Reviews of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

We’ve given a lot of coverage to Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins this week, and though it’s starting to feel toxically oversaturated, the issues Bell’s book has brought up have justified the attention. Before we finally move on, here are some of the reviews of Love Wins from across the interwebs and beyond.

Kevin DeYoung (Pastor at University Reformed Church), God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” : “…there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

Mark Galli (Christianity Today), Rob Bell’s Bridge Too Far: “If there is a criterion driving these distinctions, it seems to be based on what Bell thinks contemporary people can swallow. I couldn’t see any other criteria at play. Given the complete lack of quotes from any other writer or tradition, one is led to the unfortunate conclusion that what makes one extraordinary biblical claim a time-bound metaphor and another literal truth is that Bell says so.”

Timothy Tennent (President of Asbury Theological Seminary), Why Rob Bell needs to return to Seminary… and bring along quite a few contemporary evangelical pastors: “Rob Bell is not just telling us we are sick, he is providing a remedy, a prescript for the theological malaise we are in.  He may not be aware that his “solution” is not new, but dates back to at least 1963 and the writings of Karl Rahner.  Nevertheless, for many evangelicals who avoid any books with footnotes, Bell’s “solution” will be received like a fresh new “third way” between a highly caricatured, mean-spirited “exclusivism” and an unbridled, relativistic “pluralism” which levels the playing field between all religions.  The question is this: Is Rob Bell’s prescription worthy of wide dissemination in the church?  Should I commend it to our seminary students preparing for ministry today?  The answer is a resounding no. ”

Denny Burk (Associate Professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Revising Hell into the Heterodox Mainstream: “Bell has launched out into a heterodox, unbiblical accounting of sin and judgment, the cross and salvation, heaven and hell. He pictures a God without wrath who would never create a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. No one needs salvation from God’s wrath; they only need to be rescued from themselves. No one needs to have conscious faith in Jesus Christ in this life to find salvation in the next. While Bell does not want to be labeled a universalist, this book does more to advance the cause of universalism at the popular level than any book I have ever seen.”

John Mark Reynolds (Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University), Bell, the Book, and the Candle: “Old books like the Bible require rigorous exegetical skills or they end up saying what we wish they said. Bell’s god ends up looking suspiciously like Rob Bell, never a good sign in a theologian. Bell’s god will not take “no” for an answer. Like some cosmic lounge lizard, He follows you for eternity until you give Him a sympathy date.”

Michael Horton (Professor of Theology at Westminster Seminary), Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton, Part 1: “Are all of God’s attributes subservient to his love? And does God’s love demand the salvation of everyone? If you answer yes to both, then you’re inclined to agree with everything else in Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I say this because traditional views of God, salvation, heaven and hell are not really challenged through argument but are dismissed through a series of rhetorical questions that caricature conclusions that most Christians have historically maintained on the basis of looking at the relevant passages.”

Albert Mohler (President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology: “H. Richard Niebuhr famously once distilled liberal theology into this sentence: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Yes, we have read this book before. With Love Wins, Rob Bell moves solidly within the world of Protestant Liberalism. His message is a liberalism arriving late on the scene.”

Russell Moore (Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), The Blood-Drained Gospel of Rob Bell: “And that’s where the scandal of Bell’s revision of hell and the scandal of Bell’s diminishing of blood language come together. Blood means judgment…. In order for people to see Christ, they must see sin and, yes, judgment. In order to see justification, you must also see justice. If you drain the blood out of the church, all you are left with is a corpse.”

Darrell Bock (Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary), Rob Bell on Hell (Part 1): Often what is raised is correct, but the implications drawn from it struggle to match what undiscussed elements actually show…. So far, his reading does not take us where he thinks it does. Why? It is because key elements of the readings on these topics are not addressed or noted. Even a defense like that McLaren raises, that these texts are hard and can be read in a variety of ways will not work when certain parts of the topic are ignored or are underdeveloped.”

Other resources:

 

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  1. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    ropata, why is it that every time you post something, it's always tendentious? McKnight's summary is "more balanced" because…what? It includes reviews of people who agree with McKnight—ie, people who are equally theologically inept? There's nothing balanced about pandering to error. If Jason was compiling a comprehensive list of reviews, then perhaps you could complain; but if he's compiling a list of the best reviews then including lowest-common-denominator stuff is hardly "balanced". Quite the opposite.

  2. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    It's great to see so many Biblical responses to this book from across different confessional backgrounds.

    Apologists for Bell may leap to his defense, but evangelicals must be clear that removing the doctrine of God's eternal punishment undermines many passages of Scripture. It undermines the holiness and justice of God, and most importantly, it undercuts what Christ did on the cross on our behalf.

    Scot McKnight is right to point out that there is no other popular American church connected to evangelicalism that is proclaiming this kind of nonsense. That is an important point. The most dangerous thing about this book is not the liberalism it promotes, but that Bell wants his universalism to sit comfortably within the ambit of evangelicalism.

    I'm glad so many are seeing this for what it is.

  3. Damian
    Damian says:

    Would you, after this 160 quadrillion years, evince any repentance? That is, would you recognize not merely your sin, but its magnitude, and wish to throw yourself before God’s mercy?

    Bnonn, yes, absolutely. If I had sufficient evidence of the existence of a God then I’d absolutely be open to listening to what he had to say. The reason I left my faith was a distinct lack of evidence. I left it begrudgingly and with a sorrow that the ideal of a God who I’d believed in (he was much more pleasant that your concept of God BTW) wasn’t real. In short, I put truth above my beliefs and found my beliefs lacking. If evidence (or methodologies that prove themselves more accurate) comes up that points to the existence of a God I’d be fascinated to find out more. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of some kind of ultimate meaning in the universe?

    I suspect that a very short period in hell would be quite a good bit of evidence.

    What is the problem with sharing the world with such people?

    Well, I think that there are a couple of things that concern me here. The first is that choosing such an absolute and uncompromising way to determine the truth about how the universe works (i.e. if your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe something then that something can’t be questioned even in the face of evidence to the contrary and holding the words of ancient writers as inviolate) is a great way to be spectacularly wrong. The kind of thinking that has, in the past, led people to hole themselves up in a compound with guns. I’m not saying you’d do this but, like speeding in a car, it’s concerning.
    The second is that I find the whole concept of punishing someone without end and without a view to correction, well, evil. I find it morally repulsive and I worry about the kind of mind that would twist itself in such a way as to find this a cause for celebration. That you would say it would cause you happiness to see someone like me suffering for billions of years without end deeply worries me as it belies either that you’ve really not thought about what you are saying or that you are suffering a kind of antisocial disorder.

  4. Damian
    Damian says:

    What does eternal punishment actually achieve? If God is all-powerful then presumably he is able to cause someone to cease to exist just as easily as to torture them endlessly. Why would he choose the latter? To what end?

  5. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Damian:

    1. Characterizing hell as God torturing people is standard fare for unbelievers (and universalists) who just want to get off their talking points. But it's not a reasonable characterization for a reasonable discussion. Torture carries connotations well beyond punishment: it implies to most people at least (1) that the suffering is unwarranted, above and beyond what mere punishment would entail; (2) that God therefore is sadistic or otherwise somehow evil for inflicting said torture; and (3) that the suffering is not also self-inflicted as well as God-inflicted.

    2. God chooses to punish people in hell to the end of satisfying his justice. I would have thought you'd know that though, so I suspect there's an implicit objection in there somewhere. Why not just come out and say it?

