Saturday, November 17, 2012

Earth Suits, Space Suits and Blind Beggars

Keith is a skydiver.  Once a skydiver, always a skydiver...even though his interests for the past few years have veered toward staying IN the "perfectly good airplane" rather than jumping out of it.  He worked hard to become rated as a light sport pilot....with plans to move on to the next step (private pilot) when time and money are available.  Anything related to being thousands of feet above the earth is often a topic at our house. So, about a month ago, when Felix Baumgartner made his epic jump from more than 24 miles up, it was a topic of interest and conversation at the McAndrew household.  I probably wouldn't have paid much attention if I wasn't married to Keith...other than maybe a passing "wth" is this guy thinking?

And not too long after Felix's (thankfully) successful jump, I came upon an article that looked at the spiritual implications of his jump....and the similarities between his space suit and our "earth suits" (this body of flesh that houses our spirits).

The article is written by Tzvi Freeman and is entitled

"Sky Dive From Heaven - What I learned from a guy who fell to earth from the edge of outer space at the speed of sound

It begins with a discussion of how (and why) Felix totally freaked out about being in the special suit he had to wear to survive the jump.  It protected his body from the minus 70 degree temps at those high altitudes and the speed of the fall.....prevented his body fluids from becoming gasses and other unpleasant stuff.  Red Bull sponsored the jump....and they called in a psychologist who specializes in these crazy....ahhhhhh, I mean extreme and high-performance sports.  Dr. Michael Gervais, was there to help Felix cope with the multiple panic attacks he was having because of the suit. 

Then the article takes a thought provoking twist by comparing Felix's jump to our leap from heaven.  From the spiritual realm to the earthly realm.  And we needed special suits to survive the jump into this realm....thus....our earth suits.  Our physical bodies. 

There is a line of thought in the Jewish tradition (and the object of musing in other faith traditions) that the skin God clad Adam and Eve with after the fall was not that of an animal but rather the skin of our earthly bodies. Interesting thought....and I've written about it before HERE.

So let's ponder the idea that we did preexist with God before our "jump to earth." What might the consequences be?

The article goes on to say:

But we become focused on the spacesuit. Yes, it’s an ingenious spacesuit, custom design for its mission, with its own built-in intelligence, mirrors, and a wide range of flexibility. But it’s clumsy, nonetheless. The body says, “I want this. I need that. I can’t do this. I must do that.” Our entire reality becomes exlusively that of the body and its demands, while the person within, the divine soul that fell from above starts to panic, to lose control, and eventually to fall into comatose.

Interesting thoughts....interesting comparisons.

Perhaps rather than comatose, one of the consequences of this jump is the blindness....the amnesia it produces.  We forget who we are and where we came from.  Our vision is obscured. We see through a glass darkly.  We gets glimpses of the spiritual now and then....a peek "beyond the veil" and every once in a while, there are "thin places" where the spiritual breaks through into the natural realm.  The more spiritually enlightened folks among us see much clearer....but still, their vision is clouded. 

In Ode: Intimations of Immortality William Wordsworth says this
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy.


                 Picture by "nattavut" from free digital photos

And then, a few days ago, while reading in the Gospels, I came upon a few verses in both  that brings some of my scattered thoughts together.  

Bartimaeus Receives His Sight

Mark 10: 46Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” 50Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” 52And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.

There are parallels. We are all blind. Christ is the source of our healing, our sight, our understanding.. 

The Bible has been described as an onion....layer upon layer of meaning. Unpeel one layer only to uncover another layer.  There is the obvious, natural meaning of the words...and oftentimes...most times?....always?....there is a deeper spiritual meaning. Looking up the meaning of the words in the original language often deciphers the deeper meaning.  Since I am by no means a Greek scholar, I depend on resources like the Strong's concordance to help peel away layers of "the onion."

In this passage, the word translated "blind" is tuphlos in the Greek.  According to Strongs, it means "blind" and "mentally blind."  Not seeing does not always involve our eyesight. 

And the meaning of the Greek word anablepo translated BOTH as regain and sight in verse 51 means "to look up" and "to recover lost sight."  It comes from two root words....

which means "into the midst, in the midst, amidst, among, between"

Blepo has several that has to do with physical seeing, but also another that is metaphorical - to see with the mind's eye.

Notice the blind man wanted to REgain his sight. We, too, need to REgain our spiritual sight.  We need a cure for our spiritual amnesia….and to REmember who we are and where we came from….  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is God Equally Judge and Equally Father?

Slowly but surely, I am making my way through the list of questions I think are birthed when we believe in the God of eternal conscious torment that Chan talks about in his book Erasing Hell. 
Throughout the book, Chan emphasizes the legal/courtroom/God as judge concept when he uses phrases such as….
After Jesus looks at the evidence
He gives His verdict: Believers are awarded everlasting life, while unbelievers are awarded everlasting punishment.
But Jesus goes on to say that God’s courtroom will be much worse, for here the Judge has the power to sentence you to the “hell [gehenna] of fire”
The legal context of this statement ensures that Jesus is referring to the consequences of judgment day.
When Jesus uses stock phrases like “gehenna of fire” in legal contexts like this one, He means a literal place of punishment after judgment. He means hell.
The phrase sentenced to hell is once again reminiscent of something you would hear in a courtroom.
So…is God mainly judge or is God mainly father?
William Barclay, in I Am A Convinced Universalist explained it this way:
Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.
And John Gavazzoni, a favorite kingdom minister of mine, says it this way in his article “My Dad, God”:
One thing stands out clearly to me when I compare my father's relationship with his children to the way our Heavenly Father is presented in conventional orthodox theology. It is simply this: Lou Gavazzoni's relationship with me was paternal, not legal. Whatever factors came into play, all was built on a familial, not a forensic foundation. There may at times have been a friendship element, associate-in-business element, fellow-musician element, boss-employee element, even lord-servant element and yes, the element of judgment came up as well. But, I never stood before one who was essentially a judge, who might, after legal matters were settled, then allow himself to be fatherly.
I stood before my father who might, as necessary, act in a firm, unyielding and corrective judgment as part of his love for me. Yet, it seems clear to me, that most of Christianity assumes that a relationship with God is only possible after legal matters are settled. Our minds are so entangled with what we perceive to be legal, judicial and forensic necessities that we miss the Father-heart of God.
So is God really everyone’s father…or does he only become Father when we “pray the sinner’s prayer” and “ask Jesus to come into our heart”?
More on that….in my next post…..

