No. You are not "Gospel-Centered."

gospel centered.png

The context for this post resides in the reality that the maple Leafs are not playing on my (Nick's) day off. Hence, the salt is real and I am annoyed at the now over two-dozen bios and sales-pitches I found on social media that wield the phrase "gospel-centered." This can also be utilized as "Christ-centered" or "Jesus-centered" or even the marketing slogan, "It's all about Jesus" or being "Together 4 The Gospel." This is not exclusively a mantra coming from the Reformed side of the Christian family. I have no doubt that this tune is applicable to many non-denominational churches so my criticisms are not directed at Reformed theology/ theologians/ parachurch ministries. It just so happens that this type of marketing is more pronounced in that side of the Christian family (and yes, they are family to me).

First, let me propose something:

Do you find the following marketing schemes to be a bit offensive or at least somewhat cynical in a modern consumerist culture?

"Gospel-Centered Coffee Filters."

"Gospel-Centered Centeredness."

"Gospel-Centered Toothpaste."

"Jesus-Centered Pumpkin Spice Latté."

"Christ-Centered Pilates Seminar."

I think you get the point. These are childish and most likely not real. Although, given time, I would not be shocked to see at least one of these turns out to be an actual thing. Now compare this to the mantra from The Gospel Coalition: "The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a Christian organization that seeks to serve the local church by providing gospel-centered and Christ-focused content." A simple look through T4G[1] will reveal this rather mundane point.

I half-expect the next article from the Babylon Bee to be riffing on this idea. In case they do, you heard it here first. If they did it before me, they did it without me knowing.

But my broader point requires a bit more analysis. The Gospel is a precious thing. It concerns the life, the ministry, the crucifixion, the death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, who ascended to glory on our behalf. The Gospel is centered on the person of Jesus Christ and what that person did for all of humanity. You can have the life of Jesus and you can even have his atoning death in some sense, but you cannot have any Christian theology or even eternal life without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doctrine of anthropology, eschatology, hamartiology, Christology, or pneumatology can survive—much less thrive—without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is the resurrected Lord of all things. This is a far cry from your coffee filters, your Pilates seminars, your leather-bound Bibles, and your meme-quoting, 'mic-dropping' Internet offerings from deceased slave-holding theologians.

I am not immune from this so I am willing to take my own swipe directly on the chin here.

When I look at many of your distinctives and I see secondary issues like heaven and hell, women in ministry, the mechanism or duration of creation, the mode of baptism, the debate about wine versus grape juice, going to movies or abstaining from movies and so on and so forth, elevated to the point where I am willing to exclude a large if not majority portion of genuine evangelicalism I am forced to conclude that your mission is not "Gospel-centeredness"—instead, you have elevated your narrow subset of a subset of North American protestant evangelicalism of the (usually) Reformed Baptist and occasional Presbyterian stripe. To call that idolatry is too far, but is surely demands some rethinking.

The Gospel is bigger than our ministry, our organization, and our pet theology or theologian. To exalt the phrase "gospel/Jesus-centered" is to promote a narrow subset of one's ministry or theological perspective to the point where it implicitly judges others who are just as sincere and passionate. In essence, it is virtue signaling and too many who wield this terminology are engaging in a deeply commercialistic and cynical enterprise. 

I believe I and my Reformed and Wesleyan and Evangelical brothers and sisters are seeking to be centered entirely on the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the resurrected Lord. That can emerge in very different ways but I believe this to generally true. However, when it comes to marketing and how this conviction gets expressed, it reveals a shallowness that is unChristlike. I am deeply saddened to see my fellow Christians engage in this sort of activity.

Perhaps the best way or method to promote one's ministry is to say "Wesleyan-centered" resources, like Thomas and I do with The Sinnergists Podcast. That, to me, makes a good deal of sense. I am not at all opposed to theological distinctives. Indeed, I have some of my own. What I am opposed to is the marketing process by which one's theological distinctives are elevated to the point of being called "gospel-centered." If one wants to promote Reformed theology within a certain ministry, I am entirely fine with that. But calling it "gospel-centered" or "Christ centered" simply smacks of virtue signaling and theological imprecision. Thomas and I made a point of joking about this with the Sinnergists as "the most man-centered theology podcast on the Internet." Of course, some didn't find it to be that funny but that's what happens sometimes.

In summation, brothers and sisters, we need to do better than this.

Calvinism is not the Gospel.

Wesleyanism is not the Gospel.

A view of heaven or hell or the millennium or women in ministry or creation or the Sabbath is not the Gospel. Not. Even. Close.

My own theological distinctives concerning Egalitarianism, Wesleyan-Holiness theology, Baptism, Entire Sanctification, Synergism, and others are not the Gospel. They cannot be and the instant I make them my Gospel I have trivialized and de-centralized the resurrection of Jesus to a tertiary and subordinate position within Christian theology and that—in my eyes and for myself especially—is sin. Plain and simple.

Have some pride in the Gospel.

