Tag Archives: hell

Loose thoughts on Zwingli in purgatory…


And now for something completely different, before I go back to the problem of fallible language and our modern pretence of being able to know everything, which is also the basis for a lot of evangelical theology.

Roger Olson, quite interesting bible scholar who (unlike me) proudly wears the label of ‘Arminian’, makes a very interesting remark in a blog post, that is very interesting as a standalone paragraph, and quite unrelated to the book about Emperor Constantine that he’s criticising, and that raises some interesting poinst for me.

To what extent should we let historical figures off the hook just because of the cultural context and the times in which they lived—especially when they claimed to be Christians and had their Bibles and read them? Should we excuse Zwingli for having the Zurich city council torture Hubmaier? By all accounts Zwingli stood in the torture chamber and demanded that Hubmaier, who had come to Zurich at Zwingli’s invitation for a debate assuming protection, recant his Anabaptist views. And, of course, Zwingli fully supported the drowning of Anabaptist men and women. Shall we say “Well, those were harsh times?” I don’t think so. Either Zwingli is in hell or he had to go through a purgatory-like process before entering heaven. If you don’t believe in anything like purgatory (even C. S. Lewis’ highly Protestantized version), I don’t see how you can avoid putting Zwingli in hell.

The first one is Zwingli himself, one of the big names among the protestant reformers who has been almost a footnote in my church history lessons. I’ve always felt that I disliked his very low view on sacraments, and wondered if tendencies towards a very low and reduced view of the sacrament of bread and wine among evangelicals and pentecostal can be traced back to him, but I’ve never known much about the guy… The story of the tortured Anabaptists is completely new to me, and quite disgusting, and it reminds me of the story of Calvin and Servetus. Which is also a horrible story, as there are too much of them in the history of Christianity, while Christ taught us other things… The question of whether those people are in hell is not one I have to answer, but just letting such people go directly to heaven, people who did great deeds of evil while being a Christian without repenting for them, would be a big problem.

Heaven (whatever that is, I would think the resurrection on the New Earth is the most biblical view) would cease to be heaven in any meaningful with such guests as residents… So the question becomes not what we would do in our theology with those historical figures, but how would an unrepentant killer of heretics ever be part of something that’s even remotely heaven?

So that brings us to Olson’s note about purgatory. He’s been writing about the topic more (see here for example if you want to know more about what he calls ‘C.S. Lewis’ highly protestantized version’) and he clarifies in the comments with “My idea of purgatory is that, if it exists, it would be educative and corrective, not punitive.” I don’t know much about the afterlife, but I do know that most people who die, even if they have not been killing fellow believers or other stuff like that, are not perfect, and not fit for heaven. so I suppose there needs to be some ‘correction’ (which might be over time or in a moment) but the correction is needed in any way. Even if Christians might be forgiven, but they are still tainted by sin and they do horrible things. We need the good thing that has begun in us to be perfected, to just be able to be with God forever…

(Which is why I don’t like theologies that seem to take sin as merely a legal problem, or an offence to God, and not something needs to be destroyed in our lives and all of Creation, not just forgiven afterwards. Sin is a real destructive problem,and just being forgiven without being changed does not make sense. Just being declared ‘innocent’ when we are changed in nothing but our legal status (which is only changed because God does not see us when he looks at us but Jesus, as some would say) sin has not been defeated, and our redemption is a lie unless the only problem is that God needs to put sinners in hell, making God more of a problem than sin…)

I know this is more of an unstructured rant, so if you have more input, please help me…
shalom

Bram

The scary consequences of baby universalism…


In my last post I  spoke about certain weird forms of well-meaning but rather merciless Christian inclusivism, which posits that all those ignorant of Christianity will not be sent to hell, but those who know  must become a Christian or go to hell. The unavoidable conclusion of these doctrines is that it would be actually better to not evangelise to people than to evangelise them…

The same problem applies to the in a way very related idea of ‘baby universalism’, (a term coined by Greg Boyd) as Sarah noted in the comments of my last post:

[We] were just talking about the related idea in evangelicalism (and now catholicism apparently) that babies go to heaven automatically. Taking into account the idea of a literal, eternal hell, we decided that from this standpoint, abortion is the most merciful act in the world. Why let a baby live if there’s even a miniscule chance that it will spend eternity being tortured? That theology can’t come to any other logical conclusion which is one reason why I can’t believe in it.

