Why should we show hospitality?

2016—the year fear trumped hospitality?

This year, more than any I can remember, politicians have played on people’s fear of strangers to win votes. I can think of examples in the UK, US, and Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this disturbing trend extends to other countries as well. Sure, the refugee crisis, people smuggling, trafficking, and immigration are complex issues but I think it’s fair to say that a lot of recent policies haven’t been motivated by hospitality

However, I don’t think we can just blame political leaders, as governments usually reflect the concerns of their citizens. Therefore, our fear of strangers will be amplified by our representatives. So if we want our governments to show hospitality, we must first show hospitality in our own lives—in our homes, in our churches, wherever we are. And it’s our hospitality that I’m going to focus on today.

Feast

To recap the last posthospitality wasn’t an afterthought for Jesus. No, He spent a lot of time showing and participating in hospitality. It also was a prominent feature in His teaching. So we have to ask, Why? What does it tell us about God’s character? I suggested that:

  • It practically helped people—it showed that God is down-to-earth, caring about even our most basic needs.
  • It demonstrated that God ignores our cultural, racial, and class boundaries—that His grace and love are inclusive.
  • It gave people a taste of God’s promised feast—literally. In the New Creation, God wants everyone to sit down with Him, to share and enjoy good things together. And He proved it to them by sitting down with them and sharing good things.
  • It proved Jesus was the Messiah—God come to rescue humanity—that He was greater than everyone who came before Him, even Moses and Elijah.

Last week I focused on hospitality, from Jesus, right through to the last chapter of the Bible. However, hospitality appears throughout the Bible, starting from the very first chapter. God welcomed humanity into existence, into His space, and out of love, He fed and cared for us—showed us hospitality.

Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.

Genesis 1:29, NLT (cf Gen 2:8-9)

It’s also in the oldest book in the Bible—Job. Job says:

I have never turned away a stranger but have opened my doors to everyone.

Job 31:32, NLT

So why do we show hospitality? Well, the first reason is, because God’s shows hospitality and asks us to imitate Him. This is explicitly stated in Deuteronomy:

He [God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19, NLT

And this isn’t an isolated passage, it’s a theme.

You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 22:21, NLT (See also Exodus 23:9)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34, NIV

Notice how similar Leviticus is to the Great Commandment:

For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Galatians 5:14, HCSB

Is it not [God’s desire] to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58:7, NIV

And the Israelites took hospitality very seriously:

In ancient Israel, hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution … The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger in one’s midst … developed into a highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition. Biblical law specifically sanctified hospitality toward the ger (“stranger”) who was to be made particularly welcome … Foreign travelers … could count on the custom of hospitality.

Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hospitality

Encyclopaedia Judaica give some examples, but there are many more:

  • Abraham saw the three men [angels] of Mamre “from afar” and he hurried to invite them into his house, ministered to their physical comfort, and served them lavishly (Gen 18).
  • Laban was eager to welcome Abraham’s servant while Rebekah attended to the comfort of his camels (Gen 24:28–32).
  • Jethro the Midianite was particularly disappointed at being deprived of the opportunity to extend hospitality to Moses (Ex 2:20).
  • Manoah did not allow the angel to depart before he had partaken of his hospitality (Judg 13:15).
  • The Shunammite woman had a special room prepared for the prophet Elisha (2Kings 4:8–11).
  • The extreme to which hospitality was taken is shown by the stories of Lot and the old man of Gibeah (Gen. 19:4–8 and Judg. 19:23–24).
  • Rahab harbored Joshua’s two spies (Josh 2).
  • Barzillai extended hospitality to David’s men (2Sam. 17:27–29).

Turning to the New Testament, we see the author of Hebrews appeals to this tradition:

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

Hebrews 13:2, NLT

Likewise, the Apostle Peter encourages us to:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:8-10, ESV

And so does the Apostle Paul:

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Romans 12:13, NLT

These examples also show that hospitality should be both an action and an attitude.

For about the first 350 years of Christianity, Christians met almost exclusively in homes. This meant churches naturally revolved around hospitality, specifically sharing a meal. We see an example of this in Acts.

And day by day, attending the temple together [only those in Jerusalem] and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.

Acts 2:46, ESV

So it makes sense that one of the desirable qualities of a leader was to be hospitable.

but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled,

Titus 1:8, HCSB (see also 1Tim 3:2,5:10)

Another reason to show hospitality is because it’s a way to love God. We see this explicitly in the parable of Sheep and the Goats:

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King [Jesus] will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

Matthew 25:35-40, NLT

My next post will look at “How, and to whom, do we show hospitality?”, which happens to also give three more reasons to show hospitality.

