Although strangers as well as friends and family sometimes think it strange, I tell them that God talks to me.  I suppose that they think I have elevated myself above them, somehow, since most of them say God does not talk to them (although I suspect He does, and they don’t hear Him).  Or maybe they just think I’m a strange woman with a vivid imagination.  But I’ve never hear a big booming voice from the sky or even a small whisper.  I don’t hear Him at all, using the normal sense of the word “hear.”  His voice is more like a thought in my mind that I recognize as originating from somewhere other than myself.

One time, when I had a very vivid dream, the details of which I may share in another blog someday, where I distinctly heard a voice that has continued to echo in my mind across the cavernous expanse between consciousness and dreams.  It said, “Come and see this.”  In my dream, I left the place where I was and found myself at a yard sale where there were massive, elaborate chandeliers for sale for five dollars each.  These chandeliers were exquisitely crafted, the kind of grand lighting one might expect to find in a royal palace or a world famous opera hall.

Most of the time, I think of dreams as random synapsis firing as the brain reboots itself during the still of the night, sorting out all the input from waking hours, and preparing itself to accept more input upon waking again.  However, sometimes I believe dreams have significance.  In this case the significance or meaning became obvious to me in two separate seasons of my life.  The first attempt at interpretation, based on my spiritual understanding at that time as a church-attending church-centered believer, is that the chandeliers are “revelation/light,” like an earthquake in the spiritual understanding of believers, which would soon become available in a very public way to not only my church, but all churches, to whomever He gives eyes to see and ears to hear.  Since then, I have come to understand that this interpretation, although correct for the most part, is inadequate.

In real life, chandeliers are grand, beautiful objects through which humanity channels energy/light.  The cost to create them, install them, and use them is great, but in my dream they are at a yard sale as if they have little value.  If someone were to ask you to think of a grand and beautiful system which humanity uses to plug in to God and channel spiritual understanding to people who are in darkness, perhaps you would think of the institutional church.  I can tell you from experience that she most certainly thinks of herself in that way.

Now, consider this.  A parable in the New Testament describes how God arranges an abundant feast of spiritually delightful food, only once it is prepared, the people who have been invited refuse to attend.  So, what does He do?  He invites anyone and everyone – strangers passing by on the streets, the poor, the outcast, the uneducated – it does not matter who they are, the invitation now belongs to them.  Theologians take this to mean that salvation is given to the Gentiles, since the Jewish religious leaders and the nation of Israel in general reject their Messiah.  Although this interpretation is correct, it is inadequate.  Over the course of time, the institutional church picks up where Israel leaves off and rejects the Messiah over and over again saying He did not accomplish His mission to seek and save the lost, that His redemptive work is “sufficient” but not “efficient,” and denying either His Sovereignty or His Character in order to explain away their beloved doctrine of fear – eternal torment in Hell.  They have returned to a form of the law, where salvation depends upon man’s will or man’s decision.  They give lip service to salvation belonging to God, but if man can mess up God’s plans, then their doctrine nullifies either God’s ability to save or His willingness to save.  The orthodox Good News is a Jekyll and Hyde version of God who says “Love me or burn in Hell forever.”

God has decided to take the Good News away from those to whom it has been entrusted, His unfaithful servant, and give it to anyone and everyone, the strangers to spiritual things, the spiritually poor, the spiritual outcast, the spiritually uneducated, the spiritually hostile.  These are the ones who will come to Him as children, who will be enter into His Reign (first) before these others (last) who have returned to the curse of the law, like a dog returns to its own vomit.  We may not see the far-reaching effects of His Plan at this time, but this snowball has been put into motion, it is rolling down the hill, and it is becoming more significant with each passing day, weak, month, and year.

