Friday, February 18, 2011


I've recently joined a theology discussion forum, Theologica. I enjoy discussing scripture especially with others who understand and believe differently than I do.  The above link will take you to my page.  I'm considering using it to post material instead of on this site. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bridge Church

Tuesday night, 11/9/10, I attended my first service of "Bridge Church", a "church" in Nashville that meets under a bridge that focuses on ministering to the needs of the homeless. It was AWESOME!

Believers from all around Nashville, even up to 100 miles away, from all kinds of denominations, come together to worship, sing, pray, share the Word, share in a meal, fellowship, and minister to the needs of one another, especially to the homeless. The staff (volunteers) arive at about 5:30 to set up the chairs, speaker system, chuck wagon, and packaged food distribution truck.

About 6:00 the ladies began serving hot meals from the chuck wagon. Shortly there after the worship service begins while people are being served. We worship together. Some ate, some sang, some prayed, some smoked, some walked around nervously, some talked, etc. It was one of the most refreshing worship services I've participated in - real people with no pretense of being anything but in need.

After about 45 minutes of worship, one of the regular attending pastors preached an awesome affirming message of God's love and our value to Him. The minister's text was the story of the Prodigal Son and his primary point was that even though the son found himself homeless, starving, stinking, covered in hog crap, and feeling absolutely worthless, he was still of immeasurable value to his father! This was exactly what they needed to hear – God loves them and they are worthy of love, care, healing, and deliverance, because they are children of God, created in His Image.

I mean, think about it. Many of the “members” of this church are homeless, sick with aids, cancer, etc. Many are addicted to drugs and alcohol; some are even demonized, out of their minds with fear and pain. And I was suprised at the number of verterans who were there, men who lost their minds in the ravages of war, especially the Vietnam War. What message do these my brothers and sisters need to hear? Do they need to be warned that it they don’t repent, turn to God, and get their lives straight, not only is their life going to be a living Hell, but they are going to burn in Hell forever? Of course not! They need to hear the truth that God loves them that Jesus came to save them and will save them. God loves them and will not fail to deliver them – if not in this life, surely in the life to come! God loves us and saves us simply because He created us to be His children.

Well anyhow, after the pastor preached on God’s love for us all and our innate value, we ministered in prayer to those who wanted it. We then had a drawing to give away speacial items - a "mobile home" (tent), a homemade quilt, etc. and the grand-prize, a new and very nice bycicle. After that everyone was dismissed and got in line to leave and on the way out they went through the packaged food line where they could get as much food - soups, cereals, granoila bars, chips, pasteries, sodas, etc. – as they wanted and could carry with them.

It was a wonderful evening and I plan to be a regular member of “Bridge Church”!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Judgmentalism, Legalism, and the Traditional “Gospel”

I believe that judgmentalism and legalism are a natural byproduct of the traditional “gospel” of acceptance/exclusion. The traditional “gospel” affirms that God ultimately accepts some people and excludes/rejects others. If we believe this then we will naturally seek to identify those who are accepted “with us” and those who are and will be excluded from God and us. We naturally question whether or not we and others are accepted, and we come up with a list of rules, requirements as to whom we believe to be accepted by God and thus by us. The rules might be as simple as confessing faith in Jesus, praying the sinner’s prayer, or as specific as taking several steps.

I was raised in a fellowship which taught that no one was really saved until they actually made it into heaven because a person could fall from grace at any time if they… We didn’t know for sure we were saved, but we were pretty confident that others were not! This judgmentalism and legalism flowed from a lack of faith in the atonement of Christ for ourselves and others.

Thankfully, I have come to have faith that salvation is by grace alone, and not based on my rightness in beliefs, attitudes, or actions. I believe that Jesus died for all my sins – past, present, and future, sins I’ve repented of and sins I’ll not repent of until I stand before Him in judgment. And since He died for my sins, I’m assured I’ll live with Him forever. He has redeemed me and is and will set me free from sin and death! This was a revolutionary change in faith for me, chaning from a works based salvation to a grace based salvation.

And now I have come to have faith in Christ not only for my salvation, but for the salvation of others also, all humanity, believing that Jesus not only died for my sins, but for the sins of the whole world. I’ve come to trust that the revelation of His love for me that set me free will ultimately set everyone free when they receive that revelation, if not in this present evil world, in the world to come (Evangelical Universalism).

This faith in Christ and faith in the grace of God has freed me from legalism and judgmentalism. Instead of seeing others as not being accepted by God, I see everyone as family, “us”, whether they believe as I do or not, whether they’ve been born of the Spirit as I have or not. I see them this way because 1) they are created in the image of God (an idiomatic phrase that speaks of family relationship, even parenthood), 2) Jesus died for their sins, and 3) God loves them/us and love never fails. Jesus does not fail to save any whom He loves, and He loves all humanity!