If you’re in a tradition that is scared of hell, this sounds like a very merciful idea: all babies (or all those who did not reach the ‘age of accountability’) will go directly to heaven. And it does actually make more sense to me than the idea that all babies are depraved sinful beings that deserve to go to hell, as some fundamentalist ideas might imply, and one could derive from harsher versions of the dorctrine of original sin. (But I don’t know that much about those things)

The combination of a completely legal framework of salvation, which is furthermore mostly seen as ‘getting out of hell’, and the idea that innocent children are by default saved gives us  an even more scary consequence than the inclusivism of our last post. Not only is it better not to evangelise, but also is the inevitable conclusion that it’s better to abort or kill babies, since that’ll send them directly to heaven without having a chance to sin or loose the faith later in life and so go to hell…

Yes, I’ll repeat this: the most merciful thing you can do is abortion or killing children, it’ll guarantee them for 100% a spot in heaven and keep ‘em out of the hot place. What is scary is that people have actually made that conclusion. Greg Boyd, in the essay where he coined the term baby universalism, quotes Paul Copan from his book ‘is God a moral monster’ asking that question, and gives a raather technical deconstruction of the idea:

“Why not kill all infants to make sure they are with God in the hereafter” (194)?  Paul answers his own question by noting that the Israeli soldiers killed infants only because God told them to do so. When anyone commits infanticide without God’s permission, Paul adds, they are sinning, for only God the giver of life has the right to take life (or command others to take life). Paul concedes that a murdered baby automatically receives a “heavenly benefit,” but he insists this is not to the credit of the killer and thus cannot be used to justify their killing. “The killer neither causes these [heavenly] benefits nor is responsible for them” (194).

I can easily see why, within the doctrine of baby universalism, a baby killer should not be considered the cause for the deceased baby’s heavenly benefit or held responsible for the deceased baby’s heavenly benefit. But it seems to me that the baby killer must still be viewed as the occasion and means of the baby’s heavenly benefit. Most importantly, it seems we must accept that the baby killer is the means by which the baby’s heavenly benefit is made secure. The baby killer in effect saved the baby from the possibility of hell! While this still wouldn’t remove the sin of infanticide — for it still violates a command of God — it does renders infanticide reasonable, if not loving and courageous — if one accepts that baby universalism is true.

But there is more: If our clumsy inclusivism of my last post had some scary outworkings, the combination of baby universalism with exclusivism (all non-christians go to hell)  as it exists in some circles is even able to create even more scary consequences: inevitably the only way to not go to hell for someone who gets born and lives in the wrong place and circumstances to ever hear the gospel (which includes catholic and orthodox places for some fundamentalists btw) would be to not get born at all, or to get killed before reaching a certain age of accountability!

(Yes this would for example give a  free ticket for Americans to bomb as much muslims including children and pregnant women, since killing them before reaching the age of accountability would be more merciful than let them become adults.  I sincerely hope that no one will ever uses this reasoning…)

Combining very rigid excluisivist ideas about hell with complete amnesty for certain groups just does not work, sorry. It will always have horrible consequences…

Now, I don’t pretend to know everything about the afterlife, but I do know that Jesus came to save not only individuals from sin, death, destruction, evil and so on, but the whole of Creation. How everything works I do not know, yet I know that God wants none to perish, and I trust that God, who is love, will save as much as possible. Let us just trust in His mercy, and believe that the good news is better than we can imagine. Death and hell are beaten, Christus Victor!

what do you think?

Bram

Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?


The following picture was making its rounds on facebook today, and I do sort of think that it shows that some forms of Christian inclusivism are in serious need of reconsidering their very basic framework:

Let me first clarify that I’m not at all sure about the historicity of this quote, and I don’t have a source except for this FB picture… An American Orthodox FB friend pointed out that the Inuit were evangelised by the orthodox, and not by the catholic or protestants, which makes the story more doubtful, since this way of thought appears to not at all not be compatible with Orthodoxy…

The problem in the quote is clear: If you believe in Christ you will be saved from hell, but what about those who never heard that good news? Some would say that they all go to hell and stand accused nonetheless, while others trust in Gods mercy to be able to save more, which gives us certain forms of universalism (all go to heaven because Christ will be able to save all) or inclusivism (not all non-Christians will be unsaved) of different varieties.

The inclusivism that’s propagated in the picture assumes that those who are ignorant of God and the gospel cannot be held responsible, and can therefore not be sent to hell (unless they are really evil probably) but from the moment they have heard the gospel they will have to respond by converting, or otherwise they will be sent to hell… (insert a whole talk about ‘justice’ and ‘wrath’ here) The biggest problem is this: Maybe with such a theology it would be better to not evangelise at all, since then less people won’t go to hell…

Uhhh???

