From the Inside

A sermon by Jason Micheli, pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist in Alexandria, VA. Jason’s sermons are at the top of the list for me.

At the beginning of my ministry, I worked for a couple of years as a chaplain at the maximum security prison in Trenton, New Jersey. I enjoyed it. In a lot of ways, the Gospel makes more sense in a place like that than anywhere else.

But I didn’t enjoy everything about the job.

Part of my routine, every week, was to visit and counsel the inmates in solitary confinement.

It was a sticky, hot, dark wing of the prison. Because every inmate was locked behind a heavy, steel door, unlike the rest of the prison, the solitary wing was as silent as a tomb.

Whenever I think of Hell, I think of that place. But not for the reasons you might expect.

Whenever I visited solitary, the officer on duty was almost always a 50-something Sgt named Moore.

Officer Moore had a thick, Mike Dikta mustache and coarse sandy hair he combed into a meticulous, greased part. He was tall and strong and, to be honest, intimidating. He had a Marine Corps tattoo on one forearm and a heart with a woman’s name on the other arm.

If we weren’t in church, I’d also tell you he was a blank-hole.

So…you get the picture.

Whenever I visited solitary he’d buzz me inside only after I refused to go away. He’d usually be sitting down, gripping the sides of his desk, reading a newspaper.

I hated going there because, every time I did, he’d greet me ridicule.

He’d grumble things like: ‘Save your breath, preacher, you’re wasting your time.’

He’d grumble things like: ‘Do you know what these people did? They don’t deserve forgiveness.’  He’d grumble things like: ‘They only listen to you because they’ve got no one else.’

Once, when we gathered for a worship service, I’d invited Officer Moore to join us. He grumbled that he’d have ‘nothing to do with a God who’d have anything to do with trash like them’ and refused to come in.

Instead he sat outside with his arm crossed.

The locked prison door between us. About halfway through my time at the prison, Officer Moore suffered a near fatal attack; in fact, he was dead for several minutes before the rescue squad revived him. I know this because when he returned to work, he told me. Tried to throw it in my face.

‘It’s all a sham’ he grumbled at me one afternoon.

‘I was dead for 3 minutes. Dead. And you know what I experienced? Nothing. I didn’t see any bright light at the end of any tunnel. It was just darkness. Your god? All make believe.’

Even though I don’t put much stock in the light at the end of the tunnel cliche, that didn’t stop me from saying: ‘Maybe you should take that as a warning. Maybe there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for you.’ Light-Jamie-Machtemes-Light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel11

He grumbled and said: ‘Don’t tell me you believe in Hell?’

‘What makes you think Iwouldn’t believe in Hell?’ I asked.

‘You actually believe in it?’ he asked, as though I’d surprised him for the first time.

‘Well, Jesus talks about Hell,’ I said, ‘more than the rest of the Bible combined.’

‘Oh, and since I don’t believe in your Jesus, I’m going to Hell? Is that it?’

He pushed his chair back and fussed with his collar. He suddenly seemed uncomfortable.

‘When Jesus talks about Hell,’ I said, ‘he doesn’t say anything about unbelief. It would be easier if he did. Jesus talks about Hell, he talks about people with contempt towards their neighbors, religious people who are gossips and hypocrites, people who refuse to help those in need. Those kinds of people.’

Officer Moore stared at me. ‘So what the Hell’s Hell like then?’ he asked, smirking. ‘Fire and brimstone, I mean, really?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘fire, brimstone, gnashing of teeth, those are probably all metaphors.’ He let out a sarcastic sigh of relief.  So then I added: ‘They’re probably metaphors for something much worse.’ That got his attention. ‘I’ve got a book you should read sometime,’ I said and walked to the first cell.

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During the course of my ministry, I’ve met far too many people who’ve been hurt by Christians who spoke callously or cavalierly about Hell.

That’s the last thing I want to do.

So today I want to be uncharacteristically restrained and non-confrontational.

Sort of. I say sort of because I also know that for most of you, like for most middle and upper class Christians in America, Hell is an absurdity. You tell people to go to Hell, but you don’t actually believe in it. So today I want to be uncharacteristically straightforward. No sarcasm or jokes, sorry. I don’t want to give you another reason to think the doctrine of Hell is just an absurdity.

Now, it can be misleading to say ‘the doctrine of Hell’ because within the Christian tradition there are a variety of perspectives.

What I want to do today is walk you through three of the primary ways the Christian tradition has conceived of Hell. I want to point out the strengths and problems in each view, and then I want to offer you what I think Jesus is trying to teach us when he teaches about Hell.

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deconstructingharry1The first way the Christian tradition has thought about Hell is the one you’re all acquainted with: Hell as Eternal Punishment.

     God takes the sinner. Throws them into Hell. And locks the doors. Forever.

In this view, Hell is physical and spiritual anguish.

As the rich man in Jesus’ parable begs: ‘Cool my tongue for I am in agony…warn my brothers so they don’t come into this torture chamber.’ 

And in this view, Hell is endless. You never escape. You can never repent. And you never perish.

This is Dante’s image of God’s inferno, where the message above the doors to Hell read: ‘Abandon all hope.’ 

Now, I can tell from the looks on your faces that this is the view of Hell you best know and most resist. You can feel the problem in this view even if you can’t articulate it.

It’s a moral problem. It’s hard to imagine the god who died for us turning around and turning us over to perpetual torment?

And the word perpetual gets at the problem. There’s a problem of proportion. Even the very worst of human sin is finite. That it should meet with infinite punishment is disproportionate.

The graphic imagery of this view of Hell can lead to caricature, and it’s easy to dismiss a caricature.

But notice. Who doesn’t seem to object to the idea of Hell as punishment? Lazarus.

Notice too- the rich man knows Lazarus’ name; therefore, he must’ve known Lazarus’ suffering.

And the rich man did nothing.

And Lazarus died.

Lazarus isn’t gleeful over the rich man’s punishment, but neither is he troubled by it.

Behind all the Medieval exaggeration, what this view of Hell is trying to proclaim is God’s promise that one day he will judge sin and evil and set things right.

