Hate the World, Or Burn with It

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.

1 John 2:15-17

This world will burn. I don’t mean that the physical, spacetime universe will be permanently destroyed, of course.1 I mean the rulers and systems of this age, the present cultures, structures, and institutions which are beholden to the flesh and the devil, which foster sin and exacerbate suffering. These are what John and Paul often refer to in Scripture as the “world” or “this age.” And as John said just above, they are passing away. The world will be condemned and toppled when Christ returns to judge and recreate.

But it is easy to talk about this stuff in general, abstract terms. What is this condemned world in real, actual life? What does it mean to love it and the things in it, as John warned us against? I’ve been giving this some thought lately, and it is not too hard to see how it works. The world offers its own vision for life in direct opposition to the call of Jesus. Naturally, this vision takes different forms in different cultures, and I do not know much about the way of worldly life presented to people in most cultures, but what I am familiar with is the American one. So what is the world in America?

One easily identifiable component of the world system in America is its relentless pursuit of personal wealth and “success.” Our society is powerfully shaped by this idol. Ideally, we go to school to get qualifications that land us in decent jobs from which we can work our way up to riches. Few make it all the way through this journey to the top, but its role as the standard goal is unquestionable. The life of corporate advancement, complete with expensive clothing, status watches, luxury cars, and all the rest, is taken for granted as an ideal, part of the good life for which we Americans strive.

Yet, while diligently working in a profitable job is by no means an evil or a sin, the system behind this success culture is clearly and certainly corrupt to the core. Quite frequently, it demands that you offer in sacrifice your integrity, your spouse, your children, your commitment to your church, and by all means your sacrificial giving on its pagan altar. It breaks apart families and in fact even individuals under stress and the pursuit of the wind. You are not permitted to give with unlimited generosity, sacrificing wealth and status too thoroughly to help the least of these, but must spend freely and extensively on certain restaurants, gizmos, and fashions with symbolic functions in order to climb the ladder. This system is greed and pride incarnate, the actual reality of the “pride of life.” It may be true that it is entirely possible to have one of these jobs while not participating in these corruptions, but it remains a frightening world, and one which demands intentional, diligent Gospel devotion for a follower of Christ to spiritually survive.

The world also manifests itself in the reigning sexual ethos, where the only thing that matters is personal sexual expression and unrestrained choice. The union of easy divorce, endlessly accessible birth control, affordable abortion options, casual hookups, proliferating online porn, and the de-shaming of adultery brings forth a sexual culture of death. It creates emotional distress, insecure men, unfulfilled women, rapidly spreading diseases, fuel for sex trafficking, and broken homes (the last of which tends to bring with it a host of other problems, such as generational poverty, drug abuse, gang crime, and school violence). What is hailed as “liberation” is actually slavery to the flesh. The culture which asks “What’s wrong with consenting adults doing what they want in the bedroom?” is the very same culture which robs millions of people of their consenting freedom to slavishly serve (in many cases quite literally) the god Sexual Pleasure.

I could go on exposing the systems and structures which make up the world, but I want to move on to make a more important point. We must hate the world. These systems are evil, pure evil, ruining God’s creation and the humans He loves so much, and they will be damned to Hell when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. We are not allowed to flirt and compromise with the enemy of God’s create humanity, even if this enemy is made up in large part of those same humans. Whoever may make up many of the ground troops, the rulers and powers behind the world are Satan and his hordes. To participate in the systems they have set up on earth in their time of power is to participate in cosmic, demonic rebellion against God. The force that might tempt you to a “harmless” casual hookup is the same one that turned a mere man into a naked, superstrength, chain-breaking monster before driving a horde of pigs to cast themselves off a cliff to their deaths.2

This brings me to a related point about human accountability. We often wonder how God could really be justified in condemning so many normal, seemingly decent people. Would it really be right for God to punish polite Jim Bob down the road just because he’s not sure Jesus rose from the dead? Yet I want to say on this that the majority of people are not as innocent as they look. No, Jim would never buy a sex slave, but he does give his money to a porn website that acquires much of its “talent” from trafficking organizations. Yes, Jim pays for welfare with his taxes, but despite his ability to afford a BMW he has politely ignored every email, telephone, and visitation campaign asking for his support for starving orphans in Afghanistan for 15 years. And of course, Jim would never expand his company with a sweatshop filled with impoverished children, but he has no problem making major business deals giving money to companies that do just that. He might be innocent of thousands of awful crimes, but in the end God sees how he is aiding and abetting tens of thousands.

