Heaven, Hell and the O’Reilly Factor

If your souls were not immortal, and you in danger of losing them, I would not thus speak unto you; but the love of your souls constrains me to speak: methinks this would constrain me to speak unto you forever.   -George Whitefield


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Just about everybody, Christian or not, is talking about Rob Bell’s book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived just published on March 15. I finished reading the book this weekend and plan to do a series on the book, as well as on the subject of heaven and hell as perceived by those within the evangelical community, along with others within Christendom. It is important to note that views, even within the evangelical/Reformed tradition, are not monolithic.

Rob Bell is accused of believing in universalism, which, at it's base, is a belief that everyone who dies will go to heaven. He is also accused of denying the existence of hell. Both views would be considered outside the pale of most evangelical subsets. However, there are some respected theologians, like John Stott, who have some differing ideas which I will discuss.

So what does Rob Bell actually believe? My short take is that Rob Bell is conflicted and is still in the process of developing his thinking. I think he should have waited to publish his book because I believe, in the coming years, he will change some of his views. I will expand on my reasons in coming posts.

Nevertheless, I believe that many people, evangelicals or not, are also conflicted about the issue of eternal punishment and that many Christians secretly wish Bell had kept his mouth shut and not made trouble for the rest of us. Too many people are asking too many Christians too many hard questions. And too many Christians do not know how to answer.

My contention is that the average pew sitter struggles with the concept of eternal punishment. I believe that if one asked a large group of believers who goes to hell and how God punishes people in that venue, one would be surprised at the many, many different answers that would be elicited.

Today, I want to show our readers how confused an informed pundit, Bill O’Reilly, a committed Catholic, is regarding this subject. He decided to discuss, on his show, The O’Reilly Factor, the April 14, 2011, issue of Time Magazine which featured the debate on the existence of hell. The Time article was based on Rob Bell’s book and was entitled “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?” Link

Last Monday, he featured a pastor from my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, whom I had never heard of. I found the exchange rather amusing as well as most frustrating. Said pastor is a Universalist and believes that everyone goes to heaven. O’Reilly was shocked. He seemed to be very concerned that there would not be eternal punishment for the likes of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden.


Conversely, he stated that he believed that all the Jews, who died in concentration camps in World War 2, were in heaven. He also read a statement from a Catholic theology book which appears to state that there are those who are saved, not by water baptism, but by disposition.

During the segment, I could tell that he was confused about what evangelicals really believe on this subject.




I realized that O’Reilly was unfamiliar with standard evangelical thinking on the subject, which I believe limited his understanding on the controversy surrounding Bell’s book. So, I immediately sent him the following email.

“With all due respect, you missed the ball on this one. Most evangelicals believe that one must accept Jesus to go to heaven. Ask your friend, Franklin Graham. There are some who believe there is an exception for infants and those who have never heard the Gospel. The average evangelical would argue that, in fact, Gandhi will go to hell. It was this premise that Rob Bell was addressing in his book Love Wins. In other words, hell will contain both Hitler and Gandhi according to most conservative evangelicals. Why don't you get some well known folks like Graham and Al Mohler and ask them if Gandhi is in heaven? You may find the answer surprising.”

Please note that I was not saying what I believe. I will get to that later in this series.

However, I was most startled when, on Thursday,  O’Reilly had Franklin Graham on his show and discussed this subject with him.




I believe O’Reilly seemed a bit surprised by Graham’s response. And therein lies the issue for me. I also believe that the subject is confusing for many committed Christians, except for a few theologians and pastors who are very sure of exactly what happens.

So, over the next week or so, I will discuss this issue along with some updates of some other stories we have been following.


Lydia's Corner: Judges 2:10-3:31 Luke 22:14-34 Psalm 92:1-93:5 Proverbs 14:1-2






Heaven, Hell and the O’Reilly Factor — 57 Comments

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    From Jack McKinney’s web site at http://www.mckinneycounseling.org/CounselingBio.html

    Jack McKinney’s Biography

    Dr. Jack McKinney is a pastoral counselor and also consults with clergy and congregations. He works with people trying to develop a better understanding about themselves and their lives, with an emphasis on serving the LGBT community.

    From 2000 to 2009, he served as pastor of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. Before moving to North Carolina, Dr. McKinney was the senior minister of the Bethesda First Baptist Church in Bethesda, Maryland. He previously served Baptist and United Church of Christ congregations in Texas.

    At Pullen, one of Dr. McKinney’s main priorities was ministry within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. In 2004 he was named the “Straight Ally of the Year” by the Triangle Business and Professional Guild. In 2005 he was honored with the Equality Award by the Human Rights Campaign of the Carolinas for his work in trying to legalize same-sex marriage in North Carolina. In 2006 Dr. McKinney was honored by The Independent when they named him the “Best Sermon to Hear on a Sunday Morning.”

    Dr. McKinney has been actively involved with the North Carolina Council of Churches, the Food Bank of North Carolina, and the North Carolina Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, where he serves as co-chair of the steering committee.

    Dr. McKinney earned a Ph.D. from Baylor University in Christian Ethics in 1995. In 1996 he was an adjunct professor of religion at Baylor.

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    I am an idiot. Of course he was at Pullen. That is one of the most liberal churches in the SE.An endorsement from the Independent is not an endorsement. It’s one of those throw away newspapers.
    Thanks for the info.

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    For the past year or so, at least several months before Bell’s book hit the stands, I’ve noted an all out war on the concept of hell.

    Lydia mentioned “totaliarian niceness” in the previous post. This is actually from a comment made by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio to Tim Clydesdale in regard to his book, “The First Year Out.” The fruit of political correctness, a generation later in the fully postmodern generation, is a moratorium on negative opinions. Clydesdale said that people today (I’d say now from the ages of mid thirties on down) want a God who is like a Golden Retriever. Truth becomes truth because belief in it makes it true, and God (and His word) is not an objective standard of truth anymore. He’s supposed to be a loveable companion only.

    Along with that is an intense dislike of any suggestion of hell. Postmodernism where truth has not real meaning birthed the emergent theology, and hermeneutics are the “hermeneutics of trust” a la Gadamer. Truth is based on how well you write a narrative that tells a story about truth. Gadamer called it an historically effected consciousness or some such thing.

