Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: Carl Raschke's "GloboChrist" for all the Nations of the World!

Sadly, Raschke's predictions seem all too true in hindsight to America's 9/11 towers tragedy (2001) ten years ago, and more recently, the unrest and rock-throwing strife between Coptic Christians and Islamist during Eqypt's political turmoil and governmental change this past weekend (May 8, 2011).

I am also including a link to an article from R.E. Slater entitled "Pluralism, Tolerance and Accommodation" that seems a very practical application of Raschke's GloboChrist within the context of God's coming kingdom that is "here-but-not-yet" or "here-but-not-fully" in this age of the Church.



by R.E. Slater

* * * * * * * *

Baker Academics: The Church and Postmodern Culture
About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

Link to Baker's Academic Series here

* * * * * * * *

The Messenger Is the Message
How will you obey the Great Commission today?

by Carl Raschke

Reviewed by Christopher Benson
August 2008 pub. date

We roam the global village as Alice roamed the chessboard in Through the Looking-Glass: pawns bewildered at every turn. The word "postmodernism" appears backwards, like the poem "Jabberwocky." Even when we hold it up to a mirror, the concept remains slippery. Alice responds to the poem in the same way we respond to postmodernism: "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate." Modernity, we surmise, was killed, and its murderers are still fugitives.

Carl Raschke is our Humpty Dumpty, perspicaciously interpreting the "postmodern moment" in GloboChrist, the third volume in Baker Academic's series, The Church and Postmodern Culture. Whereas the first two books in the series, James K. A. Smith's, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? and John D. Caputo's, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, offered textual exegesis of postmodern thinkers to correct stubborn misunderstandings and to show resonance with the Christian tradition, Raschke's book offers cultural exegesis to clarify the church's missional task in a global age. An early explorer of the intersection between Continental Philosophy and theology, author of The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity, Raschke serves as chair of religious studies at the University of Denver.

While too many Christians are tiresomely proclaiming that they are pro- or anti-postmodernism, crudely defining the heterogeneous concept, Raschke steps out of the impasse by announcing what should be obvious: "a dramatic global metamorphosis." Instead of wrangling over the "uncounted usages and syntactical peculiarities" of a word, he rightly claims: "Becoming postmodern means that we all, whether we like it or not, are now going global, which is what that obscure first-century sect leader from Palestine [we know as Jesus] truly had in mind."

This book is directed to American evangelicals with the purpose of awakening them to "a pivot in world history that seems as unprecedented as the transformation of Caesar's realm during the first three centuries of the common era. That change came through the strange and distinctly un-Roman cult from Palestine centering on the crucifixion and resurrection of a mysterious nobody now known to history as Jesus of Nazareth."

Political scientists, cultural critics, economists, and sociologists have their own theories to account for today's change. Censuring the timidity of Western élites, Raschke asserts that the change agent is—hold your breath—Christ, who has been "subtly shaping and directing human history towards its consummation through the ages." After the Cold War, Raschke reminds us, futurists envisioned a "new neoliberal millennium" where peace, free markets, and technological progress would occasion worldwide democracy and prosperity. Unexamined ethnocentrism resulted in the prediction that Westernization would entail secularization. Today Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman are eating humble pie. The world is not flat, but it is becoming anti-Western and post-secular. Raschke commends the dissenting foresight of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who spoke about a "return of religion," and American political scientist Samuel Huntington, who posited the famous thesis about "the clash of civilizations." They helped reveal the "fraudulent utopianism" in the West.

Struggle—Raschke disconcertingly insists—will mark the future, not solidarity. Ethnic separatism, mass migration, feminism, gay liberation, economic oligarchy, Islamofascism, and genocide chasten our unbridled confidence, so much so that a recovering utopian like Richard Rorty confessed "it seems absurdly improbable that we shall ever have a global liberal utopia."

Globalization has a dual power to erode [as well as to] empower particular identities. The fall of Christendom in Europe and North America contrasts sharply with the rise of Christendom in China, Africa, India, and Latin America. The church is uniquely "glocal," simultaneously global and local.

Raschke observes three characteristics of GloboChristianity that buttress Protestantism more than Catholicism or Orthodoxy: decentralization, deinstitutionalization, and indigenization (the process by which the universal is comprehended in the particular). Remembering that "Incarnation is translation," in the words of missiologist Andrew Walls, we should not fear that indigenizing the gospel will relativize the gospel: "Christianity," Raschke maintains, "has no culture itself but belongs to all cultures.”

Obeying the Great Commission in the global cosmopolis does not involve a mission trip to "lost peoples at the margins of civilization"; the margins have become mainstream, while the mainstream has become marginalized. Nor does it involve sophisticated marketing campaigns. We make disciples of all nations as the pre-Constantinian church did in the face of "daunting and promiscuous pluralism":

  • through incarnational ministry, being "little Christs" to the neighbor;
  • through contextualization of the message, speaking the idiom of the neighbor;
  • and, through relevance, hearing the needs of the neighbor.

Carl Raschke
Raschke adds that relevance should not be confused with the prosperity gospel, "seeker-sensitive" ministry, the "hipper than thou" emergent church movement, the social gospel redux, or "bobo" (bohemian bourgeois) culture. Relevance is radical relationality.

Revising Marshall McLuhan's claim that "the medium is the message," Raschke argues that the messenger (Christ) is the message. Living in the time between times, we are acting in the role of the messenger, as the mystic Teresa of Avila recorded in her prayer: "Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world."

For his understanding of globalization in the light of the gospel, Raschke has drawn on a wide variety of sources: political scientist Benjamin Barber, historian Philip Jenkins, Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis, and Pope Benedict XVI are represented here; so too the "ideological architect of jihadism," Sayyid Qutb, and political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. What emerges from these insights is an ominous feeling—related to "the looming clash … between the two historico-religious tectonic plates that comprise Christian and Islamic visions of justice and the end times" — and a "hope against hope" that behind the realities of globalization there is a mysterious power at work.

GloboChrist ought to be regarded as an essential postscript to Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. Raschke is at his best when he assumes the prophetic mantle, judging the Western evangelical church for:

  • "whoring after the false gods of spiritual and material consumption";
  • uncovering how the religious left is just "a fun-house mirror of the religious right";
  • questioning if Islamism is "an understandable reaction against the global overreach of the pax Americana";
  • chiding fundamentalists for idolatrously substituting an "eighteenth-century propositional rationality for the biblical language of faith";
  • pleading for the Emergent Village to stop replaying "the modernist-fundamentalist debates of a century ago"; and,
  • exhorting postmodern Christians to overcome their passivity and "privatized sentimentality" with a witness that possesses "the ferocity of the jihad and paradoxically also the love for the lost that Jesus demonstrated."

In the film Dogma, Cardinal Glick launches a campaign called "Catholicism Wow!" and replaces the wretched image of the crucifix with the happy-go-lucky image of Buddy Christ. Neither image will suit the future, only the powerful image of GloboChrist—who brings the "clash of revelations" to a fever pitch and who subverts the triumphal secularity of the West with the humble Christianity of the South.


Christopher Benson's reviews have appeared recently in Modern Reformation, The Christian Scholar's Review, and several other publications. Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Books & Culture magazine.

