Category Archives: Eschatology
My daughters don’t believe in Santa Claus. They never have. That’s mostly because my wife and I are evil and we told them from the very beginning that Santa Claus wasn’t real. (If this is news to you, please accept my apologies for breaking the news in such a heartless way.) We made sure they knew that many people like to pretend that Santa is real. And, since we don’t want to ruin their fun, we shouldn’t tell other kids the truth about Santa. The last thing we wanted to deal with were a bunch of angry parents wanting to know why our kindergartener had ruined their holiday traditions.
Although I like how we’ve handled the Santa Claus issue, and I wouldn’t want to do it differently, it’s hard not to notice that my daughters never approached Christmas with the same kind of anxious anticipation as other children. There were no eager questions about “When will Santa be here?” or whispers of “I think I hear him.” An element of expectation comes with the story of Santa Claus that has a nearly irresistible sense of childish delight. And, when he’s finally arrived, all of that pent up expectation–all the anxious hours of waiting, all the uncertainties and anxieties–explode in the delighted yell, “He came!”
To some degree, that’s what the Advent season is all about.
“I’m bored,” the young man says, setting his golden harp down on the soft, white mound next to him.
His companion sits up quickly, sending small puffs of cloud scattering in every direction, several catching on the shimmering halo that had slipped slightly to one side at her sudden movement. “Stop saying that. You’re going to get us in trouble.”
“But I am bored. There’s nothing to do.” Reaching down he fiddles absently with one of the harp strings, sending soft notes through the golden light and causing the small cloud puffs to float rhythmically around his head. “All we ever do is play these stupid harps and sing.”
“Shhhh. Someone will hear you!” she says, glancing around in a futile effort to see if anyone was close enough to hear. Futile, of course, because in this place, someone always hears.
“What are they gonna do? Kick me out?” Jerking his head, he slaps at the swirling could puffs, looking every bit like an angry camper trying to disperse a swarm of hungry mosquitos. “I almost wish they would.”
She just stares at him, too stunned to reply. After a long silence, she whispers, “You want out?”
He responds with a deep sigh, “I don’t know. Four thousand years is a long time to sit on a cloud playing a harp. A little change might be nice.” Staring down at his white robes, he adds, “I know the other side is for bad people. But maybe they’re at least having some fun.”
I’m sorry to say that the way most people describe Heaven sounds rather boring to me. Ask what they’re looking forward to about Heaven, and many people will say something about finding lost loved ones—sometimes even lost pets—the end of pain and sorrow, finally being able to dunk a basketball, run a marathon, or possibly even fly through the clouds. And these are all great things, I suppose. But I’m guessing that after a few thousand years, they’d all grow a bit stale. I love my friends and family, but after a millennium or two, I can pretty much guarantee that I’d be hiding in a closet every time I heard one of them coming around the corner. It’s possible that I just have an unusually short attention span and get bored easily. But 4,000 years of the same old thing sounds boring.
The problem is that our idea of eternity is badly confused. Ask us about Heaven, and we start describing some ethereal city in the clouds. When people do that, I always ask, “Where are the trees?” After waiting a few seconds for that to sink in, I’ll add, “God made trees, so apparently he likes them. Where are the trees in Heaven?” Then, while they’re scrambling about for an adequate answer, I’ll follow up with, “And don’t forget dung beetles. God made those too, so we should figure out where the dung beetles will be in Heaven.” Finally, pausing for effect, I’ll add, “And the fleas.” That always gets their attention. Trees are okay. Everybody likes trees. But dung beetles sound rather disgusting. And who wants to believe that there will be fleas in Heaven? That can’t be right. Heaven is holy and spiritual. Surely there won’t be fleas in Heaven. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, the logic of this argument cannot be applied to cats since they were the result of an evil scientist’s failed experiment and were not actually created by God. It’s true, Google it.)
Since we see Heaven as a wholly spiritual place, we have a hard time conceiving of it having any room for such earthy things as insects. But “earthy” is exactly how the Bible describes our eternal destiny. The focus of the Bible is not on our eternal destiny up among the stars somewhere, but a new city coming down on a new earth completing the plan that God has had in mind since the beginning (Rev. 21).