Of course, people tell me all the time ‘I believe in a God of love; I don’t believe in a God of Judgement.’ But before you completely brush aside the notion of a Judgmental God,  listen to this. It’s from Miroslav Volf. He’s a theologian from the Balkans and in the ‘80‘s he was tortured for being a Christian:

“If God were not angry at injustice, God would not be worthy of our worship. The practice of Christian nonviolence requires the belief that God will one day judge. If you disagree, I suggest imagining that you are in a war zone (which is where my paper was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats cut. 

Imagine telling them that they should not punish their enemies because God does not judge or punish. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home to insist that an all-loving God does not judge or punish. You would do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind” (Exclusion and Embrace, 303).

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The second view of Hell is Annihilationdemons1340-l

     Rather than God throwing people into Hell and locking the door closed behind them. 

     Picture instead God throwing open the doors of his Kingdom and saying: ‘Get out of here. Leave’

This understanding of Hell recognizes that scripture’s imagery for Hell is…imagery. Annihilation isn’t about physical punishment. God instead judges by saying to the sinner: ‘Depart from me.’ And because it’s in God’s presence that we live and move and have our being, once the judged sinner departs from God’s presence they simply cease to exist. Poof.

You can think of how the rich man in the parable no longer has a name after he dies. Whereas in life the rich man probably had thousands of Twitter followers, in death as he departs from God’s presence he loses his name and eventually his very self. He’s in the process of disintegration.

The strength of this view is that it holds onto the biblical importance of God’s justice while avoiding the nasty visual of God tormenting sinners endlessly.

The problem with this view of Hell, however, is God’s sovereignty. If God is all-powerful and God desires to share fellowship with us in God’s New Creation then how is it that some are lost forever? How is it that the Sovereign, all-powerful God fails?

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A third way of viewing Hell is, functionally, a denial of it:Universalismwill-israel-be-saved_472_354_80

Universalism pictures a Hell where the doors are never closed. 

Although Universalism has always been considered a heresy, it has just enough Gospel-logic to it that it’s never died away. In other words, God created all of us. God called Israel to be a light to all nations. God so loved all the world that he took flesh in Jesus, and while we were sinners Jesus died for all of us. Therefore, ultimately God will get what God wants. All will be saved.

You could point to the parable today- how it shows a chasm between the rich man and Heaven but even still the rich man doesn’t appear to be permanently lost to God. The rich man can see Heaven and speak to Abraham. And it’s true the rich man is punished, but it’s not clear that he’s damned. Abraham calls the rich man: ‘My son…’

Despite being a heresy, Universalism persists because it points out what the Eternal Punishment view frequently obscures: the allnessof what God desires. But the problem with Universalism is that it emphasizes what God desires at the expense of what we desire. God’s grace in this view is so irresistible it is, in fact, coercive. In the End, ultimately, we’re not free. We can’t freely choose NOT to choose God. Our loving relationship with God then is more like an arranged marriage.

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Those are three ways the Christian tradition has viewed Hell. In the end, I believe all three of them are inadequate.

Here’s why: Christians believe that in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God has defeated Sin, Death and the Devil once and for all, it is finished- that’s why I never talk about the Devil.

Christians believe Jesus suffered for us, took our punishment on himself, descended all the way into Hell to experience the forsakenness due us.

So to say God chooses to send us to Hell is to suggest that there’s something God did not accomplish in Jesus, something God did not defeat on the Cross. And that’s the glaring theological problem with the three traditional views of Hell. The premise, the assumption, behind each of them is that Hell must be something God chooses for us.

But, in scripture, especially in Jesus’ teachings, Hell is something we choose for ourselves. And that’s scarier than pitchforks and gnashing teeth.

It’s not that God needs to be reconciled to us. He does that on the Cross.

Hell is our refusal to be reconciled to God. Hell is something we choose.

Look at the parable. The rich man doesn’t ask to get out. He doesn’t repent. He doesn’t beg for mercy. Like an addict, he denies the reality and severity of his situation. He shifts the blame: ‘Abraham, warn my brothers so they won’t end up here too.’ Meaning: I didn’t get a fair shake; I don’t deserve to be here. What’s the first thing the rich man says? ‘Send Lazarus down here to wait on me.’ The rich man’s not trying to get out of Hell. He’s just trying to get Lazarus in. He still sees Lazarus as beneath him. Who he chose to be on Earth is now all he is in Hell. He’s just a ‘rich man.’ rich_man_and_lazarus

The rich man made himself the Lord of his life. He loved himself more than he loved God. He lived his life as though the world revolved around him just as a Kingdom revolves around a King.

Imagine if the rich man were in God’s New Creation where God is Lord and King. If the rich man were in heaven, heaven would feel like Hell to him. He’d be in agony. As Orthodox Christians say, the ‘wrath of God’ is only how those who reject God experience God’s love.’ To those who turn their back against God, heaven feels like hell.

Could God forgive the rich man’s sin and welcome into heaven? Of course. God already forgave him. On the Cross.

But would the rich man choose heaven?

Even in Hell he doesn’t choose it.

The question people always want to ask is:

Is it possible for God to forgive Hitler and Stalin and let them into Heaven?

But that gets it all backwards.

The better question is:

Would they choose Heaven?

The still better question is: Would we?

And this isn’t just abstract speculation about where we’ll spend eternity. No, whenever the bible teaches about eternal life it does to call attention to your present, earthly life.

I know enough about enough of you to know that this where you should pay attention:

The flames of Hell that scripture speaks of- Jesus is trying to show us how those flames burn within each of us.

Within each of us there is something:

anger, resentment, contempt, greed, self-love, self-loathing

that if we don’t put it out, if we don’t ask God to extinguish it,

it can consume us.

In this life.

And into the next.

If you don’t believe me or know what I’m talking about, ask any divorced person in this room what it’s like to have such anger it nearly burns your life down.

————————————————

A few days after our conversation about Hell, I left in Officer Moore’s mailbox a copy of a book, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

It’s a fable about the residents of Hell taking a bus trip to Heaven. They’re given the option to stay but, one by one, they choose to turn and go back.

I had dog-eared some pages and highlighted some text for Officer Moore, hoping we could talk about it the next time I saw him.

Specifically, I highlighted these words:

Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. In the end, there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Your will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Your will be done.’ 

I left the book in his mailbox.

A week later I went to solitary to see if he wanted to talk.

As always he refused to buzz me in but this time when I mentioned I was there to talk to him, he didn’t give in. He wouldn’t let me in.

I asked if he read the book.

Not saying anything, he got up and walked to the entrance door, his body was one big snarl.

