Wednesday, November 23, 2016

You and I will celebrate Thanksgiving together

After more than a week in San Antonio, yesterday I was so happy to see Renée again!

Over the years, the two of us have read through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures scores of times. 

This autumn, however, I have been doing something different. I have been reading the New Testament through twice, two or three chapters at a time. 

Today in my reading of Revelation chapters 4 and 5, I came across one of my favorite verses in the last book of the New Testament. There we read:

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.
Revelation 4:11

Somehow until today, however, I had failed to connect the dots. 

In the immediate context of verse 10, we read that the 24 elders fall down before God, lay their crowns before His throne, and sing this beautiful worship song. But who are the 24 elders?

Because there are 12 sons of Jacob and 12 apostles, some have speculated they must be the 24 elders. That’s good math, but not a widely accepted interpretation. Many see the 24 elders representing not just Christian believers, but all of God’s family around the world and down through the millennia.

Indeed, just a chapter over, John makes the provocative statement that “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” begins worshiping God. They sing:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!
Revelation 5:13

While the apostle John may not have seen himself as one of the 24 elders, “in the spirit” (4:2) he saw and heard himself, and you and me, worshiping God.

What an amazing thought!

Thanks to Renée’s encouragement, I memorized Revelation 4:11 years ago. I still deeply cherish this wonderful affirmation of worship to God.

Today, however, I realized I also should memorize Revelation 5:13. After all, you and I will sing this song of worship to God with “every creature” someday!

Will you join me? If so, here is the verse again, broken into short units with memory aids in brackets: 

To him who sits on the throne [God the Father] | and to the Lamb [Jesus Christ]
be praise and honor [think PhD] | and glory and power [think GDP]
for ever and ever!
Revelation 5:13

Monday, November 7, 2016

Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, and Two Major Disappointments

Nobody who loves God deeply, and loves others well, wants to talk about hell. Yet, talk about it we must. So, I strongly applaud Francis Chan for writing about hell with deep humility, reverence for God’s character, and a steadfast commitment to the teachings of Scripture. In Erasing Hell, I found echoes of my own key writing and teaching points. Yet...

It breaks my heart that, by making two major category errors in this book, Francis Chan and his coauthor, Preston Sprinkle, have brought untold needless grief to many. 

First, Francis Chan tells a heartbreaking story based on his 100% certainty that his mother went to hell. I believe we should not presume to say with certainty that a specific individual went to hell. Only God knows that for sure. 

Therefore, I believe Francis Chan is making a serious category error. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal to us whether or not they turned to Him in their final minutes, hours, days (knowing that in this life we very well may not know, though God has answered that prayer with certainty a week after the death of a patriarch in my wife’s family). 

The second major disappointment with this book? Francis Chan says that a person who dies without hearing about Jesus Christ goes to hell. I believe that’s an even more serious category error. There are degrees of divine revelation. Even Scripture teaches that. Those degrees of revelation bear directly on the question of who does and doesn’t go to heaven—and who does and doesn’t go to hell. 

A family member with Downs Syndrome doesn’t know the difference between an Elvis impersonator and the real Elvis who died decades ago. He also doesn’t know who the real Jesus is, let alone know the Gospel, let alone believe it, let alone follow Jesus Christ. So, this family member is going to hell? No, of course not. The Judge of all the earth will do what is right. Whether genetically or geographically, many can’t opt into faith in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean they’re all going to hell any more than my first grandchild who died twelve years ago. 

Again, it breaks my heart that, by making these two major category errors, Francis Chan has caused untold needless grief to countless thousands of readers.

That said, allow me to affirm seven (7) beliefs that Francis Chan and I share in common. 
  1. Hell is one of the thorniest theological questions of all time. 
  2. Hell is real.
  3. Hell is not what we think.
  4. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell (except the Devil and his demons). Yes, some people go to hell, but they have to climb over the love of God to get there. 
  5. We need to think and feel as Jesus did about the subject, with tears in our eyes.
  6. We can trust God’s sovereignty, providence, holiness, love, and mystery.
  7. Nothing we mistakenly think, believe, or do will change God’s eternal purposes and plans. 

Bottom line: Don’t take my word for it. Instead, see what others say here