Our picture of “Heaven” is wrong because we’re looking in the wrong place. Rather than gazing up in the clouds trying to picture what heaven will be like, look down at your feet. Take your shoes off and dig your toes into the damp soil. Reach down and tip the little pill bug over on its back. Watch its squiggly legs kick in the air. Then, turn it over again and let it scurry away. Nearby, see the earthworm wriggling deeper into the freshly turned earth. Look closer and examine the tiny grains of dirt, each a different shape and color, yet combining to form the lush hue of fertile soil. It even smells brown. Turn over the small rocks and explore the exquisite glories that hide in even the most innocuous crevices of creation. I can’t tell you what the new earth will be like. The Bible gives us very little detail. But I can say that this one’s pretty amazing. And, whatever God has in mind for our future, it will not be any less than this.
Who came up with the idea that we’d be disembodied spirits living in some spiritual universe forever? The Bible never says anything about that. Indeed, the Bible describes our future lies as resurrection to a true physical body, appropriately fitted for our new life (1 Cor. 15).
And our picture of eternity is out of whack because we’re selfish. Once again we find that we tend to twist the story so that it’s primarily about us—no more pain, sadness, loss, or loneliness. We can be happy forever. It sounds great. Why wouldn’t it? It’s all about us. For deeply selfish people, this sounds like the ultimate paradise.
But once again we have to remind ourselves that this story isn’t about us. Sure, eternity will be great. God loves us and wouldn’t have anything less than the best for his people. But that doesn’t mean that this is all about us. The new earth is still about God (Rev. 21:22). And that’s good news. As long as eternity is about us, it will be a boring place to be. We’re just not that cool, and eventually we’ll get bored with ourselves and our own happiness. But God? He’s another story entirely. We could spend an entire eternity pursuing him in his infinite mystery: constantly learning new things, being challenged in new ways, rediscovering over and over again how far beyond us he truly is.
Setting his harp down on the velvety soft grass, he looks over at his companion. “That’s enough for now,” he says. “I’m going to go tend the garden for a while. The corn is almost ready.”
“Thank you,” she replies, “that was lovely.” She moves slowly away meditating on the song, already looking forward to sharing it with everyone at the feast later, so they can all sing it together. But right now, she’s going to the lake for a swim.
A dung beetle watches her pass.
Leaning back against the soft cushions, book held loosely in one hand, chocolate chip cookie in the other, coffee cup perched delicately on my knee, I snuggled in and looked forward to a quiet afternoon of reading. Does it get any better?
The doorbell rang.
Normally I would have ignored it, but I was staying at my parents’ house for a few days, and I thought I should at least see who it was. So, with a sigh, I thumped my cup on the table, set aside my barely tasted cookie, jammed a bookmark in its place, and hoisted myself out of the comfy confines of my parents’ couch.
Opening the front door, I was greeted by three older gentlemen in their Sunday finest. One even held a black leather Bible in front of his red tie. Another fiddled with several small pamphlets that looked suspiciously like evangelistic tracts. And, the third stepped forward with a warm smile: “Hi, we’re from First Baptist Church. You filled out a visitor card last Sunday and we’re following up to see if we can answer any questions for you.”
“Oh, I don’t live here,” I responded. “My parents moved to town a few weeks back and they’ve been checking out a few churches in the area.” Looking for a quick end to the conversation I quickly added, “If you want to leave some information, I’ll make sure they get it.”
But, these were men on a mission; they wouldn’t be dismissed that easily.
“Do you know Jesus?” Pamphlet Man asked. It probably wasn’t quite that abrupt, but that’s how I remember it.
Fortunately, I was just about to graduate from Bible college, so I was well-prepared for difficult theological questions like this. With a little smile, I looked him in the eye and confidently replied, “Yes.”
That was four years of college tuition well spent.
But, they still weren’t done. Leaning closer with his Bible clutched in both hands, the third man asked, “But, do you know where you’re going after you die?”
And there it was. The question that trumps all other questions. What could be more important than knowing the answer to a question about your eternal destiny?
