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    January 30th, 2012 @ 4:36 pm by admin

    No, I’m not talking about me, and I’m not talking about Chad Holtz. I’m talking about Jackson Baer, a youth pastor who was fired last spring because he doesn’t believe in the traditional Western view of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I’ll let him tell you the rest of his story. This is just another example of how the doctrine of hell often acts as a litmus test to help people determine if you’re one of “us” or one of “them.”



leave a comment on this post (28 Comments)

  1. It is good for a church to practice discipline (Mat. 18:17). It sounds as if that particular church didn’t proceed in the best way it could have but firing him and excommunicating him is the loving thing to do in this situation (1 Cor. 5:5). I pray that this man and others like him, for their sakes, repent of Universalism.

  2. Jackson, the way your church treated you is deplorable. I have no doubt your pastor lied, I’ve seen it. If you vowed not to teach your view on this, they should have left it alone, there are, especially in bigger churches people on staff with very divergent views, sometimes on important issues. They usually go underground with them is they want to keep their positions though. On the other hand I think they had every right to take you off track as a teaching pastor. This is essential doctrine, Jesus taught on it way too much and was too unambiguous about it to let someone influence others on the subject and not get it right. You’re a little too selective in your interpretation of what love is. “Let’s all just love each other and get along.” This is Pollyanna. One of the emerging errors of the Emergent Church is -”it’s more important to have right action than right doctrine”. Really? Then why identify with Christianity, you’d make a fine Buddhist. This is what’s known as a half-truth. A Yiddish saying says, “A half-truth is a whole lie.” Truth divides, Jesus very presence in history turned people against each other, He turned against the very religious Pharisees, and Paul a lot of energy countering false teaching. You said “over this one single doctrine” they sent you packing. What if that one simple doctrine was the resurrection or Christ’s divinity? Here’s how I resolve some of this conflict, as C.S. Lewis describes hell, as the place where you get what you wanted all along, to the point that it’s like gravel in your mouth. Hell is only God giving into YOUR will. The literary form in my opinion is hyperbole, it’s conveying deep suffering (separation), with metaphors we can relate to. Not to defend histories atrocities within the church, but 500 years ago you’d have been burned at the stake. Take your pink slip and move on.

  3. Hell is only an issue if one accepts the Greek notion that all people are born eternal. For me, and a few others, the issue of hell is a moot one if we embrace the idea that all do not survive death. What if we believed that only those who are spiritually born survive death? It answers a lot of questions.

    • Thanks for the note, Bob. I’ve seen your name pop up a lot in the blogosphere. I agree that conditional immortality solves some problems, but I think it also creates several others. We’re still stuck with an image of God who punishes eternally–or at least, one who metes out punishments, the effects of which last for eternity. Facetiously, you could also say this is somewhat of a lateral promotion for God–from torturer to executioner. More seriously, we’re still left with a God who demands satisfaction for sin–human sacrifice–which sounds a lot more like the pagan gods of the Old Testament than the one revealed in Jesus. Like the traditional Western view of hell, it also leads to a death-centered faith, where death has the final word. This is problematic seeing as Jesus came to defeat the powers of sin and death. And while it seems to fit well with a certain read of the Bible, where death and destruction rather than eternal pain and suffering are the final penalties for sin, it fails to deal adequately with some of the more universalist sounding texts, such as Paul’s argument about the purpose of election in Romans, which culminates with him saying, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” I’m curious: Have you ever read Rene Girard’s take on any of this? If not, “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” is a good place to start. So is Michael Hardin’s “The Jesus-Driven Life.” It will certainly give you something to think about. I also spent a good amount of time reading Edward Fudge’s book “The Fire That Consumes” prior to interviewing him. I think he puts forward a number of great arguments in favor of conditional immortality.

  4. Not sure where you got your info but the idea that only folks who have been spiritually born survive death paints a picture of a God who:

    1) Does not punish eternally. When the flesh dies it simply returns to the dust.
    2) Rewards eternally. When people who are born of the spirit die they live forever.
    3) Respects human beings. He does not treat us as inferior pets but as friends.

