The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 5)

By: Thomas F. Booher

Due to my lack of time, this will either be the last chapter I review for a while, or I will begin reviewing the other chapters in a much briefer format. At any rate, this chapter by Alexander Jun is going to still be a lengthy review, as it is the longest chapter by far and will be met with some of my strongest disagreement.

In case you were unaware, Alexander Jun (the author of this chapter) was elected as the moderator last year of the PCA General Assembly. Per the bio on each author, he is "a TEDx speaker and Professor of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University’s School of Behavior and Applied Sciences. He has published on issues of postsecondary access for historically underrepresented students in underserved areas and conducts research on equity, justice, and diversity issues in higher education. He is author of From Here to University: Access, Mobility, and Resilience Among Urban Latino Youth and White Out: Understanding White Privilege and Dominance in the Modern Age. He serves as associate editor for the Journal of Behavior and Social Sciences. A ruling elder at New Life Fullerton in southern California, Jun also serves on the Study Committee on Racial Reconciliation for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the PCA Unity Fund, and the Committee for Mission to the World. Jun was elected Moderator of the 45th General Assembly of the PCA in 2017."

Jun has many credentials and is a big mover and shaker in the PCA. Which is why I have even greater consternation over some of the things he says in his chapter, entitled Multivocality in the Church: Striving for More Harmonious and Diverse Faith Communities.

Jun begins with a basic story where a giraffe invites an elephant into his home. Not surprisingly, the giraffe's home is too narrow for the elephant to fit through, and the elephant is bumping into things and causing quite a few issues. The giraffe gets frustrated, eventually saying the elephant should slim down or "become a giraffe" in order to fit. The elephant knew the house was built for a giraffe and not an elephant, and so he declines. Jun says this fable is helpful when examining Predominantly White Churches (PWCs), defined essentially as a church that has at least 80 percent of its congregation to be one ethnicity (in this case white). According to some research by Emerson and Smith, 90 percent of churches are comprised of 90 percent or more of the same race/ethnicity.

Jun quotes a definition of structural racism, calling it the:

normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics—historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal—which routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by White supremacy—the preferential treatment, privilege and power for White people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab, and other racially oppressed people. [Brown, Leon. All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Kindle Locations 824-827). Storied Publishing. Kindle Edition.] 
[Quoted from: Keith Lawrence, Stacey Sutton, Anne Kubisch, Gretchen Susi and Karen Fulbright-Anderson, Structural Racism and Community Building (Washington, DC: Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community, 2004).]

He then tells us that structural racism is found (citing the same source as above) today in:

1) history, which lies underneath the surface, providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country, 2) culture, which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and replication of racism and, 3) interconnected institutions and policies, the key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism. Examples include racialized laws and institutional policies, dominant cultural representations, popular myths, and compounded and chronic inequities, etc. [Brown, Leon. All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Kindle Locations 830-834). Storied Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Jun then addresses the PCA, saying it has been "struggling to acknowledge its racist past" and is largely middle-class, so that the PCA is struggling "to reach and embrace people of lower socioeconomic standings."

Jun next references an evangelical scholar named Soong-Chan Rah, who says that multi-ethnic voices are silenced because of the dominant (white) group gets "to define and shape the parameters of discussion on what the church ought to look like." This brings about White Normativity, which Jun defines for us as essentially that how whites do things, whether ideology, practices, understanding about society, etc., are just the way it is, and thus whites are at the top of the "racial hierarchy" and therefore will see anything deviating from their preferences as "abnormal". While Jun says this does not make every individual white church leader who is not multivocal racist (but keep reading my review to see what changes this), it does mean that a "Eurocentric, Western, White lens" is normalized and perpetuated. "Failing to acknowledge that one’s own views may be rooted in normativity can lead to cultural myopia for a majority of members and their leaders." 

In short, white people in leadership should be more aware of other ministry philosophies, church plant approaches, and styles of worship, and be willing to accept and adapt to some of these, not thinking that their views are the only normal, orthodox, and biblical ones. "White normativity in churches is often revealed within the music style, preaching style, and perhaps even the time management of a church."

Jun quotes others and the overall takeaway is that even in ethnically diverse churches, white normativity often rears its ugly head, and therefore perpetuates "racial inequality". Jun advocates for racial/ethnic diversity in leadership to overcome this inequality of white normativity. He gives another example of playing the clarinet in different music ensembles. When just the clarinets played in warm ups (sectionals), the sound was "repetitive, predictable, and boring." It was only when all instruments came together into a symphony that things sounded great, and Jun got chills due to the multivocality of the instruments. A lack of diversity leads not only to boredom according to Jun, but even "a figurative death in terms of the fellowship of the saints, which should make any given faith community vibrant and mutually enriching." (Kindle Locations 915-916).

Recall that I disagree that multivocality would produce such harmony but would rather produce something looking more like a platypus if we truly want each culture/ethnicity present in our worship services to have a share of the direction the worship of a given church is going to move in (I talked about this in greater length in an earlier review). In other words, I fear the diversity would be at the cost of coherence, unity, and even things being done decently and in order, because it would come off as patch-work and piecemeal rather than a united vision that looks to Scripture rather than cultural preferences as foundational for the worship service. I realize that worship reformed according to Scripture is always in some way going to be mediated through culture, even if musical instruments and such are not present, but I think it would be exceedingly difficult and unwise to try to merge multiple ethnic expressions into one worship service, and when it is argued that this is God's way for worship, we have even bigger problems. Taking various elements from each ethnic expression of worship? Sure, not a bad idea at all in my opinion. But that is a different thing than transporting entire cultural worship expressions and smashing them together into one service. Perhaps Jun and others would not want to do that either and have something more in line with what I would say is appropriate and perhaps beneficial. But if we do this, we will not be preserving or expressing a diversity of cultures' worship/liturgies, we will either still be upholding one culture's expression of worship predominately and sprinkling in a few elements of others here and there, or we will be creating a synthesis that produces something brand new. But then cultural identity is lost in the worship service, and I thought that is what Jun and others wanted to incorporate and uphold.

Jun next addresses the benefits of diversity in our churches and church leadership. "Research by Espinoza-Gonzalez et al. has found that multicultural institutions promote greater work of social justice, reduce prejudice, and change negative effects of stereotypes, while also promoting empowerment, combatting deculturalization, and enhancing other-group orientation."

Also, "Multicultural churches help congregation members become more aware of diverse perspectives, beliefs, and expressions of worship. This awareness then helps people from both dominant and subordinate groups to reflect on the experiences of The Other, which are often vastly different from their own experiences, thus helping people from all groups seek to understand God from a different vantage point." (Kindle Locations 938-941).

There could be some real truth in this. Each culture that is worshiping the true God in Spirit and in Truth are going to give different shades and perspectives on the manifold glory of God, and that is wonderful! However, I do not see how blending worship styles from disparate cultures together will produce these viewpoints, rather they would obscure them. A sprinkling here or there may be helpful and would not destroy the unity, but again I ultimately believe Scripture teaches a way to worship God that God Himself desires, and that must remain the guideline over against any one cultural expression of worship. Is exposition of Scripture optional? Do we really need preaching at all? What are the limits to diverse expressions of worship? Liturgical dance by men in tights? These are the questions we need to focus on.

Jun concedes that embarking on this multi-vocal endeavor will likely lead to more rather than fewer problems initially. But he says those leaders who try to take a "color blind" policy will likely perpetuate White Normativity and will isolate and push away people of color, leading to relationship conflict with them. Intentionality must be used to overcome issues in multivocal congregations, and the use of small groups with multiple ethnicities together is very helpful with this. I concur with Jun here; small groups would be greatly beneficial, as I have seen this first hand in a small group that I lead. Everyone gets to know each other better. Fundamentally, we are one in Christ, and cultural differences are secondary and not a major point of contention at all, though you do get to know each other's heritage and family traditions better.

Jun concludes with ten practical steps to move forward. I found many of these to be very weak. One is about putting yourself in social and ministerial situations where you are not the majority. This, you might realize, means making yourself the minority. Then you are to listen to those different from you, concerning their experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. So that means that the current majority should become the minority, and should make sure they listen to others. Hmm. Okay, listening to others is always good. But I don't see a requirement to put oneself where you are in the minority. That may happen and may be a blessed thing, but the requirement I do not understand. Jun applies the same to small groups, essentially saying to target minorities and bring them into your group intentionally so you can get fresh perspective. He then says to get a mentor who can teach you about other cultures, and says we need to be intentional about learning about other cultures. I don't think learning about other cultures is bad advice at all, and getting someone to help you do it could be beneficial. But if I live abroad in a foreign culture, I will not demand that those churches conform to my worship preferences, or that they give me a leadership position just so we can shake things up and diversify a bit. 

Jun then says we ought to hold leadership accountable for being "proactive or responsible to racial reconciliation. Some churches may want to have church leadership provide regular updates on how they sought to create a diverse leadership team." Inviting people of color to preach on a variety of issues may also be helpful to "normalize different interpretations, ministry styles, and backgrounds." That may be, though I would have to know what interpretations Jun is referring to before I could say that this would be beneficial. Finally, Jun says to "think differently about the delivery of the elements of worship. From music and song selection, speaking styles, delivery of God’s Word, and communion, all of these elements may be helpful in meeting the many different needs of a diverse community while still maintaining a focus on the primacy of the Lord during worship." (Kindle Locations 1034-1037). Again, my question would be where do we draw the line with this? Our worship must uphold the truth of God, be pleasing to Him, and conform to what He has required in worship. Undoubtedly there is diversity within that, but God takes seriously how we worship Him and there are serious penalties for doing something according to our own desires (see Lev. 10:1ff.). 

