Steve Hays of Triablogue Gives Weak Rebuttal

Steve Hays, writing for the blog Triablogue, has posted Does Everybody Get His Wings?  This is his rebuttal to my post Everyone Is Going to Heaven.

If you are familiar with the traditional heaven-or-hell scenario for human afterlife, you will recognize that this is the position that Steve holds.  Thus, he makes all the standard objections you’ve heard to everyone going to heaven.  In so doing, Steve relies largely on theological reference books to support his case.  By contrast, I’ve tried to write in such a way that a common-sense person can read the Bible and make up his or her own mind about the subject.

Steve apparently has ignored The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven, which is the book-length treatment which substantiates my post.  Thus, Steve has only addressed the overview of the biblical case and not the case itself.  Since I deal in the book with all the objections he makes, I see no reason to go into them again here.  Steve’s rebuttal might have been stronger had he 1) dealt with the book itself and not just the overview, 2) had he not invoked academic texts unavailable to most readers, or 3) offered more logical and fewer technical objections.  Nonetheless, I commend him for at least addressing the overview post.

When you read Steve’s post it’s apparent that he’s well-educated and a good writer.  However, the logic he offers on the subject of hell is the standard, “Look, you should just trust the traditional view because you don’t have enough theological education to question the experts.”  Never forget, however, that hearing the word of God and doing it – not theological studies – leads to the greatest knowledge and understanding of God.

Dialogue with Ryan (Trinity Versus Unity)

I “met” Ryan at the Triablogue site in their post Is Hell an Infinite Punishment?  Ryan and I were exchanging comments and so I’ve established this post to allow an ongoing discussion on the trinity since it was a digression from the subject of the post.

Ryan’s first comment on that blog was here.   I won’t copy what we wrote there here.  We’ll just pick up the discussion from the point at which it ended.

So, Ryan, ask away.

(By the way for readers who want to learn more about Christ versus the Trinity, see:

There Is No Trinity; There Is Christ

Posts to Date on the Trinity Versus Christ)

Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up

Most references to St. Patrick’s Day in our time are allusions to drunkenness – whether mild cases or otherwise.  Thus, it’s altogether sobering to hear of the real St. Patrick and the nature of his life which you will find here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

Thanks to Kevin DeYoung of the DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog of the Gospel Coalition website.

Introduction to Martin Hengel

Martin Hengel (1926-2009) was a German New Testament scholar and professor who specialized in the history of Christian origins, and Second Temple Judaism from which Christianity as well as Rabbinical Judaism sprang.  Hengel’s influence on other New Testament scholars – including Larry Hurtado – has been signficant.

Thanks for this goes to Mark Goodacre of Duke who provided his own introduction to Hengel on his NT Blog.

Dialogue with Stephen (Church Versus Kingdom)

This dialogue with Stephen about the church and the kingdom is an extension of a dialogue we were having about trinity versus unity.  If you want to see the precise point at which this conversation branched off from that one, look here.

Stephen, I think you have made clear an issue that is very important in our conversations.  The key statement that you made which clarified this issue was “The Church, not the scripture, is the pillar and ground of the truth.”  I want to quote it again in context:

According to the scripture, The Church is the Pillar and Ground of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15).   The Church, not the scripture, is the pillar and ground of the truth.  Just as Christ is the word and the scripture is the word about the Word.  The Spirit taught the church about the understanding of the word.  The Church, Christ’s body was the pillar of Truth not the other way around.  The clear implication of this is that Christ meant what he said when he promised his disciples that the Spirit will lead them into all truth.  He also didn’t mean that the Spirit would only teat the 12 disciples and then disappear.  Apparently at least Paul believed that the Church would be the basis of truth or better said, the Church, led by the Spirit, would lead them into all truth.

This highlights a root difference between us.  Therefore, it’s particularly worth exploring given its foundational nature.  If we can resolve it, it could lead to more common understanding on other issues.  If we can’t, it could save us time because we’d know not to pursue other issues too vigorously knowing that we don’t have a common point of authority to which we can look for resolution.

Therefore, let’s focus on this issue in this post, and let our other conversational threads continue on their own subjects – only to the degree that you’re interested, of course.

Fundamentally, our difference is that while you ascribe great authority to the church, I believe it was superseded by the kingdom of God in a similar way to how ancient Israel was superseded by the church.