Should We Fear God?―Conclusion of Burk’s Case

Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. In this post I’ll finish engaging with his chapter.

There are numerous objections to the traditional doctrine of hell

Denny Burk, page 42

Perhaps that’s because the “traditional doctrine” isn’t what Scripture presents…

The weight of the scriptural arguments … should be enough to settle the issue even if our lingering objections are never fully resolved in this life.

Denny Burk, page 42

I think that’s cheeky given that the debate about Hell has been ongoing since the Early Church. Hopefully, this blog series has at least shown the scriptural arguments for ECT aren’t strong enough to settle the issue.

Augustine once reproved those who act as “if the conjectures of men are to weigh more than the word of God.” He thunders, “They who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God.”

Denny Burk, page 42

I agree we don’t want to argue with God, but surely any non-Augustinian Christian could equally say Augustine is putting his conjectures above God’s word and arguing against God?

Fear
Fear (D Sharon Pruitt)

Next Burk says we should consider the implications of ECT, and gives two:

First, the biblical doctrine of hell teaches us whom to fear. God is not only the treasure of heaven. He is also the terror of hell. … If you have been frightened of hell because you are frightened of the devil, you are not fearing the right person. The Lord Jesus himself teaches us this,

“Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Who destroys soul and body in hell? Is it the devil? Of course not. The devil himself is being punished there. Who is the one destroying soul and body in hell forever? God “afflicts” the wicked in hell, and the Lord Jesus deals out “retribution” to his enemies (2 Thess. 1:6-8). Going to hell means being left in the presence of God’s wrath forever (Rom. 2:5-8). Hell is scary because

“it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

Denny Burk, page 42-43

I find the direction Burk goes here disturbing. Matthew says God is “able” to destroy, not that God ever does, and it’s in the immediate context of encouraging the disciples, the opposite of inducing fear (v22 “persevere, endure, saved”, v23 God knows you are being persecuted, v24-25 you are following in Jesus’ footsteps, v26-27 “don’t be afraid” God will bring justice, v28 “Don’t fear”, v29-30 God cares for you even more than sparrows).

Romans 2:5-8 talks about wrath but it doesn’t say it’s forever.

Jesus spoke with authority, performed miracles, and garnered a lot of respect, however I don’t think His relationships were based on fear. Likewise, God frequently describes Himself as “Abba Father”. Awe, respect, reverence, obedience, and the apprehension we have before undergoing surgery (Heb 10:31), but the type of fear we have for the devil―fear of his hatred and desire to poison, torment, and destroy―surely isn’t healthy between a parent and child? We are told almost 150 times in the Bible not to fear. For example:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love’s complete perfection].

1John 4:18, AMPC

Moving on.

Second, the biblical doctrine of hell compels believers to see the urgency of evangelism. Have you considered the great mercy of God toward you in Christ? Have you begun to fathom what he rescued you from through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross? If his mercy was big enough and wide enough to include you, is it not sufficient for your neighbor as well? Shouldn’t the terrors of the damned move you to share the mercy of God with those who have not experienced it while there’s still time? Perhaps Spurgeon has said it best:

Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves 1 . If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

Denny Burk, page 43

I’ve been more motivated to evangelise since becoming an Evangelical Universalist for lots of reasons, one of which is that it now feels less hopeless, that even when people I evangelise die in apparent non-belief, I know that God can still use whatever small word or kindness I’ve given them. Also most non-universalistic forms of Christianity are overwhelmingly depressing, when you really consider the billions of our brothers and sisters ending up utterly ruined and wasted, either by torment or annihilation.

Having said that, I can almost agree with Burk if I consider hell from my reformed perspective―a place that God uses for reforming, correcting, pruning, purging, surgery, etc. I think there is urgency, that living in bondage to sin is destructive, and that the addictions and idols of this life don’t truly satisfy. I also think it’s good to consider the great, wide mercy of God and Christ’s amazing sacrifice―doing so was one of the reasons I left Burk’s view.

I like the quote of Spurgeon. It seems to be a reflection on:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9, NIV

However, this raises the question, given God loves people even more than Spurgeon, why didn’t we see Jesus 2 with “arms about their knees, imploring them to stay”? I think the most plausible answer is that He knew their rebellion was only the first chapter in their story―that in the end, all shall be well.


1. Although Burk’s ECT emphasises God afflicting people (see earlier quote that starts with ‘First’), rather than people ‘destroying themselves’.
2. Nor the Prodigal Son’s father.

My Response to Phillip Jensen’s―What Joy in Hell?