Judgmetalism and legalism are natural byproducts of the tradtional “gospel” of exclusion. And note that I put “gospel” in quotes; I did so to highlight that this “gospel” is not really “Good News” at all; rather, it is “bad news” for the excluded. Is it a wonder that most Christians are not active in sharing the traditional “gospel”; no one wants to be the bearer of “bad news”.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Testimonies of Hell - revisited

I recently researched testimonies of those who have died, experienced Hell, and came back to life. I was amazed to find that of the serveral testimonies I read or listened to, they all resulted in salvation.

In short, some died, experienced Hell, came back to life and began seeking to understand what happened to them and shortly came to have faith in Christ. Others died, experienced Hell, and while in Hell cried out to God who saved them, revealed to them His love and even heaven, and then sent them back to earthly life. These people rose from death, born again and forever changed; some even became pastors or evangelists.

As I’ve wrestled to understand these testimonies through the lense of my understanding (or misunderstanding) of scripture, I’ve come to believe that when these people died not knowing Christ, they came into the full reality of this “present evil age” as Paul calls it in Gal.1:4. In this “present evil age” humanity is oppressed by Satan, consumed by evil from within and without – the present reality of Hell.

Our current physical nature shields us from, darkens our perception of, the reality of the spiritual realm, whether that be the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light. But when a person physically dies, they come into the full reality of which ever kingdom they are citizens of. It is from this “present evil age” that Jesus saves us. When Jesus saves us, He translates us from this “domain of darkness” into His kingdom of light for he “purchased our freedom and forgave us our sins” (Col.1:11-14).

Why would it then seem so strange to us that He can and does do this delivering not only while people are physically alive, but when people are physically dead and experiencing the full reality of the “domain of darkness”, this “present evil age” (Hell)?

Jonah’s testimony is like the above. He was in rebellion against God, died, was in afflication in Sheol, the realm of the dead, cried out to God who saved him and even restored him to life, giving him another chance to fulfill his calling. And of course, Peter speaks of Jesus preaching the Gospel to those who were physically dead, “spirits in prison”. And of course, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, resulting in them living with God in the Spirit (1 Pet.4.6 NLT).

Of course, scripture is primarily about living in this physical realm, calling us all to faith and repentance in this life; so that in this life we can participate in the kingdom of light. Whether God chooses to deliver us while we’re physically alive or when we’re physically dead, that’s His decision. I’m just thankful that salvation is based on the grace of God, not on our goodness or rightness in any way.

So, is the justice of this “present evil age” (Hell) retributive or restorative? It’s both. It’s what all humanity deserves because of the sin of Adam and because of our sins. But it is also a means of teaching us just how evil, evil is. So that when we are delivered into the kingdom of light we can know just how good, good is. And even the gates of hades (this present evil age) shall not prevail against the church! Adam and Eve did choose to partake of the knowledge of good and evil. They just had no idea how evil, evil is; but we sure understand it now!

I realize that this is a different way of looking at things, but I’ve always had a tendency to see things from an other than normal perspective.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Current Day Testimonies of Hell

If you have not done so, I encourage you to view and read some of the many testimonies of people who have either experienced Hell or had a vision of Hell. They are very compelling and believable. Assuming that these experiences/visions are from God, how does one reconcile them with the Biblical concept of Universal Reconciliation, the belief that ultimately every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord? For example:

The History Channel did a documentary on the sin of “Anger”, one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” series. A pastor shared how he was an angry, rage-filled man, an atheist, who died momentarily in the hospital while recovering from surgery. When he died he felt like he was in a semi-conscious vision-type state and he found himself walking through the hospital asking for directions. Some people led him from the hospital and suddenly turned into demons and began savagely beating him.

He quickly realized that these demons were of his own making; they were sins that had ruled his life for years! The abuse that he had leveled against people, even his own wife and children, was coming back to haunt him! Words could not describe how terrible the experience was. In the midst of excruciating torment of his soul, he instinctively cried out to God for help even though he was an avowed atheist. A light appeared, a hand reached down and delivered him, and he found himself waking in the hospital, alive. Not only did he come back to life, but he had also undergone a significant change; he had come to have faith in Christ, was born of the Spirit, and was delivered from rage and anger. It was a powerful, moving, testimony.

On a forum on which I participate, the Evangelical Universalist, is the testimony of brother who died and went to Hell ( He apparently overdosed on drugs and while in the ambulance died for a few minutes. During this time he woke up in Hell smelling burnt flesh, seeing the lake of burning sulfur, and hearing “terrible voices”. He was only there for a moment but it shattered his “annihilationist / soul-mortality cosmology to pieces”, the belief that this life is all there is. He subsequently awoke with a hunger to know the salvation of Christ and was later saved, born again when he repented of his sins and turned to Christ in faith.

