But the foolish children of men do miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in their confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The bigger part of those that heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell: and it was not because they were not as wise as those that are now alive; it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. – Jonathan Edwards

When I read Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, I experienced grief over how many people would read the title and the back cover and think that there might actually be some good news in the book.  Instead, what they get is a repackaged and modernized version of Jonathan Edward’s infamous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Chan is very careful with his word choices, and he does a good job of being at least minimally respectful toward those who may disagree with him, but his message boils down to the same fundamental fear as that of Edwards.  Chan writes,

The thought of hell is paralyzing for most people, which is why we often ignore its existence – at least in practice.  After all, how can we possibly carry on with life if we are constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment?  Yet that’s the whole point – we shouldn’t just go on with life as usual.  A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel [...] We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live differently in light of it.

Many Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus talks about hell more than any other subject in scripture, because they heard this from a trusted friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around… no, wait, that’s an REO Speedwagon song.  My point is that if one has studied the etymology of the word “hell”, then one ought to be embarrassed to make such a claim, since the word “hell” did not even exist in the first century.  But that’s another blog for another day.  Today I would like to take a look at one particular claim Chan makes at the beginning of chapter two of Erasing Hell:

The only way we’re going to understand what Jesus said about hell is to soak ourselves in the Bible’s own culture.  Breathe its air.  Feel its dirt.  [...]  So to this world we turn.  What we find in this context is that hell was seen as a place of punishment for those who don’t follow God.  In fact, so ingrained was the belief in hell among first century Jews that Jesus would have had to go out of His way to distance Himself from these beliefs if He didn’t hold them.

The obvious question is, did Jesus “go out of His way to distance Himself” from the beliefs of the Jewish religious leaders in the first century?  Instead of offering peripherals and conjectures, I’ll let Jesus speak for Himself.

When Jesus healed a paralytic, He prefaced the healing with the words, “Child, thy sins have been forgiven.”  This did not rest well with the scribes, who asked, “Who is able to forgive sins except one – God?”  Jesus replied, not to them, but to the paralytic, “[...]the Son of Man hath authority on the earth to forgive sins.”  His reassurance was not given to the religious leaders, but to the common sinner.  To me, Jesus is saying that the scribes have totally underestimated Him.

When the Pharisees saw Jesus having a friendly sit-down dinner with sinners, they asked the disciples, “Why – that with the tax-gatherers and sinners he doth eat and drink?”  Jesus overheard and replied, “[...] I came not to call righteous men, but sinners to reformation.”  To me, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have no idea who “qualifies” to sit at His table.

As Jesus and His disciples were traveling through some cornfields on Sabbath Day, the disciples were picking and nibbling along the way.  The Pharisees took note and accused, “Lo, why do they on the sabbaths that which is not lawful?”  Jesus came to their defense by reminding them of a story from their own scriptures, about David.  The modern-day equivalent of this story would be that David and his buddies have the munchies and decide to raid the church-room where the bread (or those little wafer things) and wine (or grape juice) is stored for communion or mass!  Jesus’s concluding remarks shut them right up, “The Sabbath for man was made, not man for the Sabbath, so that the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”  To me, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have misinterpreted/mistranslated the scriptures.

Jesus went to the synagog, where there was a man with a deformed hand, and Jesus knew that the religious leaders were watching to see if He would heal the man on the Sabbath Day (break the rules).  Notice that Jesus is the one to pick the fight, so-to-speak, by saying to the man with the hand, “Rise up in the midst.”  He didn’t say, “Come over here, where we can meet privately.”  He didn’t do His dealings behind closed doors with the good ole’ boys, smoking and joking in the safety of anonymity – He made a point to distinguish Himself and His Truth from the teachings of the Pharisees.  He said, while everyone was watching and listening, “Is it lawful on the sabbaths to do good, or to do evil? life to save, or to kill?”  I am totally pumped about what happens next:

And having looked round upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart, He saith to the man, “Stretch forth thy hand;” and he stretched forth, and his hand was restored whole as the other; and the Pharisees having gone forth, immediately, with the Herodians, were taking counsel against him how they might destroy him.

Jesus clearly threw down the gauntlet, and the Pharisees reacted accordingly.  To me, Jesus is demonstrating that the Pharisees see the true power of God as a threat to their current understanding and practice.

