Are all atheists wicked fools hurtling towards hell?

Atheism: a consoling delusion for people who can't handle the reality of God's existence.
The “atheistic delusion”? Is this a fair and intellectually responsible look at the situation?

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser wrote a very relevant post about some widespread harmful beliefs held by many Christians in America.

******

Randal Rauser

A few days ago Jeff Lowder of “The Secular Outpost” started a new series on “stupid atheist memes”. His first installment was:

If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

Four years ago I did my own series along similar lines titled “How to Confound Christians with Bad Arguments.” The first installment was: “Compare Santa to Jesus.” Needless to say, naming and shaming this kind of ignorance is an important way to maintain the health of a belief community.

While I think it is worthwhile to point out the problematic memes in another belief community, it is even better to commit some time to pointing out the problems in your own community. And that’s why I’m doubly appreciative for Jeff’s new series.

I have always aimed to do the same thing by extending at least as much criticism to elements within my own belief community as I direct outside it. As a case in point, in a few weeks my new book will be in the marketplace. In Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I launch a book-length critique of a particularly pernicious Christian meme, namely the idea that deep-down atheists really do believe in God and they are sinfully suppressing this belief so that they may live with impunity.  I believe this is a very harmful meme which has left much misunderstanding, pain, and suffering in its wake. (Incidentally, the book also features an interview with Jeff Lowder. Bonus!)

So how ought we to respond to harmful memes? Must we always speak out against them? The Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Note in this confession that there are two distinct sins. Yes, there is the sin of commission, namely those things we have done. But there are also the sins of omission, those things we ought to have done but failed to do. To propagate memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice within your belief community constitutes a sin (or if you prefer, an “error” or “indiscretion”) of commission. But to fail to censure memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice also constitutes a sin, namely a sin of omission.

In other words, there is no neutral place to stand with respect to this pernicious nonsense. Can you imagine the impact if every time one of these memes was posted or tweeted a chorus would rise up in indignation? Things would begin to change pretty quickly. To sum up, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

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

My interaction with an atheist

Epicurus wrote an interesting comment:

I look forward to reading the book. I’ve always felt that Christians are trapped and must believe that non christians are suppressing belief because of Paul’s writings and attitudes on the matter.
It will be interesting to read Randal’s examination of the topic.

To which I answered:

******

Lotharson

Not all Christians believe in Biblical inerrancy.

What’s more, Paul can be quite ambiguous on that very topic.

Saint Paul redacting one of his numerous letters.
The Apostle Paul writing one of his numerous letters.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are
storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the GENTILE. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

A straightforward interpretation of this passage would be that Paul did believe that HEATHENS were able to strive for good works, thereby inheriting immortality.

Consider further this parable of Jesus:

“31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you
gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I
was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you
did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after
me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

White-dressed Jesus, sheep, malovelent goats
Jesus, the sheep and the goats

Were the righteous ones people who put their faith in Jesus during this lifetime and were “saved by grace”?

I think it’s a terribly convoluted interpretation of this passage.

A likely interpretation is that Jesus (and possibly also Paul) believed in a kind of virtue ethics according to which salvation comes through the cultivation of a just and humble Christ-like personality while sincerely acknowledging one’s sins and need for salvation.

Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more.

I certainly know quite a few atheists who are much closer to the spirit of Christ than many of his followers.

Cheers.

**************
Epicurus
“Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more”.That all sounds fine, but what do you do with verses that suggest differently? Because you don’t believe in inerrancy you can ignore them and use the ones you like?
********
Lotharson

Hi.
My point was that, at the very least, Christians aren’t compelled to have such an attitude towards atheists.
While the Bible can often speak with conflicting voices, I do not think we can find anything telling us unambiguously that unbelievers are immoral but many things clearly asserting the contrary.

I grant your general point, however.
It would be terribly question-begging to base doctrines on verses we arbitrarily pick and choose, once we’ve already concluded that the Biblical Canon isn’t internally coherent.

