…on a theological boxing match

Do you enjoy watching people argue about theology?  I betchya do!  Pastor/Speaker/Writer extrordinaire Francis Chan is responding to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” book, with his own book, “Erasing Hell“.   Anyway, Chan, like Bell, made a short youtube video to arouse excitement about his book.  He has an incredible heart and I look forward to reading his book.  I’m so glad to hear this dude put so much emphasis on humility, but I gotta say I found cracks in a lot of what he said, so I thought I would video respond to his response!

Am I being nitpicky?  Probably.  But my fundamental problem with what Chan says in his video, I do not mention in this clip.  If, as Chan suggests, God’s love and justice is so much higher than my feeble mind can comprehend, how can I know how to show God’s love?  How can I know how to seek God’s justice?  These are my two most basic callings in life as a disciple of Christ, and I can fulfill them because God has shown me how in Jesus Christ.  I don’t think God’s love is that confusing and complicated.  I don’t think that justice is that confusing and complicated.  I think it was most clearly revealed in Jesus, and all of scripture points towards the four gospels, not the other way around.

How can Jesus love and forgive all his enemies but God cannot?  That is a difficult question my friends.  Let the pounding begin.  What do you think?

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16 Responses to …on a theological boxing match

  1. Bob says:

    Ok I am confused and I have a couple questions. So you believe that God and Jesus are not one, and that one is more merciful and graceful then the other? Second so are you defending Rob Bell? Do you realize this book is being written as a response to Bell’s book, Love Wins? Third is your problem with Chan, and now your attacking him rather than actually listening to what he is saying? I think the real problem here is Bell’s book wouldn’t we agree on that?

  2. First, BECAUSE I am a firm believer in the unity and oneness of the Trinity, I have difficulty with traditional theology’s portrayal of the Father in contrast to scripture’s portrayal of the Son. They should look the same, but it seems difficult to reconcile the Son who died for His enemies with the Father who torments the majority of the world’s population forever because they offended Him. Therefore, in favor of unity, perhaps we need to adjust our understanding of Heaven/Hell to favor scripture’s account of Jesus in the New Testament rather than have some systematically construed, seemingly schizophrenic God with grace on one side and widespread, endless torture on the other. Obviously “Hell” exists, but have we traditionally understood what it looks like correctly?

    Second and third, I am not defending Rob Bell, nor am I attacking Francis Chan. They are both wonderful, godly preachers of the gospel and brothers in Christ. I don’t mean to demonize, condescend or even exalt anyone, merely engage the ideas as I passionately pursue Jesus as Lord. “Love Wins” is an incredible book and I hope you can read it with an open heart, willing to risk even your own peripheral religious beliefs for the sake of the Lordship of Christ alone. I plan to do the same with “Erasing Hell” when it is released.

    My purpose behind the video was not to criticize someone for using scripture, rather for mis-using scripture. I want to honor the voice of scripture and let the Spirit breath through it, and it seemed to me that that Voice was being compromised by Chan so that he could support his preconceived understanding of theology. Ultimately, I merely want to contribute to the conversation. I’m not saying any particular position is wrong or right–just making observations about people’s arguments in light of scripture and lived experience.

  3. Bob says:

    Ok First, again as Francis Chan said and I will reiterate who are YOU to say that the son loves all and the father torments the majority of the world. You are questioning a being who is so far above you, his grace, love, and power is so far above your limited mind you can’t draw this conclusion and it scares me that you think you can. God says in
    Isa 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    The thing’s god does is not for you to judge or say I like this but I don’t like that. In essence you are trying to bring god down to your level and that worries me.

    Secondly, so you believe that god’s love will melt all hearts and everyone will go to heaven? In essence there is no hell for anyone? No eternal damnation? God does not say man is destined to die once and then go to heave. He says main is destined to die once and then after FACE JUDGEMENT.

    Lastly, I think you should stop and watch the video again and really listen to what Chan says. In no way does he miss use scripture or draw any conclusions. He merely says I’m going to take everything in the scriptures about hell and lay it out there for you and then we have to make a decision. The things written in Love Wins are dangerous and Hell is a serious matter. Rob Bell is preaching false hope to a fallen world.

    As always may God be working in your heart and the hearts of people around the world. Thanks for the response.

  4. RobM says:

    Great blog post, dude!