The institutional church no longer holds the position it once held in this world, because the old wineskin is bursting.  It is unable to contain the new wine (which is actually aged, fine wine that had been forgotten in the cobwebs and dust of the Dark Age wine cellar).  The institution may continue, and God may in His mercy continue to do good things through it, just as He uses other organizations like the YMCA, Salvation Army, United Way, etc.  But for all intents and purposes, this system has lost its spiritual value.  Who carries a huge chandelier to the beach on a brilliantly sunny day?  God is no longer allowing His Light to be distributed to the world in this limited way.  Think about it.  A chandelier is an indoor item.  It exists within walls, lighting an area that is dark.  But God is doing His thing outside the walls now.  He is not abandoning those inside the walls, just as He did not abandon Israel when they abandoned Christ.  Jesus looks on them with mercy, and says, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  Father forgive those people who choose the chandelier over the Light itself.  He may cut off the branch, but He is able to graft the branch back in.  He may blot out the name, but He is also God who gives new names.

You see that I now understand this dream to mean that this light-distributing device (the institutional church) will have very little spiritual value in the days to come.  I’m sure people who are currently very invested in it will disagree, and that is fine.  One day when they have eyes to see and ears to hear, what I am saying will make sense.  In the meantime, just as in the days of Jesus’ ministry, God is speaking to His people, His people are killing His prophets, rejecting Him, and trying to snuff out His message.  But He always reserves a remnant – a bit of yeast to work though the whole batch of dough.  I understand this with intense satisfaction, because I see Romans 10-11 repeating in history, as so many other prophecies/fulfillments have done throughout the ages.  Here is the message, with Israel/Jews replaced with the “churchians,” an affectionate term for those who are believers trapped in a system of righteousness that sucks the life out of them and “salvation” means being freed from the curse of the law and “good news” actually is good news, the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.  See if this rings true to you:

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for churchians is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between churched and unchurched—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all church attending people accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Again I ask: Did church people not understand? First, Moses says,“I will make the church envious by those who are unchurched; I will make the church angry by unchurched people who have no understanding.”

And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But concerning churchians he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

I ask then: Did God reject churchians? By no means! …God did not reject churchians, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?

And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Here it is very important that I pause to point out the significance of Baal, from Jeremiah 32: “They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom [aka Gehenna, the word erroneously translated "Hell"] to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing…”  Please watch this video called Molech, less than two minutes, which gives very important information about why the worship of Molech ought to be associated with the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment.  And now I continue in Romans:

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  What then? What church people sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.  May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their backs be bent forever.” (BTW, churchians, aren’t you glad the word for “forever” is “aion” which means “age,” a period of time with a beginning and an end?  Otherwise it would be your backs which would be bent forever, not the unchurched like you think.)

Again I ask: Did church people stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the unchurched to make churchians envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the unchurched, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

I am talking to you unchurched people. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the unchurched people, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my church-friends to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Churchians have experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the not-yet-believers become believers, and in this way all Churchians will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from church people.  And this is my covenant with church people when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, churchians are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever! Amen

Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism says,

In the late twentieth century the imperial cycle of the last century in some way replicates itself, although today there are really no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting new settlements to establish.  We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social, and political pressures tearing at its only dimly perceived basically uninterpreted and uncomprehended fabric.  Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such remorelessly selfish and narrow interests – patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds – can in fact lead to mass destructiveness.  The world simply cannot afford this many more times.

One should not pretend that models for a harmonious world order are ready at hand, and it would be equally disingenuous to suppose that ideas of peace and community have much of a chance when power is moved to action by aggressive perceptions of ‘vital national interests’ or unlimited sovereignty.  The United States’ clash with Iraq and Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait concerning oil are obvious examples.  The wonder of it is that the schooling for such relatively provincial thought and action is still prevalent, unchecked, uncritically accepted, recurringly replicated in the education of generation after generation.  We are taught to venerate our nations and admire our traditions: we are taught to pursue their interests with toughness and in disregard for other societies.  A new and in my opinion appalling tribalism is fracturing societies, separating peoples, promoting greed, bloody conflict, and uninteresting assertions of minor ethnic or group particularity.  Little time is spent [...] studying the map of interactions [...] No one can hold this entire map in his or her head.

No one, except God that is.  And under His direction, people will learn how to live at peace.

