Archives for posts with tag: theology

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…

Rob: W-w-wait!

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.


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.

Batman teaches us that “it’s not who I am underneath that defines me, It’s what I do.” 

Most of the older Christians I know here in the Southeastern United States are do-good-ists. They were raised in an era where hard work was exulted above success AS success. It didn’t matter whether one actually accomplished anything as long as one worked hard. Generally, if one works hard one actually accomplishes something. This ethic along with a society where most people were Christian or at least were associated with a local Christian church sought the scriptures with a mind to validate the ethic.

And it was easy to do. If you don’t work you don’t eat. “A worker is worthy of his wages”. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” which is work hard. When they went to harvest, they needed everyone out there. When cotton was picked, it took every hand. When tobacco was brought in, it was acceptable to keep kids out of school. Little Johnny had a dog and a gun. Why? Because he needed to go out and learn to hunt. What – you don’t hunt? You must be a farmer. No? You must be a preacher. No? Are you even a Christian?

This was the attitude and not much soteriology beyond this was observed. The generation raised by these adults carry this same mentality. Their soteriology by and large hasn’t progressed much although “work hard” has gone into the factories, service and the professional sectors. The rebels from this generation are often drug addicts or alcoholics and have trouble holding a job. The rest have a hard time finding an identity between the two and usually tend toward liberalism, godlessness or feel-good-ism.

I’ll start to address feel-good-ism in a moment, but I want to make a distinction between do-good-ism and legalism. Legalists hold that one must do good things to go to heaven. If bad things are done, then some good thing must be done to make up for it. Roman Catholics are legalists. Do-good-ists on the other hand recognize that Christ died for our sins. But they also confuse sanctification for justification and believe that if we are saved that we somehow won’t sin anymore and rather always do good things. So, they observe that if someone sins and they are supposed to be a Christian, then maybe they’re not a Christian. They certainly aren’t as good as someone who manages to work hard and keep his nose clean. As such, the do-good-ist sees sin primarily as a behavioral issue and not an intentional issue. The do-good-ist is often quick to condemn people who appear to misbehave no matter what they believe or intend.

Legalism and do-good-ism both create rules that are not in the Bible. The Jewish Rabbis created a boatload of new rules that God never gave them through Moses. Roman Catholics have obviously done the same. But there are otherwise decent Christian churches who also burden church members with certain scrutiny for not following a higher standard of behavior than what the Bible prescribes. For example, they wouldn’t tell you that a woman not wearing a dress was going to hell, but they would wonder. Such a woman would certainly not be asked to play the piano on Sunday morning. That’s do-good-ism.

It’s easy to think that such churches are more faithful than most because of the apparently high moral standard accorded by their behavior. One could look at old mainline churches with huge pipe organs and floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows and pews with sparsely seated older members who won’t even sing the liturgy they claim to love. Such seem to have the appearance of religion, but are merely empty shells. Behavior is the do-good-ist’s stained-glass window. Self-righteous condemnation is the do-good-ist’s pipe organ. The gospel of grace is the do-good-ist’s liturgy.

Good behavior isn’t evil. Stained-glass windows and pipe organs aren’t evil. Correctly identifying genuine sin isn’t evil. But Protestant liturgies are loaded with theology and Christ’s gift of grace is meant to be proclaimed. But both to gloss over the depths of truth found in the scriptures by mindlessly repeating a tired liturgy is sin. Likewise to fail to proclaim Christ’s gospel of grace because the sinner is first condemned and shunned is sin. Both delving into the depths of God’s truth and proclaiming the gospel are admonitions of scripture. The love for God leads us to learn who He is. The love for others leads us to proclaim Christ to them.

Feel-good-ism has risen up against do-good-ism as what Christianity ought to be, but the pendulum has swung well past center. Feel-good-ists took the theological tools they learned from do-good-ists, recognized the problems inherent with condemning the people you have failed to share the gospel with and sought to share the gospel without being offensive. As such, feel-good-ism is no less theologically astute than do-good-ism. The problem is that do-good-ism is not very theologically astute.

