One of the finest theological pieces I’ve read regarding the doctrine of God’s benevolence is D. A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Taken from lectures given in 1998, it is a brief work (a mere 77 pages of text) which is easy to read while retaining its profundity. Dr. Carson gives five reasons he believes the doctrine of God’s love is difficult. First, most people take their notions of God’s love from ideas outside of Holy Scripture. Second, many truths about God which are harmonious are believed to be incompatible by many people within the culture (and the Church). Third, a syncretistic and pluralistic view of the divine which emphasizes sentimentality is undergirded by postmodernism. Fourth, much of what is believed by people within the Church is this postmodern, sentimental view of God. Fifth, the Church portrays the doctrine of God’s love as simple, passing over critical distinctions which actually make it difficult.
Dr. Carson erects this work around four themes: the distortion of God’s love, that fact that God is love, God’s love and sovereignty, and God’s love and wrath. He mines from the Scriptures to deliver a clear message as to what God’s love involves and what it does not, defending the compatibility of apparent contradictions in God’s character. In doing this, he discusses how God’s love and sovereignty are both instrumental in His dealings with human beings. I recommend this work to you with the utmost confidence it will benefit both mind and soul. It may be read online for free.
Sharon Baker, Associate Professor of Theology and Religion and Coordinator of the Peace Studies Program at Messiah College, is the latest evangelical to raise her voice against the doctrine of judgment. She claims her recent publication, Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught About God’s Wrath and Judgment, has been written to rethink “the issues surrounding traditional notions of hell as a place of eternal punishment in favor of a view more consistent with that of a loving God.”
The Peace Studies Coordinator argues in her book for a kinder, gentler afterlife which she believes is congruent with the nature and desires of a gracious and loving God. Publishers Weekly said glowingly of the work, “This should be a useful book for Christians struggling to reconcile Jesus’ sacrifice and a loving God with the place of punishment and the necessity for justice.” John Caputo, Professor of Religion & Humanities and Philosophy at Syracuse University, considers it, “A lively, thoughtful and accessible rethinking of one of the most disturbing notions in Christian theology, the prospect of eternal damnation.”
Baker confesses, “Hell haunts me deep down inside, where I fear to tread and fail to admit uncertainty lest ripples of doubt disturb my secure little world of faith, lest someone find out and think me less Christian and more heretic.” Denying the judgment is certainly “more heretic” and “less Christian,” despite Baker’s claim that she has “no intention of doing away with hell.” She admits, “I can’t [do away with Hell] – certain verses in the Bible won’t allow me to do that.” Displaying the cognitive dissonance which plagues those who refuse to retain orthodoxy, Baker says, “I am very concerned about remaining faithful to the Christian scriptures; but I’m even more concerned about remaining faithful to the God of love, who loves the worst of the worst, the world’s enemies, including, even, the Hitlers, the Idi Amins, and the Osama bin Ladens of the world. Our traditional views of hell as a place of eternal punishment where unbelievers dwell in undying flames contradict the image of God as merciful, forgiving, and compassionate.” She adds, quite aptly, “Our traditional focus on hell as an evangelistic tool does not genuinely communicate the very heart of the gospel. If we receive Jesus as Savior merely because we want to avoid hell, we miss the entire point.” She is correct, “receiving” Jesus to merely avoid Hell misses the point entirely – such is not saving faith. Nonetheless, Baker fails to remain faithful to Holy Scripture (and thereby Christian orthodoxy) in her quest to circumvent those “certain verses in the Bible” with the following arguments:
1. Hell doesn’t avenge evil or reveal God’s power.
Baker claims believing in Hell means believing God’s will to save all people goes unfulfilled, putting His power and goodness in doubt.
2. Hell heralds eternal hopelessness.
Baker asserts believing in Hell means God withdraws His unconditional love from a person once that person dies, relegating divine love to the physical body and the temporal realm.
3. Hell keeps evil in eternal existence.
Baker argues believing in Hell means evil survives in those who inhabit it, whereas the Bible teaches God will abolish evil.
