Erasing Hell: The Unavoidable Role of the Intellect (Jeff Cook)

Jeff teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado, pastors Atlas Church (Greeley), and is the author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan, 2008) and Everything New (2012).

Hell is making us all think really hard about God. In order to push our thinking I am working through a few big ideas in Dr. Preston Sprinkle and Francis Chan’s recent book, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and What We Have Made Up. I have deep admiration and respect for these two men. They strike me as kind and thoughtful, and their book is worthy of our careful reading and engagement.

In the ad for the book, Chan said, “When we make statements like, “Well God wouldn’t do this would he?” Do you understand that at that moment you are actually putting God’s actions in submission to your reasoning?” And Dr. Sprinkle, in a recent comment on this blog, said, “I almost get the sense that, according to your posts, [taking God at his word] is not necessarily a good thing if his word doesn’t sit well with us. But this seems to be a crazy high view of our intellect.” These two statements summarize well an attitude many of us have when reading the Bible. Isn’t the Bible written to common people like me? Isn’t the message clear? If I read the Bible with a right heart aren’t the Bible’s truths easily understood and unavoidable?

In order to advance its most important claims, Erasing Hell applies such a perspective to the traditional interpretation of passages on hell. It says, “Scripture is filled with divine actions that don’t fit our human standards of logic or morality…We need to stop trying to domesticate God or confine Him to tidy categories and compartments that reflect our human sentiments rather than his inexplicable ways. We serve a God whose ways are incomprehensible, who thoughts are not like our thoughts” (135).

Lumping together both what the authors see as the “incomprehensible” horror of divinely mandated genocide and the “incomprehensible” goodness of the crucified Jesus, the writers say, “It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption, even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for [created beings] to do” (136).

Is this right? Can the intellect be set aside? Can we avoid putting God’s word/actions/character in submission to our reasoning when reading the Bible? I don’t think so. Let me give an example of why we must think hard about *how* we read the Bible, or else we will lose the proper understanding of the Bible.

In American Christianity, one school of thought says that the Bible ought to be read as a narrative. That is, we engage the scripture as the ever-moving story God is telling about himself. Another school of thoughts suggests we read the Bible as a legal document—that the binding truths articulated in the flow of the text apply to all people at all times. Still another school suggests we read the Bible through our stories, our situation, allowing the language to be God’s personal word to us. Of course, these schools can read the Bible in similar and complementary ways, but they will eventually hit some disagreements. For example, when asking whether or not women should speak in church, those affirming the narrative-reading may say that passages restricting the speaking of women were teachings for a specific community, in a specific city, that had specific problems. The legal document Bible reader may object that rejection of such passages is unacceptable for it is a clear teaching in the text. The one reading the scripture exclusively in light of their own situation may go either way depending on the women in her community and how much they annoy her.

How we choose to read the Bible deeply affects what the Bible says. There are no theory independent readings of the Bible. Our theories will move the text despite our best efforts. So what should we do? This is where the intellect is vital and to minimize it in our arguments is to leave the meaning of the scriptures susceptible to those with a bully pulpit, immense charisma, or more sinister still—our own misguided desires for the text to say something it does not (as Sprinkle rightly cautions).

Since arguing about “how” we ought to read the scripture is both good and unavoidable, we can reject the claim that “As soon as we [erase eternal conscious torment], we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for [us] to do” (136). This is a self-defeating misstep. The authors are asking us through reasoning about God’s actions to reject reasoning about God’s actions.

As such, those who affirm the unavoidable role of the intellect in Bible reading and reject Erasing Hell’s conclusions might say: I see an argument clearly that affects my reading of scripture as significantly as the arguments for valuing author’s intent, or reading the Bible as narrative, or even the arguments for seeing the scripture as God’s inspired word. The argument goes something like this:

1.     If God exists, he is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative.

2.     If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.

3.     A being who is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative will not actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

Given 1-3, If God exists, he will not actualize a world in which a human soul will suffer in torment for eternity.

Because the intellect is unavoidable in our reading of scripture, and because eternal conscious torment is logically inconsistent with God’s attributes in the argument above—it seems obligatory to reject the traditional interpretation of passages showcasing hell. If such arguments are valid, the Bible *must* be teaching something different than eternal conscious torment, or else the Bible is not displaying the God who is real.

There is a  lot to commend in Erasing Hell—the advocation of annihilationism, the first and second century analysis of non-biblical texts, the pastoral heart and care for the damned, the honest wrestling with a massively difficult topic that has real consequences. All these are praise-worthy! And given the arguments above, I can conclude my review with the same hermeneutically-informative line as Erasing Hell.

“Will not the judge of the earth do what is just?”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    “Isn’t the Bible written to common people like me? Isn’t the message clear? If I read the Bible with a right heart aren’t the Bible’s truths easily understood and unavoidable?”

    I’m not exactly sure I understand what reading the Bible with a “right heart” is suppose to mean. However, I read the Bible regularly and quite often find myself thinking that the author’s (and expected audience) perspectives, thinking patterns, values, cultural norms often seem foreign to me.

  • http://www.fivedills.com/blog.html FiveDills

    When I took Hermeneutics 101 in seminary the first line of reasoning with Scripture I was taught is to accept the text literally as much as feasible. Understand the author’s intent in the context for which it was written, including the time in history and culture. When the text cannot be understood literally, then determine if it is to be understood figuratively. The more studying I do on the subject of Hell and utilizing the form of hermeneutics I was taught in seminary the more I am led to believe that Hell is not a literal place of ECT. Certainly the nature of Hell cannot be fully understood, but we can only speculate. And, the more I get to know my Abba Father, the more I am inclined to believe that He would not send people to a place of fiery torment and damnation.

  • rjs

    Intellect and wisdom (a different thing) and submission to the voice of God are (or should be) active in the reading of scripture.

    Both the argument for ECT because God’s ways are higher than our ways and we must submit ourselves to the text and the argument against ECT setting up a “logical” construct through something like the three statements in the post are lacking in wisdom.

  • Tim

    Here’s Mark Driscoll advocating for ECT with strong words for ECT “doubters” like me…

    http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/mark-driscoll-turning-people-back-from-the-dangers-of-hell-1012.asp

  • http://www.fivedills.com/blog.html FiveDills

    Driscoll… strong words? Noooo. ;-)

  • John Mc

    Job challenges the misfortune which he suffers, claiming that a just God would not countenance his suffering. His friends see Job’s suffering, and presume that since God is in control so Job’s suffering reflects God’s will. When God addresses Job and Job’s friends God commends Job for rightly proclaiming the justice of God (as the all-too-human Job defines justice) and God condemns the friends for tolerating, if not promoting a perception of God that is unjust, again the story concerns injustice is defined in human terms. God does make the point that divine justice transcends human understanding, but at the same time God’s condemnation of Job’s friends suggests that God rejects those who would ascribe injustice (as defined in human terms) to God.

    Time and again Jesus challenges his audiences to anticipate a generous and merciful justice from the hand of God. Such anticipation demands that believers use their minds and their hearts to discern what is just and to construe God’s intentions, actions and future potential in light of such discernment. And in the parable of the talents Jesus scorns the otherwise faithful servant who would see God as harsh and unjust.

    Jesus would never suggest that we accept a ‘come what may’ attitude which presumes that whatever happens in the world is a perfect reflection of divine justice and the intentional application of the will of God. We are invited by the Bible to challenge injustice in the world and to challenge God and ourselves to do something about it.

    And when we imagine the Kingdom to come, we are also challenged to imagine, in human terms, what such a world looks like. We are sent to proclaim the Kingdom; how can we do so if we are not free to use out best thoughts to imagine what that kingdom would be.

  • Bill

    Thanks for another well-reasoned post. I have just started reading the book, so I am anxious to “think” about what they conclude first hand. I have concluded against ECT but I am always open to be convinced.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    Well explained, Jeff. I like your exposing the assumption, “Isn’t the Bible written to common people like me?” To maintain the illusion of the Bible’s perspicacity (plainness, simplicity) people stick to a limited canon (mostly Pauline) of about 10% of the Bible. The other 90% is scary and difficult and we are too busy to learn this material (all the while claiming we are people of the Bible). Yet everywhere I go, I find people who read all of it and wrestle with all of it and find that they are better for allowing themselves to be challenged, stretched, and even confused.

  • John Mc

    It is ridiculous to encourage humans to describe God as ‘compassionate,’ ‘merciful’ and ‘loving,’ as humans would define the contours of those attributes, and then proceed to describe God as just but deny humans the freedom to define what justice means.

    When we say that God’s love, compassion and mercy transcend human comprehension, we do so with the understanding that in exhibiting those characteristics God consistently exceeds in degree human capacities to express those attributes. We are not suggesting that there is a strain of arbitrariness, unpredictability and contrariness in God’s expression of those attributes which sometimes might not appear to humans to be all that loving, compassionate or merciful. So too it should be with justice. If we can use human reason to understand, encounter and proclaim (within human limitations) God’s love, compassion and mercy, then why should we not be able to use human reason to understand, encounter and proclaim (within human limitations) God’s justice?

  • Wyatt Roberts

    Excellent job, Jeff.

  • Kenton

    Jeff-

    BINGO! I think you hit the nail square on the head with this post. The eschatology here isn’t the cause, it’s a symptom. The hermeneutic is the underlying cause. This narrative vs. systematic thing has been going on for several years now only to be ignored by most of the folks sitting in the pews. This controversy is a natural result of that underlying cause, but for everyone who ignored the initial controversy, this is blowing up for no explainable reason.

    What should we do? Well, we should let it play out. But do so with love. Both sides need to remember to cover the whole conversation with love and humility. (And especially epistemic humility.) Cause in the end Love Wi… well, you know. :)

  • http://gplus.to/justinheap Justin

    First, I applaud you, Jeff for your continuing effort to share, critique, commend, and generally apply a humble attitude to an incredible conversation that is going to last…forever? Haha. Couldn’t help it.

    But seriously, I will only repeat in one sentence here what I have been using to beat the dead horse with at other sites and in other posts,

    Mercy follows justice and we ourselves would be damned to only hope for the mercy of our own souls.

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    Brilliantly put – although the structural similarity between the syllogism above and the argument from suffering to the nonexistence of God is a bit close for comfort, isn’t it? Just a thought …

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am having a difficult time trying to understand why Sprinkle and Chan do not understand the arguments Jeff is making.

    Do Sprinkle and Chan at least address the approach taken by Jeff above? How do they counter it?

  • Taylor G

    DRT – my guess is they won’t deal with his argument. Rather, they will simply restate their own main points.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff et al,

    In my view the syllogism above leads as easily, if not more easily, to universalism as it does to annihilationism. If God is good, if God knows the future, God will make a world that leads to the good. Yes, I agree.

    But one element that deserves consideration, and it cannot be held with coherency among Calvinists, is that God values libertarian free will in those whom he labels “images of God.” In other words, God creates a world full of gods and goddesses who are given a share in God’s own freedom.

    Let us say that God grants that kind of freedom (libertarian free will).

    Then God can be both good and know the future (at some level) and create a world in which God’s freedom is granted free play and, at the same time, can lead to a world in which images of God choose to usurp God’s place and who are given the freedom to let that usurpation run its course to utter, but freely chosen, diminishment.

