Category: Reasons For Reforming

Parry—Creation: all things are from him and for him

All Christians are universalists about creation—God created all things, through his Word. And creation is not simply about origins (everything comes from God), but about purpose and destiny. Created things have an end, a destiny, and that end, as the beginning, is God. The end of creation is there in its beginning: creation is from God, for God, and oriented towards God, reaching towards its potential and completion in God. So the question of universalism and hell can be framed in terms of whether or not God will bring all creation to the goal for which he intended it. Yes . . . or no?

Let’s get more specific. Take humans—the subject of this debate. Christians agree that all humans are created in the image of God (Gen 1:24–26). But while God did create humans as “good,” he did not create humans as finished and completed creatures—he created them with a destiny to grow towards. This telos of human creatures is, in community, to be filled with God and to image God in the world.

Furthermore, humans find their sense of fulfillment and happiness in God. We all long for happiness; as Jerry Walls puts it, “We have a built-in hard drive to desire happiness . . . .”1 That is how God made us. And this desire cannot be fulfilled without being rightly related to God. Augustine famously put it this way: “our hearts are restless until they find rest in you” (Confessions I). So our story of creation already includes a notion of the goal for which God destines humans—and that goal is not everlasting alienation from God.

The gospel revelation of Jesus Christ deepens and sharpens our understanding of the human telos. The risen and ascended humanity of Christ is the climax of our human nature. One day we shall be like him (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:12–57; 1 John 3:2). For us, being human is a yet-to-be completed journey. Jesus is the only person ever of whom it can be said that he is fully human. Humanity has reached its goal in him. And in the gospel, it becomes clearer to us that the creation of humanity was always a two-phase project: the first Adam was earthly; the second Adam was heavenly (1 Cor. 15:42–49). Humanity was made with a destiny, and that destiny was to be conformed to the image of the true human, the origin of the new, phase-two humanity—Jesus. This theology is foundational for universalism. Humans have been created to grow towards God, their destination. They are not created for hell, but for theosis.

Creation

Fall

Genesis suggests that the move from phase-one to phase-two humanity was interrupted by sin. Sin is the creature’s attempt to interrupt the reditus, the return to God, which is the goal of creation. As such, sin represents a rupture in creation. It corrodes human be-ing at every level and makes it impossible for us to reach our destination. Instead we spiral away from God, the source of life, into corruption, decay, and death.

All Christians are universalists about sin—all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Without divine redemptive grace human beings (and creation as a whole) are doomed to futility.

Might hell be able to build on the foundation of this plot-twist? Do we deserve divine punishment? Yes. Do we deserve divine rescue? No. But, remember, even broken humans are still in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), still valuable, still beloved:

[A]ll creatures participate in God’s goodness, especially rational creatures who were made in God’s image. . . . The rational creature is, essentially, a being bearing the divine image and ordered toward union with God. . . . God can no more cease to value rational creatures—even if they fall into sin—than He can cease to value Himself, because rational creatures are a reflection of His own essence. Therefore, He is always faithful to them, even when they are unfaithful to Him, and must seek to destroy their sin.2

John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory

To hate creatures made in his image, even fallen ones, would be a form of indirect self-hatred, and this God cannot do. Thus, Jürgen Moltmann: “God is angered by human sin not although he loves human beings but because he loves them. He says No to sin because he says Yes to the sinner.”3

Anthony Bloom, former Metropolitan Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, once stated:

Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. . . . We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty. . . . Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there.4

Blogger Alvin Rapier, commenting on this quote and annihilationism, writes:

If humans are like damaged icons and annihilationists hold that God completely annihilates human beings through the fires of hell, then the doctrine of annihilationism makes God the Great Iconoclast, the destroyer of human icons. God would be destroying the very Creation meant for communion, repeating the actions of the iconoclasts that were condemned in the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Instead of treating these icons “with tenderness, with broken-heartedness” and calling out the beauty that is there, as Bloom stated, annihilationism holds that God inflicts “capital punishment” upon these images, that the fires of hell will consume them, similar to how the iconoclast extremists “tore down icons from their places in churches and broke them up and burnt them” (Stephen W. Need, Truly Divine and Truly Human, 132). The God of annihilationism is the God of the iconoclasts, the ultimate destroyer of God’s images.5

So building a doctrine of eternal hell on the doctrine of the fall may prove harder than we may at first think. Hell’s defenders should try to do so, but they will have to wrestle with the wider biblical metanarrative in which the fall is located. Will God allow sin to thwart his creational purposes to beautify the cosmos? The answer comes, as we’ll see, in the gospel story. Sin may be as deep and dark and deadly as it can, but Christ annihilates it! The first Adam may have wrought havoc, but the Second Adam more than undoes that destruction (Rom. 5:14–21). Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). One problem with hell is that it makes the victory of Christ over sin sound something of a damp squib. Sin wreaks havoc in creation, but praise be! Grace undoes a bit of what sin does! Where sin abounds, grace abounds quite a lot. Is that divine victory over sin? It looks at first blush like a doctrine of hell is a doctrine in which Satan achieves a big chunk of what he set out to do. And if the Augustinian tradition is correct and most people are forever damned then eschatological victory is in danger of sounding like celebrating the divine triumph after hearing the following soccer score:

Satan, 5; God, 1.

