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    February 15th, 2012 @ 5:58 pm by Kevin

    Most evangelical Christians aren’t too big on Catholicism, Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy, which makes their embrace of C.S. Lewis a bit of a mystery, seeing as he was pretty enthusiastic about all three.

    Despite his Catholic leanings, virtually all of Lewis’ books have been put on the “approved reading list” for evangelicals, with Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia cited as favorites on Facebook pages everywhere.

    I find this a bit ironic seeing as fellow Brit and Christian J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are still viewed with suspicion. Rowling writes about witches and is accused of seducing a generation with the occult. Lewis writes about witches and is lauded by the evangelical Sanhedrin for his brilliant allegory of the Christian faith.

    One Lewis book that almost failed to pass the evangelical smell test, however, is The Great Divorce. It’s about a group of people in hell who board a bus to heaven, where they get to decide whether or not they want to stay. One-by-one, most of the people find a reason to get back on the bus, finding they prefer to wallow in their petty jealousy, self-pity and bitterness rather than submit to the healing on offer in heaven.

    This is a difficult book for many evangelicals, because it seems to suggest that Lewis believed there might be an opportunity for postmortem salvation–a second chance to get things right after death. It also smacks of an Orthodox understanding of the afterlife, which sees heaven and hell not as separate places but as distinct psychological conditions.

    Most evangelicals turn this grit of sand into a pearl by saying, “It’s just a story.” Lewis didn’t actually mean to suggest there might be a second chance after death; he was merely seeking to demonstrate that wherever we wind up after we die, our destination will ultimately be a result of the choices we make here on earth. In fact, the road to heaven or hell doesn’t begin at death; it begins right now.

    Lewis sums up this view in an oft-quoted line from the book:

    There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.

    I call this the “C. S. Lewis defense” of the traditional Western doctrine of hell. In a sense, hell is simply a ratification of the human will. In the end, God gives all of us what we want. He’s not going to override our will simply to get what he wants. He loves and respects us too much.

    While many people find this to be an airtight defense of hell, others aren’t so sure. Philosopher Thomas Talbott is one such dissenter. In his view, the C. S. Lewis defense falls under the category of “hard-hearted theism” a.k.a. “tough love. Many people content themselves with the idea that if people freely choose to reject God, too bad for them. They had their chance just like the rest of us. They just made the wrong choice. And far be it from God to intervene in the face of such poor decision-making. After all, we’re not a bunch of automatons. However, Talbott raises two objections to this line of thinking:

    i) it is incoherent to claim that someone could freely and irrevocably reject God, and (ii) in any case, God would not permit such a choice to be made because it would pain the saved.

    To help unpack this, many of us imagine someone who rejects God as exercising their free will. But if God is the all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent being Christians make him out to be–if he’s at all like Jesus–what free person would possibly reject him? Like the characters in The Great Divorce, rejection of God only makes sense if people are so bound up in anger, jealousy, pain and bitterness that they’re blinded to the glory all around them. Don’t we all know such people? Haven’t we all been that sort of person at one time or another? And in the face of such a psychological state, does eternal condemnation seem just?

    In response to this, Talbott argues that if God were to intervene in our lives by pulling back the veil of our pain, rather than impinging on our free will (which, it turns out, isn’t so free after all), such an intervention should be seen as an effort to free our will. And seeing as Christ defeated death, it’s no longer the end of our spiritual biography. God can continue to work on us essentially for eternity. According to Talbott, such an act is also more consistent with an all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent being “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) than the tough love that the C. S. Lewis defense suggests.

    If you reject Talbott’s argument, you’re put in a position where you have to argue that either God perpetuates our pain-fueled illusions for all eternity (rather than having mercy on us and removing the blinders) or else only irrational people wind up in hell, because those are the only kinds of people who would reject God and choose destruction despite encountering a revelation of his true nature. In fact, some have argued that sin is irrational by its very nature, so yes, it would be safe to say that hell is full of irrational people. But I fail to see how this isn’t a “turtles all the way down” argument, because no free person would make an irrational choice. So something in their biography must have made them irrational, and from that point onward, no choice they make could ever be considered “free.”

    Perhaps even more significant, the C. S. Lewis defense also puts us in the awkward position of having to argue that in the end, our will trumps God’s will. That even though God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, it won’t happen.

    And by the way, the Greek word thelo, translated as “wants” in the 1 Timothy passage cited above, is a much stronger verb than the typical English translation would suggest. It actually indicates not just willing something to happen but also pressing it into action. In other words, it seems to suggest that God gets what he wants. Not that we want to build a theology on the foundation of a single passage in Scripture, but it does give us something to think about.

    The second objection Talbott raises is part of a complicated argument about the definition of supreme happiness and whether or not this is the sort of happiness God wills for us. I won’t go into the argument here, but in a nutshell, Talbott argues that if love makes us more sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and if heaven is the place where we finally get to experience perfect love, all of us would be in misery, because all we would want to do is be with our loved ones in hell–or to set them free from hell, if at all possible. And if God is the essence of love, well, he would be in the worst position of all.

    I’ll stop here, because this post is already about 1,000 words longer than I intended where I first Googled Lewis’ quote this morning, but I’d love to hear what the rest of you have to say about all of this.

leave a comment on this post (63 Comments)

  1. The thought: “humans choose hell” doesn’t make sense to me (in Christianity) because humans didn’t choose to exist. If you accept Christianity as true then you accept that God made the universe, including good and evil. Nothing exists without Gods permission, therefore hell only exists at his sufferance. The Christian idea that God would condemn (and he does condemn under this view; humans could not “turn away” from him if he had not made everything that enabled that statement to be true) humanity to an eternity of suffering does not fit with the idea of a loving, just God. Any God that makes hell is, necessarily, an evil God.

    • Thanks for the input. I’ve often wondered about the same thing. If God is such a respecter of the human will, why didn’t he give us choices regarding the factors that have the most influence on whether or not we choose to become a Christian? No one gets to choose their family or country of origin, their religious or political background, their gender, weight, height, eye color, etc. But for some reason many Christians have a theology that rests almost entirely on human choice.

      I’m also a father, so I also think about this in light of my own children. Of course I respect their will and their determination to find their own path through life. But I don’t respect their will in an absolute sense. I allow them to exercise their will within limits, the boundaries being damage to themselves, others or property. In such cases, I will intervene to minimize the damage. I see that as not only just but also loving to them and others. I fail to see how I could be regarded as a more loving father if I respected my child’s will in an absolute sense. I think most people would see me not as loving but as indifferent.

  2. I’m in a place getting lots of psychology done to me. It’s turned me into a psychopath. Life is a journey, not a destination. I guess I enjoy life, but nothing gets done. Now, there is nothing worth doing — cut-off from the world. Also, I no longer see the need to preach. Monk, basically. We are made to entertain God.

    God says, “”abolished ago flowing shed blamed righteous Hart morsel
    transferring ensnaring Epistles happens humbled problem
    Far passible hand contrition intent remedies servitude
    defended tale numberest wicked entirely impostors stick
    bringeth nation pleasureableness far IT loud My heareth
    husks dissipation practise toiling instructed stones regions
    disputes selling taste redeemed solid dismiss gainsayers
    throughout chewing lifts separated share indirectly anyone
    unpassable occupying chill Devil tranquil risk consequences
    supporting raged fetched Hebrew unaided marked countryman
    goad drank deluding shake spider ARE Whatsoever storm
    Thyself descending prey keeps thwart “

    • Read ” Pilgrims Progress” it was written hundreds of years ago and The trials for man still hold true today and forever more for the truth is the truth. Which indeeds sets you free. For you have the key to set yourself free Jesus Gave it to you. Remember the emeny can toy with your emotions. So when” you dont feel” like serving Christ or doing anything worth wild with your life ~Know that is the devil Hindering you from your Godly Divine Destiny. And Pull your self up, reach out and help someone you know or even help a stranger by simply blessing them a bottle of water. The Bible says “If any one gives a cup of water in the name of Jeaus They shall be Blessed” Mark 9:41 You can be Blessed by the Lord. God is Your Heavenly Father anyone who has had a child understands lovingly raising their children teaching them truth from lies, good from wrong and righteousness from evil.