  • Taylor G

    RJS, it would be nice to hear a bit more about where you are going with your comment regarding wisdom. Is your feeling that mystery should play a slightly bigger role in these matters of biblical interpretation and ECT?

  • Taylor G

    Scot, the libertarian free will argument is helpful, and answers many questions of justice. It does not, in my mind, explain how an all loving, merciful God would institute a literal lake of fire everlasting.

  • dopderbeck

    Good post Jeff. I too find the claim that we can’t use reason to understand scripture unfortunate and dangerous. It’s the same thing young earth creationists tell us. It’s the same thing Left Behind rapturists tell us. It’s the same thing theonomists tell us. It’s the same thing snake handlers tell us. It’s the same thing antebellum Southern slave state theologians told the abolitionists.

    Exactly – the – same – thing.

    Moreover, not only do sound Biblical hermeneutics require the use of “reason,” the move from exegesis to hermeneutics to theology to doctrine also requires reason.

    You cannot — cannot, cannot, cannot — have theology without philosophy. The Church has always said this. Anyone who thinks his theology and doctrine come straight out of scripture without the influence of any philosophy is deluded.

    Now — we still must acknowledge that all theology reaches towards the Transcendent God and therefore approaches mystery. God transcends reason. The exercise of philosophical theology must remain deeply humble. At the end of it all, we come back to the beginning and fall on our knees before the God who is beyond us. And we admit that some of His ways may strike us as “wrong” because we simply are not God, and in that confession we affirm in faith that His actions always are good and right and just. I think this is ultimately true of the problem of Hell.

    But “God said it, I believe it, and that’s enough for me” has never been a valid theological method, it is not really what anyone does, it is not what the Church historically has done, and IMHO it is pastorally deeply damaging.

    Faith seeks understanding.

  • Amos Paul

    Jeff,

    I assume that you mean to say that the Bible is not teaching ECT (or not teaching God) if such arguments are both valid *and* sound. A minor caveat ;). A great man once said, “Feel free to disagree with my conclusions as long as you accept the truth of my premises and validity of my arguments.” Heh.

    But seriously, I have first one minor criticism on the piece here. And please take the word criticism only to mean an analytical response for the sake of discussion. It seems to me that you are addressing two very different topics herein so that the connections between your premises and conclusions get a little blurred.

    What I mean by this is that the article here begins by broaching the broad topic of, “God’s ways being higher than our ways,”–how am I supposed to try and understand things about God? Decide things are and are not true?

    I think that’s a big topic in and of itself, and it felt as though you were bringing up the ECT discussion as example of this more abstract disagreement over principle. But therefore, it merely appeared to me that your conclusions at the end concerning the reasonableness of rejecting the ECT belief were a little rushed.

    I’m not saying the conclusions were wrong! Just that the premises and implicit connections of them weren’t really outlined clearly–mainly because the majority of the argumentation here was concerning the rightness of using our intellect to grapple with who God is.

    Also, I think there’s a lot more good discussion to be had about using our intellects to understand God and his ways (though they be higher), and indeed the ECT discussion almost seems like a distraction from really tackling this train of thought.

    [Going to continue this in a second post to topically switch gears]

  • http://wonderofcreation.org/2011/08/21/genesis-and-naturalism/ Dean

    Seems to me that if we did not use our intellect and wisdom (gifts of being imago dei?) in reading and applying Scripture, we would not have preaching every Sunday and would not have the corner historically on religious books and magazines–including “Love Wins” and “Erasing Hell.” Most of us know pretty well, however, when we come up against mysteries our God-derived intellect cannot grasp–like origins and eschatology (including hell).

  • Amos Paul

    If you are anyone is familiar with the famous, “A Symposium on Theology and Falsification” debate, I really like Basil Mitchell’s input on using critical intellect in our belief. Mitchell responded to the criticism that Christians seem to believe in God regardless of whatever facts may or may not be presented to them supporting opposing their belief in Him. That’s the atheistic argument that religious belief is non-falsifiable, and thus not a belief at all but a mere dogmatic attitude. I think this argument works equally well in a discussion internal to theistic belief. That is, do we believe God’s character or actions is X regardless of what our intellects might otherwise lead us to believe? Why?

    Mitchell found this attitude ridiculous, but only because of it’s extremism. In response, he drafted a more nuanced view in which God or Christ is a *REAL ENTITY* which we, as humans, can have experience with. That experience can include emotions, intellectual reasoning, miracles, or whatever. This experienc, as a whole, is a crucial bedrock then to our relationship with God. It’s because of this deeply convincining experience intellectually, emotionally, etc. that we *choose* to trust in the authority and character of God–even if we don’t fully understand who or what He is. This is a trust relationship, but you can’t have real trust with a reasonable and solid foundation (Also see: Aquinas on Faith).

    [Moving beyond Mitchelle now] If the Bible, then, is an intimate component of that experience so that part of our belief in Him is believing that it accurately points us to Him–then it’s natural to trust in its description of God EVEN IF its description might at times appear contradictory or wrong. If God has indicated that the book is to be trusted concerning Him, then we must struggle with the data that both supports and opposes who we think He is or should be.

    But trusting the Bible to indicate God necessarily entails understanding the Bible’s indication of God, so therefore we must critically analyze the text and its meaning to figure out accurately *what* it’s indicating about God (see: Jeff’s own argument above here). However, what I’m trying to say as that we can solve the problem of trusting God and critically analyzing our beliefs about Him both ways! Because of our experience, we trust IN the character of God–regardless if specific things about Him make sense to us. But we also must be critical of what we are understanding that character to be. This intellectual process is part of the bedrock of what our trust arises out of–it’s the experience that dynamically inspires our faith to begin with. So it’s necessary and good to intellectualize and challenge our understandings of who we think God is and what that means. This makes our specific beliefs about Him and the Bible’s indication about Him falsifiable–and therefore actual beliefs rather than mere dogmatic attitudes.

  • Scot McKnight

    Taylor G,
    But, if it is as much the consequences if choice and the desired end of the wicked, everything changes.

  • Joe Canner

    In addition to the good thoughts that Jeff has presented here, it is also helpful to keep in mind that the “my thoughts are not your thoughts” passage in Isaiah 55 is in the context of God being *more* merciful than expected by offering salvation to the Gentiles. To use this passage to support eternal judgment (of any sort) is a significant mis-appropriation.

  • T

    I really like John’s comment in #6.

    On the issue of “how” to read scripture, and the ‘hell’ texts in particular, I tend to ask myself what Jesus hoped to accomplish with the warnings he gives concerning the after-life. Ultimately, I don’t think, for instance, that resolving the issue of ETC vs. annihilationism was his aim. The glimpses he gives of ‘hell’ seem designed to warn people off a given path and on to a different one, in terms and pictures serious enough to convince the hearer that ‘hell’ is horrible and to be avoided at all costs. The ‘hell’ pictures are more clear in their severity, their undesirability, and their (eventual) certainty for various paths than on the kinds of questions we tend to ask. (On this note, do we Protestants do more violence to Jesus’ teachings on hell, for instance, by minimizing the connection Jesus makes between the afterlife and lives of (un)charity and (un)forgiveness? Do we undermine Jesus’ main point in those passages with much of our popular soteriology?)

    None of the disciples are recorded as asking whether Jesus was being literal or figurative about the flames and worms, and they clearly got Jesus wrong in that way for other topics (Lazarus “sleeping”; the “yeast” of the Pharisees, etc.). But, in fairness, the figurative/literal issue was clearly not the point of Jesus’ teachings that used hell. The point was to get off and/or avoid the road(s) that he is identifying that lead(s) there. It appears that Jesus was intending to do what warnings do: convince us, even through fear, that certain roads lead to horrible and unwanted outcomes. Asking about the details is a bit like a child, having just been threatened with serious though somewhat vague consequences for disobedience, asking about the specific details of the punishment if they disobey anyway. I’m not saying we shouldn’t think/reason about these things at all; I am saying that we do well to let the passages be what they are intended to be, and mapping out hell in great detail doesn’t appear to be their purpose. I think creating gut-level surprise and aversion is their intended purpose. These passages are painful to read, but they are like “wounds from a friend” that can be trusted.

  • Kenton

    Scot (#23)-

    I think what Chan and Sprinkle are suggesting is that the lake of fire is the default choice and streets of gold is an opt out. And if one leaves the opt out card on the breakfast table (because they couldn’t read it or couldn’t understand it or was advised not to sign it…) and doesn’t send it before the expiration date (lit.), well… “too bad so sad” and “it sucks being you”.

    To suggest that the wicked are so enraged that they are willing to spend eternity away from the party is a different proposition altogether and as I read it is still within the parameters of “Love Wins.”

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    Jeff,

    Preston is a great guy from what I can gather. We recently wrote a “debate” article that will go live on Logos’ new site: Pastorum in September. From what I can tell through both article and email dialogue, he is a genuine and compassionate theologian.

    However, the issue of how we read the bible, the intellectual frame from which we see the scriptures… this is the source of the gap between many of us and strict *traditionalists*. We truly need to teach more folks how to read the bible well. This post, honestly is one of the most informed and succinct pieces I’ve read on the underlying issues of the hell (and any other hot button bible issue) debate.

    Well done!

    Kurt

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Mohler finally made a statement on his blog about the NPR article from a couple weeks back. He concludes

    If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”

    I could not agree more. His literal interpretation of Genesis sets up a Biblicist point of view that gets the story of the Gospel wrong in the end. He sees a vengeful punishing god. Perhaps if he got the beginning right he would get the Gospel rigth

  • Kenton

    DRT (#28)-

    SWISH!

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Thanks Jeff, I appreciate your OP and agree with much of what you wrote. And I’m reminded of Wesley’s quadritlateral – Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Whether we admit such or not they all play a role in our theology. Sprinkle’s and Chan’s appeal to lay aside Reason and accept Hell as a fact is, well, unreasonable, and, I believe, unscriptural, flies in the face of Tradition, and certainly doesn’t line up with my experiences of/in God. Proverbs is filled with admonitions to aquire knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

    “Incline your heart to understanding” 2.2
    “Lift your voice for understanding” 2.3
    “For the Lord gives wisdom. From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. 2.6
    “fools die for lack of understanding.” 10.21

    Reason is a foundational element of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

    I think that the appeal to forgo reason is rooted in the subconscious admission that “if” one accepts what scripture affirms concerning the nature of God (just, righteous, holy, loving, merciful, compassionate, reasonable, etc.) as true, then ECT/Hell is, well, unreasonable. Thus the appeal to set aside reason.

    For me, though reason played a role in my understanding of scripture, it ultimately was my undestanding (or misunderstanding) of what scripture affirms concerning the judgment and punishment of sin that freed me to accept in faith that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, that Jesus ultimately has/does accomplish the reconciliation of all creation to our Father, to accept in faith and not explain-away the many passages that seem to affirm the salvation of all humanity.

  • Fish

    3 pointer SWISH from DRT!

  • T

    FWIW,

    I think the title of the book is very unfortunate. It will be used to further divide the Body over this issue, and give too many a reason not to read it and/or listen to the author. I’m growing weary of how titles are chosen in Christian publishing. A little humility, a little less antagonism would be great.

  • Amos Paul

    T,

    But aren’t you looking forward to the next few books on this topic? I, personally, can’t wait for ‘Truth Wins!’. Although some of my friends are really wanting to read ‘Jesus Wins!’ instead. There’s also the crazies out there who’d rather get their hands on ‘Grace Wins!’ or ‘Faith Wins!’.

