Advice for a struggling Christian

BildI received this interesting and touching email.

” I grew up Anglican and live in Canada.  I now have a wife (she is Japanese and agnostic) and two kids.  Ever since I can remember I’ve always believed and prayed to God.  But it was recently that I truly stated to question a lot things about what I believed, such as the hell topic, the hiddenness of God, the problem of evil, and the apparent errant texts in the bible.
As I stated, I am very much troubled by certain texts of the bible, in particular the violent acts attributed to God, including the genocidal commands, the killing the Egyptian firstborns, the killing of David’s newborn, the burning of Sodom and Gomorah, the flood, etc, etc.

So what am I to make of these texts?  Do I simple ignore them and assume they are false?  If so why did Jesus appear to regard the OT scriptures as sacred? 

Any insights you can provide are truly appreciated. 

Best Regards,

I am incredibly thankful to Geoff for his terrific email which raises many fundamental questions that are all too often shoved aside by Conservative Christians.

I find it extremely healthy to start questioning and critically examining one’s faith, as I pointed out in one of my first blog posts, this is all what progressive Christianity is about.

I am sure, however, that I won’t be able to provide him with final answers. All I can do here is giving him some advice and insights which will hopefully help him make up his own mind.

The problem of Biblical atrocities

Moral indignation against certain Biblical passages is far from being a phenomenon of our enlightened age.

Several Church Fathers in the first centuries of Christianity recognized the stark contrast between Christ’s teaching (on the one hand) and the moral message conveyed by some texts in the Old Testament on the other hand.

Gregory of Nissa wrote:
“The Egyptian [Pharaoh] is unjust, and instead of him, his punishment falls upon his newborn child, who
on account of his infant age is unable to discern what is good and what is not good … If such a one now
pays the penalty of his father’s evil, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is
Ezekiel, who cries … “The son should not suffer for the sin of the father?” How can history so contradict
C.S. Lewis (who is almost universally admired by Evangelicals) did not share their belief in Biblical inerrancy and had this to say about the genocide depicted in the book of Joshua:

Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.”

Salvaging the dogma of Biblical inerrancy


Conservative Evangelicalism is founded on the rock of the Chicago statement on inerrancy, according to which everything a Biblical writer intended to convey is entirely free of errors.

As a consequence, Conservative Evangelicals have developed two kinds of strategies for dealing with putative moral atrocities found in the Bible.

The first consists of calling into question the moral intuition underlying our rejection of certain passages (when interpreted straightforwardly).

William Lane Craig is a great example of that approach. He tried to argue on philosophical grounds that God is not bounded by any moral obligations and has the right to kill an entire wicked people if He so wishes.

As Randal Rauser argued, his arguments utterly fails to establish that the slaughter of the Canaanite was not an atrocity.

The second Evangelical strategy consists of arguing that we cannot take the offending texts at face value and that if we interpret them correctly, we will see that they are really not as morally problematic as one could think.

Philospher Paul Copan champions this method. The problem is that he often has to resort to far-fetched interpretations and assumptions or rewrite the Bible, as argued by Thom Stark.

To paraphrase Evangelical pastor and theologian Greg Boyd, both strategies are (at best) only able to make the God depicted by the terror texts look a bit less horrible.

A shift of paradigm concerning inspiration

To my mind, such strategies are akin to seeking to cure a cancer by using pain killers. It might temporarily alleviate the pain but does nothing to heal the underlying disease which is still progressing and going to cause many other ordeals.

I think that the Evangelical way to look at the Bible has to be overturned and that one should consider Biblical authors in the same way other Christian and Jewish authors are seen.

Let us consider John Wesley, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers or many missionaries. The fact that they were not inerrant and that God did not directly speak to them does nothing to cancel the value of their testimonies, experiences and theological insights.

It also does nothing to show that they did not experience God’s miraculous intervention.

Viewing the Biblical writings as thoughts about God rather than as the direct voice of the Almighty certainly greatly alleviate the problems of atrocities they endorsed.

Like Christians between 300 A.C. often got God wrong, writers of the OT and the NT also made culturally conditioned mistakes and misinterpreted the divine will.

This is why we cannot base our theology on the Bible (which speaks with many conflicting voices to begin with) but on God’s ultimate moral perfection, as C.S. Lewis expressed it in the quote above.

This is why we need to use the historical critical method to interpret the Bible in order to understand the historical context and motives of the authors.

If we do so, we will often realize that (most) Biblical authors were not evil and were often progressive for their time, even if their ethic fell short (objectively speaking).

And it is from their very experience and progresses we can learn as Christians.

Jesus view of the Bible


This leads us to the most problematic question, namely what Jesus thought about the Hebrew Bible. Did he not consider it to be inerrant in the same way modern Evangelicals do?

I have three important points to make about this.

Incarnation does not mean infallibility

Viewing the earthly Jesus as almighty and all-knowing is not only unnecessary but also flies in the face of the Biblical texts.

As theologian Kenton Spark put it:

“Though theologians seldom point this out, the fact that Jesus operated mainly within the horizon of his
finite human horizon has other implications. If we assume for the sake of discussion that he was a
carpenter like his father, did he ever miss the nail with his hammer? Hit his thumb? Did he think that he left
his saw on the bench when, because he was distracted, he actually leaned it against the wall? Did Jesus
ever look across a crowded town square and think that he saw his brother James only to discover that it
was someone else? And did he estimate that the crowd was about 300 when it was really 200? To confess
that Jesus was fully human is to admit that the answer to these questions must be yes. “

Progressive Evangelical scholar Randal Rauser wrote:

“The problem is that this imputes a bizarre psychology to Jesus which undermines the humanity of Jesus, separating it drastically from the common human experience it is meant to emulate. Consequently, it has nothing to commend it. In conclusion, we are far better off accepting that Jesus had at least one, and likely an indeterminate number, of false theological beliefs, so long as there are no false theological beliefs of soteriological import among them.”

Like all Jews of His time, Jesus probably wrongly held to some kind of Biblical infallibility. To my mind this is a real defeater against Christianity only if you view His revelation as absolute moral and intellectual knowledge, which is an assumption I reject.