Ultimately, I base my faith on God defined as the greatest Being which can exist.

In the end, I think this is a hope which cannot be proven through rational arguments. Neither can atheism or materialism.
(Many mainstream Christians in Europe consider “faith” as an existential decision to hope in God rather than as a set of knowledge claims).

I also think, however, that EVERY belief system must be grounded through unproven presuppositions.

Consider for example the possibility that we are living in a simulation which was created ten minutes ago.

Brain in a vat:
A brain in a vat: what if we’re all deluded?

I’ve no doubt that (almost) all of us find this completely absurd on an emotional level.

Yet I do not think that you can show this to be rationally implausible without begging the question in one way or the other.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish).

Ooops, I might have gotten a bit too far from the original topic 🙂

******
Epicurus
I want to agree with you, but when I read things like Romans 1:18-32, or Psalm 14:1, etc, I can’t
***************

My interaction with a Conservative Evangelical

A little bit later, a Conservative Protestant criticised my views on salvation:
Rob

So you’re advocating Pelagianism? There’s no need to go that far.

Rom 2 is tricky. Thee point isn’t salvation by works. If you read the whole chapter, the gist is to jolt Jews out of complacency in thinking that they can sin and be saved, merely because they possess the Torah as a birthright, and that many gentiles are actually closer to heaven than they.

As to the sheep/goats parable, note the word “brethren”. This does not refer to generic acts of charity, but to good deeds done to Christians, so the doer would in some sense be considered Christian (ex. he who gives a cup of cold water, etc.)

None of this contradicts Rom 1, which seems to suggest that unbelievers hold (“suppress”) the knowledge of God’s existence, out of base motives.

******
Lotharson

Hi Rob.

I could as well say that Roman 1 is “tricky” and use Roman 2 to interpret it as meaning the collective sin of the culture rather than that of all individuals belonging to it.

Suppose that both Jesus and Paul believed that the deepest truth of the universe is that you have to believe in Christ on this side of the grave in order to be saved.

I think they would have said something like that:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For you did put your faith in me before entering the grave

Roman 2:
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed. 6 IF He “will repay each person according to what they have done.”, WE WILL ALL BE DAMNED. 7 To those who CONSCIOUSLY BELIEVED IN HIS SON DURING THEIR LIFETIME, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM: first for the Jew, then
for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good THROUGH BELIEVING IN HIM: first for the Jew, then for the gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

The fact that Jesus and Paul used very different words and phrases is a terrible fit to the classical Protestant view of salvation.

At the very least, I think that what I described earlier is a not unlikely view of salvation in the New Testament, regardless of whether or not you call it “Pelagianism“.

**********
I might add that Rob’s answers are pretty far-fetched in other respects as well.
While Paul’s main point in Roman 2 was certainly to criticise a belief in Jewish supremacy, the way he expressed himself makes it pretty likely he believed that humble heathens striving for a righteous life will inherit immortality and glory.
So, Rob’s remark concerning Paul’s main intention while writing this fails to engage with my reasoning.
As for Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, Rob’s argumentation sounds really bizarre to my subjective ears. It appears to go like this
1) The word “Brethren” in the parable refers to “Christians in need”
2) Thus, those who inherit salvation are those who helped Christians in need
3) A person helps a Christian in need if and only if she is herself a Christian
4) Therefore, all Christians will go to heaven whereas all unbelievers will go to hell.
 That’s the only way I can make sense of it.
While I cannot judge Rob as a person, I think that this particular argument wasn’t particularly convincing.
1′) As Jesus taught this, there wasn’t yet any Christian around and it seems quite clear that “Brethren” referred to his fellow Jews trying to do the will of this Father while he was preaching  in Israel. And whenever “doing the will of the Father” is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, it means good works towards God and one’s neighbour and not faith in Him as the only possible “fire insurance”.
3′) involves that, whenever confronted with a Christian in need, all Christians will help the person in question whereas all non-Christians will selfishly refuse to do so. This is truly an extraordinary claim which can be all too easily refuted by reading testimonies of Christians in areas of armed conflict.
Saying that these passages teach “salvation by faith only” nonetheless means that Paul and Jesus were quite sloppy in their choice of words and examples. Given their extreme ambiguity, it would have been then quite legitimate for the Church before (and after) Luther to interpret this in good conscience and perfectly legitimately as supporting the “false teaching” of salvation by works.
This comes over as a desperate attempt at salvaging one’s dogmas no matter what.
 
