Archive for the ‘Hell’ Tag

How To Share God’s Good News With Others! pt.6

Sent by God 4

In the POWERFUL conclusion to this series, where it is proclaimed that you are CALLED, EMPOWERED and SENT by the FATHER, through JESUS THE SON, and IN THE SPIRIT, understand:

  • How to be a faithful steward of time in this hectic world to which you are sent!
  • How to be the best steward of gifts and talents and experience God’s best even through discouraging personal weaknesses that can distract you!
  • How to organize money and maximize its impact in participation with Christ in this world that’s trying to consume it all!

You won’t have time to sleep on this one cause you’ll be either glad or mad! hahaha


1.) get this NEW and UPDATED WORKSHEET you’ll want to keep for review: goroncy-a-theology-of-mission-share-God’s-good-news copy 2 , and…

2.) grab a pencil or pen

3.) fill-in-the-blanks as you prepare to share with others what you are learning to others who can share what their learning to others!


Here is part 1 if you are wondering:

Here is part 2

Here is part 3

Here is part 4

Here is part 5


Photo courtesy of:


Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More! pt.7


On this 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ out of Hebrews 10, CONCLUDING this Gospel Series with a message entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More!”, pt.7

In this last message of the series, we understand more clearly the judgment of God, Father, Son and Spirit in the relational way that reflects our being made in His image, as acted out in drama by Pastor T and NLF member Jeff Steffen!

Check it out!

Some questions for a Trinitarian eschatology

I was raised in an apocalypse-centered religion.  Since my years of teenage rebellion, I have mostly ignored eschatology, and it’s been a good re-centering experience.  But nowadays I find myself less and less able to keep saying “Eschatology doesn’t matter.”  Because it does.  The ancients were right to put “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” at the end of the creed rather than the beginning.  But they did include it, and I have begun to agree with their choice.  The future of the Triune God deserves a greater-than-zero level of attention.

Now as I seek to taste eschatology again for the first time, I approach it from the perspective of the One who has given me a future—the Triune God of Grace—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; this perspective changes everything.  What I am finding has little in common with the vision I was raised with.  For one thing, I am asking different questions than I used to, and today I want to share some of those questions with my Trinity-and-Humanity family, so we can all start to think this through together:

Question #1: Where is God?

I think this is the most important question that requires our voice, because I think the standard Christian message distorts the gospel.  People flock to the churches of the world, asking “Where is God?” and the fundamental answer they get is: “Not here yet.”  I don’t usually hear it said in exactly those words, but that is what it boils down to.  Why is there so much evil in the world? Because Christ hasn’t returned yet.  Right?  People are being taught that the world is unpleasant because God is absent.  But the “good news” is that someday his absence will cease, he will smite the wicked (more on that later), and then everything will be fine for us good people.  In the meantime, we say that oh yes, Jesus is already present through the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?  When we say “I’ll be with you in spirit,” what we really mean is “I won’t be there.”

Our answer to this question needs work.  Yes, we want to affirm that the future of creation is New Creation, a world where the Triune God will be present in a way more intense and obvious than now. But we must find ways of communicating this without giving the impression that God’s current location is anything other than Right Here, Right Now, Always and Forever.  I believe one good path is to start using fewer spatial metaphors (“Christ went to heaven and will someday return to earth”) and start using more epistemic metaphors (“Christ’s presence is now hidden, visible only to the eyes of faith”).  We can make more use of Paul’s metaphor of Christ’s “Appearing” (Greek: “Epiphany”) (Colossians 3.4; 1 Timothy 6.14; 2 Timothy 4.8; Titus 2.13).  Spatial metaphors are fully biblical, but I find that in our deistic cultural context, they are easily misunderstood.  We cannot allow the gospel of God-With-Us be misinterpreted as the bad news of Us-Without-God.

Question #2: Is human history a predetermined downward slope (Or, “Is Greek eschatology right”)?