  3. Kevin,
    I agree with Talbott. To me Talbott becomes more like the fundamentalist who triumphs the bibles teaching that prior to our “being saved” we’re enslaved and our minds are depraved. Only under the moving of God Spirit in us are we free from such slavery as he transforms us by the renewing of our minds AWAY FROM BONDAGE.

    I myself rejected Lewis’ approach on similar grounds as you. In my FB notes I offered the dilemma that on one hand scripture says “Train a child in the way of the lord and when he is old he will not depart from it” and asked how that is compatible with the modern day Sanhedrin’s doctrine that everyone is culpable for their choices. If we as parents can increase our children’s chances of getting to heaven, then life’s a gamble because it depends on whom you’re born to (Keith Green vs. Osama bin laden). If parents cannot increase a child’s chance, then it really doesn’t matter how you raise your child does it.

    I’m excited to share with you my pieces I mentioned because I deal with some of this in it.

    Thanks for this great post.

  4. A Questions:
    In regards to your comment about God being the “essence of love” in “the worst position of all”:

    How was it then consistent with a God who is the essence of love (as you deem it) to offer up His son to an unjust and undeserved death, fully taking the scorn of humanity and the wrath of God against sin, for those people who did nothing to deserve it? I have yet to know one father who would willingly offer up their boy in the stead of a man convicted of raping one of the thousands of little girls across the world who were ravaged today, yet God esteems this the purest example of love. (John 15:13)

    2 Conclusions:
    Your assertions based on Talbott which, with the exception of a passage of 1 Timothy taken only slightly out of context, were substantiated by no biblical grounds, leave me with 2 conclusions:
    #1. You have missed the consistency within scripture in which God
    holds individuals, groups, nations, and the world responsible
    for their actions and choices. Those choices have resulted in
    consequences, both physical and spiritual, and only those who
    have come before God in humility and repentance, accepting
    His sovereignty and receiving His grace have been spared.
    #2 You have ignored the severity with which God hates sin.

    • Thanks for the comment, Aaron. The first thing I would do is encourage you to reexamine your premise. Yes, Jesus died at the hands of sinful people who did nothing to deserve his love. But what exactly did his death accomplish? A popular school of thought says he died to save us from God’s wrath. But many other Christians think the Bible tells us something quite different.

      For example, some will use the metaphor of freedom from bondage, citing passages like Hebrews 2:14-15, which tells us, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” or 1 John 3:8, which says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 Corinthians 15 is also insightful in this regard, where Paul reminds the Corinthians of the Gospel he shared with them, and it focuses primarily on the power of the resurrection–the defeat of death.

      So there is definitely more than one way to look at the Cross. I think the key is to examine the various models and then hold them up against the character of Christ. As one of my interview subjects for “Hellbound?” says, “The written Word should always be interpreted through the Living Word–Jesus.”

      Going back to your example about a father offering up his son in place of a man convicted of raping thousands of little girls, you’re right–no loving father would do such a thing. It would be the height of injustice for God to punish an innocent man–his Son, even–for someone else’s crimes. So might there be a better way of looking at what happened on the Cross? A way that still takes sin seriously and still holds individuals and groups responsible for their actions but which also reflects Christ’s willingness to forgive his executioners even as he hung on the cross (Luke 23:34)?

  5. Hey Kevin,

    Great blog post. I’ve definitely jumped on board with the idea that there is room for discussion. I’m learning to respect anyone who holds the belief in “the traditional views” on Hell. I would hope that these people would realize that the whole history of Christianity so growing and becoming more clear over time. The whole thing is a mystery, slowly being revealed. The idea that the “great minds of Christianity” finally figured it all out around 1953 is a little arrogant, if not dangerous.

    Talbot is just one of many people who decided that there might be more going on there in the message. I think a lot of these guys aren’t as solid with their doctrine as the skeptics would believe. They mostly just want to get a foot in the door.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the Calvinists have such a solid, respected, and right view of things in many people’s opinion, then these Trinitarians and Universalists, who run with an idea of love, justice and mercy that is more understandable (to many people) than the Calvinists, then there needs to be room for both sides in the conversation. Why can people say that God created people for the purpose of Hell and not get any guff?

    Especially when it comes to ‘free will’, we need to discuss what that means, why it’s so important, and everything that guys that Talbot talk about that nobody wants to acknowledge.

    Another thought…

    If God’s way of love is so different from ours (Francis Chan would have you believe that what you thought was ‘hate’ your whole life is actually ‘love’. Go figure), then we should set standards for our own Children that reflect the ‘traditional view’ of God’s love. If my kids get rebellious, maybe I should give them a deadline. After the deadline, if they are still rebellious, I should kick them out of my house and abandon them in the streets. Is this how God does it? Why don’t we do the same? If this is love, then why don’t we emulate it?

  6. Kevin, I resonate with you when you say “There is def. more than one way to look at the cross.” – isn’t that the truth.

    This to me is a huge defect with us as people. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the scriptures are atristic rather than forensic or complex math. There’s no formula to it, just as there’s no formula to art. God is an atrist and one picture tells us a great many things; the cross especially so.

    As to saving the rapist, if God gave his own life to save the sick and needy (whom Jesus came for) then why is that not an expression of a perfect love? Penal substitutionists often have difficulty seeing the other points of view.

  7. Also,
    1 tim is arguable on context. But even moreso is that fact that Jesus himself used scriptures to prove things which were “out of context”. Is it really that far out to say that if God is love then he loves all and that his not delighting in the destruction of the wicked is an affirmation to us that every person is indeed loved.

    It seems to me that people polarize and get stuck in a hermenteutic which only accepts text at one level, thus they see the cross as one thing, namely Penal Substitution. Yet they know full well God CANNOT punish the innocent for crimes not commited, for that is UNJUST. This leads us to a funedamental difference, some Christians believe whatever God does is righteouss regardless of what that is. Others of us see it that God always acts good and can be quite misunderstood. Is God free to sin? Can God lie? Can God punish innocent people for sins not commited? I don’t believe he does nor ever has.

  8. I suppose then I am confused by two things you keep coming back to:

    #1. What are these sins God is punishing people for that they have NOT committed? (Regardless of the fact that it doesnt take a certain level of sin to make someone unrighteous in the eyes of God)

    #2. It seems you are unwilling to recognize God as a God of wrath, which He declares Himself to be and illustrates throghout the entirety of scripture.

    I would lastly comment that then that the defining characteristic that GOD uses to describe HIMSELF in scripture is his HOLINESS, meaning He is set apart, and it is used to contrast our innate sinfulness.

    • In response to #1, I’m not quite sure what you’re saying. I don’t recall stating that God will punish people for sins they have not committed. So please clarify.

      As for #2, you’re correct, I have serious reservations about the way we’ve interpreted passages about God’s wrath in the Bible. I’m not denying that he is often portrayed that way in Scripture. But I am questioning how much of that language is a direct oracle from God, so to speak, and how much of it is a human projection of such attributes onto God. I think this is a legitimate theological question, one that has been explored by many theologians all across the spectrum of Christian belief.

      Finally, I agree that God is most often described as holy. But what does holiness mean? Does it mean set apart? If so, how do reconcile that with the idea of the Incarnation, for example, in which God completely immerses himself in the lives of sinful people here on earth? In fact, if we look at Matthew 5:43-48, for example, we see exactly the opposite argument being made. Holiness or perfection isn’t about being set apart; it’s about loving our enemies:

      You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

  9. Why is recognizing God as a God of wrath incompatible with him being being a loving God as well. What Aaron really means to say is that You kevin don’t recognize God as a God of hate.