  5. I appreciate you exploring truth… I appreciate you not “jumping on a bandwagon” so to speak. My only caution is you have to be careful… I think that is what Chan is saying about His ways are not our ways. We can’t put God in our box b/c His ways are not our way and thoughts are not our thoughts.

    B/c of this… we must go to Scripture for objective truth. Of course it’s difficult to think that a loving and just God would approve genocide. That’s a slippery slope though… I have a friend that was once a solid believer in Jesus Christ… now he is an atheist because he couldn’t wrap his mind around a God that would support “genocide”. He forgets that God is just. At the end of your video I think you want to believe God is just… but everything prior to that makes me doubt that you do to an extent.

    I also think that you answered your own questions in your blog post… the answer lies in Jesus… He’s is God.

    Lastly… (I don’t like long comments…I’m sorry this one is) I just want to point out that Osama Bin Laden killed in the name of Allah… Allah is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is not Jesus. Therefore he is not the same God Francis Chan is discussing.

    Thanks for the thoughts… I just got Erasing Hell and I’m looking forward to many more discussions like these b/c of it.

    • Obviously Chan is saying “his ways are not our ways”, but that is what “Love Wins” claims as well.
      Traditionals say that we cannot understand what God means by “love” in scripture, since infinite punishment is so diametrically opposed to a simple understanding of love. Universalists claim not only that we can, but that we must understand God’s love, if we are to be disciples of Christ.
      Universalists claim that we’re not sure of what God means by “eternal” or “forever” in scripture’s original context because “His ways are not our ways”. But Traditionals have managed to put God under their thumb on this one.
      So one might fire back at the “orthodox”: God’s way’s are not your ways. His understanding of eternity is so much greater than yours.
      As per the genocide comment, perhaps your friend left Jesus not because of his questions, but because of everyone’s answers. Questions are a good and healthy aspect of a love relationship with God and when we refuse to be open to such hard questions, people walk away altogether.
      While I can hear God speaking to me through texts that speak of God commanding genocide, God is not telling me that He actually told people to annihilate children and mentally disabled amongst sinful communities. I don’t believe God literally commanded genocide but I’m still an avid disciple of Christ, reader of scripture, and committed to the Church and mission.
      Finally, I’m glad you’re reading Erasing Hell but I gotta say, you also need to read Love Wins. Challenge yourself. Don’t just read books to support what you’ve always been taught. Are you following Jesus or are you following a religion? It takes incredible pain, humility, and vulnerability for anyone to ever change their beliefs on an important topic such as this-but that is precisely what the Cross requires–willingness to die to oneself to truly embrace not a given set of doctrines, but to be raised by and follow Christ Himself.
      I don’t mean to come off harsh or condescending, I really appreciate your engagement.
      Be blessed Brother.

  6. Carter says:

    So, I’ll be honest. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch either video yet. I mean I intend to, but I get home from CPE and I’m just a lot more interested in watching the NCIS marathon or whatever.

    That said, I found this post. interesting. Thought that you might like to see it.

  7. newsra8 says:

    I agree with Chan’s point that God is beyond our comprehension…. that point works for me. But it depends how we understand this mystery. With St. Thomas, we can affirm that yes, of course God in God’s totality is mysterious and beyond what we can understand, totally. But also with Thomas, we can say that what is beyond our comprehension won’t contradict what has been revealed in other levels of revelation (natural, moral, Christological). As we go up the ‘revelation’ chain, for Thomas, each revelation adds to what was below, but without contradicting it. So what is revealed in Christ is a higher revelation of God then what is given in nature; but it goes beyond it, it speaks past it… it doesn’t contradict it.

    And that seems to be the point to make to Chan, for me: I’m not suggesting that I can comprehend God’s nature fully. But I am confessing that Christ reveals who God is, fully, and that there no other revelation that contradicts what is revealed in Jesus. No God “behind” or “beyond” the revelation in Jesus. There’s more to God than I can ever understand, yes… but the mystery is made evident to me the closer this Jesus gets to me. The more immanent God is, the more mysterious and transcendent he becomes, in his immanence (a la Elizabeth Johnson). For my part, I can say that it’s not that I resist certain understandings of hell because of my own view of justice (alone: of course what i think is my view… get it?); I resist them more fundamentally because they don’t make sense given the nature of God revealed in Christ. See the difference? Yeah, God’s reasoning is much higher than human reasoning… perhaps even to the point where God’s mercy and forgiveness and justice doesn’t simply mirror my own human proclivity toward wrath and kick-ass, eye-for-an-eye style vigilantism.

