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    June 4th, 2012 @ 1:47 pm by Kevin

    Brian Jones is the kind of Christian who creates atheists. Ironically, his contribution to atheism is probably directly proportional to his efforts to convert people to Christianity.

    In fact, I’ll take things one step further and say Brian’s contribution to the rise in atheism is inversely proportional to his evangelism efforts. That is, I’m willing to bet that for every person he “saves,” he renders at least 5-10 people incapable of ever taking Christianity seriously again.

    Who is this Brian Jones, and why am I being so hard on him? For starters, he’s the founder and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He’s a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. And his favorite meal is Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have no problem with any of this. For me, my beef has to do with one thing and one thing only: his book, Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It).

    Something you should understand up front: I don’t usually get angry at books. I don’t care if an author disagrees with whatever position I happen to hold on a topic. I’m always eager to explore a different perspective. That’s how we learn and grow. When I worked on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, for example, I read dozens of books that challenged virtually every facet of everything I believed. But never once did I get angry. Instead, I welcomed the opportunity to have my worldview so thoroughly deconstructed. In the end, not much of it survived. But I feel pretty confident about what passed through the fire.

    For some reason though, Brian’s book is a special case. I first picked it up in late 2011, but I only got about 75 pages into it before I threw it down in disgust on my bedside table. There it remained for the next six or seven months.

    Complete disclosure: My initial impulse was to put the book under the front wheel of my van and then spin the tires until all of the pages flew out. But that would have been messy. And a waste of gas.

    At the time, I couldn’t quite articulate what bothered me so much about it. It wasn’t his arguments. I’d heard them many times before. It was more of a gut response to the way they were presented, I think. An animalistic urge. I just wanted that book dead.

    Which is why I resisted the impulse to say or do anything initially, because I didn’t want to indulge such clearly un-Christian impulses.

    But then last night my friend Drew emailed to ask if I’d read the book. His email included a couple of quotes from it:

    Jesus rescued you from falling into the hands of Someone larger than your mind can conceive, stronger than the combined strength of a trillion nuclear explosions, a holy God destined to unload the complete, unrestrained force of His wrath on you for offending His holy nature. That’s what you were really saved from…

    Apocalyptic urgency is not about saving your friend from hell. It’s about saving your friend from God. Hell isn’t your friend’s biggest problem; God is. Hell is simply the end result of God’s justified wrath. It’s the final permanent expression of his anger towards those who have purposely chosen to reject His lordship over their lives.

    That’s why until you understand how violent and inhumane God really is, how utterly wrathful the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can become, you’ll never feel the urgency to help your non-Christian friends escape his detestable clutches. (From pages 119 & 132)

    After reading the quotes, I thought, really? Does the book really say that? I mean, if you believe in hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked, Brian’s logic is spot on, but rarely do you hear a proponent of such a position be so forthright. So I dove back into the book last night to see what else I’d missed. Here’s another chestnut:

    Practically speaking, if everyone goes to heaven, why bother with Jesus at all? Why attend church? Why serve? Why tithe? Why share our faith with others? None of this makes any sense. Why would we do anything beyond that which makes us feel good? If there is no hell, then giving less than our best to our faith makes perfect sense. (p. 35)

    Clearly, Brian’s belief exemplifies what another Brian (McLaren) points out in our teaser trailer: “Our entire theological system has been reduced to a hell-avoidance plan.” For Brian Jones, the only reason to become a Christian is to escape the wrath of God. Sure, there may be a few other tangential benefits along the way, but for Brian, it’s all about the big finish. (See my thoughts on this line of argument.)

    That viewpoint essentially tees up the rest of the book, which can be roughly divided into two parts: 1) Helping readers understand just how creepy (Jones’ word, p. 123), bloodthirsty, vindictive, genocidal, pestilential, sadomasochistic, and capriciously malevolent God is, and then, 2) encouraging readers to warn people to flee his wrath before it’s too late.

