Failing the Fundamentalist Final

For some reason yesterday I found myself imagining fundamentalists overseeing the final judgment, giving a “final exam” to make sure that only the truly saved get into heaven. It would have two questions:

1) Give your testimony of how you asked Jesus into your heart to become your personal Lord and Savior.

2) Construct a story that incorporates all the elements from (a) Matthew 28:10,16-20 and Luke 24:36-53 OR (b) Matthew 2:1-23 and Luke 2:1-40, leaving nothing out and containing no contradictions.

OK, so I’m mostly being facetious. Even if I were serious, I would fully expect fundamentalists to object, pointing out not only that the whole notion of a final exam to get into heaven is anathema to them, but also that they do not think God will evaluate people based on their ability to create a new story that attempts to harmonize seemingly contradictory Biblical stories. But it is important to note that so-called harmonizations are just that: not what the Bible actually says, but an attempt to reconcile various things in the Bible by creatively composing a more extensive narrative or worldview that can reconcile them. And eventually what happens is that “believing the Bible” is equated with believing in the narrative composed to achieve apparent harmonization, even details that are nowhere in the Bible.

I would also point out that it seems even more problematic to suggest that people do not need to devote their time and effort to harmonizing stories in the Bible, and yet at the same time claim that it is important to affirm that such harmonization is possible even without having tried to accomplish it. At this point, conservative Protestants can become remarkably like the Catholics they historically criticized, asking Christians to trust that certain ministers and authors who make certain kinds of affirmations about the Bible are telling the truth, while others (including the vast majority of people who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, irrespective of their denominational affiliation) are not.

What seems to me more important, however, is that the notion that there will not be a “final exam” (or that Christians are saved or exempted from a final judgment based on what they have done) is itself a product of selective reading of the Bible. The Gospel of John, with its realized eschatology, emphasizes that eternal life begins now, and thus people don’t have to await a final judgment: they are already judged on the basis of their belief in or rejection of Jesus. This is something that “the Bible says”. But it is not the only thing the Bible says, and the vast majority of New Testament authors depict a final judgment in which one’s response to Jesus is not irrelevant, but it is certainly not the only consideration.

At this point, I would expect a conservative Christian to object and say that those depictions of the final judgment in Revelation, Matthew, and even Romans 2:6-11, cannot mean what they appear to, since the Gospel of John clearly indicates that salvation is determined by believing in Jesus, and other passages in Paul’s letters speak of salvation by faith alone. But the problem is that this approach simply cannot do justice to the passages depicting a final judgment where what one has done matters. And while one might say “Scripture must be interpreted in light of Scripture”, it still remains to be asked why one should start with the typical Evangelical prooftexts in Paul and John, and say that the others must be interpreted in light of them, rather than reversing the procedure and saying that the passages that seem to affirm “judgment” being on the basis of faith alone must mean something else.

My own Liberal Christian position is a result of struggling with these sorts of issues. It doesn’t seem to me that there is a single voice in the Bible, and we can simply listen to it and do “what the Bible says”. Jesus is depicted at one point as saying “Whoever is not for me is against me” – the meaning of which is choose Jesus or you are his enemy, a saying that fits nicely with the fundamentalist viewpoint that all is “us vs. them”, saved vs. unsaved. Yet elsewhere he is depicted as saying that “Whoever is not against us is for us” – not only placing himself as part of a community (“us”) but also taking a positive view of those who are merely not opposed to his movement. It is far from obvious that both can be true. And so we are left with the challenge not only to align ourselves with Jesus and follow him, but also the challenge that New Testament texts depict Jesus in different ways and seem to have created communities centered on him that took significantly different shapes. And so whatever it means to be a Christian, it cannot mean “believing the Bible”. Because part of the challenge of the Bible itself is that it presents us with conflicting voices, and in doing so forces us away from the easy path of simply picking texts and following them, making us instead recognize that we are part of a 2,000-year-old dialogue that requires us to figure out for ourselves what it means to be a Christian in our own particular time and context.

Let me conclude by asking in relation to this subject a question students often ask their professors: Why focus on something if it won’t be on the exam? Perhaps here there is something that Christians who believe in a “final exam”, and those who aren’t sure, can agree on. If there is a course in which there may or may not be a final, it always makes sense to study as if there will be a final. If it turns out there isn’t, you will still have learned a lot. And if there is, you’re prepared.