He slid the book between the bars.

‘A whole lot of nonsense’ he grumbled at me.

And then he told me to go the Hell away.

————————————————

Here’s what Jesus wants you to realize:

In this life and the next,

    Hell is prison where the doors are locked from the inside.

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.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot, this is a good sermon. I’m impressed with his clarity in explaining these three different views. Certainly not the easiest thing to do in a sermon when addressing a very difficult subject. Thanks.

  • Daniel from Perth

    This is a very thought provoking post. I’ve put away my book for the night to think on this.
    “Who he chose to be on Earth is now all he is in Hell. He’s just a ‘rich man.’ ” Brilliant.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Scott Gay

    Very well said. And Officer Moore positioned himself to where he not only is trying to get another in, but where he had the power of the key over others. The spiritual principles can not be permanently forgotten or lost. In that age of reason, the eighteenth century, Novalis could witness to it, and so inspire the words of Faust……
    Only now do I understand the words of the Wise Man:
    The spirit world is not under lock and key.

    When Henry Barrow in the Fleet prison was interrogated by Bishop Lancelot Andrews, and claimed that the Word is interpreted by the Spirit, the following dialogue took place:

    Andrews: This savoureth of a private spirit.
    Barrow: This is the Spirit of Christ and his Apostles, and most publicly they submitted their doctrines to the trial of all men. So do I.
    Andrews: What! Are you an Apostle?
    Barrow: No, but I have the spirit of the Apostles.
    Andrews: What! the spirit of the Aposles?
    Barrow: Yes, the spirit of the Apostles.
    Andrews: What! in that measure?
    Barrow: In that measure that God hath imparted unto me, though not in that measure that the Apostles had, by any comparison. Yet the same spirit. There is but one Spirit.

    This was shocking to the religious of that age, and Barrow went to the block.

  • Stuart B

    This is almost verbatim the way that Tim Keller discusses objections to Hell in the ‘The Reason for God’. I’ve never quite understood how it sits with his Calvinism.

  • Tom

    Wonderful. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Clay Knick

    Excellent! Such a good sermon from a member of our VA Conference. Rich preaching. Impressive.

  • Tim Marsh

    One of the best I have read on the subject of hell – agreed point by point! Moreover, it was carefully crafted and presented!

  • Richard

    So love wins??

    Kidding aside, great sermon. My favorite part is after he spends the section on universalism throwing down professional coverfire by inaccurately calling it heresy repeatedly, he sets up Lewis’ famous scenario, which is only differentiated in his sermon from universal reconciliation by the image of doors being locked from the inside (Great Divorce) as opposed to being open (UR). But if the doors are locked from our side, and we’re the ones that locked them [implicated in Lewis' view], doesn’t that mean we have the ability to choose to unlock them and leave us right back at UR?

    Even if it doesn’t, I still think this scenario underestimates the witness of Christ dying cursed on a tree outside the city with the godforsaken. As Moltmann points out: “There is no ‘outside the gate’ with God (W. Borchet) if God himself is the one who dies outside the gate on Golgotha for those who are outside” (Crucified God, 249). Those in hell might be in solitary, but the jailer is still there with them and the chaplain comes to minister. If we can hold this tension as humans, surely the Triune God can as well.

  • http://www.tamedcynic.org Jason Micheli

    That’s a good and fair pushback, Richard. There is a tension, I think, in all the views of Hell in that they’re all holding out a scriptural perspective that is, to varying degrees, legitimate. Lewis, like Barth, argued that, while not scripturally attested, it’s not too difficult to imagine that all will be saved in the end. Or rather it’s difficult to imagine God not getting what God wants.
    I’ve always liked Moltmann’s style and practicality but always thought he emphasizes the cross to the neglect of the resurrection and ascension.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Can some people damn themselves, and others redeem themselves by accepting Christ? If this were so, God’s decisions would be dependent upon the will of human beings. God would become the auxiliary who executes the wishes of people who decide their fate for themselves. If I can damn myself, I am my own God and judge. Taken to a logical conclusion, this is atheistic. ~Jurgen Moltmann

  • Phil Miller

    One my favorite things about The Great Divorce is the Lewis uses the renown universalist, George MacDonald, as a tour guide for the narrator.

    I like Moltmann a lot, but I don’t necessarily think his case about God becoming the auxiliary for a person’s will makes a lot of sense. Can God make someone love Him? It seems that in order for love to actually be love it requires freedom of will from both parties. Otherwise one party acts as something as a Svengali for the other.

  • Jason freeman

    Though it has been awhile since I hit this parable, it is a parable, right? I question the interpretation of every detail as if it alone provides a full reality of heaven or hell. Being a sermon I understand the limited scope, I would be uneasy making those conclusions from that text. Am I alone? He seems to make broad conclusions based on a single parable.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ

    “The problem with this view of Hell, however, is God’s sovereignty. If God is all-powerful and God desires to share fellowship with us in God’s New Creation then how is it that some are lost forever? How is it that the Sovereign, all-powerful God fails?”

    – Speaking up for the Annihilationist view… in reply to the question above lies death itself so that God is sovereign over all things. Death is the final act of God’s non-coercive, pervenient grace.

    “So to say God chooses to send us to Hell is to suggest that there’s something God did not accomplish in Jesus, something God did not defeat on the Cross. And that’s the glaring theological problem with the three traditional views of Hell. The premise, the assumption, behind each of them is that Hell must be something God chooses for us.”

    – Annihilation from an Arminian view says that we choose our path, not God, making the above statement incorrect.

    – In counterpoint to CS Lewis’ bus trip, the theory of (divine) syncronicity allows for all the salvation that needs to occur in an individual’s life to occur in this life alone. Not the next. As illustrations, think of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” or Mitch Albom’s, “The People You Will Meet in Heaven,” or even the TV show “Lost”. Each has an imperfect vision of God’s work in our lives during this life, with Wilder’s being the closest to true. The latter two examples evidence God’s activity on this side of death, not in death itself (contra Purgatory’s necessity as supposed by some). Though death most always seems to be untimely in God’s time its found complete… not only for personal salvation but for all its implications to the solidarity of mankind in society with that person and their life’s work re recreation of cosmos and Kingdom.