Phillip Jensen
Phillip Jensen

Phillip Jensen has made a significant contribution to Australian Evangelicalism over many decades. Yesterday he wrote a Facebook post about Hell (quoted in full below) and a friend shared it. As I respect both my friend and Phillip (who I met about a decade ago), I thought I’d take the time to engage with him here.

What Joy in Hell?

There is no joy in hell.

I agree.

Its very existence reassures us of ultimate justice. Where else can the victims of the Holocaust find justice? But justice is little comfort when we consider hell’s horror.

Yes… but I think it does so in a different way than you think. It seems to me that justice is about righting wrongs, and that while punishment can be involved, punishment of a perpetrator alone cannot heal the victim, cannot restore the relationship to how God intended all relationships to be: a reflection of the relationship within the Trinity. That requires reconciliation of the estranged parties, which requires repentance and (self-sacrificial) forgiveness. All of which is only possible when the Holy Spirit works within a situation.

Hell is such a horrible concept that sensitive souls want to recoil from even considering it. Denying its existence can even be called a godly heresy. Godly – in that God does not enjoy the death of a sinner and nor should we (Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9); but – a heresy none the less because the scriptures teach the reality of judgement and hell (Matthew 7:13, 21-23; 10:28).

I agree that it’s not a pleasant topic―indeed I have friends who have been deeply scarred by having certain interpretations of Hell forced upon them as children (some to the extent that they can no longer trust God). Personally I don’t deny God’s judgement and Hell’s existence (although we differ on the nature, purpose, and duration), and I do consider both almost every day (which isn’t an exaggeration).

However, I don’t think everyone who denies Hell’s existence is just being “sensitive”, I know some people who do so for theological and philosophical reasons―although I think that unfortunately puts them outside orthodox Christianity, which means it is technically heresy.

I agree that God doesn’t enjoy the death of anyone and that we shouldn’t either.

Much of what horrifies people about hell is the vivid and imaginative presentation of it by preachers, artists and writers. When confronted by scary pictures, some people close their eyes while others bravely make fun and laugh at them. So we have the Christians who cannot so much as think of hell and the non-Christian who will parody the whole notion portraying Satan with horns and tail, pitchfork and opera cape, or boasting, with more bravado than sense, of sharing a beer and a joke with all their mates down there.

I agree, although to be fair, Christians often haven’t helped the situation by grossly misrepresenting the topic.

Both responses make speaking on hell difficult. On the one hand the preacher is accused of insensitively using manipulative scare tactics and on the other hand he is ridiculed for believing in childish ghost stories. But it is our Lord Jesus himself who used hell in his preaching, so we must not – and cannot – leave it out of our declaration of the whole counsel of God.

I agree, although I think He was often using it differently than modern preachers.

So what do we know about hell? The Bible itself spends very little time describing or even mentioning hell. The word only occurs 12 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament, all but once on the lips of Jesus. Based on usage of the word ‘hell’, there is only one hell fire preacher in the Bible – and that is our Lord Jesus Christ.

I agree hell isn’t the focus of the Bible but it depends a bit on how you define it… For example, passages that describe future punishment are often interpreted as speaking about hell.

The word itself referred to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, close to and outside Jerusalem. The valley had been used for human sacrifices to Molech but was intentionally ‘defiled’ in Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6). The prophets (Isaiah 30:31-33, Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5-6, 32:35) spoke of it as the valley of slaughter and of its fire and vermin as the final end place and destruction of the wicked.

I agree.

The descriptions of hell are usually minimal but involve fire, corpses and vermin (Isaiah 66: 24, Mark 9:43, 48, Matthew 18:8 James 3:6). Other parts of the New Testament speak of the final state of judgement in terms of outer darkness, weeping and gnashing teeth, destruction, and second death. However, eternal fire is an image of God’s prepared punishment for the devil and his angels, to which sinful humans can be cast (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 14:10, 20:10).

I agree, except I don’t think the Bible says it’s the final state.

While the word ‘hell and any descriptions of it are used sparingly in the Bible, retributive punishment is widely taught and illustrated. Such punishment is not limited to this world and lifetime only; for both judgement after death and life after death are clearly taught in scripture. (Isaiah 66:22-24, Hebrews 9:26-28). Indeed the very concept of “the resurrection” is one of judgement as well as eternal life beyond the grave (Matthew 10:28, Luke 14:14, John 5:28-29, Acts 17:31).

I agree that judgment and punishment isn’t limited to this age but that it also occurs in the next. However, I think the type of punishment isn’t as clear as you think. There are certainly passages that sound retributive, and may well be. However, just because punishment is retributive doesn’t mean it can’t also serve a purpose. For example, Sodom and Gomorrah get burned to the ground but later we discover God restoring them.