    I’ve even read one place online where I was creamed for being a lowlife and of poor mental development for believing in hell that suggested that hell was really just a construct created by medieval monks and did not exist in the Bible. One Christian did get on this open secular forum and stated that it was in the Bible and Jesus taught it, but we have no idea or way of interpreting what He meant because all the manuscripts were faked. This person commenting said that the four gospels were written as perversions of a basic story, and all of them got it wrong. It boggles the mind. I was going to comment on that board to say that Jesus mentioned hell far more than he ever talked about heaven, but I figured that it would do little good. No one was interested.

    Some Christians who reject the idea of hell also criticize ministers for “cherry picking” only certain verses that they like for proof texting and are hypocrites for doing so. That also boggles my mind.

    But, there we have it, folks. If I were God, I’d work out some alternate plan, but as things stand, there’s this issue of God’s holiness. If we understand the stark white burning power of His holiness that sent John down on his face on the Island of Patamos, and the figure that many suspect was Jesus who appeared to Daniel — an experience that sent him to bed because of physical weakness — we wouldn’t have such a problem. Isaiah cried out “Woe is me.” We have no idea of just how holy He is anymore. Maybe we never did.

    My husband says that what he couldn’t stand about the standard Evangelical church was the whole “Jesus is my buddy” approach which he felt left the concept of God’s holiness at the wayside.

    Perhaps when we understand God’s holiness, we have a better understanding of why a place of total separation from God is warranted. It also gives us a new and powerful understanding of the significance of the Blood of Jesus and the Gospel of reconciliation.


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    I would agree from the perspective of biblical theology, the concept of hell is very real, on the other hand I can’t help feel sorry for people who, without a shred of evidence, actually believe such a place exists and it never ceases to amaze me how we can “justify” in our minds just about any concept we feel the need to embrace.

    But maybe, with the religious set…starting with the Rob Bell’s of the world is the only way to effect a group mindset change…certainly the direct approach of “are you serious?” doesn’t seem to be effective.

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    Hey, all this really sells books. I think Piper and Mohler types are free PR for Bell.

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    Lydia and Cindy

    I will be posting some of Bell’s questions. I will be interested in seeing how readers answer them. This is a very interesting state of affairs because I think many Christians have not thought as long and as hard as some of the readers here

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    I happened to catch O’Reilly’s interview of the guy from North Carolina.

    I thought that O’Reilly did one thing very effectively.

    He illustrated the absurdity of claiming that God is a god of love when there is no judgment. No one, and I mean no one would want to live in a world or an afterworld where there is no judgment.

    O’Reilly got confused on what Christian teaching is on the subject of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Much of this confusion was the product of modern Catholic teaching on the subject.

    It is very bad form for Christians to do anything but be faithful to Christ’s and his apostles teaching on this subject. We should never try to claim who is in heaven and who is in hell. I will also give O’Reilly credit for say that it is up to “The Diety” (as he is fond of saying) who goes where.

    You are probably right about Rob Bell in that his views are developing. I have never heard him preach and have not read his book. He seems like a lightweight to me that has charisma and thus, a following.

    There’s a million guys like that running around in the U.S. I am sure they all have ideas about this and that.

    I don’t know anyone who is really following Bell on this. I am sure they are out there. I just don’t run into them.

    He got a big push for his book with the controversy. But I believe that things will continue on as before. I don’t really have any interest in following Bell, his book, or what others think about his book.

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    You state that you don’t know anyone who is following Bell. I’ve run into plenty, and some of them are Christians.

    Lydia is right, as this is all free PR for the big wigs. They may even write their own books about Bell in days to come, and people who hate Christians will also buy the book because of the controversy.

    There are so many Christians who were raised under such stringent perversions of God’s message of grace, and so many others who were so abused by other people who called themselves Christian that it makes the emergent church which Bell represents remarkably appealing. It is also popular with postmodern people who want to only entertain the Golden Retriever version of God instead of a Holy One. Younger people today intensely hate to be labeled. On top of “totalitarian niceness” there is an intense concern about what others think about them, and it is magnified by things like twitter and text messaging giving people instant communication about what others think about them. So they are also drawn into theologies like Bell’s own, as it seems to satisfy the specific needs of the generation with a softened version of truth and “the Deity.”

    I am often asked about the emergent church by people coming out of religious abuse. I know a staggering number of Baptists who now follow New Thought Christianity which is essentially spiritism and Buddhism, where people all pursue energy of various types and get into the power of the mind and self-improvement. I’d rather see people at an emergent church than at Unity. And I tell people that if it helps them reconnect with God and helps them sort through things, I don’t think God’s going to strike them with lightning if they go emergent. But if they are Christians, I tell them that I don’t think that they will find that the emergent church is any kind of place in which they will want to stay. They are sensitive enough to hear God if they are looking for Him, and He is great enough to put them where He ultimately wants them. I have faith in that, and I think that God is bigger than all of these things.

    A friend of mine who is considering emergent theology as he copes with the loss of his business which resulted from a Christian minister’s jealously and angst who maneuvered to destroy it out of spite. My friend is disillusioned with all Christians as a consequence. He says that the only thing holding him back from emergent theology is the idea that this minister will very likely end up in eternal hell which is one of the only things that gives him comfort as he sifts through the rubble that this minister’s havoc has raked on his family. I offered him the reverse idea of Dante’s Inferno, suggesting that his persecutor will one day have some detestable job in heaven. (I actually suggested a particular character from a particularly offensive movie by Mel Brooks as the eternal fate of his abuser, but with Mel’s remarkable ability to minimize horrible people with humor, it adds much needed levity.)

    It is all rather thought provoking, because we are created with a desire to see justice. Or for Karlton, we developed the sense! 😉

    So while many people who have not been so crushed by life’s circumstances which makes emergent theology and the absence of an eternal or any hell appealing, for this friend of mine who has been crushed and has been unable to help his family as is his responsibility and priority, he is reluctant to relinquish the concept of hell. The degree of tragedy in one’s life and the degree to which one faces in their lives seems to have at least some bearing on whether they find a need for a hell.