Avoid making your distinctives on par with what God did in Christ: raising him from the dead and exalting Jesus to his right hand in vindication and glorification. All of Christian theology flows from its source in the resurrected body of the vindicated Jewish Messiah: "in him, all things hold together" (Col 1:17-20).

A modest proposal: leave aside the cynical marketing campaigns and the sloganeering and virtue signaling, and promote what you believe as what you believe. Leave the Gospel alone.

NQ

[1] https://t4g.org/about/affirmations-and-denials/

Rethinking Hell Debate 2018: Nick's Opening Statement

C2h3A2xW8AIBfx2.jpg

Welp. I finally did my first debate. Chris and I will probably be doing a podcast episode or two on the Rethinking Hell Podcast to talk about our impressions of the debate, but here is my scripted opening from that debate (finished on time too), including the LINK to the three hour debate on youtube.

Thanks!

____

Alright, thank you Chris Ray for hosting, and the other Chris, Damon and Elce for this chance to discuss what Scripture says.

The question we are discussing today is, "does the Bible teach eternal conscious torment?" (hereafter ECT) I will be arguing that Scripture does not teach this perspective. I will demonstrate this via two central pillars.

·      Pillar One: Paul's language of destruction makes ECT an untenable exegetical conclusion.

·      Pillar two: the New Testament vision of the destruction of Satan and the Powers similarly makes ECT indefensible hermeneutically and exegetically.

1.    Paul and the Lexemes of Destruction

First, we consider Paul's use of the verb καταργέω: Louw-Nida, a New Testament lexicon, notes this verb means 'to cause to cease to exist - 'to cause to come to an end, to cause to become nothing' (13.100). When applied to human agents or secular powers, this is the standard meaning of the verb.

·      Paul writes in Rom 6:6: "knowing this, that our old self was crucified along with him for the purpose of destroying the body of Sin (καταργηθῇ), so that we would no longer be enslaved to Sin."

We are not bound by Sin anymore because Sin is utterly undone. Paul also uses this verb to refer to the final eradication of the "things that are" (1 Cor 1:28), which includes the "rulers of this age which will be destroyed" (2:6), and this culminates in 15:24-26 where Christ destroys all of the sovereignties and powers, including Death in 2 Tim 1:10.

·      Similarly, in 2 Thess 2:8 we have Paul saying that "the lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill[1] by the breath of his mouth and annihilate him (καταργήσει) by the appearance of his coming."

So this word group is decisive in showing that Paul has in mind the final destruction of the rulers and powers, not their external conscious existence.

We also have the ἀπόλλυμι/ ἀπώλεια word group. Louw-Nida (20.31) offers this definition: "to destroy or to cause the destruction of persons, objects, or institutions.'

1 Cor 1:18 contrasts the word with "deliverance": "for the message of the cross is indeed folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being delivered it is the power of God." This parallel language occurs in 2 Cor 2:15 and 4:3 and Phil 1:28.[2] To say people "perish" or are "destroyed" is not the language one might consider when contending for ECT. Paul goes further in invoking the Exodus narrative when he writes in 1 Cor 10:9-10:

"Neither should we put the Messiah to the test, just as some of them did and were killed (ἀπώλλυντο) by the serpent, nor grumble as some of them did and were killed (ἀπώλοντο) by the Destroyer."

The recipients of divine wrath are not "ruined" or "tormented" forever. Rather, they were killed, and this serves as a typology for how we should understand Paul's vision of divine judgment.

Similarly, Paul speaks about "the ones being destroyed" in 2 Thess 2:10 "because they did not welcome the truth so as to be saved."[3] Paul's strongest use of this word group occurs in Phil 3:19 where the "enemies of the cross of Christ" have their "end in destruction" (ἀπώλεια). Here, Paul's use of "end" (τέλος) refers to a final termination of one's life, which ends in shameful destruction. Paul, when applying the ἀπόλλυμι/ ἀπώλεια word group to human agents or secular political powers (or both) uses it in the sense of eschatological annihilation.  

Paul's use of the word "corrupt" or "destroy" (Φθορά and the verbal cognate) refers to an aspect of destruction: Louw-Nida defines this noun as a "state of ruin or destruction, with the implication of disintegration," and the definition of the verb is even more stark: "ruin or destroy something, with the implication of causing something to be corrupt and thus to cease to exist."

For instance, in 1 Cor 3:17, "if anyone destroys (φθείρει) God's temple [that is, the human body], God will destroy that person." This same language is used in Gal 6:8: "for the one who sows to their own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." The pervasive contrast between "death/destruction/ corruption" and "eternal life" denotes the cessation of life and the gift of eternal life with God.

Paul's use of ὄλεθρος (defined by Louw-Nida as a 'state of utter ruin or destruction - 'ruin, destruction') is used to refer to "sudden destruction" in 1 Thess 5:3 and also in 1 Tim 6:9 where the words strongly suggest utter annihilation. Paul's final use of ὄλεθρος in 2 Thess 1:9 requires some unpacking. Here is v.9:

These will pay the price of eternal destruction (ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον) from (ἀπὸ) the presence of the Lord and from (ἀπὸ) the glory of his strength."

