Archive for the ‘Christian’ Category

Review of Every Knee Shall Bow, by Thomas Allin and Mark T. Chamberlain

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

every_knee_shall_bow_largeEvery Knee Shall Bow

The Case for Christian Universalism

by Thomas Allin and Mark T. Chamberlain

Xulon Press, 2005. 123 pages.

In the Introduction to this book, Mark T. Chamberlain explains that it began as a revision of Thomas Allin’s earlier book, and ended up being more of a collaboration.

From my earlier reviews, anyone who’s been paying attention will realize that I have become an Evangelical Universalist, and I appreciate books that explain Evangelical Universalist beliefs and why they completely fit with the teaching of the Bible and the God we worship. Every Knee Shall Bow is one of the more enthusiastic and dogmatic of these texts, but I, already agreeing with them, found this refreshing.

I don’t think this would be the best place to start for traditional evangelicals who wonder about Universalism. However, people who have been repulsed by Christian teachings about hell may be delighted to find here a very different view, which is still Biblical, and held by more and more Christians.

As I said, this book is enthusiastic and dogmatic. I’ve kept in the exclamation marks in the text below:

Whenever I tell people that I don’t believe a loving God would allow His children to end up in eternal hell, they always answer, “Yes, God is a God of love. But He is also a God of justice.” I firmly believe in God’s justice, but by what stretch of the imagination can eternal hell be considered just? Especially when it is not only for murderers, rapists, child molesters, and torturers, but also for moral people, religious people, even kind and loving people whose “only” crime is that they didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer!

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I believe that all of us deserve to be punished, but eternal torment?!! Can you honestly look at your unsaved relatives and say that they deserve to be tormented by demons forever? Some would say that teaching the ultimate salvation of all would either weaken or completely remove any belief in future punishment. The exact opposite is true. Most people will only believe us when we say that a just and loving God must punish sin when we teach a plan of punishment that is reasonable and credible. A penalty that seems unspeakably cruel, shocking, even monstrous loses all force as a threat! Only Universalists fully recognize both the guilt of sin and the need for a just punishment, one that fits the crime!

He soundly rejects several objections to Universalism:

Let me start out right here with a protest against the totally false view that Christian Universalists have lax views of sin or doctrine. No view so effectively proves God’s hatred of sin as this view that teaches that He cannot and will not tolerate its existence forever! …

Next I would like to say that any teaching that says even one soul will be eternally lost strikes a blow at both the incarnation and the atonement!

And there’s more:

Some think that to believe in the ultimate salvation of all implies the escape of the wicked from all punishment and places the sinner on the same level as the saint. Let me reply once and for all that nothing could be farther from the truth. For the Christian Universalist or the believer in the wider hope, as it has been called, we believe that the very method God uses to bring those who die unsaved into a saving relationship with Christ is the severity of the divine judgment, the consuming fire, that burns up all iniquity. The wider hope teaches the certainty of punishment for the obstinate sinner, because it sees God’s judgment as the mode of cure. Unrepented sin leads to an awful future penalty, a penalty that is in proportion to the guilt of the sinner, and is continued until he repents. Christian Universalists not only accept but also emphasize the terrible warning of punishment to come, because they see punishment not as needless cruelty with no purpose, but as both justice and discipline that brings the sinner to repentance.

The main question of the debate is this: Can evil ever be stronger than God? Can a Father allow the endless, hopeless sin and misery of even one of His children, and calmly look on forever and ever, unmoved and unsympathizing? The Bible speaks in Acts 3:21 of a “time for restoring all things” and in 1 Corinthians 15:28 of a time when “God will be ALL IN ALL.” And in Colossians 1:20, it speaks of God reconciling ALL things to Himself through Christ! If these verses don’t teach the salvation of all, words have no meaning!

People always tell me that all chances for salvation end at a person’s death. But where is this taught? The only passage of scripture I have ever read or heard anyone try to use to prove this is Hebrews 9:27. Let’s look at it: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” How does this verse teach that there are no further chances for salvation after death? Where does it say in this verse that after the judgment comes eternal hell? Nowhere! If God wants to hand down a different sentence to each individual according to the light he or she had and the sins that have been committed, why can’t He?

The author goes on to look at many Biblical arguments for Universalism, as well as the history of this view back with the Church Fathers. I like this paragraph in particular:

I protest against teaching that “all” means “all” when it is talking about sin and death, but that “all” means only “some” when spoken of final salvation. The restoration of all things means, we are told, that only some beings are to be restored, while the rest are tortured forever or annihilated. That God will be “all in all” means that millions will be cast into hell forever to hate God and blaspheme Him forever and only a few will be saved. That His tender mercies are over all His works means, in the traditional creed, that His tender mercies expire at the gates of hell. It is ludicrous that those who believe in everlasting hell charge us with evading the words of Scripture.

You can tell that the author does not go easy on the traditional view. As such, this might not be the best book to convince someone who has long and conscientiously felt that it is the only Biblical view. They may not like the way he characterizes their cherished beliefs.