    In my thinking the onus is on people who believe in the egotistical Greek idea that people are born immortal (both universalists and traditionalists) to come clean and say why they believe something so preposterous. Of course the traditionalists can point to hell as proof of this all inclusive mortality. What say the universalists?

    • I wouldn’t call the idea that people are inherently immmortal egotistical. Rather, I would say that many people who hold this view are simply ignorant as to its origin in Greek rather than Hebrew thinking. As for traditionalist biblical scholars, once again, I don’t think they’re driven by ego. Rather, what’s driving them is a particular interpretation of the sayings of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 25), the Greek word aionios, the atonement, justice, etc. They feel their read is the most faithful to the Bible. Reducing their views to merely a product of inflated egos hardly does justice to the view or to the people who adhere to it.

      As for the Universalists, most of the ones I interviewed believe in some form of hell; they just don’t think it lasts forever. So I don’t think they’re in any way inferior to the traditionalists in terms of their ability to defend their position. And as far as I can tell, Universalism is hardly ever premised on the idea of inherent immortality. Rather, it’s usually driven by the same things that drive traditionalists and people who believe in conditional immortality–a desire to be faithful to Scripture, to the character of Christ, etc.

      And as I said in my previous comment, conditional immortality certainly solves some problems, but like every view of hell, it also creates others. It still leaves us with an image of God that seems to contradict Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 (love never fails), Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep, Paul’s universalistic sayings in Romans, etc. It also retains death as the stopwatch, introducing a radical discontinuity into our relationship with God. So even though Jesus came to defeat the powers of sin and death, to free us from bondage to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), death is still stinging the hell out of everybody. That’s one of my main critiques of both the traditional view and conditional immortality/annihilationism. Both of those views take our natural fear of death and magnify it times eternity–which appears to fly in the face of the Resurrection. Worst of all, we are left with a God whose love is conditional, a God who demands satisfaction. Blood sacrifice. Once again, many people have a difficult time reconciling this image with the character of Christ.

      No matter what your view on hell, everyone is trying to find the explanation that leaves the smallest remainder of texts. So far as I can tell, no one has come up with a remainder of 0. So to assume any position is an open-and-shut case is the height of egoism, in my view.

  5. Thanks for the reply admin. The egotistic view I refer to is not based on ideology or theology but in the notion that man is born as something more than he actually is. Some part of our flesh embraces an image of humanity that thinks that it is so much more than it really is. It believes that there is something great in us that transcends death. My thinking is that man is not born immortal but can become immortal by experiencing a spiritual birth. That said, I do not embrace the idea of annihilation because I do not think that there is anything spiritual to annihilate.

    With regard to the idea that God (even temporarily) tortures people after they die – I am surprised that any Universalist would embrace such an image of God. I do not think that God tortures people before of after death. Bad things come from the flesh not the spirit.

    With regard to the parables I see most of them dealing with tension between the religious leaders and the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus spoke most of these to expose the hard hearts of those religious leaders towards the lost.

    Finally, about the love of God. You seem to indicate that God cannot love us and allow us to reject or quench his Spirit. My thinking is that the Holy Spirit relentlessly pursues us and shows the love of God to us. Yet some quench His love and influence refusing to simply say yes to Him.

    • I don’t have time to respond to all of this right now, but I don’t think that any Universalist would believe God tortures people in this life or the next. That’s why the word “hell” is probably not the best; it carries far too much baggage. However, they do believe that no one is getting away with anything. Any suffering the occurs after death will be a natural consequence of our actions in this life rather than arbitrary punishments meted out by God. As an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine puts it, the pain we suffer will be the pain of our conscience as we come to full recognition of our imperfections before God. But, ultimately, the pain will be restorative, b/c it will be part and parcel with our journey back to reconciliation with God and each other. I would imagine (within their logic) the pain we experience will be commensurate with the depth of the sins we have committed and the amount of work it will take to make things right. This is all hypothetical, of course. Just seeking to rationalize the idea of post-mortem suffering within a Universalist framework.