I ran into a feel-good-ist the other day. He praised me for singing Christian songs and proceeded to share with me information about a massage ministry where one church was offering massages during the worship service where people would go out to be massaged and come back in to continue worshiping. He said the reason was because the world was such a stressful place and people worship better when they are relaxed. Yeah, right.

It’s easy to condemn such as rank liberalism. However, liberalism actually includes scholarly study of the Bible and liberal theologians attempt to address the parts of the Bible that otherwise clearly contradict their erroneous claims. Feel-good-ism just ignores the Bible altogether and rather focuses on the notion that God just wants us to be happy.

I was presented with the question recently (for the umpteenth time) of what we needed to do to get to heaven. My stock answer is a question, “Is that what our goal is supposed to be?” I follow this with the instruction that our goal must be to glorify God, not get to heaven. If our heart is with God and his glory, then we are with God and He is with us.

As a parenthetical, I was presented with the false notion that the text of Romans chapters 9-12 is a separate “codicil” that has been inadvertently added to the middle of Romans. Read it. Such an observation seems plausible. Now read it a few more times. Analyze the logic of Romans without that section and that section by itself. Then analyze the logic of Romans with the section intact.

I haven’t found a full critique of this observation, but it’s clear to me that it’s false. For one, I don’t see any scholarship observing ancient texts that omit this section. I don’t see any evidence that early church leaders exegeted the conclusion drawn in Romans 12 by analyzing the content of Romans 8 as its source. Finally, the logic of Romans intact makes more sense than if chapters 9-11 were missing.

As such, I noticed something in Romans I never noticed before. We like to read the end of chapter 8 as though it ended a chain of though and read the beginning of chapter 9 as though it were unrelated to chapter 8. There’s a reason why Paul wrote the end of chapter 8 and he uses it to reinforce the disclosure of his desire to see the Jews come to faith to the point where he would accept condemnation.

Knowing that he could do nothing to separate himself from Christ, his heart is with the glory of God in the fulfillment of his promise to the Jews as his chosen people. If we look at chapter 8, merely sigh with relief, and thereafter fail to seek God’s glory, then we could perhaps have false assurance that we are even part of the promise of chapter 8. And that’s where I pick back up with do-good-ism and feel-good-ism.

Both do-good-ism and feel-good-ism focus on the life of the believer. When God threatened to kill the Israelites for their disobedience and later let the Israelites make the trip to Canaan on their own, Moses appealed to God. In both instances, Moses’ appeal to God had nothing to do with whether He or the Israelites deserved God’s favor, but rather that God had made a promise to Israel. Moses argued that if God was seen to condemn the Israelites even for their disobedience then it would be seen by all the surrounding nations as a betrayal of his promise to the Israelites. God’s glory would be marred.

God is not concerned for our happiness. He is concerned with our obedience. We should likewise be more concerned for God’s glory than we are our own salvation.

Unless someone has printed this out, you are reading this online. There’s a title in bold at the top of the page. Above that, there are various other links, titles and information. Look to the side and you might see a photo of me with a link to learn more about who I am. There may be a whole list of links to other places on the internet over there too. Look at the bottom and you might see some other stuff. Other articles, comments, perhaps a hit counter. You may see some commercials my hosts have decided to attach to my page to offset the cost of giving me license to post articles such as this one at no cost to me. You may see a nice background and some colorful adornment to the page.

All this is nice and there’s a certain reality to it, but it’s a bit of an illusion. Obviously, the light that forms the image of this “page” is generated by the monitor, and the information used to tell the monitor how to do this is a bit of electronic code. But what the computer has downloaded is not what is displayed necessarily. Most people are using a browser to view this page that is capable of showing you the source text that describes how this page is to be displayed on your monitor. This source text as well as all the referenced images is what was actually downloaded. In the browser I currently use, FireFox, I can click on the “View” menu and click on “Page Source” down at the bottom. If you look at this source, this looks nothing like what is actually showing on your browser. Yet this is required for your browser to display what you do see. It is descriptive of what is shown.