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    I agree with your assessment of the O’Reilly interview.

    I think it is possible that God is allowing this debate to occur for His purposes. I truly believe that many Christians cannot answer, effectively, questions about eternal punishment. I think this may encourage some folks to study and contemplate the subject in a deeper fashion.

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    I think you guys might want to check out some of N.T. Wright’s books on the theology of heaven, hell and eternal punishment. Bell draws a lot on Wright, who is a conservative (kinda evangelical) Church of England guy.

    I also believe that there are so many distortions of the content of Bell’s book floating around in cyberspace that it behooves people to actually read the book. (Not to increase the sales figures, but to see for themselves.)

    imo, Bell asks a lot of good questions and zeroes in on some very important things that are contrary to the “pie in the sky, bye and bye…” beliefs that many Americans have been exposed to.

    A couple of points: I spent years (almost too many!) studying art history, and while I really need a refresher on Western medieval art, I can say this with a fair amount of confidence –

    there are no Last Judgment scenes in early Christian art. There are fishes, there are representations of bread, wine and praying figures. A little later on, Christ the Good Shepherd starts appearing (portrayed as a beardless youth). The cross doesn’t start showing up until after Constantine made Christianity the state religion. And the torment of the damned (being dragged down to hell, tortured by demons, etc.) comes much later.

    Also, the earliest historic creeds of the church (the Apostles and Nicene) make no mention of eternal punishment and/or eternal conscious torment. The only mention of hell (presumably a translation of the word “Hades,” but I really need to check) is in the Apostles Creed, where it is stated that “He [Jesus] descended into hell.”
    The final sentence of the Nicene Creed states “We [sometimes rendered “I”] look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

    At this point, I am extremely skeptical of the whole notion of eternal conscious torment as it has been presented by many, Catholic and Protestant alike (and I’m *not* an annihilationist). And it’s not because I’m choosing universalism; it’s because I’ve been starting to go back and re-study a lot of texts + church history.

    I do have to wonder why the Last Judgement (as rendered by medieval – and later – artists) has no place in the art of the early church… I suspect there are many answers to that, and not necessarily obvious ones. personally, I have no answers/conclusions on that topic at this point… but, as with the earliest creeds, it does seem as if both final judgment and eternal conscious torment are conspicuous by their absence.

    more whenever… for the most part, I don’t want to get into a big debate over Bell’s book, but I do think he raises many things that need to be studied and rethought.

    Ultimately… I don’t think there really is much information on hell – or the afterlife, or heaven – in Scripture. As in so many other aspects of our lives – and faith, if we believe – there is more left unsaid than said. Personally, I believe God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, righteous and holy – but not the “god” depicted in sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I cannot believe in an “angry” Father whose desire is to cast people into the flames – or to suspend them over the pit, like spiders hanging by a slender thread (see Edwards’ sermon; the image of the spider is his, not mine).

    Perhaps we need to accept that there are mysteries of the faith? That’s my take, at least… (and it comes from someone who used to think she had answers to just about everything, years and years ago. ;))

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    Thank you for your fascinating observations on religious art and judgment. I hope you find the discussion helpful as I try to do justice to the subject. As you can well imagine, I have my own set of questions. BTW, I read Edward’s sermon as a 16 year old teen, prior to my conversion. That sermon made me want to avoid the faith with which i was becoming increasingly interested. Hmmm, I wonder if many people have even read it. Perhaps I shall provide a link in one of the posts.

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    i should clarify: I do believe that Christ will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and that “his kingdom will have no end.)

    see http://www.creeds.net/ancient/nicene.htm

    but I do think we all (me very much included) could benefit from understanding the way the afterlife is presented in both the OT and NT – without the overlays that all of us bring to the Scriptures. (Admittedly not easy to do, but, imo, necessary.)

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    @ Dee: I had to read that sermon for English class! (Survey of American lt; there were other Puritans and some dissenters as well.) I mean read as in = requirement for HS graduation. (Of course, that was several decades ago… ;))

    at the time, i was weeks away from what I might call my “conversion.” And the piece put me off TREMENDOUSLY. At that time, I was talking a lot with charismatic/evangelical types, and though they mentioned hell, they did not do it in a hellfire-and-brimstone manner at all. If anything, they emphasized God’s love – the understanding of Christ’s incarnation and passion was very much “for God so loved the world,” not “God’s gonna get you if you don’t watch out.” (My paraphrase of an old saying about the devil, actually… ;))

    God is infinitely wise – we are finite and our understanding is limited, right? (As Paul says, we see through a glass darkly or – I like this translation – in a mirror dimly.) There is much that we do *not* know, and never will – in this life, on this planet, in the here and now.

    I guess where I’m coming from at this point is that mercy triumphs over judgement.

    Hmm.. And I’m *very* serious about N.T. Wright – including his conservatism. Bell cites him at the end of his book – and you might be in for a pleasant surprise if/when you check out what Wright says on heaven, hell, etc. (Not saying I necessarily agree with him; rather that he takes a fresh approach to passages we all think we know – one that might strike a chord with many American evangelicals, actually. :))

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    The concept serves, one purpose…to instill fear. This fear then has three functions. First, it gives those people who find the evidence for their faith to be lacking, an additional push in the desired direction, secondly, it hangs over a person’s head like an albatross whenever they think of doing something which they’ve been told is sinful (behavior control), and lastly, but by no means least, it provides a psychological barrier to leaving the faith.

    Want to fight against terrorism, forget about Bin Laden, small potatoes…here is terrorism in all it’s ugly glory, straight from the mind of a “loving” God. Ha!

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    about the art: keep in mind that murals in churches were meant (are still meant) as a “book” for those who cannot read.

    I’ll have to recheck some of the material I’ve got around here (some old texts) on the development of Christian art and symbolism to be able to pinpoint an approximate date for the appearance of the torment of the damned as common subject matter (in church art and in manuscript illumination). It would seem, though, that the visual material is meant to be linked to doctrine and preaching.

