Taking a page from the scientific method, peer review just makes good sense. Truth stands in the light of scrutiny. No hard feelings.
A lot of people were amazed that Zondervan – a well-respected, evangelical publishing house – would include an essay on Christian Universalism in their recent publication Four Views on Hell. But is it really “incredible” to believe that God will actually accomplish all of what He set out to accomplish? — George Sarris
Please check out this short but impactful article by actor, author, speaker, and storyteller, George Sarris: http://blogs.christianpost.com/engaging-the-culture/why-is-it-incredible-27793/
Spirituality is very real, but also very transcendental in nature, so it comes as no surprise that spiritual analogies can be unwieldy. Among the most compelling and sometimes bizarre spiritual analogies are those intended to help people understand the gospel (good news) message.
I’m not suggesting we rid ourselves of the stories we tell to explain our understanding of the gospel; after all, some analogies, even deeply flawed ones, have been a tool for the Spirit of God to encourage hearers to enter into a relationship with their Savior and Creator. What I am suggesting, however, is that we hear these stories with a Berean attitude of healthy suspicion that necessitates we “test everything, hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Take, for example, this analogy called New Life as told by Myra Johnson.
Years ago, one of our son’s best friends paid for him to go skydiving as a gift.
Before he boarded the plane, an instructor spoke to him about the upcoming experience.
Our son was dressed in a special flight suit and given a parachute.
Although I was not there, I am sure he listened to the instructions about the parachute and everything else that was advised.
After all, who would dare to go skydiving without having any knowledge whatsoever about the parachute?
Johnson departs from the analogy to explain the meaning of what is already written and also what is about to be written:
I was thinking about this earlier today.
People die all the time.
Most everyone dies before they reach 100 years old.
Only a few make it a little past that mark.
Yet, how many people inquire as to what will happen when they die?
How many people are concerned enough to look into it?
Johnson returns to the analogy, mixing symbols with their assigned meanings in reality:
Taking the trip from this life to eternity is far more important than skydiving.
God has made known His plan for safe passage for those who die.
His plan was the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and the offering of a new life with Him, now and forever.
Jesus became our “parachute” when we had nothing to save us from the fall to Hell.
Still, there are those who do not wish to hear of a safe passage.
They do not wish to hear about a parachute.
They desire no instructions from God about the trip we all must make.
There are some, though, who have heard His call for instruction.
They have listened intently about a safe passage.
They have decided that having a Savior is the only way to life after death.
What preparations have you made personally for your passage?
Johnson states the moral of the story:
1 Corinthians 15:22 reads, “Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.”
Symbols in New Life
In this analogy we see the following symbols:
- boarding or being on the plane to go skydiving = this life, to be alive
- the instructor = God
- parachute = Jesus
- instructions/knowledge about the parachute = the plan of salvation
- jumping from the plane = death
- hitting the ground at 120 mph = hell
- safely landing on the ground = salvation
- the skydivers on the plane = the entire human race
Looking at the Symbols in Context
There are a few problems with this analogy, which become apparent when we substitute the assigned meanings for each concept:
Years ago, one of our son’s best friends paid for him [to be alive] t̶o̶ ̶g̶o̶ ̶s̶k̶y̶d̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ as a gift.
Before he boarded [this life] t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶l̶a̶n̶e̶, [God] a̶n̶ ̶i̶n̶s̶t̶r̶u̶c̶t̶o̶r̶ spoke to him about the upcoming experience.
Our son was dressed in a special flight suit and given [Jesus] a̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶a̶c̶h̶u̶t̶e̶.
Although I was not there, I am sure he listened to [the plan of salvation] t̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶s̶t̶r̶u̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶s̶ ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶a̶c̶h̶u̶t̶e̶ and everything else that was advised.
After all, who would dare [to be alive] t̶o̶ ̶g̶o̶ ̶s̶k̶y̶d̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ without [the plan of salvation] h̶a̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶l̶e̶d̶g̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶s̶o̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶a̶c̶h̶u̶t̶e̶?
In this analogy:
- The son chooses to be born.
- The son receives instructions from God prior to being born.
- The son is given Jesus before he is born.
- The son listens to the plan of salvation before he is born.
Johnson unintentionally nails the crux of the problem by asking who would dare to be alive without the plan of salvation, as if any of us were warned about the possibility of spending eternal torment in hell should we choose to be born.
(This idea of pre-birth relations with God is kind of interesting — good fodder for a rainy day exercise in speculative theology.)
The fact is, we all find ourselves on the plane.
Johnson and I can agree on this.
We all know that in real life, people would most definitely watch and listen very intently to parachute instructions if they knew they were about to jump from (or be pushed out of?) a plane. Human survival instincts demand such a reaction. The only way people would not react this way is if they were deaf, blind, suicidal, unconscious, having a panic attack, or did not have an accurate understanding of the situation. If there were to be any hope for these people, the God-instructor would need to make special arrangements for them.
As it turns out, though, we are all in need of special arrangements.
Why? We all have chosen not to have an accurate understanding of the situation (John 3:19), we convince each other to not listen to instructions (Matthew 15:14), those of us who want to pay attention to the instructions keep losing consciousness (Romans 11:8), we don’t understand what the God-instructor is saying and assume it must be some kind of prank (1 Corinthians 2:14), the God-instructor is speaking another language and we don’t have a translator (1 Corinthians 2:11-14), we are scared to death of the God-instructor and assume He must be trying to punish us (1 John 4:18), we are dead and therefore completely unable to do anything at all (Ephesians 2:1), we are convinced that we are doomed to a meaningless existence, therefore trying to save ourselves is futile (Romans 8:20), or we don’t believe the God-instructor because we can’t hear what He’s saying (Romans 10:17).
The scriptures are very clear that we are all, without exception, unable to do anything to save ourselves. Yet, according to Johnson:
There are some, though, who have heard His call for instruction.
They have listened intently about a safe passage.
They have decided that having a Savior is the only way to life after death.
If we can’t save ourselves, then how is it that any of us are saved? And what happens to all the others who are deaf, blind, suicidal, unconscious, having a panic attack, or don’t have an accurate understanding of the situation? Did the God-instructor only make special arrangements for a few of His favorites and shove the rest out the door of the plane, to plunge to their deaths and to suffer eternal torment?
Again… Healthy Suspicion
Like I said before, spiritual analogies can be unwieldy, especially those intended to help people understand the gospel (Good News) message, because most of them are written by believers who have an understanding of the Good News from the POV of one of the God-instructor’s few favorites.
Flawed analogies like this one can encourage hearers to enter into a relationship with their Savior and Creator in a roundabout way, though. When readers “test everything, hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), they discover some major inconsistencies like the following:
- The God-instructor doesn’t seem to care at all for the majority of humanity. Yet we are told God is Love.
- And if the God-instructor created everything, that means He created Hell, too. Yet we are told God is good. If He is good, then how could He even conceive of such a thing?
- And if He knew the eternal destiny of each person before He created them, then why did He bother creating them at all?
- Why didn’t He ask them whether they would prefer non-existence or eternal torment before they were born?
- How can God, Who is supposed to be perfect, behave like this? Even fallible human beings treat each other with greater care and concern than this.
And when people are brave enough to ask the hard questions and reject unsatisfactory answers that fail to pass the “test everything, hold on to what is good” test, they are more likely to discover the very things God is revealing about Himself to them. God’s magnificent, limitless glory shines through brighter and with greater significance with each and every hole one can poke in a flawed analogy.
Regarding the song, Take Me to Church by Hozier, Taylor Marshall writes a line-by-line commentary in his blog post, Take Me to Church Lyrics and Meaning, A Christian Analysis and Critique:
The God throughout the song is a girlfriend… revealed religion is cast into doubt… “they” [Catholics] teach original sin… So unlike Catholicism, there are no moral absolutes – only relativism… the liturgy is sex. It’s the place of union between him and the “god”/girlfriend… acknowledges original sin – but he loves it… remember, “Church” here is sexual reference in this song… he hands over his life to her the “god”… the god/girlfriend is also a goddess… egalitarian ritual – sex… hey, at least he knows it’s sin – he’s Irish!… a reference perhaps to leaving earth into the “heavenly bliss” of sexual embrace… he ends with a reference the sexual completion as a kind of baptism or absolution…
Marshall summarizes the meaning of the song:
It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song. […] The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and ritual.
Finally, Marshall concludes:
I know it’s a catchy song. There’s a part of me that likes it. But seriously, this is probably one of the most sacramental songs every popularized – and it sacramentalizes the wrong values.
The following quotes come from songfacts.com:
Speaking with The Irish Times, Hozier said about matters of the heart: “I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment – if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes – everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”
Hozier attracted further attention with the release of the song’s Brendan Canty directed music video, which criticizes the repression of gay people in Russia. “Growing up in Ireland, the church is always there – the hypocrisy, the political cowardice,” Hozier told Billboard magazine. “The video has the same theme – an organization that undermines humanity.”
Hozier added that the song is not an attack on faith. “Coming from Ireland, obviously, there’s a bit of a cultural hangover from the influence of the church. You’ve got a lot of people walking around with a heavy weight in their hearts and a disappointment, and that s–t carries from generation to generation,” he explained. “So the song is just about that – it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile. Electing, in this case a female, to choose a love who is worth loving.”
So why is there such a glaring disconnect between Marshall’s perception of the song and Hozier’s stated meaning? I would blame the disconnect on the idea that Marshall never checked to see what Hozier said about the song, but apparently he did. Marshall quotes Hozier in his blog post:
In an interview with New York Magazine in March 2014, the artist Hozier stated:
“‘Take Me to Church’ is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would… undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God…
But it’s not an attack on faith… it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile.”
Hozier’s lyric-writing method reminds me of the way I went about writing this poem, that is, taking two ideas that seem to be totally unrelated and weaving them together to create layers of meaning.
The pulpit dressed in subway wall tiles
mural people crowding-working-playing St. Crosswalk Chapel
Where the windblown lady tries to pass
the four-dog-walking denim man on a cell phone isn’t off
To one side. Avoiding cracks in deference, PLEASE NO
Loitering-smoking-spitting-radio-playing to the altar.
Dreadlocks beating on a Catholic drum under NY
It isn’t a yellow cab lectern saying
DON’T WALK DON’T WALK DON’T WALK
Wheeled onto the stage of the sun bleached sun
when the Christian rock band sits down, as it is.
No standing any time. But sometimes people do stand
out of the dust. They cry twisted metal tears and press painted nondenominational hands to banners covering high wrought-iron fences that keep the mega-churches safe from God Bless America.
Ascend every Sunday to the large imposing wooden Central Park where the new yellow leaves
die over and over like Gothic cathedrals,
the old guard
preaching, “Return to the days of John Lennon!”
even though entertainment forgets.
Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy NY Times, the sign says, not knowing
how the statues lost their color to the stain glass windows.
And suddenly, there’s spiked hair and leather reading a book and eating an apple.
Take a picture and think deeply, precisely,
seriously, before you are cool again.
I think that interpreting song lyrics is like interpreting poetry (or scripture for that matter). The interpretation one constructs can say more about the intentions of the interpreter than the intended meaning of the original work.
Comparing the Messages of Edwards and Piper
This is a review (part three) of a famous sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Read part one, The Suicide Sermon, a synopsis of the sermon, and part two, Slippery Slope.
In part two, Slippery Slope, I examined the introduction to Edward’s sermon and concluded:
The problem with Edwards’ intro is that he takes the idea of destruction, within the context of unbelieving Israel, and equates it with eternal torment in hell. This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. But begin I will…
Today, we’ll examine the main body of the sermon:
II. It is God’s sovereign pleasure to NOT preserve or protect them from falling at the appointed time.
1. God has the power “to cast wicked men into hell at any moment.”
2. You deserve to be cast into hell.
3. You are presently condemned to hell.
4. The wrath of God presently burns against you.
5. The devil is ready to seize you, once God gives the okay.
6. The “seeds” of hell fire are presently in you.
7. You are on the brink of eternity, and your very next step could send you straight to hell.
8. You can do nothing to secure yourselves.
9. You have fooled yourselves into believing you are not going to go to hell.
10. God is under no obligation to keep any person from hell, even for a moment.
First, recognize that when Edwards talks about “destruction” or “falling,” he isn’t talking about the natural consequences that accompany negative or immoral thoughts, decisions, or actions — he’s talking about eternal torment in hell, as is evidenced in the following quotes from his sermon:
We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. […]
It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.
Obviously, Edwards moves way beyond his sermon introduction, the Old Testament context of unbelieving Israel, and applies those scriptures to all “unsaved” humanity. Three major problems with this approach are first, the concept of eternal torment in hell was completely foreign to unbelieving Israel; second, we know the fate of unbelieving Israel, and it is NOT even remotely close to what Edwards suggests; and third, the concept of eternal torment in hell is just plain erroneous.
Hell and Unbelieving Israel
Examine all of Moses’ laws and the consequences of breaking them, and you’ll not find any clear indication of eternal torment in hell. It simply wasn’t part of the Hebrew belief system. While it is true that you might find the word “hell” in modern translations of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “sheol” simply means “grave” or from the viewpoint of those still living, the “realm of the dead,” as is evidenced in this and other Old Testament scriptures:
And [Jonah] saith: I called, because of my distress, to Jehovah, and He doth answer me, from the belly of sheol I have cried, Thou hast heard my voice.(Jonah 2:2)
It is also noteworthy to compare, for example, in the New International Version, “hell” in the New Testament, translated from the Greek word, Gehenna, to Old Testament translations of the same word in Hebrew, Gai Ben-Hinnom, meaning the valley of the son of Hinnom, where people sacrificed their children in fire to the god Molech:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)
They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom 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 and so make Judah sin. (Jeremiah 32:35)
Do you see how a concept like the grave or a place like a valley is translated in two completely different ways?
Israel, whether they were believing or unbelieving, had a concept of a place where anyone who dies goes, and a concept of a place where people participated in “detestable practices,” but had no concept of a place of eternal torment called hell.
The Fate of Unbelieving Israel
Concerning not only the fate of unbelieving Israel, but the fate of every person, Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,
For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret — that ye may not be wise in your own conceits — that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them is the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.” As regards, indeed, the good tidings, they are enemies on your account; and as regards the choice — beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [i.e. irrevocable] are the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness. (Romans 11:25-32 YLT)
Eternal Torment in Hell, an Erroneous Concept
1. It negates the idea that everything God does is a reflection of Who God is.
If God is love and the concept of eternal torment were true, this means that God operates in contradiction to His own character. Most believers accept the idea that we never asked to be born, in other words, we have no part in deciding whether we come into existence; we are inherently predisposed to sin (it’s in our nature); and we live in an environment conducive to sin (the world). Yet most believers think that God is operating according to His character (doing what is good, acting in love) by subjecting the majority of His creation to infinite punishment for finite (70 years, give or take) unbelief or sin. This kind of disproportionate punishment cannot possibly be an act of love.