And He hath judged between the nations, and hath given a decision to many peoples, and they have beat their swords to ploughshares, and their spears to pruning-hooks, nation doth not lift up sword unto nation, nor do they learn any more – war. (Isaiah 2:4)

While it is true that no one can fully comprehend all the complexities of one-on-one human interaction, let alone the interaction of all the various people-groups (subcultures), societies, and nations, we can submit ourselves to the One Who is able to understand how and why we clash and how it is we can get along.  The real war is not between one person and another, one nation and another.  The real war is internal.  Regarding His Reign, in Jesus’ own words:

“To what shall I liken the reign of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.”

There is much more to be said about this, but that is another blog for another day.  Let’s continue with Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem:

A certain one said to him, “Sir, are those saved few?”

and he said unto them, “Be striving to go in through the straight gate, because many, I say to you, will seek to go in, and shall not be able; from the time the master of the house may have risen up, and may have shut the door, and ye may begin without to stand, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, lord, open to us, and he answering shall say to you, I have not known you whence ye are, then ye may begin to say, We did eat before thee, and did drink, and in our broad places thou didst teach; and he shall say, I say to you, I have not known you whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of the unrighteousness.  There shall be there the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth, when ye may see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the reign of God, and yourselves being cast out without; and they shall come from east and west, and from north and south, and shall recline in the reign of God, and lo, there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.”

Many believers read this passage and believe it to speak of Heaven, with all those outside, in the flames of Hell, unable to enter in.  But this is not consistent with the rest of scripture.  Notice what Jesus description of the Reign of God:

And having been questioned by the Pharisees, when the reign of God doth come, he answered them, and said, “The reign of God doth not come with observation; nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you.”

It seems to me that God has the academic community on a journey similar to that of the Gentiles in Jesus’ day.  Philosophy was the “science” of that age, and it was stirring the masses, making people think about spiritual things, even though they did not realize that is what they were doing.  When the institutional church obtained political power, the whole world went dark for hundreds of years.  Scientists were punished for speaking truth, just as those who recognize the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ have been punished.  We are comrades in persecution.  And then God began doing something new, but something old –  the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the Technological Revolution, ideas that have been possible for all of human history, reserved until the appointed time of revelation, along with the idea that we are all in this together, the entire human race, whether we like it or not, whether we like each other or not – this is part of God’s Plan of the Ages.  The Kingdom of God (the Reign of God) is within you.  No matter who you are.  Perhaps you recognize this now, and you are saved from the curse of the law that tells you that you have to do something to be saved.  Perhaps none of this makes sense to you, but you want to know more.  Perhaps you are so pissed off that you stopped reading this blog after the first few paragraphs (your loss).  God will have His way with you, sooner or later.  He will outlast your rebellion, open your eyes, and give you a new heart that see Him for Who He really is, a heart that praises Him for what He has done.  He is making all things new.  He is the Light.

For centuries, religious leaders have taught that believers accept Him and unbelievers reject Him.  In reality, most believers appear to accept Him but actually accept a distorted version of Him, while unbelievers appear to reject Him but actually reject the distorted version of Him that is presented to them by the believers.  The blind lead the blind and they both fall into a ditch.  It is no wonder Jesus said, “Many of the last shall be first, and the first last.”  Things are not as they seem.  Take comfort in knowing Jesus calls Himself the First and the Last, and consequently, no matter what order you enter into His Reign, He will not give up on you.  First or last, the Shepherd will be there with you.

 

This is the second of a series of blogs about R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will.  If you haven’t read the first one, “Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?” you really ought to.  It covers some foundational questions about free will.  Moving right along…

Chapter Three: “We Are Capable of Cooperating”

“If anyone says that man’s free will [when] moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God… in no way cooperates… [and] that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes… let him be anathema!” – Council of Trent

Ah yes, the Council of Trent and their favorite word, Anathema!  (Not the band from Liverpool.)  Anathema is church-speak for excommunication.  Keep in mind as you read this that over 1000 years have passed from the time of Pelagius and Augustine.  The church has been through the Dark Ages.  The Council of Trent takes place not too long after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses and the Protestant Reformation started spreading like wildfire.  The Roman Catholic Church felt that it needed to regroup, so they met 25 times over the course of 18 years and decided among other things, Tradition + Scripture = The Rule of Faith, condemned Protestant “heresies,” and affirmed the Latin Vulgate as the official Bible translation.  The Protestants were guaranteed safe passage (in other words, they wouldn’t be killed going to and from) for Protestants who wanted to attend the church council meetings.  They were allowed to participate in discussion, but they were not allowed to vote.  This is the backdrop for what you are about to read.