  6. Damian
    Damian says:

    Bnonn, I'm afraid you've read too much into my use of the word 'torture'. I'm using the standard definition of it which seems to fit perfectly into the situation of eternal punishment. But if you feel that the word is too laden, substitute it with 'punish them endlessly'.

    It seems ad hoc to me to invoke the word 'justice' as a reason for why God would choose to eternally punish people. I ask "What does eternal punishment actually achieve?" and the answer of 'justice' seems to be the same as saying "because he wants to".

    If I punish someone (not that I ever really have the opportunity to) it's with a view to altering their behaviour and/or to discourage others from behaving in the same way. If someone punishes someone for any other reason and calls it 'justice' isn't that just the same as saying 'revenge'? So, again, I have to ask, what does eternal punishment actually achieve? God's own pleasure and nothing else?

  7. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    It seems to me that the purpose for justice is broader than you described. It also is a means of restitution or payment for righting a wrong.

    Stuart McEwing

    ;-)

  8. Damian
    Damian says:

    I agree Stuart. In the common sense of the word, 'justice' is about restoring a balance in a fair manner. But as soon as you make the penalty an infinite amount you have no way to ever achieve this balance and so when a Christian uses the word 'justice' to explain eternal punishment it's not about restitution or payment. The purpose becomes very narrow and it's this — perceived — purpose that I'm trying to discover. Hence the question: what does eternal punishment actually achieve? If it's only for God's pleasure then why not annihilation given that that option is within his power?

  9. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    I'm open to Annihilation as an real option that God may actually use, but I still think eternal punishment is fair. The balance is struck when you consider that rejecting God, his love, and the provision he has provided is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion, worthy of such punishment.

  10. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Damian, God's punishment of the wicked in hell is not meant to be remedial; it is meant to be retributive. Ie, it is what sinners deserve. Retribution is an end in its own right, and not merely a means to some other end. In fact, without retributive justice there is no penal substitution, and no gospel.

  11. Damian
    Damian says:

    So, after being punished for 160 billion, billion years and with no possible way of easing your punishment or making things right you've still got 160 billion, billion more of those to look forward to after which you've not even served a billionth of a percent of your sentence. In fact, it would stand to reason that you should be suffering an infinite amount for an infinite amount of time eh? Proportion and all.

    I've rejected the concept of God and so, if I'm wrong and you're right, in these billions and billions of years' time I'll be continuing to suffer with absolutely no way to ever escape it and you'll presumably be free from all forms of suffering.

    Are you both saying that this would make you happy because it would be what I deserve? And that God, who has the power to either annihilate me or continue to punish me would me more happy to go with the latter?

    (Of course, I'm not concerned about this scenario because, like I said, I don't believe the universe works this way. But I am concerned that I share a world with people who believe that this is how morality works.)

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    That is not a gospel of Good News.

    My comments are "tendentious" because I care about this stuff.

  13. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Damian.

    So, after being punished for 160 billion, billion years and with no possible way of easing your punishment or making things right you've still got 160 billion, billion more of those to look forward to after which you've not even served a billionth of a percent of your sentence.

    Three things:

    1. Would you, after this 160 quadrillion years, evince any repentance? That is, would you recognize not merely your sin, but its magnitude, and wish to throw yourself before God's mercy? The Bible says no, and your own attitude here confirms this. Sinners in hell do not become less wicked and less hateful toward God with time; they become more wicked and more hateful. In their view, God is confirming their beliefs about him being unworthy of worship. But their subjective belief doesn't reflect the objective truth; their moral viewpoint is too skewed to be accurate.

    2. After 160 quadrillion years, would you be any less guilty of the sins you committed? Of course not.

    3. In that vein, after 160 quadrillion years, you will have committed countless more sins. Your continual attitude of defiance and disobedience and rebellion against God because of his just punishment accrues on your head even more punishment. Every day in hell you commit more sins worthy of punishment. So even if wanted to argue that no sin is worth unending punishment, no sin needs to be in order for hell itself to be unending.

    In fact, it would stand to reason that you should be suffering an infinite amount for an infinite amount of time eh? Proportion and all.

    Two things:

    1. Suffering in hell is not infinite in intensity, if that's what you mean by "amount". The Bible is clear that the punishment is proportional to the crime. Hitler suffers more than Ghandi.

    2. The suffering of hell is never infinite in duration. It goes on forever, but it is never an actual infinite.

    I've rejected the concept of God and so, if I'm wrong and you're right, in these billions and billions of years' time I'll be continuing to suffer with absolutely no way to ever escape it and you'll presumably be free from all forms of suffering.

    Correcto.

    Are you both saying that this would make you happy because it would be what I deserve? And that God, who has the power to either annihilate me or continue to punish me would me more happy to go with the latter?

    Would it make me happy now, or would it make me happy then? It's hard to see how the suffering of anyone in hell could, in and of itself, make me happy. The desire to see people saved from hell is one of the main motivating forces behind my own apologetical and evangelistic efforts. That said, would it make me happy to know that justice is being served? Yes. Of course. Would it make me happy to see the true holiness of God, and thus the true magnitude of sin? Yes. Would it make me happy to be more like God, and so to see people as they really are, rather than as I currently do? Yes.

    Would God be more happy to punish you forever than annihilate you? Ascribing happiness to God is fraught. But the Bible says that this is what he has chosen to do. That said, there's no reason I know of to think that the wicked in hell want to be annihilated. We don't even have any quantitative understanding of what hell is like at all. C S Lewis conceived of it as a dreary world where everyone eventually moves as far away from everyone else as possible, because they all hate each other so much and would rather be alone. In that world, many people (if not all) had no idea they were in hell at all. There's nothing in the Bible that I think contradicts such a notion. And Steve Hays has written a few pieces on what hell might be like if it is proportional to sins committed; in one he conceives of hell for someone who lusted after a particular villa as being the fulfillment of his dream, but with different results than he'd imagined. It seems like you're thinking of hell in very Dante-esque terms, rather than biblical ones.

    (Of course, I'm not concerned about this scenario because, like I said, I don't believe the universe works this way. But I am concerned that I share a world with people who believe that this is how morality works.)

    Why? What is the problem with sharing the world with such people?

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Perfect love casts out fear (of hell, and of asking tough questions), and I am learning that God is loving, kind, just and merciful. I find the practical experience of reconciliation with Christ and his Spirit walking beside me on Earth to be good news also. I do not wish to minimise the seriousness of sin and our need for a Saviour, but perhaps there are more 'good Samaritans' in his Kingdom than we realise.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Only God can judge. The 'way' may be narrow but it does not consist of confessing the correct creed it consists of right actions.

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Only God can judge. The ‘way’ may be narrow but it does not consist of confessing the correct creed it consists of right actions.

  17. Damian
    Damian says:

    Would you, after this 160 quadrillion years, evince any repentance? That is, would you recognize not merely your sin, but its magnitude, and wish to throw yourself before God's mercy?

    Bnonn, yes, absolutely. If I had sufficient evidence of the existence of a God then I'd absolutely be open to listening to what he had to say. The reason I left my faith was a distinct lack of evidence. I left it begrudgingly and with a sorrow that the ideal of a God who I'd believed in (he was much more pleasant that your concept of God BTW) wasn't real. In short, I put truth above my beliefs and found my beliefs lacking. If evidence (or methodologies that prove themselves more accurate) comes up that points to the existence of a God I'd be fascinated to find out more. Who wouldn't want to be a part of some kind of ultimate meaning in the universe?

