Posts tagged ‘Bible’

The King’s Corn: A Tale About Integrity

An aging king woke up one day to the realization that should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only a male could succeed to the throne – and he was aging. He decided that if he could not give birth to a male, he would adopt a son who then could take his place but he insisted that such an adopted son must be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition in his kingdom, open to all boys, no matter what their background. Ten boys made it to the very top.

There was little to separate these boys in terms of intelligence and physical attributes and capabilities. The king said to them, ‘I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir to my throne.’

Then he said, ‘This kingdom depends solely on agriculture. So the king must know how to cultivate plants. So here is a seed of corn for each of you.Take it home and plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, we shall see who has done the best job of cultivating the seed. That person will be my heir-apparent.’ The boys took their seeds and hurried home. They each got a flower pot and planted the seed as soon as they got home. There was much excitement in the kingdom as the people waited with bated breath to see who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, the boy and his parents were almost heartbroken when after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout. He did not know what had gone wrong with his. He had selected the soil carefully, he had applied the right quantity and type of fertilizer, he had been very dutiful in watering it at the right intervals, he had even prayed over it day and night and yet his seed had turned out to be unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to go and buy a seed from the market and plant that. ‘After all,’ they said, ‘how can anyone tell one seed of corn from another?’ But his parents who had always taught him the value of integrity reminded him that if the king wanted them to plant any corn, he would have asked them to go for their own seed. ‘If you take anything different from what the king gave you that would be dishonesty.’

‘Maybe we are not destined for the throne. If so, let it be, but don’t be found to have deceived the king,’ they told him. The d-day came and the boys returned to the palace each of them proudly exhibiting a very fine corn seedling. It was obvious that the other nine boys had had great success with their seeds. The king began making his way down the line of eager boys and asked each of them, ‘Is this what came out of the seed I gave you?’

And each boy responded, ‘Yes, your majesty.’ And the king would nod and move down the line.

The king finally got to the last boy in the line-up. The boy was shaking with fear. He knew that the king was going to have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed. ‘What did you do with the seed I gave you?’ the king asked. ‘I planted it and cared for it diligently, your majesty, but alas it failed to sprout.’ the boy said tearfully as the crowd booed him.

But the king raised his hands and signaled for silence. Then he said, ‘My people behold your next king.’ The people were confused. ‘Why that one?’ many asked. ‘How can he be the right choice?’ The king took his place on his throne with the boy by his side and said, ‘I gave these boys boiled seeds. This test was not for cultivating corn. It was the test of character; a test of integrity. It was the ultimate test.’

If a king must have one quality, it must be that he should be above dishonesty. Only this boy passed the test. A boiled seed cannot sprout.’ Never!!

When the subject of how the Christian life can be perceived by others, my wife sometimes likes to tell about an unchurched friend whom she went through high school with. He once remarked to her that what he respected most about her was that she was the same girl on Friday as she was on Sunday. What she believed and lived didn’t waver, and that made quite an impact on someone who didn’t have a very positive view of “church folks.”

To live a life of holiness requires no small degree of integrity, a characteristic that is not necessarily viewed as much of a virtue these days.  Yet anyone who even begins to claim that the Bible is the benchmark by which their life is lived must see integrity as a non-negotiable. To the ancient Israelites, the Chosen Ones, to be people of integrity was a command that came directly from the Lord.

“You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.”  (Deuteronomy 25:15-16)

It’s clear that the biblical perspective is that integrity flows from the heart, aptly illustrated by Proverbs 4:23-27.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

What are some ways that integrity plays out in your Christian walk?