4. Hell creates a clash between justice and love.
Baker maintains believing in Hell means we believe in a cruel Father who demands unrepentant sinners face an endless torture to achieve justice, “which,” she says, “is a far cry from the God who loves with an everlasting love.”
5. Hell assigns eternal violence to God.
Baker affirms that “traditional theories of hell…keep the cycle of violence in motion for all eternity as unfortunate souls suffer the ferocity of eternal torture because God requires it.”
6. Hell executes eternal punishment for temporal sin.
Baker inquires, “Does sin committed during one short, temporary life span deserve an eternity of punishment? Even in our own society, we strive to make the punishment fit the crime.”
Baker’s arguments merely echo the modernist and post-modernist arguments which insist traditionalists must surrender Christian orthodoxy, particularly an odium theologium like the doctrine of judgment, in order to conform to a secularist worldview.
I generally disagree with 99% of the things articulated by atheist and anti-theist Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens’ 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, has made him the nation’s most notorious atheist. Renowned as a political columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other publications, his manifesto against religion has earned him debates across the nation. As a precursor to his January 5th appearance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Monthly invited Hitchens to a conversation with a liberal theist—Marilyn Sewell, the recently retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon. A former teacher, psychotherapist and author of several works, Ms. Sewell led Portland’s Unitarian group for over 17 years and helped it to become one of the largest in the United States. This edition of Theology on Thursday includes a brief portion of that interview. Ms. Sewell stated and inquired:
The religion you cite in your books is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
I agree strongly with this statement from Hitchens. If you don’t believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, died upon a cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead, you’re not really a Christian in any meaningful sense.
HT: Scot McKnight
This past week Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, posted a bit about Christian civility and love. The text for the post came from Dr. Molly Marshall, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the current president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. While it was off topic, I commented, “Too bad Dr. Marshall believes, ‘One can be saved without knowing of, or believing in, Jesus Christ.’ At least, that is, if she still holds to the same theology she did when she wrote her dissertation.” Pastor Burleson responded, “Rev, Why don’t you call Dr. Marshall and ask her? Or, place the relevant quotes in her public dissertation here. The truth is, you believe the same thing. Infants who die in infancy have no knowledge of, or faith in, Jesus Christ — but surely you believe they are in heaven, right? My point is, one must be careful in making assertions of what others believe without placing those beliefs in proper context.”
The reason I made the statement, and to which I explained to Pastor Burleson, is that to my knowledge, Dr. Marshall has never renounced her long-standing view that adherents of non-Christian religions do not need to place explicit faith in Jesus Christ in order to be justified. Her book, No Salvation Outside the Church? A Critical Inquiry, is based upon her doctoral dissertation. It articulates her pluralistic viewpoints quite clearly. I informed the pastor I saw no point in calling her “since there have been no public retractions and since she criticizes those like me who approach a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu as someone who is condemned apart from Christ.” In addition to this, I explained the assertion that I “believe the same thing,” is really quite ludicrous.
I believe, as the Baptist Confession (1689) declares, “Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, Who works when, where, and how He pleases. So also are all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” But I believe, and what the 2LBC is pointing out, is that these are extraordinary cases, not ordinary ones. This is much different than the “anonymous Christian” type theology expounded by Karl Rahner and which Dr. Marshall advocates.
As a minister, I’ve often been asked, “What happens to the poor innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel? Will he or she go to Hell when he or she dies?” I generally reply with a question of my own. “Are there any innocent natives in Africa?” In fact, Anna A, a commenter, inquired, “Some of this conversation seems to be about Dr. Marshall’s theology, and I have a related question. Thank you, in advance. Do you believe that God has a way for those people, who through no fault of their own have never heard anything about Jesus the Christ, to be with Him after death?” I answered, “You have asked a very important question. The Apostle Paul makes it plain in Romans 1-3 that the entire world, without exception, is guilty before God. All have sinned, that is, everyone has rebelled against God’s commands. The penalty for this rebellion is death and condemnation. The remedy provided by God to overcome this breach in the relationship between God and humanity is the work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospel. The Apostle Paul discusses this remedy in Romans 4-5. Later in this epistle (Rom 10), St. Paul makes it plain that individuals must hear the gospel in order to respond to God’s invitation. Those who do not hear the gospel are guilty before God and worthy of condemnation, not because they have not heard, but because they have rejected the revelation God has given to them in creation (Rom 1).”