The Greek philosophical vision of time is simple—the eternal timeless ideal world is the real world. What we live in now is an illusory world of evil disgusting things like matter and time, and that’s why the world is getting worse and worse and worse all the time.  When the Greek mind looks to its future, it sees enlightened people being liberated from their bodies, re-joining the eternal timelessness, while barbarians are banished to Hades. Hmmm. How much has this philosophy polluted the Christian vision?  The eternal Triune Life is being earthed in the world, and the gates of Hell are not prevailing against it.  The darkness cannot put out the Light.  In what ways is this compatible with the idea that the world will inevitably get worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse, until God decides to dispense with this “Grace nonsense” and start kicking bad-guy butt, because we all know that violence is the only real solution to evil. Right?

God has already given his answer to the badness of the world; he sent his one and only Son to be one of us, to make us one with Him.  But we Christians talk about the future as if the solution has not yet arrived, that the real solution is that someday God will stop loving his enemies.  I have more questions than answers here.  We need our best minds working on this.  Messages that don’t make sense get ignored.

Question #3: When Christ appears, how will he treat non-believers?

The Koran says that Allah will one day come to earth and slaughter all the infidels like me, and that my Muslim friends will help.  This is…ahem…distasteful to me.  But do I believe the same basic idea, just with a different deity?  Christian culture is awash in a schizophrenic vision of God—with the kind merciful Jesus on one hand, but behind his back a vengeful Father who wants/needs to destroy us.  I believe this schizophrenia finds one of its greatest expressions in our eschatology—where we preach the grace and kindness of God, but then preach a coming apocalypse where God’s face will have changed somehow, where he will behave toward “the wicked” with something other than kindness.

I believe most of us Trinity-and-Humanity folks agree here that the Triune God has one and only one orientation toward us—Love—and that whatever “judgment” and “wrath” are, they belong to this love and must be defined in terms of love.  Can the Father, Son and Spirit’s presence be abhorrent and painful to those who hate them?  Absolutely.  I can testify to that from personal experience.  The Bible often gives us a very limited human perspective of what God’s presence can be like to those who wish he were absent.  It’s like my baby telling the story about the time I took him to the doctor to get his shots.  I don’t come off as a very kind person in that story, but that doesn’t change who I am as his dad.  Our stories about the pain of unbelief need to be less about torture chambers and more about hospitals.

One related bonus question:  Does grace expire after “The Judgment”?  I was raised with a vision of a sort of timeline of the future where there will come a day when God says “I’m not gotta take it anymore!” and he separates the good people from the bad people, and that’s that.  Period.  Forever.  But with my new understanding of what judgment is—Medicine, not Punishment for law-breaking—this requires re-thinking.  The whole point of the tortures of chemotherapy is the hope that it will eventually cease being necessary.  As Trinitarian worship musician Caleb Miller reminded me this week, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  We must rehabilitate “eternal punishment”—by #1). Paying closer attention to the meaning of Jesus’ idea of “aionian kolasin” (“age of discipline”) as distinct from the Pharisaical notion of “aidios timoria” (“endless torture”), and #2). Listening to the early church’s take on this issue.  The patristics were not of one voice here, and that’s okay.  Just like it’s okay to pursue diverse notions now.

In case you can’t tell, I haven’t figured all this out yet.  But I hope I’ve started having some almost-coherent questions.  What do you think?  What are the theological and biblical arguments for or against what I’ve said here?  Perhaps even more importantly, what are some other, better questions?

God Is Love And Love Is Hell…Sometimes!, Part 5B

12.10.04 God Is Love And Love Is Hell Sometimes, Part 5B (Mark 9.38-50) – TAH

In this last part of the last message of the series “The Reality of Spiritual Warfare!” Pastor Tim emphasizes a quote from his friend, Jonathan Stepp, who writes “we are all the Father’s beloved children in Christ. Therefore, whatever Jesus says about millstones and plucking out eyes has to be interpreted in the light of a loving Father. So, sometimes you hear a mom say “stop that, or I’ll snatch you bald-headed!” or some variant of that. The child knows three things: one, that his mom is very serious, two, that she is using hyperbole to get his attention, and, three, that he is his mother’s beloved child – if he were not her beloved child she wouldn’t care enough to call him on his BS….Jesus is using hyperbole to make the point: this is serious stuff because we are all included.”

