Sarris & Rankin Debate—Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished? part 2

Below is my transcript of John Rankin’s’ 15-minute opening presentation in the above video of the Mars Hill Forum debate titled, “Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?” (for George Sarris’ opening presentation see Sarris & Rankin Debate—part 1).


John Rankin: So will hell eventually be abolished? The question covers much territory and I will look at it through the proactive lens of freedom. The entire Bible is understood through the storyline of creation, sin, and redemption. In Genesis 1-2, in the order of creation, we have the foundation for, and the gift of, human freedom. In Genesis 3 we have the brokenness of human freedom and then the promise of this restoration through the coming Messiah. Now, the very word “redemption” means to buy back out of slavery, and thus the formal doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption can be spoken of as freedom, slavery, and return to freedom.

Our first concern is to understand the nature and name of the one true creator. In Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for the Creator is Elohim and in its grammatical usage, it simply means that the one true God of the Bible is greater than all the so-called gods of pagan religions. Elohim is greater than the human concept of number. In Genesis 2, the name Yahweh Elohim is introduced and at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14-15, Elohim defines his name for Moses. He calls himself ehyeh, the first person singular imperfect tense (don’t worry about the grammar) of the verb “to be”—the “I AM”. This means that he who is, always was, and always will be. The grammar that he is greater than space and time. And thus he tells Moses to call him Yahweh Elohim, where Yahweh in the Hebrew is the third-person singular imperfect for the verb “to be”—”he is”. In other words, “I am” azegna (sp?) “he is” as Yahweh. It’s the same: first person, third person, “he is”. “He is eternal existence”, “he is the creator”. Then Yahweh tells Moses that his name is forever—where the word forever is olam—and the sons of Israel are to remember his name from generation to generation. And when Jesus calls himself “I am”, he is calling himself ehyeh. Therefore he’s calling himself God. Thus the one true creator, Yahweh Elohim, is he who is greater than space, time, and number, and Jesus—as the incarnation of Yahweh Elohim—is the one who in being greater than time, space, and number, comes inside time, space, and number to save us. Only by starting here can we grasp the question of the duration of heaven and hell. Time is defined by Yahweh Elohim in the biblical revelation, not by us.

Our second concern leads us to the question “what is the nature of salvation?” in Genesis 1-2. Well, there is none, for there’s nothing yet to be saved from. Only after the introduction of sin does the need for salvation arise. And the purpose of salvation is to restore us to the original promises in creation. In Genesis 2:7, human nature is defined by the Hebrew term nephesh, which means soul or personhood. It is the word that refers to the throat and neck region—and indicates the nature of being needful of Yahweh’s breath and the ecosphere in order to live. Indeed, before the advent of human sin, when trust in Yahweh and one another is in place, with every breath we take we are grateful—the dependency of nephesh is our strength.

So let me take a quick survey: How many people here do not like a good back rub? It looks like we have unity so far… Let me give you two choices:

  1. Give yourself the back rub? Any takers? Unity continues.
  2. Have someone you love and trust give you the back rub?

But who among us would receive a back rub from someone who has a contract on our life? In other words, when we’re in a position of need and trust we are strengthened and we thrive. But if we are in a position of need and distrust is the norm, we are weakened and life can be in danger.

In the first case we have nephesh in the order of creation and the second we have its violation in the sin nature. Salvation restores us to the freedom of nephesh and, if you please, the freedom to receive the best possible back rubs.

The living and preaching of the gospel in a broken world seeks to touch the nephesh of the image of God and all people—and to show how Jesus alone fulfills it. The many who seek the mercy of God will find it in him and a few who love bitterness will not. And for those who have not heard the name of Jesus lived and/or preached, when they see Jesus on the final day they will either love or hate him. As Jesus speaks of those who love the light because of their pursuit of the good versus those who love darkness due to their evil deeds—nephesh honored or nephesh rejected—gratefulness for every breath given or disdain for the giver.

The first introduction of freedom is found in Genesis 1:2 and 2:1. In Genesis 1:2 the earth is formless and empty and the Spirit of Elohim hovers over the abyss, theum. This is the Hebrew word describing that which is outside of the creation, a bottomless pit of no boundaries, no life, no light, no heat, no identity, no hope—that is nothing.

There’s a foundation for the use of the abyss (abusan in the Greek) in the New Testament, which interfaces greatly with the language and images of Hell—of final judgment. Thus we note the language of the abyss before the creation and after creation but it does not exist within the good creation itself.

In Genesis 2:1, the text speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth being completed in their armies. This means that in Genesis 1:2 these armies are already in place. It is a reference to the holy angels and a view of the fallen angels led by Satan. Essentially Genesis 1:2 assumes the freedom that all angels were originally given to accept the goodness of Yahweh Elohim or to reject it. Genesis 1:1 equals the first words in scripture, “in the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” Yahweh Elohim is sovereign and he has all power. And then in verse 2, we see that the angels have freedom from before the creation—sovereignty and choice, the great debate. Thus we have set the stage for human freedom.

As the first words of the Bible start with God’s sovereignty, his first words to Adam start with freedom. In Genesis 2:15, Yahweh Elohim calls Adam to work and quote unquote, “Guard the garden.” The Hebrew word for guard is Shamar, a crucial word across the entire Hebrew Bible. Adam is being called to guard the garden from the intrusion of the devil. He had already violated freedom and wants Adam and Eve to do likewise.

Then we read in verses 16 through 17 (when I quote the Bible I’m quoting translations straight from the Hebrew or the Greek), “And Yahweh Elohim commanded the man, ‘In feasting you shall continually feast from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, for the moment you eat of it in dying you shall continually die.'” Now a common translation of verse 16 is, “you are free to eat”, but the Hebrews is far more dynamic, acalltocael. This is the infinitive absolute and an imperfect tense for the verb “to eat”. And what it means is a feast that is always full in the moment and never ends. The grammar is clear, “in feasting we shall continually feast”, is a metaphor for freedom and it means a feast that is always full in the moment and never ends. This is the only positive definition of freedom in all human history—a freedom for the good. Whereas, in all pagan religions and secular constructs, the best hope is a freedom from a violation of evil. Adam and Eve had an unlimited menu of good choices, the metaphor of freedom, and this includes the Tree of Life, which, as they eat of it, they will never die.

Does anyone here who does not enjoy a feast with family and friends? The biblical metaphor of freedom is attractive to all people and the mission of the gospel is accordingly to bring true freedom into an enslaved world.

Now Genesis 2:7-17 is a whole unit where three realities are profiled: good versus evil, freedom versus slavery, and life versus death. In verse 9, in the middle of all the good fruit of the garden, we learn of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second tree refers to:

  1. The knowledge of everything that only Yahweh Elohim can possess, and also not be tempted or poisoned by evil.
  2. For man or woman to eat of it is to say Yahweh is not good.
  3. Thus it is to play God in redefining good and evil, calling Yahweh evil.
  4. It is to consume evil and be destroyed by it—only Yahweh Elohim can understand everything, including good and evil.

And so he is telling us that, “Don’t eat this fruit because you can’t understand everything and especially evil because if you try to digest evil you will die”—that’s the prohibition.

Now as we look at verse 17, which we’ve already quoted, “In dying you shall continually die.” And here we get to the nexus, to the crucial point about the debate over hell. The grammar is the same as in verse 16 but with opposite purpose, “a death that is full in the moment and is never ending.” So to disobey God is to have the fullness of death and it never ends—this is the grammar in Genesis 2:17.

