If you haven’t read (Part One) Book Review: Raising Hell, please do so now. This is the second part of the book review for Julie Ferwerda’s new book, Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire. I skipped over chapter 14 on purpose, because I wanted to camp out there at the beginning of this blog, however, I need to backtrack a bit further after reading a blog comment on part one, as follows:
“Regarding the presence of universalism in the early centuries of Christianity, it is far from certain whether the church fathers the author mentions, including Origen, embraced this doctrine, at least in the sense of believing that in the end all persons will be restored to God.”
The names Ferwerda mentions come with quotes. I’ll be brief here, because my aim is not to rewrite her book, and only mention a bit of what she writes. But keep in mind that she, also, is brief in her writing considering how much information is actually out there. Studying church history is something that takes time and effort. Readers can research for themselves to verify the accuracy of Ferwerda’s claims.
Clement of Alexandria (150-213 AD) “For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. But needful corrections… compel even those who have become more callous to repent… So he saves all…”
Origen of Alexandria (180-253 AD), responded to a challenge to Christianity, posed by Celsus on the basis that Christianity taught punishment by fire, by saying, “As therefore, God is a consuming fire, what is it that is to be consumed by Him? We say it is wickedness, and whatever proceeds from it… Our God is a consuming fire in this sense…”
Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 AD) wrote about the lake of fire saying apostates would be “baptized with fire”, and that it “eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice.”
Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) “…everything that was created by God shall have become such as it was at the beginning… this is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the Divine Life, penetrating all things shall absolutely destroy Death…”
Now, for chapter 14, which is probably the most important chapter in the book for the reader who wonders why Christian Universalists claim reconciliation for all when his or her Bible plainly states that unbelievers will experience “everlasting punishment” in hell. The Hebrew word “olam”, which means “behind the horizon” or “to conceal” is the equivalent of the Greek word “aion”, which contrary to popular belief, does NOT mean “everlasting” or “eternal.” Ferwerda says,
An eon or age, is defined as a period of time with a beginning and an end. Consider the myriad of ways this one word (with one meaning) has been translated in two of our more popular New Testament versions today:
Age or ages: NASB-26, KJV-2
Ancient time: NASB-1
Beginning of time: NASB-1
World or worlds: NASB-7, KJV-78
World without end: KJV-1
Eternal: NASB-2, KJV-2
Ever: NASB-2, KJV-71
Forever: NASB-27, KJV-30
Forever and ever: NASB-20, KJV-21
Long ago: NASB-1
Never: NASB-1, KJV-6
Ferwerda points out, “The use of the word ‘aion’ for such a variety of words, phrases, and concepts in and of itself should raise a major red flag.” This chapter is loaded with helpful information, including screen caps from online study sources. Ferwerda asks, “Can ‘aion’ ever mean eternity?” And uses both scholarly methods and common sense to answer that question. She suggests, “Try substituting ‘eternity’ for the age-related words above [here referring to Eph. 1:21, 2:7, Col. 1:26] and it’s easy to see why it shouldn’t be done. Aion definitely pertains to the word age, but translators pick and choose how to translate it in certain passages, depending on the message they wan to convey (or theological bias they are trying to preserve).” She also points out that if aionios means eternity, then theologians will have a hard time explaining how it is that scriptures, translated this way, talk about “before eternity”. What the heck is that supposed to mean? She names plenty of scriptures which make absolutely no sense, if aion means forever, and it is my hope that skeptics will take the time to look up each one and really consider the implications. One thing that I really appreciate about this chapter is that Ferwerda doesn’t just say, “aion means age” and leave it at that. There is a world of wonder to discover, once one understands the true meaning of this word, including eonian themes in scripture such as life, salvation, redemption, covenant, kingdom, glory, consolation, fire, and many more. Many of these things have to do with here and now, and the believer who remains clueless is missing out on some amazing, inspirational concepts which make day-to-day living pure joy and peace, regardless of circumstances. This is not to say that those who “get it” don’t have bad days or never experience disappointment or sorrow, but knowing how thoroughly God’s sovereignty permeates in THIS AGE allows us to recognize His Kingdom being established through every event and circumstance, giving the believer confidence and hope for the future – a hope that does not fail!
