A low-key evening at the pub, and some very enjoyable conversation. The Black and Blue Porter was a nice addition on the whiteboard – a roasty porter with some blueberry mixed in (better than it sounds). Speaking of sounds, did I mention Gish was mixed in the soundtrack last night? ”And she knows and she knows and she knows…” Excellent.
Topics for the evening:
Does love win?
Topics in detail:
1. Does love win?
2. Is God’s forgiveness unconditional? Is it for everyone?
3. “The ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity is this: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself – like Christ, who had to die so that Christianity could emerge.” What might this look like?
4. Is there such a thing as a ‘free’ gift?
5. “Does the future of evangelicalism lie with progressives who can adapt and change or with conservatives who remain faithful to the old paths?”
6. “What is the biggest problem in the church: people can’t stand us or we can’t stand the gospel?”
7. “Conversation works in the foyer, but behind the pulpit clarity is king.”
So discussion began with number one. Does love win? What does that mean? Well, after reading the book my understanding was this: if the vast majority of people who have ever lived – billions and billions of human beings, created in God’s image – end up suffering eternal conscious torment and horrible suffering in hell, then love does not win. In other words, God cannot be rightly called good, loving, and all-powerful if this is how things ultimately turn out. He admits that if this is how things go, we can say God is all-powerful, but don’t call him good and loving, or call him good and loving, but clearly not all-powerful. Something like that. He does a much better job, so read the book if you want the straight scoop. Yet it appears that there are many many people who are not Christians, who don’t appear to ‘choose Christ’ or worship the God of the Bible. Will they all be in hell? And what is hell? Is it separation from God? Is it being in God’s presence but not being able to stand it or enjoy it? Is it death and annihilation? Will there be a chance for people to choose God after they die? Is there a statute of limitations on repentance that’s limited to this life? Here’s an excerpt from the book:
From Love Wins, by Rob Bell:
“Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.
If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.
If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.”
Wait – did he get this off my blog post – An Angry God? (which I wrote a week before Love Wins came out).
What do you think? Is this a picture of God you adhere to? Is it accurate?
On to topic no.2 - Is God’s forgiveness unconditional? Is it for everyone?
The first response:
“No, it is not unconditional. I grew up in the church hearing that if God forgives you, you’ve got to start living differently, otherwise it obviously didn’t make any difference, and in that case – you’re not really forgiven. There are conditions.”
“What about God removing our sins as far as the east is from the west? And what about Jesus saying that we need to forgive people seventy times seven? Doesn’t that imply that forgiveness is unlimited, and therefore unconditional?”
Other examples came up: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son (all Luke 15, btw) – which all seem to note that forgiveness happens before repentance. That forgiveness happens regardless of our response or of our deserving it. So in that case, forgiveness appears to be unconditional.
So does God forgive everyone? If we are called to ‘love our enemies’ and forgive ‘seventy times seven’, and if while we were enemies, Christ died for us – doesn’t that imply that forgiveness is not based on response? Or at the least it seems unconditional. But does this apply to *all* of God’s enemies? Which would include everyone, right? It seems that there is a case to be made for this. That God forgives everyone, but not everyone chooses to accept that forgiveness, or live in the reality of that forgiveness. (There’s a nice chapter on this issue in Love Wins, by the way). Also, if we are called to forgive seventy-times seven (i.e. infinitely) and to love our enemies – doesn’t that also apply to God? Or does that not apply once you die? And someone asked, “How are we going to love our enemies when we’re in heaven and they’re in hell? That puts us in an awfully difficult spot. Or aren’t we supposed to love them anymore – which would make us held to a higher standard here on earth than in heaven, which is supposedly perfect.”
Other tangents that came out of this: was Jesus’ death necessary for God to forgive us? If so, then it wasn’t unconditional. It was dependent on a certain condition happening, i.e. someone dying in our place. *Or* was it the case that God unconditionally forgives – that is his nature – and the cross was the outworking of that reality – the expression of the love and forgiveness that God already extends (because clearly we see God forgiving in the OT, or was that just ‘provisional forgiveness’ but not the real thing? Or somehow backwards dependent on a future event?)
Another tangent: if Jesus ‘became sin for us’ and took on ‘the sin of the world’ – why would anyone be punished anymore? The theological way around this is that actually Jesus didn’t die for everyone, which again, isn’t really that good of news. Not to mention that it seems to deny the cross the fullness which it is due. But we have to explain why not everyone gets in, and also that God is all-powerful, so then we say that actually Jesus only died for those who actually respond to him. But then the offer of salvation to all people isn’t actually a genuine offer, and the whole thing unravels (or is given a fancy theological name).
Or could it be the case, that Jesus *did* die for everyone, and God *does* forgive everyone, but not everyone chooses to live in the reality of that forgiveness (see the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son). He’s standing right there at the celebration (heaven), but doesn’t join in the party (hell), despite the reality that the father says, ‘all that I have is yours’. (again, great chapter on this in Love Wins).
We skipped no.3, and went on to no.4 – is there such a thing as a free gift?
First response: ’I was trying to buy something the other day, but there was a minimal debit card purchase amount, and I didn’t have any cash. The clerk decided to buy it for me. I was amazed. A free gift!’
Second response: ‘Was it actually free? He still had to pay for it.’
Here’s where the question came from:
Excerpt from The Puppet and the Dwarf, by Slavoj Zizek:
“Is there such a thing as a ‘free’ gift?
Or does such an offer aim at putting you in a position of
permanent debt? When the message is: “I don’t want
anything from you!,” we can be sure that this statement
conceals a qualification:
“…except your very soul.”
On a more anecdotal level, is it
not clear that when, in a lovers’ quarrel, the woman
answers the man’s desperate “But what do you want
from me?” with “Nothing!,” this means its exact
What do you think?
And a bonus post from the backside, from a blogger who has issues with some of the theology in Love Wins, as it seems many do, most especially over theories of atonement (relates to above discussion):
Posted on a blog:
“Any Christian worth listening to loves the cross and is
loath to see it robbed of its glory. To ridicule what the
cross accomplished is to make war with the heart of the
gospel and the comfort of God’s people.
J. Gresham Machen understood this well:
They [liberal preachers] speak with disgust of those who believe ‘that
the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an
alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.’
It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the
Christian doctrine of the cross, they are trampling upon human hearts.
No doubt, some Christians get worked up over the
smallest controversies, making a forest fire out of a
Yankee Candle. But there is an opposite danger–and that
is to be so calm, so middle-of-the-road, so above-the-fray
that you no longer feel the danger of false doctrine. You
always sound analytical, never alarmed. Always crying for
much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-
maligned cross. There is something worse than hurting
feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.”
We didn’t actually get very far discussing this post, but it isn’t exactly clear what is meant by ‘trampling upon human hearts.’ It seems it’s just a fancy way to sound theologically adept and serious, while making people afraid. It attempts to create fear when alternative ways of reading the story are presented, more than actually living in the delight of the story, which at its heart is a bit of mystery, after all.
Do you have a thought on any of the above? Post your comments below!