Editorial Reveiws: "What Would Jesus Deconstruct?" by John Caputo

Baker Academics: The Church and Postmodern Culture
About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.


What Would Jesus Deconstruct?:
The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church
(The Church and Postmodern Culture)

by John Caputo
October 2007 pub. date

By way of jump-starting our thinking of post-structural theory (which I have discovered to be Peter Rollins specialty) I am enclosing three additional book reviews on John Caputo's newest book that I have not read. These come from Amazon's website of which two reader's have provided additional insights to the book's topic. Lastly, please note Hunter's reflections on politics which send a cautionary flag to Christians involved in politics on either end of the political scale. A necessary involvement and duty but one that can get lost in the corridors of power and money. - skinhead


Editorial Reviews

Product Description
This provocative addition to The Church and Postmodern Culture series offers a lively rereading of Charles Sheldon's In His Steps as a constructive way forward. John D. Caputo introduces the notion of why the church needs deconstruction, positively defines deconstruction's role in renewal, deconstructs idols of the church, and imagines the future of the church in addressing the practical implications of this for the church's life through liturgy, worship, preaching, and teaching. Students of philosophy, theology, religion, and ministry, as well as others interested in engaging postmodernism and the emerging church phenomenon, will welcome this provocative, non-technical work.

From the Back Cover
Many in the church who are wrestling with ministry in a postmodern era view deconstruction as a negative aspect of the postmodern movement. But John Caputo, one of the leading philosophers of religion in America and a leading voice on religion and postmodernism, sees it differently. In this lively and provocative analysis, he argues that in his own way Jesus himself was a deconstructionist and that applying deconstruction to the church can be a positive move toward renewal.

"Caputo brilliantly manages to bring thought to life and life to thought. He wears his learning and scholarship so lightly that one has the impression of returning to a flesh-and-blood world where Jesus deconstructs and reconstructs our lives. Challenging, compassionate, witty, and wise. This book is compulsory reading for anyone concerned about the future of Christianity." --Richard Kearney, Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy, Boston College

"Let this book settle the debate once and for all: postmodern philosophy does not preclude true Christian faith. In fact, taken rightly, postmodernism leads not to nihilistic relativism but to a robust faith in the Savior, who himself was bent on deconstruction. Caputo is a sheep in wolf's clothing." --Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier

"This is a marvelous little book. It enables readers to understand deconstruction as the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God and provides a glimpse of what this concept might look like in the hands of Jesus as applied to the church. This will be difficult therapy, and many of us will be inclined to resist. However, let us remember that while discipline is painful in the moment, it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness in the long run. May the church learn from the wisdom found in these pages." --John R. Franke, professor of theology, Biblical Seminary

Book Review by Tim Jones
This review is from: What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture) (Paperback)

In this short, accessible, and often humorous book, Jacques Derrida scholar John D. Caputo introduces Christians to deconstruction using Charles Sheldon's In His Steps and the gospels' portraits of Jesus. Contrary to what most conservative Christians assume, Caputo argues (and succeeds, in my opinion), that deconstruction is not anti-thetical to Christianity. Indeed, Caputo suggests that we find a model deconstructor in Jesus himself, who regularly challenged the received hierarchies and human regulations of the day insofar as they inhibited the love of God and neighbor (much as Derrideans deconstruct human laws in the name of the undeconstructible goal of justice).

This six-chapter book is divided into two parts, with the first three chapters explaining the theory behind deconstruction and the last three applying that theory to contemporary Christianity (focusing especially on the Religious Right). The first half of the book is excellent, the most lucid, inspiring explication of Derrida I've read to date. The second half is good, though chapter 5 is quite mediocre.

Earlier in the book, Caputo denigrates the Christian Right for using the question "What Would Jesus Do?" as a weapon to attack those who disagree with them; the answer often given is effectively, "Jesus would endorse what we do and challenge all those who do things differently." The question becomes a veiled assertion of power, in the same way personal interpretations of the Bible are prefaced with "the Bible says" to grant them legitimacy. Caputo warns us of this danger, but, in my opinion, he never adequately works out we how can answer that question in a way that avoids simply using it to endorse our perspective.

This becomes especially problematic in Chapter 5 (titled "What Would Jesus Deconstruct?), which is essentially answered with a rant against the Christian Right, somewhat disconnected from the rest of the book. I actually agree with most of his political conclusions in that section (the Religious Right certainly needs to be demolished), but disagree with his implication that he is simply being a "conduit and a witness" (as James K.A. Smith puts it in his intro), objectively informing us of "what Jesus would deconstruct." The problem seems to be that any answer to that question (including Caputo's) is inevitably someone's answer to it. I think deconstruction can and should be used to challenged the Religious Right. But I do not think Caputo presents us with a compelling model of what that might look like.

Nevertheless, this is a very informative, often exhilarating read, and I highly recommend it to students, scholars, and pastors interested in exploring the ways in which postmodern philosophy and Christianity may mutually inform each other. A great second installment in Baker Academic's "Church and Postmodern Culture" series.

Book Review by Douglas H. Hunter
This review is from: What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture) (Paperback)

I take the publication of this book as an announcement of sorts. It tells us that what could be loosely called post structural Christianity is going public. There have been a number of other books that deal with Derrida's work in the Christian context but What Would Jesus Deconstruct? is the first book I know of that attempts to outline the profound sympathy between Derrida's later work and Christianity in a readable, non-academic way. That alone makes this an important book.

The wonderful thing for me about this text is that Caputo did a great job selecting the ideas and themes from Derrida that can be used as a lens through which to read scripture and address Christian faith. These ideas open up a variety of potentials, and energies that just don't have the same resonance when examined without the tools that post structuralism generally, and Derrida specifically provide us. Some of these themes include the journey, the unavoidable nature of impasses; the idea that the moment when we are faced with the impossible is the exact moment when real potentials are opened. He also addresses Derrida's unique understanding of justice, the economy of the gift and hospitality, to name a few.

What makes Caputo's summary of Derrida useful is that it directs our attention to the structure of how themes such as love, or loving God, or one's neighbor (as only one of many potential examples) are articulated in scripture but also the significant pragmatic and philosophical challenges posed by such themes, their aporias [(sic, "the difficuilty of establishing the truths of a proposition")], and the difficulties we face when we are willing to take this kind of challenge seriously. This is important work and frankly it strikes me that Christianity in America today is often dead set against doing this kind of work. This leads to another reason we need a book such as this. At no other point in my lifetime has Christianity been so defined by political affiliations, reduced to partisan politics in the most cynical way. The all-to-common and easy conflation of Christianity with specific political views means that Christianity is often robbed of its content and of the specific challenges it poses to us. Addressing Christianity through a Deconstructive hermeneutic is an important way to counteract this trend.

All that being said I think the book has two significant problems. The first is the way it describes its themes. Caputo often under describes them to the point where I'm not sure the uninitiated will be able to see what is so remarkable about the interaction between post structuralism and Christianity.