Another very interesting testimony is from a lady who was saved while she was dead and in Hell. It was recorded several years ago on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson and Ben Kinchlow. ( Jesus not only saved her from Hell, but restored her to life, directing her to leave the Mormon Church and seek Jesus Christ and the cross or she would continue to exist in Hell indefinitely.

The first testimony of Hell I ever heard was Mary K. Baxter’s book “A Divine Revelation of Hell” (, a sobbering account of many visions/experiences she had of Hell though she was a believer.

Bill Weise also shares his vision of Hell in his book/video “23 Minutes in Hell.” As you can imagine, it is a long testimony. His testimony can be viewed on various web sites if you are interested. He was a realtor, a committed Christian but not a pastor or theologian. After one Sunday night service, while he was asleep, around 3:00 in the night he suddently felt like he was dropped into a cell with stone walls and bars on the doors. He had no strength and 2 huge reptillian creatures that were filled with hatred for God and were cursing God began torturing him. Terrible heat, wanting just a drop of water, flesh being torn off and regrowing only to be torn off again, an eerie heavy darkness, air so putrid you don’t want to breath but can’t help but breath, and yet no oxygen in the air, complete isolation, no sleep, no strength, exhaustion, no hope, only torment! If you haven’t seen his testimony, I encourage you to watch it. It is very sobering.

If one does an internet search on Hell, the number of people who have experienced Hell is overwhelming! People from all demographics, the rich, the poor, Christians, non-Christians, of all races have experienced Hell to one degree or another. How then can this be reconciled with the scriptures that speak of the salvation of all humanity, the reconciliation of all creation? If these people truly experienced Hell, how can one still believe that Jesus is truly the savior of all humanity, especially we who believe? How can it be true that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God? How are these visions/experiences to be understood and interpreted in the light of scripture that affirms the reconciliation of all creation (Col.1:20), the salvation of all humanity (Rom.5:18, 1 Cor.15:22, 1 Tim.4:10)?

A key factor in understanding these experiences/visions is to recognize the positive changes that were accomplished in each person. In the first example, the atheist came to faith in Christ, was born of the Spirit, and delivered from the besetting sins of rage and abuse through his experience, even while he was physically dead. In the second story, a drug addict, after coming back from Hell to life was motivated to seek out salvation, a real relationship with Jesus! In the story of the lady caught up in Mormonism, though physically dead and in Hell she was rescued from Hell by Jesus, warned to forsake Mormonism or continue in Hell, and was brought back to life a changed person.

In fact, salvation was the result of all of the testimonies I read or heard in my research of people who have experienced Hell. Atheists, drug addicts, violent people, those caught up in cults and false religions experienced Hell, but it led to their salvation. Some came to faith in Christ and experienced deliverance from Hell and salvation while they were dead. Others came back to life with a passion to seek out truth and freedom and ultimately came to have faith in Christ after returning to life from Hell. Salvation was the result of these experiences.

In Mary K. Baxter’s and Bill Weise’s testimonies they were already believers, saved, and filled with the Holy Spirit. They did not need salvation but apparently needed to be motivated to share the Gospel. The vision filled them with an overwhelming compassion for those who do not know Jesus and a passion to share with them the good news of God’s love that would deliver them from Hell. Sharing their vision has both brought many unbelievers to salvation in Christ and, even more so, it has motivated other believers to have an urgency in sharing the Gospel!

As I have considered these testimonies, I have come to believe that these people did experience the reality of Hell, separation from God and eternal, seemingly endless, torment. However, these visions of Hell are not visions of what “will be” and “will always be”, but visions of what “are”. Hell is a “present” reality. Many people are “currently” separated from the love of God, do not have a relationship with God, and are oppressed by all manner of evil forces from within and without.

People are presently being harrassed, tortured by demons of their own making and the making of those around them - emotional, psychological, and spiritual patterns of life that are very destructive. Separation from God is their current state of existence. And that state of existance will continue to get darker and darker, hotter and hotter, more and more evident until they recognize their need of God, call out to Him and receive a revelation of the love of God as revealed in Jesus!

I call this the "present reality of Hell", the reality that because of the sin of Adam and our sins people are presently separated from the love of God, presently bound in sin, presently tormented by evil, presently living in the darkness of hatred, unforgiveness, rage, depression, etc. It is a present seemingly hopeless and seemingly unending reality! People are consumed by the fire of their lusts and conveteousness right now!