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Book Review: 1000 Days – The Ministry of Christ

Jonathan Falwell is the senior pastor of a church and the vice-chancellor of spiritual affairs at Liberty University. He also happens to be the son of Jerry Falwell (yes, that Jerry Falwell),  but he’s certainly not riding his father’s coat-tails anywhere in 1000 Days. Falwell begins with the premise that almost universally, human beings have an inner restlessness that drives them. Some are driven by such restlessness, opines Falwell, to climb mountains, others to search for the perfect relationship, while others seek to quench their restlessness through eating. Yet the only answer to this, notes Falwell, is one that Augustine observed in his Confessions: “Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

1000 Days starts with Jesus as the solution to humanity’s restless heart. But Falwell observes that Jesus could have calmed the hearts of men and brought them salvation without doing anything else. However, for the course of three years — the titular 1,000 days — Jesus had a public ministry. And Falwell wants readers to know why that is important:

“He didn’t need to provide this ministry, yet He did anyway, and that is key for us … This intentionality of Jesus’ ministry implies that there is a lot of information in the Scriptures worth grappling with. We need to understand what Jesus said and did during his 1,000 day public ministry so that we can apply His teachings to our lives today.”

What follows is a well-written, easy to engage study of the high points of Jesus’ ministry. It’s obvious that Falwell did his research and scholarship, not being afraid to occasionally discuss the meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word, yet the book goes nowhere near the lofty heights of academic writing that might scare off a reader who is just learning more about Jesus and the Scriptures. Falwell illustrates his points by sharing how he has seen the applications of Jesus’ teachings in his own life — particularly in his role as a father to his children.

One of the most useful parts of 1000 Days is at the end of each chapter. Each chapter ends with three to five questions for individual reflection or small group discussion. These are not shallow questions by any means, not when they are asking for reflection on items such as: “In your most honest moments, where are you spiritually right now, and where do you want to be?” The true goldmine of this book is in the appendix; Falwell provides a Bible Study Guide with Leader’s Helps that makes this ideal as a small group or Sunday school study (particularly, I would think, for a group that may not have a deep foundation the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry). There is also a breakdown of 100 main events in Jesus’ life, making 1000 Days a very practical resource.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Seven

We’ve come to the final chapter of Erasing Hell, titled “Don’t Be Overwhelmed,” a feeling that Chan admits is easy when it comes to the subject of Hell — in fact, he says thoughts of Hell can be paralyzing for some people.  All the more reason, asserts Chan, for us to have a sense of urgency , and not go on with life as usual.

A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11). We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled — as with all doctrine — to live differently in light of it.

This is a stance that Chan points that Peter is in agreement with, noting Peter’s descriptions in 2 Peter 3 of the Lord’s return, the day of judgment, and the destruction of those that are not godly. Peter, remarks Chan, does not implore people to throw up their hands in defeat at this news, but rather instructs them to live holy and godly lives.

 

In other words, we need to stop explaining away hell and start proclaiming His solution to it.

A GREATER URGENCY

Chan further stresses Paul’s sense of urgency towards saving people from Hell by quoting Romans 9:2-3, in which Paul wishes himself accursed if it would accomplish the salvation of his fellow Jews.

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. “

Chan’s motivation in quoting this passage is to point out that while Paul had some terrifying things to say about the final fate of those who rejected Jesus, he loved those same people on a level that seems crazy to most. Paul devoted his life to seeing that those people got right with God so that they would not end up in Hell.

MORE REASON TO REJOICE

Chan points out what seems an incongruity in regards to Paul. While the apostle had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart, he also commanded Christians to “rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4) How is it possible to reconcile what seem to be such paradoxical emotions as grief and rejoicing? According to Chan, this is a tension we are bound to live with when we follow Jesus. It is a tension between the joy we feel at knowing Jesus and the salvation He brings, and the burden we should feel for loved ones who don’t know Him. And Chan wants to point out that while can — and often is — a paralyzing doctrine, it is one that also magnifies the beauty of the cross.

Hell is the backdrop that reveals the profound and unbelievable grace of the cross. It brings to light the enormity of our sin and therefore portrays the undeserved favor of God in full color. Christ freely chose to bear the wrath that I deserve so that I can experience life in the presence of God. How can I keep from singing, crying, and proclaiming His indescribable love?

Chan closes the chapter (and the book) by asking another question: “Are you sure?” In this case, the question is asking whether or not the reader has embraced the God who can save them from Hell. “Do you know Him?” Chan asks. Are you secure in Him and in love with Him?  Chan closes by pleading once more that the reader be reconciled with God if they are not already, quoting 2 Corinthians.

