November 22, 2017

Can this really be the gospel of “superabundant grace”?

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But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

• Romans 5:15-21, New Living Translation

• • •

In a recent sermon by Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist in Dallas, he said the following:

Listen to me. When you die, you don’t cease to exist. Your spirit is going to live forever. Everybody’s spirit lives forever. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Jew, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist. Everybody’s going to live forever.

Some are going to live forever in heaven, with God. Others, the majority of people, will be in hell, separated from God. But we live on, after our bodies fall asleep. That’s what the Bible says.

This post is not a knock on Pastor Jeffress in particular. What he said represents mainstream Christian evangelical and fundamentalist teaching. But when I read those words, I gasped, and the thought came immediately to my mind: “If this is true, then the gospel of Jesus is not good news.”

Here’s the line over which I stumbled: “Some are going to live forever in heaven, with God. Others, the majority of people, will be in hell, separated from God.”

The majority of people.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Can it really be that most people who’ve ever lived will be condemned to hell? That is staggering.

What makes it even more astounding to me is that the preacher said it as a passing phrase on the way to making his main points. As though this is just understood, axiomatic, the clear expectation of anyone who reads the plain teaching of the Bible. A few of us happy with God in heaven, the vast majority in hell.

And what will that place be like? Jeffress describes hell in another message as “a place of eternal physical torment, of excruciating physical torment.”  He puts it this way: “Ladies and gentlemen, the awful truth about hell is this: when you have spent ten billion, trillion years in that excruciating pain, you will not have lessened by one second the time you have left to spend there.” He believes the flames of the fires of hell are literal, but warns us that if the Bible is using figurative language it must actually be even more terrible, because the only comparison Jesus could make to it was of human beings being burned in fire forever and ever.

If that’s what you believe hell is, how can you make a passing remark in a sermon saying that the majority of people in this world are going to go there? Wouldn’t that stick in your throat, make you choke up, utterly devastate you and keep you from saying anything else?

How can that thought not drop you dead in your tracks? How can such an image not force you to question everything you think you know about God? How can the prospect not send you running back to the Bible to scour its pages until you’ve ripped them and torn them to shreds in a desperate effort to find some other way of understanding your “gospel”?

That is not good news, and it stupefies me to think it would be to anyone else.

I also don’t think it matches the vision of “superabounding” grace Paul sets forth in Romans 5 (see above). I can’t tell you how it all works out, but the apostle’s unambiguous point is this: whatever sin has wrought, grace accomplishes much more. Whatever terrible consequences Adam brought upon us are overwhelmed by the results of Jesus’ gracious actions.

“Even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness,” Paul exclaims. Or, as the older versions put it, “much more.” That’s what God’s grace in Jesus does — much more.

The scriptures envision that this triumph of grace will culminate in a new creation, populated by vast multitudes no person can count (Rev. 7:9). This has been the anticipation of the faithful ever since God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand upon the seashore.

It greatly diminishes the grace of God and the great victory of our Lord Jesus Christ to argue the opposite: that only a remnant will be with God while the majority of humans are lost to him. How can anyone call this victory? How can that offer any hope worth having? It is not good news.

Even John Calvin, infamous for his strict doctrine of predestination, sees Paul’s logic here, saying that the grace of Christ “belongs to a greater number than the condemnation contracted by the first man, for if the fall of Adam had the effect of producing the ruin of many, the grace of God is much more efficacious in benefiting many, since it is granted that Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to destroy.”

A later Reformed scholar, C.H. Hodge agreed: “the number of the saved shall doubtless greatly exceed the number of the lost,” he wrote. Hodge suggested we might grasp the proportion by comparing the general population with the much smaller number who are imprisoned.

I suggest, along with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Richard John Neuhaus, that we might even hope (without asserting as doctrine or certainty) that in the end, perhaps all people will be saved. These things we can never know for certain. But if I’m going to place my bets, I will go with the just grace and mercy of God every time.

Ultimately, I think the problem with the standard evangelical/fundamentalist view represented by Jeffress and others is the soterian nature of the gospel they proclaim. As we have argued often, it is a revivalistic gospel for individuals, grounded most deeply in modern notions of individual choice and autonomy rather than in the gracious Kingdom vision of the Bible, which tells of the God who brings all creation under the authority of King Jesus (Eph. 1:10).

Too often we think of hope in too individualistic a manner as merely our personal salvation. But hope essentially bears on the great actions of God concerning the whole of creation. It bears on the destiny of all mankind. It is the salvation of the world that we await. In reality hope bears on the salvation of all men—and it is only in the measure that I am immersed in them that it bears on me.

• Cardinal Jean Daniélou
quoted in Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?

Comments

  1. Matthew 7:13-14 seems pretty conclusive on this issue….

    • …only insofar as “life” and “destruction” and are assumed to mean Heaven and Hell (which is further assumed to be eternal retributive suffering). Beware circular reasoning.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Hmmm. I feel that even calling it “circular reasoning” is generous. It is more along the lines of dress a few ancient phrases with several acres of whole-cloth fabrication.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          A long-established (if shady) tradition in theology.

          Look up the history of Medieval Angelology and Demonology sometimes. Edifices of speculation taken as fact for the next generation’s speculation upon speculation, spinning elaborately-detailed intricate systems out of minimal primary source materials.

      • “Life” and “destruction” are assumed to mean “life” and “destruction”.

        • Which most probably relates to the coming crisis: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

          • That’s a novel interpretation. I’d be interested to know how you came to it?

            I’d be interested to hear how you interpret Mark 9:42-48?

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Bart, it’s a novel interpretation if one only reads from the approved list of evangelical authors and theologians. I invite you to try expanding your horizons of study. You could consider it “opposition research”.

    • The word “destruction” in Matthew 7 is “apoleia” – the noun form of “appolymi”.

      And “appolymi” is all over the place in the NT, often translated as “lost”. Same word is used throughout Luke 15. In the parable of the prodigal son, the son was “lost/appolymi” and has been found. The “lost/appolymi” coin and sheep.

      Or Luke 19:10, the son of man came to seek and save the “appolymi”. Same word.

      Etc.

      It’s not the stand alone clobber text that it’s often made out to be.

      • However you translate the word, Jesus said to avoid it pretty clearly….

        • Indeed.