Now, he does look at the original Greek of many Biblical texts. He says, “I believe that not one passage found anywhere in the Bible teaches endless suffering when fairly translated and understood.”

At the very least, you can feel the author’s passion for his subject. Here’s a section from the summing up chapter at the end:

The question of Universalism is usually argued as if the main point is man’s endless suffering. As odious and repulsive as the idea of endless suffering is, it is not the main point. The vital question is who will win the battle for men’s souls, God or the devil? Which is more powerful, righteousness or sin?

The popular creed makes sin eternal, although God’s Word says that Jesus came to put away sin. It makes God’s wrath eternal, although Scripture says that it is only for a moment. It denies the Scripture in 2 Peter 3:13, which says that we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness (and by implication, only righteousness) dwells. It never explains how the saints can enjoy heaven while their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and husbands and wives are suffering unspeakable agony in hell. It never explains how God can be all in all when there exists a place for all eternity where men and women will join their shrieks of agony with curses and blasphemy toward the God, who claimed to be their Father, but has abandoned them.

What would we think of a woman or a man who took pride in keeping an immaculate house who swept all of the dirt into a room away from the rest of the house? Not only that, but what if she or he cleansed the things in the house that least needed cleaning and reserved only the filthiest things for sweeping into the room? That is what the God of eternal hell does. He cleanses some of the filth in His house, but the worst of it He sweeps into a “room” called hell, where it’s out of sight, out of mind. And worst of all, the dirt He sweeps into this dreadful “room” called hell is not inanimate objects but people – people who for all their faults still have feelings, who have other people who are dear to them and people they are dear to. Worst of all, God, their Creator, once said that He loved them so much that He sent His Son to die for them. Some of them didn’t even know about Him and His professed love for them! But now it’s too late. They are lost forever!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Church of Mercy, by Pope Francis

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

church_of_mercy_largeThe Church of Mercy

A Vision for the Church

by Pope Francis

Loyola Press, Chicago, 2014. 150 pages.

I’m not a Catholic, so I was surprised how much I was uplifted by this book. They are basically sermons Pope Francis has preached, and they retain the feeling of the spoken word. (More exclamation marks than you would use if it was originally in written form, for example.) They are short, and one chapter at a time made a nice addition to my daily quiet times.

Here’s a passage I particularly liked:

Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little worlds, we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed: when a room is closed, it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room, he or she becomes ill! Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes, and movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road! But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised Church to an ill Church! A Church, a catechist, with the courage to risk going out, and not a catechist who is studious, who knows everything but is always closed — such a person is not well. And sometimes he or she is not well in the head . . .

But, careful! Jesus does not say, Go off and do things on your own. No! That is not what he is saying. Jesus says, Go, for I am with you! This is what is so beautiful for us; it is what guides us. If we go out to bring his Gospel with love, with a true apostolic spirit, with parrhesia, he walks with us, he goes ahead of us and he gets there first.

You can see that there are inspiring thoughts here for Christians of all flavors. And the overall message is indeed to become a church of mercy and a church known for love.

You could say to me, “But the church is made up of sinners; we see them every day.” And this is true: we are a Church of sinners. And we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed, renewed, sanctified by God. Throughout history, some have been tempted to say that the Church is the Church of only the pure and the perfectly consistent, and it expels all the rest. This is not true! This is heresy! The Church, which is holy, does not reject sinners; she does not reject us all; she does not reject us because she calls everyone, welcomes them, is open even to those furthest from her; she calls everyone to allow themselves to be enfolded by the mercy, the tenderness, and the forgiveness of the Father, who offers everyone the possibility of meeting him, of journeying toward sanctity.

“Well! Father, I am a sinner; I have tremendous sins. How can I possibly feel part of the Church?” Dear brother, dear sister, this is exactly what the Lord wants, that you say to him, “Lord, here I am, with my sins.” Is one of you here without sin? Anyone? No one, not one of us. We all carry our sins with us. But the Lord wants to hear us say to him, “Forgive me, help me to walk, change my heart!” And the Lord can change your heart. In the Church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge but is like the Father in the Gospel parable. You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths, farthest from the Gospel. When you have the strength to say, “I want to come home,” you will find the door open. God will come to meet you because he is always waiting for you – God is always waiting for you. God embraces you, kisses you, and celebrates. That is how the Lord is, that is how the tenderness of our heavenly Father is. The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love – the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost.

I love that his exhortations sound like something I could hear in a Protestant church. Truly, we are one Church.

We are not Christians “part-time,” only at certain moments, in certain circumstances, in certain decisions; no one can be Christian in this way. We are Christian all the time! Totally! May Christ’s truth, which the Holy Spirit teaches us and gives to us, always and totally affect our daily life. Let us call on him more often so that he may guide us on the path of disciples of Christ. Let us call on him every day. I am making this suggestion to you: let us invoke the Holy Spirit every day; in this way the Holy Spirit will bring us close to Jesus Christ.

Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives. Worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of history.

This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, careerism, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the center, as the highway of our lives.

