Tag Archives: Love wins

Sodom, its abominable sin and its restoration


The destruction of Sodom as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicles

The destruction of Sodom as depicted in the Nuremberg Cronicles

One of the strange stories in the bible is the story of Sodom and Gommora. It is a weird and scary story of God destroying some cities because all the inhabitants being quite evil. which they do prove in the story by attempting to gang-rape 2 angels. This is after a story where God (in human form) is being debated by Abraham who asks for mercy on the city, in which God says that if there are 50 innocent people, that He will forgive the whole city. (This alone could incite heavy discussions about forgiveness and salvation!) God then sends two angels to Sodom, to see if the sin is indeed that big, and the inhabitants want to gang-rape those two… But they get out unharmed with Lots family, who get out safe (except for the wife who turns into a pilar of salt, which is another story)

Some have concluded because of this that the abominable sin of Sodom was homosexuality, hence the English word ‘sodomy’ as derogatory term for all things homosexual. But the bible itself gives another explanation, which is mostly supported by extrabiblical Jewish sources:

Ezekiel 16:49-50:
See here – this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

If these are the sins of Sodom, Western countries are getting more like Sodom with the moment currently… Which is not a very happy thought… The abomination of Sodom is getting increasingly institutionalised in our late-capitalist systems… And it has been part of our political systems for ages!

Many commentators also speak about their violations of hospitality, something very important in the Ancient Near East. Not being hospitable could mean death to someone in a desert climate anyway… And gang rape is a very serious way to violate hospitality, but the sins of Sodom were a reason to destroy it long before the story… Jesus himself is most likely alluding to inhospitality when he compares the fate of those who reject the disciples when he sends them:

Matthew 10:14-15:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

My conclusion is thus that the sin of Sodom can not be seen as ‘homosexuality’ as we know it. And that means that the English word ‘sodomy’ is misguided… But my interest in the story in this post is not to enter in the discussion here about homosexuality in the bible, but about judgment and restoration.

We have seen already that Jesus calls the judgment of Sodom more bearable than that of the Jewish town which rejects the disciples of Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God. I have no idea what this means, actually, but it seems that the Sodomites (the real ones!) are in some way more lucky than the Jews of those mentioned cities…

What I find very strange, but encouraging, is this part from Ezekiel. It is from a strange chapter of a strange prophetic book, in which God compares Jerusalem and Samaria to 2 wives that are unfaithful, and later in the story their sister Sodom also comes into the picture. But after all the judgments on the unfaithful wives there are promises of restoration. Which is a very common theme in the prophets. Even if it seems God says everything is gonna be destroyed forever and ever, even then in the end there seems to de restoration and renewal!

And the interesting part is that the restoration is not just for Jerusalem and Samaria, but also for the most wicked of cities, Sodom:

Ezekiel 16:53-55:
I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters (along with your fortunes among them), so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in consoling them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters will be restored to their former status, Samaria and her daughters will be restored to their former status, and you and your daughters will be restored to your former status.

I have no idea what exactly this means, but I would say that there is hope. Even if we Westerners behave like Sodomites (in our treatment of the poor) there might be hope for us!

But seriously now. I don’t know what to do with all the pictures of judgment in the bible, and I think they speak about things we cannot picture at all with our human minds, but we look forward to a renewed Heaven and Earth in which no evil will even be able to exist anymore. And it seems to me from these verses that even Sodom, the symbol of evil, shares in this restoration.

The good news is probably bigger than we can understand!

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

Moving east to find lost treasures…


In the light of the current Rob Bell controverse (if you don’t know what I mean just google his name and ‘love wins’)  there are some thoughts that are not new, and there’s probably nothing new about them… For example, Kingdom Grace has made similar remarks earlier, but I’ll try to explain how I see it.

While not much seems to be happening here in Flanders in the (very small) evangelical world, it seems like the internet is announcing over and over the end of evangelicalism in the US, or its split. The fights over Rob Bells new book (ironically called ‘Love wins’, how naive of him, you know christians will never exhibit love if they disagree… hmm ) seems to make a division between the hardcore reformed who hold to a theology I find very troubling sometimes (and I’m not the only one) and all the others, who are not considered ‘in’ for some of those… But frankly,  I don’t believe calvinism is the most helpful tradition here.