    – As regarding universalim… Jesus’ atonement is universally offered to all humanity. Unfortunately it is limited by our decisions which thankfully God chips away at all our life leaving nothing incomplete (love+synchronicity). Still, like the rich man and the Pharisees some will chose for self making Jesus’ unlimited universalism limited. Which is what Micheli was trying to get at in a round-about way.

    – Concurring with Volf, more could be given to the concept of God’s justice and judgment… but I’d rather see it directed at this life in all its many forms than to patiently persist in the next life, where, though true (sic, as in “a final death”), holds no relevance for corresponding grace, mercy and forgiveness, nor for that matter, for injustice, ill-deeds, harm and suffering caused. Justice must seek judgment, and judgment justice, today, not later in the next life. Even as God’s grace is meant for now, so too is His justice…. Social (local and global) community projects help to re-establish this balance with emphasis upon the dignity deserved all elements of mankind sought by civic action, court law, government action, and even social conflict.

  • RJS

    Naum,

    In this case I think Moltmann is wrong. I think he is wrong because he is decreeing how God must have set up his creation in order to remain God. (On philosophical, theological grounds.)

    All we can do is look at how the world is revealed to us and respond appropriately. This may very well mean a free choice by God’s creatures, and whatever we learn in the end it will be “oh yes, of course.” As revealed to us it is clear that we must respond and thus are in some limit in control of our own fate – this runs through scripture from beginning to end.

  • Helen

    With all due respect…

    Look at the parable. The rich man doesn’t ask to get out. He doesn’t repent. He doesn’t beg for mercy. Like an addict, he denies the reality and severity of his situation. He shifts the blame: ‘Abraham, warn my brothers so they won’t end up here too.’ Meaning: I didn’t get a fair shake; I don’t deserve to be here. What’s the first thing the rich man says? ‘Send Lazarus down here to wait on me.’ The rich man’s not trying to get out of Hell. He’s just trying to get Lazarus in. He still sees Lazarus as beneath him. Who he chose to be on Earth is now all he is in Hell. He’s just a ‘rich man.’

    This is the first time I’ve seen the rich man’s comment about warning his brothers interpreted to mean neither he nor they deserve hell. If someone doesn’t deserve something then why warn them – it’s not their fault so what could they change? Surely “warn my brothers so they won’t end up here too” implies that a warning might persuade them to change their behavior before it’s too late, so they don’t end up in hell. There would be no point in the warning unless it causes them to change their behavior so they change from being people deserving of hell to people not deserving it.

    Also I think the chronology is significant. The rich man’s first comment is about himself – send Lazarus to comfort me – then he starts talking about his brothers. There is a progression here towards less selfishness. The sort of progression which supports possible (eventual) after-death reconciliation/UR very well, in my opinion.

    Imagine if the rich man were in God’s New Creation where God is Lord and King. If the rich man were in heaven, heaven would feel like Hell to him. He’d be in agony. As Orthodox Christians say, the ‘wrath of God’ is only how those who reject God experience God’s love.’ To those who turn their back against God, heaven feels like hell.

    I hear this a lot but – how do we know this? If it’s true then even though God is love and all things are possible with God, God eternally fails to convey his love for such people to them. Why does it take away a person’s freedom of choice to say God’s love is so compelling they will eventually freely choose it? How can those who have moved from freely rejecting to freely accepting God’s love during this life be so sure that’s impossible for various other people, especially given infinite time? What if it takes longer for some people – maybe because of the ways love wasn’t shown to them; or maybe they are rather stubborner than average or who knows why. Maybe God does but we surely don’t.

  • Kipp

    I’ve often thought that various theories of Heaven and Hell don’t adequately address one key point: everyone in that scenario is resurrected. (That’s assuming, of course, you take at least the end of Revelation to be futurist.) Now, you can take that one of two ways. The most common assumption–not articulated or consciously held, just assumed–is that the resurrection involves everyone being given a clear-eyed objective view of reality. So as the sinner stands before the holy God, he realizes just how horrible his sin is, but alas it is too late. And so Hell is populated by a mass of always repenting, never forgiven people for all eternity. Which of course leads to the terrible moral dilemma.

    But what if, as your post suggests, the reality is different? What if in the resurrection each of us is stripped of any conflicting desires and pressures and becomes purely and perfectly aligned with our true nature? Paul in Romans 7 describes the battle of the believer against his own flesh, and ends by taking comfort in the fact that, though he still struggles with sin, in his “inner man” he is a new creation, desiring to do what is good. (That at least is how I take the chapter; I know there are different interpretations.) So the Christian, for all his flaws and ongoing sins, is at his core a new creation, pure and holy, by the grace of God; and the nonbeliever, for all his civility and righteousness granted him by the common grace of God, is at the core an enemy of God. And in the resurrection those two inner natures come to the forefront.

    If that is anywhere close to the truth, then any common grace God gives the sinner to restrain his sin and encourage his “righteous acts” is stripped away in the resurrection, and the sinner is finally given the freedom and power to fully act in perfect accord with his own nature. Thus the sinner, who all his life has been prevented against his will from fully indulging his own nature, now exercises his right as a completely free moral agent to choose to spend eternity being punished by God, which for him is infinitely preferable to serving Him.

    The sound of weeping and gnashing of teeth you hear? That’s not the sound of too-late repentance; it’s the sound of unrelenting and unchanging resentment and self-pity.

  • JustforQuix

    I’m not persuaded of Micheli’s Lazarus and Dives reading, nor of the compartmentalization of Annihilationism, but I agree with the overall arc of the argument’s build-up, which is the tension of the Eastern Orthodox view. Richard’s (#8) excellent push back makes me recall the input Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware has had on this subject, confessing he’s sees it allowed for a believer to have _hope_ for that exact thing: that God’s love can prevail on some who would experience His love as a burning hell, while it may be continually resisted by others. (Also brings to my mind somewhat the film/book What Dreams May Come.)

    Furthermore Micheli’s sermon makes me recall articles I’ve read from Eastern Orthodox convert and Evangelical dialogue bridge builder Robert Arakaki. In part one comes to mind, which was contrasts the Eucharistic centrality in Orthodox worship vs. the Protestant centrality of sermonizing, especially heightened in contemporary modes of worship. I’m projecting my questioning more upon my own experience of worship in our non-d church — since I have no idea of how “high” or “low” Micheli’s Methodist church is — but I can’t help but think that Orthodox like Ware and Arakaki would think the sermon’s build up toward the tension of answering Hell as the outworking of God’s love on the ultimate destiny of human hearts and souls would be first/best answered in the mystical-mysterious experience of the centrality and Presence of the Eucharist more than a generally well-constructed argument as Micheli has done. Again, not so much a criticism of Micheli as a self-reflection on how worship and Communion figures (or doesn’t) into how I grapple with such a subject as this.

