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Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

In my first post “Why I am a Universalist” I made my case primarily on the grounds of the biblical hope we have in God’s redemption following final judgment. In this post I am going to look at a different aspect: that other doctrines of hell contradict the plain doctrine of God.

So I want to center the issue right where I personally have always found the strongest reason to accept universalism. It’s not Romans 5, Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, or the traditional Universalist texts, rather, it is found in Matthew 5 right in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What Jesus says in this passage is very simple, and yet one of the craziest passages in the Bible. Jesus says “love your enemies”. Why should we love our enemies? Because that’s what it means to be perfect as God is perfect. The “therefore” is in direct referential to the statement, “do not the tax collectors and the Gentiles do the same?”

We are not to be the same as them,

we are to be like God,

to be perfect,

which Jesus says is to love our enemies….

Like God does.

God loves his enemies,

that’s what it means for Him to be perfect.

(That’s my best attempt at being Rob Bell)

Who are God’s enemies? Paul says that everyone not reconciled to God is His enemy.

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son

And this is where the traditional view of hell breaks down. God may display wrath on sin, and justly so, but it does not change the fact that God loves His enemies. And in no definition of love, either normative or biblical, can we even begin to see how eternal suffering somehow leaves room for God’s active love on a person. In no sense can God be said to care for the ultimate well-being of an object if He actively and eternally denies it its only sense of true happiness (that is Himself). Justice cannot override God’s love, any more than His love overrides justice. And so in my mind it is clear that to say that God sends people to eternal hell is to say that God does not love His enemies, and if we are to believe Jesus, it would then follow that God is not perfect.

I think a similar problem can be posed for annihilationism. I don’t think it is plausible to assert that God loves His enemies if He irrevocably destroys them. At least in my personal jaunt in annihilationism I did think that perhaps annihilationism could be seen as a mercy killing. That is, if a person continued without ceasing to reject God and his own happiness, it would in fact be better to destroy him than to let him continue in such a state. But ultimately, this kind of free-will annihilationism fails to be remotely consistent with the biblical language of punishment; and I think is inconsistent with the power of God which is much greater than our own sinful wills.

The objection often raised to the statement that “God loves His enemies” (at least in any type of love remotely like the definition Paul gives us in Corinthians) is to look at the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God clearly does not love His enemies in the sense that we might define love, and as such, we need to sort of contain and re-interpret what Jesus meant by His statements in Matthew 5 into a doctrine of what Calvinists call “common grace”. Common grace is simply that God loves everyone in the sense that He doesn’t (in nature) distinguish between His children and the rest of the world. This is a view which I think on the very face of it doesn’t really relate at all to the passage’s thrust that we ought to love our enemies because God does.

But the objection that the Old Testament reveals that God does not love His enemies in any real sense is really the same sort of problem I addressed in an earlier post of mine called “Revelation in Chains.” But it boils down to this: the Old Testament reveals a progressive revelation of God, in the earliest stories like Genesis and Job we have an anthropomorphized pagan-like view of God, which moves on toward a very tribalistic notion, and we get conflicting pictures of God battling the Leviathan to create the world from chaos, and a more monotheistic vision in Genesis. And while we see God ordering the destruction of His enemies and flooding the earth, we also see his glory on Mount Sinai described as being loving-kindness and compassion. The prophets proclaim that even as God brings judgment He does not “delight in the destruction of the wicked” (Ezekiel), and His heart recoils within Him (Hosea). But they do attest that God is going to send a Messiah to establish God’s kingdom, and that He is going to be the greatest revelation from God.

Jesus outweighs anything the Old Testament has to say about the nature of God. He is God incarnate, He is truth (John 14:6), all authority is His (Matthew 28:18), all of God’s wisdom and knowledge has been hidden in Him (Colossians 2:3), everything was created through, by, and for Him (Colossians 1:15-21). These are much better credentials than the Old Testament and are independently affirmed through Jesus’ life death and resurrection. Jesus can be used to re-interpret the passages revealing the nature of God in the OT, but certainly not the other way around. Jesus says that he who knows Him knows the Father, and so I think that when Jesus says God loves His enemies we can shed any hesitation we might have from the Old Testament and believe that it is true.