The world is an omnipresent web of wickedness, and to avoid getting caught in it takes great care. But as Christians we must take that care, because to do otherwise is to entangle Christ with Satan. Nothing can result from such a union but pain, suffering, and judgment. As John said above, “the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” If we do not want to pass away with the world, we will have to cling to Christ, but to cling to Christ is to hate the world which opposes Him and His reign of grace.  There is no other option. Hate the world or burn with it.

This will lead us to some tough questions about the lines and connections in participation with the evils of the world. We know it would be sinful for us to submit children to labor in rough conditions with pitiful pay just because they can’t survive otherwise, but is it wrong to give our money to companies that do so in exchange for affordable shoes? All evangelical Christians would agree that homosexuality is wrong, but does that mean we shouldn’t come to our gay non-Christian friend’s wedding? And while I may just need a job, is there something inappropriate in trying to sell services for a company that I’m convinced is seriously (though legally) ripping people off?

These questions all need to be addressed, but in addressing them all we must remember the enemy. The world is the devil’s kingdom. Let us not get drawn in, but draw our swords and fight to stand for the kingdom of God instead.

Hate the World, Or Burn with It

I Don’t Believe in Hell

So, I don’t really believe in Hell. That’s right. I do not believe that Hell exists. And I sincerely doubt most of you do, either.

Now, before you scream “heretic” and start gathering a mob, I should clarify that, if you were to ask me if Hell exists, I would certainly say “yes.” If you asked me to define “Hell,” I would tell you that it’s a place of eternal suffering for those who reject Jesus.

So what on earth do I mean when I say that I don’t believe in Hell? In truth, it’s not my orthodoxy that is the issue but my lifestyle. Sure, I say that I believe there is a Hell for the unrepentant, but do I live out that belief? Do I tremble for the millions of souls to be lost? Forget love, am I even compelled by common human decency to do my part in bringing about their salvation.

All this shows my major lack: faith, not in Hell but in Christ. The only reason I even affirm Hell’s existence is that Jesus Himself seems to have taught it, and I’ve never seen a convincing interpretation otherwise. So if I really do believe in Jesus and trust what He reveals of God to be true, I ought to be consistently living a life that reflects His teaching. I should be seeing and treating people like they’re about to fall off a cliff and I have a chance to bring them to safety in the Savior.

I doubt very much that I am alone, indeed I am certain I am not. Many of you reading this probably feel what I’m saying. You know there’s a Hell, but you still act like there’s not. You see possible opportunities to tell about the Way and the Life, but make an excuse not to as if the only thing in danger were your dignity instead of a life.

Why do we do this? Why don’t we really believe in Hell? Plenty of reasons, I’m sure. Hell is so remote from our daily affairs; it’s easy to forget or ignore in the midst of everything else we can see, stuff with immediate, visible impact. Maybe on some level we don’t take Hell seriously because we subconsciously think God’s love really does mean no Hell. Maybe starting to preach during an important job interview actually would hurt not only your chances of a job but the chances of them taking your message seriously. But even a good excuse is really no excuse when lives are on the line.

So what’s the point of my rambling? Hell is hard, not just to swallow but to live in recognition of. This plagues me and probably you. What can we do? Pray for perspective, faith, and a bit of ridiculous boldness, I guess. Who knows who may be saved if we do?

I Don’t Believe in Hell

The Island Savage: What about Those Who Never Hear?

If the sheep know His voice, then tell me what is the choice

For the ones who haven’t heard and have no need to rejoice?

Father, help me understand.

“Hearts Safe”, Tenth Avenue North

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. “Amen!” we say. But what about those who have never heard the Gospel? That is, for many, a tough question, for some because they find it hard to answer and for some because they’re scared of the answer. If all have sinned, and fall short of God’s glory, and Jesus it the Way, then how can people who have never heard of Jesus be saved? And if they can’t, is that fair? Is it their fault that they never heard the Gospel to believe it?

I won’t waste too much time pontificating, but instead would like to cite a handful of relevant Scriptures before explaining the major positions on this, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Relevant Texts

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Romans 10:13-14

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Genesis 18:25

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Romans 2:14-15

Christian Universalism: Come on In, Everyone!

I might as well get this one out of the way first. One of the oldest theories which speaks on this point is universalism, which is a broad term including various theologies in which everyone will be saved. There are many different forms, from the more liberal “God is love, so Hell is stupid, so everyone goes to Heaven” to the moderate “Hell is temporary and everyone will eventually be taken to Heaven” to the more conservative “God will bring everyone to saving faith in Christ at some point.” Generally, universalism is regarded as heresy in all least some forms. This has been the case since at least AD 553, when the Fifth Ecumenical Council reportedly condemned a form of universalism held by Origen.