 Jesus view on infallibility and the meaning of the incarnation

Whatever it was, it cannot be the Chicago view (i.e. what the authors really expressed) since the central message of Christ flies in the face of many problematic passages in the OT.

(There is a nice post on the blog of Peter Enns I could not unfortunately find).

I take N.T. Wright’s view that the incarnation means that Jesus became God’s new temple and the Almighty showed us His true face through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

Therefore God’s revelation through Jesus is not (primarily) propositional knowledge but a narration.

 Concluding words

I think that we must view the Bible as part of the experience of God’s people which is centered in the life of Christ.

Consequently, we should edify ourselves with the Bible in the same way we build ourselves up through other Jewish and Christian authors, i.e. by seeing what we can learn from their own experiences while always taking into account their historical background for understanding them. The presence of scientific, historical and moral errors are no indication that their experiences were not genuine.

Now all I could write was a sketch and I completely accept the fact that many people won’t be convinced by my views.

I have one main advice for Geoff: follow your own conscience wherever it leads.

If you find my  answers untenable and cease to be a Christian, you would much more honor God in this way than by faking a faith you cannot have and experiencing cognitive dissonance.

And as perfectly loving and just, God is never going to condemn a honest person who could no longer believe in Him due to the evil in the world and confusions He Himself allowed.

I wish you all the best for your spiritual journey which must be authentically yours.


47 thoughts on “Advice for a struggling Christian

  1. I never considered the theological implications of Jesus’ limitations as a human being when it comes to the Scriptures. This is really good, and I reblogged it.

  2. I would like to open up the question of whether it is wrong for God to treat people as they have treated others. We can think of him as supernaturally interacting with such people, or we can think of God designing the universe so that statistically, “What goes around, comes around.” The question I want to ask is whether this would be something that an omni-deity might do.

    “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. (Ezek 18:30)

    “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Mt 7:1-2)

    I’ve been working on a hypothesis, that when God says he will judge each person “according to his ways”, that he means taking the standards of each person, and applying those to the person in a symmetric way. One way this might work in real life is that the way you treat poor and weak people may necessarily affect how you treat weakness in yourself. If it’s the fault of the poor that they’re weak and poor, then any weakness and poverty in yourself is your fault as well!

    Now, let’s add grace: sometimes God treats us better than we deserve, as judged by our own rules. This could be seen as a gentle attempt to get us to consider that maybe there are better ways to live, better ways to structure society and treat our fellow human beings. There would still be a good deal of getting treated as we treat others, at least to the extent that we don’t properly trust those who say that certain ways of being treated hurt.

    It strikes me that this is a way to make sense of some OT atrocities; I’m especially thinking of the book of Habakkuk, where God brings in a very evil nation (the Chaldeans) to ‘punish’ another evil nation (Israel). I wonder if what God was really doing was whistling for one evil force to come into contact with another evil force, so that each could be treated as it treated others. It’d be a way to get evil to self-annihilate, without God even getting his hands dirty.

    Or so my thinking goes. I find that the above mitigates feelings of the OT being awful. Why? Because people can be awful, and the instant we hide ourselves from that fact, we enter into the kind of delusion that allows demagogues to arise, scapegoat some population, and cause untold horrors, just like has happened in that thing we call ‘history’, from which we rarely learn. We can question why God would let things get so bad, but if we presume that he had sufficient reasons for doing so, this might make it easier to understand why some of the nasty stuff in the OT is there, as it is and not somehow prettier.

    • Thanks Luke!

      I an upcoming post, I’ll talk about Karma in the Old Testament (which is obviously limited to this present existence since the concerned authors lacked a belief in the afterlife).

  3. If Jesus is God it is impossible for him NOT to know something in the same sense as us.

    Jesus is not JUST a human, sharing the human experience. He is divine. I think it possible He chose to limit the things His omniscience could tell Him when He was incarnate, but I think that you’re touching upon blasphemy if you suggest that GOD HIMSELF had FALSE theological beliefs.

    He IS God. How can His theology be wrong?

    By claiming that Jesus can have incorrect theology outside of soteriology (an odd line to draw), that basically just gives you free reign to pick and choose what commands of Jesus you want to obey. If that’s the case I can learn everything I need to gain salvation through “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which, especially in “The Last Battle”, is quite clear on matters of soteriology.

    • Dear Malcolm

      That bit about false theological beliefs was a quote from Randall Rauser. I think the statement of “false” theological beliefs might actually need a bit more unpacking as presenting it this way is much more contentious than enlightening. It seems to me a bit like saying that Jesus probably believed in a flat Earth, which in a way is an “erroneous” belief, but probably what he actually believed. Lotharson may well think similarly, but I don’t think he or Randall mean to diminish Jesus through it.

      I think your point about Jesus being limited is very crucial here.

      I believe that Jesus is God but was also totally human when here on Earth (I’m not sure about how that works out now that he’s risen). This is really beyond human understanding, or at least for me it is.

      In order for him to be totally human, he limited himself totally from his divinity whilst on Earth. This I think, means that he limited himself to how we are. I don’t think God communicated to him that the Earth was a ball in space, or that atoms were made up of neutrons protons and electrons. He didn’t give special knowledge of whether the Earth and Universe were 4000 or 4 billion years old, or that Australia existed.

      So Jesus was only open to that which his fellows knew as well. We may have views of prophets getting special revelations from God, but was this Jesus’ experience on a daily basis? was this his friends’ experience?

      This limitation really is one of the great mysteries of Jesus. If he got perfect theology from God or his pre-existence, then how is he like us? If he really had 100% fore-knowledge of his resurrection, then why did he call out in agony on the cross and despair?

      Maybe the phrase “false” theological beliefs needs a lot more unpacking or just the underlying reason for saying it needs evaluating. What are these “false” beliefs and how are they “false”? Did God actually command that Isaac be killed, “Completely destroy them–the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” Did Noah really exist? Did Jesus take these on face value? Maybe yes maybe no. Does his limitation make him any less “God among us”, or does this actually increase who he was?