    Maybe we should start a betting pool or something on which one’s really going to win? o_O

  • http://saet-online.org/category/blog jason b. hood

    RE: “‘As soon as we [erase eternal conscious torment], we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for [us] to do’ (136). This is a self-defeating misstep. The authors are asking us through reasoning about God’s actions to reject reasoning about God’s actions.”

    Thanks for the review, Jeff. I agree that “the intellect is unavoidable” but isn’t there a difference between use of the intellect in a general sense and the use of intellect in a controlling sense? I don’t see their statement as a rejection of reason, so much as exhortation to avoid letting (say) a syllogism control our interpretation, and an invitation to allow the whole of Scripture to inform our reason more fully. (I haven’t read the book or the context, so maybe I’m being too charitable…Preston and I are both Aberdeen PhDs, and in my experience he’s a pretty fair-minded chap.)

    For instance, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral explains theologizing (and by extension interpretation) in terms of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. But the quadrilateral should probably be construed as a diamond with one aspect ruling the roost, so to speak–depending on the issue and the social context, one of the four can usually be seen “on top”.

    I haven’t read the book or much of your review, so I’ve got little context. But it sounds like they are arguing that some syllogisms can be employed in such a way so as to effectively eliminate alternatives. It’s interesting to note that controlling syllogisms can be employed in either a “liberal” or “conservative” direction…contrast your syllogism with the syllogism behind Mohler’s six-day approach to creation. Both seem to control interpretation, i.e., reason on top of the diamond. (Not saying you or Mohler are only using this syllogism, mind you, just saying that a strong appeal to logic appears problematic. Both “quadrilaterals” need more Scripture, and Mohler’s needs more [historical] experience.)

    Put another way, isn’t there somewhere a limit to the elevation of reason? Pascal, Kierkegaard, Augustine, and many others would say so. As John Webster at Aberdeen describes theological method: “God is not summoned into the presence of reason; reason is summoned before the presence of God.”

  • EricW

    @DRT #28: Swish! and

    Game – Set – Match

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (16) Scot. Two things. One I think on its own the syllogism leads to either an annihilationism or universalism, but I think there are strong arguments (such as those in chapter 2 of Erasing Hell and arguments stated on this blog) against universalism, and so if this argument holds, annihilation vaults forward as the best option when defining damnation.

    Assuming libertarian free will, Scot writes, “Then God can be both good and know the future (at some level) and create a world in which God’s freedom is granted free play and, at the same time, can lead to a world in which images of God choose to usurp God’s place and who are given the freedom to let that usurpation run its course to utter, but freely chosen, diminishment.”

    On one level I think this exactly right. The nature of “utter diminishment” becomes the issue. It seems to me *the kind of world* God chooses to actualize is a moral choice. Even if the creatures in it have the ability (or are given the grace) to move to the best kind of future for creatures of their kind, the consequences of not choosing to fulfill their function need to be reasonable, and—if God has foreknowledge—such consequences (and those who would eventually experience them through their own free choices) would be known by God in advance.

    It seems reasonable to think that just as God looked at the beginning of creation and called it good, God does the same as he looks at the end.

  • Luke Allison

    This always feels like a bunch of people high-fiving each other to me.

  • dopderbeck

    The core issue here — the relationship between “faith” and “reason” — is a massive question that has been discussed since there very beginning of the Church. For anyone to say, “ah, if you’re applying reason you lack faith…” is just to sweep away 2000 years of Christian theology.

    Historically there have been two extremes: (1) faith without reason (“fideism”) and (2) reason without faith (“rationalism”).

    This is related to one of the other enormously complex historical conversations in Christian theology: the relationship between “nature” and “grace.” Again, there are extremes: (1) grace that erases nature (antinomianism) and (2) nature that erases grace (Pelagianism).

    Anselm’s slogan “fides quaerens intellectum” — “faith seeks understanding” — to me best summarizes the relations of all these elements Grace-Faith and Nature-Reason. By grace our nature is renewed through faith, and we are able to use our minds to seek understanding of the subject and experience of our faith.

    Grace and faith enable us to see Christ, the scriptures the Apostolic deposit of faith, and the created order as revelation. With our minds thus renewed we seek reasoned understanding of of the complexity of revelation in its fullness. This reasoned understanding is “theology.” We then return ever and again to the grace and faith given to us to seek yet fuller and deeper understanding, in a hermeneutical spiral without end until we see God face to face.

    We are not “free” through reason to change the substance of faith, including the revealed fact of God’s final judgment of all creation at the return of Christ.

    But we are required to seek understanding through reason of what that datum entails in light of all the other deliverances of faith, including the fullness of God’s nature as inherently good, beneficent, loving, and just.

    It is no lack of faith, therefore, to ask what something like the genocide of Joshua or the “lake of fire” can mean in light of the God revealed in the cross of Christ. Faith that God is indeed most fully revealed in Christ is rather precisely what prompts the question.

    Rationalism takes the path of Marcion — just eliminate the God revealed in Joshua.

    Fideism takes the other extreme and says, “well, God can do whatever He wants.”

    Faith engages in the difficult and patient work of seeking to understand and express the coherence and beauty of the Triune God who in His being is simply who He is and who acts always in perfect fidelity with His being. Faith is not satisfied with fideism, because fideism is in reality a failure of faith — the failure to believe that God really did create us in His image, that He does give us wisdom when we ask and that He really does renew our minds. But faith also recognizes the limits of theology: “theology is worship, and after that, silence.”

  • Luke Allison

    Jeff, #36

    I feel like you probably disagree with some of the people on this blog who are high-fiving you.

    I don’t get the sense that you would ever suggest that God is necessarily EITHER gracious and merciful OR vengeful and wrath-filled. Hence your commitment to annihilationism.

    And yet I feel like that’s what half the people on here are doing. God is loving! All you luddites who think of Him as vengeful and jealous are unevolved and destroying our true form of Christianity!

    Can you clarify that? Even in the plague narratives of Exodus (as wrathful as you can get), God is presented as both wrathful and merciful, both jealous and passionate for His name to be known and worshiped, and willing to turn and forgive the Egyptians who begin to understand who He is. The “covenant border” is very permeable all the way through the Old Testament. And yet God is still angry and loving simultaneously. God is still jealous and merciful. His grace is abounding, and His punishments are staggering.
    That’s God.

  • Adam

    Another question that I’ve been thinking on.

    Where does Death fit into this?

    The underlying assumption is that humans don’t die. Sure, the “body” dies but the “real” us. The part that matters lives forever regardless. I don’t a physical death and a spiritual immortality are compatible. Either we die or we don’t die.

    So what if we took Paul seriously and believed the wages of sin is death. Meaning, when we die, we are dead and there is no spiritual or “real” part of us that continues on. In a sense we are all annihilated. And then, as a true demonstration of God’s abilities, He resurrects anyway.

    Another approach is to say: the need for Hell is because Death is no longer sufficient punishment.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (2) FiveDills. You say, “When I took Hermeneutics 101 in seminary the first line of reasoning with Scripture I was taught is to accept the text literally as much as feasible. Understand the author’s intent in the context for which it was written, including the time in history and culture. When the text cannot be understood literally, then determine if it is to be understood figuratively.”

    Perfectly fine. It advances my claim. Your hermeneutic influences and precedes your interpretation (and of course hermeneutics are assessed and adopted best via reason).

    (3) rjs. Lacking wisdom!? How so?

    (4) Tim. I thought it interesting that Driscoll allows an argument from God’s attributes (“God is a father and will deal with dead infants as a father”) to override what I think he affirms as the clear teaching of scripture in his eyes–that if you do not know Jesus you will burn forever.

    I don’t think he can’t have it both ways.

  • Luke Allison

    Jeff #41,

    “I thought it interesting that Driscoll allows an argument from God’s attributes (“God is a father and will deal with dead infants as a father”) to override what I think he affirms as the clear teaching of scripture in his eyes–that if you do not know Jesus you will burn forever.”

    In Driscoll’s “Doctrine” book, he and Gerry Brashears actually affirm something of a “conservative inclusivist” position on the fate of the unevangelized. I think they say something like “God’s creativity in saving people can’t be underestimated”.
    Driscoll’s not a cartoon character (although his head is flippin’ huge). There’s actually some nuance to his thoughts, just like you and I.

    I’ve used your book as a “further reading” text in a class we’re teaching at my church. Thanks for the fantastic resource!

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (39) Luke. So let’s rest a minute on the argument I make above before jumping into its consequences if it holds. I am certainly willing to explore other passages, but it is not refutation to say, “hey what about this other thing” How would you respond to the argument at hand.

    And watch the Ad Hominems. Peace.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (42) Luke.

    Excellent. Thanks for the plug.

    Here would be the question: if Driscoll and Brashear can make such a move toward inclusivism and creative saving, why can’t someone like Bell make the same kind of move, through the same kind of methods?

  • Luke Allison

    “Luke. So let’s rest a minute on the argument I make above before jumping into its consequences if it holds. I am certainly willing to explore other passages, but it is not refutation to say, “hey what about this other thing” How would you respond to the argument at hand.”

    I’m not refuting you, though. I’m asking if you could clarify your position one last time, because every time you interact with this book, there seems to be a great deal of confusion as to what it is you’re actually trying to accomplish.

  • http://gplus.to/justinheap Justin

    Is it possible to imagine a ‘more good Creator’ than exists? Surely not…right?

  • PaulE

    This isn’t logic; it’s merely begging the question. Jeff doesn’t demonstrate in any way that a generous, compassionate, creative God would not actualize a particular world; he simply assumes it in his third premise. We could just as simply insert a different third premise into the logical argument:

    3) A being who is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative will not actualize a world he knows will culminate in the crucifixion and death of a perfectly innocent and glorious person whom he loves.

    This seems just as plausible at first blush as Jeff’s original premise. Indeed, many people have found it so compelling they have decided to re-read their Bibles so that Simon of Cyrene died on the cross or even to deny that Jesus was the Christ. How would you differentiate this argument from Jeff’s original argument?

  • Luke Allison

    #45 “why can’t someone like Bell make the same kind of move, through the same kind of methods?”

    I don’t think it was so much Bell’s words that got to people (this is obviously a subjective opinion), but rather the tone of the whole book.

    If a pastor is truly interested in “asking the questions”, they won’t seek to alienate an entire facet of Christianity with caricatures of their position.

    That’s what bothered me, at least. Keller likened Bell’s tone to a campaign brochure intended to fire up the party base. I’m sure plenty of YRR’ers found lots of other problems, but in terms of why Bell’s book was so incendiary, I think it’s his fault.

  • Ryan

    The presuppositions of this post are very disappointing to me and have too many hints of postmodernism.

    First: the flow of thought above, numbered 1-3 with this conclusion, “Given 1-3, If God exists, he will not actualize a world in which a human soul will suffer in torment for eternity.” Says who? You? Your philosophical argument matters very little to me. Line up your philosophy with theology and then we can discuss, debate, reason, etc. This flow of human logic is vacuous spiritually and appeals only to human will, emotion, justice, etc.