    I suspect that a very short period in hell would be quite a good bit of evidence.

    What is the problem with sharing the world with such people?

    Well, I think that there are a couple of things that concern me here. The first is that choosing such an absolute and uncompromising way to determine the truth about how the universe works (i.e. if your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe something then that something can't be questioned even in the face of evidence to the contrary and holding the words of ancient writers as inviolate) is a great way to be spectacularly wrong. The kind of thinking that has, in the past, led people to hole themselves up in a compound with guns. I'm not saying you'd do this but, like speeding in a car, it's concerning.
    The second is that I find the whole concept of punishing someone without end and without a view to correction, well, evil. I find it morally repulsive and I worry about the kind of mind that would twist itself in such a way as to find this a cause for celebration. That you would say it would cause you happiness to see someone like me suffering for billions of years without end deeply worries me as it belies either that you've really not thought about what you are saying or that you are suffering a kind of antisocial disorder.

  18. Allan
    Allan says:

    (I must preface my remarks by saying I appreciate the level of intellectual debate I witness here, and feel a little in awe, and unable to participate at the same level, but then it also seems much like discussing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin to me. All I can hope to do here is try to inject a little of what I see as practicality into the conversation, and am keen to see how well you shoot it down.)
    Unfortunately, heaven may not be all it's cracked up to be either. After all, if I remember, or have interpreted, correctly, my readings of the Bible from long ago, Satan was disenchanted enough with his situation that he staged an attempted coup ( with about a third of the angels, according to Milton, I think – was that in the Bible? I don't know). So heaven at one stage certainly was a place of jealousy, intrigue, and violence. What's to stop that happening again? A new and diverse bunch drawn from the human population, with all its diversity of intelligence, deviance, cunning, aspirations. I gather back-slidden Christians get to heaven just as do the near-perfect specimens, and there are probably far more evil ones. Is it likely everyone will be totally devoid of ambition, all effectively lobotomised and submissive to God's rule in the life hereafter? What's to stop a second coup, with a similar scenario played out all over again?

    What's more, it sounds like hell's not such a devastating place either. After all, didn't Satan and all his angels escape from it? And they seem to have had a dream life since then, free to roam the world and commit whatever mayhem is attributed to them by Christians. So they're to be sent back there again eventually? Will it really be any harder to escape the second time? And if not, is it not just something to eventually become inured to? It didn't do much to dent Satan's ambition or pride, did it? He kept his personality, charismatic leadership qualities, etc.

  19. Allan
    Allan says:

    (I must preface my remarks by saying I appreciate the level of intellectual debate I witness here, and feel a little in awe, and unable to participate at the same level, but then it also seems much like discussing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin to me. All I can hope to do here is try to inject a little of what I see as practicality into the conversation, and am keen to see how well you shoot it down.)
    Unfortunately, heaven may not be all it’s cracked up to be either. After all, if I remember, or have interpreted, correctly, my readings of the Bible from long ago, Satan was disenchanted enough with his situation that he staged an attempted coup ( with about a third of the angels, according to Milton, I think – was that in the Bible? I don’t know). So heaven at one stage certainly was a place of jealousy, intrigue, and violence. What’s to stop that happening again? A new and diverse bunch drawn from the human population, with all its diversity of intelligence, deviance, cunning, aspirations. I gather back-slidden Christians get to heaven just as do the near-perfect specimens, and there are probably far more evil ones. Is it likely everyone will be totally devoid of ambition, all effectively lobotomised and submissive to God’s rule in the life hereafter? What’s to stop a second coup, with a similar scenario played out all over again?

    What’s more, it sounds like hell’s not such a devastating place either. After all, didn’t Satan and all his angels escape from it? And they seem to have had a dream life since then, free to roam the world and commit whatever mayhem is attributed to them by Christians. So they’re to be sent back there again eventually? Will it really be any harder to escape the second time? And if not, is it not just something to eventually become inured to? It didn’t do much to dent Satan’s ambition or pride, did it? He kept his personality, charismatic leadership qualities, etc.

  20. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Damian, you've indicated that you would believe that God exists if you went to hell. But the very fact that you think my concept of God is unpleasant indicates that you are not inclined to see any justice, any rightness, in his actions. So while you might count hell as evidence of his existence, you'd also count it as evidence of his unworthiness of worship. But how can you genuinely repent and turn to God for forgiveness if you don't believe that you warranted such punishment in the first place, and if you don't believe God is worthy of your worship? It seems to me that someone in hell would rather remain in hell under his own autonomy, in defiance of God, than relinquish himself to heaven if it meant relinquishing his outrage and indignation at God to genuinely worship him. Indeed, it's hard to see how anyone in hell could ever genuinely worship God.

    i.e. if your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe something then that something can't be questioned even in the face of evidence to the contrary

    If you have some kind of evidence that disproves the existence of hell, by all means present it.

    The kind of thinking that has, in the past, led people to hole themselves up in a compound with guns.

    You seem to be confusing violent fanaticism with religiousness. But there are plenty of violent fanatics who are not religious.

    The second is that I find the whole concept of punishing someone without end and without a view to correction, well, evil.

    Well that's hardly surprising in view of what I've already said about the moral perspective of people who go to hell. But why should I be interested in the fact that you find it morally repulsive? For that matter, why should you be interested in it? What bearing do you think your moral intuitions have on reality? If God does not exist, then moral intuitions are ultimately just opinions, aren't they? It's like saying that you find people who prefer cheese to chocolate, well, evil.

    That you would say it would cause you happiness to see someone like me suffering for billions of years without end deeply worries me as it belies either that you've really not thought about what you are saying or that you are suffering a kind of antisocial disorder.

    Well, several things. Firstly, remember I didn't say I would find happiness in your suffering per se. I said that there are related issues that would cause me happiness: the serving of justice, my clearer knowledge of and likeness to God, etc.

    Secondly, I have thought about what I am saying. Hell scares the crap out of me—as I think it ought to. The news of the gospel is only good in proportion to what it saves us from. Being saved from a fate so abjectly terrifying is news so good I can quite fail to articulate it.

    Thirdly, even if I am suffering from an antisocial disorder (and I very well might), why does that worry you deeply? That just sounds silly. It doesn't worry me deeply. And it doesn't worry me deeply that other people might suffer from antisocial disorders. In fact, I know people who suffer from such disorders. Sometimes it's concerning. Sometimes it's sad. But I can't say as it's never worried me deeply.

    Allan, a couple of things:

    1. We don't know the circumstances of Satan's fall. We don't know that he was in heaven to begin with. We know he was in the Garden of Eden. And we know he was a liar and a murderer "from the beginning". For all we know, he was created evil. Like Damian, you need to take your theology from the Bible, not from medieval mythology.

    2. What's to stop the redeemed from rebelling against God? Gee, lemme think here…I dunno, just off the top of my head, how about God himself? But the question is nonsensical. There's no reason to think that the redeemed would ever be disenchanted with heaven. Quite the opposite.

    3. Satan didn't escape from hell. According to the Bible, hell does not exist yet; it is the place where Satan and his angels will be thrown into at the final judgement. Satan is currently "walking to and fro upon the earth", just as he has from the very beginning in the Garden.

  21. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Allan, a couple of things:

    1. We don't know the circumstances of Satan's fall. We don't know that he was in heaven to begin with. We know he was in the Garden of Eden. And we know he was a liar and a murderer "from the beginning". For all we know, he was created evil. Like Damian, you need to take your theology from the Bible, not from medieval mythology.

