New Row

Thoughts on God making all things new through Jesus. Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Responding to Trevin Wax: why would someone question the traditional view?

This is a brief response to an article I read in CT by Trevin Wax entitled Rejoicing in the Wrath: Why We Look Forward to the Judgment Day | Christianity Today

Well, we should only rejoice in something and look forward to it if it's good. Is the traditional view good? Is it biblical? Are those the same questions? I believe that they are. If recent publications like Rob Bell's Love Wins, the handful of book-length responses, and the many articles that have appeared as a result are any indication, this topic is certainly in the forefront right now among thoughtful people on all sides. And coming up, there is the Film Hellbound, which looks like a documentary on judgment designed to call into question the traditional view, while giving it a fair hearing at the same time through conservative voices like Mark Driscoll and Kevin DeYoung.

Into this mix comes the above article from a recent CT by Trevin Wax, which is adapted from his book: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope. The article sets out to show that attempts to "downplay judgment" actually backfire on us, leaving us without future hope. More negatively, we are told that these efforts reveal that we are embarrassed by hell, we are trying to ease our conscience for not evangelizing, or - and I admit I am a bit hung up on this one - we are too far removed from the atrocities of this world to take justice seriously. 

"And slowly but surely, we have begun to let the promise of divine judgment that appears in the Apostles' Creed—"He will come again to judge the living and the dead"—slip by unnoticed. Many Christians talk a lot about justice and very little about judgment. Justice here and now is a popular subject. Judgment there and then? Not so much.

But justice and judgment are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have perfect justice without judgment. God cannot make things right without declaring certain things wrong. It's the judgment of God that leads to a perfectly just world. Try to take one without the other, and you lose the Good News."

I encourage you to read the whole article. Before I push back, where do I agree? I believe that the basic way he frames the issue of judgment is correct - giving it a positive spin. Not a "feel good" positive, but positive in the truest, most beautiful, redemptive sense: "wrongs will be righted, the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as waters cover the sea," and the idea that the purging fire of judgment will be followed by the fullness of God's presence - Amen, amen. The idea that God is the judge of the world means that we are born into a world where God is king, where Jesus lived, died, and was raised to life. It's his creation that he is making new - and he can do us no wrong. 

The problems come for me in what I introduced in my second paragraph - and I think it is where his article misses the point: Many who are questioning the traditional view are doing so out of the same strong sense of justice that he lays out in the article. The trouble is that he equates questioning the traditional view with "downplaying judgment." But that's just the question. Is it mere sentimentality that makes it hard for us to deal  with the idea of "grandpa in hell" or is there something deeper going on when our soul is tortured by the thought of a loved one suffering at the hand of the God we are trying to worship? Is it not the same longing for good news that Trevin articulates that is behind the struggle? 

Any effort to address the struggle with the traditional view is going to have to speak to the questions that are being asked. It will not do to set up the discussion as though the push back is simply coming from those who are either too permissive or sheltered to really care about justice. The question is not should there be justice, but rather what is just? Does the traditional view fully take into account the vision of justice and judgment that arises from the bible? And how do we define justice biblically or philosophically? This is where the conversation is going to have to go. In other words, it accomplishes nothing to assume that the traditional view is the biblical view, and then claim that any further discussion or examination amounts to failing to take the bible seriously.

For example, Trevin brings up Auschwitz in his article. But I'm afraid the trouble is not that we are too far removed from such atrocities as he suggests. Rather, it is that deep reflection on these and other injustices leave people with more questions than answers as far as the traditional view is concerned. We are going to have to head straight into these questions, stepping deep into the diverse historical situation of humanity, and offer a biblical answer that presents good news to the globe without sidestepping the most penetrating questions. 

So what's the trouble with Auschwitz? For a good, monotheistic Jewish dad who led a selfless life, working hard to raise a family, worshiping God in the only way he was raised to understand him, many would have us believe that the only thing the bible has to say to him is this: "After your children are forcibly taken away from you before your very eyes, after your wife dies of exposure, and after you have worked yourself to death and starved in miserable conditions, Jesus waits for you to angrily throw you off the top ropes like a pro wrestler into the lake of fire. If you thought Auschwitz was bad, that was a cake walk compared to what awaits you at the hand of God in eternal conscious torment." 

You might charge me of setting up a caricature, but honestly, many have been led to believe that if we have issues with that picture, that's just our rebellious, God-hating idolatry rearing its ugly head. To that I say "you're selling something, and I'm not buying it." I'm not saying that Trevin's article uses this approach, but I am saying that many people to whom he is speaking have had the traditional view wielded on them in a way that tempts them to hate God. This is a deep problem that will not go away through evasion tactics. 

So what is a better way forward you ask? Ironically my answer comes from how I re-learned the gospel from Calvinists (which I am no longer). From them I learned to begin with the idea that since God made everything, he has rightful ownership over everything and every person. He made us, we are his, he can do us no wrong but only wills our good. For me, the entire judgement scenario outlined above (and Calvinism for that matter) unravels from there. That means I am going to have to see justice and judgment, both here and hereafter, as God's means of righting all wrongs and healing all ills. Those who defend a traditional view are going to have to demonstrate how the traditional view does this better than the alternatives. Those who would like to explore the alternatives will have to do likewise. Personally I find it best to leave a lot of mystery in place as I think about final judgment - leaving room and expectation for God to do things that we couldn't have expected. The point is not if God will judge or does judge, but how will judgment be a fitting end to the story of God making all things new through Jesus. And how do we know what is fitting? Unavoidably, some things will remain unbelievable to some of us and other things will remain hopes and dreams. But all belief, doubt and hope will have to be forged in the presence of a God whose incomprehensible love was shockingly displayed through Jesus on the cross. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

From Resurrection to New Creation

This sounds like the kind of book that I've been waiting for awhile. If it's fitting, I'll do a series on this for my high school sunday school class. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Piper and friends Eschatology Discussion Video

Here's a good video (2 hours long) of 4 guys discussing eschatology. John Piper, Sam Storms (taught me at wheaton), Jim Hamilton, and Doug Wilson.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NT Wright at Wheaton's Theology Conference 2010

Update: The links to mp3 audio and flash video can be found here

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Eugene Peterson - Tell it Slant

829541: Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and PrayersTell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers

By Eugene H. Peterson / Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

2009 Christianity Today Book Award of Merit in Spirituality

From "Just as God used words both to create the world and to give us commandments, we too use words for many different purposes. In fact, we use the same language to talk to each other and to talk to God. Can our everyday speech, then, be just as important as the words and prayers we hear from the pulpit? Eugene Peterson unequivocally says "Yes!"

Tell It Slant explores how Jesus used language---he was earthy, not abstract; metaphorical, not dogmatic. His was not a direct language of information or instruction but an indirect, oblique language requiring a participating imagination---"slant" language. In order to witness and teach accurately in Jesus' name, then, it is important for us to use language the way he did."

Kevin Vanhoozer at Wheaton - I'm a few years too late

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Way of the Cross

Here's a sermon I preached at my church on August 2nd from Mark 8:31-9:1. I take a stab at what it means for Jesus to not be ashamed of us when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels. My view is that this is not a second coming text. Rather, Jesus is talking about taking up our cross right now, during a time in which the kingdom of God has come with power.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Between Two Worlds: Tolkien in His Own Voice