      To me it seems very clear that Jesus did not come to deny or repudiate the belief in God that his people had. He was 100% Jewish in that respect and supported the tradition and writings that were current. However he also challenged the use and interpretation of the “scripture” and tradition. He did this 100% too. To my mind I can’t get my head round this. He supported the principle of sacrifice at the temple, wasn’t obviously concerned with Gentiles, but declared on occasion their faith was greater than “the chosen”.

      Although a worker of miracles, which makes him seem “God-Like”, he seemed more concerned about an un-miraculous World. Ordinary people nailed him to a tree, so this miraculous “God-likeness” failed him there (or so it may seem). So who was he? Was he a normal man like you or me? Or was he some super-human-miracle-working “God walking amongst humans”?

      • The problem is that if we decide Jesus had false theological beliefs, that He didn’t come down with that knowledge well in hand, well, why should I trust anything he says? I see absolutely no reason to.

        So He’s God. Big deal, he didn’t know anything we didn’t.

        More than that, Jesus DEMONSTRABLY could do things we couldn’t do. He cured cripples, made the blind see, walked on water, multiplied food…

        Jesus CHOSE to limit his omniscience. He didn’t get nailed to the Cross, he CHOSE to LET people nail him to the Cross. He knew the future, knew things we don’t know.

        If we decide that all of that stuff is false, then how is anything in the Gospel before the Resurrection useful? Why should I trust the Golden Rule if the person who proclaimed it might actually have been WRONG?

        This opens up a massive can of worms.

  4. Thanks for drawing my attention to this one!

    To Geoff – there is no need to throw the texts away simply because it is questionable. Would you no longer consider maple syrup Canadian if Quebec (which produces the majority of it) separated from the country? There is one line in the Bible that I think is a great statement to keep in mind in anything we do: Test everything, hold on to what is good.

    Just because there are troubling issues in the Bible doesn’t mean that there aren’t useful aspects worth holding on to.

    My blog actually explores the usefulness (and troubles) of the Bible from the perspective of someone who doesn’t believe Jesus to be Saviour, but believes Jesus made a lot of good points.

    As a fellow Canadian who attended Sunday School in an Anglican church and who has decent East Asian cultural awareness, my blog and email are open if you have any questions or concerns you would like to more deeply explore.
    (email is in the contact section of the blog)

  5. A book that I found helpful about these matters is
    “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” by Jack Spong.
    This sets out the modern Biblical scholarship and interpretations.
    Emphasizing that the Bible is written by numerous human authors
    over long periods of time.

  6. Marc, thanks for posting this. And Geoff, if you’re reading this, thanks for your brave and honest email and I hope you don’t mind us all responding to it!

    Please be reassured that the things you are struggling with are the things that pretty much all thoughtful Christians have always struggled with throughout the ages.

    Of course, we all come up with our different ways to deal with these issues. Some continue to cling on to a very literalistic and dogmatic mode of faith and hope the problems will go away. Others reject all their beliefs completely, though that generally doesn’t solve the problems either. Still others find ways to live with the unresolved tensions, which I think is the most fruitful path.

    The longer I’m a Christian and the more I read the Bible, the less certain I become about doctrines I used to accept unquestioningly. I find I’m no longer sure whether there’s a real, actual hell, or a real, personal devil. I’m no longer sure that the Bible is the complete and inerrant Word Of God. I’m no longer certain that homosexual acts are always sinful. I’m not sure that only professing Christians are ‘saved’. And so on.

    What I have found though is that while my certainty on specific doctrines has decreased, my belief and trust in Christ has increased. Whenever I want to give up and turn away, I keep being drawn back to the amazing person of Jesus Christ. In him I see the reality that God is good and God is love. And for me that’s enough to be going on with.

    Looks like we’re all advertising our own blogs here, but just to say that I do wrestle with a lot of these issues in far more depth on my blog. 🙂

    All the very best, and God bless you,

  7. Geoff, if you’re reading.

    I echo the comments above about also being troubled by much “doctrine” and parts of the bible, also the views of those who criticise Christianity. Sometimes I feel terrified when a strong thought of “what if there is no God”, comes blasting through my mind.

    I have never been convinced by the literal simplistic interpretations of the bible, or what seems to me as a narrow and simplistic view of faith. Although I myself have had much more literalistic views at time in the past.

    When it comes to the thinking about these issues and how this effects me, I think of the difference between knowledge and practice. Compare going to a college to learn about engineering or to do a practical engineering course. In one way, in the classroom, you could learn all about machines, materials, making stuff from books, lectures and videos. This is all head knowledge. The other thing you could do is go to the workshop and use the machines, use the materials and actually make things. Doing the practical stuff, you make mistakes, you get things wrong, but over time you make stuff and your skills get better. Over many years you can become a craftsman. By learning purely in a classroom you’ll never be able to go out and make something.

    The first way is only knowledge, the second involves the brain and the body together, learning “to”, not just “about” (although you’ll learn a heck of a lot about too).

    This is a similar analogy to what I see with some people in the Christian life. Many learn a lot about God, faith and man, but on it’s own this is not a great foundation for faith. When something challenging comes along, it really can shake your faith. This could be a new or critical way of looking at things or maybe even a personal tragedy. If your faith is mainly in your head it is like a house built on sand.

    For me, where my faith is lying now is where I am doing it. I am not a brilliant saint, I do much wrong and really would like the Earth to swallow me up some days. But I can look at how I have dealt with people. Have I used people to do things for me? Do I ignore people in distress? Do I put myself out for others? If you look at your life, you may be able to discern if you have been the sort who give yourself to others or use them for your own advantage. This can be hard and distressing if you are quite hard on yourself. But this I think is where the crux of belief and following God really is. If you are concerned for others you know, worry about injustice, think it is dreadful if people suffer, then I think you are actually wanting to follow God. If you try in your own way to make things better, then you are following God. If you cry out in frustration if he is there and why things are so bad, then you are communicating with God like believers throughout history, including those in the bible.