    2. What's to stop the redeemed from rebelling against God? Gee, lemme think here…I dunno, just off the top of my head, how about God himself? But the question is nonsensical. There's no reason to think that the redeemed would ever be disenchanted with heaven. Quite the opposite.

    3. Satan didn't escape from hell. According to the Bible, hell does not exist yet; it is the place where Satan and his angels will be thrown into at the final judgement. Satan is currently "walking to and fro upon the earth", just as he has from the very beginning in the Garden.

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    @Bnonn the Bible isn't as simple / blaxk & white on the afterlife as your comments indicate. Also, I don't know anybody who has died and come back to talk about it. A little circumspection is warranted.

  23. Shmuel
    Shmuel says:

    Bnonn Tennant said:

    But why should I be interested in the fact that you find it morally repulsive? For that matter, why should you be interested in it? What bearing do you think your moral intuitions have on reality?

    If you think atheistic morality is ultimately subjective, I invite you to direct the same sorts of criticisms against theistic morality. It should be fair to say theistic morality is along the lines of:

    "God's nature/will is the moral good"

    Why should we accept this definition of the moral good? "God's nature/will just is, by definition, moral goodness?" How is this any different from the atheist asserting that the moral good is just, by definition, alleviating suffering, say?

    Having said that, I can actually think of one important difference: at the very least, an atheistic definition of morality, such as the above, concerns things which ultimately affects us humans – in the here and now. That the wellbeing of ourselves and our neighbours – in this world, thats existence at the very least we do not debate – would be the ultimate goal of this system of morality . You are free to say that people can disagree with this definition – and indeed, the psychopath may well think that the suffering of others amounts to the moral good – but notice that anything we deem to be "objective" is susceptible to the same objection. Under this line of reasoning, nothing would be objective, because anyone is free to challenge the definitions of the terms we use! And this includes theistic morality.

    No, we have our common definitions of the words we use, and the concepts that correspond to them. How do we react to scenes of humans torturing animals? We say of these acts that they are "inhumane" do we not? That in our common understanding, our common definition, of what it means to be a morally decent human being, we expect people to act in certain ways – namely, in ways that do not lead to unnecessary suffering. This is what the secular world means when we speak of morality – indeed, I'd wager it's what most of the religious world means too when the topic is not homosexuality/conception etc – and its objectivity is no more challenged by the fact that we're free to disagree over definitions than any other topic is. If the world were to start considering killing and raping others as morally good, then clearly, we would either be speaking a very different language or we would simply be human no more.

  24. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Shmuel:

    Why should we accept this definition of the moral good? "God's nature/will just is, by definition, moral goodness?" How is this any different from the atheist asserting that the moral good is just, by definition, alleviating suffering, say?

    No offense, but it's hard to take this question seriously, since in its very structure the answer is plainly obvious. The definition is different because moral goodness is intrinsic to God; it is an objective reality, and not just a made-up definition. And you should accept it for the same reason that you accept other objective features of reality, like the laws of logic or the existence of other minds.

    […] the wellbeing of ourselves and our neighbours – in this world, thats existence at the very least we do not debate – would be the ultimate goal of this system of morality . You are free to say that people can disagree with this definition

    On the contrary, I absolutely agree. That is the one thing that all false systems of morality tend to have in common: they are man-focused, instead of being God-focused. That is the fundamental issue that Christianity addresses—our wrong focus, our wrong moral priorities. Since God is the ground of all goodness, all morality should be God-focused.

    Under this line of reasoning, nothing would be objective, because anyone is free to challenge the definitions of the terms we use! And this includes theistic morality.

    You think something is not objectively true in the event that someone is free to challenge it? Okay, I challenge the law of noncontradiction. Wow, I just broke the universe!

    That in our common understanding, our common definition, of what it means to be a morally decent human being, we expect people to act in certain ways – namely, in ways that do not lead to unnecessary suffering. This is what the secular world means when we speak of morality

    So much the worse for the secular world. Confusing suffering with evil, and pleasure with good, leads to a bankrupt, ultimately incoherent understanding of good and evil. Of course, there is frequently a correlation between evil and suffering, because evil is a transgression of the natural order of things, which God intended to be very good. And evil often brings its own temporal punishments, which involve suffering. But that doesn't mean that evil is suffering, or the causing of suffering.

    If the world were to start considering killing and raping others as morally good, then clearly, we would either be speaking a very different language or we would simply be human no more.

    But there are cultures that consider killing and raping morally good, or at least morally neutral. Islam considers it a divine requirement to stone women caught in adultery, for example. Some gangs treat women as objects of sexual satisfaction with no apparent qualms over the morality of it. And so on. Sometimes they speak English too, although what the language they speak has to do with anything is pretty unclear to me. Are you saying these sorts of people are simply not human? That seems pretty untenable; I think the DNA evidence would suggest otherwise.

    I'm curious what you think the problem is with these sorts of people. What does it mean, in your worldview, that they are "evil"? Evil has no objective status in reality; it's just an opinion. So when someone rapes a child, the best you're going to get is that this fellow will be caught and punished with imprisonment, or maybe death, or maybe in the most just cases, emasculation. But that doesn't seem like enough justice, does it? Yet on the other hand, why should you demand justice at all, if it's just your opinion against his? Why punish someone for their tastes, just because they're different to yours? Isn't that incredibly fascist?

  25. Shmuel
    Shmuel says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    The definition is different because moral goodness is intrinsic to God; it is an objective reality, and not just a made-up definition.

    But again, notice that we are dealing with definitions. You say the moral good is intrinsic to god. Why? Because that is what we mean by the word "god"? A perfect moral agent etc? A satanist may well come to you and say "that is only according to your definition of god. I hold that God is essentially, by his very nature, morally evil." I made the point because I see this as unequivocally tantamount to saying that the moral bad – in its very essence – "intrinsically" concerns the suffering of conscious creatures. In either case, an assertion of the definition of the "moral good" is made – with reference to something that by its very nature is normally defined as such – and in either case, someone is fully able to walk in and make the chalk-and-cheese "objection". Notice these objections can be made to any ethical stance, theistic or atheistic.

    Since God is the ground of all goodness, all morality should be God-focused.

    I thought it remarkable for you to ask Damian "What bearing do you think your moral intuitions have on reality?" Notice that if, as you say, that your morality is purely focused on the nature/will of a god – who's very existence is highly disputed – then the atheist is fully entitled to claim the firmer ground with regards to a standard of morality, because at the very least, the existence of the suffering of human beings is not disputed.

    You think something is not objectively true in the event that someone is free to challenge it?

    No, I in effect make the same point as you do, only with regards to theistic morality too. I don't think the objectivity of any of our concepts are endangered by the mere fact people have these chalk-and-cheese arguments over definitions, which is why I'm trying to point out the pointlessness of the moral argument as a whole. I see people on both sides of the fence, theistic and atheist, who spend a lot of time debating this, yet it's blatantly self refuting. I think it's a bad argument.

    But that doesn't mean that evil is suffering, or the causing of suffering

    So do you hold that morality is just concerned with following the will/nature of god then, whatever that may be? If god demands you slaughter your brother and neighbour, as he called the children of Israel to do following the golden ox incident, that would be morally good?

    But there are cultures that consider killing and raping morally good, or at least morally neutral. Islam considers it a divine requirement to stone women caught in adultery, for example.