    Talbott argues that God’s wrath stems from love in order to turn us from our arrogant selves that we might recognize his kindness and mercy and embrace him. But Calvinists believe first that hell is eternal and therefore God cannot actually have love for reprobates (as if they could determine who God can have mercy on). For if he did it would destroy their doctrine and that would be worst of all – for them.

    Regarding Aaron’s no. 1 – I think he’s asking what sins have people NOT committed that God punishes them for – a charge against penal substitution- that God punished an innocent man for crimes he didn’t commit. Perhaps I’m not understanding Aaron’s point as well.

    • I agree–love and wrath are not incompatible. Just ask my kids!

      However, the question is whether God expresses his wrath as a means to an end or as an end in itself. In many cases in the OT, it seems like his wrath is an end in itself, b/c it leads to utter destruction. If so, people argue, then why not a hell in which God does the same. Before we make that leap though, I’m suggesting we look at other ways of reading those OT accounts.

  10. There’s a few topics here that might bear some reconsideration:

    1) God did not offer up “someone else” in mankind’s place for sin. Although this is in response to an earlier comment above, I have heard other people talk like this as well. God personally came in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) so that was God on the cross, and not another.

    2) Much of this conversation simply does not compute by biblical standards because of the assumption that “hell” means “eternal infernal conscious torment.” For example, how does “people choose to go to hell” make sense when someone who is shot by a bullet doesn’t choose to get shot, considering that “hell” holds the dead until the resurrection? If that person had their choice, they probably would not have chosen to die when they were shot.

    3) What is the purpose of a judgment in the last day? Have you ever wondered why God is going to separately raise the dead that were not his saints in Christ? Paul said that he believed in the resurrection of the dead, both the just and the unjust… so why is God going to raise the unjust? There’s a lot of implications here (thus a lot of neglected scripture) and it seems to me that everyone is ignoring this question, but this would start to answer some of the questions raised in your discussion.

  11. As far as wrath and destruction in the OT what I have discovered is simply, keep reading. You will find the most remarkable passages where what was destroyed and obliterated are shown as restored. We find Sodom restored in Ezekiel 16 and Egypt is called “My Beloved” and Assyria becomes “The Work of My Hands” in Isaiah 19! (that’s ASSYRIA…!) This is all the way through. The NT is of course full of restoration that appears to supersede and trump any passages of eternal doom such as Phil 2 and 1 Cor 15, Col 1 etc.,

    In reference to God’s holiness, (as it is often pitted against God’s love to defend ECT), I would ask what exactly is holiness? The passage Kevin quoted above comes from Leviticus 19 where God says “Be holy because I am holy”. Lev 19 is a detailed delineation of the law which at the end God sums up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Therefore holiness is …love. Love is what sets us apart and makes us like God.

    Here we see that it is the law that both condemns and saves. First we fail to measure up to God’s holiness, by not loving our neighbors as ourselves (the wages of sin is death), and then we are saved by God’s holiness when “He loved us as Himself” through the cross. As Romans says, God is both “Just and Justifier”. Therefore we are both condemned and saved by two sides of the same love. Thus you could say we are both condemned …and saved …by His holiness.

  12. Great post! I love Lewis but admit I’m also surprised Evangelicals, particularly Calvinists, like him as much as they do 🙂

    • Most of the time I think evangelicals are simply unaware of Lewis’ views on various issues, including church tradition, which run counter to their own. You could also look at their embrace of Lewis as a response to the fractured state of Protestant Christianity. “Mere Christianity” becomes a foundation for unity, a basic set of beliefs on which all Christians can agree no matter their denominational affiliation. A less charitable view would be to say that people who feel like they’re being marginalized by the culture will champion anything that appears to legitimize their position. Seeing as Lewis is embraced by the broader culture, he gives them a badge of respectability. So by championing him, they are really championing themselves. I’d love to hear what Mark Noll (“The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”) would have to say about this.

  13. GLW,
    Agreed, God does this time and time again and even warns Israel that he will cut them off forever – then only to say he doesn’t do that. But to get back to the point. I think Talbott makes more sense in that Talbott argues that the closer we come to God the more rational we become and the more clearly we things as they really are. Thus only those who are free in Christ have a “free will”. In my opinion it’s an exceptional argument that’s given little credit.

    I myself agree with Tom that if that bus load of people don’t choose God it’s because they live under some delusion that hell is better than heaven (or sin is better than God) – a deluision that if removed will always result in their choosing God. Thus they’re not choosing freely but under the compulsion of sin – or as Paul says “when I sin it is not I, but sin living in me”.

    • I appreciate this aspect of Talbott as well. We have a will, but it isn’t free. That’s the whole point. God is in the business of freeing our will. This brings up the whole bondage/freedom matrix when seems to get lost when it’s superimposed with the sin/punishment matrix.

  14. I didn’t realize what a hot topic free will is for most. As a former Calvinist I had no problem embracing the idea that we were not indeed truly free. But in a prominent discussion forum on universal reconciliation I was told the subject of free will was off limits to even bring up (!) It had been causing too many heated debates. I was disheartened because I agree with you Gene, it’s an excellent position from which to argue that God is in control of our salvation and He saves us through healing our “free-will” not appealing to our free-will.

    It must be that we need the process of being freed from the bondage to our own will of sin and lies into freedom and truth in order to “see” things the way God sees them and to learn something vitally important to our being fully human and in His image. God consigned us all over to disobedience that He might have mercy on us all. He subjected His creation to futility. God has clearly told us this is what is going on but if we know “all shall be well in the end” we can trust that God’s heart is good towards us as we all go through the journey of having our broken and flawed wills healed.

    I remember watching Christopher Hitchens debate Alistair Mcgrath and as an Arminian Mcgrath defended E Hell by saying God loves you so much He would never violate your free-will to save you. Of course Hitchens saw that argument as rubbish and looked up to the ceiling and shouted something likg, “please, if I’m going to do irreparable harm to my soul, GOOD GOD I beg You to violate my free-will!!

  15. 1. The irony with Hitchen’s argument is that he was that his request was a demonstration of repentance, which by its very definition requires free will. It is the people that do not want to be changed that will suffer irreparable damage to their soul.

    Psa 51:17 KJV
    (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

    Luk 4:18 KJV
    (18) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

    Luk 20:17-18 KJV
    (17) And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
    (18) Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

    2. So for Gene (and admin) above, how much would it change the Hitchens/McGrath exchange if they were interpreting death, destruction, and hell in the annihilationist sense, as in “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”(Ezekiel 18:4, 20) instead of with the “eternal conscious torment” model where death is another form of living?

    Mat 10:28 KJV
    (28) And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

    It seems to me that if someone is going to exercise their free will against God that he does do something to stop it, with the most complete and forcible override of free will possible, otherwise known as death. God would be the one that destroys body and soul in hell, which properly qualifies as irreparable damage, not the person themselves.

  16. Great post. As an evangelical mish-mosh kind of Christian, I had a lot of trouble with CS Lewis’ “Great Divorce” because of his indication that the dead could (and might) still repent. Only I loved it too, except for the idea that probably, they would not. And of course, as I believe Talbott also points out, the hell described by Jesus doesn’t sound at all like a place where the wicked will think themselves contented.

    Aaron, please consider that the theory of the substitutionary atonement (the idea that God punished His Son for our sins) wasn’t developed until around 1100 CE. What if, as the bible so often seems to teach, Jesus came to rescue us and did whatever it took? What if what really happened was more along the lines of Him taking a bullet for us? Yes, He knew what it would cost Him, but going willingly and courageously into harm’s way for love isn’t the same as substitutionary atonement as we’ve been taught to see it.

    This is the parable of the Prince of Peace riding into battle for His beloved, not some cold legal procedure made necessary by God’s insistence that for every infraction there must be blood. The substitutionary atonement theory was the next thing to go for me, when I realized that God meant to save ALL of His children. The two don’t go together as you have astutely observed.