    If you don’t worry about these things then I think you are in more trouble.

    I don’t know if you feel this helpful, but I really do think those of us who wrestle and worry are more on the track of God than not. So follow advice above about getting some helpful books, having doubts itself may be hard and painful, but it’s not necessarily a problem. I have found that it’s often through the struggles and pain that God shows himself as real and close.

  8. Hey Geoff,

    Don’t worry about it. Realize that God is in control. Trust Him, take care of yourself, help others, and throw the Bible in the trash.

    • Dear Cole and Geoff. I wouldn’t throw the bible in the trash, what I would do is throw everything that anyone has told you about the bible in the trash.

      Read the Bible and then read it again. Once you’ve done that read it again and again. Don’t think about it, don’t read any form of systematic theology that tells you what it means, read it again, ask God to speak to you. After a while you may be able to see through the bible to see God. He didn’t write the bible, man did. These were men looking for God in the same way you are. He will reveal himself little by little or in major ways.

      Eventually you may see God and recognise that he is not the bible, but he is God. His spirit will lead you to him and he can do it through reading the bible, but neither God nor his spirit nor Jesus is the bible. The bible is ink on paper, no more nor less. It can be a tool to meet God, but if you think it is God then you haven’t seen God.

      By this I don’t mean to diminish the bible, but also I don’t mean to diminish God. In comparison to God the bible is shit. In the same way that in comparison to the bible C. S. Lewis is shit. This doesn’t mean each is actually the proverbial, but just gives a relative slant from one to the other. If you think that “scripture” is the ultimate, then you are very much mistaken. The recording of anything is no-where near as good as the “real thing”, and scripture is just a record of the “Word of God” and nothing like the “real thing”.

      • Hey Ross,

        The Bible doesn’t do anything but screw people up. I have faith in God and I know my future lies in the hands of His infinite love and wisdom. Because of this I have hope and my anxieties are gone. I can now live in the present as I am free to love and take care of myself and help others.

        • @Cole,

          The Bible doesn’t do anything but screw people up.

          This is false, unless you have a very curious definition of “screw ____ up”. It’s as if you haven’t read passages like “Perfect love casts out fear.” Don’t fall prey to the atheists and skeptics who love to pick out all the verses that they can interpret in a nasty light. Instead, realize that whatever your conception of God is now, some of which you will inevitably write down, hopefully your descendants will improve upon, perhaps so much that you appear to be a barbarian to them.

          • ” Don’t fall prey to the atheists and skeptics who love to pick out all the verses that they can interpret in a nasty light. ”

            I will soon write a debunking of a blatant example of this on the blog of John Loftus.

  9. ‘Like all Jews of His time, Jesus probably wrongly held to some kind of Biblical infallibility. To my mind this is a real defeater against Christianity only if you view His revelation as absolute moral and intellectual knowledge, which is an assumption I reject.’

    Did he? The midrashic interpretive method of the time is a far cry from that of today’s literalists and today’s critical readers for that matter.

    • Hello Dick, thanks for your contribution.

      I would truly love to learn more about this Midrashic method since I am pretty unfamiliar with it.
      Do we have good evidence that ancient rabbis used it?


      • Unfortunately, after 1600 years of decidedly anti-Jewish “Christian” activity and the development of Judaism in opposition to “Christian” opposition, it can be a bit difficult to decipher the actuality of Second Temple Jewish thought. I would think that Paul may be a bit more likely to be an exemplar of Jewish “Midrashic” thought as he was a Pharisee. Therefore more likely to be involved in systematic description, argument and discourse of “the law and the prophets”. We have no indication as to whether Jesus himself was trained and involved in any systematic theological study and discourse apart from his discussions with the Rabbis when he was 12 and what happened during his final mission.

        Admittedly, I would say that the current view of “Christian Orthodoxy” (E.g. Protestant Conservative Americanism) is absolutely nothing like how Jesus thought about anything at all.

        He was as much against a “laissez fair” disregard for morality as he was against hungry thirst for power and wealth so probably hated any form of “capitalist” or “communalist” hegemony.

        What he was, was on the side of the poor against the rich, on the side of the broken against the powerful.

        Whether he believed what the religious of his day believed or not is eclipsed by his assertion that the “World” was dark and that he was the “Light”. All we need to recognise is that today, whether we live in America, Europe or the Congo, is that the World is in Darkness and He is the light. whether in America, Europe or the Congo if we live by the general principles of things, we are not following “the small path to the small door which is the road that leads to life”.

        • Here is my definition of the Left:

          Etre du cote des oppresses contre les oppreseurs
          Auf der Seite der unterdrückten gegen die Unterdrücker zu sein
          To be on the side of oppressed people against oppressors.

          Am I justified in believing that Jesus was a leftist? 🙂

  10. Hi Lotharson 
    Midrash is complex but it is an incredibly flexible way of using scripture as a living tradition rather than as a dead letter or set of fixed propositions. See –

    It seems to me that some sort of midrashic metholdogy is behind the incredibly flexible use s that both Jesus and Paul make of the Hebrew Scriptures.
    Here is an interesting link to Derek Flood’s hypothesis about Paul’s use of midrash to critique violence in the original text of the Hebrew Bible that some may find interesting in the context of your article

  11. A quick note on your sources Lotharson (which I’ve tracked down)
    The C.S Lewis letter comes from John Beversluis’ book C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (pp. 295-6) and a facsimile of the original letter from Lewis dated 3 Julty1963 is given at pp319-20 (Jack Lewis died in November 1963 so the letter is written shortly before his death). The letter is a reply to one from John Beversluis asking for clarification about Jack Lewis’s seeming conversion to the Ockhamist view – that whatever God wills is good even if it seems evil to us – in his late essay ‘The Poison of Subjectivity’ and in his memoir of bereavement ‘A Grief Observed’. In the letter Jack Lewis affirms that he is still a Christian Platonist believing that our imperfect moral intuitions about the Good are a reasonable guide to the will of God who is all Goodness. (One of many reasons why John Piper should pause for thought when attempting to co-opt C.S. Lewis)

    The quotation from Nyssa comes from Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘Life of Moses’ translated by Malherbe and Ferguson (pp. 75-76). Gregory concluded that the text about Pharaoh must be allegory which actually teaches us to destroy temptations. Origen concluded the same about the Canaanite genocides (see White ed. ‘Origen; Homilies on the book of Joshua’, pp. 92-30). Whatever we may think about the ancient allegorical method of interpretation (which is more of historical interest than of functional use today IMHO) it is clear from this that the Church Fathers thought that it is fairly easy to recognise when the Scriptures seem to teach something that is wrong (and in this they agree with Lewis’ Christian Platonism)

    • Thanks for your valuable and extremely scholarly information!