Still a bit annoyed that I wasn’t back on the couch with my book, I nearly said, “Disneyland.” But, he didn’t seem like the type to appreciate a joke about eternal destinies. So, instead, I gave him what he was looking for. “I know that I’ll live forever in heaven after I die,” I said, “because I believe in Jesus with all my heart and trust him as my Lord.”
That’s what they needed—assurance that I’d reserved my spot in Heaven forever. So, they gave me some material about the church, shook my hand warmly, and went on about their business.
Too bad. They missed an excellent opportunity to explain what I’d gotten wrong.
Where did we get this idea that the whole point of the story was to make sure that we make it into heaven, and that our primary concern should be where we go after we die? Do you know that if you read through the entire New Testament, you’d end up with only a handful of verses that have anything to do with what happens to us after we die? They are there, and we shouldn’t neglect them. But, why make them such a central part of the story? Why make that the most important question you can ask someone?
Interestingly, that’s the one question Jesus almost never asked. And, he asked a lot of questions:
- Do you really think it’s that impressive if you’re nice to people who are just like you?
- Why are you anxious about little things like clothing?
- Why do you spend so much time considering the flaws of other people and ignoring your own?
- Why are you afraid?
- Why do you think about evil things all the time?
- Do you believe that I can do this?
- Who is truly a part of my family?
- Why did you doubt?
- Who do people say that I am?
- What could you possibly give in exchange for your life?
- Can you endure what I will have to endure?
- What do you want me to do for you?
Those are all great questions, just a few of the ones Jesus asks in a single book (Matthew). And, notice their focus: living faithfully in response to the Gospel today. As far as I can tell, in the entire book, Jesus only once asks a question about a person’s eternal destiny (Matthew 23:33). Instead, he focuses almost exclusively on making people think about what they are doing right now.
Jesus came to announce the arrival of the Kingdom. That’s not a message for some far off future, but it’s good news for right now. It has obvious implications for the future. We’d mess up the Gospel just as much if we thought that this story was only about the here and now. That would rob the story of purpose, hope, and direction. But, the mistake we more commonly make is thinking that the most important question we can ask is about where we’ll be in the end.
What’s the most important question that you can ask? It’s not, “Where will you go when you die?” That’s a fine question. And, it’s one that’s worth discussing. But, the most important question? I don’t think so. A far better question is, “Who will you follow while you live?” Answer that question, and the other will take care of itself.
[This is part of my series on unpacking the Gospel.]
No, I’m not dying. Well, actually I am, but I’m not dying any faster than the rest of you. Of course, maybe I am and I just don’t realize it. But that’s a topic for a different post. To the best of my knowledge, you won’t need to figure out what to do with my dead body any time soon. But, I want to ask the question anyway.
“I don’t care what you do with my body. It’s not me. Just throw it away.”
We should all affirm that “the story of me” does not end with the death of my physical body. Or, better said: “the story of me” continues because it has been drawn into the story of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. So, whatever I believe about what comprises a human person (one part, two parts, thirty-nine parts, whatever), we should affirm that physical death does bring the story to an end.
But, that’s not the same as saying that my body is extraneous and irrelevant. God created me with a body. And, in the end, he will raise me to live again as an embodied being. That should lead to the conclusion that my body is an important part of who I am. It’s not an annoyance that I just put up with for a time. It’s how God created me. And, I fear that the “just do whatever you want with that dead hunk of meat” stems from (and contributes to) a persistent failure to appreciate this fact.
Augustine wrestled with this very issue in City of God 1.13. In the previous chapter, he assured Christians that even if they were martyred and had their bodies torn apart or burned, they didn’t need to fear what would happen in the resurrection. God knows how to handle things, and he’ll get it all straightened out in the end. But, he didn’t want anyone to draw the conclusion that this means we can just do whatever we want with people’s bodies after they died.