As the forbidden food is eaten, the Tree of Life is forsaken, and thus death gradually wears down the human soul. Hell is the biblical language introduced later, used especially by Jesus in referring to final judgment. And all biblical language of freedom versus judgment starts in Genesis 2:16-17. Life, the good, and freedom never end. For those who say yes to Yahweh Elohim—to Jesus. Death, evil, and slavery never end for those who say no and refuse to repent. Life multiplies in the presence of King Jesus. Death ever shrinks humanity in the presence of the devil and his demonic horde in the abyss.

Thus what we have here is a level playing field to choose between heaven and hell. We have the freedom to choose hell if we so please. The choice is either to feast or die. But why would the good Creator allow us such proactive freedom?

First, being made in the image of God as finite creatures, we are made in the image of the infinite one who is fully free in his sovereign power.

Second, Yahweh Elohim as the Creator only does the good. For if he were to do the evil he would be a destroyer, which is one of the names of Satan (and the reality of all pagan deities). If Yahweh Elohim were to do evil he could not be the creator and could neither make nor sustain the universe and human life.

Third, and therefore, freedom is the power to do the good since it is creative but if freedom and goodness were forced on us it cannot be freedom, it cannot be good, it is slavery and evil, and Yahweh Elohim is neither a slave master nor evil. He will not force the good on us.

Thus unless we are free to say no to the good creator, we are not free to say yes. If we believe that Yahweh Elohim were to restrict anyone’s freedom to say an ultimate no to his love, and thus to cajole them into heaven one way or another, this equals:

  1. An unbiblical view of love, and
  2. It makes Yahweh Elohim into a pagan deity.

In this debate, there are those who, like George, see a dichotomy in the possibility that hell can be chosen forever. It goes like this: God either has all power and doesn’t want people to be saved or God is weak and does not have the power to save all people (George mentioned this earlier). But this dichotomy fails to understand the goodness of Genesis 1 through 2, where Yahweh Elohim is all-powerful, he is free, we are free, and he honors our freedom—this is biblically radical love. Thus as Adam and Eve choose death and as we all follow suit in the sin nature, Yahweh comes to us in Jesus the Messiah to rescue us but the good gift of freedom to say no remains in place.

Will hell ever be abolished or empty as George believes? No, to do so would violate the very goodness of Yahweh Elohim and his gift of human freedom.

We can conclude with two simple observations:

  1. Yahweh Elohim desire is for us to choose his freedom, which is the power to do the good and in His goodness, he does not manipulate our freedom.
  2. Heaven is for the many who love mercy, hell is for the few who guard bitterness.

There are very many outstanding questions I’m sure. Questions are intrinsic to biblical freedom so let them fly and let’s enjoy ourselves in the presence of King Jesus.

Thank you.


I know very little Hebrew but a Thomas Nicholson helpfully suggested:

Regarding Rankin’s main point about the Hebrew grammar in Gen. 2:16+17, I have my doubts. But I would love you and others to chip in on what I now write.

In these two verses, he refers to the two instances of infinitive absolute plus cognate verb in the imperfect:

VERSE 16 in feasting you shall (continuously) feast from any tree in the garden

VERSE 17 but when you eat the forbidden fruit: in dying you shall (continuously) die.

Certainly, the Hebrew imperfect can be “continuous” in the way that the Hebrew perfect cannot. But surely he’s wrong to imply that with the addition of the infinitive absolute, the phrase must now mean “continuing on throughout all eternity”.

All the main translations take this “infinitive absolute + verb” phrase in its usual emphatic or intensive sense — using words like “surely” feast or “certainly” die.

According to the Grammarians, if the cognate verb had come first, followed by the infinitive absolute, it could possibly mean “continuity” — but this is not the case here.

AFTER THOUGHT: Or is he saying that within the theological context of the Eden account, this grammatical phrase can be stretched to include a concept of going on for ever? And yet he kept referring to the grammar being right, so I’m not sure. In any case, I don’t think he has the grammar right — I think he’s miss-reading the meaning of the Hebrew “infinitive absolute + cognate verb”. But I would really like other opinions on this. Thanks!

Rankin’s argument seems to end up being similar to C. S. Lewis’—the type of freedom God gives humanity means He can’t save/draw/win-the-hearts-of at least some people. I think Reitan and Kronen comprehensively refute this in God’s Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism (see also Talbott’s approach that I discussed in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Sarris & Rankin Debate—Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished? part 1

Below is my transcript of George Sarris‘ 15-minute presentation in the above video of the Mars Hill Forum debate titled, “Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?”


Host: The format for tonight’s forum is each of the speakers will present for 15 minutes, then they’ll have a discussion between two of them for about 20, we’ll take an offering at that point and after that, we’ll have Q&A for half hour or so. So that’s the form and we’re going to start with George Sarris.

George Sarris: I want to start by asking you three questions.

First question is: how much are you worth? And I don’t mean that in a financial sense like how much is your net worth, I mean how much are you worth as a person? How much are you worth to those who love you? How much are you worth to God who created you?

Second question is: I want you to think of some people that you know and love, how much are they worth? Again not in a financial sense but how much are they worth as a person? How much are they worth to those who love them and how much are they worth to God who created them?

The third question: I want you to think of some people you don’t like, or some people that may have hurt you, or whose lifestyles you don’t approve of. How much are they worth? Again how much are they worth—maybe not to you but to others who love them and everyone is loved by someone—how much are they worth to God who created them?

The basic message of my book is that in God’s eyes you and every one of them is priceless. The question John and I are discussing tonight is “Will hell eventually be abolished?” So it would seem appropriate to begin by asking what is hell? That word has been defined in different ways down through the centuries: from a place of literal fire; to a kingdom of darkness ruled by the devil and his demons; to what is the most common definition today: separation from God.

But for most people holding to the traditional view of Hell, two components are primary: First, hell is a place or condition of conscious misery and second that misery will never ever, ever, ever, ever end! I said that a little dramatically because in my experience most people—Christians today—have never really thought through the implications of what they say they believe. Punishment for sin is not the issue. We see sin punished all the time in this life and God has made it clear that there is punishment in the age (or ages) to come. But punishment that never ends is a completely different matter. It brings to mind cruel tyrants who torture their subjects who don’t do their bidding. Endless conscious misery is the most horrific thing you can possibly imagine and if you really believed it was true, you would be weeping almost every moment of every day over the fate of those who are lost and especially those you know personally.

I wrote my book to show that that understanding of Hell was not the teaching of the early Church, it is not the teaching of the Bible, and is contrary to what the scriptures reveal about the nature and character of God. What the early Church believed is important because they were closest to Jesus and the Apostles, they read the New Testament in their native tongue, they had the greatest impact on the surrounding culture of any time in history, and they established the faith that we now profess. They were the ones who wrote the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed to explain clearly what true Christians believed. They were the ones who formulated the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and the Trinity. And they were the ones who set up or who put together the 27 books that we call the New Testament. During the first 500 years after Christ, the dominant view within the leadership and laity of the church was that God will ultimately restore all of his creation.

Clement of Alexandria was one—born around AD 150. For him to believe that God was unable to save all was unthinkable because that would mean God is weak. To believe that God is unwilling was also unthinkable because that would mean that God is not good. For Clement, God is the Lord of the universe who will ultimately bring about the salvation of the universe.

Another leader in the early Church was Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory added the phrase, “I believe in the life of the world to come”, to the Nicene Creed, and is still revered as one of the greatest of the early Church fathers. Gregory explained that in due course evil will pass away into non-existence, it will disappear utterly from the realm of existence. Divine and uncompounded goodness will encompass within itself every rational creature—no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God.