The other difficulty I have with the book is the way it addresses politics in the final chapter. Politics desperately needs addressing but the way he does it here is disappointing. He spends a great deal of time simply beating up the Christian right. Granted my own politics area very similar to Caputo's but in the last chapter he obviously ignores his own call for a strong argument, and his criticisms are not deconstructive in nature at all. They are, more or less, common leftist critiques. The problem with this is that the full scope and impact of deconstruction is masked, and readers are definitely going to get the idea that deconstruction is merely a patsy for leftist politics. I think Caputo knows better and deconstruction deserves better. There are times when his readings could have become more vital, such as in his discussion of abortion, where he hints at the potentials of a deconstructive engagement; but for whatever reason he chooses not to develop those potentials.

So in the end I am ambivalent about this book. This book is necessary, and I hope it will get readers interested in the very rich interaction between Derrida and Christianity, but at the same time readers should seek out what's missing, and not be willing to take Caputo's word for it when he reduces deconstruction to the political. Caputo is right that there is good news in post modernism for the Church, and I hope more people will be willing to seek it out.

Book Review: "What Would Jesus De-Construct?" by John Caputo

What Would Jesus Deconstruct?:
The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
by John D. Caputo

Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct? sends us to take another look at Jesus.
Review by Bruce Ellis Benson
posted 2/11/2008

It's a nice idea to think you're doing what Jesus would do — until you start to think about what Jesus actually would do — and did. Would you really want your child ditching you without so much as asking in order to hang out with the religious leaders of the day? Or how about a son who says to his mother, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4)? If that's not enough, immediately after quoting Jesus saying just that, John describes a rather memorable incident in which Jesus turns up wielding a whip in the temple.

If it's never safe or predictable to ask what Jesus would do, it may be even riskier to ask what he would undo. Yet in What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, John D. Caputo charges boldly ahead. He continually reminds us that unpredictability is what characterizes Jesus' action throughout the Gospels. You never quite know what — or how — Jesus is going to deconstruct, since he takes on both the religious and political powers of his day.

Even though, according to Caputo, it's the Religious Right that has championed the WWJD question, he insists that if Jesus the Deconstructor were brought back to question the church today, he'd end up surprising — rather than confirming — those on the Right.

Caputo takes particular aim at the ecclesiastical establishment, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, arguing that their claims of following Jesus have been all too easily assumed. Jesus constantly rebuked the religious establishment of his own day. For example, Jesus' stinging rebuke of the Pharisees was that they burdened the people by substituting their own laws for those of God: Jesus says, "For the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites!" (Matt. 15:6 – 7). These are strong words of deconstruction. And Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is full of Jesus' refrain, "You have heard that it was said … but I say to you." So Jesus was constantly deconstructing prevailing views regarding the law, as well as expectations about what the Messiah was to accomplish.

But wait: Isn't deconstruction the problem? I remember a chapel speaker at my institution who proclaimed that "deconstruction is the theory that says you can make texts mean anything you want them to mean." I admit that's a fairly standard definition of deconstruction, a French term resurrected and redefined by Jacques Derrida. Notoriously difficult to define, deconstruction is not a method or technique. Instead, insisted Derrida, it is the movement of truth coming to the surface. The movement itself is neither negative nor nihilistic, although there's no doubt that a great deal of mischief has been conducted under the banner of deconstruction, some of it simply silly and some downright evil.

But deconstruction in its simplest meaning is the breaking apart of concepts or texts that reveals their component parts and structure, and allows for reconstruction. Deconstruction questions assumed interpretations and the presumption of institutions to be the rightful arbiters of meaning. As to his own deconstructive readings, Jacques Derrida is a model — if sometimes controversial — reader, and Caputo follows his example.

Applied to Scripture, deconstruction would most helpfully take the form of, "This is what we always assumed that passage was saying, but let's take another look at it to see if our assumption is right."

Appropriately enough, Caputo begins with Charles Sheldon's late nineteenth-century novel In His Steps (with the subtitle "What Would Jesus Do?"). It's the story of a well-to-do congregation visited by a vagrant who arrives at the Sunday service one morning just after some particularly pious singing ("where he leads me I will follow") and a stirring sermon, and who asks the uncomfortable question: "What do Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus?" The visitor dies a few days later, but Pastor Maxwell is so taken by the question that he assembles a group of parishioners who all agree to do nothing for an entire year that isn't preceded by the WWJD question.

Although it's hardly great literature, the novel shows the characters who agree to live by that question as they discover how much it actually demands of them. One might suspect that Caputo is going to use deconstruction as a way of lessening Jesus' demands on us, but his strategy is designed to be just the opposite. As long as we've tamed Jesus' teachings, his demands seem high but relatively attainable. But, once we submit ourselves to their full force, then all hell breaks loose.

In fact, a possible criticism of Caputo's deconstruction is that it is all too demanding, for Caputo reminds us of Jesus' most uncomfortable teachings. Following Derrida, Caputo emphasizes the "impossibility" of these demands ("for mortals, it is impossible") rather than the biblical attenuation of those demands ("but for God all things are possible," Matt. 19:26). If one is to show true hospitality, says Jesus, don't invite your friends but "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" (Luke 14:13) — in short, the people who can't repay you. When asked about forgiveness, Jesus suggests that there should be an endless supply. So it is Jesus who should be blamed for the hyperbole — assuming it's really meant as hyperbolic.

Of course, asking such a question and getting a firm answer are two different things. When a parishioner asks Pastor Maxwell, "How am I going to tell what He would do?" he replies, "There is no way that I know of, except as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit."

It comes as no surprise, then, that Caputo's answers may or may not be exactly like yours or mine. For example, Caputo concludes that Jesus would have supported Alabama Governor Bob Riley in his conviction that the state income tax should favor the poor over the rich, despite the fact that the Christian Coalition (evidently getting a very different answer to WWJD) vehemently opposed him. Likewise, Caputo, although no proponent of abortion, questions why abortion foes seem so concerned about the 1.3 million abortions in the U.S. and considerably less moved by the 10 million children who die of hunger each year. He also has questions regarding homosexuality, male patriarchy, and what he calls "scriptural literalism."

Asking the WWJD question (in either its "do" or "deconstruct" variants) doesn't produce uniform responses. Still, both Maxwell's question and Caputo's variant are well worth asking. For having the boldness to push his deconstructive reading as far as he does, Caputo is to be commended. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Caputo is less important than that his deconstruction will force anyone who takes it seriously to think more carefully about why they've answered the WWJD question in the ways they have. And being pushed in that direction can hardly be a bad thing.

Bruce Ellis Benson is professor and chair of the philosophy department at Wheaton College.

Methods of Bible Study

by Rev. R. A. Torrey

: Click on the link above to obtain related scriptures

First of all make up your mind that you will put some time every day into the study of the Word of God. That is an easy resolution to make, and not a very difficult one to keep; if the one who makes it is in earnest. It is one of the most fruitful resolutions that any Christian ever made. The forming of that resolution and the holding faithfully to it, has been the turning point in many a life. Many a life that has been barren and unsatisfactory has become rich and useful through the introduction into it of regular, persevering, daily study of the Bible. This study may not be very interesting at first, the results may not be very encouraging; but, if one will keep pegging away, it will soon begin to count as nothing else has ever counted in the development of character, and in the enrichment of the whole life. Nothing short of absolute physical inability should be allowed to interfere with this daily study.

