40 answers for Kevin DeYoung


Dear Kevin,

I read your “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags” with interest.

You described these questions as “sincere, if pointed.” I took this to mean you were open to response. So I did.

As much as possible, I’ve tried to follow suit, offering what I hope are sincere, if occasionally pointed, replies.

A few of your questions seemed redundant (e.g. #2 and #3, #29 and #30). For the sake of not making an already long post even longer, I did not repeat my answers in these cases. I can see how you may have felt each question had its own nuance, but I felt the same answers applied, at least broadly speaking.

One last point before diving in… I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that what we’re cheering for is not “the sexual revolution,” if by that you mean an “anything goes” attitude toward sexual expression (which is what people usually mean by the term). I believe our sexual ethic should be shaped by Scripture, even if you and I have a different understanding of what that looks like in practice.

All right. Onto the questions…

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

I’ve been wrestling with the relevant questions and issues for the last 4-6 years.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Well, given that “verses” are an artificial construct imposed on the Bible in the 16th century… none.

For me, it started with a friend who came out on Facebook. Then I reconnected with a relative who’s gay. I happen to think they were the best possible reasons to reassess my views. They drove me back to the text—not to see how many proof texts I could amass on one side or the other, but to see whether I could discern a broader ethic or principle, showing how God wants us to relate to his LGBTQ image bearers.

(For what it’s worth, I did revisit some of the popular proof texts, as well.)

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

“It is not good that the man should be alone” may not only be true if you’re straight.

“Better to marry than to burn” may not only true if you’re straight.

But mostly, I would say this:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

(Here’s more on how I see “love your neighbor” as the Bible’s sexual ethic.)

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

The same verses you would use to show that marriage between two opposite-gendered persons can adequately depict Christ and the church. (I’m pretty sure gender is not the main point of Paul’s analogy, since the church is not literally, anatomically female.)

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

I don’t think most first-century Jewish rabbis ever had the opportunity to imagine such a thing, much less decide how they felt about it. That’s not a category into which homosexual behavior typically fell back in the first century. But if Jesus had been incarnated into our world today, I think he may well have been okay with it…or at least, almost definitely not as bothered by it as some of his followers are.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

Why do you use a passage in which Jesus is clearly talking about divorce to make a point about homosexuality? Context.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

In light of his audience and the examples he specifically mentioned—namely, a man and a woman divorcing on grounds of porneia, women serving as pornai (prostitutes)—I think he was most likely addressing illicit forms of heterosexual sex.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

As part of a rhetorical device Paul used to convince his fellow Jews they were just as guilty as Gentiles before God.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Yup! As long as we understand “sexual immorality” (porneia) correctly. (See #7 above.) And as long as by “heaven” you mean the renewed creation.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

In the case of Revelation 21:8, the key word is pornois (a variant of porneia). Refer to #7 above.

As you know, 1 Corinthians 6:9 uses a relatively obscure term, arsenokoitai (literally “man bedders”), the precise meaning of which has been lost to history. But given where it shows up in other “vice lists” from the early church era, it probably referred to some form of “economic exploitation by means of sex.”

William Stacy Johnson suggests it’s a reference “the hedonistic homoerotic practices that were widespread in the Roman Empire” and “were almost always performed by social superiors on social inferiors.” In which case, I’m not sure 1 Corinthians 6 is applicable to two people of the same gender in a covenantal relationship characterized by mutual affection and equality.

On the other hand, the fifth-century saint John the Faster thought arsenokoitai referred to heterosexual anal sex. So there’s always that option.

Are we really going to hinge such an important question on the meaning of one obscure, notoriously hard-to-translate word?

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Augustine failed to grasp that sex is basically a good thing, that it’s a gift from God to his creation.

Luther failed to grasp that Jews and peasants are people too, and ought to be treated with respect.

Pretty much all of them failed to grasp that slavery is bad. So what exactly is your point? Just because a belief—one which, we should note, is not contained in any ecumenical creed or confession—has long been held by the church doesn’t mean it gets a free pass.

No, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss something Christians have thought to be true for centuries, especially when it comes to core tenets of orthodoxy—one of which this is decidedly not. But neither should we act as if our predecessors were infallible. It’s the task of each generation to discern how best to embody God’s intended reality in our world, knowing we will always do so imperfectly.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

You seem to be suggesting that it’s imperialistic for us to commend the affirming view to our sisters and brothers in the majority world. Question: did this aversion to imperialism stop your fellow evangelicals from promoting anti-gay legislation in places like Uganda—legislation that exposes lesbian and gay Africans to harassment, imprisonment, and in some cases death?