    Blessings, Cindy

  17. Andrew, I find annihilationism problematic but I don’t have time to comment much on this but I will leave a quote by G. MacDonald:

    “Annihilation is no death to evil. Only good where evil was is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.”

  18. The G. MacDonald quote doesn’t make much sense. He is turning the normal meaning of “death” and “slay” inside out. If God slays the wicked and they cease to exist, then that does slay the evil in the most literally and absolutely.

    But consider the implications if you were to accept MacDonald’s proposal:

    Eze 33:11 KJV
    (11) Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

    If “the death of the wicked” meant “to reform the wicked person” like MacDonald has proposed, that would mean that God would take no pleasure in repentance. The reason God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked is because it is a tragic (but necessary) thing, not a cause for rejoicing like MacDonald suggests.

    I don’t know this MacDonald person, but since you are using his quotations let me please ask this. Does he claim that God will perform a type of spiritual lobotomy on the men and angels that will not (and do not want) to be redeemed?

    a) If not, then he has a problem with a scenario of the infinite existence of evil, and a rebellious creation is victorious over its creator.

    b) If so, then how is this spiritual lobotomy (of forcing someone against their will) properly analogous with the image of the bride of Christ, and how would this lobotomized person still be the same person after the rebellious parts that defined them were removed?

    If God could simply “make” people as “redeemed” to begin with, then why didn’t he do this in the first place? Why would he create a world of pain and suffering that was unnecessary and essentially has no purpose? The MacDonald scenario seems to make God out to be a horrible sadist.

    I look at creation and I see a world where every seed has the potential to bloom but many fall by the wayside. It’s the same world pictured in the parable of the sower and the seed. The seeds that fell by the wayside, that were eaten by birds, or that shriveled in the sun were not rescued and saved for another day. They were destroyed, like the trees that bare no fruit but were thrown into the fire.

    Joh 15:6 KJV
    (6) If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

    Branches that are thrown into a fire don’t keep burning for millions of years until they develop into healthy plants. I could easily point to dozens of biblical examples using this same message and imagery.

    As another question about MacDonald’s position, does he propose that angels are immortal and that men can never die, or does he suggest that God will purposely grant infinite existence on an unconditional basis in the hope that the wicked will one day change their minds?

    I really do not understand the Univeralist position that I am assuming that MacDonald supports. It seems to fail on moral, logical, and scriptural levels and it runs contrary to every evidence we have at our disposal. Some people are truly wicked and do not want to be redeemed.

    Not every prodigal son returns home, and if you remember the parable correctly, the father did not send out his angels to force his wayward son to return. That son would have truly died if he had remained stubborn.

    Luk 15:17-20 KJV
    (17) And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
    (18) I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
    (19) And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
    (20) And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

    Assuming that this parable contains any meaning, then who was willing to stay back, and who came to whom? The father was willing to let that son be on his own, for he had already given him his inheritance.

    The potential for death (starvation in this parable) was real, and repentance (and love) must be of one’s own free will or it is meaningless. What happened to the wicked servant that loved neither his master or his fellow servants?

    Mat 24:48-51 KJV
    (48) But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
    (49) And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
    (50) The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
    (51) And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    In the scope of a parable, there’s no hope of redeeming anyone once they have been cut asunder. That wicked servant was not saying “please rescue me from own stupidity… ” He was abusive and did not trust his Lord, and so his Lord removed him from existence.

    It seems to me that is the slaying of evil on moral, logical, and scriptural levels. I don’t see how MacDonald can justify his statement in any of those categories. Does he suggest that death itself is immoral? If so, then how does he deal with the death of a pet? Does he think that pet dogs live on as ghosts? What about cats, hamsters, etc?

    Maybe you could explain MacDonald (as you best understand him?)

  19. Andrew,
    great comments. One thing to note about Hitchens is that he was noted as saying he’s not just an atheist but that he was particularly a presbyterian atheist – he loathed the calvinist God.

    As far as Annihiliation and Hitchens/Mcgrath debate is concerned, only God knows if that would have made a difference. Hitchens, I’m sure was well aware of the Ann. doctrine but probably had too many issues with it as well. Indeed one imporant facet discussed here with Lewis’ approach is an epistemological issue – why are some men born to Keith Green and some to Osama Bin Laden? So I’ve got a feeling that Hitchens would side with us Universalists on those grounds – that is free will is a gamble.

    — oooh I’ve got to turn the potatos, you know how the oracle in the matrix says “I love candy”, that’s how I am about fried potatos in the morning —

    I agree with your comment that it appears that Mcdonald is turning things upside down regarding God taking no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. I (even here on FB) often have difficulty with fellow Universalists because they make everything sound so tidy, even saying “ins’t it obvious” – NO IT’S NOT! IF IT WERE THERE WOULDN’T BE A DEBATE. And most of us had to be cared into Universalism because we couldn’t make sense of it.

    For me the scriptures are not so mathematical. For example, if God hates the wicked (ps 5) then why does he not take pleasure in their destruction? I would. But if we say because he loves them and would have them repent then he doesn’t really hate them does he?

    So one comment I’ve made to Kevin here is that I tend to see it that our lens of interpretation is flawed. We ought to change our approach.


    • I think a key question we need to ask is how we should conceive of the Bible. As Brian McLaren puts it, is it a constitution or a library? If we view it as a constitution, we’ll approach it like a bunch of lawyers trying to make our case. We’ll also feel pressured to make all of its apparent internal inconsistencies agree with each other. If we approach it as a library (which is how Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and even Jews have approached Scripture throughout the centuries) we come to see it as a vigorous, ongoing conversation between dozens of people across hundreds of years. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised if some authors disagree or outright contradict each other. That’s what we would expect to find in a library. The authors may disagree at times, but they are all unified about what the big questions are. I think this a potentially stronger view of the Bible and much more in keeping with historical Christianity. It’s unity vs. unanimity. Unity is stronger b/c it is flexible enough to allow disagreement without disintegration, whereas unanimity can be broken by a single person, hence the need to explain away certain passages that disagree with our theology or expel people who believe something different than us.

  20. Not know George MacDonald? 😉 Andrew! He was (according to Lewis) Lewis’ master though they never met. You can get most if not all of his works free on-line. If you’re interested in this subject at all, you should certainly know George MacDonald, even if the two of you disagree.

  21. As for the question of how we should use our Bible, Jesus used it with the constitutional and unbreakable sense, and I think that Jesus provides a better example than the Roman or Eastern church tradition.

    Joh 10:34-36 KJV
    (34) Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
    (35) If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
    (36) Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

    When Jesus said “the scripture cannot be broken” he was putting this forward in such a way that he could not be ignored. The Pharisees were not allowed to dismiss him by saying “that is all a bunch of stories, elements are going to contradict.”

    Nor does it seem like the “correct” answer (that Jesus intended to steer them towards) was an admission that “the scriptures are broken.” Jesus acted like the scriptures were supposed to be authoritative and to settle all question and debate. As an example, look how he addressed the Sadducee lawyers below…

    Mar 12:24-27 KJV
    (24) And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
    (25) For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
    (26) And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
    (27) He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

    … and that was the end of “debate” on that subject. The resurrection was proved. The “narrative” approach would not seem to allow the scripture to be used with that type of authority.

    Therefore, the biblical message is supposed to be unanimous. Yes, that does mean that a single apparent contradiction will identify a doctrine as flawed. In such a case, that should get our attention, and we should be willing to reevaluate what we have assumed, not to set it aside for the sake of personal comfort or “agreement.”

    Contradiction is not a strength, but rather leads to confusion. Imagine what would happen if NASA allowed a certain amount of errors and internal disagreement in the space shuttle. The Challenger exploded because of a contradiction in the expected performance of a single O-ring.

    The irony is that a “unity” approach that allows for a certain amount of contradiction is the most divisive approach that one can take, for it means that nothing can be finally settled by scripture. Eternal conscious torment also applies for the same “leeway” to set aside difficult passages.