It is impossible to make a rule that will apply to everyone as to the amount of time that shall be given each day to the study of the Word. I know many busy people, including not a few laboring men and women, who give an hour a day to Bible study, but if one cannot give more than fifteen minutes a great deal can be accomplished. Wherever it is possible the time set apart for the work should be in the daylight hours. The very best time is in the early morning hours. If possible lock yourself in with God alone.

2. Make up your mind to study the Bible. It is astounding how much heedless reading of the Bible is done. Men seem to think that there is some magic power in the book, and that, if they will but open its pages and skim over its words, they will get good out of it. The Bible is good only because of the truth that is in it, and to see this truth demands close attention. A verse must oftentimes be read and re-read and read again before the wondrous message of love and power that God has put into it begins to appear. Words must be turned over and over in the mind before their full force and beauty takes possession of us. One must look a long time at the great masterpieces of art to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning, and so one must look a long time at the great verses of the Bible to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning. When you read a verse in the Bible ask yourself What does this verse mean? Then ask: What does it mean for me? When that is answered ask yourself again: Is that all it means? and don't leave it until you are quite sure that is all it means for the present. You may come back at some future time and find it means yet a great deal more. If there are any important words in the verse weigh them, look up other passages where they are used, and try to get their full significance. God pronounces that man blessed who "meditates" on the Word of God "day and night." Ps. 1:2, 3. An indolent skimming over a few verses or many chapters in the Bible is not meditation, and there is not much blessing in it. Jeremiah said: "Thy words were found and I did eat them." (Jer. 15:16.) Nothing is more important in eating than chewing. If one doesn't properly chew his food, he is quite as likely to get dyspepsia as nourishment. Don't let anyone chew your spiritual food for you. Insist on doing it for yourself. Any one can be a student who makes up his mind to. It is hard at first but it soon becomes easy. I have seen very dull minds become keen by holding them right down to the grindstone.

3. Study the Bible topically. Take up the various subjects treated in the Bible, one by one, and go through the Bible and find what it has to say on these subjects. It may be important to know what the great men have to say on important subjects; it is far more important to know what God has to say on these subjects. It is important also to know all that God has to say. A great many people know a part of what God has to say--and usually a very small part--and so their ideas are very imperfect and one-sided. If they only knew all God had to say on the subject, it would be far better for them and for their friends. The only way to know all God has to say on any subject is to go through the Bible on that subject. To do this it is not necessary to read every verse in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It would be slow work, if we had to do that on every subject we took up. This would be necessary were it not for Text Books and Concordances. But in these we have the results of the hard work of many minds. Here we have the various passages that bear on any subject brought together and classified for use, so that now we can do in a few hours what would otherwise take months or years. The topical method of Bible study is simplest, most fascinating and yields the largest immediate results. It is not the only method of Bible study, and the one who pursues it exclusively will miss much of the blessing God has for him in Bible study. But it is a very interesting and fruitful method of study. It is Mr. Moody's favorite method. It fills one's mind very full on any subject studied. Mr. Moody once gave several days to the study of "Grace." When he had finished he was so full of the subject that he rushed out on the street and going up to the first man he met he said: "Do you know anything about Grace?" "Grace who," the man asked. "The Grace of God that bringeth salvation." And then Mr. Moody poured out upon that man the rich treasures he had dug out of the Word of God. That is the way to master any subject and to get full of it. Go through the Bible and see what it has to say on this subject. This is easily done. Take your Text Book and turn to the subject. Suppose the subject you desire to study is "Prayer." On pages 198-200 will be found a long list of the various passages of Scripture that bear on this subject. Look them up one after another and study them carefully and see just what their teaching is. When you have gone through them you will know far more about prayer than you ever knew before, and far more than you could learn by reading any books that men have written about prayer, profitable as many of these books are. Sometimes it will be necessary to look up other subjects that are closely related to the one in hand. For example, you wish to study what the teaching of God's Word is regarding the atonement. In this case you will not only look under the head "Atonement" on page 23, but also under the head "Blood" on page 30, and under the head "Death of Christ," on page 60. To do this work a concordance is not necessary but it is often very helpful. For example, if you are studying the subject "Prayer" you can look up from the concordance the passages that contain the words "pray," "prayer," "cry," "ask," "call," "supplication," "intercession," etc. But the Text Book will give most of the passages on any subject regardless of what the words used in the passage may be. Other passages will be found in the section on Bible Doctrines under their proper headings.

There are four important suggestions to make regarding Topical Study of the Bible.

First: Be systematic. Do not take up subjects for study at random. Have a carefully prepared list of the subjects you wish to know about, and need to know about, and take them up one by one, in order. If you do not do this, the probability is that you will have a few pet topics and will be studying these over and over until you get to be a crank about them, and possibly a nuisance. You will know much about these subjects, but about many other subjects equally important you will know nothing. You will be a one-sided Christian.

Second: Be thorough. When you take up a subject do not be content to study a few passages on this subject, but find just as far as possible every passage in the Bible on this subject. If you find the Text Book incomplete make additions of your own to it.

Third: Be exact. Find the exact meaning of every passage given in the Text Book on any subject. The way to do this is simple. In the first place note the exact words used. In the next place get the exact meaning of the words used. This is done by finding how the word is used in the Bible. The Bible usage of the word is not always the common use of to-day. For example, the Bible use of the words "sanctification" and "justification" is not the same as the common use. Then notice what goes before and what comes after the verse. This will oftentimes settle the meaning of a verse when it appears doubtful. Finally see if there are any parallel passages. The meaning of many of the most difficult passages in the Bible is made perfectly plain by some other passages that throws light upon them. Then parallel passages are given in the margin of a good reference Bible and still more fully in "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge," a volume worthy of a place in the library of every Bible student.

Fourth: Arrange the results of your topical study in an orderly way and write them down. One should constantly use pen and paper in Bible study. When one has gone through the Text Book on any subject, he will have a large amount of material, but he will want to get it into usable shape. The various passages given on any topic in the Text Book are classified, but the classification is not always just the one best adapted to our individual use. Take for example the subject "Prayer." The classification of texts in the topic is very suggestive, but a better one for some purposes would be: 1st. Who Can Pray so that God Will Hear? 2nd. To Whom to Pray. 3d. For Whom to Pray. 4th. When to Pray. 5th. Where to Pray. 6th. For What to pray. 7th. How to Pray. 8th. Hindrances to Prayer. 9th. The results of Prayer. The passages given in the Text Book would come under these heads. It is well to make a trial division of the subject before taking up the individual passages given and to arrange each passage as we take it up under the appropriate head. We may have to add to the divisions with which we began as we find new passages. The best classification of passages for any individual is the one he makes for himself, although he will get helpful suggestions from others.

There are some subjects that every Christian should study and study as soon as possible. We give a list of these:


The Atonement (of the Blood of Christ).


The New Birth.





The Flesh.








Love: To God, to Jesus Christ, to Christians, to all men.

The Future Destiny of Believers.

The Future Destiny of the Wicked. (Found under "Punishment of the Wicked," page 213; "Death of the Wicked," p. 61).

The Character of Christ.

The Resurrection of Christ.

The Ascension of Christ.

The Second Coming of Christ: The fact, the manner, the purpose, the results, the time.