 “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God … behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21; 6:2)

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Three

Having dealt in Chapter Two with what the Jewish beliefs about Hell were that would have influenced Jesus and the writers of the New Testament, Francis Chan moves on to exploring what Jesus actually said about Hell. Chan gives the reader a reminder of what he labels a sobering reality: this is a subject which is not just about doctrines, but about destinies. He urges that anyone who reads the book and is wrestling with what the Bible says about Hell should not let it be merely an academic exercise.

“You must let Jesus’ very real teaching on hell sober you up. You must let Jesus’ words reconfigure the way you live, the way you talk, and the way you see the world and the people around you.”

As I wrote in my last post, Chan’s description of the 1st-century world Jesus inhabited is one in which the Jewish people saw hell as a place of punishment for the wicked after they faced God’s judgment. They described hell with images of fire, darkness, and lamenting; some believed the wicked would be annihilated after they were cast into hell, while other Jews believed hell to be a place of never-ending torment. Given this milieu, Chan notes the importance of understanding that if Jesus rejected these widespread Jewish beliefs in hell, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against them.

Chan is insistent that what Jesus Himself actually said about hell stands in line with the dominant views of hell in His 1st-century Jewish world. He examines Jesus’ teachings on hell using the same three categories he discussed in Chapter Two to demonstrate that Jesus believed:

  1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment
  2. Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
  3. Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.

HELL IS A PLACE OF PUNISHMENT AFTER JUDGMENT

Chan notes that Jesus used the word gehenna (hell) twelve times in the Gospel, employing imagery of fire and darkness to demonstrate that a horrific place of punishment awaits the wicked on the day of judgment. Chan cites Matthew 25:31-46 as the clearest example of this.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Chan is careful to admit that this is actually an instance where Jesus actually does not use the word gehenna, but that He communicates the concept of hell by phrases such as “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment.” The point that is important here is that this is a passage in which Jesus is clear that the wicked will be awarded everlasting punishment on the day of Christ’s return, judgment day. He singles out another instance, in Matthew 5:22, where Jesus does use gehenna passage concerning judgment, stating,

“… here the Judge has the power to sentence you to the “hell [gehenna] of fire” (Matt. 5:22). This is not a vague reference to hell and certainly not a reference to a garbage dump. The legal context of this statement ensures that Jesus is referring to the consequences of judgment day.”

According to Chan, this legal context is the indication that Jesus means that hell is a literal place, where punishment occurs after judgment.

HELL IS DESCRIBED IN IMAGERY OF FIRE AND DARKNESS

Chan moves on to demonstrate that — like his Jewish contemporaries — Jesus described Hell using images of fire and darkness. He turns to the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13.

“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

Chan notes that this is a verse that doesn’t say much on its own, but comments that Jesus’ explanation of the parable and what He means by the burning weeds is of significance.

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)

Chan unswervingly calls these statements of Jesus “terrifying,” and puts forward the image of the wicked being cast into hell — and the weeping that follows — as common belief among 1st-century Jews (an argument he supported well previously). In the light of some of the Jewish writing on hell that Chan shared previously, he is successful in making the case that Jesus is right in line with Jewish thought on Hell. Jesus was using an established vocabulary to communicate a message that no one who heard Him speaking would have had any doubts about: Jesus was speaking of gehenna (hell) as “a place of punishment for all who don’t follow Jesus in this life.” Chan tackles some contemporary stances on hell (and by “contemporary” some would almost certainly say “Rob Bell”) by asserting,

“The hell that Jesus describes here is not a hell-on-earth that accompanies our bad decisions during this life, and it certainly isn’t the never-ending party that AC/DC describes in their song.”

Lastly, Chan gives examples of Jesus’ use of the imagery of darkness to refer to hell as a place of punishment for those of Israel and the nations who do not follow Jesus.

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13)

“And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)

HELL IS A PLACE OF ANNIHILATION OR NEVER-ENDING PUNISHMENT

Chan concludes Chapter Three by addressing a seeming dichotomy: Jesus seems in some passages give the implication that Hell will not last very long, while in other places He refers to Hell as a place in which unbelievers are punished with horrifying, agonizing pain that never ends.