      Dick, you are truly a great help and I would love to see you comment on my blog in the future.

      I want to provide (progressive and struggling) Christians with interesting and reliable resources.
      It is obvious that as far as history and theology are concerned, your knowledge and expertise utterly outshine mine.

      Lovely greetings from the windy Lancashire.

      • Thanks Lotharson – that’s too kind. if you ever want me to help by hunting down sources for you etc. I am happy to (if I have the time) because you have a fine blog here. You know where I live if you want me (but don’t send the heavy mob round :-D) Remember I am a Universalist and a Girardian 😀

    • I’ve double checked for you – running this past a friend who is a proper Lewis scholar – the only slip I’ve made concerns Lewis’ essay The Poison of Subjectivity. This is not a late work – it was written in 1943 – nor is it particularly relevant here. Och well – we all need mates 😀

  12. Hi Geoff,

    I’ll do my best to give my insight and view on things, but bear in mind that is what it is, though I am confident in much of it, that doesn’t mean I’m right in everything I am about to say, perhaps not even much of it and I just don’t see it. But I will do my best to give my view on things as they stand at the moment and hope it is of some small help to you.

    There are a number of disparate and interconnected issues here, and it is difficult to know which to discuss first, these discussions by Professor (and Anglican Bishop) NT Wright have really helped develop my understanding on this issue, and here is a snap-shot of this view, I hope it helps and offer in the hope that it does some little bit in this aspect on things:

    As to the subject of hell, or final judgement, it is fair to say that within the traditions of orthodox Christianity there have been three major interpretations of final judgement, the now traditional eternal conscious torment view, the conditional immortality or annihilationist view (those who will be lost in the end, without prejudicing when or how the final point someone becomes lost is, are destroyed) or universal reconciliation (in the end all, or at least all humanity, will be saved). All interpretations have been held through the centuries to varying degrees in all the mainline traditions of Christianity, despite the prevalence of the first view being the common one. For myself I see whole narrative of Scripture, of the whole complex, ambiguous and dark story of Israel seen through the prism of it’s unexpected and surprising climax of the life, death and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the new creation and renewed people of God that result from this points to universal reconciliation of the whole creation, and the saving and reconciliation of all humanity as a vital aspect of this, putting humanity right as part of the wider purpose of putting the whole world to rights, and it’s completion to it’s intended purpose. Alongside this, for a number of reasons, not least because of the precise meaning that the term gospel had for people in the 1st century in the Roman Empire, that of the good news of Caesar’s reign as Lord of the World (whether it really was good news or not) meant this is how they heard the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, as the good news of His reign as the true Lord of the World (hence the reaction in Acts 17:7 of being accused of preaching other king besides Caesar) I am also an inclusivist. This in relation to the last point is because I see the gospel being the story of God becoming King in and through Jesus, and rescuing the world through the saving Lordship of Jesus, that everywhere that is being faithfully followed, the poor being helped, peace and justice stood for and the wise stewardship of the world being encouraged people are following the call to faith into His rescuing and freeing rule and seeing the Kingdom brought through self-less love, will see at the resurrection Jesus as the true target of the faith, belief and action in life and step into the fullness of Life that He has for all that He has achieved through the victory of evil, sin and death in the cross and the resurrection. Of course there are those who turn away from much of their humanity will take longer, and the purpose of final judgement or the images of second death, are as I see it, at the appearing of Jesus and the fullness of the age to come, to finally stop evil for those to act as a means of strengthening what is the case already, a means of revelation to see the damaging effect their evil has to them and others, as a means casing them to turn back and be healed and reconciled (where the leaves of the healing of the nations in Revelation comes in, followed by the invitation of those to wash their robes to come through the gate, a place without walls, and partake of the tree of life, and I find CS Lewis’ novel the Great Divorce a great work of imagining something of what this promise might be like). This is all very sketchy and the arguments are much deeper, and it isn’t either intended to be convincing but rather give a quick idea of my position, and to indicate their are a number of faithful options to consider in relation to this question, and fully encourage you to do your own investigation as considering things for yourself (and also to know it isn’t simply eternal conscious torment as the only way to faithfully deal with these texts and Christian tradition in this area in any sense.

    Anyway here are a few more links about both evangelical univeralism to give you a better idea then I have:


    Anhilationism: (I as started I don’t hold to this position, and go to the one above, but I want to give you an idea of the various views out there)

    And more in inclusivism: (not that I entirely would go with the same approach in their view of Scripture but functions as a fair brush of the position of inclusivism in evangelical contexts)

    Now we come to the question of the various books that became Scripture and how to relate to the texts, where they have conflicting voices and events that happen within the narratives that seem very question.
    First I would advise reading this, I have only recently been reading through Peter Enns blog, but I would highly advise reading this post of an interview with Greg Boyd, it is clear, and reveals some perhaps foundational principles that so many in Christianity forget (myself included 😉 ) and is very helpful as a starting off point, and as a prism through which to view and hold all other issues, and before I want to go into anything else I wanted to make sure you could read it (and other pieces there if you wish):