I’m glad I read this book, and glad to catch a glimpse of the heart of Pope Francis. I’m encouraged that a man with such a heart is leading the Catholic church.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, by Bradley Jersak

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

her_gates_will_never_be_shut_largeHer Gates Will Never Be Shut

Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem

by Bradley Jersak

Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2009. 220 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve written about other books that have convinced me of the viewpoint of Evangelical Universalism, that hell, though real, does not last forever and ever. This book had some ideas in it that are new to me and answered some of my last points of doubt. It is the book I will now recommend to evangelicals who have studied theology and are concerned about believing what the Bible teaches.

It’s interesting to me that Bradley Jersak was especially strong in explaining a Universalist view of Revelation – yet he is not dogmatic about his views at all. He sounds more like I did when my eyes were first opened to the possibility that this might be true, that this might really be what the Bible is teaching.

Here’s his explanation in the introductory chapter, “Presumptions and Possibilities.” First he explains three theological views about hell: Infernalism, that unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever; annihilationism, that those who go to hell will be completely consumed and no longer exist; and universalism, that hell won’t last more than an age and will eventually be emptied out, and God will be all in all. He goes on to give his own perspective:

We all have a bias. The important thing is to recognize your bias and be able to defend or explain it. As a “critical realist,” I spend a good deal of time and energy studying my biases – how they emerged, and how they influence my thinking. Rather than pretending to be perfectly objective, I confess that since my early days as a terrified infernalist, I have developed a strong preference for hope. I hope in the Good News that God’s love rectifies every injustice through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Gospel of hope that I can preach boldly is this:

God is not angry with you and never has been. He loves you with an everlasting love. Salvation is not a question of “turn or burn.” We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be! Redemption! The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation. His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades. My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.

Hope. That is my bias, and I believe that Scripture, tradition, and experience confirm it. I want to explain and validate my hope in those contexts. This book will address the central problem of this “heated” debate: not infernalism versus annihilationism versus universalism, but rather, authentic, biblical Christian hope vis-à-vis the error of dogmatic presumption (of any view). Hope presumes nothing but is rooted in a deeper confidence: the love and mercy of an openhearted and relentlessly kind God.

In short, I do not intend to convince readers of a particular theology of divine judgment. I hope, rather, to recall those relevant bits of Scripture, history, and tradition that ought to inform whatever view we take on this important topic.

Brad Jersak looks at some of the same passages I’d read about in other universalist books. But he adds some perspectives I hadn’t heard before. He does look at the Greek and Hebrew words used regarding hell, and then we come to a chapter called “The Gehenna Tradition(s).” The author states:

I have devoted an entire chapter to the Gehenna tradition, because it is not just another term for hell: it represents a pivotal point in our understanding of divine judgment. Our understanding – or misunderstanding – of the Gehenna tradition(s) shapes our view of hell and judgment. More than that, it profoundly influences our understanding of Jesus’ ministry and message. I don’t presume to have it all figured out, but so much essential data has been overlooked (esp. Jesus’ use of the Jeremiah tradition) that it behooves me to share some of the results of my spadework.

His study of Gehenna throughout the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the Apocrypha and the Talmud (and he lays out all this in detail) brings him to this conclusion:

Unfortunately, Christian tradition, theology, and translation followed the apocryphal reading of Gehenna rather than the biblical tradition of Jeremiah and Jesus. The Church zigged with Enoch, Esdras et al when Jesus zagged with Jeremiah, so to speak….

While the legacy of Gehenna stands as a genuine warning of destruction to those who persist in rebellion and idolatry, Jeremiah and Jesus forewarn us to avoid the consequential wrath. For those who experience the calamities of the “way of death,” the invitation is extended to a New Covenant of restoration. Sin and its consequences are overcome by redemption and restoration. Rather than terrorizing the world with eternal, conscious torment in a literal lake of fire, the Church can hold out the New Covenant of Jesus in which even the Valley of Slaughter is sanctified, every curse of destruction is broken, and God’s exiles find their way home.

And here’s almost a side note against the infernalists:

We ought to also note the irony and incongruence of the Church utilizing the very place where God became violently offended by the literal burning of children as our primary metaphor for a final and eternal burning of God’s wayward people in literal flames. Thus, God becomes the very Molech who decrees that the angels must deliver his children to the flames, even though this was the very reason he ordered Hinnom to be desecrated in the first place!

He goes on to look at judgment as seen throughout the Bible, the lake of fire, and the rich man and Lazarus, as well as the views of theologians since the beginning of the church.

After looking at texts about hell, he goes on to look at texts about redemption. I particularly like this paragraph:

God deals with sin through correction, not punishment. That’s Clement, that’s Hebrews, that’s Hosea. The chastisements of God are disciplinary: not because divine justice demands satisfaction (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo), payback, or wrath (Calvin, penal satisfaction!), but because God is raising beloved children who tend to learn the hard way. The hardest lesson we learn is the lesson of the Cross: the horrible revelation that it was each of us who crucified perfect Love (Zech 12:10), yet in love God forgave us (1 John 4:9-10). This is more than learning by moral influence. The Cross is a revelation of God’s love, our violence, and Jesus’ power to forgive and redeem – all at once. Don’t miss this point, because it marks a major fork in the theological trail. For centuries, I fear that we veered when Clement actually had it right.