          But it isn’t just “how I translate the word”. It’s just….the word. And “avoidance” doesn’t seem to be the “pretty conclusive” eschatology that you alluded to.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I am automatically skeptical of any reply that’s a chapter-and-verse zip code.

      Usually a sign of Christianese Duckspeak.

      • I am SOOOO moving away from this chapter-and-verse approach to the Bible. Individual lines, taken of themselves, just carry too much weight for what the whole of the Bible tries to tell us about God and His love for us. The Good News is: God made us, God loves us, God wants relationship with us, we fell away, continually fall away, can’t make it on our own, God loves us, God wants a relationship with us, God sent Jesus to cover the gap for us so even though we continually fall away we can still be with Him.

        Any text that’s used AGAINST that is just poor interpretation. (my opinion)

        What does this mean for the non-believer? Well, as a non-believer at one time myself, it means there’s hope. And the Good News is that if God wants ALL HIS CREATION to be with Him, then I’m pretty sure He’ll figure out a way.

        Oh, wait…maybe He already did!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I am SOOOO moving away from this chapter-and-verse approach to the Bible. Individual lines, taken of themselves, just carry too much weight for what the whole of the Bible tries to tell us about God and His love for us.

          They become one-liner verbal-component magick spells.

          • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

            I practically vomit every time I hear that used as a stand-alone.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

            I practically vomit every time I hear that used as a stand-alone.

            Tell that to Dee over at Wartburg Watch. Her mother-in-law died of cancer last Monday.

            Or to my writing partner (the burned-out preacher). His mother died a week ago.

            Or to my other writing partner. He had to watch both parents die of cancer (bone & breast) one right after the other.

          • @ Rick Ro
            You said,

            ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

            I practically vomit every time I hear that used as a stand-alone.”

            That one doesn’t bother me so much, but rather that Christians I see on TV and online cannot agree who it is meant for.

            Some will say that verse from Jeremiah can and does apply to Christians today, while others yell and stamp their feet it was only for Jews of around 5,00 years ago, or whenever it was written.

            Anyway. After my mother died, other than platitudes, cliches’, and being shamed for admitting to others I was in grief over losing her, I got a lot of Romans 8: 28 from Christians, ‘the Lord works all things together for good.’

            I now detest that Bible verse. It is flippantly tossed out at people who are hurting. I for one do not care if God makes some kind of “good” to come out of my mother’s passing, I still miss Mom and had no where to go with the pain after she was gone.

            My Christian, church going relatives were totally useless to me in my time of grief, most of them. One or two made some half-hearted attempts to help me if I phoned them requesting help, but that was about it.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            My Christian, church going relatives were totally useless to me in my time of grief, most of them. One or two made some half-hearted attempts to help me if I phoned them requesting help, but that was about it.

            Did any Samaritans stop and help you through?

          • @ Headless Unicorn Guy

            Sorry to give you such a long answer, but here we go…

            No, not really. I haven’t come across any Good Samaritans- at least not IRL. I’ve found a bit more support online, which is okay, but I was wanting someone I could meet over coffee, or to talk to the phone every so often. I’ve not had luck with that.

            I even tried reaching out to non-family in local churches in the city where my Mom passed away, including one church I had attended for about two years, and in one church in the place I am now (a few years ago, when I moved here).

            The Christians at those churches either ignored me or, the ones here – also guilt tripped me or shamed me, or tried to convince me that the death of my mother (who I was very close to) was not as big a deal as say, the women living in a homeless shelter downtown.

            Now, do I think homeless people have an easy life? No.
            But I don’t appreciate having my pain / grief compared to some other group by Christians and then told mine is nothing in comparison.
            But I kept running into that a lot, both from Christian non-family and from Christian family.

            My immediate family is the pits about all this. They think negative emotions, such as sadness or fear or whatever, are shameful to experience let alone talk about, so if you try to talk to them about it, you will get yelled at and shut down. So I stopped opening up to immediate family, not about my mother’s passing or other issues I’ve been through.

            As to the extended family of mine…. they have occasionally sent me little snail mail cards in the mail, especially around holidays which is nice, but that’s been about it. I could use a heck of a lot more emotional support than the occasional holiday card once or twice a year.

            Several of these family have promised to be there for me if I need to phone them and chat, but they either refuse to pick up the phone (they have Caller ID and know it’s me), or, they let me know their TV viewing habits take precedence, so they want me to get off the phone after just one minute.
            So, I have to hang up so they can go watch their shows.

            Please understand I do not phone these people that often,maybe once every 3 – 7 months.

            And I asked them for permission first years ago: “Hey, is it okay if I phone you just to chat once in awhile, or if I’m having anxiety about something” – and they all said yes. Their actions though pretty much say, “No.”

            It is quite sobering and depressing to find out when you badly need to talk to someone (I will let them know off the bat when I call them if I’m in the middle of a panic attack and could use a sympathetic ear right then), that they still brush me off the phone in favor of watching their favorite TV shows.

            TV shows are more important than me. This has happened to me two or three times now with two different extended family members.

            Anyway… no, have really not had any Good Samaritans help me out (not in real life), family or no. I’ve had to deal with a lot of stuff alone.

        • What does this mean for the non-believer? Well, as a non-believer at one time myself, it means there’s hope. And the Good News is that if God wants ALL HIS CREATION to be with Him, then I’m pretty sure He’ll figure out a way.

          Of course, this all hinges on accepting the premise. Which the more you poke at, the more it falls apart.

  2. Knowledge puffs up. Who benefits from such a message other than the one delivering it? It’s this same morbid logic criticized by Chesterton in “Orthodoxy” but perfected by the young, restless, and reformed. They live in a strange echo chamber where they can’t truly hear what they say and care less if anyone else can, but they feel quite smug having uttered the sounds. Let them have heaven. This theological narcissism will make their heaven a hellish place enshrining their god crafted in their own image to be self-absorbed with its own glory.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Knowledge puffs up

      Nah. Hubris, assumption, and ideology puff up. Knowledge is humbling.

      The key is that this Hell of “””mainstream Christian evangelical and fundamentalist teaching””” does not exist in Scripture. You cannot build this doctrine of Hell from the text. It is hard to build much of an After-life Theology FROM THE TEXT; the text seems uninterested in the topic [or sometimes to just assume that, of course, the reader knows about that already . . . which is odd].