This does not mean that the bodies of the departed are to be scorned and cast away, particularly not the bodies of the righteous and faithful, of which the Spirit has made holy use as instruments for good works of every kind. For if such things as a father’s clothes, and his ring, are dear to their children in proportion to their affection for their parents, then the actual bodies are certainly not to be treated with contempt, since we wear them in a much closer and more intimate way than any clothing. A man’s body is no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to his very nature as a man….The Lord himself also, who was to rise again on the third day, proclaimed, and commanded that it should be proclaimed, that the pious woman had done ‘a good deed’, because she had poured costly ointment over his limbs, and had done this for his burial; and it is related in the Gospel, as a praiseworthy act, that those who received his body from the cross were careful to clothe it and bury it with all honour.
These authorities are not instructing us that dead bodies have any feeling; they are pointing out that the providence of God, who approves such acts of duty and piety, is concerned with the bodies of the dead, so as to promote faith in the resurrection. There is a further saving lesson to be learnt here – how great a reward there may be for alms which we give to those who live and feel, if any care and service we render to men’s lifeless bodies is not lost in the sight of God.
So, Augustine wants to walk the line between two false ideas:
- Our story is entirely wrapped up in our physical bodies.
- Our story has nothing to do with our physical bodies.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. And, he thinks that how we treat people’s bodies after they’ve died has significance for life and ministry today. We should treat people’s dead bodies in a way that respects the person, honors God’s grand purposes for the physical world, and manifests faith in the resurrection. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily lead to any definite conclusions regarding specific burial practices (e.g. cremation), but it does provide a wise set of ideas to keep in mind when dealing with the issue.
I got tired of the Rob Bell discussion pretty quickly, so I’ve generally been avoiding posts related to that controversy. But, Relevant Magazine has a great post today from Scot McKnight that is well worth reading. In the post, What Love Wins Tells Us about Christians, McKnight offers an interesting reflection on the current state of evangelicalism, the way evangelicals respond to controversy today, and how our changing social/technological context shapes all of this.
Here’s his list 10 things that we’ve learned from this controversy:
- Social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged.
- Megachurch pastors are being watched closely.
- Tribalism pervades the American religious scene.
- Hell remains a central Christian conviction and concern.
- Christian views of hell are both incomplete and in need of serious examination.
- Pressing questions require serious thinking.
- Missiology remains the center of gospeling in our world.
- Low church, non-denominational evangelicalism, of which Rob Bell is an exceptional representative, carries its own dangers.
- We are still asking a big question: What is the Gospel?
- What is evangelicalism and what is orthodoxy?
Make sure you read the whole post, but I thought his comments on the Gospel were particularly interesting. McKnight argues that the Gospel is still the centering reality of evangelicalism:
You can talk all you want about eschatology and about atonement theory and about evangelism and about worship, but the moment you cross a line others perceive to be too far in the wrong directions, you will be called out on it. The essential line in Christianity is the Gospel, and all theology is measured by its fidelity to the Gospel or its denial of the Gospel.
But, he then goes on to point out that we still don’t have a widely accepted definition of the Gospel:
How odd, I muse at times, that so many claim “gospel” for what they think but at the same time don’t recognize that the word “gospel” seems to be a contested term and category that demands careful words and definitions.
No wonder modern evangelicalism is having an identity crisis.
Let me begin by making two statements: 1. I have read Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. 2. I am not interested in giving a long critique of the book. Several people have already written good ones, and another review from my perspective would add nothing to the conversation. What I want to do here is attempt to answer the question, “Is Rob Bell saying anything different than what Origen and Karl Barth claimed?” In the last month I have heard Bell’s view of hell likened to both of these men as well as C.S. Lewis. (I cannot, however, speak to Lewis’ view b/c – to my shame – I have only read the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity). Ironically, if you Google image “Universalism” both Origen and Bell’s pictures show up. Origen was excommunicated for some of his teaching, being accused of saying that even the devil might have a shot at redemption. At the end of Barth’s life he often had to defend himself against the accusation that he was a Universalist. Is there any correlation between these men?