I would think that there are some problems with the basic framework. The biggest one is the view of salvation as being first and foremost being saved from God putting you in hell, which can be avoided by believing that Jesus saved you from this fate on the Cross. I would think that the mentality of ‘being saved from hell by a conscious decision to believe stuff’ which does not apply when the person is ‘ignorant’ and has not heard that information is quite one sided, but much more merciful than ‘all will go to hell for not accepting information they could never have’…

Where the approach fails I think, is that there’s much more to say about salvation that getting a ‘get out of hell free’ card… Salvation is getting reconciled to God, and also our neighbor (and the rest of creation btw!) and the word is also used throughout the bible in a lot of contextual situations just for ‘getting out of trouble’. This means that we are saved from a way that leads to death, (the wages of sin are death, as Paul says in Romans. This does not have to mean at all that God puts sinners in hell, but it literally means that sin leads away from life into death!) and disconnect from God, and indeed this way easily leads to hell, not because God sends us there, but because that’s where it goes naturally.

Another problem here is the purely legal framing of sin and salvation that some Western traditions use. Surely the legal metaphors are useful, but they are not the ultimate description. The bible and the Christian tradition have used a lot more metaphors, which are all windows on the Truth, but none will ever completely frame it… That being said, I do think that we miss a lot, too much even, if we think that the biggest problem is not an actual saving from death, evil, sin and destruction, but a change in legal status that enables God to not put us in hell but in heaven…

Being cut off from the Source of Life, which is what being unreconciled to God means, would be hell or even total annihilation if god would gives us what we want when we don’t want to leave that road. On the other hand, being in the undiluted presence of God as an unreconciled creature would most probably have a similar outcome, experiencing Gods holiness while being deeply infected by sin can also mean our hell, or annihilation…

(To me both of these approaches make much more sense than the aforementioned over-legal framework some of my fellow protestants employ, which just cheapens sin into the breaking of arbitrary rules instead of something that is in itself capable of harming and destroying us. They are also in line with for example the views of C.S. Lewis for example…)

If salvation is being ontologically reconciled to God (and our fellow human and all of Creation) the above kind of reasoning makes not much sense… Inclusivism is not really a problem though, like C.S. Lewis says, we know that only Jesus saves, but do people have to know His name to be saved by Him? Those who follow ‘the light they’ve been given’ and try to live out what they know about living in harmony with God are likely to be able to, at the final judgment, see and say ‘this is Who I’ve known and try to follow all my life’… Those who followed evil all the way, and are formed by it, will most likely just not have anything to do with God, and they will probably not be able to stand the presence of God and His holiness at all…

So, what are your opinions?

Shalom

Bram

The lost psalters interview (from August ’11, Kortrijk)


Last August the psalters, one of the most remarkable, unique and impressing band of the planet, were in Belgium to play their amazing music, and they did a show in Kortrijk. I was happy to be the opening act, with just a crappy guitar as a substitute backing band, but I actually hardly remember anything of that, since the psalters concert itself that came after my set was much, much more impressing. (one bootlegged song of my own set, called ‘Ellulian glasses’ can be found here)

As was their new CD ‘carry the bones’, which was for me the best CD of 2011! You can mail order it through their site now btw. Do it, you won’t regret it! The real CD has a very cool package and does sound lots and lots better than mp3’s of it at 128 bpm.

I also did a very interesting interview that night for a Flemish website with the mysterious ‘Captain Napkins’, as the CD booklets call him), one of the two leading forces behind the band. Browsing through my old files I found the English version again today, and I found it way too interesting to not share it with the world. Sharing is what makes us humans…

So here it is (drum roll on oil barrel), the psalters interview from Kortrijk, Belgium on 8/23/2011, done by myself (Bram), originally for cultuurshock.net (read the shorter Dutch version here!)

Bram: So this is your second time in Belgium. please tell us about the first time you were here:

Captain Napkins: Well, the fist time here in Belgium we got to play in Antwerp. We were invited by some cool folks to stay in a squat-house, that used to be a customs building on the bay. It was an amazing experience to stay in there, and then on top of that we played a show in a squat bar (the Scheld’apen) The interesting thing was that Antwerp had just kicked a lot of gypsies out of the city and given them some land right next to the bar to camp out, so when we were there was a couple of acres full of gypsies and then there was anarchists, punks and different folks all together. It just made for an amazing night.

There was a big tree-house right behind the bar, a huge tree-house even, like a real house in a tree, And there was lots of good beer. It was one of our favorite shows that we have ever done, very intense, The place was packed. Yes, we loved it! We absolutely loved Belgium!

Bram: What’s the difference between playing your music in Europe and playing it in america?

