Theology

what does it take to be a Christian?

I’m bumping into this question a lot recently.

I’ve started working at a bookstore, and a little while ago a man came in to kill time and chat. Most of our conversation was interesting, and at one point we started talking about faith. He grew up Christian but no longer identifies that way, and was talking about some of the problems he has with the Bible– the same problems any moral person should have, in my opinion, like the fact that it endorses genocide and slavery. My response was largely a shrug, and when he asked how I could be so ambivalent I replied with “I believe that the Bible is a complicated library the reflects a rich and ancient religious tradition. It’s the views of those who spent lifetimes trying to understand God and how they relate to us.”

Ok, so I probably wasn’t quite that eloquent, but I’ve written about this topic often enough that I’m comfortable talking about it with strangers in pick-up theological discussions. He instantly jumped on my answer though, with an actual “aha!”– telling me that attitude disqualified me from being a Christian. Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, he said.

My response was simple, if a little heated: “A Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Christ.”

***

I can’t find the quote now, but a long time ago I read an analogy that I liked. Veganism isn’t about believing that people should follow a plant-based diet. Being vegan means actually eating a plant-based diet. If you say you believe we should only eat plants, but eat bacon every other day, you’re not actually a vegan and insisting that you are because of your “beliefs” is ridiculous. They went on to apply this example to Christianity: you can have any sort of “beliefs” about Jesus and God and the Bible, but if you fail to act like a Christian, then calling yourself a Christian because of your supposed intellectual positions is equally ridiculous.

I thought of that quote the other day when I got this comment, which I’ll quote from in part:

I would have a lot more respect for you if you would just stop applying the Christian label to yourself. In every article you seem to revile the teachings of scripture. You don’t seem to hold a confident belief in any traditional Christian doctrine. I doubt you really believe the resurrection occurred or believe there is a personal God or afterlife. So why do you cling to the title Christian?

He went on to accuse me of “infiltrating” Christianity so I can “destroy it” from the inside– honestly, it’s one of the more hilarious comments I’ve ever gotten, right along with being accused of sorcery. But, I get these sorts of comments and e-mails all the time, and they fit a spectrum of everything from frothing-at-the-mouth to concern trolling. I don’t seem to hold a confident belief in Christian doctrine, and to this sort of person that means I’m most definitely not a Christian.

The fact that I do my best to act  like Jesus taught us to doesn’t make a lick of difference.

Of course, I have the freedom to act this way because of an intellectual position: I don’t believe a loving God would subject anyone to eternal conscious torment. My views on the afterlife are continuously evolving, but that growth happens with the basic assumption that the afterlife doesn’t matter as much as the physical present. Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us; he became man and dwelt among us. He thought that our physical existence mattered so much that he took on human form.

His teachings are centered on the actions of loving God and each other with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Blessed are the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the salt of the earth– blessed are they for what they do (Mt. 5). The Kingdom of Heaven will be inherited by those who fed and housed and clothed and healed and visited (Mt. 25). On the road to Damascus, Paul was confronted by a Jesus focused on what he was doing, not what he believed (Acts 9). Later, another follower of Jesus taught that faith without works is dead (Jas. 2), and John the Beloved said “if we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness we lie and do not practice the truth, but if we walk in the light … the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1).

To my childhood self– and to many others– the above paragraph is heresy. I’d toss it out, and the rest of this blog, wholesale on that paragraph alone. For it is by grace alone that we are saved, not by works. Entrance to heaven isn’t something we could possibly earn. We cannot possibly be “good enough” to deserve salvation, which is why Jesus had to be crucified. To even suggest an alternative method of seeing these passages means that I’m hopelessly lost in darkness, and most likely one of those God has given over to a reprobate mind.

Except I’m working with an entirely different context than I used to. When I was growing up, nothing was as important as where I would spend eternity– nothing. Considering I believed there were only two options– paradise or torment– that’s the only position that makes sense. In that framework, Christianity must of necessity be preoccupied, even consumed with answering the question “how do we avoid hell?” Catholics answer it one way, Protestants (in general) another– but there are thousands of conflicting views on how to be sure we’ve made it. In my childhood church it was to confess our sin, repent of it, and accept Jesus’ offering of salvation– which we did in the Sinner’s Prayer.

But that’s not my framework anymore.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t think that vein of theological questioning isn’t important. As much as Matthew 25, James 2, I Corinthians 13, and Mark 6 has become more of my Christian foundation than Romans 10, I still find concepts like the Resurrection and Salvation incredibly important to how I think of my faith. I believe in the Resurrection– in many ways, my hope is tied up in it. Part of my faith rests in everything the Resurrection means, but I don’t have to walk around firmly and intellectually convinced that the Resurrection is a factual, historical event on which our entire religion is hinged. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but whether or not it actually literally happened matters less than whether or not I follow the teachings of Jesus. Do I love my neighbor? Do I feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoner? Do I feast with publicans and sinners?

The theological concepts that constitute our religion, as well as the two-millennium history we have of arguing about them, are important. They’re important enough to me that I’m planning on starting seminary this fall (if I’m accepted) … but they’re not important to what makes me a Christian. That’s based on what I do, not what I think. We now see through a glass darkly; our understandings of God and religion are cloudy, only grasped in bits and pieces. But, in this present, it’s love that we can count on.

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  • Beroli

    Good luck with getting in to seminary. It’ll be the seminary’s loss if they don’t accept you–just as it would be Christianity’s loss if these drive-by posters got their wish and you stopped identifying as a Christian.

  • Plain English

    Except I’m working with an entirely different context than I used to.

    Well, Sam, me too. I was born into a Fellowship Baptist family, dad a preacher and mom the daughter of one… I was a believer before I was (or so I thought, the IFB type Baptists being Calvanistic in view) and I was trained up in the faith. When you grow up inside the Cross, the world outside it is the Moon, a starkly invasive place where you will not breathe and will die.
    As the years went by I learned to harm myself sufficiently to believe all the ludicrous IFB stances and to lie the lies necessary to be among the faithful. I loved my neighbor as myself, philosophically speaking 😉 and I prepared myself to do mission work (pragmatic work like building and digging wells) and not just preaching at people. As I questioned the church and was rebuffed, (firstly the issues of women and Rules) I started to form my own understanding and parameters for belief, feeling strongly that the churches of my youth were falling short and not doing as God commands. I went from Baptist to Anglican and then became a TV Christian and finally, began to see that I was not really with any of them. I felt that if there was a Jesus, then he was not like any of these churches and was outside it all. Finally, after a time, I realized that the most accurate description of my belief was nonbeliever. The day that I realized I did not believe was a good one. I felt real again, just me, just imperfect human me. Thank-you for sharing your journey.

    • Thanks 🙂

      I’m always curious when I bump into someone who grew up IFB who was Calvinist– we had some trappings of Calvinism (eternal security, mostly) but talked about Salvation in purely Arminian terms.

