Erasing Hell

Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle

Erasing Hell book review, chapter by chapter, line by line, refuting each objection presented by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle.

Is Preston Sprinkle, coauthor of Erasing Hell… Erasing Hell?

In part one of a podcast on RethinkingHell.com, Chris Date interviews Preston Sprinkle, coauthor with Francis Chan, of the book Erasing Hell. Here are a few snippets from the interview:

I think there’s much work to be done on the language that the Dead Sea Scrolls use of, I don’t want to use the term “hell,” because they don’t, but of “afterlife punishment” because the language is very close to the New Testament, if fact it uses phrases like “eternal destruction,” and in the context very clearly it is, they are, annihilationist through and through the Dead Sea scrolls. There’s no real evidence that they believed in eternal torment. And as some of you may know, the parallels in thinking and theological concepts between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament are very, very close. […]

There’s a problem with the word “everlasting,” which, the more I studied the Greek word “aonios,” that’s just a very complicated word. I don’t think it clearly means, I mean, this is going to sound weird, but I don’t think it clearly means anything. Like, I don’t think you can say it clearly means “everlasting” or clearly means, you know, “of the age,” some people would say. You have to take it almost in each individual context, because the word is very flexible and was used very widely. That’s just a major problem there. […]

When you grow up with the view cemented in your mind that the word “hell” means “everlasting punishment,” which is what a lot of us grew up with, then those images aren’t even explored… It is interesting how firmly embedded that view is, without people, I mean, it’s in almost every doctrinal statement I read, specifying the duration of hell is there, with no one asking, “Have you really looked into that?” […]

In Matthew 25 [verse 46], I would say, yeah, I think that at first glance, it seems like a slam dunk, if you’re a traditionalist, but again, once you get into the endings of Greek nouns… at the very least I hope that every listener can appreciate, wow, there’s layers of discussions here that, you know, you can’t, you know, just assume one way or the other. You’ve got to do a little work here.

Preston Sprinkle… Erasing Hell

Although Sprinkle hasn’t utterly rejected the idea of eternal torment, he certainly seems to be leaning further away from it than he was during the Erasing Hell writing process. The way I see it, if one comes to terms with the idea that there is no such thing as eternal torment (annihilationism), then this is a huge step in the right direction.

How Annihilationism and Universalism Similarly Reject Traditionalist Views

Neither annihilationists nor universalists believe in eternal torment, punishment, unbelief, or hell. Please note the emphasis on the word “eternal.” Some annihilationists and universalists believe in an afterlife experience of torment, punishment, unbelief, and hell, but of those who do, they do not believe these things are eternal.

But here’s the kicker.

Let’s suppose that Sprinkle does his homework, rejects eternal torment, and feels called by God to get vocal about his change in views. I doubt that John Piper would Tweet, “Farewell, Preston Sprinkle.” Why? Because annihilationists aren’t really considered heretical the way universalists are.

There are just too many people with annihilationist views or, regarding annihilationism, too many people who claim agnosticism (that the truth about annihilationism is unknowable). To slap that old heresy label on anyone who doesn’t embrace traditionalism would cause some huge problems in the institutional church. So, traditionalists put up with the soft-hearted annihilationists, viewing them as decent believers who have made a theological error. Oops. Silly annihilationists. We can overlook that, they say. After all, John Stott, Greg Boyd, F.F. Bruce, C.S. Lewis and the like aren’t (or weren’t) traditionalists.

But universalists? There’s no toleration for their views. Traditionalists condemn universalist views as heresy. Damned heresy from hell. Shut-up-about-it-or-get-out-of-our-church type of error. Dangerous doctrine, they say. Even though people like William Barclay, Karl Barth, Hannah Whitall Smith, Bishop Desmond TuTu, and the like also aren’t (or weren’t) traditionalists.

Of traditionalist, annihilationists, and universalists, only universalists claim, in the plainest and most literal sense, that Jesus successfully accomplishes His mission to seek and save the lost.  And for this, we are heretics. Go figure.

Given the title, back cover, and introduction of the book, unsuspecting readers might assume Francis Chan‘s book, Erasing Hell, is about, well, erasing Hell.  It is anything but that.  I wrote a blog, 5 Observations on Let’s-Talk-Later-People, a while back about an interview I watched in which Chan and his expert buddy, Preston Sprinkle, give some background about why they wrote the book.  It basically started as a response to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, and then turned into something else.  In Christianity Today’s article, Q&A: Francis Chan on Rob Bell and Hell, Mark Galli asked Chan, “Why did you write a book just on hell? It’s only one chapter in Bell’s book.”  And Chan replied, “While his book spurred on this conviction that I need to respond, as I studied, my book became less and less of a response to Rob Bell and his book. More and more, I saw how studying hell was changing me. I saw a lot of sin I had to repent of and thought, ‘This is a much bigger issue.'”  You’re right, Chan.  The Hell doctrine is a much bigger issue than most Christians realize.  In fact, it’s the undiagnosed Alzheimer’s of Christianity.

Given my time constraints with school at the moment, I must end this blog here, but I will be doing a series of blogs about this book.

Next blog: “What I Like about Chan’s Attitude“.

The blog after that: “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell“.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Chan and I agree wholeheartedly on a few things, and this is one of them – what God wants, God gets.  In the opening pages of Chan’s “Erasing Hell“, he makes the point very clear:

God has the right to do WHATEVER [emphasis not mine] He pleases.  If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s that last line.  And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3.  Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate – only God is ultimate.  God tells us plainly that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than our (Isa. 55:9).  Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.

Now, I must break this down and really examine it for what it is.  Chan is concerned that people might decide for or against the doctrine of eternal torment based on feelings instead of truth.  He warns his readers against siding with their “natural way of thinking.”  In some circumstances, this is good advice.  God has a way of turning things upside down, saying and doing things we don’t expect.  For example, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day all agreed with one another that the Messiah was going to become the King of the Jews.  They expected the Messiah to pat them on the back for being so holy and give them high status, high paying jobs once He took over the world.  Yet, Jesus called the religious leaders, “You serpents!  You offspring of vipers!  How will you escape the judgment of Gehenna?” and then submitted Himself to their murderous rage.  – This great Plan of the Ages is not at all what might make sense to normal people in a “natural way of thinking”.

Things are not always as they seem.

I’d like to flip Chan’s words around and say something else that rings true.  Just as one ought not depend on feelings in order to reject the doctrine of eternal torment, one must also not suppress feelings in order to embrace the doctrine.  Feelings are there for a reason, like the check engine light in a car.  If you check the engine and all is well, then there could just be a problem with your light.  But the only way to find out is to open the hood and take a look.

Another thing we ought to consider about Chan’s statement is that if God has the right to do whatever He pleases, then is it possible that God has the right to save everyone?  Without the church’s permission?  (Gasp!)  Does this go against “your natural way of thinking”, Chan?  Which is more difficult for someone who is in a high position of respect or authority among Christitans, to hold on to an uncomfortable doctrine and keep the good status and position with the church or openly declare a doctrine as false and get shunned out the door?  Seriously.  If Chan wants to give warnings about not trusting your feelings, then this self-preservative instinct should certainly be in the mix of things to consider.  Let’s look at what Chan stands to lose:

Francis Chan is the best-selling author of books, Crazy Love & Forgotten God, and the host of the BASIC series.  He has also written the children’s books Halfway Herbert, The Big Red Tractor and the Little Village and Ronnie Wilson’s Gift.  Francis is the founding pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and is the founder of Eternity Bible College.  He also sits on the board of directors of Children’s Hunger Fund and World IMpact.  Francis now lives in Northern California with his wife, Lisa, and their four daughters and one son.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying.  I am not accusing Chan of picking the success of his Christian-based children’s books or all of his church friends over the truth.  I’m fairly certain, based on what he says, that the one has little to do with the other.  But has Chan considered this as part of his warning against feelings?

If you haven’t read “What I Like About Chan’s Attitude” yet, you might want to give it a look, especially if this blog seems like a bunch of negativity.  I’m not poking holes in the guy, I’m pointing out some of the fundamental holes and errors in his book.

I remember doing some early research on church history (this was going on before I realized Jesus succeeded in His mission as Savior of the whole world) and seeing that Origen taught universalism.  I glossed straight past it.  Do you know why?  Because it was accompanied by an explanation about how Origen’s beliefs were condemned as heretical.  That’s how my mind worked before God’s five year overhaul.  I figured that if church leaders all agreed that his teaching was bogus, then it must be true.  I never even bothered looking up the word, “universalism”, until years later.  It wasn’t even part of my vocabulary.

Fast forward to the time when all the pieces were starting to fit, when I discovered how much political corruption was taking place in the upper tiers of the church heirarchy, when I knew that the people in positions of authority who had the power to decide if other people were heretics were not these holy, nearly-infallible leaders I had imagined them to be.  I picked up the very same book, and read the very same words, but this time, I saw the reference in tiny print to see the notes section in the back of the book.  So I turned to the back of the book and discovered that Origen’s teaching on universalism was not considered heretical until HUNDREDS of years after he died.  Doesn’t that sound a bit suspicious?  What took them so long?  Furthermore, why was this information tucked away, instead of right there next to Origen’s name in the chapter?  Were current Christian publishers not also wondering why it took them so long to condemn universalism?  If so, why are they being so cryptic about it?  If not, why not?  This was a turning point in my research, because I began second guessing all the experts, checking and double checking everything they claimed.  I didn’t trust them any more.  I had to know and learn for myself, instead of taking their word for it.

I noticed that Chan employs this same technique of segregating, and thus deemphasizing vital information.  In the main text of the book, readers see this:

The most famous proponent of universalism was an early church leader named Origen (ca. AD 185-254), who seemed to teach this, though his views were very complex and not always consistent.2 Origen’s beliefs were later deemed heretical,3 but this didn’t stop others from embracing the view that everyone will be saved – though advocates were always in the minority.  In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.

First of all, notice the numbers 2 and 3.  I bet you can guess what they are.  2 is a reference to a couple of experts who wrote about Origen (not to Origen’s actual writing) and 3 is this:

Origen’s views were deemed heretical at the fifth ecumenical church council held at Constantinople in AD 553.  However, a great deal of politics drove this council, as well as other early church councils, so we shouldn’t consider Origen’s views heretical based solely on the decisions made at Constantinople.

This is some very important information that should not be tucked away, separate from the body of the chapter.  If one just reads the chapter, then he or she will not get the full picture.  Did you catch that?  Chan admits, that “a great deal of politics drove this council, as well as other early church councils”.  The early church was hijacked by power-hungry “Christians” who made decisions based on political motives!  Chan also admits, “…we shouldn’t consider Origen’s views heretical based solely on the decisions made at Constantinople.”  In other words, we CANNOT TRUST that the decisions made about what is now considered “orthodox” doctrine were accurate.  Why on earth does Chan not say this in the main text of his book?  It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Pay no attention to the notes sections of theological arguments.

Let me give you some additional information that will hopefully help clarify the situation.  Chan says Origen “seemed to teach” universalism.  The words “seemed to” imply that he may or may not have taught universalism.  Here’s an Origen quote.  I encourage you to read more of Origen’s writings (not experts writing about Origen’s writings) so you can decide for yourself what Origen taught:

 If then that subjection be good and salutary by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, it is an extremely rational and logical inference to deduce that the subjection also of enemies which is said to be made to the Son of God, should be understood as being also salutary and useful; as if, when the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole of creation is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the conquered and the restoration of the lost is in that understood to consist. This subjection, however, will be accomplished in certain ways, and after certain training, and at certain times; for it is not to be imagined that the subjection is to be brought about by the pressure of necessity (lest the whole world should then appear to be subdued to God by force), but by word, reason and doctrine; by a call to a better course of things; by the best systems of training; by the employment also of suitable and appropriate threatenings, which will justly impend over those who despise any care or attention to their salvation and usefulness. […] I am of opinion that the expression by which God is said to be “all in all,” means that he is “all” in each individual person. Now he will be “all” in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God; and when it will no longer behold or retain anything else than God, but when God will be the measure and standard of all its movements, and thus God will be “all,” for there will no longer be any distinction of good and evil, seeing evil nowhere exists; for God is all things, and to him no evil is near. […] So, then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be reestablished in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that, when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, he who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but he himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all.”  […] transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all […]

Furthermore, isn’t it important to know that the reason Origen’s views are considered “complex” and “inconsistent” is that most of his writings were destroyed?

Now let’s examine the last bit of what Chan writes in his very brief survey of universalism and the conclusion to his drive-by look at Origen.  Chan writes, “In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.”  Think about this.  What is Chan’s point?  Is the fact that hardly any major theologians publicly endorsed universalism proof that universalism is just a sad by-product of wishful thinking?  I think the real question that readers ought to ask is, “Why?”.  Why did it take hundreds of years for church leaders to oust their universalist brothers?  Why did 1600 years of near silence regarding universalism pass, and now, suddenly, the subject is on the table again?  I can answer that question, and so can everyone else, if we only stop and consider it long enough.

If you lived in an environment where challenging the church-government meant your children could starve and you could be tortured, would you?  Have we Christians forgotten about our bloody past? Have we forgotten that little nine year old children were put on trial for witchcraft?  Have we forgotten that their younger siblings were tortured in order to get them to testify against their parents?  Have forgotten how they were forced to watch their parents burn?  Have we forgotten how elderly people were roasted to death?  Have we forgotten that heresy was punishable by death?  What about the torture, mutilation, humiliation, and mass murder?  Do we so easily set aside the words of religious leaders, that anyone whose view of God did not agree with the church’s official view should be “burned without pity”?

Yet accusers were protected in anonymity.

Have we forgotten how the church grew rich and fat by forceful seizure of the property of heretics?  Will we no longer take into account that church leaders, so ravenous with power, sometimes exhumed and burned the bodies of those who were posthumously declared heretics?  Were they trying to send a message, or what?!  And to whom do you think that message was being sent?  To those “missing” people Chan talked about, those theologians who would dare argue anything, let alone universalism in the bizarro-church.

Perhaps the subject is on the table again now, because the church no longer has the power to make your family pay for your torture fees.  They can no longer shave your head, pour vinegar up your nose, and strip you naked.  They are not allowed to place your head in a skull crushing device and turn the handle until your brains become a gooey mess sliding down your neck.  There are laws now which protect theologians so that they don’t have to worry about being tied up and dropped from various heights.  The church no longer has the power to stretch your limbs until they pull out of socket, hack you with a mallet to crush your bones, make you wear metal boots in which to pour molten lead, skin you alive, and they can no longer place a device called a “heretic’s fork” on your neck to keep you from telling people how awfully you were treated on your way to your execution.  Forced salt ingestion and denial of water, the spiked prayer stool, sleep deprivation, fingernail removal, the list goes on and on.

How dare Chan say, “In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.” without also reminding us of the horror these theologians might have faced if they were not silent!

This blog is entitled, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell.”  But Chan certainly erases the Hell on earth created by church leaders in his glaring omissions.  One of the reasons Chan and the majority of churchianity cannot erase the doctrine of eternal torment is that it has been ruthlessly and thoroughly and emphatically defended for over well over a millenia.  This kind of horror doesn’t just disappear in a few generations.  In the scope of human history, it wasn’t really that long ago that the church lost it’s strangle hold on the world.  Ungodly fear and awe of so-called institutional church authority is a real-life nightmare from which His children, for the most part, have yet to awaken.

Next blog: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell (Part Two) – theological monkey paintings.

 

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

Sometimes people see what they are told to see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sometimes I write a blog and shelve it for a while because it doesn’t feel “done” yet.  That’s what happened with the previous blog, Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears.  I went ahead and posted it, after letting it sit on the shelf, since it had been a week in between blogs, but the next day, the missing pieces became apparent to me.  I take for granted sometimes that many people, if they read the Bible at all, just read it in the English translation.  It is easy for me, these days, to read Chan’s objections and know that they are not sound, because I can see the holes in them.  But it hasn’t always been that way.  For well over a decade, I did not know how to dispute with someone who taught eternal torment.  Although I was annihilationist in my beliefs, there was still a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, a theological splinter, that eternal torment could be true after all.  It is difficult to defend an annihilationist or a universalist view of scripture when scripture seems to clearly indicate otherwise.

I answered many of Chan’s objections to a universalist interpretation of Philippians 2:9-11 in Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears, but I did not address two very important words, “destruction” and “end”.  Chan writes,

If you were on a deserted island and you uncorked an empty bottle containing Philippians 2:9-11, you would probably be a Universalist […] But all we need is for the rest of the Philippian letter to float ashore in order to see that Philippians 2:9-11 doesn’t teach universal salvation.  In Philippians 1:28, Paul says that those who oppose the gospel will face “destruction,” while those who embrace it will be saved.  There’s a contrast here between believers and unbelievers; each have very different destinies.  In Philippians 3:19, Paul refers to the enemies of Christ whose “end is destruction,” while followers of Jesus look forward to resurrection and glory (3:20-21).  Once more, there’s a contrast.  A contrast between believers and unbelievers and their individual destinies (note the word end in 3:19), which follow the decisions they make in this life.

Chan is correct in pointing out the contrast between believers and unbelievers, because not everyone believes at the same time.  Notice all of the chronological references in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Just because everything mentioned here has not already come to fruition, this does not mean it will never come to pass.  So it is with believers and unbelievers.  Just because there are those who persist in rebellion past their earthly death, so that we do not here and now witness them believing, this does not mean that it never happens.  There is much more to be said about this, but that is another blog for another day.  Let’s now move on to address those two words, “destruction” and “end”.

Naturally, English speaking people who read an English translation of the Bible will imagine certain things as they read the word “destruction”.  Although the Greek word can be translated “destruction”, it can also be translated in other ways.  Even people who believe in eternal torment should immediately know that our English word “destruction” is not an accurate match for the Greek word, apoleia (the noun form of apollumi).  Why?  Because if apollumi = destroy, then this passage plainly teaches annihilation, not eternal torment!  After all, how can a destroyed or annihilated person be aware of anything at all, let alone, be in torment or sense the passage of time?

So, if apoleia does not mean destruction in this passage (as those who believe in eternal torment ought to acknowledge) then what does it mean?  We have to see other places in scripture where the same word is used for conveying something other than destruction in order to find out.  The very same Greek word and its derivatives are also found in the following scriptures:

Mark 14:3-5 And [Jesus], being in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, at his reclining (at meat), there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment, of spikenard, very precious, and having broken the alabaster box, did pour on his head; and there were certain much displeased within themselves, and saying, “For what hath this waste of the ointment been made? for this could have been sold for more than three hundred denaries, and given to the poor;” and they were murmuring at her.

Matthew 10:5-8 These twelve did Jesus send forth, having given command to them, saying, “To the way of the nations go not away, and into a city of the Samaritans go not in, and be going rather unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And, going on, proclaim saying that, the reign of the heavens hath come nigh; infirm ones be healing, lepers be cleansing, dead be raising, demons be casting out — freely ye did receive, freely give.”

Matthew 18:10-12  [Jesus said,] “Beware! — ye may not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their messengers in the heavens do always behold the face of my Father who is in the heavens, for the Son of Man did come to save the lost. What think ye? if a man may have an hundred sheep, and there may go astray one of them, doth he not — having left the ninety-nine, having gone on the mountains – seek that which is gone astray?”

Luke 9:23-25 And [Jesus] said unto all, “If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me; for whoever may will to save his life, shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life for my sake, he shall save it;for what is a man profited, having gained the whole world, and having lost or having forfeited himself?”

Luke 19:10 […] for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 15:6 […] Rejoice with me, because I found my sheep – the lost one.

Luke 15 […] Rejoice with me, for I found the [coin] that I lost.

Luke 15:24 […] this my son was dead, and did live again, and he was lost, and was found; and they began to be merry.

Clearly, God is able to recover, redeem, and reconcile the destroyed, lost, wasted, perishing, anything or anyone He wants.  It is also noteworthy that Jesus plainly stated His mission in Luke 9:56 “[…] for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save.”  And in Romans 14:15, the word “destroy” is equated with “hurt” – “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”

About the word “end”, the Greek word is “telos”.  Chan would have us believe that the end here refers to the destiny of the individual, but the root of telos, tello, means “to set out for a definite point or goal”, and that in reference to termination, according to the KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, is “always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time”.  In fact, it is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26, which I quoted earlier:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

What happens in this “end”?  The impossibility of hope and commencement of eternal torment in hell?  No, far from it!  What is destroyed in the telos?  People?  No!  What is destroyed is the dominion people wrongfully established for themselves, the authority people have used to oppress and hurt others, and the power by which people have been enabled to ruin not only others, but themselves.  Even death itself is destroyed.  How are these dark concepts destroyed?  They are put under Jesus’ feet, or as Paul says later, they are “swallowed up” in victory.  This is the “end”.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny

 

My Spanish 1 instructor, Professor Farcau, assigned each student in her class a number and informed the students, “In la clase de Spanish 1, all will give an oral presentation.”  Then, she said, “All who have been assigned numbers one through twenty will present on Monday.”

The students assigned numbers twenty-one and up did not assume that they were exempt from giving an oral presentation, because they had already been told that everyone would give a presentation.  They knew that they would give their oral presentations in a class period other than Monday.

In attendance at the Summer Research Academy at UCF were approximately one hundred students.  The instructor announced, “All Summer Research Academy students will be provided with a Subway sandwich and drink.  All who are Biology majors are now dismissed.”

Did the non-Biology majors think that they would have to stay in their seats and go hungry?  No, of course not.  They had already been told that everyone would be provided with a meal.  They knew that they would be dismissed, each in his or her own turn.

The apostle Paul writes, “In Christ, all will be made alive.”  And he also writes, “All who belong to Christ will be made alive at His coming.”

Should we assume that those who are not made alive at His coming will never be made alive?

According to Francis Chan, the answer is yes.  In his book, Raising Hell, he comments on Paul’s letter, “[It] can’t mean that everyone will be saved in the end.”

Think about it.  If Paul writes, “In Christ, all will be made alive,” then why should Paul’s explanation about the order in which this reality takes place nullify his first statement?

Chan attempts to explain why, but his explanation, in my opinion, falls flat on its face if it is accompanied by a bit of scrutiny.  Chan writes,

In fact, following this verse is a whole lot of destruction: destruction of everyone and everything that opposes God in this life.  This is why Paul concludes the letter with a forceful warning that everyone who does not love Jesus will be damned.

In the previous blog, If God Swears, Then What About…, I wrote about the Greek word, apoleia, and its derivatives, which are translated into our English word, destroy, destruction, lose, or lost.  There are many scriptural references to make obvious that something apoleia or someone apoleia can be found, restored, healed, cleansed, made alive, made useful, saved, etc.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should, because Chan’s view, which lines up with the orthodox view, does not stop to consider the broader meaning of the Greek word.  They read the English words destroy or destruction and auto-think eternal torment in Hell, even though the text says no such thing.

Let’s take a look at Chan’s claim that Paul asserts “everyone who does not love Jesus will be damned”, based on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him […]”.  Again, Chan and his orthodoxically correct buddies (yes, I just made up that word LOL) see the English word “damned” and auto-think eternal torment in Hell, even though the text says no such thing.  Let’s look at how the word is used elsewhere in the Koine Greek of the New Testament:

[…] about the temple, that with goodly stones and devoted things it hath been adorned […] Luke 21:5

[…] certain of the Jews having made a concourse, did anathematize themselves, saying neither to eat nor to drink till they may kill Paul and they were more than forty who made this conspiracy by oath, who having come near to the chief priests and to the elders said, `With an anathema we did anathematize ourselves – to taste nothing till we have killed Paul.  […]  thou, therefore, mayest thou not yield to them, for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, who did anathematize themselves – not to eat nor to drink till they kill him, and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from thee.  Acts 23:12-14, 21

[Paul speaking …] I was wishing, I myself, to be anathema from the Christ – for my brethren, my kindred […] Romans 9:3

I give you to understand that no one, in the Spirit of God speaking, saith Jesus [is] anathema, and no one is able to say Jesus [is] Lord, except in the Holy Spirit.  1 Corinthians 12:3

Clearly, the temple was not decorated with eternal torment in Hell, nor were the Jews protesting by volunteering themselves for eternal torment in Hell, nor was Paul wishing he were suffering eternal torment in Hell, nor were people saying that Jesus was suffering eternal torment in Hell.  We must not read into the word anathema what is not there.

Here is the etymology for anathema:

1520s, “an accursed thing,” from L. anathema “an excommunicated person; the curse of excommunication,” from Gk. anathema “a thing accursed,”

But here is where the etymology really gets interesting.  Pay attention, now…

originally “a thing devoted,” lit. “a thing set up (to the gods),” from ana- “up” (see ana-) + tithenai “to place,” from PIE base *dhe- “to put, to do” (see factitious).  Originally simply a votive offering, by the time it reached Latin the meaning had progressed through “thing devoted to evil,” to “thing accursed or damned.” Later applied to persons and the Divine Curse. Meaning “formal act or formula of consigning to damnation” is from 1610s.