Have you considered how imperialism tainted early missionary efforts in the majority world, the introduction of the Bible there, and how people were taught (primarily by white Westerners like you and me) to interpret it in the first place?

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

No. But I don’t think most people who hold the traditional view are motivated by “personal animus and bigotry” either. Just because someone opposes same-sex marriage does not mean they’re a bigot.

At the same time, just because you’re not a bigot doesn’t mean you don’t have room to become more loving. We all need to grow in our compassion and understanding.

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

What if one of them is abusive? Are you suggesting that’s better than two gay dads who provide a loving, safe environment and don’t abuse kids?

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

“There is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian and gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.”
–Patterson, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents,” Child Development, 1992

“Children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children.”
–Anderson, Amlie & Ytterøy; “Outcomes for Children With Lesbian or Gay Parents: A Review of Studies From 1978 to 2000,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2002

“Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma.”
–Perrin & Siegel, “Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian,” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

In my opinion, the state does have an interest in prioritizing the placement of children in households with two parents—though there are also loads of single parents who are wonderfully qualified to adopt. As I’ve indicated in my responses to #14 and #15, I’m not nearly as convinced as you are that gender is the critical factor here.

Churches, on the other hand, have every right to advocate for whatever arrangement they find most compatible with their understanding of Scripture. If we’re talking about faith-based adoption agencies that receive federal funding, then the answer is a bit more complicated. (And I won’t pretend to know what it is.)

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

Sure. Marriage is a stabilizing force in families and communities.

Marriage can also be a powerful tool for regulating sexual activity—providing an appropriate context for healthy sexual expression and discouraging harmful sexual activity—e.g. limiting (one hopes!) the number of sexual partners someone has and thereby reducing the transmission of disease.

Some of us just don’t see how these ends and purposes have anything to do with the gender of the participants.

18. How would you define marriage?

Depends if we’re talking civil or sacramental marriage.

Civil: a state-sanctioned union of two people in which they share a common household (finances, property, etc.).

Sacramental: a divinely sanctioned union of two people in which they covenant to love each other exclusively, serve one another, nurture one another (socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically); and form a family with one another (which may or may not include children).

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

No, gross. The negative effects of inbreeding are well documented.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Yup. As Jon Stewart said, nobody is born a polygamist.

Besides, if anything opens the door to polygamy, it’s patriarchy, not homosexuality.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

On the basis of responsible legislation which excludes inbreeding and polygamy (as well as marrying your pet goat) from the legal definition of marriage.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Of course. Marriage still requires consent from both parties. Kids cannot consent to being married—or be held to just about any legal contract, for that matter.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

Well, my 4-year-old might think so, given how many times she’s asked to “marry” me. But most reasonably intelligent adults understand this is not the case.

24. If not, why not?

Because same-sex marriage is about one previously excluded class of people being given access to the institution; it does not fundamentally alter the nature of that institution. Marriage is still at its core two people uniting in an intimate relationship and forming a common household. The idea that gays getting married somehow renders the institution meaningless is silly.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Yes, absolutely. The Supreme Court was weighing in on the fourteenth amendment, not the first.

Caveat: please don’t mistake public disagreement for persecution. Christians who oppose same-sex marriage have the right to not be persecuted for their beliefs. None of us have the right to not be criticized.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Yes, if there is genuine persecution or discrimination taking place.

For example, if Coca-Cola fires someone because they signed a petition supporting traditional marriage, I would strongly object. If they fired someone for relentlessly badgering their LGBTQ coworkers, not so much.

On accreditation… I don’t wish to see Christian schools punished for maintaining a traditional evangelical view on homosexuality. But please bear in mind that accrediting agencies are private organizations. They have the right to set their own criteria. If they choose to rescind a school’s accreditation over its policies on homosexuality, it’s not necessarily valid to play the “government persecution” card.

Related question: if a wedding photographer has the right to refuse to serve a gay couple, shouldn’t a private accreditation agency have the right to refuse to serve a college it considers anti-gay?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Bullying is bad, period.

But are you really going to equate the bullying of evangelicals and Catholics with the bullying of gays and lesbians? Especially when 40% of the homeless youth population is LGBT? Especially when LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to attempt suicide?

Who’s the bigger bully here?