  • Joe Canner

    I like this sermon a lot, but the last line (“hell is … locked from the inside”) bothers me (and has for a while). I know CS Lewis said it, but I don’t see the Scriptural basis for it. I get that we have the freedom to choose and that God doesn’t force himself on us, but it implies that God is powerless to even open the door. In other words, why isn’t it possible that God could open the door and deal with the unbeliever until they were ready to come out?

    One of the reasons this distinction seems important to me is because we are strongly conditioned by many factors in our lives (genetics, peri-natal, parenting, religion, poverty, etc.) which make it very difficult for some people to appreciate the negative effects of their own sin and to appreciate the positive effects of life in Christ. I would like to believe that a just God would not just leave people in the next life to wallow in these same factors for all eternity, but would strip away the external factors and hinderances and give people a chance to see God with renewed and unhindered vision. This process might take time and might still result in some rejecting God, but I believe it would be more just even than CS Lewis’ vision in The Great Divorce and other similar ideas proposed here.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Is it really true that Christian universalism has ALWAYS been condemned as a heresy? That wasn’t my understanding. It seems that there were quite a few early Christians who believed in universal reconciliation:
    http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/churchfathersquotes.htm

  • Phil Miller

    Universalism hasn’t always been condemned, and it wasn’t officially dealt with until the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553. But even then, there’s considerable debate as to what the council was actually condemning. They seemed to be more worried about the idea of the possible salvation of the devil and demons, and they may have been concerned that some were teaching universalism as an absolute certainty rather than a hope.

    There’s an interesting book written in the 1800s I found by John Wesley Hanson called Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years. He makes a pretty good case.

    http://www.amazon.com/Universalism-Prevailing-Doctrine-Christian-Hundred/dp/0559563159/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359564165&sr=8-1&keywords=universalism+first+500+years

  • Richard

    Jason Micheli (9)

    Thanks for a gracious response. I’m not sure I agree with the assessment that Moltmann overemphasizes the cross to the denigration of resurrection but that’s another conversation for another day.

    I do want to emphasize that this is a powerful and well written sermon. In practice, this is how I teach my people regarding the ‘afterlife’ and judgement: here are the views that have been accepted within orthodoxy, here are the Biblical supports for each, here are the points of agreement and disagreement. How did your congregation receive this? Again, kudos to you and blessings on your ministry.

  • http://www.tamedcynic.org Jason Micheli

    Thanks to all for the feedback! These are all good points, many of which I share or thought about as I prepared the sermon. The final draft just reflects me making decisions for clarity’s sake so the sermon wouldn’t die the death of a thousand qualifications. I agree it’s a parable and shouldn’t be pushed too hard for doctrinal specifics- actually I asked Scot’s advice for a text and he gave this to me :) My own view ultimately DOES land on the Orthodox notion of Hell being the love of God experienced as wrath to those who reject God.
    Origen was condemned for universalism. The reaction to Love Wins last year (a book I actually have no problem with other than it being Gregory-lite) I think demonstrates how universalism is assumed to be heresy within a broad sweep of the church.

  • metanoia

    Well argued. Thought provoking. Thanks.

  • Elizabeth

    I found this sermon and all the comments very, very helpful. Thank you everyone.

  • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    I just wanted to say I think it’s awesome you are so willing to feature other people’s work on your blog. I don’t know you, Scot, but this encourages me a lot.

    That being said, I’ve chatted with Jason a few times, and I don’t agree with everything here, but I don’t necessarily disagree either. The idea of Hell NOT necessarily being ECT is new for me, so I’m okay with saying “I don’t know” at the moment and letting God continually mold and form my views as time goes on.

  • Jean Dragon

    Amazing message.

  • http://www.tamedcynic.org Jason Micheli

    It might be helpful for me to clarify my aim in the sermon. As a pastor in a mainline congregation, I’m cognizant that virtually none of my listeners actually believe in the doctrine of hell. Their belief is premised not on theology (a la Gregory) but on confidence ( ie, I’m a good person, how could God not like me?). Hell is what those other Christians believe in, they might say. So, my goal was to give context to the views of hell they’d heard in the ether, give the pros and cons and then sneak up on them with the personal application, hitting them with the suggestion that there’s a truth/indictment behind this doctrine that may shed light on their own lives.

  • Jeff Martin

    Jason,

    I just thought your comment that Jesus never really mentioned anything about belief in regards to Hell was inaccurate if one looks at John 3, after verse 16, but other than that I loved the sermon

  • http://EvangelicalUniversalist.com Alex Smith

    Thank you Jason for engaging with this difficult topic.

    As Scot pointed out recently, Edward Fudge (& others) doesn’t think too much about Hell should be drawn from the parable of Lazarus. I’d add that crucially it’s also told before Christ descended to Hades & bridged the gap.

    I know of Universalists who view it the same as Lewis (or even Calvin) does, apart from having an infinite duration, so why is UR functionally a denial of Hell?

    You say it’s “always been considered a heresy”, however that’s not what my research has found (as you say it’s part of the “Christian tradition”). UR falls within the Ecumenical Creeds & a number of the Early Church Fathers were Universalists (e.g. Greg of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria). I’d also suggest a closer look at the circumstances of Origen’s anathemas, but even if you accept the questionable authority of who made them, looking at the details, I think they actually ruling out only the rare pre-existence of souls form, not UR per se).

    You say the reaction to Love Wins demonstrates it’s heresy. However the reaction was _mixed_ (it was a best seller) and I know many people who loved it. Likewise if it’s simply a case of “majority wins”, then we should all be hope & pray for UR, as that’s what seems to be the usual position of Catholics & Orthodox, who make up the majority of Christendom. Alternatively the fact that the same majority view both Calvinism & Arminianism as heresies… (I personally don’t think they are but just trying to make the point that we need to be careful how we use “heresy”).

    What do you mean by UR has “just enough Gospel-logic”? Evangelical Universalism is very Gospel focused, the Gospel isn’t just effective, essential, for some (or even many), it’s central to everyone’s journey!