    Even the aforementioned Mark 12:24-27 is a case in point, for considering Christ’s use of “God is not the God of the dead” … then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cannot be living right now, or else his answer would not have contradicted himself. For if Abraham could be counted as alive right now in any sense, how would Christ’s answer have proved the resurrection?

    In other words, a “merely a conversation” version of unity cuts more than one way, removing the only method by which we would be able to resolve misunderstanding for true unity. I do not think that we would want to receive the same criticism of “knowing not the scriptures nor the power of God.”

    This does not mean that the scripture lacks narrative, but rather that this is a dual function that it can also perform without contradiction, and in this way it cannot be compared to a bookshelf of popular theologians.

    • Calling the Bible a library does nothing to diminish its authority. It is also a far cry from reducing it to mere narrative.

      As for the examples you gave, if you look at the context, Jesus is trying to tell them that if you approach the Scriptures like a bunch of lawyers, be wary, b/c then you will be held accountable to that same law. On the contrary, Jesus is constantly showing the religious authorities how wrong they are by reminding them that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. And he was constantly critical not only of the way people were using the scriptures; he is also critical of the Scriptures themselves, using them selectively to separate out the image of God from violence. For example, look at the way he introduces himself in Luke. Read the full OT passage he quotes. What key element does he leave out?

  22. If George MacDonald were in front of me and willing to discuss his writing, then I would read what he had to say and seek to talk with him. What you have to say is more valuable because you are alive and can respond.

    Please allow me to illustrate what I mean with an example. John Calvin has had an influence on history. In one sense I need to know what he stands for, but past that I am not interested in him. Even when he was alive he was irresponsible and absurd and burned his opponents, and he’s not going to respond any better when he’s already dead.

    I could spend a thousand years reading the opinions of every author and it would profit me little (not useless but of little justified value.) With the same amount of time I could read the bible a thousand times and talk in depth with a thousand real live people.

    I don’t actually care what George MacDonald or C.S. Lewis thought. What I do care about is what the person in front of me thinks. A quote or stated perspective may be useful as a starting point for discussion, but it only has weight to the degree that it can be demonstrated as valid.

    Why would I give George MacDonald more weight than George Orwell or George W. Bush or even Curious George the monkey? But if Cindy Skillman (for example) thinks a certain way and can explain her reasoning and respond to related questions, then that has greater value to me.

  23. Were you meaning this introduction in Luke?

    Luk 3:4-6 KJV
    (4) As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
    (5) Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
    (6) And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

    When Jesus reminds us of a passage, we are expected to remember the context and the continuation, so in one sense he is not leaving anything out.

    As for the examples you gave, if you look at the context, Jesus is trying to tell them that if you approach the Scriptures like a bunch of lawyers, be wary, b/c then you will be held accountable to that same law.

    In the where he said to the Pharisees “ye are gods…” the statement doesn’t make sense outside the original psalm, but in context Jesus was identifying himself as God their judge that judges “the gods” and that he will arise and inherit the earth. They were the “gods” that would die like men (see Psalm 82).

    Psa 82:6-8 KJV
    (6) I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
    (7) But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
    (8) Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

    The beginning of the quote is supposed to invoke the whole context, and sometimes the most important part is the section that Jesus stops just short of saying aloud, like “I am the LORD, that is my name” (compare Luke 4:18 with Isaiah 42:8.)

    So I don’t see how Jesus was being critical of the scriptures themselves. I suppose in one sense you could say that Jesus left out Isaiah 40:6-66:24. What were you counting as the natural end of the passage?

    Are you suggesting that Jesus was criticizing or disagreeing with what he often stopped short of saying? I’m not really sure where you’re going here.

  24. I believe Kevin is talking about the passage from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me to preach good news to the poor…” where Jesus leaves out “The day of vengeance of our God”. (?)

    We are not saved by dissecting the Scriptures in order to find the “truth” but we are saved by the events of the Story. As Sayers said, “The dogma is the drama”. And referring to what occurred on account of those events, Jesus delineated from Isaiah 61. It was “news” and therefore objective.

    Maybe we need to determine more the truth of WHAT HAPPENED in the Story and less on what was said, or how we interpreted it to have been said.

    The Jewish lawyers tried to find life in words (determining what was said and meant) and missed the EVENT, the Living Word, Christ..the fulfillment of the Good News of Isa 61.

    • Yes, I meant the Isaiah 61 passage. And this point is correct–Jesus was trying to help them see they were so caught up in the written word they were blind to the Living Word, who was among them. And this isn’t the only time Jesus reads the OT selectively like this, omitting the portion that ascribes violence to God. I will share other examples. Just on the road right now.

  25. That might be what he meant?

    I believe Kevin is talking about the passage from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me to preach good news to the poor…” where Jesus leaves out “The day of vengeance of our God”. (?)

    However, that wouldn’t be an example of Jesus criticizing the scriptures or separating the image of God from violence. Jesus would have closed the book because he stopped at the part that was fulfilled.

    Luk 4:19-21 KJV
    (19) To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
    (20) And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
    (21) And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

    The rest of that portion of Isaiah would be fulfilled in a latter day.

    Isaiah 61:2
    (2) To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;

    The day of vengeance and the comforting of those who mourn would be in the future and not fulfilled in that day. That’s why Jesus stopped reading.

    Maybe we need to determine more the truth of WHAT HAPPENED in the Story and less on what was said, or how we interpreted it to have been said.

    I disagree. I don’t think that anyone can figure out what happened unless they start paying more attention to what was actually said. You wouldn’t want to watch a foreign movie without subtitles, because you wouldn’t understand why things were happening the way they were.

    Admin (may I call you Kevin?) just confirmed while I was writing this:

    And this isn’t the only time Jesus reads the OT selectively like this, omitting the portion that ascribes violence to God.

    Would you also like a listing where Jesus selectively quotes the Old Testament to focus on attributing violence to God?

    Mar 9:43-44 KJV
    (43) And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
    (44) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

    That’s a selective quote from Isaiah 66. Jesus specifically omitted the former portion contrasting these “corpses of men” with “your seed and your name [which shall] remain” of verse 22.

    Isa 66:22 KJV
    (22) For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.

    There is life in the words, and it is not an accident that Jesus called himself the Word, because those words are his words.

    Deu 18:18-19 KJV
    (18) I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
    (19) And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.

    Joh 5:46-47 KJV
    (46) For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
    (47) But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

    The words are important. If people were paying any attention to the words, you wouldn’t have an Infernal Conscious Torment doctrine. The words actually warn over and over that God will destroy those that will not be saved.

    Luk 13:6-9 KJV
    (6) He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
    (7) Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
    (8) And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
    (9) And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

    Mat 12:17-21 KJV
    (17) That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
    (18) Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
    (19) He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
    (20) A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
    (21) And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

    God is merciful, and he is forgiving, but this is not universalism. The image is of an unproductive fig tree that will be rooted out of the ground, and flax that is not quenched goes up in smoke, never to grow again. The message and narrative of the story (with both eyes open is)…

    Luk 13:5 KJV
    (5) I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    I am noticing that the words say “except ye repent” rather than “until ye repent.” Its associated parable of the fig tree does not support an “until ye repent” translation…

  26. Even in the account of the burning bush, was he quoting Exodus in context? Was the discussion between God and Moses regarding a future resurrection?

    Kevin’s point is a sharp one. On one hand we are to take scripture as all important and on the other we should be keen to listen to Jesus in order to understand that our hermeneutics are suspect because. If it’s one thing I’m confident of – we today would have called Jesus out on using a text out of context in order to support a conclusion – the burning bush has nothing to do with resurrection by exegetical grounds.

  27. Kevin,
    I’m sympathetic with the whole non-violence issue, so I’m looking forward to getting into that particular issue.