I believe that honestly leaving every Biblical text speak for itself instead of imposing a predefined pattern on it leads to two important conclusions:
A) The Bible is not inerrant: it can clearly speak with conflicting voices
B) The large majority of texts go against major doctrines held by Conservative Protestants. Indeed,
they’re at odds with the doctrine of hell understood as eternal conscious torment
they fail to teach that God cursed us all with a sinful nature because our first parents ate the wrong fruit.
– they’re at odds with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and grace alone (as seen in this post)
they’re at odds with the belief that homosexuality is a far more serious sin than failing to help the poor.
and I could add many others.

Conclusion

So, this was doubtlessly a terribly chaotic post 🙂
During these two interactions, I obviously touched on a lot of topics. I hope that my readers have found some of this interesting, regardless of whether they’re Christians, atheists or belong to an entirely different species altogether.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

Are fundamentalists denying hell?

Those familiar with my blog know I am no big fan of Biblical inerrancy and don’t think that the Biblical authors necessarily agree with each other on every topic (Kevin Miller I interviewed holds similar views).

Still,as far as the nature of hell is concerned, I think that the overwhelming image of ultimate punishment is “death”,  naturally meaning the cessation of existence.

I interviewed Chris Date in that respect.

I find it amusing (albeit consternating) to see how fundamentalists unwittingly mistake their own tradition-conditioned interpretation (or should I say “distortion) of a Biblical concept for the real thing.

For the large majority of Conservative Christians, hell signifies eternally existing in an incredibly painful state.

Recently, Tim Challies, a creationist book reviewer took to task the growing number of Evangelicals who are  switching to conditional immortality (according to which immortality is a gift received by only the saved) and universalism (according to which after a shorter or longer period of torment in hell, everyone is going to be saved).

Here is his post I replied to.

A hellbound man screams forever.
Being in hell forever: many people believe it is the consistent Biblical description of the lost.

What I Would Have To Deny To Deny Hell

It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

***

Distorting the Biblical texts

Here was  my response:

“He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,  just
as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the
same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange
flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of
eternal fire.”
Jude 1:7

” and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by
reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would
live ungodly lives thereafter;”

2 Peter 2:6

So, Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of what will happen to the ungodly.

Have these cities been eternally tortured ever since their destruction?

Was their conscious pain exhibited as an example during the first century A.C?

Does this very thought seem a bit laughable?

The wasted valleyes of Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah many centuries later. Is it an image of the painful eternal separation from God the lost has to endure?
Or is it a clear image of irreversible destruction?

As for Jesus, what about

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

According to your view, one should read this verse as:

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the
soul: but rather fear him which is able to torment both soul and body in
hell.”

With all due respect, I cannot help but think that interpreting these texts as conscious torment is a ridiculous force-fit.