The Reign of Christ.

The Holy Spirit. Who and What He is; His Work.

God. His Attributes and Work.


Messianic Prophecies (under head, "Prophecies Respecting Christ," page 207).

The Church.

The Jews.


The Judgment.





4. Study the Bible by chapters. This method of Bible study is not beyond any person of average intelligence who has fifteen minutes or more a day to put into Bible Study. It will take, however, more than one day to the study a chapter if only fifteen minutes a day are set apart for the work.

First: Select the chapters you wish to study. It is well to take a whole book and study the chapters in their order. The Acts of the Apostles (or the Gospel of John) is a good book to begin with. In time one may take up every chapter in the Bible, but it would not be wise to begin with Genesis.

Second: Read the chapter for to-day's study five times. It is well to read it aloud at least once. The writer sees many things when he reads the Bible aloud that he does not see when he reads silently. Each new reading will bring out some new point.

Third: Divide the chapters into their natural divisions and find headings for them that describe in the most striking way their contents. For example, suppose the chapter studied is 1 John 5. You might divide in this way: 1st Division, verses 1-3. The Believer's Noble Parentage. 2nd Division, verses 4, 5. The Believer's Glorious Victory. 3rd Division, verses 6-10. The Believer's Sure Ground of Faith. 4th Div., verses 11, 12. The Believer's Priceless Possession. 5th Div., verse 13. The Believer's Blessed Assurance. 6th Div., verses 14, 15. The Believer's Unquestioning Confidence. 7th Div., verses 16, 17. The Believer's Great Power and Responsibility. 8th Div., verses 18, 19. The Believer's Perfect Security. 9th Div., verse 20. The Believer's Precious Knowledge. 10th Div., verse 21. The Believer's Constant Duty. In many cases the natural divisions will be longer than in this chapter.

Fourth: Note the important differences between the Authorized Version and the Revised and write them in the margin of your Bible.

Fifth: Write down the leading facts of the chapter in their proper order.

Sixth: Make a note of the persons mentioned in the chapter and of any light thrown upon their character. For example, your chapter is Acts 16. The persons mentioned are: Timothy, Timothy's mother, Timothy's father, the brethren at Lystra and Iconium, Paul, the Jews of Lystra and Iconium, the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, a man of Macedonia, Luke, some women of Philippi, Lydia, the household of Lydia, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination, the masters of this damsel, Silas, the praetors of Philippi, the Philippian mob, the jailor of Philippi, the prisoners in the Philippian jail, the household of the jailor, the lictors of Philippi, the brethren in Philippi. What light does the chapter throw upon the character of each?

Seventh: Note the principal lessons of the chapter. It would be well to classify these: e. g., lessons about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc., etc.

Eighth: The Central Truth of the chapter.

Ninth: The key verse of the chapter if there is one.

Tenth: The best verse in the chapter. Opinions will differ widely here. But the question is, which is the best verse to you at this present reading? Mark it and memorize it.

Eleventh: Note the verses that are usable as texts for sermons or talks or Bible readings. If you have time make an analysis of the thought of these verses and write it in the margin, or on the opposite leaf if you have an interleaved Bible.

Twelfth: Name the chapter. For example, Acts 1 might be called The Ascension Chapter; Acts 2, The Day of Pentecost Chapter; Acts 3, The Lame Man's Chapter; etc. Give your own names to the chapters. Give the name that sets forth the most important and characteristic feature of the chapter.

Thirteenth: Note subjects for further study. For example, you are studying Acts 1. Subjects suggested for further study are, The Baptism with the Holy Ghost; The Ascension ; The Second Coming of Christ.

Fourteenth: Words and phrases for further study. For example you are studying John 3. You should look up words and expressions such as, "Eternal life," "Born again," "Water," "Believer," "The Kingdom of God."

Fifteenth: Write down what new truth you have learned from the chapter. If you have learned none, you had better go over it again.

Sixteenth: What truth already known has come to you with new power?

Seventeenth: What definite thing have you resolved to do as a result of studying this chapter? A permanent record should be kept of the results of the study of each chapter. It is well to have an interleaved Bible and keep the most important results in this.

5. Study the Bible as the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God, and we get the most good out of any book by studying it as what it really is. It is often said that we should study the Bible just as we study any other book. That principle contains a truth, but it also contains a great error. The Bible, it is true, is a book as other books are books, the same laws of grammatical and literary construction and interpretation hold here as hold in other books. But the Bible is an entirely unique book. It is what no other book is--The Word of God. This can be easily proven to any candid man. The Bible ought then to be studied as no other book is. It should be studied as the Word of God. (1 Thes. 2:13.) This involves five things.

First: A greater eagerness and more careful and candid study to find out just what it teaches than is bestowed upon any other book or upon all other books. We must know the mind of God; here it is revealed.

Second: A prompt and unquestioning acceptance of and submission to its teachings when definitely ascertained, even when these teachings appear to us unreasonable or impossible. If this book is the Word of God how foolish to submit its teachings to the criticism of our finite reason. The little boy who discredits his wise father's statements because to his infant mind they appear unreasonable, is not a philosopher but a fool. When we are once satisfied that the Bible is the Word of God, its clear teachings must be the end of all controversy and discussion.

Third: Absolute reliance upon all its promises in all their length and breadth and depth and height. The one who studies the Bible as the Word of God will say of every promise no matter how vast and beyond belief it appears, "God who cannot lie has promised this, so I claim it for myself." Mark the promises you thus claim. Look each day for some new promise from your infinite Father. He has put "His riches in glory" at your disposal. (Phil. 4:19.)

Fourth: Obedience--prompt, exact, unquestioning, joyous obedience--to every command that is evident from the context applies to you. Be on the lookout for new orders from the King. Blessing lies in the direction of obedience to them. God's commands are but signboards that mark the road to present success and blessedness and to eternal glory.

Fifth: Studying the Bible as the Word of God, involves studying it as His own voice speaking directly to you. When you open the Bible to study it realize that you have come into the very presence of God and that now He is going to speak to you. Every hour thus spent in Bible study will be an hour's walk and talk with God.

6. Study the Bible prayerfully. The author of the book is willing to act as interpreter of it. He does so when we ask Him to. The one who prays with earnestness and faith, the Psalmist's prayer, "Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law," will get his eyes opened to see beauties and wonders in the Word that he never dreamed of before. Be very definite about this. Each time you open the Bible to study it for a few minutes or many, ask God to give you the open and discerning eye, and expect Him to do it. Every time you come to a difficulty lay it before God and ask an explanation and expect it. How often we think as we puzzle over hard passages, "Oh if I only had so and so here to explain this." God is always present. Take it to Him.

7. Look for "the things concerning Christ" "in all the Scriptures." Christ is everywhere in the Bible (Luke 24:27) be on the lookout for Him and mark His presence when you find it.

8. Improve spare moments in Bible study. In almost every man's life many minutes each day are lost; while waiting for meals or trains, while riding in the car, etc. Carry a pocket Bible or Testament with you and save these golden minutes by putting them to the very best use listening to the voice of God. The Topical Text Book can be easily carried in the pocket as a help in the work.