  • Christine Woolgar

    “In particular, (though there isn’t space to develop this here) this picture of future judgment according to works is actually the *basis* of Paul’s theology of justification by faith. The point of justification by faith isn’t that God suddenly ceases to care about good behaviour or morality. Justification by faith cannot be collapsed, as so many in the last two centuries have effectively tried to do, either into a generalised liberal view of a laissez-faire morality or into the romantic view that what we do outwardly doesn’t matter at all since the only thing that matters is what we’re like inwardly. (Those who over-anxiously defend a doctrine from which all mention of ‘works’ has been rigorously excluded should consider with whom they are colluding at this point!) No: justification by faith is what happens in the *present time*, anticipating the verdict of the *future day* when God judges the world. It is God’s advance declaration that, when someone believes the gospel, that person is already a member of his family no matter who their parents were, that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death, and that on the future day, as Paul says, ‘there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1)’.

    — Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, p153, SPCK

  • It’s genuinely kind of impressive how many stupid and downright crazy accusations people sling your way. Do you take the time to read through all of them, or do you often get just a couple words in before deleting it?

    • It depends. I usually skim through it at the least.

  • rumpledtulip

    Not to dwell on the negative, but it seems to me, in the few months I’ve been reading your blog, that you get a lot more kick-back from male readers than from female readers, (complete with lots of mansplaining and condescension.) Do you feel this is true? Do more men respond negatively to you than women, or is it about equal?

    • Melody

      Interesting question. I’m curious about that too.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      Now that you mention it, its predominately men that have always tried to ‘straighten me out’ about what I should and shouldn’t believe and do as a Christian. Especially as a Christian woman. Men were always the biggest experts on being a Christian woman.

      • Stephanie Rice

        I used to spend a lot of time fighting with fundamentalist men on the internet and this was tactic #1 they used on me. I would say “As a Christian…” and their only response was “You can’t possibly be a Christian because ‘XYZ fundamentalist doctrine.'”

        • Beroli

          And unfortunately, it’s not just Christian fundamentalists who do that. Atheist fundamentalists do too. The only difference is whether they frame it as “you don’t believe what I believe, so stop identifying the way I do!” or, “you don’t believe what he believes, so start identifying the way I do!”

    • It’s almost always men. Only a handful of women have behaved even remotely like this– women disagree, and of course they can be nasty about it on occasion, but it’s usually just men ordering me about.

      • rumpledtulip

        Bless their hearts.

  • Melody

    “When I was growing up, nothing was as important as where I would spend eternity– nothing. Considering I believed there were only two options– paradise or torment– that’s the only position that makes sense. In that framework, Christianity must of necessity be preoccupied, even consumed with answering the question “how do we avoid hell?”

    That’s how I remember it too. In that light, everything is about fear and being on God’s good side and hopefully feeling secure and certain in being so. Though I was mostly convinced of being saved myself, I knew/know quite a few people who were Calvinists and did not have that feeling of certainty.

    When it’s all about heaven and hell, everything else gets lost and that’s a shame. Christianity does have a rich history and it’s interesting to learn about theology throughout the centuries. There’s so much that you never come across in an Evangelical bubble.

  • Wait, so, you aren’t a sorcerer? I mean, that’s fine and all. I just need to recategorize your blog in my bookmarks.

  • Michael Daly

    When Jesus was asked “What must I do to inherent eternal life? “, he didn’t talk about believing this or that doctrine, he spoke about love and mercy. He told the parable of the “good Samaritan “. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. It seems too many Christians are just concerned with getting themselves into heaven. We need more voices like yours, reminding us that being a Christian isn’t about orthodoxy, it’s about walking the walk.

  • I think God gets to decide who’s a Christian. 🙂

  • Lauren C

    I always try to consider the WHY of doing good. Do we do good because it’s the right/moral thing to do, period. Do we do good to be praised by others. Do we do good to appease, to get out of trouble, or because we’re feeling guilty. Do we do good because it makes us feel like a good person. Do we do good because we are seeking God’s approval or are we doing good because we know God loves us and we hope they are proud of the decisions we are making. Framed by the truth that God Loves Us, and working on that assumption, I am their hands… reaching out still.

    • Jackalope

      Or, ultimately, do we do good because that’s what we WANT to do? I’ve had that at times as well; times when I thought, “I WANT to forgive here rather than hanging on to bitterness…. I WANT to be generous, because I’ve been on the other side and I know what it feels like….” NOT to say that this is always the case, because of course it’s not, but I’ve had times when I was more inclined to do what I believe God would want just because it’s what I wanted too. And I even had a moment when a part of me wanted to be snippy to someone I’ve had a past bad relationship with, and I realized that I’ve spent enough time working on being kind and gracious that it was EASIER to kindly and graciously limit my time with that person rather than being snippy. Again, not saying that it’s always like this, but I definitely appreciate the long-term value of trying to form my character in a way that is loving and kind and gentle and etc., even if I still fail plenty.

  • The Salvation Police almost always seem to be evangelical, at least in my experience. I see a lot of traditional Jewish nuance in your answer to that customer, which makes sense, considering Christianity came from Judaism. It doesn’t seem logically possible to maintain consistent belief your entire life – you yourself even pointed this out by mentioning what your former self would think of this post. It’s common sense that our beliefs mold with time, age, and experience – it’s inevitable, really. On days when I’m not 100% certain if the resurrection actually happened, or have doubts about any other doctrine, my *action* to keep picking up my Bible and keep attending my Bible study and to keep on praying, keep on pursuing God and truth, seems far more significant than my “certainty factor.”

  • Beroli

    I’m posting this here because it’s the most recent post and thus most likely to be noticed, though it more properly relates to the just-finished book deconstruction.

    Josh Harris is apparently looking for feedback on I Kissed Dating Goodbye. http://joshharris.com/kissed-dating-goodbye/

  • What would you label me? I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife anymore, and I don’t much care what the Bible says, but I read blogs like yours because I want to find and follow a gentler, more human-focused way of living — just like Jesus taught. I believe it’s imperative to understand and help each other, because we’re all we have on this earth, and if we can’t take care of each other we’re little better than beasts. I don’t believe in a literal god-made-man Jesus any more than I believe in a literal lion-god Aslan, but the mythical figure of Jesus obviously exists, and his teachings are very wise and worth studying.

  • keefanda

    What does it take to be a Christian? What stands out most to me in the question is the verbal form “to be” expressed as “be”. This suggests to me that to answer the question, we have to consider not just action but state of being.

    Suppose a psychopathic con artist (like oh, say, a Donald Trump type) were to commit an act of goodness, a Good Samaritan sort of thing, not because he would feel badly if he didn’t do so but because he had a selfish reason for doing so. Now multiply this over many such acts. Would that show this person to *be* a Christian? I say no. (Don’t get me wrong: I’ll always take seeing those who need help getting it.)