Universalism is a broad term including various theologies in which everyone will be saved. Generally, universalism is regarded as heresy.

Naturally, universalism deals with those who have never heard quite simply: they are saved just like everyone else. This is an exciting prospect, and certainly a lovely idea. Of course, the major problem with universalism is that it really just doesn’t square with Scripture. While there are a handful of groups which will defend it from the Bible, they are not very convincing, and the repeated Biblical emphasis on the punishment of the wicked and the eventual extermination of the unrepentant speaks convincingly against this option. In most forms, I would say universalism decimates the Gospel, and even in more conservative ones too much is lost.

Universalism Summary

  • Holds that everyone will be saved.
  • Comes in many various forms, from radical to nearly reasonable.
  • Usually considered heresy.
  • Some forms deny Hell, others say only demons will go there, others make it temporary before Heaven.

Major Text

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 4:10

Inclusivism: Some Open Doors

A less radical idea that universalism is inclusivism. Basically, inclusivism holds out hope that some people who never hear the Gospel can still be saved. Like universalism, there are different forms of inclusivism. Probably the most well-known form is that of C. S. Lewis, who demonstrated this theology in the end his Chronicles of Narnia series. C. S. Lewis’s inclusivism holds that every religion besides Christianity contains at least a hint of truth, much like every convincing lie starts with a little truth, and that there is some truth to be gained from natural revelation as well. Because of this, those who have never heard the fullness of the Gospel may still embrace whatever right knowledge of God they do have and follow in faith, unaware that they are actually following Christ. A less nuanced version of inclusivism simply would say that everyone who has not explicitly rejected Jesus might be saved.

C. S. Lewis’s inclusivism holds that those who have never heard the fullness of the Gospel may still embrace whatever right knowledge of God they do have and follow in faith, unaware that they are actually following Christ.

There are problems with inclusivism, though. For one, the entire New Testament, especially Romans, makes Jesus Christ personally the center of saving faith. The message was always to believe in Him. Maybe I’m just picky, but to me it seems that when faith in Christ is required, this means to imply knowledge of Christ as the object of faith, and not just a vague commitment to a hazy kernel of truth. On the other hand, we could argue from the possibility of infant faith (John the Baptist was, after all, filled with the Spirit in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy at Jesus’ presence) that ignorant faith can still be enough. Testimonies also abound of people who called out to God without knowing the Gospel, only to be given the truth soon afterwards whether by evangelism or visions of dreams, and they were already committed to it in faith (these stories are especially frequent in Muslim countries and some far-flung tribal regions). So one could imagine that they had already been born again as soon as they called out to God, with knowledge coming later, much likes works sometimes do. This brings up the question of if they had died in between the two events. Then what?

Lest I seem like I am actually arguing for inclusivism, because I’m not actually convinced, these accounts of people who called out to God and then received the Gospel actually work against inclusivism in another way. After all, if God sent missionaries to these people, or gave them visions or dreams, to tell them the Gospel so that they could believe it, then what reason is there to believe that He would at some point save someone and never do any of these things? If God would save people in ignorance for a time and then make sure to bring them understanding, why would He sometimes skip the second part? It seems more likely to me that if anyone is saved in ignorance, God will provide a way for them to know the truth.

If anyone who does not reject the Gospel can be saved, then evangelism is basically terrorism.

As for the branch of inclusivism which holds that anyone who does not reject the Gospel can be saved, we have another problem. If this is the case, then evangelism is basically terrorism. Everyone who has never heard would be on their way to eternal life with Jesus Christ, but by sharing the Gospel with them we would be opening the door to their condemnation. Witnessing to people would be like playing Russian roulette with their soul. Given the urgency with which the apostles spread the Gospel, I doubt this is the case. Finally, Scriptures like John 14:6 and Romans 10:13-14 seem to argue against this quite directly.

Inclusivism Summary

  • Holds that some people who have never heard the Gospel can be saved.
  • Two most common forms: people can be saved if they follow the light they have; anyone who does not specifically reject the Gospel can be saved.
  • Makes salvation possible for the island savage or a Muslim who lays down his life for his friends.
  • Some forms can make evangelism basically evil.
  • Believed by some prominent teachers, such as Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis.

Major Text

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Acts 10:34-35

One More Point: Is Inclusivism Heresy?