9. Store away the Scripture in your mind and heart. It will keep you from sin (Ps. 119:11. R. V.), from false doctrine (Acts 20:29, 30, 32. 2 Tim. 3:13-15), it will fill your heart with joy (Jer. 15:16), and peace (Ps. 85:8), it will give you the victory over the Evil One (1 John 2:14), it will give you power in prayer (John 15:7), it will make you wiser than the aged and your enemies (Ps. 119:100, 98, 130.) it will make you "complete, furnished completely unto every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, R. V.) Try it. Do not memorize at random but memorize Scripture in a connected way. Memorize texts bearing on various subjects in proper order. Memorize by chapter and verse that you may know where to put your finger upon the text if anyone disputes it.

A Guide to Bible Study

An Introduction to the Bible

: Click on the link above to obtain related scriptures

The study of the Bible is absolutely necessary to the development of the Christian life. This study, by J. W. McGarvey, was designed to afford suggestion and assistance to those who desire a fuller and more accurate knowledge of the Bible.

These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition was originally available at:


Chapter 1: Definitions

Chapter 2: Divisions of the Old Testament

Chapter 3: The Original Text and Its Preservation

Chapter 4: Outline of the Pentateuch

Chapter 5: Israel's History from the Death of Moses to that of David

Chapter 6: The Reign of Solomon and the Divisions of the Kingdom

Chapter 7: The Two Kingdoms

Chapter 8: The Kingdom of Judah Continued

Chapter 9: Other Pre-Exilian Prophetic Books

Chapter 10: The Poetical Books

Chapter 11: The Books of Exile

Chapter 12: The Post-Exilic Books

Chapter 13: Divisions of the New Testament

Chapter 14: The Gospels and Acts

Chapter 15: The Epistles of Paul

Chapter 16: The Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse

Chapter 17: A Brief Review

Chapter 18: Questions

Appendix 1: Early Translations of the Scriptures

Appendix 2: Translations of the Scriptures into English

Appendix 3: Extra Canonical Books

Appendix 4: Outline of the History of Israel

Appendix 5: Leading Prophets of the Old Testament

Appendix 6. Important Events in the Life of Christ

Appendix 7: Outline of the Journeys and Labors of the Apostle Paul

Appendix 8: Chronological Order of the Books of the New Testament

An Outline of the Fundamental Doctrines of the Bible

By David Allen Reed

: Click on the link above to obtain related scriptures

1. Concerning God
     A. His Being
          1. Attributes
          2. The Trinity
     B. His Works
          1. Creation
          2. Providence
          3. Angels

2. Concerning Man
     A. Created
     B. Common Origin
     C. Compound Being
     D. Offspring of God
     E. In God's Image
     F. Under Law

3. Concerning Sin
     A. Its nature
     B. Its extent and penalty

4. Concerning Redemption
     A. Introductory and General Statements
     B. The Person of the Redeemer
          1. Truly God
          2. Truly Man
          3. Truly God and Man
     C. The Work of the Redeemer As
          1. Prophet
          2. Priest
          3. King
     D. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption
     E. The Work of Redemption Viewed In Its Relations to the Believer
          1. The Union Between Christ and the Believer
          2. Related Doctrines
               a. Repentance
               b. Faith
               c. Regeneration
               d. Justification
               e. Adoption
               f. Sanctification
     F. The Union Between Believers: The Church and Its Institutions
     G. Eschatology
          1. Death, and the state of the soul after death
          2. The resurrection
          3. The second advent and the general judgment
          4. Heaven and hell

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Determinism or Human Freedom?

I came across this short discussion on determinism v. human freedom and liked it enough to place it on this web blog. By and by I hope to come across a fuller discussion of these topics but for now it's complexity can show us the kind of dilemma or paradoxes we can get when each side argues their viewpoints very well.

I like it too because it is relevant to Rob Bell's book Love Wins to which I've included several positive reviews of by Sean Peters and Mason Slater who are not necessarily troubled with its refreshing digest of  modern day Reformed theology's message. Mostly because they, as I, deem Bell's book to be primarily written about who God is as a God who loves us, rather than a treatise on his brand of universalism.

For me, knowing Rob a bit better than those outside of these discussion circles, I assume his loose weave of universalistic issues perhaps intended reader provocation coupled with market-savvy "hot button" issues. And yet to me, as to others, Bell is not espousing any new forms of universalism. His interest is in God's love as it reacts to Reform/Evangelic rhetoric. At least that's my take.

And so, I hope to someday add a topic on the four views of pluralistic universalism that we may all read and digest as I come across a good synopsis of it. Feel free to make your recommendations as well. We certainly will have ample enough blog space to put a couple select overviews of our choosing.



Tony Jones, Greg Boyd respond to Rob Bell
by Scot McKnight
March 25, 2011

Tony Jones calls into question Rob Bell’s belief in human freedom. Rob’s idea is often called libertarian free will, and for Rob’s title — love wins — to work, it requires that God grants humans the freedom to choose to do what they want, turn to God or turn into themselves. Tony Jones contends for a more deterministic mindset and less human freedom.

Here’s the question: Are we, are all humans, free to choose God? And does Rob Bell’s theory of freedom require a de-determinizing of the human condition after death?

This is from Tony (link above):

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve watched the videos and I’ve read reviews, and I read a post this week by Greg Boyd which attempted to show the logical inconsistencies of moral determinism.

Greg’s post is entirely theological in its reasoning. He does not seem to take into account sociological or anthropological rationale. And neither does Rob Bell when, in interviews, he repeatedly insists on human freedom. In fact, Rob’s commitment to total human freedom, even after death, seems thoroughgoing.

This is called “rational actor theory” by social theorists, and it posits that human beings are free and conscious actors who independently determine their behavior. Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, for example, subscribes to a version of this theory (see his books, Moral Believing Animals and What Is a Person?).

I am not. I subscribe to a type of post-Marxist theory called “post-structuralism.” We are, each of us, bound up in structures and super-structures of sociality that determine and even dictate a large percentage of our behavior. In fact, much of our lives are spent in the self-deluded state that we’re choosing what we do. We don’t actually have much freedom at all, and our choices in life are strikingly limited.

Rob has been talking a lot about freedom, stating that love requires freedom and using anecdotes that corroborate that. How could a God who gives us so much freedom, Rob asks, not give us unlimited choices for heaven over hell?

But how much freedom do you really have? You weren’t free to choose the family into which you were born, or the society in which you were reared. By the time you’d reached late adolescence and your moral and religious proclivities were set, you’d had virtually no freedom.

Further, Rob’s claims of near absolute human freedom betray his status as a human being of enormous privilege. I doubt that a woman living in rural Afghanistan or a man living in the slums of Juarez experience much freedom.

If our lives are, as I suspect, largely dictated by unseen social structures, it may not have much to do with our eternal destinies, but it does seem to undermine Rob’s primary thesis.

But Greg Boyd supports Rob Bell’s theory of human freedom.