    Yes, God loves you. Yes, God wants to show you mercy and grace. Yes, Jesus died on the cross for you as an act of God’s love. However, if you’re not a Christian, you also need to understand that the God of the Bible thinks that your transgressions warrant execution (Rom. 1:32). He loathes your sin and considers you a personal enemy (5:10). Every single act of disobedience you commit against His will enrages Him and forces cosmic self-restraint just to keep Him from instantly obliterating you from his planet (Nah. 1:2-3)

    If you’re thinking, Okay, that’s just about as creepy as you can get, then you’re starting to gain a clearer understanding of the true character of the God in whom you’ve placed your trust as a Christian. (pp. 120 & 123)

    Left completely unanswered is why anyone would want to have anything to do with such a God even if he does exist. Brian’s appeal essentially breaks down to self-interest. You can either turn and embrace this psychopathic advocate of infanticide (p. 125), ethnic cleansing (p. 127) and rape as a weapon of war (p. 129)… or burn.

    Forget the environment:

    Christianity is not a “let’s make the world a better place” kind of religion. It is meant to solve one issue: the problem of human sin, which has flared up the wrath of a holy God. (p. 106)

    Forget helping other people.

    Scripture, not human compassion, guides a disciple’s priorities… Christians lose apocalyptic urgency when they become preoccupied with important kingdom-related activities like feeding the poor and fighting for human rights. Over time they allow these activities to take precedence over helping people get to heaven. (pp. 99 & 102)

    Just get about your business.

    Christianity is in the wrath-deflecting business. And we need to ask ourselves, “How’s business?”

    As I read through the rest of the book last night, I actually had to stop a couple of times and check the spine to see if it really was published by David C. Cook or if it was a parody of people who believe in eternal torment. What else could I conclude when the author chides Richard Dawkins for going too easy on God or when he encourages readers to “live like a pagan” in order to win people to Christ? His chapters on evangelism are as creepy as the God he worships. It’s essentially about marketing yourself correctly. Oh, and loving people. But only as a means to an end.

    Thankfully, Drew’s email didn’t just include quotes from Brian’s book. It also included a link to The River of Fire, written by Orthodox theologian Alexandre Kalomiros. This document was originally delivered as the keynote speech at an Orthodox youth conference in Seattle back in 1980. Since then, it has come to occupy a place of honor as an apologetic against the toxic theology preached by Christians like Brian Jones. A not-so-brief excerpt:

    There is no doubt that we are living in the age of apostasy predicted for the last days. In practice, most people are atheists, although many of them theoretically still believe. Indifference and the spirit of this world prevail everywhere.

    What is the reason for this state?

    The reason is the cooling of love. Love for God no more burns in human hearts, and in consequence, love between us is dead, too.

    What is the cause of this waning of men’s love for God? The answer, certainly, is sin. Sin is the dark cloud which does not permit God’s light to reach our eyes.

    But sin always did exist. So how did we arrive at the point of not simply ignoring God, but of actually hating Him? Man’s attitude toward God today is not really ignorance, or really indifference. If you examine men carefully you will notice that their ignorance or indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist.

    I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.

    We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.

    But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

    You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

    Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

    Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”.

    But what was the instrument of the devil’s slandering of God? What means did he use in order to convince humanity, in order to pervert human thought?

    He used “theology”. He first introduced a slight alteration in theology which, once it was accepted, he managed to increase more and more to the degree that Christianity became completely unrecognizable. This is what we call “Western theology”.

    I’m hoping that excerpt cleanses your palate like it did mine. But don’t stop there. Read the entire thing.

    To wrap up this epic post, as a Christian, I do not believe my highest calling is to save people from hell. Remember: the word “gospel” means “good news,” not “great warning.” Therefore, the gospel I share is about freedom from fear and freedom from death, not bondage to fear of a malevolent deity. That’s precisely the sort of thing Jesus came to save us from–hunkering down in the Garden afraid that God is coming to get us.

    Instead of instilling fear, I believe my highest calling is to adhere to the two greatest commandments: 1) to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and 2) to love my neighbor–even my enemy–as myself.

    You may think I’ve contravened at least one of those commandments by writing this post. But just because my words sound wrathful at times does not negate my love for Brian as a fellow human being. I do not regard Brian as my enemy. And even he will admit that there is no incompatibility between love and wrath.