I [God] will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and those of Samaria and her daughters. I will also restore your fortunes among them, so you will bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you did when you comforted them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters and Samaria and her daughters will return to their former state. You and your daughters will also return to your former state.

Ezekiel 16:53-55, HCSB

A similar destruction followed by restoration occurs with Egypt, Israel’s architype enemy, in Isaiah 19. Likewise with the Israel in Romans 11―indeed I think Paul goes as far as saying that it happens with everyone.

For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

Romans 11:32, NLT

And that Christ brings this justification/mercy/restoration:

So then, as through one trespass [Adam’s] there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act [Jesus’] there is life-giving justification for everyone.

Romans 5:18, HCSB

Continuing with your post…

Both this life and judgement are talked of as ‘eternal’ (Matthew 25:46).

I don’t think that Matthew 25:46 describes either life or judgement as “eternal”. When pressed, most theologians usually admit that it actually says life and punishment “of, in, or pertaining to, the age to come”. It’s a significant, further interpretive step to deduce how long either will go for in the age to come. If I said:

The highlight of the year to come will be my long service leave and lowlight of the year to come will be my sick leave.

Does that mean my long service leave will be the same duration as my sick leave? I see no necessity to interpret it that way… Indeed it seems the probability of any two future events having identical durations is low. Therefore, why should I interpret the following any differently:

The highlight of the age to come will be my long service leave and lowlight of the age to come will be my sick leave.

I look at this in more detail in Is Aionios Eternal? and Pruning the Flock?.

The permanence of this judgement is emphasized in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:19-31), as well as Paul’s language of “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

I disagree and think:

The parable is more about Jesus and his mission to be the Israel that the Pharisees had failed to be, rather than a discourse on the afterlife.

Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (according to Parry)

Furthermore, there’s evidence it’s probably a “subversion” of a parable the Pharisees would’ve known e.g. there’s an Egyptian parallel, seven Jewish ones, and one from Lucian (Greco‐Roman) (see Bauckhman, The Fate of the Dead, chapter 4). There are other considerations too e.g. it’s talking about Hades (which comes to an end in Revelation) before Christ had died and visited it―unlocking it’s gates and bridging it’s chasm (I really should dedicate an entire post about it one day).

This morning I posted a post dedicated to 2 Thessalonians 1:9. I don’t think it gives much support to your position, partly because it’s relying on the word mistranslated as “eternal”.

Jesus teaches us about hell to warn us of behaviour that would take us there. In Matthew 5:22 he speaks of hating and despising our brother in such fashion as to be liable to the hell of fire. And in Matthew 5:29, 18:9 and Mark 9:43-47, he portrays the horror of hell in such terms that it would be better to lose an eye or a hand than ever to be thrown there. In Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5 he warns us to be more fearful of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell rather than the one who can only kill the body.

I agree, although I think we need to be careful not to take Matthew 10:28 out of it’s context, which is encouraging the disciples―that their persecution isn’t unexpected (v.22-25), that God cares deeply for them.

“Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.

Matthew 10:26-30, HCSB

Moving on…

Whatever we do or do not know about the details of hell, it is clear from Jesus’ teaching that it is so terrible and terrifying that we should do all in our power to avoid it.

I agree.

Our hatred of hell is but a pale reflection of God’s detestation of its terrors. It is why he responded to Amos’ prayers by holding back the judgement that was coming on Israel (Amos 7:2-6) and why his heart recoiled within him when faced with destroying Israel (Hosea 11:8f). It is this compassion of God that even now means he patiently endures sinfulness to give time and opportunity for us to repent (Romans 2:4f, 2 Peter 3:9f). And even more, it is God’s compassionate desire that none should perish, which moved him to give his only Son that we should not perish at all but have eternal life (John 3:16); and it is because of his Son’s similar compassionate desire that Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

I agree, although I would suggest that the passages you quote here (as well as those in your 3rd paragraph) should prompt us to reconsider the nature, purpose, and duration of hell. That perhaps it isn’t solely retributive, that God has bigger plans, a higher telos, for each and every being He has created in His image.

I would also suggest that “God’s detestation of [Hell’s] terrors”, as well as His compassion, motivates Him to make Hell cease. I believe this is well within the ability of an all-powerful, all-knowing, infinitely resourceful and patient God. Indeed I think He promises to do so. I don’t expect you to be necessarily convinced by this response but I would seriously challenge you to read the Four Views on Hell: Second Edition, which has been recently published by one of the largest Evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It makes a strong case for Eternal Conscious Torment, Conditionalism, and Universalism all being legitimate, biblical, Evangelical positions.