God Is Love And Love Is Hell…Sometimes!, Part 5A

12.10.04 God Is Love And Love Is Hell Sometimes, Part 5A (Mark 9.38-50) – TAH

In this 1st part of the last message of the series “The Reality of Spiritual Warfare!” learn how the REAL Subject of scripture is the God Revealed in Jesus Christ, and how this Relational God gives us better light on all the topics of scripture, including Hell. This particular scripture was chosen because it is so filled with “hell talk” from Jesus and is typical about how we miss the main point! The real SHOCKER about this passage on hell is that hell is actually presented as a threat from Jesus to His own followers! NOTICE: “Jesus is speaking to believers in warning and not sinners in condemnation!”. Oops…we have some rethinking to do! 🙂

God’s Justice

Here’s a common question I hear about Trinitarian Theology: If all of humanity is reconciled to the Father in Christ, what about God’s justice?

Consider two different administrations of justice: One would be a judge sentencing a criminal. The Judge is bound by the law because the rule of law is greater than him. He must sentence the convicted felon to a fine, prison, or even execution. Another administration of justice would be the way a Father treats his children. If one child is hurting the other the Father may choose any number of methods, including punishment, in order to discipline his children.

Here is the main difference between these two methods of justice: the Father who disciplines his children is doing so in order to restore relationship. The purpose of the Father’s justice in his family is to set right the relationships that had gone wrong and restore peace. The Judge sentencing the criminal is doing nothing more than trying to protect society and, in some philosophical sense, exact a measured retribution against the offender on society’s behalf. Sometimes the sentencing of criminals involves a plan for their rehabilitation but such mercy is not required for legal justice to be served.

So, which idea of justice is closer to who God is? Is God the divine Judge who is subject to the law and must administer that law according to the sentencing guidelines established within it? And here’s a bonus question: if God were subject to the law then wouldn’t that make the law really God? Or, is God a Father who loves his Son in the love of the Holy Spirit? Is the ultimate truth about God his judgeship or his identity as Father, Son and Spirit?

Perhaps we can now see why the doctrine of the Trinity is not just “a” doctrine, it is “the” doctrine of the Christian faith. In order to correctly define any aspect of human existence – including a concept such as “justice” – we must start with the Father’s love for the Son and with humanity’s inclusion in that love through the Son’s life as the man Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:19-20, Eph. 2:15, 1 Tim. 4:10.) If we don’t start there then we don’t have the right idea of justice.

God disciplines us for our good ~ Heb. 12:10

Is God just? Yes. He is just in the way that only a perfect, loving Father can be. Everything he does, from the forgiveness of sins to the disciplining of his children, is done with one goal in mind: to help humanity live out the reality of who we already are in Christ. We are his beloved children through his Son Jesus Christ, baptized in the Spirit (Acts 2:17; 2 Cor. 5:18-20.) The justice of God the Trinity is about bringing peace and right relationship into his family and therefore it is not about torture, eternal imprisonment, or legal games such as “you have until sundown to figure out who Jesus is and if you don’t then you’re screwed.”

