Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell

What did I think of Fudge and Peterson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

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My wife got me this book as a Christmas gift just going through my Amazon wish list I suppose. (And God have mercy on her since I have two just for books and one of them is completely full.) So naturally, I went through the book as soon as I could. I will admit my bias. I hold to a view of Hell that would be closer to traditionalism, although most traditionalists I think would not really hold to my view.

The book starts with the view of Fudge who holds to annihiliationism. I think Fudge would prefer it not be called that and today it’s more often called Conditionalism or conditional immortality. To be fair also, Peterson would prefer his viewpoint not be called traditionalism since it can look like one believes just because it is a tradition. I think it’s best for us as we consider the merits and problems of the book to look at the claims of the positions and not just their titles as we might just have to stick with those. Such is the nature of the beast.

The book starts with Fudge’s case. I found it in many ways an interesting look. I do agree with the criticism later on that a number of passages I do not think really are talking about what I prefer to call the after-death. I think Fudge did put forward a good argument and he did try to stay focused on the Bible. I do understand that as he went through each section of Scripture with an emphasis on the NT understandably and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Peterson’s critique I thought of this section was good, but lacking in some areas. I do think too often Peterson had relied too much on a more futurist eschatology. I also did think it was problematic to say that Fudge went too much into the Greek. I understand the fear of writing to laymen, but the thing to do on Peterson’s side is just answer what he considers a bad usage of Greek with a good usage of it. I happen to think Peterson and Fudge neither one did well on their critiques.

Then Peterson made his case and he made his slightly different, but I understand why. He started off from a historical position. Many of the greatest minds in church history have denied annihilationism. Of course this isn’t a slam dunk. Peterson himself would not say it is. What it does mean is that if you are going against that kind of consensus, you had better have some good evidence for it.

Next Peterson makes his case from Scripture. In this, he goes to ten passages and tells the time frame and setting of each one and responds to the annihilationist interpretation, namely that of Fudge. I found this section to be quite well-written, though again there were times I think a more futurist interpretation was included in the text, but few if any texts depended on that.

Finally, Peterson shows how this impacts other doctrines and the best case was in Christology. What happened to Jesus on the cross when He died? Did He cease to exist? Did His humanity go away. These are questions that have to be answered and if Fudge holds that Jesus ceased to exist after He died, then I think that we are entering into some very serious issues at this point.

After that, we get to Fudge’s reply and honestly, this was for me the low point of the book. I have admitted my bias at the start, but when I read the text, I was trying to keep in mind that in some ways, Fudge was critiquing the view that I held. How would he do?

It didn’t help when the first sentence is “Robert Peterson now has done his best to defend the notion that God will keep sinners alive in Hell forever to torture them without end.”

Is there really any need for this? You would get the impression from Fudge that Peterson is practically roasting marshmallows watching unbelievers burn and celebrating it. I suspect Peterson would say that even if he thought Hell was a literal furnace, and he doesn’t, that he gets great sorrow from this. Fudge’s first sentence then in his reply was a let down for me and brought motives into play rather than dealing with the arguments.

Fudge also did this in pointing to how Peterson has to hold to the tradition that he is in and Fudge does not. His denomination is one that says Scripture is the final authority. That applies to Peterson as well I’m sure. If you asked him which was the final authority, he would no doubt say Scripture. The problem when we get often to just the Bible is that it is not just the Bible. It couldn’t be. The Bible is not a text in isolation. We have it translated and we have to interpret it with the works of the leading scholars. I seriously doubt Fudge has done all the textual work and linguistic study and such to translate and interpret every passage in the NT. He too relies on the minds of others. To not do this is to in many ways make us our own Popes.

This also troubled me when I read Fudge talking about Peterson referring often to uninspired writers. This is the kind of thing that I see from fundamentalists on the internet and it is troubling. What matters to me is the claims. It is not if the author is inspired or not. Jesus in his own culture used language from the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period and some of which we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was not inspired, but so what?

And of course, the claims of being influenced by pagans is something that I would like to see more research on. Color me skeptical of this since I regularly see claims about Christian ideas being influenced by pagans be it from the Christ-myth camp or be it from Christians who want to say that holidays like Christmas have borrowed heavily from the pagans. It’s too easy to just throw out the idea of “pagan.”

So like I said, I think Fudge just did not do well in his critiques of the traditionalist position. There was too much emotional content that frankly I think does not belong in a debate like this. I realize this is difficult, but it just doesn’t. Too often too many times I see the ideas presented with speculation on what is better. Conditionalists will say “We do not have God keeping people alive forever just to punish them. Unbelievers get turned away by this.”

Well if an unbeliever is going to be turned away and not look at the evidence for a claim like the resurrection just because of something they don’t like, it’s their own fault frankly. You do not say “I do not like the claim, therefore the evidence behind the claim must be false.” One investigates the claim. If one finds that Jesus did not rise, then who cares? It’s not going to change my mind if Muslims change their doctrine of the after-death concerning unbelievers. I don’t care either way.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, traditionalists can say to conditionalists that you’re just giving unbelievers what they want. They just cease to exist. It looks like they get off easy. Again, I understand the sentiment there as well, but so what? The evidence for the resurrection changes because someone gets off easy? Conditionalism is false because it is believed that someone gets off easy? We end up speculating on this point and miss going with what the text itself really says. Now if we become convinced of either view in the text, then we can ask “Why did God do it X way instead of this?” That can be a fascinating way to learn, but it should not be used as a debate point.