So why am I a Universalist? I am a Universalist because I believe that God loves His enemies, and that this very simple truth is why God is perfect and I am not.

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Matthew 7

7‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Luke 6

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Especially for those of us raised in a protestant tradition, it is often hard to wrap our minds around the idea that Jesus is conveying in these passages. Often we think that if we accept Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, then our sins are forgiven. And we think while we will still one day have to give an account for our lives, we will not face judgment for Jesus has already paid it. However, both Jesus and Paul paint a very different picture in regard to certain actions, mainly, judging others and not forgiving others.

Romans 2

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say, ‘We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality.

So what is it that they are saying? First, we need to note a few things. One, is that all have sinned and have fallen under judgment. Two, all will have to give an account of their lives and deeds. Three, God through Christ has offered grace to all who will accept it and that grace is sufficient to cover all sins such that there will be no condemnation for those in Christ. This is the picture of what this looks like…

Both the believer and the unbeliever face equal judgment from sin, but the believer who accepts God’s grace does not face condemnation from his sin.

But as it so often happens, believers tend to judge others for their sin despite the fact that they accept that God is not judging them. When they judge others, they hold them to some standard in which they are higher on the moral scale than the person they judge. They in fact are claiming that even without God’s grace on their life, according to this scale they impose, they would be okay but the sinner would not. In doing so, they reject God’s grace in the area that they judge others. This is why Jesus warns against hypocrisy and Paul says that even when you judge in truth you pass judgment on yourself. To judge another is to elevate yourself, and deny the power of grace in the area you judge.

And so very literally to the level which one judges others, that one will be found accountable on the day of judgment, because he has denied grace in the areas to which he has judged others.

More troubling however is for those who do not forgive others as their Heavenly Father has forgiven them. For to withhold forgiveness to another who has wronged you is to hold your idea of legitimate forgiveness above that of God’s. When you do not forgive others you reject the legitimacy of God’s forgiveness on your own life, and that is something of which we probably don’t want to think about the consequences on judgment day.

To accept God’s grace and forgiveness truly means to accept their full implications on one’s life. When we reject grace and forgiveness on others for any reason we are also rejecting God’s grace and forgiveness in our hearts and minds for we display that we do not truly believe in them or think that we are not truly in need of these.

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Just wanted to point out to everyone the conversation concerning “Hellbound” the new documentary by Kevin Miller that is soon to come out. I am very impressed with Kevin’s dealing of his critics arguments.

http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/why-david-french-couldnt-be-more-wrong/

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This series is devoted to the question, Was Paul a Universalist?

Please read through and comment any any part or the question as a whole.

NOTE: In this series universalism will be defined as “at some future time all things will be fully reconciled to God and transformed into new life”. Universalism in this sense does not deny a state of hell or judgment post-mortem nor does it mean that all roads lead to God. But merely that at some point all of humanity will take the road that does lead them back to God (Christ).

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 1

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 2

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 3

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 4

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 5

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 6

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 7

Was Paul a Universalist? Part 8

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The point of this post is to make a simple observation. While there are many issues in Christian theology one of the major issues as far as conflict is called the soteriological problem. The soteriological problem concerns itself with who will be saved and will not be, but also more importantly why. The conflict is dominated by three seemingly biblical notions all three of which cannot (at least as far as human logic goes) be true simultaneously. These statements put simply are

1. God is completely Sovereign ( has control of all things including human destinies)

2. God wills/desires that all human beings be saved

3. Not all will be saved

The classical views of Calvinism and Arminianism have each re-interpreted the support for one of these three statements.

Calvinism generally re-interprets number 2 opting for something along the lines of all types of people will be saved but God doesn’t want to save every single individual because if he wanted to He could.

Arminianism injects a notion of free-will to re-interpret number 1. Saying to the effect that while God wants to save everyone, human freedom rebels against God and God chooses to respect that freedom or lacks the ability to overcome it .

