A Look at End Times, AKA: "An Overview of Eschatology"

A part of the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com is a podcast called Salty Believer Unscripted.  You can find our podcasts on our Resources Page or subscribe to it on iTunes.  (A selection of them are also available at EntrustedWithTheGospel.com.)

If you've never listened to "Salty Believer Unscripted," it's basically an unscripted, unedited 20 to 30 minute conversation between pastors that's recorded so you can join in.  We typically select a series topic (but not always) and chat over coffee.  We just finished a series called "An Overview of Eschatology" which takes a look at what the Bible has to say about the end times.  (At the time of this post, we're recording a series of podcast with other church planters and pastors, getting a feel for what's happening in the ministry of church planting across the country.)

Eschatology is kind of a funny thing. Either people are excessively into it and it dictates how they think about everything or they really don't have an opinion or thought about it at all.  This, I think, is primarily because people are so influenced by how they've seen others behave rather than what the Bible says.  So Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, Brett Ricely, and I set out to introduce and discuss some of the ideas contained in the study of Eschatology.  And in case you're wondering, we start with "What does Eschatology mean?"

Through this discussion, we cover topics like how we should interpret prophecy, where to find end times stuff in the Bible, why is studying eschatology important, the millenium, the tribulation, and the state of both heaven and hell.  Hopefully this will help you on your journey to better understand eschatology.  Are you a premillennialist, amillennialist, or postmillennialist?  How do you understand books like Revelation, Matthew, Daniel, and Isaiah; and what are they saying about the end?  What's your view on the tribulation and rapture?  Are you a litterlisist, historicists, or something else?  What is the New Heavens and New Earth like?  What's going to happen to this earth?  Why should we care?  We hope to help you answer these and many other questions.  However, we only offer a brief overview.  We don't get too bogged down.

Whether you have an interest in the end times or if you've never thought about it, I hope you'll consider checking out our Salty Believer Unscripted series, "An Overview of Eschatology."

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
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Or listen here:

An Overview of Eschatology
-- An Intro of the Terms audio
-- Prophecy: A Difficult Task audio
-- The Near-Far Views of Prophecy audio
-- Scripture, Not Man's Ideas audio
-- Definitions: How We See Prophecy audio
-- Understanding the Millennium audio
-- Why We Should Study for Ourselves audio
-- The Tribulation and Rapture audio
-- The The Glory and Wonder of Heaven audio
-- Hell is for Real audio

*Artwork by flickr.com user, "Rich" is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission. 

Overview of Eschatology

Salt Believer Unscripted has embarked into the future, that is, we've started a series that looks at eschatology.  This is not to say that we're going to start wearing sandwich boards that read, "The end is near."  We're not going to scream through a bullhorn.  And we don't need to identify The Anti-Christ because the Apostle John already has (in 1 John 2:22 he says he's anybody who denies the Father and the Son).  No, we're simply walking through an overview of eschatology.

If we're not going to get over-excited about end times symbolism and preach every sermon about our view of the end, why are we doing it?  Well, because we want to do our best to understand Scripture.  Avoiding specific Scriptural teaching just because people get crazy about it and it's kind of strange is not a sound practice for a student of the Bible.  Also, because Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near."  If people are blessed to read the book of Revelation, that is stands to reason that we probably ought to study it.  I suspect the same is true of Isaiah, Matthew, Daniel, the letters of the Paul, and all the other books of the Canon.  And finally, because a listener asked after seeing a trailer for a Hollywood's attempt to explain it.

If you'd like to join us for this series, subscribe to our podcast or find the series on the resource page of Saltybeliever.com.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
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*Artwork by Phillip Medhurst is registered under a Creative Commons Licence. 


Angels are a source of great fascination.  Speculation, personal desire, and artists' renderings seem to dictate most of what society thinks about angelic beings.  The Bible offers us some insight, but not much.  Many ask why the Bible doesn't give us a better idea on the topic of angels; however, it's important to see that the Bible is the story of God's redemptive history of fallen man.  The Bible is the revelation of God and shows his desire to be in relationship with us.  In this story, angels are just the extras, the bit parts. They play a supporting role in God's plan and what we need to learn from the Bible is not necessarily everything about angels, but as much as we can about the God who loves us and sent is only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die so all who believe in him will have life rather than death.