      • Robert F says:

        Agreed. Eternal, conscious torment is not based in the textual witness of scripture (I’m not saying there aren’t one or two texts that can be construed to support such a belief, only that on balance, and taking all the texts referring to the state of souls after death, no such witness exists).

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          The irony is that this conception of Hell comes from the Medieval church, via Dante and Milton. The people usually the most vocal about rejecting such traditions as Popish superstition make an exception in this case, and indeed are vehement about it.

    • Speaking of the young, restless, reformed — I was shaken out of my infatuation with that movement the moment I realized that I could not, with integrity, walk up to a stranger on the street and state the following simple fact: “Hey, you’re loved by God.”

      I couldn’t do that, because if I was to be theologically consistent, I didn’t really know whether God loved that person or not. Sure, there are loopholes, such as saying that God loves everyone in a general sense, and nature and sunshine and laugher are gifts of grace that everyone can enjoy — yet God reserves a *special* kind of love for his elected daughters and sons which lots and lots of people don’t get to experience.

      So, when I realized that the orphaned, abused, traumatized kids that I worked with in the crisis shelter MAY OR MAY NOT BE loved with the Father’s love, but might simply exist to suffer hell in this life and the life to come, the entire system crumbled.

      Jesus is amazing.

      • More people who hold to this theology need to have this experience. The theology you talk about is one of the reasons I have deep suspicion that christianity is really, at its heart, good news of any kind.

        • I don’t know if it is. It’s a closed system. You have to enter in and accept too much for it to be good news. But once you are in, it’s incredibly hard to get out of, that is how persuasive and circular it is.

        • I’ll just say this: if there is a hell of eternal conscious torment, and if a person, once there, cannot change their condition, then God is a despicable reprobate that I cannot, in good conscience, respect. There are all kinds of other ridiculous intellectual exercises associated with the entire concept of a rewards based afterlife, but that one is large enough to stand on its own.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Goodness, yes. Blather about General vs. Specific Grace is an odious ‘intellectual’ loop hole through which you could move a modern container ship.

      • Christiane says:

        ” … when I realized that the orphaned, abused, traumatized kids that I worked with in the crisis shelter MAY OR MAY NOT BE loved with the Father’s love, but might simply exist to suffer hell in this life and the life to come, the entire system crumbled. ”

        you experienced something that increased your empathy . . . the neo-Cal thing feeds on having ‘contempt’, not ’empathy’

        Yes, Jesus is amazing. 🙂

      • Love your take on this, Sean!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Speaking of the young, restless, reformed — I was shaken out of my infatuation with that movement the moment I realized that I could not, with integrity, walk up to a stranger on the street and state the following simple fact: “Hey, you’re loved by God.”

        Not with a Truly Reformed Theology that’s optimized for “I’m one of God’s Predestined Elect (smug smug smug) AND YOU’RE NOT! HAVE FUN IN HELL! HAW! HAW! HAW!””

        • Those “HAW HAW HAW’s” give me Chick tract flashbacks.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            That’s where I copped the expression from.

            My first experience with Jesus was through Jack Chick and Hal Lindsay in combination.

            40+ years and the damage is still there.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Speaking of the Young Restless and REALLY TRULY Reformed:

        Fifty-sixty years ago, they would have been on-fire Young Communists instead of on-fire Young Calvinists.

        And before that, on-fire Fascist Youth.

        And before that, on-fire Anarchists.

    • Knowledge is freeing. I know there is no hell. For many reasons. And that frees me to live the best life I can.

      • When you think about it, it may possibly be more freeing to know there is no heaven.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          I just had that thought cross my mind, too. What if heaven is just communion with God as we live THIS life?! Maybe that’s more freeing!

          • Robert F says:

            No heaven, I’m okay with; no resurrection of the body, I can’t go for that.

          • This is another subject, but one with which I have an issue with Jeffress and evangelicalism too. We’ve discussed it before. Talk of “living with God forever in heaven” is not what the Bible presents as the Christian hope. The NT does teach that, after death believers rest in the presence of God until the day of resurrection (call that “heaven” if you will). But our hope is resurrected life in a new creation in the ages to come.

          • CM, how is that any different than beliefs in Valhalla, the Elysium fields, and similar? Especially Elysium fields and mount olympus…those were contemporary ideas.

          • How is it different? Well, for starters, Valhalla is cool and heaven is boring.

  3. Thank you for this. I wonder if folks who think like this will be angry when they see others there with the Lord who don’t “deserve” to be there.

    • Nah. Because THEY won’t be there.

      -wink, wink, nudge, nudge-

      • Christiane says:

        I wonder if people will be consigned to those places they thought ‘the others’ deserved to be ?

        I mean, there is a justice in God . . . we know this because the one in the temple praying on whom God showed favor was NOT the finger-pointing Pharisee,

        instead, we are told it was the man with the bowed head who knew he was a sinner and needed the mercy of God

        • Rick Ro. says:

          LOL.

          Though “You get the place of your own making” is not what I’m hoping for!!!

  4. thelliot says:

    I have just read ‘Razing Hell’ by Sharon L Baker. I found it a most amazing restatement of the Gospel as genuine good news and tackles so many of the points CM raised.

    I was so impressed that now I have started on ‘Executing God’ which looks as if it will be as good on the atonement.

    I would thoroughly recommend both

  5. Is there anyone that God cannot save? No. A thousand times no.

    Is it possible that the Good Shepherd would say of any lost sheep, no matter how ensnared in the delusions of their own ego, that they were too lost, that he would not come and rescue them? No.

    Will God save everyone? Yes.

    • You may be right, but what would such universal salvation look like and how would it function?
      And what about the sheep who says to the shepherd: “Go #### yourself! I didn’t fall in this ditch — I’m here because I choose to be here. It looked like a good place to get away from you and all your holy and righteous bull####.”
      Are there people who would actually take a running leap into hell after spending five minutes in God’s presence? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that there are such people. Will they be forced to endure heaven when they would be much more at ease away from God’s presence — even if the latter option involves eternal fire and torment. Maybe heaven will be a hell for them — sort of like the main character in A Clockwork Orange after he has been reconditioned by the state. Or maybe God’s love and grace will ultimately pierce and transform the black heart of Satan himself.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > And what about the sheep who says to the shepherd: “Go #### yourself!

        My response is “that sheep is not my problem”.