    That is, I think that it’s not just action but motivation for action as well as action that counts as to what it means to *be* something. For me, it’s about people’s hearts, and yes, changing people’s hearts – for instance, people changing from a state of not really caring whether they one way or another are a cause of morbidity, suffering, or premature death of others, to a state of caring followed by action based on this caring. Don’t forget that Jesus is the one who talked about such a change via a rebirth – a spiritual birth after a physical birth.

    Problem is, those (mostly only conservatives, unfortunately) who preach acquiring such a nature via such a rebirth often act and preach otherwise in ways that suggest no such new nature was acquired – that said change never happened.

    Forgive me, but in this political season here in the US, it would seem that we have to acknowledge that this relates to how we use the power to vote. For one of many, many examples of what I mean, one small tip of a very large iceberg:

    Here in the US, are we showing that we *are* Christian when we vote for the conservative, the-smaller-the-government-the-better public policy obscenity of denying Medicaid and (except for the first three months out of every two years) Food Stamps to the majority of homeless people? In case you don’t know: Before so-called Obamacare, 41 states did this, causing more morbidity, suffering, or premature death of the homeless compared to those states that didn’t. (Properly done epidemiological studies show this – Medicaid for those who had no health care does change mortality rates for the better, for instance.) Many still do because only those states not controlled by conservatives accepted the so-called Medicaid expansion in Obamacare that provides an end to this obscenity.

  • Samantha, I am very impressed by this article. It covers a lot of ground but the message is clear. I agree with pretty much everything you said, and I am glad you said it.

    As I have followed you these past few years, you’ve done a very good job with fundamentalist issues; I think your contributions have been very significant in this area. But recently, perhaps I missed it before, it seems you have shared a lot more about your personal Christian spirituality and it makes me respect you all the more. I think we are closer these things that I ever suspected.

    Thanks for your work and particularly this article.

  • Kevin

    I read link to the comment you quoted and…wow! I’ve been reading your blog a couple of months and have read some of your old posts and I can’t find anywhere you “attacked the scriptures”. I’m sure he wouldn’t like my blog, since I have a post, “Thoughts on Doubt” and I quote the Quran in a few posts.
    Speaking of the Quran, Surah 4:94 says, “And you shall not say to any one who offers you salutation, ‘Thou art not a believer.’ “; there are many interpretations of this, but one is that if someone claims to be Muslim they must be given the benefit of the doubt, and only their actions can be challenged as un-Islamic. Do you think this would be a good model for Christians to adopt?

  • Kevin

    This post reminds me of a Twitter follower’s old bio: “kafir, kafir kende ne”. This is Punjabi for “They call me kafir.”(Kafir is Arabic for infidel or “heathen”.)

  • jtenebrae

    “A Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Christ.” So well said.
    The allure of just saying the “Sinner’s prayer,” is “cheap grace.” So many churches are in such a rush to save and baptize, but then what? We used to call it “dip and drop.” They go on with their lives as if nothing happened.
    Those that get caught up stay spiritual infants the rest of their lives because they are never allowed to grow. Banzai tree Christians, held in by legalistic wires never letting believers become self actualized.
    I’ve read your posts for some time and it’s been wonderful to read your fight to break those wires and become a fully realized believer.

  • Johanna

    Samantha, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your awesome blog.

    I think it’s wonderful you’re planning on going to seminary. And if I was the dean of any seminary, I would be happy to accept you, your blog alone should be commendation enough. Your writing challenges my thinking as a Christian who grew up in a liberal, non-legalistic church and with a mother who self identifies as a feminist. I went on to study theology and religion and did a one-year exchange program at a US seminary. I met some of the most amazing Christian feminists there. It was one of the most spiritually and theologically exciting times of my life, but I feel I can learn so much from you. You’ve given me some answers that I can tell the students in my religion classes and anything you write on the intersection of sexuality, faith and feminism is wonderfully thought provoking for me. I can only imagine where your writing and theology will go when you’re in an environment where your job is to do just that – think and write about theology.

    You challenge me to follow Jesus. Thank you so much for your voice,

    Johanna, a reader from Germany

  • Tim

    “Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, he said.”
    A very common and unfortunate mistake among Christians. Many (most?) Christians do believe the bible is the Word of God, but it isn’t. The irony is that there are some words in this book of books that actually say that. Jesus is the Word of God, not the bible. The bible contains a lot of words about him, and some that he supposedly spoke, but the bible itself is not the Word of God. That is a title that the bible itself gives only to Jesus.

  • spacegal2003

    I do believe in hell, not so much as a place of eternal torment, but as a place away from God’s presence. If God indeed gives us free will, then he can’t force us all into heaven, and there must be some place for those who choose not to be with Him. I’m sure you’ve read it, but The Great Divorce was an interesting perspective on this.

    • I’m largely waiting for seminary to really dig into this question, but for the moment I believe in a combination of universalism and annihilationism. I don’t believe that free will is an earth-bound illusion, so I believe that if anyone who has access to all of the information makes the decision not to spend eternity with God (whatever that looks like), God will let that person … do something else. Cease to exist, if they want to.

      Like I said, this isn’t an area of theology that I’ve thoroughly explored yet, so it’s not something I feel comfortable debating. All I know is that if God is loving and truthful and good, then Eternal Conscious Torment for the unbelieving isn’t an option.

      • spacegal2003

        Yeah, I certainly couldn’t quote any great theologians on their views of heaven and hell, but that’s the general area I’m at right now. Eternal conscious torment because you didn’t say the right prayer isn’t exactly loving.

        But I also don’t believe you have to make the decision to follow Christ before you die, because that would make death more powerful than God instead of the other way around.

  • JBSchmidt

    Can I propose the following theory:

    Traditional Christianity, identified as the belief in one Triune God the creator of all things, His Son Jesus Christ who saved us from our sins through his actual death and resurrection and a Bible that is an inspired work of God, puts the focus on Christ. In short, Christ did it all and therefore we put our faith in Him.

    Progressive Christianity, identified as accepting the culturally desirable teaching of Christ while rejecting most of the Bible that talks about him, puts the focus on self. In short, I will do it for god.

    The difference between those two Christianities, is the difference between traditional Christianity and every other religion in the world. It is nearly universally accepted that Jesus was a good man, his teachings are wise and it would benefit a person to follow his lead. However, only Traditional Christianity accepts his deity and work of salvation. As a result, progressive Christianity shares more in common with pagan* religions than it does with Christianity. If this is the case, the end result would be that the progressive Christian is in fact infiltrating the traditional Christian religion with what would appear to be malicious intent, from a spiritual perspective.

    *As viewed from the perspective of the Traditional Christian

    • Beroli

      “Theory.” That’s actually funny.

      Just out of sheer curiosity, are you aware that that comment is pure tribal assertion, or are you seriously under the impression that a self-identified progressive Christian might agree with a single syllable of it?