One person who was saved while dead and in Hell explained that he has come to understand Heaven and Hell as plains of existance that "transcend time", “eternal realities”. He explained that in this temporal life, everything relates to time, but in eternity nothing relates to time, it just "IS". Thus when he was in Hell, he was in Hell eternally, having no concept of time and no hope that things would ever change. How long was he in Hell? Forever! And yet from our temporal perspective he was only dead for minutes. So though he experienced the eternal, time-transcending, forever, essence of Hell, he also experienced the salvation of Christ, was born of the Spirit, and now is in Christ restored in relationship with God.

One might ask whether or not there are any examples in scripture of people experiencing "Hell" and being saved. The answer is yes, though they are easily overlooked.
In the Old Testament, Jonah rejected the call of God to warn Ninevah of empending dome calling them to repentance. He took a boat in the opposite direction from Ninevah and due to an unnatural storm was eventually cast into the sea where he died, went to Sheol, the realm of the dead. The KJV actually translates Jonah 2:2 saying, “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and He heard me; out of the belly of Hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice.” Wow! Jonah died, went to Hell (Sheol, Hades, the realm of the dead), was “afflicted”, tormented, cried out to God, and God saved him, restored Jonah’s life and even put him back on track to fulfill his calling. How gracious, merciful, and forgiving is our God!

And in the New Testament, Peter speaks of Jesus preaching the Gospel to the most wicked generation of people ever to live, the people who refused salvation under the ministry of Noah and died. Jesus preached the Gospel to them while in “prison … so they could live in the spirit as God lives” (1 Pet.4:6 NCV).

In conclusion, from the testimonies I have reviewed, the apparent purpose and result of people experiencing "Hell" is Salvation, NOT Damnation! Jesus has the keys of death, Hades, and the grave; and Jesus came to set the captives free! When we physically die, we shed this flesh and enter the full reality of our current spiritual state of being. If a person is alive in Christ, we see the Lord in all of His glory. If the person is not alive in Christ he comes into the full reality of his current separation from God, calls on God, and is raised to spiritual life from spiritual death.

I have come to believe that Hell, as these people experienced it, is not a place where people end up, but it is a present spiritual reality, a present spiritual state of being! People do not die and go to Hell; rather, they are currently in Hell. Due to unbelief and a lack of faith they are spiritually cut off from the love, forgiveness, righteousness, freedom, goodness, joy, peace of God – right now. In this present life the experience of the present spiritual reality of Hell is mitigated by our existance in flesh. And when such people physically die they are exposed, experience, the full, unmitigated terror of their spiritual separation from God; they experience the full torment of being separated from the light, the life, the love, the hope, the joy, the peace of God.

This lines up wonderfully with what Paul said that Jesus came to free us from. Note what he wrote in Galatians 1:3-4 "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Jesus died for us to "rescue us from the present evil age!" Scripture does not say that Jesus died for us to save us from "Hell" as it is commonly understood;  rather, Jesus died to rescue us from the present reality of being separated from God, slaves to sin, and oppressed by demonic bondage, this present evil age, what I call "the present reality of Hell"!  Jesus died so that we will be reconciled to God, if not in this life, the one to come.  Jesus died so that we can be restored into right relationship with God and one another NOW!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Judgment Day - Mat.25.31-46

Mat.25:31-46 is the well known passage of judgment where all of humanity, all peoples are gathered before God and He separates the sheep from the goats. And vs. 46 states, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” which is often used, or more correctly, “misused” as a proof-text affirming the concept of Hell.

Advocates of the traditional concept of Hell (traditionalists) interpret this passage to be God separating those who are part of His flock from those who are not, separating His children from those who are not His children, separating believers from unbelievers. Traditionalists point to this passage with tremendous passion and unrelenting resolve as “proof” that Hell awaits those who are not saved. However there are several significant problems with this traditional interpretation of this passage.

The first fact that the traditional doctrine disregards is that in this passage, judgment is based on how aware one is of the needs of others and how motivated he is to meet those needs. Traditionalists misinterpret this passage to say that judgment is based on whether one is saved or not. However, the judgment actually spoken of in this passage is about how we live our lives, whether or not we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty or even visit those in jail. This judgment is based on works, life-style, not on just whether one has faith in Christ or not. In fact, faith or one’s spiritual beliefs or devotion are not even mentioned.

And let me ask, who among us has not failed in this regard? Based on the stated criteria in this passage, who among us would not find himself on the “goat side”! Who among us can claim that we have devoted our lives to the service of those less fortunate than we? In reality, there are but a few, very few, Mother Teresa’s or Albert Schweitzer’s, even among us Christians. I for one often fail in this regard, often consuming upon myself what I could use to bless others. I have walked by the homeless, sometimes without a thought to their care; and I have never been to visit anyone in prison, even a couple of friends that spent some time there. And if we are honest with ourselves, it is likely that we all fail in this regard regularly. Does this mean that all are going to Hell except those who give their lives completely in the service of the poor? This would make salvation completely based on works and not on grace – “IF” one accepts the traditional interpretation.

