Category Archives: Theology

Book Review: Hell: A Final Word: The Surprising Truths I Found in the Bible, by Edward William Fudge

Hell: A Final WordSome books are written to be exhaustive on a subject, and others are written to be more accessible, perhaps more of an overview. Edward William Fudge writes Hell: A Final Word: The Surprising Truths I Found in the Bible, his “last book on the subject” (17) of hell, conditional immortality, and annihilationism, as the latter. Those requiring more depth are encouraged to see Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, now in its third edition. In light of Rob Bell’s controversial reigniting of a Christian universalist perspective in Love Wins, it seems appropriate that Fudge throw one last hat into the mix for the annihilationist perspective. Like others, he encourages his reader to ask, “‘Is this what the Bible teaches?’ How we might feel about hell cannot be the measure of what hell really will be” (32, emphasis original), noting the insistence many have in faithfully clinging to church tradition even when it seems contradictory to Scripture simply because it’s what we “have always believed” (98), and therefore must be right.

Fudge provides his reader with a history of the traditionalist view of hell—never ending torment—originating in deuterocanonical texts and Greek philosophy, and effectively demonstrates in an accessible way his reason for believing, “The ultimate punishment common to all the lost will become a reality: they will cease to be. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible repeatedly warns that the wicked will ‘die,’ ‘perish,’ or be ‘destroyed’” (35, emphasis original). Throughout, he repeats the question as to whether Scripture “[appears] to be more consistent with a fire that torments forever, a fire that purifies, or a fire that consumes” (69), hoping the reader is eventually convinced of the latter. But what makes this book special is the interweaving of his personal journey with this particular doctrine, how and why The Fire That Consumes was researched and written and how he has been treated because of his perspective. It does appear, however, that the true purpose of its penning is to prime the reader for the aforementioned text and plug the recently released movie Hell and Mr. Fudge. Yet, though beginning and ending with a commercial, there is much good and convincing information in this book…and may make you want to read his larger work, too.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, by Glenn Pemberton

Hurting with GodPemberton provides an approach to lamenting much needed by today’s congregations, especially among the increasingly shallow forms of “Praise and Worship”-only gatherings. “P&W” formats serve a purpose and may be beneficial, but they do just that—serve a purpose. And so with public and corporate lament, a purpose is served. Incorporating all forms of worship and God-talk are important for all churches, and in their relevant time and place.

Pemberton writes, “If what I have found in university classrooms and churches is a reliable indicator, believers are aching for words to express the realities of their lives, to speak the truth to God instead of putting on a charade of repetitive and empty praise clichés that ignore or deny the relentless storms” (25). Yet these words, words of lament, have been pushed out of our gatherings, and ultimately our vocabulary, by years of insistence on being “joyful” and “happy” Christians who approach times of hardship with phrases like, “God has a plan,” “It’ll all work out,” and, “Blue skies and rainbows . . .” These may be true, but may also likely prove to be utterly unhelpful in times of suffering. Many biblical texts, in both the Old and New Testaments, help us through these times and give us language to talk to God and help us through. Pemberton, does a fantastic job using the book of Psalms, as well as other Scripture, narrative, and personal experience, to point out this language and guide us through its usage, including a rare and needed address of the imprecatory psalms.

Pemberton well addresses those who would rebut and dissuade Christians from the use of lament or anything that hints at anger, dissatisfaction, and even resentment towards God. Along with being told the one side of being humble and reverent toward God, we ought also to be continually reminded these words: “To lament is to humble myself before my sovereign. It is pride that prevents me from telling God and others the truth. Masked by false piety, pride may look like authentic faith: we appear to be successful, we talk about our blessings, we minister to others in crisis, and we even talk about God a lot. But our pride prevents us from telling anyone the truths about ourselves—that I am not okay, that I am confused, that I am angry, that I feel as if God has abandoned me. Arrogance, not humility, keeps us from speaking the truth of our lives. . . . No expectations, no disappointments, no questions for God: a low-risk, minimalist version of Christianity, safe from ever needing to have a difficult conversion with God” (172).

The appendices provided are great resources for group study and discussion, locating helpful psalms, and locating information for further study on topics in the included chapters and their subsections. Hurting with God will surely prove beneficial for the hurting and regaining the language of lament in the church.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

TGIF: A “Good Friday” First

Easter was never anything more than a time of baskets, candy, egg hunts, and a chance for my little sister to buy a new, bright colored dress to a Sunday service no different than any other. Why was Easter so special? Or, more to the point, why was Easter not so special?