This section also looks at various traditions in the church, how the infernalist view came to be widespread, and various different views today.

The last section, “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut,” has a subtitle of “Hints of Ultimate Redemption in Revelation 21-22.” I had always thought those chapters were some of the hardest to reconcile with universalism, but Brad Jersak sees them as a crucial part in his hope of redemption for all.

Especially interesting is how he ties the words of Revelation about the water of life flowing from the throne with the Gehenna tradition he’d already explored.

Here’s an interesting passage. Before reading this book, I hadn’t even realized there’s a more natural way to read Revelation 22. Speaking of verse 14, he says:

It would be tempting to excerpt this verse from its context to make it read that we are blessed if we have washed our robes in the Gospel blood of Christ in this life so that we can be welcomed into the gates of the New Jerusalem in the next. In fact, to avoid any posthumous possibility of salvation, one must read it that way. But if we remain ardently biblical (now is not the time to waffle), the text says far more than that.

First, those who say yes to the Gospel in this life are already part of the Bride, adorned in righteous robes, coming down as the New Jerusalem and issuing the invitation to others to enter. I.e., those who are washed are already “in.” The universal invitation is for those outside the city and needing to enter after the establishment of the new creation.

Lest the invitation be misunderstood as an anything goes pluralistic universalism, there is a hard pause. Anyone can come, but only if they have their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. Only upon a specifically Christian redemption can one enter the gates and eat from the tree of life that grows in the city (another picture of Jesus). This vision declares the possibility and the hope that even in the next age, there are those whose thirst will finally bring them to say yes to the Lamb, even those who were unable to do so on this side of the grave.

Brad Jersak has an Addendum at the end, “A Word to Fellow Evangelicals.” So much of it mirrors what I’d like to say to my fellow evangelicals as well, so I’m going to include some bits from that in conclusion.

We need to become even more biblical than that, allowing Scripture to trump our inherited ideologies even when we’ve invested so much of our hearts in those systems. Dare we let Scripture say what it says without reinterpreting what it “really means” into the margins of our Study Bibles?

Second, if we listen honestly, we will discern between pluralists who see every path leading to heavenly bliss without judgment and without Jesus vis-à-vis the ultimate redemptionists, who continue to say “no one comes to the Father except through Jesus” and “no one enters the kingdom without having his or her robe washed in the Lamb’s blood.” Yet the latter group proclaims with Revelation 21-22 that heaven’s door never shuts, and the Spirit and Bride continue to say, “come.” They hope that all may still ultimately respond to the Gospel with a “Yes!” They do not believe in a second-chance theology; it is a seventy-times-seven-and-beyond hope. The question is, is there a place among evangelicals for them?

And I related tremendously to this:

I find myself more freely evangelistic now than at any other time in my life, and yet without any pressure or fear. It is wonderful….

I conclude with this exhortation to examine our hearts on this question: What in us needs the traditional infernalist version of hell? What purpose does it fulfill? Is it our carnal sense of justice as payback or an even darker Schadenfreude? If anything needs purging, it is that. In exchange, I believe God has called us to surrender our self-assurance for a much broader and deeper hope.

Brad Jersak is not presumptuous. He is not dogmatic. But he brings up some valid questions for Christians, and I think points out some wonderful, blessed reasons to increase our hope.

Please don’t rely on my summary and excerpts. He has much more to say. If you’re coming from an Evangelical perspective, I highly recommend this book. If you’re starting from outside the church, there are better places to start, but please take away this message: God is not angry with you and never has been. His punishments are disciplinary because He sees you as a beloved child who tends to learn the hard way. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Hope Beyond Hell, by Gerry Beauchemin

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

hope_beyond_hell_largeHope Beyond Hell

The Righteous Purpose of God’s Judgment

by Gerry Beauchemin

Malista Press, Olmito, Texas, 2007. 245 pages.
Starred Review

Years ago, through reading the books of George MacDonald, and through reading the Bible trying to put aside my preconceived notions, I came to believe that the Bible actually teaches that hell is not forever — that it has a redemptive purpose and will eventually be emptied out and every knee will bow to our loving Father. George MacDonald, however, while implying that this is what the Bible teaches, doesn’t lay out an argument of why he believes the Bible teaches this. Gerry Beauchemin, in this book, lays out an excellent argument.

Gerry Beauchemin calls his view “The Blessed Hope.” I like that very much, and much better than “Universalism,” because I think it’s different than what most people think of when they hear “Universalism.” Yes, I believe in hell. But I believe it represents the lengths to which a loving Father will go to bring his children back to Himself. It is not purposeless, everlasting torment.

Now, many Christians will automatically be arguing, “But that’s what the Bible says?” Is it really? I suggest you read this book and rethink that view. And I agree with the author that The Blessed Hope honors the character of God.

