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One question that often arises from skeptics of universalism is whether or not they believe in the eventual redemption of Satan and demons. Now some universalists do not believe in the redemption of fallen angels, some do, and some are simply agnostic on the idea. Typically non-universalists rightly point out that the strongest judgment language in the Bible is leveled against fallen angels. And if a universalist maintains that the ultimate fate of creation is restoration and renewal it can’t possibly mean all of creation (individually) will be redeemed because we are told emphatically that demons will not be. I personally agree with the strength of this argument however I think that there are some Biblical grounds to believe that the fate of fallen angels is not set in damnation.

Before I lay out my case however, I must admit that while I want to believe in the existence of demons (I think it ties together the theology of the Bible more coherently), I find it quite difficult to do so. The reason being that I cannot really see the value of allowing such beings to interact with humans is. This aside, I want address some biblical evidence for the possibility of the redemption of fallen angels.

Jesus did not die for angels. The Bible is very emphatic that God became man to save man, and so I think it is difficult to speculate on the nature of the reconciliation of angels. I do not think however, this should dissuade us prima facia from accepting that they can be. Only that the Bible is our story not theirs and their role in it is only the intersection between both stories. So to argue about the possibility of the redemption of angels I think we need to focus on the nature of God which will be the same to angels as it is to us. My primary argument will be two-fold. One, the telos (purpose, end, goal) of all creation is good. Two, if anything in creation cannot contribute to that end it is destroyed.

In the beginning God declares creation good (Gen 1:31). In the end it is declared that creation will be good (Rev 21:4). In the Colossian hymn we are told that Christ is before all things, created all things, sustains all things, and is the means of the restoration of all things (Col 1:15-20). This I think is not anything new to Christians. God wants good things for His creation, and is making that happen. The problem I think the conventional view that demons are beyond redemption faces is that such a being, one beyond the possibility of being good, has no role in God’s purposes for creation and so it seems ought not to continued to be sustained in existence by Christ. In the Old Testament when there is not one righteous in a city is when God acts to destroy it, but if there are those who are righteous it is spared. But more to the point, in the flood story we read

Genesis 6:5

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Here God decides to blot out humanity because “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” is this not what traditional theology holds about demons? These fallen angels work only evil with no possibility of good? If such a thing is true, it seems to hold that God would not permit them to exist, much less let them roam the earth and do damage to His other creation. The only reason that such a state of affairs can be I think is if like us, fallen angels still have a part to play in the telos of the universe. God permitted the continuing of the human story because of the hope seen in Noah, and because of the redemption God had planned in Christ, because while we were pursuing evil continually our race was not beyond hope. If we were then God would have destroyed us and I think we intuitively know that that would be right of God to do.  Now perhaps angels have a different sort of will than our own which permits them to actively rebel against God in a way that we don’t comprehend, but that does not change the active facts of God which are that God creates that which is good and is committed to the good of anything He creates.  Therefore it is my opinion that to hold that fallen angels are beyond the possibility of redemption is to say that Christ sustains evils in the universe which are outside the scope of His purposes and redemptive power for the universe. Such a thing to my mind is at best nonsense and at worst a form of dualism. If demons were darkness beyond the possibility of light, the God in whom there is no darkness at all, would not permit their continued existence.

A New John 3:16?

Christianity, particularly of the evangelical brand, has in the last few decades used John 3:16 as the go to verse for what the gospel is, what Jesus is all about, and how one can be saved. But what if we looked at scripture with a different lens? What if instead we chose a different verse to represent the gospel, what if for instance we chose 1 John 3:8?

 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

This verse conveys much of the same essentials as John 3:16. It affirms that because of sin we are children of the devil and in need of a change to be with God. However, God doesn’t give his Son so that whoever believes in Him might be saved. But rather the mission of Jesus is to destroy the works of the devil. This warfare perspective is subtly but profoundly different that John 3:16. In John 3:16 Jesus came to separate the world into two groups, those who believe and those who do not. Here in 1 John 3:8 the primary mission of Jesus was to defeat the enemies of God and man. If we read back through the gospels and all of scripture with the idea that Jesus was revealed to destroy the work the devil has been doing from the beginning, I think we might arrive at very different conclusions than we do understanding the framework of the gospel in John 3:16 terms.