        My concern is in what ways am *I* [still] doing the flying leap.

        > Or maybe God’s love and grace will ultimately pierce and transform the black heart of Satan himself.

        Perhaps, But heavy with the maybes. And far above our pay-grade. I am very skeptical of the value of the library of texts that have been written about such things.

        • Yea, I think this is getting into an area where systematic theology fails us.
          I guess the best we can do is to trust that He will temper righteous judgement with mercy and grace after all is said and done in this plain of reality — and (in the present tense) we would be wise to temper our own judgement when it comes to our fellow humans.
          Besides, who among us has the power to grant him or herself life beyond the grave — or create an eternal dwelling in which to live eternally? When it comes to life after death, we are all entirely at His mercy on that number. From the greatest to the least of us, we’re all just future worm food without His active intervention.

  6. How can that thought not drop you dead in your tracks? How can such an image not force you to question everything you think you know about God? How can the prospect not send you running back to the Bible to scour its pages until you’ve ripped them and torn them to shreds in a desperate effort to find some other way of understanding your “gospel”?

    Because, by the Reformed reading of things, we *deserve* it. Rebellion against God’s infinite holiness is an infinite crime deserving of infinite punishment, and all that.

    I find myself more inclining towards the wideness of mercy, but I can’t bring myself to accept total universal salvation. Revelations does speak of some who are punished eternally. But I incline now to Lewis’ explanation, in that these people are those who REFUSE to be saved. Surely we’ve seen more than enough examples of late of people who refuse to admit doing or believing anything wrong, if that means damaging their precious egos…

    • The Orthodox have a pretty good take on this. Go to Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog and put “The River of Fire – Kalomiros” in the search engine. The basic idea is that God is always and forever showing love. Those who love Him experience this love as great joy. Those who hate God experience His love as tormenting fire.

      • So then, after getting spanked for being a bad boy I am then let into His presence? What ultimate profit is there, what real advantage, if all are eventually saved?

        Before bringing this subject up it would have been better to explore why becoming a Christian in the first place is so important, and THEN going on about those who don’t.

        I have found myself doubting the whole “salvation” scheme…

        • Mike the Geologist says:

          Oscar: go read the whole Kalomiros article. He is not saying all will be saved.

        • Becoming a Christian is not important. Not in the least. Following Christ is what’s important.

          That’s a huge difference. But subtle.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Because, by the Reformed reading of things, we *deserve* it. Rebellion against God’s infinite holiness is an infinite crime deserving of infinite punishment, and all that.

      As I pull out my Predestined Elect Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card and rub it in your face.

  7. Burro [Mule] says:

    The Orthodox answer appears to be “All men shall be saved, but it won’t be automatic, nor will it arrive without considerable effort [prayer, fasting, almsgiving on behalf of the departed] on the part of the Church”

    Hell is you, recoiling from the burning presence of God into the only place He cannot follow you, the abyss of your own fantasies. No one who will allow themselves to be loved by someone else will ever be eternally lost.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Also, as Fr. Stephen Freeman says, I am the worst of sinners. How shall I be saved if all men are not saved?

      • Just saw your post, Mule, right after I posted. I have to admit the Orthodox view on this matter is really the best I’ve ever heard. It is the most consistent view of God as revealed by Jesus.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Mike, that consistency is why I landed there.

          This whole business is ultimately about the character of God. If we can’t imagine Jesus consigning people to eternal conscious torment, then neither would the Father. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” There are no cross-purposes at work in the Trinity. Unlike the message given from a forensic view of “salvation”, in the Orthodox view we do not have to be saved from the Father, because God is Good and the Lover of Mankind – that NEVER changes.

          I could write more, but will spare y’all for now. It is as Mule says. And Fr Stephen also writes that were I the only person in hell, Christ would be there with me.

          Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I have heard it said that Islam emphasizes the Omnipotent POWER of God and Christianity emphasizes the CHARACTER of God. And Calvin threw in with Mohammed on that one.

          • Dana Ames says:

            HUG, if you get back here,

            Fr Tom Hopko of blessed memory, and a few other Orthodox writers I’ve encountered, have been positing that western Christianity’s encounter with Islam was the thing that contributed the most to the rise of Scholasticism, not only with regard to investigating the attributes of God the way the Scholastics did, but also with regard to setting out on the road that would eventually lead to nominalism, fed by the west’s discovery of Aristotle’s work brought by the Moslems in Arabic translation.

            I’d really like to read a book about that!

            Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I’d like to see an analysis of the interaction between Western Christianity and Islam in general, concentrating on diffusion of ideas and how each affected the other.

            I do remember the Aristotle Reconciliation problem — how to resolve Aristotle and Revelation, whether that Revelation was Bible or Koran. And how St Thomas Aquinas and Mohammed abu-Hamid al-Ghazali when presented by this same problem came to completely opposite conclusions/solutions.

  8. Fear keeps people in the pews and their money in the plate.

    I grew up Lutheran and when I was a child during the 1960s and early 70s (eras that are now considered the old days, much to my chagrin!), we were told that baptism of babies saves them from eternal hell, plain & simple. Infant dies before baptism, straight down the hades chute. All those pagan babies in places like India & China were surely going to spend eternity in abject suffering if we did not get missionaries on the ground and DO something to stop it. My young mind always wondered why we didn’t just hire some planes loaded with water, fly over with a pastor saying the right words, dump the water, and voila! Saved babies by the tons!

    I think many religious people don’t want to wrestle with the frequent duality and messiness of life but want their religion to be country club lite with the Bible no more than, as a woman at my church once told me, the stories we heard in Sunday Schooll, but no deeper. Short, sweet, to the point, now let me get on with my life, knowing at the end, I have my membership card which will give me entry into Club Heaven and put me a step up from those other poor saps out there. They had their chance to be saved and messed it up. Too bad.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Fear keeps people in the pews and their money in the plate.

      At least for awhile, until it starts to sound redundant. Then they slowly wander away to something else.

      > Short, sweet, to the point, now let me get on with my life,

      To be fair – this may be because OF the messiness of life. Short and sweet does not necessarily have to mean dumb and selfish [which is this doctrine of Hell: ” They had their chance …”]. I have much less sympathy for the Sheeple view these days – people are busy and tires, and The Church wants to pile more stuff on their plate? Make everyone a Bible Scholar?