What I’ve found interesting in the comment thread is that my contention of upholding historic Christian orthodoxy on this position is branded as the “shallowness and arrogance of the reformed” which is “downright silly and illogical.” Fortunately, Pastor Burleson stated, “Were your assessments of Molly Marshall’s doctrinal position found to be accurate, I would unequicovally disagree with her view.” It seems that many who read the pastor’s blog, however, do not.
One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1981 Paramount feature, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The hero of the film, Indiana Jones, is an adventurer and professor of archaeology. While lecturing, he quips to his students, “Archaeology is about facts, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is down the hall.” There exists a contemporary myth which asserts scientists are concerned only with facts while philosophers and theologians are preoccupied with meaning. As a theologian, I am obviously a theist – one who believes in the existence of a transcendent, eternal divine being who is the ultimate origin of the universe. As such, I am decidedly not a naturalist – one who believes that blind chance and natural causes alone are sufficient to explain everything that exists. Theism and naturalism are competing worldviews which are unable to concede any ground to the other. As science historian William B. Provine of Cornell University, an avowed atheist and staunch evolutionist, has rightly observed, if naturalism (e.g., Darwinism) is true as he contends, then there is absolutely no ground for theism, no absolute foundation for morality, no ultimate meaning of life, and no free will [“Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics” in Science, Technology, and Social Progress (Research in Technology Studies), ed. Steven L. Goldman (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press; London; Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1989), 253-67].
Naturalists (e.g., Darwinists) claim all scientists of their bent are purely objective, simply collecting evidence from the natural world and comparing theories an on ongoing basis without bias. They declare religious explanations for the order of the universe are not science because they are based subjectively upon faith and are not subject to objective analysis. While it is true that religion is based upon faith, it is untrue that faith remains untouched by evidence or reason, or that Naturalists themselves are purely objective in their approach. With claims of neutrality and absolute scientific proof, naturalism holds sway over the thinking of contemporary culture. This was evidenced by the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Edwards v. Aguillard) which claimed views affirming divine creation are not science and therefore cannot be taught in public schools as an alternative theory to naturalistic evolution. Views related to creation were said to belong to the realms of religion, philosophy, and history. More recently, in 2005, District Judge John E. Jones III ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that intelligent design is not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” He claimed the school district’s promotion of intelligent design therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In 2007, the Council of Europe’s Committee on Culture, Science and Education issued a report entitled, “The Dangers of Creationism in Education”, which states, “Creationism in any of its forms, such as ‘intelligent design’, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes.’” The report describes intelligent design as “anti-science” involving “blatant scientific fraud.” The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly approved a resolution declaring schools should “resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion”, including intelligent design. It is disturbing that leaders in the realms of government have failed to comprehend a major factor in their determinations, namely, that naturalism is not strictly science, but the Weltanschauung of Darwinists.
One’s Weltanschauung, or worldview, is the overall perspective from which an individual or group views and interprets life in this world and which directs that individual’s or group’s daily decisions and actions. The elements of one’s worldview, one’s fundamental beliefs about certain aspects of reality, are:
epistemology – beliefs regarding the nature and sources of knowledge;
cosmology – beliefs regarding the origins and nature of the universe, life, and humanity;
teleology – beliefs regarding the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements, and its inhabitants;
metaphysics – beliefs regarding the nature of reality;
anthropology – beliefs regarding the nature and purpose of humanity in general and oneself in particular;
theology – beliefs regarding the existence and nature of God;
axiology – beliefs regarding the nature of value, what is good and bad, right and wrong.
Bringing these elements to bear, every worldview can be analyzed by its answers to three essential questions:
1) What is the origin (and therefore meaning) of life?
2) Why is there moral chaos in the world?
3) How can, and why should, moral chaos be remedied?