Jun states, "a majority of what has been presented in this chapter has focused on an unintentional and unconscious yet dangerous assumption of normativity among those in a dominant majority. This normativity has been built over generations and is reinforced by racialized structures and systems that continue to benefit some at the expense of others. This problem permeates society as a whole, including in the church." Then Jun pulls out the dagger, quoting the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who said, "You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know."

So, now white people know their guilt, their unintentional sin, if they have read this chapter by Jun. But now that we know it, to perpetuate White Normativity would indeed be intentional sin, and presumably then racism. So while Jun earlier says that one is not racist if he promotes White Nomativity unawares, now that Jun and others have enlightened white people of the (sinful) privilege they enjoy in society and the church, it is the white person's job to forfeit such privilege and to cease pushing down people of color. But if you followed a bit of advice Jun gave above, it sure sounded like he is advocating for more than a place at the table for ethnic minorities, but rather a situation where white leaders give up their positions and take lessons from non-white leaders, who then get to implement their own forms and expressions of worship.

My conclusion is that indeed, we should listen to all voices, and make everyone who comes to our churches feel loved and welcomed and involved (regardless of ethnicity). But it is simply the fact that each church is going to worship in a certain way. Jun prefers to blend multiple ethnic cultures' liturgies together to produce something in his mind that is beautiful in worship, and apparently his preference is not a mere preference but is binding with the authority of God. To not follow his method is apparently to not follow God's method, and thus is to be engaged in sin. So while Jun says white people are elevating their mere preferences to the level of what is biblical and God's will, I would charge Jun with doing the very same thing -- elevating his preference to the position of "thus saith the Lord."

I'm simply unpersuaded by Jun's reasoning, though there are some things that he says that are beneficial. But for me to not be persuaded seems to mean that he would regard me as perpetuating the sin of White Normativity, making me a racist (even if unbeknownst to me), a bigot, selfish, and unloving to each ethnicity in the body of Christ that is not my own. It seems to Jun that this is as clear as the issue of slavery, given his quote at the end of the chapter by William Wilberforce. I have read his chapter, so now I cannot say that "I didn't know," and so now I should know the truth of multivocality as God's way for corporate worship, and thus I and many white men in leadership must repent and change our ways.

But, alas, I remain unpersuaded. And keep in mind Jun does not apply White Normativity just to the church, but to society as well. In fact, most of his quotes seem to come from those examining society, and he is taking those principles and trying to apply them to the church. 
















Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 4)

By: Thomas F. Booher

We now turn to Jarvis Williams' chapter The Gospel: A Uniquely Planned Strategy for Reconciliation.

Williams reminds us that through Christ, man is reconciled to God, to his fellow man, and to all of creation/the cosmos itself. So naturally, cultures can find common ground and unity through redemption in Christ. Williams has some strong, perhaps controversial statements, such as "race in the American narrative has prioritized majority White culture and dehumanized and marginalized minority (and especially Black) cultures." In the 1600's race developed in our nation as a social construct in order to establish and maintain a racial hierarchy of whites over blacks. The construct of race has served "as a way to dehumanize and marginalize black and brown people and subjugate them to the White majority." And one more for good measure -- "The construct of race in the American experience has historically operated as a category of privilege for the majority White culture over black bodies and as a category granting to majority White culture social, economic, and political power and privileges over black and brown bodies both inside and outside the church, and even in many other Christian spaces."

To grow, Williams says we need to see "the ways in which race still socially privileges and marginalizes different races in the church, in Christian institutions, and in society."

I am twenty-eight years old. This doesn't ring true in my experience, but I admit my experience is very brief, my memories beginning in the early to mid 1990's. I do not doubt that race has been used to denigrate certain people groups because of the color of their skin, among other things. But it is also true that whites have been viewed as oppressive in overly generalizing ways, that all white people are bad just because they are white. While there may be some "white structures" that still privilege white people, I know in my situation there has been scholarships made available to ethnic minorities that never would have been given to me, simply because I am white. Is that biblical justice? I don't really think granting scholarships for one group of people over another, based on ethnic background, makes a lot of sense. That is not to say that I think receiving such a scholarship if it is available to you is evil, but I do wonder why we do these kinds of things. If it is to make up for a deficit or mistreatment of minorities in the past, then at some point will things be "even" and these scholarships will disappear? Or are we saying it is bad that privilege exists in any sense, and thus the advantages of a majority culture are by their very nature sinful and should be done away with by various measures? I do not expect, if I was in Japan let's say, to be given special scholarships just because I was not Japanese.

There are plenty of white people that I know who are not experiencing much if any so-called "white privilege," and there are blacks and others who are being privileged beyond some whites, and sometimes their advantages come because they are being rewarded just for being an ethnic minority. Surely this is an over correction? Let each receive based on their own merit, their own capacity. At the foot of the cross, are not debts forgiven?

More importantly, trying to do the math on who owes who what is not something that can very easily be done. In fact, if we are honest it cannot be done at all. Only by picking out one sin (like racism) could one perhaps try to do this, but even then it will become much more complex and difficult than might be initially thought. I imagine Williams and others in this book might would laugh at that and say it is fairly easy and straightforward, and that I cannot see that because of my white privilege. But privilege isn't inherently bad, and not everything said to be privilege is in fact privilege.

What if I find out that I had a direct ancestor who was a wealthy slave owner? If I was born into a wealthy family (which I wasn't, not even close), would that obligate me to give some of that wealth to the descendants of the slaves of my direct ancestor? What if I was middle class, lower middle class, or poor? What if the slave's descendants, when I come across them, are enjoying more privilege and prosperity than I am? What if they are really awful, terrible, vile and wicked people? Do I blame their wickedness on my ancestor who enslaved their ancestors, and do I assume that the ripple effect of that led to a bad living environment and mistreatment, which bred sinfulness and a bad life of crime down through the generations to the vile black man whose great-great-great grandfather was enslaved by my vile great-great-great grandfather? And if I am an elder in the church, how do I sift through not only my own personal debts that I owe for transgressions that pre-exist me, but also the debts of others in my congregation?

Now, extrapolate that out to the level of entire towns, counties, states, etc. The truth is that we have cultures and societies dominating and mistreating one another, because men are sinners, and we sin against each other, blacks against whites, whites against blacks, whites against whites, blacks against blacks, and everyone else against everyone else. Only Jesus can wash away all our tangled sin, and our parents and ancestors tangled sins, and we are called to forgive others of their debts as God has forgiven us of our own. Who is to say, if we went back far enough in history, that if justice was meted out perfectly, all the way down to when you or I was born, that we wouldn't be born into a better life-situation? Who knows. It could be better, or it could be worse. We are called to live faithfully and love others, not to unduly stress about the past and who owes us what and what we owe to others because of what people we never knew and never met did with their lives. This is not to deny that we are born into this world with different degrees of privilege, or that some of us are born into really terrible situations because of the sins of others destroying and ravaging our parents, grandparents, and further back. But I am saying that only God can give justice to the dead, and we all have suffered injustices, and have received advantages, because of our forefathers and others' forefathers. 

Yet, consider that all of us who live in the United States are born into a blessed situation compared to most countries, and we live in a blessed time of medical and technological advancement that is much better than what was available even just 100 years ago. Adam is our representative, our federal head, something we did not ask for, and yet we are guilty in Adam and born dead in trespasses and sins (Romans 5), unable to trust in Christ for salvation or do anything good because of our inherited and inherent sinfulness (Romans 3). Perhaps we could thank God for what we have been given, decry racism where it is found, including structural racism when and where it exists, and admit that one can be unjustly prejudiced not only against blacks, but any ethnicity, including whites. So we love each other without regard to ethnic background or prior grievances that have been confessed and repented of. 

Williams discusses the already/not yet nature of the kingdom of God, and points out that disunity, division, factions, and so on are all something we are presently being delivered from, but will not be delivered from totally until Christ returns. Nevertheless, we experience kingdom life now by the power of the Spirit and as we all live together in harmony with one another as the body of Christ (Gal. 3:14, 28; Eph. 4:1ff.). Williams correctly notes that the diversity of the Church universal right now represents the bride of Christ that is gathered around the throne in Rev. 7:9. He says quite plainly that redemption in Christ "neither guarantees every church will be multi-ethnic, nor that Christian unity will happen without hard work and intentional efforts." I am glad to see that he acknowledges this, and I agree that reaching out to others who are not just like us is not always the easiest thing in the world. However, I don't fully understand why it is made out to be such a big deal sometimes. I have had, and do have, friends from different backgrounds, cultures, skin colors, and we seem to have a lot in common, particularly Christ. 

Williams puts his finger on one of the most confusing aspects of racial reconciliation for me when he says "when location allows and the Spirit enables, Christians should live now in imperfect reconciled communities in our local churches on earth as we reflect in part the inaugurated presence of the kingdom on earth with redeemed brothers and sisters from different tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations in Christian spaces (Eph. 2:11-3:8). Certainly we should remove all possible barriers to have churches that can fellowship together regardless of cultural differences. But language differences? And again, when and where and how do we know that the location does indeed allow for and the Spirit i sin fact enabling us to live in imperfect reconciled communities (whatever that exactly is)? Isn't every church, broadly speaking, empowered by the Spirit to live together as imperfect reconciled communities, regardless if the church is mainly white, black, or brown, or a balanced mix? My point is that racial and cultural differences are not the only thing that divides us and causes imperfection concerning our reconciliation with one another. Not even close.