  28. Yes our hermeneutics are suspect as we are not immune to making the same mistakes the Jews did in missing the point.

    We are told that what happened at the event of Christ was that “Death was swallowed up in victory…the last enemy to be destroyed is death…It is finished” and “Behold, I am making all things new”‘. This is the meaning and scope we are to attach to the Gospel-event. Everything else is commentary and cannot be used to override the implications of the Story. The commentary must be interpreted by the Good News not the other way around. This is what the Jews did, they used words to try and override the Word of God Himself.

    Put another way, to be told authoritatively by the Author how the Story is going to end will override any other chapters in the Story that appear to the contrary. God tells us He is good and will have all creation bowing to him in true worship. How? I don’t know but this proclamation trumps all and any impressions that seem to contradict this.

  29. Phillip,
    Not immune? I’ll go as far as saying we are making the exact same mistakes. We simply don’t realize it. The burning bush is one example I love to use because Christians know darn well the context of that Exodus discussion HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RESURRECTION. And they know full well Jesus is thus FAILING the metrics of their hermeneutics. In other words, if our exegetical methods can’t prove Jesus right than how would we respond to him back then? Probably exactly the way they did – HERETIC!

  30. 1) The context of Moses at the burning bush assumed and required the resurrection. If there was no resurrection then God’s statement of “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” would have been meaningless.

    If you were asked to prove the resurrection while limiting yourself to the first five books of Moses (as was Christ’s restricting in that case) what other examples can you think of (I have one more.)

    2) God is not limited to non-violent methods. He flooded the earth in the days of Noah, he brought down fire from heaven to defend Elijah, and in the days of Christ he drove the money changers out of the temple with a scourge. The creator has the right to limit the life of his creation.

    3) We are not told that “Death was swallowed up in victory” in the event of Christ past tense. That’s a future event, at the last trump, when Christ returns for his saints.

    1Co 15:52-55 KJV
    (52) In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
    (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
    (54) So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
    (55) O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

    I am concerned that you are speaking of “The Story” and saying that your idea of “The Story” trumps contradictory passages of scripture. Scriptural contradiction should be a huge warning…

    4) This was not a dilemma for me:

    God tells us He is good and will have all creation bowing to him in true worship. How? I don’t know but this proclamation trumps all and any impressions that seem to contradict this.

    True worship (which is a form of love) cannot be forced. The creation that will not bow shall be destroyed, meaning erased from existence. That’s how you can have all creation bowing in true worship.

    5) Concerning the comment about skipping to the end of the story and making all things reconcile, the absolutely very last part of the book that speaks in regards to life and death says this:

    Rev 22:19 KJV
    (19) And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

    The life and death contrast is a constant theme throughout scripture from the very beginning, from when man first comes on the scene in Genesis, to the very end of Revelation.

    6) coming back full circle again, ….

    The burning bush is one example I love to use because Christians know darn well the context of that Exodus discussion HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RESURRECTION.

    The point was that the resurrection was taken for granted, as evidenced by “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” No one was questioning that they were literally dead at the time.

    a) I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (past tense) would deny a future resurrection. They will not awake they have ultimately perished.
    b) I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (present tense) promises a future resurrection. They are sleeping, which only makes sense if they shall awake at a later date.

    Deu 31:16 KJV
    (16) And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

    In other words, if our exegetical methods can’t prove Jesus right…

    It seems to me that the Deuteronomy passage could also be used to prove the resurrection in the first five books, because “sleep” is only a useful analogy or descriptive if one will awake. That’s why the second death is never described as a sleep.

  31. Andrew said,
    “Does he suggest that death itself is immoral? If so, then how does he deal with the death of a pet? Does he think that pet dogs live on as ghosts? What about cats, hamsters, etc?
    Maybe you could explain MacDonald (as you best understand him)?”

    Death is not the way its supposed to be. It is called “the last enemy” to be destroyed. The bondage to death involves “all of creation that groans for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Rom 8) Sin brought death to the entire created order and therefore Christ’s redemption will apply and be cosmic in scope.

    “Annihilation is no death to evil” because it goes against the very nature of Biblical justice itself. The Bible talks about DOING justice not GETTING justice. Rectifying justice (consequences being brought to bear) is only a tool on the way to God’s intention to usher in His ultimate restorative justice to bear upon all His creation, His Shalom. True Biblical justice entails returning things to their “right-useness” (righteousness).

    “He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.” Isaiah 42:4

    Why is it that MacDonald’s quote stirs something inside us, a longing for all that is wrong to be healed by the Source of all goodness and love not just locked up or annihilated? Why do we wish for love to never fail? Is it because God has told us that it will not? Annihilation elicits fear and a type of awe but a story of ultimate redemption, reconciliation and restoration fills us with wonder and worship, Napoleon knew the difference:

    “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”

    “That at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (not “Judge”).

  32. I have no idea where that smiley face came from. Make that Romans 8…!

    Thanks for highlighting that point Gene.

  33. Andrew,
    All you’re doing is defending that Jesus’ point of the resurrection is correct. What you’re not doing is showing how the context of the discussion between God and Moses is about a future resurrection.

    Can you prove that the context of the discussion in Exodus (burning bush) is about resurrection? Simply because he’s limited to the pent. (probably for sadducee reasons) does not change the rules of exegesis.
    And yes everyone understands his defense of why he uses that passage. But I’m not asking what he meant by using that passage. I’m asking what method of hermeneutic does he employ?

    Here is the hard fact:
    A) The burning bush account is not about resurrection. No where does God declare anything about a resurrection nor does Moses raise the issue.

    B) Using a passage out of context is prohibited by exegesis.

    So one has to prove that the burning bush account IN ITS CONTEXT is about resurrection, else Jesus’ interpretation method fails the test.

    Please provide the evidence.

  34. Responding to Phillip’s last post:

    … by your meaning of “destroying death” that would also mean that my pet rat Snap will come back to life… as well as every grasshopper or worm eaten by a bird or a fish, and the birds and fish themselves. Although I cannot point to a specific scripture to “prove” that grasshoppers and fish are not resurrected, I shouldn’t have to do that. I would think that the burden of proof would rest on the other side.

    … per

    Why is it that MacDonald’s quote stirs something inside us…

    It doesn’t stir something inside of us, because it is silly and horrible at the same time. For some things, the only possible way to redeem them is to destroy them. God will not be held hostage like a weak parent to a spoiled child. If the prodigal son will not return to his father on his own, he shall perish.

    Justice means the destruction of the wicked. Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, that is how the bible describes justice. If you do not want that justice then the other option is to request mercy. If one will not ask for mercy then there will be justice.

    “That at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (not “Judge”).

    God does have the role and title of Judge. I will omit the quotations for the sake of space if you will look these up. Please see Acts 10:42, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Peter 4:5, Daniel 7:9-11 with Revelation 20:11-15, Psalm 82, and John 5:22-29. I could easily give more.

    These next three I will quote so they can be easily seen:

    Jer 23:5 KJV
    (5) Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

    Mat 25:30-31, 34, 41, & 46 KJV
    (30) And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
    (31) When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
    (34) Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
    (41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
    (46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

    Mat 7:21-23 KJV
    (21) Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    (22) Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    (23) And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    When the bible speaks of judgment and justice, this includes the destruction of the wicked. That is why it tells us that there will be no more death only after there no more wicked remain to be put to death.

    But this is not my opinion, this is the plain language of scripture when the words are allowed to be read in their normal everyday ordinary sense. If we aren’t supposed to accept the words, then why were they spoken, and what would stop us from making up anything we wanted?

  35. Addressing Gene,

    I understand the importance of your question, or at least if you mean what I think you mean. I will answer seriously and attempt to cover all angles.

    First, God did not appear to Moses for the purpose of proving the resurrection the future resurrection, any more than he appeared for the purpose of proving that bushes are normally consumed by fire. However, this is irrelevant.

    Many times a thing can serve for reasons other than its primary purpose. As an everyday example, a hammer can serve as a paperweight, and it shouldn’t matter that it was originally intended to drive nails. For a tool to be able to drive nails it must also be heavy and dense enough so that it cannot fly away in the wind.