The notion that Origen taught that all people would be saved, including the possibility of Satan, has been around for some time. The reality is that Origen was much more “orthodox” than what he is given credit for. According to the historian, Justo Gonzales, Origen proposed many doctrines, not necessarily as truths to be generally accepted, nor as things that would supersede the clear doctrines of the church, but as his own tentative speculation, which was not to be compared with the authoritative teaching of the church. He was in line with what was considered orthodox for his day. It is unfair to take later matters settled by the church (some several hundred years later), and then look back on his teachings and scold him for wrestling with them. However, the question is whether or not Origen taught that all men would eventually be saved, even Satan. The answer is that he postulated some type of universal reconciliation because of his view of free will, but never affirmed it as orthodox or in line with Scripture. In his book, First Principles (1.8.4), he says, “So, too, the reprobate will always be fixed in evil, less from the inability to free themselves from it, than because they wish to be evil.” Once in hell, the choice to choose otherwise will never be exercised because the will of man will not choose otherwise. Concerning the possible salvation of Satan, Origen did not teach the possibility that he would be saved. In a debate with a man named Candidus, Origen was defending his notion of free will, and said that Satan could be saved if he wanted, but that he would not be saved because of his choice to live in rebellion. Origen’s point was that Satan did not want salvation because his free will choice. He writes in a letter defending himself against the above accusation, that anyone who would claim that Satan would be saved was a “madman.” Although he was labeled a heretic in 399 by a council in Alexandria, and then excommunicated as heretic by the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553, Henri Crouzel says this was more from the musings of Origen’s followers than Origen himself. Origen postulated a reconciliation of all things, but did not affirm it as orthodox. He also did not teach any type of post-mortem changing of the heart. Although he wanted to defend the notion of free will, he affirmed that the reprobate’s will was fixed in sin and rebellion.
When it comes to nailing down Karl Barth on the issue…good luck! According to Oliver Crisp and Geoffrey Bromiley (translator of Barth’s Church Dogmatics into English) his theology cannot escape the accusation. Karl Barth taught that Jesus Christ was both the subject and object of election. As the subject he is the electing God. As the object he is the elect man. Simply, Barth sees Jesus as the representative of all men, not only some of them. (He had a major beef with Calvinism!) If Jesus represented all men, took the condemnation that was to fall on all men, then the logical conclusion of Barth’s theology would be that all men would be saved. This is what Barth hoped for. The problem is that he wasn’t sure it would happen. When asked if he was a Universalist, he denied the label. Furthermore, he taught that although all men were elected in Christ, their election still had to be actualized through the exercise of faith, and that the gospel had to be preached if there was any hope for man. Thus, in the end you can take one of two approaches with Barth. You can side with Oliver Crisp, who says that Barth was either a Universalist or incoherent in his doctrine. Or, you can opt for George Hunsinger’s view that Barth was not a Universalist but an agnostic. He simply left the question open ended with a strong tilt towards universal hope.
So where is Bell? Again, good luck. I think he wants to keep the free will of Origen, and the hope of universal reconciliation like Barth. Unlike both of these men, however, he seems to go further and claim a definitive reconciliation of all people, including post-mortem redemption. If all are not saved then love does not win, which is the premise of his book. He redefines the term aion to refer to an “intense experience,” not a period of time with beginning and end (by the way, it’s never good to get one definition of a word and apply it to all uses of that word) (57). Going so far as to say that, “forever is not really a category biblical writers use” (92) Thus, hell is not forever in the sense of time. It’s just a “period of pruning” or a “time of trimming” or “an intense experience of correction” (91). Hell can be now, on earth, as we reject God’s way and God’s story of love. Hell can be a place we go to after death. The picture John gives us in Revelation, however, is of a city with open gates in which people can “come and go.” Bell suggests that if someone dies and goes to hell and is finally overcome by the goodness of God in Christ and repents, it is possible that God will let them into heaven whose gates are always open. (I wonder if that also means those in heaven can leave?) Hell, even one of their own making, has finally pruned their resistance. He says that Christians should long for this (111) and admit that these questions “are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires”(115). If he is genuine in this statement, he affirms that he’s not sure if there is a universal reconciliation. (If he’s wrong, though, doesn’t it end really badly for people?!) Furthermore, Bell is not a traditional Universalist (i.e. everyone gets in regardless of what they want). However, he seems to be advocating a type of Christian Universalism. Jesus is necessary. Everyone gets in, but everyone gets in only because of the sacrifice of Jesus. In this sense Bell is exclusive. Also, the sacrifice of Jesus was inclusive of all. Bell says that “Jesus does declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody” (155). He also says that people just might not be aware that it is Jesus doing this for them (155). Buddhist will use a different name. Muslim’s will say Allah. In this case, the gospel in the Bible is not the only way to heaven (i.e. Believe this or you don’t get in). Jesus is the only way, and the Christian church (especially those that mix the warning of eternal conscious judgment in hell with grace) doesn’t get to lay claim on the only exclusive message. The message is really love. So although Bell is not a traditional Universalist, he does appear to be advocating a view of Universalism (i.e. an Exclusive (Jesus alone) Inclusivist (Everybody) Pluralist (Many Ways to Understand) Universalism) that puts the love of God and the cross of Christ squarely in the middle of every persons salvation. This allows him to have some vague tie to evangelical Christianity, even though his definitions behind the terms create something new.