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

I hope churches that marry same-sex couples will offer premarital counseling beforehand, mentorship opportunities with older married couples, counseling for those in struggling marriages, etc. In other words, pretty much the same kind of support they offer to heterosexual couples.

To your point, perhaps this is an opportunity for all of us to commit ourselves to strengthening marriage.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

LGBTQ members of the church should be held to the same standard of sexual ethics (fidelity within marriage) as heterosexual members.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

See #29.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Preach and teach God’s Word as they always have. (They’re not all Bible-burning liberal apostates.)

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

I would define love as an active, robust commitment to the flourishing of others—a reflection of God’s commitment to our own flourishing.

Also, as all that’s necessary for the fulfillment of the law (see Paul in Romans 13)

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

Probably the same ones that you would… 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 13, etc.

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Love is obedience to God’s command, according to both Jesus and Paul. If you love God and love (i.e. seek the good of) your neighbor, you are obeying God.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Yes. We do it all the time. (Albeit badly.)

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Sure. Once I changed from being an Arminian to a Calvinist, but it didn’t stick.

As much as you might want to uncover signs of a slippery slope, the truth is, everyone’s understanding of faith changes over time—or at least it should.

Or are we so bold to assume we have everything figured out already?

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

It hasn’t.

My passion for the historic orthodox faith—as expressed in the Nicene Creed, which I say every week without crossing my fingers—is unchanged by my perspective on gay marriage.

Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. I hope I’m even more motivated to proclaim the good news of a God who loves everyone and wants everyone to know him.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

There are plenty within my own tribe, the Episcopal Church, who are deeply committed to orthodoxy and evangelism. (Though we have room to grow, especially with respect to evangelism.)

At the same time, many of us would argue that making our churches more welcoming is an essential part of evangelism. Most gays and lesbians would never come and hear the gospel in your church, because they wouldn’t see it as a safe or welcoming space for them.

Removing barriers between people—barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place—is an important step toward gospel proclamation. Not the only step, to be sure. In my context, our challenge is to make sure we take the next step after that. Your challenge is to take the first step.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Yes, yes, and yes.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

I think Paul had in mind the general sinful condition of all humanity, as demonstrated by his rhetorical turn in chapter 2.  Paul’s point in Romans 1-2 was that we are all guilty of idolatry (worshiping the creature instead of the Creator). Morgan Guyton observes that the vice list in chapter 1 was “intended to elicit disgust” from Paul’s Jewish audience, just before he dropped the rhetorical boom (“You, therefore, have no excuse…”).

Paul also said the people he’s referring to were “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” So, as Morgan notes, when you encounter gay Christians who clearly don’t rise to this level of depravity, you have to ask whether “same-sex marriage is evil” is really the point Paul is trying to make here.


Food for thought, I hope. I don’t expect anything I’ve written will change your mind. But I hope you’ll reconsider your assumption that those of us who see things differently than you are “swallowing everything the world and Facebook put on our plate.” Many of us have wrestled with, thought about, and, yes, prayed over these issues for a long time—especially those among us who are LGBTQ, for whom this is so much more than an “issue.” I hope, out of respect for them, these questions will become a conversation-starter instead of a discussion-killer.


Finally, some other responses that are well worth reading:

Image: Kevin Wong on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

You don’t have to “hate” religion to critique it

Jefferson Bethke’s enormously successful viral video “Why I hate religion” has spawned a number of in-kind responses—most of which aspire to imitate his unique style. Here’s one example:

PRO TIP: If the name of your video series is “Worldview Everlasting,” do not attempt freestyle rap and/or slam poetry.

PRO TIP #2: Please don’t make me watch a 13-minute rebuttal to a 4-minute video.

The truth is, I’m appreciate what Bethke has to say—even if, like others who’ve weighed in, I wonder whether “religion” is the right target.

Kevin DeYoung (who mercifully chose not to respond in poetic form) took issue with Bethke’s question, “What if I told you ‘Republican’ doesn’t automatically mean Christian?” DeYoung writes: “I doubt that putting right-wingers in their place is the most pressing issue in Seattle.”

The implication being that people in the Pacific Northwest (where Bethke lives) are liberal enough already.

But the dominant view of Christianity—not just among Seattleites but across America—is that it’s synonymous with a particular political ideology. Bethke is right to say this is a problem.