Concerning the rich man in Hades, I can only quote my interview with Chris Date
********
“the problems are twofold. First and most importantly, the parable isn’t even set in hell. It’s set in Hades, the underworld, the place of the dead. The rich man’s brothers are still alive, and he, dead in Hades, pleads that someone would go and tell his still-living brothers to repent. None of this would be possible in the eschaton. Besides, the text explicitly states he’s in Hades. And we know that one day mankind will be raised up out of Hades, given once again living bodies, at which point they will be finally judged. So there’s simply no good argument to be made for the traditional view from this parable. Secondly, there’s little reason to believe Jesus intends for the parable to be taken as a
realistic description of the afterlife in the first place. Scholars of ancient Jewish literature have found several very similar stories that are sort of life fairy tales, or folk tales, not intended to be taken literally, but communicating a moral point. And Jesus appears to take these and turn them on their head, sort of telling his hearers that they’ve got things all wrong when it comes to the rich and the poor.
Imagine, if you will, if Jesus were to come to us today and tell a story very similar to Humpty Dumpty, but whereas the king’s men in the original could not put Humpty back together again, in Jesus’ version the king himself puts Humpty back together again, as an illustration that God will one day raise his people from the dead. No one would think that Jesus was saying the afterlife would literally be like what happens in Humpty Dumpty. We’d all recognize that he was co-opting a common fairy tale of our day in order to communicate spiritual realities, like he does in all his parables. So I don’t see any reason to take the parable literally. But let me reiterate that that’s only secondary. Even if one is inclined to take Jesus’ parable as a generally realistic account of
the afterlife, the most it could lead one to do is embrace dualism and a conscious intermediate state awaiting resurrection. Again: The parable takes place in Hades, not hell.”
*****

What’s more, in the passage of Revelation you quoted, it is said that “Hades” will be thrown into the lake of fire.

What does that show us? Two things:

1) Hades cannot be a permanent state of miserable existence, it’s going to have an end
2) being in the lake of fire cannot mean being tormented, for “Hades” is an impersonal concept incapable of feeling anything.

Therefore, it is quite natural to conclude that landing in this lake of fire involves being destroyed irremediably.

The damned scream out loud in the fiery lanscapes of the lake of fire.
Will Hades “the Death” be eternally tormented in the lake of fire?
Or will it be no more?

Argument of silence against eternal conscious torment

I think that an excellent argument from silence can also be made against ECT.

You believe that eternal conscious torment is a doctrine of crucial importance.

It is the worst thing which can happen to someone therefore we should preach it everywhere.

If so, why did not God act accordingly?

Consider the overwhelming majority of the Old Testament (at the very least between the time of Abraham and that of the prophet Jeremiah) how often do you find someone ambiguously evoking an everlasting state of painful existence as a punishment for sin?

Never. The retribution of misdeeds is always associated with DEATH and it is incredibly far-fetched to imagine that the ancient Hebrew writers meant “spiritual death” while existing miserably.

Likewise, in the Acts of the Apostles, while judgment is mentioned at some places we can never find any mention of unending suffering.

If ETC were true , we would expect the writers to clearly and unambiguously announce and preach it.
But this is absolutely not what one finds.
I think that in this specific case, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence: these are failed predictions which are so significant that they largely suffice for showing that these Biblical writers did not view hell as never-ending torment.

If the Bible inerrantly taught the doctrine of conscious eternal torment, our Biblical texts would look very different from what they are.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

Reform your faith

I was greatly honored to have received a wonderful text from progressive Christian Chuck Shingledecker. He encouraged me to reproduce it here which I did.