The less popular view of Universalism reinterprets number 3. Holding that eternal or final rejection is mistranslated or a result of hyperbole and that God wants to save everyone and because He is sovereign ultimately will.

The thing that is most interesting from a biblical stand point is that each view agrees one one point and disagrees on one point, putting them at a seemingly even task of re-interpretation.

Which of the three statements do you think is the most biblical and which the least? Should show you more or less where you stand…

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This post is not about some intense philosophical or exegetical argument, but rather is an attempt to present a broader conceptual argument for what convinces me that universalism is true. I hope it will be intriguing to everyone, and if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

The belief that everyone will eventually be redeemed/saved is an eschatological belief. That is, it has to do with the theology of the end times. The book of Revelation is often considered to be the go-to place in the Bible for eschatology, but to understand Revelation it is important to understand something about the prophetic imagination. In the Old Testament, the prophets speak at great lengths about judgment. But this judgment is not the end of their prophetic vision, the judgment (of Israel, or of all nations) is coupled with the idea of their restoration. God judges the wicked so that He might restore the corporate whole. And this idea of God’s justice as being both judgment and restorative is actually the same common sense notion of justice that we attempt to employ here on Earth. When someone damages your property they are not just punished for damaging your property, but also they have to pay/restore the damage done. In relationships this is even more complex for it is not just the damage done to the person that needs to be atoned; the relationship itself that needs to be restored. If you destroy your friend’s car, simply fixing it is not enough, for you need to seek forgiveness and restore the actual relationship between you and your friend as well. Justice means “to make right,” and it is this aspect of God’s justice that the prophets are honing in on. God steps in with judgment to intervene on our evil so that He might restore us and creation to a right state.

So turning to Revelation, I find it easy to think in terms of humanity being a person with a personal addiction (in reality the world is addicted to sin). God’s love for humanity brings Him to sacrifice His son on our behalf so that we might have a way to break free of our addiction. But this way to freedom (like a concerned friend might advise that an addicted friend go to rehab) is given freely at first without compulsion. Those who are willing to admit they have a problem will be far easier helped than those forced into therapy. But most of humanity is not checking into rehab, and God like any concerned friend or relative will come to a point when it is time to stage a larger intervention. Cue Revelation. In Revelation we see great images of judgment upon the evil of the world, a great revealing of the iniquities of people, and the destruction of the sources of evil. Those who have become clean and free are whisked to the side as Judgment falls and the world and its evil is wiped out. Now it seems to me that many Christians see that as the end of the story. The evil is destroyed and heaven descends on the scorched Earth and brings paradise for those who are saved.

But is that really the end of the story? N.T. Wright, in his book “Surprised by Hope,” points out that the Revelation doesn’t seem to be the end, in fact there still seems to be a lot going on.

Vision of the New Jerusalem

 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth cornelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

 And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’

The River of life is flowing out of New Jerusalem producing fruit to heal the nations, the kings of nations come in and out to honor the glory of God. The gates remain open for those in the Lamb’s book. The coming of New Jerusalem is only the beginning of this restoration following God’s judgment. But where does the story go from there? What is the extent of God’s restoration? Revelation itself does not tell us. The answer however, can be found in the beliefs of the early Christians and writers of the New Testament who wrote hymns about it.

Colossians 1.1-20

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Philippians 2.5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Both of these hymns look forward to a full and universal restoration and reconciliation of humanity. The early Christians like the prophets before them did not see judgment as the end of the story, but rather restoration and reconciliation. Going back to what I said previously about Justice, if we believe that God is just, we must realize that God wants to make everything right. And this means not only vertical reconciliation between humanity and God. But God has called us to horizontal reconciliation as well; the Bible often says that we need to be reconciled to each other before coming before God. And can we say that God’s justice is satisfied if a large part of humanity is destroyed and billions of wrongs are left unforgiven and unreconciled? We as Christians are saved from God’s judgment, but does that make us exempt from God’s justice? Do we need also to be made right with the millions of non-Christians we have wronged or only God?