      • JBSchmidt

        Not sure I understand. Are you claiming that progressive Christians transcend the boundaries of a theological ‘tribe’? If so, why is the author so concerned with labels?

        • Beroli

          Your dedication to winning is impressive. Your ability to interact with real people rather than the strawmen you came prepared to beat up, less so.

          (Hint: “Are you saying [something the person you’re nominally addressing didn’t say], [counterargument to same]” is not an interaction you need to pretend to be involving anyone else in. Everything in it comes from your mind and ends there.)

          • JBSchmidt

            What am I saying that wasn’t said?

    • How are even going about defining “conservative” and “progressive” Christianity? Here’s my “theory”: categorizing people isn’t as neat and simple as you think it is. By many Christians’ standards I’d fall into the progressive camp, for my willingness to ask difficult questions and challenge what the Bible claims (or what the majority of Christians insist it claims) against what happens in reality. And others will say I’m conservative for giving the Bible any credibility at all.

      Christianity is, first and foremost, about following Jesus. Beyond that, you have no idea what’s going on in people’s hearts or what they’re struggling with. Worry about your own salvation rather than fixating on everyone else’s.

      • JBSchmidt

        Many people who reject the Bible as a theological document, give it credibility as a historical document. None of those people would be considered ‘conservative’.

        My point is, Christianity has never been simply about ‘following Jesus’, but rather putting your faith in Him as your Savior. Many non-Christian people will claim to ‘follow Jesus’. Hence a Christian of a traditional view would find the progressive ‘following Jesus’ ideology offensive to the scriptures themselves because it generally rejects Jesus as Savior.

        Finally, Jesus called on us to be concerned for our brothers salvation. If a ‘Christian’ decides to post material that insinuates Jesus can be followed as a good teacher rather than the son of God, the Christian family should respond for the sake of that person’s salvation.

        • Everyone is considered a heretic to somebody. The theology you think is ‘true’ and necessary for salvation will be nitpicked to pieces by other Christians all over the world. So I’m not concerned if I don’t get my definitions or descriptors exactly right, according to someone else’s standard.

          • JBSchmidt

            I would argue that the vast majority of Christians throughout history accept that Jesus is God’s son and our Savior. If we were talking different forms of Baptism (i.e. submersion vs sprinkling) I would agree with your ‘nitpicked to pieces’. However, in this case, you are attempting to change the definition of Christian, not just fail to get the “descriptors exactly right”.

            Why do progressives need the label, Christian?

          • The qualifiers for ‘being saved’ do vary among the denominations. You’re naive if you think there has ever been a single monolithic definition of Christianity, and it’s guaranteed that some denomination somewhere in the world will think what you preach is heresy. Therefore this debate is ultimately worthless. You focus on your faith and I’ll work mine. We’ll find out who was ‘correct’ eventually.

            And I don’t know why progressive Christians use the ‘progressive’ label, since I am not one.

          • Beroli

            I think if Mr. Schmidt actually wanted an answer to his question, other than giving himself the answer “they don’t need the label, my branch of Christianity owns Christianity,” the first step would be finding someone who both 1) fits his definition of “progressive Christian,” and 2) identifies as a Christian with only the modifier “progressive,” not “agnostic” or “atheist.” That first step alone would be an epic quest.

    • keefanda

      There are many subsets of Progressive Christianity that are flatly within *historical* Traditional Christianity, where *historical* Traditional Christianity is not the modern American fundamentalist rewrite of “Traditional Christianity” that you seem to promote.

      One of those traditions in *historical* Traditional Christianity that you condemn as “Progressive Christianity” and not part of “Traditional Christianity” is Christian Universalism, or Universal Reconciliation via Christ. (Note: “Universalism” and “Christian Universalism” are not the same thing. Look them up.) I give below some links to some of the articles that we can find all over the Internet on this. Some of them speak to the fact that we even have what we can call Evangelical Progressive Christianity. “Progressive Christianity” is a much bigger set that you seem to realize. Please read every last word of these articles before you reply to this.

      Universal Reconciliation
      Presbyterian Progressive
      “Universal Salvation”
      http://presbyterianprogressive.blogspot.com/2009/01/universal-salvation.html

      Partial quote:

      “A broad-minded, tolerant, humane Christian eschatology, for both individuals and the cosmos, has existed from the earliest centuries of the church’s existence.

      The majority of the early church’s theological schools were universalist in sentiment. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Didymus the Blind, Titus of Bostra, Gregory of Nyssa, Marcellus of Ancyra, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Diodorus of Tarsus were among the bishops and theologians of the early church who affirmed a purgatorial view of hell with the concomitant idea that ultimately hell would have a terminus and all souls would be redeemed. Typically, too, from my reading of the literature those fellows left for posterity, they were sophisticated enough that most seem to be very forthright in acknowledging that ‘fire’ (as in the ‘fires of hell’) was a metaphor for remorse, guilt, the purifying activity of the Spirit or Christ.”

      Evangelicalism and universal salvation
      http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6652/evangelicalism-and-universal-salvation

      Six suggestions for would-be critics of evangelical universalism
      http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/six-suggestions-for-would-be-critics-of-evangelical-universalism/

      The Deeper Story of God’s Relentlessness
      http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/

      https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/
      Is Universalism an Evangelical option?
      https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/is-universalism-an-evangelical-option/

      The Christian Universalist Association
      The History of Universalism
      http://www.christianuniversalist.org/resources/articles/history-of-universalism/

      GOD’S PLAN FOR ALL
      By David and Zoe Sulem
      http://www.godsplanforall.com/contents
      http://www.godsplanforall.com/universalreconciliationscriptures
      CHAPTER 4
      UNIVERSAL RECONCILIATION SCRIPTURES

      Here are my own thoughts:

      It is written that we are to pray that may God’s will be done, and it is written that God’s will is that all will be saved. And it also is written that all things are possible with God. Important note: The context of this last point on possibility is salvation itself, where that which seems impossible – a camel going through the Eye of a Needle – is possible. But this past point talks about impossibility by law, or legal impossibility, rather than physical impossibility. For those whose don’t know: The Eye of a Needle was a side entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem such that it “was written” in law that a camel was not allowed to enter through that entrance. This means that what no matter what is written or seems to be written – such as only some will be saved – it is possible with God to “get around” what is or seems to be written, so that it is possible for God to ultimately have God’s will done, period, and this includes God’s will that all will be saved.

      • JBSchmidt

        Thank you for your links. I actually found them informative. I also received some answers I have pressed other Univeralist bloggers for and never received. Although some early theologians wrote universalist thoughts, many are not consistent in the approach and Origen’s view was condemned. Further, the vast majority of early church leaders rejected this view and that has been witnessed in creeds that come out of that era in which a final judgement is proclaimed.

        Going back to the original blog, the author makes the following statement regarding the resurrection, “whether or not it actually literally happened matters less than whether or not I follow the teachings of Jesus.” Based on that line, I still ask how her religious views are different from all the non-Christian religions? Especially in light of 1Corithians 15:14.