2. It exalts and glorifies the power of sin and death.
Orthodox theologians, preachers, and teachers have to do some major spiritual gymnastics to resolve this problem. And even then, I’ve never truly seen it resolved, only avoided. Consider, for example, a very convoluted blog post by John Piper called, For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death? He basically starts with the idea that Christ died for those He came to save, and then asks, “For Everybody?” He explains,
But to say what the Bible says and to mean what the Bible means are not necessarily the same thing. Which is why I said that there is something unhealthy about answering the question, “For whom did Jesus taste death?” by simply saying “everybody.” What’s unhealthy about it is not, first, that it’s wrong. It might not be wrong. It depends on what you mean by saying that. What’s unhealthy is that it stops short of asking what Jesus really accomplished when he died. It assumes that we all know what he accomplished and that this he accomplished for everybody in the same way. That is not healthy, because it is not true. My guess is that most of those 95% who say Jesus died for everybody would have a hard time explaining just what it is that the death of Jesus really, actually accomplished for everybody—especially what it accomplished for those who refuse to believe and go to hell.
The obvious question, then, is why is everyone not saved? In other words, why did the death of Christ accomplish so little? After some very self-serving gibberish, like a “precious and unfathomable covenant love between Christ” and those who believe (compared to those who don’t believe), Piper ultimately concludes,
And when you believe as you ought to believe, you will discover that your belief—like all other spiritual blessings—was purchased by the death of Christ. The sin of unbelief was covered by the blood in your case, and therefore the power of God’s mercy was released through the cross to subdue your rebellion and bring you to the Son. You did not make the cross effective in your life by faith. The cross became effective in your life by purchasing your faith.
So glory in this, Christian. Glory that your sins really were covered when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that your guilt really was removed when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that the curse of the law really was lifted and that the wrath of God really was removed, and that the precious faith that unites you to all this treasure in Christ was a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.
Christ tasted death for everyone who has faith. Because the faith of everyone who believes was purchased by the death of Christ.
What this amounts to is that for the majority of humanity, the sin of unbelief was not counted among those sins done away with by Christ. Piper directs our attention away from the idea that sin and death is NOT conquered for the majority of humanity and redirects it — never mind that THEIR sins were not covered, just be happy yours were. Never mind that THEIR guilt was not removed, just be happy that yours was. Never mind that the curse of the law remains for so many others. The blood of Christ secured YOUR gift of salvation, and that’s all that really matters.
3. It stands in contradiction to other scriptures.
Can you imagine opening up your Bible and reading:
But the angel said to them, “Be very afraid; for behold, I only bring some of you good news…”
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of a small minority of people, and only of those who believe…
Even though in Adam all die, in Christ all will not be made alive. And this happens all at once…
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, but just can’t make it happen. That’s why the one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, gave himself as a ransom exclusively for the people He knew would believe…
I could go on, but I won’t. You can do your own homework. Look these up and ask yourself whether sin and death are completely conquered and “swallowed up in victory” in your current interpretation/understanding: Genesis 12:3, 28:14; Psalm 22:27 & 29, 65:2, 145:8-9; Isaiah 40:5, 45:22 & 23; Joel 2:28; Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20 & 23; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 15:23 & 28; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:9-11; Galatians 3:8; Hebrews 1:2, 2:9, 8:11; John 1:9 & 29, 3:16, 4:42, 8:12, 12:32-33 & 47, 16:33, 17:2 & 21; 1 John 2:2; Mark 9:49, 16:15; 2 Peter 3:9; Philippians 2:10-11, 3:21; Revelation 4:11, 5:13, 21:5; Romans 5:17-18, 8:21, 11:26 & 32 & 36; Titus 2:11.
Next week we’ll look at the Edwards’ sermon conclusion.
Recently there was a buzz on twitter (#TakeDownThatPost) about an article, “My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon,” in which a youth pastor romanticizes and frames his statutory rape of a girl in the youth group as a consensual adulterous relationship. Christianity Today has since taken down the article. Here are my twitter responses:
— Alice Dean Spicer (@AliceDeanSpicer) June 13, 2014
And you can read the article here. (<— If this link ever goes bad, let me know, please, and I will post a copy on this website.) The article was supposed to be a cautionary tale about sin, but instead, it offered an inside look at the thought processes of an evangelical sexual predator and how he minimizes his crime.
Christianity Today describes itself as “a globally minded evangelical magazine that provides thoughtful, biblical perspectives on the news and ideas of our day.” I suspect the reason these all-male editors were comfortable with publishing the felon’s story “as is” was because in many evangelical churches, the culture of so-called “God ordained” spiritual authority blinds people in high places and binds those who believe they are supposed to submit to spiritual authority.
Censorship might make people feel better, but it doesn’t resolve the problem. What ought to be held under the light of scrutiny and what ought to incite outrage (while Christianity Today and evangelicalism squirms uncomfortably) and what might have served as a catalyst for reform is now virtually erased from the cultural consciousness.
“They are not skillful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin.” – John Milton, Areopagitica
One of my favorite blog posts by Rachel Evans is her weekly “Sunday Superlatives,” a list of blogs that she feels are noteworthy for one reason or another. On the list for 5/18/14 is this blog, with some interesting info about Rob Bell’s latest activities. Here’s the first paragraph:
On Wednesday night, I had the privilege of attending the taping of the first two episode of the Rob Bell Show. The new show, which is tentatively set to debut on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN later this fall, features the pastor and author doing what he does best: connecting with and communicating to audiences who consider themselves spiritual but are burned out on religion.
I’ve been very busy getting ready for our granddaughter, Claire Madeline, to arrive, and working on the invisiblepoets.org website, as well as business cards, brochures, and a poster for a conference in mid-June. Consequently, I have yet to write the third for the Noah movie. Here are the first two, in case you missed them: What People Say about Aronofsky’s Noah and What People Say about Aronofsky’s Creator.
Please visit again soon, because I should have the third and final blog post ready sometimes this week.
If you find yourself with a little extra Internet-perusing time on your hands, I hope you’ll visit invisiblepoets.org, read the blog about Rob Bell, and sign up to join Rachel Evan’s email list (click here, scroll down a little, and look for the “Join my email list” on the right-hand side).
This blog by “Sis-Lisa” is a reminder to me, in my utter contempt for institutional church, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I used to read Bible stories to my son, and he would say, “God sure does know a lot of magic tricks.” In reexamining every belief I’d held over the past couple of decades, there are some I haven’t quite figured out, yet. Among them — the power of prayer. You can read about this and more in Learning Magic from Mr. Disney.
I’m crazy busy this week, so I can’t write a normal post, but in the meantime, please enjoy this little gem. Although this blog refers to business branding, it is applicable on a personal level. Here’s what I got out of it: Be who God created you to be, then you’ll be the best (and only) “brand” of yourself.
In a blog post called, “Bauckham on Christian Universalism,” Craig L. Adams quotes Bauckham extensively and then writes, “Of course, to me what is important here is Bauckham’s point that the exegetical basis of arguments for universalism fail.”
I examined the Bauckham quote closely (and read Bauckham’s essay for good measure), to see how Adams became convinced that “the exegetical basis of arguments for universalism fail,” and I found Bauckham’s most operative statements (which I have made bold), in context, as follows:
The nineteenth-century debates always included extensive exegetical discussions, especially over the meaning of aionios. In this century, however, exegesis has turned decisively against the universalist case. Few would now doubt that many NT texts clearly teach a final division of mankind into saved and lost, and the most that universalists now commonly claim is that alongside these texts there are others which hold out a universal hope (e.g. Eph. 1: 10; Col. 1: 20).
There are two ways of dealing with this situation. One is a new form of exegesis of the texts about final condemnation, which acknowledges the note of finality but sees these texts as threats rather than predictions. A threat need not be carried out. This, as we shall see, is the approach adopted by the most persuasive of modern universalists.
The second approach to the exegetical problem is simply to disagree with the NIT [sic] writers’ teaching about a final division of mankind, which can be said to be merely taken over from their contemporary Jewish environment, while the texts which could be held to support universalism represent a deeper insight into the meaning of God’s revelation in Christ. Here the doctrinal authority of the Bible is understood much more flexibly than by most nineteenth-century universalists.
Do you notice the number 35 in brackets after the words, “exegesis has turned decisively against the universalist case“? Here’s the footnote for 35:
 Attempts to show that the NT texts refer to a temporary hell to be followed by ultimate salvation are still sometimes found: cf. W. Michaelis, Versöhnang des Alls (Berlin: Siloah-Verlag; 1950); M. Rissi, The Future of the World (London: SCM Press, 1972). but they no longer carry conviction.
Now, I would like to point out the method of argument Bauckham uses to make his case.
Bauckham creates what he calls “a situation” when he writes, “Few would now doubt…” First, how do we know “few would now doubt”? Because Bauckham says so? Because Bauckham surveyed everyone in the world who has an opinion on the matter and crunched the numbers? Second, does it even matter whether “few would doubt”? What if the majority opinion is not accurate? Should we believe something just because it is majority opinion?
What really matters to Bauckham’s argument is whether “many NT texts clearly teach a final division of mankind into saved and lost.” Do you notice how Bauckham doesn’t actually write anything to support this claim? Why should I be convinced? Because Bauckham used the word “clearly”? CLEARLY, the sky is falling. Few would now doubt the sky is falling, therefore the sky must be falling.
Bauckham writes, “There are two ways of dealing with this situation.” But Bauckham hasn’t really even established a situation yet. For argument’s sake, let’s play along and pretend that there is, indeed, a situation.
Bauckham asserts that universalists respond to this “situation” in two ways. Just two. Imagine that. Since we are all pretending, we need to pretend a little bit more now, and imagine that all universalists everywhere respond to the “situation” in one of two ways:
One is a new form of exegesis of the texts about final condemnation, which acknowledges the note of finality but sees these texts as threats rather than predictions…
The second approach to the exegetical problem is simply to disagree with the NIT [*sic] writers’ teaching about a final division of mankind…
*Before we look at these, please note that the second approach contains a typo: NIT = NT = New Testament.
Regarding the first way, I have never heard of such a thing. That’s not to say that there are not universalists out there who view texts about “a final division of mankind” as a threat that God can choose to disregard. But in the past three years in the many conversations I’ve had with universalists, this argument is new to me. Why? Because I’ve never met a universalist who “acknowledges the note of finality.” Now, having said that, how does one go about determining whether a “note of finality” is a “threat” or a “prediction”? We’re moving into muddier waters here. According to the Old Testament story, God told Jonah that He was going to destroy Nineveh. By the time we get to the end of the story, Jonah is pissed because he looks like a fool – a prophet whose prophetic claim did not come to pass, not because it wasn’t true, but because God apparently changed His mind. But then, if God knows the end from the beginning, didn’t He know that the citizens of Nineveh would repent in dust and ashes? Didn’t He know that He was NOT going to destroy them? And if this is so, why would He tell Jonah that He had determined to destroy them? Was God lying? Do you see how tricky this line of reasoning can become?
Regarding the second way, that is, to “simply to disagree with the NIT [*sic] writers’ teaching about a final division of mankind,” we must examine the way Bauckham frames his words. Notice how his words assume that the New Testament writers did, in fact, teach “a final division of mankind.” (And the implication here is that one group is reconciled to God, while the other group is not, or as Bauckham writes, “saved or lost.”) Now we must once again refer back to the “argumentum ad populum.” Why should we believe that the NT writers taught this? Has Bauckham given any kind of convincing argument to support this claim? Remember, here’s his argument: “Few would now doubt…“
I began this blog by writing that Craig L. Adams quotes Bauckham extensively and then writes, “Of course, to me what is important here is Bauckham’s point that the exegetical basis of arguments for universalism fail.”
I agree with Adams that “the exegetical basis of arguments for universalism fail,” or, at best, they aren’t all that convincing in Bauckham’s essay. But let’s not forget that Bauckham begins by setting up his argument on a fallacious proposition, and to compound this sloppy theology, Bauckham’s makes two sweeping generalizations about how all universalists must respond to his argument, without ever allowing for the possibility that some universalists (like myself) might respond to his fabricated “situation” much differently.
Finally, let’s address footnote 35, particularly, that certain universalist arguments “are still sometimes found” but that they “no longer carry conviction.” Where does Bauckham come up with these ideas? The arguments “no longer carry conviction” according to what judge and jury? according to what evidence?
I implore Adams and his readers to stop and consider whether they’ve tested everything and are holding on to what is good, or if they are trusting Bauckham to do all the testing for them. What if Bauckham didn’t test everything? What if Bauckham is holding on to what is NOT good? Given his appeal to argumentum ad populum, readers must admit this is a possibility.
In the age of religion, science was viewed as heresy, if ever its discoveries or theories conflicted with scripture. In the age of science, religion is irrelevant. Or so it seems.
In a recent Huffington Post article, “Stephen Hawking: Big Bang Didn’t Need God,” Hawking asks, “Why are we here?”
To me, this question is a deeply spiritual question. Religious? I suppose it could be construed that way. Had Hawking asked how or when or in what manner we are here, then his question would not pack the spiritual punch that it does. WHY implies purpose. For what purpose do we exist? This question moves beyond the realm of repeatable experiments, sensory observations, data analysis, and the like.
The article doesn’t indicate that Hawking spent much time on attempting to answer WHY. He does, however, ask, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
Great question, Hawking. Too bad so many people look to religion to find an answer. One of the main points of contention I see between science and religion, is that religion, particularly Christianity, allows the Bible to be more influential in the understanding of Who God is and what God does than the actual Word of God. Let me explain, borrowing the words of Ian Barbour (in context below):
The Bible – A witness or record of redemptive events in which God is revealed
The Word of God – God’s love and forgiveness, mediated to us in Jesus Christ, confirmed in us by the Holy Spirit
Do you see the difference? God’s heart is not leather-bound ink and paper. When people try to limit the majesty and wonder of creation to the book, they lose sight of the wonder and majesty of creation. Likewise, when people try to limit their understanding of WHY creation exists to science, they lose not only the answer to the question, but the question itself.
Regarding origins, Hawking ditches earlier theories that have since proven to be impossible and proposes that “time began at the moment of singularity, and this has likely occurred only once” and “multiple universes are created out of nothing.” This sounds remarkably like the Bible.
In his blog, JOHN MACARTHUR: EVERYTHING EVOLUTION CAN’T EXPLAIN IN GENESIS 1:1, MacArthur writes,
Herbert Spencer, a non-Christian scientist, hailed as one worthy of many prizes in science, died in 1903. His greatest achievement, Herbert Spencer, was that he discovered the categories of the knowable. That is to say he determined that everything that exists fits into one of five categories. This was hailed as a massive, massive cataloging of realities. Spencer said, “Everything fits into one of these categories, time, force, action, space, matter,” and was hailed by the scientific community.