Semi-Pelagianism

While Pelagius asserts humanity has the ability to obey God, Augustine asserts that humanity is incapable of obedience.  Many people, unable to figure this thing out, decided on what is called Semi-Pelagianism, a sort of hybrid doctrine.  The Council of Trent, according to Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz, “both reaffirmed the church’s condemnation of Pelagianism and retreated from a clear condemnation of Semi-Pelagianism.  In the sixth session of the council this declaration was made, “If anyone says that after the sin of Adam man’s free will was lost and destroyed, or that it is a thing only in name, indeed a name without reality, a fiction introduced into the Church by Satan, let him be anathema.”  For some reason, I have a hard time punctuating anathema with a period.  It really feels like it needs an explanation point, doesn’t it?  Anathema!

Chapter Four: “We Are in Bondage to Sin”

“Free-will without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good.” – Martin Luther

Martin Luther considered his most important book to be The Bondage of the Will, “because it spoke to issues that he regarded as being the [...] very heart of the church.”  He even went so far as to say that anything he wrote besides this and a children’s catechism could be tossed out.  Sproul explains,

To the chess player these are contingencies, events he cannot predict with certainty.  We speak of a contingency plan, to which we will turn if our original plan does not work as we hoped. [...] In his perfection God knows all things perfectly. [...]  He is not a Great Chess Player who must wait to see what we will do, but he knows absolutely what we will do before we do it.

If God has decided ahead of time how everything happens, who believes, who does not believe, then free will is more than irrelevant, it is non- existent.  It is with this in mind that Luther claims, “This bombshell knocks ‘free-will’ flat, and utterly shatters it…”  Luther sees no middle ground at all in this argument.  Salvation belongs completely to God, because a person can’t choose to believe or obey.  God’s grace isn’t mere assistance for salvation, it is necessity.

Is God a Bully?

I started in the first blog asking, “Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?”  Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that we cannot obey God or believe God unless He intervenes and causes it to happen.  If you take this idea in combination with the idea that God chooses only some to believe then the implications are huge.  Why would God command people to believe, knowing all along that they can’t?  Is He rubbing our own weakness in our faces?  This is what Erasmus infers.  Luther comes against Erasmus’ idea, saying that we must consider God’s character.  God’s cosmic game of nanee-nanee-boo-boo-stick-your-head-in-doo-doo is a ludicrous assertion.  So is there any other reason that God would command us to do what He knows we are completely incapable of doing?  Luther says there is a perfectly good reason, that is, “God is trying us, that by His law he may bring us to a knowledge of our impotence.”

If the objective is to make us aware of the fact that we cannot save ourselves, then this whole thing makes a little more sense.  God is teaching us, not being a bully.  This should be a relief, but we still have a huge problem that has yet to be addressed.  If Luther is correct, that we are in bondage to sin, and so much so, that we cannot obey God’s commands, and we can’t even believe for salvation unless He first places that desire to believe in us, then all of us are in big trouble.  So far in this adventure through R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, it is implied that God will place the desire to believe in only some of us.

Your Feedback, Please

What do you say, reader?  Does God do most of the work in salvation as long as we cooperate with Him?  Do we have any part at all in our own salvation?  Or are we completely helpless and at God’s mercy?  And what do you think about this idea that God has chosen only some to be saved?  Did He choose the ones who He knew ahead of time would choose Him back?  If this is the case, then why does Jesus explicitly say, “You did not choose me, I chose you”?  Why does the Bible say that we love Him because He first loved us?  If His loving us and choosing us is what causes us to love Him, why would He only choose a few?

For anyone who feels very upset by all of this, please understand that the content of this particular blog (as well as the next one in this series) could be compared to walking out of the movie theater while the girl is still tied to the railroad tracks, and the good guy is being chased by a bunch of bad guys with guns.  It always looks hopeless until the last 5 or 10 minutes.  You know how it is.  This is not the end of the story.  There is much more to be said about Who God is and what God does.  Unfortunately, there is also 1500+ years worth of religious bullshit to clear out of the way as well.  Don’t walk out of the theater prematurely.