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

https://i1.wp.com/freedomtodoubt.com/FTD-cover-front.jpg

Reform your faith
There is an important holiday celebrated on October 31st that has nothing to do with candy and carved pumpkins. It’s a commemoration of the day when a young Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It is Reformation Day.
Luther spent many years trying to follow all of the right disciplines of the church. He went to confession, prayed, fasted, served liturgy. But something inside of him was dissatisfied, tormented by what he held dear as the kingdom of God corrupted by the trappings of an oppressive secular power. Luther began to question what he’d been taught and all that he believed, first privately but then publicly by nailing a letter of 95 complaints about the church’s practices onto the doors of the Castle Church. Western Christianity has never been the same since.
Yet how many of us dare to do as Luther did? Sometimes we may talk about the need for reform in our church. But how many of us contemplate reforming our own faith? It turns out that a lot of us do.
Televangelists will tell us to look to Jesus for all our answers. To trust in God. To pray, fast, light candles, and do all of the feel-good things that give others, and ourselves, the illusion that we are changing on the inside. But that’s not real reform. At least not the sort that matters.
I’m talking about confronting our own faith in such a way that, perhaps for the first time in our lives, we dare to look at Christianity and all we hold dear and question it through the eyes of a skeptic. Let yourself be the troubled, hurting Christian who wants to believe but also to know the real truth. It’s what John Loftus calls the “outsider test for faith.”
That’s what Luther did on that late October day in 1517, at least when it came to the only faith he’d ever known. He certainly didn’t go as far as some of us in the modern world do. But it was a remarkable step, given his time, culture, and place. He questioned important aspects of the faith he loved and served.
I know how hard it must have been for him, because, though I’m certainly no Luther, I’ve done it, too. For many years I was tormented by my faith. I put on a good public display about it all, pretending to believe all of the right things and performing all of the right rituals. But my heart wasn’t always in it, must as it wanted to be. My mind wouldn’t allow it. I’d constantly ask myself, “Why am I doing this? What am I doing here? Do I believe any of it?”
The only answer I could give was that I was supposed to be there, supposed to believe the right things. My faith was dead, or at least dying. Until I did what no one good Christian is supposed to do, embrace the doubts and ideas that only “backsliding” Christians accept. Everything became subject to question: the Bible, the doctrines and authority of the church, and even whether or not I truly believed in God.
Yes, those are all forbidden things to question for many Christians. But so were Luther’s questions in his time. And just like the Reformation of the church, my own spiritual reformation hasn’t always been an easy thing for me. It has led to turmoil, both internal and interpersonal. I’ve lost some friends. And my faith is not what it once was.
It’s a faith that some would call incomplete or thin, no faith at all. And you know what? Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes I have no faith. Sometimes I, like the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who recently said, “There are moments, sure, when you think, ‘Is there a God?’‘Where is God?’” (bbc.com/news/uk-29255318), I’m unsure of whether or not God exists.
Sometimes I believe in God but not the Trinity. Sometimes I believe Jesus was simply a Jewish prophet whom Gentiles co-opted and made into a gentile savior. Other times I’m not sure what it is I believe. But that’s okay. Let me say that again. It’s okay.
I don’t say that to make myself feel better. I say that because I understand what torment it is to Charles Shingledecker – Reform Your Faith.
1 think it isn’t okay. And if you are tormented by your doubts about your faith, I want to say that you are not alone! There are tens of thousands—probably millions—in this country alone who feel just as you do. And if you’ve decided to slowly embrace those doubts, despite how scary it can be, then congratulations. You’ve nailed your own 95 theses to the door of your heart. It won’t always be an easy journey. But in the long run, it will be liberating, because you will no longer be afraid of doubt.

St. teresa of avila quote
A dear friend once told me to not fear my doubts. That was the first step on a long, continuing journey that I’m still on. Do not fear your doubts. Do not fear questioning authority, that of the church or even of God. We are not God’s slaves, but his children. And we are all in need of reform.
This is the lesson I take away from Reformation Day. Luther was far from perfect. At times,
especially later in life, he could be a bigoted and authoritarian asshat. But he did what few others in the history of the church ever would: He challenged its self-proclaimed authority, its long-standing practices, and he brought about reform. Not only of the church, but of his own faith. If he can do it, you can too.
———
Chuck’s book Freedom to Doubt is available for the Amazon Kindle and in trade paperback. See FreedomToDoubt.com for excerpts and links. From October 30 to November 3, the Kindle version is being offered at a discounted price of just $0.99.

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

I do hope this text will help some of my readers. Otherwise you might also appreciate my own advice for a struggling Christian.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

The end is at hand: New Testament prophecies and the future of the world

Most Conservative Evangelicals I know are deeply convinced that the prophecies contained within the Book of Revelation relate to future events which have yet to come.

http://rapturewatcher.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/left-behind-people-on-rapture-day.jpg

In what follows, I interviewed Chris Date who is himself a Conservative Evangelical for presenting an alternative view called preterism. I often don’t agree with his theology but find he’s a great and kind man as well as a careful exegete of the Bible.