Gabe Lyons has done a lot to identify the church’s image problem. Here’s what came back when he asked emerging adults to share their top perceptions of Christianity:

  1. Anti-homosexual (91% said this)
  2. Judgmental (87%)
  3. Hypocritical (85%)
  4. Sheltered (78%)
  5. Too political (75%)

I would argue that dealing with these perceptions IS a pressing issue—and not just in in Seattle.

But I’m more inclined to agree with DeYoung’s response to the first line in Bethke’s video: “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?”

The problem—depending on what we mean by “religion”—is that Jesus appears to have taught the opposite:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [which for his Jewish audience was synonymous with “religion”]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

This problem has been articulated in yet another video response—which, I’m sorry to say, also uses spoken word poetry, this time from a guy who Mark Driscoll would accuse of wearing a “dress.” (Thanks to Cognitive Discopants for sharing.)

The key takeaway is this:

You can’t have Christ without his church [warts and all].

You can’t have the King without his kingdom.

Again, it may be more a matter of semantics. Jesus had plenty of harsh words for the religious establishment. In fact, most (if not all) of his judgment diatribes were aimed at corrupt religious leaders, not outsiders. To put it another way, if Jesus were physically present today, he would probably say many of the same things about “religion” that Bethke said in his video.

But we mustn’t forget that Jesus operated from within the system, even as he was prophetically critiquing it (sometimes by throwing tables around).

He still worshiped at the temple, even though the high priests were in bed with imperial Rome. He still wanted religious leaders, along with everyone else, to embrace the kingdom of God (as can be seen in Luke 7).

Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, evangelicals have grown accustomed to fragmentation. For all the good it did, part of the Reformation’s enduring legacy is the myriad of denominations we have today—some of whom split from each other for the most ridiculous of reasons.

Some reject denominationalism altogether, opting instead for a loosely affiliated “network” of churches. Some don’t even want that, priding themselves on their independence and autonomy.

What gets lost after 500 years of fragmenting is that Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, never set out to break from the church. He wanted to reform it from within. And he didn’t stop trying until he was finally kicked out.

Yes, the church is broken. Yes, it’s constantly in need of reform. But there’s a danger of cutting our nose off to spite our face. Like it or not, the church is still God’s best plan for inaugurating his kingdom. Religion is not a dirty word.

Yes, lots of bad things have been done in the name of religion. And when people like Bethke remind us of this, we shouldn’t shrug them off. We should listen.

But we should also take to heart these words from James, the brother of Jesus:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

But mostly, we should call a moratorium on spoken-word poetry responses to Bethke’s video.


Update: I got to interact briefly with Bethke on Twitter after this post when up. It says something about a person when they make a video that generates 17 million hits but can still take a moment to interact with the thoughts of someone whose blog has, well, nothing like 17 million hits.

It’s clear there’s more nuance to Bethke’s perspective than what can be squeezed into a 4-minute video. Besides, whether you like everything in the video or not, he’s started a conversation about who Jesus really is. He’s got a lot of people talking. And you’ve got to admire that.

First book-length response to Love Wins (not counting certain book-length blog posts…)

Mike Wittmer (my former thesis adviser at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) recently published Christ Alone, the first book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

It’s a sign of the times that Christians can publish their reactions to things they don’t like so quickly. (Creating lightening-fast responses to the Da Vinci Code became a cottage industry after Dan Brown released his abomination against all good writing. Christian publishing has never been the same since.)

The quality of thought often suffers for the sake of speed to market. But I hope that’s not the case with Mike’s book.

I’m sure Mike will find plenty to criticize in Love Wins. (Though, given that he’s also the author of this book, he should find at least one or two things to like about Rob’s description of heaven, if he’s fair.)

Mike is committed to Reformed theology. But in my experience, he tends to present his views without John Piper’s rancor, Mark Driscoll’s adolescent tantrums, or Kevin DeYoung’s egregious misrepresentations of other people’s views.

I hope that turns out to be true of his critique of Love Wins.

Is he or isn’t he? Yet another review of Love Wins (part 5)

On to chapter 4 and the really big question of Love Wins:

Does God get what God wants?

Another way of unpacking this is to ask two questions:

  1. Does God want all people to be saved or not?
  2. Does God have to get everything he wants in order for “love wins” to be true?

Rob Bell seems to answer yes to both questions. I say seems to because (as I mentioned in an earlier post) just when you think Rob is about to hop on the universalism bus, he takes a step back and says something like:

Will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. (p. 114)


Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions… we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t. (p. 115)

Rob leaves room for the possibility that everyone might be saved in the end, but he stops short of saying everyone WILL be saved.