The eonian theme smoothly transitions into chapters sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, The Purpose of the Ages, Two Major Covenants, and The Great Harvests. I believe that for someone who does not have eyes to see or ears to hear (that is, if they’ve actually picked up the book at all, let alone continued reading the book past the half-way mark) will consider these chapters to be almost nonsensical. If someone cannot believe that aion is an age, then concepts that come from that understanding will be disjointed and confusing. Nevertheless, Ferwerda continues for the sake of those who do see/hear. Here’s one section that struck me as very powerful and important:
Jesus spoke frequently to the Jews about what it takes to enter or to be cast out of the Kingdom, but this had nothing to do with “going to heaven or hell.” In case you hadn’t noticed, the contingency for getting into the Kingdom frequently, if not always, rested on obedience and fair treatment of others (a.k.a. works), not belief. Some pastors and Bible teachers I have talked to, who believe and teach that Jesus was talking about going to heaven and hell (the way the Church teaches today), try to explain away Jesus’ emphasis on good works by saying that God deals differently with Jews than Gentiles, in that Jews are saved by works but Gentiles are saved by faith. However, I think they miss the whole point. I believe that when Jesus referred to the Kingdom, He meant to teach them what citizenship in His Kingdom looks like, so that they could enter and be qualified under the Mosaic Covenant to take part in the rewards of the next age (what we call the Millenial Kingdom), something they completely understood. Being cast out of the Kingdom was not about going to hell, but about not being included in the first resurrection to enjoy the next age of rest and rewards for faithfulness on this earth.
This reminds me very much of Jesus’ words of warning to religious leaders in His day,
Not every one who is saying to me Lord, lord, shall come into the reign of the heavens; but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, lord, have we not in thy name prophesied? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many mighty things? and then I will acknowledge to them, that – I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness.
It’s not that Jesus gives up on these people altogether; no, he just sends them away from Him because they never really knew Him. They believed in Him for salvation, but they never understood His character or His intentions for humanity. They set themselves up as know-it-alls who performed and observed every religious standard, but never understood His love. I can already see this happening today – Him rejecting entrance into His Reign those who profess to represent Him, but their relationship with Him is based more in their traditional view than in reality. He will bring them all into His Reign, eventually, but until they enter in as a child, they will be sent away. Ferwerda says, “Anyone who misses out on the School of Love here will get fully educated in the Judgment Age.”
Chapter eight tackles a tough subject, that is, the necessity of evil. Ferwerda claims, “God makes evil”, citing Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” She examines the traditional teaching on this and other verses and continues into a section about how God uses and coexists with evil, pointing out that evil is confined and purposeful, a part of the great story which ultimately results in the elimination of evil. Although Ferwerda, like every other honest believer, does and, indeed, cannot fully explain the purpose of evil, she does explain, ” in my spirit, I have sensed these words: ‘This is the way to the greatest joy for all.'”
Ferwerda covers the topic of what most people call “free will” in light of God’s sovereignty, and the implications of these ideas on the concept of universal reconciliation. She asks a question which really causes the reader to pause and remember Who is responsible for our salvation, “How many would exercise free will to choose God?” I believe that the answer to that question is “no, not one.” An excellent example of God completely circumventing “free will” for His purpose is Paul. Ferwerda explains,
Think about it. If Paul qualified for salvation in the midst of his unbelief, admittedly from ignorance, who in the world will fail to qualify? Paul knew about believers. He knew about Jesus. But he was ignorant of the truth because he had not encountered it personally until Jesus sought him out personally. Paul then became firstborn, first produced son in this age.