    • Very well said dude. Because everyone in favor of the traditional “everyone’s going to hell forever and ever except me and my crew” continues to insist that that doctrine is the “biblical” argument, I wanted to deconstruct all of Chan’s “biblical” arguments. Truthfully, I think I regret it a little because it doesn’t do good anyway…

      But a more substantive argument I could have made would somewhat mirror yours and I would add a similar thought concerning whether people burn forever or are ultimately reconciled: we may have an ultimatum… is God’s sense of love/ justice so much higher than ours that we cannot comprehend it? or is God’s sense of “eternity” so much higher than ours and we cannot comprehend THAT? I might argue that the incarnation of Christ disclosed what God’s love looks like, but I think it would be hard to argue that Jesus’ incarnational mission was to disclose that eternity means a literal forever and ever. Make sense? If we can (and need to) understand ANYTHING about God, its what God’s love looks like. Maybe we shouldn’t let Ph.D’s or celebrity pastors tell us God’s love has a “dark side” (a la Stan Grenz), but we should be more open to ambiguifying biblical/ Hebrew/ Greek concepts of “forever”.

      Anyway, at that point, there is a substantive, ecclesiological clincher, because when pastors begin muddling what God’s love looks like (i.e. God’s love never gives up… until you die, then the rules change) there may be serious ripple effects in discipleship- how we show God’s love, how we seek God’s justice (insert applause from E. Johnson).

      Thanks a lot for your comment. It was helpful to me in articulating things and sorting all this hogwash out.

  8. skeet says:

    This is just a less intelligent reproduction of Bell’s argument and adds nothing to the conversation. This represents little understanding of Jesus identity. You argue that we must reconcile our image of the Father with our image of Jesus you fail to recognize that your perspective of Jesus is only in His humility and not in His glory. Read Rev. 19 bud. You miss the exalted Christ who judges the nations and rules with an iron scepter. Francis Chan’s argument rightly describes your image of Christ which is less than who the Scripture presents Him to be.

    • I’m not so sure Rev. 19 contributes to the conversation-unless you have misread, or read at all, Bell’s book. No one in this conversation is saying Jesus isn’t wrathful or glorious, or that “Hell” does not exist. The compelling voice is that the wrath of Jesus is possibly constructive towards redemption rather simply vengeful, and that glory is not torturing His enemies forever, but to eventually reconcile all things unto Himself. (Col. 1.20) Just a thought.

      • skeet says:

        Skylar- the point is exactly what I said. Your argument is that the struggle is to find a way to make our understanding of Jesus as loving, gentle, and meek jive with a God who expresses wrath. My argument is that your depiction of Jesus is incomplete and only views him in his incarnation not his exaltation. Read Rev. 19 and compare that description of Jesus to the description you offer in the video. Your insufficient understanding of the exalted Christ has led you to a false distinction between the will and activity of the Father and the will and activity of the Son. That demonstrates the danger of only seeing Jesus as humble in the incarnation and not as powerful in his exaltation.

        Additionally your use of Colossians 1 is so far off base I don’t know where to begin. The argument of Colossians 1:20 is that Jesus reconciles the created order to God, not that all people will eventually be reconciled to God. By your reading of Colossians 1, I would suspect that Satan himself would eventually be won over (if you were correct). Is that your position as well?

        Additionally, I would argue that God’s love is precisely what fuels his wrath. Let me give you an example. I am a husband and father. If someone broke into my home and threatened the safety of my family, they would experience my pure and complete wrath bent on their destruction. This wrath would not come because I am an angry man, but rather because I am a loving man. I dearly love my wife and children so when they are threatened I become wrathful. Love is the fuel to wrath in this instance. The question then becomes… 1- what does God love? and 2- have we offended that?

  9. newsra8 says:

    Skeet: even if Skyler has done what you say and forgotten the sovereignty of God in considering the incarnation (I don’t think he has), it seems like you are doing the opposite, forgetting the incarnation while considering God’s sovereignty. We must remember when reading the vision in the book of Revelation, including chapter 19, that first, this is apocalyptic imagery about the writer’s current context and the future, and must be read as such (i.e. not as some sort of descriptive empirical report of the future); and second, that it is Jesus who is said to be doing these things, the Jesus who is Incarnate, the Jesus who is still Incarnate and is the Second person of the Trinity. You can’t forget the God revealed in Jesus in flesh and blood, or say that at some point God forgets all that Sermon on the Mount stuff. That shows a very bad understanding of the Trinity, and the hypostatic union. Ironically, such a move will lead to a division in your understanding of the activity of the Father and the Son, something you accuse Skyler of, but which comes across more obviously in theologies that have God act in Jesus one way, and then act in the Father another (violent) way (or perhaps the “exalted Jesus” does the killing… but again, bad Trinitarian understanding there).

