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To all people who follow me on this blog, you may have noticed that I have not blogged in a while. I still participate in discussions on other blogs, but haven’t had much time to generate articles designed for blogs lately. So, I have created a new blog for re-posting discussions and comments on other blogs. This is called “Reformed Reactions”. See my Introductory posts here and here, and then know that you are all welcome to follow me over there.
I was watching a recent discussion on the Unbelievable radio program with host Justin Brierley that involved Rob Bell, author of the recent book Love Wins, and Christian blogger, Adrian Warnock. you can watch it as well at the Unbelievable site:
On a side issue, Rob Bell may not simply be a unorthodox with regard to the doctrine of hell. He may also be a pluralist. (Starting at 2:50)
Rob: This book is part of an ongoing discussion. It’s not the last word. I never thought it was and I assume nobody else thinks it’s the last word. So, I’m taking part of the ongoing discussion and it’s okay. The other opinions and perspectives are beautiful, good, wonderful.
But on to the universalism question:
When asked if he was a Universalist according a specific (but poorly worded) definition he responds (Starting at 7:36):
Justin: But is it fair to say you do believe in a universalism in the sense of that everyone will ultimately freely choose to be won over by the love of God?
Rob: I don’t know. Do you?
Adrian’s response to that was this:
Adrian: Well, it’s interesting because I don’t think Jesus did because Jesus talks about hell and He talks about fire that won’t go out, torment that’s unending. And certainly in your book you say that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt the hardest hearts.
Rob doesn’t deny that he wrote that in his book. And there came a time in the discussion where the definition of universalism was investigated and Rob disagreed with the key option to universalism, that God condemns people for infinite time. Justin asked a listener question at 42:52 and sparked a portion of the discussion that ended with this admission:
Justin: And another person asks – this is more directed at you, Adrian, and your view of hell. “If we believe God is justice, how can a finite human being with a finite ability to reason come to earn infinite punishment? Surely justice demands that the time fits the crime. How can you believe in eternal conscious torment?” I mean, obviously a lot of people struggle with this and you’ve mentioned already another option, Rob, which isn’t really featured in your book, but annihilationism: this idea that people…
Rob: Yeah. There’s a section on the book, a sort of ex-human, post-human, formerly-human – that’s one of the sort-of – that the way people…
Justin: Sure. Are you more comfortable with that than the eternal conscious torment view? I mean, it really seems to me like you rule that out as being even considered. You know, that view is totally out of kilter with the idea of God’s love.
Rob: Well, it just raises questions. So like when I’m asking Adrian – those are legitimate, honest, straightforward – tell me more when you say that.
Justin: But tell me an answer to the question…
Justin: What do you think is the answer to that question?
Rob: Well, when he says, like in the questioner who says a finite being in a finite segment of time receives infinite punishment that has to be sort of kept up and maintained by God, that says something about the nature of God. So, let’s say a seventeen-year-old rejects Christ, dies, and seventeen million years from now, if you want to say that (that’s some obviously over-the-top language, right?), God is still punishing that person. Is God like that? And I think it’s a totally legitimate question.
Adrian: Do you think God is like that, Rob?
Rob: No! I don’t think God is like that.
And I love Justin’s response to this:
Justin: So, I’m taking from that answer that you definitely do not believe in an eternal kind of torment. I mean, I can’t draw any other conclusion that you don’t believe that.
And I think most reasonable people would arrive at that conclusion as well. If God doesn’t condemn people forever, then all will either be saved or annihilated. And when the question came to annihilationism, Rob dodged it and landed squarely back in the Universalist camp by denying that God punishes people forever.
And if one should argue that Perhaps Rob Bell is just an annihilationist because he never denied that, then we have another problem on our hands.
I have heard this numerous times among men. With a chuckle of knowing resignation one may tell another what his wife does that doesn’t make sense to him. “There’s just no understanding women,” they might say.
Is this right?
In a larger passage about being subject to each other, Peter writes:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)
Peter admonishes Christian husbands to understand their wives and live in accordance with that understanding. Not only is it possible for a husband to understand his wife, it is commanded. Husband, you study cars, sports statistics, politics, or whatever else you are interested in. Yet you refuse to study your wife to know her better? Study her like your life depended on it.
The effect is that the wife of a Christian husband will be honored. Perhaps you don’t want to honor your wife. Why did you marry her if you didn’t want to honor her? You show yourself to be a fool for an honored wife will glorify her husband. (1 Cor 11:17)
Ultimately, however, the result of not doing this is that the husband’s prayers will be hindered. I said study her like your life depended on it. If you’re prayers are your connection with the One who gives you life, then your life indeed depends on understanding your wife and living like it.
Christian husband, an amazing way to fulfill this is to pray for your wife. You should be doing this anyway, but I know that many do not. I have seen miracles happen in marriages where husbands pray for their wives. The next miracle could be for you.
Greg Koukl on The Stand to Reason blog is bold to post ideas in Christian philosophy that are not yet fully developed. But such a thing is necessary for allowing the idea to be processed in the community of Christians at large. He recently started a discussion on the difference between God issuing a decree and acting as a cause. That language might not immediately seem pertinent. But there is the tension that we see in scripture where God is absolutely sovereign and where He seems to cause sin as a result. Go here to watch his video blog and read some of the comments:
My slightly edited response:
God, as a causer, is not an agent of cause. “Agent” implies that the causer was himself caused by something else. God’s causing is in this way different than His creation, as discreet subdivided iterations of existence, being internally consistent agents of cause. That is, God has eternally established what will happen by decree and has created underlying rules for all of creation to follow as temporal causal agents.