As I have repeatedly claimed through various blogs, the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible brought with it several key mistranslations that have made their way into the English Bibles which populate the shelves of Christian book stores, the very Bibles that people count on to communicate truth.  These errors have been the basis for God-dishonoring orthodoxy for far too long, and it is time people are exposed to it.  If you don’t believe me, then find a pre-1984 New International Version of the Bible, and look up Galatians 1:8-9 (or click the reference to view it online), which also references anathema, but translators decide to exaggerate, adding to scripture what isn’t there, in order to convey the idea of eternal torment in Hell.  As author and teacher Gary Amirault points out,

NO other English translation had the nerve to put “eternally” into these phrases in Galatians. Why? Because there is no word in these two sentences that remotely refers to eternity. The NIV translators simply took the liberty of injecting their own beliefs in eternal damnation into this passage without a shred of support from the Greek. This passage is not a unique instance in which the NIV translators took great liberty with the Greek text.

Now that Chan’s argument has fallen apart, let’s reexamine the idea that Paul is NOT saying all those whose earthly life ends without yet believing are damned to eternal torment in Hell, in contrast, Paul is asserting the order and manner in which all will be made alive:

And now, Christ hath risen out of the dead – the first-fruits of those sleeping he became, for since through man [is] the death, also through man [is] a rising again of the dead, for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive, and each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s, in his presence, then – the end, when he may deliver up the reign to God, even the Father, when he may have made useless all rule, and all authority and power – for it behoveth him to reign till he may have put all the enemies under his feet – the last enemy is done away – death.

Again, notice exactly what the work Christ accomplishes, somewhere between “those who are Christ’s, in his presence” and “the end” – Christ “made useless”, not people, but “all rule, and all authority and power”.  He does not ultimately do away with the people who “all their lives were held captive by the fear of death”, he does away with death itself!  What glorious, triumphant news!  Why the Hell would Chan want to darken it with such hopelessness?

Next blog – Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: “All = Some”

I have a confession to make.  When it comes to profile pics, I don’t just randomly pick a photo, I look through all my recent photos and choose the best one, or better yet, I take twenty-five pictures knowing that one of them is bound to look better than the others.  The process is called “cherry picking” – selectively choosing the best from what is available.  It is a common practice that may or may not be morally sound, depending on the situation.  And it has a lot to do with inductive versus deductive logic.  What is the difference between inductive logic and deductive logic?  Glad you asked.

Induction:

A process of reasoning that moves from specific instances to predict general principles.

Deduction:

A process of reasoning that moves from the general to the specific.

Suppose you are given a basket of cherries, and they all look perfect.  You might assume that most of the cherries in the orchard look like the ones in the basket.  Or it could go the other way around.  You could be given a basket of small, misshapen, discolored cherries and you might assume they came from a diseased or neglected orchard.  The truth is that the person who picks the cherries can create an image of the orchard based on selection.  And what does all of this have to do with induction or deduction?  It is the way your mind works as you hold the basket of cherries and consider the orchard.  Maybe your opinion of the orchard is based on inductive logic.  If this is the case, then you will go through a process of reasoning in which you base your opinion of the entire orchard (general principles) on one hand picked basket (specific instances).  This is NOT an intelligent way to make sense of the world.  In contrast, you may base your opinion of the orchard on deductive logic.  If this is the case, then your process of reasoning about the orchard will not begin when you are handed a basket, because you won’t be willing to form an opinion about the orchard until you have examined, individually, most or all of the cherry trees for yourself.

In the orchard of theology, it is best to examine every tree.  In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, he advises readers regarding 1 Corinthians 15:22 and similar scriptures,

You’ve got to figure out from the context what “all” means.

I agree with Chan’s statement, that the context of “all” determines just how far “all” extends.  For example, in the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny, I wrote,

My Spanish 1 instructor, Professor Farcau, assigned each student in her class a number and informed the students, “In la clase de Spanish 1, all will give an oral presentation.”  Then, she said, “All who have been assigned numbers one through twenty will present on Monday.”  The students assigned numbers twenty-one and up did not assume that they were exempt from giving an oral presentation, because they had already been told that everyone would give a presentation.  They knew that they would give their oral presentations in a class period other than Monday.

How ridiculous would it be if I thought that when my instructor said “all”, she meant that every human being, from Adam to present day, would be required to give an oral presentation in my UCF Spanish 1 class?  Obviously, the context of her statement tells me to what extent “all” goes, that is, it applies only to the students in Spanish 1.

The problem with Chan’s advice, is that he does not apply it, at least, not in the section of the book to which it refers.  Chan lists four passages of scripture regarding Christian Universalism that he calls “The Big Ones” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:19-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than examining each of these scriptures (reasoning from deduction), Chan cherry picks some misleading information on only two of them, and then ignores the other two, instead referencing a basket full of cherries from an entirely different orchard, cherries that are similar to my Spanish 1 class example, where the extent of “all” is limited by the context.  He concludes,

So “all” doesn’t always mean everything or everyone.  And the same goes for 1 Corinthians 15:22, as is clear from the context.  The “all” who will be made alive in Christ refers to believers of all types, not every single person.

While it is true that “all” does not always mean everything or everyone, it is also true that “all” is not always limited to “all types” or some other subset.  Chan draws attention to the truth that suits his argument, while he draws attention away from the other truth that is just as valid.  Proving that “all” is sometimes limited to all types in no way negates the fact that “all” is in fact used many times throughout scripture to mean everything or everyone.  For example,

[…] for all did sin, and are come short of the glory of God […] Romans 3:23

And we are as unclean – all of us, and as a garment passing away, all our righteous acts; and we fade as a leaf – all of us. Isaiah 64:5-6

Thou [art] He, O Jehovah, Thyself — Thou hast made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens, and all their host, the earth andall that [are] on it, the seas and all that [are] in them, and Thou art keeping all of them alive […] Nehemiah 9:5-6

All of us like sheep have wandered, each to his own way we have turned, and Jehovah hath caused to meet on him, the punishment of us all.  Isaiah 53:6

Righteous [is] Jehovah in all His ways, And kind in all His works. Psalm 145:17

Let’s have a look at Chan’s “The Big Ones”:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Corinthians 15:22

[…] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:19

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20

[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4

The context of “all” 1 Corinthians 15:22, is specifically stated, that is, the people group in Adam.  It is a compound sentence which begins with the word “as”, indicating that the first thought cannot stand alone.  The Greek word for “as” is,

5618 hṓsper (an emphatic adverb, derived from 4007 /per, “indeed” intensifying 5613 /hōs, “as”) – “indeed just as,” “just exactly like.”

If all that Paul wrote was “As in Adam all die”, readers would look for what comes next, and if the “next” were not there, readers would wonder why Paul began a thought and didn’t conclude it.  They would ask, “Just exactly like what?”  The context demands that we continue reading in order to understand the point.  It is very similar to the “if/then” sentence structure in logic.  If this happens, then that happens.   The first part of the compound sentence is connected to the second part with the word “so”.  In Greek, the word “so” is,

3779 hoútō (an adverb, derived from the demonstrative pronoun, 3778 /hoútos, “this”) – like this . . .; in this manner, in this way (fashion), in accordance with this description (i.e. corresponding to what follows); in keeping withalong this linein the manner spoken.

If we use common sense to put it all together, we see this:

Indeed, just as, just exactly like “In Adam all die”, like this, in this manner, in this way, in accordance with this description, in keeping with, along this line, in the manner spoken, “In Christ all will be made alive.”

Let’s pretend that Paul wants to write about “all”, but he sees that there is an exception.  Do you think he will take the time to specify the exception?  Yes, he will.  In fact, he does, so we don’t need to pretend at all.  Paul writes,

[…] for all things he did put under his feet, and, when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him, and when the all things may be subjected to him, then the Son also himself shall be subject to him, who did subject to him the all things, that God may be the all in all.  1 Corinthians 15:27-28

Here, Paul first states “for all things [Jesus] did put under his feet”.  Some people may point out that if Jesus is included in the category of “all things”, then does this mean that Jesus is subjecting himself to himself?  That’s very strange.  So Paul clarifies that there is an exception to the group named “all things” and writes, “when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him”.  Why would Paul take the time to be so specific and clear about this, a case in which there is a single exception to “all”, but not also take the time to be specific and clear about a case in which there are literally millions of exceptions?

If eternal torment in Hell is true, and the majority of mankind is headed there, why would Paul be so careless as to make the misleading statement, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” without being specific and clear about the billions of exceptions?  Think about it.  Shouldn’t Paul, in order to be consistent, have written, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive, and when one may say that all will be made alive, [it is] evident that all who do not have faith before death are excepted who will be made alive?

The reasonable response is not to write Paul off as some kind of irresponsible fruitcake but to conclude that Paul says exactly what he means to say, even if orthodox churchianity pitches a fit about it.

This isn’t the only time that Paul communicates the idea that all people will be made alive.  Many of Paul’s writings contain a universalist perspective.  Here’s another example of the Adam/Jesus parallel,

[…] just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more […] Romans 5:18-20

Moving right along, now, the context of 2 Corinthians 5:19 in which God is reconciling “the world” to himself,  demonstrates the broad implications of “the world”:

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. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 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.

The skeptic might object, “Aha!  It says ‘anyone in Christ’!  That means the ‘all’ doesn’t apply to unbelievers!”

To this I would reply, “Not so fast.”

Notice first that “one died for all”.  Most believers would take this to mean that Jesus died for the world, for everyone.  Then Paul (and possibly Timothy) writes about a subgroup of the “all”, that is, “those who live”.  What does this mean?  It can’t mean “live” in the physical sense, as in respiration and pulse, because the not-yet-believers during this time also have a respiration and pulse.  So, “live” must be about the life that transcends physical existence, the life to which Jesus refers in His intercessory prayer, “[…] and this is the life age-during, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and him whom Thou didst send […]”, the life which begins in the faith of Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds the believers that it hasn’t always been this way, that there was a time when they were not yet “a new creation” because they “once regarded Christ […] from a worldly point of view”.  He states plainly that this subgroup has been “reconciled” through Christ for a purpose.  What is that purpose?  Paul calls it the “ministry of reconciliation”, and they have been given a message to communicate with the world, those who are not in the subgroup, the rest of the “all” for whom Jesus died.  What is the message?  Reconciliation!  Not counting people’s sins against them!

So, Christ did, in fact, die for all – for the whole world, not just a select few, and this is the same “world” that is being reconciled to God through Christ.

This begs the question, was the death of Christ effective?  Did Jesus accomplish His mission?  That’s another blog for another day.  The point here is that Chan would have us to believe that when Paul writes “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” that Paul really means a small percentage of “the world”.  The non-cherry-picking context indicates otherwise.

I really won’t need to spend much time on Colossians 1:19-20, for obvious reasons.  When Chan suggests looking at the context, I have to wonder how he could have missed this.  “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  Here, we see “all things” qualified for us, that is, “whether things on earth or things in heaven”.  This is such a loaded verse!  I will return to this in another blog.  For now, unbiased readers can see that the extent of this “all” is as broad and inclusive as the Greek language will allow it to be.

Finally, 1 Timothy 2:4 states, “[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Chan formulates an argument based on what it means to say that God “wants” something.  I will address this concept in another blog and, for now, concentrate on the “all” argument Chan makes.  The context of 1 Timothy 2:4, does, as Chan asserts, refer to all types of people.  But the context is specific that the PRAYER should be offered up for all types of people.  We should pray for all people, not just the ones we happen to like.  However, we must ask, does God want all types of people to be saved, or just some types of people?  Does this passage exclude people or does it include people?  Does our PRAYING for specific people groups negate the idea that God wants all people to be saved?  Chan admits,

It’s probably the case that Paul wants Timothy to pray for all types of people because God is on a mission to save all types of people.

If God is on a mission to save all types of people, does this mean that some types of people will NOT be saved?  Again, does naming a few particular subsets of the whole, such as the subset called “people in authority”, exclude the remainder of the “all”?  Let’s look at the reason Paul gives for praying for “all” men:

I exhort, then, first of all, there be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, for all men: for kings, and all who are in authority, that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead in all piety and gravity, for this [is] right and acceptable before God our Saviour, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth; for one [is] God, one also [is] mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all – the testimony in its own times.

Notice it does not say that God wants all “types” of people to be saved, nor does it say Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all “types” of people.  This is Chan’s idea.  One simple way to settle the dispute between Chan’s orthodox view and my unorthodox view is to ask one simple question.

Did Jesus give Himself as a ransom for all people or just all types of people?  More specifically, did Jesus give Himself as a ransom ONLY for those who believe before they die, or did He give Himself as a ransom for everyone?  If we are to take Chan’s argument seriously, we will have to say that Jesus died ONLY for those who believe.  The implications are huge.  We’ve all heard evangelists preach, “Jesus died for you.”  If Chan is right, then evangelists need to stop giving people false hope.  They should preach, “Jesus died for SOME of you.”  Do you think Chan would be willing to adjust his evangelistic message in this way?  If he really believes what he writes, then he ought to do so.  And if he is unwilling to do so, then we ought to wonder why.  Perhaps when he looks people in the eye, the fear of God gets ahold of him, and the Spirit of God enables him to preach the truth, “Jesus died for everyone”, despite his beliefs.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never

If you’ve never read the story of Joseph, you really ought to do so.  It’s just as fascinating and dramatic as anything Hollywood might produce.  In a nutshell: Joseph, as a child, is his father’s favorite son, and his brothers are jealous of the special treatment he receives.  To make matters worse, Joseph has two dreams in which his brothers are bowing down to him, and for some reason I can’t imagine, he tells his brothers about the dreams.  They plot to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talks them out of it by suggesting they sell him into slavery instead.  They take Joseph’s “many colored” coat, put animal blood on it, and tell their father that Joseph is dead.  Meanwhile, Joseph is actually put in a pretty decent position in society under a guy named Potiphar, and Potiphar makes him the superintendent of everything.  But just as things are looking up, Joseph is wrongly accused of attempted rape (by Potiphar’s wife) and thrown in prison.  While he is in prison, he becomes known as someone who is able to interpret dreams.  The leader of Egypt, Pharaoh, has two disturbing dreams, finds out about Joseph, and asks Joseph to interpret the dreams.  Joseph tells the Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams, that there will be seven years of abundant crops and seven years of famine.  Pharaoh not only believes Joseph but puts Joseph in charge of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Consequently, when Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt for groceries, they find themselves at his mercy, just as they were in Joseph’s dreams all those years ago.  Joseph is eventually reunited with his father, and he forgives his brothers for what they did to him.  There’s much more to the story than this, but for the purpose of this blog, this recap will suffice.

Now, let’s suppose that you were an eyewitness to Joseph’s being sold as a slave.  You see how Joseph’s brothers hate him.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”  You know that God does not want people to hate, yet here is Joseph, nearly hated to death by his own siblings.  How do you answer this?  You admit, no, God doesn’t get what God wants.  You see Joseph thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.  Yet, you know that God hates injustice.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”.  Sadly, you reply, no.

Joseph eventually stands face to face with his brothers.  Here is part of the account in Genesis:

And Joseph saith unto his brethren, “Come nigh unto me, I pray you,” and they come nigh; and he saith, “I [am] Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt; and now, be not grieved, nor let it be displeasing in your eyes that ye sold me hither, for to preserve life hath God sent me before you. Because these two years the famine [is] in the heart of the land, and yet [are] five years, [in] which there is neither ploughing nor harvest; and God sendeth me before you, to place of you a remnant in the land, and to give life to you by a great escape; and now, ye – ye have not sent me hither, but God, and He doth set me for a father to Pharaoh, and for lord to all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Notice how Joseph explains the situation, that “God sent”, “God sendeth”, “ye have not sent, but God”, and “He doth set me”.  So now that we have the end result, shouldn’t we revisit the question, “Does God get what God wants?”  Yes, God does not want people to hate, and yes, God hates injustice, but God used that hate and injustice to get what He wanted, that is, “to preserve life”.  If God uses actions that are against His will as part of His plan to accomplish His will, then we can answer the question, “Does God get what God wants” with a confident, “YES!”

The reason I began this blog with the story of Joseph is to demonstrate that God accomplishes His will in His own time and His own way.  The scriptures are crammed full of examples just like this, in which God accomplishes His will through the disobedience of His creation.  In fact, we could say the same thing of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Jesus plainly told His disciples that he would die, yet, after he died and before his resurrection, his disciples were an emotional mess.  If someone had asked them during this time, “Does God get what God wants?”, they might not have been able to say “YES!”  They certainly were not acting like people who had confidence in the sovereignty of God.

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan asks, “Does God get what God wants?” in reference to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the NIV translation:

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Chan’s argument goes like this:

Paul, who said that God wants all people to be saved, also said that God “wants” all Christians to be sexually pure (1 Thes. 4:3).  Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what He wants?

Chan then goes on to talk about God’s moral will (values that please Him) and His decreed will (events that He causes to happen), explaining that God allows His moral will to be resisted in order to carry out His decreed will.  What it really boils down to is the sovereignty of God over the human will.  This is a huge debate in Christianity that has been going on for a long time, in Calvinism and Arminianism.  I actually wrote a lengthy blog series, based on R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe, which examines these concepts  thoroughly.  Here are the links if you would like to read them: Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?, A Great Chess Player, Volunteer for Slavery, Picking the Petals Off of TULIPs, and Amazed Exceedingly.

Chan’s argument seems to make sense on the surface – God doesn’t want Christians to cheat on their spouses, but Christians cheat on their spouses, therefore God doesn’t get what God wants.  However, we need to consider this idea further, take it to its conclusion.  Will the Christian who cheats on his/her spouse ALWAYS cheat on his/her spouse?  No, of course not.  At some point, God will intervene, whether it be through grace or discipline, because He disciplines those He loves, He loves everyone, and everyone is disciplined eventually (Heb. 12:7-8, Rom. 5:6-8).  Just because we don’t see the cheating spouse repent RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean that it will NEVER happen.

Why is it that I can see the question, “Does God get what God wants?”, and I can answer it affirmatively, while Chan goes the opposite direction? Because Chan is answering a different question than the one he asks!  Yes, that’s right, Chan asks one question and then poses an answer for a different question.  Let’s look closely again at what he writes:

Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what God wants?

Notice the change in verb tense between the question Chan proposes and the answer He gives in his illustration, namely “does” and “is”.  This may seem insignificant, but it is actually what makes or breaks Chan’s argument.  The statement (I restructured the interrogative into a declarative to make it easier to see how Chan shifts the verb tense), “God does not get what He wants” distinctly contrasts the statement, “God is not getting what He wants.”  The first statement communicates the idea that God NEVER gets what He wants.  The second statement communicates the idea that God is not getting what He wants right now.  Does Chan honestly believe that this Christian man will continue in sin forever?  I doubt that he does.  Yet, he uses this “now” example as a way of convincing his readers to negate the idea that God gets what He wants “never”.  It is so important to know the difference.  Plus, even if God is not getting what He wants right now, in a way, He is getting what He wants, because nothing happens outside of His permission.  He could strike a sinner dead in an instant to prevent the sin if He wanted, but He won’t if it is not part of His sovereign plan which takes into account the fact that we are all sinners.

I don’t think that Chan intentionally did this, but this technique of switching the question has a name.  It is a “Fallacy of Distraction” with the subheading “Complex Question”, defined as:

Two unrelated points are conjoined by a single proposition.

My point is that Chan did a wonderful job of proving what we already know to be true.  God doesn’t want us to sin.  We sin.  There you have it.  That is the full substance of his argument which has very little to do with the question of God’s ultimate sovereignty.  God has a purpose in everything that happens.  Everything, including our sin.  How did God send Joseph to Egypt “to preserve life”?  Through the sin of his brothers.  How did Jesus redeem the world?  Through the sin of the religious leaders.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (in a guest Q&A on Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul) says,

“The faith that unites us to Christ brings us really into a new order of reality altogether in which the dominion of sin over our lives has once and for all been broken.  Why we need to keep hearing the gospel is because we actually doubt what the gospel says.  When we look in, we see all kinds of evidence that the presence of sin is still very, very real.  We need to learn to distinguish between the fact that the dominion of sin has been broken although the presence of sin remains until the day when the presence of sin is finally banished from our lives.”

God does get what God wants, in His own time and His own way.

 

The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.

(Psalm 135:6)

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

 

Can God bring proper, lasting justice, banishing certain actions – and the people who do them – from the new creation while at the same time allowing and waiting and hoping for the possibility of the reconciliation of those very same people?  Keeping the gates, in essence, open?  Will everyone eventually be reconciled to God or will there be those who cling to their version of their story, insisting on their right to be their own little god ruling their own little miserable kingdom? – Rob Bell, Love Wins p.115, regarding Revelation 21:25

It is important to remember the nature of the book of Revelation, categorized as “apocalyptic literature” by theologians, writings that are easily misinterpreted because of the heavy symbolic content.  I highly recommend that one not allow a concept that is firmly established elsewhere in scripture to be refuted depending solely on Revelation, just as an idea refuted throughout scripture should not be established based only on Revelation.  It is interesting, though, to pull nuggets of universal truth from the book, that is, truth that has a wider application than a single, specific time or geographical location, and to speculate about the meaning of some of the symbolism.  But we should remember, it is easy for one to see what he or she wants to see in the book (and I’m no exception) instead of seeing what the angel would have John and the church in seven cities to see, and it is also important to be aware of variation (and corruption) that took place in manuscript transmission.  I’ve written a few blogs on Revelation, and guest blogger Mary Vanderplas wrote a blog on chapter 8, if you would like to read more about Revelation: Revelation 1-2, Revelation 3, Audio/Visual Revelation, Like a Stone, Despite My Amazing Ignorance, He’s Called “God with Us” for a Reason, and Revelation 8 (Guest Blogger: Mary Vanderplas).

One regular blog reader and in-depth commenter, a fundamental and very zealous believer name Lanny, reminds me (continually), “Revelation ends with a populated Lake of Fire and not an empty dissolved one”, implying that those who have been relegated to that place or condition will eternally continue in that position, regardless of open gates.  Obviously, both Lanny and Bell can’t both be correct.  So who is right, and who is wrong?  Perhaps the better questions are, “Who is God, and what does God do?”  I hope to answer the open gate question by appealing to the character and sovereign intentions of God.

What is the lake of fire?  What is the purpose of the lake of fire?  Who is cast into the lake of fire?  Is there any hope for those who go to the lake of fire?

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, in response to Bell’s commentary about the “open gates” in Revelation, Chan says that he would “love to believe” the open-gate theory, but can’t for three reasons.  Chan writes,

First, Revelation 20 and 21 have already described the “lake of fire” as the final destiny of those who don’t follow Jesus in this life.  There’s nothing in Revelation that suggests there’s hope on the other side of the lake. Second, there’s nothing in the text that says the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked.  […]  And third, even after the open-gates passage of 21:24-26, John goes on to depict two different destinies for believers and unbelievers.

Let’s have a look at the open-gate passage apart from the context:

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.

I would like to address in depth each of Chan’s three points.  Today, I’ll begin with his first point:

First, Revelation 20 and 21 have already described the “lake of fire” as the final destiny of those who don’t follow Jesus in this life.  There’s nothing in Revelation that suggests there’s hope on the other side of the lake.

Notice that Chan’s description of the lake of fire is based on Revelation 20 and 21.  In order to see where he is getting his information, let’s read any scriptures pertaining to the lake of fire or “final destiny” of those who don’t follow Jesus in this life in those chapters (or you can click the link to read them in their entirety):

Happy and holy [is] he who is having part in the first rising again; over these the second death hath not authority, but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years […] and the Devil, who is leading [the nations] astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night – to the ages of the ages.  And I saw a great white throne, and Him who is sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven did flee away, and place was not found for them; and I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and scrolls were opened, and another scroll was opened, which is that of the life, and the dead were judged out of the things written in the scrolls – according to their works; and the sea did give up those dead in it, and the death and the hades did give up the dead in them, and they were judged, each one according to their works; and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire – this [is] the second death; and if any one was not found written in the scroll of the life, he was cast to the lake of the fire.

[…] And He who is sitting upon the throne said, “Lo, new I make all things”; and He saith to me, “Write, because these words are true and stedfast”; and He said to me, “It hath been done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; I, to him who is thirsting, will give of the fountain of the water of the life freely; he who is overcoming shall inherit all things, and I will be to him – a God, and he shall be to me – the son, and to fearful, and unstedfast, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the liars, their part [is] in the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death.” And there came unto me one of the seven messengers […] and did shew to me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, […] and the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they may shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp of it [is] the Lamb; and the nations of the saved in its light shall walk, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it, and its gates shall not at all be shut by day, for night shall not be there; and they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it; and there may not at all enter into it any thing defiling and doing abomination, and a lie, but – those written in the scroll of the life of the Lamb.