If you change something in the source text, it may affect what you see in your browser. You can’t change what is displayed in your browser unless the source text describes that capacity to change what is displayed. Nothing in the source text is affected by what is displayed in the browser, but everything displayed in the browser is affected by the source text.

This is metaphorical. God is the writer of the source text which he has written with the finished display in mind. The source text is the spiritual world. What is displayed in the browser is the physical world. This physical world as we experience it has a sense of reality, but is largely an illusion. It is representative of the spiritual world, which is a greater reality. Truth comes from God through the spiritual world to the physical world.

God has created us as characters in his creation. He has given us free will described in the spiritual world and manifested in the physical world. His own will is not so described in the spiritual world, for he is greater than the spiritual world having created the spiritual world though he himself is spirit. We have been told that he has created the heavens and the earth. He is eternal and there are even temporal aspects to the spiritual world. I said all this to set up this passage:

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ 
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:1-29, ESV)

I have heard arguments from non-Calvinists that seem to me would be easily answered by this passage.

“But God wants us to love him and we can’t do that if we’re just automatons, right? It’s more meaningful if we choose him.”
“We can’t be held guilty of breaking the law when we don’t have free will, so God would be unjust sending anyone to hell.”

Such arguments presuppose false ideas of such concepts as will, love and justice.

Human will is prescribed by God. He created the behavior of the will according to physical forces such as hormones and other biological proclivities; temporal knowledge including education, social pressures and familial normalities; and spiritual revelation including creativity and our deepest intentions (the balance between whether one really wants to know the truth of a matter or distort the truth in the interest of self-justification). God made the rules governing human will and all the information fed into the human will. There is nothing new under the sun. We have no original thoughts. Within the constraints of God’s created order human will is free to act, and God’s created order is huge. But our will does not trump God’s created order.

Love is ultimately God’s eternal cohesion. God is amazingly detailed to the extent where in that we discern him by analysis, the particulars of his character are always in complete agreement. We can point to theological tension, but any consideration that theological tension is contradictory is an illusion brought on by the sin of this world. Rather, theological tension serves to validate the revelation of God and give those so inclined points of focus for greater understanding of God’s character. God’s love manifests itself throughout his created order in such elements as mutual submission, sacrifice, reconciliation and justice.

Justice is the proper response to God’s law. God’s law is his boundaries. It serves as a general revelation of God to the world. If you are within God’s boundaries, you have life. If you are outside of God’s boundaries, you are dead. That’s justice. Life and death have physical and spiritual manifestations. Following or breaking the law physically is a behavioral matter. But the law is spiritual where our deepest intentions have their place. In that regard, we cannot have good intentions without the Spirit of God moving in the heart of our will. Although our lesser intentions may be inclined toward some natural moral law, we may not yet ultimately be inclined toward God. And, as he did with Pharaoh by hardening his heart, these lesser inclinations can be affected by God. Yet we shall not say that God causes us to sin though he gives any of us over to our sin. Rather, we are dead in sin outside of God or dead to our sin in God. This is evident in our behavior whether as believers we show true contrition with regard to our sin and attribute any righteousness to God or as unfaithful to deny both our sin and the righteousness of God.

So then, the unfaithful glorify God by incurring his wrath in judgment and the faithful glorify God by receiving his grace as Christ bore the wrath of God for us. In all ways God is glorified, but for the faithful the glory of god is preeminent even beyond salvation. And by glorifying God we grow in faith as Abraham did: “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.(Romans 4:20, ESV)

Therefore we participate in love with God through the submission of our will to him being so inclined by the Holy Spirit and thereby know his grace afforded by the blood of Christ.

And God is glorified.