Some scribes and Pharisees found fault with the disciples because they didn’t do the regular ceremonious hand-washing.  The modern-day equivalent might be that someone goes to church and asks the pastor a question in the middle of the sermon instead of calling the church office to make an appointment with the pastor.  Basically, the disciples didn’t bother with religious protocol, and it really annoyed the religious elite, who asked, “Wherefore do thy disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but with unwashed hands do eat the bread?”  Jesus called them hypocrites and gave them a painfully honest answer, saying among other things, “[You are] setting aside the word of God for your tradition that ye delivered [...]”  To me, Jesus is teaching the onlookers (and us) that through religious protocol and practice, hypocrites deliver a different message than the one that comes from God.

When the Pharisees picked a fight with Jesus, demanding He perform a miraculous sign for them, Jesus, “having sighed deeply in His spirit” turned them down, flat.  He then warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.”  To me, Jesus was warning that many of the decision-makers in religion and politics use their positions of prestige and authority to spread corruption.

I could go on and give many other examples of Jesus butting heads with the first century Jewish religious leaders, beliefs, and practices, but instead I will offer some anticipated opposition to this blog, that is, Jesus never explicitly addresses “eternal torment” or “hell” in any of these examples.  If I may speak for the person who holds this perspective, it is likely that he or she might say, “Show me, in a very specific way, how Jesus distances Himself from the first-century Jewish view of hell.”  And to this I respond, all in good time.  Chan delves into this in chapter three, and since I’m on chapter two right now, I’ll conclude this blog with this final observation:

What are the reasons for Churchians’ rejection of the Glorious Truth of the Amazing Hope we have in the Victorious Savior of the all mankind? How do they justify their mistreatment of those who have Amazing Hope?  By totally underestimating Jesus Christ, by selfishly and judgmentally deciding who “qualifies” to sit at His table, by misinterpreting/mistranslating scripture, and by seeing the true power of God as a threat to their current understanding and practice.  Through religious protocol and practice (all the while breaking their own moral boundaries), they deliver a different message than the one that comes from God concerning His intentions toward mankind, namely, eternal torment in Hell.

Next blog subject matter is NOT: What did the first-century Jews believe? since Chan covers this in his book, but the next blog asks: What is the source of and the result (fruits) of first-century Jewish beliefs?

*Scripture references are from the gospel of Mark.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Abomination

Denny Burk, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Josh Harris, Alex Chediac, and many others have written responses to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.  I noticed that Chan’s response is different from these others in important ways.  These are listed below, but first…

A significant side-note, Rob Bell recently resigned as a pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville.  The official statement is:

The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.

It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.

Now, back to the blog.  What I like about Chan’s attitude:

1. He is genuine and transparent in his willingness to explain his inner conflict regarding eternal torment.

If I were to name every time Chan made a statement similar to the one below, quoting interviews, sermons, and his book, this would be a very long blog.  Chan writes:

Even as I write this paragraph, I feel sick.  I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture. [...] Until recently, whenever the idea of hell – and the idea of my loved ones possibly heading there – crossed my mind, I would brush it aside and divert my thinking to something more pleasant.  While I’ve always believed in hell with my mind, I tried not to let the doctrine penetrate my heart. [...] So I decided to write a book about hell.  And honestly – I’m scared to death. [...] If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real. [...] Part of me doesn’t want to believe in hell. [...] Hell should not be studied without tearful prayer.  We must weep, pray, and fast over this issue, begging God to reveal to us through His Word the truth about hell.  Because we can’t be wrong on this one.

2. He demonstrates his Berean qualities in his emphasis on how personal motives play into one’s decision to accept or reject eternal torment.  Chan writes:

Do you want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever?  Do you want to?  Be honest.  Do you want to believe in a God like this?  Here’s my gut-level, honest answer: No.  No way.  I have a family and friends who reject Jesus.  I do not want to believe in a God who punishes non-Christians.  Okay, maybe He should punish extremely wicked people – that makes some sense.  But punishment in hell for seemingly good people, or those who simply chose the wrong religion?  That feels a bit harsh, at least according to my sense of justice.  But let me ask another question.  Could you?  Could you believe in a God who decides to punish people who don’t believe in Jesus?  A God who wants to show His power by punishing those who don’t follow His Son?  Now that’s a different question, isn’t it?  You may not recognize the difference immediately, but read them again and you’ll see that these two questions – do you want to? versus could you? – are actually miles apart.  The problem is that we often respond to the second question because of our response to the first.  In other words, because there are things that we don’t want to believe about God, we therefore decide that we can’t believe them.