That being said, Angels are in the Bible and there is an entire field of biblical study on the topic of angels called angelology.  (Much of angelology is spent knocking down misconceptions held by society.)  While most of what the Bible says about angels could be handled in a single post, this post will only deal with a couple questions.

What, or who are angels?

Angels are beings created by God.  Often they are unseen, but when seen they look like lightning or fire, or they seem to have the ability to look like humans (2 Kings 6:15-17, Genesis 18:2-19:22; John 20:10; and Acts 12:7-10 for example).   Hebrews 13:2 even suggests that they can blend in and be completely mistaken for humans.  In these cases, it seems that angels don't have wings; however, we must also remember verses like Isaiah 6:2 where an angelic being called a seraphim is said to have six wings.  In other accounts we see an angelic being called a cherubim.  This is the being that's waiving a flaming sword back and forth to prohibit man's reentry to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).  The cherubim is also the same creature God commanded the Hebrews to sculpt on top of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubim had wings that touched each other (Exodus 25:17-22).   Demons are fallen angels, cast out of heaven and waiting for the final judgment and not granted forgiveness or salvation through repentance (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels were ever human.  We do not become angels when we die and our deceased loved ones are not angels looking over us.  In addition, angels do not become humans; they are not our future family members in some kind of preexistence waiting for a body on earth.  The Bible does not speak of angels or humans in this way and there's nothing suggesting that humans were in a preexistence with God.  These ideas are simply creations of human thinking.  The Bible teaches that humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, not angels (to see this, start reading in Genesis 1 and stop after Revelation 22).

What do angels do; this is, what is their purpose?

Just as is the purpose of man, angels were created to glorify God.  We often see angels worshiping God (Psalm 103:20-21, Psalm 148:2, and Isaiah 6:1-7 for example).  Sometimes they act as God's messengers such as in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. They protect God's people (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11,  and Acts 12 for example).  Matthew 18:10 seems to suggest that children have an angel watching over them and Luke 16:22 might suggest that angels have a responsibility at the time of a believer's death.  And most importantly, angels usher in and proclaim Christ at his birth, resurrection, and return.  Angels don't die and they they do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36).

Too often, people get hung up on the work of angels.  In doing so, they completely miss the bigger work of God as he is redeeming his creation.  Looking to angels, they do not look upon Christ.  In order to see angels rightly, it is best to first see Christ for who he is.  (If you have questions, I am happy to answer them and chat more about this with you.  You may contact me here.)   

* Photo of mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy was taken by Mark Voorendt, April 2001 and is registered under a creative commons license.

How Much Should I Pray?

How much should I pray?  Should my morning prayer time be 30 minutes or an hour?  How much is enough prayer?  There are books that try to answer this question as if there's a special formula, but the book that we should use as a guide is the Bible.  The funny thing however, is that these are not the questions the Bible answers because these are the wrong questions.

There is no formula.  It's not about time or quantity or fulfilling a requirement of length or brevity.  It's about a natural relationship and a longing to spend personal time with our Creator.

So as you examine your prayer life, it may be best to examine your relationship with God first. Then the rest of the questions will probably answer themselves.

Salty Believer Unscripted Podcast

Over two years ago, SaltyBeliever.com started as a repository to dump seminary papers and interesting discussions, but quickly it turned into something more--a ministry in-and-of itself.  I've received many e-mails with questions, comments, and prayer requests simply because of the existence of this website.  People have potentially been introduced to Jesus.  I've made new friends.  I've also engaged in various conversations playing out in theological or ministry circles through the use of these postings.  By God's mercy and grace, this website grew into something so much more than I expected.  I am thankful.

Therefore, I'm pleased to see this website taking another step closer to a dream I've held for some time.  With the help of others, I'm starting a podcast of unscripted conversations about ministry, theology, seminary, and whatever else may come up in the course of time.  Three Salty Believer Unscripted conversations are already scheduled, with the first one publishing today, and I anticipate many, many more to come.

Pastor Jared Jenkins helped me with the inaugural Salty Believe Unscripted podcast and it was a lot of fun.  While most of the podcasts will be audio only, this one is audio and video.  The idea was to set up our extremely low-tech equipment and chat for about 15 minutes, but with the conversation being so interesting and the clock behind me it went a little longer than I anticipated. I've toyed with the idea of creating an intro and doing more in the tech area, but at the moment, I'm content to simply roll with this low-production style. (The audio podcasts will basically start with the button on the smart phone is pressed and end when the recording is stopped.  How's that for easy!)

