In his book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan writes,

The one thing all Christian Universalists agree upon is that after death there will be another chance (or an endless string of chances) to choose Jesus.  The Universalist view depends upon it.  So we need to wrestle with all the postmortem second-chance passages to see if they actually teach this view.  The problem is, there aren’t any passages that say this.  No passage in the Bible says that there will be a second chance after death to turn to Jesus.

The implications of Chan’s statement are so far reaching that I literally could write an entire book in response.  First, is it true that all Christian Universalists agree upon this one idea?  Second, does the Universalist view stand or fall on this single concept?  Third, does anyone, including believers, ever “choose” Jesus?  Fourth, is it true that there are no scriptures supporting postmortem salvation?  And probably the most important question of all – is there such thing as a “first” chance for salvation?

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip past the first and second questions with only a brief comment, that is, no, not all Christian Universalists agree upon this one idea, and, no, the Christian Universalist view does not stand or fall on this single concept.  Here’s the one idea that all Christian Universalists agree upon, the one concept upon which not only Christian Universalism, but salvation itself, stands or falls – that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

In this blog, I will address the third question: Does anyone, including believers, ever “choose” Jesus?  Let’s suppose the answer to this question is yes, as Chan implies, that some people “choose” Jesus in this life, while other’s don’t.  If this is true, then we must consider something else.  Why do some people believe while others don’t?   What quality do believers possess that unbelievers do not?  Were the believers smarter, more willing, or more humble?  What caused them to believe?  These are very important questions, because they make the difference between one’s claim of instigating their own faith or God’s claim as the author and finisher of faith.  Some people may wonder why this difference is important.  Why does it matter how salvation happens as long as it happens?  If you would like to consider these ideas further, then read the following blogs: Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?, A Great Chess Player, Volunteer for Slavery, Picking the Petals Off of Tulips, and Amazed Exceedingly.

I disagree wholeheartedly with Chan’s assertion that anyone chooses Jesus.  Paul says in Romans 3,

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away…

and in Ephesians 1,

He did choose us… having foreordained us… according to the good pleasure of His will… having made known to us… according to His good pleasure, that He purposed in Himself… being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who the all things is working according to the counsel of His will…

How anyone can read these scriptures and think that he or she turned toward God, searched for salvation, chose Jesus, or had the will to believe, is beyond me.  Furthermore, Jesus said,

Ye did not choose out me, but I chose out you…

…no one is able to come unto me, if the Father who sent me may not draw him…

…there are certain of you who do not believe… Because of this I have said to you – No one is able to come unto me, if it may not have been given him from my Father.

Chan says that a person chooses Jesus, but Jesus claims this decision, this work, for Himself.  A common altar call at church is announced with the plea, “Come to Jesus”.  Yet Jesus says that unless the Father draws someone, he or she is not ABLE to come.  They literally CAN’T come to Jesus.  Chan (and the majority of church-going believers) paints this vivid picture for his readers, to summarize this section about no second chances:

How scary this is for those who will find themselves on the other side of the door wanting to come in, banging and begging, wishing they had made some different choices while they had the opportunity.

Chan assumes here that anyone who does not believe in this earthly lifetime has “had the opportunity”.  Jesus said something about those who did not believe, about the reason they did not believe.  It had nothing at all to do with “choosing”.  It had everything to do with opportunity.  He said that it was not “given [to them] from the Father”.  Do you see the difference?  What if the Father, as part of His Plan of the Ages, according to His sovereign will, has decided to reconcile them to Himself, “each in his own order” (1 Cor 15:23)?  What if the reason believing is not “given” to unbelievers “from the Father” is that the Father brings in the harvest in stages?

Chan’s imaginary after-life scene presupposes that those who are inside are there because THEY chose Jesus.  But Who is in charge of the “choosing” in salvation according to Jesus?

The next couple of blogs will address these questions: Is it true that there are no scriptures supporting postmortem salvation?  And is there such thing as a “first” chance for salvation?

Next blog in this series: One of Chan’s Missing Scriptures

Pierre Brassau is a famous painter.  A famous monkey painter, that is.   One unsuspecting art critic wrote about the paintings, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”

Sometimes people see what they are told to see.

When Chan examines Philippians 2:9-11, he sees what the doctrine of eternal torment tells him to see “that there will come a day when Christ returns to reclaim His creation, and everyone will acknowledge this [...] none will be able to deny it.”  Although Chan’s assessment is accurate, it is inadequate.  It sucks the worship right out of Paul’s words.  Paul is actually providing commentary on a quote from the prophet Isaiah in this passage.  Isaiah writes, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear (swear = an oath, an act of allegiance).”  Paul directly applies this to Jesus, the Savior of the world.  The message is loud and clear, that everyone will not only worship (bow = an act of worship) Jesus, but everyone will swear their allegiance to Him.  This is the strongest language possible in the Hebrew and Greek.