If I’m reading Bell correctly, there is indeed a piece of continuity between his view and those of Origen and Barth. There is the hope of universal reconciliation. I think that all Christians would hope for what these men hoped for, the salvation of all men. At that point our desires would be in line with God’s. However, in the end Bell is very different from Barth and Origen. Bells view is different from Origen b/c he postulates, not a fixed will of rebellion in hell, but the possibility that the will may always change, even post-mortem. Origen may have questioned, but never considered it an “orthodox view” as Bell does. Origen also never separated salvation from the Christian gospel or thought that the beliefs of Roman pagan religions were somehow coterminous with the gospel of Jesus. Bell is different from Barth in that Barth never separates salvation from a choice that is made in the here and now. Barth never spoke of a hell as a time of “pruning.” More pointedly Barth never called for a softening of the biblical text or a “better story” that excluded judgment or widened itself to encompass other religions (Neither did Paul in Acts 17). If anything Barth called for more proclamation and the indiscriminate preaching of the unique Christian gospel (not a widening of it) along with a warning for those who rejected it. They hoped for a universal reconciliation, but thought it not possible or, at best, were agnostic about it. In the end, neither Origen nor Barth, say what Bell is now saying.
These are some of the questions that Brian LePort wrestled with in a paper that he presented last month at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25.”
Here’s how he sets up the discussion:
When the canonical choir sings eschatological songs we often give much attention to the passages with a higher pitch. Many books have been written on the otherworldly images of the Apocalypse. The cataclysmic vision of 2 Peter 3.10-13 results in “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as we hear of the earth being purged by flames. And what can we say when Jesus himself tells us “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35; Mk. 13.31; Lk. 21.33). There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this creation. It would appear that her end is devastation.
Yet in the Book of Genesis we are told that God thought his creation to be “good” (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25) and when he added humans it became “very good” (1.31). This should cause us to pause. In spite all the passages that seem to indicate that creation is expendable we must ask if there are any passages that harmonize more directly with the creation account.
Before we claim to have heard the whole song we must give heed to the tenor of Pauline eschatology. Whereas the aforementioned passages, and others like them, seem to indicate a discontinuation between this world and the one to come, the contribution of the Apostle Paul is that he emphasizes some sort of continuation. In this paper it is my desire to draw attention specifically to the voice of Rom. 8.1-25 as we formulate a Christian eschatology. I will be asking for those who are in attendance to give a hearing to this passage because I believe that it contributes balance to the canonical witness regarding the future of this current created order. It is here in these verses that we will see an analogy between the transition which will occur during our resurrection and the “rebirthing” of all creation.
He goes on from there to argue that to understand Romans, you have to hear the “echoes” of Genesis that reverberate throughout the book. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to read Romans 8 in that context as the crescendo and climax of God’s plans for creation, which he began way back in Genesis 1.
So, he concludes.