    Sure, a Hyper-Calvinist Universalist might remove free will but one only has to take a step back to mainstream Calvinists who believe in Compatibilism (God always achieving His will without violating our will) to avoid that problem. Likewise I know plenty of Arminian Universalists at the other end of the free will spectrum (e.g. From memory that’s Keith DeRose’s position, Professor of Philosophy at Yale).

    I don’t think anyone will reject God forever, as the further away from Him they get, the more stark the contrast becomes between how awesome He is & how un-awesome everything else is… if they still continued to decline, I would suggest they’re self-harming & need healing – something a loving Father God will gladly do :-)

  • PuddleglumsWager

    Much is made of free will when it comes to hell. The damned lock the door from the inside etc. But if the alternative to belief is eternal torment, where is the freedom? If the alternative to handing over my wallet is being shot by the mugger, where is the freedom? Many people go to church, not because they think God is good and beautiful, but because they fear his wrath if they fail to believe. For many, God is like a father who says to his child, “Come. Give me a hug, or it’s the strap for you.”

    Christ holds the keys to death and hell. The damned do not. What will Christ do with these keys? Will he lock people in, or will he let people out? Which act is more worthy of our praise and love?

  • Paul Ellison

    This is a very big argument and people have different views. I always think its safest to use scripture to interpret scripture. In the beginning with Adam in paradise ( which normally sets the president for what follows ) we first see God’s love, free and available. He only asks one thing – choose me. The fall of Adam brings about God’s justice and eventual expulsion from God’s presence. God’s love is not brought into question here and neither is the legitimacy of God’s judgement.
    It was mentioned above that God can do anything. This isn’t true. God cannot deny himself. He cannot deny his love for mankind and also cannot deny the rightness and consequence of his judgement. God is right in all his ways even when we can’t see the logic or fairness of what he does. God doesn’t need our agreement or acceptance of his justice for it to be correct.
    The basic problem is we try to fit god into our own understanding and therefore need to change what is in the most part straight forward biblical teaching. Can we not just agree that some things that God does is outside of our understanding but we have enough simple truth from scripture to know that we can still trust him regardless of our understanding.
    For me … If God says Hell exists, then it exists. If God says it’s eternal, then it’s eternal. Lets face it, which one of us is in a position to tell God that what he said can’t be true.

  • scotmcknight

    Alex, while there are some in the early churches who were universalists, once the church weighed in on Origen, and they found his form of Universalism outside the bounds of orthodoxy, the fact is that universalism was from that time until the 19th Century all but gone — a good sketch of the history is in R. Bauckham’s short essay on universalism in history. I don’t believe one can be a full blown universalist without believing in Calvinism for only with them can it be determined in advance.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Late to the discussion here, but a couple of corrections re universalism. First of all, as others point out it wasn’t a heresy in the early church. In the years after Origen’s death, his work was parsed for various heterodoxies (he was said to have written 6000 works), but his embrace of universalism was never targeted as a heresy until nearly 300 years after his death. Even then Origen’s teachings on universalism weren’t specifically targeted. Universalism was condemned by a small counsel at the behest of Emporer Justinian who wrote the language of the proclomation. Also, others such as Clement of Alexandria also explicitely taught universalism and were not targeted as heretics for it. Even in the early centuries when the church was heavily involved in defending doctrine from the gnostics, universalism was never targeted as one of the gnostic’s false teachings (the three main branches of gnosticism were all universalistic). To this day, universalism has never been condemned as a heresy in the Eastern Orthodox Church. So it’s just patently false to claim that universalism has always been a heresy.

    Also, the teaching of universalism doesn’t erase hell – far from it. In fact, the universalistic notion of hell is the only one in which God’s justice and his perfect love aren’t in conflict. According to universalists, hell is indeed a terrible, dreadful place. But its purposes are restorative. Much like the purifying fire spoken of so often by saints such as John of the Cross, it’s a painful process to be purified by fire. Universalists don’t minimize hell in the least much less get rid of it! That’s a completely false, false, false, false claim to make. It borders on dishonesty, really.

    I also find the idea of free will as an argument against universalism unpersuasive. Contrary to some notions of free will, our choices are always constrained. I can’t stick my elbow in my ear, even if I chose to. I can’t simply will myself to learn a language in a day. I can’t will material into being. To say that God’s love is ultimately so irresistible that all of creation will willingly chose to embrace it not more overrides free will than not being able to start and stop my heartbeats at will. It’s simply the way things work.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Correction – I was wrong to say that Origin wasn’t specifically condemned by the counsil of the 6th century. He was. However, during his life and for a long time afterwards, even those who disagreed with the finer points of his theology respected him as a true Christian and his universalism wasn’t targeted as heresy until Rome and the church converged.

  • Jeff

    Rebecca,

    Interesting quotes here – http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/churchfathersquotes.htm

    Though I believe Chrysostom’s quote is taken out of context. When someone mentions Satan’s grasp, that could be taken to mean their former life of sin. Seems like Jerome was a universalist though. At least if these quotes are accurate portrayals.

  • http://EvangelicalUniversalist.com Alex Smith

    Paul (#31) I agree it’s safest to use scripture to interpret scripture, however I believe each position is already trying to do that.

    I agree in Creation we see God’s plans for the future – particularly I think it shows His desire is for things to be “very good” and to bless others. Furthermore, in Christ, I think He demonstrates He has the means to undo all the damage from the Fall.

    I think we may have a slightly different definition of justice. I see justice as making things right that have been broken by sin. In some cases that involves severe punishment & separation, however that state can only ever be an intermediate state because it’s not the state that God originally intended in Creation (it’s also not how God has been for eternity).

    I agree we need to trust God and I’m certainly not trying to tell Him what to do, I’m simply trying to point out what He’s promised. “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” (Lam 3:31-33, NIV)

  • http://EvangelicalUniversalist.com Alex Smith

    Scot (#32) interestingly in the helpful essay you recommended (http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/article_universalism_bauckham.html), Bauckham says that free will can be held to support universalism. “[For Robinson,] omnipotent love must in the end force every man, to yield to it – not as an infringement of freedom, but as free choice elicited by love. Man’s freedom is compatible with the victory of omnipotent love.”
    He also explains how Origen’s UR had high view of FW. (Btw, I highly recommend “All Shall be Well: Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann” that has chapters on most of the people Bauckham discusses, plus a half a dozen others.)