*I do not agree completely with what Chan writes here, but I do see that the emphasis he places on personal motives is an important factor in how we choose to view not only eternal torment, but many other true or false ideas about Who God is and what God does.  I will comment more specifically on this later in the blog series.

3. He is fair in that he clearly defines that there are misleading subheadings under the label “Universalism”.

When I first openly shared my Amazing Hope, I was met repeatedly with a particular ignorant response, that is, “You are a Universalist?  How can you say that all religions are true?  How can you dismiss that Jesus is the only way?  Have you lost your mind?”  In other words, they put words in my mouth and dismissed anything that I might have to say as nonsense, based on an incorrect view of Universalism.  It’s faulty logic, in the most classic sense.  For example, “All Nazi’s were human beings, therefore, if one is human, one is a Nazi.”  Or, “I was bit by an abused pit bull, therefore all dogs are dangerous.”  It’s a nonsense way of going about trying to make sense of anything.  Chan takes the time to debrief people about this.

4. He is committed to unity in the body of Christ in that he doesn’t dismiss Christian Universalists as heretics.

The message of Amazing Hope is received or rejected in various ways.  If I were to make a list of reactions that really took me by surprise, number two on my list would be that people who have known me and accepted me as one of their own for years could suddenly (like flicking a switch, seriously!) believe I’m a heretic.  Chan avoids this, and he encourages others to do so as well.

5. He is honest enough to recognize that Christians don’t actually behave as if they believe in eternal torment.

I am convinced that the only people who truly believe in eternal torment are the ones who hold/where signs, hand out those “God love you but…” tracts, and stand on the side of the road, shouting, crying, and pleading with anyone who will listen to their warnings – and even those who won’t.  The others who claim that the doctrine of eternal torment is real and don’t act like this are fooling themselves, or they are behaving like unconcerned, loveless, selfish people.  I don’t see any middle ground there, do you?  If you do, then by all means, please do make use of the blog comment section!  Chan explains this more delicately than I do.  He writes:

The thought of hell is paralyzing for most people, which is why we often ignore its existence – at least in practice.  After all, how can we possibly carry on with life if we are constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment?  Yet that’s the whole point – we shouldn’t just go on with life as usual.  A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel [...]  We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live directly in light of it.  [...] for the sake of people’s eternal destiny, our lives and our churches should be – no, they must be! – free from the bondage of sin, full of selfless love that overflows for neighbors, the downcast, and the outsiders among us.

6. He is considerate enough to take about three months to study and consider his response.

So, you are wondering about the first thing on the list back in point number four (glad you asked…).  It surprises me that church people, or at least all the church people I know, don’t even take the time to pray hard, study hard, and really allow their current views to be put to the test before choosing to react.  With the exception of one married couple who very hesitantly entertained the idea for perhaps half an hour with me, I’ve never had more than five minutes of conversation with any believers about Amazing Hope, because they either shut down themselves, or shut me down as soon as they realize I am scrutinizing their heavily guarded doctrine of eternal torment, a so-called pillar of faith.  I’m glad that Chan took three months.  His first mistake was calling on the expertise of an evangelical theologian to help guide him through that process.  His second mistake was setting a time limit on God.  The Spirit of God is the only Teacher who can be completely trusted.  Any other teacher’s words should be held in a default position of false until proven true.  Looking back, I can see that God took His good old time to open my eyes.  It was a process that began with him preparing my heart, and then three years later, He changed His approach.  He started dropping breadcrumbs – a two year trail!  Then it took me a full year to grow the balls to face whatever backlash awaited me when I came out of the religious closet.  Three months is nothing.  But, hey, at least he gave it a shot, which is more than I can say for churchianity in general.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell

This is an assignment from my digital media class, which I thought might also be ideal to serve as an “about the author” tab for the blog.  I should have the tab up in the next week or so.  Busy, busy!