Hell is a horrible topic but we must not avoid thinking about it or preaching it, for it is the basis of seeing not only the ultimate justice of God but more importantly the greatness of our God’s compassion and saving work in Jesus.

I agree, although I think hell isn’t the entire picture of “ultimate justice”.

There is no joy in hell but that is why there is such joy in heaven over every sinner that repents (Luke 15).

Amen!

Sprinkle’s Introduction to “Four Views on Hell: Second Edition”

Alex holding his copy of "Four Views on Hell: Second Edition"
“Four Views on Hell: Second Edition”

I’ll have to pause my current blog series because Four Views on Hell: Second Edition has arrived! This is the latest book in Zondervan’s1 Counterpoints―a series that allows 3-5 prominent scholars to each present their view on an important biblical and theological issue, and then respond to each of the others. Thus, in one book, a reader can get a good overview of the topic and see where the points of difference are. Because of this, I suspect the book will turn out to be one of the most significant books on the topic of Hell for many years to come. My aim is to post about the book as I read through it.

Preston Sprinkle
Preston Sprinkle

The general editor of this book, Preston Sprinkle, wrote the Introduction. He starts by acknowledging that Christianity’s doctrine of Hell has sometimes been poorly articulated and misused. Also, that even within evangelical Protestantism there has been a wide range of views. The examples he gives are Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, and N. T. Wright. He says that in the last 20 years there has been an increasing amount of discussion of the topic (I’ve observed this too). He rightly notes that this isn’t because people are becoming “wishy-washy” but quite the opposite, it’s because people are re-examining Scripture. I think this is partly due to the Internet exposing us to many great Christian thinkers, past and present, across the entire Church, not just our local denomination. In the same vein, he mentions that dialogue between Protestants and Catholics is now common. Another reason for re-examining Scripture is that Early Church history, councils and creeds are more accessible, meaning we can see for ourselves that all of the views on Hell in this book are actually orthodox2.

If you hold onto your view too tightly, unwilling to reexamine it in light of Scripture, then you are placing your traditions and presuppositions on a higher pedestal than Scripture itself. If the view you have always believed is indeed Scriptural, then there’s nothing to fear by considering and wrestling with other views. If Scripture is clear, then such clarity will be manifest.
Preston Sprinkle, p14

I loved that he emphasised “ecclesia temper reformanda est, or ‘the church is (reformed and) always reforming’”3, which was the inspiration behind this blog (see my first post). I agree with him that we regularly need to review our views, otherwise:

It’s common, perhaps likely, that unexamined beliefs become detached from their scriptural roots over time [and acquire “unbiblical baggage” p11] … We believe particular doctrines, but can’t always defend them biblically.

Preston Sprinkle, p15

He briefly introduces each contributor4 and their view:

  1. Denny Burk is “a Professor of Biblical Studies and the director of the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College”. His view is Eternal Conscious Torment, and is based on passages such as Matt 25:46.
  2. John Stackhouse is “the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies and Dean of Faculty Development at Crandall University”. His view is “terminal punishment” (aka Annihilationism or Conditionalism), and is based on passages such as Matt 10:28.
  3. Robin Parry has “a PhD [in OT theology] from the University of Gloucestershire (UK) and serves as the commissioning editor for Wipf and Stock Publishers”. His view is Christian [Evangelical] Universalism (aka Universal Reconciliation), and is based on passages such as Rom 5:18. Sprinkle helpfully points out that this is not “anything goes, all roads lead to heaven” pluralism!
  4. Jerry Walls is “Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University”. His view assumes Eternal Conscious Torment but unlike Burk, he argues here for a type of purgatory where sanctification of believers and sometimes repentance of some (but not all) people who hadn’t believed in this life, can occur (similar to C. S. Lewis?), based on passages such as 1Cor 3:10-15. Sprinkle explains that this does not replace Christ’s atonement.

All of them have also authored multiple books and publications. I appreciated that he repeatedly points out all the contributors to this book:

  1. are committed Christians
  2. believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  3. affirm the existence of Hell (despite differing on the nature of it)
  4. base their view primarily on Scripture and theological reasoning rather than tradition, emotion or sentimentality

As Christians, we should seek to understand before we refute, and if we refute, we must do so based on compelling biblical evidence and not out of fear or presupposition.
Preston Sprinkle, p15


1. Publisher of the well known NIV translation.
2. He mentions this here in relation to Annihilationism but elsewhere I’ve seen him say this about Evangelical Universalism too.
3. p15
4. All quotes in this paragraph are from p13.