People might swear to on their mother’s eyes or to God (even though they shouldn’t) when they are trying to convince someone else that something is true, because they can think of no one better or nothing higher by which to swear.  Here, God swears by Himself.  Essentially, God says, “I swear to Me…”  Anything that God swears obviously can’t be revoked, because God is the One Who swore it, He does not lie, and no one can undo what He does.  Nevertheless, the statement “…will not be revoked”, is there for the benefit of the reader who, for whatever reason, might try to weasel his (ah-hem, Chan) or her way out of the obvious meaning of this passage.

Chan appeals to the ending of the book of Isaiah, a contextual difference of twenty-one chapters, where dead bodies are scattered everywhere, to justify his less than stellar reading of God’s promise, that everyone will merely “acknowledge” and/or “not deny” that Jesus is Lord.  This interpretation leaves room for the doctrine of eternal torment in that the unbelievers grudgingly admit to what is already obvious to everyone.  I encourage readers to go through Isaiah, chapter by chapter, and notice all of the ups and downs there.  I concede that it doesn’t seem to end well for all those dead people.  And since all of us die, then it appears as though things don’t end well for us, either.  Thankfully, death is not the end.  That’s what the Good News is all about.

Do you remember the Good News, Chan?  The angels announced it, “Fear not, for lo, I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all the people - because there was born to you to-day a Saviour — who is Christ the Lord [...] upon earth peace, among men – good will.”  And what is this Savior’s mission?  In Jesus’ own words, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So, does the end of the book of Isaiah nullify the sworn oath of God written earlier in the book?

If eternal torment in hell is the doctrine in question, and the end of Isaiah supposedly supports this doctrine, how is it that God’s enemies are portrayed as dead carcasses?  Shouldn’t they be writhing in agony or something?

The truth is that most of Isaiah was written to people other than us, during a time of political upheaval.  If you read it from beginning to end, the tone swings from hope to destruction back to hope, over and over again.  Isaiah addresses Israel’s current situation, but he also has these moments of supernatural clarity, in which he attempts to address ideas that most likely blow his mind.  You have to consider the day and age in which Isaiah was living, the cultural environment, and what was considered “orthodoxy” during this time.  There’s this tension in Isaiah’s writing between what he knows by his own experience and upbringing, and what God is revealing to him.  The book of Isaiah is an unnecessary game of tug-o-war between Israel’s exclusivity as God’s “chosen” people and Israel’s redemptive role in the Plan of the Ages, between Israel’s passivity or participation in this plan in contrast with the other nations, and between the idea that all other nations will ultimately be subject to Isreal or the idea that all other nations are ultimately equals with Israel and Israel just happens to be first to find out what God is doing.  Amidst all of this, God SWEARS something THAT CANNOT BE REVOKED.

If God decides to bless everyone, then do the chosen lose their “better-than” status?  We see the same tensions in Christianity today, between those who believe God only chooses some, period, and those who believe God only chooses some now.  It’s like Israel all over again.

Let’s suppose that Chan is correct in his interpretation.  What are the implications?  We must throw out 1 Corinthians 12:3, “no one is able to say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit,” otherwise, people are becoming believers without the Spirit of God (an impossibility), furthermore, God is damning these new believers to eternal torment in hell.  Theologian Albert Barnes, who believes in eternal torment in hell, says:

It cannot occur, or even happen, that anyone will acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah who is not influenced by the Holy Spirit. The meaning is, not that no one has physical ability to say that Jesus is Lord unless aided by the Holy Spirit, since all people can say this; but that no one will be disposed heartily to say it; no one will acknowledge him as their Lord; it can never happen that anyone will confess him as the true Messiah who has not been brought to this state by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

How does Chan address this and the numerous other problems that arise when “every knee will bow, every tongue will confess” is minimized and deemphasized?  Chan could write a whole book on this topic alone.  Or he could just be aware that there are experts out there who rave about theological monkey paintings.

 

Next blog in this series: If God Swears, Then What About…

Just Believe Part Four, a video blog… enjoy!

 

 

I just finished reading George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a haunting portrayal of extreme government.  The description inside the front cover is as follows:

To Winston Smith, a young man who works in the Ministry of Truth, come two people who transform his life completely.  One is Julia, who he meets after she hands him a slip reading, “I love you.”  The other is O’Brien, who tells him, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.”  The way in which Winston is betrayed by the one and, against his own desires and instincts, ultimately betrays the other, makes a story of mounting drama and suspense. [...] IN the final section of the novel George Orwell spells out, for the first time in literature, how the spirit of every man living may be broken in Room 101, and how he can be made to avow – and believe – that black is white, two plus two equals five, and evil is good.