        Regarding your ending thoughts. God wants all men to enjoy heaven and God wants all men to come to the saving faith of Christ and yes, we do pray that God’s will be done. However, nowhere does the Bible say that all men ‘will’ enjoy eternity in heaven. If God’s will is that all men go to heaven, than we lack all freedom, correct? We are forced into a life of indentured servitude.

        As for the ‘Eye of a Needle’. There is no evidence such a gate existed in the wall at the time of Jesus. If, as we see in other walls of that era, a night time gate exists for access, the passage looses the force the disciples believed it had. “Who then can be saved?”, they respond. For we know that simply unloading your camel would gain the animal access, why would the disciples question in such a dire manner?

        “it is possible with God to “get around” what is or seems to be written”, so we are being tricked into living a more complicated life?

        Finally, and please if you have the following information I would be interested to read it, why live in a way that is morally acceptable? Either to societal morals or Biblical morals. If all go to heaven, then loving your neighbor is a suggestion only to those who wish to live in peace. If I find my joy in life as a tyrant, racist, bigot, etc., am I not equally blessed.

        • Beroli

          If God’s will is that all men go to heaven, than we lack all freedom, correct?

          Aside from the phrasing (all men? the blogger here is no man), your definition of “all freedom” seems awfully selective. To be clear, what is your belief about the afterlife? Is it that there are dozens of potential afterlives? Does everyone get what they expect, like in the Discworld books? Or do some go to a place of eternal pleasure, others to a place of eternal torture, and that’s an exhaustive list?

          Proceeding, to save time, on the quite-possibly-inaccurate assumption that your answer was the last one–that leaves the assertion at, “Saying you have to go to a place of eternal pleasure makes you an indentured servant. Saying you can go either there or to a place of eternal torture makes you free.” This seems downright nonsensical to me. Suppose, hypothetically, that I, a mortal, pointed a gun at you and told you, “Give me all your money or I will shoot you.” You gave me your money, with my holding the gun on you the whole time. I left. You had me arrested. In court, however, I told the judge, “I gave him a free choice. I contest nothing in his description of events. You can clearly see that he chose to give me his money.”

          And the judge said, “Good point. You’re free to go and can keep the money he gave you.”

          You would consider me and the judge completely deranged, correct? You would not hesitate to say I had robbed you, that the “choice” I had offered was a functionally meaningless one. Why hold God to lower standards than you hold me? Someone who obeys God because “if I don’t, he will send me to a place of eternal torture which he created to hold people who don’t” doesn’t have freedom in any meaningful sense.

          Finally, and please if you have the following information I would be
          interested to read it, why live in a way that is morally acceptable?

          “God is good.” What does that mean to you? Does it mean “you can see that what God wants goes with the English word ‘good’? Or does it mean “God makes all the rules, and so following him is the only meaningful definition of good–and it’s morally meaningless whether he’s ordering you to rescue people from a burning building, or set the building on fire; if it turns out Daesh was right about what God wanted then all the people they murdered retroactively deserved it, not for anything they did, but simply because God wanted them killed”?

          “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” What does that mean to you?

          • JBSchmidt

            Thanks for the response.

            The afterlife is divided into two locations: 1) With God, 2) Apart from God. If as you state in your comment that God is good; then being apart from God would inherently be not good. Putting human descriptions on the locations is pointless as they exist in God’s realm, a location we cannot see. It is why John’s descriptions in Revelation are so fantastical. That being said, yes we are separated. The Bible includes numerous places where the Last Day is a judgment/separation.

            Your story about the robber is inaccurate as it assumes we were created independent from God (ie the robber). It also assumes there is an outside authority by which God can be judged. Being his creation, sending his Son to pay our debt of disobedience; why is he outside his authority to offer salvation through faith or allowing us to accept responsibility for our own disobedience? I don’t hold him to a different standard. In fact, if you were honest, it is the standard we hold all people too, including my own children. Obey or except the responsibility for your actions.

            If I choose to spend my life following satan (or whatever would be the opposite of God) why must I be forced to spend eternity with him? Why can’t I reject God?

            Your final paragraph is all over the place and with all the quotation marks it is hard to follow. If “God is good” then what he does, regardless if we like it, is good. If not, God is not good and thus not God.

            If we understand, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” properly, it claims there is a difference between people. Christians vs non-Christians. Seems to fall in line with what I am saying.

            If God is good, must I be good to be saved? According to universal salvation, I don’t. I don’t even need to believe in God. Thus, morality is irrelevant and those killing in the name of allah are equally as blessed as yourself.

          • Beroli

            Is “apart from God” a place of eternal fiery torture? Yes or no.

            Your last paragraph is accurate until the last sentence. Try replacing the last sentence with, “Thus, being ‘blessed’ is irrelevant and those killing in the name of God-in-Arabic are not guaranteed a worse afterlife than myself.”

          • JBSchmidt

            “Is “apart from God” a place of eternal fiery torture?”

            What if I don’t know or not sure? One can assume that it is torturous to be separated from God for eternity. I don’t feel comfortable, theologically, putting an exact physical attribute to it.

            Just to be clear, if you live a life following Jesus and I do the exact opposite of everything you do; in the end we will sit next to each other in eternity? For example, will Mother Theresa share eternity with the ISIS member who spent his time on earth beheading people that followed Jesus?

          • Beroli

            Well that’s interesting.

            To clarify: I’m not a Christian at all (Samantha is, I’m not). I think the afterlife is unknowable. Lots of self-proclaimed Traditional Christians would call you a heretic for not wholeheartedly asserting the “literal lake of fire” concept of hell–such that I wonder, now, what your concept of “Traditional Christian” is. The Catholic Mother Teresa (no H, incidentally) qualifies? I thought most self-proclaimed Traditional Christians crossed Catholics off entirely.

            You keep pounding on real-world morality (I’m supposed to be revolted by the notion of a member of Daesh not being worse off in the afterlife than a woman who spent her life helping others–you might want to choose someone other than Mother Teresa for your example next time, incidentally). But when I describe a situation to make the point that “do this or be horribly punished” is not a choice, suddenly you can’t address that because it ignores the fact that morality consists solely of God Says So. By your reasoning, if God showed you the Daesh member in a palace and Mother Teresa burning in a pit, you would be wrong to say anything but “Thy will be done.”

            I believe that argument from authority is morally invalid. I believe that if morality comes down to “do you have the correct beliefs about the contents of this book” and has nothing to do with actions–then you have a cult centered around a vicious tyrant, who may have created the universe but is still a vicious tyrant. You keep saying morality means nothing without a punitive afterlife. That’s terrifying, not because it’s hard to address or comprehend, but because it implies that the speaker is a violent monster who cares nothing for others’ suffering, restrained and forced to act with a pretense of morality only by the gun they believe is aimed at their head.