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning,” that’s time, “God,” that’s force, “created,” that’s action, “the heavens,” that’s space, “the earth,” that’s matter. Everything that Herbert Spencer discovered in 1903, or before that, was in the first verse of Scripture.
Unfortunately, MacArthur mixes really cool observations like this, that have the potential to reveal how interdependent scientific and spiritual concepts really are, with other ridiculous nonsense like the following:
If we want to understand creation, if we want to understand origins, if we want to understand how the universe came into existence and everything that is in it, we have to look at theology, not science. And the source of theology is the Word of God in which God speaks. The Bible is not theory, the Bible is fact. The Bible is reality. The Bible is truth no matter what subject it addresses, but particularly with regard to origins since no one was here when God created, we have only His eyewitness account.
Theology literally means “study of God.” Although scripture surely is included as “a” source of the “study of God,” it definitely is not “the” source. Yes, God is revealed in scripture. But so is genocide and slavery and a lot of other bizarre, unholy, disgusting, UNGODLY God-stuff. The source of the “study of God” is the Word of God, that is, God’s love and forgiveness, mediated to us in Jesus Christ, confirmed in us by the Holy Spirit.
Do you see how MacArthur interchanges “the Word of God” and “the Bible”? I’ve done the same thing myself. But I’m making a conscious effort these days to differentiate between the two, because Christianity as a religion has exalted a book and their interpretation of it over Jesus Christ, Himself.
We must be able to understand the difference between:
A. The inspired truth in the book – the spirit of the law
B. The book itself – the word of the law
One way to make progress in this understanding is to stop labeling the two concepts with interchangeable names. The spirit of the law is demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ. The letter of the law is demonstrated to us by the words on the page. The former trumps the latter, as is evidenced in the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells when an expert in the law tries to lead Jesus into a verbal trap – to openly contradict the law of Moses and justify the hostility of the all the other law-worshipping religious experts. In this parable, the law-breaker, the guy who does not subscribe to a strict, wooden, literal interpretation of the words on the page, is the hero. But is he really a law-breaker? I guess how you answer this depends on whether you interpret the Bible as MacArthur does or as Jesus does.
I’ll close with this, from the Hawking article:
In another observation of modern religion, Hawking noted that in the 1980s, around the time he released a paper discussing the moment the universe was born, Pope John Paul II admonished the scientific establishment against studying the moment of creation, as it was holy.
“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.
It’s time for believers to recognize the great service science has done and, God willing, will continue to do – revealing the absurdities and incongruities inherent in the letter-of-the-law worldview.
I disagree with Hawking regularly. I disagree with MacArthur regularly. The Word of God helps us to “test everything” these men say and “hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). To ensure that when I write “Word of God,” readers know what I mean, I’ll reiterate:
God’s love and forgiveness, mediated to us in Jesus Christ, confirmed in us by the Holy Spirit helps us to “test everything” these men say and “hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
I’m sharing my digital media assignment (with some additional content) for today’s blog post – way past my usual weekday 5 sentence limit!
Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) is a website “dedicated to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the promotion and defense of the Christian Gospel, doctrine, and theology.” CARM has pages for donations, a book and resource store, podcasts, schools, and more. For the purpose of this work, my focus is on the forum section of CARM as both an object and a community.
Participants can create a profile and avatar and use various networking options, such as groups or friend lists. The objective of forum activity, according to CARM, is “to bridge the gap between the believer and unbeliever” because if Christianity “is indeed true, then it should be able to stand up under scrutiny and the Christian should learn how to defend it.”
Because “unbelievers” are welcomed into the forum community, the forum is a place of tension between the CARM website as context for discussion and the CARM forum as the actual content of discussion. To further complicate the situation, there are banned topics, vague rules against “divisive comments,” and volunteer moderators, who “do not speak officially on behalf of CARM when they express any religious, political or social view,” yet there are strict discussion rules concerning those moderators including the complete prohibition of comments or questions on the forum concerning moderator decisions, which may include warnings, censorship, or immediate suspension of the participant’s forum access.
The CARM forum, by definition, is a heterogeneous community, but in nature, it is a filtered, self-protected extension of the CARM website, as is evidenced in forum rule number 25 part D, which states, “This is a Christian website, if you want to promote liberal propaganda, take it elsewhere.” The conversational bridge between “believers” and “unbelievers” is effectively burned through a doctrinal filtering process, which either bans outright or eliminates discussion that threatens to test CARM’s own stated forum objective: Christianity “should be able to stand up under scrutiny.” With that objective in mind, it is odd that Universalism and Satanism (polar opposites not welcome in the lukewarm middle?) are now banned. Go figure.
I’ve seen this play out on Facebook and other social media sites, as well. It goes something like this:
Orthodox Thinker: General statement.
Unorthodox Thinker: Comment on general statement.
Orthodox Thinker: Fear-based emotional reaction.
Unorthodox Thinker: Question/comment about fear-based emotional reaction.
Orthodox Thinker: Bans/deletes/unfriends Unorthodox Thinker.
Although whatgoddoes.com, including the comment section, has only a small fraction of the activity on CARM, I will use it as a case in point about how a digital community ought to function. People who use the comment section of this blog benefit from understanding how the tool they use for conversation unites what the community of users desires, that is, the free flow of ideas, and what the technology actually accomplishes. Even if some of the conversations between readers were not beneficial or productive, the content of all conversations remains nearly unaffected by me a manager of that particular system of knowledge. I say “nearly,” because I do not allow blatant personal insults; however, I do allow the people who insult to continue engaging in conversation. I would never even consider banning any subject, person, or people group from conversation.
Blog posts may be my personal expressions, but the comment section belongs to the readers. There is no tension between the blog as context for discussion and the comment section as the dynamic content of discussion. In the whatgoddoes.com comment section, believers and not-yet-believers, Universalists, Satanists, and any other “ists” have the opportunity to make chaos of the order I create or order of the chaos I create. They are free to change the subject (although that really bugs me), to test the interplay between interpretive flexibility and foundational truths, to leave a little feedback or unload a truckload of criticism, to act, react, or hover (those are the readers who never/rarely comment, about 98% of you).
In a blog called Changing the Face of Christianity, R. Brad White examines Romans 12 and writes that a believer who “avoids going to church and being part of a local body of believers” is a “lone-ranger Christian” who is “weaker” than church attenders, and he compares the non-church-attending believer’s absence to a “disease within the church,” which can be cured if the non-church-attending believer would “engage in fellowship and service within a local body of believers (aka ‘the church’).”
While I agree that there is a disease in the church institution, I don’t think that many church-attending Christians realize they regularly kick their unwanted “cure” to the curb, and consequently (because God is so freaking cool like that), the body of Christ is now absolutely thriving outside the church building walls, doing life together in the world without the institution’s help, approval, or blessings.
Ironically, Paul doesn’t say anything about going to church in Romans 12. White describes the way the disease works, writing, “If you are an encourager, and you don’t encourage the body… If you are a teacher and you don’t teach…” etc, but why, please tell me why must a believer practice these gifts within the confines of the system in order for such activities to be considered valid “scorecard” stats?
We don’t go to Church, we ARE the Church, and wherever we are, there the Church is, doing what the Church does best!
Sometimes I take a tour through my photos, skim through my facebook friend list, or just browse online and ask God to show me who I might feature in the “Tuesday Tribute.” Today, I thought about featuring Gena, but there are a plenty of other people, and it seems, not enough Tuesdays! When I clicked on Facebook, there she was with a brand new pretty profile pic, and I took this as a gentle nudge from God to send some love her way. Gena is a one-of-a-kind, free-spirited person who likes to write about her conversations with God in day to day living. There’s so much more to this woman than her blog, but perhaps if you become a regular reader, you’ll find out first-hand why I think she’s awesome: http://genasjewels.blogspot.com.
Tuesday Tribute (technically it’s Wednesday, but I’m a night owl, so it seems like Tuesday to me!)
Check out SoulLibertyFaith, where Lisa shares her “personal journey, [her] walkabout with Agape, exploring all that grace is.”
Lisa is “finding out who [she is] outside of fundamentalism.”
On her blog, you’ll find quotes, recommended music, and blog posts about church culture, grace, Kingdom living, legalism, and the organic church.
Although I’ve never met Lisa, (we’re Facebook friends) I feel that she is a true friend and sister.
If you’ve been following my blog series on Rachel Evan’s book, you may want to read Lisa’s take in her blogpost: http://soullibertyfaith.com/how-a-year-of-biblical-womanhood-affects-our-vaginas/.
A few days ago I wrote a blog with a purposefully and insanely long title, “Kent Shaffer’s “200 Blogs of Interest According to a White-Male-Dominated Institutional System of Religion with a Leaning Toward Reformed-Protestant-Evangelicalism-as-Orthodoxy Worldview and a Link at the Bottom of the List to Placate Those Who Have No Voice in Such a System”. If you haven’t read it, you might want to give it a once-over, or else this blog might not make as much sense. One blog I’ve taken interest in lately is Rachel Held Evans. One of her blog posts asks, “Is ambition a sin?” It addresses a few questions and concepts that have arisen from discussions around the blogosphere in the aftermath of Shaffer’s top 200 list.
This blog is a response to Evan’s title-question and other questions and comments within her blog post, “Is ambition a sin?”
1. Evans: “Was this list simply a manifestation of inequities inherent to American church culture, or did it fail to reflect the very real influence women and minorities have, both online and in the everyday life of the church?”
2. Evans: “Was it strictly scientific, or were the creators [of the top 200 list] influenced by their own biases regarding what church leadership should look like?”
Regarding biases, only God can say, since God is the only one who knows the heart’s intentions. How one answers the question, “What should church leadership look like?” depends on how one defines the words “church,” “leadership,” and “church + leadership.” Let’s suppose that author Reggie McNeal is correct when he says that the church is, “the people of God partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world.”
First, who are the “people of God”? According to Jesus Christ, we can know them by their fruits (whether their teachings result in love, joy, peace, etc. or hate, grief, war, etc.). I suspect that many people have no idea they are “people of God,” just as many people have unwittingly embraced a counterfeit identity-in-Christ. If God has not yet revealed to them their identity-in-Christ, they might swear up and down that they are the living and breathing definition of “people of God” when their fruits speak the opposite, or they might not concern themselves with ideas such as “people of God,” because they’re more concerned about the welfare of others than getting a stamp of approval from church people.
Second, what does “partnering with Him” look like? Building a gigantic mega-church? Returning an insult with a compliment? Organizing a car wash to raise money for the 17th annual Vacation Bible School? Giving someone a ride home? We should turn to the words of Jesus Christ: “If you love me, then you will obey my commands.” What are His commands? “Love the Lord your God…” and “Love [others] as yourself.” Again, I suspect that many people are unaware they are “partnering with Him,” just as many people have become unsuspecting participants in a counterfeit ideas of “partnering with Him.”
Third, what is God’s “redemptive mission in the world”? All “people of God” believe God’s redemptive mission is a success. Some believe success = the world redeemed, and others believe success = a significant number of people annihilated or lost in eternal torment. Some people believe that God’s redemptive mission in the world is accomplished in His own time and His own way. Others believe God’s redemptive mission in the world happens according to human decision.
Going back to Evan’s question: “Was it strictly scientific, or were the creators [of the top 200 list] influenced by their own biases regarding what church leadership should look like?” I’ll reiterate what I wrote before. Shaffer’s list is useful, because uninteresting and/or irrelevant blogs don’t attract readers. This list obviously consists of blogs that attract readers. If someone is looking for interesting blogs, they are likely to find some on Shaffer’s list. If someone is looking for relevant blogs, they are likely to find some on Shaffer’s list. If someone is looking for blogs that attract readers in a white-male-dominated institutional system of religion with a leaning toward reformed-protestant-evangelicalism-as-orthodoxy worldview, by all means, go to Shaffer’s list. Oh, and don’t forget about the link at the bottom of the list to placate those who have no voice in such a system.
3. Evans: “If we don’t like [Shaffer’s top 200] list, I reasoned, let’s work to change it!”
I love Evan’s idea about working to change what we don’t like. Do something about it or quit your bitching. That makes sense. But what I work to change and what Rachel works to change are two different ideas. I’m not saying mine is right and hers is wrong, I’m saying that our responses reflect our unique giftings. Perhaps, in the body of Christ, she is an index finger, pointing out one way for people (who have all their lives been oppressed and discouraged by a system that insists on conformity to standards that God never appointed) to be who God created them to be. She gives both males and females permission to be who God created them to be when she exposes one of the main reasons female believers are an overwhelming minority on Shaffer’s top 200, that is, “Christians, particularly Christian women, have been trained to identify ambition as a sin.” God loves ambition! God is the One Who created the concept of ambition. We would not even know what ambition is, if God hadn’t designed us to desire success. Guest blogger Mary Vanderplas writes,
In general, I don’t think it is always wrong that people in certain positions are given special privileges. That physicians have a parking area close to the hospital entrance just makes sense, considering that, in doing their duty of caring for their patients, they are constantly coming and going, at all hours of the day and night. Likewise, it makes sense that community clergy have parking places close to the entrance of the hospital, since they, too, are often called in for emergencies and other urgent needs. Certain positions come with responsibilities that, in my view, make having certain privileges appropriate.
I agree with this quote, and I would like to point out that where we go wrong, when we are deciding what success means, is equating privileges, rewards, or accolades with success. Success is when God smiles, because you are finally sharing with Him the joy of becoming who He created you to be.
What if you are a pot-smoking dread-head chic who likes to sit on a street corner on Friday nights with all her guy-buddies and bang on empty, overturned plastic pickle buckets and tin garbage cans and occasionally shout out what God puts on your-mind-in-rhyme-in-time-to-da’-beat? And the street-corner doomsday-prophet on the other side of the street shakes his head disapprovingly, King James bible in hand, feet aching and heart breaking for every lost soul who passes… And they are all in the shadow of a mega-church where the pastor is on his knees in the empty sanctuary begging God to kill him because he would rather die than have his devoted followers discover that he’s a homosexual. His wife has written a best-selling romance novel, and the Christian community is giving her hell for including some sexual content in her writing. Who is a success in the Reign of God? Only God can say. Only God knows the intentions of a person’s heart, whether they are becoming who they are in Christ, whether they are working to become who everyone else wants them to be, or whether they’ve given up, because they’re exhausted.
“People want to listen to a message, word from Jah. This could be passed through me or anybody. I am not a leader. Messenger. The words of the songs, not the person, is what attracts people.” – Bob Marley. Many people have written songs with a word from Jah. Not all of them get famous for it. Success is not about top 200 lists.
