“Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan

There is a lot of things that could go into buying a book.  Most of the time, I will see a recommendation of sorts and be compelled to purchase the book.  Sometimes, I am given the book by friends, family, or at conferences.  And sometimes, I’ll be strolling through a book store and see an intriguing book and have to buy it.  That was the case with “Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan. 

Honestly, most of the purchase had to do with the cover art and thinking it was cool looking.  After that grabbed my attention, I noticed “Jonathan Edwards” and “Hell” on the cover and thought, “That sounds intriguing.”  And the purchase was made.  And is the case with most books I bought, it was placed in a large pile of books that had to wait until after Seminary was over. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to walk to work.  Leah needed the car, I needed the exercise and didn’t have my bike at home, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some reading.  A light 2 mile walk with a good book is an hour well spent. 

Once I was well into the book, I was quickly disappointed as to the actual content of the book.  The first three chapters are all about annihilationists and their view points, followed by a chapter on the evangelical response.  That makes up Part I of the book.  Part II had to do with Edwards.  The first chapter of Part II was about annihilationism in the 18th century, followed by a chapter on Edwards response.  The closing chapter discusses how to apply Edward’s method to today’s theological climate. 

So, in 140 pages of content in a book entitled “Jonathan Edwards on Hell”, there are 16 pages specifically about Jonathan Edwards on the topic of Hell.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable and profitable read, but it seemed misleading to say the least.  During my time in seminary I had to read through Robert Peterson’s book “Hell on Trial”, and that covered most of what this book does.  The only thing that this book does differently, is just scratch the surface of Edward’s thoughts on the topic. 

What Morgan does is explain the views in the words of the proponents of such views, and then offers a critique of the strength of the argument.  Morgan offers good insight and has good things to say about how the debate should be discussed.  There are good things about linguistic, exegetical, philosophical, and polemic approaches to the argument, but Morgan appeals to the theological approach Edwards takes. 

The other approaches offer good input, but both sides are still left at an impass.  Here are some helpful notes taken from those sections:

  • One insight that I found interesting is the debate over the word ‘aiwvios’.  That is the word for ‘eternal’.  Some annihilationists would say that there are two senses to the word.  One is quantity, meaning everlasting.  The other is a qualitative sense, meaning a time to come in contrast to the present time.  This view is best propgated by Edward Fudge.  Instead of focusing on everlasting punishment, they focus on the eternal result of the punishment.  The main weakness, as I understand, would be the same word being used in relation to the eternal life granted to believers.
  • The other main point that I liked was how he pointed out that many Annihilationists, including John Stott, find it primarily difficult to believe because of the heinous nature of everlasting torment.  They see it as being a doctrine that does not fit with their defintion of God.  Edwards had this to say:

“It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God that He is merciful in such a sense that He cannot bear that penal justice should be executed.  That is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which His nature is so subject that GOd is liable to be moved, affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery so that He cannot bear to see justice executed… The Scriptures everywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary.”

Edwards saw it as an issue of questioning God’s sovereignty of His creation.  God’s sovereignty is absolute, universal, and unlimited. 

To the objection that everlasting punishment is not suitable for God, Edwards had this to say:

“Since the infinite hatred of sin is suitable to the divine character, then the expressions of that hatred are also suitable to His character… It is suitable that He should execture infinite punishment on it.”

All in all, it was a profitable read, but reader beware that the title may mislead you into thinking the book is about Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

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A Few Interesting Videos

This first video is a very creative book recommendation video from England.

How many of you freaked out about the food one or the Jello one?

The next one is from Mark Driscoll on a book about ‘The Shack’.  Some interesting stuff to be aware of in this book that is among best sellers in Christian circles, mainly those with Emergent leanings.  Here is a review by Tim Challies.  Eugene Peterson compares it with Pilgrim’s Progress.  Come on… Seriously?!   if you feel like ramming your head into a wall, go a read the reaction to Challies’ comment on Amazon.com.  This could be the future…  I had to stop reading it because I literally yelled at the ceiling and raised my hands after reading so many people bang on theology as if theology is the root of false-Christianity.  I fear where the path they’ve chose will lead to.

And on a completely different set of tracks, here is my aunt doing one of her puppet shows!  Enjoy!