    This is the case with Moses and the burning bush. Imagine another scene where you have been imprisoned in a jail, and someone approaches you, and introduces himself as “I was the lawyer for …” and then gives a list of four different people who were all executed within the last month. What type of confidence would that inspire? This lawyer is weak and you would do well to ignore him for he has no power to save.

    On the other hand, imagine that a different lawyer had approached you and said “I am the lawyer for …” and gave the names of four different people who had just filed successful appeals, or had been acquitted and were currently awaiting release? This lawyer has power to deliver, and you should listen carefully to what he says.

    Genesis is very clear that death means dissolution to the earth, and there was no question that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were actually dead in the fullest and most literal meaning of the term.

    The nature of God’s introduction to Moses proves that the resurrection of the dead was already an understood and assumed belief among the faithful Hebrew people. Another term for “already an understood and assumed belief” is called … context.

    If I were to describe a game of baseball, it would be with the understood context of an environment with gravity. The conversation itself would not be about gravity or for the purpose of proving the existence of gravity. The fact that we are both talking about baseball proves the underlying context thereof. It is something so fundamental that it does not require a specific statement because the conversation requires this basic element.

    I am going to step through your specific statements here out:

    Can you prove that the context of the discussion in Exodus (burning bush) is about resurrection? Simply because he’s limited to the pent. (probably for sadducee reasons) does not change the rules of exegesis.

    1. I think that I have proved that the already existing context of their discussion included a future resurrection.

    2. I cannot address these “rules of exegesis” until you show me who created these “rules” and where they are printed.

    And yes everyone understands his defense of why he uses that passage. But I’m not asking what he meant by using that passage. I’m asking what method of hermeneutic does he employ?

    1. I wasn’t always able to explain why Jesus used that quotation, so I wasn’t going to assume that everyone else had always understood it either.

    2. “Hermes” who was known as a deceptive and lying messenger of the gods, so I would not say that Jesus was employing “hermeneutics.” The method that Jesus is using is described in Psalm 12:6-7, Isaiah 28:10-13, and John 10:35:

    a) The words of God are pure words
    b) The word of the LORD must be taken precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little
    c) The scripture cannot be broken.

    In other words, Jesus was using a literal approach where the very words were pure and had meaning and implication. Scripture builds upon itself and no portion is to be ignored or viewed as being “contradictory.”

    Here is the hard fact:
    A) The burning bush account is not about resurrection. No where does God declare anything about a resurrection nor does Moses raise the issue.

    God does not have to talk about the resurrection to Moses because it is already understood and does not need a specific lecture.

    Using a passage out of context is prohibited by exegesis

    1. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were forever dead he could only be their God in the past tense, thus the existing context is proved.
    2. Who defined these “rules of exegesis” that you are referencing and what do they actually say? Were they published before or after Psalms, Isaiah, and John?

    So one has to prove that the burning bush account IN ITS CONTEXT is about resurrection, else Jesus’ interpretation method fails the test.

    Or perhaps someone has been abusing biblical interpretation and calling it “exegesis” … and if I am reading you correctly, this may have been your point all along. If this was not your point before, perhaps this might become your conclusion.

    There is a huge difference between proving the assumed context of a statement, and pulling words “out of context” and even “against the context” to deny other scripture.

  36. Andrew,
    It seems we have some agreement and some disagreements.

    It seems we agree that context is not everything. And it seems you agree with me that the context of the burning bush is not regarding the resurrection. I think we also agree that Jesus’ use of this passage does not require the context to be about resurrection.

    So far so good.

    I don’t know you but I know people I’ve read and the hundreds (if not thousands) of MP3’s Christians always say “it must be in context”. I disagree with them and I agree with you, it’s doesn’t have to be. Things that logically follow (as your example of the lawyer or the baseball game) are within grounds to interpret properly.

    What is clear is that if someone ONLY accepts proofs based on context of passages, then Jesus obviously would be submitting something that does not pass.

    So when scripture states that God bound all men over to disobedience in order that he might have mercy on them all, do you think the context demands he does not mean each person of that type?

    Allow me to explain.

    Some say that Rom 11:32 is only about what groups of people God desires to have mercy on, such as Jews and Gentiles. But here is my response to Calvinists: If God bound Jews to disobedience in order to have mercy on them, then if you’re a Jew then that includes you. If God bound gentiles over to disobedience to have mercy on them, then if you’re a gentile – guess what? – that includes you. Thus I agree with Universalists, – the reason EVERY SINGLE PERSON is in sin is because God has destined and brought about our decay (Rom 8 – God subjected the creation to decay by his will). But I also see that God hardens that THEY too might receive mercy.

    But here Christians argue that the context of Romans 11 is only categorical and not individual. Therefore God did not bind EVERY single person to disobedience to have mercy.

    I say just as it logically follows as in the burning bush acct that resurrection logically follows, so it logically follows that if God bound Jews and Gentiles to disobedience in order to have mercy, then every Jew and Gentile is an object of that directive (mercy).

    What do you think?

  37. 1. I can agree that primary context is not everything. If I may use analogy, a hammer can be a paperweight even if it was built for the purpose of hammering, but a hammer cannot be a balloon.

    2. For accuracy’s sake, Romans 11:32 does not say “all men” but rather says “all.” I think that the first “all” means “the Jewish people” and the second all means “the Jewish and Gentile peoples.”

    3. It seems to me that the disobedience mentioned is the acceptance of Christ, rather than any specific sin. The Jewish people as a whole were concluded to reject Christ, and thus they crucified him and persecuted the believers.

    4. When “all” were concluded in unbelief, this cannot mean “every single person” because we do have examples of Jews that accepted Christ, including Mary, John, Peter, and the malefactor on the cross.

    5. The predestination of a group does not necessarily mean that any particular person is obliged to stay in that group.

    6. “Hardening” (as in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart) is used in regards to temporal events so that God’s power might be known (Romans 9:62). God would have no reason to harden Pharaoh’s heart in the judgment, and to do such a thing would defy every notion of justice and fairness. I cannot say what will happen to Pharaoh because he has not yet been judged.

    7. Let’s stop to look at the exact text for a moment:

    Rom 11:32 KJV
    (32) For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he
    might have mercy upon all.

    It says that he might have mercy upon them all. It does not say that the mercy is a unconditional foregone conclusion for every individual.

    1. I believe that it is an understood context that mercy (forgiveness) cannot be granted without repentance
    2. I believe that is is an understood context that repentance requires a willingness to change, which cannot be forced or coerced.

    Applying this same standard of review to Ezekiel (below):

    Eze 33:11 KJV
    (11) Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

    There are a several assumptions apparent here:

    1. There is such a thing as the death of the wicked
    2. The death of the wicked is not a pleasant thing
    3. People have the power to refuse to turn regardless of what God wants
    4. If people will not turn from their ways he will kill them even though this is not his pleasure

    You asked what I thought … and I think that this does not yet hint of universalism. God cannot force repentance, but salvation is dependent upon repentance. Therefore, salvation cannot be guaranteed (universal) on an individual level.

    Eze 33:13-16 KJV
    (13) When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.
    (14) Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
    (15) If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
    (16) None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

    Ezekiel cannot be talking about life and death in the here and now, because the saints are slain and the wicked do prosper for a season. Therefore, this death and life that he speaks of must be the second death and eternal life.

    Salvation would be guaranteed on a different level, for the saints and for the sheep on his right hand, also called the bride of Christ. The goats are predestined to destruction… but that does not mean that any individual is predestined to be a goat. Yet we are told that there will be goats, and knowing human nature, how could there be otherwise?

  38. Andrew, thanks again.

    just for clarity. Are you saying you think Paul means “all Jews” were shut up to disobedience that mercy might come to the gentiles. I ask because you also seem to say it can’t be every single person because Peter, James, John and Mary (and so forth) weren’t hard hearted.