“The New Testament consistently describes Jesus as the conqueror of the inferior powers, including Satan. If Satan desires to steal souls from Christ, and ultimately succeeds in bringing about the permanent damnation of the majority, then how is this viewed in any sense as Christ’s victory? If a team of Navy Seals were dispatched to safely recover a thousand people taken hostage by pirates, and they returned from their mission having permanently lost all but ten to the enemy, that mission would be an embarrassment to the team, not a victory to be heralded.” –Steve Gregg, “All You Want To Know About Hell” pg. 264

Old and New Project

Just wanted to give a shout out to the graphic designers at the Old and New Project (http://oldandnewproject.com/). I find their biblical graphic art a refreshing break from modern Christian art.
09-Dan-Christofferson

Here are some videos from one of my favorite writers/theologians Robin Parry

http://www.gci.org/_lib/playvideo.php?program=YI/YI083&title=Robin+Parry+-+Hope+for+All+Humanity

And short videos here…
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFAHTMv3Q_coqfykwuGpPOg?feature=watch

Recently I returned to read one of my very favorite stories from the Bible, that of Jonah. This time around I was struck by a certain element of the story that I had not really recognized previously. When Jonah attempts to flee from God’s call on his life (that he should go preach to the city of Nineveh), He takes a ship and tries to sail away. This has always seemed rather comical to me but what I found interesting is that not only does God find him geographically. But when the storm rages and Jonah is tossed overboard he actually dies. In a way, God allows Jonah to flee as far from Him as possible if only to make a point.

Jonah 2
“I called to the Lord out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
O Lord my God.

Jonah says that he cried out from the belly of Sheol, which to the Hebrews was a place in the underworld filled with the spirits of the dead. Also it says that God brought his life up from the pit. This seems to imply that while Jonah’s body was swallowed by the fish, Jonah had already died and his spirit had departed to Sheol. His soul then rescued from the Pit by God and then reunited when the fish spits him back out onto the shore. Thus God makes a statement that there is nowhere that you can run or hide from Him, a belief recorded also by David.

Psalm 139: 7-10
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,

The presence of God is everywhere and we can never be separated from it no matter where we go, what we do, or even if we die. This is a great comfort and a challenging reminder…

The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most popular and well loved set of children’s books. And recently there has been discussion in articles, and in a book that I read around Easter, suggesting that the subject of the portrayal of atonement in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was discussed as being a better portrayal of atonement than that which is taught in many churches today. Given the fictional nature of the books I don’t think many people have given much thought to atonement as portrayed by C.S. Lewis in the book. In this post I want to delve in and defend the position that C.S. Lewis’ view is both compelling and biblical, and is a superior view to that of “Satisfaction” or “Penal Substitution” that many Western churches teach.

In the story itself, Edmund betrays his brother and sisters to the White Witch, but while captive in her camp is rescued by Aslan’s company and returned to the camp of Aslan. The Witch later arrives at the camp and states that Edmund’s blood belongs to her because of his act of treachery. As it is written per the deep magic on the stone stable, blood must be paid for an act so heinous. She also states that if she is denied that blood then the foundation of Narnia will crack and Narnia will perish in chaos. After a negotiation with the witch, they come to an agreement that she will renounce her claim on Edmund. As it turns out this is because Aslan offered to take the punishment himself. That night Aslan is humiliated and killed on the stone table. After the Witch and company leave, dawn comes and the Stone Table cracks and Aslan returns resurrected. The sisters ask how this is possible to which Aslan replies:

“It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” -The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

This is Lewis’ portrayal and to dig into this we need to flesh out the real world implications. First off, C.S. Lewis presents the Witch (Satan) as Edmund’s accuser. Not God, not Jesus (Aslan), but Satan. This is very consistent with the Biblical portrayal of Satan in Job 1 and Zec. 1. The title Satan means “accuser” or “adversary” but the biblical accounts of Satan present him as the accuser of men, and the adversary of men before the court of God. And just like in Job or Zechariah, Satan’s power derives itself from God’s mandates. He goes around pointing out and accusing all the things humans have done to break the moral law of the universe (the deep magic written on the stone table) put forth by God, and demands that God punish the wicked. Thus, the Witch echoing the sentiment of Hebrews 9:22 calls for the necessity of a blood payment for Edmund’s treachery. However, God while respecting of the sort of eye for an eye Newtonian view of morality that He put forth during creation to bring order, still wishes to avoid punishing the repentant Edmund. So He offers Himself up instead.