    Second: phrases like, “the unavoidable role of the intellect in Bible reading”, “Because the intellect is unavoidable in our reading of scripture”, “How we choose to read the Bible deeply affects what the Bible says”, devalue the authority of Scripture to the degree that there can be little to no concrete, Truth, to believe in. I disagree. God did actually speak. It was literally written down. What God said has a meaning. If it’s up to how I choose to read the Bible, then the meaning of what God said changes generation to generation. Why not choose to read the Bible in a way that sanitizes the “jewishness” of Scripture (as articulated in another post on this site)? People have, and look at what happened.

    I believe in intellect and reason and that we must use both…but it must be used in an attempt to understand the Truth of what God said, not to conform what God said to the limitations of my intellect and reason. At times this may lead us to different conclusions, but that doesn’t mean God is unclear, limited, or ever-changing…it means we are.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (9) John Mc. We took this up a while back. Check here: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/07/13/review-of-francis-chan-erasing-hell-by-jeff-cook/

    (13) Andrew. The difference between problem of evil and the problem of hell is that the former experiences some outstanding refutations whereas the later does not.

    (14) DRT. Preston has some thoughts here for sure (the man is a PhD). Erasing Hell wasn’t a book about hermeneutics, so perhaps such critiques aren’t foreseen. But there’s work that needs done here, and perhaps that’s just the next step in the conversation.

  • http://gplus.to/justinheap Justin

    Ryan, 49. You may want to read the comments for clarification on most, if not all, of what you address in your comment.

    I am appreciative of your concern, but again, this is the very conversation that appears to be happening in the comments, correct?

  • Ryan

    Justin,

    I wasn’t responding to anyone comment on the post…I was responding to the post itself.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    TaylorG (#18), that’s a valid and reasonable objection. I would suggest the Orthodox approach resolves it while strongly supporting the libertarian free will perspective (though also broken — we are rarely completely free).

    God does not create an actual concentration camp in the middle of utopia. Rather, in joining his nature to our nature and defeating death, Christ destroyed death for all mankind — something only God can do. It is no longer ultimately our nature to die. (That’s why annihilationism is off the table in their view. It diminishes or rejects the work of Christ.)

    Instead, we will all experience the same reality, a reality infused with the unveiled light and love of God (certainly what we see in Isaiah, Colossians, etc.). The question then is will we experience the light of his love as warmth and comfort or as a consuming fire? Will we be creatures who can participate with God in his love? Or will we be twisted and consumed by passions we can no longer outwardly express in the inescapable fire of a God we do not love and do not want?

    As Scot has noted, a view of God and of man like this is contrary to the Calvinistic perspective. There’s no way to reconcile them and there’s almost no overlap between the two perspectives. They might as well be talking about completely different Gods. There is no ‘both/and’ here since they say not just different, but opposing things about both God and humanity.

  • Kenton

    Luke (#48)-

    There’s not really a good way to respond to the charges of caricaturing without lapsing into “mommy he started it” rhetoric, and the irony of doing that would be overwhelming.

    But I’ll say this: the YRR-ers more than anyone didn’t “get” the hermeneutic changes that were happening. They were systematic guys all the way, and they never considered the possibility of a narrative reading of the bible. The frustration level hit the wall. RB came across as caricaturing, but sometimes you have to caricature to get those stuck in their paradigm to “snap out of it already”.

  • Luke Allison

    “the YRR-ers more than anyone didn’t “get” the hermeneutic changes that were happening”

    That’s way too easy, dude.
    The people that disagreed were simply not educated enough? Or simply weren’t sophisticated enough to understand the arguments put forth?

    So maybe that’s the issue right there?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (47) PaulE.
    You write, “This isn’t logic; it’s merely begging the question. Jeff doesn’t demonstrate in any way that a generous, compassionate, creative God would not actualize a particular world; he simply assumes it in his third premise.”

    This is a syllogism and you may disagree with any premise you wish, but these three premises seem, on the face of it, true.

    You write, “ We could just as simply insert a different
    third premise into the logical argument: 3) A being who is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative will not actualize a world he knows will culminate in the crucifixion and death of a perfectly innocent and glorious person whom he loves.”

    I think premise 3 is false for the following reasons: A perfectly good being may choose to defeat sin and death through his own suffering or the death of his son whom he does not plan on leaving in the ground. I see nothing contradictory in the character of God here. That’s not the case with my argument.

    What you need to do is show why my 3rd premise is false.

  • Kenton

    Luke (#55)-

    How about they were too firmly embedded in it to see it any differently? How about they had too much at stake to make the shift?

    Ryan (#49)-

    Sometimes you see the data and have to think outside-the-box to understand it. That’s different from the suggestion you make to ignore or redact the data.

    Both of you-

    When Einstein proposed his theories of relativity it completely uprooted the status quo. But his theories fit the data. Something similar is happening here. What RB is bringing to light is that “Love Wins” fits scripture better than ECT. (ECT might be the Newtonian understanding in this analogy.) We may be in the “specific theory” step at the moment working out details while waiting for the “general theory” to be fully developed (it took Einstein 12 years), but on the other side I think it will be more clear that Love Wins fits the data better.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (45) Luke. Excellent. On clarifications, you write, “Even in the plague narratives of Exodus (as wrathful as you can get), God is presented as both wrathful and merciful, both jealous and passionate for His name to be known and worshiped, and willing to turn and forgive the Egyptians who begin to understand who He is. The “covenant border” is very permeable all the way through the Old Testament. And yet God is still angry and loving simultaneously. God is still jealous and merciful. His grace is abounding, and His punishments are staggering. That’s God.”

    I could agree with this, and it wouldn’t affect anything I want to argue. I do have difficulty with some of the OT portraits of God, but that’s for another day. :)

  • T

    Amos (33),

    I can honestly say that I’m not looking forward to the next book on this topic! Maybe I’ll write a book about the rise of sensationalism in Christian publishing (including blogs?) and its negative effects on the Body, explore and give attention to alternatives. Would it be the height of irony and/or hypocrisy to title it “Nobody Wins! (When Sensationalism Takes Over Christian Publishing.)” :D But then, who would publish it, let alone read it? ;)

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    T – Works good as a tweet though.

  • Rick

    Kenton #54 & #57-

    “What RB is bringing to light is that “Love Wins” fits scripture better than ECT.”

    That is an overstatement, to say the least. Ben Witherington (certainly not in the YRR crowd, yet someone who likes RB), wrote:

    “Rob cites a pile of texts, soundbyting them rather than doing contextual exegesis of them….Rob thinks we should see it as the very nature of a God who is love to keep trying, even post mortem, until Hell is empty, so to speak. It is in some ways a beautiful and romantic notion, but it definitely isn’t what the Bible teaches on this subject, because as Rob knows, love can be refused, and it is, every day. This is love’s tragedy rather than love’s triumph, and the Bible is about both frankly.”

  • PaulE

    Jeff #56: One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.

    1. If God exists, he is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative.
    2. If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.
    3. God exists and has actualized a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

    4. Therefore, it is not the case that a being who is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative will not actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

    The point is that your third premise is precisely what is under scrutiny. My syllogism is just as valid as yours; so it won’t do to say your premise is more logical. Rather it comes down to trusting our intuitions vs our observations.

    Yes, our observations are in part informed by our intuitions. But – to Sprinkle and Chan’s point – neither are our intuitions infallible: especially our intuitions on moral matters.

  • Kenton

    Rick (#61)-

    Yeah, I think Ben W. wanted a 450-page dissertation with lot’s of references to BDAG and other ukulele tunings.

    I know I wouldn’t have read it. And I certainly wouldn’t have bought extra copies to pass out to my friends. And we wouldn’t be posting comments on Scot’s blog about it right now either.

    And RB didn’t say that Love couldn’t be rejected. On the contrary, he spends a lot of time showing how it often is.

  • Rick

    Kenton #63-

    “Yeah, I think Ben W. wanted a 450-page dissertation with lot’s of references to BDAG and other ukulele tunings.
    I know I wouldn’t have read it. And I certainly wouldn’t have bought extra copies to pass out to my friends. And we wouldn’t be posting comments on Scot’s blog about it right now either.”

    Silly him. Pushing for some good scholarship. What in the world was he thinking?

    As the saying goes, “Apart from that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    Jeff (50), my question was whether the structural similarity between the argument from evil and the argument against hell was at all troubling. Both arguments take the form:
    1. If God exists, he is good, and all-powerful.
    2. A good and all-powerful would not actualise a world in which there was x.
    3. Therefore God and x are incompatible.

    The only difference is that x is “suffering” in one case, and ECT in the other. But the best refutations of the “suffering” version (a la Lewis, Plantinga, Keller, etc) involve the response that our inability to understand why God might bring about x might result from our lack of omniscience, and might not rule out the compatibility of God and x. Isn’t this what Chan and Sprinkle are doing?

    Thanks so much for discussing this. A very thought-provoking post!

  • Jon G

    Andrew (#65)-

    You raise an interesting point except I don’t see ECT and Suffering as interchangeable because, in those arguments as I understand them, Suffering is offered up as a way in which a greater good may result. With ECT, there is no longer an opportunity for the one consigned to hell to benefit whereas Suffering can and does produce good in a variety of ways.

    Jon

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    Luke Allison,

    Just as a point of clarification, Rob’s intended audience has to be brought into the fold of conversation here. Writing to a crowd of disenfranchised non-Christians you would word things quite differently than if you were writing to convince YRR-ers. He took a “here is what you have been told and have responded negatively to,” approach. Is it a caricature? Maybe, but that doesn’t take away from the premise that many people have been force fed that caricature and that it needs to be addressed. Bell addressed it, for that audience. Could he have gone a few steps further to point out that it is a caricature and not reflective of a majority belief? Probably, but from the perspective of somebody who has worked in a church (which I assume you do/have as well) it is a very real picture that many people, even Christians, have of God. It is in the pews and RB is addressing it. Had he been writing to YRR-ers it would have looked a lot different, I’m sure, but he wasn’t.

    Also, to say that the majority of people here who are “throwing high-fives” dismiss God’s wrath is just uncharitable. Maybe better to assume that they view God’s grace as a completion or fulfillment of His wrath (a la Romans 3).

  • Dana Ames

    Following on Scott Morizot and considering what Adam @40 wrote:
    “In a sense we are all annihilated. And then, as a true demonstration of God’s abilities, He resurrects anyway. Another approach is to say: the need for Hell is because Death is no longer sufficient punishment.”

    The Resurrection isn’t a demonstration of God’s “abilities”; it is the exhibition of the defeat of Death. Nonetheless, I think there’s something to the idea that somehow along the way, Christian thinkers/theologians lost sight of the existential problem and incorporated a need for ECT because Death wasn’t a sufficient “deterrent” anymore… It’s the ol’ existential problem again, and Orthodoxy addresses it in a way I have found nowhere else.

    The apostolic and ante-Nicene writers were unanimous in explaining the primary meaning of Jesus’ incarnation, cross and resurrection: the defeat of Death. So, if God is so committed to defeating Death, it makes no sense to me that he would end up annihilating people after their resurrection after he went to such trouble to accomplish their resurrection.

    Other than the annihilation conclusion, I think Jeff C. has done a good job bringing to the fore the reasons ECT is problematic.

    Dana

  • Kenton

    Rick (#64)-

    Puh-leeze!