4. Evans: “Is it wrong to promote your work when you write or sing or speak about faith?”
No. But ask yourself what you hope to get out of it. What if someone stole your work, promoted it, and thousands of people discovered who they are in Christ because of what they heard or saw? Would you be happy that your work served its purpose? Would you be angry that someone stole your work? How about a little bit of both? Examine your heart before God. If you are doing what you do with a clear conscience concerning your motives for promoting faith-inspired writing, songs, or other marketable stuff, then you are not doing anything wrong.
I have a follow-up question. Be careful. It’s a trick question. Is it wrong to promote your work when you write or sing or speak about things unrelated to faith? I’ll answer this question in the comment section within a few days.
5. Evans: “Is it wrong to make goals and decisions based on numbers?”
No. Unless, of course, God is telling you to ignore the numbers.
6. Evans: “Is it wrong to be discouraged when you don’t get the results you wanted, or frustrated when you feel like your accomplishments go unrecognized because of your gender?”
Is is wrong to feel something that you feel? Discouragement and frustration are helpful signposts for discovering and eliminating false ideas. Whether it is wrong or right, you feel what you feel. Identifying wrong or right isn’t going to help any. It may even make matters worse. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen? Then ask yourself the follow up questions. If the worst thing that can happen, happens, then what? Discouragement and frustration are fear-based feelings, regardless of gender. If your accomplishments go unrecognized, there’s a reason for it. Perhaps you think too highly of your accomplishments. Perhaps your “audience” has no concept of true accomplishment. Perhaps these people, whoever they are, who you obviously think are the standard-setters for success (I write “obviously,” since you are discouraged and frustrated at their lack of enthusiasm) are just as discouraged and frustrated as you are, because you’ve all bought into this idea that God’s opinion of you doesn’t matter as much as your opinion of you or other’s opinions of you.
Here are some words of hope: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.” There are some “people of God” who find sneaky ways around these ideas, who hold on to the various invented ways that one person can be better than another. Paul writes to the Galatians about this system of “better-than versus not-as-good-as”:
What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart… For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation… Be reconciled to God.
7. Is it wrong to want to succeed?
Refer back to #6.
8. Evans: “One woman recently balked at me for including my own book in a list of upcoming fall releases I wanted my readers to know about. (Why wouldn’t I? I worked hard on that thing and I wrote it specifically for my readers!) “
That woman’s opinion of Evans is irrelevant. This is the perfect example of being who God created you to be, despite what other people think about you. What does God think about Evans including her book in a list of upcoming fall releases? Is God okay with that? God knows Evan’s heart. Evans knows that there’s no fooling God with feigned good intentions. If Evans does what she does with clear conscience before God, then who is this woman to challenge God’s favorable opinion of Evans and the choices she has made before Him with a clear conscience? Should Evans believe this woman, or should Evans believe God? What – will Evans’s critic challenge God and win?! This is a no-brainer.
As Christians, we are not called to succeed or to fail, but rather to keep success and failure in perspective… Most of us don’t work, or write, for an audience of One. And that’s okay! …Entitlement is wrong; speaking against inequity is not… Let’s be honest… It’s okay to work for success as long as you don’t root your identity in it… Want to be happy? Find your identity in something other than money, success, blog stats, and power.
I totally agree with these ideas. Your identity is in Christ, the One Who the Father sent to reconcile all things to Himself. No one ever truly knows who they are if they are trying to be their own best version of themselves without or apart from the One Who Creates and sustains all created things.
Evans suggests: “Submit your blog for consideration for The Top 200 Church Blogs.”
Earlier, I wrote:
…what I work to change and what Rachel works to change are two different ideas. I’m not saying mine is right and hers is wrong, I’m saying that our responses reflect our unique giftings. Perhaps, in the body of Christ, she is an index finger, pointing out one way for people (who have all their lives been oppressed and discouraged by a system that insists on conformity to standards that God never appointed) to be who God created them to be.
I would like to conclude with the rest of that thought. If Rachel Evans is an index finger, pointing out one way for people to deal with inequity in the system, then maybe I am an elbow, nudging people in the side, encouraging those with ears to hear and eyes to see to get out of that system. God reveals things to us in His own time and His own way. Some people are appointed to remain in the system, perhaps for all their lives. That’s the way it is. I don’t always understand why God does what He does, but I trust Him. He knows what He’s doing. For that man or woman, there’s Evans, helping him to discover his worth in God’s eyes, and/or helping her have a better chance at working within a system where, perhaps, someday, others will come into agreement with God’s opinion of her.
And then there’s me, saying, screw the system! I work to change the conversation. There’s a new buzz going around, and it isn’t about right or wrong, it isn’t about made it or didn’t make it, it isn’t about race or gender. It’s about seeing ourselves and each other as God sees us. It’s about recognizing the system of warm-fuzzies-for-success and cold-pricklies-for-failure for what it is. It’s a sham. We can totally transcend that system, people. How would you like it, if you knew there was a way to be satisfied and full of joy, whether you found your name on a list or not? Let them have a jolly good time recognizing and awarding each other. Awards a wonderful. Recognition is wonderful. It makes you feel good. There’s nothing un-beneficial about it, unless, in its absence, you feel empty or worthless or discouraged or angry. Wouldn’t it be great to take a step back and realize that no one can control you in that way, because you have a confidence that completely transcends awards and recognition? When all is said and done, Shaffer’s top 200 list won’t matter. The measure of the success of an earthly life will be whether that life achieved its purpose. What did God have in mind when He made you? How does your life fit in with everyone else’s in God’s Plan of the Ages? Are you sent by God to this particular time in history, to this particular geographical location, to this particular genealogical heritage, with this particular cultural background, with these particular flaws and scars, with these particular experiences for a reason? YES! YES! YES! This earthly you, if you can see it, is a seed that springs to life when you see yourself as God sees you, incredibly important and irreplaceable. As Dr. Seuss says, “There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
I am God’s favorite.
You are God’s favorite.
How can this be?
Because His standard of you is not in comparing you to other people, His standard is the “you-ness” of you in Christ. And you are never more “you” than when you are the confident you that is born from above, the you whose identity is secure in Christ, the you whose earthly identity may or may not measure up to all the various standards of success. The Creator of Dr. Seuss, Bob Marley, Shaffer, Evans, Evans’s critic, Reggie McNeal, Mary Vanderplas, pot-smoking dread-head chic and all her guy-buddies, the street-corner doomsday-prophet, the homosexual mega-church the pastor, the best-selling novelist, the apostle Paul, recognizes your worth. Let this idea simmer and permeate until you understand it completely, and then you will have a joy that remains, regardless of stats, lists, inequity, bias, or anything else this world can throw at you.
This blog is my take on the list of the Top 200 Church Blogs by Kent Shaffer.
I’m glad that Shaffer included his “subjective” definition of “church” blogs – “blogs about ministry, ministry leaders, or living out the gospel in a way that fulfills the great commission.” Now I’d like Shaffer to define “ministry,” what qualifications one must have in order to be considered a “ministry leader,” define the “gospel,” and the rubric for measuring whether one is “living out the gospel in a way that fulfills the great commission.”
“The current scorecard for the North American church is tied to the definitions of church as a place and church as a vendor of religious goods and services.” – Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance, p. 37-38
Shaffer’s list is useful, because uninteresting and/or irrelevant blogs don’t attract readers. This list obviously consists of blogs that attract readers. So, despite the fact that the list is generated from unreliable and inadequate data, despite the fact that his definitions of “ministry,” and what qualifications one must have in order to be considered a “ministry leader,” and his definition of the “gospel,” and the rubric for measuring whether one is “living out the gospel in a way that fulfills the great commission” may disqualify a large portion of the non-male, non-white blogging “ecclesia,” despite the fact that “many of the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” it is a useful list.
I suggest Shaffer rename it, though, in order to give it a label that better describes its inherent qualities: “200 Blogs of Interest According to a White-Male-Dominated Institutional System of Religion with a Leaning Toward Reformed-Protestant-Evangelicalism-as-Orthodoxy Worldview and a Link at the Bottom of the List to Placate Those Who Have No Voice in Such a System.” Then again, that title is a bit wordy and not nearly as catchy as “Top 200 Church Blogs.”
While Shaffer, himself, may be fair-minded and aware of the ideas put forth in this blog (he makes note of some of the points I’ve made here, and his list DOES include those who are NOT white males), most of this important information is relegated to a separate link and FAQ section at the end of the list. For someone who has such excellent insight into the nature of data (see his blog, Are Statistics Good or Bad?), it surprises me that he entitles and arranges this list and commentary as he does. Many blog readers will click on the link based on title alone, scan through the list, and be on their way. My intent is to make people aware of the likelihood of being misinformed. The title of the list is misleading, in my opinion, and the important information ought to precede the list.
*Disclaimer: This blog post is NOT the emotional puke of a disgruntled blogger who didn’t make the list. For more about how I feel about numbers as a measure of success in the Kingdom (Reign) of God, please read the opening portion of Top 10 Blog Posts on www.whatgoddoes.com.
The following exercise is from the synchroblog at http://frankviola.org/2012/07/09/gospelforthemiddle
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?
The first thing a hearer must do in attempting to answer a question is to understand the question. How would I instruct Fielding and his wife if I were Fielding’s cousin? I’m assuming that the goal of this question is to find and communicate a solution to Fielding’s problem. But what, exactly, is Fielding’s problem? Fielding says, “Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle.” The narrator (Frank Viola? Fielding’s unnamed cousin?) has given us further clarification by defining “in the middle” for us: “someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.” Because this is Fielding’s problem, not the narrator’s problem, I prefer to rely only on Fielding’s words to define the problem. So, what does Fielding want?
Fielding says, “Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle.” When Fielding says, “solution”, readers can assume there is a problem. As I set aside the narrator’s words and review Fielding’s words only, I can identify the real problem.
Fielding notices that his interest in God depends on others (his cousin, a “good” local church, etc). Fielding assumes that the solution to his problem is to surround himself with people who are interested in God. But his circumstances are such that this seems to be an impossibility. So, he places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of an unnamed, faceless “someone” who needs to come up with a solution.
Notice that Fielding deflects all responsibility toward others. His interest in God depends on others. His solution depends on others. His inability to implement that solution depends on others.
How do “others” respond? The narrator suggests (by naming all the circumstances and reasons why there’s nothing that Fielding can do about his problem and asking for a solution) that Fielding is justified in placing the responsibility for his lack of interest in God on others, and it really is up to others to fix his problem. Can others fix his problem? Should others even try to fix this problem? If they found a way to surround Fielding with believers, would that mean Fielding’s problem is fixed?
Again, what does Fielding really want? I believe he wants to “want to” know God. He wants God to give him a desire to know God that is persistent, despite his circumstances. This is a very basic spiritual need. Fielding, in recognizing that Jesus is the Savior of the world, was in-dwelt by the Spirit of God. That’s why he’s keenly aware of his own lack of interest in knowing God. The Spirit of God is beginning His work at the very center of Fielding’s heart. Once this problem is resolved, once Fielding consistently “wants to” know God, then God will make Himself known to Fielding.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you; for every one who is asking doth receive, and he who is seeking doth find, and to him who is knocking it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-9)
Fielding is doing two things that are preventing him from getting what he wants. First, he is asking the wrong question. Second, his question is aimed in the wrong direction. His question ought to be directed inward, to the Spirit of God in him. Fielding’s question ought to be, “Why am I only interested in God when I’m around my Christian cousin?” He should recognize that the only reason he even thinks to ask this question to begin with is that the Spirit of God is at work in him. This, in itself, would be reassurance for Fielding that despite his circumstances, God is right there with him, doing what God does best – changing Fielding from the inside out, not from the outside in.
Jesus also said, “If any one may love me, my word he will keep, and my Father will love him, and unto him we will come, and abode with him we will make; he who is not loving me, my words doth not keep; and the word that ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you, remaining with you, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you. Peace I leave to you; my peace I give to you, not according as the world doth give do I give to you” (John 14:23-27)
I wonder, do Christians really believe that the Spirit of God will teach us everything we need to know about God? I don’t think that Christians trust God in this. Why? Because the Spirit of God teaches us in His own time and in His own way. We want it all, and we want it now. We want Fielding to become a shining example of the transforming work of Christ. We want him to demonstrate this by being “evangelistic” and “fully absorbed in the faith” and “fully surrendered” to Christ in everything he does, which, of course, includes meeting regularly with other like-minded believers. No excuses, Fielding! But what if the Spirit of God, for the moment, just wants Fielding to recognize the current state of his heart? What if the Spirit of God, being patient and kind and loving, is only concerned about teaching Fielding to be honest with himself and with God? What if the Spirit of God is teaching Fielding how to pray – “God, what’s keeping me from being interested in you? Why is it that I want to know more about you only when I’m around my cousin? Will you give me a real, lasting desire to know you? Will you teach me what it is about myself that keeps me from wanting to know you more?”
If God answers that prayer, then Fielding will find a way to learn about God. The desire to learn will be there, and in seeking to fill that desire, Fielding will begin an ongoing conversation with God as teacher who uses everything in Fielding’s life as a lesson on Who He is and what He does. Perhaps God will bring people into Fielding’s life to help him along, but Fielding’s desire for God will not go unanswered, if it is a genuine desire. Right now, it’s not a genuine desire. And it seems to me that the Spirit of God is doing a fine job (without our help) of making Fielding aware of his real problem. If believer’s don’t jump in and “fix” Fielding’s problem, then maybe Fielding will realize he’s been asking the wrong question and looking to people for answers that only God can give. This is God’s work, not Fielding’s and not ours.
Continuing in the blog series on theodicy, based on Thomas G. Long’s book, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith…
In chapter five, entitled, “Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow,” Long seeks to use the parable Jesus told of The Wheat and the Weeds as a “map” for the “journey” of theodicy. Thankfully, Long takes the context of the parable into consideration. The parable of the Wheat and Weeds is one of seven parables, “strung together in one long discourse.”
According to Long, Matthew’s literary construction of the parables points readers to The Wheat and the Weeds and Jesus’ private explanation of that parable as “bookends” that help us make sense of all the other parables.
When we recognize the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds as a pastoral conversation about the presence of evil and good mixed together in the world, we can see that it is an implied dialogue constructed around three urgent questions.
Those questions are:
- God, did you cause this?
- Can we fix it?
- Will it always be this way?
If we look at the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, we can see why Long chooses these particular questions:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” (God, did you cause this?)
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” (Can we fix it?)
