Tag Archives: Hell

Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. “fire and brimstone” preacher

Most Americans know very little about Jonathan Edwards, except for the 18th century sermon he preached, “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God.” I remember reading it, as it was an assigned reading for an English class, back in my public high school.

Yes, it is a classic “fire and brimstone” sermon, filled with talk of God’s treatment of the unrepentant sinner, as though God is holding “a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [who] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

Wow. I remember thinking, as I finished reading that high school homework assignment, that this guy Edwards must have woken up on the wrong side of bed, the day he preached this tirade. What a sourpuss!!

But such a judgment of Edwards is not deserving, as a more balanced understanding of Edward’s life shows. Contrary to popular opinion, Jonathan Edwards only preached a handful of sermons, on the disturbing topic of hell, during his multi-decade preaching career. By far, most of the hundreds of sermons that Edwards preached were about the love and beauty of God. One of his favorite topics included speaking about the “sweetness” of God, a theme that he returned to, over and over again.

If you want to read a helpful introduction to Jonathan Edwards, that corrects a lot of the gross misunderstandings in popular culture about his life, I would highly recommend A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden’s grand, academic biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (which is excellent, too, but a lot longer!). Rather, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is a fresh, revealing description of Edwards, showing him to be a profound advocate of the overwhelming love of God. Plus, it is short, at about 140 pages. I listened to A Short Life as an audiobook, in about 5 hours, and loved every minute of it.

What made “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God” so indelible in the American imagination was the effect this sermon had, during one particular Sunday morning, while filling in, for another preacher, at another church. Sometime prior to his famous preaching in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards had preached this sermon to his own congregation, where it had little impact on his flock of church-goers. Edwards was not known to be an exceptionally dynamic public speaker, as he was bookish, and noticeably shy. He rarely took his eye off of his sermon notes.

Justin Bieber he was not.

But when he was asked to step in that one particular Sunday, in the Enfield church, a wave of emotion took over the room, as he made his way through his prepared text. Despite Edwards’ un-theatrical delivery, wailing and weeping filled the assembled hall, as many were overcome by the weight over the grief of their own sin. The sounds of terror among the people became so great, Edwards had to cut his sermon short, and dismiss the crowd, preventing him from delivering a message of hope, that he had saved for the climax of his prepared text. Edwards’ sermon had sparked a revival, and many Connecticut colonists made professions of Christian faith, during the following weeks.

It was a profound moment, during the First Great Awakening in America, a phenomenon that shaped America as a nation.

Ralph Green is a re-enactor, who has delivered Jonathan Edwards’ most (in??)famous sermon, as a dramatic production. Below is a 45 minute recording of that sermon.


Is “Heaven and Hell” Biblical?

Is “Heaven and Hell” Biblical?

The answer is surprisingly, “No.”

Are you skeptical about that claim? Please hear me out for a moment….

If you were to do a search, in your Bible, to try to find the words “heaven” and “hell,” used in the same verse together, you might be shocked to realize something: the number of occurrences would be ZERO (Try it for yourself here, online). However, if you look for the words “heaven” and “earth” paired together in the same verse, you might discover about 200 occurrences in the Bible (Try it here, online).

For example, according to the King James Version, when Jesus teaches the disciples, “the Lord’s prayer,” we have, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Despite popular opinion, the terminology of “heaven and hell” is not found together in Holy Scripture. But “heaven and earth” quite frequently is.

So, why is that?

Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, has written a thoughtful book, The Skeleton’s in God’s Closet, where he addresses some of the thorniest questions people have about God and the Bible, that focus on three central issues: Hell, Judgment and Holy War.

Butler makes the case that Christians often toss around lingo like “heaven and hell,” without really thinking about how the Bible actually addresses these topics. According to Butler, “we get hell wrong because we get heaven and earth wrong.”

Typically, we think that the Bible is constantly contrasting “heaven” and “hell,” when in reality, the Bible’s primary concern is the disruption between “heaven” and “earth,” resulting from human sin, that breaks down God’s good creation into horribly dysfunctional patterns of relationships. We tend to think of “hell” as this vast, underground torture chamber, but we miss the point, as “earth” gets completely left out of the story.

You know what I mean. We have all heard it before.

We are here on earth. We die. And then we go to one of two places: heaven or hell. End of story.

But earth is totally left out of the picture, by the end of the story.

Mmmm….

Butler makes the case, in the one-time Patheos blog of Preston Sprinkle (another young theologian/pastor with a bright mind), that, “heaven and earth are destined for reconciliation. God wants to bring creation back together from the things that tear it apart. God is on a mission to get the hell out of earth: to redeem his world from the destructive power of sin, death and hell.”

Have you ever thought of that before?

I have had Joshua Ryan Butler’s book on my “too-be-read” list for way too long. But his message is so thought-changing, that I thought it better to let Butler tell the story of the Bible himself, regarding heaven, hell, and earth, in this 3-minute video below, and then if it interests you, to encourage you to get the book. I would love to interact with someone about the book, and figure out, how in the world, he ever combs his hair.