Captain Napkins: Sometimes it overlaps, you know: There are places in America that we’ve played that remind me a lot of some places that we’ve played in Europe. But I guess as a generalization, I would say more consistently people in Europe take what we’re doing much more seriously, like they think of us more a like we’re trying to be ourselves: as an organization, as a community, as a movement of combining worshop and justice, and ehm, fighting the empires that we humans create. In America, I think a lot of venues and places see all of that as just a gimmick, and at the end of the day we’re just a band…. So I think in Europe people have been taking us more seriously, which has been great. Plus the shows in Europe, it seems like people take music more seriously, not just us, but in general. The venues seem to take sound more seriously, like they’re very apologetic if they don’t have exactly what we need.

Bram: I heard the same from an interview with Dave Edwards (frontman of woven hand and 16 horsepower) once. Who said that Belgium was the most receptive country for just listening to the music, and taking it very seriously, even in the details.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, but I would say lot of the countries we’ve been to in Europe. The venues seem to take the music and the show a little more seriously, you know they put more work in it. but Belgium is one of our favorite places, for sure.

Bram: Okay, let’s switch to another subject: you guys are known to be both Christians and anarchists, how do you combine that?

Captain Napkins: It’s not at all a matter of combining, for me, for us… Well, anarchy… (pauses) We’re Christians, In a way I’m a Christian and I’m just a Christian, but I like to articulate ourselves as anarchists because the concept of anarchy helps people to understand better what we’re talking about: that there’s no system of man that works. All systems of man end up oppressing other people and elevating some people at the expense of others, and for us end up in the way of God, the One who created this world, so, yeah.

Bram: I understand that, but some people might not: I’ve just heard that there is a group of anarchists here in Kortrijk that refused to go come to your show tonight just because you’re Christians. How would you react to that?

Captain Napkins: I understand that. There’s a lot of Christians that have been very judgemental and hurtful to a lot of people. You know been jerks basically, so I totally understand that. There’s also been times for that we’ve been invited to play in a place and we found out that they were Christian and we didn’t want to play, you know.

Bram: Well, I heard that about Christians too, when hearing that you were anarchists, didn’t want to hear your music…

Captain Napkins: yeah, same thing

Bram: I remember when I let someone hear the song ‘come now and join the feast, right here in the belly of the beast’, they thought you were satanists. So how do the common Christians in America react to your music and your message?

Captain Napkins: yeah we’ve been shut down sometimes. We’ve played some shows.We’re very anti, we’re very unpatriotic, you know, like I love, I love the people of my country, I love the l…

Bram: (interrupting quite impulsively) Belgians are the most unpatriotic people of the world.

Captain Napkins: Okay

Bram: We actually just don’t care, we still don’t have a government now for I one year and a half and we don’t even care.

Captain Napkins: That’s maybe similar… that’s how we feel. I’m sure Belgians love each other, and they love the land. That’s how I feel, you know, I love the land from where I come. I love the people, but I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about those people more than other people. so in all those ways I’m not patriotic at all. and that offends of some Christians, and so we’ve kinda shut down

Bram: In America?

Captain Napkins: some of them are very conservative people and we’re not….

Bram: So, conservatives in America are really patriotic?

Captain Napkins: yeah the conservatives in America are patriotic and they tend to be violent.

Bram: recognize this T-shirt? (show T-shirt of the ordinary radicals)

Captain Napkins: yeah

Bram: I guess you know the ‘litany of resistance’, where Shane Claiborne says something like ‘I pledge allegiance to the transnational church that transcends all borders’ or something like that. (losing my words) So, when you’re thinking of Christianity and being part of a country, part of a nation, whatever, Being a Christian and being part of a people, part of a nation, what’s the connection?

Captain Napkins: for me, I don’t consider myself a part of the nation. I just am a part of the

(We arrive at the bar, looking for a good Belgian Beer, and decide to get a Hopus, a rather strong one)

Bram (to bartender): He’s from America, he’ll really appreciate it, he’s the leader of the band who played.

Bartender: yeah, I know man, it was so nice.

Bram: He deserves a hopus, really!

Bartender: yeah man, of course, of course, of course!

Captain Napkins: yeah, we have a lot of Belgian beers in Philly, in Philadelphia, my city where I’m from they love Belgian beers.

Bartender: Belgian beers are the best.

Bram: So, let’s get back to the interview: one of the guy frsom the squat-house where you stayed last time couldn’t be here tonight but he really likes your sound. He said you were the most tight band heever heard. Like one voice playing together, like there’s no ego in the band. How do you do that?

Captain Napkins: Well it’s interesting. I haven’t really, eh

Bram: You’re just tight together without ego’s, like one band with one vision, musically.

Captain Napkins: (thoughtful) Well, if that’s true, well I mean I haven’t head that a lot, it’s a new thing to me actually. But if it’s true, then what makes it happen is that there is a theology to what we’re doing, there is a vision and a mission that.