Even Saint Augustine—the most influential supporter of endless punishment in the early Church—acknowledged that in his day some, indeed “very many”, deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. Conscious suffering that never ends was not the teaching of the early Church.

And it’s also not the teaching of Scripture, even though most people today think it is. Four different words in the Bible have been translated to the English word “hell”: Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus.

Gehenna is the one most commonly translated that way in modern versions. Gehenna was well known during the time of Jesus as a specific location near Jerusalem that had been associated with child sacrifice in the past and was then most likely used as the common dump of the city. It was a place people could actually visit. And it spoke to Jesus and his listeners of repulsion, shame, and horrible death—instead of experiencing honor like their ancestors whose bodies were treated reverently when they died, those cast into Gehenna would experience the immense dishonor associated with those whose bodies had been thrown out into a dump to become an object of scorn for the masses. In an honor-shame culture like that in the ancient, and even modern Near East, that would be a fate worse than death. Gehenna didn’t mean punishment beyond the grave—endless punishment—in the Old Testament, during the time of Jesus, it didn’t mean that in the literature outside of the Bible, and it didn’t mean that for Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.

The passage most often used as the clearest statement in the entire Bible that punishment in hell is endless is Matthew 25:46. In that verse, Jesus himself says that the wicked will go away to “eternal punishment” but the righteous to “eternal life”.

The first thing to point out in that passage is that the word translated “eternal”, doesn’t mean “never-ending”. It actually means “the end is not known”. It refers to a period of time longer or shorter, past or future, the boundaries of which are concealed, obscure, unseen, or unknown. For example, numerous times the Septuagint—the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that Jesus and the Apostles used—the same adjective in this verse, “eternal”, is used to describe the statutes governing the sacrifices and offerings made by the priests. They were said to be “eternal statutes” but they didn’t last forever, and were never intended to last forever. The Old Testament sacrificial system was designed to be replaced one day by the new covenant in Christ. In Micah chapter 4 verse 5 (and 17 other places in the Septuagint), the phrase “forever and ever” literally means “to the age and beyond”.

The second thing to note is that when the same adjective is used twice in the same sentence it does not necessarily mean the same thing each time. For example, if an NBA basketball player we’re standing in front of one World Trade Center in New York City, you could honestly say, “a tall man is standing in front of a tall building,” but no one would think you thought that the man in the building were the same size! The adjective tall derives its meaning from what it refers to. In the first instance to a man, in the second to a building. In Matthew 25:46, the adjective that Jesus used [aionios] “eternal” refers to two completely different things: life and punishment. Eternal life is the divine life that comes from God—that life never ends. Eternal punishment is the divine punishment that comes from his hand—the duration of that divine punishment may certainly be temporary, lasting as long as it’s necessary until it accomplishes its purpose. The verse should be translated, “the wicked shall go away to the punishment in the age to come and the righteous to the life in the age to come”.

So what does the Bible actually teach about the salvation of mankind? We’ve been so accustomed to thinking that only a few will ultimately be saved that we often completely overlook the message that is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ is the savior of the world not just the savior of part of the world. The angel who appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus birth did not say, “I bring you good news of great joy there will be for some of the people,” he just said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” When speaking to the crowd after his triumphal entry, Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.” In Romans, Paul said, “as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive.” The Apostle John told his readers that, “Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” The message at the heart of Christianity is that Jesus Christ came to redeem all mankind. Endless conscious suffering in Hell was not the teaching of the early Church, it’s not the teaching of Scripture, and it’s also contrary to what scripture reveals about the nature and character of God.

It’s not uncommon to see a bumper sticker on a car or graffiti on a wall that says, “God loves you”. They’re so common that it’s almost become a cliche but is it true? Does God really love you? The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t think so. They thought God only loved people like them. So Jesus told them three parables to show them God’s heart. The Good Shepherd is not satisfied with the restoration of 99 percent of what is his, he seeks until he finds the one lost sheep. The woman with ten silver coins is not satisfied with 90 percent of her wealth, she searches until she finds the lost coin. The prodigal son’s father waited until his son returned after completely messing up his life. He welcomed him joyfully and his son was restored. “God is not willing that any should perish but desires that all will come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Scripture says there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. No plan of his can be thwarted—nothing is impossible with God. What Scripture reveals about God that his love is unconditional, his power is irresistible, and he never gives up.

Let me close by making a few observations about free will, since that’s a major focus of John’s position. Only God has absolute free will, only he is free to accomplish all that he desires. He gives each person some free will but always within limits and in the context of his absolute free will. For example, none of us was given the freedom to choose when we were born, where we were born, who our parents would be, what our physical stature or mental capacities would be, whether we’re male or female, or even when and how we will die. We have no control over many of the factors that directly impact the situation and decisions that we make every day. Joseph didn’t choose to be made second-in-command in Egypt, God arranged the circumstances for that to happen. Jonah ran away from God but God’s will prevailed and Jonah found himself in Nineveh proclaiming the message that God had given him. Scripture is clear when it says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he wishes. The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps. Many are the plans in a person’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” God is not helpless in the face of mankind’s free will. God specifically said that “he desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” God specifically said that “one day every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will freely and joyfully confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Will hell eventually be abolished? Yes, it will. When all is said and done, all those who were created by God will walk through Heaven’s doors and “God will be all in all” after “the restoration of all things” the final word will once again be, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good!”

Thank you.


God willing, I’ll get an opportunity to transcribe the rest of the debate over the next week or so…

The Value of Teaching—Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey

A couple of times each year I preach at my church. This time I look at Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey in Acts, focusing on how teaching and learning enabled the disciples to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

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My overview of Acts is based on The Bible Project’s summary videos that take you through this slide:

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It’s too much to digest all at once so I’ll zoom in and highlight some key points…

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This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and probably should be called, The Acts of Jesus & the Spirit—as they appear throughout the narrative.

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In chapter 1, Jesus says to His disciples, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And this is basically how the book of Acts unfolds.

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Chapters 2-7 shows this being fulfilled in Jerusalem.

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The disciples receive the Holy Spirit and become the New Temple

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—the place where people could encounter God’s generosity and healing presence.

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Sadly the establishment didn’t like this and so started killing them and driving them out of the city. However, this didn’t stop God’s plans. Indeed it allowed the Gospel to go into Judea & Samaria, and beyond.

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Chapters 8-12 shows how the mostly Jewish, Jerusalem-based, Jesus community became a multi-ethnic, international movement.

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Along the way, we have Jesus appearing on the road to Damascus and miraculously converting Paul from being the greatest opponent of Christianity to its greatest advocate.

Slide12.pngWe then have God giving Peter a vision showing him that no food is unclean, this is paralleled with the Holy Spirit coming to the nations showing that no person is unclean—that even non-Jewish people like you and I, can become Christians.

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And we have God establishing the church in Antioch—the launching point for Paul’s three missionary journeys.

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Paul’s first missionary journey—about 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection—is to Asia Minor (now called Turkey).

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There’s a brief pause, for the groundbreaking Jerusalem Council, that clarified that being part of Jesus’ community isn’t based on ethnicity or obeying the OT Law but simply on trusting and following Jesus.

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Paul then goes on a second missionary journey, this time to Asia Minor and Greece.

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And finally a third missionary journey, again to Asia Minor and Greece. It’s this third journey that I’ll be focusing on today.