      What is really needed is better Pastors – those with the courage to speak prophetically – which can be done in under 20 minutes.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        > Fear keeps people in the pews and their money in the plate.

        At least for awhile, until it starts to sound redundant. Then they slowly wander away to something else.

        You can have God’s Hell-gun pressed to the back of your head with one up the spout and the hammer back for only so long before you kill yourself, go crazy, or run and never look back.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      FWIW, I was raised Lutheran at roughly the same period, and indeed was a pastor’s kid. I never heard any of this stuff. There are different flavors of Lutheranism. They were not yet completely sorted out along denominational lines at that time, but the process was well advanced. I am guessing you were not raised in any of the predecessors to the modern ELCA. Possibly the LCMS, but I wonder if we aren’t looking at the WELS here. Or even one of the tiny sects that rejects WELS as being a bunch of free love hippies.

      • You guessed it Richard! LCMS!

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Fairly hardcore LCMS at that. This would be typical of the LCMS types that are attracted to internet debates, but less so on the ground in the parishes. My direct contact with WELS is much more limited, but my impression is that this would be pretty mainstream in that crowd.

          • My ELCA church is fantastic, and so was the LCMS church I attended before. However, I have noticed a strong lurching toward fundamentalism in LCMS as a whole. I do believe their motto is “Whatever the SBC can f*ck up, we can f*ck up better!” Still, some of my dearest friends are LCMS.

    • Christiane says:

      ” . . . people don’t want to wrestle with the frequent duality and messiness of life but want their religion to be country club lite with the Bible no more than, as a woman at my church once told me, the stories we heard in Sunday Schooll, but no deeper.”

      if such people ARE ‘religious’ and do go ‘deeper’, or are drawn out into the deeper waters of our faith, what they find there will drive them out of their country clubs and introduce them to service in the soup kitchens, the food pantries, the homeless shelters, the abuse shelters, the slums, the drug rehabs, the prisons, the half-way houses . . . .

      In our faith, the ‘peace of Christ’ is most strongly experienced in the places where most people don’t want to go. And there, it is experienced in the service of those He would care for if He were among us. The Gospel of Our Lord is filled with hope, not the spirit of fear.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The Gospel of Our Lord is filled with hope, not the spirit of fear.

        But in the words of Acting Mayor Bellwether of Zootopia:
        “FEAR ALWAYS WORKS!”

      • I think you’ve touched the heart of the matter, Christiane.
        Regardless of who or how many are going to heaven or hell, the only thing we have any direct access to is the physical world around us in this present moment. And there is real kingdom work to be done all around us and at every turn in the here and now. The eternal outcome of what we do or do not do is not up to us to decide. We can plant or water or till the soil, but we can’t by our own effort make anything spring up to eternal life. That ball is in God’s court. And if He chooses to attach eternal ramifications to our choices and/or deeds, it’s still up to Him to provide an eternal context for all that to play out. I would dare say that nothing can last or live forever unless He chooses to make it so.

        • Christiane says:

          ” I would dare say that nothing can last or live forever unless He chooses to make it so.”

          I believe this, too.
          So does my brother and my sister-in-law. They are medical doctors: he’s a physician and she is a nurse-practitioner (pediatrics). They tell me about how it can be that sometimes a seemingly well-formed infant may be born dead; and yet so many VERY tiny preemies are born and they live, in spite of all the odds against them, and my family feels that life itself is in the hands of God. Medicine can only do so much, but some babies live in spite of that . . . they live, and it does seem miraculous, outside of the bounds of reason.

  9. Robert F says:

    It’s interesting that we turn to the Epistles of Paul for a more expansive, generous view of grace and salvation. The Gospels in a number of central places speak instead of the path to salvation being narrow, with few on it, and many being called, but few chosen, etc. The only way we can make such passages yield to a more generous interpretation is by a generous theologizing, as the Epistles of Paul in fact provide in many places.

    Barth, on the basis of Paul, understood the “narrow” and “few” passages in the Gospels as referring to the theological truth that only Jesus Christ, the electing God and only elect man, has traveled the narrow path, and that salvation is in him for however many are saved, which we are not given to know. Barth made a point of saying that, though his view is open to universal salvation, it does not require it, since we simply don’t know; on the other hand, he also stressed that his interpretation in no way necessitates hell being packed to the brim and heaven being sparsely populated, and on the basis of Jesus self-giving life and death we know above all things that God is generous in love and grace.

    I find Barth’s interpretation generous and congenial (perhaps a little too congenial, I sometimes fear) and make it my own. But it can’t be reached without the generous interpretations provided in Paul; as a result of this (and other things, having to do with the historical development of the New Testament), I tend to put the Epistles in a place equal to the Gospels as sources for understanding the nature of Christian faith, the development of Christian theology, and personally plumbing the depths of God’s grace.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > since we simply don’t know

      +1,000

      John 21:22: … “what is that to you? You follow Me!”….

      I think of that verse often in this context.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      I think Jesus in the Gospels is talking mostly about the Harrowing of Jewry, which terminated in the siege of Jerusalem and resulted in an irreparable schism between Christian Jewry and Rabbinic Jewry, and which Paul addresses in Romans 9-11

      • Robert F says:

        What in the Gospels makes you think that Jesus is talking about the “Harrowing of Jewry” (a term which I’ve not heard before, and which makes me very uncomfortable [it seems like the human “Harrowing of Jewry” started at the same time as the the one you attribute to God, but never stopped])? And what exactly do you mean by the “Harrowing of Jewry”? Is this an Eastern Orthodox concept?

  10. To be fair Mike, you only speak of evangelicals and fundamentalists, and I’m pretty sure you could find some catholics who share the same view, since they are the ones to first articulate it. And there are some evangelicals who are rejecting eternal conscious torment.

    Of everything I was taught growing up this traditional view of hell is one thing that truly troubles me and that more and more I just cannot accept. It requires that people who did no great harm in this life, loved their families and helped their neighbors, spend an eternity in unimaginable torment if they did not hear about and believe in Jesus, whether they had the opportunity or not.