But what continues to separate various sorts of Christians is the question of what “course material” is important: What would be on the final exam if there were to be one? Is our Christian faith to be evaluated on the basis of our willingness to go to great (and at times ridiculous) lengths to harmonize discrepancies and defend the Bible’s inerrancy? Or is it to be evaluated in terms of how we live, our love for God and neighbor? Or is it something else? Here more than anywhere else, the plurality of Christianities attested in the New Testament, as well as today, can be disconcerting, because it is hard to prepare for an exam, even one that is only a possibility, if one is getting contradictory signals about what might or might not be on it. And in this instance, doing what I’d recommend my own students to do fails to solve the issue, since it is precisely those who’ve “asked the Professor” who disagree on this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    That's the problem with the liberal position, really. Not to mention other non-Christian takes on the Bible. The conservative Calvinist position takes it ALL into account. Pretty much ALL of it is harmonisable and harmonised. I say "pretty much" b/c God is so high and we so small that we will never understand it all, and there remain mysteries. But what He has revealed is clear enough to be understood. It is sad to see this failure in this post to address the biblical position on salvation. "The Lord knows those who are His." There may be an exam, but Jesus already knows the answer, b/c He's the one Who caused His elect, His people, to be saved in the 1st place. Salvation is an act by God and of God in the whole of it, and the human receives it. Sub-biblical notions like what you've expressed here (and indeed, what many fundamentalists to a lesser extent express) leads to head-scratching moments when one arrives at a Bible psg that can't be reconciled. For those who are submitted to the Bible (as opposed to those who, like you, quote it when convenient and leave it aside when you don't like it), that's a signal to change your position, b/c God has spoken, and you're wrong. I've been there numerous times (even very recently, in fact), and it's rarely easy but always worth it.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Great point, James.Rho, out of one side of your mouth you are humble and recognize that you too pick and choose and that for now we know only in part, and then, out of the other side of your mouth, you berate a liberal for being aware of the same problem. It might be wiser to debate the substantive issues.I just preached on this last Sunday. We've been going through the Nicene Creed. I emphasized that all of the biblical passages that speak about a new heavens and new earth and final judgment, such as Matthew 7:13-27; 13:3-9, 18-23; and 25:31-46; Isa 65-66, and the last chapters of the book of Revelation, are *not* pieces of one and the same puzzle. Each is a discreet window pointing to a truth beyond itself. The windows cannot be combined into one. You have to travel around the room and enjoy the view, and sometimes be appalled by it, from each one. Furthermore, it has to be remembered that for now, we see in part and know in part. Only *then* will we know as we are already fully known.It is also true that systematic thinking has a place, and some sort of synthesis is an important goal, though it should not be at the expense of eliminating features we don't like through harmonization. I am a classical Christian, not a liberal one, even as I wrestle with the same issues. This is one field of inquiry in which liberals and conservatives can learn from each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    John,The realization that each book of the NT is a unique work is hard to keep in mind when the temptation is to synthesize a "truth."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05074136019151416282 sbh