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So that’s where the journey fits in the book of Acts. Now I’ll look at when and where the journey took place historically. Paul’s 3rd missionary journey took place over 5 years, between AD 54 and AD 58, which is now about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

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Source: Interactive Map of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Hopefully you recognise most of the places on this map—around the Mediterranean we have Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. The orange dots in the middle are the places Paul visited on his third missionary journey. Zooming in…

Map of the Apostle Paul's third missionary journey
Source: The Bible Study Site

Paul started at Antioch (near modern day Aleppo, which we’ve been hearing about in the news). He then travels to Tarsus, Iconium, and Ephesus. He stays there for around three years before a full-on riot occurs and he needs to escape north, to Macedonia. He then travels down through Greece—probably stopping at Athens and visiting early Christian communities we might recognise, such as the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and the Corinthians. Paul then starts to head back, visiting Troas and Miletus (where he catches up with the Ephesian church elders), before he sails across the Mediterranean to Tyre. He finishes up in Jerusalem.

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So that’s when and where the journey took place historically. But you may be asking, as I was when I was preparing this talk, how on earth is this journey relevant to me today?? So I sat down and made a list of themes in the 3 chapters…

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These are important themes and I’d encourage you to read through the chapters and think about them but I’m actually not going to talk about any of them because another theme really stuck out: learning and teaching about Jesus accurately is important. So I’ll look at examples of that and how they responded to opposition it generated, then I’ll look at what was taught about Jesus, and how can we learn about Jesus today.

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So, the theme of learning & teaching about Jesus accurately appears throughout the journey but I’ll just look at 3 examples of good teaching and 3 examples of bad teaching. The first example is of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus.

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There’s quite a few things we can learn here. First, even if we’re talented and educated, we must always be willing to listen and learn more. This allows us to cooperate, which benefits us and those around us. In this passage we see it allowed Priscilla and Aquila to privately and gently teach Apollos one-on-one. However, it also shows that there’s a time and place for Christians to debate publicly. God willing, there will be a great example of that next month when Samuel Green does a public debate with an Islamic scholar.

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The next example of the importance of teaching and learning is Paul in Ephesus.

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The last example of how enthusiastic they were about teaching, is Paul in Troas. (Admittedly not every teacher is like Paul but I think it should cause us to pause before we complain about sermons going for more than 10 minutes). These examples also show how teaching and encouragement are closely tied together. And as I learnt last night watching The Bible Project’s Word Study: Shema – “Listen”, when we truly listen and learn, we will put what we learn into action.

So those were 3 examples of prioritising good teaching but now I’ll look at 3 examples of bad or false teaching and ignorance.

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The first is of a group of Jewish exorcists who obviously didn’t properly comprehend the significance of Jesus but nonetheless were trying to invoke his name for their business. Unfortunately for the group, the demons weren’t fooled and they were humiliated. Not only does it show the danger of ignorance, I think there’s a lesson here about not treating Jesus as a genie to do our bidding. That instead, we should be respecting Him as both a person and our King—that our priority should be doing His will.

Our 2nd example of bad teaching is linked to the first.

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There are some falsehoods, such as sorcery, that shouldn’t be taught.

The last example is where Paul warns the Ephesians about false teachers.

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We need to test teaching, especially when there’s any money or self-promotion involved.

So when we go around teaching people about Jesus, encouraging believers, and generally promoting Jesus, sometimes we will be opposed, particularly if someone feels their power or wealth is being threatened. We see an example of this in Acts 19: 23-41.

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Demetrius the silversmith and his mates were making lots of money making idols but Paul had persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all so they incited a riot and dragged Paul’s travelling companions into the amphitheater.

As an aside, I’ve been reading through the OT and last night I read Habakkuk and noticed this interesting link: idols can’t teach us, whereas God has been teaching humanity from the very beginning, especially through Jesus who was a Rabbi (a Jewish teacher), and the Holy Spirit is also described as a teacher.

Anyway, back to the riot. I came across a fascinating study a few months back:

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Because the Christian movement was non-violent, it was really hard to pin anything on them, and that helped it spread much further than the many futile armed rebellions. Throughout Church history, and continuing today, the non-violent approach has assisted Christian communities to grow despite persecution. So both morally and pragmatically, if someone opposes you, I recommend a non-violent response.

Now, a significant part of the way the early church taught and learnt was through literature. They read the OT scrolls and the letters that the Apostles wrote. They also reproduced and shared them so the message could go viral. Coincidently, The Bible Project podcast discussed the book, Destroyer of the gods.

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Their passion for literature allowed them to witness much further than any individual could physically travel—to the ends of the earth—all the way to us today!

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Eternity 80 – Is God Dead? The Case for Christ

So far the entire Bible has been translated into 648 languages, the NT into another 1432 languages, and portions of it into another 1145 languages—all up, it’s about 5 times more translations than any other book ever. If we keep up the momentum, every language on the planet will have some Scripture by 2033! The other exciting thing is that the advent of the Internet and smartphones means even more people can get access to the Bible in their language.

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Paul’s teaching about Jesus can be summed up as follows:

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I realise we’re all at different ages and stages of life, so what “valuing teaching and learning” looks like will vary. However, most of us have access to either a computer, tablet, or smartphone so we can easily check out:

The Bible Project logo
The Bible Project

They’re a non-profit organisation that produces high quality, short, free animated videos of the books of the Bible as well as the themes within it. Follow them on:

They also produce free reading plans, study notes, and posters.

I’ve watched almost every video they’ve done and listened to their podcasts for hours. It’s been really helpful for understanding the Bible better. I can’t recommend it enough!

Tim & Jon: Is Hell really outside creation & rationally chosen?

I love The Bible Project. Truly, it’s the best online Bible resource I’ve ever come across. I’ve been a monthly supporter since the early days, I’ve watched most of their 134 videos and soon will have listened to all of their podcasts. Jon Collins and Tim Mackie are easy to listen to, full of interesting insights, and express a genuine curiosity and desire for truth. I particularly love the way their work paints a beautiful, grand, biblical metanarrative showing God’s wonderful intentions for humanity in Eden, the amazing lengths He’s gone to throughout history (and especially through Jesus), and anticipating an exciting, joyful, glorious future with God in the New Creation.

However, I find that the clearer the biblical metanarrative is presented, the more jarring Eternal Conscious Torment becomes… So I was intrigued when Jon Collins and Tim Mackie discussed this in their Day Of The Lord Part 6 podcast episode. The context is that they have been discussing and comparing the OT warrior savior images (e.g. Isa 63) and modern movies (e.g. The Magnificent Seven), with the NT warrior savior images (e.g. Rev 19:11) and the Cross. They conclude that:

Tim: [In Revelation, John is] constantly taking aggressive, violent, Old Testament “Day of the Lord” imagery and saying the Cross was the Day of the Lord. It was the fulfillment of those images and it did not involve God killing his enemies—it actually involved the Son of God allowing Himself to be killed by them.

I think it’s inescapable. This is why readings of the book of Revelation that, I don’t know, help people look forward to some future cataclysm of violence, where Jesus comes of the sword cutting people apart—to me it’s not just a misreading of Revelation, to me it’s a betrayal of Jesus. Because what you’re saying is, “Oh, Jesus used the means of the cross but that was just like his way of being nice for a little bit but really he’s…”

Jon: “Ultimately he will use [death and] the threat of death as his true power to bring justice.”

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (24m 8s)

(As an aside, this is similar to what William Cavanaugh said to me in Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—Cavanaugh Interview)

What they discuss next is what I’ll focus on as it raises many questions.

Tim: Yeah. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a reality to final justice, where people suffer the consequences of their decisions if they don’t yield to Jesus—I’m not saying that. But what I am saying is the New Testament is transforming these violent images of the Day of the Lord in a really important way—that had gone largely unnoticed by the modern Western Church. Because we love Denzel Washington [hero in The Magnificent Seven] strangling the bad guy to death.