Anyway, back to the questions…

1. Does God want all people to be saved or not?

Rob alludes to this on p. 97, quoting a well-known passage from 1 Timothy:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

Pretty straightforward, right?

Except there are some — particularly those who believe in a limited atonement (i.e. Christ died to save only the “elect”) — who would say, “Hang on… ‘all people’ must really mean all kinds of people!”

This is the approach Kevin DeYoung takes in his review of Love Wins, for example.

And it’s disgraceful.

You want to talk about twisting Scripture to fit your theological presuppositions?

You want to talk about “preaching a different gospel”?

Even John Calvin allowed that, on some level, “all people” means what it says. And as he noted in a sermon on this very text, if this is God wants, then we should want it, too — even if, like Calvin, we don’t think it will turn out this way in the end.

And if it isn’t obvious enough, the context makes clear that “all people” means all people. Paul’s argument to Timothy (and by extension, to the church he pastored) was basically this:

There’s no one you should exclude from your prayers, not even the cruelest dictator. [Bear in mind Paul had just been released from prison, so these were anything but hollow words for him.] Why? Because God wants all people to be saved. Because our one and only mediator, Jesus, gave himself as a ransom for the entire human race.

No, Paul is not saying here that every individual will be saved. But he IS saying that Jesus had the whole world — no exceptions, no exclusions — in mind when he came to rescue us from sin and death.

In fact, the whole biblical story moves in this direction. God’s redemptive plan starts with one guy, Abraham. Then it grows into an entire nation. A chosen people. But get this: the chosen nation is supposed to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19) — a light for the whole world, illuminating the path to God.

Then God really blows the lid off things in the New Testament. Salvation is no longer just a Jewish thing (not that it ever was, if you read carefully). It’s for Gentiles, too. It’s for outsiders. It’s “all nations.” “The whole world.” “All people.”

In contrast to the picture Calvinism paints, one in which a select few are predestined for heaven while the rest of us are simply out of luck, the Bible presents a picture of salvation that’s ever-expanding.

Just look at how the book of Acts unfolds. It starts with a band of Jesus-followers based in Jerusalem. But it can’t be contained there. Soon it spills into Samaria, which was hard enough for some Jews to swallow. But then, Gentiles start believing too. Pretty soon the good news is spreading into Asia (modern-day Turkey) and Europe and Rome itself.

It’s ever expanding. The circle grows ever wider to include more and more people who were previously (and mistakenly) regarded as being outside the circle. Outside of God’s plan. Beyond the reach of his love.

To the extent that Scripture does talk about predestination, it’s always about people being chosen so they can share the blessing with others. It’s a lot like being an ambassador. (In fact, Paul says something just like this.) You’re not chosen for your own benefit, so you can have something nice to put on your CV. You’re chosen so you can spread the message of whatever kingdom you represent far and wide.

So does God want the whole world to be saved? Or is he only interested in a select few? Which story is truer to the picture painted in the Bible?

I’ll save the second question (Does God have to get everything he wants in order for “love wins” to be true?) for another post.

Is he or isn’t he? Yet another review of Love Wins (part 4)

“There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” (Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 79)

So this is where it gets complicated.

Rob Bell begins his chapter on hell by surveying every mention of it in the Bible. Which, frankly, doesn’t take long, because the Bible hardly ever mentions hell by name.

Semi-related side note: Some of hell’s most ardent defenders (now there’s a cause to get behind) are quick to say Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. What they fail to mention is that Jesus wins the “let’s talk about hell” contest by default, given the relative lack of competition.

So what does Rob say about hell? He begins by arguing that humans can reject God’s love — that we are “terrifyingly free to do as we please” (p. 72). And when we do so, we bring hell on earth. Because if we’re not bringing heaven on earth… well, there’s only one other option.

Now, to conclude from this that Rob doesn’t believe in a place called hell (as some have charged) is to ignore pretty much everything he says on pages 78-79 of Love Wins, including the quote I started this post with.

Nor is it fair to say that Rob goes soft on evil. No one who has witnessed the lingering effects of genocide in Rwanda (as Rob has) could possibly deny the presence of evil in our world.

And no, Rob doesn’t just go after the so-called “social sins,” a.k.a. the pet causes of the evangelical left, as some have suggested. It’s more accurate to say that Rob doesn’t make a big distinction between “social” and “personal” sins. There is, in essence, no such thing as purely personal sin.

But like I said, things get complicated in chapter three of Love Wins.