“Hooray! God has won!” For Augustine, this score counts as a win because God wanted Satan to score 5 and only wanted one goal himself, and because he plans on beating up Satan after the match. Yet that still sounds like another way of saying that God wanted to lose.


1. Jerry L. Walls, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), ?.
2. John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011), 38. Some readers will be uncomfortable associating the divine image with rationality. If that is you, simply substitute “human” for “rational” in the passage.
3. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (London: SCM, 1996), 243.
4. As quoted in http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/quotes
5. Alvin Rapier, “God the Great Iconoclast? A Theological Critique of Annihilationism.” Blog post (16 Dec 2014) on www.thepoorinspirit.com.


Above is the third section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

Parry—Hell in the Context of the Biblical Narrative

Exitus et reditus

The first part of the material that follows can be found in a modified form in my contribution to the forthcoming Four Views on Hell counterpoints book, published by Zondervan. Everything starts and ends with God. Paul writes that creation is “from” God, “through” God, and “to God” (Rom 11:36). God is the context of the world—the origin and the destiny of creation. That basic pattern informs Christian theology: exitus et reditus—“going forth” from God and “return to” God.1 It forms the very broad theological framework within which we must operate.

Consider the Christ hymn of Colossians 1.

For in him [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. … God was pleased … through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Col. 1:16, 19–20

We see here a story that begins with the creation of all things through Christ and runs on to the reconciliation of the same all things through Christ (i.e., the all things that have been created).2 Exitus et reditus. Avoiding the universalism in this text remains a significant challenge for those who believe in eternal hell—eternal hell, after all, does not seem much like reconciliation!3 But I’ll say no more on that now.

So I propose we explore this Christ-centered creation-to-new-creation plotline as a context for considering hell. This hermeneutical judgment—that Christ is the norm for interpreting Scripture—underpins my entire approach. And already we may catch a possible glimpse of a red flag: might an eternal hell foul up the “reditus” of creation? How can creation return to God . . . if it doesn’t ever return to God?


1. The exitus-reditus model was adopted and then adapted from Neoplatonism.
2. While sin is not mentioned, the fact that reconciliation is required clearly presupposes it.
3. Some argue that reconciliation here means, “to put in order.” So, we are told, believers are “reconciled” by being saved, while unbelievers are “reconciled” by being damned. The problem here is that this proposal runs roughshod over the concept of reconciliation in general, and of the concept of reconciliation in Paul in particular (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:22). Being defeated and condemned is not being reconciled! Rather, this reconciliation is spelled out in terms of “making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” Try as I might, I struggle to see how “making peace” through the cross can concern damnation, even if the damned acknowledge the justice of their punishment.


Above is the second section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

I go into Colossians 1 in detail in Everyone Being Reconciled To Everyone Else One Day – The Bible’s Overall Story Part 3.

Parry unpacks the “Christ-centered creation-to-new-creation plotline” over 71 pages of careful, biblical exegesis (he did his Phd on part of Genesis) in his book, The Evangelical Universalist, resulting in the summary diagram below:

The Big Picture of the Bible
The Big Picture of the Bible—Diagram 4 of “The Evangelical Universalist”, p129

Parry—Burning Love: The Theological Hermeneutics of Hell

One of the fascinating things about the history of universalism in the post-Reformation period is that the doctrine seems to be “rediscovered” over and over again. While we can trace universalist genealogies in the post-Reformation period, the more interesting feature is just how many folk seem to stumble into it for themselves without having had it passed on to them. Some folk have unexpected religious experiences that lead them to become universalists; others, simply reflecting on the Bible come to believe that it teaches universalism; yet others find that wresting with the tensions in Christian doctrine draws them to the larger hope. But from the seventeenth century onwards we find universalism in Protestant countries breaking out again and again, here and there and everywhere. And when one genealogical line dies off, as many do, new ones spring up, often unconnected to earlier movements.

Why? My conviction is that a part of the answer to this question lies in the following claim: universalism feels like a better “fit” within Christian theology than the alternatives, at least at face value. As such there is an internal pressure generated by various Christian doctrines that pushes in universalist directions. The doctrine of hell puts a blocker on that push, but in so doing it generates a build-up of unresolved theological pressure that sometimes needs to be released. One of the ways that it can be released is by pushing out eternalist interpretations of hell (like a cork from champagne) and embracing universalism. So I think that if every Christian universalist and all their universalist materials vanished into thin air today, we would not have to wait long before some Christian was led to “rediscover” universalism again.