Jon: Yeah, it feels good.

Tim: Yeah, it’s satisfying.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (25m 29s)

I believe strongly in the reality of final justice (indeed it’s one of the reasons I started this blog) and that there are unpleasant consequences to giving our heart to anything other than our loving Father. I think seeing evil being stopped is satisfying, and rightly so. However, an issue arises when the method of stopping an evil (e.g. a “bad guy”) is evil (e.g. strangling someone). Our conscience should make us feel conflicted about that “solution”. Thankfully, there is a method of stopping evil that isn’t evil—that method is love—doing good to those who sin against you, melting their hearts, transforming them from foe to friend—rebel to follower of Jesus.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9, BSB

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head [melting his opposition?]. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21, CSB

Tim continues:

Anyhow, that’s how the Day of the Lord comes to its completion in the last book of the Bible. It’s this paradox. Here he defeats the armies of evil and then (in chapter 20) Babylon, Death, the Beast (the dragon), they’re all cast into the Lake of Fire. They are assigned—they’re quarantined—to a place of eternal self-destruction, and that’s the defeat of evil. And you could say that’s a violent image, but it’s interesting, it’s people being consigned or handed over to what they’ve chosen, something that they’ve chosen, which is destruction.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 4s)

Respectfully, there’s a huge difference between quarantining something and defeating it. Quarantine may be a necessary step to stop the spread of a plague but it’s only when it’s completely eradicated that it is defeated. Leaving evil quarantined is even worse than quarantining a plague and walking away:

  • it’s an affront to God’s holiness.
  • it’s a thwarting of His good purpose for humans, their telos, that He first articulates in Genesis 1-2 and ultimately in Christ.
  • it’s a denial of the praise and honour God rightly deserves.
  • it’s a failure to bring restorative justice, leaving countless broken relationships festering, unhealed forever—victims never receiving apologies, nor closure.

Eternal self-destruction is even worse than suicide, it’s never a rational choice, it’s a sign of a severe, unhealthy delusion about what is good and what is evil. It’s what God has been working to fix since Genesis 3, which they seem to acknowledge in other episodes:

Tim: … the Old Testament becomes a story of the family of Abraham but all within that larger story of what is God going to do to rescue the world from itself…

The Bible as Divine Literary Art (35m 3s)

But back to the episode I’m focusing on:

Jon: Yeah, how did how did Butler talk about it? He talked about it as creating a place for that to exist but not inside of creation.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 50s)

A very confusing suggestion, because far as I know, there’s only one thing outside of creation, and that is God Himself… everything else is part of, within the category of, God’s creation. “Creating a place”, surely makes it creation?

Tim: Yeah, if somebody refuses, like Pharaoh, to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord (using Pharaoh as an icon or Babylon), then God will honor the dignity of that decision and allow people to exist in that place.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m)

Pharaoh’s “refusal” is a contentious issue—I highly recommend reading Talbott’s discussion of Romans 9:17-18, in light of Romans 11:32 (p19 of chapter 5 of his book, which is freely available here). Anyway, even assuming Pharaoh freely rejected God, I don’t think it’s honoring to let someone essentially put themselves into a state of neverending suicide. I don’t think it’s a real, informed, rational decision. So I don’t see it having any “dignity.” Again, it’s a topic that Talbott has comprehensively addressed in his book, The Inescapable Love of God, but if you don’t have time to read or listen (there’s a great audiobook!), then I encourage you to read his Free-will Theodicies of Hell post (which I drew on in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Jon: Yeah, “confinement”, I think was the term.

Tim: Confinement, yes. But what God won’t allow is for that evil to pollute or vandalize his creation anymore. And so the end of Revelation is the New Jerusalem and then outside the city are… “So wait I thought they were in a Lake of Fire?” (in chapter 20) But then (in chapter 22) the wicked are just outside the city… So these images are that God will contain those who choose evil. And the point is that he won’t allow them to ruin his world anymore.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m 17s)

I’m really not convinced that evil can be adequately confined in that way because humans (and God) are so deeply interconnected, we’re relational beings. When loved ones suffer, we suffer, God suffers. That suffering is polluting and vandalizing—it’s ruining any chance of harmony—of the promised Shalom. How can someone possibly be happy while their son, their mother, their husband, or their best friend is still destroying themselves? (And for some believers, all their family and loved ones are non-believers) If they are just outside the open gates, they can probably see, hear, and smell(?!) their torment.

At the end of Revelation, the only thirsty audience the Spirit and the bride (Christians) have are the wicked outside the gates. Perhaps, when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”, everyone who is thirsty actually comes!

Overcome evil with good

God Never Gives Up!

My transcript of the above video:

Eric: Hey there folks, it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. I’m talking to George Sarris about his book: Heaven’s doors. The subject is hell, although you said it was heaven. You go into the definitions of a lot of the words in your book, which is another reason that I respect you, even though I’m not sure if I agree with your ultimate conclusions. I was fascinated that I’d never read this before. Even to look at the different meanings where it says “hell” in Scripture, you know that word could be Gehenna, it could be Hades, it could be Tartarus, it could be… What are those different words? What do they mean?

George: Yeah, that’s a good question. In fact, it’s kind of interesting because the word that is normally translated “hell” in the modern versions, “Gehenna”, that is translated as “hell”. Gehenna was a dump, it was a dump outside of Jerusalem. It refers to the Valley of Hinnom or the Valley of the sons of Hinnom, in the earlier times in the Old Testament. It was a place where, I think it was Ahaz and Manasseh, had offered child sacrifice. And so Josiah comes along, he desecrates the valley and it became a common dump for the city of Jerusalem, where they put dead bodies of criminals, animals. You had worms, you had fire there, to purify—that’s what the fire was there for, that’s what the worms were there for—they were there to purify this unholy place. And so it’s really interesting because in the time of Jesus, Gehenna was a place you could go visit.

Eric: We just have few minutes left George. What should we add to this conversation?

George: One of things I say my book is that God’s love is unconditional, God’s power is irresistible, and He never gives up. And I think the one of the key things is looking at the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is fascinating. Most people look at it as if this is what’s going on in hell. Actually, what’s happening in Revelation happens on earth, until the very end of the book before you get into anything that’s even after earth. All the plagues, all these other things are happening on earth—they’re not talking about the future in hell. But in chapter 5, John says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'” Who is it that’s proclaiming this? Every creature. Where are they? Everywhere in creation. What are they doing? They’re praising the God of heaven and the lamb.

Then at the end of the book of Revelation—which is really fascinating—the gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut; the tree of life, it’s always bearing fruit; the leaves from those the trees, are for the healing of the nations; there’s no longer any curse; there’s no longer any more tears. And then the invitation is given, it says, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” Well who they saying “come” to? Those outside the city because the gates are open. Who’s outside the city? Those who are in the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is a refiners fire that purifies—I talk about that more in my book. But the bottom line is, they are invited to come into the New Jerusalem because the Bride are the believers that are already there, the Spirit is already there. Who are they giving the invitation to? Those outside the gates, who are allowed to come into the gates of the New Jerusalem.

Eric: Wow. The highest compliment I can say is this really makes me think, and it’s just so fascinating to me. I keep saying that this is such a hot button issue—no pun intended. So even though I’m not endorsing your position, I’m allowing you to present it because I read the book and I’ve known you personally—your faith—you’re not some quote unquote “liberal Christian”. And so I thought, “Hmm, interesting” and you actually care about what the Scripture says because you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. That is usually not the position of Universalist. I’m fascinated.