    Now allot depends on how someone views inspiration or even inerrancy and what is the authority of Scripture exactly, and much evangelical approaches are misguided or wrong in my view. The place a weight in one way on the biblical documents they were never meant to carry, that the authority of rule book, scientific document, or all parts are supposed to be authoritative instructions not be questioned but just accepted as equal etc, but this is not really a higher but rather a lower view of scripture, despite the belief it is otherwise, the various documents, the long history of development through the tribal beginnings of the Jewish people that were their sources, and the oral witness, sources and letters forming the NT only become Scripture when put together as I see it, not so much as a group of documents (though obviously that is part) but rather as joining the whole narrative sweep of Scripture. And is is precisely because Scripture is an unfolding narrative of various parts and voices, interacting together, with different views of God shown, that gets its full clarity only (using Boyd’s analogy of a detective novel) when the surprise climax occurs that was God’s purpose for Israel all along is both revealed and held, re-framing and showing the purpose of the narrative, illuminating and re-interpreting it (or as I would say, showing the truer interpretation of God’s purposes beneath the differing views and theological perspectives of people the came out of, and how God was moving and working within the people as they were, towards this place. And to have a truly high view of Scripture is to respect what it is, not what it is not, and engage it as a narrative, be immersed in that narrative and in constant dialogue in, with and through it, in fact because they are narratives as opposed to rationalistic syllogisms, we must be drawn into a continuous dialogue with them, striving for inclusion of the greatest possible voices in a conversation that we actually engage with Scripture as intended.

    In this vein I would say it is very correct to both say there are through the Scripture documents, many divergent voices, differing views and cries, not just of characters presented in the documents but in their transmission and final presentation, they are fully the work of flawed humans through a long period of various times and places (not just the final editing, forming and writing of the documents of say the OT in the exhillic time from Babylon through the 2nd Temple period – often called post-exhillic but the Jews then didn’t see it that way ;)) but the whole historical process of the development of the events, stories and histories through the oral interacts of the people the become Israel, Much as God we believe entered into history fully as a human in a specific time and place, this can be a lense for seeing and knowing God with always in and with these people, not suddenly changing who they were but slowly centuries guiding and working within the group to see and understand more and guiding to a specific point. The stories, psalms etc reflected the developed end of a long process of reaching to understand and of interactions with God, and so reflect the divergent, culturally and historical distinctly various views, that are complied, edited and further developed through the long exhillic period. God doesn’t change this but works through it, as such the narrative is not, and should not be taken to be accurately (particularity pre-monarchy sections, and it doesn’t mean they don’t have bias either they do, and it’s part of the point) in our sense of history, instead it gives Israel a history. But in the providence of God, working through all things, as the documents come together they form part of a larger narrative composed of a diverse voices conversing together and forward, narrating events together and forward, that reveals increasingly clear interpretation through this story of what God has and is doing through Israel, through the narrative as a whole different purposes then the authors directly intend or understand how they position things take place, with again as mentioned above, the event to which it was all going acting as the vital piece which makes sense of everything, and through which everything, and all the other voices, events and characters are to be read. In this in reminds me (though of course it doesn’t read like it) as a historical model of interpreting a period of time, for example Marxist or feminist models, such historians or archaeologists don’t obviously see different people in ancient or medieval times actually being Marxists and working on those lines, but they see and frame the events as part of Marxist patterns and see this pattern and development working in and through the events, behind the scenes and coming into greater clarity to the point and which it reaches it’s purpose and climax through divergent characters. I see narrative of Scripture being a portrait of many voices, views and different understandings and positions through a long history of different periods and develop slowing revealing when taken together this underlying interpretation working through the whole narrative and between the voices in dialogue, conversing and expressing together, which only gain the full understanding of the true perspective and framework through which they are to be interpreted when seen through the climax and purpose they were working towards, and is their point (the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and of the Kingdom and the Cross and new creation). In this new meaning and purpose which the original people and authors who wrote then never thought is given, an example being say Psalm 2 which sees the promised son of God (in the sense here of Messiah or King of Israel) as one who will rule over the nations by violent conquest, but Paul realizes that this victory and conquest comes through a completely different way then those people or Israel prior had ever expected at all. He sees instead in the resurrection that Jesus is declared Lord over the world in power, and the Kingdom is advanced through engagement, love and service (also as in Mark 10:35-45), on one level the Psalmist (and many other places) are wrong in understanding how their hope will be achieved, as their like us all damaged and culturally conditioned, but their are right that their will be a victory and their hope, and the full purpose of what they hope and express is seen in Jesus, the full intention and interpretation is seen through the whole narrative understood and seen through the light of the aim and purpose it was going for, the gospel, and the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. This is indicated by Paul for example when he uses the phrase Jesus died and was raised according to the Scriptures, he doesn’t mean just some isolated prophecies but rather according to the whole narrative of the Scriptures, that it was the point of it all, it’s climax and is the one through whom it’s true meaning and purpose is framed and understood. That was a small example, and I know this isn’t fully exhaustive but I hope it gives at least some ideas here to engage in further.

    Beyond this there is another point in engaging with and in conversation with the whole narrative, it is not only to remember that these various documents, particularly the OT which were are talking about, are the products of centuries of various developments, and the need to read them as the documents they are (ie ancient not modern documents, of their genre, and having their own forms of expression, meaning and language are also necessary to engage them). A few examples, take the flood for instance, dealing with these stories for us is complicated as I think neither was it intended to be taken as history in our sense, though not necessarily ahistorical either, but rather was to give understand and a historical ancestor for Israel, and set up to understand the people and world they were in etc (and as it formed perhaps revealing other things in the whole narrative, beyond the purposes the people who formed them had in mind). And in the flood it isn’t being read as an event that happened in the same way as say the exile or monarchy events happened, and we miss things such as what the sea meant to Israel. The sea meant chaos, disorder, evil that threatened to destroy creation, as a people of few seafarers it functioned to symbolize of evil and chaos being unleashed and a good creation falling into chaos, (hence no sea promised in revelation), and the connection them shows between the chaos and destruction of the flood being released (the anti-creation force threatening to unmake creation) and the evil flood of humanity’s evil (of pagan nations and oppression of the wicked). The two are linked as synonymous in the story, the flood that happens reveals and comments on the flood that already was happening, for ancient Jews the connection would be clearer then for us, and at least one point the story was making is clear, and the Noah is part of that protohistory of Israel, reminding them of being the ones God is bringing through this flood (particularly in light of the exile in which this text is taking full form) and carry the blessing promised (and in the narrative will be promised through Abraham) to save them and restore order out of the evil around them, and Babel plays different but similar purposes. And again, even here, it’s greater meaning is only seen in conversation with the whole narrative, with other Christians and other voices, and through the lense of Christ Himself.

