Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson Demonstrate and Extol Forgiveness as a Virtue Worth Practicing

Robert Downey, Jr. recently described the power of forgiveness in his own life, and recommended it as a practice to his colleagues, as described in this article.

Forgiveness is vastly underrated as a lifestyle strategy.  However, Jesus Christ practiced it to perfection and look where it got Him: to the highest place in heaven!

Everyone is going to heaven, but we won’t all end up in the same place there.  Forgive and be like Jesus.  You might end up closer to Him in heaven.

Here’s a two-minute video clip of Downey delivering his message about forgiveness at the 2011 American Cinematheque Award Ceremony:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AAJuynxnTQ&feature=player_embedded]

Where and When Is Hell?

Q:  “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters,  and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  (Revelation 21:8 ESV)

How do you interpret this verse?

A:  This verse describes all those who lived outside of the blessedness of the kingdom of God, which is in our midst.  In other words, hell is a condition on this earth in this life for those not living in the light of the presence of Christ.

Everyone Is Going to Heaven

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.

Randal Rauser Says Universalism Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Randal Rauser is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton. He’s an evangelical Christian who holds to the traditional heaven-or-hell scenario. However, I think his views are quite interesting, and you might feel similarly. His blog is called The Tentative Apologist. A recent post of his was titled Universalism isn’t a four-letter word.  [Ed. note April 4, 2014:  I had originally had this title hyper-linked the the Christian Post page where this post was located.  However, they seem to be no longer maintaining this page so I removed the link.  Alas, the comments that were there seem to be gone with the page.  Sorry.]

Because his blog is published by The Christian Post, you can also find this post here (the comments will be different, of course – which is why I’m providing this link in addition to the other one).  In a response to a comment, Randal points out that church father Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), among other famous theologians, taught universalism.

Here are some follow-up posts he wrote on universalism (all the links are to his own blog, The Tentative Apologist):

Does universalism have a chance in hell of being true?

Hopeful Universalism and the Lottery Illustration

How exclusive should Christianity be?

Revelation 5:9 and Inclusive Salvation

Crystal Lewis Writes Insightful Series on Hell

Crystal S. Lewis, who writes the blog Diary of a Christian Universagnosticostal, recently wrote a series of eight posts on the subject of hell.  The first of these posts, and therefore the proper starting point, is God Didn’t Invent Hell.  We Did.  While her views differ from mine* in some important ways, they are beneficial in many respects.

*My views are laid out in various places on my blogs including The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven and Essays on the Implications of Everyone Going to Heaven.

Texas Professor “Gets” Universalism

Professor Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University is a research psychologist. He writes the blog Experimental Theology.

In his recent post, Universalism and the Open Wound of Life, he offers a logical rational for everyone going to heaven.  I was impressed with it.  I was glad he wrote it and glad to see the many comments he received, as well as his interaction with some of those commenting.

Of course, there is also a biblical rationale for universalism which you can find in my book The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

For this and other reasons, I urge us all:  Repent, and Follow Jesus Christ Our Lord!

Dialogue with Michael (re: Heaven and Hell)

This post is a continuation of an exchange that began as a comment on Everyone Is Going to Heaven at my blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.  Therefore, if you want to see how this dialogue began, you can go to this comment and work your way backwards through that thread.  However, assuming you just want to begin here, that is fine.

This dialogue is with Michael who writes the blog All About Gnosis and Sophia (Knowledge and Wisdom).  I’ve broken up his last message into bite-sized pieces to which I can respond.

Well, I did study Greek for a couple years.

That’s good.  You’re ahead of me.  Not knowing Greek I depend heavily on the quite literal New American Standard Bible (NASB) and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. 

And from my understanding, the root of the word Gehenna was exactly as you say. And from my studies, Sheol/Hades was where the dead awaited the general resurrection, and that even this had a barrier between the righteous and unrighteous, as in Lazarus and the rich man. This is often confused with heaven and hell/Gehenna, even though it is actually Sheol/Hades.

Yes, this is my understanding as well.

It is a spiritual place, kind of a waiting place for souls before they are raised in “new” bodies. So you are definitely right in making a distinction from Sheol/Hades and Gehenna. And you are also right about the roots of Gehenna, it was a Hebrew phrase that was simply transliterated into the Greek.

Glad we are on the same page regarding at least some of this terminology.

But what it is is not just outside of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, for that is temporary. But every time we see Gehenna mentioned, it is in reference to eternality, eternal fire and damnation, weeping and gnashing of teeth forever. So it cannot be merely just the place on earth outside the kingdom of God, it is the “place” “in” eternity apart from God and His Kingdom.