Think of Christian theology like an incomplete jigsaw: how do we know which pieces do and do not fit into the gaps? The clues are provided by the shape of the gaps left by the pieces that are already in place and by the image contained on them. My suggestion is that there is no obvious hell-shaped hole in this puzzle. Hell, understood as one’s eternal fate, has been squashed and squeezed into a space in the jigsaw, but the shape and the picture on the piece are not quite right. The space clearly has to do with judgment and punishment, so the hell piece is not completely out of place, yet something is wrong with it and this creates a niggling sense of dissatisfaction. That this is the case is indicated not merely by the fact that some people throw the piece away and seek out a piece that they think fits better, but also by the lengths those who support the inclusion of the piece go to to defend its appropriateness. Hell, they acknowledge, does appear not to fit, but they insist that upon closer inspection we can see that things are otherwise.

Now the salvation story that the church tells seems to me to generate, by its own internal narrative logic, certain expectations about the appropriate end to the plot. While we may well expect that the journey towards the end will involve judgment and punishment, the narrative logic does not lead us to expect it to end in eternal damnation for some/many/most people. Eternal damnation sounds more like the unexpected twist at the end of a Hammer Horror film. Or, to use a musical analogy, it is like a discordant note sounded at the end of a Mozart symphony. Instinctively we feel that it doesn’t fit, and indeed that it is rather ugly.

The universalist proposal is that in fact it does not fit; that the Bible does not actually teach such a doctrine; that many in the early church never accepted such a doctrine; and that we’d be better off throwing the rogue jigsaw piece away and replacing it with a piece that fits the gap better in terms of its shape and its picture.

Universalists also worry that insisting on retaining the eternal hell piece does damage to the rest of the jigsaw. By forcing the piece into a gap it does not fit, the surrounding pieces are squashed out of shape. Perhaps they are even repainted somewhat to make them blend in better with hell. When we let the hell piece call the shots and we reshape the jigsaw around it, the end result is a distorted picture.

To drop the barrage of analogies (jigsaws, movies, stories, symphonies), what I am saying is that the doctrine of hell may lead to our reconfiguring the other parts of orthodox theology to relieve the pressure—perhaps God did not create everyone for beatific union with God, perhaps some were created and eternally destined for damnation. Perhaps Jesus does not represent humanity, but a subsection of it. Perhaps he died for a few people, rather than all. These ideas do serve to relieve some of the pressure on hell, but they do so at a cost. It is a cost in all sorts of areas—at face value such notions are unbiblical; they are theologically problematic; they are arguably not true to the pre-Augustinian Christian tradition.

What we need to remember is that when we speak about hell, we are never simply speaking about hell. We are also implicitly speaking about creation, about humanity, about sin, about justice and punishment, about atonement, and about God. Every hellology implies a theology, every doctrine of eschatological punishment implies a doctrine of God.

When considering which account of divine judgment to embrace we are always doing more than simply exegeting this passage or that passage of the Bible. We are also, always, looking at the big picture. We need to remember that for Christians biblical texts are only authoritative when understood within their context in the canon of Scripture and in light of the rule of faith. So an atomistic approach to the topic that builds everything on the interpretation of a handful of passages will never do. Those passages will factor into Christian reflection, but only as located in a wider context. So today I want to briefly sketch out the narrative logic of the biblical plotline as I see it so as to make clearer the jigsaw pattern that I think a doctrine of final punishment has to fit comfortably within. A caveat: for reasons of time limit I am going to skip over a critical part of the story—that of God’s way with Israel. So I must simply register here that I do not think this part of the story optional, but to open it up would lead us into areas we have no time to handle. Also, I must stress that I will not be looking at the exegesis of any of the hell texts—this is an important task, but there is no time. My purpose is a tad more modest. I am hoping to offer something like the initial stages of a prolegomena to the theological interpretation and appropriation of such texts.


Above is the first section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

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 reforming effect of reformed drug traffickers—Andrew & Myu’s legacy

Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran
Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran (Photo: news.com.au)

My transcript of Keeping the memory of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran alive:

Andrew West: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two Australian drug traffickers. But by all accounts they were totally reformed—committed to spending their lives in Indonesian jails trying to reform other criminals. Myuran became an acclaimed artist; Andrew an ordained minister. But two years ago, this weekend, they were executed by firing squad. Pastors Christie and Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church walked with Andrew and Myuran as they prepared to die.

Christie Buckingham is back in Bali this week, determined to end the death penalty everywhere, this time with the help of young filmmakers.