In looking at the book as a whole, while both sides were interesting to read about, I think the book could have been better served with a more point-counterpoint position. To have each side present their whole case and then one counter to that is a bit overwhelming. It would have been better I think to have perhaps discussion on history and then on interpretation and then on ramification. It could have been longer had this been done, but I think the content would be better.

This is still an interesting read to see both sides of the issue and I can recommend it there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Did God Really Command Genocide?

What do I think of Copan and Flannagan’s newest book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

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First off, I wish to thank Dr. Copan for sending me a copy of this Baker book for review purposes. I will state up front that I see Flannagan and Copan both as good friends, but I earnestly desire to avoid allowing any bias to cover my review. It will be up to the reader of this review to determine if I have done so.

The book starts with a question of what atheist Raymond Bradley calls the Crucial Moral Principle. This principle goes as follows:

It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.

Most of us would in principle have no problem with that statement. In fact, in principle, neither would Copan and Flannagan. Yet that is the statement that must be dealt with as it looks like the text does have commands from God to do just that. Now of course it could be that some might say those events are just a made-up history, but in the book, Copan and Flannagan do take the task of assuming for the sake of argument that this is a real historical narrative. In fact, so do the atheists they interact with in the book. It is a way of saying “Let’s assume that there was a conquest of the Promised Land as the Bible declares. How do we reconcile that with the idea that God is a God of love?”

Some people reading the start will be wondering about the beginning. Why are we having a discussion on inerrancy? Why a discussion on what it means for the Bible to be the Word of God? All of this is important, because it is about how we are to process the information in a text and too many people have an idea that if the Bible is the “Word of God” then somehow the ordinary rules of language don’t apply and everything must be applied in a “literalistic” reading.

From there, we get into the conquest itself. Is the text using hyperbolic language? Copan and Flannagan argue that it is simply because if you take in a literalistic sense, the accounts immediately contradict. For the sake of argument, one could say there are contradictions in the text, but let us not say the writers were fools who would notice a blatant contradiction right in their midst. Many of the commands also involve not destroying, but rather driving out. The commands were also limited to war within the holy land itself.

Naturally, the authors argue against those who want to use the Bible to argue against the hyperbolic interpretation. They conclude this section by looking at legal and theological questions concerning genocide and show that by legal definitions used of genocide today, the events that took place in the Conquest really don’t work.

The third part of the book starts with Divine Command Theory. I will state that while I believe everything God commands is necessarily good and we are obligated to do it, I do not hold to DCT. I think this section does deal with several bad arguments against it and that makes it worthwhile in itself. It’s also important that you can be someone who does not hold to DCT and it will not detract from the overall position of the book.

For instance, let’s suppose you take my position and yet think that if God commands something, it is good. Then the rest of the part will still work for you. It asks if God could command events like the deaths of innocent human beings. The authors use some excellent examples about how in even our time we could picture a president commanding such an order and not condemn them. For instance, suppose on 9/11 three of the planes have hit and we know the fourth is on its way to the target. This plane no doubt commands innocent human beings, but would we understand a command from the president to have it shot down knowing innocents will die? Note that is not saying it is necessarily the right decision, but that it is an understandable decision.

The authors also deal with what if someone claimed this today. For the authors, the principle known earlier as the crucial moral principle holds if all things are equal, but if you think God is telling you otherwise, you’d better have some excellent evidence. Most Christians today would say you do not because even if you hold to God guiding people personally today and even personal communication today, most would not hold to prophecy on the level of Scripture being given today and if God commanded you to kill someone, that is not a position to hold to.

So what makes Moses and the conquest different? One is the preponderance of what are called G2 miracles. These are miracles that you could not just explain away as sleight of hand if true. For instance, when the water of the Nile turns to blood, the magicians can repeat that so yeah, no big deal. When the Red Sea parts and the whole of the Israelites pass through on dry land and the waters drown the following Egyptians, yeah. That’s not so easily explainable. The same for manna falling from the sky every day for forty years and the wonders that took place around Mount Sinai. The average Joe Israelite soldier had good reason to think Moses had some divine communication going on.

I personally found the last section to be the most fascinating and this is about violence in history and its link to Christianity. The authors cover the Crusades particularly and show some contrasts between Islam and Christianity and also point out that the Crusades have not been hanging over our heads for centuries. If anything, the usage of them is a more recent argument.

They also deal with the idea of religious violence and show that much of the violence we have seen is in fact political though often hidden under a religious veneer. Included also in this section is a piece on the question of pacifism and if there can be such a thing as a just war.

Copan and Flannagan have provided an excellent gift to the church in this book. Anyone interested in studying the conquest of the holy land and wanting to deal with the question of religious violence in general will be greatly benefited by reading this book and keeping it in their library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/29/2014: Raising Hell

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

We’re going to be entering new territory on this week’s episode. I’m going to be trying my hands at moderating a debate. The debate will be a Christian debate on the nature of Hell. Is it eternal conscious torment of some kind or is it rather going to be annihiliation where the wicked simply cease to exist.