The topic of conversation for this session of Salty Believer Unscripted:  Seminary.

* This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

I'm sure Jared will be a regular participant as the podcast goes on and he's already stated that he has some ideas for more conversations.

I hope you'll join us by subscribing to the audio (and video) podcast feeds.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

If you have ideas or questions, please don't hesitate to contact me and share your thoughts!

Check back next week for a conversation with Pastor Sean Patrick on worship.

What is the Kingdom of God?

I once taught a class where the kingdom of God was of chief interest.  For the sake of time, we didn't read all of the Scriptures listed below, but I did print this material as a handout to the class and I felt it would be worth posting here.  The question at hand is, what is the Bible referring to when it mentions the kingdom of God? 

A Systematic View

The kingdom of God (nearly interchangeable with kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of our Lord, and sometimes just the kingdom) is discussed often throughout the Bible. It can seem complex, because it is inside creation, outside creation, and above creation. Like the Trinity of God, there is no earthy analogy to adequately describe it. Presently, we only see it in bits and pieces but our understanding of it comes through faith.

“[The kingdom of God] is simply the reign of God in human hearts wherever obedience to God is found.”1

The Kingdom of God is not the Church. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In the biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”2

The kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) is not strictly speaking of the afterlife or future place or future existence. It has an “already/not yet” aspect about it present in many of the discussions about it throughout the Bible.

The kingdom of God should not be mistaken with the sovereignty or rule of God. God is sovereign over all of creation. However, presently, one can be inside or outside of the kingdom of God. And we do not truly, positively experience it until we are within the kingdom of God.

There are 66 uses of “kingdom of God” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14–15, 23–25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Th 1:5.)

There are 32 uses of “kingdom of heaven” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19–20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11–12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44–45, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3–4, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.)

There are 2 uses of “kingdom of our Lord” in the New Testament. (2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15.) There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of our Lord.”

There are 3 uses of “gospel of the kingdom” in the New Testament, and all of which are found in Matthew. (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew also uses the “word of the kingdom” in Matt 13:19.

There is 1 use of “The kingdom of Christ and God” and it’s found in Eph 5:5.

Not every use for kingdom without the various above qualifiers in the New Testament is referring to the kingdom of God, but many do. (There are 55 uses of kingdom not followed by either "of God" or "of heaven.") Significant examples include Matt 4:23; 6:10; 8:12; 9:35; 13:19, 38, 41, 43; 16:28; 20:21; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:33; 11:2; 12:31–32; 22:29–30; 23:42; John 18:36; Acts 20:25; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6; 5:10; and 12:10.

The Hebrew word for kingdom is used though the Old Testament mostly for earthly kingdoms but there are references to the Kingdom of God. Examples include: Ex 19:6 (Kingdom of Priests), 2 Sam 7:10–16 & 1 Chr 17:9–14 (near/far picture of Kingdom), Psa 45:6; 103:19; 145:11–13 (Blurred lines between Sovereign rule and the Kingdom of God), Dan 4:3 (everlasting Kingdom), and Dan 7:18, 22 (future view of the Kingdom).

1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1998), 1163.
2 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; quoted by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 863.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

Teaching Kids About Prayer

The Sunday School teacher for the 3rd and 4th graders at my local church has had to take some time off this summer to deal with a medical issue.  While I wish she didn't have the medical difficulty, I'm finding tremendous joy substitute teaching the class.  We use a curriculum developed by Group. There's a pre-planed weekly lesson, a box of visual aids, and a bunch of matching NLT bibles. The material is okay, but I think my students are smarter than Group's target class.  Therefore, this week I added some additional information to the class and I think it went well.

Teaching this class has been good for me because I'm having to take the communication from a level I'm accustomed to in seminary down to a level that a 3rd grader can understand and find application.  That being said, I think this is the case even for teaching adults.

Here's my basic outline of last Sunday's class: 

The week's verse from the curriculum is "Never stop praying" --  1 Thessalonians 5:17

Illustration: "Who here has ever spoke to the President of the United States? How about any leader or king of any other country?  Well, I once met a former president and do you know what; I had to go through security, and I was assigned a time when I would meet him, and I could only talk with him for a second, and I probably won't every get to talk with him again.  What do you think it takes to get to talk to the President in the White House?  But did you know you can talk to the King of Kings, God?"