    I believe that all of us, even the best of us, have sinned. But I cannot believe that the sins of a lifetime for the ordinary person can in any way merit an eternity of torment. And I’ve heard the arguments: an offense against and infinite God is worthy of an infinite punishment, our sins are worse than we can imagine, we keep sinning when we are in hell. I’m still not buying it. A loving God, who was willing to die a horrible death for us while we were still sinners, is going to force a multitude of people to spend an eternity suffering with no redemptive purpose? I can’t believe this. And I don’t think a lot of people who say that believe in hell really believe it either, or else they would be constantly crying for the lost, especially their own family members, and constantly pleading for them to be saved. This is one area where I guess the Calvinists save themselves some trouble, since they don’t think they can do anything about it anyway.

    I’m not a universalist yet either, I don’t know for sure what I am when it comes to the doctrine of hell, I just know I can’t follow Eternal Conscious Torment.

    • My two cents, heaven or hell depends upon acceptance or rejection of Christ. Christ comes to us in many ways, not only by preaching, but also through our neighbor (in the Gospels people are saved because of how they treated “the least of these”) and through general revelation (goodness, truth, beauty), that acceptance or faith can come to an individual without them even knowing it (in the same parable many were welcomed into God’s kingdom without them even knowing they fed, clothed, cared for Christ).

  11. This unsettles me. Hell has been such a part of my core belief that I never questioned it. The word hell appears too many times in too many places in KJV scripture (and sermons) for it not to exist. Should I now believe that there is nobody there?

    • But that word ‘hell’, in the KJV at that, translates other words that in their original language, context and usage by ancient people most likely did not mean exactly what those many sermons said they mean. As noted in other comments, exactly what Jesus meant is not clear – was he referring to place of eternal torment or the coming fate of Israel (think fall of Jerusalem) – that was the immediate context and audience for Jesus’ sayings about ‘hell’. And the next question is if there is eternal (or merely temporary) conscious torment, who (or how many) will experience it (and on what basis – the traditional evangelical view that anyone committing just one sin in their lifetime is worth of hell?).

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Also worth noting is that the closest thing in the Gospels to the modern conception of Hell is in the parable of Lazarus and Dives–which explicitly teaches works righteousness.

        • That is the passage Jeffress was preaching on, and he thinks it was a true story not a parable.

          I remember preaching on it in a preaching class in seminary and was shocked to hear my prof, a well known EV Free preacher, tell me most of the old time Bible folks in the churches would rebuke me roundly for calling it a parable when Jesus was recounting an actual incident of someone who went to hell.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            How about if you taught works righteousness based on this true story?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            That is the passage Jeffress was preaching on, and he thinks it was a true story not a parable.

            The guy who did the Dake’s Annotated Bible also thought it was a word-for-word true story. He thought the same about ALL the parables. And things got WEIRD from there.

            Though recently I came across an interpretation of that parable that on one level it was a veiled dig at the House of Annas, who had a lock on the High Priest position. First, Lazarus is explicitly named, and the timing of the parable was shortly after Lazarus’ resuscitation when it is recorded that some of the Sanhedrin (possibly including Annas’ High Priestly house) had a plot to kill him. Second, the unnamed Rich Man in Hell mentions “five brothers”; High Priest Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law and was counted as the sixth of Annas’ five sons. (Apparently all seven traded off the High Priest position back and forth.)

        • “which explicitly teaches works righteousness”.

          Similar approaches are taken with the sheep & the goats. Selective literalism. Though I think the term “literalism” can itself be problematic.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        But that word ‘hell’, in the KJV at that, translates other words that in their original language…

        Primarily:
        * Sheol (the ANE Land of the Dead)
        * Hades (the Greco-Roman Land of the Dead)
        * Gehenna (Jerusalem city dump, with implications of a Discard Pile)

    • ACrisp…

      I’ll give you my experience. I had a good Christian friend begin “drifting” toward universalism. The first few times the topic came up, I thought he was nuts. “That’s a slippery slope,” I thought. “And un-Biblical.” The concept of Hell was a thing to be HELD ONTO FIRMLY!!!

      Well, break-break….several years later, I’m beginning the same “drift.” I believe it’s of the Holy Spirit’s (and Jesus’) leading, too. Is there a Hell? Not sure. Maybe, maybe not. If it’s as hideous as evangelicals make it out to be, I’d like to think Jesus and God will figure out a way to prevent His created souls from ending up there.

      Now there’s a funny thought: God and Jesus looking at each other. “We need to save people from the Hell that our fundamental followers have created!”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > “We need to save people from the Hell that our fundamental followers have created!”

        The plot of the next Netflics Original series! Seriously – that could be entertaining.

  12. From TF Torrance:

    ” Can we imagine anything more appalling than that a man should use the very power that God gives him to choose…should choose to depart from God, and yet be unable to depart, because in spite of all he is still grasped by God in an act of eternal love that will not let him go? The choice by God’s love – once and for all enacted in the cross of Jesus – holds that man in being in spite of the fact that he chooses the very contradiction of love and life and being… Love will not let him go. Even when a man has made his bed in hell God’s hand of love will continue to grasp him there. To choose finally and forever – unfathomable mystery of iniquity – to say “No” to Jesus is to be held in a hell of one’s own choosing and making. It is not God who makes hell, for hell is the contradiction of all that is of God”.

  13. ‘Tis a sticky wicket. If we believe one member of God’s created order, namely Satan, was able to know God’s love and deny it, taking a horde of denying angels with him to be separated forever, why not us as members of the created order? Mustn’t it be possible, for freedom to exist, that love can be rejected and mustn’t there be some real life consequence to such a rejection? I see both sides of this thing and can’t firmly land on one or the other. I will say I do not appreciate the seeming callousness of Jeffress and his fringe right certainty. I’m all too familiar with the good pastor and his pronouncements.

    • That is not to say that ‘freedom’, a particularly American value, is to be held out as the penultimate virtue with all others being subordinate, but it must be given credence as it is inherent in love and love is what this whole thing is about.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > If we believe one member of God’s created order, namely Satan,

      There is no coherent Satan narrative in scripture, as there is no doctrine of Hell.

      So such a reasoning is at least two layers of speculation deep. With each layer of speculation confidence should decline by an order of magnitude.

      • What defines a coherent narrative? Two or more parallel verses? Is the order of Melchizedek from whom Abraham and Jesus descend a real thing? Is there a sufficient narrative for that? Is there one for the Lord’s supper, the existence of heaven, the Trinity? It sounds like a somewhat subjective thing. I’m not sure what constitutes it and if everyone would clearly agree. Satan’s existence and fall are in the scripture. How much additional elaboration is needed to make it theologically official or whatever the terminology would be?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > What defines a coherent narrative?