          • JBSchmidt

            “To clarify:” Where are you getting this information? I think you are confusing traditional Christianity with fundamentalist? I would be interested which sect of Christianity condemns you if you question the notion of a fiery hell. In Addition, please site where Catholics, as a whole, are “crossed off”?

            ” if God showed you the Daesh member in a palace and Mother Teresa burning in a pit” You can invent any number of hypothetical situation that support your argument; that doesn’t mean you are making an accurate analogy. In fact, since you aren’t Christian, the argument we are having regarding morality is pointless because our premises are different. I entered this dialogue with my original post under the assumption any counter argument would come from a somewhat Christian perspective.

            Do you believe morality is established by God or simply an evolutionary creation?

          • Beroli

            I believe the question is based on false premises–but no, I don’t believe the Christian god exists, personally. If you wish to declare that that means I cannot possibly respond to anything you’re saying–well, then you seem to have set up a Catch-22 for yourself, since your claim from the start has been that what you call “progressive Christians” are not actually Christians, and yet you seemingly think can theoretically communicate with them, or at least exhort them to stop calling themselves Christians.

            To be clear: “Traditional Christianity” is an assertion of power and nothing more. It is semantically identical to saying, “Right Christianity, as opposed to Wrong Christianity.” Since it’s most often fundamentalists who do that, I did think you were one; if you want to communicate with anyone here, you might want to look for a more objective descriptive for your sect. There is no sect universally recognized as “traditional Christianity” by those outside it. Stick “Traditional Christianity” into Google, and you’ll get redirections to “Christianity” (definition that takes in you, Samantha, and Beth) and power-assertions written by self-proclaimed “Traditional Christians” like yourself, and that’s all you’ll get. (Maybe some sneering by the Dawkins set, which will most definitely hit fundamentalists as well as your yet-unidentified sect.)

          • JBSchmidt

            You got a little ahead of yourself. Nothing I said disqualified you from commenting. In fact, I never said we could no longer dialogue. Rather, if you are going to argue Christianity, it helps to understand that you reject its worldview. It changes my approach.

            “To be clear” So I started by Googling “Traditional Christianity” I did not get what you said I would. I am sure that any religion that is not fully inclusive to all other religions is by your feeling an assertion of power. That is of course to exclude your belief system which is not inclusive of mine.

            When you look at Christianity there are may small disagreements between sects. None having any great impact on the salvation of their followers. However, with the birth of the progressive church one clear distinction has arisen. Saved through faith (traditional) or all are saved regardless of faith (progressive).

          • Beroli

            I see, so when you say “Traditional Christianity” you mean to take in every Christian sect that states that Hell exists and you get to Heaven through faith in Jesus, and leave out every Christian sect that says it doesn’t or that you get to Heaven through something other than faith in Jesus?

          • JBSchmidt

            I don’t see that specifically in my response.

          • Beroli

            Gah! Dude, if you’re just going to try to score points, I see it was a mistake to try to engage with you and I should go back to pointing out that you’re just trying to score points.

          • JBSchmidt

            Did you edit your comment after posting? Here is what I saw as it was presented in my email notification:

            “I see, so when you say “Traditional Christianity” you mean to take in every Christian sect that states that Hell exists?”

            You are very quick to attack and “score points”. You did it in the previous comment regarding my desire to silence you. Also interesting that you didn’t consider I had read your unedited comment, but rather assumed my own intentions or ignorance.

            To your question:
            As a definition, yes, that is the separation between traditional and progressive Christianity. I am making no claim as to who will actually end up in heaven or hell.

          • Beroli

            Not “the” separation–your separation. But I think I understand your views now, odd as it is to reflect that I’m in the virtual presence of someone who just defined C. S. Lewis, of “noble service to Tash is accepted by Aslan” fame, as a progressive Christian, even by a bizarre, pejorative definition of “progressive Christian.”

          • JBSchmidt

            1) If you are going to quote someone as a basis for challenging your opponents position, I would recommend not choosing that person’s fictional work. In his non-fiction work he admits not liking the notion of hell, but arguing that is morally right.

            2) That is not were that interaction ends, is it? Don’t we learn that Aslan is the only truth? Not really universal salvation.

            I think if you googled, as you had told me to google, you will find that my distinction is not alone. Mostly likely, it is the easiest way to define the two.

          • Beroli

            Oh, are you revising your asserted separation to the unedited version of my question which you evaded then? Is it actually “every Christian sect which says that hell exists”?

            As I said, googling finds a whole lot of people saying some version of “Traditional Christianity means I’m right and progressive/contemporary/liberal Christianity is wrong.” Nothing from outside, nothing more objective than that. I’m sure some of these self-proclaimed Traditional Christians agree with you, but that doesn’t make it any more informative to someone who is unwilling to grant any of you that. All I know about what you mean when you say “Traditional Christianity,” at this moment, is that you believe in hell and you’re very sure not agreeing with you on that implies a whole lot of other things and somewhere in there something you consider to be the only reason to identify as a Christian* winds up on what you consider the “Traditional” side, but your goalposts slide with practically every comment you make.

            *I can make “if you don’t believe in hell there’s no reason to claim to be a Christian” logically coherent, by tying it to the “morality consists of Otherwise You Get a Punitive Afterlife and nothing else” bit from earlier, but the slippery goalposts make me less sure that’s actually an accurate description of your views than I was before you made that last comment.

          • JBSchmidt

            There is a lot of hate in you. If you could set that aside and listen, you would address the issues I bring to light. Rather than continue this rant on your disapproval of hell.

          • Beroli

            Your effort to psychoanalyze me is amusing. I assure you, if I felt anything south of amusement, I’d stop replying; I’m not in the business of letting interactions with people like you raise my blood pressure. I am surprised neither that you equate less respect than you think you deserve with hate, nor that you evaded my question again, but I admit I’m somewhat disappointed that whenever your premises are challenged you seem to shut down rather than addressing what was said. I see how you’ve managed to avoid taking in anything anyone outside your sect would say they believe.

        • keefanda

          First, this pattern of Christian conservatism condemning newer ideas as “not Christian” has been going on for thousands of years. Examples: The ideas of Luther and Calvin and the rest of the reformers a half millennium ago were no doubt condemned by some conservative Christians of that day as ideas that were not legitimate parts of Christianity. And the ideas of Jesus two millennia ago were no doubt condemned by some conservative Jews of that day as ideas that were not legitimate parts of Judaism. This means that Luther, Calvin, and Jesus among many other such teachers throughout history were actually some of the liberals or progressives of their day in their respective religions. Even so, their ideas were still legitimate parts of their respective religions. (Keep in mind that the various Orthodox Churches of that part of the world and the Roman Catholic Church were all that was as “Christianity” for most of the past two thousand years, and many of us who are Protestant view the Reformation as a move to more true forms of Christianity, that “Traditional Christianity” for all the time up to then was getting much of it wrong. So the idea that “Traditional Christianity” is always the right way to go is not always the right idea.)