For those churches that can live out what Williams says is the "Gospel's strategy for reconciliation in churches located in communities where multiethnic expressions of reconciliation are possible," he offers a few strategies to pursuing this end. In short they are to pursue multi-ethnic friendships, and Williams makes the curious comment that "preferences are also attached to a particular ethnic or racial culture. With that racial or ethnic culture comes a certain theological culture with which we identify." He doesn't elaborate further on that last sentence, but I am concerned that he is saying that we need to soften our doctrinal rigidity in order to be reconciled with those of other cultures and ethnic backgrounds. This is simply sub-biblical if that is in fact what he means. We never sacrifice the truth of God in order to get greater reconciliation in the process. It is impossible. Certainly we can speak with other Christians (regardless of background) and have fellowship with them, and regardless whether they have the exact same theology as we do. But why the need to state something as basic as that? That happens all the time already.

Williams does place the bulk of the burden on the privileged/majority cultures, and by that he means whites, to bring about this reconciliation by being "aware and intentional about their need to negotiate, to share, and to leverage some of the privileges and preferences they have due to their majority cultural status for the sake of reconciliation." Specifics are not given here, but I do wonder what this means. Is theological precision something that must be forfeited? If so, how much, and why (isn't truth, well, truth, which transcends culture)? Worship styles? Does this extend outside of the church services? I love trying different kinds of foods, but I don't consider eating diverse food to be giving up a privilege. Do I need to give up my job to someone else who is less privileged (or why can't I have the job of someone who is less qualified than me but got it just because of the privileged family or situation he was born into?)? Should I move into a home that is surrounded by those not of my own culture (I've done that, but not because I was trying to give up my white privilege)?

Williams also says that we should ask God to "help us embrace the racial and ethnic diversity in our communities". We should come to learn about the ethnic diversity in our own neighborhoods. If we can't do this because we are surrounded by our own culture, Williams says we should read books "by and about women and men from different racial and ethnic groups and cultures. We can listen to music, lectures, and observe art from cultures that represent the beautiful racial and ethnic diversity of our world." He also says to attend conferences led by ethnic minorities. Finally, he suggests that we rely upon the Spirit, who produces the unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). This is, for Williams, the Gospel's strategy for reconciliation as we pursue and walk in the power of the Spirit. I have no problem doing these things, but I think that they should occur naturally. I don't feel obligated to listen to someone of my own ethnic group or another's, I just listen to sermons and lectures that happen to be good. The same for music, and art. And that means I listen to and enjoy lots of different things from lots of different cultures. But again, not because I feel a moral obligation to make doing so my mission in life, and not because if I fail to do so I fail to faithfully live up to the ideals of the Gospel. I don't expect anyone to have to endure country music after all! I do not wish to be ignorant of other cultures, so I think in general Williams' advice is okay, but to indicate that we are being unfaithful to the Gospel if we do not go out of our way to listen to a certain number of songs, sermons, or whatever from cultures other than our own is absurd.     

Next up is chapter 4, Alexander Jun's chapter on Multivocality in the Church: Striving for More Harmonious and Diverse Faith Communities
   

  

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 3)

Part 3 of my review covers chapter two of the book, and I must say from the outset there is much in here that is commendable and helpful. The author is Irwyn Ince, graduated of Reformed Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. He is Pastor and Director of the GraceDC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission.

Much of the chapter is spent demonstrating the undoing of the Tower of Babel in Acts 2, where the nations are gathered, the Spirit is poured out on them, and the unity of the nations is seen in the power of the Spirit bringing the nations to faith in Jesus Christ. Ince opens with Col. 3:11 and Gal. 3:28. The religious bond, the bond that we have in Christ, runs deeper than any other bond. We have one Lord, one Father, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit. We are the body and bride of Christ, and Christ's body and bride is comprised of human beings from every tribe, tongue, and nation. That is a very beautiful and glorious thing. that's the power of the cross.

Ince argues that "the good news in Jesus Christ contradicted the acceptance of ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic division. The reality of union with Jesus Christ manifested itself in his people striving for union and unity with one another across dividing lines. Thankfully many American churches are taking more seriously the biblical call to build and participate in multiethnic churches and communities." Further, he sets out to show that the new normal of "redemptive ethnic unity" was possessed in the 1st century church and that we need to today regain what we have lost.

Ince uses Isa. 19:23-35 to demonstrate that the New Testament church is to be one of multiethnic worshiping communities. On the Day of Pentecost, all the nations are represented (Acts 2:9-10) and receive the Spirit, and three thousand souls are added to the church from among the nations (Acts 2:41) and are committed to Christian fellowship, love, and peace with one another (Acts 2:42-45). This is a beautiful thing. However, I would want to point out that the miracle of being able to hear in one's own language was not a new normal. There are still language barriers, and I would argue potentially cultural barriers, that can make worshiping together difficult, and if one cannot hear the Word of God and understand it, that is not a profitable situation. Does Ince want us to believe that our aim should be that we all speak multiple language, even all the languages, so that we can all worship together and understand each other? I doubt he would take things that far, but my point is simply that the picture of Pentecost is one of a consummated reality, which can only be fully realized when Christ returns. I agree that this reality is present now, and that it will grow by the grace of God. More and more nations and cultures will stream into the Kingdom of God, and will worship Him. There will be churches that are ethnically diverse and the diversity and breadth of the Kingdom of God will be displayed in some individual churches. But is this diversity within each individual church something that we must seek to achieve? Is God promising this kind of diversity for every or even most churches that are on the face of the earth today? I do not believe so.

Ince brings out helpful and relevant material when he notes the ethnic diversity of the Greco-Roman world:

Migrations and invasions occurred, such as that by the Celts into Macedonia and Asia Minor. Merchant-driven colonization occurred. Jews were scattered throughout the region. Roman soldiers and foreign auxiliary soldiers retired and settled in areas away from their homes; and slaves were captured from a variety of areas of the Roman frontier and transferred throughout the Empire to be incorporated into the diverse mix of peoples that inhabited the cities of the first century AD.

 Ince notes how quickly discrimination spread in the early church, looking at Acts 6 and the neglect by the Hebrews of the Hellenists' widows, who were not receiving the daily distribution of resources. Acts 10:15 shows Peter needing to be taught that all persons have been made clean, that Christ is saving people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Acts 11:19-20 is also noted, and Ince points out that at the Tower of Babel and throughout history since, man has turned his ethnicity into idolatry. The church is not supposed to be like this.  One can only amen the following:

The new normal of the multiethnic church in the New Testament moves the focus to Jesus Christ, and finding our identity in him helps avoid cultural idolatry. Jewishness was not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. Egyptian-ness, Libyan-ness, and Arabian-ness were not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. The Spirit of God worked to press the people of God into the new normal with Jesus Christ at the center of identity. Again, this did not mean that ethnic identities were no longer apparent or significant. The work of God was not a call to strike a balance between identity in Christ and ethnic identity, as if too much of one washes out the other. Instead, those who belonged to Christ were to understand ethnic identity as subservient to identity in Christ.
Ince closes with a powerful statement about our unity in Christ. Jesus is the center, bearing the weight of it all, for our ethnicity and culture cannot do it. God brings together the different threads of the nations and produces something beautiful and amazing. This is the new normal that we have lost from the early church and must regain, says Ince.

Well, as I have said throughout, there is much to commend here. However, I am not sure how to regain and recreate Pentecost. I am not convinced that is the point of Acts 2. Acts 2 and all of the book of Acts indicates that there is neither Jew nor Greek, that the Gospel is to go out to all indiscriminately. I should desire to tell anyone and everyone about salvation in Christ. I should not get mad at God if He is only calling one primary ethnic group into this or that particular local church, despite my efforts to proclaim the gospel without partiality. Then there is the consideration that many in our churches are not evangelistic, or at most talk to their closest friends about Christ. And here we have to recognize that for particular cultures to continue to exist at all, there has to be some people in one culture and other people in another culture. Otherwise, all cultural distinctions are blurred and bleed together. One does not have to repent for growing up in the South and enjoying much of southern culture, nor does one have to repent for growing up in the North and enjoying its culture. But these differences will have to be recognized and overcome in churches where northerners and southerners are together. Can they be overcome? Of course, and they can enrich one another. But does one have to give up their culture in order to overcome barriers to the cultures of others? No. But we know that even different personalities come into play, not to mention different theological traditions, when one decides what church he is going to attend. I want to be winsome and passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls all men to repentance and to trust in Him for salvation. We are to do so without discrimination.

Churches and church services, to some extent, are going to be shaped by the predominant culture that its membership comprises. I know of one author who is contributing to this book, and his church is said to be multi-ethnic. I went to a Presbytery meeting that was hosted at his church, and their worship service and style was not familiar to me and "my culture". And as long as the expression of worship is biblical, worshiping with reverence in spirit and truth, and is not salacious and is done with decency and in order, that is perfectly fine. But it was evident that this multi-cultural church was not really incorporating multi-ethnic worship into its service. But how could one do so anyway without obliterating the distinctives of each culture, or without the absurdity of having multiple services, multiple preachers of different ethnicity perhaps, and/or each worship song and part of the liturgy is fashioned after a different cultural groups traditional liturgical expression in worship. Again, this would yield something more like a platypus, not the most elegant and beautiful of God's creatures, and less like a well-turned 6-4-3 double play. So take that one element from baseball, then tack on an alley-oop slam dunk, then a flea flicker, and try to make them come together in a brand new sport with perfect harmony. I don't think we want to lose all our other sports to create one new mega-sport.

At the end of the day, I would say our focus needs to be on the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God, the quality fellowship we should have with the saints, and the loving bond expressed in that Christian community. Whether the music is what I am used to or not doesn't really matter in comparison. The theology of the church, the quality of its preaching and pastoral care, the breaking of bread and fellowship with the saints, the proper administration of the sacraments and church discipline, these are the things that should unite us. I think this will lead to some congregations that are very integrated, but some, perhaps many churches, are going to retain a certain liturgical identity, and that identity is going to draw certain cultures and ethnic groups more than others. And that, I do not believe, is an inherently wicked thing.   