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. (Will it always be this way?) Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
After the recent bombing in Boston, some “Christian” bloggers didn’t waste any time both asking and answering question one. For example, Nathaniel Darnell writes in Could the Boston Bombing Be a Judgment from God?:
…we should consider it no coincidence in God’s providence that a wickedness like this would occur in a state and a city that has fallen from the purpose of its founders into abject wickedness…
…be in prayer, asking God to bring the people of Massachusetts to their senses for their sins against the Lord. We should furthermore examine ourselves for our own sins and repent of them before the Lord. Even as we work to deal with civil evils in the civil realm, we must recognize God’s providential hand in these events, motivating us to walk in the fear of the Lord.
For Darnell and others with the same view, the question, God, did you cause this? is answered with a resounding yes. God’s “providential hand” brought “wickedness” to Boston as an act of judgment for “their sins against the Lord.” To those who believe this to be true, the only proper response is fear. Darnell writes that these events should cause believers to feel motivated “to walk in the fear of the Lord.”
But not everyone who holds Darnell’s view respond with fear. Some respond with moral outrage, like the servants in the parable. They ask, God, did you cause this?, and believing God did cause it, they question Who God is and what God does. “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” If there are weeds, or in this case, exploding bombs, does this mean God didn’t sow good seed in His field?
Long refers to this second group as expressing faith. How does moral outrage express faith, you ask? I’ll let Long explain:
If we did not believe in God at all, or if we believed that God is an absentee landlord, or, worse, a cruel tyrant, then the presence of weeds in the wheat, of evil and suffering in the midst of good, would simply be the way things are… Only in expectation that God is good and that the creation is good, only in a relationship of faith and trust, does the presence of evil prompt us to shake the finger of accusation in God’s face.
According to Long, the very first point Jesus makes in telling this parable is that “God has a lot to give an account for.” It only takes one paragraph before Long quickly asks, “Who are we humans to file charges against God?”
These are “people who trust God and feel betrayed,” who practice a “theodicy of protest.”
When we voice protest over the suffering and evil we encounter in life, we do more than just vent our rage. We engage in an ancient and profound form of prayer, an appeal to the honor of God.
I’ll continue in this chapter next time.
Next blog in this series: Where Did Evil Come From?
The links to each of the blogs in this series are Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Guest Blogger Mary Vanderplas), The Shaking of the Foundations, The Impossible Chess Match, The Climax of All Misnomers, Road Hazards, The Soul’s Complaint, Awakening, by Asia Samson, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, David Will Live Again, Howl: Job and the Whirlwind, Christ is the Yes of the Universe.
Check out Frank Viola’s blog for today. The comment section is pretty hot too.
And if you want my two cents, watch this vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCMyWA1gLXQ
BTW, I’m NOT sorry about the music 🙂 If you don’t like it, turn the volume down…
I don’t remember who said it, nor do I have an exact quote, but the idea is something like this: The world is a reflection of the state of the Body of Christ. A 1986 (!) article Frank Viola posted on his blog reminds me of that concept. I was taught from an early age, in a fundamental-turned-evangelical church climate, that the world will get worse and worse, that Jesus will rescue all the Christians just before the #@!* hits the fan, and everyone left behind will get what they deserve.
I suspect that this point-by-point future-predicting theology may not be entirely accurate and that God intends to establish His Kingdom in the same way yeast works through dough, that is, consuming very little energy and multiplying in a slow and steady manner that mimics human respiration in a repeating cycle of oxidation and reduction. It happens quietly, almost imperceptibly. Someone might be inclined to question whether the yeast is actually working at all. In unnaturally leavened bread, which rises very rapidly, the enzymes in the dough are destroyed. Consequently, the habitual consumption of unnaturally leavened bread is partly to blame for the current obesity epidemic, it is a contributing factor in candida and anemia, and may be responsible for a host of additional health problems. But, hey, it sure does come in a flashy package, complete with misleading phrases like “enriched” or “multi-grain”.
From a spiritual point of view, this is very interesting: the yeast DIES as the dough is baked, and when the yeast dies, the little air pockets in the bread stop expanding, resulting in the bread’s pleasant texture and taste. Perhaps the body of Christ needs to die to its own idea of Ecclesia in order to function in the world the way Jesus described. He said that the reign of Heaven “is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour it permeated every part of the dough..” It seems to me that believers (myself included, for over a decade, at least) have been unnaturally killing the dough.
On a more positive note, the reign of God might work in the same way God Himself works: After we learn Who God is not, it is much easier to learn Who God is. I learned, through my own long season of spiritual obesity and spiritual health problems, who the church (Ecclesia) is not. It is not a building, programs, rigid claims on orthodoxy/heresy, hierarchy, etc. I’m still discovering who the church (Ecclesia) is. I’m not the only one who makes this observation. A blog entitled, “Organized Religion is Dying” by Tyler Jones represents the mindset of a slew of Christians around the globe, who notice that organized religion doesn’t play the central role in culture that it once did. He suggests, “Let’s host a funeral”, because this just might be a blessing in disguise.
The blog begins to move in the wrong direction when Jones writes, “legalism is dead” and “we have nothing to fear”. Why? Because legalism is most certainly not dead. It is as active as unnatural leaven. That’s part of the reason WHY fewer and fewer people in their 20s and 30s attend any church at all. When Jones writes “we” have nothing to fear, he is correct, so long as “we” refers to “followers of Christ.” If every church in the world folded, the followers of Christ would still be followers of Christ with nothing to fear. The reign of God is firmly established, and it would, of course, continue to expand. To my surprise, Jones concludes the blog by suggesting that we plant “thousands of new churches” and revitalize “hordes of existing churches.”
If the death of organized religion is a blessing, why the hell would we want to keep it alive? Sure, it can make the dough rise in a manner that people notice, but what if God’s not making quick-rise bread? What if God intends to leave His ministers of reconciliation right here on this Earth for a very long time, to reconcile the world to Himself? What if He plans on letting His reign work through this three-measures-of-flour-world until His reign permeates through every part of the dough?
Churches that live, teach, and believe the Gospel are prevailing; not even the gates of Hell can stand against gospel-centered churches! […] Someday, we will look back on this period of history and realize we witnessed an amazing transformation. We will have watched as thousands of churches closed due to the fact that the core of their existence was based on legalism instead of the Cross of Christ.
I have a lot to say about that (especially the gates of Hell bit), but that’s another blog for another day. For now, it will suffice to conclude that eventually, just as believers have chosen to abandon abusive, legalistic environments, they will also choose to abandon abusive, legalistic doctrines like eternal torment in Hell. They will recognize that a gospel-centered church, should be, according to the definition of “gospel”, a Good-News-centered church. And when believers discover that the gospel-centered claim is a farce, when they finally let it sink in that the gates of Hell, according to orthodox doctrine, stand against not only the church, but Jesus Christ Himself, then there will be another mass exodus.
And when the dust settles, there’s the church, there’s the steeple, open the doors, where are the people? Don’t assume that they are no longer viable as ministers of reconciliation in the reign of God. They are being a “blessing in disguise”, yeast that accomplishes its purpose in God’s time and God’s way, no need for a flashy package or misleading phrases.
Today is Shameless Promotion Day on Frank Viola’s blog, Beyond Evangelical. Viola writes, “I want to highlight these two posts because they promote the work of others that I deem valuable.” In order to participate in Shameless Promotion Day, I have been instructed to post the following:
N.T. Wright Interview: “Simply Jesus” & Wright Responds to Critics
Click this link to read the unedited interview:
Scot McKnight Interview: “The King Jesus Gospel” & McKnight Responds to Critics
Click this link to read the unedited interview:
At the moment, I do not have the time to read or write commentary on the interviews. I am not familiar with either Wright or McKnight or their critics. I am, however, familiar with Frank Viola after reading his excellent book, Pagan Christianity, during my two-year trek through church history a few years ago, which culminated in the Amazing Hope that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Savior of the world. The traditional teaching is that He is the Savior only of those who believe before they experience physical death, but scriptures say otherwise – “He is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” I think it is fair that I point out that to my knowledge, Frank Viola does not share or endorse some (a lot?) of the views expressed in this blog. Viola has a good head on his shoulders, and much of what he says is relevant and true. Yes, we disagree on some things, but that is the nature of the very diverse body of Christ, unified in LOVE. I hope you enjoy reading the interviews, and let me know what you think of them. I’ll respond to the interviews in the near future.
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.
Yesterday, Mark Drisoll, the pastor who describes himself as, “a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody” (The Washington Post), posted a blog called, “Westboro Baptist Church, This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Whore House for God’s Grace and Free Donuts.” In this blog, he says of Westboro Baptist Church,
Doctrinally, they are extreme five-point Calvinists, or what I like to call Crazy Calvinists. They basically believe the underlying message of the Bible is one of God’s hatred and wrath against humankind, and that the Bible is properly interpreted through that filter. Therefore, they believe all mentions of God’s love in the Bible are in reference to God’s Christian elect and not applicable in any way to others outside God’s elect—pretty much a cosmic game of Duck, Duck, Damned.
I’m a fan of God’s grace, as well as free donuts, and I, too, loath the idea of “Duck, Duck, Damned.” I recognize that Mark Driscoll is very passionate about God and truth and righteousness. His concern with distancing his ministry from the Westboro Baptist Church philosophy and practices is understandable. I really like it that he uses blunt language, such as calling the gathering of MarsHillians a “whorehouse” implying that we are all equally in need of God’s grace and that he focuses on this grace (with a side of donuts) in contrast to the message of hate the tiny Westboro Baptist Church so boisterously proclaims. However, if one takes a close look at the theology of Westboro Baptist Church and the theology of Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, one will discover that Driscoll’s disgust for Westboro, who he calls “More of a dysfunctional family of religious lawyers than a church” appears to be a classic case of psychological projection.
This idea that psychological projection is taking place is not simply a case of me using personal judgment against the motives of Driscoll and his flock, it is evidenced in Driscoll’s own words, as I will demonstrate shortly. Although I could go into great detail about how deep the layers of avoidance can go (perhaps I’ll do a blog series later), this blog focuses on one particular idea – that Westboro openly displays the very same demons that live in the Mars Hill closets. Of course, Driscoll would disagree with this idea and use one particular so-called difference in theology as his defense, that is, the “L” in Calvinism’s TULIP, an acronym used to describe the five basic tenets of Calvinism.
The Calvinism of Westboro is the classic five point TULIP, and the Calvinism of Mars Hill is a modified version of this. The point where Driscoll would claim they differ is limited atonement. The Mars Hill website’s statement of faith, “What We Believe” doesn’t expound on the matter to which I refer, but recommends, “you can reference the Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement for further detail of our beliefs.” There, readers can see how Westboro and Mars Hill are not so theologically different after all. Instead of elaborating on this difference in my own words, I’ll let Driscoll do it for me by referring you to his sermon notes on “unlimited limited atonement” (no, that isn’t a typo, he seriously believes in unlimited yet limited atonement, what I see as a futile exercise in cognitive dissonance). In this document, Driscoll says,
Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as His possession and He then applies His forgiveness to the elect by grace and applies His wrath to the non-elect. Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in Him.
Driscoll’s theology (like his free donuts) has a hole in the middle. Some people see that hole and attempt to figure out why it is there. Driscoll’s response to this criticism is to offer additional reading material along with a few insults, which I believe is evidence of that psychological projection I referred to earlier. Driscoll considers anyone who would disagree with his unlimited yet limited take on atonement, “…young, nitpicking, theologically geeky, Calvinist crazy-makers who are like a rock in my shoe…”
The TULIP of Calvinism was modified, not because it is inaccurate, but because it is inadequate. People fail to recognize that atonement is only limited in this age. The real sticky subject here is really not the limited or unlimited atonement, it is the negative implications on God’s character that result from these ideas. If atonement is always limited, this means Jesus didn’t die for everyone, only some, and that all those for whom He did not die were cursed to eternal torment in Hell before they were even born. God created them knowing full well there was absolutely no hope for them. This makes God look very, very evil for creating them in the first place. If atonement is ultimately unlimited, this means that Jesus actually did die for everyone, and that His sinless life, death, and resurrection was sufficient to save everyone. Since the religious traditions of men dictate that not everyone will be saved and that we must do what Driscoll refers to as “your job”, that is, repent and believe, this view is not accepted by modified Calvinists. The biblical doctrine of unlimited atonement must be somehow limited to account for all those who supposedly burn in Hell for eternity. However, if we understand that atonement is ultimately unlimited and that the reason it appears to be limited is that not everyone repents and believes in this age, then there is no need to perform theological gymnastics. Those who God has appointed, enabled, and motivated to repent and believe in this age do so, not because they performed their job, but because God in His Sovereignty has made it so. This does not negate the work of Christ for all those who don’t – it postpones the results of His perfect work until the appointed time.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Driscoll avoids the inclusive view altogether, and here’s how – he lumps any and all people who call themselves universalists together with Pelagians and states (inaccurately), “Universalism contradicts the clear teachings of scripture on human sinfulness…” and “the heresy of universalism [is] we are all sinless in Adam.” I have no idea where Driscoll gets his information. That certainly is not what I believe. He then dismisses the inclusive view altogether, as if he actually addressed the idea in the first place and then found it inaccurate. He says, “This leaves three remaining options for Christians regarding the question of whom Jesus died for.” Oh really? Is Driscoll saying that those who take the above named passage to mean what it says it means are not to be included in the group defined by Driscoll as “Christians”? And he calls Westboro religious lawyers… Anyway, I believe that I have explored this idea enough to return to the topic at hand, the difference between Westboro and Mars Hill.
Westboro puts its theology on large picket signs and strategically places its people in the most public way possible, while Mars Hill contains its hate within the church walls. For example, the typical Westboro messages are “God hates you” and “God hates fags” and the like. Here is what Driscoll teaches to his flock and anyone else who shows up on a Sunday,
God hates you… God can’t even look at us because he is so disgusted… You have been told that God is loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good… That is a lie… God looks down and says “I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you.”
Granted, that is not all Driscoll teaches; he gives the typical “offer” for people to do their “job” along with it. And as long as people comply, then everything he just said about God is no longer true. But for those who do not comply, the Westboro-type condemnation still sticks and will stick for eternity unless you do something about it. To the person who subscribes to Driscoll’s theology, Jesus perfect life, death, and resurrection are “only efficient to save” some; in an “objective” sense God loves you, but in a “subjective” sense He hates you. Mars Hill may not create picket signs and show up at funerals shouting their condemnation, but it exists in their minds by implication. Considering this, let’s remember God declared He “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God sees the heart of the average sign-toting Westboroan and the average Mars Hillian and sees the same doctrine there – “God hates you.”