God is good even in His judgments. They are not infinite and horrendously cruel, but just, righteous, and remedial.

Many people don’t realize that the view that hell is eternal is not the one the church fathers held. I certainly didn’t realize that. Although this view is common today, it actually originated with Augustine, and so is called the Augustinian tradition here.

First, the author presents the pillars of his argument. The first pillar is the meaning of the Greek word Aion, which is more consistently translated “age” than “eternal.” Interestingly, Augustine, who supported the “eternal” interpretation (which is not consistent with other usage), was one of the first church leaders who wasn’t a native Greek speaker.

Then he talks about Gehenna, the lake of fire, which is every time spoken of as something finite, like prison. Also the word for “destruction,” apollumi is shown to mean “set aside,” “bring to nothing,” not “annihilate.” The author says, “Popular theology claims God is able to do all things except restore the destroyed for whom Christ died. Really?”

He also looks at God’s will and man’s free will. “God ‘will’ have all men to be saved. Does this mean God purposes with intent to accomplish His will, or that He merely desires it with no power to make it happen?”

He sums up the chapter on “Pillars” with this paragraph:

In this chapter, we have examined the foundational pillars upon which belief in infinite punishment is based and found them wanting. How many Christians including pastors and theologians have critically examined these pillars in light of the evidence presented here? I would venture to say very few. Given this evidence, let us explore with a fresh and open mind, unshackled by a flawed system and study the following chapters in sincerity and truth. Is there hope beyond Gehenna and the lake of fire? Might these judgments also have a positive purpose in God’s unfailing plan for man? The answer lies in the very nature of God Himself. Would a truly all-powerful and all-loving Creator bring into existence billions of people knowing well they would suffer for eternity as a result? Would He really pay such a price to get a few to love Him forever? This is what our tradition has taught. Is it true?

I do believe that Gerry Beauchemin goes on to present a wonderfully logical and complete argument for The Blessed Hope. Honestly, his words fill me with joy and love for my loving Father, who is Good, not vindictive and harsh and cruel. I am so glad that the people around me who don’t see things exactly my way will not be suffering in hell for all eternity — even the ones who make some bad choices in this life! (And don’t get me wrong — I wish they’d spare themselves a lot of suffering on that path to Life! But I really do believe God knows what each one needs.)

I’m not going to present all his arguments. Because I’d like people to consider them in full. I will, however, quote some paragraphs that I underlined in my slow savoring of the book.

This is from a chapter on God’s nature:

The longsuffering of our Lord “is” salvation. What a thought! When does the longsuffering of our heavenly Father for His children ever end? Does it end sooner than yours toward your children? The love of God expressed in His longsuffering will do what His brute power could never do — win the hearts of His enemies (Ps. 66:3-4) and make them His friends (Jer. 31:34; Jn. 15:15; Ro. 5:10).

Another interesting paragraph comes after quoting Christ telling his disciples to pray that God would send out laborers into His harvest (Mt. 9:36-38):

Why are we asked to pray for laborers for the harvest? Why are they needed? Doesn’t the text say it is because people are weary, scattered, distressed, and dispirited? But what has our tradition led us to believe? Answer: To pray because all people are on their way to hell! Isn’t there an inconsistency here?

And here is the introductory paragraph to the chapter called “Purpose-Driven Judgment”:

Is there any positive purpose to God’s Gehenna judgment? What purpose does it serve? According to the prevalent theology, its only purpose is to inflict pain. It refuses to acknowledge it has any remedial effect, and presents it merely as a perpetual prison from which its victims can never escape. I intend to show in this chapter the following facts: First, this view is simply unjust, and Scripture does not support unjust punishment of any kind. Second, Scripture affirms death is no obstacle to God in accomplishing His purposes in any life. Third, God is just and His justice satisfies even our God given human understanding of justice. Fourth, the Bible provides clear examples that all His judgments are driven by a positive purpose.

This paragraph echoed my own experiences when I read the Bible after becoming convinced that George MacDonald (who studied Greek) believed the Bible did not teach that hell lasts forever:

Most of us are not aware of how powerfully our paradigms affect how we understand the Scriptures. They force us to conclude certain passages do not mean what they say. Unless we are keenly aware of this, and make a diligent effort to compare Scripture with Scripture, we cannot see truth staring us in the face. It has been a slow, hard process for me. But once I stepped out of the eternal hell paradigm and began seeing Scripture without that filter, I was freed to receive God’s revelation in a fresh new way.

He looks at proclamations from Scripture, the Apostles, church fathers, logic, the character of God, and consequences. Is Christ really the Savior of the World?