Bram: A theology?

Captain Napkins: I mean it’s built on a whole thesis, you know.

Bram: I’ve read a short version of it on your website and I’m still waiting for the whole version to be released.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, I need to write it out… that’s what I want to do when I get back from Europe. some more writing. I wrote it long time ago when I was in college. it’s for college, so it’s not, you know, there is a lot that needs to be changed.

Bram: What would you change?

Captain Napkins: Well, not even so much change as I would just add a lot, there is a lot that needs to be added and kinda updated maybe. I still agree with pretty much everything that’s in there, just a lot of things need to be updated…

Bram: Okay, on to something else, and maybe very strange question: what’s the gospel for you as a Christian anarchist? That’s the most important question for a Christian: What exactly is the good news?

Captain Napkins: Well, for me it’s about… (pauses) Eh… This might sound a little bit vague, but it’s important to me. When you ask that question I think of how God is love and loved us all into existence. He loves creation into existence and because of that our faith is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation. And that’s where anarchy comes in, and that’s where radical justice comes in: because the world fights against creation, the world fights against the Creator, the world fights against relationships. But for me it starts with the idea that God is love, God loved us into existence and God wants us to be in a a relationship with Him, with each other, and with his creation.

Bram: Makes a lot of sense to me. When I hear this I’m reminded of the controversy of Rob Bell’s ‘love wins’ book, so maybe let’s just ask one of the hardest questions of our faith: what do you think about hell?

Captain Napkins: (pauses) Wow, about hell? I actually was just talking to somebody last night about that and, eh, I do think that there is a hell. I don’t really know, but Jesus talks about it a lot, and our scriptures talk about it a lot, and eh… I’m uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that, eh, you know, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who goes there, but I think that God is all-powerful (pauses) There is this woman, Julian of Norwich, who’s the first woman ever published in English. She is way back in the 12th century and she wrote something like she had a vision of hell, and she wrote something about like “and all is well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”. And it was just this, like it sounds redundant, but it was just her saying that God is kinda makes it work. And God makes it right, and God bring the healing but it’s tough how, I don’t know man, I mean it’s too tough.

I’m not one of those people that thinks that people who don’t confess Jesus automatically go there and stuff. I mean, I don’t know who goes there. I’m not one to decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t, you know, I do believe. I don’t even want to say that people definitely go to hell for eternity and all I think maybe that’s something that’s out of our understanding I’m also one to not say that hell does not exist, I think that hell does exist. And I think there is this suffering. there’s this horrible mess that’s out there and I think that there is such a thing as justice. I think that when injustice happens there is a need for retribution.

Bram: Would you say that there is retribution in justice, or just only putting things right and cleaning up evil without taking revenge?

Captain Napkins: yeah, I don’t necessarily believe in revenge, but I think when something evil happens I think that something needs to be made right, and it isn’t simply forgiven. It’s not a matter of like this horrible thing happens and well, it’s just okay now. No, I believe that like, when people, when a whole village is slaughtered by another group of people, that evil isn’t simply forgiven by God, there is a payment for it, there is a suffering that makes it right again.

Bram: And Jesus took that on him to give us forgiveness. (looks at watch) Looks like it’s getting late, so it’s time to end the interview. So I’ll have one last question: If I’d ask what you’d say to Christian people in Belgium, just regular Christian people, what would you say? What would you challenge them to?

Captain Napkins: Well, eh… People respect authority too much. People respect the Powers that Be too much. Because maybe the governments here are better than our government and so it’s easy…

Bram: Well, we kinda do have healthcare…

Captain Napkins: Yeah, yeah so there’s a lot of good things, and, ehm, it’s easy to not respect the American government but maybe it’s harder for Europeans to not respect theirs. But still I think that any government,and any system still falls short to the Kingdom of God. I think we always have to question them, and that we first have to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, and not citizens of a human government or a King. Maybe I’d say something like that…

Bram: Thank you very much! One more beer?

The worst of all sins, the Jesus creed and an orthodox hell…


Let’s start with a quote that could come from some classic book about Christianity of the sort that should be read by everyone, but in fact just is stolen from a blogcomment by the ever incredible Scott Morizot, on Sarah Moons blog. (The context is a discussion about premarital sex, but I’m not going into that now)

The modern church has largely lost sight of the deeper understanding of the ancient church. The physical passions, lust, gluttony, and the rest can be very destructive, but they are the lesser passions. Greed, anger, hatred, bitterness. Those passions form us into subhuman beings and are more dangerous for most people in the long run.