Consider these two scenarios:

1. A teenage boy who lives next door to you (let’s call him Joey) comes over one day and tells you about what happened at his house the night before. He tells you that he drank several beers with his friends and then came in past curfew. His older brother Frank saw him sneaking in and said “you better look out, Dad is going to kill you!” Just then, Joey’s Dad walked in the room, smelled the beer on Joey’s breath and in a rage his Dad picked up a baseball bat and chased him around the house screaming “I’m going to kill you for breaking my rules!” Suddenly, Frank stepped between him and their Dad and said “don’t beat him, beat me instead!” And so the Dad beat Frank unconscious. And then Joey says his Dad turned to him and said “you see, Joey, how much I love you? I beat Frank up instead of you. Now, you better believe in Frank’s sacrifice for you or I’m still going to beat you with a bat, except then I won’t just beat you unconscious the way I beat Frank, I will beat you with this bat forever, no matter how sorry you may be someday for breaking my rules.”

2. Joey comes over and tells you how he came home last night past curfew after having several beers with his friends. His brother Frank caught him sneaking in the house and said, “Joey, this is dangerous! I love you and we’ve got to talk to Dad about this.” Joey admits that Frank made him so mad (and he was a little bit drunk) that he started punching Frank. But Frank didn’t hit him back, he just dragged him into the next room where their Dad was. Their Dad then had a long talk with Joey about why teenagers shouldn’t be drinking and why he has a curfew. Then Joey tells you that his Dad grounded him for 3 months and is going to make him paint their entire house.

Which version of the story displays the justice of a loving Father? And which version of the story would prompt you to call the police?

~ Jonathan Stepp

Exchanging Certainty for Hope

One of the best books I have read on the subject of hell, so far, is entitled “Her Gates Will Never Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem” by Bradley Jersak. The book also contains a great Afterword entitled “Hell: the Nemesis of Hope?” by Nik Ansell. The main emphasis of the book is that because of Who God is, and the open-ended way that scripture concludes (Rev 21:25), our hope should triumph over our fear when pondering the subject.

As you well know, many Christians have a lot of opinions and questions (and fear!) regarding the subject of hell, and especially right after you preach a message on Heaven and the shared Goodness of the Father, Son and Spirit with all! HaHa!

The author does an EXCELLENT job of summarizing all of the basic views of hell – Infernalism, Annihilationism, and Universalism – and helps readers see how each of these views developed and have become part of the Christian tradition.

And yet, one of the statements in his book that I find the most helpful and insightful is right at the end. It is a quote from author, Anne Rice, taken from her book “Called Out of Darkness”, 183-85. I thought you would appreciate the way she describes the relief that can come when we exchange certainty for hope. To me it is very inspiring and relieving – see what you think:

In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from Him for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point.

No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened; He knew the disposition of every single soul.

He wasn’t going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to Hell by mistake. This was His world, all this! He had complete control of it; His justice, His mercy – were not our justice or our mercy. What folly to even imagine such a thing.

I didn’t have to know how He was going to save the unlettered and the unbaptized, or how He would redeem the conscientious heathen who had never spoken His name. I didn’t have to know how my gay friends would find their way to Redemption; or how my hardworking secular humanist friends could or would receive the power of His Saving Grace. I didn’t have to know why good people suffered agony or died in pain. He knew.

And it was His knowing that overwhelmed me, His knowing that became completely real to me, His knowing that became the warp and woof of the Universe which He had made.

His was – after all – the Divine Mind which had made the miracle of the Big Bang, and created the DNA only lately discovered in every physical cell His was the Divine Mind that had created the sound of the violin in the Beethoven concerto; His was the Divine Mind that made snowflakes, idle flames, birds soaring upwards, the unfolding mystery of gender, and the gravity that seemingly held the Universe together-as our planet, our single little planet, hurtled through space.

Of course. If He could do all that, naturally He knew the answer to every conceivable question before it was formulated. He knew the worst suffering that a human soul could feel. Nothing was wasted with Him because He was the author of all of it. He was the Creator of creatures who felt anger, alienation, rage, despair. In this great novel that was His creation, He knew every plot, every character, every action, every voice, every syllable, and every jot of ink.

And why should I remain apart from Him just because I couldn’t grasp all this? He could grasp it. Of course!