    And that’s one of the many, many “overlays” of images of hell and ideas about hell and the afterlife that we bring to our reading of NT texts. It’s just in the air (culturally), though at this point, probably more so for many fundamentalists and evangelicals than others – Americans, I mean. (I am really not so sure if this is such a big deal in other parts of the world as it is here in the US… probably a holdover from the early Calvinist colonists who ultimately ended up splitting into many different denominations – Baptists of all stripes included.)

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    I, for one, am looking forward to this series. It seems to that the doctrine of hell is one of the clearer doctrines that Jesus taught, and am curious as to all these questions folks have.

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    @ Karlton: well, there is Sheol (OT), there is Hades (NT), there is even that mention of “paradise” in Luke.

    And Gehenna, whatever that means, exactly.

    “hell” is the English rendering of those words, for the most part. But what do early church teachers say about “hell”?

    (Hint: it’s not the same as the popular idea of hell.)

    Eternal punishment wasn’t in the forefront of early Christian belief…

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    Oh, and … the Lake of Fire (in Revelations), into which both death and Hades will be cast.

    But I think (with all due respect to those of differing opinion) that the lake of fire might not be what is commonly assumed. (Not saying I know what it means… I don’t!)

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    Golden Retriever God. That is a great word picture.

    I understand that Bell is apparenlty the rage somewhere. Just not where I live, I guess.

    I don’t predict that his will actually go anywhere, however.


    I believe that Revelation presents some of the most descriptive language of the NT regarding this topic. That clearly shows what the early church thought about Judgment, doesn’t it?

    Why doesn’t that qualify as an expression the early church regarding hell and judgment? Maybe I missed what you are saying.

    Also, are you the one that said Bell is basically following N.T. Wright? Wright is a true scholar. Let’s all read Wright, then. Not popularized, hack versions.


    I don’t understand your attempt at debunking hell. I understand that you do not believe in God or are agnostic (can’t remember which, sorry).

    The issue for Christians is to follow Christ and His teaching. Not to fiind physical proof of things that are not physically provable.

    We are not, or should not be, just making this stuff up out of nothing. We are trying to be disciples. Jesus and his apostles all mention this issue, so we are duty bound to try and be faithful to that teaching.

    It would be similar if we were devotees of Aristotilian philosophy.

    None of us have any sort of physical proof regarding hell/heaven etc. Duh. That’s the point. We are not claiming to have any. We are claiming and trying to follow Jesus’ teaching on the topic.

    Your requirement that we must have “proof” is basically a religious, unprovable assertion in and of itself. Who says truth can only be found by phenomena?

    These sorts of unprovable assertions are what make atheism and agnosticism completely unworkable and circular thought systems. No one really lives that way. Those arguments are only used to attack religious and philosophical thought that are found distasteful.

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    @ Anon.: how do you know that Bell’s book is a “popularized, hack version” of Wright?

    As for Revelations, do you believe that Christ has 7 horns and 7 eyes? Or that there will be a gigantic woman named Babylon? Or is that symbolic, allusive language? (In keeping with apocalyptic literature that started in the late OT period?)

    Either it’s all a literal picture, or … maybe, like much in Daniel, it’s symbolic?

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    also, Anon… I wonder if you have posted here before under another name?

    I’m not gonna debate Rob Bell. 🙂

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    This is totally subjective but some of the most evil “Christians” I have encountered are Universalists in belief. They are closet uni’s and you only know if you pin them down. They really do believe that they can confess Christ, live any way they want and will be in paradise with Christ. This makes them dangerous to be around and do business with.

    In this way, fear of God is something good. But I believe only the Holy Spirit can put that sort of awe within us.

    They are not different from the legalistic Christians who think by dent of their position and outward actions they are doing great things for God. So, the evil they perpetuate they do not recognize as evil. I put folks at SGM in this category.

    We are not to judge who will be “saved in the end”. But we ARE to judge fruit. And keep in mind that Paul judged, based on a third party, someone in the Corinth church as unsaved because of behavior. He counseled them to ‘turn him over to Satan’.

    When it comes to Bell’s book, I agree with Kinnontv:


    And I agree because I have seen this cycle over and over. I have seen it with NT Wright and Piper, etc. Piper wrote a book refuting Wright! I had never heard of Wright until Piper mentioned him and I keep up!

    This sort of thing rallies the troops behind their great leaders. They need an enemy. And it sells books and brings them out to pay for conferences. I have seen it too often. I agree with Kinnon that this book would be in the bargain bin if not for the outcry from so many.

    AS I have said here before, I am done with Bell. I had my fill of him 6 years ago in mega circles he was all the rage with Nooma DVD’s and Velvet Elvis. The staffers were all watching Nooma DVDs on their computers instead of working.

    Bell asks lots of questions but seems to know nothing. I thought the emergent “conversation” was over. Guess not. They just were not asking the “right” questions to get attention. :o)

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    As a former missionary to remote, tribal people who have no access to the gospel due to language barriers and geography, I have another perspective on this question of hell.

    The Bible does talk about two possibilites after our physical death, either with God (heaven) or separated from him (hell), so I am sticking with that. But how exactly a person ends up in one “place” or the other, that is something I am not so sure about anymore. Here’s why:

    “When people choose not to believe in Christ, that’s their business. When people have no choice, that’s OUR business.” I used this phrase to garner support from churches for our missionary work. On a superficial level that may sound very noble and caring. It is certainly motivating to those who truly believe there is a hell and that the only way for people to have another post-death option is by hearing (understanding) the gospel.

    But ultimately, for me as a Christian missionary, the idea of people’s eternal destiny resting on my shoulders was an intolerable burden. This weight of personal responsibility has also had disastrous consequences for many families in my former mission. These parents felt compelled to board their children at MK schools so that they would be unhindered in their efforts to learn the tribal language and get the gospel to the people before anyone else in the tribe died and went to “a Christless eternity”.