  6. The statement “no one is getting away with anything” reveals a belief that God is concerned with punishment of individuals. Puzzling for a Universalist to embrace such a view.

    I look forward to a response when you have more time to think about the ideas that I have put forth.

  7. Kansas Bob starting premises are weird. He would have us believe that there is a human being with no spirit until he is spiritually born. Not anyone I know.

  8. I understand Benoit. The word spirit means different things to different people and many like you have deep feelings about it. Yet the idea that we are all born with something that survives death is an issue of theology and not science. The Greeks seemed to embrace the idea and I can understand why many today do.

    Jesus said in John “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

    Why would he tell us that there is a spiritual birth that one must experience if everyone already had that experience?

  9. Those wanting to explore the doctrine of hell might be interesting in our website.

  10. Pingback: Questioning Hell? | Conditional Immortality Blog

  11. Kansas, Why should I take YOUR interpretation of what Jesus said seriously? What is your authority? What should YOUR interpretation prevail?

    • This is a fair question, but can you see how quickly it devolves into a stalemate? Bob could reply by asking why he should take your interpretation seriously. What’s your authority? You’ll reply by saying the Catholic Church. But then he’ll ask why he should accept your arguments in favor of its authority. And what should compel him to do so? Ultimately, it’s YOU who has concluded the Catholic Church has ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting Scripture. But that is a subjective decision you have made. Which puts you on equal footing with Bob.

  12. @Benoit – Authority? Seriously? All I did was quote Jesus and ask a question.

  13. Admin, I refuted your point of view on this one a couple of times. The stalemate comes about by not speaking directly to the interlocutor’s comment, and repeating the same old things.
    I will say it again, truth is not relative to you or me, truth is an objective to be found by both of us. We can argue if a relative authority, me, or you, or Kansas, make logical sense, if not, and I do not think it does, then we could go on figuring out which authority, if there is one would make sense.
    Every one has a personal choice to decide what is true (has you keep telling me over and over again), that is not questioned. What is questioned is the truth that one has decided upon, and for what reason.
    Maybe, answering my question would lead you to places you perhaps do not care to go. So be it. We live in a free world, thank God.

    Kansas perhaps knows that acknowledging the question might lead him to see the weakness of his premises, and he rather not go there either.

    • I agree, truth is objective, but our perspective on that truth will always be subjective, hence our disagreement. We will never encounter objective truth objectively, which is what you seem to be arguing–that if we keep looking, eventually we’ll have that experience. Hence the need I feel to keep rephrasing it.

      I have no fear of investigating the claims to authority offered by the Catholic Church. In fact, I spent many years on the verge of becoming Catholic, but I never took that step, because in the end I just didn’t find the claims compelling–especially in light of the Orthodox Church, for example, which makes similar claims. These days I tend to see an exclusive ecclesiology as more of a barrier to belief than something that compels it.

    • I wanted to add this: The suggestion that I’m so emotionally invested in my beliefs that I refuse to ask certain questions for fear of where they may lead could be just as easily directed at you. Which is simply another factor that puts us on equal footing.

  14. @Benoit – Your silence on Jesus’ statement leads me to think that you do not want to discuss what God the Son means when he says:

    “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

    I understand if you do not though. Some find it difficult to talk about such matters for fear that they may be out of step with the authorities.

  15. ADMIN, You could say, “MY perspective” , but not “OUR perspective” on that truth will always be subjective, …
    Truth is objective for OUR subjective perception of it, which makes it amenable to agreement with an other.