Arguing on the side of annihilation is Chris Date of Rethinking Hell and the Theopologetics Podcast.

Mr Chris Date

Chris Date is the host of the Theopologetics podcast, as well as a steward of and primary contributor to the Rethinking Hell project, and co-editor of the 2014 Cascade Books publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. A software engineer by trade, he believes theology and apologetics are for every average Joe in the pews, and not just for pastors, philosophers, PhD’s and the erudite in ivory towers. Formerly a traditionalist, he was not seeking an alternative to the traditional view of hell but became convinced by sound exegesis and systematic theology that the Bible teaches conditional immortality and annihilationism. He has since defended the view in several moderated debates and on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program on Premier Christian Radio UK.

Arguing on the other side will be J.P. Holding.

J.P. Holding

James Patrick Holding is President of Tekton Apologetics Ministries. He holds a Masters degree in Library Science and has written articles for the Christian Research Journal and the Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal.

Date’s writing on this can be found in his book Rethinking Hell whereas Holding’s can be found in his ebook What In Hell Is Going On?

I will be seeking to be a fair middleman in this debate asking questions of each of the participants. Each one has also sent me various talking points. Naturally, there’s no way that we can get to everything. Furthermore, each of the participants in this debate will be allowed to dialogue with one another and ask the hard questions of the other’s position that they want to.

I consider this an important debate as it affects not only our evangelism but also our salvation in that we need to know what we are saved from and what we are saved to. (I in no way consider believers in conditionalism to be heretical or outside of salvation simply because they are conditionalists and of course the same goes for the traditionalist view) That in turn affects our view of God. We’ll be dealing with the many classical questions I hope as well. What about those who have never heard? What about the babies?

We will get into the meaning of words and concepts in the Bible. What does it mean to say that the punishment of the wicked is eternal? What does it mean when we hear of destruction? What does it mean when the text says that the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever?

This will be the first debate I have ever hosted so I hope that I will do a good job and I hope that any biases I have in the debate will be able to be suppressed. I also want to remind everyone that a debate is a starting spot. If any listener is driven to further study of this important issue by this debate, then the goal will be accomplished.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/30/2014: R. Scott Smith

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Morality. Most of us do agree that there is such a thing, although a growing number are increasingly saying that they don’t, which is quite frightening. We know that there is a good and there is an evil and we have a good idea about what it is we are to do. This is a phenomenon of reality that needs to be explained. How do we do it? To find out about this, I’m having R. Scott Smith come on the Deeper Waters Podcast. 

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Who is he?

Professor of Ethics & Christian Apologetics in the MA Christian Apologetics program, Biola University (starting my 15th year)

MA, Philosophy of Religion & Ethics, Talbot; PhD, Religion & Social Ethics, USC

Author of 4 books: In Search of Moral Knowledge (IVP, 2014), Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012), Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church (Crossway, 2005), and Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge (Ashgate, 2003).

Contributor to several books, journals, and other magazines/websites

What we will be talking about is the latest book of his, In Search of Moral Knowledge. 

Smith’s book is a fascinating one that takes you through a tour of ancient philosophy, biblical theology and ethics, the medieval period, and then modern theories, including naturalistic theories, that attempt to give a grounding for the morality that we all seem to share. What theory best accounts for it? In the end, he decides that the Christian worldview is the best worldview for explaining morality.

We will be asking a lot of questions along the way of course. Since the book starts off with looking at the early Greek philosophers, one question that can come to mind is “Why should we care?” After all, if we are Christians, don’t we have the Bible to tell us right from wrong? Why should Christians bother studying the ideas of Plato and Aristotle since this isn’t part of inspired literature? Can it really help us to understand morality?

When it comes to biblical ethics, at this point, it is the atheist who will have a rejoinder. “Yes. Let’s talk about biblical ethics. Let’s talk about slavery and genocide and all of that stuff. Remember, all of this is what shows up in the ‘Good Book.’ Why should I take the Bible as a relevant source on morality when it contains so much that is immoral?”

As we go through the medieval period, we can ask what we have really gained from all of this. Most of us today do still have a good idea of right and wrong. Did the medieval period really contribute in any significant way to what we know about reality? Does it really help us to understand what people like Aquinas thought about morality?

Finally, we will be looking at modern ideas from Christians and non-Christians and seeing how they add up and asking if morality can really be explained in an atheistic worldview? If it can’t be, then why is it that we should think that the Christian worldview is the best explanation for morality?

If you’re interested in the moral argument for God’s existence, then I urge you to please subscribe to the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes and be watching your feed for this latest episode! You won’t want to miss it!

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Real Persecution

Are you really undergoing suffering for Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

 

Just this weekend, I was involved with a debate on Facebook with what I believe to be a cult or at least cultic sacred namer type. That’s one of those that insists on using specifically Hebrew names for God and Jesus and usually suggesting Yeshua is a not the correct name. There’s a major emphasis on that in groups like this along with a rejection of many orthodox beliefs seen as “pagan” and an insistence on keeping the Law.

I was able to handle everything this person said and pointed out they said nothing in reply to my responses, until they gave the line to one of their fellows who had popped in recently that they were just getting the same kind of treatment that Jesus got that eventually got them nailed to the cross.