    One of the reasons the sterile exercise of reconciling divergent passages in ancient texts leaves me cold is that it ordinarily can't be done without doing violence to the originals. As far as the theology goes I don't have a horse in this race, but the bizarre way that evangelical types cut up their texts so they can force them together like puzzle pieces seems to me unproductive at best, and downright perverse at worst. It tells me a lot more about the exegete and his community than it does about the original writer and the ancient communities that originated and transmitted the work. And to be honest, even if I did write my senior thesis on the origin of fundamentalism, I'm not that interested any more in fundamentalists and their ways. All you can get by their methods, in the end, is a distorted reflection of your own ideas. I prefer to let the ancient texts speak to me in their own terms.As someone who has spent more of his life than he should have trying to reconcile the irreconcilable I get impatient with people who tell me isn't it amazing that in sixty-six books written by thirty-three authors over a period of two thousand years there is not a single contradiction or inconsistency? Or the Christian fellow who refused to reconcile Mark's "he that is not against is is for us" with Q's "He who is not with me is against me" and simply denied Jesus ever said the latter, refusing even to look at the passage when I offered to show it to him. (I think he was suspicious because I wasn't using the Living Bible or the New King James or whatever his flavor was, however.)Anyway, I enjoyed the post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Scott and sbh,I'm with you as a student of the texts and their meaning in terms of strict authorial intent.However, the Bible functions as the constitutional text of two religions: the Tanakh of Judaism, the Old and New Testaments, of Christianity. For example, for the Torah to have the force of law, obviously all its parts have to be harmonized, though this can be done without denying that the harmonization and the parts harmonized are not equatable.The same thing is done in constitutional law, with respect to what Jaroslav Pelikan rightly calls American Scripture. Virtually all of the hermeneutical moves you despise have their analogues in the practice of determining the constitutionality (the biblicalness) of law by the Supreme Court. Pelikan lays this out brilliantly in his volume "Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution" (Yale, 2004). Now perhaps you wish to side with the strict constructionists. Be that as it may, the differences between the schools are relative, not absolute. It simply is not possible for a constitution and a body of legal precedents to guide current judicial practice unless a harmonizing hermeneutic is deployed.That is also what goes on in the field in canon law and in the field of theology. There are various schools but there is also a lot of common ground, and a tried and trusted way of proof-texting. On the one hand, today we have a far deeper appreciation of the diversity to be found in the ancient witnesses than once was the case. On the other hand, this makes the quest for the identification of an underlying unity all the more interesting. The field of biblical theology often is, though doesn't have to be, systematic in nature. In Catholic theology, the stresses have been particularly evident. It used to be impossible for a Catholic scholar to publish conclusions about the meaning of biblical texts that ran counter to their traditional sense as understood in the prooftexting method. Now these same scholars are allowed to go ahead and reach their conclusions independent of tradition. Some of those same scholars turn around and go on to show how Scripture and tradition are in harmony after all, but at a higher level of abstraction.Once again, analogies to these modes of reasoning abound in constitutional lawmaking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    But inasmuch as faithonlyists are against the New Testament being viewed as law, it is clear hypocrasy on their part to employ this sort of legal method.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    And the Calvinist position does NOT by any means take everything in the Bible into account nor harmonize it. Much of the Bible is destroyed rather than harmonized by them. Any passage that indicates free will is obliterated. Any passage that indicates God truly desires the salvation of all or loves all is mangled by the most ridiculous lying situational redefinition of simple terms. Any passage from the OT ewhich shows a God who is not omniscient, such as "I will go down and see if they have done altogether according to the cry against them, and if not then I will know" is certainly ignored by claiming that it is only accomadtive language because we all know God has always been omniscient even though there is not one passage in the whole Bible where God Himself even makes such a claim. The harmonizing interpretation of Jack Miles in "Christ: A Crisis in the life of God" is much more honest (altough purely literary to its author) when he assets that God has grown omniscient over time. At least he deals with the text rather than trying obliterate it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    I don't see what "hypocrasy" has to do with it. To be honest, polemics of this kind becomes old very fast. Harmonizing is a necessary epistemological strategy in all areas of knowledge after all. No one can go through their day without recourse to it on several different levels and in several different dimensions of existence. The important thing is to constantly backtrack and correct as necessary.Sorry, beowulf, but your take on Calvinism is an obvious caricature. It won't convince anyone who has actually read Calvinists, beginning with Calvin himself, and his more creative heirs, such as Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, T. F. Torrance, and Karl Barth – the list is as long as the night sky.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07121072404143877596 Tom Van Dyke

    "At this point, conservative Protestants can become remarkably like the Catholics they historically criticized, asking Christians to trust that certain ministers and authors who make certain kinds of affirmations about the Bible are telling the truth, while others (including the vast majority of people who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, irrespective of their denominational affiliation) are not."This is indeed the irony of Protestantism, specifically Calvinism, whose net effect was substituting one set of orthodoxies for another.We're having an interesting historical discussion about universalism [universal reconciliation] over at the American Creation blog, if anyone's interested.Certainly the question has been bandied about for centuries, as evidenced by an obscure little book by a Francis Savage, called "A Conference betwixt a mother a devout recusant, and her sonne a zealous Protestant" (1600).It's one thing to get on our theological high horses, it's another to consider that that high horse says Mom's going to hell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01807367297410846530 Reuben

    Well said, Doc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Hey Tom,But if you reduce Christianity to your wish projection and mine, whereby everyone goes to heaven regardless of what they have done, with everyone singing Kum ba yah together, the little girl and her rapist hand in hand, I'm don't see how that is an improvement over rather tired either heaven-or-hell scenario of a part of tradition.On that score, I agree with Ivan Karamazov, the atheist, in the Brothers Karamazov. Surely a God who forgives everyone is a complete monster.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11380591042937286155 Talon