So, is Chan accurately describing the lake of fire when he writes that it is “the final destiny of those who don’t follow Jesus in this life”?  In seeking to answer this question, the first item of interest is to examine the text for anything that indicates the “final” part of “final destiny”.  I’m assuming that the reason Chan sees “final” in the text, is because he reads the typical English translation and uses the concordances and lexicons specially designed to agree with said translations.  There he finds the description of the duration of the lake of fire, “for ever and ever”.

It is really a very simple matter, to discover whether the words should be translated as they literally appeared in the oldest manuscripts of the Greek language, “to the ages of the ages”, or whether they should be translated according to what today’s experts have decided regarding the 2000 year old language, “for ever and ever”.  We don’t need to consult so-called experts.  We don’t even need to compare it to other scriptures where the same words are used.  Normal people without theological degrees can see and understand what I am about to explain.  The Greek words to which Chan and I refer are “tous aiõnas ton aiõnon“, and no one will argue that the contested words are plural.  If you look at the English translation, you can see for yourself that “ever” is not translated as plural in either instance. I can’t say I blame the translators for leaving it singular in English even though it is plural in the Greek; after all, how ridiculous does it sound to say “for evers and evers” or “for eternities and eternities”?  Furthermore, the word “and” doesn’t even appear in the Greek phrase.  As if all of this finagling were not questionable enough, notice that the English translation does not take into account the Greek prepositions, our English “to” and “of”.  If we include those prepositions in the English translation (as we ought to) then it sounds even more ridiculous – “to evers of evers” or “to eternities of eternities”.  I can see the translator now, looking over his Latin Vulgate  and the long history of the doctrine of eternal torment, scratching his head and thinking, something isn’t quite right.  I think I’ll leave it singular, drop the words “to” and “of” and add an “and”.  There!  That’s much better.  He pats himself on the back for faithfully rendering John’s writings, even though he’s inadvertently participated in that group warned later in Revelation,

For I testify to every one hearing the words of the prophecy of this scroll, if any one may add unto these, God shall add to him the plagues that have been written in this scroll, and if any one may take away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the scroll of the life, and out of the holy city, and the things that have been written in this scroll.

If we use common sense and consider the chronological nature of time, we know that one age (a period of time with a beginning and an end) ends and another begins.  This is not absurd at all.  But what kind of sense can we make of one eternity ending and another beginning?  Wouldn’t that negate the idea of eternity if it ends (or if it begins)?  What kind of sense can we make of there being more than one eternity?  If John intends to communicate the concept of “forever” in Revelation 20, he weakens his case by using the word more than once and using it in plural form.  Why would he weaken the point he is trying to make?  It seems like a pretty important point to me.  Was he a lousy writer, who didn’t know how to employ his own language?  *An interesting side note – the words “tous aiõnas ton aiõnon” are not applied to unbelievers or anyone other than “the Devil”, “the beast and the false prophet”.

I suppose that some readers have the words “infallible Word of God” ringing in their brains at this point.  I remember thinking the same thing, myself, for many years, as if my heart were made of clay tablets, as if God could be contained in a book.  I’m reminded of a time when a friend spoke with my husband, Tim, and me about the infallibility thing, in response to our claim that certain key words in scripture have been consistently mistranslated since the days of the Latin translation and the influence of Emperor Justinian.  He told us that we were wrong, that the scriptures had been miraculously and perfectly preserved.  He then proceeded to preach a message to the church congregation in which he explained how a certain word could have been translated more accurately.  As Tim and I looked at one another in disbelief, we could not help but wonder if he was noticing how his own words were coming back to bite him, how he was contradicting himself and his firmly held beliefs just minutes after our conversation.

The truth is, the Word of God is infallible, so long as we have correctly defined the “Word of God” as Jesus Christ, the Logos.  Jesus said, regarding scripture,

And the Father who sent me Himself hath testified concerning me; ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor His appearance have ye seen; and His word ye have not remaining in you, because whom He sent, him ye do not believe.  Ye search the writings, because ye think in them to have life age-during, and these are they that are testifying concerning me; and ye do not will to come unto me, that ye may have life; glory from man I do not receive but I have known you, that the love of God ye have not in yourselves. I have come in the name of my Father, and ye do not receive me; if another may come in his own name, him ye will receive; how are ye able – ye – to believe, glory from one another receiving, and the glory that [is] from God alone ye seek not?  Do not think that I will accuse you unto the Father; there is who is accusing you, Moses – in whom ye have hoped; for if ye were believing Moses, ye would have been believing me, for he wrote concerning me; but if his writings ye believe not, how shall ye believe my sayings?

Remember, Jesus was talking to a group of people who knew the writings forward and backward.  They had whole books memorized.  They were the well-respected religious people who did everything “right” according to the law of Moses, the ancient equivalent to modern day church elders, deacons, pastors, and theologians who are approved of and accepted as “orthodox” Christians.  But we hear Jesus saying that the words and pages are no guarantee that people will “get it”.  We could fuss with each other all day long about translation and totally miss the point.  Who is God?  What does God do?  How has He revealed Himself to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ? – as One Who throws in the towel once the death-buzzer rings? as One Whose mercy fails? – as One Who fails in His Mission to seek and save the lost? – as One Who created billions of people, knowing ahead of time that they were doomed to torment in Hell forever?  Do we receive the life that Jesus gives because we read a book, or because by the grace of God the book is reading us?  Is there any chance that the manner in which we want to interpret the book is, in itself, an indication of the desires, intentions, and depravity of our hearts?  Who God is and what God does – these ideas are as important as the actual words on the page.  These are the concepts that should guide our understanding of the ink and paper.

So, is Chan accurate when he writes that “there’s nothing in Revelation that suggests there’s hope on the other side of the lake”?  Let’s return to the same long quote from Revelation that I used earlier and see if there is any hope there:

Happy and holy [is] he who is having part in the first rising again; over these the second death hath not authority, but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years […] and the Devil, who is leading [the nations] astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night – to the ages of the ages.  And I saw a great white throne, and Him who is sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven did flee away, and place was not found for them; and I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and scrolls were opened, and another scroll was opened, which is that of the life, and the dead were judged out of the things written in the scrolls – according to their works; and the sea did give up those dead in it, and the death and the hades did give up the dead in them, and they were judged, each one according to their works; and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire – this [is] the second death; and if any one was not found written in the scroll of the life, he was cast to the lake of the fire.

[…] And He who is sitting upon the throne said, “Lo, new I make all things“; and He saith to me, “Write, because these words are true and stedfast”; and He said to me, “It hath been done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; I, to him who is thirsting, will give of the fountain of the water of the life freely; he who is overcoming shall inherit all things, and I will be to him – a God, and he shall be to me – the son, and to fearful, and unstedfast, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the liars, their part [is] in the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death.” And there came unto me one of the seven messengers […] and did shew to me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, […] and the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they may shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp of it [is] the Lamb; and the nations of the saved in its light shall walk, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it, and its gates shall not at all be shut by day, for night shall not be there; and they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it; and there may not at all enter into it any thing defiling and doing abomination, and a lie, but – those written in the scroll of the life of the Lamb.

First, notice the phrase “to the ages of the ages” indicates that the time in the lake of fire is measured or limited.  This is not overtly hopeful, but it is inherently hopeful.  If I said to you, “You will go to jail forever”, then there is not any hope of getting out of jail, since your time there is not measured or limited in any way.  But, if I said to you, “You will go to jail for a very long time”, then there would be hope of getting out of jail, even if you were in jail for a billion years.  Your time there is measured or limited in duration.  The first idea is hopeless; the second idea inherently implies hope.

Second, what does He who is sitting upon the throne (in other words, in control of everything) mean when He says, “Lo, new I make all things”?  Does He mean, “new I make all things except those things in the lake of fire”?  Well, that’s not what it says.  The word “all” is not limited in that way.  The skeptic may object that this couldn’t possibly include those things in the lake of fire, because the lake of fire is called the “second death”.  This is a reasonable objection, and I will address it in the next blog in which I address Chan’s second point regarding the nature of the lake of fire.  For now, let’s look at the wonderful description given to us of what “new I make all things” entails.

In the group named “all things”, there are several sub-groups and consequences:

1. If you are in the group called “him who is thirsting” you freely get “the fountain of the water of life”.

2. If you are in the group called “he who is overcoming” you inherit “all things”.

3. If you are in the group called “fearful” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

4. If you are the group called “unsteadfast” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

5. If you are in the group called “abominable” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

6. If you are in the group called “murderers” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

7. If you are in the group called “whoremongers” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

8. If you are in the group called “sorcerers” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

9. If you are in the group called “idolaters” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

10. If you are in the group called “liars” you get “the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death”.

I apologize if it seems that I am being unnecessarily repetitive, but there is good reason for it.  I want for readers to recognize the pattern.  First, they are grouped according to behaviors and attitudes, then there is the response to those behaviors and attitudes from “He who is sitting upon the throne”.  If you do this, you get that.

At this point, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the basis for the great white throne judgment is “according to their works”.  We know that salvation is not earned by works, so this judgment cannot be about whether people are “saved” or “not saved”.  This is about behavior.  I also would like to highlight the fact that there are people, either AFTER or DURING the great white throne judgment, depending on whether you think the judgment ends at “new I make all things” or if it continues as part of “new I make all things”, who are being given the water of life, who are overcoming, and who are inheriting.  Most of orthodox Christianity believes that the first resurrection is for believers, and the second resurrection is for unbelievers.  If this is true, then the judgment of the dead does not include believers.  So how is it, if people who do not believe before they die have no hope, that some of these “dead” (see groups one and two) are treated differently than others?  Don’t they all just go to eternal torment in Hell forever?  Well, that is what I was taught, anyway.

AFTER groups 8 through 10 are cast into the lake of fire, the messenger brings John to the new Jerusalem where the “the gates shall not at all be shut”.  I have been told that the reason the gates are not shut is that all of the unbelievers are trapped in the lake of fire forever, and that this is why the text says, “there may not at all enter into it any thing defiling and doing abomination, and a lie.”  The reason they may not enter, some claim, is that they are stuck in the lake of fire.  Even if they were permitted to enter, they would not be able to enter because there is no escape from the lake of fire.  This is an interesting and seemingly valid explanation, but it does carry with it a HUGE problem.  The problem is that if this is the accurate way to understand this passage, then we are also forced to concede that sin continues forever.  Why is this?  Because the sin-behavior that causes the consequence “may not at all enter” continues, supposedly forever!  Can this be true?  Does sin continue to reign outside the new Jerusalem?  Does the devil’s work continue as if God is unable or unwilling to put an end to it?

This is an important question: If sin continues eternally, is God sovereign?

After all, “[Jesus] appeared so that he might take away our sins. […] The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:5,8).  If there are those who eternally exist in a state of active sin, can we say that Jesus was successful in His mission to “take away” sin?

If the reason Jesus came was to “destroy the devil’s work”, yet the devil’s work continues forever, can we say that Jesus was successful in His mission to destroy the devil’s work?

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).  But if the people outside the gates in the lake of fire continuing in sin forever are under the power of the second death, wouldn’t it be more accurate according to the orthodox interpretation of Revelation to say that the Jesus was unable or unwilling to destroy him who holds the power of death?

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Lk 4:18).  How might we describe these people outside the gates?  As poor (lacking in the riches of His glory and the benefits of the new Jerusalem, without an inheritance, etc)?  As prisoners (of the lake of fire)?  As blind and oppressed (slaves to sin and darkness)?

Here’s the way I see it.  Since God is sovereign, and Jesus accomplished His mission through His death and resurrection, there is no way that sin continues forever.  So if there is a contradiction here, it isn’t because John has given us misinformation, it is because the traditions of men have blinded us from understanding what is really happening, blinded us by way of careless translation and interpretation.  What the text actually says is that He makes all things new.  If we see this as a process instead of an instant “white throne judgment”-case-closed-end-of-story, then the contradiction disappears.  If we believe that He actually makes ALL things new, then we can interpret this passage accordingly.  In other words, the gates remain open because at some point, people STOP engaging in the behavior that prevents them from entering in.  This concept is in complete agreement with the final chapter of Revelation as well, a chapter that I will blog about if I ever get through all these Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell blogs and the other Revelation chapter blogs!

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

What is the lake of fire?  Many Christians equate the term with the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.  They sometimes call it being “separated” from God’s presence.

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins, I addressed the first of Chan’s three points regarding the “open gates” in Revelation.  Today, I’ll address Chan’s second point:

Second, there’s nothing in the text that says the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked.

Although there is much to be said about the lake of fire, what it is, and more importantly what it isn’t, this blog will only focus on Chan’s claim.  Is it true that in the book of Revelation (the only book of the Bible that uses the phrase “lake of fire”) there is nothing to support the idea that its intended use is to purify the wicked?

First of all, this is a loaded question, like the question “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Chan puts words in the mouths of Christian universalists by including in his question the unqualified statement, “the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked”.  If I were to leave that statement alone, then Chan and others who agree with him could say that Christian universalists believe there are two ways to be saved, by believing in Jesus or by the lake of fire.  They can then dismiss anything and everything thereafter, because they are sure (and rightly so) that Jesus is the only way to be “saved”.  So before I attempt to answer Chan’s argument, I’d like to clarify that Christian universalists do not believe the lake of fire “saves” anyone.  The work of Christ is what accomplishes salvation.

Now, on to the question.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if one reads the scriptures in the modern English translations only, then he or she will likely NOT see much evidence to connect the idea of purification to the lake of fire.  In English, we read, “lake of fire burning with brimstone”, but in Greek, we read, “limnhn tou purov kai qeiou”.

I’m really not trying to get over-technical with this.  It is important that we look at each word, in order to better understand “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”.  The first word, “limnhn” is translated into English as “lake”.  The root word for “limnhn” is “limen”, which means “harbor” and it is associated with the nearness of the shore.  The second word “tou” is translated into English as “of”.  In Greek, “tou” means “this”, “that”, or “these” – a definite article.  The third word, “purov” is translated into English as “fire” and it can also be translated as “burn”.  The word “purov” (and Hebrew equivalent) is used elsewhere in scripture as something other than a literal burning fire.  Here are a few examples:

1. in testing precious metals for purity (1 Pet. 5:4), used to aid a metaphor about faith

2. as a metaphor for kindness toward enemies (Rom. 12:20)

3. as a metaphor (Rev. 3:18) for purification, in reference to spiritual riches

4. the visible manifestation of the Spirit of God (Ex. 3:2, Acts 2:3)

5. the eyes of the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:14)

6. regarding salvation “saved through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15)

The word “kai” in English is “and”, and in Greek it is a conjunction that can mean “also, even, indeed, but”.  Finally, the word “qeiou” is translated into English as “brimstone”.  In Greek, this is a very interesting word, “theion”, which is defined as “divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease”.  The root word is “theios”, which means “God”.

If we put this all together, here’s what we get:

In the nearness of the shore, a harbor that metaphorically “burns” is associate with testing, kindness, the Spirit of God, and salvation.  Indeed, the incense of God has the power to purify.

I’m not making this up, people.  It’s all there, for whoever wants to study something other than church-approved doctrine-proofed publications.  This view of the lake of fire is also consistent with another scripture in Revelation:

…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb (14:10)

The Greek word which is horribly translated in English as “tormented” is “basanizo“, which is defined as, “to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal”.  This is not “separated from God’s presence” at all; the scripture specifically states that this testing takes place “before the Lamb”.

I don’t think that the lake of fire is jolly butterflies, flowers, and gumdrops.  The warnings in scripture should be taken seriously.  They are there for a reason.  But I also don’t think that we should ditch the glorious truth that “love never fails” and “with God nothing is impossible” based on English translations and the traditions of men.

Needless to say, I really don’t understand why Chan sees “nothing in the text” to support a redemptive lake of fire.  It’s there for those “who have eyes to see”.

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

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, in response to Bell’s commentary about the “open gates” in Revelation, Chan says that he would “love to believe” the open-gate theory, but can’t for three reasons.  Chan writes,

First, Revelation 20 and 21 have already described the “lake of fire” as the final destiny of those who don’t follow Jesus in this life.  There’s nothing in Revelation that suggests there’s hope on the other side of the lake. Second, there’s nothing in the text that says the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked.  […]  And third, even after the open-gates passage of 21:24-26, John goes on to depict two different destinies for believers and unbelievers.

I addressed the first objection in the blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins, and I addressed the second objection in the blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: English versus Greek.  Today, I will address the third objection, “…even after the open-gates passage of 21:24-26, John goes on to depict two different destinies for believers and unbelievers.”

Chan first quotes Revelation 22:14-15 and then goes on to explain,

This passage says that there will be an ongoing separation between believers and unbelievers.  What determines their destinies is whether or not they “wash[ed] their robes;” in other words, whether or not their sin has been dealt with through the blood of Jesus *in this life (see Rev. 7:14).  I think it’s a stretch to suggest that unbelievers can wash their robes while in the lake of fire and then enter the gates.

[*Emphasis is not mine.]

 The first problem I notice with Chan’s conclusions is the idea that Revelation 22:14-15 indicates an ongoing separation.  Let’s read the passage:

Happy are those doing His commands that the authority shall be theirs unto the tree of the life, and by the gates they may enter into the city; and without [are] 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.

Notice that the text does indicate a separation, but it does not say anything about an ongoing separation.  It simply states, if this, then that (cause and effect) – there’s the happy group, and if they are doing His commands, then they will be given the authority to access the tree of life and enter into the city, and there’s the other (bad) group, and if they are loving and doing a lie, then they will not be given the privileges of the first group.  That’s it.  It doesn’t say anything at all about “if this, then that” being a permanent situation.  The actions of the people, the verbs “are doing” and “is loving” and “is doing”, are present tense.  God’s response to the good actions, the verbs “shall be” and “may enter”, are future tense.  This contrast between present action and future reward further emphasizes the idea of cause and effect in this passage.

If the separation is ongoing, as Chan asserts, then there is absolutely no point to this text.  If everyone’s “eternal destiny” is solidified upon the moment of earthly death, then there is no longer a possibility of “if this, then that”, no change, no cause and effect.  Think about it.  According to the fundamentalist mindset, a decision to believe the truth or to believe a lie makes or breaks one’s salvation, irrevocably, once one’s heart stops.  If everyone who is “saved” goes directly and irrevocably to Heaven, and everyone who is “not saved” goes directly and irrevocably to Hell (and/or the lake of fire), then shouldn’t the passage say, “Happy are those who did His commands in earthly life that the authority is already theirs unto the tree of the life, and by the gates they have already entered into the city; and without [are] the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the whoremongers, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one who loved and did a lie in earthly life“?  After all, if this situation is based on decisions/actions that took place already, in this life, the present tense verbs become senseless.

Clearly, the message here is about a separation, but the basis for that separation is a dynamic situation in which action takes place and change occurs.  There are two possibilities to consider, first, that the passage is actually about this life, that the access to the tree of life happens in this life, that the entering into the city takes place in this life, and that the actions of those not presently entering in or accessing the tree of life are in this life.  The other possibility is that the vision represents a situation that takes place after this life.

One regular blog reader and avid blog commenter, Lanny Eichert, writes,

Don’t you see that [Revelation] 22: 6 is the beginning of the end of John’s vision and by verse 16 John is returned to Patmos from his vision? There are no invitations to the tormented thirsty souls in the Lake of Fire. The invitation of 22: 17 is given to those in the churches (verse 16) to proclaim to the mortal world of physically living souls. Also notice 17 says “the Spirit and the bride say” and it is bride not wife. The bride in this verse has not yet become the wife, so the invitation itself again brings us back to John’s contemporary moment in the first century. The invitation is the same Gospel invitation that has been proclaimed from the first century to today and it is addressed to the whole world of contemporary living mortal human beings like you and me.

In my opinion, Lanny puts forth a better argument than Chan, by asserting that the remainder of the book of Revelation, starting with 22:6 is in this life, that we are no longer reading about future events, we are reading about the present.  This is certainly a possibility.  Lanny’s point about the bride versus wife terminology seems, on the surface, to hold some weight.  However, we learn in the previous chapter that the bride=wife=Jerusalem, interchangeable metaphors, three different names for one thing:

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

As a side note, it is also significant that the Holy City is not heaven, it comes down from heaven.  But all of this is another blog for another day. Right now, the main concern is whether Revelation 22 refers to future or present.

So how do we know in chapter 22 when the vision ends, what is future, and what is not?  We don’t.  There is nothing in the text to solidify in this life in contrast to after this life.

The second problem a have with what Chan writes is that he uses Revelation 7:14 to support the idea that “What determines their destinies is whether or not they “wash[ed] their robes;” in other words, whether or not their sin has been dealt with through the blood of Jesus *in this life.”  If you read the passage, without reading into the passage, you will see no support there, whatsoever, for Chan’s claim.  (I have included here verse 13 as well, for clarity.):

And answer did one of the elders, saying to me, “These, who have been arrayed with the white robes – who are they, and whence came they?” and I have said to him, “Sir, thou hast known;” and he said to me, “These are those who are coming out of the great tribulation, and they did wash their robes, and they made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb […]”

What does it say?  That a group of people “are coming out of the great tribuation” and they are wearing metaphorical white robes, “washed… in the blood of the Lamb”, in other words, they are righteous and sinless, not inherently, but because of what Jesus did for them.  They are “clothed” in His righteousness, clothed in good works.  Does this passage say that these are the only people who will ever have their robes washed?  No.  Does this passage say anything at all about “in this life”?  No.  While it is likely true that this particular group of people had their robes washed “in this life”, does the text say anything about “in this life” as a qualification that excludes all other people?  No.  The text makes an absolutely positive statement about one group of people.  It does not say anything negative about “other” people.  Chan is seeing something in this passage that simply is not there.

So here’s the bottom line.

If the end section of Revelation 22 refers exclusively to in this life then we can conclude:

  • Almost two thousand years have passed since the angel was sent to tell God’s servants what “must soon take place”.  When the angel spoke in behalf of Jesus and said, not once, not twice, but three times, “I am coming soon”, he really meant it would take almost two thousand years, hardly what I would describe as “the time is near”. (v. 6-10, 12, 20)

If the end section of Revelation 22 refers to exclusively to in this life AND death is the cut-off for salvation, or as Chan says, there’s an ongoing separation for those who have not dealt with sin “in this life”, then we can conclude:

  • Sin and death (the work of the adversary that Jesus supposedly destroys) continues forever.  The will of man trumps the will of God forever, and God responds by putting all these people who persist in rebellion in the lake of fire and/or outside the gates, where they keep on sinning. (v. 11, 14)
  • Believers can access the tree of life right now.  The Holy City has already descended.  Believers can enter into it right now.
If the end section of Revelation 22 is still referencing a vision of the future or a combination of future events and events that are in the near future of John and the gang, then we can conclude:
  • Death is not the cut off for salvation, the gate stays open, and people may in after they have their “robes washed”.
  • The “coming soon” to which Jesus refers has to do with both the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the reward of good works versus the pain and consequences of evil works.
  • Sin and death does not continue forever.  God is able to bring the hard hearts of rebellious people into willing submission.  There is no dark corner of the universe where the adversary rules forever.
  • It is possible that this is spiritually and/or metaphorically true now and completely fulfilled later in a way that is obvious to everyone – Believers can access the tree of life right now.  The Holy City has already descended.  Believers can enter into it right now.

If all of this is just too much to think about, we have good reason to effectively dismiss both Chan’s and Lanny’s arguments by reading Revelation 21, being careful not to read into it what is not there:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”  One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. […]  I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into itOn no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

How can it be said that people will be judged and tested FOREVER in the lake of fire if God will wipe every tear from their eyes?

How can it be said that the fiery lake of burning sulfer is a FOREVER second death if God says there will be no more death?

How can it be said that people will FOREVER beg for one drop of cool water when God says He will give drink to the thirsty?

How can it be said that the majority of mankind will remain in an ongoing, FOREVER, state of corruption if God says He is making ALL things new?

How can it be said that once someone dies, their names can never be written in the Lamb’s book of life if God says the nations will walk in the light of the Lamb and bring glory and honor into the open gates?

How can it be said that Hell or the lake of fire is torment that lasts FOREVER if God says He will do away with mourning, crying, and pain?

Why should we dismiss everything in chapter 21 by making unsupported assumptions about chapter 22?

Regardless of what one believes regarding the present or future views on Revelation 22, Revelation 21 paints a very vivid picture of the Sovereignty and Glory of God in His just and merciful treatment of sinners.