At this, I was quite angry. Why? It’s not because a cult group was doing this. Real Christians make statements like this way too often. It’s because when this is done, it’s a real insult to people who are really being persecuted. 

As I pointed out, right now, there are Christians in the Middle East who are being killed for their belief in Jesus by ISIS right now. We should all agree that this is a real evil that should be stopped. Now whether you agree or disagree with Christianity, there can be no doubt that these are true faithful Christians who are willing to pay the price for what they believe.

Too often in our culture, we look at anything that happens to us and cry out “persecution!” Now I do not think everything that happens to us is right of course. There is an increasing tendency by certain groups out there to put as many limits on Christian expression in public places as possible. There is also the outcry from the homosexual community that we must change our beliefs or at least not state them publicly and must recognize a man-man or a woman-woman unit as a valid marriage. People who have refused have even been told to take classes so they can learn to change their minds. 

Some of these are getting close. We should all be on guard in this case and ready to stand up for what it is we believe in. Frankly, I’ll state everyone should be ready to do that. Whatever your worldview is, if you really think it’s true, you should stand up for it and you have all right to do so, especially here in America. If you think something should be illegal or legal, stand up for it and argue for it in the marketplace of ideas.

Yet Christians too often copy the world in one false notion. They play the victim. Many things that happen to us are not persecution. If someone disagrees with you in public and challenges your position, you are not being persecuted. Have it be that they pull a gun on you and tell you to stop talking about Jesus and I’ll agree you’re being persecuted.

When we use the term persecution too lightly, we remove from it the real meaning it should have. If you live in America and you’re reading this and you’re a Christian, it’s quite likely you went to church yesterday. You freely worshiped in a public place and had no fear of the government or Muslim terrorists coming in and killing you. You carried your own Bible and didn’t fear a police force stopping you and confiscating it from you. Some of you might have went out to eat afterwards in your Sunday best and everyone would have known you went to church and yet you feared no reprisals. 

When you get home, it could be you have several books on your bookshelf that are also Christian in nature. You could go to a bookstore and buy more if you wanted to or go on Amazon and freely order them. You would have no fear if you did the latter of the government come and checking your packages to make sure you weren’t getting anything illegal.

Do you pause in all of this to take a moment to realize how grateful you should be?

Many of us can have multiple Bibles on our shelves. I do. It’s good to study many translations. Do you know how many Christians in persecuted parts of the world would be thrilled to just have a piece of that Bible that you have? If they had but one passage of Scripture, they would be studying that passage endlessly. They long to do this, and meanwhile many of our Bibles gather dust on our bookshelves.

Most of you today are going to go through your day without fear of dying for your faith. You’re not risking your lives by reading the Bible or going to a church to worship. If this is you, you’re not really undergoing persecution yet. Oh there could be some beginning stages going on, but you haven’t been hit with the real deal as of this point.

In fact, let’s make a few other points clear.

First, to deal with any misconceptions, just because you’re being persecuted, it does not mean that your beliefs are true. Many belief systems were persecuted throughout history and are being persecuted. I say this because I do know non-Christians read this as well and I am in no way saying “Because Christians are persecuted, Christianity is true.” (Though I do find it interesting that Christianity is usually singled out.) What it can demonstrate is that you certainly believe that Christianity is true.

Second, let’s be careful about any boasts that we make. Some of you might be being asked “Would you be willing to die for Jesus?” I never answer this question with “Definitely! You bet!” Why is that? Because centuries ago there was a man who said he would never deny the Lord and would die for Him if he had to. This man was Peter, the same Peter who denied the Lord three times to save his own hide. Take that as a word of warning. Those who are the ones who boast about how they cannot fall or fail are usually setting themselves up for just that. I answer this question by saying “I hope that if it ever came to that, the Lord would give me the strength to do just that.”

Third, let’s make sure to give thanks for what it is that we have. We should absolutely be praying for the persecuted church. My wife and I do every night. If you want to know what is really going on, an excellent place to go is to Voice of the Martyrs. This is a fine ministry that’s doing its part to help the persecuted church and is certainly worthy of your prayers and financial support. If my wife and I had the funds to give to another ministry today, this one I think would be at the top of the list.

Fourth is that I am not a pacifist. I in fact fully support military action against those who do seek to do evil. Part of doing our part includes rescuing those who are suffering. If someone was threatening you and your family, I would hope that you would take whatever action necessary to protect your family. These Christians in the Middle East are your family too. They’re your brothers and sisters in Christ and it is just fine to want to protect them. 

If we regularly keep saying that we are going through persecution when we are not, then we do raise ourselves up, but we do so by lowering the sacrifice of so many around the world, such as those suffering under ISIS who are really paying the ultimate price. We are not at this point and we should not take a term that really applies to them and give it to us.

Give thanks for what you have, but meanwhile, pray for and support the persecuted church. This is your family that’s dying after all. 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/2/2014: Clay Jones

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Evil is a favorite playing card of many an atheist on the internet as well as prominent atheists in public debate. If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world? In fact, many times, isn’t God the cause of all this evil in the world?

Of course, this is a serious objection for many to theism and in order to help address it, why not talk to a serious authority on the issue? That’s why I’m having Dr. Clay Jones of BIOLA come on my show this Saturday to talk about the problem of evil.