Worlds Collide- A Discussion with Mormon Missionaries

On Thursday evening, Leah, Micah, and I headed out to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market to pick up some fresh vegetables and to enjoy a gorgeous evening walking around. Apparently, quite a few people had the same plan, as there were no parking spots to be found. After parking about a mile away, we began walking back to the market and Leah forgot something in the car. Micah and I waited on the corner for her, and I noticed there were a couple of Mormon missionaries across the street, and they were coming my way. I tried to make myself as approachable as possible, as I love having these conversations. Sure enough, they said hi and decided to talk to me. It was interesting how they started. Very seeker friendly. They asked if I knew what it meant to be happy. Hmmm… I guess the implication is that they would provide happiness for me, which is never a claim the Bible makes. I said, yeah, but I also knew what it meant to have joy, which was more important. After this, they launched into an explanation that joy can be found in God, although they probably would have said happiness had I not brought joy into the conversation. They began talking about how God restored the church and brought truth back, etc. I tried playing a little dumb, just to see how they would approach the normal Joe on the street. Before long, they began to tell me the story of how Joseph Smith asked God what church was the right church for him to join. Before they continued, he asked me if I had heard the story, and I said I was familiar with it. So they said, why don’t you tell us what you know so we can fill in the gaps. So, I gave them my impression of the Mormon faith.

“When Joseph Smith asked this question of God, God said, ‘Don’t join any of them. They are all corrupt!’ So Joseph Smith went on his way and formed his own church. One evening he was visited by the angel Moroni, who told him go to upstate New York and you’ll two gold plates buried there. From that he dictates what we know as the Book of Mormon. “Moroni was the only survivor of the war between the Lamanites and Nephites, who are two tribes that came from two brothers, Laman and Nephi, respectively. Lehi, a Jew around 600 B.C. came over and his two sons get into a fight and have to opposing tribes. Fast forward about a thousand years and they have a massive battle in upstate New York (for which there is zero archaeological evidence). Moroni is the sole surviving Nephite, and he buries the plates for Smith to find 1400 years later.

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We’re All in This Struggle Together!

As I have written here before, we’ve been going through an inductive study of Colossians in our High School Sunday School class. I lay out the concordances, commentaries, and theologies on the tables, and we walk through the verses, step by step. The goal is to help the high schoolers read and understand the Bible, and study it for themselves. They are also getting familiar with the tools, and learning what question to ask.

Once in awhile, we really see the light come on in the heads of the kids, and this past week, we had another one of those moments. We were covering 2:1-5, and Paul begins the passage talking about how he wants the Colossians to know the great struggle that he has for them. Paul’s struggles and tribulations weren’t news to them, but he wanted them to know why he struggled, which he explains in 1:28-29, saying that he desires them to presented mature in Christ.

As a side note, it is interesting to note the use of a pronoun in verse 29. Paul isn’t trying to be noble and self-promoting, but says that he struggles with God’s energy, not his own. Paul says he is struggling, toiling, growing weary, while he is striving with HIS energy.

But WHY does Paul want them to know the struggle that he has? So that their hearts may be encouraged, like their hearts being knit together. He wants them to know that he is experiencing these trials, he is enduring them, why he struggling, so that they will be encouraged. When they are falling into trials and tribulations, they know that Paul endured great trials, but not because he was a great, strong guy, but because God’s power is working through him. Paul knows that trials lay ahead of them, if they are not already enduring them.

But there is some interesting language used at the end of the passage that brings it all together. Paul tells them that he rejoices to see their good order adn the firmness of their faith in Christ. Upon some study, one of the students was excited to see that these the first word was often used as a military term. “The word described the orderly line of soldiers, without ragged sections or breaks.” Then the second term, stability, “comes from a word that is used to describe something as firm, stiff, strong, or solid. It can depict a castle or bulwark.” (“Studies in Colossians and Philemon” by Homer A. Kent Jr.)

2004_1656.jpgPaul’s message seems to be clear. The trials and tribulations that he has faced was not a unique situation for a believer, and that those believers, too, would face opposition. The nearest opposition was this heresy that Paul continues to address. It is mostly assumed to be a form of gnosticism. But Paul is not worried about the well-fare of this small church. He knew they were standing strong, ready to face an opponent that would challenge its very foundation, Jesus Christ. Their faith would be tested through false teaching, but Paul knew that they were knit together in love, founded in true doctrine, and would stand as one unit, against the enemy.

Luther No Longer a Heretic, Can Finally Rest in Peace

In case you missed it, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Martin Luther actually wasn’t a heretic. According to the Pope, Luther never intended to split the Catholic Church, which is actually true. He never intended to split, but was trying to invite a dialogue and discussion over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Many don’t realize this, but the 95 Theses he nailed to the church doors was written in Latin, not German, which was the language of the people. If he was trying to insight a rebellion, he would have written them down in a language the people could understand.

Pope Benedict XVI says that he was trying to cleanse the Catholic Church, and for that should not be condemned. Benedict is attempting to be seen as a benevolent, uniting force, but is fighting quite a bit of history in order to do that. Luther was condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo X, and called “a drunken German who will change his mind when sober”. He carefully researched Luther’s statements, and declared that he must recant 41 of these statements or face excommunication. This was done with a Papal Bull, or an edict, called ‘Exsurge Domine’. In the ‘Decet Romanum Pontificem‘ on January 3, 1521, Luther was officially excommunicated.