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And the third mindset spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell

Psalm 16:11 

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

You couldn’t prove this verse by the Christians who default to the third mindset I've come across in believers of ECT.

A begrudging acceptance and a keen awareness of everything they are missing to toe the "I don't want to burn in hell" line fuels their beliefs and behavior. There is no joy evident in their lives…other than the “joy” that comes from knowing they are (probably) not bound for hell.  At least not if they continue to toe the line. 

Their quiet anger carries over into everything they do and permeates their entire life style. You will usually find them in very fundamentalist churches....conforming their lives to a strict set of rules and regulations they don't want to follow. But they do...

They totally miss the the pleasures and fullness of joy that can only be found at the right hand of the Father. 

I came across the following excerpt a few years ago on the website of a good, Bible believing, home schooling, King James only, submissive wife and mother. The article is called "Hell is Real." Scientists have proven it after is in the earths core. Proven fact.

I think this excerpt clearly shows just how much this doctrine is stealing from them.

Do you really believe in Hell?  I should hope that if I walked into any fundamental church and ask the question, “Do you really believe in Hell?" that everyone would say, "Yes."  I mean after all, that is supposed to be a point of our doctrine, that we believe in a Hell that has fire.  That is what good fundamentalists believe.  But do you really believe in Hell?

If you don't believe in Hell, then there is no point. 

Then she poses the rhetorical question…

But if we don't believe in Hell, why then do we go to church?  We could be down at a park where they have a festival going on.  We could be eating Tostitos, burritos and all that other stuff. 

If we didn't believe in Hell, we could sleep in on Sunday mornings.  We could watch football in the afternoon, drink an Old Style, eat lunch, sit back at a pool, and enjoy ourselves.

If you do believe in Hell, you need to go soul winning.  If you do believe in Hell, you need to work on a Sunday school bus, maybe kicking in some money to buy a few more busses.  If you do believe in Hell, you need to find a street corner and preach on the subject of Hell. If you do believe in Hell, you need to find a room somewhere in church and start a Sunday school class and fill it.  Knock on doors, preach on street corners, go to the neighborhood and bring them.  Build a Sunday school class.  Build a bus route.  Build the church.  Get people saved.  Get them baptized.  Get them serving God, so that they can win others. Do you really believe in Hell? Then it is time to get busy.

You tell me….is there even a hint of fullness of joy in what she has to say?

I’m going to close this post with a quote from Derek Flood…from his article How Can a Loving God Sent People To Hell.

 It is often said that without the threat of Hell that no one will repent, and no one will evangelize. I would propose that the opposite is true. If you come to God because you are afraid of going to Hell, or if you evangelize out of a fear of Hell, then your motivation is based on fear and not love, And that is wrong. Fear of punishment is a selfish motivation, and if that is your motivation you need to change it. We do not love God or our neighbor because of what we can get out of it - maximizing our self-interest. We love because it is right. Period. If you find that you no longer love God, or your neighbor after the weight of a motivation of guilt and fear are lifted from over your head, then I would question whether you ever really loved them at all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What kind of mindset is spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell? Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the believers who seem to delight in the Lord's wrathful judgment of sinners. They are content to let scores of their friends and family endure endless tortures in hell without so much as a feeble protest. They think God has every right.  He's God.  He can do whatever he damn well pleases. 

And then there are the folks who have always been taught there is an eternal hell where all nonbelievers will spend forever....and ever....and ever....and ever...and get the idea.  It offends their sense of justice.  It offends their sense of what is fair.  Yet, since "the Bible tells me so" they see no way around the doctrine. There is a hell...they don't want to go there.  They don't want their friends or loved ones to go there...but you know, "God doesn't send anyone to hell.  You send yourself to hell." (by making bad choices like not asking Jesus to come live in your heart)

Unless of course you are a Calvinist.  If you are a Calvinist, you believe God chooses who goes to hell and who doesn't.  The double predestination thing.  The elect are heaven bound.  The non elect are....not.  It doesn't matter how sincerely you plead with Jesus to come live in your heart...if you aren't one of the lucky ones chosen before the foundation of the world...well, too bad, so sad, he's not moving in. 

Either way, these folks struggle with their belief in hell but they think it is THEIR under developed sense of justice that prevents them from rejoicing.  Francis Chan says this :

And so it is with many things about God that don't seem to add up.
And so it must be with hell.
As I have said all along, I don't feel like believing in hell.  And yet I do. Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with Him, but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part.  God is perfect.  And I joyfully submit to a God whose ways are much, much higher than mine. 

And the quote I found on the Challie's blog......

I hate hell. I hate that it exists and hate that it needs to exist. I’m amazed to realize that, when we are heaven, we will praise God for it and that we will glorify him for creating such a place and for condemning the unsaved to it. But for now I am too filled with pride, too filled with sin to even begin to justly and rightly rejoice in the existence of such a place of torment. I cannot rejoice in such a place; not yet. It is just too awful, too weighty. And I know that I deserve to be there. 

And they struggle to conform their sense of justice to their perception of God's sense of justice.

One more mindset I want to take a look at…in my next post….

Monday, September 3, 2012

What kind of mindset is spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell? let's tackle some of those questions I brought up in my last post (quite a while back)discussing Chan's Erasing Hell book.

? What kind of mindset is spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell?

I think this twisted belief can affect us in several different (equally disturbing) ways.  One of the ways  is demonstrated in the attitude of those gleeful folks I mentioned in the last post.  They embrace hell with a vengeance.  Hell makes perfect sense to them. They are the "yes, God is love BUT God is also JUST" fan club. 

If hell doesn't exist, then neither does justice.  The Living Church, vol. 130

And not only does it turn the God they serve into a monster, it makes them pretty creepy too. 