More specifically, I believe the church was a transitional organism for the metamorphosis from the age of ancient Israel to the new age of the kingdom of God – like the cocoon that transitions a caterpillar to a butterfly.

In your comments about the Nicene Creed, it sounds as if you ascribe as much authority to it as you do the Scriptures.  And this is consistent for you, given your broader view of the church having more authority than the Scriptures.

For me, no church creed could be as authoritative as Scripture.  Let me deconstruct my view on this for you.  I accept the Old Testament as the word of God because Jesus did.  I accept the New Testament as the word of God because it was written by His personally chosen and commissioned apostles.  I suspect any writing or teaching that contradicts the Scriptures.  This is, of course, obvious where atheistic or anti-biblical teachings are concerned.  But it also is important to recall that Jesus had to chastise rabbis for letting their traditions and rulings make the word of God of no effect (Mark 7, Matthew 15, and Matthew 23).  Just as such corrupting practices – however slight – could occur in biblical times, I believe they can occur in post-biblical times.  I don’t think this by any means encourages us to reject teachings out of Judaism or Christianity wholesale, but it does mean that He is warning us that there are human understanding which can encroach on our understanding of God’s word and that we should beware of the temptations to misunderstand what God is actually saying.  Revelation 22 puts this warning in starker terms, telling of the perils that come with adding to or taking away from the word of God.

For you, I think the Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Scriptures.  If I am wrong about this, please correct me.  The purpose of the dialogue in this post is to have each of us clarify our respective positions sufficiently so that we can find out precisely where the gaps are and see if we can close them.  Therefore, let me lay out for you my current understanding of how our views on this subject compare.  You can then correct, confirm, or challenge as appropriate:

Stephen: The Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Bible.
Mike: The Nicene Creed should be respected for the wisdom and truth it contains but is not as authoritative as Scripture.

Stephen: The church is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.
Mike: Jesus Christ is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.

Stephen: The church is still God’s chosen instrument through which He’s chosen to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ.
Mike: The church was God’s chosen instrument through which He chose to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ in New Testament times, but since has been replaced by the kingdom of God.

I think we really only need to focus on the third pair because the first two are derivatives of its argument.  That is, if we could come to agreement on the third pair, any disagreements on the first two could quickly be resolved.  I only added them for the sake of clarity, not wanting to abstract at too high a level until I’m more confident that I’ve properly understood your view.

Dialogue with Stephen (Trinity Versus Unity)

This dialogue began as a comment exchange at the end of Appendix II (which is a summary of the book) of The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.  It began with Stephen’s first comment here, and continued until it transferred from here to this post.

I moved the dialogue here because I thought Stephen’s questions deserved a dedicated place with a little more elbow room.  He may respond to this topic here, and/or he may respond to other topics as he sees fit.  This exchange about the Trinity arose in a dialogue about everyone going to heaven and the completed Second Coming.

Here then are my responses to Stephen’s last note:

Mike,

Thanks for answering my questions.  I do understand that the word Trinity is not in the scripture, but let’s be honest, to say that God is not Trinitarian is to go again pretty much every branch of Christianity since the very beginning.

I don’t really feel like I’m going against every branch of Christianity, and I’ll say more below about why.

Remember, we can read the works of men like Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Ignatius who were disciples of the apostles.

My understanding is that Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Clement of Rome were the three church fathers who had direct contact with apostles (the first two with John, and the third with Peter).  While Irenaeus (who died in 180 AD) is certainly numbered among the church fathers that followed, I don’t think anyone has claimed that he was a direct disciple of one of the apostles.

As the apostles did not use the word “Trinity” neither did the apostolic fathers (Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement).  Nor did Irenaeus.  That term did not come into use until the church father Tertullian began to use it in the 3rd Century.  The concept was more fully explained by Athanasius early in the 4th Century and adopted as church doctrine by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  It came about in response to various challenges to the nature of Christ as presented in the Scriptures.

The evidence couldn’t be more clear that Christians since the beginning held to the belief in the Tri-personal God head.  To say that this is a 4th century add on by the Emperor does not hold any water unless you are a Jesus Seminar follower.

I am not a Jesus Seminar follower, nor do I think the decree of Constantine drove the issue.  However, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that “the evidence couldn’t be more clear that Christians since the beginning held to the belief in the Tri-personal God head.”  For one thing, the Scriptures never use that term either.