In order to understand Mathew 25:46 we should also take into consideration that it is in the context of other statements of judgment. In the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant, the unfaithful servant was consigned to a place with the hypocrites, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 24:45-51) In the parable of the ten virgins (Mat. 25:1-13), the five foolish virgins were refused entrance to the wedding feast. And in the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30), the unfaithful servant was consigned to “outer darkness”, a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The parable of the absentee master is a special warning for those in leadership, those who have responsibility over others. The unfaithful servant who used his position of authority as a means of gratifying his selfish desires was condemned to a place with the hypocrites, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which was a common phrase used to allude to Gehenna, warned of specifically and repeatedly elsewhere in Matthew.

The parable of the ten virgins speaks of the necessity of always being prepared, of doing what is necessary now for will likely come one’s way later. Five of the virgins were not prepared and thus were not admitted to the wedding feast. May I ask you who of us is always ready? Who of us never has a bad day? Who of us never runs low on oil? Not me; in fact, I don’t know of anyone who is constantly ready, constantly filled with the Holy Spirit! Is this passage saying that any of us who have a bad day, a day when we are not walking in the grace and power of the Lord, that we might miss out on heaven if the Lord comes when we are having a bad day? If one “assumes” that this passage is speaking of getting into heaven, then such would be a natural conclusion. But is this the message of the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins?

And what about the parable of the talents! It speaks of faithfully using whatever we have been given. Who among us has been absolutely faithful to use all of the talents, all of the money, all of the spiritual gifts, all of one’s time faithfully in the service of God our master? Not me; in fact, the Lord has already shown me just how much of my life I have wasted due to selfishness (laziness) and fear, especially the fear of rejection and fear of failure. Reality is none of us are faithful servants; all of us have wasted much of what we have been given by God! And those who have not been faithful will be cast into “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 25:30)! Does this parable mean that salvation is based on our faithfulness and those of us who have been unfaithful (all of us) will go to Hell?

When we look at these warnings in context, who of us shall escape outer darkness? Who of us will not weep and gnash our teeth? Who of us shall not face eternal judgment and be on the negative side of things? None of us! Of course, traditionalists argue that these passages do not apply to us because Jesus died for us and we have been forgiven of all of our sins. And yet, these passages do not make judgment based on one’s faith or even upon the atonement of Christ. Rather, in these passages judgment is based solely upon how we actually live, our faithfulness and our good works. At least, that is what these passages actually say! And it is hypocritical to interpret these passages to apply to others, but not to ourselves. Does this mean then that salvation is dependant upon how we live our lives? Of course not! That is not the message of these passages.

So how are they to be correctly interpreted and applied to our lives? As they stand, at face value, they only promise “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, and “eternal punishment” for us all, for all have sinned; none of us are completely faithful; we have all miss countless opportunities to do good for those who are less fortunate!

1) To interpret these passages correctly there are several things we should note. First note that these warnings were spoken to the disciples, followers of Christ, those who already considered themselves to be children of God. These passages are not warnings to unbelievers, but to believers! Their purpose is not to call unbelievers to faith in God, but they were meant to call those with faith in God to repentance, to be careful to live wisely and compassionately.

2) We also should recognize that they warn of the universality of judgment! We shall ALL face judgment, all nations, all peoples, not just unbelievers! We shall hall face judgment and give an account for our lives – whether we have faith in Christ or not, whether we have been born of the Spirit or not! In fact, if any thing, these passages are targeted at believers. They are a warning to us disciples of Christ. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

3) It is important to recognize that the judgment spoken of is based on how we treat others, recognizing and meeting the needs of people around us. The judgment in this passage is not about whether we believe in Christ or not.

4) Also, it is very helpful to note that the word interpreted “goats” is actually “eriphos” which means “kid” or “young goat”, and the word interpreted “sheep” is “probaton” which means small four legged grazing animal, as in sheep or goats. The words draw a distinction in maturity; eriphos are immature, and probaton are mature goats. They are not calling a distinction between the type of animals. Even if one does interpret these as “sheep and goats”, both sheep and goats were clean animals, not unclean. Sheep provided the shepherd with wool and meat; but goats provided the shepherd with milk, meat, and skins. And a billy-goat could be especially helpful in protecting the flock from a wolf. A billy-goat is one tough animal! Both goats and sheep were valuable to the shepherd, valuable members of the flock.