Next time, chapter 3 with Jarvis Williams, entitled The Gospel: A Uniquely Planned Strategy For Reconciliation. 

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 2)

We now turn to chapter one of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church. This chapter is written by Eric M. Washington, who is "Associate Professor of History and Director of the African and African Diaspora Studies at Calvin College." The chapter is entitled The Most Segregated Hour: Roots and Remedies of An American Evangelical Problem.

Washington opens with a lengthy quote of Martin Luther King Jr., who said in 1963 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo that the worship hour on Sundays is the most segregated hour in the United States, and that the church can begin repenting by removing "the yoke of segregation" from itself. King goes on to say that "the church itself will stand under the judgment of God" for its racial segregation. (Certainly, I would agree that racism in the church will be met with the judgment of God if it does not repent.) Washington replies -- "Sadly these words still hold true." He then shares a 2008 report that indicates only 7 percent of the nation's churches are multiracial, and that a 2015 LifeWay Research survey found that eight out of ten American churches had only one main ethnic group, and that most church-goers were okay with this.

Washington turns to the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the Black Lives Matter movement to note that white Evangelicals often claim that people of color are causing more problems with racism by bringing attention to these killings. "In the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, it became clear how racially divided America is. This includes the church." Washington shares the thesis of his chapter:

This chapter provides historical perspective regarding why a Black Church came into existence, and even continues, in light of calls for multiracial and cross-cultural churches. This chapter’s argument is that the Black Church is a product of White racism beginning in slavery and extending even now. African American churches function as a safe haven from the ravages of a racist society where African Americans can worship unashamed of their culture and lead in distinct cultural fashion.
Before we turn to Washington's historical survey, I'd like to comment on this quote. Is it true that African American churches exist today because of past and present racism? I think (as you will see) Washington makes the case that black churches began because of racism and slavery, but I am not persuaded that the predominant reason black churches still exist is because of present racism. I don't doubt this could be true in some circumstances, but I know of many welcoming churches that are mostly white, including my own church. If the argument is that white churches that do not go out of their way to reach out to blacks specifically are therefore guilty of racism (because of the history of slavery and racism in our nation), I cannot agree. Denominations recognizing and confessing the racial sin in their denomination (whether that sin is past or present) is necessary and beneficial. But pretending that we can go back and make amends for past sins by reaching out to the black community in such a way that prioritizes them over every other ethnic group is not a Gospel solution. Let me explain why by first turning to Ephesians 6:5-9,

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
God commands Masters to give up threatening, to not be harsh to their slaves. The command does not extend back to their father or grandfather's slaves, nor is their an explicit command to immediately set their slaves free, presumably even if they had been treating them harshly! Now, I am not saying that Christian love wouldn't lead to setting your slaves free (or NEVER having slaves to begin with because it was inherently wicked given the treatment of the slaves in route to the New World, among many other problems with slavery). What I am saying is that the biblical record itself does not demand reparations for the sins of our great, great, grandfathers. Even when God says he visits the sins of the fathers on the God-hating children down to the third and fourth generations, I do not see how this could be made to mean that all white people ought to be concerned to determine who in their family might have been slave owners, who treated their slaves harshly, and how today white people can pay back these slaves' offspring now some 150 or more years after the fact. Or if you had a Grandfather who owned a company and systematically chose to bar blacks from being his employees, I do not see how the Grand-child is obligated to hire black people specifically to make up for the injustice toward someone else who is now deceased. Could I choose to do this as an act of good-will and kindness? I don't see why not. But whether that is the right or wisest thing to do would depend on a multitude of circumstances.

One might say that black people today are growing up in terrible communities because of the sin of slavery and racism,  that those ripple effects are still being felt today. That may be true, and that is sad, and the gospel needs to be taken to them (as well as everyone else). But there are many sins which we commit, and many sins against many people, regardless of ethnicity, that have privileged some and disadvantaged others (and this cuts across ethnic lines; some ethnic minorities might find themselves in a more privileged position than a white person). Families cut each other down. Parents abort their children (and to my understanding, black parents abort their children at an alarmingly high rate compared to other ethnic groups), and children murder their parents. There is a tangled web of sin that cuts across ethnic and cultural lines in such a way that things cannot be sorted out until Christ returns. What God does say to do is to live a holy, righteous life, not showing favoritism to the rich or the poor (Lev. 19:15).

Another helpful passage is Deuteronomy 10:17ff.:

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Clearly, God does show kindness and mercy in an extra special way (and frequency) to the downcast and downtrodden. Yet as Deut. 7:7 and other verses show, God did not choose Israel because they were great and mighty. Their slavery did not absolve them of their sinfulness and unworthiness of redemption (whether physical or spiritual). God chooses whom He chooses for His glory, to make His name great, to overthrow Pharaoh and raise up an enslaved people to inherit the earth. And yet, when the Israelites sinned and rebelled, they could not appeal to their poor and wicked upbringing as slaves to the cruel Egyptians as an excuse for their sinfulness and God's eventual exiling them from the Promised Land. God did not tell them to return to their former overlords in Egypt and demand reparations (and note, those wandering in the wilderness were the same generation of Israelites that were set free from Egyptian slavery). Because Israel longed for slavery again and grumbled against what seemed to them to be a meager freedom in the wilderness with God, God was displeased and eventually punishes them (see Ex. 16-17, Num. 11, esp. v. 31-35) and ultimately causes them to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until a new generation can inherit the covenant promises.

Now, as I noted in part one, I do not consider my neighbors who are of a different ethnicity than myself to be a different nation that I must reach out to, certainly not in the sense that Christ in the Great Commission passage addresses (Matt. 28:19-20). Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:8-10) was required (see Ex. 22:1 and elsewhere) to make fourfold restitution of those he had defrauded, and he chose to give half of his possessions to the poor because he was rich, and Scripture demands that the rich be generous with their possessions. And he was rich because, as a tax collector, he naturally defrauded people and took more than he was supposed to take, in order to keep the extra for himself. But let's suppose he came from a long line of swindling tax collectors. Would he be required to make restitution for all those whom his fore-fathers had defrauded? Certainly not. And to my knowledge, we do not see that kind of thing occurring anywhere in the Old or New Testament.     

Returning to chapter one, highlights of Washington's historical survey include how whites were exclusively in leadership during the colonial period through the Revolutionary War, with only rare exceptions. Then, as free Africans migrated North, churches began segregating African American congregants. Whites in the south were able to control both enslaved and freed African Americans, regarding those who worshiped with them as only second-rate church members. Early on, few slave owners cared to catechize their slaves or baptize them, fearing this might mean they could no longer keep them as slaves. Dutch Reformed churches did more in the way of catechizing and allowing the enslaved to become members, marry, and baptize their children, however it does not appear that they could serve as deacons or elders. Congregationalist pastors believed their slaves were part of their covenant household and so they catechized their slaves, seeing the conversion of many. Other groups and even some catechism schools formed to reach out to black slaves with the gospel.  The First Great Awakening and New Light Presbyterians also served as a catalyst for more slaves converting to Christianity.

Washington then writes about the first black churches among the Baptists, Methodists, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and others from the 1770's and onward. It is all very interesting and well worth reading. Washington highlights the common refrain of racism and prejudice that blacks experienced: "Racial prejudice and the need to have churches under their own leadership prompted free Blacks in the urban North to start churches in the early nineteenth century....In integrated churches, African Americans had to sit in segregated seating in the galleries, and the leadership prohibited them from singing or speaking in worship."

Turning to the Antebellum Period, during the 1820's "States passed laws that eroded the independence and the ability of free African Americans from forming their own churches under their own control. Because of the Nat Turner rebellion, African American men were no longer permitted to preach legally without White supervision."

Following the Civil War, "the AME denomination flooded the South with missionaries who planted churches. At the end of Reconstruction, there were AME churches from Florida to Texas. One reason for such growth was the obvious newfound sense of independence among African Americans. The AME also successfully implored freedmen to join the church to be under African American leadership." This is similar for Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, where "church segregation was more a force perpetuated by white racism and gerrymandering than attitudes by African American Christians despising fellowship with their White brothers and sisters."

Washington analyzes his historical findings, and asks how we can be a more catholic/universal church, where blacks and whites are no longer segregated in worship. Washington concludes that, given the aforementioned history, the burden is on the white churches to solve this problem. He mentions strides made by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1995 to apologize for slavery, as well as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 2002 and 2016, where confession and repentance was made for not loving black neighbors during the Civil Rights era. Washington then adds, "History demands White churches repent from their past and present racism and that African American churches walk with them down the road of repentance from racism." He closes his chapter by noting how African American culture has been largely denigrated in the United States, and that racism is woven into the fabric of our society. Thus Christians, black and white together, must be committed to removing racism in the church and society. Of course, that means removing racism in our churches today requires that our churches be a healthy mix of blacks and whites (and I suppose he would add other ethnic groups as well).

I agree that we must be committed to doing all we can to remove true racism from the church and society. But I am not sure exactly how far-reaching racism is in the minds of the authors of this book. If I do not favor black people over others in my evangelism, outreach, mercy ministry, etc., am I guilty of being a racist? Are churches who refuse to do this guilty of being a racist church? I do not think so. I would say just the opposite, that to favor any one ethnic group over another due simply to injustices committed in history is actually a form of racism and disrupts the unity and oneness that we all have in Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:3, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."