    Unfortunately I’m not a philosopher but the Open Theists I know don’t seem to see Calvinism as _necessary_ for UR (although I think it makes it easier). Does _all_ future certainty require Calvinism? I thought biblical prophesies, by definition, are things that will come about (even with FW in the mix)?

  • PuddleglumsWager

    A choice between submission to a good God and everlasting torment is not free, but coerced. It literally would be madness to reject God if these were known to be the two alternatives, and insane people are not free. Insane people need to be healed, not punished.

    Secondly, a free choice must be well informed. For example, I am not free to make a good investment decision if I am poorly informed about the company’s business. A jury isn’t free to make a good decision unless they have not only the truth, but the whole truth. In the same way, I am poorly informed about hell. The staggering gravity of the threat is not matched by the quality and quantity of information made available concerning it.

    If hell is real, and any of us can fall out of this world into a lake of everlasting fire at any moment, then God has a duty of care to inform us unambiguously of the danger. No one could argue that a few passages in an ancient book would satisfy the duty of care. In the same way, if an unexploded bomb was known to be hidden in the supermarket, no one would deem a small paragraph on P3 of last week’s newspaper to be sufficient warning to the shoppers. Since sufficient warning about hell has not been forthcoming, either God is negligent in his duty of care, or hell as popularly imagined pure fiction.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Timely message and well-founded, imho. Thank you, Scot, for posting Jason’s sermon, and Jason for wrestling with the reality we face (or refuse to face) and in which we live. I was called, this day, to meet the stubborn denial of reality in an addict head-on, today. An addict is merely human, with sin’s defenses turbo-charged and the neurochemistry so altered and distorted that penetrating the fortress of denial and damage to the person created in God’s image may only happen via God’s powerful way – in love, light, grace and truth. I’m grateful that he has, thus far, not locked his doors from the inside. Lord, have mercy on us, broken, stubborn, sinners.

  • Helen

    I tend to think of UR as Calvinism in which everyone is elect. That emphasizes the ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ aspect of it.

    I don’t see how this denies free will because as best I understand it, Calvinism says the elect choose God of their own free will because God makes that choice possible for them.

    I don’t usually think in these terms however, because it seems more intuitive and real-life to suppose that God’s love is compelling enough to draw everyone given enough time; and that those who are not [yet] drawn need healing until they are able to be drawn by it. As Alex (29) mentioned. People who do evil often do it because on the inside they are afraid of something and I’ve heard it said that “perfect love casts out fear”. But maybe this is sometimes a process that takes a long time.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t see how this denies free will because as best I understand it, Calvinism says the elect choose God of their own free will because God makes that choice possible for them.

    Calvinism as defined by TULIP would say otherwise, particularly the “I”. By definition saying grace is “irresistible” means that a person can’t choose otherwise.

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve been having problems with the tags recently. Please ignore #41. this is what I meant to say.

    I don’t see how this denies free will because as best I understand it, Calvinism says the elect choose God of their own free will because God makes that choice possible for them.

    Calvinism as defined by TULIP would say otherwise, particularly the “I”. By definition saying grace is “irresistible” means that a person can’t choose otherwise.

  • Richard

    @ 42

    Doesn’t “irresistible” mean won over also? My wife could have chosen to not marry me but I was irresistible in the end. If I could win my wife from detesting me to loving me, surely God and his grace can be as irresistible to us sinners.

  • Phil Miller

    #43 – That is not how irresistible grace is historically described. If you look at how the Canons of Dort describe it, for instance, it makes a point to say that it isn’t because of an act of will at all.

    The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture. (Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs, Article 10)

  • Phil Miller

    My wife could have chosen to not marry me but I was irresistible in the end.

    Not to belabor the point, but I don’t think it would be too hard to imagine a scenario in which your wife could have changed her mind about you… Not saying anything about you personally, of course… But perhaps you aren’t as irresistible as you like to think. :-)

    But the way irresistible grace is usually described is that God’s will completely overtakes the will of the Elect. In other words, there’s no way the Elect can choose otherwise. That is in actuality the opposite of free will. Free will doesn’t mean that a person is free to direct his will to do anything. It means that in some situations, a person is free to choose otherwise.

  • Helen

    Phil (42) wrote:

    Calvinism as defined by TULIP would say otherwise, particularly the “I”. By definition saying grace is “irresistible” means that a person can’t choose otherwise.

    But that’s not the whole definition, Phil.

    from here http://carm.org/dictionary-irresistible-grace:

    Irresistible Grace is a Reformed teaching that states that when God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God.

    (emphasis mine)

  • Phil Miller

    Helen,
    Did you see the exert from the Canons of Dort I noted above.

    On the face of it, how can a person be said to be making a free choice when there is absolutely no way they can choose otherwise? It’s like the old joke about the Model T… “You can have it any color like as long as it’s black.”

  • Helen

    Thanks for your reply Phil. I didn’t the Canons of Dort quote until after I posted. The point of that quote seems to be to ensure that man gets no ‘credit’ for choosing.

    Anyway, on the whole I agree with you that people freely choosing what they cannot not choose doesn’t make much sense, even though the all-over-the-Internet definition of Irresistible Grace says that the elect do freely choose God.

  • Phil Miller

    Helen,
    The one rule of debate I try to follow is not to put words in anyone’s mouth, so I won’t try to say you’re saying something that you say you aren’t. To me, though, it just seems that this another example of the logical double-speak that one encounters in Calvinism quite often.

    It seems that the argument you’re making goes something like this – the Holy Spirit draws a person to God through an act of grace, and in doing changes that person’s will so they want to draw near to God. That part I don’t really have a problem with. The part that I have a problem with is the “irresistible” part. Per John Piper’s article on TULIP, irresistible grace:

    It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible.

    and later on:

    When God undertakes to fulfill his sovereign purpose, no one can successfully resist him.

    These quote can be found here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism#Grace

    As soon as someone says a person has lost the ability to resist, then they are no longer really in possession of free will. They are in possession of a will that was predetermined by God. In order to say that a person used their free will to then turn to God, there has to be a real chance for them to reject God. Otherwise their will was never free in the first place.