    The MKs were told by the school staff not to tell their parents that they were unhappy at boarding school because if they told it would “hinder their parents’ work and result in Africans going to hell”. This spiritual abuse (the “don’t talk” rule) set the foundation for other abuses, including sexual abuse, to go undiscovered or covered up for decades. Now these adult MKs deal with PTSD, broken marriages, addictions, etc. The abuse and cover up is documented by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments). You can read the 68 page report online at:


    If our urgency to reach those who have ‘no choice’ with the gospel brings results like this, I wonder why any thinking person would want to ‘choose’ Christianity anyway. Something is wrong here!

    Another dilemma is how to reconcile the idea of God’s love for all people with the Calvinist/Reformed idea that God chooses who will get to be the benefactors of his ‘love’. Whether you believe God irresistably chooses some and not others or whether you believe in free will, if you believe that the only possibility for salvation comes through hearing the gospel then essentially you also believe that there is a massive, unchosen, damned portion of humanity, based solely on the fact that they were born in a time period and location without access to the gospel.

    This is a relatively comfortable theoretical discussion here on the internet. It’s another thing when a 20 year old tribal guy who was instrumental in helping you move into his remote village and is anxious to hear your special “message” in his own language, wastes away and dies of TB before your eyes, refusing to take the medicine you offer because he does not understand the true cause of illness and the effectiveness of medicine.

    How do you reconcile God’s love for you and your compossion for that tribal guy (which compelled you to leave your life in the States and move your family half way around the world to live without modern conveniences) with God’s apparent indifference for the guy, given the fact that you prayed for God to keep him alive long enough or you to learn the language and explain the gospel to him?

    I have reconciled it this way. Maybe there is more ‘truth’ out there than what has been revealed in the Bible. Maybe there is more to the ‘story’ of heaven and hell, sin and salvation that what we know. That is what I’m choosing to believe. I have to believe this if I am going to hold on to Christianity at all. I have believe that somehow, someway, someday, somewhere, all people are given an equal opportunity to believe or reject Christ’s atonement for them.

    If I don’t believe this than ‘God’s love’ has a hollow ring to it. If God’s love for me really amounts to dumb luck – having been born in the right place at the right time – then it is not love at all. I can’t handle the thought of a world without a personally involved God of love. Life is pointless without a belief in something good and right out there, something that can make sense out of all the craziness and pain. So I just keep holding on to the belief that there must be more to the story, that “questions tell us more than answers ever do” (Michael Card), that in the end I will understand and it will all be good.

    “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and imcomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.” I Cor 13:12

    Sorry this is so long! If you read it all, thanks!

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    You are confusing “truth” with “evidence”, they are not the same thing. I would argue that it is foolish to believe in green and pink spotted ducks that can climb trees, because there is no evidence of such a thing, that does not mean that they do not really exist, but it does make people who spend days, months or years of their life discussing the possible existence of those ducks and trying to convince others of their existence and having discussions about how they might be interacting with humans on a subconscious level, just a little bit off center, wouldn’t you agree?

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    RE: numo says: @ Tue, May 03 2011 at 01:46 pm,

    Glad you mentioned the Creeds we Lutherans love so much! Outside of the essential core doctrines they affirm, they give us a wide latitude of human freedom and the right to view and believe Scripture as we see fit.

    I too have been re-thinking what has been accepted (outside the affirmations of the Creeds) without question for the last 2 millenia. As a result, I no longer accept the doctrine of original sin or the doctrine of eternal torment for the damned, and I am now convinced that they are a matter of Biblical conjecture either way.

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    @ Muff: you know, I’m beginning to have doubts about original sin *as it has been portrayed by a fair number of theologians over the millennia.* [sp?]

    I *do* believe that something happened … else Paul wouldn’t be talking about certain things in the way that he does. But what happened is where I’m not certain, and am feeling free-er to study/question/think about, now that I’m no longer in charismatic/evangelical/Calvinista circles.

    Overall, I have a lot of problems with Augustine – especially re. his ideas about women! – though I realize he *did* do some good things and think his “Confessions” is a fascinating, moving document on the whole. But… abandoning his mistress and their child?!!! *not* so good, I think.

    and folks, I know I probably sound like some crazy “liberal mainline Protestant” type at this point – but things aren’t quite what they seem. It’s just so wonderful to be able to breathe a bit, read and think and pray not because someone tells me I have to (along with policing what I believe) … How can the God of all possibly be threatened – let alone diminished – by questioning? The Psalms are full of questions, even rants at God for allowing the writers to suffer. so is Lamentations. Jeremiah seems to have gotten pretty ticked off at God, and I suspect Ezekiel did as well. I also find it difficult to believe that Jesus himself didn’t ask questions as he studied. (Maybe the kinds of questions he asked – as well as the answers he gave – were what particularly impressed the scholars he met in the temple… as in his later life and ministry.)

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    Awesome comment. Would you mind if I used your comment in coming post? Some of your points are very, very important for others to hear/ Also, have you ever written you story? Please contact me if interested. I will read the report you included.

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    Could you elaborate what caused your to change in thinking of eternal torment? Did you read any books, etc.? What do your think of annihilationism?

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    You sound like an intelligent person who is thinking through things for yourself. Far too many Christians take what they are fed and never question why something is or is not true.

    I went through a crisis of faith about 15 years ago. It caused me to think, study and ask questions. Best crisis I have ever had. Glad to have you aboard just as you are.

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    What concerns me more is that the issue is being discussed in the public square. NT Wright is only known in certain Christian circles. Bell’s thoughts are being spouted all over the place. And many Christians can’t even begin to address the issue in a coherent fashion.

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    @ Dee: many, many thanks!

    at this point, I don’t see myself as going through what I’d call a “crisis of faith” (though I certainly have had my own experiences with that). More like: now I get to think and explore!

    Maybe some of it comes from having been overwhelmed with tainted “food” in the past – supposed “good doctrine” that wasn’t, but that had just enough truth in it to make it seem believable – and of course, public questioning (and private questioning, for that matter) wasn’t exactly encouraged.

    I think I might have mentioned this before, but… the “pastor” of the church that booted me was alarmed (as far as I can tell) by my asking him why he had omitted the Nicene Creed from the church’s doctrinal statement. (he was ordained C oi E, so I never dreamed that this would be a big deal, but he seemed kind of unnerved by it…)

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    I would love to see Kathy’s post featured here. It is not a well-known perspective on the practical effects of a literal belief in hell.