 

Next blog: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Saved by Whose Choice?

In his book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

and in Ephesians 1,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan writes,

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

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Saved by Whose Choice? I address some points I take issue with regarding Chan’s opinion-based, Christian-Universalist blanket statements, but more importantly, his view on “choose Jesus”.  In this blog, I will answer Chan’s erroneous claim that there are no scriptures to support the idea of salvation after death.

Is it true that there are no scriptures supporting postmortem salvation?

The easiest answer is, no.  There are scriptures that support postmortem salvation, it’s just that the fundamentalist mind has been trained and retrained to interpret these scriptures according to the idea that the majority of mankind spends eternity in the flames and torment of hell.

I’ll name just one small segment of scripture and leave the rest of the homework up to curious readers –

…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… 1 Peter 3:18-20

Here we see that Christ died for everyone.  In the group called “humanity” there are two subgroups, that is the “righteous” group and the “unrighteous” group.  The righteous group originally has only one, Jesus Christ.  He is the only human being who ever lived without sinning.  Everyone else, no matter what religious background, race, sexual orientation, mental or emotional state, position or rank, etc. is (or was) included in the group called “unrighteous”.

Then we are told the reason Jesus, the righteous, suffered for us, the unrighteous.  Why?  “…that he might lead us to God.”  Reconciliation is a theme throughout all of scripture, interwoven among all the stories, like arrows pointing us to the Messiah, the Son of God.

Someone might ask how or why Jesus should lay down His life to save us.  What does it look like?  “…having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit”.  This is true of anyone who has a clear conscience before God, because they understand the significance of the work of Christ.  The reason that some do not have a clear conscience is that they have not yet been “made alive in the spirit”.  Or as Jesus says, “If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God.”

And now we arrive at the part that clearly indicates postmortem salvation – Jesus, “in the spirit”, goes to “the spirits in prison,” people who have been dead for thousands of years who were “not able to see God”.  Why?  To “preach”.

Ironically, the currently living people who either do not want to or are not able to see that the reign of God extends even into death will interpret this, saying that the spirits in prison are not people who have already died.  If they admit that these are people who have already died, then they say that Jesus’s message to the dead people was one of His own victory, Good News that did not apply to them.  Or if they admit that Jesus’s message was one of salvation, that the text never says anything about how the people respond to Jesus’s message.  Perhaps they all reject His message.

To all of this, I say, take a step back and think about it.  What is Jesus’s mission, according to this scripture?  To bring the unrighteous to God.  I think that pretty much rules out the idea that Jesus’s message was anything but Good News, after all, salvation is a prerequisite of our being reconciled to God.  Regarding the idea that the people reject His message, I suppose this could be an unlikely possibility, but only if there were no other universal reconciliation texts.  Instead of appealing to scriptures not in the context and running off on a bunny trail, I’ll just stay right here and point out that there is no information about their response, positive OR negative.

Again, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves the most obvious question.  Does Jesus succeed in His mission?  Does Jesus bring the unrighteous to God?  Either He does, or He doesn’t.  If He doesn’t, then this means that He either CAN’T or WON’T.  If He can’t, then He is not sovereign.  If He won’t, then He is a liar.  Either way, He fails His mission.

But what if the fundamentalists are wrong?  What if there’s hope?  What if He actually succeeds in His mission?  Isn’t that what this scripture seems to indicate?  He suffers and dies and goes where no one else can go and live to tell about it, to the mysterious reality we call death.  He goes to people who, while they were living, “disbelieved”.

Why would He go to the long-dead unrighteous, if not to “lead [them] to God”?  If no one ever sees God’s reign once their earthly life has passed in disbelief, then why does Jesus go to them?  To rub it in their faces? You’re screwed?!  Too late for you!?  Nanee nanee boo boo?!  You should have believed when you had the chance!?

I don’t think so.

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

All meaningful communication is a form of storytelling, according to Walter Fisher, who introduced the narrative paradigm to communication theory.  Narrative communication, which is universal across cultures and time, is the manner in which people comprehend life. The narrative form of communication Jesus most employed during His earthly life was informal, fictional storytelling – creating demonstrative fables or parables.

Parables are part of the reason that the scriptures are called a double edged sword, because the hearts of the hearers are exposed by the manner in which they interpret parables.  I say that parables are “part of the reason” scriptures are called a double edged sword, but not the entire reason, because even when Jesus did not speak in parables, His words were regularly misunderstood and misinterpreted, even by His own disciples.  The gospel of John points out many of these types of situations.

For example, the disciples were concerned about Jesus, because it had been a while since he’d eaten.  Jesus told them that He had food that they didn’t know about.  They figured someone must have bought Him lunch while they were away, but Jesus clarified that His food was to accomplish the mission for which He was sent.

Another illustration of people misunderstanding Jesus is when He told the religious people that He would tear down “this temple” and build it again in only three days.  They marveled at His words, considering that it took forty-six years to build the temple building, but Jesus was not referring to a building, He was talking about His body that would be crucified and then resurrected three days later.

When Jesus met one-on-one with one of the more open-minded religious leaders, Nicodemus, Jesus told him that people can’t recognize the reign of God unless they are born again.  Apparently, Nicodemus hadn’t been born again, because he didn’t recognize the reign of God in Jesus’s words.  He actually asked Jesus (and I wonder if there wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in his voice) if a full grown person must reenter his mother’s womb!  Jesus put him in his place, telling Nicodemus that he shouldn’t be surprised to hear the concepts Jesus introduced, explaining that flesh produces more flesh and spirit produces more spirit.  Jesus pointed out that Nicodemus, a religious leader, supposedly should already know these things.

In Jesus’s time, the Jewish males did not associate with female strangers or Samaritans, yet Jesus struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman who was drawing water from a well.  He told her that if she knew who He was, then she would have asked Him for living water.  She didn’t understand Him and assumed He was talking about actual water.  He explained that people who drink His water are never thirsty again.  But she still didn’t get it.  She told him what a pain it was to have to lug heavy jugs of water back and forth, and, for practical reasons, said that she would like to have some of His living water.

Perhaps Jesus’s most profound words, “I am the bread of heaven,” caused many of His followers to dismiss Him as a madman.  They figured that Jesus intended to be cannibalized!  Even the twelve, hand-picked disciples didn’t understand that Jesus was using the imagery of food and drink, necessities for survival, to communicate that He is the imperative requisite of spiritual sustenance, that without Him we perish.

The religious leaders got hot-headed over the fact that Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, an act which they considered “work”, and according to the law, no on was supposed to work on the Sabbath.  Jesus equated their reaction of judging by appearances with attempted murder, knowing that their judgmental condemnation would eventually turn into murderous hatred.  He asked plainly, “Why are you trying to kill me?”  They accused him of being demon possessed, because they didn’t recognize their own predispositional hostility toward Him.

In the age of law, people saw everything and everyone through the lens of law, especially Jesus.  When Jesus said,”You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,”  their first reaction was based on legality.  The only people who needed to be set free were slaves.  Since they were not slaves, they had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus asked them why His language was not clear to them, and then He answered His own question, saying something very reminiscent of the conversation He had with Nicodemus, “…because ye are not able to hear my word.”

As you can see from the few (of many) examples I’ve given, Jesus was regularly misunderstood in normal conversations.  How could someone who is considered to be one of the world’s top communicators fail to effectively communicate?  Different people might give different reasons to explain the communication breakdown, but the only explanation that really matters is the one that comes from Jesus Christ, Himself.  I’ll expound on this shortly, but first, I’d like to point out that if Jesus was misunderstood when He spoke plainly, it is increasingly likely that His message was misinterpreted when He spoke in allegories and parables!  The fact is, if Jesus wanted His hearers to understand, then they would have understood.  He did not fail to communicate; He purposed it.  This might be a hard concept for people to wrap their brains around, but it is true.  Jesus, on many occasions, instructed people NOT to tell anyone Who He was.  Jesus healed people and instructed them NOT to tell anyone.  Jesus told His disciples to keep the fact that He was a the Messiah a secret.  Why?  Jesus explained to His disciples privately (from Mark 4),

To you it hath been given to know the secret of the reign of God, but to those who are without, in similes are all the things done; that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest they may turn, and the sins may be forgiven them. Have ye not known this simile? and how shall ye know all the similes? […] There is not anything hid that may not be manifested, nor was anything kept hid but that it may come to light.  If any hath ears to hear — let him hear.  Take heed what ye hear; in what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you; and to you who hear it shall be added; for whoever may have, there shall be given to him, and whoever hath not, also that which he hath shall be taken from him.  To what may we liken the reign of God, or in what simile may we compare it?  As a grain of mustard, which, whenever it may be sown on the earth, is less than any of the seeds that are on the earth; and whenever it may be sown, it cometh up, and doth become greater than any of the herbs, and doth make great branches, so that under its shade the fowls of the heaven are able to rest.

(And with many such similes he was speaking to them the word, as they were able to hear, and without a simile he was not speaking to them, and by themselves, to his disciples he was expounding all.)

The important thing to remember is that Jesus does not permanently hide the truth.  There is an appointed time for the truth to  “come to light” for the hearer.  Most of the hearers, during Jesus’s earthly ministry, were not given “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”.  Jesus selected twelve among many thousands of their peers to reveal things that were hidden, just as Jesus, throughout the ages, has selected thousands among many millions of their peers.  The reign of God is, indeed, like the mustard seed of the ages.

This blog is actually an introductory blog for the section of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, that makes claims about a parable regarding what Chan calls “second chances”.  I totally disagree with Chan’s interpretation of the parable, found in Luke 13:22-30:

And [Jesus] was going through cities and villages, teaching, and making progress toward Jerusalem; and a certain one said to him, “Sir, are those saved few?”

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

According to Chan (and fundamental, orthodox theology),

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, and His disciples ask how many people will end up being saved.  Jesus answers that few will be saved, but even worse, many who think they are saved will end up on the “outside” of the kingdom, so to speak.  […]  This passage “gives no hint whatever that the door will remain permanently open.”  If Jesus believed in second chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this parable is dangerously misleading.

Chan, like the people in Jesus’s audience who did not have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”, has misunderstood the glorious truth in this fable.  Yes, glorious.  In the next blog I will demonstrate exactly how Chan has misinterpreted this parable and offer an explanation about the likely meaning of the parable.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fumbled Fables, I wrote that in Francis Chan’s interpretation of Luke 13:22-30 (<– click the link to read the passage), he has misunderstood and misrepresented the glorious truth that Jesus communicates. And I also said I would demonstrate exactly how Chan has butchered this text and offer an explanation about the likely meaning.

When Jesus uses metaphors, allegories, and parables, He never intends for people to interpret every detail literally but to recognize the message exemplified by way of the imagery.  Jesus mentions food (to do His Father’s will), the temple (body), being born again, the living water, and the bread of heaven, and He isn’t talking about a burger, a building, a grotesque maternal experiment, H2O that is alive, or croissants falling from the sky.  Why is it that when Jesus talks about a gate, a master, a door, gnashing teeth, etc., some people take what He says so literally?  We know that there is spiritual meaning in His words, but we must ask ourselves whether the teachers of our day, like the teachers of Jesus day, actually comprehend.  Perhaps Jesus would ask today’s religious leaders what He asked one of the religious leaders during His time, “You are [teachers in the church], and do you not understand these things?”

According to Chan (and fundamental, orthodox theology) the meaning of Luke 13:22-30 is as follows:

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, and His disciples ask how many people will end up being saved.  Jesus answers that few will be saved, but even worse, many who think they are saved will end up on the “outside” of the kingdom, so to speak.  […]  This passage “gives no hint whatever that the door will remain permanently open.”  If Jesus believed in second chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this parable is dangerously misleading.

It is important to note that Chan says the disciples asked “how many people will end up being saved,” but what is actually recorded in the book of Luke differs.  It is not the disciples (plural) who ask the question, but a single, unnamed individual.  Furthermore, the question is not about how many people will “end up” being saved.  The question is literally, “Are those saved few?”  It is present tense, a strong indication that the individual’s question is about the people who were living at that time, not about all people for all time; otherwise the question would have been, “Will few be saved?”

In order to understand the motives behind the individual’s question, we need to note that Jesus had just finished orating two parables.  Given the content of these two parables, it is likely that the question was prompted by the subject matter of the parables – about how the reign of God appears as a small and seemingly insignificant change that gradually grows.  The extent of that growth, as Jesus described it, went further than the Jews had imagined it ever would.

Readers must understand that the Jews in Jesus’s day believed in their own exclusive right to enter into the reign of God – that was part of the reason why Jews did not associate with Gentiles (non-Jews).  They also imagined that the reign, or kingdom, of God meant that the Messiah would make the Jewish nation the most powerful nation in the world.  The highest concern of a spiritually-minded Jew during Jesus’s day was to be a part of the new world order that the Messiah would bring.  When it became clear that Jesus would not be the Messiah they had imagined, that He was not “of this world,” they crucified him.  This demonstrates the immediacy of the mindset of Jesus’s Jewish audience.  The person’s question was probably a selfish one, based on the assumption that Jesus would confirm the person’s religious, narrow-minded world view.

Chan says that Jesus answers the question by saying that “few will be saved,” but once again, what is actually recorded in the book of Luke differs from what Chan writes.  Jesus doesn’t even answer the person’s question, directly.  Here’s Jesus’s response:

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

This is quite an elaborate answer when a simple, “Yes, few will ever saved” could have sufficed.  Let’s break down what Jesus says about “how many”  and “when” into its most basic elements.  (He does address numbers, but only within the context of time.):

1. “…many will seek to go in, and shall not be able…”

2. “…ye may see [them] in the reign of God, and yourselves being cast out without…”

3. “…they shall come [from all directions], and shall recline in the reign of God…”

4. “…there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.”

What do we understand from this?  The first one is easy.  A lot of people are not able to enter into the reign of God.  The second point piggy-backs on the first, a positive in contrast to the negative, that some people do enter into the reign of God.  It also emphasizes that at least some of the “cast out” ones were present among Jesus’ audience.  Number three implies that those who are entering into God’s reign are not exclusively Jewish, as the question-asker had assumed.  This means that the exclusive-minded thinkers must now broaden their horizons, must set aside their traditional beliefs, and must come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t cater to erroneous doctrinal positions, no matter how orthodox they are.  The fourth point, Jesus’s conclusion, is the summary and conclusion of points one through three.  Jesus’s answer is about what manner or in what order people enter into the reign of God, not about how many.  The people who are “first” in Jesus’s audience are God’s chosen, law-covenant people, the natural descendants of Abraham.  The people in Jesus’s audience who are “last” are those who were not included in the law-covenant.  Jesus speaks about things turning out completely opposite of what one might expect.  Why do the first become last and last first?  Because those who cling to a works-based salvation (the law covenant) or a salvation that in any way depends upon their own will or effort, are not able to enter in, while those who, by the grace of God, know that Jesus accomplishes salvation, pass by these others and enter into His reign first.

But what about the weeping and gnashing of teeth?  What about the gate?  What about the master of the house?  Jesus speaks plainly enough about entering into the reign of God, something clearly understood to be a spiritual realm or condition.  People enter into the reign of God through the faith of Christ, becoming spiritual “sons” of Abraham, hence Jesus’s name-dropping throughout His reply to the individual’s question.  In this sense, Abraham is the spiritual “father” of all.

Many people have been led to believe that Jesus is talking about eternal torment in Hell in this passage, but Jesus is talking about the currently bad and soon-to-be dire circumstances of the Jewish people, should they continue to reject their long-awaited Messiah and insist on establishing the kingdom of God by force or human effort.

TO BE CONTINUED…

*The next blog will expound upon Jesus’s message, audience, the political situation, and the dire warning He gave to His listeners.  It will also explain the ways in which His message applies to people today.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Jesus, Lord of Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Scripture references are from the gospel of Mark.

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

 

 

 

What did the first-century Jews believe?  This is a question I did not intend to address, since Francis Chan uses an entire chapter of his book, Erasing Hell, to address the first-century view of Hell.  But, when I considered the information Chan omitted from this chapter, the question became a speedbump in the road.  Consequently, I must slow down a bit.  In a lengthy introduction to what would otherwise be a very concise blog, let me tell you what Chan did not include in chapter two.

 

His bullet points about the first-century Jewish view of Hell are:

1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.

2. Hell is described in images of fire, darkness, and lament.

3. Hell is a place of annihilation.

4. Hell is a place of never-ending punishment.

Food for thought: Of these four views, which one is the most horrifying?  I’d pick number four, for sure.  Of these four views, to which do most Christians believe/adhere as “orthodox”?  I’d guess numbers one, two, and four.  But you probably won’t get shunned out of church for believing number three, unless, of course, you bring it up too much in Sunday school (aka, “causing division”).  Are these four views of Hell the only views among first-century Jews?  No!

WARNING: The following information is very relevant, and I am surprised and disappointed that Chan did not expound upon it in chapter two of his book. There was a large sect of Jews, mentioned many times in the New Testament, who did not believe in Hell at all.  In fact, according to the first-century historian, Josephus, Sadducees believed that “souls die with the bodies.”  They did not believe in the immortality of the soul, the afterlife, or rewards or penalties after death.  That’s why the Sadducees posed particular questions to Jesus, in an attempt to stump Him.  For example, they posed a hypothetical situation to Jesus in which a woman’s first husband dies, she remarries, then he dies, and so on, until the wife goes to her grave, having been married seven times.  The Sadducees asked, “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”  Rather than mumbling and fumbling absurdity, Jesus replies, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”

Furthermore, among first-century Jews were the ordinary people, the crowds that congregated to hear Jesus, but were not included among (and even shunned by) the Sadducees or Pharisees.  The New Testament and other non-biblical records give us glimpses of them from time to time, but their beliefs are not as explicitly explained.  This people-group that outnumbers all the religious sects combined, are not represented at all in Chan’s argument.  I’m not blaming Chan, because he would have to rely on assumption and conjecture to explain their beliefs, but I do think that it is worth mentioning that the majority of the Jewish population in the first century is not included in Chan’s summary of the first-century Jewish view of Hell.

Now that I’ve cleared the bump in the road, let me pick up where I left off in the previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Jesus, Lord of Distance“.  Considering the fact that we only have enough information about first-century Jewish views on Hell to give a Swiss cheese answer (i.e. chapter two of Erasing Hell), I asked a different question, one that we actually have enough information to answer accurately and fairly:

“What is the source of and the result (fruits) of first-century Jewish beliefs?”  

The source of first-century Jewish beliefs, obviously, is debatable.  A knee-jerk answer is “the Old Testament”. But the Old Testament is silent about Hell.  And the Sadducees only believed portions of the Old Testament.  Plus, there were likely those who did not believe any of it but played along with the social-religious formalities.  Maybe if we narrow the question a bit, we might actually be able to find an answer.

What is the source of first-century beliefs in Hell?

Chan asks, “Is Hell a garbage dump?”  The reason Chan asks this question is that Rob Bell, in his book, Love Wins, addresses the subject of the Greek word, “Gehenna”, often (mis)translated, “Hell”.  Bell asserts Gehenna is a valley outside Jerusalem, where people used to burn their trash.  He concludes, “Gehenna, the town garbage pile. And that’s it.”  Instantly, Jesus’ references to Gehenna seem less horrifying.  A less horrifying hell means less fear.  For those who use fear as a tool to influence or control the beliefs or behaviors of church members or potential church members, a less horrifying hell means less influence and control.  Less influence and control could lead to declining church attendance.  Consequently, the offering plate would be lighter, and clergy or support staff might actually have to take pay cuts or lose their jobs altogether.  We can’t have that now, can we?

In response to Bell, Chan writes,

The whole theory [of Gehenna as a garbage dump] actually stands on very shaky evidence.  Some commentaries and pastors still promote the idea, but there’s no evidence from the time of Jesus that the Hinnom Valley […] was the town dump.  […] In fact, the first reference we have to the Hinnom Valley, or gehenna, as a town dump is made by a rabbi named David Kimhi in a commentary, which was written in AD 1200.

First, I must applaud Chan for doing his homework.  Great job.  Let’s suppose that Kimhi was very wrong when he wrote about the origins of the analogy that compares the judgment of the wicked to Gehenna.  Let’s suppose that Gehenna was never used as a garbage dump.  Let’s suppose, as Chan suggests, that for first-century Jews, Gehenna references were “a fitting analogy for God punishing the wicked in hell.”  If this is true, then do we, by default, have to assume that when Jesus references Gehenna that He speaks in agreement with such a view?  Does Jesus use the word as a “fitting analogy” for eternal torment in the flames of Hell?  Is this really what Jesus teaches?

First, we need to consider what Jesus explains about Himself to the Jews:

The works that the Father gave me, that I might finish them, the works themselves that I do, they testify concerning me, that the Father hath sent me.

What kind of works did Jesus do?  What did it look like when Jesus performed His Father’s work?  He healed people.  He brought dead people back to life.  He made a point to spend time with religious outcasts.  He exhausted Himself traveling and teaching about the Reign of God.  In obedience to the Father, Jesus allowed Himself to be put to death for being the King of the Jews.

Jesus also said:

And the Father who sent me Himself hath testified concerning me; ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor His appearance have ye seen; and His word ye have not remaining in you, because whom He sent, him ye do not believe. Ye search the Writings, because ye think in them to have life age-during, and these are they that are testifying concerning me; and ye do not will to come unto me, that ye may have life; glory from man I do not receive, but I have known you, that the love of God ye have not in yourselves. I have come in the name of my Father, and ye do not receive me; if another may come in his own name, him ye will receive; how are ye able – ye – to believe, glory from one another receiving, and the glory that [is] from God alone ye seek not? Do not think that I will accuse you unto the Father; there is who is accusing you, Moses – in whom ye have hoped; for if ye were believing Moses, ye would have been believing me, for he wrote concerning me; but if his writings ye believe not, how shall ye believe my sayings?

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Jesus went out of his way to distance Himself from the behavior and teaching of the Jewish religious leaders.  He called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and said, “[You are] setting aside the word of God for your tradition that ye delivered […]”  To me, Jesus is teaching the onlookers (and us) that through religious protocol and practice, hypocrites deliver a different message than the one that comes from God.

Let’s get this straight.

1.  Jesus tells the Jews that they “are in error because [they] do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”, the same power that He demonstrated through healing the sick and raising the dead (not setting them on fire).

2. Jesus pointed out that the Jews spend a lot of time studying scripture, thinking that they have all the answers, but without understanding the love of God, they can’t understand what they are reading.  That’s why they would not believe what Jesus said.

3. Jesus specifically warned people that the Jewish religious leaders were teaching their own inaccurate ideas about God.

With this in mind, let’s read what God (the Father who sent Jesus to do what He does and say what He says) has to say about the practice of people throwing other people (their own children) into the fire of Gehenna.  Keep in mind that this was written at least 600 years before Christ spoke of Gehenna and at least 1800 years before Kimhi’s commentary:

They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of [Gehenna] to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Notice that God defines the practice of burning people in Gehenna as sin.  Also notice that God does not make such commands, nor does He conjure up such horrifying ideas.  He calls the burning of people in Gehenna an abomination.

If Chan is right, that Jesus taught eternal torment in Hell, the implication is that God commits sinful acts and abominations by sending people to Hell (Gehenna).  In fact, He uses His power to take the sinful acts and abominations to a whole new level in that He is able to make the torment of His victims continue eternally, not just for a short time as was the case in Judah’s sin. Does that sound accurate to you?

Isn’t it possible that one who holds to the doctrine of eternal torment “search the writings” but don’t understand God’s love, therefore, don’t understand the writings?  Jesus asked, if the “writings ye believe not, how shall ye believe my sayings“?  Here we have writings that tell us the intentions of God and God’s very negative reaction to the idea of burning people in Gehenna fire.  Are we to discard or “believe not” the teaching of the Father in exchange for our own traditions?  Are we to assume that Jesus taught something that completely contradicts the will of His Father?  Jesus demonstrated the work and words of the Father to us, directly, in flesh and blood.  Let’s set Chan’s and traditional Christianity’s version of God (think eternal torment in Hell, angry, vengeful) next to the version of God Jesus demonstrated to us (healing the sick, raising the dead, selfless sacrifice, love).  Do the two versions seem at odds?  Which one should we keep?  Remember, Jesus specifically warned people that the Jewish religious leaders were teaching their own inaccurate ideas about God.  Isn’t it possible that the religious leaders of our day are also teaching inaccurate ideas about Jesus and the message He was giving us about the Father, about the Reign of God in which He will “reconcile all things to Himself, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross”?

 

 

*Because of the length of this blog, the next blog will answer the second part of the question, “What is the source of and the result (fruits) of first-century Jewish beliefs?”