- Scott Morizot

I think this is really important stuff. We shouldn’t put our main focus on outward sins like a lot of Christian moralists do, but on the structural sins that reside in our heart. We should not fight symtoms, but cut to the core of the problem. And the problem of sin is much deeper than breaking a law and doing what we shouldn’t do:

Sin” in the Christian sense does not mean breaking a law or violating ritual cleanliness. The closest meaning would be ‘missing the mark’ and the ‘mark’ for Christians, as I understand it, is always Christ. Communion with Christ. Forming Christ in ourselves. Being Christ to others.

- Scott Morizot

This is something I’ve been thinking about, since I’ve reread Scot McKnight’s ‘the Jesus creed‘, I’ve very clumsily started to at random times recite to myself the “Jesus Creed”, or Jesus adaptation of the Shema that we mostly know as ‘the great commandment’, and wondering if I do indeed in any way even try to live up to that. Which can be a really confronting exercise!

The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Christ, From Mark 12

First comment here is that loving God is something strange, but I do believe that it means to know God, a personal relationship with God. If we believe that in the afterlife we’re going to be with Him without end, then it’s worth trying to get to know Him in this life too, isn’t it?

Another comment: If the law is summed up in “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your fellow human as yourself”, then this must be the first thing to which we turn to see whether something is sin, even if we take the definition of sin as law-breaking. Everything that hinders us in growing this double love of God and neigbor in any way is ‘sin’. And the most dangerous sins here would be indeed things like greed, anger, hatred and bitterness. Which is scary sometimes to realise, for example if we consider that our economy does run on greed, when, like Paul says, love of money is the root of all evil…

If we allow those things to grow in our lives, they will hinder love, and in the end make it impossible. And if love is really impossible, we indeed become ‘sub-human’, we become a child of darkness that will never be able to endure the light. Which is a very scary definition of hell which I did encounter in orthodox thought: for the lost soul eternity with God IS hell, an all-consuming fire…

those are just thoughts that are incomplete; so all comments are welcome!

Shalom

Bram

Is this the good news of the gospel?


why does this video give me the creeps? It’s just explaining the gospel…

Is it the matter-of-factly stating of strange statements like ‘holy just means perfect’, that are not very accurate nor make much sense theologically?

Is it beacuse God seems everything but loving and omnipotent in this presentation (He can’t even forgive the smallest sin) and just a puppet of something called ‘justice’ that does not seem very just nor consistent with the bible?

Is it the popular semi-gnostic dualism (‘your soul is the real you’ and goes to a disembodies ‘heaven’ after this life) combined with the gnostic idea of ‘only knowledge (of the cross in this case) will save you’?

Is it because framing the whole problem of sin and it’s solution as a legal problem is missing a lot of dimensions of the story? And how do paper that give you ‘a perfect record’ make you perfect enough to not spoil heaven with your imperfectness? sounds more like cheating with administrative paperwork to me.

why is the resurrection reduced to just a sign that ‘Jesus is God’? Is good friday the most important christian holiday or easter?

I do believe in a loving God, in justice that does set things right and does not just punish all of us by default. I believe in a God who’s able to forgive sins.  I believe  that God will one day erase all evil and will be ‘all in all’ and that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” (C.S. Lewis)

What do you people think of this video? Am I exaggerating?

(yes, I do agree that we have to turn from evil and surrender to Jesus by the way)

Bram

a truly orthodox view on salvation…


a little video break for the hellish discussions here…

You can’t get more orthodox than the eastern orthodox. and I found this video so beautiful I instantly thought I’d share it. I got it from Scott Morizots blog, which is definitely worth reading!!

Something in the eastern orthodox view on salvation reminds me of why I cannot not be a follower of Christ. Something unexplainable that I cannot deny and that is more try and more valuable than all of this world… I have the same with the (neo)anabaptist emphasis on the sermon of the mount, and with the Kingdom vision of both the vineyard and some voices in the emerging/missional church. And with hearing the psalters live.

Christ truly is great, and the gospel truly IS good news….

shalom

Bram

do we need a hell in order to forgive our enemies????


Reading up on the universalism controversy I was kinda shoqued by a blog post by a bloke called Kevin DeYoung, of whom I don’t know anything, but it seems that he’s a rather vocal (neo)calvinist. I have no idea if he’s known or not, and frankly I don’t care at all, the inner kitchen of this kind of aggressive calvinism is as far from my spiritual bed as are the pope and the magisterium…

Now the guy, in a response to Rob Bells alleged ‘universalism’, quotes 8 reasons why we need hell and eternal punishment (or more precisely Gods wrath), which he seems to quote straight out of some book he has written. I don’t think I completely agree with one of those, but I was kinda repulsed by and utterly disagreed with the second one:

we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don’t have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

Maybe I’m outing myself as an anabaptist now, but I find this reasoning to go against the message of Jesus himself, since this goes against the commandment of enemy-love, and against Jesus’ last prayer ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’, which was echoed in the last words of the early church’s first martyr stephen ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’. I think those two examples of enemy-love show us that we need Love in order to forgive our enemies. We are to want forgiveness for our torturers at our moment of dying. I suppose that such a thing requires the help of the Holy Spirit, but the whole thing is that we need to have the mind of Christ!