    The more scholarly books (The Evangelical Universalist, The Inescapable Love of God) had already been written! They didn’t sell a lot of copies. No buzz was created. Not a lot of blog posts were generated in response. Kevin DeYoung did not go ape$#!+ over them.

    Love Wins was written to a popular audience. For all of the complaints about how it was shallow or incomplete, it’s been getting read and discussed and blogged. Do you really think any of that would have happened had RB detailed the development of eschatology from Origen through Schleiermacher?

  • Luke Allison

    JoeyS: “Just as a point of clarification, Rob’s intended audience has to be brought into the fold of conversation here. Writing to a crowd of disenfranchised non-Christians you would word things quite differently than if you were writing to convince YRR-ers”

    Sorry, I don’t buy that.

    That’s the party line, certainly, but is that actually what Rob was doing?

    In some sense, Rob seems to be reacting to his own unpleasant Christian upbringing.
    In another sense, Rob seems to imply that “all thinking, sophisticated people” have a problem with the idea of hell. That’s just not so.

    All Western, Modern people have a problem with the idea of Hell.

    So this is a book written for disenfranchised Western, Modern, probably somewhat affluent Christians.

    Let’s be honest here: our Chinese brothers and sisters probably aren’t too worried about this discussion.

    So I don’t think Rob’s lack of charity is any more excusable than any other person’s lack of charity.

    “Also, to say that the majority of people here who are “throwing high-fives” dismiss God’s wrath is just uncharitable. Maybe better to assume that they view God’s grace as a completion or fulfillment of His wrath (a la Romans 3).”

    I don’t assume that at all. I’ve had enough extended conversations on this blog to know where people stand.

    Every person living is exclusive in their beliefs. And every person living thinks the other people are wrong and potentially dangerous for believing what they believe. Otherwise these discussions mean very little.

    Lots is at stake here, which is why these posts average 150 comments each time.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    Luke Allison:

    “Sorry, I don’t buy that.”

    You can not buy it all that you wish, but it is explicitly stated in Love Wins. The book is for people who don’t know Jesus because they’ve been fed a wicked (sic: caricatured) narrative.

  • Luke Allison

    “The book is for people who don’t know Jesus because they’ve been fed a wicked (sic: caricatured) narrative”

    But that’s the whole point of what I’m saying. I know that’s what he wants you to think, but I doubt his sincerity in saying it.

    This is one of the primary concerns that Drs. McKnight, Witherington and others have had with the book. If the opposite side is portrayed as wicked (and their beliefs caricatured into an unrecognizable wicker man), then you’re not doing things any differently than that supposedly wicked other side does them.

    Here’s my biggest question:
    Is Jesus’ message about Himself basically: “If people could only see how beautiful I am, they would all serve me”? On what level is the Gospel offensive? On what level is Christ a stumbling block or a stone of offense? A plain reading of the Gospels gives you an incredibly nuanced picture of Jesus. One who welcomes while simultaneously driving off. One who heals and forgives only to pronounce woes and judgments in the next breath.

    The fact of the matter is that Jesus won’t be palatable to everyone. If we think He will be, we’re missing something.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @72,

    “The fact of the matter is that Jesus won’t be palatable to everyone. If we think He will be, we’re missing something.”

    Agreed. But show me one example of God’s wrath being a stumbling block? Isn’t it more often His mercy, as in the Isaiah 55 passage? Or His call on our lives that requires a complete abandonment of all else (Rich Young Ruler, etc.)? Nothing Bell says sugarcoats these things. You may call into question his motivation but you do so while evidence (what he actually says) suggests otherwise. My complaint about both McKnight’s review and Witherington’s review is that they seemed to ignore his intended audience (other than that I appreciated both reviews).

  • Richard

    “The fact of the matter is that Jesus won’t be palatable to everyone. If we think He will be, we’re missing something.”

    Absolutely. And its no coincidence that its those with the purest doctrines (Pharisees modern and ancient) and power to lose (Romans and Sadducees modern and ancient) were the ones that crucified him.

    For some reason I doubt Zachaeuss and the woman caught in adultery were carrying hammers that day.

  • Luke Allison

    “But show me one example of God’s wrath being a stumbling block? Isn’t it more often His mercy, as in the Isaiah 55 passage?”

    That’s a good point.
    It seems like the very idea of Jesus Himself is a stumbling block, because He means that we’re: A. both far worse than we ever imagined, and fully incapable of attaining His level of perfection, and b.
    Far more loved than we ever even dreamed, and capable of all things through Him.

    But this runs counter to the human condition, in my experience.

    I will say, having been a “disenfranchised Christian” myself for many years, that my motives weren’t nearly so pure as Rob gives people credit for. Mainly, I wanted to have sex with people without being made to feel guilty. Also, I wanted to have sex with people. And I just couldn’t believe that there was anything wrong with that.

    That was as noble as my rage against the machine got. I’ve met many young people since then who seem to be doing something similar.

    Maybe my problem is that Rob and his circle seem to have romanticized the “disenfranchised” a little too much? Made them innocent victims in an evil magisterial conspiracy?
    I don’t know….

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #72: “On what level is the Gospel offensive? On what level is Christ a stumbling block or a stone of offense?”

    Because he was willing to give up his life without resorting to violence, and calls us to do the same?

    Because the Gospel is about renouncing our pride and our ability to shape our own destiny and put our life in his hands?

    The Jews (certain subsets anyway) were quite good at calling down God’s wrath on their oppressors and on those who were delaying the Messiah’s return because of their sin. That Jesus reserved most of his wrath for these groups suggests that God’s wrath was not the stumbling block.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    Luke Allison, I appreciate your openness here. My sense is that if this is your (the general your) only exposure to Rob then I can see how it might look like the disenfranchised are being “romanticized.” In general that may be right but I’ve heard him stand against sin and brokenness in his sermons. He believes that Jesus calls us to something better than that. His book Sex God is a testimony to that end. It is, IMO, his best book. I think he just chooses to use a tact different than capitalizing on God’s wrath. He seems to focus, instead, on the power of the resurrection that can defeat sin and restore broken vessels.

    I tend to think that most folks don’t need to be told that sin is real and dangerous. A hard heart goes a long way in blinding us to our own sin, and anger tends to cause us to put up walls to protect ourselves. How great, then is a message of grace? How far can that go in softening our hearts to accept our own brokenness? Maybe, for some, anger is a better message but in my own experience wrath causes me to retreat and reinforce rather than to open up and deal with my sin.

  • Luke Allison

    “That Jesus reserved most of his wrath for these groups suggests that God’s wrath was not the stumbling block.”

    A very good point, as I articulated above.
    But would you agree that an unrealistic estimation of personal righteousness and/or holiness could be a stumbling block?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Luke#75 said “Also, I wanted to have sex with people.” Good thing, the alternative is, well, unbiblical.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Luke, I have drafted a few posts now but will try to just be concise. My experience is that RB’s message if very relevant to, well, me. At one point all I wanted to hear was that the church was not just about judgment, that it was also about love. The judgment language gets in the way of some of us trying to go back to the church.

  • Luke Allison

    “I tend to think that most folks don’t need to be told that sin is real and dangerous”

    Do you preach or counsel? I don’t know if I agree with this statement. My experience is that most people have a patently unbiblical definition of sin (doing very bad things) that fails to explain why average joes like you and I who have never killed anyone might be in need of grace.

    If God has wrath as an integral part of His character, why would that be something we shrink from? Wouldn’t that be something beautiful in some sense?

  • dopderbeck

    The fundamental problem, I think, is the influence of “nominalism.” I happened across this discussion of nominalism today, which I think is apropos. An excerpt:

    That Christianity understands ultimate reality as personal is both its greatest strength and its biggest problem. A problem because it is the source of the question of evil and a strength because it has no difficulty comprehending the existence of rationality, freedom and personality in creation. The theist has a problem of evil. The atheist has a problem of good.

    It would be nice to leave the story at this – juxtaposing a nihilistic materialism to a life affirming Christianity – but the reality is far messier, and Christian theology has done much more to contribute to the current climate of nihilism than many of its adherents are willing to admit.

    For just as nominalism in its modern guise undermines any conception of the rational and free person, nominalism in its medieval theological guise does as well. The utterly transcendent voluntarist God is an abyss of will. A humanity made in the image of such a God is no longer defined by its rationality or its capacity for love but by its ability to will.

  • dopderbeck

    And further from that same article on nominalism:

    The real question for the Christian theologian is what kind of God they find revealed in Jesus Christ. Is it really the voluntarist God of Ockham or the absolutely sovereign God of hyper-Calvinism?

    The scandal of much Christian theology is that it privileges the power of God over the love of God. Perhaps this reflects our congenital inability as fallen creatures to take the love of god seriously – to fully realize that the love of God and power of God is really the same thing. That love is not an attribute of God, but what God is.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @81,

    “Do you preach or counsel? I don’t know if I agree with this statement. My experience is that most people have a patently unbiblical definition of sin (doing very bad things) that fails to explain why average joes like you and I who have never killed anyone might be in need of grace.”

    I no longer work in a church, but for a non-profit that works with the church so my role is no longer that of a teacher. I was an associate pastor, mostly working with youth.

    I think your comment here is worth considering but this whole conversation is a bit of a hi-jack so I’ll opt out. You make a good point and would love to see a conversation surrounding this question – re: Do people understand sin intuitively or does it need spelled out? I think a strong case can be made for both.

  • Patrick

    Taylor (18),

    I agree on lake of fire imagery, how about suffering the consequences of your own evil actions w/o fire though?

  • Tom F.

    I still think the linguistic problem has yet to be addressed, and it is closely related to use of the intellect in scripture. I apologize for the length, but this is something I have been thinking about and seriously wrestling with for awhile.

    As I see it, the problem is this: Chan and co. want to caution us against attempting to argue against any particular biblical interpretation by calling attention to the disconnect between God’s attributes (say love or mercy or even justice) and God’s purported actions (say ECT).

    The authors claim that God’s ways are beyond our own, so that we can not use our intellectual understanding of God’s character to evaluate whether these (possible) actions (ECT) align with God’s character.

    (Right? I’m not misreading, right?)

    But if this is so, than it seems to me that the result of this is to render any discussion of God’s attributes merely epiphenomenal, or, in plainer terms; we can make no predictions about what God will do based on who we think God is.

    We attribute characteristics to people not because they always display these characteristics but because it simplifies things and allows for a degree of regularity in our interactions with them. For example, because I know my friend is trustworthy, I can lend him my car. My attributing trustworthyness to him leads me to lend him my car. That is, my attribution of trustworthyness to his character actually leads me to change my behavior based upon a prediction about his future behavior (i.e. he won’t wreck it or steal it.)

    But if we can not rely on our attributions with God, because God’s justice/mercy/love is so completely different from our own, than our attributions about God’s character can’t do any real work. We can’t make reasonable predictions about how God will act based upon our understanding of God’s character. And as such, I’m not sure how this doesn’t dramatically affect our interactions with God. God may have said He would be merciful in such and such situation. But if God’s conception of mercy is so radically different than our own, how confident can we really be that God’s action of mercy will actually go well for us?

    Ironically, this runs counter to the biblical intuition that we can be encouraged by our understanding of what God’s basic character is. Perhaps the most common declaration of this is something that appears all over the OT, as it does here in Psalm 103:8 “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”

    If human moral intuition is enough to take comfort in these attributes of God, without having to worry about whether God’s “compassion” or “love” is so radically different from our own conception of compassion and love, than why is human moral intuition with God’s justice and Hell is automatically off the table? I understand that human moral intuition has its limits, but Chan and co. seem to want to disallow it altogether.