I previously interviewed him about the topic of hell.
Lothar’s Son: So Chris thank you very much for having accepted this new interview 🙂 Today we’re about to talk about the end time and what the Bible has to say about this.
Chris Date: It’s my pleasure.
Lothar’s Son: So, could you please summarize the current Evangelical views on this important theme?
Chris Date: Most evangelicals in America today are what are called futurists: they believe that the bulk of eschatological events foretold in the Bible are yet to be fulfilled in our future, such as the beast/antichrist, the great tribulation, and the millennium of Revelation. Regarding the millennium, most evangelicals in America today are premillennialists, meaning that they think Jesus will return at the beginning of the millennium at some point in our future, and reign over an earthly kingdom for precisely a thousand years, after which will occur the final judgment, general resurrection, and eternal state.
Chris Date: Dispensationalists furthermore believe in a rapture and tribulation period at the beginning of that millennium, and they comprise a large percentage of those premillennial futurists I just described. I might say a majority of them, but I’m not confident about that.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. And are there futurists who are not premillennialist?
Chris Date: Yes, it’s possible to be an amillennialist or postmillennialist and be a futurist. Amillennialists and postmillennialists believe the thousand years talked about in the book of Revelation refer to the present Church age, and a futurist who falls into this camp would probably say that the vision recorded in Revelation is not linear in terms of time, and so although the beast, for example, features earlier in the vision, nevertheless he will appear in our future toward the end of the millennium. That’s my understanding of amillennial/postmillennial futurism, anyway. I could be wrong, as I’m not one of them 🙂


Lothar’s Son: Ok 🙂 What is your own position?
Chris Date: Well I am an amillennialist, but I’m what’s called a preterist. Whereas futurists believe the bulk of biblical, eschatological prophecy awaits fulfillment in our future, we preterists beleive the bulk of it (not all of it) was fulfilled in our past. This includes the beast, the great tribulation, and more.
Chris Date: What we preterists do believe awaits fulfillment in our future is the return of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, final judgment, consummation of all things, and eternal state.
Lothar’s Son: Could you please describe key proof texts for each side?
Chris Date: Well I can point you to some key texts for preterism. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus foretells some eschatological events in Matthew 24, ones futurists believe await fulfillment in our future, but then he says inv erse 34 that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” John says in the prologue of Revelation that the things he was shown “must soon take place” (v. 1) and that “the time is near” (v. 3). Daniel is told to seal up the mystery of his vision “until the time of the end” because, apparently, the time of its fulfillment is in the distant future (Dan. 12:4), but John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). This sampling of what we preterists call the “time texts” demonstrates that much of the things many Christians have been told awaits fulfillment in our future must, in fact, have been fulfilled in our past.
Chris Date: As for futurism, it’s more difficult to offer you key texts because, frankly, I don’t think they have any. I think all futurists can argue is that the texts I just listed cannot mean what they appear to mean because if they did, then we could not read much of the prophecies in Scripture literally. But of course, that’s part of the question being begged. We preterists don’t think the authors of Scripture ever intended for their eschatological, apocalyptic prophecy to be interpreted literally. The genre is one of highly symbolic dreams and visions, and so one shouldn’t be afraid of letting the texts I listed earlier speak for themselves and being forced to interpret prophecies as symbolic; that’s how they’re supposed to be itnerpreted.