True integration should be desired in our churches, but not by showing partiality or favoritism. A church that is predominately white, or black, or any other ethnic group, may still be regarded as integrated, so long as they are not trying to be segregated. The desire to be integrated and the actual accomplishment of that are two different things, however. God has not promised that each church planted in an ethnically diverse community is going to yield an ethnically diverse church. Our goal should be to take the Gospel to all the peoples in our community, without showing partiality, and then to allow the Holy Spirit to save and bring into our particular churches whomever He wills. That may or may not lead to a church that reflects something of the ethnic diversity of Revelation 7:9-10, because Revelation 7:9-10, among other things, is not speaking of each individual church but of the church universal and the gathering of the church universal before the throne of God and Lamb of God. Revelation 7 is speaking of the consummated reality of the church universal, that is, the gathering of the Church from the four corners of the Earth at the time when all things are made new. Yet I have heard this used as a primary text in the racial reconciliation debates to support the idea that right now, all churches that are planted in ethnically diverse communities should reflect Revelation 7 diversity. The implication seems to be that if Revelation 7 diversity is not found, then that church is racist. But I do not see how taking the Gospel indiscriminately, without partiality and favoritism, is racist!

Or put another way, if each individual church is a species of the church universal, which would be the genus, then what some are claiming in the racial reconciliation movement today belongs properly to the church universal/genus, but they are mistakenly attributing this diversity to many if not all individual churches/species.

Or to put it one other way. If I order a pizza with each slice having only one topping, and each slice has a different topping from the other slices, the pizza collectively would have at least eight toppings (assuming there are eight slices of pizza). But does each individual slice of pizza have eight toppings? No, each has only one topping. In our churches today, it is simply impossible to have every topping/ethnicity represented, because I do not know of any one location where every nationality and people group is represented. So it is not possible for any individual church to truly reflect what Rev. 7:9 is addressing. Would it be hopeful and desirable that a church that is planted in a location with two or more ethnic groups also reflect that diversity? Certainly. But the Bible does not teach that the goal of our evangelistic ministry should be favoring ethnic minorities (or sexual minorities as the Revoice conference might desire) or any particular group over another. That doesn't mean that we might not have a group of  church members reach out especially to a nearby community that is primarily black, or white, or Latino, or whatever. Given the gifting and desires of each member in the local congregation, this might well occur, and praise God! But the church is not forced or commanded by God to pick and choose certain peoples or groups over others in order to reach the lost. 

Next time, we will examine chapter two, entitled, Regaining What We've Lost: The First-Century Church.












Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 1)

By: Thomas F. Booher

I have decided to write chapter-by-chapter reviews of the book All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church, which is edited by Leon Brown. (Find parts two, three, four, and five of my review here).

Each chapter is written by a different author, not a few of whom are in the PCA, my own denomination. From the book's introduction we find that: 

"Within these pages you will hear from men and women, African Americans, an Indian American, a Hispanic, and those of mixed-ethnic heritage. Their insights are valuable. Their perspectives—like yours—have been shaped by their cultures, ethnic heritages, histories, and financial standings."

This book comes with endorsements from some real heavy hitters in the Reformed world, including Michael Horton, Derek Thomas, D. Clair Davis, and others. The exhortation from Horton and others is to let non-whites/ethnic minorities do more talking concerning racial reconciliation. Horton also adds that "racism is a systematic as well as personal sin. Repentance and reconciliation must be both as well." 

Perhaps I am already violating what Horton and others want by not merely listening but also responding and pointing out where I agree and disagree with this book, and giving my reasons why. I certainly believe that all should be allowed to speak on the issues of racism, multi-culturalism, and how our churches should be reaching out to the culture(s) around us. The introduction gives a reason for All Are Welcome's existence, namely that our nation is becoming increasingly multicultural and multi-ethnic. 

Put more provocatively, the introduction asks, "Will the makeup of our churches remain the same—segregated?1 If we are going to reach the nations at our doorstep, something has to change." 

I am eager to see what must change for us to reach the nations at our doorstep, and I believe some good and helpful things will be said. But my first concern is the idea that multiple ethnic groups and cultures means that there are multiple nations within the one nation of the United States. I am sure this will be discussed in more detail as we go along, but for now I just want to note that I am not persuaded that my whiteness or culture or upbringing makes me one particular nation, and my neighbor who is black and perhaps has a different cultural upbringing and family traditions is therefore of a different "nation" that I must reach out to specifically and in a fundamentally different way than how I would speak to my white neighbor across the street from me (who I suppose it will be argued is of the same "nation" as me since we are both white and presumably have similar cultural beliefs and upbringings). 

Further, I am not convinced that churches that are predominately white (or black, or Korean, etc.) and are planted in multi-ethnic towns are necessarily engaging in sin by virtue of being mostly mono-cultural. I do not think this necessarily indicates a failure to reach out to the so-called nations around them (thought certainly it could indicate something sinful at a systemic level). My church is predominately white, and we live in a town that has a sizeable portion of ethnic minorities represented. While I think our church could be more evangelistic in general, I do not think that our "whiteness" is due to racism or a failure to love people of all skin colors and cultures equally. There is a wonderful black family at my church that is part of a covenant group that I lead, and we are good friends, despite my being Presbyterian and their being Reformed Baptist (now isn't that something!). 

I teach at a Christian school whose student body is predominately black, and I have taught more students who are non-white than those that are white in my three years of teaching. Everyone gets along very well, or at least, the leading concerns in our school and church are not stemming from racism, cultural differences, etc. 

This is not to say that I do not think racism is a real issue, or that racism is non-existent. I know there is racism in Christian schools and churches, and I wouldn't say that racism at any and every level is utterly non-existent in the school I teach at or even at my church. That would be quite foolish given the sinfulness of man. I also do not believe that only white people are capable of racism, sinful discrimination, and bigotry. We all have much sin to repent of, and racism doesn't "privilege" one ethnic group or skin color over another. Anyone can be racist. 

The introduction says that while "multi-everything" is meant to be hyperbole, they do affirm that "our congregations should be welcoming to everyone, affirming the good of the various cultures expressed in one’s community, and seeking to implement those cultural distinctions in our church services. Is that biblical? Is that possible?"

Since they asked if this is biblical and possible, I'll offer an answer. I certainly agree that our congregations should be welcoming to everyone and should affirm the good within cultures. I am not so sure that we should be or are required to implement those cultural distinctions into our church services. I frankly do not see how one church and one church service could incorporate distinctives of three, four, or more cultures. I also must confess that I do not know what implementing these cultural distinctions into our church services would even look like. Should we have multiple services with different music styles (which would still likely lead to so-called segregation, each ethnic group attending its favorite cultural expression of worship)? Wouldn't mixing multiple cultural expressions create a hodgepodge that would lose the distinctives of all the cultures, creating something new that would result in something more like a platypus and less like a symphony? I doubt whether this is possible, and I also doubt whether such an effort, regardless of pure or impure motivation, is biblical. I simply do not see Scripture emphasizing this kind of melding in church services anywhere. I do see Scripture speaking about the glory of all nations (Rev. 21:23-24), but not that we should try to incorporate the good of each culture represented in our community into each of our worship services. 


I do wonder how this book will wrestle with the oneness we all have in Christ as Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:27-29) given the language and concern to be a "multi-everything" church. The second to last paragraph of the introduction offers this: 

While every contributor is united as an ethnic minority, we also are all unified by confessing that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are infallible and inerrant. We believe there is only one God, who exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and there is no salvation outside of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We value the local church, and we love all our brothers and sisters in the faith.

The closing paragraph hopes that "we would truly become a multi-everything church where all are welcome." I indeed hope and pray that our churches welcome all, and I believe that many by and large do. I am not sure yet how being "multi-everything" ties in with being welcoming to everyone. Must a church be multi-everything in order to truly be a church that loves and welcomes all peoples in a way that God would want us to love all peoples? We shall see. 

Next time, I'll begin discussing and examining chapter one, entitled The Most Segregated Hour: Roots and Remedies of an American Evangelical Problem.  
   






Thursday, February 1, 2018

No Christian Has a Homosexual Orientation



By: Thomas F. Booher



I have some significant disagreements with this post. Mostly with the orientation language. While some things said in this post are true, at least to an extent, I think some of it is not true and quite dangerous. If I said I was still "adultery" oriented how would that go over? Or "Greed and bitterness" oriented. And if I said that God may not deliver me from this orientation this side of heaven, would you be cool with me saying that? I would hope not. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-21), and I don't think Christians (especially Pastors and theologians; I had one Reformed and Presbyterian Pastor who was appointed to study the issue of homosexuality tell me he read 60 books on the issue, but when I asked him what Romans 1 had to say about it, he said he hadn't really thought about it that much) are reading their Bibles enough and Paul's powerful language of deliverance that we already have in Christ. Yes full sanctification awaits, glorification is not yet, but let me tell you, if you are in Christ, He is your orientation. You are a new creature oriented and attracted to Him, and we should not be speaking of any sin, no matter if it is a thorn in the flesh type of besetting sin, as our orientation.

Oh, and Piper and other Calvinistic leaders couldn't be more wrong if they think that heterosexuality is indifferent or unnecessary to real and true holiness, though I realize some seem to be equivocating a bit or simply trying to say that heterosexuality is not "ultimate" or the final goal (and yet marriage, which requires as a prerequisite heterosexuality, is given to us as the beautiful picture of Christ and the Church and the love that we have as believers in and with Christ). When it comes to sexual holiness, our orientation needs to be how it was before sin and the Fall, which was man and woman, Adam and Eve, husband and wife. Even if you have the gift of celibacy/singleness, your orientation is still, and must be, a heterosexual one.

You can struggle with homosexual lusts all your life just as I sadly imagine I will struggle with heterosexual lusts and every other sin all my life. But I'm not oriented around those things any longer. As much as I sin and indulge in the same filthy sins time and time again, I know by God's grace not to believe that is my orientation (Romans 6:10-12, really all of Romans 6 and 7 is very important). 
My flesh still craves all sorts of vile things, but that flesh and those sins have already been crucified, and Christ has already broken the power of reigning sin and set me free from slavery to all the lusts of my flesh.