**Francis Chan includes this small note in the notes section following chapter two: The Sadducees, who didn’t believe in an afterlife, certainly wouldn’t have believed in hell. Why not include this in the body of the chapter, since not everyone reads the notes sections of books?  It reminds me of “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

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

This is an ancient Egyptian artistic depiction of a post-mortem place of suffering, a lake of burning fire. It is in world’s first known version of hell.

There is a myth that can be traced  from ancient Egypt to America by a trail of murdered bodies, and this myth is directly linked to the immoral actions of Christians.  Jesus said,

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

I know some very kind, loving Christians, and their only link to the trail of murdered bodies is the label: Christian.  These kind, loving Christians might protest that the people responsible for the carnage that stains historic Christianity were not actually Christians.  Consequently, for the intents and purposes of this blog, we must accurately define “Christian”.  But this is easier said than done.  After all, Hitler was a “Christian”.  And there are well over thirty-thousand denominations in Christianity who disagree (sometimes dogmatically and tyrannically) with one another about the definition of “Christian”, how one goes about becoming one, whether one can be Christian and _____ (fill in the blank with the sin of your choice), whether one can be a Christian and then become unconverted on purpose or by accident, etc.

Perhaps the kind, loving Christians I know might claim that the historical wake of evil in the Christian’s path is the result of a misguided few, who should never have been given the power to make the horrible decisions they made.  In this way, they deflect fault away from so-called genuine Christianity to unfortunate circumstances, as if the source of the power of the misguided few were somehow self-generated and then imposed upon the many.  This is simply not the case.  The real source of the power of the misguided few arose from an external cause: fear.  At this point, we should remember that Jesus instructed His followers (Christians) to FEAR NOT.  The many were persuaded to either actively support or passively permit the actions of the misguided few, for fear of what might happen if they were to stand in opposition.  And what could have happened?  Well, that depends on whether they were active supporters or passive permitters.  If they were the active supporters, then they clearly shared in blood-guilt.  If they were passive permitters, then standing in opposition to church authority would be inadvertently standing in opposition to God Himself.  And what consequences do those who stand in opposition to God face, according to orthodox Christianity?

 

Rotten fruit

Rotten fruit.  What does it look like?  Perhaps it is moldy or squishy.  It might be full of maggots, discolored, and smelly.  When it comes to spiritual fruit, here’s how we know if it is rotten – it will be the opposite of good fruit or the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.  This list has been provided to you by Paul, in a letter he wrote to believers in Galatia.  He also added, “…against such there is no law.”

Should acts of love be illegal?   How about acts of kindness?  Of course not!  But when we consider the opposite, the rotten spiritual fruit, then it makes sense that the law should be involved.  Should acts of hate be illegal?  How about acts of cruelty?  Yes, they should.

In a previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Abomination”, I asked, “What is the source of and the result (fruits) of first-century Jewish beliefs?” In that blog, I partially answered the first portion of the question.  The reason I write “partially” is that the source of the Jewish first-century religious leaders’ doctrine of post-mortem torment in fire can be traced even further back than I traced it, back before writing as we know it today was invented.  Hence, the ancient Egypt reference.  The second portion of the question requires quite a bit of research.  Sometimes I like to keep it simple and just say, “Do your own homework.”  Read some books about the history of the Christian institutional church that are written by people who are not Christians.  The reason I say this is that many Christian books on the history of the institutional church gloss over the horror and focus on the less-shocking political accomplishments.  Only when one takes a close look at church history, can one see what kind of spiritual fruit the so-called institutional church has produced since the doctrine of eternal torment became orthodox, back before laws against the most extreme “bad fruit” were established.

But am I taking this too far? Is the institutional church, with its insistence on eternal torment and its imitation of the behavior of its god, to blame for the giant pile of rotting fruit in human history?  Of course the church is not solely to blame.  After all, it only mirrored the secular legal system.  Justinian got his ideas from pagan law.  So, then, is all humanity to blame?  Well, yes and no. You see, “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on [us] all.”  But this doesn’t negate the fact that God has called believers to be salt and light in the world, and “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

As a disciple of Christ, heed His warning when you decide who you allow to influence your beliefs:

Not every one who is saying to me Lord, lord, shall come into the reign of the heavens; but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, lord, have we not in thy name prophesied? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many mighty things? and then I will acknowledge to them, that – I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness. Therefore, every one who doth hear of me these words, and doth do them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain did descend, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell not, for it had been founded on the rock. And every one who is hearing of me these words, and is not doing them, shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain did descend, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell, and its fall was great. And it came to pass, when Jesus ended these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having authority, and not as the scribes.

So my point is not so much to blame as it is to demonstrate how Jesus’s fruit analogy rings true and to encourage anyone who wears the “label” to examine some fruit!  It is a reliable way to determine whether someone who claims to have spiritual authority actually has it.  And more importantly, the fruit test is a good way to determine whether to oppose the abuse of authority.  Sometimes God brings change by calling out just one or two among many.  If you recognize the modern form of pastorial-permitted torture in the church (shunning, fear tactics, hostility, hateful words, etc), oppose it.  Speak up for the outcast.  Do what you would have others do for you.  Don’t be like those in history who were controlled by fear.  Don’t passively permit by being part of a system that destroys.  And definitely don’t actively participate in the destructive behavior!

The slaves in Egypt may have had their bodies beaten into submission, but Pharaoh and his good ‘ole boys could never have taken away their fruit-producing abilities.  Is it possible that a system that defames the name of God on a regular basis can produce good fruit?  I ask myself this question sometimes.  I always rediscover, NO.  Only individuals within the system can do this, by the grace of God.  Does the system tend to produce very underproductive (and fearful) trees?  Yes.

In closing, it is interesting to note Hitler’s justification for his (as well as those who agreed or complied) campaign of ethnic cleansing, as described in Hitler’s own words in Main Kampf:

Christianity could not content itself with building up its own altar; it was absolutely forced to undertake the destruction of the heathen altars. Only from this fanatical intolerance could its apodictic faith take form; this intolerance is, in fact, its absolute presupposition… Providence did not bestow her reward on the victorious sword, but followed the law of eternal retribution.

*emphasis is mine

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

 

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter three, entitled “What Jesus Actually Said about Hell,” Chan writes, “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”

In order to examine Chan’s argument accurately, it is first important to establish whether Chan’s argument is valid and second, whether Chan’s argument is sound.

Notice the words “if” and “then” in Chan’s claim: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”  This is a classic example of an argument in formal logic, a conditional statement – if this, then that.

Remember that an argument can be valid even if it is false.  Consider this example:

If all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat, then President Obama is fat.

Anyone can look at Obama and see that he is clearly NOT fat.  The reason this argument is valid is that the “if” part of the conditional statement is the premise for the argument.  It’s the part of the argument that justifies the conclusion of the argument.  The premise doesn’t have to be true in order for the argument to be valid, but the conclusion must agree with the premise.  Let’s use our imaginations and really think about it, just for kicks.  If we suppose (for argument’s sake, no pun intended) that we live in a universe in which one bite of McDonald’s food instantly and unavoidably launches the eater into a bodily state of obesity, then it would make perfect sense for us to assume that Obama must be fat, since he ate McDonald’s food.

We could reword it for clarity and say, “If it is true that all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat…”  The argument is valid, but it isn’t sound.  Why?  Because it is NOT true that all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat.  Furthermore, it is NOT true that Obama is fat.  That’s the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument.

Now, I intend to examine Chan’s argument in the same manner.   First, let’s look at Chan’s premise: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter…”  This part of the conditional statement doesn’t have to be true in order for Chan’s argument to be valid.  Just like the McDonalds example, let’s use our imaginations and really think about it, just for kicks.  If we suppose that the view of hell presented in chapter two of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell is inaccurate (by default, because Jesus knows truth) and we suppose that Jesus did not agree with such views…  WAIT!  We actually have two premises here.

1.  The view of hell presented in chapter two of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell is inaccurate.

2.  Jesus did not agree with such a view.

Unfortunately for Chan, this makes things much easier on me, one who disagrees with not only his conclusion, but the validity of the argument itself.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Right now, I am examining the argument with a sense of adventure and imagination, supposing that his premises are true.  That means we can move to the conclusion to see whether it jives with the premises.

Therefore, in a universe in which Erasing Hell chapter two was, is, and always will be inaccurate AND in a universe in which Jesus did not, does not, and never will agree with Erasing Hell chapter two, what response might we expect out of Jesus?  According to Chan, “He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”

Now in examining Chan’s conclusion, the “then” part of the statement, we must establish that it is in agreement with the premises.  So let’s look at Chan’s conclusion:

1.  He would have had to argue against it.

2. He would have had to deliberately argue against it.

3. He would have had to clearly argue against it.

Can we assume all of the above based on the premises?  How can we know what Jesus would have done? or to use Chan’s language, how can we know what Jesus would have had to do?  The words, “had to” are loaded words, and they ought not be taken lightly.  Is it right for us to assume that Jesus would have been constrained to react in a way that is consistent with our own consciences?  Perhaps.  It is not a simple as it seems unless we see the big picture – the Plan of the Ages.  But I digress…

Surely, if Jesus sees everyone (or at least the majority) believing a lie, he would set them straight, right?  He would do it deliberately.  He would do it clearly.  Right?

We don’t have to make assumptions, fortunately, because Jesus consistently taught the majority in a certain way.  In fact, His method of communication to the masses is described to us in the written perspectives of some his closest friends – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew writes,

And the disciples having come near, said to him, “Wherefore in similes dost thou speak to them?” And he answering said to them that “To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given…”

All these things spake Jesus in similes to the multitudes, and without a simile he was not speaking to them, that it might be fulfilled that was spoken through the prophet, saying, “I will open in similes my mouth, I will utter things having been hidden from the foundation of the world.”  Then having let away the multitudes, Jesus came to the house, and his disciples came near to him, saying, “Explain to us the simile…”

Mark writes,

And he said to them, “He who is having ears to hear – let him hear.” And when he was alone, those about him, with the twelve [disciples], did ask him of the simile, and he said to them, “To you it hath been given to know the secret of the reign of God, but to those who are without, in similes are all the things done; that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest they may turn, and the sins may be forgiven them.” And he saith to them, “Have ye not known this simile? and how shall ye know all the similes?”

“…without a simile he was not speaking to them, and by themselves, to his disciples he was expounding all.”

Luke writes,

[Jesus] said unto his disciples, “Lay ye to your ears these words, for the Son of Man is about to be delivered up to the hands of men.” And they were not knowing this saying, and it was veiled from them, that they might not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

And having taken the twelve aside, [Jesus] said unto them, “Lo, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be completed – that have been written through the prophets – to the Son of Man, for he shall be delivered up to the nations, and shall be mocked, and insulted, and spit upon, and having scourged they shall put him to death, and on the third day he shall rise again.” And they none of these things understood, and this saying was hid from them, and they were not knowing the things said.

 [Jesus] said to them, “These [are] the words that I spake unto you, being yet with you, that it behoveth to be fulfilled all the things that are written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms, about me.” Then opened he up their understanding to understand the writings, and he said to them – “Thus it hath been written, and thus it was behoving the Christ to suffer, and to rise out of the dead the third day, and reformation and remission of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem: and ye – ye are witnesses of these things.”

John writes,

This similitude spake Jesus to them, and they knew not what the things were that he was speaking to them…

[…and to the disciples Jesus said] “These things in similitudes I have spoken to you, but there cometh an hour when no more in similitudes will I speak to you, but freely of the Father, will tell you.” […] His disciples say to him, “Lo, now freely thou dost speak, and no similitude speakest thou; now we have known that thou hast known all things, and hast no need that any one do question thee…”

Do you see what I see?  Jesus spoke in similes or parables to the masses.  It was not until a certain time that He spoke plainly, and even then, it was almost exclusively to His disciples.  As to why Jesus would do such a thing, this is another blog for another day (or you can read Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the SkyWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fumbled Fables, and Would God Do That?).  The point is, if Jesus’s regular practice was to withhold, veil, or hide knowledge, why should we agree with Chan’s assumption that Jesus “would have had to deliberately and clearly” impart knowledge?

This is not to say that Jesus never said anything to contradict chapter two of Chan’s book.  I’ll get to that after we are done examining the validity of Chan’s conditional statement (one more blog) and the soundness of it (likely two blogs) as we slowly but surely make our way through the dark and not-very-hopeful book, Erasing Hell.

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

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter three, entitled “What Jesus Actually Said about Hell,” Chan writes, “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Obama Is Fat, in order to examine Chan’s argument accurately, it is first important to establish whether Chan’s argument is valid and second, whether Chan’s argument is sound.  Notice the words “if” and “then” in Chan’s claim: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”  This is a classic example of an argument in formal logic, a conditional statement – if this, then that.

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Obama Is Fat, I examined the validity of Chan’s conditional (if/then) statement and concluded:

The point is, if Jesus’s regular practice was to withhold, veil, or hide knowledge, why should we agree with Chan’s assumption that Jesus “would have had to deliberately and clearly” impart knowledge?

This is not to say that Jesus never said anything to contradict chapter two of Chan’s book.  I’ll get to that after we are done examining the validity of Chan’s conditional statement and the soundness of it, as we slowly but surely make our way through the dark and not-very-hopeful book, Erasing Hell.

Today, I would like to continue in examining the validity of Chan’s argument.  In order for an argument to be valid, the “if” part of the conditional statement, the premise for the argument, must justify the conclusion of the argument.  The premise doesn’t have to be true in order for the argument to be valid, but the conclusion must agree with the premise.  I have already demonstrated that Chan’s conclusion does not necessarily agree with his premise.  Next, I will demonstrate that the premise is so vague that it is impossible to decide whether the conclusion agrees with it.

Chan’s premise, once again, is: “if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter…”

What is the view of hell presented in chapter two of Erasing Hell?  I give a more thorough analysis in the blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Abomination, but I’ll offer an abbreviated version of it here:

Chan’s bullet points about the first-century Jewish view of Hell are:

1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.

2. Hell is described in images of fire, darkness, and lament.

3. Hell is a place of annihilation.

4. Hell is a place of never-ending punishment.

There was a large sect of Jews, mentioned many times in the New Testament, who did not believe in Hell at all.  In fact, according to the first-century historian, Josephus, Sadducees believed that “souls die with the bodies.”  They did not believe in the immortality of the soul, the afterlife, or rewards or penalties after death.  Francis Chan includes this small note in the notes section following chapter two: “The Sadducees, who didn’t believe in an afterlife, certainly wouldn’t have believed in hell.” Why does Chan not include this in the body of the chapter, since not everyone reads the notes sections of books?  If the chapter is supposed to represent the first century Jewish view of Hell, why is this important information not given it proper place within the chapter?

Furthermore, among first-century Jews were the ordinary people, the crowds that congregated to hear Jesus, but were not included among (and even shunned by) the Sadducees or Pharisees.  The New Testament and other non-biblical records give us glimpses of them from time to time, but their beliefs are not as explicitly explained.  This people-group that outnumbers all the religious sects combined, are not represented at all in Chan’s argument.  I’m not blaming Chan, because he would have to rely on assumption and conjecture to explain their beliefs, but I do think that it is worth mentioning that the majority of the Jewish population in the first century is not included in Chan’s summary of the first-century Jewish view of Hell.

In addition to the information above, it is important to notice that Chan does not offer one unified view of Hell with which Jesus may or may not agree – specifically numbers 3 and 4 of his bullet points.  If people are annihilated in Hell, they can’t possibly punished eternally.  Likewise, if people are punished eternally, they can’t possibly be annihilated.  So, how is Jesus supposed to disagree “with the view of hell presented in the last chapter” if there is no single, clear view presented?  Is Jesus supposed to disagree with all four views?  What about the “garbage dump” view?  Why is it not included as a fifth option?  What about the Sadducees?  What about all the people who did not fit neatly into religious categories?  I suppose that Chan could change the singular word “view” in his premise to the plural word “views”, and then his premise might make a little bit more sense.  And then he would also need to specify which views Jesus “would have” challenged, if, indeed, He “would have” challenged them.

In summary, Chan’s argument is not valid because:

1. The conclusion does not necessarily agree with the premise.

2. The premise is too vague, inconsistent, and incomplete.

The next two blogs in this series will address whether Chan’s argument is sound.

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

Have you ever wondered why, when one person sneezes, those nearby say “bless you” or “gesundheit”?  According to Wikipedia:

There are different theories regarding the origin of this phrase. One idea is that the expression stems from the Middle Ages when the bubonic plague was threatening European health. In this case the person saying gesundheit was actually wishing good health upon themselves, since they may have been infected by the one who sneezed. During this time it was also commonly believed that sneezing made the body vulnerable to evil spirits. Thus another plausible explanation is that gesundheit was a blessing to ward off demons while the sneezer’s body was defenseless.

Superstitions date back as early as ancient Greece (ref. Herodotus, History 440 BC). The soul was thought to leave the body through the nose upon death, so a powerful sneeze was thus considered an ominous event.

The following is a Jewish perspective on the custom: Although not technically part of Jewish law (Halacha), the custom of saying gesundheit, tzu gezunt, labreeyut, or bless you is considered a mannerly custom. It is written in the Talmud that the Patriarch Jacob was the first person to become ill before passing on. Before that, people would sneeze and die. When God infused the soul into man, He “blew it” into Adam’s nostrils. Thus, when it came time for the soul to be returned to its maker, it would leave through the same portal through which it arrived.

I’m not sure about the accuracy of any of these explanations, but if there’s any truth in the association between the nasal passage and death, I find this fascinating.  Consider the fantastic little muffled explosion that accompanies one’s suppressed sneeze – in the ancient mind this could be a triumphant act, cheating death, yet it is accompanied by such a strange noise.  Imagine what the ancients thought about the souls of the people whose sneezes sounded like angry interjections: “I-HATE-you!”, “Who-ASKED-you!”, “Not-YOU, not-YOU!”

So, is Chan’s argument sound?

Whoa! you say.  Right now, you are probably wondering, what does sneezing have to do with whether Chan’s argument is sound?

Please accept my apologies for the written whiplash, but it’s a little game I’m playing, sort of like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  There’s actually method to this madness.

I’ve been reading a lot about linguistics lately for my research project as a UCF student in the Honors in the Major program.  It’s amazing how many words are like long lost cousins whose connections goes way back to great, great, great uncle so-and-so.  And even if words are not connected by etymology, they are connected by associations.  You’ll see what I mean, shortly.

But first, I would like to examine the whether Francis Chan’s argument is sound.  Chan’s argument, as is stated in chapter three “What Jesus Actually Said About Hell” of his book, Erasing Hell, is as follows:

Jesus grew up in the world of beliefs described in the last chapter.  He would be expected to believe the same stuff about hell that most Jews did.  And if He didn’t – if Jesus rejected the widespread Jewish belief in hell – then He would certainly need to be clear about this.

That last line is very important.  Better read it again.

In other words, if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.

In the previous blog in the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell series, I demonstrated that Chan’s argument is not valid for the following reasons:

1. The conclusion does not necessarily agree with the premise.

2. The premise is too vague, inconsistent, and incomplete.

Since Chan did not provide an accurate assessment of “the world of beliefs” to which he refers, it is impossible to truly test the soundness of his argument.  Why?  Because the first rule in deciding whether an argument is sound is that it must be a valid argument!  There’s no such thing as a sound but invalid argument.  This should be the end of the blog, but that’s no fun…

Let’s just suppose, for Chan’s sake, that Chan actually did present a valid argument.  Let’s make believe that Chan did not relegate the beliefs of the Sadducees to one brief sentence in the notes section of his book.  Let’s pretend that the historian Josephus did not write (in his account called “Antiquities”) that many priests were Sadducees or that Luke did not write that Paul was tried in a religious court that was divided over their afterlife views (Acts 23:6-8).  Let’s just set aside, as if irrelevant, the masses of common people who did not fit neatly into religious categories, who are not given a voice in historical religious record-keeping.  Readers, I ask that you use your imaginations to create a fictional view of the first century Jewish population, using Chan’s ideas as the basis for a stereotypical “world of beliefs”, a racially profiled version of the first century in which there is a “widespread Jewish belief in hell”.

In order for an argument to be sound, all of its premises must be true, and the conclusion must be logically consistent with the premises.  We have already established (in our fairy-tale version of the religious views of first century Jews) that Chan’s first premise is true – that there is one overwhelmingly unified view of hell.  Furthermore, in order to examine the soundness of Chan’s argument, we must also assume that Jesus disagreed with this overwhelmingly unified view of hell.  For the sake of Chan’s argument, we’ve established two (so-called) “truths” upon which we can examine the conclusion of his argument.

Now that we’ve prepared ourselves to accept an invalid argument as valid, we will proceed to test the soundness of Chan’s argument. Does Jesus clearly and deliberately argue against the view of hell presented in chapter two?  I thought I was done with chapter two, but apparently, I’m not.  The view of hell presented in chapter two is as follows:

1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.

2. Hell is described in images of fire, darkness, and lament.

3. Hell is a place of annihilation.

4. Hell is a place of never-ending punishment.

Chan examines the writings of Matthew and Luke to find out whether Jesus clearly and deliberately argues against points 1 – 4, and the references are here, in context, if you would like to examine them for yourselves.

First, I must point out the Jesus never uses the word “Hell.”  Even Chan acknowledges this.  Depending on what English version of the scriptures you read, you may or may not find the word “Hell”.  For example, the authorized King James Version has  54 occurrences, but the New King James only has 32.  The most commonly used English translation of the scriptures, the New International Version, has only 14 occurrences of the word.  The Young’s Literal Translation, which BibleGateway.com describes as “an extremely literal translation,” does not contain the word once.  Why is there so much variation between translations?  And as if this weren’t difficult enough, each time you see the word “Hell” or “grave” or “pit” in an English translation, it could be referring to any of the following Hebrew or Greek words: Sheol, Hades, Geena, or Tartaroo.  So we have seven different words from three different languages, often being used interchangeably, even though each one has its own specific meaning?!  Wouldn’t it be better to examine the Koine Greek, the actual language used when Jesus’s words were recorded, than to use an English translation of Jesus’s words, since translators are so obviously conflicted about what “Hell” might be?  Therefore, as I examine the texts the Chan uses to support his claim, I will refer to the Greek, not the English.

The first text Chan uses to support his argument is Matthew 25:31-46.  Chan claims that Jesus refers to “judgment day” and writes,

After Jesus looks at the evidence (vv.33-45), He gives His verdict: Believers are awarded everlasting life, while unbelievers are awarded everlasting punishment.  Though the word hell (gehenna) is not used here, the concept of hell is conveyed by the phrases “everlasting fire” (v. 41) and “everlasting punishment” (v. 46).1

Do you notice the little number one at the end of that quote?  I’ve highlighted it in red for you.  It isn’t a typo.  It is a reference to the notes section of chapter three in Chan’s book.  In other words, it’s something that Chan, for whatever reason, decided not to include in context of his proof.  Instead, he refers readers elsewhere for the information.  So let’s break away from his quote, and find out what he omitted.  Let’s follow Chan’s bunny trail.  Here is what I find at the end of the chapter at note number one:

Despite the ESV’s translation, I will be using the term everlasting instead of eternal, because the latter term technically means transcending time, which isn’t the best rendering of the Greek aionios.  See the discussion toward the end of this chapter and in note 14 below.

It is reassuring to me that Chan decides to use a different word than the one used in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  Why?  Because he knows that sometimes translators choose words that are not “the best rendering of the Greek”.  Keep this in mind.  Always keep this in mind.

So now, we have come to a fork in Chan’s bunny trail.  If we go left, we end up at the “discussion toward the end” of chapter three.  If we go right, we end up at note number fourteen.  I’ll go left first.  Here is what Chan writes in the discussion section:

What about the word aionios?  Bible scholars have debated the meaning of this term for what seems like an eternity, so we’re not going to settle the issue here.

And now, I’ll go right.  It’s rather lengthy, so here is an abbreviated version of what Chan writes in note number fourteen:

The Greek word aionios is an adjective, and it’s used seventy times in the New Testament.  The noun, aion, is used over one hundred times in the New Testament.  The noun can mean various things such as “an age” or “era” […], “the world”, and the never-ending “age” to come […] The adjective aionios frequently means “everlasting” denoting never-ending time […] a vibrant Jewish concept of the future […]

It is no surprise to me that Chan relegates this important information to different locations in the book.  After all, proof that is full of holes really isn’t proof.  For the sake of clarity, I would like to incorporate the ideas from the notes and discussion back into Chan’s statement.  My words (in Chan’s voice) are in red, Chan’s are in black.  Let’s see if his argument still packs a punch, now that we have more information:

After Jesus looks at the evidence (vv.33-45), He gives His verdict: Believers are awarded everlasting life, while unbelievers are awarded everlasting punishment.  However, I’m using the word “everlasting” instead of eternal, because “eternal” isn’t the best rendering of the Greek word aionios.  Though the word hell (gehenna) is not used here, the concept of hell is conveyed by the phrases “everlasting fire” (v. 41) and “everlasting punishment” (v. 46).  Oh, and by the way, Bible scholars have debated the meaning of aionios/everlasting for what seems like an eternity, so we’re not going to settle the issue here.