The Incoherence of Ordained Morality. I would argue that the association of moral responsibility and free will is not only deeply intuitive, as the article suggests, it is also logically necessary. That is, I would argue that denying the association of moral responsibility and free will results in incoherence. For example, when a Calvinist asserts something like: “God ordains that Satan does evil in such a way that God remains morally holy for ordaining Satan to do evil while Satan becomes morally evil for doing what the all-holy God ordained him to do,” I submit they are asserting something that is beyond counter-intuitive; it is utterly incoherent. For a concept to have meaning it must have some rooting in our experience, at least by analogy. A concept for which there is no analogy in our experience is a vacuous concept. Yet, after decades of asking, I have yet to find anyone who can provide an analogy by which we might give meaning to the concept of an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained them to do. (I develop this argument at length in response to Paul Helseth in Four Views of Divine Providence).

Determinism is Self-Refuting. If free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined, then the ultimate cause of why a person believes that free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined is that they were predetermined to do so. But it’s hard to see how a belief can be considered “true” or “false” when it is, ultimately, simply a predetermined event. The snow falling outside my window right now is due to the fact that preexisting conditions determined it to be so. But we wouldn’t say that the snowfall is “true” or “false.”

Refuting Determinism By Action. You know what a person truly believes by how they act more than by what they say, for we often think we believe something when in fact we don’t. (E.g. the husband who convinces himself he loves his wife even though he mistreats her, cheats on her, etc.). On this basis I’d like to suggest that everyone who “deliberates” believes in free will, even if they think they do not, for its impossible to deliberate without acting on the conviction that the decision is up to you to resolve.

For example, I am this moment deliberating about what to work on when I finish this blog. Should I work on a peace essay for a book collection that is due at the end of this week or should I finish reading a book by Andrew Sullivan that I started two days ago? As I weigh the pros and cons of both possibilities, I cannot help but manifest my conviction that I genuinely could opt for either one of these alternatives and that it is up to me to decide which I will choose. In other words, I reveal a deep rooted conviction that I am free as I deliberate, and the same holds true for every deliberation anyone engages in. There simply is no other way to deliberate.

People may sincerely think they believe in determinism, but they act otherwise, and must act otherwise, every time they deliberate. The great American philosopher Charles Pierce argued that a belief that cannot be consistently acted on cannot be true. If he’s right about this – and I believe he is – then determinism must be false.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My Observations

I find that Tony Jones has a better argument than Greg Boyd. Boyd has basically refused acknowledgment of Moral Determinism's larger scope and essay and consequently has fulfilled its premise by continuing on his own path of determinism while thinking that he is "free." A loose concept at best. However, since God rules and his image is one of freedom than I can believe that despite my lot in life, my fate, and my fate-filled directions in life, that yet in the midst of all that can I break loose enough to capture some glimmer (or more) of freedom. This then changes the concept of "fate" to "divine direction, liberty, choice" when God becomes the care taker of our lives. So then, deterministically, freedom can function within its "fated" superstructures, and ultimately, based upon God's own Personage, that freedom can be ultimate and break those superstructures. Whether or not it can be found in this life seems largely based upon human effort, circumstance or environment. But I think that with God actively involved in our lives through prayer and our obedience it is more possible than when God is not involved with our lives through prayer and disobedience.

R.E. Slater
February 8, 2012

Why Rob Bell is(n't) a Universalist


A Review of Love Wins
by Mason Slater
March 23, 2011

I suppose I’ll start where the controversy centered. Is Rob Bell teaching universalism in Love Wins?


Or, maybe not.

It sort of depends actually. It seems we decided before hand that Rob must of course be addressing universalism one way or the other, but I don’t think he’s interested in doing that.

So Love Wins then becomes something of a theological Rorschach test.

If you want to read it as promoting universalism you can certainly find ideas and arguments which lead in that direction. If you’re looking for nuances which can frame his argument as being for something besides universalism (like inexclusivism) you can find that as well. Because Love Wins isn’t really about universalism.

Instead Rob is interested in provoking a larger conversation about how we understand heaven and hell, and how that understanding shapes the way we live out our faith today.

Much of the early section of the book is an argument for seeing our hope not as disembodied bliss, but as a new restored creation in which heaven comes to earth and God dwells with us - as seen at the end of Revelation. It certainly has a Bell-like flair, but for the most part the content here is quite familiar to anyone who has read Wittmer’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth or Wright’s Surprised by Hope.

Though never stated directly I think much of his later wrestling with hell has to do with this model of new heaven and new earth. If heaven is a ethereal realm in the clouds where we engage in an eternal church service, then our traditional understanding of hell fits right in as the counterpart. But, if heaven is conceived of as new creation, a future this-worldly life with God which also breaks into the present in all sorts of ways, what does that do to our image of hell?

This impulse, coupled with a pastoral instinct and a new perspective impulse to read passages as radically context bound (including hell/Gehenna passages) leads to a reimagining of what the biblical picture of hell might be.

It also leads to a reimagining of who might be there.

And this is, for many, the controversial part. Because we’ve seen recently that saying heaven will be full of surprises and might just include more people than we’ve been taught is deeply offensive to a number of Christians.

I understand why to a point I suppose, it’s not what most of us have been taught, it doesn’t fit with our theological constructs, and so it challenges us at a level of identity not merely intellect.

Still, it’s saddening to see how many people are angry at the idea that more people could be saved in the end then they had assumed. Disagreeing with it is one thing (I personally wouldn’t go as far with it as Rob seems willing to go, and like any book there were arguments I'd push back on), but why would we act as if we don’t even want it to be true?

I suppose that’s part of the point of Love Wins, Rob is attempting to articulate a better story than the one we’ve been told. I don’t always agree with his retelling, but he’s right to challenge the story we’ve been given because it is often deeply unbiblical and incredibly destructive.

By the end of the book we see that the reason Rob is(n’t) a universalist and the reason that the strongest reaction against him has come from the neo-Calvinist crowd are one and the same. Human freedom. Rob puts a high priority on freedom being an essential part of real love. If God loves us and we choose hell he will let us have it (very C.S. Lewis-esq) but to Rob that isn’t the last word.

Drawing on a number of biblical passages, and some East Orthodox theology, Rob makes the suggestion which allows many to read universalism into the text. What if death isn’t our last chance?

It’s a good question really, and one the Bible isn’t nearly as clear on as we’d like to think. The idea that God wants to save you now, but if you die before you are saved He instantly stops loving you is distasteful to say the least, and more importantly not very fitting to the story we’ve been told about this God.

And this is why people assume if you follow the conclusions Bell comes to it ends in universalism. If we are always given more chances to repent, eventually wouldn't everyone repent? I actually think that no, many wouldn’t (and I think Rob can see this as well in many points in the book) but it certainly is enough to cause some heads to turn.

In a recent interview with CNN Bell stated “I never set out to be controversial, I don’t think it’s a goal that God honors. I don’t think it’s a noble goal.” I think he’s being honest there. Rob has a massive church, numerous best-selling books, the Nooma videos, it’s not like he needs (or seems to want) more attention. In fact, early in Velvet Elvis, he shares a story of how difficult it was for him to process the success of Mars Hill and that he almost left when it became a phenomenon.

Rob no doubt knew that he’d get this sort of reaction from certain figures in the church, but I don’t believe he was attempting too.

This book will cost him. Yes it will end up on the New York Times bestseller list, but in the process he will lose relationships, lose the respect of many evangelicals, lose a hearing with a large part of the church.