This section of Erasing Hell is one in which it seems that the voice of Preston Sprinkle could possibly be rising above Francis Chan’s, as there is a very scholarly exploration of the precise meaning of Greek words and grammar. Chan believes this is beneficial but acknowledges that it may be more technical than some might be used to. He leads into this discussion of Greek grammar with the following:

“In almost every passage where Jesus mentions hell, He doesn’t explicitly say it will last forever. He speaks of torment, and we get the impression that hell is terrible, that it’s a place to be avoided at all costs, but He doesn’t clearly tell us how long it will last.

Jesus’ most suggestive statement–perhaps His only statement–about the duration of hell comes in Matthew 25. In this passage, Jesus speaks of the final judgment that will take place at His second coming (v. 31). The sheep (believers in Jesus) and goats (unbelievers) are divided in two camps, and Jesus decides who’s who based on what they’ve done in their lives. The sheep have served Jesus by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and so on, while the goats did none of these things. Jesus then gives His verdict:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the  devil and his angels.’ ” (v. 41)

Jesus reviews their behavior on earth and finds convicting evidence for their condemnation (vv. 42-44) and then concludes:

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (vv. 45-46)

The vital point Chan wishes to make revolves around the phrases everlasting fire and everlasting punishment. Those who believe that Hell is of limited duration, he states, argue that the Greek aionios kolasis which is translated “everlasting punishment” does not meant that punishment is without end. Rather they argue for aionios meaning “a period of time,” with kolasis being a horticultural term referring to “pruning” or “trimming.” Here Chan is very deliberately going on the offensive against Rob Bell’s Love Wins, in which Bell stated:

“An aionios of kolasis. Depending on how you translate aionios and kolasis, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming,” or an intense experience of correction.”

The argument of Bell and others, Chan relates, is that the purpose of this pruning or correction is to improve something — in this case, to correct the wicked of their ungodly behavior until they have ceased to be wicked. According to this, Jesus is referring to a time of correction that will result in those who suffer punishment being eventually saved. In Rob Bell’s view, this then refers to “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.”

Chan is honest enough to admit that this is an appealing argument, on the basis that it appears to reconcile the love of God with the bleak statements Jesus makes about hell. However, Chan refutes the argument on the basis of kolasis in no way referring to correction, only to punishment. He gives three reasons for this, the first being that in the three other appearances of the word in the New Testament, it refers only to punishment. Kolasis as used in Jewish literature of the first century refers to punishment.

Secondly, the everlasting punishment referred to is the same location as “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” in verse 41. This being the case, Chan notes that to argue that unbelievers endure a time of suffering for a period, which results in salvation, then the same must be true for the Devil and his angels. Chan labels this as a huge stretch, especially in light of Revelation 19-20, where it is stated that the Devil and his angels will be tormented forever and ever. Chan contends that Jesus is actually saying that unbelievers will share the same fate as the Devil and his followers. In other words, unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever.

The third reason Chan presents for kolasis referring to punishment instead of correction is that in other verses or passages in which Jesus refers to hell with phrases such as “the fiery furnace” or “everlasting fire,” He is speaking of a place of retribution, a place where sinners receive the punishment for their sins. He does not speak of correction, notes Chan, in other passages such as Matthew 13:41-42 and 49-50. He observes that the consensus of biblical commentators from diverse theological backgrounds, using diverse translations of the Bible (in numerous languages), translate kolasis as meaning “punishment.”

Chan’s final thoughts for Chapter Three contain his recognition that while he strongly favors the argument that Hell is everlasting, he is not ready to claim that with complete certainty. He concludes with this fervent admonition:

“We are bound by the words of the Creator, the One who will do what is right. The One who invented justice and knows perfectly what the unbeliever deserves. God has never asked us to figure out His justice or to see if His way of doing things is morally right. He has only asked us to embrace His Word and bow the knee, to tremble at His word, as Isaiah says (66:2)”

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Two

“Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?” is the question that begins chapter two of Erasing Hell. Here, Chan discusses inaccurate ideas and images that many of us persist in believing. He begins with an embarrassing confession about the image that comes to his mind when he hears the name Jesus: a Caucasian man with long blonde hair, staring up into the sky, courtesy of a painting that hung on the wall of a church he attended as a child. Chan acknowledges,

“Jesus did not look that way when He walked the earth, and He certainly doesn’t look like that now. But as hard as I have tried, I have not been able to erase that picture from my memory. It occasionally creeps back into my mind when I hear the name Jesus. Sometimes it even happens when I’m praying!”