Men, as volitional systems of causal agents, have intent. Where this intent agrees with God’s ethical will, then there is no sin. Where this intent does not agree with God’s ethical will, there is sin. The will of man is hardly monolithic. Every decision a man makes consists of a cocktail of intents – some good, some bad. If God causes anything to happen in the action of any man in the fallen world, that man will be guilty of sin.
God’s intent, conversely, is always pure. God is not guilty where His goodness causes actions that arise out of the evil intents of men.
Men are sinners already and God has not alienated Himself from men any further than they are by causing actions that for men are sinful because of their intents. And their intents are not the most fundamental level of their sin. Evil intents arise out of the status of men being separated from God. We are born in a separated world and are likewise separated from God from birth. Even when we are given the Holy Spirit, we must endure the wiles of this separated world. Being given the Holy Spirit allows us to be separated FOR God (Holy) in this age rather than being separated FROM God in this age.
I always ask the question, “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” And every question that starts with “Did God know…” is answered in the affirmative.
There are many hindrances to the availability of the Biblical languages. Some I can think of:
Regarding number 5: Scientific American has a short article touching on some research that is being done in the link between language and thought. The language that a person typically uses governs his thought. The example in the article was a 5-year-old Australian aborigine girl who could easily point the way north where a lecture hall of accomplished academicians could not. It reminded me of my mom’s side of the family. Always, they refer to things by their compass directions: “the south bedroom,” “the west field,” “Go to the end of the road and turn north on Kessler Road.” I can’t talk to my wife this way or she would get lost. For her, directions are relative: “the bedroom to the right of the bathroom,” “turn left on Museum Road.” Mastering language means being able to follow the linguistic logic of the references over and against those that one is accustomed to.
Regarding number 6: I’ll deal with this one shortly because it’s in the title. I wanted to make a reference here so you don’t think I just made a provocative statement without talking about it.
What can we make of the fact that A) Studying the Biblical languages is essential and B) The vast majority of Christians are not going to have the spiritual luxury of doing so? I mean, if this were the case then we revert back to dependence on priests for our understanding. We should close our Bibles and not even try to read them because we’ll never quite get it right.
And we indeed need to get it right. Our salvation is at stake if we don’t follow the true gospel. God’s glory is at stake if we don’t get our understanding of Him correct. Judging by the disputes and disagreements between Christians, it is more normal that we disagree on many things than if we agree.
What are we to do? I go back to my original question: “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” We could also ask, “Did God not know that nearly all of the people who profess to follow Him wouldn’t get their theology straight?” So, if we assume that He knows these things we can further ask if He takes this all into account?
This is where we discuss things like the perspicuity of scripture (how clear it is), what is necessary to understand for salvation, and how understandable different things of scripture are. Some factors I see:
This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it is these last points that are key to tying Babel with God’s revelation of Himself in scripture and walking away with an assurance that we can know enough well enough.
God caused language to be confused in Babel and then proceeded to reveal Himself through prophets and inspired scripture.
In Babel, the goal of mankind was the exaltation of Man over God and the self-sufficiency of Man. God confused the language of Man so that His revelation to Man would be clear to Man when it came. In other words, Man could not rely on himself for knowledge of God, but had to rely on God to reveal Himself.
We still do. That’s the bridge between Babel and the revelation God gives us in the Bible. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God on our own accord, we lack understanding. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we have understanding. Those who lack understanding don’t understand how those who have understanding got it, and they often disparage those who have understanding as though they cannot have understanding. Those who lack understanding typically cannot believe that there is some understanding that they do not possess.
Here is another list (I seem to be into lists today) of how God works with us to understand His revelation:
So, seek understanding. Study the Bible. Struggle to get it right. Learn the original languages if you can, but do not despair if you cannot. Understanding comes from God. Trust Him and seek Him above all, and deal graciously with others when you disagree.
A poll was taken by Dane Ortlund who writes the blog, Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology, among several prominent theologians and posted the results on his blog. Most of the comments in the meta have been helpful. (Many have been anti-Christian trolls, and sometimes particularly vulgar. I haven’t checked to see how many of these have been deleted.) But one or two comments have been made by egalitarians pointing out that none of the theologians polled were women.
Some are not aware of what egalitarians and complementarians are much less the theological differences between them. I’ll not go into detail here. Dave Miller is writing a series on this where he lays out the arguments of both sides. I’ll only define them quickly and give you my stand on them.
Complementarians believe that God created men and women with equal human value and likewise have equal value under grace. However, God also created them differently to fill different roles, and this distinction is part of His revelation to us.
Egalitarians believe that men and women are created equal in every way and that there are no ministerial distinctions between them mandated or even suggested by scripture. They believe that any place in scripture that seems to indicate a difference is only because the culture at the time either clouded the mind of the writer or made it necessary to assent to aspects of the culture and has nothing to do with cultures that have no such distinction.
I’m a complementarian. Given clear hermeneutical guidelines, there is no other conclusion. To go the route of egalitarianism requires formulating a hermeneutic around a desire to reach that conclusion. Therefore, the conclusion for egalitarians precedes the argument. That’s eisegesis, not exegesis, and the stuff of poor theology at best and heresy at worst.
So egalitarians have commented in the meta of Dane’s blog wondering where the female theologians are. This is part of the issue with communication and argumentation between people of different presuppositions. In short, the tendency is to frame differences in the presuppositions as though they are an incongruence in your opponent’s position by evaluating their position as though they are subject to your sensibilities. Good polemicists with truth on their side know how to avoid this.
That aside, the one thing that is evident if you evaluate an egalitarian as an egalitarian is that if men and women are assumed to be the same, there is no reason to deliberately seek the viewpoints of both as though you would get a usefully diverse answer.
Only the complementarian view assigns women a special place distinct from that of men. In this case, however, theology is the same whether a woman or a man does it.