Coming soon…

Chapter Five: “We Are Voluntary Slaves” & Chapter Six: “We Are Free to Believe” (These are the big two, in my opinion, because they hold such influence over modern Christian thinking – the views of Calvin and Arminius.) See you then.

“Questions matter,” says Tim Challies in his review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  Indeed, questions do matter.  Part of the reason that the orthodox evangelical crowd is so hot under the collar about Bell’s particular questions is that they have no control over who is asking or how the questions are asked.  This is something entirely new for the institution of church, a very controlled environment where only certain preapproved people are allowed to ask or answer doctrine-threatening questions in an official, representative manner for all of the rest of the people.  For the entirety of church history, there have been three dynamic shifts in the question-asking, question-answering environment.  Other important events occurred along the way, of course, but for the sake of this blog, I am noting what I consider to be the top three.

The first shift was somewhat gradual, with the egalitarian groups of believers, who considered each other as equally gifted, holding equal positions of authority, gradually being persuaded or forced into a larger, more stratified church model where the same few dozen big-shots were making important decisions about what others were allowed to discuss.  Leaders found approval not in their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading but in their not being timid about elevating themselves over others or their level of cooperation with the current leaders.  This dynamic is covered in more detail in my youtube series on Religious Tolerance.  It was during this time period that any talk of the Amazing Hope was forcibly removed from believer’s gatherings. The Dark Ages soon followed.

The second shift took place quickly compared to the first, over the course of a few generations, mostly because the Spirit’s leading could no longer be silenced due to the invention of the printing press.  Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis and the Reformation was under way before the institutional church had a chance to react.  Of course, they did cry heresy, but they were unable to contain the spread of information, like a God-ordained virus.  Any effort to suppress or refute Luther’s claims only served to further Luther’s agenda.  Thankfully, not all of Luther’s ideas and practices were embraced, just the ones that mattered.  Luther makes Bell look like an altar boy in the morality department, not that it really matters, though.  If God can speak through Balaam’s ass, He can speak through anyone, even me.  Anyway, people learned that salvation is by grace through faith, and that this faith is the gift of God, not something that can be earned.

Unfortunately, somewhere between the second and third institutional church shift, people fell back into old patterns of thinking.  They gave lip service to salvation by grace through faith, but they also gave a list of steps one must complete in order to be saved.  This group of believers opposed that group of believers’ list, as to exactly what our part in salvation may be, while other groups of believers even claimed that people could lose their salvation.  If you are wondering to which group of believers you belong (assuming you believe at all), check your church’s website or statement of faith. It will tell you exactly what hoops you must jump through in order to be considered part of the “family” and it will also tell you what severe consequences await should you not get this thing right by the time you die.

The third shift is happening now.  Really it has been happening all along, only no one knew it, because anyone who dared speak up about it was quickly labeled heretic and put out of the church.  This is still the standard approach in most congregations, but something else happened that the institutional church never expected, something that if they had known ahead of time they still would not have been able to prevent.  Something remarkably similar in potential to the printing press, that is, the internet.  Social media.  The ability for people to easily and anonymously access information.  We are living during a pivotal time in history.  God is turning the institutional church upside down and inside out, shaking it to see what falls out and what sticks.  The wineskin is bursting with Good News that really is good.  People are remembering Who God is and what God does, how His plan of the ages involves calling out a “firstfruit” people for Himself, and that this firstfruit harvest is just the beginning of the entire harvest.  The year of Jubilee is on the horizon – out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.