Scripture refers to Christ as the Savior of the World. In fact, “Jesus” means savior (Mt. 1:21). The Father sent Him as such (1Jn. 4:14). Though popular theology gives lip service to this title, it actually denies it. It attests instead that Christ is merely the Savior of “some out” of the world. Or again, He is the “wish to be” Savior of the world. If the mass of humanity is lost forever, call Him what you will, He is not the Savior of the world. It does not matter that few, many, or most of the world is saved. Even if none are saved, He would still be referred to as “Savior of the world.” For the reasoning is simple: to offer salvation, makes a savior. That is strange indeed — “The Savior of the world not saved.” What would you think of a lifeguard who was hailed as the hero of the day at the funeral of a young child for merely having offered her a life preserver and then threw it to the other end of the pool?

Here’s an interesting summary:

The Blessed Hope and the Augustinian Tradition present two opposing views of God. Of these two ancient theologies, only the first does justice to the character of our glorious God as He is revealed in Christ. It is what the prophets, the apostles, and the early Church embraced. The second, on the other hand, is shackled by a theology of terror which I contend is the primary reason the Gospel has not yet taken the world by storm. Is it by coincidence that once it dominated the western church the medieval world plunged into the “dark ages”?

I am by no means presenting all the arguments here. If this interests you at all, I strongly recommend this book. As for me? Reading this book filled me with joyful, blessed hope.

hopebeyondhell.net

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Review of God Is Able, by Priscilla Shirer

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

God Is Able

by Priscilla Shirer

B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2013. 157 pages.

A big thank you to my friend Ruth for giving me this book for Christmas!

God Is Able looks closely at Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Each chapter looks at one phrase from these verses, attempting to get all their gloriousness to sink into our hearts.

She writes in a colloquial style. She gives lots of examples and illustrations. The real power of this book, though, is in its ability to get you thinking about these powerful verses. Reading a chapter about each phrase only begins to do them justice.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Only Necessary Thing, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Monday, March 24th, 2014

The Only Necessary Thing

Living a Prayerful Life

by Henri J. M. Nouwen
compiled and edited by Wendy Wilson Greer

Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1999. 224 pages.
Starred Review

Here is an excellent choice for reading small bits daily as a devotional book. They are sections taken from the body of work by Henri Nouwen, compiling his teaching on prayer.

Here’s his “Invitation” at the front of the book:

The invitation to a life of prayer is the invitation to live in the midst of this world without being caught in the net of wounds and needs. The word “prayer” stands for a radical interruption of the vicious chain of interlocking dependencies leading to violence and war and for an entering into a totally new dwelling place. It points to a new way of speaking, a new way of breathing, a new way of being together, a new way of knowing, yes, a whole new way of living.

It is not easy to express the radical change that prayer represents, since for many the word “prayer” is associated with piety, talking to God, thinking about God, morning and evening exercises, Sunday services, grace before meals, sentences from the Bible, and many other things. All of these have something to do with prayer, but when I speak about prayer as the basis for peacemaking, I speak first of all about moving away from the dwelling place of those who hate peace into the house of God. . . . Prayer is the center of the Christian life. It is the only necessary thing (Luke 10:42). It is living with God here and now.

Some other sections struck me, so I’ll list a few for you here. This will give you the idea of the book. It’s got thoughtful, meditative insights on living a prayerful life.

But, as Christians, we are called to convert our loneliness into solitude. We are called to experience our aloneness not as a wound but as a gift — as God’s gift — so that in our aloneness we might discover how deeply we are loved by God.
It is precisely where we are most alone, most unique, most ourselves, that God is closest to us. That is where we experience God as the divine, loving Father, who knows us better than we know ourselves.
Solitude is the way in which we grow into the realization that where we are most alone, we are most loved by God. It is a quality of heart, an inner quality that helps us to accept our aloneness lovingly, as a gift from God.

Another:

Prayer, then, is listening to that voice — to the One who calls you the Beloved. It is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. Although there is nothing wrong with success, there is nothing wrong with popularity, there is nothing wrong with being powerful, finally my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.

From the section on “Belovedness”:

God does not require a pure heart before embracing us. Even if we return only because following our desires has failed to bring happiness, God will take us back. Even if we return because being a Christian brings us more peace than being a pagan, God will receive us. Even if we return because our sins did not offer as much satisfaction as we had hoped, God will take us back. Even if we return because we could not make it on our own, God will receive us. God’s love does not require any explanations about why we are returning. God is glad to see us home and wants to give us all we desire, just for being home.

I liked this one from the section on “Forgiveness”:

The interesting thing is that when you can forgive people for not being God then you can celebrate that they are a reflection of God. You can say, “Since you are not God, I love you because you have such beautiful gifts of God’s love.” You don’t have everything of God, but what you have to offer is worth celebrating. By celebrate, I mean to lift up, affirm, confirm, to rejoice in another person’s gifts. You can say you are a reflection of that unlimited love.

And finally, I love the image in this one:

Forgiveness is the great spiritual weapon against the Evil One. As long as we remain victims of anger and resentment, the power of darkness can continue to divide us and tempt us with endless power games. But when we forgive those who threaten our lives, they lose their power over us…. Forgiveness enables us to take the first step of the dance.

Some beautiful thoughts for people interested in deepening their prayer lives.

