in the early Eastern Church, the Church of the early apostles and Church fathers such as Paul, Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and others.
Here I must pause and comment on Origen. My first shocking experience with Christian study materials happened when I read in a book about church history that Origen taught universal reconciliation. First of all, I always had the understanding that people who believed everyone would be reconciled to God were dreamy, hippy types who had no basis whatsoever for their thinking other than good will and a good imagination. I never knew that anyone who was considered an authority in theology had such an idea. Then, as I kept reading, I saw that he was convicted of heresy by the Church. I dismissed the man and what logical reasons he might have had to offer, simply because of that word, heretic. I continued reading the book, and almost put it back on the shelf when I noticed an informational section at the back of the book. I decided to go ahead and read that as well, and to my surprise, I saw that Origen was dead for hundreds of years by the time he was pronounced heretical. My curiosity was peaked, because that certainly wasn’t the impression I got as I was casually reading through the chapters. I purposed to study further on Origen, to find out why it took them so long to slap him with that label. I learned that not only was he long dead when they named him a heretic, but his list of offenses never even included universal reconciliation. The church was not concerned with calling universal reconciliation heresy at that time. The book purposefully distorted the facts, making it appear as though within Origen’s lifetime he singlehandedly conjured up this crazy doctrine, and consequently, they ousted him from the church. But his heresy charges were completely unrelated to his teaching universal reconciliation! That is when my wheels began to turn, when I started doing my homework and checking to verify the accuracy of my study materials. I found more and more of such instances of deceptiveness in my study materials. Finally, I decided that I was just going to use non-religions sources, actual historical writings from the time period of the early church, and Greek and Hebrew concordances. I still could not get away from the corrupted slant entirely, since the concordances were based in erroneous translation, but at least I could find everywhere in scripture where questionable words appeared so that I could verify whether they had been consistently translated. For me, the way the church handled Origen, both during the heresy-fest and in modern study sources, convinced me that I should not trust the experts to teach me truth.
Chapter seven, Satan Wins, God Loses?, asks, “Does God stay angry forever?” Which scripture answers with an emphatic, “No!” Ferwerda also offers some insight from Thomas Talbott’s book, The Inescapable Love of God – an incredible book that I highly recommend. When we consider the idea of death being swallowed up for all time, we need to consider death in its totality. Ferwerda describes the difference between the first death, the second death, and the loss of abundant life. Mainline Christianity has got this all mixed up because of its insistence on eternal torment = Lake of Fire, even though the scriptures clearly state that death and Hades thrown into the Lake of Fire is the second death. Ferwerda notes,
I love how most Christians (including theologians) interpret Revelation. They read about the woman riding on the beast, the red dragon with seven heads, the harlot sitting on many waters, and people standing on the sea of glass mixed with fire, and they all say, “Oh, obviously those are symbolic.” But as soon as they get to the lake of fire, aack! “That’s totally literal!” they say. But at the beginning of Revelation John clearly states that all of Revelation is a vision. So personally, I have come to believe it’s primarily symbolic. Revelation is the only place in the Bible that even refers to the lake of fire.
Along with her fluid commentary, Ferwerda includes gems from Greek and Hebrew which help clarify the intended meaning of the Bible writers. Such gems include:
fire = pur (from which we get our English words pure and purify)
brimstone = theion (divine incense, to purify, and to ward off disease)
torment = basanizo (to test for purity by touchstone)
*Other important words with which every believer should study out on their own: krisis, apollumi, ekklesia, satan, aion. olam, all of the “hell” words, and many more.
Part Two of Raising Hell addresses concerns about the human experience and how it relates to our heavenly Father. An interesting section includes a list of characteristics of loving parents which includes that they “only intend good for their children”, “make sure the punishment fits the crime”, “understand there are factors behind disobedience”, “demonstrate fair and consistent character”, “ultimately long to be restored in relationship”, and of course, “never give up.” Ferwerda examines the experiences of the helpless, the homeless, widows, orphans, blind, deaf, lame, sick, and even enemies. The enemies section opens with one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” Ferwerda considers what orthodox Christianity claims God does to His enemies and says, “If this is what our ‘Father’ is really like, and we are to imitate Him as ‘sons of the Most High,’ shouldn’t we turn our backs on our enemies, damn them, and then build torture chambers for them?”