These concepts may be found in the scriptures if people take the time to look past the modern translation and tradition and study the Greek and Hebrew.  But there are those who would like to snuff out this light that threatens to shine brighter than church buildings and programs and paid positions of authority and power.  Among them is Tim Challies, who says, “Now here’s the thing: aion and aionos [sic] definitely can mean ‘age’ or ‘period of time,’ they also mean ‘eternal.’ The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning.”  Why is Challies concerned with assigning the meaning eternal to aion?  Because that is where one can make or break the case for the majority of eternal torment proof texts.  If it turns out that these are more accurately translated age or age-abiding, then the eternal torment doctrine very nearly deflates altogether.  Challies intends to convince readers to accept that aion is eternal by threatening to pull the rug out from under the idea that God will give us immortality – implying that we will die or cease to exist if aion does not mean eternal.  He reasons, “So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionos [sic] is used? For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.” Challies adds, “Not as encouraging, is it?”

Here I begin to wonder why it is that people so learned in scripture, so practiced in studying the Word, can miss something so obvious.  We are promised immortality (athenasia, meaning no death) and incorruptibility (aphthartos meaning non-deteriorating or non-aging condition).  We are promised life that does not end (ouk estai telos, meaning no end, literally translated not shall be finish).  And there are plenty of other reasons to believe God has good things planned for us that do not include death or suddenly being snuffed out of existence once the age ends.  Challies’ arguably knee-jerk assertion is easily refuted, because not one of these ideas rely on the word aion.  We don’t need aion in order to live forever, we need the life that Jesus gives, in whatever manner He intends to give it.

 

I am picking up where I left off yesterday regarding Kevin De Young’s review of Rob Bell’s Love WinsDe Young claims that there are “exegetical problems” with Bell’s take on scriptures that indicate the reconciliation of all things.  I am including in this blog a wonderful video I found on youtube, which is jam-packed full of Amazing Hope for the whole world.  This is your homework for today, my Berean friends, watch this video and ask yourself one question: What on God’s green earth would motivate someone to perform exegetical gymnastics to make each “all” and “every” into merely “some” or “not every”?  I’ll even make your homework very easy for you by answering the question, that is, they would go through all this trouble in order to protect the traditional teaching of eternal torment.  Just remember that if even one of these scriptures actually means what it appears to mean, then there is a Biblical basis for Bell’s claims.  Now the majority of proof texts for eternal torment, on the other hand, disappear by clarifying one word.  No exegetical gymnastics required.  (And that word happens to take center stage in the suspicious translation tampering attempt by the evil Emperor Justinian that I mentioned in a previous blog.)  But that’s another blog for another day.

De Young claims, “If eternal life is equivalent to saying the age to come, then Jesus is the master of redundancy.”  Are you sure you want to pull the redundancy card, De Young?  Because the eternal torment defenders will seriously have a much bigger problem with this… Perhaps readers will recall seeing the words “forever and ever” generously peppered through most modern Bible translations.  By the time the Greek makes its way past the Latin Vulgate, Emperor Justinian, and the Dark Ages, it says “forever and ever.”  The thing is, that second “ever” is actually a plural word.  So if we are sticking with the erroneous “forever” thing, then it would say, “forever and everS.”  How many forevers are there?  Really, there is not a problem at all with Mark 10:30, see for yourself in the literal translation.  De Young doesn’t like the idea that Jesus is promising a life that continues throughout the entire age to come, because he has been trained to believe and teach ideas that ignore the age to come and lump it together with this “eternity” idea where the Churchians get to abandon the world and begin their eternal life just before the shit hits the fan for the rest of us.  Nice, huh? God is doing something right now, which will affect the near future of all mankind.  We need to get our heads out of the “forever/eternal” clouds long enough to wrap our brains around this.  God has rolled up His sleeves, and He is getting His hands dirty in the here and now.  God established a “Plan of the Ages” for a reason.  Stop ignoring the ages, people – this is exciting stuff!

Lastly, De Young suggests that all things reconciled to God actually means that some are reconciled in joyful worship while others are reconciled in just punishment.  Let’s set aside the outlandish idea that infinite punishment for finite offenses is just, and focus on a particularly strongly worded scripture. Do a word for word study on Isaiah 45:21-23.  You will see that everyone is worshipping and declaring in a celebration of God’s glory.  God isn’t moving their lips for them while their hearts are far from Him.  God swears by Himself.  That’s some pretty heavy stuff, there.  But, hey, De Young, if you want to explain to God why you tried revoking His word “that cannot be revoked,” go for it.