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    What this means, I don’t know in terms of NT Wright.

    If I pick up a book and cannot really get into it, it generally means one of two things. Sometimes, it is just the wrong book at the wrong time. The other thing that accounts for my inability to click with a book is that the message is confusing and it is the very first sign that I have of my own cognitive dissonance. I look and look and look and try to read and can’t even read it well enough to stick with the text.

    I have tried on several occasions with several books of Wright and cannot get into the book.

    I don’t know if I agree or disagree with his ideas because I have not been able to pay attention when I try to read his stuff. I don’t know if it’s a writing style issue or whether it is a subtle sign to me that his ideas are not clearly delineated enough and seem confusing. It is all that I can do to sit there and read.

    I have read many works of Rushdoony, my favorite being the Politics of Guilt and Pity — perhaps my only favourite actually. But most of his work is extremely complicated. He is not someone that you can quote and find soundbites from. You have to read twenty pages to get an idea of where he’s going and what he’s saying. I think that many people read five pages and their brains shut off and stop processing things because it is so detailed. He may be saying things that are deep and true and orthodox in many cases, but the degree of complexity makes the writing and the doctrine that it is meant to support too complicated. I suspect that the same type of thing might be going on with Wright.

    I don’t know if anyone has had a similar experience with Wright or not. I’d love to know, and I am piqued to see if I can try to get into one of his books again.

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    I tend to think of Hell as complete alienation from God as opposed to some particular place where there is flame. Then there is the lake of fire, which you well know, that is a different place from that which Moses described in regard to the Sons of Korah when the earth opened up and swallowed them.

    Jesus talks about casting people out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, but it is not said that these people are sent to hell or sheol or wherever. What we can say about this place of weeping and teeth grinding from these types of passages is that wherever these folks go is wherever the joy of the Lord and His presence is not.

    I don’t buy the analogy of the spotted duck that walks up trees, either. We can observe a duck and say objective things about the tree, the duck and the laws of physics regarding a webbed footed animal with no claws defying gravity.

    Matters of faith and the metaphysical nature and aspects of man are different. There are unexplained phenomena about which systems of faith offer an explanation towards the building of a teleology or purpose. It helps us fill in the gaps with consistent meaning. All of these things are matters of faith because they are not blatantly obvious like the duck and the tree and gravity. I suggest that man is more than what meets the eye, and there are elements of human experience that are not quantifiable in terms of objective reality. Those subjective things (feeling like someone is staring at you or there is someone in your personal space, or knowing the phone is going to ring and who it will be, or miracles) are explained and require faith.

    We cannot objectively determine that evolution happened anymore that we can say that creation happened, because we have to first have faith in a basic belief. If you believe in a creator, then creation took place (either old or young earth). If you deny a creator, you have only the alternative of evolution (though I believe that because of the unanswered questions and vast problems with entropy, people end up looking to metatphysical faith systems such as attractor fields and extraterrestrial life like Sagan did).

    If you can come up with a more applicable analogy that replaces the duck and tree with one that involves a partially subjective exemplar, I’d love to hear it. But I don’t think that the duck analogy is fitting enough to use or at least not fitting enough to sway me.

    🙂 And know that I think you’re delightful. I’ll take one of you to debate with (a more modernist atheist), and your worth is not eclipsed by 1000 postmodernists who believe that truth is subjective — that it is true because they believe in it only and it pleases them. The atheist who comes from a modernist’s perspective respects objectivity and empiricism, and I see that in you. I don’t see that in men like Bell, McKinney, or other postmodernists. I have not yet learned how to transcend that lack of firm objective footing in discussions.

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    Like a child

    I do plan to use her remarks. Her insights are very different than many of us who have spent our lives in our safe homes in our safe culture. Those on the mission field see things in a clear ad stark manner.

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    Booted for asking about an omission of the Nicene Creed? What in the world? Can you elaborate? I am most interested in stories about weird pastors. I have a few of my own.

    Also, why did they boot your from church in general? I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting story.

    One thing about you, Numo, never a dull moment!

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    I have a book by Wright and have not read it as yet. Just got finished a book about a student from Brown U-not a believer-who went undercover at Liberty U.I plan to write about that soon.

    So many books, so many interests…I am reading a Christian fantasy right now called Gideon’s Dawning. I needed something a little light after spending so much time on hell 🙂

    However, you’ve got me going now. I will try to read one of his books in the next couple of weeks and report to you how the reading went.

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    I was over at Amazon and thought you might like this review by a reader of one of Wright’s books. It seems to mirror yours.

    “Even though I consider myself to be fairly well-read in the realm of theology, this book was a struggle to get through. I thought much of the material was repetitive, and–maybe due to my own fault–felt deceived by the publisher’s description of the book. I thought this was going to be a lighter, imaginative stroll through the world of Christian living, but was instead greeted with a heavy tome, which included a thick comparison of the Aristotelian and Pauline visions of the purpose of life. “

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    @ Dee: no, I wasn’t booted for asking about the Nicene Creed, but I do think the “pastor” was deeply unsettled by questions like that.

    Am still not all that comfortable talking about what went down… though off-list would be cool.

    In a nutshell, I was booted for supposedly lying about something that I didn’t even do. (Yes, I know that’s a twisty sentence, but it sums things up pretty well.)

    A few years later, I was in the hospital for several days (where I now live) and had asked that the pastor (official title, btw, among Lutherans) of the church in which I was raised come out to visit and give me communion. When he came, he talked about grace, God’s love, forgiveness, mercy – all of the things I’d been deprived of for so long. It was a lot like hearing the Gospel – the good news of God’s love – for the very 1st time, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I needed that. One good analogy would be a tree or plant in a drought, starved for water… and then someone comes along and gives it a good, refreshing drink.