Chan’s point here is our tendency to choose a version of Jesus reinterpreted in the light of our own cultural, political, or theological opinions, rather than the Jesus presented by the Bible itself. Having made this point, he then applies it to the topic of Hell, noting:

“The question “what is hell?” has spawned many answers over the years. For Origen, hell was a place where the souls of the wicked were purified so they could find their way back to God. Dante depicted hell as a place under the earth’s surface with nine levels of suffering, where sinners were bitten by snakes, tormented by beasts, showered with icy rain, and trapped in rivers of blood or flaming tombs; some were even steeped in huge pools of human excrement. C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of hell was significantly less creepy. For Lewis, it was a kind of dark, gloomy city, or a place where “being fades away into nonentity.” A happier portrait of hell was painted by the band AC/DC, who said that “hell ain’t a bad place to be”–it’s where all our friends are. Most recently, Rob Bell said that hell is not “about someday, somewhere else,” but about the various “hells on earth” that people experience in this life — genocide, rape, and unjust socioeconomic structures.”

Chan’s plea is that we set aside notions of hell that are based on literature or music or popular culture, and that we examine what Jesus actually said about hell, in the context of the world Jesus actually lived in. To do so, insists Chan, is to acknowledge a world in which hell was seen as a place of punishment for those who did not follow God. So ingrained was this belief among 1st-century Jews, says Chan, that Jesus would have had to go out of His way to set Himself apart from such a view if he didn’t share it. Although he leaves the question of whether or not Jesus did that for the following chapter, Chan devotes most of the second chapter to examining the 1st-century Jewish view of hell, noting that for the Jews of Jesus’ day, three things were believed in regards to Hell:

  1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment
  2. Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament
  3. Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment

Chan notes immediately that first-century Judaism built its theology from the Old Testament, which doesn’t have that much to say about hell. He does make mention of Daniel 12:2 as most relevant, with its reference to punishment in the afterlife: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Chan also refers to Ezekiel 32:17-32, another passage which mentions hell and punishment.

At this point, Chan wanders onto some possibly shaky ground, as he must depart from Scripture to examine Jewish belief in Hell — not the best place to wander when one is insisting on examining what the Bible says about Hell. He is careful to note that many 1st-century Jewish beliefs regarding Hell were developed after reading the Old Testament, but that these beliefs are not in themselves inspired by God. The purpose of explaining these beliefs, for Chan, is to demonstrate the beliefs that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were surrounded by and would have been influence by.

HELL AS A PLACE OF PUNISHMENT AFTER JUDGEMENT

Here is Chan’s description of 1st-century Jewish belief in Hell as a place of punishment after judgement:

“The typical afterlife scenario among Jews in Jesus’ day was that after the wicked die, they go to a place called hades, sometimes called sheol. This is not the same thing as “hell.” Hades is not usually depicted as a place of punishment, though the wicked may suffer there. It is a place where the wicked wait until judgement day. After they are judged, the wicked are then thrown into hell as a punishment for their sins.”

Chan notes that the punishment was not intended as corrective or remedial. It won’t make the wicked fit for salvation. Rather, he states, “hell is retributive — it’s God’s punishment for sin.” Chan cites from first-century Apocryphal book, 4 Ezra, by way of demonstrating this:

“[The chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them. And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgement … recompense shall follow … unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. Then the pit of torment shall appear … and the furnace of Gehenna shall be disclosed.”

Chan also cites a second-century work, 1 Enoch, to demonstrate the Jewish belief that after sinners die they go to a place where they await judgement, as they have not been judged in their lifetimes.