Now in the Bible it is not entirely clear whether Jesus offered Himself to the devil literally in our stead. But the Bible does affirm that Jesus willingly went to death for our ransom (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28) and that the primary agent responsible for his betrayal and death was Satan (John 13:27, Luke 22:3). Both the Witch and Satan saw an opportunity for a quick win over the agent responsible for freeing men from their sins and opposing their (rebel) dominion over the land. The problem however, is that Jesus (like Aslan) was completely innocent. And so when then the Witch/Devil kill their enemy they violate the very moral system (deep magic) from which they derive their power. In Narnia the Stone Table of justice is cracked. The Witch’s (borrowed) power over Narnia is destroyed in the moment of the sacrifice of a perfectly innocent victim. But as Aslan explains, this is because the deep magic can be overruled by a deeper magic, one from before creation, one existent in the very nature of God Himself and that is self-sacrificial love. The law of love is revealed by Aslan’s willingness to die in Edmund’s stead despite being perfectly innocent, and so the laws of justice are shattered, death works backward, and the Witch’s power is revoked.

The question remains, is this what we see in the gospels as well? The answer I think is yes, in Colossians 1, Paul writes

I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.

Paul talks here about the mystery of the glory of God that was HIDDEN throughout the ages. Revealed in the perfect Word of God, Christ. This is very much like the deeper magic that C.S. Lewis refers to, it is something that was never not existent (God was always love) but it was something hidden until Christ revealed it on the cross. The New Testament authors affirm that the power of sin, death, and the devil are broken in Christ. That is because as Paul writes, we were slaves to the law. We either, like the Pharisees (and Satan), demanded it to the letter in order to gain power and superiority over others or we suffered under the fear of God because we could not attain conformity to the law. In the death of the perfectly innocent Christ, the moral fabric of the universe is unfurled, revealing the previously hidden mystery of the supreme moral of law of sacrificial love. This is what allows Paul to write in Galatians 5 that against the fruits of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace etc) there can be no law. This is not to say that justice is negated, but that justice is a less deep more superficial understanding of the true nature of things that has been revealed to the saints. Before Christ, we feared God (and so death) because of our sin, of our failure to live up to the perfection of moral order. But after Christ, God’s perfect love casts out all fear. Christ’s death and resurrection is the open door through which we can glimpse the deeper reality of God, and eventually pass through. In Colossians 1:19 it says that

19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The death of Christ paid the price of our sin because it destroyed moral system by which we previously tried to live up to. It is something that affected the entire universe and made peace with all of it. Unlike some views in churches where God’s love and justice are thrown into a schizophrenic tension, C.S. Lewis believed as I do, that one is deeper than the other and I believe the Bible teaches this as well.

And so, I believe that Narnia shows us a very robust and profound view of atonement that reveals the nature of the shift in the entire cosmos that took place during Christ’s death and resurrection, and reveals to us the true nature of God, the deeper magic, that is God’s law of love and gospel of peace.

The Problem of Jesus

Many critics of Christianity often find that the lateness of the dating of the gospels and N.T. letters shows that there is plenty of time for legend, lie, and misinformation about Jesus to shape the Bible that Christians use. This being the case, it is argued that there is very little that we can actually know about the “real” Jesus. I am just going to summarize here my own thoughts about the alternative theories about Jesus and why I don’t think they really hold that much weight.