Well, if we weren’t explicitly (or implicitly, depending on how one interpreted implicit) commanded in the Bible to do it, we didn’t…at least not anything directed toward God, such as worship, observances, etc. Easter? What’s Easter? It’s a pagan holiday the Catholic church incorporated, Christianized, and left us, all wrapped up in a pretty, pink, pastel bow. It’s not in my Bible, there’s no example for me to follow that I should celebrate Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as a holiday once a year—that’s what the Lord’s Supper is about, and we take that every Sunday!—and what’s a fertility goddess, bunnies, and chocolate have to do with Jesus?! Well, nothing, I tell you! And that’s why I won’t celebrate it! Except that I do like chocolate…and bunnies…I like watching kids hunt eggs—okay, I like to do it, too!—and it’s hard to pass up my annual box of “Peeps” (did you know they’re made in Bethlehem, PA?? how ironic…and cool!)…I just won’t do any of those things in conjunction with anything that has to do with God! Right. I’ll just separate my life with God and my life apart from God, and all will be well. Right. Right? Hmm…

Last night I went to my first “Good Friday” service. Easter’s kind of a big deal to a lot of people here in NEPA, at least among my new circle of friends, my wife included, so I decided to see why it is so. Jesus gave his life for us. Well, okay, that’s a pretty big deal, but I need more. I’m thankful for that every day; why should set aside a day that isn’t even the day to stop and think about it? Jesus gave his life for us. Oh… That’s it? Jesus gave his life for us. Oh! That is it!

There’s something intriguing about experience. Remembering and memorializing are one things; experiencing is something different altogether. When Jesus said, “in remembrance of me,” he was not using our notion of the word remembrance. Jesus was a Jew, and the Jewish understanding of this word is that of re-experiencing something; in the case of Passover, they were re-experiencing the Exodus. This is not a mere recollection of information, it’s not closing one’s eyes, and picturing a cross. It’s experiencing a life of rejection and betrayal, a prayer in a garden, a friend kissing you to your death, listening to others bearing false witness against you, having the governing authorities proclaim your innocence and yet still flog you and sentence you to death, all while releasing a known murderer in your place, all because your people—your family—wanted you dead, and then enduring that death by being nailed to a cross, to be mocked, spat upon, and publicly humiliated in front of your mother; and then, after having done no wrong, having your Father, from whom you’ve never been separated, turn his back on you, even if only for a moment. Did you feel that?

Some people remember, and some experience. I imagine many, perhaps most, people who “celebrate” Good Friday and Easter will remember Jesus, his death, burial, and resurrection. I imagine fewer will experience it, albeit in their own way.

I can’t peer into the hearts of men and women, and I’m not sure why everyone came to the service I attended, but I like to think that, at least for some of them, they were there to experience Christ; to have a day—not just a moment within a minute of an hour of an evening of a day—where they remember and re-experience the events leading up to and including Christ’s death; and as they lament and mourn, they look forward to Sunday—Easter—to re-experience Christ’s resurrection with the hope and anticipation that Christ’s disciples, in their doubt and misunderstandings, did not have in knowing that their Lord, Master, and Savior is going (has!) rise(n) again!

So, tell me again why celebrating Good Friday is a bad thing? Hold that thought…

There were candles. *gasp!* And they were lit! Up front! On the communion table! What?! The Lord’s Supper outside of Sunday?? Wait…Candles? Yes, we participated in the Lord’s Supper at a time that seems most fitting for the communal proclamation, remembrance, and re-experiencing of our Lord’s sacrifice. And I like candles. A lot. They helped add to the somberness of our time together, and upon brief reflection amounted to no more than specifically calibrated lighting in services in which I had participated much of my life. And you know what? If there had been incense—there wasn’t—that helped place me in a moment of Christ’s suffering and better engage me in that time with God, I would have been okay with that, too. It wouldn’t be any different to me than having cushioned pews, freshly shampooed carpet, or anything else we use to “comfort” ourselves or enable us to better “focus” in our time with God in any other service at any other time.

There wasn’t anything about last night’s message—a focus on the pain of Christ’s separation from the Father—or the songs we sang—although I am quite fond of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Oh, Sacred Head”—that prompted these words of mine. It was a reflection on the meaning of things, why we do what we do, and why we allow semantics, dogma, and tradition to get in the way of fellowship, worship, and loving our neighbor, especially fellow believers in Christ!

So, I ask again: why is celebrating Good Friday a bad thing?

Surely, if ever there was ever a time to say it in all sincerity, now is that time: “Thank God It’s Friday.”

I suppose on Sunday I’ll be asking the same thing about Easter; and I imagine the word Easter will forever call to my mind images of pink, fuzzy bunnies and chocolate eggs, but maybe not. After today I imagine Good Friday will call to mind things other than Catholic crosses and fish sandwiches, so, perhaps, I can overcome the Pavlovian bunnies and eggs. And what about Christmas!! Okay, I have nine more months to figure that one out…