          You wrote, “Going back to the original blog, the author makes the following statement regarding the resurrection, “whether or not it actually literally happened matters less than whether or not I follow the teachings of Jesus.” Based on that line, I still ask how her religious views are different from all the non-Christian religions? Especially in light of 1Corithians 15:14.”

          In the same way that so much of Protestant Christianity over much of the past couple of centuries has been different from all the religions outside of Christianity. You seem to be unaware of a very large body of literature written by Christians – most of it within the last couple of centuries – that addresses the resurrection of Christ as an event that was not literal or physical but was instead a resurrection from death into the presence of God in a spiritual body. You seem to be unaware that a very large percentage of professors at Christian seminaries of mainstream denominations all over the world (see Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, etc.) and the Christian pastors in these mainstream denominations all over the world with degrees from these seminaries have over much of this time now been OK with these ideas.

          On the “Eye of a Needle”: The idea of this being a side entrance to buildings of that era has been around for a couple of centuries, and I will not debate this, but the force of the teaching as I got it was (as I said in my comment above) *against the law* for an animal to go through that side entrance, not that it was physically impossible. That’s why, according to this theory, Jesus’s disciples were so astonished at this that they thought that maybe no one could go to Heaven – it would be *against the law* to go to Heaven. But regardless, this side nugget: Since most modern scholars agree that the Synoptic Gospels were Greek translations from a lost Aramaic text (this discovered via linguistic scholarship), it might be good to know that the word that would have been used in the Aramaic meant both “camel” and “a thick rope” that happened to be made from camel hair.

          Finally to address your reply to me on God’s Will that all be saved and your question on living a morally acceptable life:

          On the former: First, it might be important to know that the term “saved” in the Greek means along the line of “to be made whole and totally healthy”, as well as via the contexts along the line of what happens after physical death. Now recall the articles via the links I gave on Universal Salvation and how (as we see from some of these articles) many if not most of the very earliest Christian theologians who came form the very first Christian school of theology in Alexandria view “salvation” or “deliverance” as something that could be completed long after we die, and “going to Heaven” would be only after that. By the way, for the idea of salvation as defined in the Greek as something that is a work in progress, see Romans 13:11 in such translations as The Message, The New International Reader’s Version, the Complete Jewish Bible, and The Passion Translation for explicit renderings that make clear that total salvation or deliverance is a work in progress. We all must be changed rather significantly from our present states that include the “flesh” or the “sin nature” (see the different translations) – no matter how “saved” or “born again” we think we are – before being allowed into Heaven where God’s Will is always done, where we always yield to God’s Will, or else Heaven would be a place essentially no better than this place (and would be a place where God’s Will would not always be done – contradiction).

          That said, I was addressing a logical problem: If (1) God’s Will is that all be saved, (2) God asks me in the Lord’s Prayer to pray that God’s Will be done, and (3) it’s utterly impossible for all to be saved, then (4) God wills that the utterly impossible occur, and (5) God is asking me to pray for that which is utterly impossible. God might as well will and ask me to pray that 2 + 2 = everything but 4. Because the consequent is false, and by a rule of inference called modus tollens, something has to give. Sorry, but the term “Logos” (Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos) is one of the roots of the English term “Logic”. So, since God is Logic (Logic is an Essence of God), not Illogic, and since (1) and (2) still hold, the conclusion God’s Essence demands from us it that it’s not utterly impossible for all to be saved – that is, (3) is false.

          On the latter: Have you not wondered why most atheists live lives that are at least as morally acceptable as many if not most conservative theists (who among other things like to deny scientific truth and politically seem to like choosing the rich and powerful over the poor and weak)? These atheists live such morally acceptable lives even though they “don’t have to” live such lives according to conservative religious thinking. Speaking as one who lost faith and then regained it (so I know intimately both sides of the fence), my answer as to why they do is that they find Goodness to be That Which Is Desirable For Its Own Sake (TWIDFIOS). Theists believe that Goodness is an Essence of God. So *according to theism*, these atheists choose God via God’s Essence, and in some ways they choose God more than perhaps many if not most conservative theists do. That is, think about it. What percentage of conservative theists – most of whom evidently believe that the only reason they should live morally acceptable lives is fear of punishment in some afterlife – would live morally acceptable lives if they lost their belief in an afterlife and became atheists? Maybe a lot of conservative theists have not really chosen God as they think they have – maybe they have not really chosen God as TWIDFIOS. Based on this, I would not be surprised if Jesus would say to many atheists (such as those who care much about the less fortunate, etc.) before he would say to many conservative theists (such as those who care little about the less fortunate) what he said in Mark 34:13 (“you are not far from the Kingdom of God”). Maybe a litmus test for those religious conservatives who think they’ve chosen God to answer the question of whether they really have chosen God is to ask whether they would chose Goodness as TWIDFIOS if they were to lose their faith and become atheists.

          • JBSchmidt

            “this pattern of Christian conservatism condemning newer ideas”
            I challenge your assertion of how history played out in the examples you cite. With the the reformers, they were actually returning the Church to the paths that Jesus had laid out and in the time of Jesus, he again was returning the teaching of God that the Jews had lost over time. In both instances, the argument can be made that both times were when the community of God had followed progressive tenancies (man can save himself) and the reformers (Jesus included) were course correcting. In either instance, the definition of salvation remained the same. It was through Christ’s death and resurrection that the faithful entered heaven. At no point was the divide regarding universal salvation.

            “very large body of literature” and “very large percentage of professors at Christian seminaries”
            Are either of those from God? If it contradicts the Bible, which is the lie? Furthermore, couldn’t the Jews who had Jesus killed claim the same, whereby justifying his sin of blasphemy? Finally, secular literature and professors have been denying the idea of God since…I guess Genesis Ch3. Does that make them correct?

            I think we are talking past each other regarding the ‘eye of a needle’. I will leave that alone for the moment.

            “God might as well will and ask me to pray that 2 + 2 = everything but 4.”
            Is it God’s will that man sin? Obviously, no God does not will man to sin. Yet he does, why? Could it be that God wills and works according to his purpose and not mans. For example in Ezekiel 36:27, God tells his people that he will put his spirit in them; yet, when Christ comes he speaks the words of Mark 4:11&12 (Isaiah 6:9&10)and effectively hardens the hearts of the Jewish people. A fact that Paul writes about in Romans 11. So, God desires all to be saved and we pray that his will be done; but some reject his will. Some, as the Jews, harden their spiritual hearts against God. Jesus, in Mark 3:28&29, points to those who will never be forgiven. When the Bible is read as a whole, God’s will includes preventing the forgiveness/salvation from those who reject him.