I think I can understand why you’d say that but it doesn’t seem necessary to read the New Testament that way.  For example, I take the word eternal to mean ongoing, constant, never-ending and I see that taking place on the earth.  I see no reason to postpone its meaning until some future date.  For Jesus it was imminent; for us it is reality. 

You say that in Jesus meant only salvation on earth, but how does this make sense? Given the context, I personally do not see how what He says can be interpreted in that way. Would you mind explaining how the context requires us to take it in the sense that you do?

I’m not saying the kingdom of God only applies to the earth.  It applies to all creation.  However, the reason Jesus spent so much time teaching about the kingdom of God – and it was, of course, the main subject of His teaching ministry – is because of our need to learn how to seek it, find it, and live within it while we are here on earth.  We do not need a Bible to teach us how to live in heaven; we need the Bible to teach us how to live on earth.  Whatever teaching we need in heaven will be given to us when we get there. 

You’ll note that there was no teaching in the Old Testament about how to live in Sheol.  Neither does the New Testament teach us how to live in heaven.

If we say that all of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God is about how we should live in heaven, then we make a great deal of the word of God of no effect.  That’s not a good thing.

Also, I think your notion of judgment is off a little. If there is judgment, there is a punishment involved that is handed out to the judged. What punishment is there on earth is there for those that, according to you, are living in judgment?

As I mentioned, see Deuteronomy 28 for a summary of the curses that come on the disobedient.  It was from this catalog that judgments were applied, for example, to Israel when first the Northern Kingdom and later the Southern Kingdom were destroyed.  The Lamentations of Jeremiah, for example, were in response to the curse that Israel had brought upon itself, the wrath of God that had been poured out, the indignation of God that God’s chosen people had to experience.

It seems that Jesus cleared up the idea that God inflicts harm and such upon evil people as their punishment, the story of Job does the same.

I don’t pretend to understand everything God does and I certainly don’t pronounce what is God’s judgment on a person versus what is not.  However, that wrath comes as a consequence of sin is a thoroughly biblical principle even though I see very few people today espousing it. 

What I mean here is not to say that it never happens like that, but that that is not the norm.

I not only think it’s the norm, I think it’s constant, ongoing, and never-ending.  In other words, it’s eternal.

As for repentance, what about those who never repent? On what grounds do they get into heaven? 

As it says in Romans 6:7, “he who has died is freed from sin.”  When a person dies, the blinders come off.  Of course, it’s then too late for them to improve their life on earth.  For this reason, they will experience regret and there will be judgment in heaven, too – though of a different nature than that experienced on earth.

What if they don’t want to be there?

I literally cannot conceive of a person in heaven not wanting to be there.  The world is full of temptation.  No one sins without help.  That is why people are prone to evil.  In heaven there will be no temptation.

The latter is a hypothetical that has to be answered by a universalist. For some more thoughts here, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Heaven and Hell.

I’m not sure what you want me to see in this article.

Finally, of course people don’t shout that everybody who is not a Christian is going to Hell, that would be counter-productive to the Gospel, for that is not the Good News. The Good News is that you can be saved from what we deserve, which is Hell, I think you would agree here. Also, it is unfortunate that many Christians have succumbed to the world and blend in so easily as to hardly tell a difference. Along with that, many churches try to be politically correct as well as not just tolerant of other beliefs (which means to disagree yet allow for the existence of opposing beliefs) but to accept other beliefs as just as good. Given this, churches are often not as biblical as they should be, which I am sure is one of your criticisms of them. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any out there. And if it is your argument that because nobody endorses the view of Hell that I do out loud, or that not enough do, that is fallacious reasoning. It has no bearing on the truth value of the proposition, whether it is held, endorsed, or taught.

You are quite right that the fact that few churches, pastors, and theologians today warn about an afterlife of hell does not have any bearing on whether such teaching is biblical or not.  My point is, given their behavior, to question whether they themselves believe in it.  After all, if you really thought that the majority of the human race, including many people you know, were going to have an afterlife of never-ending physical and psychological torture you would set aside all other interests in order to warn them.  You wouldn’t talk about the Super Bowl, you would wouldn’t read the newspaper, you would have movie night.  All other interests but warning people about hell would subside as meaningless in the light of a potential infinity of pain. 

In closing, I have taught on Preterism at church for our youth group, as well as the other parousia positions like Future Preterism, Historical Preterism(you), Partial vs. Full Preterism, along with Millenialism, Amillenialism, Premillenialism, and Post-Millenialism. So the views themselves are not new to me.