          Somewhere where it says A-happened, B-happened, C-happend. Using clear and consistent names for the participants in the sequence of events.

          > Two or more parallel verses?

          Or sequential!

          > Is the order of Melchizedek from whom Abraham and Jesus descend a real thing?

          Saying something exists vs. it having a narrative.

          And I suppose it actually doesn’t matter if the “order of Melchizedek” exists – it is entirely an appellation meaning high-priest. One could merrily live a ‘Christian Life’ and never hear the name “Melchizedek”.

          > Is there a sufficient narrative for that?

          Sure, there isn’t much of a story there. Quite different than that of Satan: arch angel rebels, falls, becomes chief deciever / king of Hell, tempts men, etc… That story can be constructed from Scripture — if you assume a whole pile of things, including that texts in entirely different times refer to the same being using different names/terms. It is quite a leap.

          > Is there one for the Lord’s supper,

          Sure – that is an actual narrative!

          > the existence of heaven,

          Something identified by that term exists. We know nothing about it. No narrative.

          > the Trinity?

          Yea, don’t get me started on that one. A vast swamp of Theological dreck. The notion of Trinity expresses something which *is* found in Scripture. And then Theologians pile on, committing their classic mistake of Philosophical-Logic + Poetry to build empires of speculation. And based on essentially meaningless – and completely irrelevant – speculation we have discord and even schism.

          > Satan’s existence and fall are in the scripture.

          Existence? Yes, something exists. We know very little about whomever/whatever that is.

          Fall? Not so clear at all.

          The being(s) in Genesis, Job, the Gospels, etc… is not clearly a depiction of one thing/person. The texts is Isaiah and Ezekial are very poetic in nature – and again – not entirely clear they are depicting a single thing/person.

          > How much additional elaboration is needed to make it theologically official
          > or whatever the terminology would be?

          Short answer: a lot. If it is terribly important – wouldn’t the divinely inspired Scriptures be clear and pointed about it?

          • Exactly. Amen.

          • “If it is terribly important – wouldn’t the divinely inspired Scriptures be clear and pointed about it?”
            Answer: No. That I believe is a flaw in viewing scripture. God often hides the the big expansive mysteries in the throwaway lines. Jesus quoted some pretty obscure Old Testament scriptures to make his points. I think of David and his men eating the shewbread in the temple for example. Jesus pulled that out, an obscure anecdote probably not given much heed by the scholars of the day, to open their eyes to the great mystery of grace. I think there is plenty of scriptural evidence that there is a being, and his cohorts ( Eph 6:12 our struggle is not against flesh and blood) with whom we do battle and if we are battling them and God is battling them then enmity exists in the universe and I can’t discount the possibility that it could end badly for the forces of evil and those that join them. I don’t have much assurance yay or nay but I don’t think I can discount the possibility.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > I don’t think I can discount the possibility

            A possibility does not Theology make; or it shouldn’t. Speculation is for between friends or at the bar, not at church. We have plenty that is certain.

            Eph 6:12 does nothing to support the Satan narrative. It indicates there are dark Spiritual Powers – and then says nothing about them, it gives them no names. The answer is always the same: Love your neighbor.

  14. Another thought occurs to me here. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16. That is true but doesn’t mean that the universal picture through all eternity is necessarily kept in static view in the written word. Are all the cards, for all eternity, with every eventuality, laid out in our bibles or are there sufficient cards for us to play our hands while we trudge through this mortal coil? Sufficient for the day so to speak. Perhaps we know an absurdly infinitesimal bit of info that couldn’t begin to unfold eternal destinies. Perhaps God doesn’t force anyone but lures, through love, all beings and all things to himself but none of that is elaborated as it is all part of a phase we are not a part of in the flesh. Perhaps not. I don’t know.

    • Given the nature of Scripture and faith, demonstrated by the fact that we have 2000 years of disagreement about exactly what it all means, and how little most today understand the world of the first Christians (their culture, thought patterns, how they understood words like faith and grace, etc) and how they would have understood Jesus, Paul and their faith, I have come to the conclusion that if there’s a theology test at the pearly gates we’re all screwed. God must be far more generous in his grace than most of think he is, or it isn’t looking good for any of us.

    • There shall be no trudging through my mortal coil, sir!

  15. There’s a lot of denial about this subject. I once told a friend how disturbing the doctrine of hell was to me and she coudn’t seem to understand the problem. Weirdly ( to new anyway), I think she believed the standard teaching but had not given it any thought.

    Of course that’s just one person, but I suspect it represents a lot of people.

    I think that for most of Christian history people accepted the doctrine because they also accepted the notion that the king had the right o torture you to death if he thought you were guilty of some crime against his authority. The acceptance of political tyranny and of torture as a legitimate exercise of authority made Hell easier to accept. The doctrine of hell in turn made it easy to justify the execution of heretics.

    In the modern era we reject this, though we are backsliding on torture, and so we also see more questioning of hell.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > There’s a lot of denial about this subject.

      Or… it just doesn’t bother people. I believed the ECT-Hell model; it never bothered me. I looked around at the Universe, and our own world, … Hmmm…. so there is a Hell. Yeah, that fits.

      I no longer believe in ECT-Hell. But not based on any line of Moral Reasoning [which is a low-confidence form of reasoning in any case]. I do not believe it today because –
      (A) IT IS NOT IN SCRIPTURE and
      (B) It is not relevant – why bother with irrelevant things? It is a nearly universal symptom of the fever of youth to believe irrelevant things are somehow of utmost importance.

      • Not relevant? Not sure what constitutes “relevance”, but this would qualify by many standards.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          We define relevant differently, I suspect. If there is an ECT-Hell or Not? What changes in what I ****DO*** today or tomorrow? Clearly nothing, as you cannot reliably sort ECT-Hell believers from non-believers by any behavior.

          How does this impact the imperative of ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”? It doesn’t. It is something for well-fed people to argue about, divide churches, and whip up frenzy.

          If a teaching has no impact on the demonstration (orthopraxy) of the faith – it is Irrelevant. Disagree, Agree, or don’t care – but it isn’t worth getting in the way of anything Important [aka Actual].