“[T]he sinners are set apart when they die and are buried in the earth and judgment has not been executed upon them in their lifetime, upon this great pain, until the great day of judgment–and to those who curse (there will be) plague and pain forever, and the retribution of their spirits.”

Chan notes how  at odds this is with the notion that Rob Bell asserts in Love Wins, that hell is the various “hells on earth” that people might face daily.

HELL IS DESCRIBED IN IMAGES OF FIRE, DARKNESS, AND LAMENT

The length of time in which 1st-century Jews believed one would spend in hell was the matter of differences of opinion, Chan says, with some believing that the personal existence of the wicked would cease as hell was a place of annihilation, while others believed that the wicked would continue to exist, albeit in eternal torment and pain. What was consistent, he elucidates, is the common description of hell using images of fire.

“[T]he coming world will be given to these [i.e. the one’s obedient to God], but the habitation of the many others will be in fire.“(2 Bar.,  44:15, first century AD)

“Woe unto you, sinners, because of the works of your hands! On account of the deeds of your wicked ones, in blazing flames worse than fire, it shall burn.” (1 Enoch 100:9, first century BC)

Chan aptly compares the language of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and the words of Jesus himself in their use of the images of fire and worms.

“And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24)

“where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” (Mark 9:48)

“Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance upon them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever.” (Judith 16:17, first century BC).

HELL IS A PLACE OF ANNIHILATION OR NEVER-ENDING PUNISHMENT

Some 1st-century contemporaries of Jesus, Chan states, saw Hell as a place of annihilation, while others saw it as a place of never-ending punishment.

“And their dwelling place will be in darkness and the place of destruction; and they will not die but melt away until I remember the world and renew the earth. And they will die and not live, and their life will be taken away from the number of all men.” (L.A.B. 16:3, first century AD)

This clearly a view of Hell as being a place where — while there may be a period of suffering — the wicked are destroyed. Yet Chan also notes that other Jewish views on Hell posited a place where the wicked were punished eternally. He quotes Enoch’s description of

“a place of “all kinds of torture and torment” where “dark and merciless” beings would use “instruments of atrocities torturing without pity,”

as well as the wicked’s

“pleading that he may give them a little breathing spell from the angels of his punishment … begging for a little rest but find it not … Light has vanished from before us and darkness has become your habitation forever and ever; because we have formerly neither had faith nor glorified the name of the Lord of the Spirits.”

IS HELL A GARBAGE DUMP?

Chapter Two of Erasing Hell ends with an examination of the argument that when Jesus used the word hell (gehenna), he was in fact referring to a garbage dump situated in the Valley of Hinnom outside the city of Jerusalem, a place where the Jewish people discarded their trash. This is not a new argument, but it is one that has been thrown out (no pun intended) recently by Rob Bell. Chan does Bell the courtesy of acknowledging that “one of the most encouraging aspects of Rob Bell’s preaching and writing” is to “try to situate Jesus in His own context.” Unfortunately, according to Chan, as positive a step on Bell’s part this is, he is incorrect in identifying Hell as the city garbage dump. Chan asks the reader to consider how awkward some of Jesus’ statements are if by hell  he really meant garbage dump.

“Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the garbage dump of fire.” (Matt. 5:22)

“It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into the garbage dump.” (Matt. 5:29)

“Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in the garbage dump.” (Matt. 10:28)

“It is better for your to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the garbage dump of fire.” (Matt. 18:9)

Chan labels Bell’s theory as both misleading and inaccurate. Misleading, because “it confuses the source of an idea for the idea itself.” In other words, the image of the burning garbage dump may have been the inspiration for Jesus’ description of hell, but Jesus does not mean that the dump itself is Hell. Chan labels this as a misunderstanding of the way language functions, using the example of people referring to a gridlocked freeway as a parking lot. The parking lot inspires the comparison, he argues, yet no one would claim that people are driving to the freeway, stopping, locking their cars, and then going about their business.

Chan also argues the theory as being inaccurate because there is not sufficient evidence to indicate that the Valley of Hinnom was, in fact, a dump. No archeological evidence of the valley’s use as a garbage dump has been found, and the first mention of gehenna was made by a rabbi, David Kimhi, in 1200 AD — over a thousand years after Jesus!

“Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgment of the wicked is called “Gehenna.”

It’s not logical — as Francis Chan is quick to bring out — that Jesus is referring to this alleged dump, when “there’s no evidence in the piles and piles and piles of Jewish and Christian writings preceding the time of Kimhi that the word gehenna was derived from the burning garbage in the Hinnom Valley.” More importantly, Chan highlights that Kimhi himself, the first writer to connect gehenna with the town dump, saw it as an analogy for the place where the wicked would be judged.

Chan closes the chapter by identifying what it was about the Hinnom Valley that might have caused the word gehenna to be associated with fiery judgment:

“In the Old Testament, the Hinnom Valley was the place where some Israelites engaged in idolatrous worship of the Canaanite gods Molech and Baal. It was here, in fact, where they sacrificed their children to these gods (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6) making them “pass through the fire” (Ezek. 16:20-21 NASB). When Jeremiah began to preach, the Hinnom Valley started to take on a metaphorical reference for the place where the bodies of the wicked would be cast (Jer. 7:29-34; 19:6-9; 32:25): “Behold, the days are coming … when it will no more be called … the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 7:32). Jews living between the Testaments picked up on this metaphor and ran with it. The word gehenna was widely used by Jews during the time of Jesus to refer to the fiery place of judgment for the wicked … “

Although he spends much of the chapter in extra-biblical sources, this is a very satisfying and Scriptural closure to Chan’s examination of Hell.

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter One

The question with which Francis Chan begins the first chapter of Erasing Hell is, “Does  everyone go to heaven?”

Without even the slightest trace of sarcasm, Chan comments,

 “Based on what I hear at funerals, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” How many funerals have you attended where this was even in question?”

Chan correctly points out that questions of heaven and hell are of far too much importance to leave  to feelings or assumptions, and that we must get down to what the Bible itself says on the matter. That is the launching point for this first chapter, and Chan wastes no time in getting down to it. He does this by asking a different question entirely: does the Bible say that everyone will be saved in the end?

To answer the question, Chan begins with a brief survey of Universalism, the teaching that the Bible says that God will save everyone.  It’s a very old teaching, Chan informs us, going back to the early church leader Origen. Origen’s beliefs eventually were deemed heresy, and for most of Church history (1600 years) there were very, very few who argued that everyone will be saved.

Universalism was heart and center over this past summer’s controversy regarding Rob Bell and Love Wins. Chan is careful to state that Bell never actually uses the label “universalism,” but in a lengthy endnote to the chapter insists that it is in fact what Bell is advocating.

” … Bell never actually comes out and says that this is what he believes. To be fair, he is not explicitly arguing for this position but listing it as a valid view that would help explain a lot of the tension that we feel when thinking about the hard realities of hell. But he presents this position in such favorable terms that it would be hard to say that he is not advocating it. He even says that the traditional view of a literal hell that features eternal torment is not “good news” at all. To use Bell’s phrase, “The good news is better than that.” He implies the view that all people will eventually be saved is actually much better news. So while he never actually says that this is the correct view, Bell certainly presents this as the good view and the traditional view of hell as the bad view.”

Chan spends the bulk of the first chapter in addressing specific passages of Scripture that universalists have said show that God will save everyone. He begins  with Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But Chan argues that this passage can only teach universal salvation if it is ripped out of context. He points out that in Philippians 1:28 the Apostle Paul writes that the Gospel is the evidence of destruction for those who oppose it, and salvation for those who embrace it. Similarly, Chan points out that Philippians 3:19-21 makes a contrast between the enemies of the Cross — whose end is destruction — and those who follow Christ, who will receive glory. The day of Christ return spoken of in Philippians 2:9-11 is not a day of universal salvation, argues Chan. It is a day when Jesus will return to reclaim His creation and reign as King, but with that comes judgment for those who opposed Him.

Chan next brings up a number of passages concerning God restoring all people and reconciling all things to Himself, which he says are misused by universalists to prove that all people — regardless of a relationship with Christ — will be redeemed.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, no counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)

In him all the fullness of God was please to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4)

Again, Chan points out that context is key, and that where Paul says “all will be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he is clearly speaking of the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, as evidenced by the very next verse.