I would also like to address the question of whether inclusivism is heresy, since I do not believe it to be true. To cut to the chase, no. Inclusivism does still affirm that Jesus Christ is the only way to God; what it denies is that conscious, knowledgeable faith is the only way to Jesus. While I am not sure this is true, there are certainly places in Scripture from which you could get that idea, and the Gospel is not compromised. Everyone is still a sinner, corrupt from birth through their father Adam. Jesus still died to save humanity, and He is still the only way to be saved. Works still cannot save, and salvation still comes through faith. The only difference is that inclusivism holds that ignorant faith, trust in what someone does understand of God, can still count. And while I am not convinced of this, I see no reason to condemn those who are, especially since I, along with many others, do hold out this hope for infants and some others like the mentally handicapped who cannot receive the Gospel.

Exclusivism: One Way to the One Way

After explaining universalism and inclusivism, exclusivism is pretty easy to define, because it is basically the other end of the spectrum. For exclusivists, conscious faith is the only way to be connected to the only Way. If you do not hear the Gospel and believe in Christ, you will not be saved. Many will make exceptions, however, for those who die in infancy and sometimes the severely mentally handicapped.

For exclusivists, conscious faith is the only way to be connected to the only Way.

Exclusivism is, for the majority of people, hard to swallow. There are billions of people who have never heard the Gospel. Many of them are decent people, and very many struggle to survive. Some only manage to suffer a few miserable years before they die without having believed. A number lay down their lives for their friends. Yet the exclusivist position would hold that they are all condemned, for they have not believed the Gospel.

Now, having given that picture, I do not mean to make exclusivism sound horrible. After all, few exclusivists believe that people are condemned because they never believed what they never heard. This scene is not how it works:

God: Did you believe in Jesus or not?

Bob: No, God, but no one every told…

God: I don’t care! Guilty! Toss him to Hell!

No, for the exclusivist, people are condemned because of their sinfulness. Whether someone has heard the Gospel or not, all have sinned. And, as I pointed out recently, we are not simply people who messed up a little, but monsters. Whether we know the Gospel or not, we’re really messed up and God is justified in destroying us if He wishes. The Gospel is a special offer of grace, undeserved. So if the island savage is condemned, it is because his soul is black as night, not because he never heard the message.

Whether we know the Gospel or not, we’re really messed up and God is justified in destroying us if He wishes. So if the island savage is condemned, it is because his soul is black as night, not because he never heard the message.

Still, some will argue that it is not fair that some can hear the Gospel and be saved while others never have the chance. Yet as I mentioned earlier, there are many testimonies of people who called out to God and then did receive the Gospel, whether by evangelism, vision, or some other means. So it seems likely to say that if someone is truly willing to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, then God will provide a way. If we know anything about God, we know that He will never abandon anyone who is truly seeking Him.

Of course, there does remain the matter of infants and the mentally disabled. Why should (as very many exclusivists do) they get an exception? Really, the reason is that we think they should based on God’s mercy. After all, worse than those who grew up and never heard, these people have never even had the ability to understand the Gospel, and neither have they had the chance to recognize right and wrong. They have a certain level of innocence which seems unique. But I’ll be honest. Besides 2 Samuel 12:23, there’s really no Biblical evidence for this (and basing a belief on one verse in an Old Testament story which was spoken by a grieving person instead of God or a prophet is probably a bad idea). Yet I and others cling to the belief that God somehow lets these people be born again and share in Jesus’ salvation. So should we really be inclusivists? Eh, I don’t know about that. I do trust, though, that God will do what is right.

[fquote align=”left]Why should infants and the mentally disabled get an exception? Really, the reason is that we think they should based on God’s mercy.

Despite its difficulties, I think exclusivism makes the best sense of the New Testament teaching on faith and salvation in Christ. The entire thrust of “believe” seems to be based recognizing and trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, which requires at least some knowledge of them. I also think that exclusivism is the only position which takes the utterly sinful state of the unsaved heart seriously. Inclusivists especially seem to forget that we’re all monsters underneath before being reborn. So whether someone has heard or not, God is just when He condemns.

Exclusivism Summary

  • Holds that no one may be saved without explicit, conscious faith in Jesus.
  • Often provides an exception for infants and the mentally disabled.
  • Has been the dominant position of most of the church for ages and ages.
  • Recognizes that God will provide a way for those who truly seek Him.
  • Considers most of the world throughout all history condemned.

Major Text

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

The Island Savage: What about Those Who Never Hear?