So who is Clay Jones?

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According to his bio:

Clay Jones holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Formerly, Clay hosted Contend for Truth, a nationally syndicated call-in, talk-radio program where he debated professors, radio talk show hosts, cultists, religious leaders, and representatives from animal rights, abortion rights, gay rights, and atheist organizations. Clay was the CEO of Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law and Graduate Schools) and was on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal and specializes in issues related to why God allows evil. You can read his blog at clayjones.net and find him on Facebook.

So what are we going to be talking about when it comes to the problem of evil?

There will be four parts to this. The first one is why is it that we suffer for the sin of Adam. Why is it that because one man and woman ate a piece of fruit so long long ago that the rest of us have to suffer for it today? How can it be that a good God would allow this? Why put us in a situation where already we’re in a deficit?

Second, what about the nature of humankind. What does it mean to be a human and what difference does this make to the problem of evil? Why is it that we see human beings as moral agents but we don’t tend to view animals in the same light?

Third, free-will. This often comes up in these debates but what about the nature of free-will. Does it make a difference? Why should God even allow free-will if it will lead to all this evil? Could God not have created a world where we would be free but there will not be all this evil?

Finally, what about the after-death? Does Heaven play any role whatsoever in what we are experiencing in this life? What about the fact that some people will not make it to Heaven in fact?

All of these are important aspects of dealing with the problem of evil so if this is a question that interests you, be listening to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday, and please leave a positive review of the show on ITunes! I would greatly appreciate it!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A View On Heaven and Hell

What is the basic nature of the afterdeath? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, an atheist told me of how they left Christianity and one large problem was Hell and ethics. A Christian has asked me about why it is that the Christian system of rewards and punishment seems arbitrary. These two are connected.

Let’s start with the second one. Is it being arbitrary? Let’s consider that the idea is that someone can repent on their deathbed and get eternal life whereas someone who does good all their life and never comes to Christ gets eternal death. Why is that?

God’s standard in righteousness is we must match up to Him. We must be seen to be on His side entirely. When we declare Jesus to be Lord, we are in essence siding with God and God declares us to be in the right then based on that. This meets his standard of perfection. That’s not an arbitrary standard. Holiness has always been required and one must have the perfect holiness bestowed on them from God.

What if one does not have that?

Well God is fair then. What does He do? He judges them by their works. Those works have to add up perfectly.

Let’s consider that the idea was simply more good than bad. This is vague and in fact arbitrary. If you have to do so much good, how much? Is it a point system? How many points do you have to have? How many points does each good act give? How many points does each bad act deduct? The whole idea would be entirely arbitrary!

What about the deathbed conversion? Yes. God will grant someone eternal life, but not the same eternal reward. There are degrees of Heaven and degrees of Hell based on how one responded to God overall. Yet the problem is those who say they will come to God in the end have no guarantee that they will do so. The more they live in rebellion against God, the harder it will be for them to bend the knee because each action is affecting the way that they will live their life.

We know this from experience. If you treat women as objects, you will be more likely to engage in watching pornography. If you watch pornography, you will be more prone to sexual behavior outside of marriage and with an allure of risk to it. This could even lead to greater evils like rape. No one becomes a rapist or a murderer or some great evil overnight. They start on a continuum. No one also becomes a saint overnight. They start with doing good in their own lives.

This is also why we have to act contrary to our feelings and desires at times. We all know if we all acted according to our feelings and desires we would live in a world of chaos. Road rage would be abundant as we all have strong feelings about “that idiot behind us and that idiot in front of us.” Wives would have to fear constantly being raped by their husbands since by and large, men have a much higher sex drive than women do. Dieting and exercise would be unheard of. Suicide would go through the roof when depression strikes. Part of being a person of virtue is learning to foster in oneself proper emotional responses (Insofar as its possible) and proper desires. Christianity also helps with this.

I do not want to give the impression that Christianity is determined by how Christians live or even that the great message it was meant to give us was an ethical system. Jesus is King and ethics is part of any Kingdom, but it is not primary. Being good persons will not restore creation or destroy the problem of evil. Yet we are told to be subjects of King Jesus and work to eliminate evil and that means fostering virtue in ourselves.

But what about the nature of Heaven and Hell? Well my view is a bit unique.

The view I hold at this point though not sold on it entirely, is that much of the language is apocalyptic in describing the nature of Heaven and Hell in the Bible. That part is not so controversial. The next part will be more so and what the end point view I see of Heaven and Hell is.

I actually think that God rules on Earth entirely in the end. We don’t go to Heaven. Heaven comes to us. For the unbelievers, I don’t think they go to Hell. I think Hell comes to them. How is this so?

Because the two are the exact same place.

What?

Yep. We will all live on an Earth filled with the manifest presence of God.

Those who have been building in us the character of God and living as subjects of the King Jesus and seeking to serve Him will adore being in His presence. We will love it. We will be ecstatic. We will be around the greatest good in existence that we have sought all our lives!

That is Heaven!

And the others?

These are the ones that have been resisting God all their lives by not submitting to King Jesus. They may have done good works, and indeed all people do some, but they have not done the ultimate good of bowing the knee to Jesus. They have resisted God’s desire for them to reflect His image. In the end, they will be surrounded by the manifest presence of Him who they have sought to resist and avoid all their lives and there will be no escaping from His presence.