Should I be silent for the sake of unity?

Sometimes people ask why I discuss the topics on this blog when it upsets some people― “Alex wouldn’t it be better to stay quiet for the sake of unity?”

I agree, unity is very important and that we don’t want division, especially over something that isn’t an essential doctrine of Christianity. There is some uncertainty about the future and I respect that many people prefer to spend their time and energy on other things. However, I’ll give a summary of why I bother, why I inadvertently upset some people when I occasionally bring up Universalism:

  1. I like it when people help me refine my views and so try to return the favour. As I think Universalism has more biblical support1 than either Annihilationism or Eternal Torment, I’d like people to at least understand and consider it. If they discover it’s mistaken I want them to point that out as I don’t want to believe a falsehood―truth matters a lot to me.
  2. I think some versions aren’t hallowing to God but bring His name into disrepute (e.g. if God doesn’t want to save everyone, then it’s questionable that He really is Love and The Father. Or if God can’t save everyone, then it’s questionable that He really is all-knowing and all-powerful. I’ve had Atheists point both of these out to me).
  3. Some doctrines of hell are an unnecessary (assuming Universalism is true) hurdle to non-Christians (an Australian survey2 found it’s in the top 10 reasons people reject Christianity).
  4. Some Christians insist their view of Hell is essential to being a Christian, which means they will try to ignore, silence, disown and ostracise Christians who hold a different view (e.g. despite being a member of a denomination for 15 years, I was asked to leave as I couldn’t be silent in public and private on these topics. Not only that, but the denomination convinced the next denomination I joined to do the same).I know many who have experienced this―this isn’t building unity and sadly results in some of our siblings becoming church-less or even giving up on Christianity.
  5. Some versions of Hell increase the “us vs. them” mentality (e.g. “some people out there are beyond hope, they can’t be helped or healed, not even by God” or “some people out there aren’t loved by God”) rather than unity (e.g. “everyone is loved and can―and will―be helped and healed”).
  6. I agree with people like John Dickson and Greg Clarke who say that, “Eschatology and ethics are intertwined”3 (e.g. if, contrary to Arminianism, one believes everyone can be saved and, contrary to Calvinism, is worth saving that affects one’s approach to practical things like mission, social justice and humanitarianism).
  7. I find the promise and prospect of seeing everyone saved inspires far more praise and worship (“the more saved the better”, implies seeing all saved would be the best).
  8. Like you, I am concerned about the fate of billions. On good days, we’re concerned about their fate more than our own. I find it encouraging (and I know others have been encouraged by this) to believe even non-believing loved ones aren’t lost forever.
  9. Sadly some of my friends have been psychologically damaged by fundamentalist teaching about Hell as children (I’m hoping to undo some of that damage).
  10. I think Universalism was the view of the Apostle Paul and many in the Early Church for almost 500 years, including the some of the greatest Church Fathers. I’d like us to reform back to their view.

Because of the points above, I’ve seen many people come back to Christianity and have their lives transformed, simply because they’ve found out there is a legitimate, alternative Christian view of Hell.

I believe Jesus revealed what we need to know of God. God’s incarnation joined Humanity to Himself so that everyone will eventually participate in His death, resurrection and ascension.

I hope that helps.


1. I think it also has far more support from reason and experience, plus a little from tradition, however as an evangelical, the biblical support is the primary concern.
2. Australian Communities Report 2012 by Olive Tree & McCrindle Research.
3. Dickson and Clarke, 666 And All That, p184.

Everyone Being Reconciled To Everyone Else One Day – The Bible’s Overall Story Part 3

Every day we see and experience broken relationships. Sometimes they are so broken that parties end up killing each other. For example, just this morning I was reminded that in Australia alone each week two women are murdered by their partners―this week one was a pregnant mother.

In today’s post I want to look at one of the reasons why I believe eventually all broken relationships will be healed in the New Creation. We find this promise in the “The Christ Poem”1:

Colossians 1:15-20
“The Christ Poem” (Colossians 1:15-20, using HCSB, NLT, ESV, MOUNCE & N.T. Wright2)

I love how this passage shows the preeminence (the utmost importance) and centrality of Jesus in everything―past, present and future. And it does this using wonderfully interwoven parallels:
– Jesus is over everything (a) because everything (b & c) was created by Him.
– Jesus is before everything (d) because everything (e) is held together by Him.
– Jesus is preeminent in everything (f) because He is:

  • the beginning (or origin) of Creation
  • the head (or origin) of the Church
  • the firstborn from the dead (the beginning or origin of the New Creation)
  • the “telos” (purpose and destiny) of everything―everything (c) is created to Him, and everything (g) will be reconciled to Him.