 

“Me Story”

(Part One) Book Review: Raising Hell

Posted: 27th July 2011 by admin in Uncategorized
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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.

Ferwerda notes:

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.

 

I was given a gift I totally didn’t deserve, that is, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of him, the eyes of [my] understanding being enlightened, for [my] knowing what is the hope of His calling, [...] riches of the glory” in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world, but since I was given that gift a few years ago, I’ve noticed how people react differently when I share my (our) Amazing Hope.  Some people just think I’m super-religious, even though I’ve become rather anti-religious, and write off whatever I say as nonsense.  Others hope it’s true, but are not really ready to talk about it.  Some people are curious, ask questions, and engage in lively discussion.  They don’t feel the pressure to decide one way or another until they are sure.  Every once in a while, someone is deeply affected, in a good way, and they will never be the same.  But when I discuss our Amazing Hope with church-attending people, they inevitably react in one of the following ways: They become very defensive or even aggressive, they shut down the conversation, or they want to postpone the conversation until later.  I can literally count on one hand the number of regular church attenders who have been willing to compare ideas and engage in substantive dialogue on a regular basis, and of these, none of them are people with whom I attended church.  Of those who become defensive and aggressive, these are people in leadership positions who stand to lose the most should this Amazing Hope spread into the Christian mainstream.  (Although I view it less as a mainstream and more as a stagnant, foul-smelling pool of water.)  Of those who shut down the conversation, they want to be friendly and kind, which I appreciate, but they are also afraid of heresy or the spiritual police or whatever.  They really would just rather act as if no one ever challenged the idea of eternal torment – it is a form of emotional denial.  Of those who want to postpone the conversation until later, there are mixed feelings.

Francis Chan, a preacher and author, who seems like a level-headed, sensible guy, likely is (or was, at least – I’ll find out when I read his book) one of those I-have-mixed-feelings-let’s-talk-later kind of people.  This approach is healthy, smart, and Berean.  Taking time to think, pray, listen to God’s voice, do some research and study, etc is wise.  Unfortunately, people don’t seem to stay in that quiet, contemplative place long enough to hear from God.  For me, hearing from God concerning the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment took years, not months.  Chan gave God three months, from what I understand, before he started writing his response.  I’ve made a list of observations about what it looks like when someone is a believer, yet lacks “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of him, the eyes of [their] understanding being enlightened, for [their] knowing what is the hope of His calling, [...] riches of the glory” in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world.  They know they have a calling, but they have no idea “what is the hope of His calling.”  They recognize Jesus Christ as their Savior, but not as the Savior.  This list is not an indictment, just observations. I also recognize that this is, for some people, a long journey.  I could check back with them in a year or two and find these observations no longer ring true. In a panel discussion held at Cornerstone Church with Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle called Erasing Hell, Chan explains his initial thoughts in the months following his reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.  Chan’s book is also called Erasing Hell.  I have not read the book yet.  All the numbered statements are mine and the quotes are Chan’s:

1. They hope there is no such thing as eternal torment.  They get excited about the possibility of all things being reconciled to God.  But this hope is too quickly dismissed.  Their excitement is snuffed out.

I hope he’s right, because I have friends that have died that don’t believe in Jesus, that totally rebelled against God. [...] So, when it comes to Hell, man, I’d ditch that in a moment if I could.  You know, Biblically, if I could. [...] Look, I don’t want you believing in Hell if it doesn’t exist, because that kind of ruins your life, doesn’t it?

2. They rely on erroneous translations of scripture.

I try to just think to myself, OK if I’m on an island and I read this book over and over and over again, what would I leave there thinking and believing about Christ?  What would I believe about the church?  What would I believe about the Holy Spirit?  And so with this topic of Hell, what would I believe about it?  Would I believe that… you know… basically, what would I believe?  And I thought, no, if I walked away, I’d go, no.  I mean, all through this book those who follow God, there’s this amazing blessing, and then those who choose to rebel against Him, there’s this, it’s just a very tough… it’s just bad consequences.  And then the ending, I mean you get to Revelation, and it’s about this amazing life and eternity with God, and then on the flip-side, for those who reject Him or take the mark of the beast, is this suffering, day and night, forever and ever.  And I’m like, how would I ever get that, well, it doesn’t really mean that? [...] And so, yes, I wanted to go through the scriptures the way I normally do, simply, and reading it over and over and going, ok, what does it say, praying, fasting, saying God, I’ve got to know the truth.