Lothar’s Son: Many people Skeptical of Christianity would say that Jesus and the writers of the NT really awaited the end to be at hand but were wrong. They’d say that preterism is an attempt to escape the obvious meaning of these texts. What would be your response to that?
Chris Date: My response would be that in fact what I’ve argued is the obvious meaning of those texts. Take, for example, the beast of Revelation. It’s described as having seven heads and ten horns, but an angel interprets it for John saying that the heads represent hills or mountains on which a city sits. So the text itself tells us that the vision is intended to be interpreted as symbols; we preterists aren’t dodging anything at all. The angel also tells John, incidentally, that the king represented by the fifth head is alive and reigning at the time John was given his vision, some 2,000 years ago. Again, we preterists aren’t dodging the obvious meanings of texts; we’re letting the text speak for itself. I can’t help that when one correctly interprets Scripture, it defeats skepticism 🙂
Lothar’s Son: Okay 🙂 But when Jesus foretold that this generation would not pass without having seen the return of the Son of Man, what did He mean according to preterism? How do futurists interpret this statement?
Chris Date: Before I answer that question, may I ask you where Jesus said they would see “the return of the Son of Man”? I see that nowhere.
Chris Date: I think what you’re referring to is Matt 24:30, but “return” is nowhere in that text.
Lothar’s Son: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” You’ll see the son of man on a cloud
Chris Date: Right, what Jesus says is that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Note no “return”. We preterists recall that in the Old Testament, the Lord, YHVH, comes on clouds in judgment when he destroys cities. The language isn’t intended to be taken literally, as if the God of Israel saddles up a cloud and floats down from the sky on it, throwing handfulls of brimstone upon the cities he’s judging. No, it’s apocalyptic symbolism communicating God’s destructive judgment upon cities. And indeed, what happened within the generation of those to whom Jesus is here speaking? Jerusalem is judged, the temple destroyed.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks for the explanation. When I read things such as “9“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
it’s really hard for me to believe this refers to future events because this clearly happens ALL THE TIME.
How can futurists make sense of this fact? Can they really do that? 🙂
Chris Date: Hmm, well, I suppose they might respond in one or both of two ways:
Chris Date: First, some futurists will acknowledge that some of this passage talks about events that were coming within the generation of those to whom Jesus was speaking, and that they might include the events you just referred to. But, they would say, the more cataclysmic events must be awaiting fulfillment in our future. Second, some futurists might argue that just because things have happened since Jesus delivered this prophecy that bear some resemblance to what he prophecied, it doesn’t mean they fulfilled it. If, for example, I predicted shortly before the year 1,800 that America would go to war, a dozen years later the war of 1,812 might be thought to be the fulfillment of my prediction, but if what I was prohpecying was, in fact, the much bloodier civil war that was coming a half a century later, well then the war of 1,812 would not have fulfilled my prophecy. Make sense? So futurists might argue regarding Matthew 24; many events may have tranpired, and my transpire all the time, which bear some resemblance to what he predicted, but it doesn’t mean they fulfilled it.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. What are to your mind fatal objections to futurism? Is post-millenarism in that respect superior to pre-millenarism?
Chris Date: Well I’m not a postmillennialist; I’m an amillennialist. But both views, recognizing that the thousand years of Revelation symbolizes an indefinitely long period of time that began in our past, are certainly superior to premillennialism. And I’ve already offered what I think are the fatal objections to futurism. It’s simply not possible, in my opinion, to take those texts seriously as a futurist. The answers I’ve seen them give are woefully inadequate. But I will offer one more.
Chris Date: In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that when the resurrection of believers happens–which premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists agree happens concurrent with the return of Christ–it will bring the defeat of death (vv. 50-55). But look what he says: he says death is the last enemy to be destroyed (v. 26). If premillennialists are right, then believers are resurrected a thousand years before death and others of God’s enemies (like Satan) are destroyed. In amillennialism and postmillennialism, on the other hand, the resurrection and return of Christ happen after “he has put all enmies under his feet,” and so, indeed, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It all fits, but doesn’t in premillennialism.