CrossroadPublishing.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? by Brian D. McLaren

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World

by Brian D. McLaren

Jericho Books, New York, 2012. 276 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Nonfiction

This is an important book for Christians to read if they want to interact with today’s society. (If they want to just hide out apart from the world, then they shouldn’t bother.) I like the questions Brian McLaren poses, and I like the thoughtful and thought-provoking answers he gives.

At the beginning of the book, he talks about the identity problem Christians have:

Simply put, we Christians already know how to do two things very well. First, some of us know how to have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively toward other religions. The stronger our Christian commitment, the stronger our aversion or opposition to other religions. The stronger our Christian commitment, the more we emphasize our differences with other faiths and the more we frame those differences in terms of good/evil, right/wrong, and better/worse. We may be friendly to individuals of other religions, but our friendship always has a pretext: we want them to switch sides and be won over to our better way. We love them (or say that we do) in spite of their religious identity, hoping that they will see the light and abandon who they have been to find shelter under the tent of who we are.

Alternatively, others of us know how to have a more positive, accepting response to other religions. We never proselytize. We always show respect for other religions and their adherents. We always minimize differences and maximize commonalities. But we typically achieve coexistence by weakening our Christian identity. We make it matter less that they are Muslim or Hindu by making it matter less that we are Christian. We might even say that we love them in spite of our own religious identity.

For reasons that will become clear in the pages ahead, I’m convinced that neither of these responses is good enough for today’s world. So I will explore the possibility of a third option, a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining — an authentic Christian identity that matters. By kind I mean something far more robust than mere tolerance, political correctness, or coexistence: I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested, and loving, so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view. My pursuit, not just in this book but in my life, is a Christian identity that moves me toward people of other faiths in wholehearted love, not in spite of their non-Christian identity and not in spite of my own Christian identity, but because of my identity as a follower of God in the way of Jesus.

This book explores those ideas in detail, and lays out what a strong benevolent identity can mean for our doctrine and our liturgy and our sense of mission.

I read this book over a long period of time. (I kept having to turn it in because it had holds.) I think I’m going to buy myself a copy and read it over again, because there’s much in here that I want to absorb more fully.

This is well worth reading. And if you disagree, it would be worth analyzing why you disagree. How do you think Christians should interact with today’s multi-faith world?

brianmclaren.net
jerichobooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of God Believes in Love, by Gene Robinson

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

God Believes in Love

Straight Talk about Gay Marriage

by Gene Robinson
IX Bishop of New York

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012. 196 pages.

Here’s a thoughtful, intelligent, personal, and thoroughly Christian presentation on why it’s time to make marriage legal for gays and lesbians.

Now, I come from a very conservative background. I grew up thinking the Bible was pretty clear that homosexuality is sinful. As I’ve grown up, though, I (obviously?) have far more gay and lesbian friends and co-workers, and I wonder. It was actually a sermon series on controversial issues in my own church that helped me see maybe the Bible is not so clear on that topic after all.

But this book helps me see intellectually what my heart had already figured out. That we’re calling things sinful that God almost certainly doesn’t call sinful.

I appreciate that Gene Robinson does take a Christian approach. He doesn’t say that God is wrong in this area. He very much feels that gay marriage can be God-honoring.

Usually when I review a book on issues, I present snippets from different arguments. This book does present well-thought out arguments that address most issues I’ve seen presented in, say, Facebook posts against gay marriage. But I don’t want to present sections out of context. When I do that, I often get arguments back, as if the quotation is all there is to say, and can be too easily refuted. Let me just encourage you, if you’re honestly interested in this question, of whether Christians can legitimately support gay marriage, to read this book and give it plenty of thought and prayer. I’m glad I did.

I will simply quote from the bishop’s summing up at the end:

I believe in marriage. I believe it is the crucible in which we come to know most deeply about love. It is in marriage that God’s will for me to love all of humankind gets focused in one person. It is impossible to love humankind if I can’t love one person. That opportunity to love one person and to have that love sanctioned and supported by the culture in which we live is a right denied gay and lesbian people for countless centuries. It’s time to open that opportunity to all of us. Because in the end, God believes in love.

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Review of Christianity After Religion, by Diana Butler Bass

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Christianity After Religion

The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening

by Diana Butler Bass

HarperOne, 2012. 294 pages.
Starred Review

This is an important book for Christians to read, no matter how they feel about the sociological phenomena happening that the author describes, and whether they agree with her or not.

Here are some segments from her introduction:

Strange as it may seem in this time of cultural anxiety, economic near collapse, terrorist fear, political violence, environmental crisis, and partisan anger, I believe that the United States (and not only the United States) is caught up in the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of sustained religious and political transformation during which our ways of seeing the world, understanding ourselves, and expressing faith are being, to borrow a phrase, “born again.” Indeed, the shifts around religion contribute to the anxiety, even as anxiety gives rise to new sorts of understandings of God and spiritual life. Fear and confusion signal change. This transformation is what some hope will be a “Great Turning” toward a global community based on shared human connection, dedicated to the care of our planet, committed to justice and equality, that seeks to raise hundreds of millions from poverty, violence, and oppression….