(I think these dot points also show the Bible’s overall story)

Now as far as I can see, the scope of all of these “everything”s3 is identical and includes absolutely everything created4. In case there was any doubt, Paul twice reinforces the “everything” (b & h) with the “in heaven and on earth” phrase5, and makes sure we understand that the phrase includes everything visible and invisible, even thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities.

However, what does “reconcile everything to Him” mean? Thankfully, I think Paul explains it in the same sentence. It is “making peace”, and Jesus achieved6 this through His self-sacrifice, “His blood shed on the cross”. I think Paul gives examples of what this looks like, both before and after the poem:

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.Colossians 1:13-14
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before HimColossians 1:21-22

Paul uses it similarly in Romans 5:10 (HCSB), explaining that amazingly the reconciliation was inaugurated (begun) while we still hated God:

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

Not only is the relationship to God reconciled but relationships to everyone else:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and non-Jews] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.Ephesians 2:14-18 (NIV)

And this isn’t just a future hope or dream, it’s something God invites us to be involved with now:

Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (HCSB)

I find it immensely encouraging to know that each self-sacrificial peacemaking, small or big, takes us one step closer to seeing every relationship restored and reconciled―indeed reformed to what God always intended!7

I hope this brief overview will inspire you to at least look into this more. The best exposition of Colossians 1:15-20 I’ve ever read is in Robin Parry’s book8―you can read the pages here. It strongly influenced this post, however I also found Diane Castro’s blog post9 helpful, as well as Talbott’s discussion10.


1. Colossians 1:15-20
2. N.T. Wright, “Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1:15-20,” in idem, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 99–119. Found on page 42 of The Evangelical Universalist.
3. Each time it’s the Greek word “pas”.
4. While not talking about creation, the extent of the image and fullness of God is similarly absolute, as Jesus is fully God.
5. Also used by Paul in Ephesians 1:10 and by Jesus in Matthew 28:18.
6. And achieves. I think it’s a “now and not yet” scenario. He has won but it’s not yet fully actualised.
7. I want to make it clear that sadly there are limits to how much some relationships can be healed in this age. For example, I’m NOT advocating women staying in, or returning to, domestic violence―violence is the opposite of the peace that God intended, and will achieve for all relationships in the age to come. If you are facing domestic violence please seek help via HumanServices.gov.au or WomensHealth.gov. For those interested in present and future reconciliation more generallly, I recommend reading Miroslav Volf’s profound material e.g. The Final Reconciliation: Reflections on a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition.
8. MacDonald, Gregory. The Evangelical Universalist, 2nd ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012), 41-53.
9. Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation.
10. Talbott, Thomas. The Inescapable Love of God (1999, revised 2015), p63.

Everyone Repents & Rejoices: The Bible’s Overall Story Part 2

In The Bible’s Overall Story Part 1 I looked at the stages of the relationship between people and God. However, questions arose from it, “What about people who don’t repent and rejoice in this life?”. This is an important question because billions of people fall into this category, as far as I can tell.

I think there are good biblical reasons for believing that those who don’t repent and rejoice in this life will do so at some point in the next. In a future post I’ll explore how God might bring people freely to this position but in this post I’ll simply focus on what I think are His promises that He will.

One of the passages that I think most clearly shows the repentance and joyful response to God’s mercy is:

… that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:10-11, NLT

“Every Knee Shall Bow” by J. Kirk Richards ©2008

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul seems to be expanding on God’s promise in Isaiah 45:

Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.
By Myself I have sworn;
Truth has gone from My mouth,
a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to Me,
every tongue will swear allegiance.Isaiah 45:22-23, HCSB

… this acknowledgement of Christ is universal. Paul emphasizes that there are no exceptions by expanding the Old Testament text “every knee will bow” with the words “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” This is going considerably further than the Isaiah text. In Isaiah only the living were in mind. All the survivors of the nations would bow, but the dead were dead. Not so here. Even those “under the earth,” that is to say, the dead, will bow. So the picture is of every single individual who has ever lived acknowledging the rule of Christ.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 98

I think the bowing and declaring Jesus as Lord isn’t subjugation for a number of reasons:

First, we see that God has just called all the nations to turn to him and be saved, and it is in that context that the oath is taken. Second, the swearing of oaths in Yahweh’s name is something his own people do, not his defeated enemies. Third, those who confess Yahweh go on to say, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength,” which sounds like the cry of praise from God’s own people.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 68