Do you really think that it is honoring or even smart to say that pretty much every branch of Christianity has gotten this bible hermeneutic wrong.  You are really going at this alone.

I do not make any statements about God lightly, knowing 1) that He will judge me for everything I say, especially about Him, and 2) I might lead people away from God rather than to Him if I am wrong.  Concern for these two issues drive me to always do my best to speak only the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.

I have benefitted greatly by what Christians down through the ages have taught.  I do not consider myself as rejecting that heritage.  On the contrary, I embrace it – especially its best parts.

The early church sorted out among all the documents written about Jesus those that came from the apostles, and thus we have the New Testament appended to the Old Testament.  Where would I be without the Bible?  The Reformation church pointed out that the Scriptures had more authority than church leaders, and thus the light of the gospel of Jesus escaped the shadows of a corrupt clergy.  Where would I be without that knowledge?  The modern day evangelical church has made clear that the Scriptures bear witness not to themselves but to Jesus, and thus the preeminence of Christ in all things is the central message of the Bible.  Where would I be without Christ as the head of all things?

Thus, what God has revealed down through the ages to Christians is of the utmost importance to me.  I treasure their sacrifices and I revere what they have taught me.  Thus, it is they who have helped lead me to the understandings that I have.  Christians through the ages have not always agreed and so when I take one of their teachings and not another, I have not rejected them – I have only made a choice that their disagreement forced on me.

You have chosen the Orthodox Church.  You could have chosen the Catholic church.  Or you could choose a Reformed Church.  If you had your druthers, you’d rather not have to make a choice.  That is, you would probably prefer that there be only one united church.  It is the divided church that has forced you to make a choice you otherwise wouldn’t have made.  Because if there was only one church, you certainly would not leave it to go out and form your own.

Therefore, the problem with your logic is that if I try to find “safety in numbers” by siding with historic Christianity, there’s too many choices!  From John Calvin to John Spong is a long way – both chronologically and theologically – and there are a whole lot of John’s in between.  Where does one choose to land?  For me, I have chosen to land with the John in the Scriptures (and the rest of the apostles, and prophets before them).  If that leads me to differ with certain church fathers, then I have to live with that.  And they, of all people, should not accuse me because they are the ones who taught me to revere the Christ of the Scriptures above all else.

Without trying to sound harsh, there is no time in Church history (bar none) that if someone came out against the Holy Trinity that they were by definition a Christian. I don’t mean that judgmentally but only factually.

I am not trying to meet the church’s definition of a Christian.  For one thing, many have failed to meet it and went on to establish a name for themselves as great Christians – even greater than those who said they didn’t meet the definition.  (Think of John Hus being burned at the stake…and innumberable others.)

Only the Arians and several other groups who were cut off from the rest of the Christians believed this.  Even now the only “Christians” who don’t believe in the Trinity would be Jehovah Witnesses, Mormon or maybe One-ness Pentecostals or those of completely liberal denominations that have tossed out almost everything.

I have done a little reading (truly only a little) of those who have proposed alternatives to a Trinitarian understanding of God and I have not found a single one with which I would feel comfortable.  The common thread I have found in all of them is that they seem in one way or another to subtract from Christ.  The Scriptures teach me to let nothing subtract from Him.  As John said, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9).

My rejection of the Trinity is in the cause of promoting devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 12:1-2; and many, many more).  Jesus Himself said that no man can serve two masters.  A trinitarian view of God does foster the cause of obedience to a single master.  It may be intellectually satisfying (though only to a limited extent), but it does not satisfy the soul of servant intent on pleasing a single master.

Are you Ok, going out on a limb like this when the clear majority, might I say, every historical Christian:  Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant (save a couple) all believes that the doctrine of the Trinity is solidly biblical?  This is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith and the lack of it distorts the very fiber of the faith.

The Scriptures enjoin us to put our faith in Christ – over and over they enjoin this.  They do not enjoin us to put our faith in the Trinity.