George: Yeah, most of people that I talked to are just kind of shocked that I actually believe in Scripture. The pastor of the church that we ended up going to, I went up to him the very first Sunday that we were there. He wanted to know why we were there and I thought I might as well mentioned to him what happened.

Eric: Right.

George: And he said, “George I’ve never heard that position from a biblical perspective—I would love to talk to you about it.” So for the next several months, he would take 20 pages at a time and we’d end up reading—meeting together—we’d talk over those 20 pages, and for a couple hours at a time because he was fascinated by what was there.

Eric: Well I confess that I am fascinated so I want to thank you George for helping open up the conversation.

George: It’s a privilege and I’m very, very grateful.

Eric: The book we’ve been talking about is titled Heaven’s Doors by George Sarris. This is The Eric Metaxas Show. Go to metaxastalk.com

Engaging Orr-Ewing’s “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?”

A few years ago, I lived in the inner city in London, my husband was a pastor there, and I had a very good friend who at that time was the same age as me (late twenties). We were very different, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, she had five kids, lived on quite a high floor in a block of flats. She also had about four dogs. None of the dads of her children were still around, in fact, one of them was in prison (he was a crack dealer, very violent man, she had a restraining order against him). She became a Christian and we became very good friends—we met weekly.

One day, her ex-partner (the father of one of her children) got out of prison and he came to her apartment and broke in and beat her virtually to death. I’ll never forget seeing her. When I saw her—it was just incredibly shocking—she was unrecognizable. Now, in that situation, what did I feel—what did love cause me to feel about the perpetrator of that violence? Love meant that I cried out for justice for her.
Amy Orr-Ewing, The Ring of Truth (12m 53s mark) or my transcript

Love causes us to cry out:

  1. for the evil to be acknowledged rather than ignored.
  2. for the evil to be stopped rather than for it to continue.
  3. for the awful damage done to be healed rather than for it to consume the victim. And,
  4. for the perpetrator to fully comprehend the evil, violence, and damage done, and to respond in genuine repentance, to completely turn their life around, dedicating the rest of their life to making amends and seeking to see domestic violence end everywhere.

I would suggest that d) is actually the only way to completely stop evil, because until d) occurs, the evil and hatred continues to fester and grow in the perpetrator. Tragically, unless the victim can reach the point of gracious forgiveness (which doesn’t mean ignoring the evil or allowing it to continue) the evil will continue to cause them harm, potentially consuming them with hatred. (This doesn’t to imply the onus is on the victim to act, nor that the responsibility for reconciliation is on their shoulders).

When d) occurs obviously it’s easier for the victim to forgive but sometimes it’s actually the victim’s forgiveness that causes d) to occur. How many perpetrators have turned around because of Jesus’, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or because of Gladys Staines’ remarkable forgiveness of her family’s murderers, or Mandela’s forgiveness, or Eric Lomax’s?

But our forgiveness today can’t just be conditional on repentance, which may not occur in this life. It has to be freely given whether or not it’s going to provoke immediate repentance. It is actually for the victim’s own healing and peace that they forgive. Ultimately, it’s the only—albeit extremely difficult—way forward (and this may not be possible until Christ returns).

It is quite easy to put ourselves in the position of someone like Orr-Ewing, witnessing the awful wrong perpetrated against her friend. We recognise that feeling of righteous anger that she refers to. What is more difficult to do is to put ourselves in the position of someone who dearly loves the perpetratorperhaps his mother or brother? What would the love of the perpetrator’s mother cause her to feel? Surely, she would yearn for a), b), c), & d) to occur? This doesn’t mean she is callous towards the victim in this scenario. She wants the wrongs righted. She is angry and ashamed of her son. At the same time, she longs for him to repent and be changed, and to somehow undo the damage he has caused. This is the position of our heavenly Father. He deeply loves all His children—victims and perpetrators—those who love Him and those who still hate Him. The righteous son and the prodigal son. His love doesn’t discriminate.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children [imitators] of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect [in your loving], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:44-45,48, CSB

God instructs us to imitate His love of those who show Him enmity. How does “love your enemies” influence our view of justice? It may well still include punishment but unless it results in d), I can’t see true healing, reconciliation, harmony, and Shalom ever occurring.

Finally, we must remember that we’re all sinners—perhaps not perpetrators of domestic violence but it’s hard to avoid being complicit in some sort of violence in this world—don’t we all nail Jesus to the cross? There’s also some link between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive:

forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us. … For if you forgive other their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses.

Matthew 6:12,14-15, MOUNCE

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32, NIV

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13, NIV

I also think there’s some link between our cry for justice and the justice that is brought upon our own sins.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged

Matthew 7:2a, NIV

So I think we should to cry out for justice but justice that moves us all towards God’s Shalom.

Jesus is Justice
Jesus is Justice

The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle—Orr-Ewing interview

The Ring of Truth is the first part of a two part interview of Amy Orr-Ewing by the Centre for Public ChristianityI’ve transcribed it and posted it in three posts:

  1. A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology.
  2. Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account?
  3. The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle (below)

Justine: Amy is not only a prolific speaker, she’s a writer as well. One of her recent books is called, Why trust the Bible?

Image result for amy orr-ewing why trust the bible

Amy: The Bible describes the real world as we know it. It has the ring of truth, this is not a sort of religious mythical bubble that we need to jump into, that only makes sense internally if we just close our minds to the real world that we experience. The Bible is trustworthy because it diagnoses the human condition that you and I experience. It speaks of it in real terms—with empathy about the darkness and violence of this world—and it introduces us to the God who’s entered this real world in the person of Jesus. So I think we can trust the Bible in those kind of existential terms.

The Bible describes the real world as we know it. It has the ring of truth…

But secondly, historically it is my experience through studying the manuscript tradition—through studying the historical process of the transmission of the Bible—that this stands up to rigorous scrutiny. That the source material for the Bible is vast. That where there are differences between manuscripts, those differences are not covered over in English or other language translations. There’s an openness about the process of transmission and I think that makes it trustworthy.

Justine: It’s also a book that you’ve seen has had an impact in some quite surprising places. I read that you went to Afghanistan when you were 19—you have all these wonderful stories in your biography—and you presented the Bible to someone in that circumstance didn’t you?

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Amy: Yes, while I was a theology student at Oxford I was also not just studying Christian theology but studying Islamic thought as well and a small team of us went to Afghanistan. We ended up going the weekend after the BBC had been in town doing their groundbreaking documentary on the Taliban. We got the opportunity as theological students to interview the Education Minister, the Religion Minister, and the Foreign Minister and the Keeper of the Holy Quran (the Religion Minister). And in the process of that interview in their military headquarters we also gave them Bibles, saying, “We think this is the most precious gift one human being can give another.” And they were all heavily armed, we did wonder what was going to happen next, let’s put it like that, and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. But the Keeper of the Holy Quran took hold of the Bible and looked at it and he said, “I know exactly what this book is, I’ve been praying to God for years that I could read this book. Thank you for bringing me this book, I’ll read it every day.” And that just struck me as amazing, that at the heart of one of the most violent regimes the world has known, there was someone who was wanting to read the Bible but had never had the opportunity.

At the heart of one of the most violent regimes the world has known, there was someone who was wanting to read the Bible but had never had the opportunity.

Simon: That is very surprising! Now Amy, while we might come to accept that the Bible is trustworthy in the way that you’ve described it, is it relevant? I mean, what does the Bible have to say to a complex modern society or even my own life in that place?