Because Rob seems to argue, starting on page 83, that (a) hell isn’t necessarily forever and (b) all judgment, including hell, is restorative.

Now, as I wrote in an earlier post, if you denounce everyone who entertains the prospect of a second chance in hell, then you’d better be ready to burn any C.S. Lewis books you have lying around.

Still… there’s the question of how Rob makes his case.

For example, he notes that God promised to “restore the fortunes of Sodom” in Ezekiel 16. Which leads Rob to suggest the story might not be over for Sodom (p. 83-84).

I think Rob is reading way too much into one line at the expense of the larger context. In Ezekiel 16, the prophet accuses Jerusalem of outdoing Sodom in the sin department. He writes:

Your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.

So what about this promised restoration? Well, for starters, there’s no reason to believe this passage has anything to do with matters of eternal destiny. As Rob himself notes on page 67:

The precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long simply aren’t things the Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with.

Ezekiel declares that Sodom’s fortunes will be restored for the purpose of shaming the people of Jerusalem. God is saying, in effect, “Look, I’m going to bring Sodom back from the ash heap of history just to show you (Jerusalem) how much worse you are by comparison.” Which isn’t exactly the same as saying there’s hope for Sodom, because it’s not really about Sodom.

Then Rob looks at Matthew 10 (see page 84), where Jesus said it would be “more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment” than for any town that refused to welcome his disciples. Does this mean there’s hope for Sodom, as Rob suggests? Or is Jesus simply saying that however bad it may be for Sodom, it’s going to be even worse for those who hear the good news (a chance Sodom never had) and reject it — and worse, humiliate those who bring the good news?

Unfortunately, Rob doesn’t take into consideration what Peter and Jude have to say about Sodom—that its destruction serves as an example of what awaits all who persistently, defiantly reject God.

Then, starting on page 86, Rob cites more than a dozen Old Testament passages to support his belief that judgment is always restorative. He writes:

No matter how painful, brutal, oppressive, no matter how far people find themselves from home because of their sin, indifference, and rejection, there’s always the assurance that it won’t be this way forever.

But there’s a problem. These texts refer to judgment and restoration in this life. It’s not insignificant that they all come from Old Testament prophets, for whom judgment and blessing were primarily, if not exclusively, “here and now” issues. (Remember, the Old Testament lacks a well-defined concept of the afterlife.)

Later, Rob cites a New Testament passage where Paul talks about handing two of his opponents “over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” Whatever this means — and yes, it is an example of restorative judgment — the thing to notice is that these people are still alive when they are being judged.

In the end, none of these texts seem to address the question of judgment after death. It’s one thing to hope that because God’s judgment in this life is (almost) always restorative, there might be a chance at restoration after death. But it’s an entirely different matter to say this is definitely what the Bible teaches — especially when you base your argument on passages that seem to address judgment in this life only.

That being said, Rob raises another important question in this chapter. When the biblical writers talked about judgment (and they did — a LOT), who exactly did they have in mind? More to the point, who did Jesus have in mind when he talked about judgment?

On page 81, Rob alludes to the fact that Jesus never used hell to try and convert pagans, outsiders, or the non-religious.

This is an important nuance, particularly in light of Mark Driscoll’s recent post (in which he wildly oversimplifies the “traditional” doctrine of hell and common objections to it). Mark claims, “More than half of [Jesus’] parables relate to the judgment of sinners.”

Maybe so. But who exactly do you mean by “sinners”? Because if you look at the context of these parables, judgment is almost always (if not always) targeted to those on the inside. The religious. And especially the religious leaders. The “sinners,” meanwhile, are the ones who end up dining with the Messiah.

In Jesus’ day, religious Jews (again, especially the religious leaders) often assumed that because they were circumcised, or because they could trace their bloodline to Abraham, they were automatically “in.” People began to think of themselves as “predestined” (and everyone else as, well… not predestined). And they forgot that when God predestines someone, it’s always, ALWAYS so they can share the blessing with others — with the un-elect.

That’s what it meant for Abraham to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12). That’s what it means to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19). After all, what is a priest but a conduit to God?

The point is, yes… Jesus talked a lot about judgment. Sometimes he mentioned hell, sometimes he didn’t. But pay close attention to who was on the receiving end of his judgment diatribes — and who wasn’t.

And in case I haven’t babbled on long enough, check out Ben Witherington’s excellent post on hell, who’s going there (and who isn’t), and how long they might be there.

Next up, chapter 4.