Lothar’s Son: Ok thanks! Do you think that these views can have huge consequences for the way one’s Christian life is lead? Or for Evangelism?
Chris Date: Huge consequences? I don’t know about that. Perhaps. Postmillennialists seem committed, for example, to improving the world in ways some premillennialists are not, since postmillennialists think the world will be nearly 100% Christianized by the time Christ returns, whereas premillennialists think he could return at any moment. More dangerous, I think, is the unbiblical literalism with which many premillennialists read prophetic texts. Take the mark of the beast, for example; many premillennialists, reading this literally and as awaiting fulfillment in our future, think the day is coming when we’ll be forced to accept a tattoo on our hands, or an electronic implant, and they think that Christians will refuse it. Imagine if such a technology became popular that would allow shoppers to more quickly and easily check out at the grocery store, by just swiping our hand over a scanner. We amillennialists and postmillennialists wouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of such a helpful technology, but a premillennialist very likely might, and may even judge us other Christians for what they think constitutes accepting the mark of the beast.
Chris Date: Perhaps there are other “huge” consequences but none come to my mind at the moment. I’m always leary of suggesting that when Christians disagree on the non-essentials, there are “huge” consequences. Often I don’t think there are.
Lothar’s Son: Okay, I think I mostly agree as far as moderate people in each camp are concerned 🙂 . But can some of these literal interpretations make Christianity look much more foolish that it needs to be? I’m thinking about popular movies or books from premilleniarists I can only view as utterly ridiculous, despite my best attempts to be charitable.
Chris Date: Yes I think there may be some truth to that, but being a Calvinist–the topic of another interview I suppose–I think apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit people are going to easily find excuses to reject the gospel. If presented less laughably than in Left Behind, unbelievers still hostile to God will just find some other reason to reject it.
Lothar’s Son: Okay! While you don’t know how this is going to happen, how do you imagine the return of Christ as a preterist? I’m not asking for a prophecy 🙂 just about some mental pictures you might have.
Chris Date: Well, I do share some things in common with Dispensationalists, particularly with regards to the nation of Israel. Based on my interpretation of the symbolism in Revelation 20 and Romans 9-11, I think that toward the end of this period of time, the Gentile world will become decreasingly Christian and Jews, particularly in Israel, will increasingly and corporately accept her Messiah. I think with the world increasingly hating Israel, it will one day attack her, at which point Christ will return and protect her, and that will usher in the resurrection, final judgment, etc.
Chris Date: But “how” will that happen? I don’t know.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. So are you in that particular respect “partially futurist”? Would that be a correct phrase?
Chris Date: No, it wouldn’t. All orthodox Christians believe some things await fulfillment in our future. What differentiates a futurist from a preterist is what things one thinks awaits fulfillment in one’s future, or has already been fulfilled. The beast; the great tribulation; the mark of the beast; the onset of the millennium; etc.
Lothar’s Son: Is there a connection between belief in preterism and belief in conditional immortality?
Chris Date: It depends on what you mean by that. Are most preterists conditionalists? I don’t think so. I think most preterists are traditionalists, since traditionalism is still, well, traditional 🙂 But I do think they’re being inconsistent, as I explain in this article at Rethinking Hell .
Chris Date: I’ll let your readers check that out.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks! Do you believe that we’ll usher into a brand new universe or realm? Or will simply the universe and earth in which we live be renewed?
Chris Date: I think it will be renewed or restored, not obliterated and replaced.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks for everything! To conclude, could you perhaps give relevant links towards your blog or elsewhere?
Chris Date: Your readers can find my personal blog and podcast at http://www.theopologetics.com. I’ve done a few shows on preterism that they may find interesting. I also blog and podcast at http://www.rethinkinghell.com, if your readers want to learn more about conditionalism. I’m less actively lately at both sites, however, as I’m currently going to school. I can be reached at chris@theopologetics.com or chrisdate@rethinkinghell.com if anyone would like to hear from me.
Lothar’s Son: Okay! What are you up to for the coming months?
Chris Date: Sadly I was laid off last week so #1 will be finding a new job 🙂 But aside from that, I’m also taking a class in Greek, another in Philosophy, and I’m raising 4 kids with my wife. So I’ll be up to a lot for the coming months!
Lothar’s Son: Oh yeah I truly wish you good lucks for finding a new position and all your other endeavors. Thank you very much for the time you granted me!
Chris Date: You’re very welcome. God bless, and take care.

https://i2.wp.com/grapplerschurch.tv/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ChrisDate.jpg