    It has taken years for the layers of ideas and beliefs about the false “god” they worship (at the church that booted me) to fall away, and it has not always been an easy process… but. I believe God has been faithful, no matter what has been happening, and no matter how much I’ve struggled with doubt and just not being sure of much of anything. (Which is what happens, I think, when old ways of thinking and living and being rooted in distortions and wrong presentations of God – and many other things – start to shift and change. I suppose it’s a bit like tectonic plates moving… it’s uncomfortable at times!)

    well, that’s a far longer post than I intended to write – and I got a kick out of “never a dull moment.” 😉

    re. N.T. Wright’s books: I have heard – from a number of people – that some of them have kind of been rushed into publication and that, in consequence, some of them aren’t all that well-edited (repetitive, anyone?), etc. I haven’t read much of his work, and what I’ve read/am currently reading is actually pretty clear. (And I’m not one for long-winded writers – especially ones who sling around big words because they’re not able to write well in plain English. ;))

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    btw, Kathy’s post is the bomb! I hope it ends up being featured here.

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    I agree with Cindy about Wright. I have read many of his papers but they were a chore. I won’t even try the books. Gives me a headache to think about. You know, CS Lewis is not hard to read. It can be done by great scholars!

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    Good point. It’s funny-they call Wright the new Lewis. Now that one I don’t see.

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    @ Lydia: I wonder if he’s been told to make his stuff more readable… what I’ve been dipping into is fairly recent, and I’ve had no problems, though there has been some repetitive material. Will have to try some of his earlier books (just samples, from Amazon or Google Books) so nI can see it 1st-hand – am really interested now, though I definitely don’t want to get bogged down in a heavy academic book!

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    One of the saddest stories that I have ever heard since writing this blog was told to me by the gentleman (he he was a true gentleman) to whom was “done bad.” He was a man who was homosexual in nature but had decided to be celibate in order to follow his faith. He tired so hard. Well, one day, his pastor at his SGM church in another country, accused him of not being celibate. he had received a “report.” Well this poor man, although mightily tempted, did not do what he was accused of doing. He told the pastor that. he was not believed and was thrown out of his church'”turned over to Satan” was the terminology employed. He told me that he was continuing in the faith but was suffering.

    I have not heard from him for while but, in case he is reading, I want him to know that he never leaves my heart. What did Jesus say about those harming one of his little ones-jump into the abyss, Mafia style, perhaps?

    Num, email me-I would love to dialogue about your trouble at church. Just know, I have been there. I confronted some very callous pastors about a pedophile situation. I was vilified (along with others) rumors were spread-admitted to by an elder, and they even interfered with me joining another church-such lovely individuals. So concerned for my spiritual well-being. So willing to turn the other cheek. So, nothing you will say will surprise me.

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    I made the comment about Bell and Wright because someone above me in the comment stream made the connection. I simply said if that is the case, Wright woud be worth reading as a scholar. I don’t see Bell in the same light.


    Point made about the ducks. Darn. I was hoping to catch one of those type of ducks, and now you tell me that there are no such things.

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    @ Anon: I was the commenter who mentioned that Bell states his indebtedness to Wright in the afterword to his new book. (In fact, he refers people to a couple of Wright’s books + others, by other authors.)

    @ Lydia, Cindy & Dee re. N.T. Wright: OK, I just skimmed some pages of one of the books he had published in the 1990s and I totally get what you’re saying – fairly dense academic writing. Though in his defense, I think that’s what the publisher wanted (in the US, it’s a Lutheran publishing house noted for scholarly works).

    Dee, about that gentleman… and other matters: sure, I’d be more than happy to discuss via email. I think you’ve got mine, right? (From the blog itself, since it’s required for comments.) And I am so sorry to hear about what happened to that man, though not surprised… I think that’s an all-too-common accusation.

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    RE: numo says: @ Tue, May 03 2011 at 09:22 pm,

    Plato begat Augustine and Augustine begat Calvin & Luther. This is an accurate genealogy for the doctrine of original sin and the vehicles used to spread it throughout Christendom over the centuries.

    In order to buy into the doctrine, one has to presuppose a pissed-off God at the fall rather than a heartbroken and loving father who watched his kids eff’ up the machinery of the universe and seed their own genome with physical death. For me, the former model is no longer tenable.

    Don’t fret about being labeled. I have been declared heretic and apostate by some. I make no bones about it, I am a liberal Lutheran who still holds to the tenets of the Creeds and I admit it up front.

    RE: dee says: @ Tue, May 03 2011 at 10:05 pm

    In answer to your query, two things come to mind: Our own Constitution for one, with its proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. If fallible men in the 18th cent. could come up with a document which restrains the worst abuses of human nature, imagine how even more humane a God must be who created all that we see and what we don’t see.

    Secondly, I have been influenced by the writings of Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946).

    In her monumental treatise “God’s Word to Women” (lesson 49 – paragraph 375),
    she had this to say:

    375. This being the truth as regards translations, what are we to do? “Learn to read and judge of the original for themselves,” is our first answer. But all women cannot do this, even if they would. Then we would reply in the words of an eminent Scotch divine, “if we find even in the Bible anything which confuses our sense of right and wrong, that seems to us less exalted and pure than the character of God should be: if after the most patient thought and prayerful pondering it still retains that aspect, then we must not bow down to it as God’s revelation to us, since it does not meet the need of the earlier and more sacred revelation He has given us in our spirit and conscience which testify of Him” We must remember that no translation can rise much above the character of the translator, who must be chosen, not simply because of his reputation for unprejudiced honesty, but for learning too. He cannot properly render what has not as yet entered in the least into his own consciousness as the truth; and the Holy Spirit invariably refuses to seal to us as truth that which is error, even though it appears on the page of our Bible translation.

    I don’t know what annihilationists believe but I will say this, I think that it’s more reasonable to wink the worst of the worst out of existence rather than warehouse them in some Dantesque hell. Wish we could do the same with spent fuel rods in this world rather than try and seal them up in concrete pits. I find bars in Brahms’ 1st symphony that argue for the same thing, the old done away with, and the new brought in under the kind of blue skies that Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about in “Sweet Home Alabama”.

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    I thought that maybe the Wright thing (ha!) and my own problems reading had more to do with him being British.

    Though I don’t have any trouble reading Oz Guinness, I did hear several speeches he gave. I remember thinking, boy, these Brits just talk almost as though they aren’t in any kind of hurry to finish making their case. An impatient American, I had a bit of restlessness listening to the first half of the talk which was excellent by the time it ended. I remember laughing and mentioning to someone that it was like Dickens talking for two pages about whether a doornail was really dead and how it came to be an expression, though he was getting paid by the word.

    I remember thinking that my sticking points might be by virtue of something modern British writing. But it might just also be a little too complicated in combination with style.

    I don’t know what it is. It might be me. There are some authors whose stuff I cannot read, and it is more of a style issue than anything, I think. Give me Dostoevsky and Madeleine L’Engle, but if I have to read Jane Austen, give me Sparks Notes and the movie!

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    @ Cindy: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head; he is a learned C of E divine (to steal a phrase from the quote Muff Potter posted above), and he writes like one. 😉

    @ Muff: aren’t you forgetting Thomas Aquinas and a few others re. original sin? 🙂

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    @ Cindy again: I also think Wright leans toward the Oxford/Cambridge manner of thinking and lecturing – which is pretty leisurely.

    Re. Dickens, I want to like him, but the padding drives me nuts! I wish he’d pared down some of his better novels for publication as books, because there are some great characters and plot lines. Maybe I don’t have enough patience, but I find him almost impossible to read. So it’s not just you!

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    In defense of us ‘Englishman’- we seem to have produced some pretty lucid thinkers and preachers,CH Spurgeon, CS Lewis,DMartyn Lloyd Jones,JI Packer,John Stott to name just a few.NT Wright is in my opinion,worthy of his place among them..
    Just one thought on the subject of ‘annihilation’- it was the fore-mentioned John Stott who in his debate with David Edwards in the book’Evangelical Essentials’, who raised some concern in the Evangelical world by admitting having some ‘struggles’ with the concept of Eternal Destruction,and said he found annihilation more palatable[I paraphrase from memory] If my weak memory serves me, his comments centered around John 3:16 and the word ‘perish and the thought that only believers are promised’eternal life’ and unbelievers are not.
    I am not defending Rob Bell nor attributing to John Stott more than what he said,but it would appear to me that the debate ensuing today in respect of Rob Bells book reflects some of the same struggles that Evangelicals have with the concept of Eternal Punishment…

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    Well stated. I hope, by the time I finish this thing, I will have represented the issue well. I am surprised you omitted GK Chesterton from your list-he is a personal favorite! I will be discussing the issue of annihilation and Stott’s thoughts. I am sympathetic to his struggles.

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    Of Course… There are many many more that I could have said.. OS Guiness being another.. although he was born I believe in China…

    Just couldnt let the English side down [although I am now an Anglo-American]

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    Right you are numo, the lineage of the doctrine of original sin would not be complete without Aquinas. Let me be clear with a caveat right now. The Helenist & Medieval thinkers were formidable and not to be dismissed out of hand. But on he other hand, neither are we required to subscribe to everything they thought. The same can be extended to all thinkers regardless of historical period. For example, I agree with Nietzsche (pronounced ‘neecha’) on some things but not all.

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    I highly recommend “God’s Word to Women” that Muff quoted. Bushnell educated herself in Greek and Hebrew to study the passages used against women. Her book is very well researched and she invited scholars to refute her. She was a doctor and missionary.

    Her book really helped me see the deep truths of the love of our Savior and the work He has for women in the Kingdom.

    Here is a link for those who would be interested in reading some of the lessons in the book:


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    In regard to things British:

    I should hope from my qualification that I was “an impatient American” that I was claiming that there was an issue of communication style as a difference and not as a deficiency in anyone, just because I don’t click with certain writers. I actually don’t have trouble with Dickens, and my favorite writers are British. Wodehouse in particular, for lighter fare. I had an easier time reading Guinness in comparison to Wright. But of the lectures that I referenced regarding Oz where I was restless because of the “Oxford/Cambridge” didactic, they were tapes that I have not heard in almost 20 years. I can tell you the topic and the primary points of the lecture, so it was not a lack of substance. There are plenty of writers, American and not whom I have difficulty reading because of style, and that is just nothing more than style. It isn’t a criticism.

    I honestly can’t comment on the Wright book at all because I haven’t been able to delve into it, and it may just be a matter of the wrong book at the wrong time.

    Very early on in my training, the style of teaching and what was required of me was very different, perhaps very American, than the form of these men who write about theology in particular or are academics. I was taught to first state what is like an abstract with some form of the general objectives, address the objectives while keeping mindful of transitioning from one to the next, then summarize those objective at the end, so the message is repeated, ideally, three times. I would call it a driven style, or more assertive.

    I also drive my husband crazy, because I read the table of contents in a book, read the forward/intro sections, and when available, I jump to the back first to read the conclusions. That’s not American but all me. I want to “know where the bus is going before I really decide to get on it.”

    I don’t know if the driven style necessarily classifies as American, but to quote that old Wendy’s commercial, it makes me think of “Where’s the beef?” It’s not leisurely. So when I approach some of these more academic topics, and especially when I’m deeply interested in the topic, I would prefer the style with which I am familiar.

    Several of the people posting here are American, and I am curious if it is more of a form issue, and sometimes why Wright is misunderstood, for I believe from what I’ve heard from others that he might be. People with very similar belief systems can have completely opposing opinions about Wright which I find curious.

    It might all be style, and that is neither good nor bad — only if you think it so. I don’t. Just different. The familiar is easier, that’s all.

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    @ Cindy: I’m the impatient American who has trouble with Dickens – meaning that I really do; there is something about his style that makes me go a little bonkers at times, but that’s also my feeling about Henry James, who was American.

    I *do* think (re. Wright) that a lot of it is a question of style and personal taste. I think the things he has been publishing recently are likely “popularized” versions of some of his earlier work, and relatively easy to read compared to what I’m seen of his earlier books (which I’ve admittedly skimmed, though since Amazon.com gives a table of contents preview, I’ve had fun checking out the topics he covers).

    @ Lydia: thanks so much for the info. on Bushnell. I’m very interested in checking out her writing!