    So at least we agree on one thing (and I don’t even mind admitting it).



leave a comment on this post (39 Comments)

  1. Great post, Kevin. Blessings as you enter the final stages of post production.

  2. I have seen that book in several Christian bookstores. Had no idea how toxic it was! Sheesh! Can’t believe that is on the shelves!

    I am reminded of God’s words over Eliphaz who misrepresented the character of God. with his “theology”…

    “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Job 42:8

    godslovewins.com

  3. Thanks for “letting out” all the thoughts about what you really wanted to do with that insane book! I, too, react the same way–and then grieve, as it makes is clearer that more ‘Christians’ turn away people from the Gospel, then do those who have rejected it….sigh.
    I am so delighted that the Great God, is SO delighted in us, that He made a way possible through Jesus. …ahhhhh…

  4. I’ve read some Brian Jones blogs years ago and kind of liked them but i was not aware how far off he is on his theology regarding the nature of God. Sad

  5. the “gospel”–or the “good message about the king’s recent victory”–is that jesus defeated death. that emperor jesus’ kingdom–the one in which we are enabled to see god for who he is, as love, in which love is the only true law, and in which we are transformed by falling in love with the king–is here to stay. it has not perished. it cannot perish. the devil’s greatest tricks are always the most subtle. take, for example, that word “wrath.” it’s translated from the greek “orge,” and, you guessed it, is where we get the word “orgy.” it doesn’t mean wrath like we think it does, in the sense of fiery burning anger. instead, it means passion. the gospel is not the revelation of a god who is angry and hateful and mean–it’s the revelation of a god who is passionately jealous for a love relationship with humanity that’s been broken that he desires to restore. it’s not the revelation of a god who is impassioned to destroy humanity only in that the false self-image and the false man that has ruled them from within is destroyed by his love, and the new man may arise within them.

  6. Wow – just wow. Those excerpts you list from Brian’s book are amazing. This man is a teacher??? Talk about the blind leading the blind into a ditch. He’s leading his congregation into the Grand Canyon. And the scary part is, he’s far from the only one out there, although most are probably backwoods preachers.

  7. “Brian’s contribution to the rise in atheism is inversely proportional to his evangelism efforts. That is, I’m willing to bet that for every person he “saves,” he renders at least 5-10 people incapable of ever taking Christianity seriously again.”

    i laughed out loud at this quote kevin; i guess in his view 1 out of 10 ain’t bad:)

  8. While I’m not much of a christian (more of a deist) anymore, I’m glad to see that christians becoming more rational while still maintaining their faith. I always struggled to understand how such a loving, omnipotent god could commit so many of his own sins (Greed, anger, sin) as my previous pastors and the author above would lead one to believe. It always made a little uneasy. I don’t think God would commit a good person to hell just because didn’t live in fear of his wrath. Would that not defeat the purpose of free will? I believe God will judge someone on their actions and the steps they take to be better people. I think you made some great points. Best wishes on the last of your production.

    • Thanks for the note, Darren. You should check out the follow-up post to my rant against Brian Jones’s book. It includes a couple of pieces from C. S. Lewis and George McDonald that provide a much more rational approach to the Bible, particularly the atrocious behavior attributed to God. I would also recommend Rene Girard’s “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.” I think he does a brilliant job in this book (and several others) of decoding the Old and New Testaments in terms of the anti-violent subtext of what often appear to be extremely violent texts. Overall, I see Christianity and the ancient Jewish faith as a strong critique of human violence rather than divine endorsement of it.

    • Darren, it’s true. God would never send good people to hell. That would be unjust. However, no one is good but God alone (Mark 10:18). No one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10). It would be just for Him to send sinners to hell for that is our wage (Romans 6:23). But thanks to Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection, sinners can be reconciled to God. On the cross, the sins of believers were placed on Jesus and Jesus’ life of perfect obedience and righteousness is placed on those who will believe (2 Cor. 5:21). In the final judgement, our accuser no longer stands and God counts Jesus’ righteousness as ours. If God, like you say, would judge people by their actions and their attempts to become better people, there would be no hope for you or me because we are wretched men (Jeremiah 13:23). We have become like lepers and our good works are like filthy garments before God (Isaiah 64:6) Believe in Him so that you will not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