So, let me make sure we are all on the same page here.  Chan would have us believe Jesus is teaching that Hell is a place of punishment after judgment, described in images of fire, darkness, and lament, and it is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment, based on an English translation that isn’t the best rendering and relying almost entirely on a particular word that scholars have never been able to agree upon?

Another problem I have with this proof text is that Chan refers to Matthew 25:31-46 as “judgment day” and the judgment is supposedly about people being believers or unbelievers.  While it is obvious that some type of judgment is taking place, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the judgment is equivalent to the modern understanding of “judgment day” in which everyone who has ever lived either goes to Heaven or Hell.  According to Ephesians 2:8-9, people are “saved” by grace through faith and NOT by works.  Consequently, if this particular judgment to which Chan refers is about believers’ everlasting Heaven or unbelievers’ everlasting Hell, then why is it that the basis for this judgment is works?  The judged are being judged on whether they demonstrated kindness to others.  Wouldn’t “kindness to others” be considered “works”?  If people can be “saved” by being kind to others, then why does Chan preach the faith of Christ as our only salvation?  And where in this text does it say anything about people being “believers” or “unbelievers”? According to the text, the nations are being separated in the same way that a shepherd might separate his sheep and goats.  That puts an entirely different spin on this judgment, because nations have within their borders both believers AND unbelievers.

For the sake of brevity, I will not continue to analyze every single proof text Chan offers.  But I will highlight some other important information from the notes that Chan should have included within the context of each proof text, because in each case, this information sheds doubt on his argument:

Many times the idea of entering the kingdom [of God] refers to something that happens in the present.

In Isaiah’s context, the worm doesn’t die as it eats the flesh of dead bodies.  There’s nothing in the context that says the souls of the dead are still being tormented.  The images of worms feasting on unburied dead people emphasizes the shame of defeat.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) says that the rich man goes to “Hades” while Lazarus goes to “Abraham’s bosom” (NASB).  Hades here should not be confused with hell.  […] this is a parable, and so we shouldn’t press the details too far.  Jesus uses the parable in this context of Luke to confront the social structures of the day, not to teach us about the afterlife.

New Testament scholar William Barclay also says that kolasis “originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.  I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial [intended to correct or improve] punishment.”

[In reference to first century Jewish literature using the word “kolasis” as “punishment”…] these texts have been edited by Christians.

I don’t think that it is good practice for Christian authors who write apologetic books to assign important (but discriminated against) information a place in the back of the bus.  I suppose that for an author to include it in the notes section is better than not including it at all, but it is very misleading to people who just read the book and believe the “experts”.  Chan’s words convey a sincere desire to carefully examine the doctrine of eternal torment in hell, but the structure of his book demonstrates a bias toward belief-threatening information.

Now, back to the sneeze. Remember the goofy blog intro that seemed to have nothing to do with this blog series?

In the paired terms “sound” and “argument”, “sound” is an adjective that came from the German word “gesund”, which means “healthy.”  The post-sneeze comment, “gesundheit” is a gesture of good will toward the one who sneezes, that he or she will be in good health, that the sneeze is not a sign of some serious illness (or death).

I like to think that by tying together not-usually-related ideas, creating associations, it will help readers to be reminded of the spiritual significance in our everyday comings and goings.  In this case, my hope is that when a coworker, friend, family member, or stranger sneezes, and someone says “God bless you” or “gesundheit”, you will be reminded of these questions: Is Chan’s argument spiritually healthy? or is Chan’s argument serious spiritual illness?  Does Chan’s argument produce life or death?

In closing, please note that this is the first of two blogs examining the soundness of Chan’s argument in chapter three of his book, Erasing Hell.  And, God bless you 🙂

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Jesus Didn’t Get the Memo

Francis Chan devotes most of the word count in chapter three of his book, Erasing Hell, to painting a picture of a Jesus Who defends Chan’s version of the first century view of hell.  In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Everlasting Sneeze, I played pretend with Chan.  I temporarily allowed for the possibility that Chan’s inaccurate portrayal of the first century view of hell was actually true, and analyzed his argument in light of this pretense.  I did not examine each of his “proof texts”, but examined the method in which the proof texts are communicated, that is, with important and necessary information being relegated a place in the notes section of the chapter, which Chan openly assumes few people read.

Chan’s argument, as is stated in chapter three, “What Jesus Actually Said About Hell,” of his book, Erasing Hell, is as follows:

Jesus grew up in the world of beliefs described in the last chapter.  He would be expected to believe the same stuff about hell that most Jews did.  And if He didn’t – if Jesus rejected the widespread Jewish belief in hell – then He would certainly need to be clear about this.

That last line is very important.  Better read it again.

In other words, if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.

In reality, Jesus had very little to say about the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.  People who read Chan’s book or the widely available mistranslations of scripture are under the impression that Jesus mentioned hell often, and that he described it as a place of everlasting torment.  I beg to differ.  Chan’s proof texts rely on mistranslation and misrepresentation of the words of Jesus Christ.  Just as I have chosen not to examine Chan’s proof texts one by one, I also choose not to examine all the proof texts that make his argument look ridiculous.  I’ll refer readers to just one text, from Matthew 16, and let readers do their own homework.

In A discussion on universal salvation and endless punishment, Erasmus Manford and John Steele Sweeney write:

It is not correct that Jesus employed the same terms the Pharisees died when speaking of punishment.  Jesus applied aionios to punishment; but the Pharisees applied aidios – two different words.  Josephus gives the opinion of the Pharisees in these words: “But the souls of the bad are allotted to an eternal (aidios) prison, and punished with eternal (aidios) retribution.”  Now Christ used another word to express the duration of punishment.  He said, “aionios punishment,” “aionios damnation,” and Paul said “aionios destruction,” but NEVER, NEVER “aidios punishment,” “aidios destruction,” “aidios damnation.”  Josephus often uses the word aionios, the same word that Christ and his apostles apply to punishment.  He writes of the […] “everlasting (aionios) reputation of Herod;” of the “everlasting (aionios) worship” in the temple of Jerusalem; of the “everlasting (aionios) imprisonment” of John.  This is the same word that Christ and his disciples used when speaking of punishment.  Josephus did not mean endless by it; neither id they mean endless by it.  You see, then, that Christ did NOT apply the word to punishment that […] the old Pharisees did.  That is a remarkable fact, and proves that Jesus did not mean endless punishment, when he spoke of aionios punishment.  He did not use the word the Pharisees did, and he did not mean what they did.

Christ not only condemned the life of the Pharisees, but he condemned their doctrine.  Said he to his disciples, “TAKE HEED AND BEWARE of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” which was explained to mean “the DOCTRINE of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  […] The Sadducees believed that God would annihilate men, and the Pharisees believed he would punish them endlessly, which is still worse; but Jesus condemned BOTH DOCTRINES, and told his disciples to “BEWARE” of both.

This is exactly the kind of information Chan refers to when he writes, “What about the word aionios?  Bible scholars have debated the meaning of this term for what seems like an eternity, so we’re not going to settle the issue here.”  It is as if Chan believes that people who do not subscribe to the doctrine of everlasting torment have been given the same platform and opportunity within the confines of orthodoxy as the proponents of everlasting torment.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Throughout history, the minority theologians who bring important hell-opposing information to the attention of their majority-theologian peers are systematically ridiculed, their information is labeled heretical, and they are treated as wishful thinkers who have rejected Jesus Christ and pulled the hell-opposing information right out of their asses.  For a recent example, look at Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins (Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, began as a response to Bell’s book).  And Bell doesn’t really even plant his flag – he just hints at the possibility that hell isn’t what orthodoxy has made it out to be.  Imagine what the backlash would have been had he declared with full confidence that Jesus is the Savior of all.

Now, I’d like to turn Chan’s argument on its head.

Earlier, I wrote, “In reality, Jesus had very little to say about the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.”  Jesus spent most of his time talking in parables about the Reign of God.  Jesus knew the masses of listeners could not understand, yet, this was His approach.  Why is that?  Wouldn’t Jesus take advantage of the platform He had to clearly and deliberately warn people about how to avoid eternal torment in hell?  Why would Jesus use different words (not eternal) in reference to punishment than those normally used to indicate “eternal”?

If we attempt to answer these questions, our options are limited.  Unless, of course, we are willing to do away with all that we’ve been taught and start from scratch. The main concern of the first century Jews was earthly Israel’s position in the world, not the afterlife.  And this is another blog for another day, because it involves a long history lesson.

If Chan is right, that Jesus did not argue against hell, that he argued for it, then guess how much of Jesus’s recorded words are devoted to “aionios punishment” and/or “Gehenna” compared to other subjects?

Why would Jesus bother talking about how we treat one another or divorce or the Sabbath if He had such an urgent message?  Why would He purposely speak in parables that He knew people wouldn’t understand if the everlasting torment of multiple billions of human beings were at stake?  What the hell was wrong with Jesus?  What was He thinking!?  Evangelical missionaries, evangelists and lay people memorize and use the Romans Road when sharing the good news (that 10% of humanity may avoid everlasting torment in hell), so why doesn’t Jesus?  Did He not get the memo?

Of course I’m pushing this concept to the point of ridiculousness here, but I think you understand. Jesus came, in His own words, “to seek and save the lost.”  Clearly, His idea of seeking and saving the lost differs dramatically from that of orthodox evangelicalism.  Eventually, I will examine each of Chan’s proof texts as a natural part of setting the record straight on www.whatgoddoes.com, but until then, I encourage every reader to “test everything, hold on to what is good.”  And I’m confident that once you’ve done your homework, you will not be holding on to Chan’s invalid and unsound argument.

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

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell (chapter four: What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell), he examines Hell in the book of Revelation.  I could make the sad mistake of digging deeply into the theological Molasses Swamp of eschatology, soteriology, exegesis, eisegesis, hermeneutics, isagogics, dittology, and other Christianese sesquipedalian convolutions, but that’s exactly what Churchianity has been doing for two millennia now.  That’s why there are over 40,000 denominations in Christianity.  The last thing we need is more of THAT.

Instead, I’ll take a step back and look at WHY there are so very many ideas out there about Hell and even more ideas about the book of Revelation.  Metaphor.  Yep.  That’s the problem or the solution to the problem, depending on what you do with metaphor.

Jesus loves metaphor.  This troubled his disciples.  Apparently, it still does.

In the very first verse of Revelation, readers are told what to expect: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it…”  Here’s the Greek word, here translated “signified.”

We use signs or imagery to communicate ideas all the time.  Here are a few examples:

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. – William Shakespeare

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. – Albert Einstein

“The past is a pebble in my shoe.” – Edgar Allan Poe

No one reads these examples and thinks that the world is actually a stage, that there’s a tree somewhere that is made of religion and art and science, or that the linear concept of “past” is a pebble in the shoe of Edgar Allan Poe.  In each of these examples there are non-metaphorical elements: the world, men, women, religions, arts, sciences, and the past.  We are supposed to think of these in the way we normally think of these.  We combine the non-metaphorical elements with the metaphorical elements to create meaning.  Each example is loaded with meaning.  I could write an entire blog series on each example, if I set my mind to it.

So it is with Revelation.  So it is with the word “Hell.”

The trouble with Francis Chan’s view of Hell in Revelation is that he makes metaphor of non-metaphor or non-metaphor of metaphor, or if he gets his metaphors and non-metaphors straight, he applies the wrong meaning.

For example, Chan writes:

In the final chapters of the book… John depicts a blessed, never-ending age of peace, joy, and victory for all who “follow the Lamb.”  …But there is also a future for all who don’t follow Him.  Here’s how the author describes it: “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfer where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

I seriously doubt that there are any believers who actually believe that the Lamb looks like this:

So why should we believe that the Lake of Fire looks like this?

Furthermore, Revelation 22:5 says there will be “no more night” after God supposedly destroys the universe and creates a new one.  So how is it that people are tormented “day” and “night” if there is no longer any such thing as “day” or “night”?

It would not surprise me if this diagram annoys religious people, especially the ones who think they’ve got it all figured out.  They might protest, “Of course it looks ridiculous when you show it like this, Alice.  These are metaphors!  The first beast represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the second beast represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the sea represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the false prophet represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the abyss represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the dragon represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), the earth represents __________ (fill in the blank with one of 40,000 ideas, depending on what the “experts” in your denomination tell you), but the Lake of Fire, you had better take that literally!”

Chan writes, “I really believe it’s time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself.”

No, Chan.  We need to apologize to mankind for misrepresenting God.  There’s a good reason for feeling embarrassed.  It has a name.  He’s called the Spirit of God, your Teacher, Who whispers truth into the core of your being.

Chan writes, “What causes my heart to ache right now as I’m writing this is that my life shows little evidence that I actually believe this.  Every time my thoughts wander to the future of unbelievers, I quickly brush them aside so they don’t ruin my day.  But there is a reality here that I can’t ignore.”

No, Chan.  What causes your heart to ache is the Spirit of God, grieving as you repeatedly exchange His wisdom for the unfathomably horrific doctrines of your denominational “experts.”  The reason your life shows no evidence that you actually believe this is that you actually don’t believe it.  Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  Trust me, if you really believed this, then your book would sound remarkably like Lanny Eichert’s blog comments (please do read them here on www.whatgoddoes.com).  Your fruits don’t match what you proclaim as truth.  Thank God.

Chan writes, “I have to ask myself if I really believe what I have written in this book.  Hell is real.  Am I?”

I suggest that Chan ask himself this, instead: Do you really believe what you have written in this book? You are real. Is Hell?

 

Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing HellWhat I Like about Chan’s AttitudeWhy Chan Can’t Erase HellChan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God SwearsIf God Swears, Then What About…Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of ScrutinyWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: All = SomeWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or NeverWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin WinsWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: English vs GreekWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: In This LifeWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Saved by Who’s Choice?One of Chan’s Missing ScripturesWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fumbled FablesWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the SkyExposition on the Reign of God: Narrow vs WideWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Jesus, Lord of DistanceWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: AbominationWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fear NotWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Obama Is FatWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Invalid ArgumentWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Everlasting SneezeWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Jesus Didn’t Get the MemoWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Screwed Up MathWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Bad AnalogiesWhy Chan Can’t Erase Hell: A Good Dose of Interpretive Humility.

In chapter four of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan writes,

Paul described the fate of the wicked with words such as “perish, destroy, wrath, punish,” and others more than eighty times in his thirteen letters.  To put this in perspective, Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy, or heaven combined.  So even though Paul never used the actual word hell, nor did he describe the place with detail, he assuredly believed that the wicked will face a horrific fate if they remain in their sin.

One would have to be creative and work hard to erase all notions of wrath and punishment from the letters of Paul.

It’s funny that Chan would throw that last sentence in there, “One would have to be creative and work hard to erase all notions of wrath and punishment from the letters of Paul,” because two thousand years ago, Peter wrote something very similar:

Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the Scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Even as the writings were still being written, Paul’s words were being misrepresented by people who didn’t understand them. Imagine the results of two thousand more years worth of bad theology!   That’s why, if we are interested in figuring out what Paul really had to say, we need to look up questionable passages in Greek, remembering that even our own concordances could be biased.   We need to study the etymology of the words, find out how they were used at the time they were written as opposed to how the same words were used differently in future centuries.  But, MOST IMPORTANT, listen to the Spirit of God Who raises a red flag when something doesn’t jive with Who God is and what God does, as was demonstrated to us in the image of God, Jesus Christ.  (And if all of this is too confusing, just believe and act and promote the same ideas as Jesus – love God, love others, and trust God to sort out any confusion in His own time and His own way.) God knows exactly what He’s doing.

Now, back to what Chan writes, “Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgivenessmercy, or heaven combined.”

First I would like to note Chan’s misguided approach to deciding what Paul really believes.  He begins by admitting that Paul never uses the word hell.  But then he redirects the reader’s attention… Oh, just never mind that silly little detail (that is sure to raise doubt about eternal torment theology), because Paul says all this other stuff.  Pay attention to that instead.

Chan relies on author and translator Douglas Moo to search Paul’s writing and count what he considers to be all of the fate-of-the-wicked words.  Then, Chan randomly chooses just three pleasant-sounding words.  He uses a computer program to count them.  He sees that the scary-sounding words outnumber the pleasant-sounding words and concludes:

So even though Paul never used the actual word hell, nor did he describe the place with any detail, he assuredly believed that the wicked will face a horrific fate if they remain in their sin.

Am I the only one who sees a significant bias in Chan’s approach?  I hope not.  Perhaps Chan actually read each reference and struggled in urgent prayer over them before he decided to include them in his book.  If so, there’s a huge problem that demands a lot of grace and a miracle of imagination to think of as anything other than outright deception or a very careless act of ignorance.  Let me explain.

Once again, how beneficial it is to turn to the notes section at the back of the chapter, where the important information is segregated from the main text.  Specifically, here is an explanation of Chan’s approach, and I am typing it just as it appears in the notes:

1. Here’s the references for the individual words: “death” or “die” (Greek: apothnesko, thanatos; Rom. 1:32; 5:12, 14, 15, 17, 21; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5, 9, 10, 11, 13; 8:2, 6, 13, 1 Cor. 15:21, 22; 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:6, 7; 7:10; Eph. 2:1); “perish,” “destroy,” “destruction” (Greek: apollymi, apoleia, olethros, phthora; Rom. 2:12; 9:22; 14:15, 20; 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; Gal. 6:8; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thes. 5:3; 2 Thes. 1:9; 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:9); “wrath” (Greek: orge, thymos; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9); “condemn,” “condemnation,” or “judge” (Greek: several words with the root krin-; Rom. 2:1, 2, 3, 5, 12; 3:7, 8; 5:16, 18; 8:1; 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 3:9; 2 Thes. 2:12; 1 Tim. 5:24); “curse,” or “cursed” (Greek: anathema, katara; Rom. 9:3; Gal. 1:8, 9; 3:10, 13; 1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22); “punish” (Greek: ekdikos, ekdikesis, dike; 1 Thes. 4:6; 2 Thes. 1:8, 9). For all these references, see Douglas Moo, “Paul on Hell,” in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 92-93.

2. Paul uses Greek words (verbs and nouns) for “mercy” twenty-seven times, “forgiveness” seven times, and the noun “heaven” twenty-one times.  This word search was performed through the recent (and quite excellent) Bible search program Scroll Tag (ScrollTag.com).

It seems like a suspiciously lopsided representation of Paul’s writings to me.  Shouldn’t Chan have at least picked an equal number of words instead of the twelve/three ratio he decided to use?

Notice how Chan makes sure readers see twelve, count them, twelve English words, thirteen Greek words (not counting the “several words with the root krin-“), and more than eighty scripture references for what he considers to be the fate-of-the-wicked.  He even throws a few like-minded experts in there to pack a punch.  But if you want to know more about the three measly English words (no Greek words or scripture references provided), Chan mentions a “quite excellent” $125.00 Bible software package designed by Joshua Grauman, one of the faculty members at Eternity Bible College, a college founded by Chan, where Preston Sprinkle, co-writer of Erasing Hell is also employed.

Remember earlier, how I quoted Peter writing that “irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist” Paul’s words?  Well, Paul wrote about those people as well.  Here’s what Paul said:

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  There’s nothing wrong with believers recommending each other in business or partnering in other activities that involve investments of time, money, and talent.  And only God knows the heart of a person.

When your source of income or your respected position comes from sheep who are looking for some fresh green grass, and you are feeding them something that “sickens” you and makes you feel “conflicted” (Chan’s description of how the doctrine of eternal torment makes him feel), then my advice is to look in the mirror, read what Paul wrote, and remember that God can easily tell the difference between someone who honestly believes eternal torment is real and someone who must believe it in order to avoid being spiritually deconstructed by God.

As much as I would like to give the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but wonder about everything Chan and so many others stand to lose should this hell-isn’t-eternal thing actually begin to make more and more sense to the churchians.  One thing is certain, most people I know who have discarded the eternal hell doctrine have very little respect for the so-called “authority” in church that kept them in the dark for so long.  There’s such a complex network of money-jobs-business mixed with church-ministry-training among believers that is in danger of collapse should too many sheep realize they have only One Shepherd Who loves all His sheep, even the ones that are from another flock.  And then they leave for greener pastures outside the old farm.  For anyone who has been closely associated with a ministry or ministries that have bi-laws or statements of faith that include the doctrine of eternal torment, he or she would have to risk losing everything (or more than likely, actually lose everything – status in the hierarchy, approval of peers, paycheck, etc.) to gain the abundant life Jesus promised.

“He who found his life shall lose it, and he who lost his life for my sake shall find it.” – Jesus (lose/lostapollymi, one of Chan’s fate-of-the-wicked words)

I suppose I need to wrap things up, but before I do, I would like to share how the notes section gets even worse.  If this doesn’t cause you to scrutinize Chan’s book more closely, I don’t know what will.  These are excerpts from Chan’s reference source, Douglas Moo’s article where Chan found his eighty-something scripture references, which SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED in chapter four, but weren’t, and if they weren’t included in the chapter itself, they should have been included in the notes section, but weren’t:

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Well, I don’t know about you, but it really bothers me that “many” of the scripture references on Chan’s (and Moo’s) list do not clearly refer to the fate of human beings after death… do not clearly refer to wrath… or do not clearly refer to a curse.  I would like to have been informed that the language of perishing Paul uses on this list of eighty something “sometimes describes… a present condition.”  Why are they on a list in Chan’s fourth chapter entitled “What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell”?

***

***

Chan cited twenty-four “death” references.  I wonder how many of them refer to physical death.

***

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It seems like this one isn’t as big a deal as the others, but if you think about it, it is.  Why?  Because to have a “negative judgment” about someone is outrageously  different than the “hell” concept of judgment Chan paints in this book.

I picked the first words on Chan’s list and looked up the references.  Among them are these:

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.  Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.  For since death came through a man,the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

If you know someone who has, is, or will be reading Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, please make sure they know what he’s done and failed to do with the beginning of chapter four.  Chan begins to explain a few of the passages as the chapter continues, but that’s another blog for anther day.  He concludes this first part as follows:

I have always been convicted by Paul’s efforts to reach unbelievers.  I even felt guilty when reading of the suffering he endured in sharing the gospel.  When I read what he writes about the punishment of the wicked, it helps me understand how he stayed so motivated.

I think Chan needs to reread Romans 5 to see what REALLY motived Paul.

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

“If my two-year-old son runs out into the street, is it unloving to warn him of the destruction coming in the form of a Chevy 4×4?”

This is the first of several questions that Chan asks in chapter four of his book, Erasing Hell, to demonstrate that warning people about hell is a loving thing to do.  The problem I have with Chan’s analogies is that if we were to apply them to the doctrine of eternal torment, then we would end up with God as a very villainous, untrustworthy character.

If eternal torment could be compared to a Chevy 4×4, then God is a hit-and-run serial killer.  After all, in the eternal torment theology, God doesn’t “accidentally” assign people to hell.  In the eternal torment theology, God writes the names of people who trust Him in a book, and when the person dies and their name isn’t in the book, they are thrown into the Lake of Fire.*  Furthermore, someone who is killed in a hit-and-run isn’t continually killed for eternity, they are killed once and then lights out.  We have to use our imaginations to accommodate the “eternal” portion of the doctrine.  So we’ll say that the hit-and-run driver has the supernatural ability to restore life, and he uses this ability to continually drive his Chevy 4×4 over Chan’s two-year-old son, bring him back to life, run him over again, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Now, as if this were not bad enough, we still haven’t covered the most flawed aspect of this analogy.  Chan wants people to trust the driver – the one bringing the destruction.  Chan asks in the final pages of the book, “Do you know Him?  Are you secure in Him?  In love with Him?” and “Turn to God.  Embrace Him.  Trust Him.  Put your faith in Him.”

I ask Chan, if it is true that God is worth knowing, if it is true that He is a source of security and love, if it is true that God is One who is worthy of trust and doesn’t disappoint faith, then won’t this always be true of God, even if a person dies without believing it to be true?  I expect that Chan and others who defend the doctrine of eternal torment would answer this with an emphatic NO.  Chan says we “choose or reject God.”

There is much more to be said about that, but for today, how does choosing or rejecting God fit the analogy?  If you choose the driver, he won’t run you over.  If you reject the driver, he will run you over.  Does that make sense? I hope not.  This is a twisted version of the Good News that does not honor God.