But let us assume for the moment, Stephen, that the doctrine of the Trinity is true.  Since it is true, there must be a reason it is true.  Is it because the Scriptures teach it as such?  No; you’ve already conceded that.  Is it true because the apostolic fathers taught it as such?  No; history demonstrates that.  Therefore, if it is true it must be because the conceptual formulation put together by Tertullian, Athanasius, and others must be the logical conclusion required by all that the Scriptures, apostles, and apostolic fathers did teach.  I think you will agree that this is indeed the orthodox rationale for why the Trinity is true.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think any of the church fathers claimed that the formulation of the Trinity came by revelation of the Spirit (as Paul and other scripture writers claimed for some of their understandings)

My point is that I am united with Tertullian, Athanasius, and the others regarding the heresies they were fighting against.  I believe Jesus was fully human as they did.  I believe Jesus was fully divine as they did.  The only thing I am disagreeing with is the conceptual construct they formed to fight the heresies.  And I am certainly not going to construct my own man-made formulation to put in its place.  To the degree that God gives me grace to understand something, I will explain it.  However, I dare not explain beyond that point.  All I can tell you at the current time is that Jesus is Lord and I want to trust and obey Him.

Can you with honesty say that you can interpret scripture and have it disagree with every bit of historical bible interpretation and just pass if off as the Holy Spirit really didn’t reveal this to them and only you and a small group has the accurate interpretation?

As I have said, I am not setting myself apart from those who have heard the Holy Spirit before me.  Rather, I am drinking from the same stream that quenched their thirst.  Moreover, I am standing on their shoulders for if they had not stood tall for the Lord, I might not be seeing Him now.  In God intends to increase the light of the knowledge of Him in every succeeding generation, who are we to complain?  That our children will see more clearly than we do is a blessed thought to us, eh?

As for a “group,” the very last thing I want to do is start a group.  That’s why I have no mailing list, no meetings, or anything else that might lead people to follow me.  Follow Christ and Christ alone!

You have more faith than I do my friend.

I’d be lying if I said I had all the faith I wanted.  I’d also be lying if I said I had all the faith I should have.  But I do have faith.  And that faith is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  That should put me in good stead with everyone else who feels that way about Him.

Even if everything I just cited were a scam or just dead wrong, let me pose the question:  If I read the scripture and the Spirit bears witness to me that God is Trinitarian and you read the scripture and the Holy Spirit bears witness to you that God is not trinitarian.  How in the world would you and I ever arbitrate this unless we looked historically at the people of God to see what the Holy Spirit bore witness to them.

Good question, though I don’t think your suggested answer works because it leads us only to more uncertainty.  For one thing, how would we know if the Holy Spirit spoke to someone in, say, 500 AD?  Even if we did, how could we be absolutely sure of exactly what the Holy Spirit said to that person in that context?  And after that, we’d have to survey all the people to whom the Holy Spirit spoke on this issue.  We’d take a count, but what if there were discrepancies or disagreements?  There are over 30,000 Christian denominations and that doesn’t even include the untold number of non-denominational churches.  There could not be a more divided kingdom than today’s church.  And you’ve probably realized that the ecumenical ones (that is, the ones who try to get everyone on the same page) are even worse than the divided ones.  Truth does not stand or fall with a referendum, no matter how august the voters.

Here’s my suggested answer: We just have to live with the tension until the Holy Spirit gives one or both of us greater light.  For it cannot be that He has told us different things – how can the Spirit of Truth speak out of both sides of His mouth?  I do not say we should turn a blind eye to what Christians have said through the ages.  We can and should learn from their experiences to the degree that we can.  But remember the greatest and most precious things they have taught us: The Scriptures are more reliable than human religious leaders, and the Scriptures say that Jesus Christ should have the preeminence.  None of us can claim to have all the truth, therefore we must all keep listening to Him every day.

Jesus said that gates of hell will not prevail, so if the early church got this wrong and pretty much every Christian has gotten this wrong, it would seem to me that the gates of hell surely did prevail or at least we as Christians have pretty much no hope of ever agreeing on anything.

Stephen

I agree with Jesus and with the early church about the gates of hell.  (Actually, it’s the gates of Hades (Sheol), and it is the issue of these words that started our dialogue in Appendix II of the book.)  The gates of death used to lead to Sheol below and now they lead to heaven above, for Jesus has moved those gates – He is our Samson.

It is not necessary for Christians to agree on everything.  It is not even necessary to be a Christian.  It is only necessary for those of us who have heard of Him to repent and follow Jesus Christ our Lord.  If we are going to Him, we shall see each other along the way…or else surely when we reach the destination.

To learn more about Christ versus the Trinity, see:

There Is No Trinity; There Is Christ

Posts to Date on the Trinity Versus Christ