Two things need to be noted. First, any English translation that inserts phrases like "away from" like the ESV is simply incorrect. The preposition ἀπὸ simply means "from." This is "eternal destruction" that comes "from" the presence of the Lord like in Isaiah 2:10-21 LXX, where the immanence of the coming God is inescapable. Almost every instance of ὄλεθρος in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament—Paul's Bible) refers to the destruction of a nation or a person, with no hint of torment. This word when used in the LXX text of, for example, 1 Kings 13:34 refers to the utter destruction of the "house of Jereboam," even "vanishing from the face of the land." The cessation is stark and intentionally so. Hence, to say that the word here—like all the other words Paul uses—means torment would make it the first time any of these words actually mean that. The use of the adjective "eternal" here strongly suggests that "destruction" is an eternal result or consequence, from which there is no final resurrection, glory, honor or immortality.

In summation of my first pillar, Paul's language is focused not on the "torment" or "pain" of people or evil empires. Lexically and contextually, especially if we take the LXX into account, this does not favor the doctrine of ECT. Paul gives us no reason to affirm ECT and every reason to reject it.

2. As Chaos Falls: The Annihilation of Satan and the Powers

In speaking about the final destruction of Satan and the Powers, Paul could not have been clearer: "the God of peace will utterly crush (συντρίψει) Satan under your feet in swiftness" in Romans 16:20. This word in Second Temple Jewish literature is used in the context of warfare[4] and death is usually something that happens in war—so I'm told. Paul also speaks of God's final victory through Christ in 1 Cor 15:24-26, when the "end" occurs: where the Son hands over the kingdom to God the Father, "when he has annihilated all rulership and all sovereignty and power," and finally "the last enemy to be annihilated is Death." We also perhaps have an allusion to the destruction of Satan or at least some spiritual being in 2 Thess 2:8 as "the lawless one." Whatever the case, you cannot have dueling sovereignties in new creation. Similarly, the author of Hebrews (2:14) writes Jesus "might destroy the one holding the power of Death, that is, the Devil." The final fate of Death, the Powers and Satan are bound together in Paul's theology, and all of them will be removed entirely from God's creation. There is no hint of them surviving God's final apocalyptic assault. When all of this is taken together, ECT becomes an unsustainable option.

With all this in mind, we come to the sole ECT prooftext: Rev 20:10:

"And the devil who had deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet lie, and they will be tormented day and night into the ages of the ages."

So we can see we have a problem here: on the one hand, our friends who affirm ECT can go at least two interpretive routes. They can say Rev 20:10 is clearer than what the rest of the New Testament has consistently said, or they can say Rev 20:10 somehow has hermeneutical priority over the rest of the New Testament. I trust neither option is satisfying. Allow me to offer my own reading that makes best sense of both dueling images of destruction and "so-called" torment.

No one disputes what John the Seer sees in Rev 20:10ff: he sees three beings in torment. The question is, what does this mean? John the Seer sees a universal resurrection in v.13, and Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire, and the other's follow in v.15. However, John the Seer immediately explains what this "torment" language means in v.14: this is all described as the "second death." To interpret the symbolic nature of the "torment" in Rev 20:10 as literal is the exact opposite of how we read Revelation and Apocalyptic literature. We know this because in Revelation a highly symbolic phrase is almost immediately clarified in plain language: for example, in Rev 1:20 we read that "the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies."

Add to this the blatant literary echo of Isaiah 34:10 where the smoke from a destroyed city ascends "forever and ever" (see also Rev 17:7-11ff where the city of Babylon falls into destruction and her destruction is characterized with "smoke [that] ascends forever and ever" in 19:3) and the ECT reading of Rev 20:10 becomes quite untenable when we read Revelation with the tools given to us by the author: when John writes in symbolic language and then tells you what that symbolic language means, we are on good ground to discern what that author intended to communicate: hence, the "torment" of the Unholy Trinity plus Death and Hades and the rest of humanity who has willfully aligned with them in Rev 20 are handed into the "second death," which is their cataclysmic cessation of existence and life. This does not require us to posit contradictory images within Scripture. When all of this taken together, the New Testament points to the utter termination of all evil things, not to their immortalization. In the tradition view, New Creation looks an awful lot like Old Creation. In my view, New Creation reigns and Old Creation falls entirely.

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, the reasons I offered above—among many others—are why I and Chris and many others do not believe the Bible teaches the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. Thank you.

____

[1] ἀνελεῖ:[1] another word group that means death or destruction

[2] In Rom 9:22 we have "vessels of wrath made fit/ who have made themselves fit for destruction (ἀπώλειαν)." Note the contrast between salvation and destruction/ perishing.

[3] 2 Thess 2:8 cites Isa 11:4 LXX.

[4]  C.f. 1 Macc 3:22 and 4:10; Sirach 35:22.