3. They rely on orthodox opinion too much.

You know, there’s part of me that’s going, wow [Love Wins] is cool, but then the more I read, I go wait a second.  [...] That’s not what I’ve ever known. [...] And yet at the same time I understand there’s some limitations, like my mind only goes to a certain point, you know.  I go, let me get some thoughts from some guys that think maybe at a deeper level, a more intellectual level.  And then even after we wrote [Erasing Hell], I was like, let’s send it off to other guys and get their thoughts and make sure we get this right, because this is just too big of an issue.

4. They are troubled or restless in their spirits.

You know, you start thinking, wait, I hope, maybe he’s right, and I’m teaching the wrong thing and just going back to the way I study scripture. [...] I didn’t want to write about this; I just believe that God specifically asked me to and wanted me to do this, to where I couldn’t even sleep about it.  And yet, I didn’t want to be wrong [...] Look, I don’t want you believing in Hell if it doesn’t exist, because that kind of ruins your life, doesn’t it?  I mean isn’t there like this awful burden in you, like [sound effect like a person in pain], and I don’t want you to live that way if [eternal torment] is not there.

5. They retreat to a position of fear, as if God has placed the eternal destiny of everyone in their circle of influence in the hands of other fallible human beings, namely them.

That’s what I was concerned about with this book, was like, man, you’ve thrown out some nice ideas, but if you’re wrong, if I’m wrong about this, there’s some serious consequences. [...] I don’t want to say [eternal torment]is not there if it is, because that’s even worse, because then you come to the end of your life and you realize, oh, I don’t get another chance and this really is forever.  So, you understand how we can’t… I can be wrong with a lot of things and make mistakes in life, but this one I didn’t want to mess up on.

And now for some final observations, not general ones as the list of five above, but more specific ones, based on Chan’s comments.  First, Chan makes a great point about Hell ruining your life.  Eternal torment is literally the most horrible idea that the human mind can entertain.  In fact, it is so terrifying, that people have committed suicide or murder, driven to madness by the concept.  Second, I sure would like to ask Chan about what translation he is reading over and over again on his island.  It is important to remember the Spirit of God is our Teacher, and the word of God is a useful tool with which He teaches us.  Reading the Bible over and over again is something anyone can do; some atheists can recite whole chapters at a time, but only those who hear His voice have the opportunity to be taught by Him.  Sometimes, when you hear His voice, you open the book and read in it what you would have never seen otherwise, even though you read it many times previously.  If you are not hearing His voice, then you can read until your eyeballs fall out without gaining any understanding.  In closing, Chan’s take on do-good-get-blessed/do-bad-get-cursed is an approach to scripture which disregards the idea that the law kills:

2 Corinthians 3:7-18 The Law of Moses brought only the promise of death, even though it was carved on stones and given in a wonderful way. [...] So won’t the agreement that the Spirit brings to us be even more wonderful? If something that brings the death sentence is glorious, won’t something that makes us acceptable to God be even more glorious? In fact, the new agreement is so wonderful that the Law is no longer glorious at all. The Law was given with a glory that faded away. But the glory of the new agreement is much greater, because it will never fade away.This wonderful hope makes us feel like speaking freely. [...] The people were stubborn, and something still keeps them from seeing the truth when the Law is read. Only Christ can take away the covering that keeps them from seeing. [...] they have their minds covered over with a covering that is removed only for those who turn to the Lord. [...] Lord’s Spirit sets us free. So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.

The law was only useful for pointing out our need for a Savior.  It is a means to an end and not the end in itself.  The entire Hebrew scriptures are written from a law/works perspective.  Jesus lived the perfect life, died, and rose again for a reason.  What is the reason?  Because we can’t measure up.  We can’t meet God’s standards.  That is the whole point of the gospel!  Any believer who reads the Bible and merely sees good people getting rewarded and bad people getting tormented for eternity is missing the point of it.  The central theme is redemption through the Messiah, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  May Christ remove “the covering that keeps them from seeing.”