This is really why I find universalism so compelling. Because the end of this story is far more just and far more beautiful than the story that simply ends with judgment. It is an end with completely restored vertical and horizontal relationships. This is the ending that the early Christians sang, hoped, and dreamed about.

I think that we have turned away from this vision because perhaps like Jonah we want to say that humanity doesn’t deserve the love of God, we want to say that the few of us who have worked hard as Christians are the only ones who deserve heaven and the wicked do not and that we do not want to live in a world where God is merciful to the wicked. When God is merciful to all we want to say like Jonah
‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’
And God’s answer is important for us to remember:
‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

So why am I a universalist? I am a universalist because I believe God is love and God is just. I am a universalist because I believe like Paul that

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both[a] which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.

I am a universalist because I believe that the author of creation has written an ending which is better than we could ever imagine.

Now many of you are likely wondering, how does hell fit into this picture? My answer is that it fits in much the same way Christians have always imagined it did. It is a punishment for the wicked, a place of judgment. But I will contend that it is not the end. Like Paul commanded the Corinthian church, perhaps sinners sometimes need to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh, so that they might be saved. To go along with my earlier metaphor, hell is forced rehab, and it will be no doubt long and full of suffering and the gnashing of teeth, but God’s plan is not that those who go there should stay there forever.

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Review of “Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell

I don’t think I have ever seen a book that stirred up as much controversy within Christian circles as this book (especially since most of it was before the book even came out) so naturally I decided to buy it and see what was really in there and whether it was “universalist”.

What Bell does in this book is build a narrative. He is definitely a proponent of narrative theology and I have to say that I was impressed at Bell’s command over biblical texts and weaving them together. I think that he excelled in this area a lot more than Brian Mclaren did in his “A New Kind of Christianity” and so his book is far more credible. The first chapter is simply a deconstruction of the current view on how one is “saved” he shows that the orthodox, sinners prayer + personal relationship with Jesus does not adequately relate to how the new testament talks about salvation and he suggests that there is something quite different in how Jesus talks about salvation. The second chapter deals with heaven. It is essentially a summary of N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” and talks about how heaven and earth are connected and heaven is being slowly made on earth and with the second coming will be brought fully to Earth. The third chapter deals with hell. Like heaven, Bell wants to make hell about the here and now just like heaven, he also dispels the images of hell that Christianity has picked up from Dante and others through the years, but he does assert that there is a hell. He proceeds to talk about sovereignty argument for God’s saving all people put puts it in tension with God’s love for humanity allowing us to be free. The book continues on to discuss a finer look at biblical passages, church history etc. The final chapter is essentially a summary of Timothy Keller’s “Prodigal God” but was a very good way to end in my opinion.

Bell’s position is essentially a hopeful (or non dogmatic) Christian universalism. He believes that God does not give up on people ever, but that God never intervenes in such a way that forces someone to be reconciled to Him (that is that if you choose to stay away or come to Him either way “Love Wins”. I call it a hopeful christian universalism because his view, unlike C.S. Lewis’ or N.T. Wright’s does not assume that there are people who will turn against God indefinitely or become ex-human. But looks toward the regeneration of all things and the time when God will be in all. The book makes a strong biblical case for what he is arguing but leaves some of the work to the reader (which is partially what makes it a very readable and accessible book). Since I happen to agree with this position even before reading the book I thoroughly enjoyed that fact that Bell was willing to publish this when the backlash will not be pretty. I highly recommend the book and all the additional readings he lists at the end of the book which pretty much make up the majority of the ideas in the book.

PS: There seems to be a lot of confusion between the idea of “universalism” and  “Christian universalism”. Universalism is the belief that everyone regardless of beliefs or practices goes to heaven (usually associated with Unitarian Universalism). Christian universalism is the belief that through Christ, God will eventually bring about the redeeming of the entirety of creation including all people (but by changing their hearts), its sees hell as corrective in nature and not punitive. See http://www.baptisttimes.co.uk/bellshells.htm

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