That is Hell!

Note that none of this means this system is true. Whether or not the question of Heaven and Hell is true depends on if Jesus rose from the dead. As I said to the non-Christian, the abandonment of the faith should only rest on the question of the resurrection. The only reason to not be a Christian is because you are convinced Jesus did not rise from the dead.

I understand people have a lot of ethical problems with Hell and there are a number of good works that can help with that, but let’s remember that it is not a primary question. N.T. Wright recently on Unbelievable? said that it is strange that America seems so obsessed with the devil and hell. Paul talks so much about righteousness and new creation and this is what we focus on. Most amusing was hearing him say “Come on people! Get a life! A biblical life!”

Heaven and Hell are important, but these questions are secondary and only matter after the primary question, the resurrection. Answer that first.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God’s Problem

Is God’s Problem a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

God’s Problem is the work of Bart Ehrman on the problem of evil and why he thinks the Bible does not address the problem. This is not his usual type of work. For one thing, I was surprised to read a book of Ehrman’s where he did not talk about the paper he wrote on Mark 2 in college. Yet on the other hand, Ehrman is stepping outside of his territory.

A usual criticism I have of Ehrman’s books is that you get the sound of one-hand clapping. Ehrman only presents his version of the story. He does not interact with those who disagree. Of course, I do not expect him to argue for what someone like myself would say, but I expect him to argue with it. I expect him to bring up writers like Plantinga and Ganssle and Copan and Zacharias and others and say why it is that they are wrong. He doesn’t.

What do we find? On page 18 he says “There are, of course, numerous books about suffering already. In my opinion, though, many of these books are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”

Why are they they? Who knows? Which ones are they? We don’t know. We’re just told to simply visit any Christian bookstore. Personally, as one who goes to Christian bookstores frequently, one would be hard-pressed to find these kinds of books that Christians should be reading there. If Ehrman’s dislike is based on what is read in Christian bookstores, then I really do feel his pain.

Yet is it really a convincing way to make a case? Can he really just hope a section like that would deal with Plantinga and others? Would it be a convincing argument if I said “I choose to believe in Christianity because books like Ehrman’s are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”? Of course not. I need to give a reason.

Now if Ehrman wants to say a lot of these books are not written to help those who are suffering. I agree. So what? A lot of philosophers are not professional counselors. Why should they be? In fact, what is Ehrman’s book doing to help people who suffer? If anything, it would hurt them because one could say he’s taking a great source of comfort that they have and calling it into question. Of course, he has all right to do that, but to do such an action and complain about what others are doing is highly problematic.

In fact, I have no doubt that if Alvin Plantinga, a leading Christian thinker on the problem of evil for those who don’t know, had a mother come to his office whose son died in a car accident, he would not give her a copy of one of his books on the problem of evil. He would listen to her. He would comfort her. He would pray with her. He would read Scripture with her. If he was not qualified in his opinion to do any of those things, he would find someone who was. In fact, aside from praying and reading Scripture, I think Ehrman would do the same thing. We all should.

Throughout the book Ehrman does present challenges to people’s faith. (Once again, how is it supposed to help those struggling with evil to go after their faith in a time of suffering, and yet Ehrman complains about others) These are the usual canards. The gospels are anonymous. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. The gospels contradict. Daniel was written late. Jesus and Paul are failed apocalyptic prophets. Anyone who’s read any of Ehrman’s other works will recognize the recycled arguments. It is not my purpose to deal with those here. It is only to point out again, is this the kind of message that Ehrman wants to give to suffering Christians? Is this the bet time to attack their faith? Of course, he could say he has not written this book to give emotional solace but to address an issue. That’s fine, but then why go after other books for the exact same reason. If anything, at least these books are trying to strengthen someone’s faith when they think they need it most.

Many of Ehrman’s objections also seem simplistic. For instance, on pages 12-13, he asks why there can be free-will in Heaven and everyone does the good, but there can’t be on Earth. My answer I’ve had for that for years is that Heaven is the end result of a lifetime of choices. Earth is the place where you choose who you will serve. When you are in the presence of God, you are locked into whatever choice you made. You can still act freely, but not against that basic lock. Now my answer for the sake of argument could be wrong, but it is an answer.

Ehrman also is not inconsistent with his approach often. For instance, he will say that the prophets knew that not all suffering was the result of sin and God judging the people, yet this is the view he still constantly repeats as theirs. The prophets are usually not speaking about evil as a whole, but about a particular evil and saying that yes, the covenant people are not being faithful to the covenant.

An interesting quote for readers is on page 127 where he says “What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.” One can’t help but wonder why in a book on evil Ehrman would want to risk having more people do the same thing.

Ehrman does point out that we could all do more to help deal with evil, and I agree. Yet is that all he wants to say? I see nothing beyond that. He’s of the view that we should still enjoy our lives, and I agree with that. If anyone wants to know why I think evil is the way it is in the world today, look at the church. Evil will prosper where the church fails to be the body of Christ. Interestingly in all these disasters Ehrman talks about, he seems to not notice it’s Christians who are responding. When he talks about how he helped someone who had escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge with his family, he mentions it the was a Lutheran ministry that got them here, but Ehrman doesn’t make the connection. Could it be the Lutherans did what they did because of Christ? Could it be God is operating through the church?