            “Have you not wondered why most atheists live lives that are at least as morally acceptable as many if not most conservative theists ”
            This is a combination of multiple Biblical principles. First, as Paul points out in Romans 1, all people have the law of God written on their hearts. Jesus reaffirms this in Matthew 7 when he points out that even though we are sinful we still can do the right thing. However, doing good works for ones own sake is pointless in the eyes of God. Unless done in faith, for God’s glory, good deeds are worthless in his sight (Romans 8:8). We also know that God’s will blesses the unbeliever as he continues to preserve the world, Matthew 5:45. In the same way my believers will be judged for their actions or inaction Matthew 25:44. The Bible is clear that apart from God we can do nothing (Psalm 16:2, John 15:5). Hence, simply living morally, does not grant you peace with God. It only grants you peace on earth, an accomplishment that holds no favor in God’s eyes.

            If the natural law of God, caused the Holy Spirit to work faith in your heart, than Praise be to God. That however, does not produce a doctrine of TWIDFIOS. For as I have pointed out, that doctrine is incompatible with God.

            Jesus is clear that there are sheep and goats. That on the day of judgement they will be separated, some to eternal glory and some to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). If there is no separation, many Biblical passages must be erased. God’s judgement in the forms of the Canaanite people, the Egyptians, Sodom and Gomorrah must all be considered evil acts by God. For they were judged, they were found sinful and in those cases God hardened their hearts securing their fate apart from God. How do they factor into eternal salvation?

            Finally, if we are all saved, because God wills it, it must have been willed before the existence of time itself. That makes one wonder, why send Jesus to be brutalized for a predetermined salvation? Following Christ itself becomes an exercise in futility. Unless you accept the prosperity gospel, which in that case we are all out to make our earthly lives better. However, that as well in contrary to God’s will, as prosperity in God’s eyes is being faithful to him. Isn’t the entire religion thing a waste? It simply your version of a warm blanket. If mine is woven of cash or lust, it is equally as valid. Now you can claim a subjective emotional objection to certain lifestyles, but God doesn’t care, so why should you?

          • keefanda

            “Jesus, in Mark 3:28&29, points to those who will never be forgiven.”

            Not necessarily. (There is a logical lesson to be learned here. I’ll get to that further down.) Jesus gave us a flat out universally quantified statement, “all things are possible with God” in reply to his disciples who said in astonishment, “then who can be saved?”, where they gathered that he taught that it would be impossible not only for rich people but for even just one person to be saved. “All things” means *all things*, and this includes the thing called universal salvation. Either this use of the universal quantifier “all” is a lie or it isn’t. And either we have to take it literally or we don’t. Very important point: If it’s OK to not take it literally, then it’s OK to not take other passages of the Bible literally, and this includes all those passages that some say is proof of everlasting conscious torture.

            Now the logical lesson: His statement on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is equivalent to a conditional statement such as “if one commits such blasphemy, then one will never be forgiven”, which allows for the application of vacuous truth (in terms of set theory, the domains of the relevant variables are the empty set – here, it’s possible there is no one who actually commits this blasphemy, they only got close) in this case via a false antecedent. (See such articles as
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuous_truth
            for acceptable introductions to this concept.) In addition, all things being possible with God takes logical precedence because (1) the domain of “things” is nonempty, which means we cannot have a vacuous truth as we could with the prior statement above on blasphemy via a false antecedent, and (2) the term “never” in the blasphemy statement is a temporal one. This last point allows for an application of “never” to all of a given finite time period. The Greek term usually translated “everlasting” in such as “everlasting punishment” can mean a finite time period. Another New Testament Greek term properly means “everlasting”, actually. (See the parts on Greek grammar in such articles as
            “ETERNAL PUNISHMENT – Is It Really of God?”
            http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/etpunish.html
            for more on this.)

            Side note on everlasting conscious torture: “Everlasting Hell” could easily be Annihilation in terms of what one actually experiences but not so according to some “observer”. Consider the following fact from relativistic physics many don’t know: When an object falls into an average sized black hole, it can experience essentially instantaneous destruction if it quickly approaches and then passes through the event horizon. But some outside observers can only see the object get ever closer to the event horizon, its movements becoming ever slower as it “tortuously” is torn apart at a seemingly ever slower rate. (We have so-called “eternal” torture from a viewpoint.) See such articles as
            “What happens to you if you fall into a black hole?”
            http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/BlackHoles/fall_in.html
            for reasonable explanations of this.)

            “In both instances, the argument can be made that both times were when the community of God had followed progressive tenancies (man can save himself)…”

            “Humans can save themselves” as a defining feature of progressivism is a very self-serving invention by conservatives. Keeping the Law of Moses was the way to Heaven in Jesus’ day according to the Pharisees, the religious conservatives of that day, very much “humans can save themselves” thinking. They were not liberal, free-thinking people. They were dogmatic – they were conservative. Jesus was a progressive in that he challenged this religious conservatism. The same with Luther and Calvin vs. the Roman Catholic Church, the religious conservatism – the orthodox dogma – of that day.

            “Now you can claim a subjective emotional objection to certain lifestyles, but God doesn’t care, so why should you?”

            It does matter how we live. This type of argumentation above is fallacious – the straw figure fallacy. Christian Universalism (again, since Christ is the one doing all the saving, it’s different from mere Universalism) implies nothing of what you argue against. This includes the afterlife even for those who meet some definition of “being saved”. Read more of the links on Christian Universalist thinking I gave in a prior comment above – it does not necessarily mean going to a really nice place right away. Even conservatives like Charles Stanley (hardcore Eternal Security Baptist) allow for a not so wonderful life even in Heaven at least temporarily for even those who are “saved”. These parts of Heaven in Stanley’s thinking seem similar enough to those early Christian Universalists on Hell (see my prior relevant comment) – a temporary not so wonderful life in the afterlife before finally a better one.

            “If it contradicts the Bible, which is the lie?”

            “The Bible” sometimes can be the lie if “The Bible” is defined as having to take all of it as inspired by God or take a certain passage literally or in some interpretation that denies fact or a properly working conscience. Examples: See having to deny science in so many ways, see the terroristic mass murders talked up as great things of God even though they are so horrible that even ISIS has yet to match them, and see such as Leviticus 15, in which, via the requirement of a blood sacrifice of two birds, we see eternal Hell as the just punishment (according to religious conservatives) for any woman who commits the “sin” of bleeding longer than normal during one of her periods or the “sin” of bleeding at a time other than her normal period and who does not get this “sin” atoned for by the blood sacrifice of these birds or (according to Christian conservatives) The Lamb of God, Jesus. Talk about an obscene level of psychological violence against women!

            I thank God I learned I don’t have to take “The Bible” as The Final Authority. Taking “The Bible” as The Final Authority actually means putting my brains on the shelf and bowing down to many mere humans thousands of years ago spread out over long periods of time who decided what writings God did and did not inspire. I’m not talking about just the actual authors (don’t forget that Jesus was not an author), but especially all those unknown people hundreds of years after each given author who made those decisions as to what is and is not “canon”.