I believe though that the best interpretation of probaton and eriphos is not “sheep and goats” though both were clean animals; rather, the best interpretation would be “goats and kids” highlighting the difference in maturity. A shepherd would separate out the kids (baby goats) for specific training so that they could learn to follow the shepherd’s guidance and directives and participate in the flock! Lambs, being much more docile, do not need this training; but baby goats do.

5) It is also important to note that the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30) was a reference to the Jewish concept of Gehenna. Gehenna, a transliteration of Ga ben Hinnom, the valley of the sons of Hinnom, a valley just outside Israel’s dung gate that was used as a trash dump with a continuous fire and seemingly endless supply of maggots (worm dies not). The city refuse and the corpses of the poor and criminals were consumed there either by fire or by decay (maggots).

The most significant thing to note about Gehenna is that it was used by 1st century Jewish Rabbis as a theological metaphor of Remedial Judgment and Punishment in the afterlife. Rabbis during the time of Christ taught that those who were not righteous enough to go straight to Ga Eden (Paradise) were consigned to Gehenna as a means of purification and after some time (up to 11 months) most people ascended to Ga Eden, though it was argued that the most wicked of people might either be annihilated there or continue indefinitely there. Thus Gehenna for the average person, for most all consigned there was understood at an assumption level to be a place of remedial punishment, a season of encountering the fire of truth that would burn the dross from one’s soul. A person’s suffering in Gehenna, though terrible, was understood to be neither endless nor meaningless, but fully accomplished the purification and healing of those consigned there.

5) Another very important piece of information that helps us in understanding the promise and warning of Mt.25.46 is the meaning of the word “kolasis”. Kolasis, in Classical Greek specifically meant Remedial Punishment, punishment with a purpose of bringing about a positive change in the one being punished. Another word, timoria, spoke of Vindictive Punishment, punishment meant as an outlet for vengeance. In Mt.25.46 Jesus warns of kolasis not timoria, remedial punishment not vengeful punishment, punishment as in chastisement!

6) And of course, an informed interpretation of Mt.25.46 would not be complete without at least a brief review of the meaning of aionios which is often translated as “eternal”, an adjective that describes both kolasis (remedial punishment) and zoe (life). In brief, aionios in scripture is used to speak of that which is spiritual as opposed to that which is physical, that which transcends time (eternal) as opposed to that which is bound by time (temporal). It was used to reference the power and authority of Caesar, the Roman Empire. It was used in the LXX to translate the Hebraic concept of Olam Haba, the realm beyond, that which is beyond the horizon, out of sight and beyond understanding, the age of the Messiah! It is the adjectival form of aion which means age, season, or eon. In short, it simply refers to that which is beyond, of the eternal realm of God that transcends time. It is a word that references source and quality. Eternal Life is life that is from God and of the realm of God, life that transcends time, is both now and not yet. Eternal Remedial Punishment is punishment that is from God, of the realm of God, punishment that transcends time, is both now and not yet. Aionios is not meant to convey something as being endless or not endless; rather, it is meant to convey a quality of life or punishment that transcends time, that effects its purpose in this life as well as in the life to come.

Let us review what I have pointed out concerning the literary context and actual wording of Mt.25.46.

  1. The intended audience was the disciples, not unbelievers.
  2. The judgment mentioned was universal, all people, not just unbelievers.
  3. The basis of the judgment is works, how we actually live, not whether or not we believe or have been “saved” or “born again.
  4. The metaphor of the “sheep and goats” actually draws a distinction in “maturity”, not value. It would be better translated “goats and kids”.
  5. In the immediate literary context, Jesus uses phrases that refer to Gehenna, which also spoke of remedial punishment, chastisement from a loving God.
  6. Kolasis means Remedial Punishment, punishment meant to bring about positive change in the one being punished.
  7. Aionian is a word used to reference that which is from God, that which belongs to time-transcending the realm of God.

When I take into consideration these points about the context and actual wording of Mat.25:31-46, it is evident to me that the traditional interpretation is severely lacking at best, and completely misleading at the worst. This passage is a warning of judgment for all humanity, not just unbelievers. It is a judgment based on how we actually live, not on just whether or not we have faith in Christ. It is judgment based on how mature we are, how much we give our lives in the selfless service of others. And of course, the punishment warned is remedial in nature, not vindictive; it is punishment meant to bring about a positive change in the ones being punished! It is perfect remedial punishment from God that will bring about God’s intended purposes in all who are subjected to it. Like a shepherd chastises the baby-goats in his flock, the Lord will chastise us bringing us to healthy maturity.

The traditional interpretation that this passage is speaking of the separation of believers and unbelievers with believers going to Heaven and unbelievers going to Hell completely disregards the context and actual wording of the passage! Mat.25:31-46 is not warning of a separation of believer and unbeliever, but of those who live in service to others verses those who do not. It is not a warning of unending torture for anyone; rather, it is a warning of God’s shepherdly perfect punishment that leads a person to a change of heart and life.