    John, surely a god who sends ghandi and my kindly grandmother to eternal torture because they didn't accept Jesus as their personal savior is a monster, no?But this point demonstrates the perils of your claim to be a classical christian, since there isn't even a single passage in the bible that says that the destination of the righteous after death is the sky. There is no mention of the afterlife in most of the Hebrew bible and it can only be inferred from some ripped-out-of-context passages in the NT. Jesus said the reward for the believer is inheriting the earth.What many believe about "heaven" was entirely invented well after the writers of the bible died.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07121072404143877596 Tom Van Dyke

    John, I've enjoyed your tilts at the windmills around here, especially your story about Muslims and Christians in Africa giving their kids names from the other religion. A disarming tale.I don't take a position on heaven and hell. It's up to God, we all should agree, and besides, no one knows what happens at the moment of death, where repentance and/or the acceptance of God's love could occur.But if I get a vote, I say let 'em all in past the Gates of St. Peter. Mercy is superior to justice, and more godly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Talon,Of course I agree that if God sent Ghandi and your grandmother (whom I picture as a saintly woman, whatever her beliefs) to hell, that would be self-contradictory of Him. In the case of Ghandi, what business would God have, first sending missionaries into Ghandi's life, such that he had a deep appreciation for key aspects of Jesus' teaching, more so than the average Christian, to the point that Ghandi arguably integrated those aspects into his version of Hinduism (a sort of meta-Hinduism, just as the Dalai Lama's Buddhism is a sort of meta-Buddhism), and then turning around and saying, "not good enough!" Obviously, Ghandi will stand as a witness against a number of faux-pious Christians on Judgement Day, in line with Jesus' own teaching as reported in Matthew 12:38-42.On your other point, I agree with you more than you know, and I'm impressed by your knowledge of the Bible on this, which exceeds that of many fundamentalists. Yes, I have read the book of Revelation. Its last chapters throw a monkey wrench into just about everyone's eschatology, including that of fundamentalists. Personally, I like the view from Revelation 20-22, in particular, the fact that even after Judgment Day, the nations, who are clearly not the same as those who previously believed on Jesus, are streaming into the city which came down from heaven on a renewed earth, a city in which the leaves of the tree of life serve to heal those very same nations (Rev 22:2). I figure I will still need a lot of healing myself at that point, so I will be glad to be in that number.The only, I repeat the only, convincing description of the last things I have read from the last 100 years is in Flannery O'Connor's amazing short story, "Revelation." If you haven't read it, you will thank me a thousand times once you have. I take that back. C. S. Lewis's "Till we Have Faces" is also full of truthful intuitions.Tom,I'm not as agnostic perhaps as you are on the last things, but no matter what we teach on these matters – I teach on them all the time, I'm a pastor – we need to be humble about it, and state very clearly that, in my case for example, the fact that I have reason to believe that hell is not vacant, doesn't change the fact that I wish it were.Furthermore, should it turn out to be vacant, I will be happy to eat humble pie in consequence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07121072404143877596 Tom Van Dyke

    Well, John, I certainly appreciate your duty as a pastor to minister to souls in this life. Surely Christianity is good for man.However, if there is a "universal reconciliation," and if faith alone saves, we might also safely say that there are no atheists in the afterlife.;-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11380591042937286155 Talon

    John, true fundamentalists would say that all good people to go hell unless they have accepted jesus as savior. In fact, most would argue that only a certain brand of fundamentalist goes to heaven. Denominational christians, and those who believe you can lose salvation would not be accepted. So I have to assume you are really not one, although you say you are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Tom,That's the question, isn't it? Will there be a universal reconciliation? I don't see that taught clearing in scripture, nor do I see evidence around me to suggest that all would be reconciled, except by compulsion.Talon,Surprise! A classical Christian is not the same thing as a fundamentalist. However, classical Christians and fundamentalists share a lot of common ground. One way to think of it: on one end of the spectrum are fundamentalists, on the other, liberals. Classical Christians are in the middle. However, from a classical Christian point of view, fundamentalists and liberals often seem to be on the same rationalistic page.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07121072404143877596 Tom Van Dyke