And if you are a Christian who deals with homosexual lusts/thoughts/desires, I have good news. That is not your orientation. That is not your prevailing sexual disposition. I don't care if it's a constant, hourly battle to resist those homosexual lusts. If you are waging war hourly, your orientation is war, your orientation is toward godliness/holiness and yes, toward heterosexuality (you cannot wage war without looking to Christ, and you cannot fully look to Christ without looking to that which most perfectly pictures the relationship that you have with Christ, which is the picture of marriage between man and woman, and the love that is flowing in that union).

The road that leads to life is your orientation, and He who began this good work in you will finish it. So keep fighting the good fight, armed with the conviction that you are fighting against already crucified lusts, attractions, desires, orientations, etc., and that just as true holiness for the person fighting greed and covetousness manifests itself as progressively growing in giving and generosity, so the one who finds holiness over homosexuality is the one who embraces and meditates upon the good, noble, beautiful, pure and lovely heterosexuality (understanding how this all points to Christ of course), even if that means you never marry yourself or find yourself in the position of "it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor. 7:9). For you know that heterosexuality and the man and woman one-flesh union that grows from heterosexuality is really a picture of Christ and His beautiful bride, the Church, which is nothing less than a picture of the gospel of the kingdom of God.

You cannot look to the holiness and love of the spotless bride of Christ and to our heavenly bridegroom very well without looking to true marriage, true heterosexuality, and that's true even if you don't marry (the Apostle Paul wasn't married and he wrote so beautifully about the bond between man and wife and how that teaches about and points to Christ!). The ideal of heterosexual marriage and the intimate love that flows from that, including heterosexual sex itself, should be appealing to all Christians, for it truly pictures Christ and the Church and our intimate and glorious relationship with God. 

And this marriage relationship with our Lord and Savior, the splendor of the new covenant that we partake in through Christ's blood, will endure and be displayed for all eternity, in all its full glory and majesty.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is Calvinistic Universalism the Best of All Possible Worlds?

By: Thomas F. Booher

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I had a wonderful discussion with a Christian who I would best describe (based just on one extended conversation) as an Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and a big fan of C.S. Lewis. He is a philosophy professor, and with him I probably had the most stimulating conversation about God and Christianity that I've ever had with a non-Calvinist. 



In fact, he said the one thing he was pretty sure that he wasn't, was a Calvinist. A lot of other things were still on the table for him, but Calvinism probably wasn't (but we'll see). Yet in a real sense, this didn't bother me too much. It is akin to our admiration as Reformed believers for C.S. Lewis (who was also very much like an Anglo-Catholic) or G.K. Chesterton, both of whom explicitly rejected Calvinism as making God into something evil, not unlike my philosophy friend. 


I'd like in a separate post to talk about justification by faith alone, and what we should and should not mean and claim (as Reformed folk) when holding to this doctrine, especially when it comes to bear on those who reject justification by faith alone on paper but in practice and in their hearts seem to hold to the same overarching goal as we do, which is giving God alone the glory for salvation (and all things). Alas, that post will have to wait for another day. 


Anyways, we talked for several hours, and probably agreed with each other on theological matters half of the time, give or take. He did semi-jokingly say that about 60 percent of what is in the Westminster Confession of Faith is correct, so maybe we have more agreement than disagreement! But one thing that we batted around was Christian Universalism, or what my friend called hopeful universalism. Not to say this was his firm position, but he was willing to speculate that perhaps there will be postmortem repentance and salvation, and that given enough time, everyone would come to know God's love through Christ. Of course, I kept operating from my Calvinistic/God is sovereign over everything mindset, so I momentarily forgot that my friend, who does not believe in predestination, election, providence, etc. in a Calvinistic sense, couldn't have a guarantee that everyone would trust in Christ, even millions of years after they died, though it was hopeful that they would come to Christ eventually, given enough time. 


I teased that he should at least become a Calvinistic Universalist, and that that would be an upgrade in my book from a non-Calvinist hopeful Universalist. That wasn't enticing to him because of his concerns about Calvinism. And the weight of his arguments, like most who oppose Calvinism, is that it seems to make God a moral monster, predestining some to hell from all eternity, never having a saving love for them, so that though men make choices according to their natures, and in that sense have wills, these choices are predetermined choices, choices that are guaranteed to occur, somehow due to the fore-ordination of God. He had other arguments of course but this was a big sticking point.


In many ways, I think the biggest hiccup for non-Calvinist Christians is the concept of purposed evil: fore-ordained damnation/reprobation, for the glory of God, by God. My friend seemed to start with and see the most basic principle of the Triune God to be love, sacrificial love, and that a truly loving God could not and would not purpose evil and fore-ordain reprobation. In short, a loving God who purposes evil and eternal human suffering due to His wrath is simply a contradiction. God is either loving and does not purpose evil (or at least doesn't fore-ordain it), or He purposes evil and is not loving, and in fact is evil Himself. 


Of course, that was my hurdle as well, before I was a Calvinist. I knew what my Christian school was teaching me concerning salvation contained a lot of rubbish. Salvation was usually stripped down to saying a prayer for salvation, and as long as you said it and "meant" it, you could be sure you were saved. There was no concept of being set free from slavery to sin, of the need of being born again/regeneration, and the necessity of good works (non-meritorious of course) in order to ultimately enter into the kingdom of heaven on the last day. 


So I explained to him that I think the only way one can embrace Calvinism is to be persuaded that it is precisely what Scripture teaches. That is how it went for me at least. I could not escape John 6, Ephesians 1-2, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, and especially Romans 9. Of course these passages (and others) don't merely give you the theology; it is interwoven with reasons for the theology, why God is like this, why we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1), and so on and so forth. So, I was learning not only that Calvinism is biblical, but at the same time why Calvinism was good, although admittedly in my puny mind I basically had to take it one bite at a time. I had to digest that Calvinism is before I could fully embrace and consider how Calvinism is good and glorious


And as I said, my friend was a very stimulating conversation partner. He brought up some things countering my arguments for Calvinism that I hadn't heard before, or at least they were presented with a slightly different angle that I had not been challenged with before. 


One of them that I wanted to write about here was the idea that God doesn't really redeem all things if God doesn't redeem every single person. In short, if there are evil men (and demons and Satan himself I suppose) doing evil things into the eschaton, for all eternity, then God doesn't totally win. He doesn't have complete victory. God's goodness, love, grace, mercy, and kindness has in some measure failed. Evil is not totally vanquished, and the last enemy, death, has not totally been defeated after all (1 Cor. 15:25-26), for there is a continual death in the lake of fire forever. I think my friend might argue that for death to truly be defeated, it has to be no more. It has to cease to exist. And for evil to be no more, it has to cease to exist. If men are suffering eternal death, torment in hell forever, and God is pouring out His wrath forever because His wrath is not satisfied eternally, then the wages of sin are forever being poured out by God, and this is an incomplete state, a state that cannot be the final, eternal telos of all creation. So God is not fully satisfied, and evil, sinful, demonic men and actual demons are continuing to sin and spew forth evil from the pits of hell, blaspheming God and presumably harming and defiling one another, forever! 

Can we as Calvinists (or anyone who believes in an eternal hell inhabited by sinful creatures) really claim that this is good? Can we actually say that this is the best of all possible worlds, where evil exists forever, where God's wrath and justice are actively being exercised forever because of rebellion, rather than wrath and justice being put to rest because death and evil are no more? 


In short, is this really an eternal state in which God is most glorified and God's people are most satisfied and amazed at His glory, or does it imply that God hasn't really tied up all the loose ends, God hasn't really eradicated and vanquished evil altogether after all, and when you add the Calvinistic/predestining component to it, those who are suffering in hell forever are doing so according to God's eternal plan?! 


Given all that, I ask this to my Calvinist compatriots: isn't a better alternative Universalism, and a Calvinistic Universalism at that? Is that not both the best of all possible worlds, and sort of having your cake and eating it too? We can have all the "positive" things of Calvinism, like being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we can consistently and rightly give God all the credit and glory for our salvation, we can maintain most everything that we already maintain about the elect and God's love for us, and also not have to gulp at the flip side, the "underbelly" as some might call it, of Calvinism; namely, reprobation, the eternal damnation of individuals predestined/foreordained by God to destruction? 


Leaving aside the idea of Annihilationism (because I think that would be another option here that would have to be weighed when considering the best of all possible worlds) for today, should we as Calvinists admit that, at least to our finite, human minds, Calvinistic Universalism seems to us to be a more glorious and better alternative than double predestination, and that we must simply accept double predestination by faith in God and Scripture, trusting that somehow, someway in heaven we will understand that double predestination is better than single predestination to life, and an ultimate Universalism? Must we as Calvinists say that, from this side of heaven, we can never expect to understand the good of reprobation and hell, and must simply accept on (blind) faith that God's ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9)? 


Well, no. While I grant that Isaiah 55:8-9 and similar passages do give us Calvinists an "out" to some extent, thanks be to God I don't think we are left in this unenviable position of having to argue, "Well the Bible says it, I don't see how it could possibly be as good as Universalism (or even a hell that was not fore-ordained by God), in fact it does look rather wicked and malicious to me in some ways, but I believe it because God says it in His Word, and His thoughts are higher than mine, and after all the secret things belong to the Lord (Jer. 29:29)". 


First of all, if you read all of Jeremiah 29:29, and then all of Jeremiah 29, you see that the covenant is being renewed, and you see God explaining why He has judged His people and poured out His wrath upon them. These are parts of the things that are "revealed" and belong to us and our children "forever" according to Jeremiah 29:29. In fact, they have been revealed to us so that we may "do all the words of this law". So far am I from arguing that we cannot know why evil exists and why God judges it and pours out His wrath that I would instead argue that Scripture is plainly teaching us this: if we do not know why God does these things (judge, condemn, damn, predestine to hell even), then we cannot fully know how to please God, we cannot fully know how to obey Him and take delight in obeying Him, and we cannot fully know the love of God and privileges that we have in Christ. And all that is because we don't really understand Him, don't really know Him for as He is, and thus fail to see just how glorious He is. 