By mistranslating this passage, the traditional interpretation completely nullifies the power of this passage to call believers to righteous living. By misinterpreting this passage to speak of the separation of believers and unbelievers and speaking of Heaven and Hell, believers say to themselves “this passage does not apply to me because I’m a believer and thus I need not fear ‘eternal punishment.’ Whereas the correct interpretation of this passage calls us as believers to be not only aware of the needs of others, but to be careful to do good to others.

Mistranslating this passage to speak of Hell also confuses the issue of salvation! In this passage the reward of life blessed by God is based on how we live our lives, and it says nothing of grace or faith. Many believers point to this passage as “proof” that one getting into heaven is based to a greater or lesser degree on how we live, whether or not we do good. For them, salvation is not based solely upon grace, but is based to a greater or lesser degree upon how we live, whether or not we believe and do right. This results in legalism to a greater or lesser degree. And yet scripture affirms that salvation is by grace, not by our works, that we are saved by the atonement, not by how good we are. Of course, through faith we receive the benefits of this grace; but faith does not generate the grace. Grace precedes and is the foundation of faith. Grace is not predicated upon faith; but faith is predicted upon faith.

Mistranslating this passage to warn of Hell for the non-believer also hinders the work of evangelism. If a believer points out this passage to an unbeliever as a warning of them going to Hell, the unbeliever simply need point out that the believer is no better than he is. In fact, many unbelievers give their lives in support of social causes, serving humanity. Does this mean that they have more hope of life with God than the believer who is caught up in materialism? Of course not, but the unbeliever can point to the hypocrisy of the traditional interpretation and thus fail to grasp the Good News that salvation is based on grace, not on works.

Whether one believes in Hell or not, whether one believes that Jesus ultimately saves everyone and reconciles all creation to Himself or fails to save most of humanity, this passage warns of Remedial Punishment (kolasis), chastisement for believer and unbeliever alike (pas ethnos, all peoples). It does not warn of vindictive “torture” for anyone. It does not warn of or affirm the concept of “Hell”! Instead, it powerfully affirms that God, the good shepherd, will work in our lives to bring us to a place of emotional and relational maturity, whether in this life or the life to come!

In fact, not one of the four parables of Matthew 24:45 – 25:46 speaks of endless torture or of a separation between believer and unbeliever. All four parables present eternal principles that apply to everyone whether one believes in Jesus or not.

The parable of the two servants (24:45-51) warns of the importance of not misusing one’s position and authority in leadership. If one misuses their authority and power over others, one will be labeled a hypocrite and there will be much weeping (regret and repentance) and gnashing of teeth (terrible frustration and remorse)!

The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins warns of the importance of being prepared. If one fails to prepare, whether in education, financial planning, exercise, eating right, or what ever, if one fails to prepare as one should, he will miss out on the party! He will miss out on some of the good that God intends for him!

The parable of the talents speaks of the importance of discipline, diligence, faith, and even of having a right belief concerning God. If one is lazy, selfish, and fearful, twisted in one’s beliefs concerning God, then one will not only miss out on the party, one will have what is good taken away from them; and they too shall come to a place of weeping (regret and repentance) and gnashing of teeth (shame and remorse), and even experience the relational privation of outer darkness!

Do not be fooled! God will not be mocked! What a man sows, so shall he reap, if not in this life, the life to come!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is the Atonement Limited?

One of the foundational elements of Calvinism is the belief that the Atonement is Limited in “scope”, that Jesus’ sacrifice only atones for the sins of those He has chosen to save. However, they do not limit the Atonement in “effect” believing that the Atonement fully accomplishes the salvation of those who Jesus died for. It is because of the Atonement that the saved come to faith. Salvation is thus completely by grace through the Atonement for those whom God chooses to save, and those whom God chooses to save will eventually come to faith, but God does not choose to save everyone. Thus the Atonement is Limited in Scope.

For the Calvinist the Atonement is like a life-guard rescuing a few drowning people out of a sea full of drowning people. Though the person being rescued is unconscious or out of his mind with fear, the life-guard overpowers the person and pulls him to safety. Of course though, most are not saved.

What many people fail to recognize is that Arminianism also believes in Limited Atonement. Instead of limiting the Atonement in “Scope” though, Arminianism limits the Atonement in “Effect” believing that the Atonement does NOT fully accomplish the salvation of those who Jesus died for. The Atonement only makes salvation available for those who qualify for salvation through obedient faith in Christ. Salvation is not completely by grace because of the Atonement but requires a response of obedient faith on our part. Thus for the Arminianist the Atonement is Limited in Effect. The Atonement doesn’t actually save anyone; rather, it only makes salvation available.