      • Can we dispense with the word “hell” – it leaves too much to chance in terms of interpretation. It has no place in a true study of the original languages. God JUDGES, and He does it PERFECTLY. All men will be judged ultimately according to their works (Rev. 22:12). Jesus Christ, as a part of the Plan, has redeemed man from mortality – we all will eventually figure this out .. who can stand in the face of God? He will be glorified – all will confess Him as LORD, but how many will have their sentence stayed? Those who trust that Jesus is their righteousness. The rest will definitely account and atone for their sins. But NOWHERE in the true Word (not the adulterated English versions) does God condemn anyone to an eternity of torture, or even payment – on the contrary – the Law, the very ESSENCE of Him, mandates a Jubilee at some point in time. The ultimate example of unconditional forgiveness, even as Christ forgave all those torturing him on the cross unconditionally.

      • God ways are NOT our ways, and His thoughts are NOT our thoughts! I’m glad at least a few people on this blog have resorted to SCRIPTURE rather than their own stinking good for nothing opinion! If there is no pending doom, then Jesus died for NOTHING, and saved us from NOTHING! PLEASE stop calling yourselves CHRISTIANS while ignoring what CHRIST taught about HELL!

  9. As we atheists like to say, the surest route to converting theists is to get them to actually read the Bible. Say what you like about Brian Jones, and disagree if you want, but his theology and exegesis are spiritually sound.

    • Thanks for the note Keith. I have to disagree with you though. If you want to take the Bible–the OT in particular–at face value, fine. It’s a horrific collection of works. But no serious scholar would take the same approach to any other types of religious literature. Instead, they seek to understand the literary and historical context (and languages) in which the documents were written so as to gain a better understanding of their meaning and purpose. I think if you really do your homework on the biblical texts, you will see that Brian’s interpretation couldn’t be further from the mark.

      • To your point that Brian has misinterpreted the biblical texts, Sam Harris covered this ground well:

        “It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?”

        • That’s a weak line of reasoning, Keith. It’s like chiding Galileo for daring to think he could see something his forebears could not. Our vantage point in history always reveals some things and conceals others. So it’s perfectly reasonable that we might have insights into the Bible that previous Christians could not see.

          • I agree: it’s perfectly reasonable we might have insights into the Bible that historic Christians could not see (and I submit to you that our shared point-of-view on that topic is far outside mainstream Christianity’s).

            But if you believe the Bible has some kind of secret sauce, the fact the leaders and founders of the Church are manifestly unable to consistently identify or explicate that secret sauce is relevant, and makes me doubtful of anyone’s claim to do better.

            I believe an important evidence of Christianity’s truth should be the Church’s consistent presentation of god’s revelation. When the Church has no such consistent presentation, and in fact, the human presentation of god’s revelation is inconsistent and muddled at the least, what evidence is there for there having been any revelation at all?

          • You raise some good questions here, Keith. A few responses:

            First off, I don’t think our shared point of view on the mutability of Christian belief is outside mainstream Christianity at all. Pretty much any reasonable Christian will agree that how we interpret the Bible has changed over time. (I guess the problem here is finding a reasonable Christian! But they’re not as rare as you might think.) Go back to the slavery example. You won’t find many (or any) Christians today who use the Bible to support slavery. We all realize that for hundreds of years, Christians were reading the Bible wrong. At the same time, even when the majority of Christians were using the Bible to support slavery, a minority of Christians was protesting this practice. The same goes for hell. While the majority view in the Catholic and Protestant churches has been eternal torment for the wicked, there’s always been a minority thread that opposed this, suggesting alternate positions like annihilationism or universalism. And then there’s the Eastern Orthodox Church, which would say “none of the above.” They argue that heaven and hell are the same place–the presence of God. We will just experience it differently according to the state of our conscience.

            So while the majority of the church has consistently gone one direction on several issues, a minority has always resisted this. The key move that almost always determine who is “right” is which faction aligns themselves with the most powerful ally. It’s no coincidence that those people who have the most toxic view of hell (eternal torment) have always aligned themselves with empire. Holding the threat of hell over the illiterate and ignorant masses was a very useful tool for tyrants.