    I don't doubt that, and I speak out against idiotic cultural practices all the time and I especially speak out against Islam all the time, predominantly to my Muslim friends. I understand there is a reluctance in the west to criticize other cultures for fear of being, wrongly, labelled "racist". But what is culture and tradition other than the way in which people have thought and behaved through time? If this is beyond criticism, all progress and all free speech is lost and meaningless. So I'm not sure what your point is concerning other cultures – yes, I hold barbaric cultural practices as being less civilized, less humane, than what you might call the enlightened world, precisely because people are submitted to more suffering, more harm, more humiliation. That is, precisely what the world means by "the moral bad". Surely you would think those who stone others to death in this day and age are inhumane?

    But that doesn't seem like enough justice, does it? Yet on the other hand, why should you demand justice at all, if it's just your opinion against his? Why punish someone for their tastes, just because they're different to yours? Isn't that incredibly fascist?

    Enough justice? You seem to equivocate justice with punishment. It would not concern me at the slightest the amount of pain the perpetrator is to be put through – what matters is the compensation to, and protection of, the victim and others who would be further victims of their crimes. Fascistic? Not nearly as much as a theistic moral standard.

  26. ropata
    ropata says:

    @Bnonn Go ahead and forget all the debates throughout church history then. But reality isn't as simple as some idealists like to think. Also a highly polarised vision of perfection isn't that great for mental health, take my word for it.

  27. Allan
    Allan says:

    Thanks Bnonn,
    I won't pretend to have any particular knowledge of theology, but that which I do have probably tends to come more recently not from the Bible, but from Milton. Just as a very minor aside, I'd quibble about classing such knowledge as medieval. After all, Milton was born only 30 or so years before Newton, in the 1600s, so maybe late Renaissance. If you say we don't know Satan was initially banished to hell, I'm quite happy to accept that, and that Milton was just spicing up his story. It's not really important to me. (But Paradise Lost is certainly the most powerful, enthralling poem I've ever read, and would be the book I'd choose for my Desert Island exile.) What interests me more right now is the nature of those souls populating heaven and hell. First of all, they presumably have individual personalities. Satan, after all, as you've said, was a liar and a murderer. All souls presumably can have their own characteristics. There may be quite a number of liars and murderers in hell, but presumably they will have a memory of their escapades on Earth, else what's the point of punishment? If you don't remember what you've done, you can have no concept of why you're being punished. Similarly those in Heaven must surely be able to look back on their time on Earth, to e.g. thank God for saving them, look back at the time they made the decision to accept Jesus as their saviour, etc. In other words, it's hard to imagine that souls in the "afterlife" do not continue to hold the personalities they held on Earth.

    This then, when you consider the variety of humanity here, now, and in the past, must make for a very interesting mix in Heaven. Let's think about what that might mean. We will have on the whole, people who have lived a long life before their eventual death. This in turn means a lot of people will have had Alzheimer's and will have totally lost their minds/memory before death. How do they get to experience heaven/Hell in the context of their lives on Earth? Will their memories be restored? Then to what point will that be – at the prime of their lives, or a point just before they started to deteriorate, or just before they lost all faculties?

    How about the undoubtedly considerable number of concentration camp guards who had accepted Christ prior to the start of World War II, and went on to commit unspeakable atrocities without any remorse before their death. I guess we're agreed they still get to heaven despite however egregious their behaviour may have been after conversion. Will their personalities then be purified, or will they keep the personalities they died with? It seems that we expect that if they are not saved and end up in hell, they do so with their existing nasty personalities – why not ditto heaven? And if Heaven's not to be a Stepford-like place, there'll be some interesting interaction between them and their victims, some of whom will of course end up in the same place. I find it quite easy to imagine Hitler could end up in Heaven due to having had a teenage conversion. Then will his hatred of Jews, which he presumably carried until his death, be wonderfully cleansed? It would be inconsistent if it was. What if, instead, he ends up in hell because he never became a Christian? Then presumably, his evil personality will not be transformed.

    Then also, it appears that Heaven is not a place devoid of emotion. God can look down in anger at the evil being perpetuated in the world. Anger and grief must be emotions attributable to any/all of its inhabitants, not just God. I can imagine unjust circumstances in which someone is saved and their loved one is not. Why would their grief or anger not be expressed in heaven to the extent that they'd rather be with the other, far from God, than where they are with a bunch of friends they never asked for?
    The possible scenarios are endless, and the inconsistencies mind-boggling.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Dear Bnonn,

    "We don't know the circumstances of Satan's fall. We don't know that he was in heaven to begin with. We know he was in the Garden of Eden. And we know he was a liar and a murderer "from the beginning". For all we know, he was created evil. Like Damian, you need to take your theology from the Bible, not from medieval mythology."

    According to Isiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, we do know that Lucifer was in heaven to begin with. In fact, we are told that Lucifer was the closest of all the angels to the throne of God. We are all too familiar with God's alleged essential attributes, omnipotence, omniscience etc., and so, does it not strike you as strange that of all the company God could fashion into existence, he settles on the personification of evil? Why design a being who God only knows too well will derail creation and ultimately bring about a state of affairs that ends up with countless souls suffering excruciating pain and torment for eternity? Satan seems to be the scapegoat for all evil in the Christian world view but it strikes me as obvious that to trace sin back to Satan and end there is not going far enough. God, the only omnipotent, omniscient and truly free agent chooses to create a reality that consists of evil as well as good, hell as well as heaven. I wonder, how do you acquit God of bringing about evil in the first place?

  29. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Schmuel

    You say the moral good is intrinsic to god. Why? Because that is what we mean by the word "god"? A perfect moral agent etc?

    Yes, exactly. We are talking about the Christian God here. What a Satanist believes, or how he defines God, isn't of any relevance (and I don't think Satanists believe what you think they do, but it's not really important). We are talking about matters of fact, not matters of definition. If God exists as Christianity claims, then he is an objective ground of goodness. Whether your definition of goodness correlates to the objective good found in God isn't of any consequence to its objective reality. That's like saying that because you disagree with the definition of gravity at sea level as a force that accelerates objects downward at 9.8 m/s^2, therefore what gravity is is up for debate. Merely disagreeing with a fact doesn't make the fact any less certain or real.

    I thought it remarkable for you to ask Damian "What bearing do you think your moral intuitions have on reality?" Notice that if, as you say, that your morality is purely focused on the nature/will of a god – who's very existence is highly disputed – then the atheist is fully entitled to claim the firmer ground with regards to a standard of morality, because at the very least, the existence of the suffering of human beings is not disputed.

    I asked Damian what bearing he thinks moral intuitions have on reality because, in an atheistic worldview, morality is not an objective feature of reality. Moral intuitions don't actually point us to anything outside ourselves. They only point us to opinions, to individual tastes. If you think that treating moral questions as a matter of taste is firmer ground than treating them as a matter of truth, then there's probably not much we can say to each other.

    No, I in effect make the same point as you do, only with regards to theistic morality too. I don't think the objectivity of any of our concepts are endangered by the mere fact people have these chalk-and-cheese arguments over definitions, which is why I'm trying to point out the pointlessness of the moral argument as a whole. I see people on both sides of the fence, theistic and atheist, who spend a lot of time debating this, yet it's blatantly self refuting. I think it's a bad argument.

    No offense, but I believe you have not understood the moral argument at all. The point of the moral argument has nothing to do with our definitions of what is right and wrong. The question at issue is not "how do we know if something is right or wrong?", but "what makes something right or wrong?", or "what does it mean for something to be right or wrong?". In an atheistic worldview, it means no more than that something is against someone's personal moral tastes. But why should that be of any more importance than something being against someone's personal taste in food or clothes or movies or women?