Then you probably know more about the details of these various positions than I do.  As I mentioned, I have not spent much time studying these different points of view though I am aware of them.

However, that preterism was the dominant view of the early church was not something I found in my research.

I wasn’t meaning to suggest that.  Rather, I was making the point that Premillennialism and Dispensationalism, which together account for almost all of the “last days” hysteria that humanity has seen, is a fairly recent phenomenon in church history (generally, the 18th Century to today).  To find this sort of expectation in an imminent return of Christ prior to that you have to go back to the New Testament church itself.  There indeed, there was the expectation that Christ’s return would be in their generation.  Subsequent to that generation, the expectation lapsed into relative dormancy until the more recent times that I have mentioned. 

Many did think Jesus would return within their generation, maybe even Paul for a time. But as people began to die and stuff, they realized that they must have been wrong.

I can’t imagine such a thing.  By that, I mean that I cannot conceive of Jesus and His apostles being wrong about something they had been so specific and adamant about.  From one end of the New Testament to the other, the coming of the Lord is deemed to be an imminent event, to occur before the generation of Jesus’ contemporaries had completely expired.  It was not a minor issue for them, nor should it be for us.  If they were wrong, we would have to say they are false prophets. 

Certainly you have seen people in our age – cults, they are usually called – who proclaim that “the end is about to occur.”  Such cults lose all credibility when the prophesied time comes and goes with no bang.  The judgment of humanity can’t be any different for Jesus and the apostles. 

The good news is that there were not wrong.  They were absolutely right about everything that they said.  They were not false prophets – they were true! 

The majority of early church fathers, according the stuff I read up on, believed that the general resurrection would occur at the second coming, the judgment would follow that, and then the “New Heaven/New Earth.”

The new heaven and earth came with the Second Coming.  It was that new creation that did away with Sheol and changed the destination of the dead from Sheol to Heaven.

I listen to early church fathers and care about what they say.  But their words cannot be put on a par with those of Jesus and the apostles.  It is the Bible that must prevail – not the opinions of subsequent generations.

This is not Full Preterism as you endorse.

As I mentioned, I am not fully schooled in Preterism and all its forms.  I was only using the term in its general meaning, and not endorsing any particular school of thought.

They seemed to think that He had not come back yet, though some thought that they were indeed in the “end times” based upon Jesus prediction about the destruction of the Temple, but many of the other things that were supposed to pass didn’t/haven’t.

Again, it’s inconceivable to me that some of what Jesus prophesied did not occur when He was clear that all these things would occur in that generation (Matthew 24:34), and the apostles corroborated this point with many references – most notably some of the epistles which indicated that they had, by the time those epistles were written,  “come down to the wire.”

Along these lines, and you may discuss it elsewhere and if so you could point me to it, Paul addresses the question of what will happen to the dead when Jesus returns. The worry here seems to be that the bodies may be beyond repair for a resurrection due to deterioration. Paul assures them saying that the dead will rise first after the Lord returns accompanied by a loud voice and the trumpet of the archangel, and only after that will those who are still living be called to meet them in the clouds.

Yes, I deal with 1 Corinthians 15 in The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

First, this is evidence for the belief that Paul recognized that Jesus was not coming ASAP since he was addressing what would happened to the dead in Christ.

I don’t see anything in 1 Corinthians 15 that indicates Paul is changing his view of when the resurrection was coming.  We who have lived subsequent to the apostolic generation have divided up the coming of the Lord into many separate events, but we have done so without warrant.  Paul and the other apostles saw the coming of the Lord as imminent as they did the resurrection of the dead…because the two events were one and the same event (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). 

Second, it seems to be in opposition to Preterism in that the Second Coming always seems to be talked of as if there will be great fanfare, and that all will see Him coming on the clouds and it will be glaringly obvious. If His return was glaringly obvious, why is Full Preterism such a minority view? 

There was indeed fanfare of the greatest and highest order – in the spiritual dimension.  Spiritual things are greater than physical things, and therefore the spiritual Second Coming of Jesus Christ was greater than a physical coming would have been.

Not to mention, there is no literature in the late first, early second centuries endorsing the idea that Christ had returned. If they didn’t know/think that He had at that time, why should we?

I have not had the time nor the resources to make a detailed investigation of that period, so I am not prepared to agree that “no literature exists” which supports this point.  If we are to believe the apostles, much of the church leadership was corrupt that the end of the New Testament age and they would certainly not have been as sensitive to a spiritual Second Coming.  Even if, however, no literature could be found, it would not prove that the Lord did not return then as He said, nor would it even prove that no one at the time believed it.  It would only prove we’d have no record of people on earth attesting to it.