How much more is this true in the New Testament, now that we are the temples of God and the Spirit has come in full measure to indwell us, renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2; note the renewing of the mind is so that we may discern what the will of God is, and what is good, acceptable, and perfect) to such an extent that Paul can truly say that we now have the hidden wisdom of God and can understand the "deep things of God" because we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:9-16). Note also that 1 Corinthians 2 pertains to the deep things of Christ, of His being crucified, and thus the nature of redemption and the atonement. So this all very much touches on questions like Calvinism (predestination and reprobation), especially when we note that 1 Cor. 2:7 says that Paul is discussing/revealing "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory". 



So, knowing these things is critical because it is to know the wisdom and glory of God that He ordained about Christ and Him crucified from eternity past, for the glory and good of His people (and ultimately for God Himself). We are not restricted to having to say that the person and work of Christ is (totally) mysterious, at the very least in the sense of being unable to see the goodness and wisdom of it. We can see its wisdom, goodness, and glory, and as Calvinists, we can see the glory and goodness of all our theology, because God has revealed it to us in His word, and given us the minds of Christ by the power of His Spirit to understand it, see it, and love it more than any other alternative, including Universalism. 


So then, Calvinistic Universalism is not, and should not appear to be, superior to us than our traditional Calvinism. Traditional Calvinism is not only more biblical but more glorious (whatever is biblical is necessarily most glorious for it is God's self-disclosure), double predestination is more glorious than single predestination, reprobation is a more glorious, righteous, true, and beautiful reality than a teaching which says that in the end, everyone will come to faith in Christ, where death and evil will exist no more. And now, to demonstrate this claim...


...and to give myself some protection. I wish to demonstrate this claim, admitting this is the first time I have attempted to demonstrate my above claim (in precisely this fashion at least), and adding that I wish to be able to pad my defense at a future time, as surely some counters will be given to this, and surely I will develop my thoughts on this further and come up with more arguments to supplement what I will write here....


Okay, so first I want us to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:


20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God[c] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.




Now obviously I cannot defend every tenet of Calvinism all at once, and this is already an exceedingly long post. But for now, to put forward a very incomplete defense against a Universalist interpretation of this text, I'd simply point out that v. 23 notes that it is "those who belong to Christ" that are the "all" who shall be made alive. I think any true Christian agrees that you have to be in Christ, have to have faith in Christ, to be made alive. Christian Universalism would say as much. 


And I cannot avoid briefly discussing Romans 5, which has very similar language to 1 Corinthians 15. Of particular importance is the comparison between Adam and Christ, and how they are similar and how they are different. Romans 5 says plainly that Adam is a type of Christ, but a type/shadow is not identical to the antitype/substance, and so you also see that there are differences between the two (emphasis is mine): 



16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 



18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.




We see in v. 16 the covenantal headship of Adam, that his one trespass brought "condemnation [for all]" but the free gift of salvation in and through Christ covers "many trespasses" and brings justification. Now we should all be able to agree that Scripture teaches that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (Jesus to Nicodemus) and that you must repent and believe the gospel in order to be justified (Rom. 3:21-26). So you cannot get into resurrection life and in the good graces of God apart from Christ. So in Romans 5:18, we cannot say that Paul is contradicting what he just said two chapters earlier; we cannot say that when Paul says that Christ's one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men, that that means all men without exception. The all men here would refer to all who repent and believe in Christ. 

Note also in v. 19 the language switches from "all" to "many" concerning who was made a sinner and who will be made righteous. Obviously this is not saying that there are some natural born children of Adam who in fact were not represented by Adam and are actually somehow unfallen and not sinners. The Greek word here for "many" is polus, which can mean great in magnitude or quantity, or the many, or the masses, as it would mean here and in Romans 5:15. All of that to say, it is not denying that all mankind has fallen in Adam, nor is it denying that all who are in Christ will be made alive. "The many" or "the mass" that is in Christ, which of course I would understand as the elect from all the rest of Scripture, will certainly be made righteous, will be justified, will enter heaven. But the important question is this: How do you get into Adam, and how do you get into Christ? To be in Adam all you have to do is exist, to be born. But to be in Christ, fully and ultimately, you have to be born again, you have to be bought with the blood of Christ, you have to be united to Him through faith. 


Well, the Christian Universalist might still argue that, eventually, given enough time, everyone will repent and believe, and thus be ushered into heaven, and that is when death is truly defeated and 1 Cor. 15:22, 24, and 26 is fulfilled. Only when everyone repents and is in heaven is death defeated and Christ has subjected and put everything under His feet. Only then will Christ be subjected again to the Father, turning the kingdom over to Him, so that Christ and God may be all in all (v. 24, 28). The problem with that interpretation is that 1 Cor. 15:23-24 says that the Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection life, and then "at his coming those who belong to Christ" will be raised to be with Him. But note this occurs at His 2nd coming, thus just prior to the final judgment, and in v. 24 we read that "then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power". That's a very important verse. It seems the end comes when Christ returns, and the word in Greek for end there is telos. So the fulfillment of all things, the end goal, the telos of creation, occurs at Christ's second coming, and it is at that point in time that the kingdom is delivered by Jesus to the Father, and every rule, authority, and power is destroyed. 

This does not leave room for postmortem repentance, or at the very least, it demonstrates that you can have unrepentant people who are in hell, not united to Christ and therefore not saved and with God in heaven (therefore still in a state of death/sin/separation from God) and yet the kingdom of God is complete and death can be considered defeated, and every enemy has been made a footstool for His feet, and the end/telos can come. Universalism is not required for the telos, in fact the text would imply that the eternal subjection of the enemies of God and the elect are part of the good of God's kingdom, and a good eternal state to be in. 


And I think the footstool language is very important. Part of the eternal kingdom of God, part of God's reign, is putting his enemies under his feet. That is a far cry from redeeming them with the blood of Christ and ushering them into His kingdom, whether it be before or after they die! 


The Universalist may object and say that there must be an unspoken, intervening gap of time, a lot of time apparently, between 1 Cor. 15:23-24, that "then comes the end" must really be a pretty long time after the 2nd coming of Christ. All I can say is that the text pushes in the opposite direction of this interpretation, and I would say that is an example of eisegesis, of reading into the text what you want/expect to be there, or what is required to be there for your system of theology (in this case Universalism) to work. No doubt some would charge me of the same thing, but again, the theology we are bringing to bear on any given text has to be determined/established by other Scriptures, and I don't have the time to try to demonstrate all of Calvinism/the Calvinistic understanding of the elect at this moment. 


Moving down to 1 Cor. 15:54ff. we read that death is swallowed up in victory when the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality. It is not required that every single person who has ever lived put on the imperishable, for the victory is "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57). In other words, for all of God's people, all the elect, and for Christ and for God Himself, once all His chosen people for whom He died are clothed with immortality, then death is defeated and victory over the grave is won. 


And here is where 2 Thessalonians 1 is incredibly important. Scripture echoes this in many places, but this is a quite prominent example of the goodness of the eternal destruction of the wicked for the sake of God Himself and His elect/beloved (emphasis mine): 


5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 


R.C. Sproul was fond of saying that Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in Scripture because if He didn't do so we wouldn't believe in hell at all. Jesus says in Matt. 25:45-46 that those who do not love God and love others and serve them will "go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 


Now I do not know why God would speak of an eternal punishment that one enters unless the punishment is truly unending, and when it is put in parallel with eternal life for the believer, the biblical evidence is overwhelming and undeniable that God punishes those who reject the gospel concerning Christ eternally, forever, and the implication is that there is no hope of repentance postmortem. Perhaps one might try to argue that the punishment would be eternal or is eternal until one repents postmortem, but that is not what the text says. All signs point to the reality of those suffering eternally in hell by the wrath and justice of God. The punishment in 2 Thess. 1 is eternal destruction, not destruction that will be eternal unless/until you repent. There is a real finality, a telos to this. This is a permanent state, and it is motivated by the justice of God for Himself and His people. 


So far I've largely just pointed out what the Bible says and have tried to argue that hell is, that eternal punishment and God's wrath is, and I've yet to really argue directly for the goodness of it (though at times I couldn't help myself). This is following the basic pattern of how I first came to accept Calvinism, by seeing that it is the inescapable teaching of God. Only then do I think I was really ready to accept that it could be (must be) good, and investigate how it is that it could be good. Likewise, in brief form I have tried to push upon everyone the weight of God's own mouth, the weight of what He Himself has revealed about Himself, about hell and judgment and wrath, and the eternal nature of it all, so that hopefully I have persuaded you or at least given you much reason to believe that God makes unavoidable the reality of eternal punishment and destruction into the eschaton, into the eternal state.


But now, if this is so, how is it good? How is it better than God redeeming everyone? Isn't grace and mercy greater than justice and wrath? Isn't the total swallowing up of death into life in Christ better than only some swallowing up of death into life in Christ? My argument is no, Universalism it is not better, and my primary reason (and I think there are many more but I am just going to focus on one or two that come to mind at the moment and that prompted me to write this mammoth post to begin with) is that if everyone is redeemed, we are swallowing up more than just death. We would in fact be swallowing up God's justice, and that would be a reprehensible thing to do. 