If this is the way God is dealing with the problem of evil, then by going against Christianity, could it be Ehrman is himself contributing to the problem he rails against?

I’d also like to point out that evil is not a defeater for Christian belief. It cannot be the case that the first way of Aquinas is true and that the problem of evil shows that God does not exist. The theistic arguments must still be dealt with. It cannot be that the historical case for the resurrection cannot be established because of evil. The case must be dealt with on its own.

I conclude that Ehrman has not dealt with the problem of evil, but the book I suspect is just another way of going after Christianity. Of course, Ehrman is free to do this, but I do not see why one would want to knock down a system to help deal with evil without putting up any system of one’s own in its place. Ehrman is doing what he says the Christians works he condemns are, except worse. At least those are usually trying to strengthen someone in a view for comfort. Ehrman is instead knocking them down.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is God a SadoMasochist?

Is the cross just a sick and depraved act? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, this video was brought to my attention. Be warned that it does contain strong profanity for all interested as well as some disturbing images. I put it up here just so that readers can make sure I have given an accurate representation of the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXXgUpv7APE

Now lately, I’ve spent much time blogging about how we have the gospel wrong. We have taken a part of it, forgiveness, which is an important part, and made it the whole deal.

When John the Baptist and Jesus showed up teaching the gospel, most people were not thinking about forgiveness. The Jewish system already had a way set up where you could receive forgiveness and there was no major need to replace it. Of course, some did come for forgiveness as Jesus was showing how forgiveness would work in the Kingdom, but Jesus did not preach an unheard of concept. All the Jews knew about forgiveness.

Jesus taught something greater. He taught that the plan of Israel was coming to a fruition. God was about to act to rectify the problem. What problem is that? It is the problem of sin and evil and death. Our teaching today tends to ask about the cross “What does it do for me?” It is foreign for us to think about the rest of the world.

So in replying to the producer of the vid, who based on his name I will just call BD for short, we will need to keep this in mind. Nowhere is there any material about the kingdom of God in the video, or about the problem of evil, or anything about the story of Israel.

Note also something else important that never shows up in the video. Never do we see an argument against the existence of God. We do not see an argument that shows that the resurrection did not happen. It is as if BD just wants to hit us with an emotional attack and make us not think about the real claim. If God exists and if Jesus did rise, then Christianity is true and that must be dealt with.

So let’s deal with some errant concepts that show up.

BD has a terrible rendition of the Trinity where the Son is the reincarnation (How can there be a reincarnation without a first incarnation) of the Father. However, he also uses the classic Bill Maher type of argumentation where God sends Himself to sacrifice to Himself, Himself to solve the problem that He Himself created.

If BD does not want to be a Christian. Fine. If he wants to think the Trinity is nonsense. Fine. Yet in all of this, at least get the concept right. If someone wants to be an atheist, at least seek to be an informed atheist. When I see a misrepresentation of the Trinity in this way I automatically know this is someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A good library would have volumes that would help give BD some understanding of the Trinity even if he doesn’t believe in it.

BD also wishes to point out that some people have suffered worse than Jesus. This is not being denied. But so what? BD assumes the worst part of the crucifixion was the pain of the cross. Of course the cross was physically painful, but it was more designed to be socially painful. It was designed to shame the criminal before others and thus give the notion to anyone else watching that “Maybe you don’t want to do what this guy did.”

Furthermore, Jesus being shamed was said thus to be a traitor to Rome and to be under the curse of YHWH. This is what makes the resurrection so important. The resurrection is the vindication of the claim of Jesus to be the King of Israel. It is God raising Him up so He can rule, since a dead king cannot rule the Kingdom of God. It is a reversal of the shame and God giving Jesus the place of highest honor.

So what about that sacrifice? How could it be a sacrifice if Jesus knew He was coming back? When something was offered to God, God could do with it what He wanted. Jesus had to face shame and death as it was entirely to take on the full curse for us. (If you remember, Genesis 3 has a little something about a curse) In facing death and shame head on, Jesus is able to overcome them for us. He is able to rectify the problems of evil, death, and sin.

This is why the story of Israel is so important. Genesis 3 is not an accidental test. It sets the whole tone of the Bible from then on. It’s not the case that the story of Abraham has nothing to do with that. The story has everything to do with it. Abraham’s role is to help restore that which was lost. Over and over, man fails at the attempt to rule as God desires, until finally Jesus comes who is able to do that.

Well couldn’t God just forgive? Not exactly. God is the greatest good and thus has the greatest honor. If God decides He won’t punish sin, then He is not treating Himself as the greatest good. He is being inconsistent. If He does this just for us, then it is akin to idolatry.

God must be just. That must mean there must be some punishment given for sin. BD wishes to make it be that God delights in punishing us. If that was the case, then one wonders why forgiveness would be offered at all. If God just wanted to punish us, He could have been eternally just and never sent Jesus and no one could say “You’ve done wrong.” God is under no obligation to forgive anyone or even provide a way of forgiveness.