Bible chase game to find the scriptures that answer the following questions.

When should we (or can we) talk with God?
1. Psalm 5:3 (Morning)
2. Psalm 71:7-8 (All day)
3. Psalm 119:55 (Night)
4. Psalm 55:17 (Morning, Noon, and Night)
5. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (Always be praying)

How should we pray? 
1. (The previous week's lesson was to come boldly before God. Use this time to review last week's lesson than offer some more scriptures for the class to race to find.)
2. Matthew 6:9-13 (This is how he showed us to pray, discuss elements of prayer and remind the class that these are not requirements or rules, but Jesus teaching us.)
3. Colossians 4:2 (Alert mind and thankful heart)

How should we NOT pray?
1.  Matthew 6:5 (Is Jesus telling us that we shouldn't pray on street corners?  I opened our class in prayer and you saw me, is Jesus saying that I was wrong?  Maybe is Jesus talking about using prayer to show off and make it more about ourselves instead of talking with God?)

Where should we pray?
1. Daniel 6:10 (In our homes)
2. Matthew 6:6 (In private)
3. Acts 16:23-25 (In prison, hard times)
4. Jonah 2:1 (In the belly of a fish)

(Pause to explain the seriousness of stoning.  Give a background of Stephen's evangelism that got him into trouble.)
5. Acts 7:59-60 (Even when we are dying)
6. Luke 23:34 (Jesus prayed on the cross for the people putting him there)

When should we pray? How should we pray? (How should we not pray?) Where should we pray?

Prayer Walk
1. Explain what a prayer walk is and that prayer walking is not something that holds more or special power or anything like that because God hears us anytime, from wherever we are.  However, sometimes we are reminded to pray for people or things because we see them on our walk. And sometimes we'll even be able to pray with other people. (Also, this will reinforce the idea that we should always be praying and that we can pray anywhere.)
2. Go for a pray walk through the church building, stopping to pray as people feel led to do so.

Pray and Watch Reminder Cards
Hand out reminder cards and have the kids write 5 names of people they want to remember to pray for.  Tell them to put the card on the fridge or someplace they will see it often.  Every time they see the card, they should be reminded to pray for those five people. Then they should also watch for opportunities to serve those five people.

Give out weekly home fun and Bible memory verse handout.  Also give out coloring sheet with map and remind the kids that they can pray in all those places and anywhere, anytime.

One Christian on Capital Punishment and Abortion (Part I)

I was recently asked how Christians can take a position against abortion and stand in favor of capital punishment.  I found this question rather interesting considering that I’m a Christian and I’m against both abortion and capital punishment.  However, I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at these issues in light of what the Bible has to say. 

This is a large subject so I’ll be dealing with it in two parts.   Let’s start with capital punishment.

There are three key issues that I’d like to address.  The first issue is the government’s right to administer capital punishment—and I do believe governments have the authority to administer a death penalty.  The next issue is how this right fits within the 6th commandment found in Exodus 20:13, “thou shall not kill” (KJV). And the final issue is the citizen’s responsibility within his or her government, specifically in the United States.

Paul, writing during a time of Roman oppression (and possibly great persecution) tells the Christians in Rome that they are to submit to the civil authorities because God installed those authorities to this position.  In Romans 13:1-7, he writes,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for his is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  [6] For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to who revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).
His readers probably didn’t like taxes or oppression or the political opinions of the dictator in charge, and they lived under harsh and corrupt circumstances the like we Americans have never known.  Much can be said here, but my point is that God installs the civil governments of the world and expects that we will submit to them.  (Now, there are exceptions.  For more on the exceptions read the book of Daniel.)

Civil governments, it seems, are given the ability to create laws and keep order.  Even Jesus was subject to these laws when he was tried under Pilot, the Roman official who ordered his crucifixion.  We never see Jesus argue that the law that sentenced him and the two criminals next to him to death was unjust.  Jesus was innocent of the charges but the authority of Pilot to order his execution is never challenged.  In addition, we find many instances where God’s law for the Hebrews includes a physical death penalty.  It is part of the covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:6.  In Exodus 21 (the chapter after God gives the 10 Commandments), God lays out some laws for the Hebrew people, giving a number of crimes that will result in a penalty of death (see Exodus 21:12-28).  This is seen throughout the Books of the Law (that is, the first 5 books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch).  Therefore, given that God installs governments and gives them the right to administer laws, and even that in the laws God gave to the Hebrews capital punishment existed, and considering that the New Testament doesn’t challenge the existing civil laws of the day, I believe that governments today have the right to administer capital punishment.  Now, you might be asking why I’m opposed to capital punishment considering what I’ve just presented.  I’ll get to that in a moment. 