To begin, the earliest copies of the gospels have been dated anywhere from 60-110 AD but it is definitely of note that they are in fact copies. Thus we can deduce that the original documents did in fact pre-date the copies. And more than that, textual criticism (a historical science, and not just a biblical studies field) shows that in Paul’s letters particularly, he sometimes uses/modifies (to make a point) hymns and creeds familiar to his audience that therefore pre-date his own letters and show us fairly early views of Jesus. Also none of the letters make reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 a completely apocalyptic event for Jews and one which Jesus prophesied which demonstrates a fairly good case to believe the letters of the N.T. were in fact written before AD 70 (with the exception of Revelation) and were authored to existing churches with pre-existing creeds and hymns that thanks to Paul we now have. As for the gospels themselves, we know that they are compiled sources from the people of Jesus’ time period (Luke 1) thus the dating of the whole gospel can be evidently late, but the sources used are obviously earlier. Also their dysfunctional chronology and odd (sometimes seemingly contradictory) details shows an attempt by the compiler to be honest about the material compiled and not try to control the narrative (as one would definitely do if trying to make a convincing lie to one’s contemporaries). The exception of course is John, which is a controlled retelling and is a completely different style than the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke which all demonstrate a very similar picture of Jesus’ teaching, style, and events while simultaneously being very disjointed and having awkward chronologies. The Synoptic Gospels give us good reason to believe that they are based on witness material and there is no good reason to suppose they were written outside of the time period of the people who witnessed Jesus ministry. This is especially probable considering Jesus’ disciples were likely in their early twenties around the time of Jesus’ death and the life expectancy in the height of roman power actually could be quite high. This means that some of Jesus’ followers lived easily up until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nero in AD 70, and long enough to have been around for the creation of the early gospel manuscripts and the spread of Christianity. All together what this means is that Christianity was NOT CREATED by the New Testament. But the majority of the New Testament was created by 1st century Christians.

The other problem facing critics is that Christianity got off the ground quite rapidly in an extremely hostile environment. Roman and Greek culture called the early Christians atheists due to the fact that they had no temples, offered no sacrifices, and had no connection to the pagan religions of all the surrounding areas. Additionally, we have early as well as late evidence to the fact that Christians were highly persecuted and hated by the Romans despite Christian’s peaceful demeanor toward the state (paying taxes and general non-violence). They were hated because Christianity posed a cultural threat in undermining everything about pagan religion. In AD 64 it is recorded that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome, showing that they had a significant presence and notoriety in Rome only 30 years after the death of Christ. And Josephus recorded the martyrdom of the apostle James even prior to that. The Jews likewise were hostile to Christianity due to its pagan-like view of God coming in human form. It’s dashing of conventional Messianic hopes of liberation from Roman oppression and its insistence on the extension of the gospel to hated groups like the tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

The particularly odd thing about Christianity’s persistence in such a hostile environment is that it is extremely hard for legends to form in such an environment. As most historians and literary studies experts know, legends generally form to support cultural norms. The reason they are accepted and propagated across generations and by the rulers is that they hold together society and teach common values (sort of similarly to the reason parents tell their children about Santa is so that the children know he is watching and only brings toys to good girls and boys and thus is culturally useful). Legends do not form up against cultural norms because then they are easy to expose, especially when you look at such a (uniquely) historically grounded religion such as Christianity. Paul writes that if the resurrection is a lie then faith is worthless. Christians were taught that the underpinning of their faith was an historical event. And if the Romans could so easily have shown that basis to be false they would have, and likely with great success because Christians weren’t exactly having the greatest life in society believing what they did.

More peculiarly, both the recorded teachings of Jesus and the letters of the apostles affirm the value that goodness consists of the emptying of power. Just as God demonstrated His goodness by being forced out of the world onto the cross (though He had the power to overcome His enemies) likewise Christians were not to seek power (economic, political or social) but were to become servants of all. This is extremely unlike say, Islam, where God in special revelation told Mohammed to create Islamic theocracies and his followers and Muslims thus all benefitted politically and economically by the creation of their religion. Early Christians benefited from no creation of power for themselves in propagating Christianity. All they faced was opposition and persecution. Another interesting thing to note is that both Jesus and the apostles stressed the virtue of being honest and not deceitful. Building up legends or lies about a figure who spoke adamantly against doing that, and for no personal gain isn’t exactly the most compelling theory.

I think the only truly compelling theory is that the synoptic gospels are substantially (not exhaustively) accurate. And that the apostles truly did believe, and found no compelling reasons not to believe (even unto suffering, imprisonment, and martyrdom), that Jesus truly did rise from the dead and validated His claims about the kingdom of God and our need to join it. And that Jesus’ teachings recorded in the Gospels truly were the radical revelation from God challenging the way human beings behave in this world.

As I said, this is but a quick summary; for a good scholarly case, Boyd and Eddy’s “Lord or Legend” is what I would recommend. But the uniquely challenging aspect of Christianity is that historical grounding requires that one come up with a more compelling way to look at the data and explain the person of Jesus the Christ and the Christians who followed after Him.

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