This book is concerned with religion and change — specifically how Christianity, especially Christianity in the United States, is changing and how people are questioning conventional patterns of faith and belief. At the outset, let me be perfectly clear. I do not think it is wise to adapt religions to contemporary tastes willy-nilly. As the gloomy nineteenth-century Anglican dean William Inge once said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widow in the next.” I do, however, think it is exceedingly wise for faithful people to intentionally engage emerging religious questions in order to reform, renew, and reimagine ancient traditions in ways that make sense to contemporary people.

The 1970s were the beginning of the end of older forms of Christianity, and now, decades later, we are witnessing the end of the beginning. What follows is a sustained reflection on how religion has changed in our lifetime — a life lived between the beginning of an end and the end of that beginning — and what that means for Christian faith and practice. Much has changed. Where Chirstianity is now vital, it is not really seen as a “religion” anymore. It is more of a spiritual thing.

She achieves this “sustained reflection.” I read it slowly, so I don’t remember everything she said, but that it all got me thinking. However a couple things stood out:

First, people of all religions and non-religions are talking about and seeking “spirituality.” It’s not so cool to be “religious.” But everyone seems to be after being “spiritual.” Here’s an interesting section about that:

But spirituality is neither vague nor meaningless. Despite a certain linguistic fuzziness, the word “spiritual” is both a critique of institutional religion and a longing for meaningful connection. In a wide variety of guises and forms, spirituality represents an important stage of awakening: the search for new gods. As the old gods (and the institutions that preached, preserved, and protected the old gods) lose credibility, people begin to cast about for new gods — and new stories, new paths, and new understandings to make sense of their new realities. In the process, the old language fails, and people reach for new words to describe the terrain of their experience. “Spirituality” is one such word, an ancient word, to be sure, but a word that is taking on fresh dimensions of meaning in a fluid and pluralistic religious context. To say that one is “spiritual but not religious” or “spiritual and religious” is often a way of saying, “I am dissatisfied with the way things are, and I want to find a new way of connecting with God, my neighbor, and my own life.” It might not be a thoughtless mantra at all — in many cases, it may well be a considered commentary on religious institutions, doctrine, and piety.

Another part I remember is where she talked about how community is more important than ever.

If you want to knit, you find someone who knits to teach you. Go to the local yarn shop and find out when there is a knitting class. Sit in a circle where others will talk to you, show you how to hold the needles, guide your hands, and share their patterns with you. The first step in becoming a knitter is forming a relationship with knitters. The next step is to learn by doing and practice. After you knit for a while, after you have made scarves and hats and mittens, then you start forming ideas about knitting. You might come to think that the experience of knitting makes you a better person, more spiritual, or able to concentrate, gives you a sense of service to others, allows you to demonstrate love and care. You think about what you are doing, how you might do it better. You develop your own way of knitting, your own theory of the craft. You might invent a dazzling new pattern, a new way to make a stitch; you might write a knitting book or become a knitting teacher. In knitting, the process is exactly the reverse of that in church: belonging to a knitting group leads to behaving as a knitter, which leads to believing things about knitting.

Relationships lead to craft, which leads to experiential belief. That is the path to becoming and being someone different. The path of transformation.

It is also the path found in the New Testament; the Way of Jesus that leads to God. Long ago, before the last half millennium, Christians understood that faith was a matter of community first, practices second, and belief as a result of the first two. Our immediate ancestors reversed the order. Now, it is up to us to restore the original order.

As you can see, she draws some conclusions from current trends and reexamines what Christianity should be all about.

A thought-provoking and important book.

dianabutlerbass.com
harperone.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Safe Journey, by Julia Cameron

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Safe Journey

Prayers and Comfort for Frightened Flyers and Other Anxious Souls

by Julia Cameron

Jeremy P. Tarcher (Penguin), 2013. 151 pages.

This is a lovely little book, in paperback and designed to easily fit in a travel bag for airplane reading. I’ve never really been afraid to fly, but Julia Cameron writes in a way that makes her feelings universal, even if you’re not dealing with that particular fear.

She approaches her fear of flying with story. She tells about a memorable flight, telling us her frightened prayers she sent to God, and then the reaction of the two frightened flyers sitting in her row. She talked with one seatmate about praying to overcome her fear — and then he ended up flying back on the same flight as she did!

Once at her destination, she got strategies from friends, like postponing worrying and acting as if. Those strategies, combined with prayer and helping someone else, healed her fear of flying, as demonstrated when she took a third flight to meet her firstborn grandbaby.

The story’s nice, but Julia Cameron’s prayers are inspiring. She tells God how it is and asks for what she needs, simply and directly. Here’s one example:

Dear God, I am frightened.
Please let us find smooth air again.
Get us out of this turbulence.
Thank you for your help.
Amen.

She also intersperses quotations from others about flying and tips for the reader to try. Even though I’m not plagued by a fear of flying, this book was a lovely reminder to trust God about things I was worried about.

juliacameronlive.com
tarcherbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.