But first let’s deal with Exodus 20:13, the 6th Commandment. 

The translation of the Bible called the King James Version, translates Exodus 20:13 like this: “Thou shall not kill.”  This translation has filled our vernacular to the point that some people take this to mean not to kill in battle, and still others understand it as not to kill even animals for food.  But the problem is the word “kill.”  Our English meaning of this word is something to the effect of, ‘to cause the death of’ or, ‘to terminate the life function of.’  But that is not the meaning of the Hebrew word that the KJV translated.  In the Hebrew—the original language of the Old Testament—the word is ratsach, which is to murder.  In other uses of this word, including non-biblical uses found in ancient literature, this word is most used for intentional or negligent murder much like we would use the words murder or manslaughter today.  The Septuagint (LXX), which was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek a couple hundred years before the incarnation of Christ, translated this word as phoneuo, which in the Greek also means murder or more specifically ‘to murder.’  This is the word used by Jesus when quoting the Old Testament when he gave is famous Sermon on the Mount.  Looking through many other translations, I’ve found Exodus 20:13 is almost always translated, “You shall not murder,” some simply say, “Do not murder.”

But just for a moment, let’s say all we have is the King James Version.  How can we understand what God is meaning by his command not to kill?  If we continue reading the conversation between God and Moses, we find that in just a few hundred words later, God gets into some specifics about this killing stuff.  In Exodus 21:12-28 (which I also mentioned above), God outlines when a person should be put to death for killing another and when that is not okay.  For example, if a man does not lie in wait, that is, he plans to kill another, but instead it is something of a fight gone bad, the killer should be allowed to live.  “But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning” says Exodus 21:14, “you shall take him from my alter, that he may die” (ESV).  Simply striking your parents was enough of a reason to face the death penalty, as was being in possession of an illegally gained (or kidnapped) slave.  And surely killing in battle must not be the same because thought out the Old Testament God orders his people to attack other nations.  He gives the faithful boy, David, the ability to kill the warrior, Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and David is highly honored and loved by God.  And if you were thinking about becoming a vegan based on the 6th Commandment, you should probably read the book of Leviticus first.  Leviticus outlines just how animals were to be slaughtered for sacrifices and feasts.  Obviously, even if we have a bad translation of the word ratsach (thank you KJV), we can see that this does not mean every form of the word ‘kill.’  Therefore, we must ask ourselves if capital punishment falls inside or outside the idea of the biblical discussion of murder.  It seems to me, that capital punishment, that is, execution administered by the state and regulated by the law, is not the same as murder.  The Bible is not against capital punishment. 

Yet, I am against capital punishment.  Why?

After working in the American legal system, I am concerned that we could get it wrong. Our society is such that we would rather let a guilty person go free than punish an innocent person.  This  idea echoes Exodus 23:7, which reads, "Be sure never to charge anyone falsely with evil.  Never sentence an innocent or blameless person to death, for I never declare a guilty person to be innocent" (ESV).  At times, I feel capital punishment does not reside in the spirit of this attitude, especially considering that we have seen new evidence overturn incorrect rulings.  Death is final.  There is no overturning capital punishment. 

But if the Bible is not against capital punishment and I feel God gives governments the right to administer the death penalty, how can I be against it? 

As Americans, we are a part of our government.  Actually, we are the government.  Our collective voice is intended to be what grants our various local, state, and federal governments the ability to make laws (This right is ultimately granted to us and other nations by God, as discussed above, and we should be thankful).  As citizens of the USA, our opinions matter and we vote to make our opinions known.  We can be opposed to, or in support of laws because our government system allows us to take part.  The Bible doesn’t say governments must to have capital punishment.  The governments of the Bible did, but while this punishment is allowable, it is not required. This is how I can say the Bible allows governments to engage in capital punishment but I don't want our government to do so.

In Part II, I will address the topic of abortion. Continue to Part II.

If you would like to leave a public comment, you may do so here.  If you would like to contact me privately, click here.