    So do you hold that morality is just concerned with following the will/nature of god then, whatever that may be? If god demands you slaughter your brother and neighbour, as he called the children of Israel to do following the golden ox incident, that would be morally good?

    Well, the wages of sin is death, and everyone has sinned. Read Romans. If God were to command me to kill someone, obviously it would be a moral requirement that I do so. But the situation is highly contrived. The case of Israel was very specific. It's not as if the Bible gives warrant for thinking that God makes these sorts of commands willy-nilly. In fact, quite the opposite. So if I thought God had commanded me to do this, I would have to compare the command against Scripture. And Scripture suggests that in such a case, it would not actually have been God at all.

    I don't doubt that, and I speak out against idiotic cultural practices all the time and I especially speak out against Islam all the time, predominantly to my Muslim friends. I understand there is a reluctance in the west to criticize other cultures for fear of being, wrongly, labelled "racist". But what is culture and tradition other than the way in which people have thought and behaved through time? If this is beyond criticism, all progress and all free speech is lost and meaningless.

    Well said.

    So I'm not sure what your point is concerning other cultures – yes, I hold barbaric cultural practices as being less civilized, less humane, than what you might call the enlightened world, precisely because people are submitted to more suffering, more harm, more humiliation. That is, precisely what the world means by "the moral bad". Surely you would think those who stone others to death in this day and age are inhumane?

    My point is that you don't have any grounds for condemning cultures with different moral tastes to you. Since morality is just a matter of opinion, and not everyone agrees that what causes suffering is always immoral, why do think that they are wrong and you are right? Why do you think they should follow your way of doing things, instead of you following theirs? Why do you even think there is a "truth" of the matter—that it really is the case that one action cannot be both moral and immoral? What grounds do you have for believing that in an atheistic worldview, where all moral opinions are just that: subjective points of view with no relation to any objective fact of the matter?

    You seem to equivocate justice with punishment.

    Justice is very intimately concerned with punishment; both remedial and retributive.

    It would not concern me at the slightest the amount of pain the perpetrator is to be put through

    No doubt—but then, it didn't concern the Gestapo in the slightest the amount of pain the Jews were put through either. At the risk of invoking Godwin's law, my question is: what is the difference between you and them, aside from your tastes?

    what matters is the compensation to, and protection of, the victim and others who would be further victims of their crimes.

    I have no doubt that you believe this, but a couple of points:

    Firstly, how could anyone possibly be compensated for being raped? What could you possibly do to make up for that?

    Secondly, why do you believe this matters? You obviously feel very strongly about it, but if it's just a personal opinion of yours, why should anyone else be interested in that? You're acting as if morality really has an objective ground; as if certain moral facts ought to be recognized by everyone because they are objective features of reality. Yet your worldview says that moral facts are just personal opinions.

  30. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Allan, yeah I think you're spot on about souls retaining their personalities and beliefs in heaven and hell. And your questions about how people will be "restored" in heaven and hell is an interesting one. Even more interesting because, remember, heaven and hell are not current, spiritual places; they are future, physical places. There's an intermediate state that disembodied souls go to prior to the final resurrection and judgement.

    The simple fact of the matter is we don't know the answer to these kinds of questions. We aren't told. So interesting as they are, I'm afraid I got nothin' for yah!

    How about the undoubtedly considerable number of concentration camp guards who had accepted Christ prior to the start of World War II, and went on to commit unspeakable atrocities without any remorse before their death. I guess we're agreed they still get to heaven despite however egregious their behaviour may have been after conversion.

    Not necessarily. The Bible certainly gives allowance for Christians doing very unchristian things as a result of sin—David had his friend killed for example—but it also indicates that genuine Christians will repent of wickedness, and strive to be more holy, because they are indwelt by the Spirit of God. So a consistent trend of gross sin without repentance would be an indication that the "acceptance of Christ" was not genuine in the first place.

    Will their personalities then be purified, or will they keep the personalities they died with?

    This is still a good question, leaving aside the specific example. We all have sinful personalities on earth, so how will that be changed in heaven? We don't know exactly. We know that sin is not a part of how we should be—it is like a design flaw. What will we be like without the flaw? We don't know. It's hard, maybe impossible, to even imagine, because sin is such an extensive part of who we currently are.

    And if Heaven's not to be a Stepford-like place, there'll be some interesting interaction between them and their victims, some of whom will of course end up in the same place.

    This is also true, but I think we will be much less interested in those sorts of things in heaven. These things will be seen in their proper perspective; just like all suffering, which is hard at the time, but is meant by God for good.

    I find it quite easy to imagine Hitler could end up in Heaven due to having had a teenage conversion.

    Then you don't understand the nature of faith (: People don't become genuine Christians, having the Holy Spirit, and then go on to take over most of Europe and organize the systematic destruction of entire peoples.

    Then also, it appears that Heaven is not a place devoid of emotion.

    Quite so. Heaven is consistently characterized as a place notable for its great joy.

    I can imagine unjust circumstances in which someone is saved and their loved one is not.

    Since everyone deserves hell in the first place, what is unjust about those circumstances?

    Why would their grief or anger not be expressed in heaven to the extent that they'd rather be with the other, far from God, than where they are with a bunch of friends they never asked for?

    The question doesn't make sense. Someone unsaved might feel this way, because he despises God. But then he won't be in heaven anyway. Someone glorified, on the other hand, would value God above anything. It isn't reasonable to think that you would value the secondary, sometimes temporary blessings that God gives over the giver of those blessings himself.

  31. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey SinghAnadi. Yeah, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 could be referring to Satan. But I'm not sure the case is overwhelming. I don't have a problem with people taking that interpretation; I just don't think it's such a closed case that we can draw definitive theology about Satan's origins from them.

    Why design a being who God only knows too well will derail creation and ultimately bring about a state of affairs that ends up with countless souls suffering excruciating pain and torment for eternity?

    Because Satan is the instrument of God's plan of redemption. You can't have a redemption without first having sin.

    I wonder, how do you acquit God of bringing about evil in the first place?

    On the contrary, I wonder how you indict God for bringing about evil in the first place?

  32. Allan
    Allan says:

    Hi Bnonn,
    Always interesting to hear the points you make. However, one that I think you have absolutely no justification for is the following:
    "Then you don't understand the nature of faith (: People don't become genuine Christians, having the Holy Spirit, and then go on to take over most of Europe and organize the systematic destruction of entire peoples."

    You cannot possibly know this. You hope it's not the case, and you think it shouldn't be, but it's possible in the specific instance, and also far more generally. Think of the hundreds of thousands saved at Billy Graham crusades around the world (2.5 million according to Wikipedia). I'd be surprised if you didn't think close to 100% of them were genuine conversions, yet what percentage would still be as committed 5 years on as they were that night? Let me guess that for 90% it would be an irrelevant distant memory. Then also, admittedly on a smaller scale than Hitler, take cult leaders like David Koresh. Hard to argue against the likelihood that some of them were born-again Christians when they started out on their path of destruction. Even if it didn't apply specifically to Hitler, it would only take one to falsify the broader point you make.

  33. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Allan.

    You cannot possibly know this. You hope it's not the case, and you think it shouldn't be, but it's possible in the specific instance, and also far more generally.