Butler’s book also addresses other thorny issues, that strike a nerve in today’s culture, such as the whole idea of God’s judgment (“I thought God was a loving God?“) and the concept of holy war in the Old Testament (“So what makes the warfare in the Old Testament any different than what ISIS has been doing in Syria, for the past several years?“). Butler argues that we often have a caricature about God in the Bible, that leads many people to believe that the God of the Bible really is not that good after all, nor worthy of our trust.

Okay….Do you want to dive in more? Well, this gives me an opportunity tell you about a video podcast that I sometimes turn to, by Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales. The Phil Vischer Podcast is funny, a bit goofy, and at times will step on some toes, but Vischer and friends interview some fascinating authors, like Joshua Ryan Butler (One of Vischer’s cohosts is another young, smart theologian and writer, Skye Jethani … check out Jethani’s video on, “Why You Are Sick of Church.”)

The Phil Vischer video podcast interview with Butler was done a year ago, in January, 2017 (are we already in 2018??). If you want to get the meat of the interview, fast forward the YouTube video to the 10-minute mark. It will reframe how you think about heaven, hell, and earth, and help you in your discussions with friends, coworkers, family members on these difficult topics….. And, now for the extended story, from Joshua Ryan Butler, on the Phil Vischer Podcast…..


The Shack, Is Genesis History, and the False Dichotomies in Christian Films

God, The Bible and The Shack is a short pamphlet, designed to help readers of W. Paul Young’s The Shack navigate through some tough theological issues.

In the study of logic, a false dichotomy is when only two options are presented, either believe this or that, even though there might be yet a third option available. The fallacy of the false dichotomy is that it excludes other reasonable alternatives.

I really hope I am wrong. But sadly, it appears that several recent Christian films (and their associated books) are trying to exploit certain false dichotomies that are increasingly popular in the church today.

On one side, stands something like Del Tackett’s Is Genesis History?, blogged about several times here on Veracity (#1, #2, and #3). According to some reviewers, such as Alan Shlemon at Stand to Reason, though there are some very positive elements in the film, Shlemon thought that Is Genesis History? plays into the notion that the church is divided into two different groups: the sole defenders of the Bible, who unswervingly hold to a view of the earth as being young, around 6,000 years old, versus compromised Christians, who undermine the Bible by accepting anti-Christian, scientific evidence of an earth that is millions of years old. Of course, Del Tackett, in an admittedly kind, warm and unassuming way, urges Christians to pursue the first option, and shun the second.

For Del Tackett, the question of, “Is Genesis History?,” is of great interest, in terms of the age of the earth. But it is often a misleading question. “Is Genesis True?,” is a much more profound and disturbing reality to consider. Alan Shlemon rightly sees the fallacy here, regarding the fundamental argument from the movie as a false dichotomy.
Continue reading


Jack Chick and the Real Halloween Scare

Jack Chick, fundamentalist cartoonist, died at age 92, on October 23, 2016. His most popular comic book tract was This Was Your Life.

Jack Chick, fundamentalist cartoonist, died at age 92, on October 23, 2016. His most popular comic book tract was This Was Your Life, viewable in full at www.chick.com, though I have included a few pages here. Jack Chick and the popular obsession with fear at Halloween have a lot in common .

I read my first “Chick tract” at a highway rest stop on Interstate 95 as a teenager. A middle-aged gentleman handed me this small comic book, spoke a few words, and before I could glance at what he gave me, the man quickly walked away. It was Jack Chick’s tract, This Was Your Life. I was already a follower of Christ, but what I read disturbed me, in more ways than one.

In one sense, Jack Chick was right. Before the scene shown above, a man who lived his life indifferent to the things of God, dies. Then this dead man was brought before the judgment seat, having his entire life exposed before the Lord, like on a theatre screen display. The hidden things were brought to light, demonstrating that his life, lived apart from Christ, had negative eternal consequences. He thought he could “get away with” sinful thoughts and actions in his life, thinking no one would notice, when in reality, nothing escapes the notice of God.

It is a terrifying thought. Continue reading


O’ Death

Ralph Stanley, bluegrass musician, died yesterday at 89. He was probably most known for singing, “O Death,” a traditional American folk song:

Won’t you spare me over til another year
Well what is this that I can’t see
With ice cold hands takin’ hold of me
Well I am death, none can excel
I’ll open the door to heaven or hell
Whoa, death someone would pray
Could you wait to call me another day
The children prayed, the preacher preached
Time and mercy is out of your reach
I’ll fix your feet til you cant walk
I’ll lock your jaw til you cant talk
I’ll close your eyes so you can’t see
This very hour, come and go with me
I’m death I come to take the soul
Leave the body and leave it cold
To draw up the flesh off of the frame
Dirt and worm both have a claim
O, Death
O, Death
Won’t you spare me over til another year
My mother came to my bed
Placed a cold towel upon my head
My head is warm my feet are cold
Death…

Stanley, interestingly, came from a Primitive Baptist Universalist background. This tiny Appalachian denomination is distinctive in that they do not believe in any type of parachurch ministry (the “primitive” part), they practice “believers’ baptism” by adults, and …. they deny the existence of an eternal hell.

But it is worth also considering the testimony of Scripture, for those who are in Christ Jesus: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV)


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