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:23)

Chan also point out Paul’s first  letter to the Corinthians ends with a rather forceful warning that everyone who does not love Jesus will be damned.

He continues his examination of these Scriptures by asking in regards to 1 Timothy 2:4 what exactly “all” means and what the word “want” means in the context of the verse. Chan demonstrates that “all” does not neccesarily mean every single person, contrasting the verse with 1 Timothy 2:1 in which Paul commands Timothy to pray for all people. Chan argues that it doesn’t seem logical that Paul wanted Timothy to “march through a prayer list that includes every person on the face of the earth,” and that if this earlier “all” doesn’t mean every single person, then neither does 2:4.

As to answering the question of what “want” means in context, Chan draws an important distinction regarding God’s will. 

“To figure out the meaning of “want,” it’s helpful to consider what the theologians have called God’s moral will and His decreed will. Some things may be part of God’s desire for the world, and yet those desires can be resisted. God doesn’t desire that people sin, but He allows it to happen because humans are moral agents who often make evil choices. God is not a puppet master who pulls everyone’s strings to suit His will. That’s why the Lord taught us to pray things like “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). God’s desire — His moral will — is resisted.”

This distinction that Chan makes underlines that the “want” of 1 Timothy 2:4 underscores that it is God’s moral will that every single person will be saved through Christ, but not his decreed will. He successfully demonstrates that the universalist position doesn’t hold up under the actual context of the Scriptures.

Chan closes this first chapter by pointing out that the New Testament clearly shows that Jesus himself not only didn’t teach that every single person would be saved, but the exact opposite — that few would be saved, while many would end up outside of the Kingdom. Chan uses the example of Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:22-30 to illustrate this.

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Chan concludes that “if Jesus actually believed in second chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this is  a dangerously misleading parable.”

What’s impressive thus far is how adamant Francis Chan is in reiterating frequently that this topic is not simply a debate over doctrine, but that it is about eternal destinies. “We can’t be wrong on this one,” is his refrain.

Review: Erasing Hell, Introduction

Francis Chan puts things in perspective immediately regarding Erasing Hell, which he co-authored with Preston Sprinkle:

“If you are excited to read this book, you have issues.

     Do you understand the weight of what we are about to consider? We are exploring the possibility that you and I may end up being tormented in hell. Excited would be the wrong term to use here. Necessary would be more fitting.”

With that, Chan begins a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of what the Bible actually says about Hell, and about the things that the people of God have simply concocted out of whole cloth about the afterlife. Chan freely admits that Sprinkle (a New Testament scholar and professor of biblical studies at Eternity Bible College) is responsible for the research that underpins the book, while Chan’s is the voice in which it is written.

Let’s be honest, shall we? Hell has gotten a lot of play recently, what with the controversy over the release of Rob Bell’s Love Wins (you can see some reviews of Bell’s book here, here, and here). Chan’s reason for wanting to write this book is at least partly personal. He shares the heart-wrenching story of watching his grandmother die, knowing that according to what he knew of the Bible, she was headed for an eternity of suffering. The emotional burden of that incident resulted in years of Chan acknowledging the existence of Hell with his lips, but never allowing his heart to feel its weight.

When it comes to Hell, Chan says that we cannot afford to be wrong in our doctrine.

“This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake. And the Bible has too much to say.”

In his introduction, Chan stresses the importance of testing our assumptions about Hell against what the Bible actually says. He rightly points out that there are many things that Christians can believe and practice for years, only to change their views after study of the Scriptures reveals those beliefs and practices to be inaccurate.

“I’m not going to hang on to the idea of hell simply because its what my tradition tells me to believe. And neither should you.”

Perhaps the most arresting thing in this introduction is the admonition that we not distance what the Bible says from reality, that we not forget that the doctrine we study might just be the destiny of many people. Francis Chan doesn’t think Hell is a topic to be studied without tears and prayer; we should weep, pray and fast as we beg God to reveal the truth of Hell through His word, because we can’t be wrong on this one.

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