Chan writes, “Do you know Him?  Are you secure in Him?  In love with Him?” and “Turn to God.  Embrace Him.  Trust Him.  Put your faith in Him.”  A different perspective from scripture sheds new light on what seems to be (the way Chan words it) salvation that depends on us:

“…this is the life [aionios], that they may KNOW Thee, the only true God, and [the Son] whom [the Father] didst send – Jesus Christ…”

(SECURE) – “He is able also to save [panteles – “all complete, entire”] those who draw near to God through Him, He [pantote – “at all times”] lives to make intercession for them.”

“God is LOVE.”  “LOVE never fails.”

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on [Jesus] the [avon – “punishment for iniquity”] of us all.”  “The goodness of God leads you to [metanoia – “change of mind” or TURN].”

(EMBRACE)  “…and [the prodigal son] being yet far distant, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and having ran he fell upon his neck and kissed him…”

(TRUST)  “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!”

“Because we know that a man is not justified by works of The Written Law, but by the FAITH of Yeshua The Messiah, we also believe in Yeshua The Messiah, that we should be made right by the FAITH of The Messiah, and not by the works of The Written Law, because no one is made right by the works of The Written Law.”

* Regarding the Lake of Fire – Many Christians believe hell = Lake of Fire, even though in Revelation, death and hell (Hades) are thrown into the lake of fire, and this entire process (that is, death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire) is called the second death.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: A Good Dose of Interpretive Humility

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter four, he writes:

…Paul never wrote about the details of hell.  However, there is one passage where he comes pretty close – a passage blistering with passion and urgency about Christ’s second coming and the wrath that follows:

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal desctruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:6-9)

I understand why Chan believes the way he does, given the English butchering of the Greek.  I used to read the Bible and take everything at face value, too, putting my full trust in the ability of modern translators to communicate the meaning in the Greek.  Not any more.  Not after finding case after case of biased and sometimes downright misleading English renderings of Greek words.  I looked up some of the key words in this verse that demonstrate a meaning in the Greek that doesn’t show up in the English translation:

  • “with” Strongs 1722 en (a preposition) – properly, in (inside, within); (figuratively) “in the realm (sphere) of,” as in the condition (state) in which something operates from the inside (within); specifically used of that with which a person is surrounded, equipped, furnished, assisted, or acts, also with an adverbial force: as ἐν δυνάμει, powerfully, with power
  • “revelation” Strongs 602 apokálypsis – properly, uncovering (unveiling). See 601 (apokalyptō). 602 /apokálypsis (“revelation, unveiling”) is principally used of the revelation of Jesus Christ (theWord), especially a particular (spiritualmanifestation of Christ (His will) previously unknown to the extent (because “veiled, covered”).
  • “fire” Strongs 4442 pýr – fire. In Scripture, fire is often used figuratively – like with the “fire of God” which transforms all it touches into light and likeness with itself
  • “inflicting” Strongs 1325 the act or effect of him who gives, in such a sense that what he is said διδόναι he is conceived of as effecting, or as becoming its author.
  •  “vengeance” Strongs 1557 ekdíkēsis (derived from 1537 /ek, “out from and to” and 1349 /díkē, “justice, judge”) – properly, judgment which fully executes the core-values of the particular judge, i.e. extending from the inner-person of the judge to its out-come.
  •  “know” Strongs 1492 /eídō (“seeing that becomes knowing”) then is a gateway to grasp spiritual truth (reality) from a physical plane. 1492 (eídō) then is physical seeing (sight) which should be the constant bridge to mental and spiritual seeing (comprehension).
  • “punishment” is here translated as if it were part of the verb clause, but the word is actually a noun, Strongs 1349 díkē – properly, right, especially a judicial verdict which declares someone approved or disapproved; a judgment (just finding) that regards someone as “guilty” or “innocent.”  (there is no English word in this translation to represent the verb in the Greek, which is attached to the noun “punishment”) Strongs 5099 tínō (a primitive root, NAS dictionary) – to be punished, having to pay the penal fine attached to the crime (used only in 2 Thes 1:9). In the papyri tinō also means “pay the penalty”, like “paying the fitting penalty”
  • “destruction” Strongs 3639 ólethros (from ollymi/”destroy”) – properly, ruination with its full, destructive results (LS). 3639 /ólethros (“ruination”) however does not imply “extinction” (annihilation). Rather it emphasizes the consequent loss that goes with the complete “undoing.”
  •  “everlasting” Strongs Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn (“an age, having a particular character and quality”) – properly, “age-like” (“like-an-age”), i.e. an “age-characteristic” (the quality describing a particular age) 166 (aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to.
  •  “from” Strongs 575, this particular usage is translated elsewhere as “by” and it is defined as “of persons from whose will, power, authority, command, favor, order, influence, direction, anything is to be sought”

Put it all together and you have Paul inviting those who have been afflicted to find relief in (en 1722) the previously unknown spiritual unveiling of the will of Christ, in a powerful fire from Heaven.  The Author of a judgment of core values extends out from Himself to those who don’t have a “seeing that becomes knowing” and this judgment is like paying a fitting penalty, in an age of loss and undoing, by the presence of the Lord and by the glory of His power.

This doesn’t sound pleasant, but it also has a very redemptive undertone.

Chan writes:

There are several things to note in this passage.  First, the wrath of Jesus here is retributive and not corrective.  In other words, the wrath isn’t intended to correct the behavior of those opposing Christ to make them fit for salvation.  Rather, the wrath is an act of – dare I say – vengeance.  In fact, this is the exact word that Paul uses.

Chan refers to the Greek word, “ekdíkēsis” (1557).  This same word is used in 1 Peter 2:14 in the context of abiding by government laws and regulations: “Be subject, then, …to governors, as to those sent through [God], for punishment, indeed, of evil-doers, and a praise of those doing good.”  I know that there are some corrupt governments in this world that are, indeed, “inflicting vengeance,” but I don’t think this is what Peter had in mind when he wrote this.  Not everyone who broke the law in Rome was crucified by leaders who were out to inflict vengeance.  Government punishment was often corrective in nature, ranging from small fines to heavy prison sentences.  I don’t see any reason to be convinced by Chan’s assumptions that the usage of the word(s) díkē/tínō (1349/5099) is only for retributive purposes and cannot be used for corrective purposes.

Chan’s second point demands an explanation as well.  He writes:

Second, in light of this last phrase (“inflict vengeance on those who do not know God” and don’t “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”), Paul doesn’t have a select group of people in view.  Those who don’t know God or obey the gospel include everyone not following Jesus.  No matter how innocent some people may seem, Paul says that if they don’t know God or obey the gospel, they will face God’s vengeful wrath when Jesus returns.

I disagree with Chan’s view that Paul does not have a select group of people in view.  Paul mentions in his writings a group of antagonistic Jews who were basically out to ruin him every chance they had.  You can read about it here and elsewhere in the New Testament. In fact, Paul gets pretty specific in the very text Chan quotes: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…”  The “you” in that sentence is referring to a specific people-group, that is, the believers in Thessalonica who assembled to read his second letter.  This specific people-group was troubled by another specific people-group, that is, the unbelieving Jews.  If the Jewish revolt against Roman rule (Jerusalem, 70 AD) had succeeded, these unbelieving Jews would then be in a position of government-backed authority over the Thessalonian believers.

Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that Paul’s encouragement for the believers in Thessalonica wasn’t really meant for the believers in Thessalonica, it was meant for people living 2000+ years in the future.  No matter which view one takes, Chan’s take on Paul’s words are not accurate.  The select group of people are characterized in this way: They don’t know God and don’t obey the gospel, or so the English translation says.  This particular form of the Greek word “eidosin” translated “know” only occurs once in the entire New Testament.  It is coupled with “obey”: hypakoúō (Strongs 5219 from 5259 /hypó, “under” and 191 /akoúō, “hear”– to obey what is heard; hypakoúō is acting under the authority of the one speaking, i.e. really listeninghypakoúō suggests attentively listening, i.e. fully compliant, responsive).  Chan writes that those who don’t know God or obey the gospel = everyone not following Jesus.  But in the Greek this group of people is defined as NOT having a “seeing that becomes knowing”, who do not travel along that gateway to grasp spiritual truth (reality) from a physical plane. Although they have a physical seeing (sight) which should be the constant bridge to mental and spiritual seeing (comprehension), the physical seeing produces no spiritual results.  That is why they don’t really attentively listen and become responsive or compliant to what they hear.  It follows that since Jesus is the Savior of the world who seeks and saves that which is being LOST/DESTROYED/PERISHING, that this judgment must have corrective purpose.  Jesus, the Author of a judgment of core values that extends out from Himself to those who don’t have a “seeing that becomes knowing”, is, in an age of loss and undoing by the presence of the Lord and by the glory of His power, finding a way to make Himself known.

I believe that this unveiling of Christ began with the physical/seeing part in destruction of Jerusalem.  And just as Paul indicated, this was not a seeing that became a knowing.  Barnabus, after the fact, wrote:

Moreover I will tell you likewise concerning the temple, how these wretched men being led astray set their hope on the building, and not on their God that made them… because they went to war it was pulled down by their enemies… it was revealed how the city and the temple and the people of Israel should be betrayed. For the scripture saith; and it shall be in the last days, that the Lord shall deliver up the sheep of the pasture and the fold and the tower thereof to destruction. And it so happened as the Lord had spoken.

This unveiling of Christ will persist, and it will become more and more obvious that Jesus, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! …When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!”

That this ends well is not just wishful thinking.  Even Jesus Christ had this in mind when He said:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.  And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”

There is much more to be said about this, but for now, I hope that the readers of Erasing Hell will “test everything” and “hold on to what is good.”  Testing everything isn’t just casually reading someone’s commentary, saying, “Sure, that makes sense,” and going on about your business.  It is wrestling with every possibility.

I’ll conclude this blog with yet another gem segregated by Chan from the main reading in the notes section of chapter four.  Chan writes:

 In this passage, Paul uses the phrase everlasting destruction.  Does this mean Paul affirms that unbelievers will live forever in never-ending torment?  Or does he mean that unbelievers will be annihilated when Christ comes back?  This verse is not crystal clear, and anyone who thinks it is needs a good dose of interpretative humility.  On the one hand, the word destruction seems to speak of annihilation.  But Paul says it’s “everlasting,” so some have said that Paul is thinking of never-ending punishment in hell.  However, as we have seen, the word everlasting (aionios) doesn’t always mean “never-ending.”  Even if it does mean never-ending here, it would seem to make better sense that the “never ending-ness” speaks of the results or effects of the destruction rather than its ongoing act.  In other words, I don’t think Paul is referring to the never-ending process of God “destroying but not completely destroying” the wicked in hell here.  At least Paul’s words here don’t clearly convey this notion.

That Chan doesn’t include this idea in the chapter is suspect, to say the least.  But I hope that readers pay attention to the fact that Chan excludes this important information under the heading HELL, IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, PETER, AND JUDE.  This is very misleading.  If Chan thinks that Paul probably isn’t referring to the destruction of the wicked in hell, then why on earth would he use what Paul wrote to support the idea that Paul is writing about hell?  Does this make any sense to you?  I hope not.

Next blog in this series: How Chan Nearly Erased Hell

The fifth chapter (called “What Does This Have to Do with Me?”) of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, is loaded with truth compared to the rest of the book.  Unfortunately, that truth is hidden between bookends of error.  I will share a few excerpts and some brief commentary here.

Chan writes:

The most frightening word [in Matthew 7] is many.  Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'”

The reason this is “most frightening” to Chan is evidenced in the next paragraph.  Chan writes:

How will Jesus respond to your laundry list of Christian activities – your Easter services, tithe, Bible studies, church pot-lucks, and summer-camp conversions?  Are you sure you’re on the right side?  What evidence do you have that you know Jesus?

The implication here is awful.  People who spend their entire lives devoted to the “work” of Christ die and go to hell.  The whole time they were living, they thought they knew Jesus, but, apparently they didn’t.  And now, Jesus wants nothing to do with them, ever.  At least, that’s how Chan sees it.

But if we continue reading Chan’s chapter five, we discover that Chan’s idea of “hell” and Jesus’s idea of “hell” don’t seem to jive.  For example, Chan writes:

In Matthew 8, Jesus smuggles a warning about hell into the context of racism and ethnocentrism (the belief that your ethnicity is superior).  The entire context of Matthew 8-9 depicts Jesus reversing all of the cultural and social assumptions of the Jews of that day.  One assumption is that the Jews, as the “people of God,” are much more fit for the kingdom than all those other nasty sinners – those Gentiles, those Greeks, those Romans… And it is here that Jesus says that the “sons of the Kingdom” who think that God values one ethnicity over another (in this case, the Jewish people) are damned to hell: “The sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12 NASB).

What Chan takes away from this passage is relevant and good, but very, very inadequate.  Chan suggests that Christians start being more inclusive.  If he had stopped right there, he would have understood what Jesus was talking about.  But (sigh), Chan adds his own interpretation, one that deals with a surface issue.  Chan points to the tiny percentage of churches that can be considered multiethnic, asks why this is so, calls it sad, and then encourages believers to make efforts to change this situation.

Hey, I’m all for multiethnic inclusiveness among believers.  But Chan is looking on the surface.  He’s trying to put out a raging fire with a thimble full of water.  The kind of inclusiveness that Jesus demonstrates is one that is (to borrow Chan’s words) “reversing all of the cultural and social assumptions of the [church] of [our] day.”  The work Jesus Christ began in Matthew 7-8-9 is ongoing, all-encompassing, and penetrating every barrier present and future.  The work of Christ can be limited by “neither death, nor life, nor messengers, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things about to be, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,” completely undoing the power of sin and death all the way back to Adam, bringing the entire universe to its knees in awe of His Glory.  The church system, just like the system of Mosaic Law, denies this kind of inclusiveness.  In the days of Jesus’s earthly ministry, the Mosaic system refused to believe that God had purposed to reconcile “those Gentiles, those Greeks, those Romans,” just as in our day, the church system refuses to believe that God has purposed to reconcile those terrorists, those homosexuals, those atheists.  Jesus didn’t rewrite His Plan of the Ages to satisfy the exclusivity of orthodoxy.

Again, Chan makes a similar mistake with the poor when he writes:

…many hellfire preachers are overfed and overpaid, living in luxury while doing nothing for the majority of Christians who live on less than two dollars a day.  Contrast that with Jesus, who in His longest sermon about judgment made helping the poor a vital criterion of who goes where. …But it’s ironic that some will fight tooth and nail for the literalness of Jesus’ words about hell in this passage, yet soften Jesus’ very clear words about helping the poor.

Chan’s point here is that believers ought to help the poor.  Who could argue with that?  Of course the haves should help the have-nots.

First, I’d like to point out that when Chan refers to the poor, he specifies the Christian poor.  I’m not just nit-picking Chan here.  He actually includes in the notes section in the back of the chapter an explanation about how Jesus was only talking about Christians when he said “poor” in Matthew 25.  I’m not making this up.  Chan actually wrote this.  You can verify this yourself.

Second, there are two reasons why Chan’s own theology doesn’t work with his interpretation of this passage.

1. Jesus is referring to the judgment of nations.  When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats, He is separating people-groups, not individuals.  According to orthodoxy, this judgment is of individuals who are either “saved” or “going to Hell.”

2. The judgment here is based on works.  If this is some kind of final, White Throne judgment like we see in the cartoons in which people find permanent residence in either Heaven or Hell, then Christian orthodoxy must rewrite the creed of “salvation by grace through faith.”

Here is the passage, if you would like to read it for yourself.  (Notice the plural pronouns.)

…gathered together before him shall be all the nations, and he shall separate them from one another, as the shepherd doth separate the sheep from the goats, and he shall set the sheep indeed on his right hand, and the goats on the left.  Then shall the king say to those on his right hand, Come ye, the blessed of my Father, inherit the reign that hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I did hunger, and ye gave me to eat; I did thirst, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye received me; naked, and ye put around me; I was infirm, and ye looked after me; in prison I was, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see thee hungering, and we nourished? or thirsting, and we gave to drink? and when did we see thee a stranger, and we received? or naked, and we put around? and when did we see thee infirm, or in prison, and we came unto thee?

And the king answering, shall say to them, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as ye did to one of these my brethren – the least – to me ye did. Then shall he say also to those on the left hand, Go ye from me, the cursed, to the fire, the age-during, that hath been prepared for the Devil and his messengers; for I did hunger, and ye gave me not to eat; I did thirst, and ye gave me not to drink; a stranger I was, and ye did not receive me; naked, and ye put not around me; infirm, and in prison, and ye did not look after me.

Then shall they answer, they also, saying, Lord, when did we see thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or infirm, or in prison, and we did not minister to thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as ye did not to one of these, the least, ye did not to me. And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.

Jesus looks over the faces of the crowd gathered to hear His message.  He sees the religious division.  He recognizes that there are two people groups listening, the religious elite, who think they’re “in” and the religious rejects who think they are “out.”  He identifies Himself with the ones who think they are out, “the least,” and He calls them His “brethren.”

Chan should be having an a-ha! moment.  He should be saying, “You mean to tell me that when Jesus indicates believers should receive strangers, He means that believers should receive NON-CHRISTIAN strangers?!  You mean to tell me that when Jesus calls them “brethren,” it isn’t because they are Christians, it’s because He actually considers them as siblings?!”

I know, it’s mind-boggling stuff.  Jesus-reversing-all-of-the-cultural-and-social-assumptions is outrageous grace and a healthy dose of karma all wrapped up in one.  It affects some people in a positive way and others in a negative way.

I’ve got more to say on chapter five, but that’s all for now, folks.

Next blog in this series: Lukewarm and Loving It: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell

In chapter five of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, under the subheading “Lukewarm and Loving It,” Chan writes that the “most terrifying images of hell” are in the book of Revelation, but that people ought to remember the “context in which John writes this book.”  While I don’t agree with the orthodox view on “terrifying images of hell,” I could not agree more with the idea that context is very important.  Chan writes,

This isn’t an evangelistic tract written for unbelievers – the hell passages here weren’t designed to make converts and scare people into the kingdom.  They were designed to warn believers to keep the faith in the midst of adversity.  In fact, the descriptions of hell in Revelation 14 and 20-21 were first written with the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 in mind.  In these churches, there were those who had left their first love (Rev. 2:4), followed the heresy of false teachers (v. 20), and become complacent and “lukewarm” because of the earthly wealth they hoarded (3:15-17).  It is these types of people – people who confess Jesus with their lips but deny Him by their actions – that God reserves the most scathing descriptions of hellfire and brimstone.

Let’s dissect and analyze what Chan writes.

First, what are these “terrifying images of hell” to which Chan refers?  Chan doesn’t name specific verses, so I’ll do the best I can to read through the passages Chan offers and pick out what the orthodox mind considers “terrifying images of hell.”

In Revelation 14 I find, “…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment doth go up to ages of ages; and they have no rest day and night…” and in other scriptures, similar language (lake of fire, second death).

Revelation 14 could not possibly refer to the orthodox idea of hell, that is, never ending torment, and here’s why.  Notice the following verse, “…Happy are the dead who in the Lord are dying from this time!”  During this time period, whenever it may be, people are “dying from this time.”  In orthodoxy, hell and heaven are the only two options, and these two options are ALWAYS take place AFTER DEATH.  If this refers to “hell,” as Chan implies, then this means that orthodoxy must reexamine all other doctrines concerning death and so-called “final” destiny of the soul.  Why?  Because if people are “dying from this time,” then people are “dying from” hell or “dying from” heaven.  This, of course, makes no sense at all if this is about the orthodox version of hell or heaven.

Now, let’s examine the three words “tormented,” “fire,” and “brimstone,” which all carry spiritual significance that directly contradicts the idea of an unchanging condition (eternal torment in hell).

The first thing we have to establish is whether these words ought to be interpreted literally or figuratively.  This should be a no-brainer, given the context.  Ask yourself, is God’s wrath a literal fruity fermented drink?  Can one measure God’s wrath in a literal cup and then take a literal sip of it?  Okay, then.  Obviously, the concepts John writes about are meant to be taken figuratively.  Now, let’s have a look at “tormented,” “fire,” and “brimstone”:

The English word “tormented” is a translation of the Greek word “basanizó,” which has five possible meanings.

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Which meaning ought to be applied?  Will unbelievers, or as Chan implies, not-good-enough believers, be tortured in the presence of Jesus (the Lamb)?  Remember that Jesus did not ever commit violent acts or condone violent acts during his ministry.  Should we put our faith in fallible translators who erroneously decided to translate this word literally, despite the figurative context?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust translators.  We should we allow the Spirit of God to teach us Who God is and what God does, according to the living, breathing image of Himself that He gave us in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

If we rule out literal, physical torture/torment, which clearly does not fit with the figurative context John writes, we are left with only two possible meanings: mental torment (#5) or testing (#1).  Which one of these ideas best fits with the figurative context John writes?  Perhaps if we examine the other two words, this will help us decide.

The English word, “fire,” is translated from the Greek word, “pýr.”  Now, check this out:

Screen shot 2013-02-10 at 10.41.56 PMThis puts an entirely new spin on the old erroneous translation, doesn’t it?  Thank God for the easy access to study materials available online.  We can find out for ourselves exactly how biased translators were/are.

It’s also interesting to look at the etymology of pýr and find that it comes from the Greek word meaning “to purify”:

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And now for the English word, “brimstone.”  It comes from the Greek word, “theíon.”

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Readers, examine your heart and mind before God, and allow Him to tell you which concept is true to His character and intentions toward mankind:

  • Jesus will watch as people are tortured with fire and hot sulphur rocks.  They will have no rest, day or night.  This will go on forever and ever.
  • People will be tested, purified, and transformed in the presence Jesus.  They will have no rest, day or night, until (the age) this is accomplished.

I must give Chan kudos for seeing that John wrote Revelation with believers as his intended audience.  But the implications here are absolutely terrifying, if believers take a confused Chan and his orthodoxy-brainwashed translators at their word.  Chan writes, “[Believers] have become dangerously comfortable – believers ooze with wealth and let their addictions to comfort and security numb the radical urgency of the gospel.”  The “radical urgency” that he’s talking about here is that Jesus will watch as people are tortured with fire and hot sulphur rocks forever and ever, and that you, believer, might be one of those tortured people if you aren’t good enough.

Chan can’t erase hell, because he’s got his pencil upside down.  He’s creating hell, right here on earth.  I know those are not his intentions, but his message is all about fear, not only for not-yet-believers, but for believers.

Chan writes, “Racism, greed, misplaced assurance, false teaching, misuse of wealth, and degrading words to a fellow human being – these are the things that damn people to hell?  According to Scripture, the answer is yes.”

I agree with Chan.  But I’ll borrow his words to explain how he’s missing the point.  To be racist is hell.  To be greedy or to misuse wealth is hell.  Misplaced assurance is when you look to yourself, hoping you are good enough to be called worthy, instead of looking to Christ, Who poured out His blood to make you worthy.  False teaching is believing that Christ will torture you with fire and sulfur rocks forever and ever if you don’t believe and live according to the “radical urgency” of the not-so-good-news “gospel.”  Living in this kind of fear is the most hellish hell of all.  To degrade your fellow human being is hell.  And so on.

Think about it.  The life that Jesus gives, the aionios zoe, begins right here, right now.  If one understands this, then one understands why “gospel” means good news.  It is good news that DRIVES OUT FEAR.  You are rescued from a self-made hell when you enter into His Reign, and in His Reign, there is no fear of punishment.  Your old way of thinking/doing is “crucified” with Christ, and the person God created you to be is born from above.  “…Happy are the dead who in the Lord are dying from this time!”

Chan gives lip service to the idea that Jesus saves, but then he turns around and fills “saved” people with doubt about where they stand with God.

Chan prays, “Holy Spirit, save me.  Set me apart.  Make me worthy.”

And the Holy Spirit answers, “I did.  I do.  You are.”

 

Next blog in this series: God is Sneaky and His Spies are Everywhere

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I started this blog in March 2011, and since it’s getting close to the 2 year mark, I’ve been checking over stats so that I can put together a trend report next month.  Since the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell blog series, a critical examination of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, outranks all other www.whatgoddoes.com blog posts by far, I occasionally Google “Erasing Hell” to see how many pages in the SEO www.whatgoddoes.com is, and today I was pleasantly surprised to see that anyone searching for that book online will find the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell blog series directly under Amazon.com, and three steps up on the SEO from www.erasinghell.com, the official website for the book!  My excitement about this is based on the fact that it seems like every time the orthodoxy attempts to stamp out the fire God has started, the blaze just burns brighter, because God is super sneaky and His spies are EVERYWHERE.  To make things a little easier on blog readers who haven’t been following this series, I’ve set the pages up so that you can start here: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell and then, at the bottom of each each blog post page there’s a link to the next blog in the series, all the way through the most current blog post, Lukewarm and Loving It: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell. Enjoy reading and “…then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Next blog in this series: What if God is Erasing Hell for Chan?