It was love that brought me to this awareness, love that brought me into a complete trust in Him, a trust that God who made us could not ever abandon us – that the seeming meaninglessness of our world was the limit of our understanding, but never, never the limit of His.”

Thanks Bradley, Nik, and Anne – Adopted Children of the Father – for helping me to experience the certainty of hope because of Who Jesus is in His Relationship with His Father, the Spirit, Humanity, and all of Creation!

~ Tim Brassell

More Mythologies to Save the Bible From

My last post on this topic was fun, so I want to play some more in that sandbox today.  Here are some more Bible words to which I have historically attributed mythical definitions:

1.    Kingdom.  As Brother Boyd commented on this blog last week, the kingdom is very much a PRESENT reality (albeit one with an important future component).  Dallas Willard defines a kingdom as “the range of a king’s effective will.”  When Papa’s will is done on earth as in heaven, his kingdom is functioning there.  And speaking of heaven…

2.    Heaven.  Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright have taught me the biblical concept of heaven as the earth’s control room, the driver’s seat of the cosmos, the space-time of humanity’s interaction with the Triune God.  My science-fiction-soaked brain tends to envision heaven as a kind of parallel dimension, infinitely close to every place of earthly space-time, but invisible because we are slightly out-of-phase with it. A careful theological imagination like this can help us think outside old wineskins.

3.    Judgment.  At its most basic level, to judge is simply to discern good from bad.  As a child of God who now lives under the constant harassment of my own badness, I rejoice in being judged.  It is a good thing for Jesus to name, condemn, and destroy the darkness that lives in me.  It is painful, to be sure, to separate good from bad, true from false.  Anyone who’s ever said “I’m an alcoholic” knows the terror of being discerned/judged truthfully.  But the truth sets us free.  Jesus saves us by judging us.  An interesting Bible study: Look at all the NT references to ‘judgment’ and see if we are judged by grace or by works.

4.    Eternal Punishment.  During exile, some Jews adopted pieces of Zoroastrian philosophy (The Babylonians were called Farsi’s, and these Jews who copied them came to be called Pharisees).  This philosophy placed strong emphasis on “endless torture” (aidios timoria) of the wicked.  Over and against this view, Jesus spoke often of aionian kolasin, an “eon of discipline” (Notice the word “eon” in the Greek aionian), though it is usually translated “eternal punishment.”  This eon will last as long as I refuse the discipline, forever if I choose, but my Papa will never give up on me.  “Eternal punishment” is good news, not bad.

5.    Hell/Gnashing-of-Teeth.  N.T. Wright has convinced me that much of Jesus’ teaching is preoccupied with the imminent (“in this generation”) destruction of Jerusalem, as a consequence of its rejection of the Messiah.  The city would become an extension of its own flaming garbage dump, Gehenna.  And it really happened within a generation, in 70AD.  Read the judgment parables in this light, and they make a LOT more sense.

6.    Coming.  Jesus spoke constantly about “the coming of the Son of Man,” a reference to the prophecy in Daniel about a human being ‘coming on the clouds’ to sit at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.  Notice that this is a movement from earth to heaven, rather than the other way around as we usually think about Christ’s “Coming.”  Jesus’ coming/ascension to the throne means the destruction of his enemies, including the corrupt Temple system and every other power in history that has ever set itself against Him.  The New Testament does clearly teach about a future Glorious Appearing of earth’s King and everything that happens as a result, but Jesus’ own teachings were focused primarily on a different topic.  For more on this, I recommend N.T. Wright’s SURPRISED BY HOPE or Hank Hanegraaff’s APOCALYPSE CODE.

~ John Stonecypher

Mark 16:16

If humanity is adopted into the Triune Life through Jesus then what are we to make of scriptures such as Mark 16:16? It reads:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. ~ Mark 16:16, NIV

A good friend recently asked me about this verse. Here’s how I responded:

However we interpret scripture we can’t interpret it in a way that contradicts who Jesus is.