Elsewhere in Paul’s letters when he speaks of confessing Jesus as Lord it is always in a context of salvation. No one can say that “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). If someone confesses with their mouth and believes in the heart that Jesus is Lord, then they will be saved (Rom 10:9). There are no examples in Paul of an involuntary confession of Christ’s Lordship. The word translated as “confess” (exomologeomai) is a word almost always meaning “praise.” Throughout the LXX version of the Psalms it is used of the joyful and voluntary praise of God, and that is how it is used in the LXX source text of Isaiah 45:23. There is no good linguistic reason to think Paul was using it in any other way here.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 100

I’d suggest that this positivity is one of the reasons the HCSB, ESV and NLT, all translate the action in Isaiah as “allegiance”.

It cannot mean mere outward, hypocritical and forced agreement…Henri Blocher1

Furthermore, Paul says the confession is “to the glory of God the Father” and we are told countless times that people faking it doesn’t achieve this―quite the opposite, God detests outward displays of “piety” and “praise” when hearts aren’t in it. For example,

[Jesus] answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:
These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.Mark 7:6, HCSB

In contrast, there’s a persistent theme of God desiring, deserving and receiving everyone’s wholehearted, joyful praise. For example:

Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in them,Psalm 69:34, HCSB
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.Psalm 86:9, ESV
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!Psalm 98:3-4, ESV
My mouth will declare Yahweh’s praise; let every living thing praise His holy name forever and ever.Psalm 145:21, HCSB
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!Psalm 150:6, ESV

I think that the Great Commandment is part of the “Truth [that] has gone from [God’s] mouth, a word that will not be revoked”, that ultimately it is a prophetic revelation of the holistic, truly glorifying, worship of God by everyone.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.Matthew 22:37, ESV


1. Blocher, Henri. Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil. Edited by Nigel M. deS. Cameron (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), p. 303. While we agree on the point quoted, I think he makes some puzzling theological moves so ends up with conclusions that I disagree with.

The Bible’s Overall Story – The Three Crosses – Part 1

My last post introduced what I think are the most common views that Christians have on Hell (broadly defined as the fate of those who aren’t saved in this life). This week I’m going to look at one of the reasons why I think Hell needs to be reformed, and that is because current notions of Hell don’t seem to fit well in the Bible’s overall story or metanarrative.

There are a lot of themes that could be included but I’ll walk us through a simple summary of the Bible that focuses on the relationship between God and people:
God creates everyone

We start with the perfect, eternal God who creates everyone.

For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Colossians 1:16, HCSB

Everyone rebels

Sadly, everyone deliberately puts themselves first at the expense of others. This unloving attitude is a core aspect of sin. Unchecked, I think we become increasingly proud and narcissistic, while pushing away the Source of life, growth, vitality, joy and hope. Furthermore, the attitude and behaviour is a rebellion against God and His desire for the way things should be (wholeheartedly enjoying and praising Him—together, forever!). The climax of this rebellion was executing Jesus on a Roman instrument of torture, a wooden cross.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3:23, NLT

If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:8, HCSB

Everyone punished

I think sin/rebellion becomes self (and other) destructive—spiritually, mentally and physically. Our physical death seems to be a reflection (a consequence, a form of punishment1 ) of this spiritual deadness/broken relationship.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

Romans 5:12, NLT

People repent & believe

Jesus’ death on the cross thankfully changes things2, including demonstrating God’s forgiveness of our rebellion and drawing people to repent and believe in Him.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16, NLT

Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4, HCSB

People reconciled to God

This means people are reconciled to God3.

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

Romans 5:10, HCSB

What happens to these people?

Although it would be nice to unpack each step a lot more, so far hopefully most Christians would be more or less in agreement. However, a major disagreement arises about the fate of people who don’t repent and believe in this life. Those people, according to many Christians, aren’t saved at this point, nor can they be saved at any later time.

Next week, in part two of this mini-series, I’ll try to make a case for why I think there is actually an amazing symmetry in Bible’s story, that the “people” in the last two steps of this flowchart are actually the “everyone” in the first three steps!


1. However, our current physical limitations, particularly death, should shatter our delusion that we are God and act as a limitation on the amount of evil (and self destruction) we can commit. In that sense, both are merciful and mean that the road to restoration is shorter.
2. Many books have been written on what happened on the cross and how we should understand the Atonement but Atonement Metaphors and Animated Explanation of Sacrifice and Atonement are helpful starting points.
3. We are also reconciled to each other – see Top 7 Bible Verses About Reconciliation.