    Another example would be the Joshua conquest narrative, probably one of the hardest and most terrible examples in Scripture when read plain through, and lets be straight, read plainly as we do, it is inexhaustible, though and could be re-interpreted through the NT and Christ, the story on it’s own if it is intended as a history (or to taken as such) would be in original intent heinous and evil. And perhaps that is the case, however given the text was formed in during exhillic periods (at a time when the Jewish people were under pagan domination, and never had been an imperial power) the purpose of the text never seems to have been used for encouraging holy or genocidal war during any time in this time frame, and while it is possible they were not to bothered with rather massive contradiction it would have with the book of Judges and the Torah that were being developed with it, these with some other indications again hint that we are misreading the text. There is a fair argument that it isn’t and wasn’t supposed to be read as history at all, and though echoes of old and ancient tribal conflicts might be reflected through it, the conquest is a narrative, a intentionally fictional one, intended to convey another point entirely, that of boundaries and defining and keeping who is a member of the redeemed people of God and who isn’t, and of not comprising with pagan oppression or influence (and in this light the contrasting stories of Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who by birth is not a member of Israel yet by her faithfulness to Yahweh and to Israel proves she is an Israelite, Achan and his family, despite being Israelites, due their faithlessness prove themselves to really be Canaanites and suffer their fate make a strong point for Jews struggling under oppression). While not everyone agrees with this interpretation, it makes allot of sense in the historical setting in which the text formed, and in how it was (and was not) used by Israel. And it serves a very good lesson that in reading ancient texts we can misread them entirely, not understanding a meaning and genre that would have been obvious to the people it was written to and for (while I believe the biblical documents are for us, they were not written to us, and we have to work as best we can to understand them as the were understood by the people they were written to, before we can engage them as part of the larger conversation in the narrative of Scripture, a narrative of which we are part) can be lost on us. That we often read it very flat and literalistic manners, when the story may not be intended to be read that way at all, and is relating a very different purpose and narrative. Anyway ideas to follow up and others in your own searches and works (don’t take what I say as gospel 😉 , but just to give some wider perspectives here.

    And one final point onto Jesus Himself, again it is worth with the gospels bringing the need to attempt to read it as the documents they are, and understand as best we can the nuances going on inside of them, an example is the use of Jewish apocalyptic language in the 1st century. I tend to agree with a few others that this is one area that has been horribly misunderstood by much of the church, and agree that in the gospel synoptic narratives Jesus doesn’t talk about the 2nd coming, final judgement etc at all, not once, everything He says references to the judgement and the coming of the Kingdom that happens through the cross and resurrection (hence telling the disciples that some wouldn’t die before seeing the Kingdom come in power, they didn’t, they saw it the resurrection), and the judgement coming on the Temple for their injustice and abuse and warning of the destruction Israel faces if they continue to pursue the path of violence colluding with the very thing they wish to defeat. All his points I agree relate to that, and are couched in the apocalyptic language that would be been understood by the Jewish audiences at the time, but we have not so easily understood. This would equally relate to Jesus use of the Noah story, the purpose of using the story in the narratives is to point the readers to the judgement and event that was about happen, just as in the flood story they didn’t expect it. It doesn’t really tell us to much how Jesus or the gospel writers saw the flood narrative themselves.

    Secondly, when dealing with the Jesus being God, and shouldn’t he understand all things etc, and if we sees something in the OT in a certain way (though again, we have to bear in mind is this how the narrative might have Him use it, or is it us not relating to how Scripture was more freely interpreted in Judea which is also a problem, being overly literal and flat in our reading) then are we forced to hold the same view or just reject it. We need first to back up a little and ask what God are we talking about first, in this case it is the God of Israel, and more importantly it’s part of the gospel narratives presenting themselves as the story of the climax of the story of Israel, of the conflict of God’s Kingdom and it’s ways with the Kingdom of Caesar (and the world) and their ways. And thereby it’s the gospels as the promise being fulfilled at last to Israel of God returning to save and judge, and God bringing the forgiveness and release of debts, becoming King at last, and Jesus (and the gospel narratives) make the claim that how Yahweh returns, is as a young 1st century Jewish prophet, healing and restoring people, feasting with friends and the lost, standing against injustice and evil at all levels, coming to love and serve and going to an unjust death, taking the evil of the world on Himself, bringing that dark story of Israel to it’s pinnacle, confronting the forces (the flood) of violence and destruction and hate with a different power, that of love and self-giving. That is is what it looks like when God becomes King, and this is what His coming and return looks like up close, and what else does that mean, that means He in that return and coming to the world is in and amongst the humanity He is with, coming to fully be a part of them (and us) there, with them at that time. He relates and is part of that world and grew in His understanding as part of that world, as a young Jewish man, and in the man Jesus of Nazareth God returns to Israel and redeems it and the world, defeats evil and becomes King, showing what God is like. As such He redefines things and is the one the reveals what the narrative is, but He does so as part of that world and story and time (even as He in word, deed and action goes beyond it and brings in the new creation and resurrection and rescue of he world) it is that as that human that God who is always with a and at work within the world fully returns and rescues us. He thus relates as a man in that world, in that time and that perspective and world-view, and we relate to those narratives like that, God in the person of the Son (and that understanding of the son of God meaning Messiah before this grew out of these reflections), the Word, is tabernacled among Israel returning as the man Jesus, and He lived and acted there as that Jewish man of that community. This is part of the incarnation, so I guess what I am saying is that a perspective we might see Jesus have on the OT in and of itself would be part of the perspective(s) that engaged the views the Jewish people had in that time, and the interpretation and use of Scripture for the situations they faced in their understanding, so no, while it does relate a point in the narrative as a whole to us, it doesn’t commit use to the view that if Jesus in life in Galilee or in His ministry then viewed say for example Noah and the flood as real (if this was even the case), that me must either necessarily accept such a literal view (or reject His claims and Christianity). That would be to look to a different God then the one the NT claims and different idea of the God coming in the man Jesus of Nazareth, a kind of superman myth that though strong in Western culture has no place in the NT understanding and narrative.