            Second, I do actually believe the Bible has a “secret sauce,” and that the sauce itself explains why so many people are unable to see it. It all goes back to the Garden of Eden story. Many Christians take this to be an account of how God created the world. I see it quite differently, which may disqualify me as an orthodox Christian in some people’s eyes, but let me explain…

            You need to be aware of the context in which this story was most likely written (and rewritten)–during and shortly following the Babylonian exile. Up until that time, the Jews thought their God was the toughest on the block. Some scholars would say the Jews were not true monotheists prior to the exile; they just believed Yahweh was the most powerful God. Now they’re reeling, b/c if their God is the most powerful, how could they have been conquered and hauled away and their temple destroyed? I’m sure many of them were tempted to give up hope, to cave in to the society around them. Seeing this, the priests set about to write a document that would inspire them to stand strong, to reinforce their identity, and to show them why caving in to the death-driven culture around them would only lead to self destruction.

            So we have the first creation account–Genesis 1-2. In contrast to the Babylonian creation myth, which begins in chaos and death, the Jewish creation story begins with a spoken word from God. There is no great battle where a sea serpent is dismembered, with different body parts becoming the sky, the sea and so on. Instead, God separates light from dark, land from water, etc. Then he populates each realm and calls it good. What the writers are trying to say is that the universe is not an inherently violent place created by a violent, angry God. Instead, we see more of a utopian vision, where God labors to create all that is good and then rests.

            Genesis 3 offers a stark contrast to this. We go back to day 6, the creation of humans, and from that point on, everything goes to shit. Not only do the humans change, so does God. Instead of the benevolent provider, he becomes a withholder, a being (or group of beings) that sees humans as rivals. Beginning with the introduction of the serpent, they begin to see God as a rival. Where does this animosity come from? Again, we have to go back to the context. The snake (I believe) represents Babylon. This is the external voice whispering in the ear of the captive Jews tempting them with the thought that God is not for them after all. If they go over to the Babylonians–compromise their beliefs in exchange for power and knowledge–they will become like gods.

            Adam and Eve’s choice reveals the folly of that route though. Their decision to reject God and give in to the culture around them leads only to death and destruction. That’s what the next 8 chapters of Genesis are about. It’s a cautionary tale that shows how turning away from God leads to a human culture based in violence. This is the world of Cain. Instead of self-giving love (which is what the first creation narrative is about), this world is based on self-interest, survival of the fittest, kill or be killed. Along the way we see appropriation of nearby myths–the Flood, angelic beings mating with humans and so on–as a way to illustrate the utter futility of humankind’s striving to be like God. This primeval history peaks, not surprisingly, at the tower of Babel, which is again a commentary on Babylonian religion, in which humankind is literally trying to elevate itself.

            The tables only begin to turn with the story of Abraham–the father of all those who have faith. He is presented as the new model, the one who will become a blessing to all nations. Why? Because his life and actions represent the only antidote to the death-driven world of Cain–self-giving love. Rather than withholding from God and seeing him as a rival, he holds nothing back, not even his son. In this sense, he emulates God, who does the same thing thousands of years later with his son, Jesus. So there’s a powerful symmetry here.

            Now, I tell you all of this because it helps answer your question about why church leaders have so consistently been unable to identify or explicate the “secret sauce” found in the Bible. I would argue the primary reason is that for most of its history, the church has made the same mistake as Adam and Eve. It’s eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil by aligning itself with empire. This is the height of irony, seeing as Christ’s ministry and death were the ultimate protest against empire. Who did he fight all of his life? The Jewish religious authorities, who had also aligned themselves with empire.

            What’s the most powerful tool empire has over us? Death. This is why Jesus needs to defeat death, to set us free from fear. Now the tyrants of the world can no longer control us. The question is, do we really believe this? To me, this is the place where faith enters the picture. But it’s not so much wishful thinking as an active decision. Are we going to live each day under the shadow of death, or are we going to step into the light of the resurrection? Because we know if we continue forward under the shadow of death, we will merely perpetuate the self-centered, fear-driven, self-destructive world of Cain. But if we step into the light of the resurrection, if we live as if death is no longer running the show, we can afford to base our lives on self-giving love, risking death if need be rather than perpetuating systemic evil. To me, this is what being a Christian is about. This is the secret sauce of the entire biblical library–a path out of the perpetual cycle of self-destruction in which humans have been caught. This circles us back to the first creation narrative, to Abraham and to Jesus as the models we are to emulate.