    God in Jesus does reign over the world. His throne is the Cross, from which he will judge the living and the dead. Judgment has to happen, I very much believe that. But an emphasis on judgment can’t come at the expense of good Christology. Like Skyler said earlier, it’s not a matter of if God judges, but what God does judge, and for what purpose.

  10. skeet says:

    That is precisely my point. Jesus is in union with the Father. I am presenting that very concept in response to the comment that he is trying to make sense of the character of Jesus and the character of the Father. I see no distinction when evaluating a complete picture of Jesus nature. There is no disunity here. We may vary substantially in our reading of Revelation, as I actually believe that Jesus will return and judge the nations as God.

    I is funny that I argue for the consistency in character and nature between the Father and the Son and get hit with the bad trinitarianism card.

    Yes Jesus is still incarnate, but a basic read of the NT and you will see Jesus in humility during his life and in glory post-resurrection. Phil. 2 describes his exaltation. That is the point. Bell and Skyler are arguing that this just doesnt sound like Jesus, and I am saying you have a narrow view of Jesus that is less than what the Scripture says of him. On that point I will sign out, as theological arguments online are generally not helpful. Good luck and please consider the argument for more than a second to write a witty response that …
    1. a broader view of Jesus that includes Him coming to judge the nations in his righteous wrath is offered in scripture
    and
    2. that God’s wrath is entirely consistent, even driven by, His love. (divine simplicity would be the theological term)

    • newsra8 says:

      Witty? I wouldn’t be so bold! But here’s hoping. (Better than priggish).

      Yes, Jesus is the judge of the nations. Divine simplicity implies that God’s judgment is consistent with God’s love… and vice versa. I’m saying that the God fully revealed in the human Jesus is judge, and that this judgment can’t all of a sudden negate or nullify what God has shown his character to be IN Jesus, on earth. You, I think, are saying that a “full” picture of Jesus’ character reveals him to judge *in a manner inconsistent* with what is shown in the Gospels (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m saying that Jesus himself (the man-God) positively is the Wisdom and Judgment of God. *Does God judge*? Yes. But in no way that creates a disunity with Jesus on earth and Jesus glorified. The glorified Jesus IS the earthly Jesus – he still has scars… he still has scars. Maybe you’re warning not to forget Jesus on Sunday – fair enough. Don’t forget Jesus on Friday. You can’t have one without the other. It’s always the Crucified and Resurrected Lord, the Resurrection of the Crucified One, and by extension, the Judgment of the Prince of Peace. Philippians 2 ties these two themes together as beautifully as has ever been done. Skyler is saying Philippians 2 sounds like Jesus (correct me if I’m wrong Sky), but what some versions of Jesus’ judgment are said to be (kicking butt with a big bicep) don’t. Those are two different objections.

  11. If I may enter my last response to this super interesting Christological, Trinitarian argument, (if Skeet is still even reading), with a different tangent (as much as I’d love to enter that fray…)
    Skeet, to me, you had a glaring flaw in your family analogy. You said if a robber threatened your family, you would be willing to unleash your wrath. OF COURSE! BUT! What if your CHILD threatened your wife? Would you unleash your wrath then? I sure would. But does that mean I would hand my child over to be tortured over and over again for trillions of years? My own child?? Hell no! (excuse the pun)
    These people facing the wrath of God are God’s children. God loves them more than you could ever love your child. No exceptions. Of course God shells out wrath upon His own children when they impinge upon shalom. Neither Bell nor anyone else denies that. But maybe like a good (or perfect) Father, God’s wrath is leading somewhere, pointing to something.
    I was created in the image of God, redeemed by the grace of God, discipled in the way of God, educated in the Word of God, and am filled by the Spirit of God. I think it is those things that affirm in my spirit that God does not hand His own (rebellious) children over to be tortured infinitely away from their own Father. Surely you can sympathize with that perspective. God graced you with a child to give you a glimpse of His love. So breath it in and consider it.

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