Apparently, knowing what would be lost, Rob decided to go forward with this book anyways. Already suspect to many, Rob had to know he would only get one shot and decided to use it on this. Because he thinks opening up the conversation is worth the personal repercussions.

So if these are questions you’ve wrestled with, I’d recommend Love Wins as a starting place, a way of putting it all on the table. However, once you start reconstructing what you do believe about heaven and hell I wouldn’t rely on Bell alone, there are better resources (which I know he'd readily admit). Personally N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope would still be first on my list.

Love Wins is classic Rob Bell. So in that sense, it’s the sort of thing you’d like if you like that sort of thing. Personally I thought it was an excellent read, a provocative bit of theologizing, and a good start to a conversation which we need to be having. It's not the last word, but it's a good first word, and I think that's what Rob intended.

Tim Keller - Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age

Brimstone for the broad-minded.

by Tim Keller
October 1, 1997

The young man in my office was impeccably dressed and articulate. He was an Ivy League MBA, successful in the financial world, and had lived in three countries before age 30. Raised in a family with only the loosest connections to a mainline church, he had little understanding of Christianity.

I was therefore gratified to learn of his intense spiritual interest, recently piqued as he attended our church. He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle.

"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."

This young man expressed what may be the main objection contemporary secular people make to the Christian message. (A close second, in my experience, is the problem of suffering and evil.) Moderns reject the idea of final judgment and hell.

Thus, it's tempting to avoid such topics in our preaching. But neglecting the unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will bring about counter-intuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance to scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.

If an area is rid of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that the desirable plants and animals are lost—through overbreeding with a limited food supply. The nasty predator that was eliminated actually kept in balance the number of other animals and plants necessary to that particular ecosystem. In the same way, if we play down "bad" or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.

The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God's grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. To preach the good news, we must preach the bad.

But in this age of tolerance, how?

How to preach hell to traditionalists

Before preaching on the subject of hell, I must recognize that today, a congregation is made up of two groups: traditionalists and postmoderns. The two hear the message of hell completely differently.

People from traditional cultures and mindsets tend to have (a) a belief in God, and (b) a strong sense of moral absolutes and the obligation to be good. These people tend to be older, from strong Catholic or religious Jewish backgrounds, from conservative evangelical/Pentecostal Protestant backgrounds, from the southern U. S., and first-generation immigrants from non-European countries.

The way to show traditional persons their need for the gospel is by saying, "Your sin separates you from God! You can't be righteous enough for him." Imperfection is the duty-worshiper's horror. Traditionalists are motivated toward God by the idea of punishment in hell. They sense the seriousness of sin.

But traditionalists may respond to the gospel only out of fear of hell, unless I show them Jesus experienced not only pain in general on the cross but hell in particular. This must be held up until they are attracted to Christ for the beauty of the costly love of what he did. To the traditional person, hell must be preached as the only way to know how much Christ loved you.
If we play down harsh doctrines,
we will gut our pleasant and
comfortable beliefs too.

Here is one way I have preached this:

"Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself.

"If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you—that hurts. If a good friend does the same—the hurt's far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you, saying, 'I never want to see you again,' that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more torturous is any separation.

"But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginning-less and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us."

How to preach hell to postmoderns

In contrast to the traditionalist, the postmodern person is hostile to the very idea of hell. People with more secular and postmodern mindsets tend to have (a) only a vague belief in the divine, if at all, and (b) little sense of moral absolutes, but rather a sense they need to be true to their dreams. They tend to be younger, from nominal Catholic or non-religious Jewish backgrounds, from liberal mainline Protestant backgrounds, from the western and northeastern U. S., and Europeans.

When preaching hell to people of this mindset, I've found I must make four arguments.

1. Sin is slavery. I do not define sin as just breaking the rules, but also as "making something besides God our ultimate value and worth." These good things, which become gods, will drive us relentlessly, enslaving us mentally and spiritually, even to hell forever if we let them.

I say, "You are actually being religious, though you don't know it—you are trying to find salvation through worshiping things that end up controlling you in a destructive way." Slavery is the choice-worshiper's horror.

C. S. Lewis's depictions of hell are important for postmodern people. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. There they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. The descriptions Lewis makes of people in hell are so striking because we recognize the denial and self-delusion of substance addictions. When addicted to alcohol, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior nor see the roots of our problem.

Lewis writes, "Hell … begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it…. You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."

Modern people struggle with the idea of God thinking up punishments to inflict on disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell as the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible.

Here is an example from a recent sermon of how I try to explain this:

"First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isa. 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Ps. 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17)….

"Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something—idols, pseudo-saviors—to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, and fear are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus—and the wages of sin is slavery."

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis's bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, "the greatest monument to human freedom."

2. Hell is less exclusive than so-called tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the modern mindset than the statement: "I think Christ is fine, but I believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God." A slightly different version is: "I don't think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief." This approach is seen as more inclusive.

In preaching about hell, then, I need to counter this argument:

"The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then he owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, then we owe him (Rom. 1:17). In short, to say a good person, not just Christians, can find God is to say good works are enough to find God.

"You can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary or you can believe that we are saved by grace, but you cannot believe in both at once.

"So the apparently inclusive approach is really quite exclusive. It says, 'The good people can find God, and the bad people do not.'

"But what about us moral failures? We are excluded.

"The gospel says, 'The people who know they aren't good can find God, and the people who think they are good do not.'

"Then what about non-Christians, all of whom must, by definition, believe their moral efforts help them reach God? They are excluded.

"So both approaches are exclusive, but the gospel's is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, 'It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. It doesn't matter if you've been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.' "

3. Christianity's view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often, I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all."

"Why?" I ask.

They reply, "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin."

But then a question remains: "What did it cost this kind of God to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this God agonize, cry out? Where were his nails and thorns?"

The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."

How ironic. In our effort to make God more loving, we have made God less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God like this will be impersonal, cognitive, ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We would not sing to such a being, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

The postmodern "sensitive" approach to the subject of hell is actually quite impersonal. It says, "It doesn't matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow his example."

But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. If any good person can find God, then the essential core of religion is understanding and following the rules.

When preaching about hell, I try to show how impersonal this view is:

"To say that any good person can find God is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.
Hell is the freely
chosen, eternal skid
row of the universe.

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "

4. There is no love without wrath. What rankles people is the idea of judgment and the wrath of God: "I can't believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?"

So in preaching about hell, we must explain that a wrathless God cannot be a loving God. Here's how I tried to do that in one sermon:

"People ask, 'What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?' But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In Hope Has Its Reasons, Becky Pippert writes, 'Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…. Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.'

"Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'

"She concludes: 'If I, a flawed narcissistic sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone's condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.' "

A God like this

Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.

My heart sank when a young college student said, "I've gone to church all my life, but I don't think I can believe in a God like this." Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.

Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.

An older businesswoman said, "Well, I'm not much of a churchgoer, and I'm in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me."

Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus' tomb in John 11. "The text tells us that Jesus wept," he said, "yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That's helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he's both. He doesn't only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross."

The second woman nodded, "Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn't know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus' love. It's very moving."

It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today Internatinal/Leadership Journal.
Winter 1997, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Page 42