(and I think the Rom 12 passage is exactly about that btw. )

I don’t agree at all that the fear of hell as motivation will ever lead to loving God more. It might scare people into some kind of conversion, but I’m not convinced it will be able to make people love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We should have a positive gospel, not a negative one: Jesus is Lord, death, sin and evil are conquered, and He’ll make all things new. A gospel that says that we are saved from God by Jesus, as some versions of penal-substitution-only does not at all sound like a loving God to me.

The bible says God is love, not God is wrath, and love is more important than faith and hope says Paul, so his wrath will be in function of His love. Surely, if God loves us he will have a lot of whitehot wrath; He will be pretty mad at the things that are going on in this world, and causing destruction in our lives and all of his loved creation. If He’s to make all things new a lot of things are to be erased, in my life, and in the whole of the world. But the good news is that Jesus is doing that, and that in the end the whole of creation will be renewed. At the final judgment all evil will be erased. And probably some creatures will keep on hating God and not be able to live in this renewed world, or even cease to exist if all evil is erased from them. If God will allow them to exist outside of His love or if they will annihilate in His presence I do not know. I do know he wants none to be lost.

So we need some concept of hell, unless we do away with human free will and say that in the end everybody will bow and accept Jesus as Lord. But I’m not calvinist enough to be such a Christian universalist, sorry… And if we ‘accept Jesus’ out of fear and not out of love, we might still be in problem if we have to spend an eternity with God in all His glory… I don’t think we win anything with converts who are more interesting in escaping hell than in following Christ and being reconciled to their savior. What you with then with is what you win them to…

shalom

Bram

would universal reconciliation make the gospel worthless?


My last post was about Christian universalism. I am not at all a Christian universalist, but sometimes I’m amazed at how some Christians really hate the idea that the cross of Jesus would be able to save all in the end. I don’t share the universalists optimism (and I won’t be dogmatic about any position on the afterlife) but why do we definitely need the wicked to be tortured forever in a conscious state of mind to have a ‘good news’? Wishing other humans to be tortured for eternity goes counter to the great commandment to love our neigbor and our enemies by the way!

One important rebuttal of Christian universalism (to some) is that the idea that everybody will be saved invalidated our need for the gospel, or at least the need for spreading the gospel. If everyone will be saved in the end, why would anyone need to have the gospel? Why do we need to share the gospel if everyone is going to get saved in the end?

The question is what gospel we are talking about. If we narrow the gospel down to some points we have to believe in to not go to hell, then it is important that we give this information to every human being, so that they can accept it. Not doing this gives us the responsibility that everybody who doesn’t know is going to hell.

But I don’t see any biblical reason to narrow the gospel, or good news, of Christ down to a ‘get out of hell free while all others will burn’ card when you believe in a set of doctrines about God and Jesus. Nor can the gospel be equated to accepting the idea penal substitution atonement. The gospel is bigger than only our afterlife.

The gospel is the good news that Christ is Lord, the good news of the Kingdom of God. This good news has (at least) 2 dimensions: The first one is that the coming age of Gods Kingdom is breaking in into our current situation, and that Jesus saves us here and now, and transforms our lives and through us the world. The second dimension is that after this life we will be with God forever. But we shouldn’t forget that eternal life is first and foremost life with an eternal quality, which begins here and now already, and goes on beyond death and beyond the final judgment when all evil will be erased.

Another problem is that the gospel is about saving the whole creation (see Romans 8), not just about the saving of individual souls. The gospel is good news regardless of us. In the end it will fill all of the earth, and there will be no place for anthing that doesn’t align with it… This is good news, and it’s a lot bigger than the idea that we do not go to hell after this life.

So the conclusion would be that universal reconciliation only makes an incomplete gospel worthless. But a gospel that is made worthless if Jesus would save all in the end might not be a real gospel at al, if our good news depends on us being saved and others being lost we’re not at all Christlikel.

But all of this does not mean that we as Christian are not supposed to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God, through our lives as light and salt, and through our words. We are to live out that salvation, and share it with the lost. We hope that the salvation of Christ will save as much as can, and we will align our lives with that!