When people take the time and effort to write out a thoughtful response, it stimulates thoughts and ideas in me and other readers. Although I would like to respond to each and every one, my schedule won’t allow it at this time. Blog comments are an excellent springboard for future blogs, and featuring some of the best comments in blogs is a good way for people to know that reader responses are appreciated. On the blog “Revelation 3” Lanny left this comment, “I really have a hard time with this idea of not overcoming or not enduring to the end or not persevering. After all, King David really lost big time with Uriah, Bathsheba, and the child; but he was restore [sic]! Do you really think David was a special case? Don’t you believe that when God saves a soul, He does it completely?” This comment, along with an article that my husband read to me this morning, “The Bible,” by John Gavazzoni, were a wonderful reminder to me that all this talk of promises given to believers who overcome (which seems to imply the promises are not given to believers who do not overcome) may perhaps lead blog readers to believe that I am claiming that there are those who are “in” and those who are “out” and perhaps some readers will even believe that I am elevating myself as part of the “in” group. That is simply not the case. And what better opportunity to remind myself and others about the grace of God than now?
Gavazzoni suggests that people ought to read the ten commandments as well as other commands in the scripture as promises, “I read them as promises to my New Man, who by nature SHALL do what is written. They are most essentially, in terms of unveiling the heart of God to me, precious promises that I shall do rightly by my Father. All those things that I ought to do, or not to do are indicative of the manner of man that I am in Christ.” What an amazing promise, to think that someday, all mankind will not kill or envy or steal, everyone will love God with all their heart, soul, and mind; in doing so, we will by default love one another as well. How much differently do you hear those words, when they are not just a command, but a promise? God gave us the law so that we would recognize sin. It was a conditional covenant that He made, knowing that it was an imperfect covenant, not because God made a mistake, not because God is no good at making realistic covenants, but because He knew that a better, more perfect covenant would swallow up the old one. What we could not do for ourselves (keeping the law), Jesus did for us. And in Him, everyone will learn to live the life of Christ.
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Can anyone who gives this some serious thought honestly say that Jesus taught us to pray for an impossibility? Why would Jesus do that?
Conduct an experiment for me, Churchians. Try announcing in a Sunday morning church service that God has promised that all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to Him so that His will is done on earth as it is in Heaven, and let me know how it goes. You might be met with the objection that some people persist in rebellion forever. I beg to differ.
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” (Isaiah 46:10-11)
This story illustrates the point beautifully:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
Some people may wonder how this story illustrates my point, so I will explain. The centurion believed that Jesus has authority over everything. To him, if Jesus spoke a word, then it would surely come to pass. Do we believe this way? Do we think that Jesus has authority in the universe to speak a word and make it so? If we believe this, then why do we question His word when He says, “…all that the Father doth give to me will come unto me; and him who is coming unto me, I may in no wise cast without”? There are some who do not realize the simple truth that Jesus has authority over all things. They do not realize in this age, but this does not mean they never will. So if there is an “in” and “out” group, it’s simply a matter of where a person is on this journey of discovering the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a matter of timing. It is not that one person is better or smarter or more spiritually qualified than the next person. Perhaps you are one of those who is feeling “thrown outside, into the darkness.” Perhaps you are spiritually “weeping” and “gnashing” your teeth at the fact that I am so free that I claim it like someone who boasts. But I boast in Him and what He has done, not myself.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Part of being set free means understanding that we are becoming who God created us to be. If you are upset about God’s timing in this process (wondering if perhaps you ought to be included in this group of overcomers who reigns with Christ, is not hurt of the second death, whose name is not blotted out, etc) then you need to ask God about it. He will likely give you an answer something like this, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21). Perhaps God is getting your ire up, allowing you to feel “less-than” in order to spur you on to bigger and better things, to some dramatic spiritual pottery making process? Think about that.
What is the unforgivable sin? According to Wikipedia, it is called “eternal sin” and it is defined as
a concept in Christian theology of sins which cannot or will not be forgiven, whereby salvation becomes impossible. It has its origin in several biblical passages.
Although the Bible doesn’t employ the term “unpardonable sin”, there is one sin frequently considered “eternal” and that is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; however this phrase is rarely taken to have its literal meaning. Some sins that are frequently considered eternal include deliberate rejection of the mercy of God, and ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil.
33 Flavors of Unforgivable Sin
On religioustolerance.org there is a very informative article, with 33 different definitions from various religious viewpoints on exactly what the “eternal sin” might be. That is kind of scary, if you really think about it. If there were such a thing as an unforgivable sin, avoiding it would be difficult to do, since we don’t really even know what it is. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if there were one particular sin that could no-ifs-ands-or-buts send you straight to hell forever, that Jesus ought to have been very specific as to what, exactly, unarguably, it is?
Many Christians get really hung up on trying to figure out what the unforgivable sin is, because they are afraid that maybe they or someone they care about may be guilty and therefore doomed to hell. First, I must point out that if a person is concerned, then this is a pretty good indication that there is nothing to be concerned about. The reason for this is that the Spirit of God teaches us about everything we need to know. Maybe we sometimes stiff-arm the Spirit and resist His teaching, but the lack of complacency is, in itself, an indication of His active work in us. It is highly unlikely that anyone would be blaspheming the Holy Spirit and simultaneously concerned about the unforgivable sin. That would be like sending malicious emails about your boss to all your coworkers because you are concerned about making a good impression on your boss.
Two Accounts Are Better Than One
The scriptures appear to say that there is “never forgiveness” (some translations say “never” and some say “not”) for this particular sin called “blaspheming the Spirit”. But sometimes one gospel writer includes a detail that another writer does not include. Having as much information as possible really helps clarify things. For example, suppose you are a witness to a fight, you might say that person number one threw the first punch, but someone else might say that person number two started the fight by shoving person number one. Do these accounts conflict? No. The full picture is that person number two shoved and then person number one threw the first punch. The two accounts give a more complete picture than one.
Likewise, we ought to take into consideration each of the accounts in the gospels where Jesus talks about blasphemy. There is “never” forgiveness “in this age, or in the age to come.” The problem is that most believers do not recognize that the age to come is a limited period of time. The way I understand it, the age in which Jesus was speaking when he says “this age” was the age of the Mosaic Law, and when Jesus says “the age to come” He is referring to that period between His death/resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the judgment. Another possibility is that “the age to come” refers to the time after the resurrection until the present day. I could be wrong about identifying which age is which, but I can’t be wrong about the age being a period of time with a beginning and an end – that is what aion means, by definition.
And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming.
So, this so-called “unforgivable sin”, is not so much about God stubbornly refusing to grant forgiveness, as it is about one’s cutting off of the branch on which he or she is sitting. The Spirit of God is the one who grants spiritual life to someone, opening their eyes to truth, causing them to change their mind about God. No one can receive forgiveness without faith. And no one has faith, unless God grants it. How goes He grant it? By the power of His Spirit.
Subjected to the Savior
An example that might help shed some light on this situation is the Chilean minors who were trapped for 69 days. Their being trapped in the first place could serve as an analogy for the age of the Mosaic Law. The purpose of the age of the Law was to cause humanity to become aware of the need to be rescued from sin and death. When the rescue plan was implimented, people were brought out of the darkness, but not all at once. This can be compared to the age of grace. The age of grace began when Jesus’ uttered those famous words “It is finished.” (And if you really want to have your mind blown, think about this – Jesus said “It is finished” from the foundation of the world, before time began. But that is another blog for another day.) The third scenario is a hypothetical one. Suppose that some of the minors are overcome with fumes and psychologically worn thin, causing them to imagine that their rescuers are actually out to destroy them. They fight against their own rescue, because of their delusion. Now, not only do they need to be rescued from the mine, but they need to be “subjected” to their saviors. We are now in the age of grace, where forgiveness is freely given to all people, only not many people know this, neither do they care to know. Forgiveness is given to them, but understanding is not. Not yet, anyway. They have yet to receive it or benefit from it, because they don’t believe it to be true. One can’t enjoy the benefits of being reconciled with God if one still views God as the enemy. His “wrath abides” on that person.
Tell Us What They Need, Sproul
This is what they need:
In 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 […] Paul says, “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
Referring to the end of the age, this passage reveals that there will come a day when Christ, the King of Kings, will take His rightful throne and reclaim the universe that is His. At that time, everything will be put into subjection to Him, including death, and all of the redeemed will be gathered into glory, rejoicing in the fullness of eternal worship. When all that is done, “then the Son himself also will be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him [meaning the Father], that God may be all in all.” In other words, when the whole love gift of a redeemed humanity has been given to Jesus Christ, then He will take that redeemed humanity and, including Himself, give it all back to the Father as a reciprocal expression of the Father’s infinite love. At that moment, the redemptive purposes of God will be fully realized.
The doctrine of election, then, is at the very heart of redemptive history. It is not some insignificant, esoteric doctrine that can be trivialized or relegated to seminary classroom debates. Rather, it is at the center of how we understand salvation and the church. It informs our evangelism, our preaching, and our identity as the body of Christ. (R.C. Sproul)
I disagree with Sproul’s conclusions regarding the fate of the non-elect, but the rest of it is right on. Why doesn’t God cause everyone to know Him and understand His love all at once? I don’t know. But I do know that in His Sovereignty, He has chosen (elected) some people to believe in this age, not to exclude everyone else, but to include them. Those chosen in this age are the “firstfruits” of the entire harvest. We partner with Him in His redemptive work as “ministers of reconciliation”
An Important Question
The bottom line, regardless of exactly how one interprets various scriptures on this subject of blaspheming the Spirit, is simple. Did Jesus conquer sin and death? If the answer is yes, then fear loses its power, and anyone who suspects he or she or someone else has committed that particularly devastating sin is less likely to view God as the enemy. If the answer is no, then fear is the appropriate response, especially if one also believes that anyone found with unconquered sin in the moment of their death will be consigned to eternal torment in hell. It is a double-damned scenario for them – they are already damned in this lifetime if they are guilty of tasting the one of the 33 Flavors which happens to come with consequences that even Jesus can’t handle, and they are damned again because eternal torment awaits following death. Can you use your imagination to think of a more hopeless scenario than this? I bet you can’t. (Probably because this scenario was invented by the father of lies, who has had plenty of time to create the most unholy vision of Who God is and what God does imaginable.)
Well, that is my understanding, which is open to correction to a certain extent. But I am no longer willing to agree that anyone will forever remain unforgiven. This idea is not in agreement with the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the character of God, and it obviously false for a number of other reasons as well.
I have a few John MacArthur books on my shelf. Truth is truth wherever you find it, and sometimes MacArthur speaks the truth. Sometimes. Here lately, he’s been spewing a bunch of unholy chunks of bunk. I stopped by his website to see what he’s been up to lately, and it turns out that for the last two weeks he’s been picking Rob Bell apart. (I’m not surprised.) But this makes me very happy. Let me explain.
In the early days of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was in such a tizzy over the idea that the masses of stupid sheep were being mislead by Martin Luther’s heresy (that is, we are saved by grace through faith that is not of ourselves, it is God’s gift) that they concentrated their efforts on reeducating people in the same-old-same-old-church-has-got-you-by-the-balls junk, comparing their doctrines to Luther’s in an attempt to show how right they were and how wrong Luther was. Only, it had the opposite effect. People would read the Roman Catholic propaganda and see Luther’s quotes and ideas and think, “Well that makes sense. I wonder if the Bible really says what Luther says it says.” And then they would go and do their homework and find out that the church has been misinterpreting the scriptures, covering up the truth, persecuting those who speak the truth, etc. The more the Roman Catholic Church fought against the Reformation, the more they inadvertently helped the cause. Well, I’d love to do a point by point analysis of MacArthur’s material – maybe I will someday. But for now, I just want to say how disappointed I am that so many people don’t check up on what MacArthur teaches to make sure what he says is true. He has definitely been off base on his teachings in the past two weeks. For an example of just how far out there his (and a good portion of all evangelical Christian) teachings are sometimes, I’ve posted a vid that one of my MacArthian Facebook friends posted the other day. In order to make sense of the rest of this blog, you will need to watch the vid. For a good ironic belly laugh, keep in mind that MacArthur’s ministry is called “Grace to You.” Apparently that “you” is an exclusive group of chosen people, according to MacArthur, and for the rest, it is “Eternal Torment to You.”
MacArthur’s ideas are as follows:
1. “Jesus died for somebody”
Does MacArthur not know “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us ALL”?
2. “Jesus died specifically for those who would believe in Him”
Does MacArther not understand that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world”?
3. “If He gets glory from judgment the way He gets glory from salvation, who are we to question that?”
MacArthur is really saying that by tormenting your Grandma or your best friend in Hell forever, God is getting glory. How can this possibly be true?
4. “If you say that He paid in full the penalty for all the sins of all the world then what is anybody doing in Hell?”
This shows me that MacArthur thinks God torments people forever because they need to pay the penalty for their sin. This also demonstrates to me that MacArthur must believe that Jesus did not pay the penalty for all the sins of whole world. Yet, anyone who argues with this can be accused by MacArthians of “diminishing the nature of atonement” as MacArthur says in this video.
5. When MacArthur is asked if believers who witness to those who I call “not-yet-believers” should bring up the idea of LIMITED atonement, he replies, “We have to be careful of what we say…”
Kudos to McArthur for at least being humble enough to acknowledge the tension with his awful doctrine, and he is “happy to concede that God can resolve things [MacArthur] can’t.”
McArthur says the resolution to this dilemma is “only in the mind of God” but he is wrong. The resolution is in His people as well. Unfortunately, the institution of church shuns and ostracizes those who try to explain this resolution to others.
Woe is me…
This is the last in a series I have written in response to various reviews of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. In this blog I will address the holiness of God, and whether there is post-mortem hope for those who do not know Jesus. Kevin De Young’s review says, “Bell’s vision of heaven and hell doesn’t work because his vision of God is false. I cannot imagine the angels singing ‘holy, holy, holy’ or Isaiah crying out ‘woe is me’ at the feet of Bell’s god. I see no place for divine wrath or divine justice in Bell’s theology.” Many people, in defending the doctrine of eternal torment, talk about the holiness of God, implying or claiming outright that the only way one can be confident in the holiness of God is if God punishes those who do not “get saved” before they die in the eternal flames of Hell. They simply cannot imagine that God might have some other plan in mind than the one they have been taught. Let’s look at an important passage of scripture about God’s holiness, Isaiah 6:1-8, and other scriptures that clearly refute the idea that death is the cut-off for salvation, 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6.