    John—Mr. Hobbins—Rev. Hobbins, your choice [pls advise]:It's not about damnation, it's about the "beatific vision." Once stunned by beauty, who chooses ugliness?Not coercion atall atall. Beauty is far more compelling than ugliness is repulsive. That's how we're wired, our nature. Man will not fight or die for the ugly.In fact, ugliness is a relative term. Beauty is an absolute.Anyway, John, thx for making me meditate on all this. The thoughts were not formed and the words weren't found before this dialogue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Tom,It's with interest that I read the conversation between you and John.While universalism has definite appeal, it seems hard to reconcile with any idea of judgement. Beauty may be more compulsive than ugliness….yet there is no lack of people who choose ugliness on this earth. I'm not defending hell, because I don't really believe in hell anymore….at least in the traditional way it has been portrayed. The only way to fully embrace universalism is to subscribe to benevolent compulsion by God. It's a kinder, gentler version of Calvinism's view of the role of God's choosing……supposing that God chooses all, instead of just some.That seems hard to reconcile with the concept of free will and choice.One could say that in the afterlife God would be so obviously real to people, that no one would choose anything else….but it would be pure speculation.There are many people who have had no end of goodness on earth, yet somehow still appear to prefer evil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Tom and Terri,Please call me John. I have the same questions as Terri. The other reason Christianity has been loathe to decide this question beforehand is for a practical reason: human nature.If you tell people too frequently and too insistently that they can always change their mind and choose the straight and narrow (on their deathbed, in the afterlife), that will be license for them to believe that today is NOT the day of salvation for them. It is human nature to procrastinate. In short, there is the question of wise pedagogy here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13762457754800411233 beowulf2k8

    Sorry, John Hobbins, but anyone who describes my comments on Calvinism as a "caricature" is clearly deceived by Satan to a point beyond hope of ever seeing the truth. The god of Calvinism is Satan, after all, who hates all of mankind except his randomly chosen lottery winners whom he possesses and forces to spiel the most vile bilge and call it grace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    I am honoured, Beowulf, to be your target. For a moment I might have doubted the truth of Calvin's insights. Now that you have divulged the contents of your inner sewer, you have restored my faith in the correctness of the doctrine of total depravity. For a moment I might have thought that the Freudian abyss I see within myself was peculiar to me. Now that you have revealed your own inner abyss, the T of TULIP is confirmed. Thank God for the U which follows. Be careful, though, of the L. As Jesus said, that arch-Calvinist, "Narrow is the way, and few are they who find it."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08132483361614162693 TOTtomdora

