Thursday, May 30, 2013

Historically Interesting

The other day (the one I wrote my last post on) I stumbled onto an issue, which seems to be a great debating point inside the church-world. My wife and I have done quite a bit of talking about that particular issue (if you want to read about it go here). The comments to my Facebook link are near 100 and are continuing right now (as I write… literally I just saw another notification about it).

This is a world I’m quite familiar with, the one where topics are hotly debated and heretics jump on the chance to have a fight with orthodox Christians (Orthodoxy simply means basic Christian doctrine, the reason orthodox doctrine are basic Christian doctrines are because without them – or even without one of them – we loose the gospel. Things like the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, God as Creator, the virgin birth, heaven and hell’s eternality, the dual nature of Jesus that he is both fully God and fully man among others). But I ignorantly forgot that not all Christians inhabit this world of debates about doctrines.

We don’t all sit around late at night on Facebook or creating websites to advocate for our orthodox or non-orthodox doctrines. We don’t all look at Hebrew and Greek and think, “Ah-ha my point is proven!” only to have the same person comment back for the millionth time. And you might be thinking that is a realm for pastors and kids that still live with mom and don't have jobs, or men in white towers (funny how those last two are in the same sentence).

Yet there is a small child-like faith out there that must be shielded from the wolves of false doctrine by pastors and the kids who love good solid biblical orthodox doctrine and men in white towers. And solid doctrine does not conform to what we want – even, or rather, especially if it hurts - that’s why it’s a shield. It’s cold and is not nice, but what it teaches us is warm and wonderful.

Doctrine teaches us about God, about his character and glory. Good doctrine will always make God scary and glorious, holy and beautiful, loving and vengeful, just and merciful, gracious and tender; it will always end in God getting glory and us getting grace (eternity with him) or exactly what we deserve (eternity in his wrath).

It is always under attack and always being slandered as, “traditionalism”, or “conservatism”, or “the old way of thinking”, or my favorite, “unbiblical.” There’s another swing in history happening, it happened the last time hell was being used to slander God.

Last time is called the Reformation, when the Catholic Church said hell would end if only you paid enough to the Pope; now it is the old re-hashed theory of annihilationism that is coming to town to attack the side of God’s character that is his infinite eternal just wrath on sin.

I’ll end it here for now, but it will be very interesting – I think – to see what becomes of the debate between the orthodox view of hell (the one the Bible clearly teaches) and that of annihilationism. 


David Smart said...

There is something which I likewise find rather fascinating, particularly because it sort of confounds me, and that is people who are critical of a view which they refuse to treat honestly and responsibly. I also find it fascinating when those same people refuse to defend their own view as biblical even though they profess that it is biblical. But what is less fascinating and more disheartening is when those people happen to be pastors who ought to be competent teachers of the scriptures and doctrines (i.e., they should know better).

When a pastor addresses a view critically he should make every effort to ensure that he has understood it rightly, primarily by reading the best literature on the subject (which he makes sure to cite if that becomes necessary). An example would be John Piper dealing with open theism. If you read the weak and amateur literature on the subject—or, even worse, none of the literature at all—then it cannot be said that you have treated that view honestly and responsibly. And one of the surest indications that you have understood a view rightly is when your opponent can recognize his view in your description of it. So if you describe a view and those who hold that view are left scratching their heads and wondering what you're talking about, then it is fair to say that you have not understood that view rightly. (Surely that must be the case, for why would a pastor intentionally mischaracterize a view that he did understand rightly?)

All of this raises some interesting questions. If you have read some of the best literature on conditional immortality or annihilationism, then why have you not cited any of it, even when specifically and directly asked? Or if you haven't read the best literature on it, then how can you present yourself as someone competent to address it? How can you proclaim that it is a false doctrine if you are not even familiar with its strongest arguments? Or if you are familiar with its strongest arguments, then how come you have not interacted with any of them, showing it as false doctrine? How come nobody who holds this view can recognize it in your description of it? Are you confident that godly men you admire have dealt with this issue decisively and therefore you don't really need to? Then how come only your voice is being heard, so to speak (i.e., you have not quoted or cited any of them)?

I am not going to question your qualifications, but I certainly am questioning your competence. You are a pastor, sir. You ought to know better.

Here is something I want you to think carefully about. If you mischaracterize a doctrine so unrecognizably and interact with it so simply, and those under your care end up encountering that doctrine in its strongest form, then there is a genuine concern that they might find themselves convinced of it—because you did not present and refute those arguments ahead of time. You have a responsibility to your congregation before God to read and understand the best literature and arguments on this doctrine, such that you could not only represent the doctrine in a way that is recognizable to those who believe it but also show, with integrity and honesty, why its very best arguments nevertheless fail the test.

Sam Morris said...

Mr Smart,

Thank you for your personal attack of me on my blog. Let me remind you this a blog, it's my blog, and as such there is a freedom I have to relay thoughts. However your issue is not with thoughts your issue is with academia.

You are right, I have not read good works on this topic, I have not sought out books about this topic. The vast majority of what I have read is of the Church fathers and those of the Reformation and those of modern times.

Yet what I know is that Theology is the sudy of God and as such he must be central to that study. Therefore if a doctrine arises that does not make God central but makes him subject to, determined by, or dependent of anything besides himself it is by nature not theology, and must be treated as herasy.

Can you not see that what you're a proponent of is centered on man and applied to God? Do you not know that this robs God of his just wrath against sin committed directly against him and him alone (ps. 51)? Are you unaware that this view lends permissibility to sin (as well as suicide)? Yet more astoundingly, are you so blind as to not see how much this takes away from the gospel - you would make Jesus a man who cannot take infinite justice upon his shoulders and cannot deal with our infinitely damnable sins? Have you never read that, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and understanding," you would make God some passive deity who instead of deal with sin in a grievously just manner would shun it away so that he doesn't have to always deal justly with it? Is not eternal life centered around praising God for all he is, have you missed the point of the gospel, that we are saved from our eternal damnation into eternal life, that what makes salvation all the sweeter is knowing we are spared the wrath of God for all eternity and given undeserved love, mercy and grace?(I don't want you to answer these, I'd ask for you to think about them, but that seems pointless.)

I know that we agree on God being infinite, but I don't think we agree that our sin is against that infinite God because if we did we'd both think our sin would necessitate an eternal punishment not annihilation.

And as aside we are talking about real people, real souls, bearing the wrath of God. People you and I both know, going to hell. We're debating their eternity on blogs and on Facebook. O I pray we are also telling people how Jesus saves from this hell.

Sam Morris said...

Mr Smart,

Who do you say Jesus is?