I don’t think we need to return to seventeenth century ‘orthodoxy’ if we want to find our roots again, and neither do I think we need to read the bible through a few elect pauline verses… Yes we need to go back to our roots, but the problem with sola scriptura is that where we had 4 schisms in the first 1500 years, we have had 30000 church splits since protestantism, so even when teh bible is infallible, everybody seems to have another opinion about what it says… So we don’t just need to go back to the bible, but also look at the others who are going the same way as we do, and/or those who did in the past.

Yes I think that the ‘modern’ protestant church has been navelgazing too long, blinded by our cultural assumptions, and it might need some input from other traditions to refresh its vision (and more open ears to the Holy Spirit!!!). I might be quite unmodern being both pentecostel (which according to some is more pre-modern) and influenced by C.S. Lewis, who called himself the last ancient westerner, but I’m not going to do all the emerging church babble about postmodernism being better than modernism. Still I’m affraid that I’m convinced that modernism and Christianity don’t mix very well. Both fundamentalism and liberalism, the 2 polar opposite adaptions christianity made to late modernism are not the most vital and life-bringing forms of Christianity, and did much harm to the gospel.

So my proposal is to learn from non-modern christian traditions to find back what we’ve lost with the blind spots of our modern eyes. Thats’s in fact one of the things happening in and beyond the ’emerging church’, and one of the problems for some is that those traditions are far away from standard dispensationalism and calvinism. One of those traditions which we can learn a lot from is the (neo-)anabaptism which probably is the most attractive side of the emerging church to me. A focus on discpleship and following the Jesus of the gospels is something we surely need in our churches! Every church a peace church!!

(another one would be the charismatic tradition, of which I am already part, which is frustratingly ignored in some parts of the emerging church tending too much to naturalism!)

So what’s the ‘new’ one I’m finding more and more interesting? It’s actually a very old one, and unlike anabaptism undeniably totally outside of protestantism, and it was even left out of Brian McLarens ‘generous orthodoxy’, but I don’t think it can really be considered ‘unorthodox’ in any way at all, since I’m talking about the so-called eastern orthodox church here. They own the word!

People who read here regularly know that I recently was very impressed with a video pointing out the differences between the orthodox and protestant view of salvation. I do indeed think that the orthodox have a much more complete, biblical and coherent view on salvation than the good-friday-only penal substitution some of us protestants preach! And we can and should also learn a lot from their non-dualistic view of reality, their insistance of the presence of God, and their embrace of paradox and mystery instead of trying to push all of reality into systematic theology!

And I’m not the only one who has been discovering this, even people in my own denomination (the vineyard) are discovering that the the eastern orthodox are theologically very interesting and very close to the ideas some post-evangelicals are (re)discovering. Yes indeed, the ‘heresy’ of some of Rob Bells or even NT Wrights views is in fact much closer to eastern orthodoxy and the church fathers than to calvinism, which is in return a heresy condemned by both the catholic and orthodox church… The whole idea that Jesus came to save us in the first place from the wrath of God would be totally alien to them. To quote American orthodox priest Father Stephen:

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals – and yet it is necessary – both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me

So, I think we can and should learn a lot from the orthodox (among many other traditions), who have a much more complete view of salvation, and who seem to be able to make a lot more sense of the ressurrection, without which our hope is in vain according to Paul, but which is reduced to just some counterintuitive fact that should be believed in to be saved by some fundamentalists.

but no, I’m never ever going to become eastern orthodox myself. My theology of church would fall somewhere between those of Frank Viola and John Wimber and is quite opposite to the hierarchical liturgical view of an old church with only male priests: I believe in the priesthood of all believers, where ‘everybody gets to play’ and where men and women can excercise the gifts the Spirit has given them. And I don’t buy the stuff about relics and saints (even though their theology of the communion of the saints and the witness cloud sounds interesting to me!)

So if we want to restore a truly ‘evangelical’ faith, we have to recover the good news of God redeeming all of creation and of the hope Jesus brought in the resurrection. The vision of Gods kingdom as layed out in the gospels is incompatible with a gospel that is only concerned with saving individual souls from Gods wrath, it’s about the restauration of all of creation! And here I think can learn a lot from those older brothers in our faith in Jesus Christ.

(Even if we’ll still disagree about a lot of things and not be able to be in communion with them because different views on church, priesthood and eucharist. )

But it’s not about which tradition is best. It’s about understanding God more, and participation in the mission of His kingdom.

shalom

Bram

ps: I am in no way an expert in orthodoxy, so if anyone has helpful links or book titles to enlighten me more, please share them with me and my readers!!!

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

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