Ferwerda asks, “Can clay act independently of the Potter?” and refers readers to Clyde Pilkington Jr.’s article, “The Potter has Power” for the answer. She challenges the traditional teaching of Lazarus and the Rich Man, pointing out first that it is a parable, a “proof text” to which the average indoctrinated person will appeal in an effort to discount the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ and establish the erroneous idea that Jesus taught about eternal torment in hell. I did a four-part video series on this subject: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
Another way that the system has been able to perpetuate the doctrine of eternal torment is by interweaving the idea with another inaccurate teaching – the nature of the human soul. Ferwerda explains,
Translators have made an utter mess of the Greek and Hebrew words for soul, and as a result, have contributed to the huge distortion of this once simple word. The Hebrew and Greek words for soul are nephesh and psuche respectively, both nouns, yet this one little word has been unbelievably mistranslated as a myriad of other words. Here are but a few of many: life, death, corpse, heart, endure, myself, desire, greedy, hunger, heartily, perfume, slave, strenght, fish, thirst, throat, mind, suspense, thing – oh yes, and soul. You’ll notice that within the list of words, each of which have radically different meanings, are also verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns.
What is the reason for such sloppy translation? Nephesh and psuche are translated correctly in all the passages where translators wish to convey the concept of immortality of the soul and it’s supposed potential for “everlasting destruction.” However, passages that would nullify the notion of the soul’s immortality, when translated correctly, are masked with an assortment of misleading words.
There is much more to be said about this, but you’ll just have to read the book! The book closes with the chapter, “Leaving the Calf Path for Good”, coming full circle to the mood of the beginning of the book. The conclusion is a heartfelt and personal account of how Ferwerda’s life and the lives of those around her have been impacted because of seeing His glory. She gives enough detail to pull the reader into her world for a real-life glimpse of the Good News in action “in the midst of the questions in the dark of night.”
But the conclusion of the book leads to a treasure chest of resources for anyone who wants to play Berean and search these things out for himself or herself. The resources section offers further analysis and clarity for claims made throughout the book, providing readers with simple steps for identifying mistranslations, common misunderstandings in scripture, as well as a Q&A section, discussion starters, a list (although not exhaustive) of scriptures which proclaim God will save all, online study tools, reference books, commentaries, and documentaries! Let me put it this way – if you would rather stay comfy and cozy in your current beliefs, attending your institutional church, and minding your own business, then DON’T GO DIGGING IN THE BACK OF THIS BOOK.
Julie Ferwerda clearly presents the basic facts concerning Christian Universalism, demonstrating how this belief is valid and how orthodoxy is mistaken. She layers the scholarly stuff with relavent stories and examples, giving the reader a rich learning experience which goes much deeper than mere head-knowledge. This book is loaded with the word of God which leads any reader who has eyes to see and ears to hear into the Sabbath rest of God. My best guess is that there are four possible responses to this book:
1. Heresy! Look away! Run away! How dare she challenge our traditional beliefs. Who does she think she is? (I hope it’s not true… It can’t be true… People will stop going to church, stop tithing, everyone will go to Hell! This is terrible!)
2. Holy shit! This is incredible! Why are they not teaching this in church? Life will never be the same. Wow. I can’t wait to tell so-and-so.
3. I don’t believe in God. Religious stuff is for the weak-minded. Who cares?
4. This book is going to be a great reference tool. I can’t wait to check out all the stuff in the back section. I think I’ll read it again, and maybe I’ll buy a box and give them away… people really need to hear this!
May we be diligent, then, to enter into that rest, that no one in the same example of the unbelief may fall, for the reckoning of God is living, and working, and sharp above every two-edged sword, and piercing unto the dividing asunder both of soul and spirit, of joints also and marrow, and a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart; and there is not a created thing not manifest before Him, but all things [are] naked and open to His eyes — with whom is our reckoning. Having, then, a great chief priest passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – may we hold fast the profession, for we have not a chief priest unable to sympathise with our infirmities, but [one] tempted in all things in like manner – apart from sin; we may come near, then, with freedom, to the throne of the grace, that we may receive kindness, and find grace – for seasonable help. (Hebrews 4:11-16)