First, Isaiah, like all other men besides Jesus Christ, is a sinner. He is tormented by his own sin in God’s Holy presence. God responds with fire, a symbol of God’s holiness in action. Many orthodox believers associate the fact that “God is a consuming fire” and different passages that deal with God’s-holy-fire-ness as something that results in utter devastation, but our God is one who can bring life out of the ashes; He can animate dry bones. “Everyone will be salted with fire” and fire will “prove every man’s work.” God compares Himself to a refiner, and we are the ones purified by the fire. Isaiah’s lips were touched with the burning coal, and not only was he pronounced clean, he was given the authority to be a spokesman for God! The holiness of God produces a response toward sin – to remove it, destroy it, burn it up. And He will not give up until the “whole earth is filled with His glory.” Isaiah’s sins were forgiven in what R.C. Sproul refers to as “hard mercy.” But it is mercy, nonetheless. God’s holy response to sin is mercy that is as hard as it needs to be, it is measured. We know this because “mercy triumphs over judgment.” Look at how Jesus, the Holy One of God responded to sin – always with compassion, ready to forgive. The only people He dealt with harshly were the religious leaders. <— (religious leaders… you might want to take this into consideration)
Second, we need to put to rest this idea that death is the cut-off for salvation. I am only focusing on two scriptures, because these deal explicitly with post-mortem evangelism. There are many, many other scriptures which just do not make sense unless one discards the erroneous traditional teaching that once a person dies, that’s it. The first scripture says, “Christ once for sin did suffer – righteous for unrighteous – that he might lead us to God, having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit, in which also to the spirits in prison having gone he did preach, who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah – an ark being preparing – in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved…” And a little later in the same letter, this idea is reaffirmed: “…also to dead men was good news proclaimed, that they may be judged, indeed, according to men in the flesh, and may live according to God in the spirit.”
Apparent Contradictions (like God’s breadcrumbs)
Now the orthodox enthusiast will immediately protest the clear meaning of this scripture using Mark Driscoll’s approach, which I covered in yesterday’s blog. I have two problems with this. First, just because there is another text which supposedly contradicts the first text, this does not solve the problem. Any student of the written Word knows both of the texts must be reconciled. We can’t just pick which one we like best, which one seems right according to our current understanding, which one agrees with the tradition of our church friends. God is in the habit of using apparent contradictions to draw our attention to important truths – remember Galileo’s wandering planet? How convenient it is for one who is more concerned about winning the argument than having an accurate understanding to just say, “Yes, well, you see, man dies and then judgment, thank you very much and have a nice day.” We must think it through. If the judgment that follows death is as the orthodox tradition says it is, then why do we see Jesus preaching to the disobedient people who were wiped out in the flood? If they die and immediately experience judgment (which the orthodox mind sees as something as simple as “smoking” or “non-smoking”), then what is the preaching business about? Is Jesus there to remind them that they are in Hell and that it is too late for them, since they are already dead? If so, I doubt His sermon will go over well.
The Purpose and Result of Judgment
Perhaps the way we can makes sense of this is to reconsider judgment itself – its purpose and its end result. What is judgment? According to Psalm 98:4-9, it is something we ought to look forward to saying, “Shout to Jehovah, all the earth, Break forth, and cry aloud, and sing. Sing to Jehovah with harp, with harp, and voice of praise, with trumpets, and voice of a cornet, shout ye before the king Jehovah. Roar doth the sea and its fulness, the world and the inhabitants in it. Floods clap hand, together hills cry aloud, before Jehovah, for He hath come to judge the earth, He judgeth the world in righteousness, and the people in uprightness!” If judgment means the majority of mankind will burn in Hell forever, then it is hard to imagine how even the most devout Christians can actually be happy about it. I have a very hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that the blood of Christ wasn’t sufficient or effective enough to save these people who were slaves to the sin of unbelief during their lifetime. Ultimately, the only reason someone ought to dread this judgment, this chastisement for the purpose of correction, this holy-fire baptism, is that a guilty conscience makes an enemy out of God, it feels only wrath. However, when all is said and done, even these people will praise Him.
Does the Bible talk about a second chance after death? Is death the cut-off for salvation?
Mark Driscoll addresses this appealing to Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed once to die, and then judgment.” He plainly states, “No.” There is no hope once a person dies; their eternal destiny in Heaven or Hell is permanent. Ironically, the message on this video clip comes from a website called “All Sufficient Grace.”
First, I encourage readers to look at the context of this verse – the whole chapters of Hebrews 8 and 9, which speaks of the sacrifice, the priest, the tabernacle, and what Jesus’ death and resurrection means to this entire system. The letter to the Hebrews explains,”they shall not teach each his neighbour, and each his brother, saying, Know thou the Lord, because they shall all know Me from the small one of them unto the great one of them, because I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will remember no more;’ – in the saying `new,’ He hath made the first old, and what doth become obsolete and is old [is] nigh disappearing.” It explains the difference between an imperfect earthly priest who must offer up sacrifices for himself, who dies and must be replaced by another priest, and compares this imperfect system to Jesus who “through his own blood, did enter in once into the holy places, age-during redemption having obtained.” Notice the words “age-during.” Why does it say this? Because “those called may receive the promise of the age-during inheritance.” Not everyone receives this calling at once. But does this mean that everyone else is excluded? Not at all! This is not the end of the story. If we read on to Hebrews 10 we see that “He, for sin one sacrifice having offered — to the end, did sit down on the right hand of God, – as to the rest, expecting till He may place his enemies [as] his footstool, for by one offering he hath perfected to the end those sanctified; and testify to us also doth the Holy Spirit, for after that He hath said before,`This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, giving My laws on their hearts, and upon their minds I will write them,’ and `their sins and their lawlessness I will remember no more;’ and where forgiveness of these [is], there is no more offering for sin.” This repeated theme of once that occurs throughout Hebrews 8-10 has to do with the limitations of sinful man as a priest, and the limitlessness of Jesus Christ as priest. While there is judgment, this judgment is never once referred to as eternal – that’s the point of these chapters in Hebrews, to assure us that Jesus Christ is the priest who “is able to save to the very end, those coming through him unto God — ever living to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). This is the exact opposite of the message Driscoll and evangelical orthodoxy preaches.
Driscoll also uses the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as a proof text for eternal torment and death being the cut-off for salvation. This video series absolutely blows away Driscoll’s orthodox ideas. If you do nothing else, please watch this video series: The Rich Man and Lazarus, Part One, Two, Three, and Four. It casts serious doubt on the teaching that the institution of church has been propagating about the eternal destiny of mankind, especially the first and third videos, which explain who the Rich Man really is and why we must not take this parable to mean there is a literal eternal burning hell where all the unsaved go.
Does the Bible talk about death being the cut-off for salvation? This is one of the questions I will explore today as I return once again to Kevin De Young’s review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. De Young writes:
Bell suggests that maybe the gates in heaven are “never shut” because new citizens will continue to enter the city as everyone is eventually reconciled to God (115). This interpretation is clearly at odds with the rest of Revelation 21-22 which emphasizes several times that there are some accursed ones left outside the city (21:8, 27; 22:3, 14–15, 18–19). The theme of judgment carries through right to the end of the book. What’s more, those facing this judgment will be thrown into the lake of fire where torment never ends, which is the second death (20:10; 21:8). There is never a hint of postmortem second chances and every indication of an irreversible judgment decreed of every soul at the end of the age. The gates are open as a sign of the city’s complete safety and security, not as an indication that more will be saved after death.
De Young dismisses Bell’s ideas because he believes Bell’s “interpretation is clearly at odds with the rest of Revelation 21-22 which emphasizes several times that there are some accursed ones left outside the city.” But notice the clever distraction going on here. Did Bell deny that there were those outside the gates in Revelation? No. Bell acknowledges them. So why is De Young acting as if Bell refutes the idea that there are some left outside the city? Both Bell and De Young agree that there is a group of people who have not entered in.
Now that this little distraction is cleared out of the way, let’s take a look at the real problem. De Young suggests those outside the gates will always be outside the gates and that there will never be an opportunity to enter in. For all eternity they will remain outside the gates. Bell suggests the opposite, that those outside the gates will not always be outside the gates and that there will be an opportunity to enter in. Both of these men offer evidence to support their ideas. De Young’s evidence comes from Revelation chapters 20 and 21, which address the Lake of Fire where the “torment never ends.” Bell’s evidence comes from Revelation chapters 21 and 22, which addresses the city with the gates that are never shut, where God is making everything new. I encourage everyone to read through these chapters in a literal translation and to compare various viewpoints with a prayerful and teachable attitude. As you read, please notice that the Lake of Fire is never described as De Young says, where “torment never ends.” It says “day and night to the ages of the ages.” We know that there will be no night and no need of light, because He is the light. So this “day and night” scenario must come to an end. And we know that an age is a measured period of time. So the ages of the ages is simply referring to specific ages within the a series of ages. De Young claims that the reason the gates are never shut is that it is symbolic of safety. De Young says this in order to refute Bell’s claims about why the gates are never shut, that is, because those who are outside will be entering in during this time where God is making all things new. Notice in the last chapter, the Spirit and the Bride (believers) say “come” to someone who has not yet entered in. Who might they be addressing? Notice the invitation is to those who are thirsty, hearing, and willing. If everyone who is ever going to be “saved” is already “saved” at this point, why is there an invitation? Who are these thirsty, hearing, willing people who come? Could it be that they were but are no longer “the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the whoremongers, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one who is loving and is doing a lie”? Could it be that when God says He is making everything new that He actually means everything? Is this really so far fetched that Bell is a heretic and De Young is the wise religious leader who everyone ought to trust and believe? Think about these things.
Most people are already very familiar with the traditional views of what happens after death, which I believe to be erroneous in and of themselves, as well as based on erroneous translation. Here is a link where you can consider ideas that you will likely not hear in church, not because they are wrong, but because they are rejected by church leadership. Like any teacher, Jukes could be wrong about certain things. Believers are instructed to “test everything and hold on to what is good.” Look for yourself, see if you can find anything in scripture to contradict, listen to the Teacher’s voice, ask yourself Who God is and what God does, be willing do away with the things you were taught if they prove to be erroneous.
As you can tell, I am avoiding any deep theological analysis here. There is a time and place for such a thing, but this particular blog is focused on the question I mentioned at the beginning.
Does the Bible talk about death being the cut-off for salvation?
I have consistently challenged eternal torment believers to demonstrate to me where the scriptures say that death is the cut off for salvation. Most of the time, they offer proof texts that talk about eternal torment or punishment that goes on forever, but when they are properly translated, these scriptures do not support the idea of eternal torment. People open their Bibles, read about the punishment that goes on forever, and think, “well that settles it,” and carry on about their business as if the proponents of eternal torment have made a case so obvious, that only a fool would reject what they say and what their translation of scripture says. I challenge readers to examine the scriptures and try to find solid proof to back this idea that death is the cut-off for salvation, excluding those verses which rely on the mistranslated Greek word, aion (age). I also invite comment, if a reader believes he or she has found such an idea scripture. The truth is, there are only scriptures that indicate limited punishment or judgment.
So far, I have only addressed those texts which seem to support eternal torment. In my next blog, I would like to address just a few of very many scriptures which demonstrate that death is not the cut off for salvation, that there is, in fact, salvation after death.
Protestant Liberalism, Evangelicalism, post-Evangelicalism, radical revisionism (Sheesh, how many ism’s are there?), secularized theology, post-modern narrative theories, emergent narratives versus doctrinal assertions, churchspeakism, blah, blah, blah… I don’t mind getting technical when technical is necessary, but when Albert Mohler must devote so much of his book review to setting his reading audience up for the actual book review, it becomes obvious that something is askew. At least, that is what I thought as I read along and wondered when he was going to get around to actually reviewing the book. I decided to back up to the beginning again and ask myself exactly what it is that Mohler is trying to accomplish in his long title and introduction. What I discovered is that Mohler is simply attempting to categorize Rob Bell as no longer part of what Mohler calls the evangelical circle (and Bell calls the E-club), having crossed over to the dark side, and for all intents and purposes Bell may no longer be counted among those wise leaders who the stupid sheep can trust to know and explain spiritual stuff. Using generalizations and blanket statements in an attempt to establish among readers an in-group and out-group point of view in which to frame the rest of his amazingly long-titled book review http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberal-theology/ of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, Mohler miscategorizes the ideas Bell puts on the table, as well as Bell himself, as part of the out-group. It’s blatant logical fallacy. Well, maybe blatant is too strong a word, since I am not accusing Mohler of purposely employing a logical fallacy, nevertheless, logical fallacy is his initial approach. Too bad many of his readers will be suckered into the in-group/out-group subtleties which have been proven over and over again in controlled studies to influence important relational activities such as moral decisions, likelihood of acceptance/hostility between people groups, and conformity.
Let me give you an example of this logical fallacy thing. I can say that Star Trek action figures are valuable. Then I can try to sell you an action figure. Before you buy it, you will more than likely want to establish two facts, first, that the action figure is a Star Trek action figure, and second, that Star Trek action figures are valuable. Mohler wants his readers to first believe that Protestant Liberalism “preached that Christianity must come to terms with the modern age and surrender its supernatural claims.” And then Mohler wants his readers to identify Rob Bell as the poster-boy for Protestant Liberalism. Mohler’s aim is to dismiss Bell’s argument before he even addresses Bell’s argument. Personally, I think that his entire introduction ought to have been a conclusion or even not mentioned at all. The critical thinker should see a red flag here. Please take a moment to watch this comical short video which demonstrates this in-group/out-group phenomena.
What really matters? Who God is and what God does. That is what matters.
Eventually, Mohler actually gets around to addressing what matters, at least, in part, and with inaccurate conclusions. But at least he gives it a shot. He is attempting to join the conversation. Kudos for Mohler.
I would like to examine one particular paragraph from Mohler’s book review, because hidden within it is a step-by-step, very clear example of why orthodox Churchianity FEARS the idea that eternal torment in Hell is a teaching of man and not a teaching of God. Here is the paragraph:
Thus, they rejected [eternal conscious torment]. They argued that the doctrine of hell, though clearly revealed in the Bible, slandered God’s character. They offered proposed evasions of the Bible’s teachings, revisions of the doctrine, and the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history. By the time the 20th century came to a close, liberal theology had largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations. As it turns out, theological liberalism is not only a rejection of biblical Christianity — it is a failed attempt to rescue the church from its doctrines. At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches. It simply misled millions about their eternal destiny.
First, notice that Mohler describes “the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history.” In another blog, I mentioned that the reconciliation of all things was not considered heresy for a good long time (hundreds of years) during the early church days. It is time for everyone to do their homework and put to rest once and for all this idea that the doctrine of eternal torment has been the majority opinion in the church since the beginning. It is simply not true.
While orthodoxy’s favorite doctrine of fear does have long and deep roots, the doctrine of hope has longer and deeper roots. In fact the doctrine of hope has roots that go all the way back through the Old Testament times to before creation, beginning in God Himself, Who established “the fellowship of the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God, […] that there might be made known […] a purpose of the ages […] For this cause I bow […] in love having been rooted and founded, that ye may […] know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled – to all the fulness of God; and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, […] to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen” (Eph. 3:9-21).