    In any case, I hope that makes sense and is a helpful contribution rather than more sound and fury.

    Peace

  • Luke Allison

    Too right, JoeyS: Sorry for the hijack all.

    Back to the topic at hand!

  • Rick

    Kenton #69-

    So the goal is simply to get discussed, and not the quality and reliability of the work?

    Osteen gets discussed too.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Tom F, that was wonderful for me to read. A couple thoughts.

    First, when Chan and Co. make the argument that we should not judge god based on this, we should not form a view of god, I agree, no view of god is basically a view that god is unpredictable and that is the heart of this. They believe, apparently, in an unpredictable god. Wow, excellent. Like dogs afraid of the master, like my kids after I have been…you get the idea.

    It’s like good cop bad cop. Sure Jesus says we are loved, but then Jesus also says, I don’t know what HE will do!

    I hope I am not characturing your post.

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #78, I understand the classical protestant formulation that any sin, no matter how small, separates us from God and requires God’s grace for expiation. I’m also sure that the “average joe” doesn’t get this. However, I’m also not convinced that emphasizing God’s wrath and the potential for eternal punishment is the solution.

    As JoeyS in #84 notes, the solution is probably beyond the scope of this discussion. In addition, I would like to see a discussion of whether the all-or-nothing formulation (ECT for all sin, regardless of severity) has Scriptural or logical warrant, and the extent to which God’s judgment might account for the difference between the “average joe”, the average criminal, and the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

  • scotmcknight

    Tom F., excellent all the way down.

  • Kenton

    No, Rick.

    The goal is to proclaim some good news. It’s to bring some comfort and peace. We don’t have to live in the terror that one’s beloved grandmother, who may have died without saying a certain prayer, is burning in a furnace somewhere with Gandhi.

    And most of the people who suffer with that terror are not within the walls of the seminary. They are, however sitting next to us at church. They’re wanting hope that traditional evangelicalism can’t deliver. They can’t be assumed to be familiar with – nor willing or capable to delve into – all the biblical scholarship of a Ben W. or a Scot McKnight. When the academy doesn’t take that into account, they end up dismissing it as “lightweight” or “lacking scholarship”.

  • Luke Allison

    “I would like to see a discussion of whether the all-or-nothing formulation (ECT for all sin, regardless of severity) has Scriptural or logical warrant, and the extent to which God’s judgment might account for the difference between the “average joe”, the average criminal, and the Hitlers and Stalins of the world”

    Oh, I completely agree with you!!!

    I think the “all sins are equal” line is unBiblical, a cop-out, a false theological construct and the like. There is absolutely a difference between Adolf Hitler’s actions in life and the average joe’s actions.

    I’m also not sure that this is the “classical protestant formulation”. On some level, the idea that every sin should be viewed similarly is SORT OF true, in that all who fail to keep the law at one point violate the spirit of it all (James 2:10). Sin is always bad.

    But as to the equality of all sins? I don’t think we can read Numbers 15:29-30 and agree with that idea.
    Or how about Jeremiah 32:35′s pronouncements on child sacrifice?
    Jesus jumps on the “no moral equivalency” bandwagon as well in Matthew 10:15.

    I believe it cheapens God’s justice and goodness when we say trite statements about people like Osama Bin Laden, both positively and negatively.

    Isn’t it incredibly arrogant to say: “I forgive Osama Bin Laden”? Well. I guess it’s all right then.

    Isn’t it also incredibly arrogant to say: “My lust problem is just as bad as Osama Bin Laden’s mass murdering problem”? That kind of thinking makes God look like a rather poor King.

    And yet….the Biblical understanding of sin never downplays it. Never shrugs it off.

    I feel like a lot of the misunderstandings between the Chans and the Bells of the world comes from the fact that they have different ideas in their head when they hear the word “sin”. A lot of us probably do too.

  • rjs

    Jeff # 41 (and indirectly Taylor #17),

    I’ve read the end of your post a few times, and I am still not quite sure of the intent of your sample argument –

    1. If God exists, he is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative.

    2. If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.

    3. A being who is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative will not actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

    Given 1-3, If God exists, he will not actualize a world in which a human soul will suffer in torment for eternity.

    Are you affirming this kind of argument as a valid example of a way to use intellect in connection with the interpretation of scripture?

  • DRL

    The sinners in Zion are terrified;
    trembling grips the godless:
    “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
    – Isaiah 33:14 (NIV)

  • Dana Ames

    dopderbeck,

    I think you would like Yannaras’ “On the Absence and Unknowability of God: Heidegger and the Aeropagite”. It’s a slim volume, but so very pertinent to your comment.

    Dana

  • Rod

    Scot (#16 and 23) I am in way over my head asking questions on this blog, but here goes anyway. I hear and read a lot of talk (on this blog) about free will, and that love demands free will, and that ECT (or, in your case, annilihationism) is a possible outcome for people who want to make the ultimate choice about their eternity.

    But “free will” is a term I struggle with – what is that when it comes to my relationship with God? I would agree I have a choice – but it is definitely damaged by my sin condition and, not really that “free.” Adam, by most understandings, I think, truly had free will – he was not tainted by sin. But I am. I was, I learned as a child, “born into sin.” I simply can’t make free choices -in fact by definition, my sinful nature causes me to make bad choices. Another tenant of the teaching I received was that God would give me the strength to overcome – but is that really a free choice then? Isn’t that just him imposing his will and me agreeing to accept it?

    I am finding it difficult to embrace a God who wants me to utilize my free will, but requires that I do it from a handicapped position.

    Now I am not so arrogant to think that had I been in Adam’s shoes, I would definitely have chosen to remain pure and “sin-free.” However, it would have seemed more “just” to me had I been able to make my eternal decision from a clean slate, not a tainted one.

    Just some thoughts (well, really more questions!).

  • Rick

    Luke #93-

    Michael Patton did a post on the “equal sin” issue.

    He concludes,
    “All people are sinners. All people are sinners from birth. But not all sin is equal…While not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature. In other words, no one is less of a sinner because of an innate righteousness about which they can boast. All people have equal potential for depravity because we are all sons of Adam and share in the same depravity, even if we don’t, due to God’s grace, act out our sinfulness to the same degree.”

    Kenton #92-

    Simply because you are talking to a certain group does not mean you don’t have to be careful with your reasoning. N.T. Wright and Scot are a couple of good examples of those who are able to write for the lay person (but also for scholars). Although many disagree with some of their positions, few (if any) question their scholarship.

    That being said, I appreciate your emphasis on “hope”.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    First day of school down.

    (62) PaulE I like your post a lot. It seems to me that my premise 3 is prima facie true. An exceedingly, compassionate and creative being has no good reason to actualize a universe that will end in the eternal conscious torment of some. We argued this first in the post I did on Erasing Hell and so far (in my mind) that claim has held. Do you have a different answer? Can you imagine a good reason for God to actualize a world in which a human soul will suffer countless lifetimes of torment?

    To your premise 3 — “God exists and has actualized a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.”

    The problem is, I can easily reject premise 3 with an annihilationist (or universalist) interpretation of scripture. I see no other reason, except a traditional reading of scripture to hold your premise 3. And as such it fails as a decisive argument.

    In fact, since I see the argument at hand being *how* we intepret scripture, your response would be circular in answering that question, where as mine gives us direction in the interpretative question at hand.

    Good stuff. Peace.

  • Kenton

    That’s right, Rick.

    So let’s quit obfuscating the disagreement about the reasoning of Love Wins by dismissing its lack of scholarship.

    And just because a bunch of scholars disagree with it, doesn’t settle the issue. Scholars can be wrong. And given how they can be particularly susceptible to the groupthink of the guild, they can be wrong en masse.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (65) Andrew.

    You asked, “my question was whether the structural similarity between the argument from evil and the argument against hell was at all troubling. Both arguments take the form:
    1. If God exists, he is good, and all-powerful.
    2. A good and all-powerful would not actualise a world in which there was x.
    3. Therefore God and x are incompatible.
    The only difference is that x is “suffering” in one case, and ECT in the other. But the best refutations of the “suffering” version (a la Lewis, Plantinga, Keller, etc) involve the response that our inability to understand why God might bring about x might result from our lack of omniscience, and might not rule out the compatibility of God and x. Isn’t this what Chan and Sprinkle are doing?”

    So, troubling or not, these are arguments that need to be wrestled through. I think the best refutations of the problem of evil are John Hick’s “Soul-making theodicy” and Robert Adams’s “Must God create the best?” In combination they create a powerful argument for why God would want to actualize a world with both moral and natural evil.

    Hick argues that evil/pain create conditions in which our souls may grow from infantile to developed states which may be necessary for a child of God. Adam’s argues that in a world without moral evil, you would not exist (for you perform immoral acts) but maybe God likes you. As such, in answer to the question: why does God actualize a world with moral evil—the answer is because he wants you to exist.

    I see no argument of this sort for ECT.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (68) Dana.

    Good comment. Did we talk about this already? You wrote, “The apostolic and ante-Nicene writers were unanimous in explaining the primary meaning of Jesus’ incarnation, cross and resurrection: the defeat of Death. So, if God is so committed to defeating Death, it makes no sense to me that he would end up annihilating people after their resurrection after he went to such trouble to accomplish their resurrection.”

    I agree with the first sentence, disagree only for textual reason with the second. How do you read the final judgment in your view?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (86) Tom F. Love your refutation of this. (I pursue a similar line here: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/05/25/jeff-cook-to-francis-chan/)

    I would pile on and say that if I can expose a contradiction in their interpretation of hell, the argument from mystery fails for if the contradiction holds it could not possibly be the case that God wills ECT.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (94) rjs. You asked about the argument in the original post, “Are you affirming this kind of argument as a valid example of a way to use intellect in connection with the interpretation of scripture?”

    It seems to me valid arguments should affect our interpretations of scripture. There are arguments for the Bible as God’s Word, what that means, what counts as metaphorical and what doesn’t, etc. My argument is another example of an argument that (if it holds) should influence our reading. Much love.

  • PaulE

    (99) Thanks, Jeff, for your gracious response and kind words. I was worried that in trying to be concise, I come across as abrasive.

    I would agree that your third premise is prima facie true. But I would hasten to add that my premise in #47 about the cross seems to be as well. Further, it seems to me the reason most people accept that God would strike an innocent man is not that they’ve worked out all the ethical calculus to prove God is just in doing so, but because they believe it happened based on the testimony of the apostles. So any argument having to do with moral intuition and its relation to interpretation that could be leveled against a traditional version of hell could also be leveled against a orthodox understanding of what happened on the cross.

    I hesitate to offer a reason for hell. It’s enough for me that a solution exists without having to know the solution; and mine will only be a guess. If I had offer a reason, though, it would go something along the lines of Romans 9:22-23. If anyone finds the reason there unsettling, frankly I do not blame them.

    Grace and peace to you as well.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    The structure of that argument troubles me just as much as the view that Chan (or in my posts Jack Collins) holds with respect to scripture. It is simply another form of law book – putting forth a logical proof for a position.