* Photo of "Old Sparky" is in the public domain. Photo of protesters is registered under a creative commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28544227@N08/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Four Views of Hell edited by William Crockett and Stanley Gundry

 Critical Review
FOUR VIEWS OF HELL, edited by William Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry

Four Views on Hell, of the Bible & Theology Counterpoints series, offers the arguments and counterarguments of four scholars on the topic of hell.  The question is not whether hell exists, but what the Bible says about it.  Is hell literal or metaphorical; everlasting or does it have an end?  John F. Walvoord argues for the literal view, William V. Crockett for the metaphorical view, Zachary J. Hayes for the purgatorial view, and Clark H. Pinnock for the conditional immortality, or annihilationist view.  Subsequently, Walvoord and Crockett subscribe to an eternal position of their respective views; whereas, Hayes and Pinnock’s views have an end although for different reasons.  Although certainly some more than others, each view point is supported by scriptural references.  Therefore, it is not a matter of arguing for what the Bible teaches, but rather, each author attempts to present compelling arguments for his understanding and interpretation of the biblical teaching.  This critique will examine each argument, at times contrasting them against one, two or all three positions of the other writers in an effort to identify the most compelling of the four views. 
Brief Summary
            In contending for the literal view of hell, Walvoord implies an argument for a strictly literal interpretation of all material in the Bible.  Laying the foundation of his position, he says, “For those who believe in the genuineness of biblical revelation and accept the inerrancy of Scripture, the problem is one of understanding of what Scripture teaches.”[1]  He then hints that those who feel eternal punishment does not exist—as Hayes and Pinnock believe—have no problem with this belief if they also deny the inerrancy of Scripture.[2]  Walvord points to both Old and New Testament Scripture to argue that hell is everlasting and that it is a literal place of fire.  While much of his argument is spent advancing the idea of an eternal hell, he does state, “There is sufficient evidence that the fire is literal.”[3]  His primary evidence is the “frequent mention of fire in connection with eternal punishment.”[4]

            Crockett takes little issue with Walvord’s position that hell is eternal, but he sharply disagrees with the Walvord’s view of a literal hell made of an everlasting fire and smoke.[5]  “And herein lies the problem of the literal view:” writes Crockett, “In its desire to be faithful to the Bible, it makes the Bible say too much.  The truth is we do not know what kind of punishment will be meted out to the wicked.”[6]  Instead, Crockett suggests that much of the biblical language is “rabbinic hyperbole” and should be read as such.[7]  Crockett then argues that the literal language seems to contradict itself, and therefore should be seen as a metaphorical representation of hell—not necessarily any less horrific than the literal view, just not actually fire, smoke, and darkness.[8] 

            Hayes, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach, describing an intermediate place between heaven and hell called purgatory.  It is not that Hayes believes purgatory is hell, but a temporary place of purification in preparation of an eternal life in the presence of God.  At the time of judgment, purgatory will cease to exist, leaving only heaven and hell.[9]  However, in no way is purgatory hell, nor will it become hell.  Hayes’ Roman Catholic argument is well written; however, Hayes dedicates his chapter to purgatory and not hell, so (as Pinnock rightly articulates), Hayes’ argument is not in line with the topic of the book, that is the biblical view of hell.[10]

            Pinnock, being one who supports an emphasis for the profitability of Scripture over inerrancy,[11] suggests that an alternative interpretation of hell is needed, one that does not paint God as one who would condemn the wicked to an everlasting torment.  Pinnock argues the case of the conditional immortality view, which is often referred to as annihilation.  Annihilation, as Pinnock describes, is the idea that those in hell do not suffer forever but instead eventually go out of existence.[12]  He writes, “Being unable to discount the possibility of hell as a final irreversible condition, I am forced to choose between two interpretations of hell: Do the finally impenitent suffer everlasting, conscious punishment (in body and soul, either literally or metaphorically), or do they go out of existence in the second death?  I contend that God does not grant immortality to the wicked to inflict endless pain but will allow them to finally perish.”[13]  Although not necessary for his view, Pinnock appears to find favor with a metaphorical view like that of Crockett; except that in Pinnock’s idea of hell, there is an end and the suffers are snuffed out completely, potentially by fire or some other metaphorical punishment.