    On the contrary, my statement was entirely justified. Remember, we are speaking under the assumption that Christianity is true. And if Christianity is true, the Bible is true; and the Bible indicates quite firmly that I am right in this matter.

    I'd be surprised if you didn't think close to 100% of them were genuine conversions, yet what percentage would still be as committed 5 years on as they were that night?

    Why would you be surprised? The Billy Graham crusades were characterized, as I understand it, by intense emotion. When we make intensely emotional decisions they are often temporary, foolish, or out of character—trust me, I'm a copywriter and marketing consultant, and emotion is key to making a sale. Never make a significant purchase until you've had at least two weeks to consider it carefully. That's how people go broke.

    So no, I wouldn't be surprised if 90% of the people who thought themselves converted during the Billy Graham crusades were in fact not converted at all. Genuine conversion means that your heart is actually changed by God, and he indwells you. It is not just a spur of the moment thing that has no necessary meaning later on.

  34. Rsvpaa
    Rsvpaa says:

    Unlike most of your replies, I think this one is quite evasive. First, I have no idea what supporting scripture/s you have in mind when you say, "the Bible indicates quite firmly that I am right in this matter". What's more, it's presumptuous to take the attitude (but most Christians I've discussed this with – do) that because one no longer follows the Christian path, one was never a Christian in the first place. Bearing in mind that Christians are always emphasising how hard it is to "be a Christian", you are implicitly contradicting that by suggesting that if you fail along the way, you were clearly never a "real" Christian. So what is it – easy or hard?

  35. Allan
    Allan says:

    Hi Bnonn, In my last reply, I mischaracterised your reply as evasive. Apologies for using a word with connotations I didn't mean to imply. I just meant that your position was not as clearly thought out as usual or maybe just not well explained.

  36. AmyC
    AmyC says:

    It's not a review of Love Wins, per se, but Ray Pritchard's book An Anchor for the Soul lays out the Gospel message in a clear, compelling way. It's a wonderful book to turn people onto when they're wrestling with big questions about God and hell and belief in Jesus and wanting to find straightforward, biblical answers. And, as far as I know, it's controversy free!

  37. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Allan

    What's more, it's presumptuous to take the attitude (but most Christians I've discussed this with – do) that because one no longer follows the Christian path, one was never a Christian in the first place.

    But why? I don't see why it should be. If this is what Christianity itself teaches, why should it be presumptuous to say so? It only seems presumptuous if you assume that Christianity is like any other religion, and that you can become a Christian in the same way that you can become a Buddhist, for instance, and then drop away again. But being a Christian means certain very specific things in Christianity: namely that you are regenerated, that you are indwelt by the Spirit of God. As Paul says, "because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:6). A genuine Christian is "born again" in the language of Scripture. How can one become unborn? One cannot. So we know that someone who claims to be converted, but does not persevere in the faith, was never converted at all. As John says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19)

    The Bible tells us that, "all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons … The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:14–16). And this is why it also exhorts us to "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor 13:5).

  38. Allan
    Allan says:

    Hi Bnonn,
    There are always too many interesting points in your replies to cover them all. You made a good point about the consequence of assuming that Christianity is like any other religion (as you realise I do) but, actually, I think the point you are inadvertently making with these scripture quotations, is that if you have been "born again", it is easy, even natural, to stay on the Christian path, and it's perhaps even impossible to do otherwise and be a real Christian. I had up to now assumed I was in discussion with a representative of mainstream Christianity, but given that your stance here is diametrically opposite what I thought was the usual, I'm now starting to think I'm conversing with the second perfect man in the world. I appreciate that you backed it up with quotes, but surely you'd agree that you could have found just as many quotes emphasising the difficulty of the Christian life.

  39. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hi Allan,

    FYI, there has long been an in-house debate among theologians and professing Christians wanting to be faithful to the scriptures regarding the issue of "once-saved-always-saved" or "you-can-loose-your-salvation."

    Both camps agree with this observable fact: that some people who appear to be Christians do fall away. While the "once-saved-always-saved" camp will say these people never really were saved – it only appeared as if they were and perhaps they even deluded themselves into thinking they were, the other "you-can-lose-your-salvation" camp will accept this explanation, but also say in some cases genuine de-conversion took place.

    While the first camp will argue that you can know you are saved because of the witness of the Holy Spirit, I think there is real cause to doubt ones own salvation on this view. The second camp will say you can have assurance of salvation because of the Spirit's witness, but that God actually wants you to doubt your salvation at times so that you always remain careful and vigilant since falling away from the faith is a real possibility.

    My own view leans more towards the "you-can-lose-your-salvation" view. But that to lose ones salvation requires a repeated rebellion against Christ's rulership and a definite decision to abandon relationship with him, such that if you are worried that you have lost your salvation, you haven't. Also, that for people who do appear to fall away, there is cause to doubt if they ever truly were saved.

    Both camps however believe that to prove you are genuinely saved, you must endure in Christ to the end. And that hope is not lost for those who have fallen away – they can still be genuinely saved.

  40. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hi Allan,

    I don't really see how you were led to this from what I said. I see this comment, rather as an altogether separate objection.

    The nature of the objection is not a criticism of the mercy of God, but a criticism of the justice of God. Its unfair that a person who has been a Christian for a long time, and through all their life has made great effort to live righteously, and the scoundrels of this world can get the same rewards by a last minute decision.

    To address this objection one could say a few things;

    Firstly, the repentance must be sincere. A forced situation where one knew they were going to die might not be considered sincere by God, who know the motivations of each ones hearts.

    Second, the force of the objection would be significantly removed if there were rewards in heaven. The bible isn't altogether clear on this but one could make a case that it seems to indicate there are certain rewards. I have heard an illustration of how life in heaven is like a cup beneath a waterfall, always filled and overflowing with the life of God. Even though every cup is being filled and overflowing, those who have developed in their life Godly character have larger cups, so are able to take in more and pour out more. An interesting idea.

    Third, its important to remember that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. I, who have been a Christian all my life and never done anything seriously wrong, in no way deserve heaven. I find myself in the same sinking boat as even the most righteous of saints – as a sinner who, should I die without accepting Christ's work on my behalf, is sunk. Christ's gift of salvation is a free gift, and I don't deserve it any less than Mother Teresa or any more than Osama Bin Laden.

    Jesus answered a similar problem. After his resurrection he was walking with Peter and indicating to him the way in which he would die.

    John 21:20-22

    Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved (John) was following them. . . . When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

    Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

    Basically Jesus says, whether or I chose to let him live a long time or a short time, that's not your business, thats Gods. You should be concerned about your own walk with me. This is reiteration of the message in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (See Matt 20). Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. During the day he hired some more, and near the end of the day he hired some more.

    Matthew 20:9-15

    “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

    “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

    So the answer is similar: that's not your business, thats Gods. If God chooses to save Hitler because at the last minute he cries out for mercy, thats God's prerogative – not ours. He can be generous if he wants. Its his salvation to dole out if he wants to and we have no right to complain.

  41. Allan
    Allan says:

    Hi Stuart,
    Mostly good points, and I'm sure if I were a Christian I'd be impressed by them, except perhaps for the second, which just sounds to me like an analogy with no solid justification. And the first might be a bit iffy, because I don't recall anything in the Bible such as, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, unless he leaves his belief until the last minute, in which case God might have to consider each case on its merits."