Theologian William Barclay said, “The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by God and in love with God.” Ferwerda says, “I am positively stumped whenever I share the good, wonderful, awesome news of God’s plan to save all with my Christian friends and some of them, without even stopping to consider a few of my valid points, or to question the process that led me to this belief, or to take any time whatsoever to look into the possibilities, respond with, ‘I’m sad for you, Julie.” I share in her experience, as does everyone I know who has Amazing Hope. We wonder how it is that people who we call friends have no interest in allowing us to explain to them how our lives were dramatically affected in the most wonderful way. If we got to go backstage and meet someone famous, they would want to know all about it, how did you get back there, what did you see, what was it like to meet him/her, etc. It’s very strange, the lack of interest, the defiant talk-to-the-hand, the “so long (insert name here)” tweet, the heretic label, the icy reception, the fake friendliness, the back-stabbing gossip, etc., very strange behavior out of people who claim to live in light and love.
I appreciate the fact that this book is well organized, with headings for each chapter section. As I am making my way through the book for the purpose of this review, I see the section called Only One Chance? where Ferwerda makes a very good point:
I have asked people the question, “Where in the Bible does it say that this mortal lifetime is the only opportunity we get to be saved?” To which they usually respond with Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” This is certainly the verse I was taught to use in such cases in my years of evangelism training, but if you examine the verse more closely, does it really say anything about having only one chance to be saved? All men are appointed to die, fact established. Yes, there will be a Judgment – the Bible teaches that it will last a whole age. But where in this verse is the one-chance-or-you-damned-forever teaching? I’m pretty sure people make the mental leap because they assume the Judgment is a “you’re in or you’re out” situation, based on their church teachings.
The next section asks, Does Everyone Really Get a Fair Chance Now?, to which many people reply with Romans 4:20. Ferwerda quotes the verse in a typical modern translation, which I’ve read many times, but I don’t recall ever understanding it as thoroughly as I did with her emphasis on those words which indicate about whom this verse speaks, and since she suggested, “If you read this passage in context and especially in a more literal rendering, you find quite a different message:
For God’s indignation is being revealed from heaven on all the irreverence and injustice of people who are supressing the truth in injustice, because that which is known of God is apparent among them, for God makes it apparent to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His enduring power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [these] people are without excuse. Because the ones knowing God did not glorify or thank Him but they were made vain in their reasonings and darkened is their unintelligent heart. Alleging themselves to be wise, they are made stupid, and they change the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of a corruptible human… Wherefore God gives them over, in the lusts of their hearts, to the uncleanness of dishonoring their bodies among themselves, those who alter the truth of God into the lie, and are venerated, and offer divine service to the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for the ages! Amen.
The people being talked about in this passage were those who already knew God, stopped acknowledging the truth about His character, suppressed the truth that had been revealed to them, and then taught lies. This is not saying that all people everywhere have had the truth of God revealed to them, but rather that those who did were not faithful with it, and became darkened in their understanding. It is these people who are without excuse.
Chapter Twelve, Tracing Gospel History, is a more thorough examination of ideas introduced in chapter six.
As I celebrated in the video, Christian Universalism, the Internet is to the modern day church (I’m not talking about a building, but people) as the printing press was to the Reformation. A dramatic shift in spiritual understanding is underway because we finally have the ability to access information which demonstrates where and how corruptive influence has taken place, to separate truth from deception, to be given a fair shot at truth as it is instead of how the religious elite portrays it! Ferwerda recognizes this as well. She writes,
The Internet, with its unlimited access to information, is quite possibly the most stunning, magnificent, brilliant plan of God for our world today. We now have the ability to research ancient writings and books that at one time were only available in a few obscure libraries and even rare collections.
There are definitely sections of this book which I will revisit and use as a springboard for further prayerful thought and study, namely, chapters thirteen, sixteen, and seventeen, entitled Hebrew ABC’s, The Two Major Covenants, and The Great Harvests, where Ferwerda touches on some very interesting subjects such as the contrast between history unfolding in repeated cycles and the idea of dispensationalism, as well as the apparent progressive patterns of fulfillment in prophecy which move from tangible to intangible, from external to internal. I imagine she could have written an entire book on this subject alone. Other subjects include the spiritual significance of Hebrew feasts, the “unilateral, unconditional” Abrahamic covenant versus the conditional Mosaic covenant and how these are relevant to citizenship in the Kingdom, the Millennial Kingdom belief in early church history, the Barley (firstfruits) Harvest contrasted with the Wheat (Pentecost) Harvest, the Grape Harvest. Ferwerda does a good job of wetting the appetite of the reader to look into these matters further.
*I’ll continue with the book review in the next blog post.