In Rom. 8.1-25 we find that the relationship between God, humanity, and the created order will be made right in the age to come. Humans will reign and rule with the risen Lord Jesus Christ over the renovated earth being and doing for creation what Adam and Eve (and every generation since) has failed to be and do. Humans will point creation toward her Creator rather than worshiping the creation.This will be when the adopted children of God are resurrected with new bodies, overcoming death, setting creation free from the curse that came because of Adam and Eve in Eden. Creation will be set free from her suffering.
In LePort’s argument, then, Paul presents the future of this creation as one of redemption and restoration. Although there are elements of discontinuity between what we see now and the new creation to come, he sees important elements of continuity as well – continuity grounded in God’s creative purposes begun in Genesis and echoed throughout Romans.
(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)
I will put it this way: there are passages that sound univeralistic, that sound like somehow God will reconcile all things in the End, and that if we don’t occasionally soundwe are not being as biblical as God — and as Jesus and Paul. Yes, these passages are not the only ones to consider, but — let this be said — neither are they cushioned or cautioned or cornered off by Jesus and Paul so they don’t give the wrong impression. What the Bible is talking about here is that God’s grace will win. God will make all things right. I’m not a universalist but I want this language to be the way I talk about these topics.
I think this is a very helpful way of framing the discussion. The Bible does press the language of God’s grace and sovereignty at times in such a way that it sounds like universalism is the only possible conclusion.
My only concern is that we not sound this theme without also allowing the rest of the biblical picture to come out. So, I appreciated McKnight’s balanced conclusion at the end of his post:
To talk about wrath apart from this depiction of the grace-consuming God is to put forward a view of God that is not only unbiblical but potentially monstrous. And, to put forward a view of God that is absent of final judgment, yes of wrath, yes of eternal judgment, is to offer a caricature of the Bible’s God.
Along the way, he also offered a stern and timely rebuke for those who seem to delight primarily in being right (on both sides of this discussion), losing sight of the true immensity of this difficult subject.
It’s a good post that is worth checking out.
How much does a person have to write, say, or communicate, before we’re allowed to criticize him or her? Is a blog post enough? A podcast? A short video? Or, do I need to wait until you’ve written an entire book before I’m allowed to criticize you?
A number of bloggers are very annoyed today. Apparently they’re upset because a couple of bloggers, namely Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung, had the audacity to criticize Rob Bell for saying things that sound rather universalistic. No one seems to be questioning whether they should be disagreeing with universalism; these bloggers are upset that they’re criticizing Rob Bell without having read his forthcoming book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, in which he supposedly develops these ideas.
Okay now, I’d be the first to agree that we shouldn’t criticize books we haven’t read. That’s never a good idea. But, that’s not really what’s happening here. Both Taylor and DeYoung were careful to point out that they had not read the book in question. Instead, they were commenting on the publishers description of the book, the promo video that Bell produced in support of the book, and the pre-release chapters that Taylor got to read. That’s a fair amount of material, more than enough to offer some good food for thought.
Indeed, it’s far more than many bloggers have in their possession when they criticize someone. I find it interesting that many people have critiqued Mark Driscoll with far less. I routinely see his short You Tube videos subjected to criticisms every bit as harsh. (I’ve critiqued one or two of these myself.) And, I would definitely question how many bloggers who criticize him have actually read any of his books.
So, why is this any different?
On the substance of the concerns, I don’t really have anything to add. From what I’ve seen, it does sound like Bell is encouraging a universalistic understanding of Hell. And, since I think that’s a bad idea, I would have no problem criticizing it. I wouldn’t try to critique the book, since I haven’t even seen the pre-release chapters, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t critique what material is out there. We all do that all the time.
For a good, balanced discussion of Bell’s position, see Trevin Wax’s recent post on the subject.
Until the book comes out, I don’t think we can accurately label Rob a “universalist.” Based on Rob’s tendency to ask edgy questions and then pull back, I expect that somewhere in the book, Rob will affirm that people who don’t want to be part of God’s kingdom won’t be forced to. In the end, Rob will land somewhere between optimistic inclusivism (most everyone will be saved) and universalism (all will be saved).
If you’re looking for good gift ideas for the little girl in your life, look no further. What little girl wouldn’t love to open her presents on Christmas morning and find, to her delight, the four “My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse”?