Amy: My experience is that the Bible has relevance today because it introduces us to the person of Jesus, who came in history, was God incarnate—God making himself known to us in human form—and that truth connects with our reality, the reality of our brokenness, of our anxiety, of our pain, of our sin, of our shame, because in Jesus, God deals with the human condition by going to the cross and offering us forgiveness, offering us new life.

It’s interesting to me that the primary image that Jesus used for what it means to come to know God is the image of birth. Now, as a mother of twins and another little boy, it strikes me as odd that a single, 30 something year old, ancient near-eastern male would invoke the image of birth. Birth is overwhelmingly, excruciatingly painful. It’s a visceral struggle for life over death. There’s blood, there’s guts, there’s gore in the process of birth, and Jesus says coming to know God is so real that the image I’m going to use to describe this is: it’s like being born. There was no life and now there is undeniably this screaming baby, there’s life! How much more relevant could things get? God is saying that coming to know him is like being born all over again. This is ontological, this is real, this is visceral, it’s undeniable when this has happened.

Jesus says coming to know God is so real that the image I’m going to use to describe this is: it’s like being born.

Justine: From the Center for Public Christianity, you’ve been listening to Life & Faith with Justine Toh and Simon Smart. Amy Orr-Ewing joins us again next week to talk about Dorothy L. Sayers, one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and a force to be reckoned with.

Amy: She disliked the idea of arguing for women’s equality on the basis of calling women a class. So she’s saying we’re not a special class of human we’re actually human.

Justine: You won’t want to miss the conversation. Sign up for our newsletter at PublicChristianity.org or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes—just type “Life & Faith” in the search box to find us. While you’re there, please leave us a rating or a review, we want to know what you think of the show and it helps other people find it as well.

Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account?—Orr-Ewing interview

The Ring of Truth is the first part of a two part interview of Amy Orr-Ewing by the Centre for Public ChristianityI’ve transcribed it and posted it in three posts:

  1. A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology.
  2. Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account? (below)
  3. The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle
Amy Orr-Ewing by Alex Baker Photography
Amy Orr-Ewing by Alex Baker Photography

Justine: You’re listening to Life & Faith from the Centre for Public Christianity. As an apologist, Amy often finds herself defending the Christian faith. She comes across all sorts of pat dismissals of faith: “Science disproves God”, “All religions are the same”, “How can God be good if there is so much suffering in the world?” But as soon as I asked her about the objections to faith that she must come across daily, she was quick to call me out on describing them as “pat”. She actually takes each objection seriously, she listens, she takes the time and care to engage with every question that comes her way.

Amy: I would try and be careful not to ever minimize someone’s objection to faith as something “pat”. I think that most of the articulations against God are actually pretty heartfelt. We live in a culture that’s very apathetic about religious things so when people do articulate, “How could there be a God of love and this horrendous abuse has happened to me or my child or my friend?”, I think that’s a real objection that is both intellectual and personal, and that deserves the time for us to at least try and respond to. Another question that we find a lot in the West is that whole search for meaning in significance and purpose, “Why am I here?” and “Is this enough, is the material, sort of materialistic life that I’m living is that all there is to life?”

We live in a culture that’s very apathetic about religious things so when people do articulate, “How could there be a God of love and this horrendous abuse has happened to me or my child or my friend?”, I think that’s a real objection that is both intellectual and personal, and that deserves the time for us to at least try and respond to.

Simon: Let’s talk about one of those, some people want to talk about the character of God, and they often draw the distinction between this God of the Old Testament who—in some people’s minds—appears sort of violent and angry and a fearful kind of presence, and then the New Testament where they say it’s all lovely and kind and merciful. What’s the challenge there, of course, is trying to match up those two. Now, of course, the people who wrote about that God of the Old Testament thought he was good but how do you address that quite complex problem?

Amy: I think that lots of people have this idea that in order to be loving God couldn’t also hold people accountable or judge evil. But actually when we dig into that preconception, I think we discover that most of us don’t really believe that. Let me give you an example: A few years ago, I lived in the inner city in London, my husband was a pastor there, and I had a very good friend who at that time was the same age as me (late twenties). We were very different, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, she had five kids, lived on quite a high floor in a block of flats. She also had about four dogs. None of the dads of her children were still around, in fact, one of them was in prison (he was a crack dealer, very violent man, she had a restraining order against him). She became a Christian and we became very good friends—we met weekly. One day, her ex-partner (the father of one of her children) got out of prison and he came to her apartment and broke in and beat her virtually to death. I’ll never forget seeing her when I saw her—it was just incredibly shocking—she was unrecognizable. Now, in that situation, what did I feel—what did love cause me to feel about the perpetrator of that violence? Love meant that I cried out for justice for her.

See love and justice go together, and when we read the Old Testament we see a loving God who is also a God who judges evil—that’s actually the same as the God we read about in the New Testament. Now in the Old Testament one of the means of his judgment, within a very limited time period, is war. Now, we can say, “Well, we don’t like that idea.” We read it today through our sort of Western eyes and think that doesn’t make sense to us. But I think if we understand it within a framework of a loving God who judges evil perpetrators on behalf of the victim, it begins to make a bit more sense.


Amy Orr-Ewing gives a longer response to this important question in an article that I engaged with: Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell? I’ve also engaged her pertinent question, “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?”.

A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology—Orr-Ewing interview

The Ring of Truth is the first part of a two part interview of Amy Orr-Ewing by the Centre for Public ChristianityI’ve transcribed it and posted it in three posts:

  1. A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology (below).
  2. Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account?
  3. The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle.
Amy Orr-Ewing at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
Amy Orr-Ewing at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics

Justine: From the Centre for Public Christianity, you’re listening to Life & Faith. I’m Justine Toh.

Amy Orr-Ewing is the director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She’s addressed audiences from Westminster, to the White House, speaking about the truth and beauty of the Christian faith. But her story starts right here, in Australia.

Simon: You were born here we understand?

Amy: That’s right.

Simon: But you did leave when you’re two years old so I’m going to say, “Welcome home!”

Amy: Thank you!

Simon: Great to have you here. So tell us about…

Justine: Amy was back in Australia as a speaker for our annual Richard Johnson Lecture and while she was in town, Simon and I couldn’t miss the chance to have her on the show. Next week Amy will be back this time telling us about her doctoral studies on a remarkable woman—who was a contemporary of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and deserves to be much better known than she is—Dorothy L. Sayers. But this week we’re focusing on Amy’s story and it turns out in the years that Amy’s parents were in Australia they experienced a couple of life-changing events. Yes, one of them was the birth of their daughter but they also experienced an unexpected challenge to their faith, or rather their atheism.

Amy: My dad had grown up in a very strongly atheistic home. My grandfather was an East German scientist and absolutely committed atheist who forbade any talk of God in the home and forbade anyone reading the Bible even. So my father had grown up in a strongly atheistic context with no sort of churchy conditioning and whilst here (in his thirties, happily married to my mum, two fantastic children, great lifestyle, loved the life here) he began to just ask questions (“When I get to the end of my life, when I’m retired and I look back what will it all have been for? Is this enough?”), and that sort of question worried him. A colleague at the University took him along to hear a Christian speaking—an apologist actually—speaking about the resurrection of Jesus. He said that it sort of struck him as quite odd frankly but that there was one thing that this guy said that sort of was like a bit of a dagger to the heart, which was, “The only reason you should be a Christian is because it’s true.” My dad thought religion is about superstition, it’s about wish-fulfilment. Truth and God are opposite categories—it’s a category mistake. But that worried him and then a few weeks later he had an extraordinary personal encounter with Jesus Christ and ended up kneeling on the floor thinking, “I need to say something to respond to Christ, to his offer of forgiveness to me” and thought, “I don’t know what to say I have no religious upbringing”, and he found himself just saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Later he bought a New Testament and found himself reading that in Mark’s Gospel, which was slightly surprising.