            There’s a lot more to say about this, including the question of why, if God is perfect, did the world he created go to shit in the first place. But that’s a discussion for another day. I would also highly recommend you have a look at two books that helped shape my thinking on this: “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker and “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” by Rene Girard. Both of them help reveal the death-driven nature of human culture and how the Bible not only critiques this but also shows us a way out of it.

          • Thought I should add one more thing in summary: We are largely blind to the Bible’s critique of our violence b/c we are utterly dependent on that violence for our very existence. This is a paradox that I’m still trying to work through.

        • Further to my point, I think Sam Harris probably believes slavery is wrong. But who is he to say that when some of the best minds who founded America not only thought slavery was okay, they owned slaves? Just another e.g. of how views naturally change over time.

      • To your point that the Bible is… well, “an horrific collection of works” is a fair summation. Then why do you give it credence?

        This is one of my principle confusions about Christianity: imagine god, all-powerful, all-loving, all-merciful and completely desirous both of communion with his creation and that “none shall perish”.

        And the Bible is the best possible plan?

        I’m thinking the stars rearranging themselves in the night-sky to spell out “God Loves You”, every New Year’s Eve from midnight to 1am, might have worked out better.

        • This speaks to a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. To me, it reveals as much about how humans perceive God as it does about how God perceives humans. See my follow up post to this one for some examples of how a nuanced reading of the text brings this out. As Rene Girard points out, the Bible is a revelation of why humans are so self-destructive and how we can escape the cycle of violence. It’s not some magic book that fell from the sky. Its a record of humans struggling with the big questions of life. And at times, that gets ugly.

  10. I liked your response a great deal — thank you for taking the time to write that down.

    I would (regretfully) reply that most Christians would never accept your view, because it means the Bible isn’t “true” in the way we think of scientific “truth”, and that’s not an acceptable choice to them.

    I also thank you for the book references, I’ll take a look.

  11. How can you (Kevin) hope to escape the damnation of hell? (Oh, yeah, I forgot…by denying it). You constantly malign the Old Testament and God’s holy wrath described therein. The LAW, my friend, called for death for many offenses. The Law, let me remind you, was decribed as holy’ and good by Paul and affirmed by Jesus. Even if we are ‘no longer under’ the Law, one commits a horrific offense by speaking evil of it. Those were not abstract ideas; people were actually killed for sabbath-breaking (Numbers 15) and blasphemy (Leviticus 24). But in your beard-scratching Starbucks brand of Christianity you are free to reject historical accounts and wonder, ‘Hmm, what made them write such an awful thing?’ You will find out just how vindictive, violent and vengeful God is all to soon.
    BTW, I , too, agree with atheists often about stupid ‘Christians’ acting like fools and believing whatever they are told. They ought, however, to believe the Bible…EVERY WORD!

    • What do you mean by believing every word of the Bible? Whose interpretation of those words?

      • Way of the Mister has a related piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLphfq_g0kw

        The traditional view of hell and eternal damnation is flatly unacceptable to any moral or ethical person in this culture. Call us silly, but we don’t find the idea of our children burning forever in eternal torment conducive to our happiness. Other centuries… well, not so much:

        “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.” — Jonathan Edwards

        When David rejoices in the “vindictive, violent and vengeful” nature of his god, and the eternal torture of his enemies, he brings a lot of clarity to the tribal underpinnings of religious thought.

    • David, the Law was ‘good’ in the sense that in the economy of God’s progressive revelation of himself it was a necessary tool–a negative object lesson–to show us that we are unable to keep the Law. In that sense the law is a CURSE as Paul says (Gal. 3:10-14). To the degree a person is walking and living in love the law is unnecessary (there will certainly be only perfect love in heaven and thus any lawwould be superfluous).

      Check out this recent sermon on the relationship between the law and love. (http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/i-owe-it-all-to-the-devil) I think Greg Boyd is onto something here when he says that Satan (the accuser) is the biggest proponent of LAW because he uses the law (and our inability to keep it) as the basis for his continual accusations of God’s children. Hence, when we becaome more about LAW than LOVE we become more like Satan than like God.