Christianity answers these questions by affirming that God created the world, that life is meant to be lived in subjection to His will; that there is moral chaos in this world as a result of humanity’s rebellion against God’s will; and that the only remedy for moral chaos is the redemptive work of the triune God through Christ Jesus. The basis for this worldview is divine revelation – Holy Scripture (the Bible).
Naturalism asserts the world is a closed, autonomous system with no supernatural intervention. Life exists as a result of blind chance, therefore there is no real meaning of life. Any meaning of life is simply arbitrary. Human life, according to the Darwinist, is no qualitatively different than animal life. Because of this, there is no basis for distinguishing between human life and animals. This means, practically, that “superior” human beings, who have evolved through rigid determinism, have the right to treat non-human animals and “inferior” human beings with indifference or even cruelty. Naturalism perceives humanity’s problem as simply having too much influence retained from his animal past (e.g., aggression, violence). The solution to solving animal retention within human beings is to simply provide education or behavioral alteration in some other form. For the consistent naturalist, there is absolutely no basis for morality. Emphasis is placed on survival of the fittest. What is not fit may be destroyed to make way for that which is superior. It was this worldview which led to the murder of millions in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Naturalism, which dominates secular society, has long distinguished between fact and truth, science and religion, objective knowledge and subjective feeling. Evangelicals have largely fallen prey to this worldview, erroneously subjecting themselves to thinking Christianity is little more than a subjective experience – emphasizing personal decision and religious commitment – rather than comprehending that Christianity is itself a worldview. Everything which exists has come into being as a result of divine action. This means every sphere of thought and activity, not just the religious and spiritual, is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Ethics, economics, ecology, philosophy, logic, the arts and sciences, are all subject to Him. Genuine knowledge within these realms means investigating and discerning the ways and God has ordered these matters and utilizing them for His glory. The Christian faith cannot be reduced to a simple formula and restricted to a mere portion of our lives. Our faith must touch everything we see, hear, touch, think, and do, because God is our ultimate reality.
One of the finest books added to my library during my days of seminary was The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 1996). Required reading for the Philosophy of Religion course I took under Dr. Ted Cabal, The Gagging of God is a tremendous work penned by D. A. Carson. Dr. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, earned a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from McGill University and the Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge. He has served as an assistant pastor, pastor, and itinerant minister in Canada and the United Kingdom. Dr. Carson has authored or edited over fifty books, including The Sermon on the Mount (Baker, 1978), Exegetical Fallacies (Baker, 1984), How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Baker, 1990), and Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005).
The Gagging of God won the 1997 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Award in the category of “Theology and Doctrine.” In my opinion, it is a book which needs to be read by every evangelical pastor, evangelist, and church leader. The purpose of this work is to help evangelicals respond to the culture in answering the question, “Is Jesus Christ the only way to God?” The 569 pages (not including the bibliography) may intimidate some, but Carson writes in such a manner as to make his thoughts easily understood. The following excerpt is taken from “A Short List of Practical Points” in Chapter 12, “On Heralding the Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture”:
(1) The primary reason why people in our churches do not invite more of their friends to come to church is that they are embarrassed by what goes on there. If such embarrassment is triggered by anything other than the offense of the cross, it is the pastors’ fault.
(2) Many Christians, not least Christian preachers, simply do not know any out-and-out pagans. It is time they did. They should rearrange priorities and befriend some of them….
(3) Those committed to seeker services ought to ask themselves constantly if commendable zeal for the lost does not sometimes lead them into a lamentable pragmatism that unwittingly displaces worship by aesthetics, transforms biblical understanding of conversion into the shallowest kinds of decisionism with all the real life-transforming content introduced after “conversion” in various small-group therapy sessions, and reduces God to the status of divine genie: he helps me when I need him. Those committed to traditional services may be safe enough in conservative enclaves in the country, but they exist in a social context where virtually everything they do in corporate meetings is utterly alien to men and women all around them, they must ask what pains they ought to take to explain what they are doing to outsiders, and to forego their own comfort zones for the sake of communicating the gospel.