          • If ECT fundamentally had no actual impact on the way that people actually lived, what people actually do, or on the demonstration of the faith, then you’d have a point. True, one cannot always see the degree to which or reasons why a person acts a particular way, follows a certain set of rules, is kind or cruel, etc.

            But it’s simply not the case that it has no impact on how people live and behave, or how the Christian faith has been practiced historically or now. Demonstrably, objectively not the case. I can’t disagree more strongly. It paints a particular picture of the character of God and the sort of universe we live in. And you become what you worship. It manifests in one way or another.

  16. You can count me in as a “hopeful universalist,” as also Karl Rahner said it. For me, the great Mercy and Love of God has come to trump any “sin” of ours and any judgment He might dole out.

  17. The problem I find with those who teach and preach about people going to hell, are usually the same ones who likely own guns, are pro-war, support the death penalty, have problems with LGBT, problems with Muslims, liberals, and are voting for Donald Trump. If these pro-hell people are what heaven is comprised of, then I think I would rather be in hell.

    • They do seem to make earth a more miserable place, don’t they…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Since Hell is NOT IN SCRIPTURE, but is cultural baggage do they –
      1.) Behave in ways that are indicative of a Fearful Worldview because they believe in ECT-Hell.
      2.) Declare the existence of ECT-Hell because they are afraid, and in a world you find terrifying an ECT-Hell feels right/natural..

      As a former ECT-Hell person I ‘vote’ for Option#2.

  18. Richard Hershberger says:

    Ah, universalism: the Great Heresy that Jesus so draws us to!

    Here is another way of looking at it. Jesus is asked “What must I do to be saved?” and he gives some reply, often involving something that he knows perfectly well the questioner won’t or can’t do. The obvious example is “give away all your stuff,” but really, “have faith” isn’t much better, as faith of any profound sort isn’t really something you can choose to turn on and off. Nowadays we repeat the question, while further complicating it (in the Protestant version) with an imperative to give an answer that avoids works righteousness, usually by carefully defining “works” to exclude whatever it is we conclude must be done.

    I think that “What must I do to be saved?” is the wrong question. Or rather, it is a great question, but the answer is “nothing.” It is “nothing” both in the sense that we need do nothing and in the sense that there is nothing we can do. When Jesus told the rich man to give away all his stuff, this wasn’t because Jesus thought the guy would do it, or that if the guy didn’t do it he would go to Hell. It was because the answer to the question is “Nothing that you have the strength to do.”

    It is the wrong question because the answer is in front of us: We are saved through Christ on the cross. We don’t need to ask what we must do to be saved because the question has already been asked and answered. The better question is “OK, I’m saved. Now what?” Even this isn’t all that tough. Jesus is pretty clear that we are supposed to love God and love one another: not because this is a Get Out of Hell card–not because God is holding a gun to our heads–but because it is the right thing to do.

    • I feel the same way when it comes to questions in theology. I am pretty sure that upon seeing God face to face, the majority of our theological questions we have will be rendered meaningless.

      As an illustration, go back in history to when people were asking questions like (when they believed the Earth was flat): “What’s beyond the edge of the Earth? Is it blackness? Emptiness? Is it even detectable with our senses?” Answer: N/A, the Earth isn’t round to begin with, so there isn’t even a valid answer to that question.

  19. Some of my favorite writers and commentators on Scripture…Brennan Manning, Robert Farrar Capon, William Barclay, Henri Nouwen…have all endured accusations of being universalist, because of their positions on the generous nature of grace. We should struggle and wrestle with this question, for sure. I recently preached on the Lord’s Prayer, and a parishoner challenged me, because he said that I had stated that the Lord forgives only as much as we are willing to forgive, but also that God offers grace before we are even prepared to receive it (using the Prodigal Son as an example). He felt I had contradicted myself, saying grace was unconditional, but also required a particular attitude from us. For both examples, I let scripture speak for scripture to justify my position. Grace is costly, grace is free.

    Y’all, it’s a mystery for me. I utterly trust that I was saved, am being saved, and will be saved, for no other reason except that I trust in the love and faithfulness of God, manifested in the form of Jesus Christ. And I also struggle with feelings of unworthiness. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t really be “saved”.

    Will all be saved? I hope so. I fear not. But I do hope so. Is it within God’s power to save all? Absolutely. He can do whatever He pleases.

    All I know is, I’m anxious to see what happens when the seals start getting broken…

    • I hope so too. I like this quote from Buechner:

      “And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “Will all be saved?”

      The million-dollar question of the day. Let’s see what scripture says…

      Matthew 19:25-26 records this little exchange:

      When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”
      And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

      So…in answer to “Will all be saved”, it seems like “No, NONE,” is the answer (if it was up to people). However, with God it sounds like the answer might be one, some, many, maybe even all.

  20. The analogy I’ve begun using is one I think would resonate with a lot of people.

    What kind of EARTHLY father (or mother) would intentionally birth a child, knowing that the final outcome will be that he/she will toss their child into a fiery pit?

    For the Calvinist, the question then becomes, What kind of EARTHLY father (or mother) would intentionally birth TWO children, knowing that the final outcome for one will be eternal life with them, but for the other child it’s being tossed into a fiery pit?

    Neither of these make sense in the EARTHLY realm, so why would anyone think God would be this way?!?

  21. amen

  22. Then, without hell, what is the loss to a tool (person) of Satan?

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Two thoughts (not really answers, just considerations)…

      1) Does God want any of his tools to end up in Satan’s hands? (Permanently?)

      2) Did He provide a way for tools to NOT end up in Satan’s hands (permanently)?

  23. A heavy thread indeed. Sooo…

    This joke was told by an Englishman to a crowd of Americans.

    What is the difference between Heaven and Hell?

    In Heaven –

    The English greet you at the door.
    The Germans are in charge of planning.
    The Italians are in charge of the entertainment.
    The French are in charge of the cuisine.

    In Hell –

    The French greet you at the door,
    The Italians are in charge of planning.
    The Germans are in charge of entertainment.
    The English are in charge of the cuisine.

    • Personally, I would choose authentic, handmade Italian pizza (and pasta) for dinner over coq au vin or duck a l’orange or whatever other fine dish France has to offer. I suppose I don’t have as refined a palate as others 😛

    • Rick Ro. says:

      That’s a funny analogy. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a great illustration!

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