    Actually, what interests me, because it strikes me as ironic, is not the justice of the situation, but ironic resultant scenarios. Let's take your first point as given, that the person involved, who has done something really bad, or has lived a really bad life, actually makes a genuine request for salvation, which is accepted, and he gets to heaven. Let's say he's a pastor who, now totally reformed, in the past has serially abused people, some of whom have gone on to commit suicide through desperation, but without having asked for salvation themselves first, but that their brothers and sisters, not having fallen under the influence of this monster, have gone on to become Christians. Then surely it's interesting to contemplate, given previous discussions here regarding retained memories and personalities, the attitudes of, and conversations ensuing between the converted monster and the siblings of the hell-bound victims of the pastor. It makes no sense to me to think that heaven is all sweetness and light. It makes no sense to think there could be anything but bitterness, rage, vengefulness, and hatred under such circumstances. God presumably didn't create us with our human nature as it is, yet to be so stupid as to forgive everything.

  42. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Allan,

    I'm having little trouble following you.

    The first answer I gave (which you say sounds a bit iffy) was that the repentance must be sincere, and its quite possible that God will not consider the last minute salvation request as sincere after a life of repeated rebellion since he knows each persons motivation of the heart. You doubt that response because the Bible doesn't offer qualifications for the person who only believes at last minute because he's facing death, but says "whosoever believes." You say in that case God would have to consider each on its own merits. But thats what God does: if the belief (meaning 'trust in', or faith, casting ones lot in with Jesus, repentance, etc.,) is genuine, then God will accept it. But those people who only accept at the last minute God might know that they are not being genuine.

    You say the second was just an illustration. No – the illustration was one possible way you can see how there are rewards in heaven. The second was the idea that there are rewards in heaven itself. If so, this would severely blunt the force of the objection (that heaven for a tyrant after a last-minute salvation request is unjust).

    The final illustration is unnecessary since the only objection arising from it is you can't imagine heaven being all sweetness and light; that there would still be bitterness, rage, vengefulness, hatred, and unforgiveness. But the Bible explains that our sinful nature will be replaced by a incorruptible and glorious nature, that Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eye (meaning the resolving of all hurt and pain), and that we will be like Christ who is full of grace and truth. Yes, thats unimaginable, but thats not an objection to Christian truth. If you can't imagine it, then thats proof of the wretched sinful state you are in, and how needy you are for a solution.

    Since every person is in the same situation, I think its perfectly acceptable to not be able to imagine what heaven is like – we get glimpses, but words and earthly illustrations fall far short of the reality (Think about it – we will be with God! That is AMAZING!) I don't see how our lack of imagination works out to be an objection to the generous mercy of God.

  43. Allan
    Allan says:

    Hi Stuart,
    Thanks for persevering with me even if I'm not too clear at times.
    I'm not sure if my apparent lack of clarity is just because I'm not a natural writer/debater, or more to do with our world views being at opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, although you argue logically and clearly all the time, you should remember that you're arguing very much from a Christian perspective. This does not necessarily make as much sense to the rest of the world as it does to Christians. I think you've become too much immersed in your world to see the bigger picture any more. As one example of this I give your statement above: "…thats (sic) proof of the wretched sinful state you are in, and how needy you are for a solution". My mother would highly approve of your statement, but to me it's delusional.

    Of course, for the purposes of these discussions, I'm happy to assume we've all been brought up in a Western culture, and that we see the choice as being between God and non-God, but this is such a limited viewpoint probably shared by only, say, 20% of the world (I'm guessing here). There are so many other gods, multiple and single in various cultures, but just as we complain that U.S. citizens think the world ends at the U.S. borders, and those in Invercargill think that Aucklanders think the world ends there, so do Christians think there's only Christianity.

    Remembering this, can we revisit your first point again? – that some people might not be genuine in their last-minute acceptance of Jesus. From what you have said above, my comment was confusing. I wasn't trying to say that God would have to consider each case on its own merits. I was trying to say that you believe that God would have to consider each case on its own merits, but that I think that makes no sense, i.e. I think that he would be bound to take each case at face value. So people would ask for deliverance and receive deliverance, no ifs or buts.

    The reason I think this to be the case, is the nature of the non-Christian, but it's not something as a Christian you seem to take much consideration of. I see non-Christians as falling into two basic camps: 1. the atheistic non-Christian who sees nothing in the world as pointing towards any supernatural influence. 2. the gullible non-Christian who can potentially see the supernatural in anything, e.g. astrology, tea-cup reading, Chruistianity, all other religions, Satanism, the history and origins of life, someone surviving under an earthquake-hit building for two weeks when everyone else died, etc, etc. (needless to say, I see myself as falling into the non-gullible category (insert smiley face here)) So, essentially, those in the second category are no different from Christians in that they potentially could accept all the things Christians accept under the right circumstances.

    So, when it comes to the moments before death, how do these two categories react? The atheist is unlikely to have a last minute change of heart, and suddenly believe all those things that have never made any sense to him. It's just weird to thing he's going to hedge his bets, and make half-hearted calls to God to save him on the offchance that he exists. If he gets the chance to slowly fade into unconsciousness, he's going to do so looking back on a life lived, and whether he made a good job of it, perhaps whether or not he left it a little better than when he entered it, not looking terrifiedly towards the coming darkness of oblivion and imagining the gates of Hell opening up for him. And the gullible non-Christian has the potential to be completely ready to accept all that he's heard all his life, and wish he hadn't rejected God all his life, and beg with all his heart for forgiveness, because he _will_ have the potential to imagine a future to be frightened of. I just think that this middle ground you keep bringing up of one's making a cynical statement of repentance to worm one's way into heaven is a fantasy born of Christians' inflated sense of the importance of their own religion.

  44. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Well Alan.

    It's good to see you're thinking beyond the objection, and addressing some presuppositions.

    Taking a step back, when we want to discover if something is true or not we ask at least three questions; (1) Is it logically coherent (that is, does it cohere as a system of thought?); (2) Is it experientially relevant (that is, does it makes sense of life's experiences and existential desires?); (3) Is it empirically adequate (that is, does it make sense of the physical/scientific data?). One might also ask who else believes it, or is there precedent in history – but I don't consider this as a test for truth; instead it is a test to see if a believing a belief is reasonable.

    Now, an objection launched (from one such as yourself) will inevitably attempt to undermine one or more of the three litmus tests above. So when you start an objection like "This doesn't make sense to me because…" I naturally consider this an objection raised against Christianity's logical coherence. Accordingly, I address it as such. (I needn't be a Christian to do this, btw. I need only be familiar with a Christian understanding. So, though I am a Christian, and am arguing for the Christian perspective, I am not necessarily arguing from a Christian perspective.)

    You say to one of my answers, "but to me its delusional." In order for this to cohere within your system of thought, this has to presuppose some as-yet-to-be-brought-out-into-the-light belief or standard. Perhaps its your brand of atheism (as you go on to unfold for us). But then of course any talk about Christian theology is not going to make sense to you. You're missing the foundation stone, upon which everything else is built.

    This is indicative in the following;

    I was trying to say that you believe that God would have to consider each case on its own merits, but that I think that makes no sense, i.e. I think that he would be bound to take each case at face value.

    (Still confusing btw. You negate the first sentence here in the sentence prior to it)

    You see, God always considers each case on its own merits (whether a last-minute repentance or last-decade commitment – that is all people), and does not have to judge things at face value, since he knows far more than the face value – he knows the motivation of the heart.

    Regarding your taxonomy of non-Christian or atheist types (which I think is a case of dramatically simplifying things to the point of distortion), being in either category before their supposed repentance doesn't make a difference for the objection you raised.

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