Jesus is the Word of God living in the flesh and sharing with us in our humanity (John 1:14). Therefore, he is the supreme revelation of who God is and who human beings are in relationship to God.

Romans 5:18 says that Adam brought sin to all people but Jesus has brought righteousness to all people. Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus has reconciled everyone to the Father.

Therefore, whatever Mark 16:16 means it cannot mean that we make ourselves righteous or reconcile ourselves to God by our own baptism or our own belief. Christ has made us righteous and Christ has reconciled us to the Father.

If Mark 16:16 means that we save ourselves by our own belief and our own baptism then why would we even need Jesus?

Either Jesus has saved us first and then we believe, or we save ourselves by our own belief and don’t need Jesus.

Obviously, Jesus has to be the savior. He is the one who has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and made one new humanity in himself (Ephesians 2:15).

Because of Jesus the Father does not condemn anyone and does not hold anyone’s sins against them (Romans 5:9-10). Because of Jesus humanity has been adopted as the Father’s children (Ephesians 1:5).

So, if Jesus is the one who has saved and reconciled humanity then Mark 16:16 is a description to us of what happens when we believe this truth and what happens when we don’t believe it.

If we believe that humanity is reconciled and saved in Jesus then we will be baptized and we will begin to live as the children of the Father that we really are. On the other hand, if we don’t believe that Jesus is the savior of humanity then we will continue believing the lie that God is out to get us and we will continue feeling condemned.

Notice that Mark 16:16 does not say “believe and you will get saved” instead it says “believe and you will be saved.”

If someone said to a young man who was doing a bad job as a husband and father “you need to be a man” would that mean that he wasn’t male and needed to make himself into a male human being? Of course not. It would mean that he needs to act like what he already is – a man.

So, Mark 16:16 and other such verses aren’t telling us that we need to make ourselves into something that we’re not. They’re not saying “you aren’t saved but you can save yourself by your own belief and baptism.” Verses such as this are saying to us: “in Jesus, you are saved; so believe this truth about yourself, get baptized, and be the saved person that you really are. If you don’t believe that Jesus has saved you then you’re going to continue believing the lie that God condemns you.”

That’s the gospel, the good news for humanity. The good news is the message to all humanity that says:

Jesus has saved you, stop believing that God is out to get you and start believing the truth that your Father in heaven has adopted you as his child in Jesus and poured out his Holy Spirit on you.

~ Jonathan Stepp


Here’s an encouraging thought: because of Jesus you will live forever. St. Paul says:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. ~ 1 Cor. 15:22

So, it’s not that we won’t die – we will, because of Adam. What’s encouraging is that – like Jesus – we won’t stay dead. When the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became human he changed what it means to be human. Adam is not the definition of what human beings are, Jesus is the definition. And Jesus lives forever.

I suppose eternal life might seem encouraging if you’re happy and frightening if you’re not happy.

The question is, why aren’t you happy? If you’re not happy because you’re sick, or homeless, or being tortured for being a Christian, then the good news is that eternal life in the resurrection of Jesus won’t include these pains. So, it should be very encouraging to us in the midst of such suffering to know that our problems won’t last forever but we will.

If you’re not happy because you hate people, or are greedily trying to get more bling, or think the world is out to get you, then the prospect of eternal life doesn’t seem too appealing. That’s the downside, you might say. Jesus isn’t interested in controlling your mind. So you could use the freedom he’s given you to be miserable in the eternal life that Jesus is sharing with you.

And yet, as with everything in the life of the Trinity, there’s a silver lining to that cloud too.

You might be miserable but as long as you’re alive there’s always hope: there’s always hope that you’ll stop hating people and be content with the bling you’ve been given. And since Jesus has made sure that you’ll always be alive then there’s always hope.

So I stand by my original statement: even if we’re unhappy right now it is still encouraging to know that, because of Jesus, we will live forever.

~ Jonathan Stepp

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