I do think church history since, at least up until the time that Dispensationalism gained sway, attached much more prophetic significance to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that Christianity at large does today – a point which your statement seems to obscure (even if it was not intended to do so). 

The view that He was coming back that early was mostly abandoned even by the time the Gospel of John was written it seems.

It does not seem so to me.  In fact, I see the hope in Christ’s coming again quite vibrant in verse like John 14:3 (“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself”) and John 21:22 (“If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”).

It’s true that John doesn’t repeat the Olivet Discourse which was so prominent in the synoptics, but then John’s purpose was largely to present a different kind of gospel that did not merely repeat the others.  Assuming that He also wrote the epistles of John and the book of Revelation, his narrative is quite consistent – and no one could be more insistent on the imminent return of the Lord that the one who wrote “Children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18) and the fivefold exclamation of a right-on-the-verge return in Revelation 22.

Michael, if you want to continue the dialogue, just reply here and we’ll continue exchanging thoughts.

Dialogue with David (re: Heaven and Hell)

This dialogue began in the comments of The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.  While it began in the context of discussing the logical structure of that book, I moved it here when David requested that we approach the discussion with a different logical structure. 

If you want to read the discussion prior to this point, here is the last comment of that discussion.  From there you can work backward to reconstruct the beginning of the conversation.

If, however, you’re a reader just joining the discussion, it’s not necessary that you work backward.  I’ll give a summary that will allow you to follow the discussion without backtracking.  That summary is this:  I believe that the Bible teaches that Everyone Is Going to Heaven (this link provides a one-page summary of my view, while  The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven provides a much longer explanation).  

David disagrees, and here, in his own words, is his view:

God will not have anything to do with sin. He hates it. He is spirit and thus is everywhere at once. Nevertheless, in a sense that I can not really articulate, He lives in heaven. It’s a spiritual realm in contrast to our material one.

God is one; and yet the Bible shows that He operates in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. I see each of them having what we would call personality. And, yet, Scripture clearly teaches that there is only one God. All three ‘persons’ of the Godhead have never not existed. 2000 years ago, the second person, the son, who was a spirit being, became a man on earth, Jesus. He was fully man and fully God. Don’t ask me to explain that….

God’s plan is to live with man for all eternity. Since man is sinful, He had a problem to solve and He did it with Jesus’ death. God has always been identifying men/women to ‘save.’ By this I mean, He declares them righteous. They are not righteous; but, he can do this since at a point in time (2000 years ago) He knew that their sin would be paid for and thus make His declaration just.

The way in which a person is declared righteous is when God decides that they have faith/trust in what He has revealed to them. Genesis 15:6 is a nice example of this happening to Abraham well before the cross. Yet, when Abraham died, he went to Sheol. He had been declared righteous; but, his sin had not yet been paid for by the cross. Today, it is the gospel of Jesus that one must trust to receive this declaration. Those who don’t trust this message remain unrighteous and can not come into the presence of God, heaven. Sorry.

Not only righteous people but also unrighteous people went to Sheol before the cross. And, from Luke 16:19ff it seems like there was a good part and a not so good part. After the cross, Jesus took the ones from the good part to be with Him. According to 2 Corinthians 5:8 (as I understand it, at least) Paul says he would rather be absent from the body (I take this to be physically dead) and to be home with the Lord (I take this to be with Jesus in heaven). So, when one who God has declared righteous (God did this for me on December 19, 1987) dies today, they are immediately transported to heaven as a spirit being. Their body is rotting in the earth and they never have anything to do with Sheol. They are not yet resurrected which for me means being given a body like the one Christ had when he appeared on earth after the cross. That resurrection will happen when Christ comes for His church someday.

So, what about the unrighteous. They are still flocking to Sheol; the bad part. And, not until the various judgments of Christ, will they be resurrected to go to a place nobody should ever have to go to. On the other hand, it is one to which we all (including me, of course) deserve to go to.

So, as you can see, you and I are miles apart in our theology. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think might be profitable for us to discuss. I still think the list of premises approach is the most likely one to yield any fruit.

I am happy to try to work with David’s structure (“list of premises”) and see if that leads to more common understanding. 

David, I know you previously laid out your structure but, not knowing whether you might want to adjust that in any way, didn’t want to just repeat it without giving you the opportunity to update.  Therefore, if you will begin your reply by restating your current logical construct and which part you would like me to address, then I’ll respond, and we’ll go back and forth – unfettered by the structure of my book, following your logical leanings, and hopefully having a productive dialogue.