    So what do you think Paul means by “all”? Surely you don’t think it means “All who were hardened were hardened”?

    Perhaps you might clarify.

  39. Andrew,
    After re-reading your response, I think you already answered my question. You conclude that Mary, Peter and John did not require mercy for they were not hard hearted. I don’t accept this. I believe even they required mercy and primarily because I believe ALL have sinned (hear hearts) and fallen short of God’s glory.

    So I do think the reason salvation (mercy) comes to ALL Gentiles is because ALL isreal are sinners just as ALL Gentiles are sinner. God subjected the creation to decay by his own will. God bound ALL (the whole) which means everything either the world or the whole of Isreal. But I believe being his point is that Mercy has now come to the gentiles means they too were sinners. Was Mary a sinner? I think so.

  40. Addressing both posts in reverse order:

    First, it seems that you have misunderstood me. The passage has nothing to do with whether any individual person has sinned against God. This is what I have said already:

    3. It seems to me that the disobedience mentioned is the acceptance of Christ, rather than any specific sin. The Jewish people as a whole were concluded to reject Christ, and thus they crucified him and persecuted the believers.

    Second, let’s clarify the biblical meaning of “all”:

    Gen 1:29 KJV
    (29) And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

    The King James text has 4600 verses that contain the word “all” and so I obviously cannot examine each and every one of them in this post, so let’s use this one as an example.

    Did God literally cover every square inch of the face of the earth with herb bearing seed? No bare spots, no faces of rock, and no sandy beaches? Or does he cover “all the earth” as in “all the earth that he covers” which is the overall general overwhelming majority of the earth?

    I said I wasn’t going to use all 4600 verses, but let’s use a New Testament example real quickly…

    Mat 2:3 KJV
    (3) When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

    I didn’t have to look very hard for either of these examples. Although all can mean “absolutely all in each and every individual case” it can also have the more general application that I have just shown. If further proof is needed, there are another 4600+ candidates waiting.

    1. The fact remains that not every single person remained in unbelief in Christ, so therefore Paul cannot be meaning to use the word “all” in the absolute sense, at least not in the former case.

    2. There is also the sense that Paul is speaking of general groups rather than specific individuals. For example, an Israelite could be severed from Israel by being put out of the camp, and he was no longer counted as Israelite. There were also provisions for how a Gentile could be grafted into Israel.

    Jesus told the Pharisees that their father was not Abraham but the devil, Paul speaks of the grafting in of the Gentiles, and he also says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Jesus said that if a man was not in him, he is as a branch that will be cut off and cast out and burned.

    Joh 15:6 KJV
    (6) If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

    It is difficult to interpret Christ’s language here as an eventual redeeming of these branches. Once a branch has been finally cut off and burned it is too late to be restored. Life depends upon attachment to the source of life, but one can be added and removed from this source.

    3. Even if one were to interpret the final all “that he might have mercy upon all” against the former usage and application to mean “every man” there is still the qualifier that that “God might have mercy.” If God might have mercy that means that he has the will and the might to have mercy, not that he is obligated to have mercy where there is no repentance. That is a constant biblical theme.

    Mat 5:7 KJV
    (7) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

    Jas 2:13 KJV
    (13) For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

    Is that a sufficient enough explanation so that we may return to the original post?

  41. Andrew, sufficient but disagreed. I do think you’ve provided a good reason for why you believe Paul means. I just simply interpret it differently than you. And yes, I’ll leave it at that.

  42. Gene, would you mind answering a question for me?

    From the style of your question (and response) it seemed that you have a Calvinist background. For example, Calvinism must insist that we have individual guarantees of salvation, rather than by identity in a group.

    I am asking because it seems that you approached that verse like a Calvinist… and that Calvinist colored contacts will naturally prejudice against anything challenging Unconditional Salvation.

  43. Andrew,
    I lean towards Calvinism yes, no doubt about it. Libertarian freedom seems like subjective matter to me. But in approaching Romans 9-11, yes I tend to think the Calvinists get most of it right.

    And you Andrew?

  44. When I first heard about Calvinism, I did not believe that it actually existed. It sounded like a hoax to me… it sounded ridiculous, and I had trouble believing that anyone actually believed that in the “real world.” I thought that what I was reading might be “making up” (or exaggerating) what they were saying that Calvinists believed.

    When I first met someone who said they were a Calvinist… I was shocked. I was thinking … shouldn’t this be kept in the closet? But no, they proudly announced “I am a five point Calvinist.” So I asked them some questions about the whole Calvinist thing, and they soon became furious with me.

    Every time I have had an opportunity to ask a Calvinist about their Calvinism, they usually become enraged. I have been told that “I am blinded thus cannot see the truth” (instead of answering my questions), I have been thrown out of a church and told never to return (although that may have been because I disproved Eternal Conscious Torment for him in spades), and I have been told that I am a heretic and need the gospel.

    I have never seen Calvinism provide good fruits. Just looking through some mails from a couple years ago, I found where I said that I have come to realize Calvinism is a more damaging doctrine even than Eternal Conscious Torment… not because it has been abusive, but because it either tells men that they do not need to repent, or that it would be impossible for them to repent. It’s all about having the lucky lottery ticket, and it sucks to be anyone else.

    Recently, discussing Calvinism with another, I told him that if his Calvinist God was the true God, then I could curse that God to His Face without fear. I called his Calvinist God cruel and random. It really wouldn’t matter anyway, because if I was among the elect I couldn’t be lost if I tried, and I would be “regenerated” at least moments before my death even if I didn’t want to be. If I was not among the lucky elect then I couldn’t be saved no matter how much I repented or turned from my ways.

    He wasn’t able to deny my logic… but if someone here can see where I made a mistake with my reasoning, please tell me immediately.

    King James had an interesting comment on Calvinism, where he said that even if the devil had assembled all of his angels in hell, and put the question to them individually or all at once, there would not be a more wicked doctrine that they could concoct that would, if believed, have a greater effect of turning man against his maker in hatred, where man was damned without hope without even the necessity of sin or sinning.

    I think I agree with James.

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  48. Kevin, can I post your good article on the tentmaker site?

  49. My wife and I ran the Sunday school for several years. I knew all of C. S. Lewis’christian works. I know the New Testament (especially the Gospels) backwards and forwards. I reread the Great Divorce in my late 60’s and it turned me off. My wife would not last a day in Heaven. She would carry water into Hell. And when C.S. Lewis chided her with his nonsense about people choosing Hell she would say, “What’s wrong with you.” If I was told after my death that I was worthy of being with C.S. Lewis and St. Augustin
    i would say ,”Just hand me a shovel.” The residence of Heaven will cheerfully turn over their spouse, their best friend to the gestapo to be dragged off to Hell. Every insult Lewis lays on Hell applies to Heaven. These are people who want to believe that anyone who disagrees with them is to be tortured forever. Note Lewis was a war hero so Quakers who refused to fight and were permanently scared by what happened to them got exactly what they deserved. I found the attacks of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris on Christianity were nothing in comparison to rereading “The Great Divorce”. What Lewis imagines is a sick fantasy of someone who delights in the torture of others all the while telling himself that he is filled with love.
    My view of Heaven is more like the following. Some will be given golden crowns and some will be given shovels. Those given shovels will start shoveling. After a while some of the people with crowns will come up to those who are shoveling and say, “Will you hold my crown while I shovel?’
    And they will hand them an extra shovel and say, “Knock yourself out.” Because that is what good people do. They shovel, they make things better
    and they are too busy shoveling to worry about evening the score with someone who didn’t show them or their idea of God the proper respect.

  50. The starting point is total depravity. When we start here, we find all people are wicked and chose to go their own way. (“All we like sheep have gone astray”). God draws all men to Himself. (“If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself”.). Men reject God against His will (“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”) and Jesus said he wanted to gather sinners like a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not. God does want sinners to be saved, but they really do reject Him and choose death. (“They received not the love of the truth, so as to be saved.”)

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