Critical interaction with the authors’ work
            As the reader delves into the four views presented in Four Views on Hell, it becomes apparent that it is not the view of hell that is most significant, but instead how each writer treats Scripture.  At stake for Walvoord, is the idea that anything in the Bible could potentially be seen as metaphorical.  He starts by identifying how the people of the Old Testament, inter testamental period, and the New Testament understood words and concepts such as shoel, and hades.  However, to use these descriptions to support a literal view, one must also accept the earlier understanding of shoel and hades as literal.  Crockett challenges this thinking saying, “. . . in ancient times teachers often used words symbolically to underscore their points (rabbinic hyperbole, as we now call it.)”[14] Crockett sites the biblical examples of Luke 14:26 were Jesus calls his disciples to hate their mothers and fathers, Matthew 5:29 were Jesus tells his followers to gouge out their eyes if they cause them to sin, and Luke 9:60 explaining that the dead should bury their own dead.[15]  If indeed these statements were to be taken literally, it would stand to reason that either the disciples recorded in the remainder of the Bible were sinless or they had gouged their eyes out.  Yet, we do not see anything written about the disciples’ self-inflicted blindness, lending support to Crockett’s point.  Crockett also argues (against Walvoord) that the Jewish writers were seeking vivid images that were mostly symbolic.  He writes, “The object was to paint the most awful picture possible, no matter how incompatible the images.”[16] 

            In countering Crockett and the metaphorical view of Scripture, Walvoord suggests, “If prophecy cannot be interpreted literally, as they believe, it raises important questions about the literalness of hell itself and, in large measure, determines the view of eternal punishment that the individual may take.”[17]  He further states that those who do not view prophecy literally, take this position because they do not want to accept what the Bible teaches about the future, especially about hell and punishment.[18]  Walvoord offers support for a literal view of prophecy and by extension, hell, stating that over fifty percent of all prophecies have been fulfilled.  “In fact, it is difficult to find a single fulfilled prophecy that was fulfilled in other than a literal fashion.”[19]  However, a survey of the symbolic dreams of Genesis 40 and 41, which were interpreted by Joseph, lend more support for Crockett’s view over Walvoord’s. [20]  Despite his potential overstatement, Walvoord raises a valid question: What should be treated literally and what metaphorically? Walvoord’s approach removes the questions all together by treating everything literally.

            Crockett, who incidentally also edited the book, treats the specific scriptures that call for an eternal punishment as literal but the ones that suggest a fiery and black hell as figurative.  He suggests that the literal view is an embarrassment to Christian doctrine,[21] hinting that this may be the motivating factor for his interpretation.  (Pinnock also holds that this doctrine is troubling for Christianity, although he does not use the word ‘embarrassment.’)  Most of Crockett’s argument hinges two issues.  First, is the idea that other biblical passages are metaphorical, or “rabbinic hyperbole,” and therefore it stands to reason that the same is true regarding the passages explaining hell.  And second, is that the idea that the described fire does not conform to the physical attributes of fire on earth, therefore it must be symbolic and not actual fire.  To support his first point, Crockett uses much of Jesus’ words including examples previously mentioned as well as Matthew 7:5, 19:24, and Mark 6:23 among many others.  In support of rabbinic hyperbole, Crockett cites a number of extra-biblical documents written around the same period.  The Old Testament is used to make the same point of fire, showing that God is a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24), sitting on a throne “flaming with fire,” from which a “river of fire” flows (Dan. 7:9-10).[22]  Crockett also uses the New Testament’s use of fire.  But the most telling argument is Crockett’s use of hell’s opposite—heaven.  Discussing what the Bible says about heaven and why it is reasonable to think that it is metaphorical (but still great) he implies that the description of hell is also metaphorical (but still horrific.)[23]  To make his second major point, Crockett writes, “The strongest reason for taking them as metaphors is the conflicting language used in the New Testament to describe hell.”[24]  He takes issues with the idea that hell could be a place of fire and darkness when fire produces light.[25]  He cannot understand how spiritual beings could feel the pain without nerve endings.[26]  His first point is rather convincing; his second requires that one accept that hell conforms to the earthly rules of physics.