Of course, BD has the idea of Hell as a torture chamber. Is he truly unaware that there are many different views of Hell, including ones that see it as eternal conscious torment, that are not torture chamber motifs? This includes my own view that sees Heaven and Hell as not physical locations, but as relational realities. The same sun that melts wax hardens clay. The love of God that melts the hearts of the repentant hardens the hearts of those opposed.

In conclusion, we note that BD has not given any arguments against the central truths of Christianity but has chosen to speak (Quite ignorantly) of the parts he does not understand. Once again, if someone wants to be an atheist, be one, but at least be informed in your atheism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should Newtown Celebrate Christmas?

Is there a place for “ho ho ho” this year? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have stated before that a tragedy such as what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, around the time of the holidays adds an extra layer to it. The holiday becomes associated sadly with the grief of what happened. I know people who have lost loved ones around Christmas. Indeed, my own grandmother died in November a couple of years ago. It was expected, but still a tragedy.

I have been told that some in Newtown are thinking of taking down their Christmas decorations, if they have not already. I can certainly understand why it is that they want to do so. At the outset, I wish to state clearly that there is a place for mourning. It is not non-Christian to mourn. If you lose someone who you love, you should be sad and hurt. When my own grandmother died, I had been expecting it and thought I would be able to handle it, until I went into the funeral home when I got back to TN.

It was at that point that I broke down. I don’t know how I would have handled it without Allie being there. It was so sad seeing so many people come in and offer their condolences. Of course, there was a joy in it thinking about how many people my grandmother touched with her life, but there was much sorrow. In fact, I was one of three ministers who was speaking at her funeral, which was my first one (And to this day my only one), and I was the last one meaning I had to be an M.C. of sorts so people could tell all their memories. It was one of the first times I thought I’d have to back down from a speaking engagement. Somehow, I did it. I’m thankful now that I did it.

It was a sad event, but when we started sharing what my grandmother’s life meant, our joy really returned. It was worth it. I think most people left the funeral actually in a good mood, which I think is what my grandmother would have wanted. She was a fun-loving and humorous person who would have loved to have seen people laughing.

Of course, the circumstances of Newtown are much more tragic. The life of these children was cut short simply because of some pain in the heart of someone else. This someone else, of course, is not worth mentioning. If anything, we need to be mentioning the names of those who died and the names of the heroes, some who died as well, who fought to protect the children. These are the people we need to remember.

In light of this tragedy, it’s easy to see why some would not want to celebrate Christmas this year. It’s easy to see that presents that were under the tree that were meant to go to happy boys and girls will not go to those boys and girls. There will be an empty spot at the table for Christmas dinner. Every year it will be a reminder. What is to be done?

To begin with, such pain is never recovered from entirely. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Today, my wife and I live in my grandmother’s old house. I’m typing this blog in it right now. We have our Christmas tree exactly where she had hers. Every now and then I can walk through here with the realization that I am living in my grandmother’s old house and there is sorrow with that. Recently, Allie found an old ornament of my grandmother’s on the attic and hung it on the tree. When I saw, she saw me getting sad and asked if she should have done that. I told her I was glad she was. It was a healthy sorrow that I needed to experience, for there was also joy remembering her life.

If we ever lose the pain, it is as if we are saying that we are completely over the loss of the person. That should not be. Scripturally, we must remember that death is an enemy. It is an evil. It is an intruder in this world and we dare not treat it as if it was something we should just get along with entirely. We should look forward to the day spoken of in 1 Cor. 15 where death is spoken of as an enemy to be defeated.

The only time the pain will be ended, is when we are reunited with our loved ones in eternity or understand better through God what has happened. I do not believe that the powers of Hell have veto power to override the joy of Heaven. (My view of the after-death in fact would mean one does see their loved ones still regardless, but their loved ones who are not Christian are not in a mutual loving relationship with YHWH. It’s complicated and for another blog.)

So what of the pain today?

My wife grew up experiencing bullying. Today, we know that this is a major problem. Bullies need to be stopped. Period. Today, she still believes things that the bullies said about her and can have a hard time enjoying many aspects of her life because of those memories. I always tell her the same thing.

When she fails to enjoy her life because of the past, the bullies win.

I would apply the same here. Don’t let the evil of one creep ruin the good for several. Yes. It will be hard, but still say we are determined to have what joy we can in the face of evil. We will not let evil hold us down. We will stand up and fight it and we will celebrate in the midst of our enemies. There will be plenty of time for mourning, but the promise of Scripture often is to turn our mourning to joy.

This does not necessarily mean an emotional event, but an awareness that this is what is going on. God will work it for good if you love the Lord. That is in no way saying that what has happened is good. It is not. It is evil. That’s it. We must look in the face of evil and call it evil.

At the same time, let’s not treat it as the dominant force. If we are Christians, let us say that the joy of God sending His Son into the world is far greater than the evil of a mad lunatic not worth mentioning. Let us celebrate that for the one who came into the world came into the world to overcome death and save us all. Let us celebrate that because He came into the world and died and rose again, we know that the story will end differently. We know that God is at work. We know His kingdom is spreading. We know that those who do evil will be judged. We are to be people of joy.

My encouragement then? Celebrate Christmas. The joy you have is greater than any sorrow that you can experience in the world. Our prayers are with you this year. May you find joy in the midst of sorrow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters