Tuesday, November 07, 2006


TIm Challies has an insightful and thought-provoking post on the topic of Ted Haggard's recent "fall from grace". It's interesting to see in the comments that follow the post that while most folks are responding with sadness and forgiveness, some still insist on a more "legalistic" response based on a theology of good works.  Some folks continue to cling to the idea that they are better than others - that their sins are more acceptable and minor than the offenses of others.  Some continue to cling the view that we get to decide who is "saved" and who is not.  Some continue to grasp the belief that we are in control of either our circumstances or the direction and destiny of the church - worrying about God's provence instead of our own.

Challies is right: the only biblical response to an openly repentent believer is grace, mercy and forgiveness - with a large dose of self-awareness of our own sinfulness and pride thrown in.


Scott said...

But wait, he has to pay for his sins. And God will use my piety to make sure it happens. My "sincerity detector" can determine whether or not he means what he says.
You know I'm kidding.

Back about 10 years ago I made some pretty stupid mistakes. I got involved with a woman I had no business getting involved with. I'll never forget when it all came to light. I met with the elders and preacher that Sunday afternoon. One of our members, a youth deacon and friend, invited himself to that meeting.
The meeting got pretty intense with the preacher defending me and making the case that I should be restored and allowed to continue working. I'll never forget my friend's response: "you are acting like we should just f--, sweep this under the rug."
He was going to say forgive, but he caught himself.
There is no more graceless people than Christians who are secure in their own goodness.

Scott said...

Wow, I didn't intend to say all that.

CJR said...

You know, this all boils down to those same issues we discussed on the topic of pacifism/non-violence: the need for security and control. I base my standing before God on certain assumptions about quid pro quo behavior which gives me a sense of controlling my own destiny. If I have to let someone off the hook who violates that, it upsets my whole sense of control - and I can't let that happen. And by carefully defining the rules, I can excuse the sinful behavior that I repeatedly engage in (pride, gluttony, apathy, etc. - the "white" sins), while confidently judging your sins as unforgivable. It's a pretty nice system when you think about it.

Except it's wrong.

Scott said...

You are right. It's amazing how we continually try to conflate our idea of justice with God's. As a result we have a doctrine of hell and damnation that is completely at odds with the Christ of love and mercy depicted in the NT.
And the fact that eternal suffering is not proportional to the sin we can commit in this lifetime is waved off as "God is God and can do what he wants." And we fail to realize that we have developed this doctrine, not God.

JRB said...

We started to discuss universalism one time....

Scott Freeman said...

I'd like to be a part of that discussion should it resurrect.

CJR said...

Well, what do you want to discuss about it?

CJR said...

Seems the prerequisites for Universalism are:

(1) no biblical literalism (at least "hard" literalism)
(2) reinterpretation of atonement theology (I favor Christus Victor
(3) dropping the reality of Hell and possibly of Satan
(4) dropping the narrow interpretation of Jesus meant when he said, "no man comes to the Father except through me"

JRB said...

Isaiah 25 has a very nice image of God welcoming all nations to the mountain where he removes their disgrace and wipes the tears from all faces.

Jesus may have meant it when said he had come to save the whole world.

No man may come to the Father but through Jesus but that does not exclude the possibility that all men may come to the Father through Jesus, whether they know it or not.

I leave open the notion of condemnation for some, but those who seem to be damned, especially those in the NT, are the religious who knew and rejected the Lord or abused their religious power or interefered with the salvation of others.

As to Hell, the Hebrews didn't have it, broadly speaking, and the NT speaks of a "Second Death" as often as eternal hell.

I admit that I am seeking an answer I want to find, so I pray for continued sensitivity to the truth, however unpleasant.

Scott said...

Could hell be a temporary reality? Could the opportunity for repentance exist even in the midst of punishment? It seems that would sate God's need for "justice" without it being such a disproportionate response--an eternity for sins over a lifetime seems more sadistic than the actions of a loving God.

CJR said...

Scott, RE:Hell, I've grown increasingly unconvinced of the idea of God's appetite for retributive justice. It just doesn't seem to wash (all that OT anthropomorphic language aside) with a sovereign creator. I think we need, as I've mentioned elsewhere, to perhaps reconsider the basis for the cross: was it really so God could exercise his rage on someone? It seems we try to fit God into our idea of justice to explain something we don't understand. This could even be another example of our lack of understanding of ultimate forgiveness, returning love for violence, etc. We can't imagine a justice that doesn't involve someone getting "what they deserve" - either directly or through a substitute. I don't buy that. If God can choose to forgive me based on what someone else (Jesus) did, why can't he just choose to forgive me directly without the violence?

This extends, obviously, to Hell.

I can only sustain belief in Hell if it is an extension of free will. That is, I can accept the idea of Hell if it is not a place of torment architecting by God, but, rather, a place "without God" that those who have rejected him choose to go to. "I'd rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" being the idea.

JRB said...


I have two ideas competing in my head against the traditional Hell view:

1. That a "second death" implies oblivion, nothingness, the extinction of existence of that condemned soul, making it to not exist any longer.

2. I dig the idea that CS Lewis conveys in the Great Divorce: an opportunity to choose redemption after being condemned in hell, but a hell of our own making, not necessarily eternal torture. Lewis describes hell as a place where we get what we want in our pride and selfishness, ulitmately resulting in loneliness or aloneness.

I have been thinking much recently on the difference between the concepts of "literal" and "true" in scripture. Truth is much bigger and mysterious.

JRB said...

CJR, we're writing at the same time. Your idea is Lewis's, I think.

My working idea of "universalism" is that as well, that, through Jesus, all are saved, unless they chose not to be.

You are saying that Jesus' passion is the means to salvation by love, not by satifying a judgment. That's fair. The OT sacrifice system was only partly to transfer guilt but was also to praise, to give and to demonstrate submission. Christ's death in that framework worked to all of those purposes. It was love, more than justice.

Scott said...

I need to chew on this some more. My reading on universalism is extremely limited. However, Richard Beck, a professor at ACU, just did a series on his blog http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/
on the subject that has me thinking.

CJR said...

Scott - Thx for the reference to Beck's blog. Any relation to you through Cindy?

JRB - You're right. My frame of reference was Lewis' Great Divorce (one of his finest works, IMHO), but I restated it generically.

CJR said...

testing cocomment.com

Scott said...

No relation. But he's churning out some great stuff that's really making me think.