For the Arminianist the Atonement is like a life-guard throwing a floatation ring to many drowning people. Sadly though, the unconscious or those out of their minds with fear of death do not grab the life-line and thus end up drowning. Of course, some don’t realize they are drowning until it is too late. And even sadder still are the ones who never have an opportunity to grab the life-ring because no one ever throws them one.

Calvinism and Arminianism both Limit the Atonement! Calvinism limits the Atonement in Scope and Arminianism limits the Atonement in Effect. But does scripture limit the Atonement in either scope or effect? I do not believe it does. Let’s look at a few scriptures that speak of the Universality of the Atonement, starting with what Jesus said concerning His own death.

John 12:30-32
30 Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

Note the universality of this statement. Apparently Jesus believed that through His death He would actually “draw all” unto Himself.” And Paul picks up this theme repeatedly stating such in his writings, as in the following.

Colossians 1:15-20
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Notice the repetition of the phrase “all things”. “All things” were created by Christ and for Christ; and “all things” are reconciled to Him through his blood shed on the cross. Apokatallasso, means to “to reconcile completely, to reconcile back again, bring back a former state of harmony ”, “to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace ”. Eirenopoieo, means “to make peace, establish harmony.”

Also note the mention of creation. What is it that we are brought back to? What former state of harmony are we brought back to? The Garden of Eden, Paradise, what humanity was created for in the beginning is what we are brought back to. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and through the Atonement Jesus brings back everything in heaven and on earth to Himself, brings us all back to our intended former state of harmony with God in Eden!

Ephesians 1:7-10
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Note the universality of the Atonement in this passage which notes God’s stated intended purpose of bringing all things in heaven and on earth under the headship of Christ! Apolutrosis, “AV translates as “redemption” nine times, and “deliverance” once, 1 a releasing effected by payment of ransom, 1A redemption, deliverance, 1B liberation procured by the payment of a ransom.” It is because we are forgiven in heaven, redeemed by the blood of Christ in the eternal, that we can now embrace such on earth in the temporal through faith! It is because of the grace of God that we, all of humanity, stand forgiven; and God lavishes such on us by giving us understanding into this wonderful mystery that He purposed in Christ!

1 Timothy 2:1-6
1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.

Note the universality of the Atonement in this passage. God not only wants all to be saved, He has “ransomed” all through the sacrifice of Christ. Ransom, antilutron, “what is given in exchange for another as the price of his redemption, ” a redemption-price, the means of liberation. Jesus exchanged himself for us, for all of humanity. Recognizing that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all of humanity is the foundation from which we pray for everyone to experience this freedom now, in the present.

Also notice verse 4, what is translated as “wants” might be better translated as “will have”; thelo “to will, have in mind, intend, to be resolved or determined, to purpose. ” God purposes to have all humanity to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, so He gave Jesus as a ransom for all humanity as the means of liberation for all humanity.

Romans 5:18
“Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

In this passage, Paul compares the effect of the sin of Adam with the effect of the sacrifice of Christ. Adam’s sin effected condemnation and death for all of humanity; even Jesus suffered condemnation and death though He had no sin of His own. In like manner, the sacrifice of Christ effects justification and life for all humanity! In fact, the Atonement is greater than the sin of Adam because not only does the sacrifice of Christ atone for Adam’s sin, but it atones for all the sins of all humanity including Adam’s. The Atonement is far greater than the sin of Adam!

2 Corinthians 5:18-21
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God does not count, recon, hold our sins against us! In fact, God in Jesus was “reconciling” the world, the kosmos, the universe, to Himself. It is on this basis that we participate in the ministry of Christ, that we as believers participate in this ministry of reconciliation, that we implore others to go ahead and be reconciled to God now! It is because we all are reconciled to God in heaven, in the eternal, that we seek the reconciliation of all on earth, in the temporal. And we pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it IS in heaven!”

Scripture repeatedly affirms that the Atonement is NOT limited in either scope or effect; the Atonement is universal in scope and effect, redeeming and reconciling all to God, ultimately restoring all back into harmony with God as it was in Eden! This is truly Good News! Hallelujah!

For the Universalist the Atonement is like a life-guard rescuing everyone who is drowning. Some people respond to life-rings and other floatation devices thrown to them, choosing salvation. On the other hand, though a person is unconscious, out of his mind with fear, the life-guard overpowers him and pulls him to safety – ultimately saving all who were drowning. Not one mother’s son or father’s daughter shall be lost – because God loves all of humanity and gave His only son as a ransom, redeeming us all from the bondage of sin and Satan!  Jesus is the Good Shepherd that searches until every sheep is found!