    • David. A Christian is right with God through their faith in Christ, not by having all of their theology right (and that’s not saying that I think Kevin’s theology is necessarily wrong). A Christian is under grace, not the law, as the Bible clearly says. So it’s impossible for a believer to go to this understanding of “hell” that you speak of. Which is a pagan term and philosophy that can’t be found in the more accurate literal translations of the Bible.

    • David,
      A quick question:

      If a Christian is wrong about eternal conscious torment do you believe that disqualifies them from a relationship with God that God will damn them at all?

      OR

      If a Christian is wrong about annihilationism or Universalism, do you believe that disqualifies them from a relationship with God that God will damn them?

  12. The doctrine of “penal substitution” from the neurotic St Augustine to Calvin to fundamentalist modern day Christianity, that is one nub of this problem. What was the cross about? – an act of love and sharing, or some kind of legalistic sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity. The more “bible believing” fundamentalist a church is, the more the key doctrine of salvation resembles a simple borrowing from the worst of human/animal sacrifice paganism…

    • Agreed RU,

      We humans def. seem to think of God as a narcissist. Of course having this discussion with my father in law last night, it seems the bible is sort of written that way (using a literal interpretive lens). But deep within it’s subtext is a God who is compassionate and is not a narcissist.

      • Agreed. When one looks at the Bible closely (Including the Old Testament) God’s compassion is behind the language. At points in the Prophets God clearly says that he is compassionate towards the Hebrews and the Nations, even when they are being judged, for in part sacrificing their children to false Idols no less. These mentions of God’s compassion even in judgment is something that a lot of Christianity seems to have overlooked in the Old Testament.

        • Gene, Christopher: you say “deep within its subtext” and “compassion is behind the language”.

          If you have to work that hard to explain away the literal text of the Bible, doesn’t it make you ask why an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being is such a lousy communicator?

          There are specific, awful verses which have been used for centuries to justify burning people alive. Do you believe an omnipotent, omnibenevolent humanity-loving god couldn’t have reworded just those few verses differently?

          • Keith. Sorry for taking so long to reply…. I just noticed your post. God isn’t a lousy communicator….. we are lousy listeners. Much of Christianity has twisted what the Bible clearly says. That’s our fault not God’s. I believe that God is continually trying to show us what he’s really like but we are so often caught up in the “traditions of men” that we can’t (or refuse to) see it.

            For example in Romans 2 (in the Bible) God cleary tells us what his “wrath” is…. it’s God allowing us to go our own ways into sin (respecting our choices), while God waits with patience for us to repent and turn back to him. So any wrath mentioned in the Old Testament prophets is simply linked to this. The prophets warn people that God’s wrath is kindled against them…. meaning it is going to allow people to go into deeper sin,and sin has bad consequences.

            Thus God’s wrath allows the Nations to become depraved.. build a war machine…. and attack the sinful Jewish people. It wasn’t God trying to hurt anybody… but rather God allowing the Jews and the Nations to go their own ways, with the resulting consequences.

            But God in his mercy and love brings Good out of their evil and violence, using this to ultimately guide and correct them.

            The Old Testament Prophets CLEARLY say that God is full of love and compassion for those too whom these things are happening. Some examples.

            Isaiah 15: 5

            My own heart for Moab continues to make outcry.

            Isaiah 16: 6 – 11

            We have heard of the arrogance of Moab, roud exceedingly……. therefore shall Moab howl for Moab. All that belong to her shall wail…..For the field of Heshbon are withered the vine of Sibmah…… For this cause will I bewail in the wailing of Jazer. The vine of Sibmah. I will drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh……. For this cause mine inward parts – for Moab like a lyre shall make a plaintive sound.

            Isaiah 3: 2 – 4

            In that day. Shall the Bud of Yahweh become beautiful and glorious……….And it shall come to pass – he that is left in Zion, and he that remains in Jerusalem, shall be called Holy. Everyone written unto life in Jerusalem. When My Lord shall have bathed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and the blood – guiltiness of Jerusalem he shall wash away out of her midst – By the spirit of judgement, and By the spirit of thorough cleansing.