Let me explain my meaning if you haven't caught on to it already. If everyone gets grace, it not only "cheapens" it in the sense that now everyone is getting it and you are no more in a privileged position than anyone else (in other words, the elect/non-elect distinction is dissolved), but further and perhaps more importantly, there is no active and eternal display before all creation of the righteous justice and judgment and wrath of God. Not only is there no display of it, but at least on a Calvinistic system of Universalism, God's intention and design was to eternally not display His justice, judgment, and wrath. This can't be a better system than traditional Calvinism.

On a non-Calvinistic system, well, in my book you have a mountain more of problems, because God is at best reacting to what man does rather than being proactive and planning, and how it "shakes out" particularly in regards to salvation is not up to God but to man, so that God cannot even control the telos of His creation in the final analysis. He might be able to try to guide it or direct it, but unless you are willing to argue that He can/will savingly draw a person to Himself irresistibly then you cannot say that He is sovereign and in complete control of history and His creation (but if God is all about love and salvation, why reject irresistible grace? Why deny that God's love can be so strong and amazing that we can be willingly drawn into fellowship and communion with Him?).


Man was given dominion to fill the earth and subdue it in the Garden of Eden. The eternal plan of God was Creation, Fall, Redemption, and that ultimately Christ would, as the God-Man, exercise dominion, filling the earth and subduing it, perfectly and visibly displaying the invisible God to man and all creation through the flesh of man in the incarnation. 


Part of exercising dominion from the beginning was to guard and protect the Garden. Adam failed to do so, not protecting his wife from Satan, the wicked intruder, and instead becoming a child of the devil by eating the forbidden fruit and falling under Satan's power, rebelling against God. Christ comes to do what Adam fails to do, namely to crush the head of that serpent, of Satan, to put him and all His seed under His foot (Gen. 3:15). Romans 16:20 tells us that God will soon crush Satan under our/the church's feet! That is in the immediate context of dealing with false teachers, indicating that the enemies of the church/particularly the false teachers are under the sway of demonic influence, are children/offspring of the devil that are at enmity with the seed of the woman/the elect in Christ (1 Jn. 3:10; Gen. 3:15), and that the false teachers will be vanquished by Christ through His church (especially by exercising church discipline and silencing false teachers). 


My point in all this is that the trajectory of Scripture, from the protoevangelium in Gen. 3:15 all the way through, is that there is a divide between Satan and his followers and those who are born again in Christ. Therefore, it is very much fitting for the glory of God and good of His people that the destruction of Satan and his seed be displayed for all eternity, as part of the "spoils of war" and as a continued sign of the true subjection of everything to Christ our conquering Warrior-King, that everything has been made a footstool for His feet, so that He really can be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). 


So for the Universalist, has justice been expressed by God, has evil been vanquished and destroyed, and is evil under the foot of God and His people? Do God's people reign victorious over sin, death, and the devil? Well, I think that's a hard question to answer for the Universalist, because justice, death, and sin has been so swallowed up that it ceases to exist. The short answer to me (and I think God's answer) would have to be no, for there is no eternal reign of God and His people over sin, death, and the devil, there is no eternal display of justice and righteous wrath over the defeated enemies of God, because there are no longer any enemies of God. Justice has been swallowed by grace, love, and mercy. God has swallowed up one aspect of Himself with another aspect of Himself. This means that God has undergone change/mutation, which means He either wasn't perfect initially (before justice was swallowed up by love, grace, and mercy) or He was perfect but has downgraded Himself such that justice is no more and there is only love and grace. Perhaps one would counter and say God does not have to demonstrate His justice and wrath eternally to be just and righteously wrathful, but to not display that which is glorious calls into question the wisdom of God, and whether or not justice and wrath really is glorious.


At bottom we either believe that we are sinners worthy of the just wrath of God, and thus we cling to Christ for salvation from the eternal punishment that we deserve, or we do not believe this. And if we do not believe this, then we don't think we need saving. And if we do not think we need saving, then we do not think we need Christ as Savior, and probably not as Lord either. If we have a problem with hell I would submit that we really have a problem with the character of God, especially with His justice and wrath. So many want a God devoid of justice and wrath, or else are disputing that anyone deserves to come under the condemnation of God's just wrath (for various reasons, but probably because they don't like the fact that God chose to represent us by Adam's headship; we kick back against the notion that we can inherit a sinful nature and be held accountable for it, liable to eternal destruction for a sinful nature we didn't ask for and something we didn't seek out ourselves). Establishing the fairness of God at this point would take another entire post, but the short answer is God is sovereign and can set up things how He pleases, and He doesn't impute things to us that are not really and truly ours.  


But let's now consider Romans 9:17-24. I choose this passage because it shows that God throughout Scripture, citing Pharaoh as exhibit A, has structured things such that His power and glory are shown by destroying evil people (like Pharaoh who fancied himself to be God, not unlike Satan and all his seed). The drowning of Pharaoh's army is something that would cause Moses and the Israelites to shout for joy and sing praises to God! Ex. 15 is no joke; the Lord is a man of war, and God is seen to be glorious and powerful as a man of war in drowning Pharaoh and his mighty army: 




“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness, 

awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? 

12 You stretched out your right hand; 

the earth swallowed them. 



And again see the glory of God judging His people's enemies while He leads the people He has purchased (the elect, not all, not the enemies of God) to safety on His holy mountain (typifying the new heavens and new earth, ultimately) where the Lord will reign with His people and only His people forever and ever: 




Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;


trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;


all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.


16 Terror and dread fall upon them;


because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,


till your people, O Lord, pass by,


till the people pass by whom you have purchased.


17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,


the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,


the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.


18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”





Now with that background we can understand the context of Romans 9 where the matter of Pharaoh is concerned, which is in turn applied to all of us, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles: 




17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.


19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?



Besides the matters of election and predestination in general, note specifically in v. 23 the purpose clause, "in order that", which indicates that the vessels of wrath that God prepared for destruction serve the purpose of making known to the vessels of mercy/the elect, the riches of God's glory. How? Well, we were just given the example of Pharaoh, and we saw the song of praise that Moses and the Israelites sang to God for His righteous wrath and judgment against the enemies of God, the Egyptians, who are just one example of the seed of Satan. 


So now for a big assertion. I believe Scripture is clear that God's justice and God's grace/mercy are equally ultimate. That shouldn't be hard to accept, particularly if you are a Calvinist. We cannot say that some aspects of God are more fundamental and important to Him than others without really saying that there is tension, change,  parts, contradiction even in God. God desires to show His wrath and power forever, and so He fashioned vessels of wrath for destruction, and He also desires to make His glorious grace and mercy known for those vessels of mercy prepared for glory, of both Jews and Gentiles according to v. 24. Now understand that God cannot fully make His glory known to the vessels of mercy without the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (by cannot I mean He has chosen to demonstrate things in this dependent fashion)! 


God desires not only to display His righteous wrath and judgment against those who have rebelled against Him willingly, but He also desires that His eternal display of judgment and justice would communicate the privileges of mercy and salvation, along with His power, to the elect/the vessels of mercy! So those in hell serve a good purpose, for they reveal God's glory to God's people. Far from those in hell being a sign of incompleteness of God's plan or a failure to redeem everything and bring everything into subjection, it is a sign of the perfect completeness, destruction, subjection, and end/telos of evil -- to exist forever in a position of subjection, to bear the marks of being defeated and demolished! 


I don't recall the exact location of the quote by C.S. Lewis, but I think it is helpful to note here. Looking it up online, I see it is from The Weight of Glory (emphasis mine)


It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This is where I like to pretend that C.S. Lewis was a Calvinist. But in all seriousness, I think he is saying something very Calvinistic here, that for those in Christ, we will be like gods (Jn. 10:34ff) in glory, and we already bear the image of God after all. And for those outside of Christ, they will be seen as what can only be described as nightmarish creatures in hell, divorced from Christ and His redemption. The objects of wrath, those devoted to destruction to display God's glory forever, are nightmarish, wicked beings. That is what you and I are apart from Christ, and I believe that is why part of the glory of heaven is the elect being reminded of what they were, and what they deserved from the hand of God, forever by seeing those who are suffering under the righteous wrath of God in hell. Those in hell, like what we all once were, are truly unworthy of pity, unworthy of grace and mercy. That is precisely why we are saved by grace and mercy, because we were all utterly unworthy of it!

So the upshot is that in traditional Calvinism, evil is held in subjection and destruction in perpetuity, forever defeated. God's people don't have to wonder about it, for it is ever on display, and the smoke of the torment of those who are in league with Satan will go up forever and ever in the presence of the Lamb (Rev. 14:10-11). Those in hell are in a real sense in God's kingdom, but as enemies who are defeated. Those in hell will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and give God glory in doing so (Phil. 2:10-11), but this is not a confession of faith but more like something that they hate to admit but cannot deny. Satan will be cast into hell and tormented forever and ever (Rev. 20:10), Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire/death forever (Rev. 20:14), and yes, all those not found in the book of life are likewise thrown into the second death, the lake of fire, along with the devil and death itself (Rev. 20:15). 


As the new heavens and new earth come in Revelation 21, Scripture makes clear that for those with God in glory/heaven death will be no more and they will have life (Rev. 21:4, 7) but that for the faithless and vile people, they will experience the second death in the lake of fire/hell (Rev. 21:8). In heaven are those who are washed white, pure and holy as the bride of Christ, but there are those on the outside who are immoral and unbelieving (Rev. 22:14-15).


So in the final analysis, the best of all possible worlds is a world where the elect reign with God and Christ in glory forever, partaking of the tree of life where sin, death, the devil and all his seed have been destroyed, and are forever on display as under the subjection of God and His people, suffering the just and righteous wrath of God eternally in hell. Like Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 15, we will praise God for all that He is, including His righteous judgment and destruction of the wicked; for it is glorious, and it is good, and but for the sovereign grace of God, we too would be suffering his just judgment rather than receiving His mercy and love through Christ! 


And to all this we say, glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost! Amen.