Vive la revolucion

Shalom

Bram

evangelical universalism? (and Rob Bell)


Yesterday the controversial evangelical preacher and writer Rob Bell suddenly was a trending topic on Twitter. I had no idea why, until someone tweeted a blogpost of some bloke called  Justin Taylor from the (generally reformed) gospel coalition condemning Rob Bell as a heretic and an ‘universalist’, based on his new book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. A book that isn’t out yet, and that hasn’t been read, but noneteless everybody is already reacting against it. But I guess that’s what Rob wants with his pre-release advertisement campaign anyway. A very interesting defense came from Kurt Willems, who argues that Rob isn’t advocating universalism at all, and if Kurts predictions are right I might agree with most of the book (just as I did with Velvet Elvis and sex God), and if I see that endorsement by Greg Boyd that Kurt quotes there’s no way it’s about fluffy ‘everybody gets to heaven’ universalism, but I know Boyd himself tends to conditional mortality.

But in fact I wasn’t planning on writing about Rob Bell, the guy is getting enough attention already, and I don’t feel like just being part of his expanding and emerging free advertisement system for his latest book… (Too late I guess; so before we go on to another subject I’ll link to this 2 posts by Carson Clark and Tom Batterson for those who are interested in Rob’s latest controversy)

What I wanted was to look at the word ‘universalism’, which is used by some to discredit Christian they don’t like, for various reasons. The problem is that the term can mean a lot of things,which are lumped together as of they’re all the same,  but they are in reality sometimes almost the opposite of each other. So the term should never be used to discredit someone without making clear which universalism we’re talking about, and why it is problematic. Unless we want to give false impressions and insinuations, which might be the same as breaking the commandment of bearing a false witness. I’ve seen that kind of tactics too much times in combination with logical fallacies as guilt by association arguments and worse…

So what is universalism when we’re talking about Christians? I’ll just point out 2 very distinct meanings here, though there are probably a lot more nuances and different versions.

Religious universalism
The first one is religious universalism, or the idea that ‘all religions are the same’ and ‘jesus is just one of the ways’ and ‘it doesn’t matter everybody ends up in heaven anyway’. It is sometimes linked to new age religion or integral spirituality consciousness stuff (of which I don’t know much), and I think the Unitarian Univeralists hold to this, but I’m not sure, so correct me if I’m wrong. I agree that this position is not a Christian position one at all, and far outside of any form of Christian orthodoxy. I know most people do think about this idea when they hear the world ‘universalism’, but that’s not what most self-identifying Christian universalists believe at all. I agree that this kind of universalism does not fit together with Christianity, with the Faith in the triune God and the Incarnation of God the son in the human Jesus, who saves us, trough his incarnation, teaching, example, and death on the cross and resurrection. (I’ll talk about just the cross further on, but I see the others as having part in our salvation too)

Universal reconciliation
The second meaning of Christian universalism is that of ‘universal reconciliation’, which does take the saving capacity of Jesus even more serious than most Christians: through the cross of Christ all will be saved in the end. This is in many ways the opposite, since it makes the cross and resurrection  of Jesus sufficient to save ALL of mankind in the end, so hell will end up being empty. This idea is as old as the first church fathers, but has always been a minority position in the church. This idea can be hoped for, or believed with a dogmatic certainty. And it IS an idea that can be defended biblically, as wel as annihilationism and the classical eternal conscious torment are defended biblically. (I’ve actually read the evangelical universalist by Gregory Macdonald and found it theologically solid and very biblical, though a bit boring, and I’m still unconvinced.)

I’m not at all a Christian universalist, not even  in the second meaning (and neither is Rob Bell btw.) even though on some days I do hope Jesus will be able to save all, and I don’t believe that can be wrong. But I’m afraid that our human free will make some of us into creatures that will never be able to enjoy being in Gods presence. I’m not sure on how all these things will work in reality (and I’m not sure if we can know!) but the old orthodox idea that the same presence of God which means heaven for some will be hell for others, or annihilation, like a shadow disappears in the full light of day. But I don’t know much about these things…[So, for Calvinists: yes, what keeps me from believing in universal reconciliation is our free will. If I’d be more Calvinist at that point I would probably have been a Christian universalist!]

So, while I reject the first universalism and do disagree with the second one, I still see the idea of hoping for universal reconciliation of all things and everyone to God (as for example some orthodox church fathers did) as not contradictory to biblical Christianity, and to be honest a it seems lot less problematic than ideas like double predestination… The dogmatic version I find a bit too much like wishful thinking, and too pushy towards God…

In the next post I’ll try to explore what the big problem is with ‘universalism’ and the gospel…

Shalom

Bram