            So what we have here is God weeping over and with the people who are suffering these calamities, and bringing good out of their evil and violence, even to the extent of thorough cleansing (using baptismal language). In Romans it clearly says that Gods allowing people to follow their own paths into wickedness, is how he judges the world.

            That’s how it works….. God’s judgment is not from a punitive God, but rather from a loving God who weeps over and with us…. and then in his mercy brings goodness and cleansing out of our evil.

            These particular texts are clear and straightforward in the Bible. It’s not God’s fault that some people don’t “have the eyes to see” this. It’s ours. We’ve been brainwashed into making God out to be more punitive and angry than he really is.

  13. I am halfway through this book. As a Christian I agree with what Brian Jones states. I think the church body as a whole has lost sight of our mission to go forth and make disciples. The Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow which also means if we love Him we must accept and embrace the good, the bad and the ugly (in our minds) of our Creator. We need to preach the whole Bible, not just the warm and fuzzy parts. If this offends, take it up with God. Urgency is what the church needs, not complacency. By the way I did not know who Jesus really was or what He did for me until I was 53 years old. Complacency is an enemy of God. There is more than one way to share the gospel. Whatever Scripture says is good enough for me. I applaud Brian Jones for this book.

    • I remember reading Jones’ book a few years back. I had a similar response to the author of this post. I agree with you almost entirely. I believe that Satan has been deceiving people about the true character of God. Jones describes God as “loathsome and inhumane”. Isn’t that virtually the same as calling God evil? If loathsome and inhumane behavior doesn’t qualify as “evil,” then what does? I understand, I think, WHY Brian argues for this vindictive picture of God. It’s very obvious that the point of the book is to make new converts. And the way he thinks is most effective is scaring people. Many people, including myself, react to in justice, more than the fear of what might happen to us, ourselves, so why does he believe fear is the best route to achieve this end? And then we must ask the serious question: is a God who is actually fair and just actually scary? Perhaps not, and therein lies the problem. Western Christianity is in decline today, especially in Europe. What Brian Jones and others who evangelize in the same manner really fear is not the fate of individuals in the afterlife; it is the decline of Christianity. That’s the real problem. This is not a humanitarian crusade to save souls; it’s a crusade to save culture and tradition. I believe they are right. Christianity could effectively die out in the West. So what is to be done? I don’t doubt Brian Jones is sincere enough; he explains at one point how he pleaded with a man on his deathbed to accept Christ–and it worked! But I’ll submit it was NOT because of fear.

  14. I really liked what you wrote about Western Theology. I was curious about that quote and based on your advice, I was reading “The River of Fire” written by Orthodox theologian Alexandre Kalomiros.

    I must say that you should beware of that writing. Kalomiros meant it in another sense and he was terribly mistaken. He denies, I would say, more than half of The Bible with his false claims about the loving God. He quotes the orthodox saints in order to “prove” that “God is love” and not ‘just’ in the sense of a Law or a punishment of death to be done. Kalomiros says that God does not punishes and He continues:
    “Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will… ‘those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love… it is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love.. love’s power acts in two ways_ it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it. God os love. If we really believe this truth, we now that God never hates, never punishes, never takes veneance…” This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love, bitterness at seeing innocent joy, to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one’s hear. This is the eternal condition of all the damned. They are all dearly loved. They are all invited to the joyous banquet. They are living in God’s kingdom, the the New Earth, and the New Heavens. No one expels them. Even if they wanted to go away they could not flee from God’s New Creation, nor hide from God’s tenderly loving omnipresence… In the new eternla life, God will be everything to His creatures, not only to the good, but also to the wicked, not only to those who love Him, but likewise to those who hate Him”.

    Kalomiros finishes putting words into God’s mouth, stating that no matter what: they wicked, (whom by the way Jesus called ‘children of the devil’) will forever be children of God.

    Kalomiros’ teachings are deceitful and mistaken, as if he had been fooled by the very same slanderer he claims not to follow. By what he states, he demonstrates he does not believe in the God of the Bible and blasphemes against him. Beware of that false teacher. Indeed, he hates to admit the reallity of hell as written in The Bible.

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