(4) There are many useful alternatives to the antithesis, seeker service or traditional service. Many churches use “guest services” to which believers are especially encouraged to bring unconverted guests. Those services include singing, prayers, preaching—but every element is carefully and wisely explained. . . . Assume visitors have never been to any church. Those who have will not be offended by such gentle explanations and may be instructed by them; those who have not will be greatly helped. . . . The value in preserving the normal patterns of corporate worship, even while gently explaining them, is that outsiders are introduced to the church as a worshiping community and feel the power of corporate reverence.
(5) Develop evangelistic Bible studies for complete outsiders.
(6) Some churches in big cities develop brief and pungent noon-hour services for business people, often combined with an inexpensive lunch.
(7) Many companies allow their employees, during lunch breaks, to form themselves into various groups or clubs or societies for diverse purposes. It is quite possible to start evangelistic studies in such settings, provided there is just one employee in the company with a little courage.
(8) Very frequently I begin an evangelistic series to complete outsiders (university students, perhaps) with something like this: “If you think I have come to defend Christianity, guess again! For some of us, Christianity is so little known and understood that defending it would be like defending the general theory of relativity to a first year arts major. What I shall be doing, rather, is outlining, explaining, and showing the relevance of some of the fundamentals of any kind of Christianity that tries to be faithful to its founding documents, gathered together in a book that we call the Bible. If there is a defense, it will be largely implicit. But I hope you will listen carefully as you enter into a world of thought and experience that you may never before have encountered.” I find that such an introduction as that changes the focus of expectations. At the end of each talk, people come out talking about the gospel, not about apologetics.
(9) Be bold. This is not an invitation to discourtesy. But boldness, coupled with an unassuming humility that conveys the impression that Christians are only poor beggars telling others where there is bread, will always elicit better attention than the half-embarrassed, semi-apologetic bearing of the person who is more frightened of the people than of the living God.
(10) In my view, it is usually best (although there are exceptional circumstances that overturn this preference) that these evangelistic sermons be expository messages, not topical ones. . . . Where the address is not in a church, so that Bibles are not available…put a typed copy of the relevant passage on each seat. This approach is wiser than the purely topical approach with minimal reference to biblical texts because (1) it directs people’s attention to the Bible, not to the preacher, and, if done properly, draws them into reading the Bible for themselves, and (2) by directing people to think through texts, the preacher is helping them to think linearly, coherently, through God’s gracious self-disclosure in human words.
(11) Remember that men and women are not converted, finally, by your sagacity, oratory, theological brilliance or homiletical skill. God in his mercy may use all these and many more gifts. But only God is able to bring people to himself. That is ample incentive to prayer.
(12) Finally, speaking of prayer, it is vitally important, once again, that we recall how our secular, postmodern society affects those of us who are believers. We may think we are being faithful, when somehow we no longer believer in the God of the Bible—the God who is sovereign, the God who hears and answers prayer, the God who alone can save.
Cruel Logic is a short film written and directed by Brian Godawa which is being developed into a full-length feature film. The plot centers upon a highly intelligent serial killer, Herman Mudgett, who videotapes his debates with his victims – distinguished college professors. The debate centers upon his moral right to kill them. Cruel Logic is a story about human nature, the problem of evil, and living in a world without absolutes. It depicts the reality that ideas have consequences.
Cruel Logic was a quarterfinalist in the Golden Star Shorts Film Fest (2006) and was an official selection of: Dusk Till Dawn Fest, Great Lakes Indie Film Fest, Shriekfest Film Fest, Bluegrass Indie Film Fest,
Palm Springs International Film Fest, San Diego Film Festival and the
Flatland Film Festival. It also won the following screenplay awards:
1st Place - A.K.A. Shriekfest Horror Film Competition
4th Place - Worldfest Houston Screenplay Competition
Finalist - America’s Best Competition
Quarter-Finalist – Nicholls Fellowship Academy Foundation
Semi-Finalist – Maui Writer’s Conference; Scriptapalooza; Carl Sautter Screenwriting Competition;
Watch the short (discretion advised due to thematic elements) and think about the reality that ideas have consequences.