    For you,(you perhaps do not see yourself as a relativist,but you sure talk the talk), there is no more truth than a personal belief. If absolute truth does not exist then we have no standard of truth and what you believe according to your standards is the end of the story.
    One could certainly be able to agree with you for whatever reason, but if there is a point of disagreement, then because we cannot rely on “standard” of truth , we are left with no way of judging who is right or wrong. With relativism, the subject (me) is always right, no matter what anybody says.
    Socrates proved that relativism is self defeating with the following: “My opinion is: Truth must be absolute and that you Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is indeed my opinion, then you must concede that it is true according to your philosophy.”
    If you do believe in absolute truth, then our subjectivities can argue the particular points of for ex. Christianity, and find out, which one of us might be right or wrong, according to that absolute truth.
    For a beginning, the principles of logic are absolutely, not only subjectively true.
    Somebody who would equate God with absolute truth, as I do, came to that conclusion, by using objective rules, rules absolutely true. The truth out there is the same for you and me. (Reality, independent of the one perceiving it). If each one of us has its own truth, and just too bad if you do not agree with me, what is the sense of discussing at all? Would it not be pointless?

    If everyone with differing opinions is right, then no one is.

    Is Kansas looking for truth or would he like me to accept his “subjective’ truth.
    The ‘authority’ he relies on should be an important subject of discussion. His authority is obviously different than mine; is his better or worst? Not an unreasonable question in my book? I Will become a Protestant tomorrow if you give me a rational answer. Truth with a capital T is all that I am after.

    I cannot bypass my subjective decision, but my decision is based on the search for truth the “objective’ one.

    ___Your added remark suggests me saying that “you refuse to ask certain question” when I actually said,”…answering my question”. An important difference in view of my suggestion.

    • Again, Benoit, no one is refuting the idea of absolute truth, merely our ability to know it absolutely. There is nothing relativistic about that statement. Unless you can explain to me how you’re able to step out from behind your biases, presuppositions, etc. and observe reality.

      As for arguments about authority, I agree, that is worthy of discussion. Are the arguments in favor of your authority valid or not? And what authority would we use to make that determination, seeing as we can’t use the authority that is currently being evaluated (lest we be accused of circularity)? To my way of understanding, whatever standard you use to assess the validity of whatever you’ve chosen as your authority, that standard is actually your highest authority. And I would dare say that standard is your own better judgment.

  16. @Benoit – It seems that you want to speak of authority yet you have not related the position of your authority to the topic we have been discussing.

    So I am wondering if you understand the logic of the authority that you submit to if you cannot give me their position on whether man is born immortal, or becomes immortal after he is born, and what the rationale is behind their answer.

    If you cannot provide that then I suggest that you should not say that my “starting premises are weird”. It comes across to me as pretty superficial especially when I have tried to have a discussion with you about it.

  17. Admin, I tried to show you (not well, I understand) that the standard I was using,was OUR standard, not MINE. If you cannot acknowledge that we can have, that there is a common standard so that WE can arrive at Truth, well, I guess we are in an impasse.
    I wish you well, as I will not pursue this any further.

    • Actually, what I’ve heard you arguing is that the Catholic Church has an edge over all other interpreters of Scripture. What I’ve been trying to get you to answer us how you can know this apart from your own judgment.

  18. Kansas, I’m sorry but my poor mind cannot make any sense of your ‘logic’. So you’ll be in my prayers as I hope to be in yours.
    Thanks for the exchange.

  19. No problem Benoit. I accept your apology.

  20. I feel so much solidarity with you. It sounds like you have been the target of so much displaced pain and denial on the part of the church. The Lord has shown me that His bride are those who worship in spirit and in truth. I have been struggling with this issue at least 40 years. It has caused me much grief and depression as I have drawn near to “christians” only to experience rejection. I finally realized that seeking Jesus 1st; (you know this of course )> His kingdom…not just any group of doctrinalists. This was the beginning of peace and love for me in the Holy Spirit AND in the Word. Anyway, I want to encourage you with this link: http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/2011/10/her-gates-will-never-be-shut-with-brad-jersak-part-1/
    Just sit back, relax, and let the Lord encourage and refresh you. I can send you more too. Be sure to listen to part 2 as well. Brad is a new friend of mine up here in BC. He has taught in my church and Men’s retreat. May God bless you “BIG TIME” through this. ~W

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