The only reason you should be a Christian is because it’s true

Simon: Wow! Coming to Australia for spiritual enlightenment—that’s the path that people come on in the tourist brochures. Now you are also a believer these days, you just believe it because your parents were?

Amy: That is a great question. I think because my mom and dad were intellectuals—and none neither of them were kind of conditioned by the Church—I had a slightly unusual upbringing in terms of a Christian family, in that they encouraged us to question, to read, and to come to conclusions ourselves—both my sister and I. Growing up in Britain as a Christian I was always the only churchgoer in my class at school, there was a tremendous amount of peer pressure to disbelieve. So I think that that encouragement from them to own this yourself, or not, was incredibly important. And for me that journey of questioning took me to Oxford—to university to study theology—where every presupposition about the Bible, about God, about faith was challenged.

Simon: Daily!

Amy: And to the nth degree! And it was my experience that the Christian claims and the Bible stood up to that scrutiny. I remember sitting with the Dean of my college—I was at Christ Church towards the end of my degree—and him saying, “We haven’t cured you of your religion have we Amy? We’ve tried everything but it hasn’t worked!”

But seriously, for me it has been my experience that if something is true, it stands up to scrutiny and questions are not to be feared—that the pursuit of of truth ultimately, for me, has led me to Jesus Christ.

If something is true, it stands up to scrutiny and questions are not to be feared

Justine: Before we get more into that question, can I just rewind you a little bit? I read that when you were 15 you actually had cancer. You’ve talked about how you were the only believer in your disbelieving class so when you’re 15 and get this diagnosis, all the other girls your age are mooning over rock stars or something like that but you’re grappling with the experience of disease and thinking about God in the midst of all that. What was that like?

Amy: I think the strongest memory I have from that time is the contrast from the fear and anxiety that was absolutely overwhelming. When the consultants sort of blurted out this diagnosis I was with my mom in the hospital and it was not done kindly at all—I mean she was horrified, and the shock of that and the sort of sense of just waves of blackness overwhelming me. And then over the next few days processing that and actually reading the Psalms, I found to be an extraordinary experience because here was an opportunity to vocalize what I was feeling: frustration with God, questions, fear. And then to experience actually meeting God, or God meeting me, in that place.

I think today, certainly in the context where I am, there’s an epidemic of anxiety related experiences, particularly for young people. In my life it was through that that the God that I was questioning and had kind of an intellectual path to come to know about him (“Was this really real?”, “Was this substantial?”), that that actually then overlapped and intersected in my own experience, and God met me in the pain and suffering of this world.

Justine: And so these days you must draw upon that union of that intellect but also that life experience, in order to do your work as an apologist? Now, can you take us through that because it sounds like you go around apologizing for things but it’s not quite like that is it?

Amy: No. Yeah, it’s a slightly unfortunate word, I think, “apologist”. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which really means to give a reasoned defense. It’s what a defense lawyer would stand up and do when you’re in court in order to persuade people of your case. So yeah, apologetics is really about grappling with the intellectual dimensions of the deepest questions: about whether God exists, about whether this is fair and just, does the way the world is cohere with the Christian worldview? But it’s not only intellectual because we as human beings are more than just brains on legs—we think (and obviously that’s really important) but life has other dimensions. How we feel, what we experience, the capacity—the possibility—of relationship, that desire, that thirst for meaning and purpose and fulfillment. Those different dimensions of human experience, Jesus speaks into all of them. So for me, any apologetic—any reasonable defense of the Christian faith—needs to engage at those different levels.

How we feel, what we experience, the capacity—the possibility—of relationship, that desire, that thirst for meaning and purpose and fulfillment. Those different dimensions of human experience, Jesus speaks into all of them.

Simon: Now despite that clarification of the definition, there are nonetheless plenty of things that Christians ought to feel sorry for or be apologizing for. What do you say to people who say, “Well, yeah, I’m okay with Jesus but gee, Christians have been rubbish!”

Amy: I’m right there with you. My friend is a brilliant Christian writer in the UK—called Dr. Elaine Storkey. She says, “The Church recruits from the human race.” There’s no expectation in the Bible that there’s a sort of moral bar that we have to have reached in order to own the name Christian. A Christian is simply someone who’s recognised our own brokenness and sinfulness and need for forgiveness. And therefore it ought not to surprise us that a lot of the brokenness that is in the world is also in the Church. So I think as the Church we do have a lot of apologizing to do for things that have been done in the name of Christ and in the name of the Church that do not legitimately represent Him.

How Long is Forever?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks. It’s Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes it’s Hell Week.

Chris: Yeah, I thought it was just the thermostat but no, it’s the theme.

Eric: We’re talking about hell. It’s such a serious topic that I have to joke around. We’re talking to George Sarris. George, we just have a few minutes left in this program, we’re going to have you back for a second program because there’s just so much talk about. So tell us—people are listening all over America, all around the world—what else do we need to know about hell?

George: The biggest issue that most people have relates around Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 25 verse 46, where it says, “Those who are following God will go into life everlasting and those who are not will go into punishment everlasting.” So the real issue is the word of “everlasting.”

Eric: Okay. And, by the way, you’re Greek, I’m Greek, just so happens the New Testament was written in Greek.

George: Amen.

Eric: So what is the word?

George: The word is aion. It does not mean never-ending. What it means is, “the end is not known”. Not never-ending, the end is not known. For example, if you’re in the middle of the ocean and you look around, you say, “Wow, there’s no end to this ocean, it just goes on and on.” There is an end, you just don’t know where it is.

Eric: So it means “seemingly endless”?

George: Well, not necessarily even “seemingly endless”, it just means “the end is not known.” For example, Jonah, when he’s in the belly of the great fish, he says, “The earth beneath him barred him in forever” (according to the English versions) but what it means is “The earth beneath barred me in for, I don’t [know], for this extended period but I don’t know what it was.” It was only three days—that’s how long he was in the belly of the great fish.

Eric: Right.

George: It talks about the sacrifices in the temple of the Lord will go on forever. No, they just went on until there’s no more need for them—when Christ came there was no more need for those sacrifices at all. In fact, if aion actually meant “never-ending”, the Jews of Jesus day would have had an unanswerable objection to Christianity because they were told, according to their scriptures, that the sacrifices in the temple were to last “forever” but they didn’t, they lasted only until Christ came. The reason [they didn’t make this objection] is because the word “forever” didn’t really mean forever in the original language.

Eric: Now that’s the Hebrew obviously.

George: That’s correct—that’s olam. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, they used aion in place of olam in just about every single place. So they’re pretty much synonymous at that point. It means “an age”. What Jesus is saying, by the way, in Matthew chapter 25 verse 46, is that, “There will be punishment in the age to come, there will be life in the age to come.” But they don’t have to be the same. If I said to you, “Dwight Howard is a tall man he’s standing before the Empire State Building, which is a tall building.” Does that mean the Dwight Howard and the Empire State Building are the same height? No, the word “tall” is a relative term relating to what it’s modifying. The same thing with aion, it’s a relative term, depending on what it’s referring to. If you’re referring to God it’s referring to something everlasting.

Eric: So it doesn’t necessarily mean “infinite”?

George: That is correct. It means “the end is not known.”

Eric: Okay. Wow! Speaking about the end, this is the end of this program. We’re going to do a second program with George Sarris. The book is Heaven’s Doors: wider than you ever believed. Thanks for listening.