    That was a bit rambling, and it isn’t meant despite how it might come off as entirely convincing, it’s hardly a whole argument, nor is it intended to be, it is just to try and demonstrated that Western and modern evangelical Christianity has sometimes done a horrible job at actually reflecting and helping it’s people actually getting to grips with the Bible. And it often makes them think they have to take certain statements of views and places weights on the Bible it was never meant to take, and how it in many respects was never meant to be used, and creates a ghetto culture of the mind that lacks all confidence, and controls rather then loves.

    Anyway with that I will leave it, and please don’t think anything I said is necessarily definitive or hundred percent right (because there are going to be areas in which I am really wrong in) but more as an encouragement to not be daunted, but to approach these things in a better and more holistic way. And to engage with the Bible as the narrative it is, and to converse with it, and it’s voices, in conversation with others, and to remember perhaps more then anything that post with Greg Boyd from Peter Enns above, to view all through the climax and purpose of that narrative, the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus and the confrontation, defeat of evil and rescue of the world it is about. IT is the key piece of the act, that self-giving and saving love and rescue, and it is the prism through which everything else must be viewed interpreted, and not to get to worried or hung up on other issues you might be unsure about. It for want of a better expression is the reason for the whole narrative and is the underlying purpose and overall author perspective.

    • Hey Grant, raven of the night!

      You are really too modest.

      Your post is at least as good as mine and most likely even much better.

      I would also feel very honored to have you as a regular commentator.

      Cheers from Lancashire, Marc.

      P.S: kann je Nederlansk of Afrikaans begrijpen? 🙂

      • Hi Marc,

        Thank you for your kind comments, they are deeply appreciated though I suspect it wasn’t quite that good 😉 , but I’m glad the article and all replies have been of help to Geoff (and thank you for your reply Geoff, I really hope and pray things look brighter for you, and you see the burning self-giving and involving love at the heart of God 🙂 ).

        I will keep reading your blog and will try and contribute if I think I can help, but I’m afraid I can’t read or speak much Dutch of Afrikaans sadly (I was an English South African who only began to learn when I left the country, so I’m knowledge is almost zil I’m afraid).

        Thanks again for the kind and gracious reply, God bless and protect you,


    • Dear raven of the night, I think you should write books.
      I am sure you could find brothers and sisters correcting the grammatical mistakes stemming from your disease.

      You are extremely brilliant.

  13. Wow, I am at a loss for words!

    Seriously, Marc, jasonjshaw, Harvey, michaeleeast, Ross, Dick, Grant (for the longest and awesome comment ever!) and to all others who commented and shared so many great resources, thank you and God bless you!

    I really do feel so blessed and privileged that you would all take the time to share your deepest thoughts and encouragement to someone you don’t even know. Unreal. You have all given me hope and a lot to read!! =)


  14. Hi Geoff,

    You may already have all the feedback you need, and you seem to have found it useful. Let me say that many years ago I had some of the same questions you mention.

    Since then I have had a long journey, and now I have a blog focused on these issues for those attracted to Jesus but not to the baggage often attached to his message.

    I no longer believe that God punishes anyone in hell. I no longer believe that the cruelty of God depicted in the Old Testament reflects God’s nature. Part of our problem is that we have tried to make the Bible the inerrant, consistent voice of God, and it is not.

    If you are interested, some posts that address your questions are:

    If you wish to discuss any of your questions further, I am available; my contact email is on my blog if you prefer to interact privately.

    I hope you find the information you need to draw your own conclusions regarding your questions. I wish you well in your search.


    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks so much for your comment, the links and info you provided, and for such a gracious invitation to discuss further via e-mail. Seriously, it’s so awesome to meet so many open minded thinkers who aren’t afraid to not follow the masses. I think mainstream fundamentalism is what screwed me up the most. Mostly the belief that the bible is unquestionable inerrant (even things that portray God as a monster, like commanding genocide) and also the belief that most people are going to hell since they never confessed Christ as lord in their lifetime, regardless if they even had a chance to hear the gospel!! It’s crazy and I was delusional in believing it. Now I’m somewhere between an inclusivist and universalist. Honestly I think universalism makes the most sense but then again I can’t really imagine sharing heaven with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, etc. I don’t know.

      That is why I want to very careful now what it is I believe and why. I don’t want to believe a lie, I want the truth, so I must include all possibilities including agnosticism and deism if I am to be truly open to all possible paradigms. The problem is of course that no one agrees on everything and there seems to be problems with all word views hence there will always be question marks regardless of which you identify with. I guess I have to live with that. All I can do, I suppose, is to be honest with myself in my quest for the truth no matter where it leads.

      Blessings to you,

  15. I think what seems to have been forgotten in some of the posts above is the huge difference between the OT and the NT….namely Jesus! Jesus took the punishment for all of mankind – God didn’t and doesn’t need to show his anger/wrath in the same way because he took it all out on his only Son, as we see in those moments on the cross when God has “forsaken” Jesus.

    There are also numerous references in the OT to God’s love, compassion and faithfulness, actually far more than there are references to his anger. Both the OT and the NT speak of punishment and judgement and both speak of mercy and communion with God. The God in the OT is not a different God to the one in the NT; different passages in Scripture reveal different aspects of his character. God does not change.

    Read more:

    Two links I think are very useful:

    • Hey.

      Ich habe gerade deinen Kommentaren bemerkt und sofort genehmigt. Na ja, nun haben wir aber noch ein zusätzliches Diskussionsthema 🙂

      Danke auf jeden Fall.


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