    I am not arguing for ECT – I don’t think this is the intent of the teaching in scripture. I lean towards an annihilationist position. But the view of God in scripture cannot be reduced to a such an argument – all three of the premises and the conclusion are simply assertions. What I am really trying to comment on here is the approach toward scripture – our hermeneutic and the way intellect plays a role.

    Wisdom thinking (and I am using the term to make a distinction) looks at the contradictions, may intentionally use contradiction, to point to truth. We need to read and interact with scripture in all of its facets with an intent to learn wisdom – and the ability to respond appropriately in new and unexpected situations. Not to pull out logical proofs or to find the right proof text (piece of law) for a given situation.

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/ Justin

    @68 Dana Ames. “The apostolic and ante-Nicene writers were unanimous in explaining the primary meaning of Jesus’ incarnation, cross and resurrection: the defeat of Death.”

    This point is epic! And it’s something which somehow has either been relegated to a single day, Easter, or magically narrowed in it’s effect. So much so that many of us can stand shoulder to shoulder as the “Body of Christ” loudly singing,

    “Because the enemy has been defeated / Death couldn’t hold you down / We’re gonna lift our voice in victory / We’re gonna make your praises loud”

    but then dis-member, dis-joint, and walk away in, dare I say, disbelief?

    This is not the thread to pursue such a conversation as regards how this bleeds into our corporate worship, but needless to say, I believe it is far, far reaching.

    I appreciate your wise, concise, and clarifying thoughts, Dana. Glad to listen in on this blog.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    I did not have time to fully read all the comments, so please pardon me if these have already been addressed:

    Jeff – it seems that you have left out a premise that might disrupt your syllogism, namely that “If God exists, he is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful”. I don’t understand why we continue to leave these other attributes (and, therefore, the fullness of God on the wayside)?

    Scot – it is a bit distressing that you are willing to hold to a libertarian free will (in fact, it seems mildly absurd), being that, at least minimally, we are all predisposed based on our genetic makeup and family upbringing, which both certainly preclude a libertarian free will.

    Dopderbeck – I fully agree with you that we cannot have theology without philosophy, but I think I would also want to caution to not let our philosophy trump our exegesis (i.e. compassion for humanity [rightly so] trumping the righteousness, justice, and wrath of God).

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (106) rjs. Your post gave me some stuff to think about. You write, “The structure of that argument troubles me just as much as the view that Chan (or in my posts Jack Collins) holds with respect to scripture. It is simply another form of law book – putting forth a logical proof for a position.”

    What is the alternative here? In fact, why should I hold your critique: because it is logical and reasonable to believe, or because it appeals to my emotions or …?

    You write, “The view of God in scripture cannot be reduced to a such an argument – all three of the premises and the conclusion are simply assertions.”

    All logical proofs work this way. You are free to deny any of the premise by showing that they are false, or you can deny the argument as a whole by showing that the ideas do not lead to the conclusion. But it is a step into irrationality to say I reject such thinking. *Logic is the way right thinking functions.* If right thinking about God is important, logic is important. Furthermore, arguments of this kind are employed frequently in the Bible, especially by Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews. Apparently God likes ‘em.

    You write, “Wisdom thinking (and I am using the term to make a distinction) looks at the contradictions, may intentionally use contradiction, to point to truth. We need to read and interact with scripture in all of its facets with an intent to learn wisdom – and the ability to respond appropriately in new and unexpected situations. Not to pull out logical proofs or to find the right proof text (piece of law) for a given situation.”

    I don’t understand the difference between exposing contradictions and logical proofs. Speaking as one who teaches logic occassionally, exposing contradictions is a frequent move in logical proofs.

    I can form my argument as a contradiction instead. Feel free to add a forth premise to my argument:

    “(4) The traditional view of hell paints a God who actualizes a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.”

    The new conclusion would expose the contradiction and say:

    “Therefore, if God exists the traditional view of hell is false.”

    Much love. You’re making me think.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (108) Daniel.

    YOu write, “Jeff – it seems that you have left out a premise that might disrupt your syllogism, namely that “If God exists, he is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful”. I don’t understand why we continue to leave these other attributes (and, therefore, the fullness of God on the wayside)?”

    Such attributes do not affect the flow of the argument. We could also add “and God likes cotton candy.” But it wouldn’t matter. Much love.

  • Anderson

    Kenton,

    Maybe scholarship is the wrong word. Without getting academic, Bell could have done a better job supporting his arguments and anticipating some of the obvious counter-arguments. He didn’t say enough to convince me that the chasm in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was in the rich man’s heart, and he made only passing mention of the lake of fire in Revelation, which many of his philosophical opponents use as a trump card. And while I understand not wanting to publish a book littered with footnotes, he needed to show some of his work, if only for the sake credibility.

    I’m sympathetic to Bell’s perspective, and I thought the first chapter of Love Wins—where he puts all the tough questions about hell and salvation on the table (including questions that many Christians are reluctant to voice)—was outstanding. I just don’t think he did a good job of presenting his argument.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Paul YOu write, “I would agree that your third premise is prima facie true. But I would hasten to add that my premise in #47 about the cross seems to be as well.”

    I disagree. I think when the story of Jesus is told I think to myself “If God exists, that’s exactly what he is like.” Such intuitions are the reason I became a Christian.

    You write, “So any argument having to do with moral intuition and its relation to interpretation that could be leveled against a traditional version of hell could also be leveled against a orthodox understanding of what happened on the cross.”

    I don’t think you can remove moral intuitions from any set of value judgments. And if they apply against/or in favor of the cross–so be it. In fact, I’m not sure it could be otherwise.

    You write, “I hesitate to offer a reason for hell. It’s enough for me that a solution exists without having to know the solution; and mine will only be a guess. If I had offer a reason, though, it would go something along the lines of Romans 9:22-23. If anyone finds the reason there unsettling, frankly I do not blame them.”

    Exactly. That’s the problem.

    Much love, friend.

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Jeff (110),

    I’m going to need you to expound on “such attributes do not affect the flow of the argument”…I’m not following you.

    Thanks!

  • Kenton

    Anderson (#111)-

    OK, I can see what you mean by that, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you. But consider this: there was a lot to navigate through in this topic. Lots of variations on how people would argue the bible supports hell as ECT. Add to that the parameter (it seems) RB wrote under of making the book less than 200 pages (because outside of academia no one wants to read a 450 page dissertation), and the book works as well as could be expected. And it works as well as any of us sympathetic to RB’s perspective could have hoped.

    So when you say “he didn’t say enough to convince *ME*” (emphasis added), I have to reply that it’s not just you reading the book. The objective wasn’t to convince Anderson what the lake represented in Luke 16. Having the conversation about the book go the way it has gone was the objective. Lots of his readers have felt a burden taken off their shoulders (read some of the reviews in Amazon). Yes, there is still a process of deconstructing our old understanding of scripture (and doctrine and history and ecclesiology and mission) and that will take place over time, but getting the letter nailed to the door was the first step and I think he did it as well as was possible.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (113) Daniel.

    Adding a new “And” to one of my premises does not affect how an argument flows. For example:

    (1) All men are mortal
    (2) Socrates is a man *and he loves figure skating.*
    Therefore Socrates is mortal

    The addition of new material does not affect the flow of the argument. So too saying “And God is just, wrathful and like a good game of soccer” doesn’t affect the original argument I posted. You must wrestle with the fact that God is compassionate and creative and generous, otherwise his attributes are at war with one another (and some of those attributes will win and others will lose.)

    A better way for you to go perhaps is simply to deny my first premise.Peace.

  • Rick

    Anderson #111-

    Thanks for that. Perhaps my use of scholarship did cause confusion. Well said.

    Jeff #110-

    I agree with Daniel #113- need some clarification.

    Kenton #114-

    I am probably misreading you, but it sounds like you are saying the conversation is what matters, not the reasoning and support of the position. As long as “Lots of his readers have felt a burden taken off their shoulders”, not matter how well grounded in accurate research, is the main thing.

    What if it is then a false hope? Does that matter?

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Jeff (115),

    Perhaps we are talking past each other…I don’t know.

    I am fully comfortable with the fact that God is compassionate and creative and generous, and I do not believe his attributes are at war with one another. In other words, in no way do I want to deny your first premise.

    Perhaps, I ought to offer a similar, yet different, argument, and ask you to respond to that:

    1. If God exists, he is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful.
    2. If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.
    3. A being who is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful can actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

    Can you explain to me how this argument does not work?

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/ Justin

    @117, Daniel,

    I am not going to hijack Jeff’s response to you :]

    But the issue, as I see it, is that IF God is exceedingly merciful, as you agree with in your post, then Mercy has to follow Justice and Wrath – by definition; if it then follows justice and wrath, then we return again to Jeff’s syllogism.

    What do you think? How do you read that?

    Thanks and blessings!

  • http://www.chriscocca.com Christopher Cocca

    No god or God worth having would, in my faith experience, subject any of us struggling creatures to eternal conscious torment or annihilation. Am I putting my reason over what God has said? Hardly. I’m putting my experience of God in community above what the Bible says about God. Huge difference. All the difference.

  • Dana Ames

    Jeff @102,
    yeah, we’ve talked about this already. I’m Orthodox, and I’ve been trying to explain that there is this other interpretation, legitimate and ancient. A significant part of the reason I was drawn to Orthodoxy is that hope for the salvation of all, though the “minority view”, remains on the table.

    Refer to S. Morizot’s comment @53:
    “…in joining his nature to our nature and defeating death, Christ destroyed death for all mankind — something only God can do. It is no longer ultimately our nature to die. (That’s why annihilationism is off the table in their [Orthodox] view. It diminishes or rejects the work of Christ.)” “Nature” here is understood to be ousios: that about humans which makes us human. Orthodox don’t believe we have a “sin nature”; we simply have a human nature, because we’re created human beings. We were not created fully mature and did not lose the image of God when we turned away, but God’s likeness was withdrawn, because we didn’t want it. Our disease is that we don’t live up to our human nature.

    The intention of the Trinitarian Godhead was always to be united with humanity; this was accomplished at the Incarnation, when the divine nature was united with the human nature, and in the pouring out of the Spirit as an earnest of the fullness of the future complete union. (The Chalcedonian Declaration attempts to put words to the incarnation part of this, and feels clumsy, because we really can’t know the depth of it – nonetheless, we have to be able to talk about it somehow.)

    Because because God is good and gives/engenders life from the depth of the love of the Trinitarian persons (hypostases), and because of the Incarnation, God does not withdraw his gift of life and it is now not in our nature to die. It is God’s wish to bestow immortality on humans; it is his desire to deliver us from Death and unite us to the Godhead. We have to want this union, because, consistent with love, God doesn’t force us into it. In the “Christ Event” he has opened all the doors, yet we still have to choose (to the limit of the capabilities of each person) to walk through them. It is in intentionally pursuing the fullness of this union in love (through the Sacramental life, prayer, fasting, care for others, inner awareness so we can see where we still fail to make the choices – all the tools the Church has for our disposal) that we begin to recover the “likeness” of God, becoming “perfect” – not sinless, but full and complete in our ability to love.