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According to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), all Popes are infallible, that is without mistake. Even Pope Leo XII (1885) went as far as saying that the Pope holds ‘upon this earth the place of God Almighty’. These are tall responsibilities and privileges that
Popes have claimed for centuries. Vatican Council 1 in 1870 declared that when a Pope speaks ‘ex cathidra’, which is when a Pope is teaching or preaching, his words are declared truth and teachings of the whole Catholic Church. There is no doubt that they teach that Popes are infallible.

This begs a question: Is Pope Benedict XVI declaring that Pope Leo X was not infallible? It seems as if Benedict is correcting Leo, saying he was incorrect. Of course this wouldn’t be the first time that Popes have contradicted themselves, just the most recent example. According to Vatican I, if you don’t believe that Peter was the first Pope, you are anathema. This stance was softened by Vatican II, and by Benedict, who has reached out even to the Muslim world, in an effort to build bridges to Catholicism throughout the world.

An interesting side discussion would be, what in Catholic terms, does this do to Luther’s eternal soul? Is he now released from purgatory? Was he in Hell, but now gets a direct promotion to Heaven upon further review?

We won’t know anything for sure, but Benedict is going to release his findings in September, so we will sit by idly, waiting with baited breath! One thing I can say for certain, Luther doesn’t care what Benedict thinks of him right now.

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Side Note: an interesting Catholic view of Luther’s life. Though often difficult to follow due to odd language, sentence structure, and numerous links, it is none the less interesting to read a Catholic perspective on Luther.

HEADLINE: MOSES DABBLED IN PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS…

I couldn’t help but notice this interesting story about Benny Shanon, who is a professor of cognitive psychology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Apparently, the best way he has at describing such events as the law being passed down at Mt. Sinai or the famous “burning bush”, is to say that Moses was on psychedelic drugs.  Shanon immediately dispels the idea that there could be a supernatural God behind those situations, but still desires to keep the text honest.

What I don’t understand is why he can’t believe in a supernatural God and still wants to uphold the ‘integrity’ of the Old Testament.   There seem to be plenty of circumstances where the text is proclaiming a supernatural God, but he can’t believe that.  He can’t even allow himself to believe that these are merely legends, as that would also not keep the text honest with itself.

And what authority does Shanon bring to the field of psychedelic drugs?  He used them during a religious ceremony in Brazil in 1991.  Since he had “spiritual-religious” visions, then that obviously means that Moses did too.  No word yet on Moses’ drug of choice.

More Thoughts on Colossians

As I previously stated, our high school group has been going through the book of Colossians verse by verse, just making observations of the text.  This past week we finished the opening doxology of the book, where Paul states how thankful he is for the Colossians and their growing faith in God.

One interesting thing that we noticed was in light of one of the main purposes of the book.  One of the main purposes of the book is to confront this mysterious ‘Colossae heresy’.  We’re not really sure what this heresy was, but many believe it was a form of gnosticism.  This would be a group of people that hold to the thought that they have a higher knowledge than others do, and that generally flesh is bad and spirit is good.

An interesting observation that we made in the opening of the book was the importance that Paul places on things like ‘truth’, ‘understanding’, and ‘knowledge’.  Here is a list of their appearances in the opening section:

  • v.5- the word of truth, which is the gospel.
  • v.6- belief in the Gospel included both hearing and understanding.  this word is ‘epignosko’- has the idea of a definite knowledge and thorough knowledge of something.
  • v.6- they understood the grace of God in truth
  • v.9- ask that they be filled with the knowledge of his will
  • v.9- and understanding
  • v.10- increasing in the knowledge of God

A couple interesting thoughts on this chapter.

  1. Our first thought was that it is interesting that Paul places such a strong emphasis on the knowledge and truth of God’s Word and understanding it in the beginning of a book that is going to confront a heresy that is threatening the body of believers.
  2. I think this is for two reasons.  One is this, how do you combat heresy?  You combat heresy with the proper understanding of the truth of God’s Word.  Paul is not going to be writing this book stating his opinion or theory on the nature of Christ, but is appealing to the fact that this is the truth of the Gospel.  This is unequivocal.  You fight false-truth with truth.
  3. The other thing I believe is a concern to prevent heresy from taking a further hold on this body of believers.  How do you prevent heresy?  By fully understanding the truth of the Gospel.
  4. Another thought is this: Paul is thankful that they already understand the Gospel, but is also praying that they continue to grow in knowledge. They have come to a understanding of the Gospel, but Paul’s prayer is that they continue to grow in that knowledge to a greater degree.

So does truth matter?  If you are concerned about combating and preventing heresy and growing in God, yes!  This is a message our society must hear.  We live in a time where truth is subjective and open to interpretation.  The reality is that truth is certain and defined.  Truth is under attack, and the only way to defend it is by knowing it.