    John:The issue I have with your label of "classicist" is that it is kind of meaningless. It implies that it represents a group with a set of beliefs, which as far as I know it doesn't. It also implies that you believe in some pure truth from a point in time that somehow got lost. But it was never there to begin with. One of the things I like about James is that he points out that there is no biblical position on issues like heaven and hell. There are many biblical positions from different points in time that christians try and reconcile.I used to believe there was a way to reconcile those positions, but it takes up too much brainpower to be plausible.Hell is one of those concepts that has changed over time. If I say, "how the hell did Italy lose to Egypt?" that has nothing do with the word in the bible. But then, neither does the association with fiery furnaces. Originally, followers of YHWH had no conception of afterlife. Some form of the concept developed late in the BCE period. Some scholars say it was in reaction to Israel worshiping God but not being rewarded, so they developed the idea of reward after death. Even references in NT books to hell likely were to a place on earth "gehennah," not to eternal punishment with demons poking you with sticks. So what is the classical belief in all that?terri, I'm not sure what you believe. Dante's hell seems too sadistic for a loving and just god, but universalism does seem to contradict bible verses that say there are consequences for sin (although there are plenty of bible verses that seem to imply universalism).Maybe none of it can be defended. Maybe there is no afterlife and people who write books are just hoping and guessing. Maybe there is and it has nothing to do with Jack Chick-type judgments.(BTW, John, I love world cup soccer and am an American with Italian ancestry, so I root for the Italians unless they are playing the US.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Hi Tom,The Italians are a lot more fun to watch, unless we are talking women's soccer.The classical Christian approach has existed for a long time. Its rudiments are evident in Irenaeus; it reaches maturity in the Nicene Creed and Augustine. But you're right: the approach is not *there* in the biblical texts, except perhaps in inchoate form. It is a particular hermeneutic that is derived from the texts. More or less in the same way that the constitutional hermeneutics of the Supreme Court, which bases itself on the Constitution and a body of precedent, is not *in* the Constitution but is nonetheless compatible with it and seeks to be loyal to it. So James' emphasis on the diversity of the witnesses in the NT is great. It's no different than a constitutional scholar pointing out the tensions within the Constitution and over against a body of legal precedents.I think the real issue is the difference between a purely historical take on the writings found in the New Testament, and a canonical approach to them. The latter makes sense from the point of view of a religion like Christianity, for which the Old and New Testaments are a kind of constitution in terms of faith (doctrine) and practice (ethics, structure).I hope that helps.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thomas,With respect to the afterlife, for Israel, you will want to take a look at the recent works of Jon Levenson and Allan Segal. They stir up the pot considerably. I myself have published an article on the development of the doctrine: John Hobbins, "Resurrection in Daniel and Other Writings at Qumran," in The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception. Volume Two (John J. Collins, Peter W. Flint, eds., Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 83/2, Leiden: Brill, 2001) 395-420.I think you overlook the inner logic of belief in a God who transcends death and is both good and just. At first Israel had beliefs about the afterlife not unlike its neighbors, but as its own grasp of the God who revealed himself to them became stronger, they assimilated some ideas found also in the Orphic mysteries and Plato and arrived at a new synthesis far more in line with their understanding of God than old idea of Sheol.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Tom,I would label myself an annihilationist…though I tend to lean more towards something called conditional immortality which posits that humans are mortal beings and God is the only eternal person. He shares that immortality, or eternal life, with those who place their faith in HIm…all others cease to be.Annihilationism isn't incompatible with a limited time of punishment for people. One could be an annihilationist and believe in an intermediate state before final destruction, or one could believe in instant destruction upon death.I find conditional immortality more appealing and think it clears up several theological issues.If we want to be truthful, though….every scenario of what happens after death has its weaknesses. You have to choose your poison, so to speak.And that's the case with almost any major theological doctrine. There always comes a point where we are choosing one version of imperfect explanations over another.We are ultimately left with our best guesses about how it all works out…..and I say that from a biblical point of view. The case could plausibly be made for any one of these scenarios in Scripture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    I just realized there was a Thomas and a Tom in the discussion. My last post should have been addressed to Thomas– the commenter who was unsure about what I believed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00637936588223855248 Joshua

    The most extreme example of violence to the text seems to be the premillenial dispensationalists. Darby did an amazing job cutting both the Old and New Testament texts to fit his views. And the modern PMDs do an even more impressive job.I find it interesting that many Jews have a more, if you will, organic view of texts with each generation adding on their own interpretations and commentaries. Little effort is made to necessarily reconcile the different strands even when they reflect direct questions about the narrative intention of the texts. My impression is that this isn't unheard of in Islam either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    It isn't unheard of among Christians either. Many (not all) PMDs have an obsession with knowing everything down to the last detail, and really seem to believe that all they have to do is put the pieces of a single puzzle to get there. But that isn't how scripture fits together.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07121072404143877596 Tom Van Dyke

    Thx for the responses. This blog was referenced on my own groupblog, American Creation, and so I simply stopped by to see what it was all about. I didn't want to abuse Mr. McGrath's hospitality by writing too much, but this discussion has been very nourishing. I do hope y'all follow the breadcrumbs, I'm easy found, and you are good company.—Perhaps "Thomas" is having a little fun, as his comments on Calvinism are almost Thomas Jefferson's. Verbatim.—Terri, I've seen some theologians argue for "annihilationism" of the individual soul, perhaps by choice, to choose nothingness instead of choosing God.They argue that if God is just, surely eternal torment is an unjust punishment for temporal sins. Makes sense to me.Still, it would bum me out, and heaven would be less complete and less happy for me without even Adolf Hitler embracing God's love and mercy.—John, I understand your duty as a pastor, and non-Christians always complain that Christianity's "Get Out of Hell Free" card encourages bad behavior.Still, leading the Christian life in this life is argued and offered as the best way for man to live. Even Plato argued that the unjust man can never be happy, looking over his shoulder all the time.Natural law…?As for "universal conciliation," you yourself just agreed with Joshua that one should take an "organic" view of the scriptures.In my view, Jesus left so many hints, in the story of The Good Thief, The Prodigal Son, the vineyard story where everybody got paid the same no matter how long they had labored, or in the most beautiful of all, perhaps,"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”The theme is too strong, John. To love God in this life is its own reward, and that's A-OK.But "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. Not man's. If vengeance is His, surely mercy is, too. I'm very good with that.

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