Second, notice that Mohler’s main concern centers not around the validity of the claims made against orthodoxy but in the fact that these claims seemed to have “largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations.” Empty churches cause orthodox minds to freak out. It is no wonder. They are taught in preschool, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors, here’s all the people.” They have a scorecard reminiscent of their phallic steeple… How big is YOUR church? My church has X number of people. As if the greatest number of people entering into the box is an indication of success, as if an empty church is always a negative thing. But what if all the believers who were devoting their time and energy to the machine just decided to relocate and disperse, and they can now be found in the streets, the market place, homes, and places where Jesus wants them to go? Empty church buildings is no problem at all for God, but it is a huge problem for those whose entire lives are consumed in the system. Mohler’s real fears are obvious, “At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches” (emphasis mine). If we were to really think Mohler’s logic to its conclusion, we might say that the relevance of the church is found in how well attended and supported particular organizations/buildings are. This is the sad truth about how orthodox Churchian leaders see the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Clergy relies on your warm body and your wallet for its life and relevance. Because the religious leaders receive their paychecks, respected position, and “success” from the system, then it is no surprise that they fight tooth and nail to oppose ideas that threaten to empty out their pews.
“Our cultural fascination with vampires […] runs the gamut from movies to romance novels,” says Russell D. Moore. “Our culture is fascinated, and yet repulsed, by blood. That’s why the flickering image of blood running down a shower drain is the scariest scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.” Moore’s talk about blood comes from a review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, where Moore complains about Bell preaching a “blood drained gospel.” Perhaps blood is not the focus in this particularly targeted work, but one of my favorite Bell quotes is that “there is blood on the doorposts of the universe.” And yes, he is in fact referring to the redeeming blood of Christ in that quote. It is not as if Bell denies the blood of Christ. Salvation in Christ is demonstrated in many ways – the rock, light, door, Shepherd, etc. We do not have our hands tied when it comes to sharing our faith. We are free to speak in whatever manner the Spirit of God leads us to speak, regardless what the spiritual police have to say about it.
I’ll be spending less time on Moore’s review than the others, because most of it is fluff and finger-pointing. I do want to touch on a couple of his points, though. First, Moore says that Bell’s arguments are “the same efforts at hell-denial Christianity has seen, and rebutted, in almost every generation from the first century onward.” This is something that many orthodox readers likely skim past, nodding approval, and barely giving real thought to the statement. Pay attention. Here we have a proponent of eternal torment admitting that there have always been Christians who have disagreed with the doctrine of eternal torment. And isn’t that exactly what Bell pointed out in his book? There has always been believers who, despite the persecution, heretic labeling, and shunning that has taken place throughout institutional church history, have refused to subscribe to the doctrine of eternal torment. Why is that? And we must take time to consider in what manner this minority has been “rebutted.” I urge readers to watch my video series on Religious Tolerance for a case-in-point analysis of how the hierarchical authority in the institutional church system aggressively REBUTTS brothers and sisters in Christ rather than their claims. The tactics are not pretty and are most certainly far from fair. But that is exactly what Jesus taught His followers to expect, saying, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”
Enemies. Cursed. Hate. Used. Persecuted. And who has been treated like this in the institution of church throughout the centuries? (You guessed it.)
Many Christians are supposedly “persecuted” by the world for their faith, when really they are persecuted for being assholes. I’ll tell you a story to demonstrate using a real-life practical example, but first I need to give you some background information. A couple of weeks ago, a preacher was standing up on a stool next to the sidewalk at the University of Central Florida where I am a full time student. I stopped to listen for a few minutes and a random guy walks up to me and says, “I have a really hard time believing that God is going to send millions of Muslims to eternal torment in Hell forever because they were raised being taught the wrong things about Jesus.” I didn’t even have my “I’m not here with the Hell people” t-shirt on! (Yes, I have one, but God seems to be doing His thing without the need for a t-shirt.) I chatted with him for a few minutes and assured him that God knew exactly what He was doing and that we could trust His judgment to be good and right. And then I remembered that I had recently created/ordered a butt-load of business cards with this message: “Ask God to show you Who He is and what He does. Eternal torment in Hell is religious bullshit. God will never give up on you or anyone, ever.” And on the reverse side it says, “Churchians are afraid of us.” It lists my youtube channel, the Tentmaker website (I highly recommend the scholarly article section), and a website where people can get a free book called Hope Beyond Hell. The card also says, “We don’t want your money. We are not inviting you to church.” The reason I was so in-your-face with the verbage is that people are sick of religious bullshit and hungry for hope, so it resonates with them. Plus it flusters the religious police, because they trip and fall on the word “bullshit.” It’s hilarious. I immediately know the audience, by the looks on their faces. So, I handed the guy one of the cards, and he suddenly started shaking and sort of half-sat/half-dropped to the ground. Some people gathered around asking if he was OK and he spoke very clearly, “Yes, I am fine. I’ve never felt like this before. I just need to sit.” So I went and got him a bottle of water (which took like twenty minutes because of the long walk and waiting in line at the coffee shop – I was thinking the dude would be gone by the time I got back) and there he was, right where I left him, along with the others who had gathered around. So I gave him the bottle of water, and he chugged it as if his life depended on it. Then he said, “I didn’t even know I needed that.” All I could think was LIVING WATER, and yeah, buddy, that is exactly what this whole world needs. I had the opportunity to share my faith with seven people that day, including one of my classmates. And they were the ones approaching me.
Fast forward about a week. There was another preacher near the sidewalk at UCF, and this one was downright nasty. She had her super long hair all twirled up on her head, a skirt to her ankles, and I kid you not, a yellow neon sign with one word, all caps – “HELL” hanging around her neck. As she preached, a young woman made a comment. The preacher stopped, looked her over from head to toe, and said, “Your shorts are too short. They are immodest. You need to repent.” And then she continued preaching as if the girl never said anything. A few minutes later, a heckler started mocking her, throwing f-bombs and such, as she preached against cussing. She looked him up and down and noticed he had headphones on. She asked him what he was listening to, and he replied, “Rock.” “Rock is of Satan,” she replied, and then added that he, too, needs to repent. Then she continued preaching. I decided that since the business card with the message of HOPE and LOVE had so much response the week before that I would just walk around to everyone listening and hand them out. The crowd was pretty big, because this preacher’s approach was off-the-charts rude and cartoonish. As I handed the cards out, I heard a few chuckles here and there behind me as people read them. I gave one to the preacher, figuring she might like to know that she does not need to have HELL chained around her neck, that God cares for the people more than she does. She must have thought that I was one of the side-walk preachers because she started reading it, very loudly… “Ask God to show you Who He is and what He does,” she said. “Eternal torment in Hell…” and of course she stopped when she saw what was next. The crowd who already had their cards chimed in unison, finishing the sentence, “…is religious bullshit.” Several people high-fived and everyone started talking amongst themselves about this odd new (but actually very old) message of HOPE. The preacher turned the card over and shouted, “What is a Churchian?” One of the people in the crowd very politely pointed out, “Um, excuse me, ma’am, but I think that you are a Churchian.”
Well, I have most certainly gone off topic here… where was I?
Oh yes, Moore’s review.
There was one more point I wanted to address. Moore smugly asserts that “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel.” One very important thing to consider is the meaning of the church. What is the church? Can you give a good working definition of the church? Now something even more important. Who is the church? Can you describe these people who are the church? Do you see a clear difference between the first definition and the second description? We don’t go to the church, we are the church. And now consider whether that glaring disconnect is there for a reason. For many believers, the meaning of “be not conformed to this age” is be not conformed to this period of time where people have no idea what God’s will ultimately is, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God – the good, and acceptable, and perfect.”
Keeping this idea in mind, let’s take a look at Moore’s claim again, that “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel.” What does it look like for the church to die? In countries where religious freedom is denied, the church is dead by appearances, but in reality it flourishes behind the scene. If the church is a building, people on payroll, a set of standards, curriculum, advertising, etc, then, yes, you can say that the churches can and do die. But if the church is a dynamic collection of God’s spies who could be anywhere at any time, then no, the church does not die. If we can apply the “renewing of your mind” concept to our understanding of church as a who instead of church as a what, then we might actually stop fussing with each other so much. I know from experience that the biggest problem I have with believers who embrace eternal torment is not that they embrace eternal torment, it is that they want to shut me up when I disagree with them. I actually love it when the eternal torment preachers come to UCF, because it is a springboard for me to share the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, which swallows up sin/death in the glory of God. Preach against it all you want, people! It only furthers the name of Christ in the long run. Blog against it all you want! It’s ok. We cool. Well, at least, I’m cool. I can’t force others to be cool with me. I come against their message, and their methods, not them. My fight is not against flesh and blood. Censoring, shunning, and persecuting people is wrong.
If “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel,” why have we, the believers who have wayyyyy more hope than other believers, always been around, in every generation? And we are still here today preaching, “God made the One who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God.” You can’t kill this message, because it is God’s message. But you can wear yourself out trying…
“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 Wins … De 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.
Rethink What You Learned in Sunday School
Kevin De Young’s review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins includes in its title the idea that “what you learned in Sunday School is still true.” I believe that this, and not Bell’s book, is the real heart of the controversy.
De Young’s Writing Abilities ≠ De Young’s Insight
Evangelical Christians want to keep believing that teaching small children about God’s plan to relegate the majority of the human population to a place of torment, forever, makes sense. If they were not concerned about protecting the image of the institutions where these ideas are taught, then the controversy would just be a mildly heated conversation among believers who disagree, shake hands, and invite each other over for a barbecue when they are through. But that is another blog for another day.
Today, I want to take a look at a few of De Young’s ideas. I will not be writing a 20 page response, as I trust the Spirit of God at work in the reader to help them smell the baloney for themselves. I just want to touch on a few key points, that sound like hard-hitting difficult-to-overcome arguments due to De Young’s writing capabilities, but that really don’t pack as much punch as they seem.
A Long Tradition
First, De Young takes issue with Bell’s assertion that there is a long tradition of believers who believe God will “restore everything and everybody.” He cites Richard Bauckham’s historical survey which states, “until the 19th century almost all Christian theologians taught” eternal torment. Bauckham admits that a few major theologians of the early church believed in the reconciliation of all things.
Let’s just simmer in this thought for a moment.
A few major theologians of the early church believed in the reconciliation of all things. Suppose that today, a major theologian believed in the reconciliation of all things, and then a few generations from now came another, and a few generations after that came another… would that meet the qualifications that De Young sets forth for a “long tradition”?
Second, De Young acknowledges, “Bell also mentions Jerome, Basil, and Augustine because they claimed many people in their day believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God.” De Young ought to have stopped right there, but he goes on, saying, “But listing all the heavyweights who took time to refute the position you are now espousing is not a point in your favor.”
Let’s also simmer on this thought for a moment. Really think about it.
Bell lists “heavyweights” of the Christian faith who refute the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God, and says that they claimed “many people in their day believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God.” Today, this would be like John Piper or RC Sproul admitting that “many people” agree with Rob Bell.
So let’s bring this back into perspective – the people who opposed the reconciliation of all acknowledged that many people in their time believed it. To be more specific, I’ll quote: Jerome said, “most persons,” Basil said, “most men,” and Augustine said, “very many,” believed in the reconciliation of all things.
Evidently it was a widely held belief during the time period before Justinian came along and demanded that it be removed from the church. He also made some other very suspect demands regarding Bible translation, but that, too, is another blog for another day. My point here is that De Young wants the reader to focus on the idea that the “heavyweights” – who are they? the uber-Christians? – opposed the belief in the reconciliation of all, instead of focusing on the fact that most of the early believers were convinced of this truth.
If most of the early believers did not consider it heresy, then Bell’s case is made. Sure there has always been opposition from religious leaders, in fact opposition from religious leaders is what got Jesus crucified, but that does not mean the religious leaders were right. And it surely does not mean that nobody believed in the reconciliation of all until the big heresy-fest hundreds of years later, as people like De Young and other religious leaders would have the sheep believe.
Message Not Approved by Martin Luther
Third, De Young throws in for good measure that Martin Luther was not on Bell’s side. Um-kaaaaay. So what? Does everything have to be pre-approved by Luther in order to pass the heresy inspection? How are believers supposed to “test everything and hold on to what is good”? By counting how many experts support our doctrine? By citing religious orthodoxy?
I have an idea… why don’t we ask the Teacher to show us the truth, by studying the scriptures, looking at church history as a whole (and not just what the people in charge decided – we must remember they were murdering people for disagreeing), and most importantly, being ready to lose everything, including standard Sunday School curriculum, if it turns out we took a left turn way back somewhere between the second and fifth centuries.
More on De Young’s article tomorrow…
First, welcome to this humble blog. I am new to the blogosphere, with my only experience in blogging being Myspace (no longer using that format) and Facebook Notes. This is my first attempt at a REAL blog, so be patient with my mistakes or shortcomings.
My first concern is to give God glory. Unfortunately, this often entails first clearing away misconceptions about God. In order to understand Who God is and what God does, we must also understand Who God is NOT and what God does NOT do.
Recently, Rob Bell released a book called Love Wins, which was hugely popular weeks prior to people actually reading the book; popular in a good way for some and in a bad way for others. I count myself among the former.
I plan to start with a series of blogs in response to apologetic-type book reviews. One thing that has absolutely delighted me since I discovered that Jesus Christ did not fail in His mission to seek and save the lost is that the opposition to arguments that support the Amazing Hope are weak and shallow. It is a case-in-point example of 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…” Seriously, making a case and supporting that case, hearing opposing arguments, and formulating strong rebuttal in response to opposition has been effortless. When God began showing me the truth concerning His Plan of the Ages, I expected to find all kinds of problems with it, as if it really were too good to be true. But the more I tried to find a way to refute it (just to make sure I was not hearing my own wishful thinking), the more obvious it became that refuting the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ was a pointless endeavor.
These sometimes scathing book reviews are meant to be resources for those who read Bell’s book and want to get ready to demolish the very new but very old ideas that are (finally) being placed on the table for inspection. Under the light of scrutiny, this opposition just falls apart. I am not being arrogant or exaggerating… it literally falls apart. You’ll see what I mean as you read the next few blogs. It isn’t because I am so great at demolishing arguments, it is that any argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God is doomed to fail. It can be picked apart by people who don’t know how to pick apart.
1. Until the 19th century almost all theologians taught eternal torment.
2. If aion does not mean eternal, then that means we do not have eternal life (John 3:16).
3. The reconciliation of all things means that all things will submit to the Lordship of Christ, but some in joyful worship and others in just punishment.
4. Every church that has denied eternal torment dies out, withering away from the gospel.
5. The Bible does not talk about a second chance after death.
6. Holy, holy, holy – “…this is the one thing Bell’s god is not.”
7. Bell teaches a “blood drained gospel.”
Next blog post: Rethink What You Learned in Sunday School