Because of our recent move, all of my blog series books, with one exception, are currently buried in a precariously leaning pile of papers, files, and office supplies in the spare bedroom.  The exception?  Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan.  Consequently, that’s the series I’ll cover for this weekend’s blog.  If you would like to start at the beginning of the series, the first blog is Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell « www.whatgoddoes.com, and there’s a link at the bottom of each page for the next blog in the series.

What if God…?

Chapter 6, called “What if God…?” begins with a cursory look at Romans 9, particularly verses 22-23, a chapter that “has caused [Chan] more confusion than any other.”  How refreshing Chan’s transparency is!  He begins by admitting his confusion.  Chan explains that Romans 9 is easy to understand, in itself, but what he finds confusing is the “newness” of it.  Why is it “new?”  Because “it’s a passage that isn’t preached often,” Chan writes, therefore, believers may ask themselves, “Is this saying what I think it’s saying?

This is a great beginning for a chapter, in my opinion, because in the first paragraph, not only is the author of the book admitting confusion over the passage he intends to explain, but Chan proposes a brilliant question, the ultimate question, the very question that can help him overcome his confusion over Romans 9.

Sadly, that’s as far as Chan goes in the right direction before he retreats back into the dark and confusing land of what-I-think-it’s-saying.  And I must add that I totally disagree with the idea that this passage of scripture hasn’t been preached often.  It’s been beat to death by preachers over the centuries.  The erroneous ideas that orthodoxy has attached to this passage of scripture are so ingrained in the Churchian psyche that it if it isn’t preached, it is assumed.

So, what, exactly does Chan think-it’s-saying?

Matthew Henry writes a typical example of the traditional interpretation of this passage:

The apostle, having asserted the true meaning of the promise, comes here to maintain and prove the absolute sovereignty of God, in disposing of the children of men, with reference to their eternal state. And herein God is to be considered, not as a rector and governor, distributing rewards and punishments according to his revealed laws and covenants, but as an owner and benefactor, giving to the children of men such grace and favour as he has determined in and by his secret and eternal will and counsel: both the favour of visible church-membership and privileges, which is given to some people and denied to others, and the favour of effectual grace, which is given to some particular persons and denied to others.

 

Chan seems to agree with the traditional interpretation, which includes both truth and error.

The truths:

  • God is absolutely sovereign.
  • God is the owner and benefactor of humanity.
  • God gives us grace and favor according to His will.

The errors:

  • God eternally disposes of people.
  • The garbage-people get tossed because God has chosen to deny them “effectual grace” for salvation.

It is no wonder to me that people can read this passage and feel confused about Who God is or what God does, especially given the fact that people most often read it only in the translation that has been recommended to them by their local Christian bookstore or pastor and because people most often read it with a set of preconceived ideas about what certain key words mean.

Is this saying what I think it’s saying?

Take for example, the phrase, “the objects of His wrath, prepared for destruction.”  According to Henry and Chan and a bunch of other preachers and Bible teachers, “the objects of His wrath” are the souls of people you love, and “destruction” could be something as horrifying as eternal torment, and as if this were not ugly enough, add to it the idea that God has “prepared” them for this specific purpose.

How wonderful it is that Chan might actually read this blog.  Just the other day I got a blog comment from the author of a book I referenced, so it certainly is a possibility. I hope and pray Chan does read, because I have a message for him, an answer to the first question posed in Chapter 6.

No.  It is not saying what you think it says.

So what is Paul trying to say, then?

I’m glad you asked.  Let’s take a look at some of the terms first and then put them all together IN CONTEXT.

Romans 9:22-23 in the English Standard Version that Chan uses in the book (with the terms that I’ll address in bold):

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destructionin order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?

  1. There is no English word in this translation for a very important word that appears in the Greek.  The missing word is “de,” a conjunction that can mean, “on the other hand” or “but,” and according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it is used “universally, by way of opposition and distinction; it is added to statements opposed to a preceding statement, it opposes persons to persons or things previously mentioned or thought of.”  Keep this in mind for later, when we examine the scripture quote in context.
  2. The English word “desiring” is from the Greek word, “thélō,” meaning, “wanting what is best (optimal) because someone is ready and willing to act.”
  3. The English word “show” is from the Greek word, “endeíknymi,” meaning, “to make fully evident, showing conspicuous proof which demonstrates something as undeniable.”
  4. The English word “wrath” is from the Greek word, “orgḗ,” meaning, “settled anger that proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes.”  The root word is “oragō,” which implies that the anger is “not a sudden outburst, but rather (referring to God’s) fixed, controlled, passionate feeling against sin . . . a settled indignation.”
  5. The English word “power” is from the Greek word, “dynatós,” meaning, “able, describing what is made possible because of the power (ability) exerted by the subject.”
  6. The English words “has endured” are from the Greek word, “phérō,” meaning, “to bear, carry (bring) along, especially temporarily or to a definite (prescribed) conclusion.”  (The Greek word in this context is aorist indicative active, which means that it is not limited to the past, but can continue in the present and future.)
  7. The English word “patience” is from the Greek word, “makrothymía,” meaning, “long-passion, i.e. waiting sufficient time before expressing anger. This avoids the premature use of force (retribution) that rises out of improper anger (a personal reaction).”
  8. The English word “vessels” is the same word translated as “jars of clay” in 2 Cor. 4:7. (“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”)  It is used almost exclusively in scripture to describe a container that holds something.
  9. The English word “destruction” is from the Greek word, “apṓleia,” meaning “destruction, causing someone (something) to be completely severed – cut off (entirely) from what could or should have been, apṓleia (‘perdition’) does not imply ‘annihilation’ (see the meaning of the root-verb, 622/apóllymi, ‘cut off’) but instead ‘loss of well-being’ rather than being.”
  10. The English words “in order to” are from the Greek word, “hína,” meaning “for the purpose that, looking to the aim (intended result) of the verbal idea, the semantically marked (dramatic) way of expressing purpose in Greek.”
  11. The English word “glory” is from the Greek word, “dóksa,” (from dokeō, “exercising personal opinion which determines value“) meaning, “glory, conveys God’s infiniteintrinsic worth (substance, essence).” The word literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.
Putting it all together, in context…

The English Standard Version really messed up.

Chan makes a big deal out of the Paul’s statement, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”  Although this is true of God, it is not the point that Paul is making.  But people who read the English Standard Version, or most other translations of scripture for that matter, will not understand this.  Why?  Because Paul actually began, not by writing, “What if God…” but by writing, “If, on the other hand…”

This means that this impersonal potter-and-clay idea of God ought to be contrasted with the way that God actually chooses to deal with humanity.  Paul is demonstrating a concept that is opposite and distinct from the preceding potter-and-clay concept.

So, God has something in mind for humanity that goes way beyond potter-and-clay, that is, He is “wanting what is best (optimal) because someone is ready and willing to act.”

What is this good thing God has in mind? To make fully evident, showing conspicuous proof which demonstrates something as undeniable.

What does God want to make evident?  What does God want to prove?  His “settled anger that proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes.”  It is not some “sudden outburst,” it is God’s “fixed, controlled, passionate feeling against sin . . . a settled indignation.”

As it is right now, there are plenty of people who don’t believe or understand that God is stewing over injustice.  If God could not be trusted as One Who wants “what is best,” then we would all have reason to be very, very terrified of God.

God reveals something about Himself that puts His settled anger into perspective.  He makes known “what is made possible because of [His] power.”

What does He make known?  What does God show us about Himself?  What is made possible because of His power?  He patiently carries or brings along something temporarily, to a definite (prescribed) conclusion.

What does He endure or bear or carry?  He patiently carries vessels or jars of clay.  He gives our bodies breath and is intimately involved in forming and shaping the clay through each day of our lives.  Human life is for many a practice in the loss of well-being, a cutting off from God.

Why would God consider this a good thing?  God is “looking to the aim” or “intended result” or “purpose.”

What is the purpose?  To make known the riches of His glory.  The value of God!  He is teaching the human race to exercise personal opinion, to have a good opinion of Him, to recognize His inherent, intrinsic worth. Imagine that.  If, on the other hand, the Potter designs the clay differently, some to honor (recognizing the value of God) and some to dishonor (not recognizing the value of God), because God is teaching the clay to know and understand, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Now, remember that Paul began his thought, “If, on the other hand…”

Paul loved writing conditional statements (in logic, a conditional statement is “if this, then that”).  We have to scroll down the page to find the “then that” part of Paul’s statement.  We have to scroll past this,

Those who were not my people I will call “my people,”
and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”
And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,”
there they will be called “sons of the living God.”

to find this:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone…

You have to remember that Paul used to be a fierce enemy of people who believed in the Messiah.  He was old-school Israel, all about the law, believing that Gentiles were excluded from the Kingdom of God, because they were not God’s “chosen” people.

Don’t Chan and friends do the same thing Paul used to do when they count the vessels of dishonor as excluded from any spiritual hope?  Jesus came to seek and save the lost (destroyed/apṓleia)

Which makes more sense? to ask, “Is this saying what I think it’s saying?” and then force yourself to believe something horrible about God, that the Spirit of God is telling you in the core of your being is NOT true of God, because you’ve been handed a bad translation and a long tradition of erroneous interpretation – OR – admit that what you think it says isn’t what it actually says?

 

Next blog in this series: Could You Love a God Like This?

This is another installment in the blog series on Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan.  If you would like to start at the beginning of the series, the first blog is Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell « www.whatgoddoes.com.  Primarily, this blog series refutes, point-by-point, the errors in Chan’s book.

Continuing in chapter six: “What if God…?”

Chan examines the laundry list of God; dirty laundry, that is.  The heading of this portion of the chapter is entitled, “I Wouldn’t Have Done That.”  Basically, Chan’s goal is to shock readers into agreeing that “sending people to hell isn’t the only thing God does that is impossible to figure out.”  The litany of bizarre and horrific “divine acts” includes:

  • A world-wide flood with only eight survivors
  • The command to slaughter of 3,000 people
  • The command to slaughter the inhabitants of Canaan, including men, women, and children
  • The command to stone people to death
  • The command for Ezekiel “to lie on his right side for 390 days, to lie on his left side for 40 days, to cook for over human dung, to hold himself back from mourning over his wife’s death when God takes her, and to preach sermons laced with sexually explicit rhetoric…”
  • Sending His Son to be tortured and killed

Chan then moves on to the section entitled, “Wrestling with God,” in which he offers the example of Job.  Chan writes,

Take Job for example.  Job was literally the most righteous person in the entire world (the Bible actually says that), and yet he suffered intensely.  In a single moment, God took all of his property, his possessions, and even his whole family.  As as if this wasn’t enough, God allowed Job to suffer from a physical disease – possibly elephantiasis – that produced unbearable pain.  His skin became crusty and oozed with puss, his bones burned like fire, and his entire body became deformed.  Naturally, Job demanded some answers.  He deserved to know what God was doing.  He had every cause to sit God down and have Him explain a few things.

Or did he?  Again, think Potter and clay.

For more on the Potter and clay, please read the previous blog post in this series, What if God is Erasing Hell for Chan?  But what about the rest of what Chan says?  How do we come to terms with the idea that God allows, causes, or even commands such things?  And this is where the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell blog series intersects with another blog series on theodicy, based on Thomas G. Long’s book, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith.  I do have much more to say about this, but for the time being, I would like to pose a question for readers to consider, the same question, in fact, that Chan poses to his readers:

Could you love a God like this?

Chan proposes that, yes, we ought to love a God like this.  After all, the alternative to NOT loving a God like this is eternal torment in hell.

If you answer yes, I have a follow-up question:

Should you love a God like this?

I propose that God has allowed humanity to conjure up ideas about Who He is and what He does, so that these ideas can stand in contrast to Who He REALLY is and what He REALLY does.  Why?  That’s another blog for another day.  Your answer to Chan’s question (and my questions), as well as other comments, are more than welcome, but be warned that they will likely be used in this or the Long series after I am done reviewing the books.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: A Sense of Urgency

This is another installment in the blog series on Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan.  If you would like to start at the beginning of the series, the first blog is Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell « www.whatgoddoes.com.  Primarily, this blog series refutes, point-by-point, the errors in Chan’s book.

Chapter Seven: “Don’t Be Overwhelmed”

This chapter serves as a confessional of sorts, for all believers who hold to the doctrine of eternal torment in hell yet don’t act like they truly believe their own doctrine.  Chan writes,

A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11).

The unsuspecting reader might assume that Paul hints at the prospect of eternal torment in hell for those who do not believe, and that this dread is what motivates Paul or gives him a passion for the gospel.  This is impossible, for several reasons, but before we explore these reasons, we must first look at the context in which Paul’s words, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” appear.

Paul writes about the temporary nature of the human body,

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God

Paul writes about the destiny of the human body,

…what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God…

Paul writes about how believers benefit from understanding the destiny of the human body,

Therefore we are always confident…

Confident about what?  Paul writes,

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.

“Aha!”  I can almost hear Chan say.  “There it is!  Judgment!  Fear God!  Be afraid!  Warn everybody!”  There are scriptures that refer to a healthy fear of the Lord, the kind of respect and awe that naturally brings one to his or her knees in worship.  And there are other scriptures that refer to an unhealthy fear of the Lord.

Before I address this judgment and fear, we need to continue looking at the context.  Context includes both before AND after.  So for now, let’s move on.  Paul writes,

What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience… 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.

What does it look like, to live for Christ instead of ourselves?  Paul writes that God “gave us” believers “the ministry of reconciliation.”

What is the ministry of reconciliation?  Paul explains,

…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. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

In summary, Paul’s message to the Corinthians is:

  1. Both believers and not-yet-believers have mortal bodies, which will be “swallowed up” in life.
  2. Believers are confident about the judgment seat of Christ, because they understand #1.
  3. Believers understand what it is to fear the Lord.
  4. Believers are compelled by the love of Christ.
  5. Believers are ministers of reconciliation with a message of reconciliation: God is not counting people’s sins against them.

Now let’s examine two concepts: Fear of the Lord and the judgment seat of Christ.

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Does Paul flee from God because he feels inadequate?  Is Paul suggesting that the Corinthians withdraw from the Lord and His will, because they dread God?  No.  Of course not.  So, what is Paul saying?

Paul is saying that believers understand what it is like to avoid God, to live in dread of judgment, because this is exactly how Paul, the Corinthians, and other believers they used to feel, before they understood that their mortal bodies would be swallowed up in life.  They do not feel the need to run away from God once they understand, “What we are is plain to God…”  God already knows who they are, and He is not counting their sins against them.  Armed with this knowledge, they become confident about the judgment seat of Christ, something necessary and beneficial.  The result?  They are compelled by the love of Christ.

What is the judgment seat of Christ?

First, judgment is not about God counting people’s sins against them so He can send them to hell.  Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries writes,

Paul represented the free gift of life as extending equally with sin. “As, by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Rom. 5:18) This is a very important passage. It teaches us, that the free gift of eternal life shall extend equally with sin. On the one hand we are told, judgment came upon all men by sin; on the other we find, that “the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”

Second, judgment, although dreadful for those who enter into it believing God sees them as enemies, ultimately results in something good. The lyrics of a song, accompanied by stringed instruments, cymbals, and trumpets, are recorded in 1 Chronicles 16,

let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad

let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”

let the sea resound, and all that is in it

let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them

let the trees of the forest sing

let them sing for joy before the Lord

for he comes to judge the earth

Third, judgment belongs to Jesus Christ, who reconciles all things to Himself.

…because in him were the all things created, those in the heavens, and those upon the earth, those visible, and those invisible, whether thrones, whether lordships, whether principalities, whether authorities; all things through him, and for him, have been created… through him to reconcile the all things to himself – having made peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether the things upon the earth, whether the things in the heavens. (Col. 1)

Now that we’ve taken a brief look at fear and judgment, let’s look once again at what Chan writes,

A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11).

According to Chan, Paul has a sense of urgency over the reality of hell, and this is what charges his passion for the gospel.  To find out whether this is true, all we have to do is read what Paul writes. What motivates Paul?  I searched through some of his writings to find out.  Here’s some of what I found, in his own words:

  • I am obligated… That is why I am so eager…
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel… For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…
  • I am convinced that [nothing]… will be able to separate us from the love of God…
  • …my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved…
  • I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.  For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
  • I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery…: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.
  • I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
  • I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known… “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
  • …to win as many as possible.
  • I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
  • For I do not want you to be ignorant…
  • I do not want you to be uninformed…
  • Therefore I want you to know…
  • I want to remind you of the gospel… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…

*If you want a bit more context, you can read extended excerpts at the end of this blog, or you can read whole chapters, linked after the references.

What motivates Paul?  He is obligated to God, eager, and not ashamed of the good news.  He’s convinced, he hopes to arouse his own people (Jews) to envy the salvation of non-Jews, and he doesn’t want people to be ignorant, or uninformed, so he writes boldly and reminds people of the good news.  He feels it is his priestly duty.  Paul’s ambition is to “fully proclaim” the good news where Christ is not known, to win as many as possible, to enable people to know “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  But why?  Why does Paul do this?  What charges his passion for the gospel?

In the gospel, the good news, the love and righteousness of God are uncovered – the idea that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Paul gets it.  He understands that his own people, who were “God’s people” according to the law, have been rejected by God, not so that God can send them to hell, but so that the law, fulfilled in Christ, becomes obsolete, and the door of salvation swings wide open to include all people in a new and better covenant of grace.  But Paul knows that only he and a handful of others really understand this amazing concept.  He wants the whole world to know that Israel’s rejection ushers in “reconciliation to the world,” which ultimately results in “life from the dead” for everyone.  Paul’s message is the good news that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the “full number” of Gentiles are reconciled to God and “all Israel will be saved.”

It is not the urgency of hell that motives Paul, but “the grace God gave [Paul,] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” He proclaims the good news, not to save people from hell, but to save people to the love and righteousness of God, “so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  When people trade their ignorance about God for the good news, then Paul gets to “share in its blessings.”  If he were to throw in the towel, he would miss out on this, he would be “disqualified for the prize.”

If a sense of urgency over the reality of hell is what charges Paul’s passion for the gospel, then he sure does waste a lot of time talking about peripherals and nonessentials.  If his audience is in danger of eternal torment in hell,  then Paul’s writings should look more like this:

  • I am full of dread… That is why I am so eager…
  • For I am worried because of the gospel… For in the gospel the eternal wrath of God is revealed…
  • I am convinced that ignorance about hell… will be able to separate people from the love of God…
  • …my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved from eternal torment in hell…
  • I have a sense of urgency in my ministry in the fear that I might fail to arouse my own people to envy and save some of them from eternal torment in hell.  For if their rejection brought reconciliation to a small minority of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead for a handful of them?
  • I am desperate because you are ignorant of this mystery…: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until a small percentage of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way a small percentage of Israel will be saved from eternal torment in hell.
  • I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the urgency God gave me to be a minister of saving people from hell. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming eternal torment in hell, so that the Gentiles might not go there.
  • I have fully proclaimed the dreadful intentions of God. It has always been my ambition to warn people about hell where hell was not known… “Those who were not told about hell will go to hell, and those who have not heard will go to hell.”
  • …to lose as few as possible
  • I do all this for the sake of the rescuing people from hell, that I may have their blood on my hands… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be sent to hell.

Why didn’t Paul plainly state, at every opportunity, the horror in store for his audience?  Why didn’t he write,

  • For I do not want you to be ignorant about eternal torment in hell…
  • I do not want you to be uninformed about eternal torment in hell…
  • Therefore I want you to know about eternal torment in hell…
  • I want to remind you of eternal torment in hell… that you will die in your sins, your body will be buried, and your disembodied soul will experience eternal anguish in utter darkness, forever without hope.

For the love of God, Paul could have at least ONCE, said the word “hell” as he “fully proclaimed” the gospel.

Chan writes,

We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live differently in light of it.

So if Chan wants to use Paul as an example for believers regarding the doctrine of eternal torment, then Paul should serve as an example of WHAT NOT TO DO.  Don’t waste time like Paul did, writing about looking forward to visits, how to get along with others, the importance of love being the source of motivation in all that you do, and all that other stuff that has nothing to do with the urgency of snatching souls from the gaping chasm of death while there’s still time.

Chan’s message is that believers, being”constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment,” “shouldn’t just go on with life as usual.”  Instead, “a sense of urgency over the reality of hell” should be what motivates them to share the “good news.”  If we are to take this very seriously, then there should be no more non-urgent activities: no more little league practice, no more vacations, and no more birthday parties for believers.  Believers are wasting valuable time that could be spent preaching the good news to hell-bound people.  How can you just sit there jabber-jawing with your friends, when the men around you are about to burn in hell?  That stranger you cross paths with could die today.  And you didn’t share the good news.  God has placed the eternal destiny of her soul in your hands, and you are going to just carry on, as if she doesn’t matter?  How dare you!  You should be ashamed!  You should be afraid for all of them!   You should be urgent!

Some readers may think that I am making fun of Chan or other believers who see life through this lens of sickening dread and laboring-in-vain.  If all believers were to do as Chan suggests, the not-yet-believers of this world would be repelled, not drawn in.  I mean to shed light on the absurdity of attempting to shape one’s approach to life and relationship with others on a doctrine of fear.  I am in no way overstating my case.  If anything, I am understating my case.  Think about it. If eternal torment in hell is what is at stake for the majority of humanity, what right does any believer have to waste time doing anything other than preaching this so-called good news? (Other than what is absolutely necessary to survive, of course – go to work so you can buy the necessities like food, shelter, and clothing, take time to sleep, bathe, etc.)

Chan sets believers up for a life of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, because it isn’t the urgency of believers that draws people to Christ.  It is Christ Who draws people to Himself.  All people.  He says so Himself, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to myself.”  The attraction of the Good News is the love and righteousness of God, Who has purposed to reconcile all to Himself, Who is not counting people’s sins against them.  The knowledge of His glory in Christ Jesus transforms people.  The urgency is not fear-based, it is love-based.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

If you win the lottery, the first thing you want to do is tell someone – your spouse, your kid, your parent, your friend.  You would feel compelled to do so, because keeping something like that yourself is liable to make you burst at the seams.  The gospel, the Good News, works in the same way.  You realize that you are on to something so profound, so amazing, that you can’t help but want others to know.  You love them, and you want them to share in your joy.  There’s a huge difference between fear-based and love-based living.  One causes people to run from God (and rightly so, because this version of God is distorted by doctrine and tradition), the other draws people to Him.

 

 

*These are the references from earlier in the blog:

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…

…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own…

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

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

For I do not want you to be ignorant… I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…

(Rom. 1, 8, 10, 11, 15, 1 Cor. 9, 10, 11, 13, 15)

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Final Blog in This Series

This is the final blog in the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell series, unless, of course, Chan decides to write a part two.  Many people overlook the appendix when they read a book.  Sometimes, this isn’t a big deal, but with Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, the appendix is a very big deal.  Let’s compare what appears in the book with what appears in the appendix.

In the book, Chan spends an awful lot of time (pages 53 − 61) focusing on the imagery of fire, darkness, and lament.  He goes into great detail attempting to persuade the reader that Jesus’ words regarding the fire of Gehenna are NOT meant to be taken as anything other than “God punishing the wicked in hell.”

In the appendix, however, Chan writes, “If fire imagery is taken literally, one wonders how fire would work on such non-physical creatures.”  And, “given the widespread use of fire as a metaphor in Scripture, I find it best to take these images nonliterally.”

In the book, Chan writes that in the context of first-century Jews (Jesus included), “hell was seen as a place of punishment for those who do not follow God.”  Keep in mind that first-century Jews based their beliefs upon what we now call the Old Testament.  At that time, the Old Testament scriptures were the ONLY scriptures available.  When modern people talk about “hell” in the Old Testament, they actually refer to the word “sheol.”

In the appendix, Chan gets honest about sheol, writing, “The meaning of sheol, often translated as ‘pit’ or ‘grave,’ is difficult to translate.”  He continues, “At the very least, sheol is simply a synonym for death; at most, it may refer to some sort of shadowy subhuman existence after death, without specifying the details.”  Chan references a few more ambiguous scriptures that, in his own words, do not offer any “firm conclusions about the nature of hell” and concludes, “caution must rule our interpretation.”

I hope you have benefitted from reading this blog series, and that your current beliefs regarding hell have been thoroughly challenged.  May God grant you a hunger for truth and an extremely sensitive bullshit detector as you continue to “test everything” and “hold on to what is good.”

 

Check out the videos!

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

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

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

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

2. They rely on erroneous translations of scripture.

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

3. They rely on orthodox opinion too much.

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

4. They are troubled or restless in their spirits.

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

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

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

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

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

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