Christie Buckingham: Thank you Andrew, lovely to be with you.

Andrew: Christie, two years after the executions of Andrew and Myuran, can I ask what the feeling is inside Kerobokan prison?

Christie: Yes, well, as a matter of fact, yesterday being ANZAC Day was the day that they were given their 72-hour notice and that was such an unbelievable day. Obviously, the prisoners are still not recovered or even been able to fully grieve the loss of these two men, simply because life inside prison is about living each day. The legacy that Andrew and Myu have left—in terms of leadership—has been fantastic but these guys were friends of many people inside the prison including the guards. So the loss is very felt—very felt this week.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I ask you personally—because you and your husband Rob became great spiritual partners to both Andrew and Myuran—can I ask how you are both feeling on this second anniversary?

Christie: Firstly, Andrew, thank you for that compliment but I would like to say that there have been many people—there were many people—that were part of Andrew and Myu’s journey. I just feel this incredible sense of loss, an unbelievable sense of waste, and—I will admit—some anger because President Jokowi talked about (and does talk about) his war against drugs and he killed two of his greatest weapons! Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Again, that would have been the way to go. So there’s this great sense of still being confused, confounded by the total lack of any consideration for what is happening worldwide in relation to the death penalty, and any recognition that the fact is, that it is not a deterrent against drugs.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I just ask you, Christie, if you could recall just those last couple of hours that you spent with the boys?

Christie: Yes, I will never forget them, personally. I have never seen… Obviously as a pastor and as a minister, and as a person growing up in Northern Ireland and seeing many fatalities as the course of life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so profound. I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

And I would like to take this opportunity, Andrew, of thanking people around the world for their prayers because they were certainly felt—by the boys and by myself and the other spiritual directors. There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

Andrew: And we should remember, of course, that Andrew Chan became an ordained minister, which was, I guess, something [that] added to the impact of what happened to him, in a way, don’t you think?

Christie: Absolutely, and even on the night of his execution, I remember with great distinction hearing the chains of the men walking in the pitch darkness and for the first moment my heart sank because I heard them as the world saw them—as condemned men. And out of the darkness, Andrew sang a song, “Savior, you can move the mountains”. And Andrew was just an incredible individual. I remember saying to him one day, “Andrew, this must get on top of you” and he said, “Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

“Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

And that’s Andrew in a nutshell.

Andrew: One way, of course, to keep alive, not just the memory of Andrew and Myuran but the cause (the cause that you and Rob have dedicated yourselves to) of fighting the death penalty, is through a movie that’s being produced, Execution IslandThe producers are looking to crowdfund this movie [I’ve made a donation as I think it’s a powerful and important story to share]. What are you trying to do with that movie Christie?

Christie: Well, there’s a couple of things. It’s a very real fact… I mean there’s two movies being produced at the moment:

—A documentary that is really based on Myuran’s art and his legacy (and that as an argument against the death penalty), linked with a hybrid documentary, and that is called Guilty. And that’s talking about the actual area of rehabilitation.

—The other one is the film called Execution Island, which is being produced by Three Kings Pictures. It’s talking about basically how faith, not only faith but your values, can see you to the end. And I think it’s a real encouragement to know that Myuran’s family was a Christian family and Myuran, in particular, I remember he said, “Everything’s coming back! All the songs I learnt, all the things, it’s all coming back!” and he said it was like having a box of things put aside, that you didn’t use for a while, and then you brought out—then you remembered them dearly. And Myu was a deep thinker and he was into philosophy and also just really engaged in deep conversations about faith. And so the movie will talk about how their faith kept them—kept them and their family strong. And like I say, there were many people involved in that faith journey and they were model prisoners as the guards described them and they certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

[Andrew and Myu] certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

Andrew: And just finally, have you kept in touch with the families?

Christie: Yes, absolutely! In fact, I was speaking to Myu’s mother just yesterday. She, in particular, is getting strength out of the fact that knowing that we are all doing what we can to speak up against the death penalty. In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

Andrew: The Reverend Christie Buckingham. She and her husband the Reverend Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church, walked with Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in their last years, before they were executed two years ago in Bali. Christie, thank you for being with us on the Religion and Ethics Report.

Christie: Thank you so much Andrew, wonderful to speak with you.

Andrew: There is a link to that crowdfunding website on our home page at the RN web site.

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 and garnered a lot of respect. At the same time, I don’t think His relationships were based on fear. Likewise, with God the Father, we should show Him awe, respect, reverence, obedience, and perhaps even the kind of apprehension we have before undergoing surgery (Heb 10:31), but it isn’t the type of fear we have for the devil―fear of hatred, malevolence, and torment. Surely that kind of fear isn’t healthy between a parent—our “Abba Father”—and a 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.