            Because Hayes placed his focus on the Roman Catholic view of purgatory rather than hell, his view does not fit within the scope of the book’s objective.  Hayes, like Pinnock, has the deepest desire to believe that the previous two arguments—both of which stand on the interpretation of eternal punishment—is too harsh of a loving God.  However, unlike Pinnock’s view of annihilation, purgatory is where those who die with unfinished lives can be purified.[27]  Hayes still argues that this purification is by no means pleasant but not eternal, and his Roman Catholic theology dictates that it is not the final destination.  Unfortunately, much support for his stance must come from Apocryphal writings and Catholic tradition rather than the Cannon accepted by the protestant faith.
            Pinnock’s argument, while interesting and compassionate, offers the greatest threat to the traditional view of hell and, more significantly, the approach to scriptural interpretation and generally accepted theological methods.  He seems ready to look for the most acceptable view rather than the one most fully supported by Scripture.  At one point, he writes, “Unfortunately, according to these doughty Princetonians, millions still get tortured forever even under their generous scenario.  We need something better than that.”[28]  At another point, Pinnock says, “Theology sometimes needs reforming; maybe it needs reforming in the matter that lies before us.  I believe it does and invite the reader to consider the possibility as a thought experiment.”[29]  He even asks, “Why do evangelicals who freely changed old traditions in the name of the Bible refuse to adamantly even to consider changing this one?”[30]  Pinnock’s concern is that people are not reading their Bibles because of the doctrine of hell, and therefore the doctrine is becoming a stumbling block.[31] He sees a non-profitable doctrine that needs an overhaul to regain a comfortable position again.  He writes,
 It is conceivable that the position I am advancing on the nature of hell is most adequate not only in terms of exegesis and theological, rational coherence, as I hope to prove, but also better in its potential actually to preserve the doctrine of hell for Christian eschatology.  For given the silence attending the traditional view today even among its supporters, the whole idea of hell may be about to disappear unless a better interpretation can be offered about its nature.[32]
       So, if given the opportunity to revise the doctrine of hell, what is it that Pinnock is proposing?  Using a short-supply of biblical passages, some extra-biblical religious writing, and the work of a number of church fathers, Pinnock argues for a hell where people suffer and are punished but eventually are extinguished.  This, he contends, is more in line with a god of love.[33]  While the counterarguments of the three other positions hold a great deal of respect for Pinnock’s view, they still content that it fails to take into consideration the larger body of biblical evidence.

            While Hayes and Pinnock hold a deep desire to see mercy and love in God’s justice (a desire we should all hold), their views are the farthest from the mainline and evangelical Christian views.  This alone is not a sufficient reason to discredit their views; however, of the four views, these two rely the least on the Bible, utilizing extra-biblical texts, reason, or simply their desire to see something other than biblical teaching.  However, this author believes the Bible, not tradition or desire to see something better should be used to determine the truth.  Walvoord and Crockett draw their ideas from the Bible and yet they come to different conclusions.  Walvoord holds to a literal view of hell and takes a literal view to the entire Bible.  Crockett’s argument does a nice job of demonstrating the error in Walvoord’s approach in laying out what turns out to be the most convincing of the four views.  However, Crockett’s view, that is, that hell is everlasting and awful but not necessarily fire and smoke, must be approached with great caution as well.  Surely not every item in the Bible can be seen as metaphorical, but from his approach, Crockett does not identify a method to determine what is literal and what is rabbinic hyperbole.  He only holds that hell is not literal.

Crockett, William V. and Stanley N. Gundry. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2001.

     [1] William V. Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry, Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), 12.
     [2] Ibid.
     [3] Ibid., 28.
     [4] Ibid.
     [5] Ibid., 29-31, 43-76.
     [6] Ibid., 54.
     [7] Ibid., 50.
     [8] Ibid., 30-31, 49-50.
     [9] Ibid., 93.
     [10] Ibid., 127.
     [11] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), 927.
     [12] Crockett, 142.
     [13] Ibid., 142-143.
     [14] Ibid., 30.
     [15] Ibid.
     [16] Ibid., 30-31.
     [17] Ibid., 78-79.
     [18] Ibid. 79.
     [19] Crockett, 79.
     [20] Walvoord states that he has written an exposition on every prophecy of the Bible although he does not state whether that includes the dreams of Genesis 40 and 41.
     [21] Crockett, 43-44.
     [22] Ibid., 53.
     [23] Ibid., 55-61.
     [24] Ibid., 59.
     [25] Ibid.
     [26] Ibid., 30.
     [27] Ibid., 96-97.
     [28] Ibid., 150.
     [29] Ibid., 143.
     [30] Ibid., 160.
     [31] Ibid., 136,  148.
     [32] Ibid., 137.
     [33] Ibid., 151-153, 165.

 *I have no material connection to this book.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.