[This essay of mine was published in the Allentown Morning Call on Friday, August 12, 2011.]
I invite you to look at--
My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.
My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Hell is a hot topic again. The recent book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell suggests that eventually all people will be saved. This would not be surprising if it came from a liberal theologian who opines that the Bible is a collection of myths. Bell, however, believes in the divinity, virgin birth, miracles and resurrection of Christ. What shall we make of his proposal?
(1) Bell has apparently been troubled by a sense that eternal torment is incompatible with God’s love. We ought to be disturbed by the biblical images of hell, but that does not mean we should cast them aside. As I point out in The Beauty of God for a Broken World, God Himself weeps over the doom of the lost. If Bell were right—that all will eventually be saved—I suspect God would not grieve so much at the necessity of judgment.
(2) Bell is standing in a lonely spot. Apart from a few individuals throughout church history, he doesn’t have much company. The major branches of the Christian church—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant—have historically taught that some people will suffer torment in hell forever. Most defections from this consensus have been among people who think that the Bible is bunk, not among those who take it seriously. The smaller number, who believe the Bible yet deny the classic doctrine of hell, usually opt for annihilationism, the doctrine that the unsaved will simply cease to exist, either after death or after an appropriate period of punishment.
Bell’s proposal implies that the vast majority of the great theologians of the church have completely misunderstood one of the major doctrines of the Bible for the past 2,000 years. That in itself ought to give us pause.
(3) The Biblical evidence for eternal punishment in hell is clear. Those who worship the beast “will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:10-11). When Jesus divides the “sheep” from the “goats” at the judgment, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
It does no good to note that the Greek word translated “eternal” may mean “age-long.” In the first place, that is a rare usage. In the second place, the meaning of a word depends on its context. Everyone agrees that “eternal life” means life that goes on forever. Therefore, “eternal punishment” must mean punishment that goes on forever.
(4) While it is true that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11) and that “he is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), we must not conclude that the doom of the lost represents a defeat for God’s love and power.
God’s plan for the world encompasses all that takes place throughout history, including His decision to permit certain sinful actions that grieve Him, and His decision to punish such behavior. God’s plan is a victory for His love because by allowing human beings to rebel, He opens a way for Himself to express His infinite, saving love toward unworthy, but believing sinners.“God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). God’s love does not fail of its purpose. His love does indeed win.
Monday, August 8, 2011
In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman claims that there are thousands of errors in the New Testament and that this completely undermines the orthodox Christian faith. Here is a link to an Excellent Review. If that is too detailed, here are my brief responses to the issue.
1. We do not have the original manuscripts of the New Testament. We do have more abundant attestation for the text of the New Testament than we do for any other ancient book. No one complains that we don't know what Julius Caesar wrote or what Tacitus wrote even though we have far less certainty about the text of their writings than we do about the New Testament.
2. God gave us an inerrant message, not an inerrant piece of paper. Suppose you were offered two choices: First, a perfectly accurate copy of someone's vague speculations about God; second, a perfectly adequate copy of an inerrant message. Which would you choose? I would take the second, and that is what we have. God did not choose to preserve perfectly accurate copies of the original manuscripts, nor did He preserve the originals. I suppose if we had them, we would worship them. People would go on pilgrimages to see them. Whoever had them would get rich. He gave us what is best for us.
3. When we look at the various readings of the manuscripts, it becomes perfectly clear that none of the credible variants teaches any new doctrine. In other words, take any of the alternate readings and you will still be reading truth.
4. No doctrine of Scripture depends on one particular variant, so no doctrine is lost if one concludes that it is not taught in a certain verse.
5. I say these things, not because I have been told them, but because I read through the Greek New Testament every year. (Well, this year I am reading every other day in Greek and on alternate days in Latin.) I read an edition of the New Testament that lists various readings where there is any serious question of the correct reading. I often go through those alternate readings, so I can affirm what I have written from personal examination.
Monday, August 1, 2011
In response to a friend whose friend is interested in the occult, I recently wrote:
There is a little bit on neo-paganism in chapter 5 of my book The Beauty of God for a Broken World. Regarding the occult more generally:
(1) The English word comes from a Latin root meaning "to cover up, hide, conceal." People are attracted to the occult because it promises to give hidden knowledge and to open up mysteries not available to the common run of humanity. Its appeal is similar to the appeal that conspiracy theories have for a certain kind of person.
(2) The Bible also speaks of mysteries, but they are a different kind of thing. The Bible's mysteries are things not previously known or discoverable by human reason, but now revealed for all to see.
(3) I compare them thus. The occult arts profess to reveal dark mysteries to the initiated. The Bible reveals bright mysteries in a public fashion. The difference between a bright mystery and a dark mystery is this. A dark mystery is like a cave. An apparently friendly enemy lures you into the cave with the promise of finding hidden treasure, but once you are inside and can't see anything, he pushes you down into a hundred-foot-deep hole. A bright mystery is like the sun. You can't look at it for very long, but by its light you can see and make sense of the world around you. Such are the mysteries of the Trinity, the incarnation and the atoning death of Christ.