“Consider that all these torments of body and soul are without intermission. Be their suffering ever so extreme, be their pain ever so intense, there is no possibility of their fainting away, no, not for one moment … They are all eye, all ear, all sense. Every instant of their duration it may be said of their whole frame that they are ‘Trembling alive all o'er, and smart and agonize at every pore.' And of this duration there is no end … Neither the pain of the body nor of soul is any nearer an end than it was millions of ages ago.” Sermon 73 John Wesley

And Jonathan Edwards was probably the creepiest of them all....

For ever harassed by a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God, and broken by the weight of His hand, and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolt of God. So that to sink into any gulf would be more tolerable than to stand for a moment in these terrors.”

"The world will probably be converted into a great lake or liquid globe of fire, in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed, which will always be in tempest, in which they shall be tossed to and fro, having no rest day and night, vast waves and billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall forever be full of a quick sense within and without; their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet,their loins and their vitals, shall forever be full of a flowing, melting fire, fierce enough to melt the very rocks and elements; and also, they shall eternally be full of the most quick and lively sense to feel the torments; not for one minute, not for one day, not for one age, not for two ages, not for a hundred ages, nor for ten thousand millions of ages, one after another, but forever and ever, without any end at all, and never to be delivered."

This belief so perverts the image of our Heavenly Father that there is rejoicing  when they consider the fate of their friends, their relatives...even their children! 

Martin Luther, when questioned whether the Blessed will not be saddened by seeing their nearest and dearest tortured answers, “Not in the least.”

“…the Blessed will see their friends and relations among the damned as often as they like but without the least of compassion.” Gerhard The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.   Catholic Truth Society

What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of God. - Pamphlet from the late 1960s, part of a catechismal teaching [cited in an essay by the English poet, Stevie Smith, "Some Impediments to Christian Commitment"

And we can't just chalk these comments up to a yesteryear mindset. On a popular reformed blog, on a post about hell, I found the following comment...

The fact that my father might be in hell does not cause me grief because God is sovereign. He decides - His justice is absolute. By grace has He rescued me. Whether He chooses some and not others is to His glory. What makes my father special to other who face the same fate? Billions will be condemned, is that sad? In a sense there will be grief but will it last? I cannot see me being grief struck in a new heaven and new earth. This is the position that holding to a Reformed worldview must reach…..DavidM

And I don't disagree.  This is the position that holding to a Reformed worldview(that includes ECT) must reach. Take note that he is pretty sure he is among the few God has chosen.  "By grace He rescued me" and so...quite hell with the rest of you, including dear old dad. 

This is sicko selfish on so many levels....

So these guys seem to get into this eternal hell stuff.  At the very least, they don't make a fuss about the billions who will be suffering for all eternity. Next post will be about the folks who struggle to see the justice in an eternal hell. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Evangelizing – Let’s Talk About Jesus….

I came upon a quote on my Facebook feed the other morning.

"How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them?"

The quote was spoken during an interview by Penn Jillette, of the Penn and Teller duo. It was his response to a fan who, after seeing his show, approached him to evangelize....and throw in a complimentary Bible. It did not change his mind, but the guy did impress him...and it provided fodder for future jokes about all the wishy washy Christians who confine their faith to Sunday mornings. The whole quote, in context follows...

He walked over to me and he said, “I was here at the show last night, I saw the show and I liked it.” He was complimentary about my use of language and my honesty… he said nice stuff… and then he said “I brought this for you” and he gave me a pocket Gideon’s Bible with the New Testament and Psalms… he said “I brought this for you, I wanted you to have it… I’m proselytizing… I want you to know I’m a businessman, I’m sane, I’m not crazy.”  And he looked me right in the eye, and it was really wonderful.  I believe he knew that I was an atheist.  But he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes.  And he was truly complimentary.  It didn’t seem in any way that it was empty flattery; he was kind, and nice, and sane, and looked me in the eye and talked to me, and then gave me this Bible.  And I’ve always said, I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  If you believe there is a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever and you think “well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.”  How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?  How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?  If I believe that there is a truck bearing down on you, and you didn’t believe it, there’s a certain point at which I tackle you.  And this is more important than that.  This guy was a really good guy.  He was polite and honest and sane and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible which had written in it a little note to me and five phone numbers and an email address in case I want to get in touch.  Now, I know there is no God, and one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that.  But I’ll tell you, he was a very, very, very good man, and that’s really important, and with that kind of goodness, it’s okay to have that deep of a disagreement.  I still think religion does a lot of bad stuff, but that was a very good man.

So what is the message? The message many Christians hear is a call to get out there and knock on some doors or to stand on a street corner and shout things like "the end is near"

This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once....two men standing at a bus stop...both with briefcases, one wearing a suit and tie, the other wearing a t-shirt with big, bold letters that said


The guy wearing the t-shirt is explaining to the guy in the suit, "it guarantees me a seat all by myself."

I bet it does!!  Anyone who has ever been an unwilling participant in a conversation with an over zealous Christian can surely relate.  And while there is a message in Penn's quote, I don't think it is necessarily the message understood  by many Christians. You know what I think the message is?

How about....follow the lead of the spirit.  I don't think it is a call… or an evangelize to everyone who happens to cross our path throughout the day.  Jesus didn't evangelize to everyone he met. 

In fact, Jesus said,

 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.  I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50

People can only hear what they are ready to hear. Trying to convince them prematurely only causes them to dig in their heels and fight like crazy for what they believe.  I think it was my friend Martha who said:

Sometimes one is not ready for the "truth" at that time, and to just be compassionate is the way to go. If you went ahead and told them the "straight truth" it would in essence be like talking to the wall. Making it so when they are "ready" they are already tuning you out.

Timing is everything. Who better than the Holy Spirit to know just the right time and place? So pay attention to the nudge…

The encounter left Penn with a positive impression of at least one Christian. A seed planted.

And what about the encounter itself....?

Note that there was no discussion of high pressure sales tactics (guilt, threats or fear). None of the usual rhetoric like...if you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity? No mention of the sinners prayer....or questions like have you asked Jesus into your heart?  And no warnings about hell. Just one human being interacting with another human being...sharing the gospel.

The guy who spoke to Penn was respectful, sincere, authentic and genuinely seemed to care. His BEHAVIOR declared the gospel as much as anything he had to say

A quote usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi instructs us to…

Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words. 

Actions really do speak louder than words. 

Do all spirit led encounters look like this interaction? I don’t think so. Sometimes the reception will be chilly or even hostile, but spirit led encounters will always produce fruit...someday.

“The very man who has argued you down, will sometimes be found years later, to have been influenced by what you said.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Colorado Shootings, Where Were You God? (Part 2)

When Keith and I were first married (about 10 or so years ago) it was during a time in my spiritual journey when I was searching for my way spiritually.  I was filled with angst over several “big ticket” spiritual paradoxes. 

Hell was not an issue since I never really believed in hell. True, until I happened upon the Tentmaker sight, I couldn’t actually support universalism via scripture but that was mainly because I was a new Christian and didn’t know that much about scripture.  Through Tentmaker and other similar sites, I eventually learned that virtually all scriptures that preach a hot, eternal hell can be explained. 

And I had never been used or abused by religion…what I’ve heard Lynn Hiles refer to as “hoodwinked or bamboozled” by religion.

One of my biggies was free will versus sovereignty. But the biggest biggie….which could actually be deemed a sub category of determinism….the one that dogged me for years….was the POE.  The problem of evil.

Keith and I talked endlessly about it.  He is very settled in his beliefs and has no problem seeing God as the cause of all the things in the world that we, in our short sighted humanness, deem evil. If not Him, then who?  The “devil”?  Evil men?  The idea that any one or any thing could wreak havoc outside of the plan and purpose of God was far more troubling.  

This view was….totally unacceptable to me.  Yet, a good case can be made to support it.  Believe me, Keith came up with many, many arguments.  None sufficed.  None appeased.  None let God off the hook. 

Yeah…I know….who are you, oh man, to talk back to God.  Does the clay have the right to get pissy with the potter?  But I did….and I seethed with unanswered questions and the utter outrage at the unfairness of the way He set things up. 

And during our discussions, Keith would often point out how those who suffered the greatest evils, like the Christian martyrs, were given a depth of spiritual bliss that the rest of us did not experience.  One name in particular came up often.

His books line the bottom shelf in the book case in the living room.  Richard Wumbrand.  At the time, I didn’t want to hear about spiritual bliss in exchange for horrific suffering.  Not fair.  Not acceptable. 

And now…ten years later, I still don’t have any definitive answers. I do have some intuitive beliefs that have given me peace.  I am not haunted anymore by the questions.

Oddly, a quote by Wumbrand….whose mistreatment “at the hands of the Communists” but allegedly purposed by God casts the faintest light of understanding on the POE.

"God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross and smeared with excrement is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the sufferings of martyrs light afflictions. To be in prison for fourteen years is a long period to us. The Bible calls it 'but for a moment,' and tells us that these things are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2Co 4:17). This gives us the right to suppose that the fierce crimes of the Communists, which are inexcusable to us, are lighter in the eyes of God than they are in our eyes. Their tyranny, which has lasted almost an entire century, may be before God, for whom a thousand years are like one day, only a moment of erring astray. They still have the possibility of being saved." Tortured For Christ

And another comment articulated by a young mother on a Christian message board cast another dim beam of light.  She talked about her kids…and skinned knees.  How, when they skinned their knees, it was like THE WORST THING THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN TO ANYONE EVER….FOR ALL TIME.  That was the skinned knee seen through the eyes of the child.  A skinned knee seen through the eyes of a parent….well, she knew that this too would pass and that in the grand scheme of things, a skinned knee was really not that big of a deal. Even if the injury was the result of being pushed or tripped. So she hugged them, wiped their tears away and told them it would be okay.  

And doesn’t God do the same thing for us.  He wipes our tears. He tells us it will be okay.  Through the Apostle Paul, God tells us that these light momentary afflictions (skinned knees) are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… us. 

In this earthly realm those promises still ring kind of hollow.  For the families of the victims of the Colorado shooting, the verse in Romans might be very little comfort. 

Perhaps we are like little kids with skinned knees. What seems utterly unredeemable in our eyes to God is not really a problem.  The Bible says He will work all things together for good. 

How he can bring good out of tragedies like the death of a child, the Holocaust, war, famine and pestilence, disease, I haven’t a clue. 

Comments welcome….


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Colorado Shootings, Where Were You God?

Lots of people around the internet are talking about the Colorado shooting. About the victims...about acts of heroism...about the coincidences that brought some to the theater and the coincidences that kept some away.

And they are talking about the shooter, his history, his friends and family, his mom's comments, (that Keith tells me were taken totally out of context by some over zealous reporter) About the "I'm a crazy man" look in his tortured eyes.

And of course there is ongoing, heated debate about guns and gun control. For the record, I loathe guns...but if my neighbor, or my dad, or my boss wants to own a gun and is responsible with the use and storage of the weapon...I am content to "myob." However, I see no feasible reason ( or how it could be construed as a threat to the 2nd Amendment) to not do whatever it takes to keep weapons that can fire dozens of bullets without reloading...out of the hands of crazy men. Out of the hands of EVERYBODY for that matter. But I digress. That is the subject of another post....someday. Back to the Colorado shooting.

So the conversation goes round and round. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has questions. Ultimately, the discussion turns to God....and most everyone, in one way or another wonders the same thing..and (consciously or subconsciously)asks the same question of God. "Where the hell were you??!! when these victims were being gunned down??? And why didn't you do something??"

That question is the crux of the age old mystery of theodicy. The immortal question, "If there is a good, all powerful God, how can evil exist?"

The conclusion many come to is that there is no God. "Sorry folks, you're on your own."

Others (like Harold Kushner of the "When Bad Things Happen To Good People " fame) settle on the belief that God is not all powerful. He would like to do more to help but, sadly, his hands are tied.

Others settle on the belief that he is not all good...because as far as they’re concerned not stopping atrocities like the shooting is as bad as actually causing them.

And some folks...the total determinist/absolute sovereignty believers believe just that….that he actually causes these things to come down. They believe he is all powerful, all good and the first cause of all causes. In other words, he directly ordains these things(for our own good, of course) There is a case to be made for that viewpoint.

Some folks believe man's free will is the ultimate deciding factor and that God never...or rarely, intervenes. There is a case to be made for that viewpoint, too.

Although diehard believers on both sides of the “free will/sovereignty” line will disagree that a case can be made for the opposite side.

I see so many things in shades of gray, along the lines of Adam Hamilton's book "Seeing Gray In a Black and White World.” I suspect that the truth about most things is somewhere smack dab in the middle, or at least not totally to the far left or the far right.

This question haunted me for years. I read, I pondered, I obsessed. I was totally pissed off at God for the way he set things up...starving children in Africa, death, disease and pestilence everywhere. I couldn't just write him off as an imaginary friend because I've felt his touch and know he exists as surely as I know I do. Non belief was not an option. Pouting at him was. But in my heart, I knew that whatever evidence gets stacked against him, he is good, he is love and his mercy endures forever.

I've stopped pouting. I've even stopped asking the "where were you" kinds of questions. And I'm not dead set sure what I think about his involvement in world events but I suspect sometimes he causes, sometimes he prevents and sometimes he intervenes in very mysterious ways.

A Facebook friend posted a link shortly after the shooting. It leads to blog post written by a pastor in Colorado. He told the story of a young woman in his congregation. Petra Anderson. She is in her early twenties (22, I think) and she was in the theater that night. She was shot multiple times. One of the shotgun blasts sent a pellet through her brain....front to back. The prognosis was bleak but when the neurosurgeons operated, they discovered Petra had a brain anomaly that had been present since birth. It caused no symptoms. She had no idea it was there. Nobody did except, of course, her Maker.

It was a tiny channel that ran from front to back. Just big enough for a shotgun pellet. The bullet entered her nose at that exact spot and made its way to the back of her brain, via the channel, causing next to no damage. The blog author said that the tiniest variation in the entry point would have caused the pellet to bypass the channel, ripping through and damaging/destroying vital brain tissue.

No matter what your theology or opinion about the POE (problem of evil), sovereignty and free will, this story (that has also been mentioned on the news and other sources) gives one cause to pause and ponder. An old hymn and two Bible verses come to mind.

The Bible verses...

Isaiah 43: 7"...everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”


Psalm 139:14 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. NLT

The blog post about Petra went viral and received hundreds of comments, many that expressed disdain for the idea that God was responsible for this anomaly/ miracle yet didn't come through for the other victims.

Which brings me to the words of the old hymn by William Cowper -

'God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform"

There is another thing about the Anderson family that seems to deepen the mysteries of God's ways.  Petra's mother is battling a reoccurrence of (terminable) breast cancer...her prognosis is not good...and she is not expected to survive. 

Since this is getting long, I'll finish up in another post (really, I will)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Could you believe in Chan’s God?

From Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up (p. 22).

Do you want to believe in a God like this? Here’s my gut-level, honest answer: No. No way. I have 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 you 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.

Chan dismisses the want to aspect of belief in a God who punishes display his great power and emphasizes the "COULD you" part.  As if that is somehow an easier question to answer than the "do you want to?"  And he admits that, of course, none of us WANT to believe in this vengeful God filled with retributive wrath for all those who do not believe in his son Jesus Christ.  (although a few Christians come to mind that seem a bit too relieved at the prospect of their enemies burning....and try....just take hell away from them)

So could you?  Could you believe in the God Chan describes? 

But "could you/would you/do you" is not really the most important question for his readers to ponder.  I can think of a much better question.

Could you LOVE this God? 

You him the way Jesus told us we should when he summed up the two loving our God and loving our neighbor? 

Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)

So....could you love this God with all your heart, mind and soul? The way Jesus tells us to.  Or is what we call love for this God merely a survival instinct, a twist on Stockholm Syndrome?

And there are more questions this book brought to mind.  Some of the questions are asked in the text....others piqued in my thoughts as I read. 

? What kind of mindset is spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell?

? Is God equally Judge and equally Father?

? What does true justice entail?

? Does He dole out His mercy and His wrath in equal portions?

? Does His mercy and grace end with our last breath?

? Are there levels of hell?  Are some parts of hell "hotter" than other parts?

? What about the Cross....? 

? When the Bible talks about the wicked being obliterated, is it referring to wicked people...or the wicked aspects of our being? You know as in old nature/new nature.  Old Man/ New Man.  Adamic Man/Carnal Man?

? At the end of Revelation when the Spirit and the Bride bid someone....come and drink....who is it they are talking to.  Do the gates of the city really never shut?

? What about the meanings of some of the proof texts in the original language? Is everlasting really forever?  Does all mean all?

I want to deal with some of these questions in upcoming posts.  I've read a lot while pondering this series. I've come upon some quotes and insights that are gems. Too good to tuck away in my quotes file in Evernote.

I didn't need convinced, of course, because I have no doubt that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God.  Every. One. I am one of those folks  Chan refers to as the least cautious of the universalists.  The dogmatics.

It may take a long time....”aions”....but pit God and a naked soul (no matter how rebellious) in a spiritual "stare down" and guess who looks away first.  God is omnicompetent. All will come.  All will bow.  All will joyfully proclaim to the glory of God the Father. 

More to come in this series....slowly but surely.....

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Do It….?

There is a motivational quote that's made the rounds on Facebook....and caps...cups, pins, magnets, bags, aprons and buttons.

No matter how slow you go you're still lapping everyone on the couch. 


The focus is usually exercise....specifically running...but it applies to all kinds of things.  In our busy world, it is hard to dredge up the motivation, carve out the time, inspire ourselves to action and like a Nike advertisement...JUST DO IT.

Just do it?  Uhhhh….how about “Just shut up!” because “just do it” is not all that easy!

I want to be healthy and fit (and skinny too, of course....but like THAT’S ever gonna' happen.)  Remind me of the healthy and fit thing at 4:30 in the morning when my alarm goes off signaling the start of another day….and that it’s time for a trip to Planet Fitness.

"Are you kidding me" I ask myself in disbelief, “ jest." 

Some mornings I make it there, sleepy eyed and half awake....but too many times, I get a cup of coffee...snuggle up here on the couch and "research" all kinds of stuff for this blog.  In my thesaurus, I find that a synonym for "research" is surf the web. Did you know that?

And many times I do stumble upon a quote or snippet that I earmark for a future blog  post. This post, for example, is the result of wasting time in google reader...scrolling through the RSS feeds of a couple hundred blogs...clicking on the posts that piqué my interest. Topics, quotes, ideas I plan to write about....someday.....after I do enough "research."

Ahhhhh....writing.  I love to write.  Always have.  Yet...many days the only things I write are short and snappy emails to coworkers...or meeting minutes...or tomorrow's to do list which, almost always includes..."write a blog post.". Do I? Most day...nope.

Why? I have an abundance of things to say, share, explore, discuss, muse about.  Part of it is time...part of it is motivation...procrastination...haphazard organization. 

I've come upon a similar message in many of the things I've read lately. (Serendipity?) The bloggers version of the Nike slogan.  Just write.  Just do it.  And today, in post on a blog called Write Anyway...penned by an author named Alice Bradley I found the following quote.....

….and if you write a little every day, you end up–well, a lot farther along than if you had written nothing.

In other will still be "lapping everyone sitting on the couch."

It's not just about writing...or dieting...or running either.  Let's think slow and steady here (as in wins they race), the tortoise and the hare...the ant and the grasshopper. Steady, sustained effort moves us ever closer to our goals.

Following is the quote in it's entirety....

If I wrote a little bit every day, I discovered, I could actually get a decent amount done. Maybe not AUSTER-LEVEL CONTENT OUTPUT (Sorry for the caps lock, still mad). But a little, and if you write a little every day, you end up–well, a lot farther along than if you had written nothing. So my genius strategy was (and is): write as much as I can. If I can fit in a half hour, so be it. An hour is spectacular. That’s usually the best I can manage. And it’s fine.

Check out the article....and the blog

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Three Categories of Universalists

Chan divides universalists into categories….

There are the pluralists.

these people believe that Jesus is one of many ways to salvation. Pluralists believe that all religions present equally valid ways of salvation—Christianity is simply one among many.

There are the “hopefuls”

They believe that Christ is the only way, but they hold out hope that God will end up saving everyone through Christ in the end. But they go beyond simply hoping this will happen (don’t we all?). They’re hopeful, and they see strong biblical support for this view, though their view is often tempered with caution.

And then there are those spiritual daredevils…the “dogmatics”….

The least cautious Christian Universalists call themselves dogmatic Universalists. Like the previous group, they believe that Christ is the only way, but they go a bit further and say that the Bible clearly teaches that all will be saved. They find the view not just possible, but the most probable: They believe that the Bible clearly teaches that all will be saved through Jesus in the end.

So I’m guessing that someone who writes an essay and calls it “I Am a Convinced Universalist” would fit in the dogmatic category?  The guy who wrote those words….in his autobiography… in a chapter entitled just that ….I Am a Convinced Universalist…was William Barclay.

Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, "Barclay New Testament," and "The Daily Study Bible Series."

Very. Mainstream. When I typed his name into the search engine at, about 90 or so results came up.  He was a prolific writer and his books line the book cases of many mainstream Christians worldwide.  Many (most?) aren’t aware of his pronouncement of a “dogmatic” belief in universalism since many of them….no way/no how would read the writings of a universalist. Universalism is one of the biggest, fattest heresies there is…

Brian McLaren said:

In my theological circles, universalism is one small step removed from atheism.  It is probably more feared than committing adultery, and to be labeled universalist ends one’s career.  Decisively. 

But William Barclay declared it…flat out.  He didn’t skirt the issue or talk around it….or make vague references to it.  He wasn’t coy about it.

I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.

And he gave several reasons for his beliefs….

First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief.

Coming from a New Testament scholar/Bible translator/Professor of Divinity…that should carry some weight. 

Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It 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 punishment.

And to be fair…Chan did include this quote in his book.  Okay…so it was in the footnotes….but it was there if one was inclined to dig a bit.  But he never mentioned Barclay’s popularity, or prolific writings…or the…you know…Convinced Universalist part. 

Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

There is of course the verse that (in my mind) definitively declares that death cannot separate us from God….

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.

And the fourth reason…

Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone.

Then Barclay goes on to muse about God as Father…and how it might be considered a triumph to wipe out His enemies or to torture them in hell forever if God were simply a judge or a king but God is also a Father

..he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

So will God be able to pull this off? 

Chan describes this belief in his book:

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God

So….will God be able to turn the hardest heart back to Himself?  To bend the stubbornest knee…and loosen the most reluctant tongue?  Will all mankind bow and joyously proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord?  It says so….three times no less…in scripture.  (And…it is a joyous proclamation that is implied in the original language.  Not a grudging concession before being cast into hell or obliterated…but a joyous proclamation)

And surely God has ways that I cannot even begin to fathom. Is anything too hard for Him?  Is His arm to short to save?

"I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:27

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Isaiah 59:1

I don’t know how he will accomplish it but as I ponder, I am reminded of a quote by Anne Lamott. I saved it in my files a few years ago when I read through all of her books, one right after the other.

The quote was in a book (name escapes me) that was written after 9-11.  She was very upset with the war and the political atmosphere.  She was very angry.

My Jesuit friend Tom once told me that this is a good exercise because in truth, everyone is loved and chosen, even Dick Cheney, even Saddam Hussein. That God loves them because God loves.

This-- more than anything does not make sense to me,” I said.

“Because you are a little angry,” Tom explained. “But when people die, they are forgiven and welcomed home. Then God will help them figure out how to clean up the disgusting messes they have made. God has skills and ideas on how to do this.”

So God has skills and ideas on how to do this. Is that just too simple?  Somehow it seems that there will be at least an era of ”weeping and gnashing of teeth” for some of us.. as God works on us and in us and makes us willing to clean up the disgusting messes we’ve made in this life. 

Or perhaps after we die and leave these fleshly bodies behind…when death has taken off the mask (William Penn) we will be able to see clearly.  It won’t be the same playing field we find ourselves in here, in this life. 

More on God as Father (not Judge) in an upcoming post.  And more thoughts on whether our last breath is indeed our last chance. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

More about the churches-1600 years ago to present

So…the majority of the (very) early churches were universalists. 

The Early Churches:

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years - four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa) The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

What about now a days. Ahhhh….not so much.  There are, of course, exceptions, but the overwhelming majority buy into the big lie…(ECT) or the smaller lie (Annihilation)

There are some exceptions…but the vast majority of churches do not believe in universalism.  And…the stakes for a belief in UR are usually high. There are some mighty big consequences.

Witness Carlton Pearson’s ousting….and the Rob Bell controversy….and other lesser known folks who were shunned or fired when they came to believe the “heresy” of universalism.  

At one time…for over 90 years…there was a whole denomination…The Christian Universalist Church of America. Their blending into the melting pot of the Unitarian Church was their demise. 

From Wiki:

The Universalist Church of America was a Christian Universalist religious denomination in the United States (plus affiliated churches in other parts of the world). Known from 1866 as the Universalist General Convention, the name was changed to the Universalist Church of America in 1942. In 1961, it consolidated with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

There is a fairly new organization called The Christian Universalist Association that has been on the scene five years or so.  There is a lot of info on their website.  There is a list of some churches that openly proclaim a belief in UR on their site…the process for ordination and history/facts/opinions about universalism.  Check them out HERE.

I’ve also been to some universalist churches for conferences…small…Pentecostal feel to them.  Bob Torango’s House of the Lord Fellowship in Dickson, TN…Shalom in Ontario….and others that, while not overwhelmingly Universalist see it as a valid belief option. I’ve been in home bible studies…and met some of the well known universalist preachers/teachers.  Bob Torango….Gary Amariult, Gary Sigler…and other lesser known folks who preach that God will reconcile all of his creation. 

Mainstream denominations?  I find it interesting that the United Methodist Church’s official stand…though not well known…is “dunno.”  On the official website…now relegated to the archives, their official statement is this:

The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church echoes the beliefs stated in the doctrinal statements of The Methodist Church (see particularly Articles VIII, IX, XI, and XII).

While these statements of doctrine state that salvation is AVAILABLE to all persons, they stop short of saying that salvation is GUARANTEED to all persons. There is the stated or implied condition that, while God's grace is necessary for salvation and that humankind cannot in any way attain salvation without God, that there is certainly an element of awareness and cooperation on our part to order our lives after the image of Christ if we have the capacity to do so.

There are persuasive arguments that include the faithful, thoughtful, and respectful use of Scripture on both sides-- affirming and denying universal salvation. The Book of Discipline, which is the only official printed voice of the UMC, does not make a statement specifically about universal salvation. This places the question in a possible gray area, but the Discipline says what it says. One must read the doctrine there and attempt to understand it as well as possible.

Rev. Dr. Diana Hynson
Director of Learning and Teaching Ministries in the Congregation
General Board of Discipleship

And any UM readers here on this blog are going…nuh-uh.  Does it really say that?  Yes, it does indeed say that.  And it didn’t used to be in the archives.

Another denomination proclaims their belief in the name of their denomination…a (small) group of Primitive Baptists known as the No-Hellers.  Although that is kind of misleading because they do, indeed, believe in a hell.  They think hell is where we find ourselves right now.  In THIS life. Official name -- The Primitive Baptist Universalists.  A down home, no nonsense group of people from Appalachia.

And there were three seminaries that were universalist. 

Crane Theological School in Medford, MA.  1869 to 1968

Theological School of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  1856 to 1965

They Ryder School of Divinity at Lombard College in Galesburg, IL.  1853 to 1930. 

So…while far from the status quo belief of most Christians…to dismiss it with a statement like “almost no major theologians for the past 1600 years” is quite misleading. 

More in my next post about preachers/teachers and authors who, in varying degrees, believe in and teach universalism. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Creeds, the Churches and the Catacombs

In my last post I said that I would be taking a look at the time period BEFORE the 1600 years Chan referred to in his “almost no major theologian” statement.

A look at the creeds, the churches and the Catacombs of very early Christianity show that universalism was an accepted…perhaps the most accepted…belief of the very early Christians. 

The Creeds:

An examination of the earliest Christian creeds and declarations of Christian opinion discloses the fact that no formulary of Christian belief for several centuries after Christ contained anything incompatible with the broad faith of the Gospel--the universal redemption of mankind from sin. Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years

None of the earliest creeds…the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed…contain any statements that would eliminate the possibility of universal reconciliation.  ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) cannot be found in any of the early creeds.

Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides…... Neither the Concilium Nicæum, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man's final woe.  Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years

The Early Churches:

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years - four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa) The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

The Catacombs:

It seems I’ve written about the Catacombs before…HERE

There were eighty years between Paul's latest epistle and the first of the writings of the Christian fathers. Besides the writings of Tacitus and Pliny, the long hiatus is filled only by the emblems and inscriptions of the Catacombs. What an eloquent story they tell of the cheerfulness of primitive Christianity!

I came upon several (free ) Google books about the Catacombs.  The following quote came from a book called The Catacombs of Rome and Their Testimony Relative to Primitive Christianity. It appears in a section of the book that deals with the many drawings of the Good Shepherd throughout the Catacombs…

Sometime the shepherd is represented as leading or bearing on his shoulders a kid or goat instead of a sheep or lamb.  This apparent solecism has been thought a careless imitation of pagan figures of the sylvan deity Pan, who frequently appears in art in this manner.  It is more probable, however, that it was an intentional departure from the usual type, as if to illustrate the words of Our Lord, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and to indicate his tenderness toward the fallen, rejoicing more over the lost sheep that was found than over the ninety and nine that went not astray. 

Tertullian is believed to be the first person to write about an eternal hell.  Then, influenced by Augustine in AD 430(ish) the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell became an accepted belief in the Catholic Church in the west.  And it was all downhill from there.  This is roughly…give or take a decade or two… the beginning of the period of time Chan alluded to….the past 1600 years. 

He should have gone back a bit farther.

Following are links to some of the books I’ve mentioned in this article…and a few others that take a closer look at the beliefs of the very early Christian. 

Hosea Ballou II's Ancient History of Universalism (1842)

Edward Beecher's History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (1878)

John Wesley Hanson's Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years  (1899)

How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Major Theologian for 1600 Years?

In fact, for over 1,600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.

Perhaps this statement, more than any other in Chan’s book, is a blatant sales pitch. It galls “the hell out of me.” And I have so much to say about it, I’m not sure where to even start in my rebuttal.

The last 1600 years sounds pretty impressive, yes?  “Hardly any” major theologians have argued that everyone will be saved. 

Wow…universalism must not be true then. 

But let’s think about this for a bit. The last 1600 years? Why pull that figure out of the “there is an eternal hell” hat? How many years is that after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Four hundred-ish?  So why start 1600 years ago? Why not go back closer to the beginning? You know…closer to the actual life…and death…of Jesus.

Wouldn’t there be less chance for errors and inaccuracies in the storyline?

The time period immediately following the birth of Christianity…the spread of Christianity…the early church days..wouldn’t that be the place to start looking?

And what coincides with the 1600 year thing?  Roughly around the time Constantine got the ball rolling and Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.  The Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the official religion and started the perversion that led to the Christian persecution of the pagans.  The Dark Ages.  And the Inquisition.  And the Witch Hunts.  And the Crusades.  Major theologians burning other theologians at the stake over theological disagreements…..using green wood, no less.  All in the name of Jesus. 

So he picks as his starting point, the darkest era of Christianity…possibly the darkest eras of human history to cherry pick theologians’ opinions about hell. 

Does that seem like a Kirby Sweeper sales pitch to you?  Does it seem disingenuous? 

I think he picked 1600 years ago as his starting point because, before that, the farther back you go, the closer to the actual life of Jesus and the early church, the more accepted and the more prevalent the doctrine of universalism was. 

Which will be the subject of my next post….

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What about the scary stuff Jesus said?

So…even though Jesus never used (and apparently avoided) the common phrases that described unending, retributive punishment….he did issue some pretty stern warnings and “if this then that’s” in his earthly ministry.  So what’s up with that?

I’m not sure.   

Perhaps he was talking to the Jews…the Jews in Jerusalem…about the coming destruction in 70AD. He did state that his ministry was to the Jews…the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Of course, he expanded that ministry and included “other sheep in other pastures” and gave the disciples the command to go and preach the gospel to all nations.  But initially, his ministry was to the Jews. 

Could his warnings about destruction and judgment have been to them about upcoming events? Many (most) Christians relegate the events to some future time (even though Jesus stated this (THAT) generation would by no means pass away until all the doom and gloom stuff he talked about happened.  THAT generation…not a generation 2000 years plus and still waiting)  So some believe that way. 

Richard Wayne Garganta does a great job of explaining this position in his rewrite of “Bible Threatenings Explained”  It was originally part of a book containing four essays…written in the 1800's by J.W. Hanson…in that flowery…wordy style of that time period.  Kind of off-putting to those of us who live in the twitter generation.  Check it out HERE… It addresses many (all?) of the “threats” Jesus issued…and most of the other “but what about” passages in scripture that are oft used to “disprove” universalism.

And check out his other “oh my God is this universalism” writings HERE.

And another way of explaining the dire warnings of Jesus…

Some believe he is talking about a most unpleasant place of “remedial chastisement.”  Origen believed that. William Barclay believed that. George MacDonald believed that.  Williams Barclay said it this way….

Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God's offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.

George MacDonald said it this way:

I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children

I have more to say about Barclay and MacDonald…in response to Chan’s statement…

In fact, for over 1,600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.

Barclay and MacDonald are two of the “hardly any.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who Knew? It’s Not a (Slippery) Slope Afterall….

I came upon the following drawing on Wikipedia, in an article that talked about the “Fundamentalist/Moodernist” split. It is 

A Fundamentalist cartoon portraying Modernism as the descent from Christianity to atheism, first published in 1922 and then used in Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan.


It’s an interesting article that traces the history of fundamentalism in the US.  Lots there to write about (if I only had the time)….and think about.  Lots of what happened “then” is still happening “now”….proof the author of Ecclesiastes knew of what he spoke.  There is nothing new under the sun.  It is dubbed a new name…but it is still SSDD…. the same old battle.

The article talks about the “Old-Side–New-Side Split  and the “Old-School–New-School Split”  of American Presbyterianism. (which is probably where we get the phrase “he’s old school.”)

Fundamentalist/Modernist….Conservative/Liberal….Creationist/Evolutionist….Republican/Democrat….and the list goes on.

The drawing caught my eye because the descent from fundamental Christianity to atheism is so often described as a slippery slope….not a well defined set of stairs.  Who knew? 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tell me again…what Jesus said about Hell? (cont)

I love the story Luke tells about Jesus, his two trigger happy disciples and the Samaritan village who would not receive them. 

Luke 9:51 51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

So the two disciples, James and John….got all pissy because the Samaritan village wanted nothing to do with Jesus…or with them.  None of this…”If they don’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet” and keep going.  No…they wanted to call down fire on the village….like Elijah did in 2 Kings. To refresh your memory….

Three times the king sent a group of 50 soldiers and their leaders to bring Elijah in.  Twice Elijah said,

"If I am a man of God, then let fire come down
from heaven and consume you and your fifty men."

And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 

Then the third guy, realizing he needed a different plan…..fell on his knees and begged Elijah to have compassion on him and his men. And the Lord told Elijah to go with this humble captain to meet the king.

So that’s the storyline running through the minds of the two disciples.  Fire from heaven.  Effective and dramatic. 

And Jesus said…”Hey, that’s a great idea!” “Why didn’t I think of that?”


he turned, and rebuked them, and said, You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.

I love that passage….!

The disciples wanted to fry the occupants of a small Samaritan village and Jesus refused….scolded them…and reminded them who they were…WHOSE they were.  Yet, this same Jesus is going to consign unbelievers to never ending fire and brimstone. Eternal Conscious Torment.  Really? 

If you believe that….perhaps, like those two disciples, you do not know what manner of spirit you are of.