Some of the concepts in this book strike me as very similar to my experience with each institutional church I’ve attended.  This is a quote from the book and an explanation on how it relates to the institutional church.

War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.

In this blog, I will address the first portion, “War is peace,” and only briefly address the word war in its most common usage, that is, military combat.  If you would like to read further on the subject, I found a very balanced look at this kind of war as it relates to the institutional church by Dennis Hinks called, “The Christian Attitude Toward War.”  My opinion on the matter at this time is dissonant and fluctuating somewhere between absolute pacifism and a defensive stand against immediate attack (with no pre-emptive activity).  I am grateful for the attitude in which people enlist and serve in the military, the selfless concern to accomplish the goal of making this world a better place, but I don’t think that the military system in its current state is accomplishing that goal.  In fact, I think it is accomplishing the opposite.  Regardless of my opinion, I can tell you that spiritually-based military activity such as holy wars, Islamic Jihad, the militarization of Christians, etc. may be frowned upon by the institutional church, but every church I have attended has made a point to display the American flag and have ceremonies to honor soldiers, which I see as a way of solidifying the idea that “if you attend this church, this is how ‘we’ feel about war”.  And I have never heard any serious discussion about whether believers ought to use guns and bombs in any circumstance.  If someone were to openly declare a totally passive, anti-military view, he or she would likely be frowned upon and seen as “other” by the consenting majority.

The type of war that I would like to address is the war between institutional church and the institutional church.  No, that’s not a typo.  You did read it correctly, that is, the war between the institutional church and the institutional church.  At first, I began to describe this war as the institutional church versus the non-institutional church, but then I realized that this description is not accurate.  There are many so-called non-institutional home-churches, where the hierarchical system still stands; it’s just a Shrinky-Dink version of the mega-church.

Tony Morgan, Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta wrote a blog called “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?” that says, “Every time Christians step inside a church, it can remove them from the place where they have the greatest impact for God’s Kingdom—the world. It’s sad, but I wonder if we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be.”  Morgan sees the problem as geographical or social isolation.  While this most certainly is a problem, it is not the problem.  The problem is found in the question he asks in the title, “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?”

Let’s look at the word “evangelistic.”  It is composed of a few parts: evangel + ist + ic.  We all have this cartoonish idea about an evangelist, based on our experiences with proselytism, in which a man in a three piece suit with big hair and a booming voice tells you and all the other who were bribed into the big tent with free barbecue that if you don’t-ah repent-ah and accept Jeeeezusss as your personal Savior-uh, you will go to Hell-ah.  But, seriously, what is an evangelist?  Our English word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word “euangelistes” which literally means “bringer of good news.”  In this sense, every believer ought to be an evangelist, because we possess the “evangelion” or “good news.”  The greatest evangelistic enemy is not that believers segregate themselves but that their screwed-up version of the evangel demands segregation.

This is where the “war” portion of this blog begins to take shape.  This idea that “we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be” should be reworded as, “we design our ministries to isolate Christians who intend to be who God really wants us to be.”  What should we be?  Evangelists!  How can someone be a true evangelist, if they possess the “good news” that says God intends to eternally torment you if you don’t believe that He wants to save you from the His own plan to eternally torment you?  The war is the institutional church versus the institutional church.  The system propagates the system.  The result is spiritual impotence, or as Jesus described it, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

The way that the institutional church as a body (not His body) handles this idea that Jesus is the Savior of all mankind is to label it heresy and treat it as a threat.  Since threats cause commotion, they seek to reestablish “peace” by ridding the system of “heresy” in what they consider spiritual warfare.  All the while they have no idea that they have declared war against their own body.  The so-called heresy could be compared to the white blood cells in the human body, which eliminate infectious disease.  Often, a high white blood cell count is accompanied by fever.  The institutional church panics at the fever, and filled with fear, they seek to eliminate the white blood cells from the body in order to return the body to its former state, not knowing that in doing so, they are destroying the thing the body needs most.  People say of a body in a casket, “He/she looks so peaceful.”  In the institutional church “War is peace.”

Fortunately, in the war between the institutional church and the institutional church, the casualties are actually the survivors, the conquerers who have been called out since the foundation of the earth to inherit age-abiding life.  No institution can destroy His body and His life.  This life is not one which seeks to exclude those who are not included but to reconcile those who are not included.  Jesus, the Great Physician, has purposed it.  Operating according to His will, as Ministers of Reconciliation, we cannot fail to accomplish the purpose for which we were created.  Peace is knowing that the victory over sin and death was accomplished over two-thousand years ago, and in some mysterious way that we may someday understand, it was accomplished before the foundation of the world.

I’ll address “Freedom is slavery” and “Ignorance is strength” at another time.

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.”