    So in light of that, how I see (and hope) things play out:
    All are resurrected at Christ’s return. The light of the fullness of his presence and love is what judges us. Whatever our self-protecting inabilities and limitations in responding to that love consists of is that which “burns”. Imaging being confronted with that love and not being able to respond, to finally be totally aware of the truth of our lives, including all the ways we have turned against that love, including our lack of love toward ourselves, other humans and the rest of creation – the way Scot in Jesus Creed describes how we are broken eikons. As we “come to our senses” without compulsion, we are finally healed. Some people will “burn” longer than others because of how deeply they have been enslaved to the fear of death through sin, and how that has worked out as un-love through their lives (yeah, Hitler & Stalin, etc.). The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations… and I believe that somehow, those people who are “more healed”, farther along the way in their true humanity, will help love to life those who in this life pursued death.

    Christ will gather up all things (and I believe that means all things) and lay them at the Father’s feet. All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. The earth will be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

    Lengthy, but you asked…

    Dana

  • Kenton

    Yeah, Rick, I guess it would matter if it were false hope.

    But I’m contending it’s not.

    Both the conversation and the reasoning matter, but you don’t start this conversation by vetting a doctoral thesis through a theology guild that refuses to consider your premise, because they kill it. Not (or “not just”) because your case is wrong, they kill it because it upsets the apple cart. They kill it because they don’t want to lose their prestige they’ve spent their whole career working toward.

    So when you bypass the guild and take your case to the people the guild goes berserk attacking you and the case you make and defending the status quo.

    That’s what has happened here (and it’s just like Wittenberg). Despite their protests to the contrary, I don’t believe the problem is “scholarship” nor is it a “lack of reasoning” the problem is that the gates of hell are (literally) under attack and if the gates are breached their world is completely overturned. The “scholarship” and “lack of reasoning” rhetoric is a red herring.

    There IS a line of reasoning in the book. It’s not faulty, and it’s consistent with scripture. (In comparison to Erasing Hell, anyway.) So don’t totally dismiss it if it’s incomplete or needs to be further discussed and developed. If particular objections were not addressed – OK, it was not meant to exhaustively answer every objection. (Besides that what blogs are for.) The guild may not may not(want to) follow the reasoning, or they may just not like it, but it’s still there.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Jeff,

    Wow, I took the morning off to go surfing and it looks like I missed out on a scintillating discussion! Perhaps we could chat through this over lunch tomorrow, Jeff, but here’s a few thoughts for the few remaining readers.

    First, as always, thanks so much for making me think harder through this very difficult issue. In many ways, I’ve learned just as much through the aftermath conversations as I did during the research for the book! Your thoughts (Jeff) have challenged me greatly and forced me to rethink both the idea of hell and how it was presented in the book.

    Second, in order to gain a better understanding of where we were coming from, I think it would be helpful to recognize that the comments you cited from the book come from chapters 5-6 and not 1-2 (correct me if I’m wrong). In other words, our plea for “taking God at his word” assumes that there has been a decent amount of exegetical work done–which obviously involves a good deal of human reasoning. In other words, we were not saying that one should simply open up the Bible and think they can read with with a “view from nowhere.” We all have baggage. We all have presuppositions. We all have tons of stuff that taint our interpretation and we need to recognize this. However, as a critical realist, I do think that the meaning of the text can be found with a good degree of assurance (deliberately using the word “assurance” rather than “certainty”) at the end of the exegetical process. Then, and only then, should we sit back (or get on our knees) and ask ourselves if we are going to take God at his word. I hope that no one would honestly think that I would endorse some sort of anti-intellectual (or even a naive foundationalist) view Scripture. In any case, I do agree with Vanhoozer that there is a meaning that can be found in the text.

    Second, our assurance in the doctrine of hell (after 3 chapters of exegesis) is focused more broadly on hell as a place of punishment for the wicked after judgment day. This would INCLUDE both the annihilationist for the ECT position. We do “land” on ECT for reasons stated in the book, but the primary aim of the book was not to argue for ECT over Annihilation. It was to argue ECT/Annihilation over Universalism, or other positions that mock the idea of “hell” being a place of punishment as a relic from our medieval past that needs to be abandoned.

    So I don’t agree to the charge: “The authors are asking us through reasoning about God’s actions to reject reasoning about God’s actions.” Or at least, this was not what we were trying to convey. And even now, I think I should have added a clarifying statement or two, or at least a footnote, to explain that this is not what we were advocating.

    In short, here’s what we were trying to arguing against. We were trying to say that we as the creature do not have to right to (1) understand and believe something about God revealed through his word and then (2) reject it because it does not fit our own reasoning or emotional sentiment. Or, we as the creature do not have the right to have some a priori views on God and his ways to which we submit Scripture. And this is where both Francis and I still hold on to our criticism of those who BEGIN their theological or spiritual journey saying, “I could never love a god who would…” I’m still not convinced that this desire on our part should be equated with a naive hermeneutic or anti-intellectualism, which it is sometimes taken to be. I still want to hold out the possibility of embracing Isa 66:1-2.

    Anyway, I’ve got to catch my flight to Colorado. Gotta hang out with Jeff Cook!

    Preston

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Sorry, one too many “second’s”

  • Tom F.

    Scot and Jeff, much thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot. :)

    DRT, I think you got the gist. Maybe a point of clarification: I wouldn’t say God is totally predictable, nor am I saying God needs to be. Maybe the best word is “dependable”, which indicates a degree of regularity that allows for surprise. Much like human relationships.

    Also, Jeff, I’m not sure that your link sent me to the right place. Are you sure that’s where you wanted to send me?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (117) Daniel. So let me reprint the syllogism and comment. You write,

    “1. If God exists, he is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful.
    2. If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.
    3. A being who is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful can actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.”

    Below I mimic the structure of your argument to show how it doesn’t override my argument. The former of your argument is identical to this:

    1. If mike exists, he likes strawberry ice cream.
    2. If mike exists, he knows where to get strawberry ice cream
    3. A person who likes strawberry ice cream can choose any ice cream they want.

    This is essentially the arguments form that you give.

    My arguments form is essentially:
    1. If mike exists, he is lactose intolerant.
    2. If mike exists, he knows he is lactose intolerant.
    3. A person who knows they are lactose intolerant won’t eat strawberry ice cream.

    The character traits you mention regarding God do not tells *whether* God will create ECT—it simply says he “can”. My argument says that God will not—and as such my argument if sound tells us something God will not do; yours simply says—all things being equal—what God has the power to do.

    Put another way, add any of the mike premises of your argument to my syllogism and it doesn’t affect my conclusion that Mike won’t eat strawberry ice cream. However if I add my mike premises to your argument—then mike won’t eat strawberry Ice cream.

    Same thing with hell. Add my picture of God’s attributes to your hell argument and though God has the power to actualize ECT, he will refrane. But add your premise to my argument and God still won’t choose to actualize ECT.

    Again I think you need to deny premise 1 of my argument *or* show a scenario in which an exceedingly generous, gracious, and creative being will foreordain a state of eternal conscious torment for a few billion souls (that is, you need to show that my third premise is false). I don’t think holding out God’s other attributes does anything for your cause.

    Whachatthink?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook
  • John Mc

    Daniel, Jeff,

    I know this is a long post, and late in the discussion, but I have been away for awhile.

    After acknowledging that God is merciful, Daniel posits:
    1. If God exists, he is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful.
    2. If God exists, he knows the future of any world he actualizes.
    3. A being who is exceedingly just, righteous, and wrathful can actualize a world he knows will culminate in the everlasting incarceration and torment of a human soul.

    I have so many objections to this that I don’t know where to begin – or end.

    “If God exists” from the main thread, should be followed by “I know this only from faith as buttressed by faith-driven interpretation of items from my environment, such as nature and revelation, and not by logical analysis.”

    “HE is exceedingly just, righteous and wrathful,” or even “he is exceedingly generous, compassionate, and creative,” is a non-sequitur. The fact that God exists (regardless of gender) is not determinative of God’s attributes. Those attributes can only be discerned from revelation and from deductions from the nature. Nothing in nature suggests that God is “just, righteous and wrathful.” Nature suggests nothing about divine attitudes toward human notions of justice, righteousness or about divine propensity to experience and express the human emotion of wrath. I can see in nature consistent expressions of the attributes of compassion creativeness and extravagant generosity. Revelation through scripture is contradictory about how to define justice and righteousness and about how these are apprehended by God and whether and under what circumstances God experiences and expresses wrathfulness. In the end the attributes of God are simply beyond human comprehension, except as God elects to self-disclose – and even such disclosure can be nothing more than a matter of God manipulating the information disclosed to achieve unknowable divine purposes. (Perhaps God is utterly neutral with respect to human understandings of good and evil and God has intentionally elected to portray God’s self as good because divine modeling of such attributes encourages human conformity which then enhances the success of the human experiment?)

    It is possible that God knows the details and contours of any world which God actualizes, but the particulars of how that would happen in the divine consciousness cannot be worked out through logic. For example does God conceive and contrive the future by design, or does God experience all time through a transcendence of time, etc. Is God or God’s creation subject to unforeseeable change and mutation? Is such dynamism in creation or in the divinity, if it exists, a matter of intentional design? If you claim that such is the product of design, then wrathfulness is irrational, why anger at a designed result?

    Finally, and most important, true compassion trumps righteousness and justice. I think it is fair to define ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ respectively as ‘following the letter and spirit of established rules as a matter of conscience’ and ‘reciprocal fairness, that is each person gets what they deserve, good or bad, based on personal merit.’ If one has genuine compassion, one abhors suffering, no matter how well merited, and one seeks the good for the other, again regardless of merit. As for the role of righteousness, that would simply be a measure of merit. Compassion disregards the righteousness of the other.

    I would say:
    If we believe that God exists, and
    if we believe that God intentionally created the world, and
    if we believe that God is compassionate,
    then there is no logical reason compelling us to believe that God designed into creation ECT.

  • Kenton

    Welcome back to the discussion, Preston. I was hoping the previous posts didn’t leave you “eternally on the outside” and “not wanting to join the party” as it were. :)

    I like your comment here. I really do. As a matter of fact this may be where the disconnect begins. I don’t think those of us who make statements that start with the words, “I could never believe in a god who…” are making that as an a priori understanding. We’re not BEGINing there. We are making it after a long journey from a place of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” We got to the end of a long way down that road and found a giant disconnect between what we had been taught about what God said, and the person of Jesus that God had been incarnated as. We decided our faith in Jesus was greater than our faith in our own understanding of scripture. We didn’t want to throw out scripture, we just wanted to understand it afresh.

    So we want to embrace, not just the first two verses of Isaiah 66, but the whole chapter. That chapter is a beautiful picture of God’s glory being expanded from a tribal God to a God worshiped by EVERYONE everywhere.

    Those of us who look for fresh understandings of this scripture saw that in our “God said it that settles it” mindset that we were not the people of Tarshish, Libya and Greece that God was expanding His glory to include. No, we were the people of Zion who didn’t want God’s mercy extended to those dirty foreigners. We were the people in the last verse – “the insiders” – who rebelled against God expanding his glory to “the outsiders”. We were becoming the dead bodies being eaten by worms and burned by fire that is not quenched.

    Forgive us, Father.

    I’m sure it made the children of Israel treat Isaiah like Rob Bell has been treated lately. “Really, Isaiah??? Don’t you take the Torah seriously? Don’t you know God’s favor is reserved for us and us alone? We’re just clay, Isaiah! You got a lot of arrogance, Isaiah saying your understanding of His mercy is greater than what He has already said of His justice!”


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