    As this relates to the discussion on hell, this is why I would say I hold out hope for something like universal reconciliation, but I couldn’t affirm it as a certainty. I don’t believe God’s ultimate plan for the universe was simply that He would get His way. I believe His ultimate plan involved creating beings who would love Him freely. And in order for love to truly be love, it cannot be coerced.

  • PuddleglumsWager

    Is freedom the ability to do what you want, or the ability to do what is right? Paul says people who choose to do wrong are not free at all, but enslaved to sin. Therefore, the irresistible grace of God which changes our will is not violation, but liberation. God changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, not because we ask for it, or want it, but because God chooses to do so. We are born of God by the will of God. Salvation is by grace alone. The dead do not raise themselves. The transformation of our wills must take place before we believe. Stony hearts do not and cannot believe.

    This leaves us with the question of the extent of God’s grace. Will he choose to save the few, or will he choose to save us all? Since God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and since he works out all things in conformity to his will, I hope and believe he will save us all. Anything less would be unworthy of the God who reveals himself as Love.

  • Phil Miller

    God already chose to save all through Christ’s finished work on the Cross… The question is whether all will choose to be saved… We could do this all day. Indeed these debates have been going on for centuries already.

    I think if there were a chance of me being convinced to be a Calvinist, it would have happened already. I’ve been hearing the same arguments over and over for a long time.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Phil, why can we choose to reject the work of Christ, but not the work of Adam? Romans says that the work of Jesus is “to greater effect” than the work of Adam. Since the work of Adam is accepted to be universal and exempts no one, doesn’t claiming that the work of Jesus is less than that conflict with Romans (5 I believe) as well as diminish the power and glory of his saving work?

  • Phil Miller

    Rebecca,
    This kind of gets into the discussion of original sin I was having here with someone the other day. I think the Eastern church has it right, and that the Reformed view is in error. We all inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin, not the guilt. It’s through our participation in Christ’s salvation and taking on His nature that we are delivered from these consequences.

    I do think Paul envisioned salvation as being universal in scope, and something that was efficacious for all people. But I think there’s also a participatory nature of salvation that can’t be ignored. I personally do hold out hope that all will be saved, but I do not think it’s a guarantee.

  • http://EvangelicalUniversalist.com Alex Smith

    At Helen (40) & Phil (41), there’s a spectrum of Calvinism, from Hyper-Calvinists who can sometimes even be hard determinists (everything is totally determined by God, FW is an illusion), thru to the more common Compatibilist Calvinist who says God always achieves His will but does so without violating anyone’s free will. Usually it’s articulated as “I choose God because He’s choosing me at the same time”, although some even go as far as saying “God chooses me because I’m choosing Him at the same time”. So for them it’s “irresistible” in the sense of ultimately none of the Elect resist but not in the sense that they are forced to love God against their will. (I agree with Richard (43) & Helen (46), although as Phil says, some Calvinists would disagree).

    Phil (49) glad to hear you hope that UR is true.

  • PuddleglumsWager

    How can someone who is dead in sin, who thinks the gospel is foolishness, who not only will not believe, but *cannot* believe because the gospel is “spiritually discerned”, how can such a person participate in his salvation by deciding to believe?

    Speaking of belief, on a 1-10 scale, what quality of belief will get an unbeliever over the line? What percentage of Christian truth must I believe to be 95% certain I’ll be saved from hell? If I half-believe half of the correct doctrines half of the time, will this do, or must I work much harder at my belief than that? To me, this whole thing sounds more Gnostic than Christian, and replaces God’s faithfulness as saviour with my good work as believer.

    Interesting, the word “believe” comes from the Old English “belyfan”, which means “to love and desire.” I can love and desire a good God who wants to save us all, and will. I cannot love and desire the Calvinist God who can save us all (but won’t), or the Arminian God, who can’t save us, no matter how hard he tries, yet has the gall to call himself the saviour of the world.

  • Richard

    Phil, 44,45

    Thanks for the clarification on the doctrine from the Canon of Dort.

    But I am irresistible… as long as she’ll have me ;-)

  • Phil Miller

    Puddlegum #55,
    There are few different perspectives on this. The most popular answer, of course, is Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace. The Holy Spirit gives all a measure of grace that draws them to Christ. Unlike Calvinism, though, Wesley insisted that this grace could be resisted. Wesley also affirmed total depravity.

    An Orthodox view is that all humans are created in the image of God, and while that image has been corrupted, marred, sickened, etc., it was not destroyed completely. All humans have this divine spark within them.

    Essentially, both Calvinists and Arminians are still very much in line with Augustine’s theories of the fall and total depravity. Augustine is still consider a Saint in the East, but his works were never as influential in Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • PuddleglumsWager

    Christ is either the true savior of the world, or a wannabe savior. The good shepherd finds his lost sheep, or he doesn’t. God’s great plan to reconcile all things to himself in Christ either succeeds, or it fails.

    God, needing nothing, in divine freedom, chooses to create the world of men. If he knows “all shall be well” in the end, then the resurrection to be revealed will both justify and compensate for the suffering of all creation. However, if he knows all shall *not* be well in the end (but makes the world anyway), or if he does not know what will happen (but takes a terrifying gamble ultimately at our expense), either way he ceases to be the good God, and is no longer worthy of our deepest love.

    You speak of divine sparks. I believe God will save the good in each of us and destroy the evil. The goat in me will be killed, the sheep saved; the tares will be burned, not the wheat; the dross thrown out, not the gold. God has no desire to save the bad. It follows there must be something good in me worth saving. Love cannot love the unlovely. Therefore, there must be something in me worthy of God’s love. If God will set me free from sin, the “real me” must be in bondage to sin. I think there is a person-shaped shadow, a “body of death”, bound to each of us, dragging us down, an albatross slung round our necks, full of worms that die not, stinking to high heaven, teaching us the knowledge of good and evil from the inside. One day soon, God will deliver us from our shadow by filling that demonic emptiness with light. The darkness of cowardice will be filled with courage; ignorance will be filled with knowledge; weakness will be filled with strength etc. The Lake of God’s Holy Fire is therefore a destination most earnestly to be desired. (The Greek for fire is “puros”.)

  • PuddleglumsWager

    Also interesting that the Spirit fell on the disciples as tongues of fire. The Spirit could fill them precisely because they were empty, and a place empty of God’s Spirit is evil by definition. The Spirit filled their ignorance with knowledge, their fear with courage etc.


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