So, What is Universalism, Anyway?

In all the discussion of the eternality of hell ignited by a certain book,  the term universalism has been thrown around a lot, as has another question:

What exactly is universalism, anyway?

I’m reading (and listening to) John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved; there, Piper provides a very thoughtful description of universalism from his personal experience reading the works of George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle:

Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing.

I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly… Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation in Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: “From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing.”

Those are strong words spoken about the God I had come to see in the Bible and to love. I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: “There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together—an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.” And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for.

MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.” And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”

I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think. [Read more...]

The Excellency That Not Everyone Saw

[T]here were many who saw Jesus and did not see the glory of God. They saw a glutton and a drunkard (Matt. 11:19). They saw Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Matt. 10:25; 12:24). They saw an impostor (Matt. 27:63). “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear” (Matt. 13:13). The glory of God in the life and ministry of Jesus was not the blinding glory that we will see when he comes the second time with “his face . . . like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16; cf. Luke 9:29). His glory, in his first coming, was the incomparably exquisite array of spiritual, moral, intellectual, verbal, and practical perfections that manifest themselves in a kind of meek miracle-working and unanswerable teaching and humble action that set Jesus apart from all men.

What I am trying to express here is that the glory of Christ, as he appeared among us, consisted not in one attribute or another, and not in one act or another, but in what Jonathan Edwards called “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies…” These excellencies are so diverse that they “would have seemed to us utterly incompatible in the same subject.” In other words,

  • we admire him for his glory, but even more because his glory is mingled with humility;
  • we admire him for his transcendence, but even more because his transcendence is accompanied by condescension;
  • we admire him for his uncompromising justice, but even more because it is tempered with mercy;
  • we admire him for his majesty, but even more because it is a majesty in meekness;
  • we admire him because of his equality with God, but even more because as God’s equal he nevertheless has a deep reverence for God;
  • we admire him because of how worthy he was of all good, but even more because this was accompanied by an amazing patience to suffer evil;
  • we admire him because of his sovereign dominion over the world, but even more because this dominion was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission;
  • we love the way he stumped the proud scribes with his wis- dom, and we love it even more because he could be simple enough to like children and spend time with them;
  • and we admire him because he could still the storm, but even more because he refused to use that power to strike the Samaritans with lightning (Luke 9:54-55) and he refused to use it to get himself down from the cross.

The list could go on and on. But this is enough to illustrate that beauty and excellency in Christ is not a simple thing. It is complex. It is a coming together in one person of the perfect balance and proportion of extremely diverse qualities. And that’s what makes Jesus Christ uniquely glorious, excellent, and admirable. The human heart was made to stand in awe of such ultimate excellence. We were made to admire Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, pp. 51-53

Around the Interweb

The Only Hope We Have, And It Is Hope Enough

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

R.C. Sproul from Together for the Gospel 2008 on the curse motif of the atonement:

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Also Worth Reading:

Controversy: Michael Krahn on what he thinks John Piper meant when he tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” (Incidentally, Piper responded: “Pretty close.”)

Men: A Bigger Problem Than “Boys Will Be Boys”

Bible: What About the Issues Scripture Doesn’t Address?

Documentary: The Life of George Whitefield as told by The Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Apparently this video will no longer be available after March 31, so watch it while you can. It’s fascinating stuff:

In Case You Missed It:

Book Review: Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Husbands, Date Your Wives

What Good Will Come From the Bell Brouhaha?

Richard D. Phillips: Your Witness Matters

Meet My Friend Deni Gauthier

Thomas Watson: Let Us Imitate Our Father

Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor

On Tuesday, February 1, Dr. Joel Beeke spoke at the Desiring God 2011 Pastor’s Conference, “The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor.” His topic: Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor. Though many visiting this site are not pastors, I hope you’ll find Dr. Beeke’s message beneficial to cultivating your own prayer life.

Video:

Audio: : (Download to listen later)

Below are the notes taken during Dr. Beeke’s session (courtesy of Desiring God):

It is always convicting to receive the assignment to speak on prayer to other pastors. And as I was writing the book that Dr. Piper referenced on prayer, I became increasingly convicted by the Puritans about how little I pray. So tonight, I am preaching first of all to myself. This topic is at the heart of revival of the church of Jesus Christ. My father told me when I was a teenager that the greatest problem of the church today is prayerless praying.

The sermons of the Reformers and Puritans are not that different than ours. We’re saying essentially the same thing. What was so different was their prayer lives. My aim is that we would truly pray in our prayers. So turn with me to Isaiah 64:6-9 and James 5:13-18.

True prayer is putting ourselves into our petitions, crying out to God Almighty and praying in our prayers. The problem is not that we don’t pray, but rather that seldom we truly prayerfully pray in our prayers. What is this praying? The primary exercise of faith. Private prayerful praying is the work of the triune God. It has more to do with God than with us. It is Heaven’s greatest weapon that we have at our disposal as a minister of the gospel. This kind of praying is supposed to be half of our vocation—giving ourselves to the Word and to prayer. [Read more...]

The Greatest Gifts Can Become Deadly Substitutes for God

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things”—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.

John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer, 14-15.

HT: Adrian Warnock

Will We Worship or Curse?

[I]t is not surprising that when Christ came into the world, all nature bowed to his authority. He commanded the wind and it obeyed. And when the disciples saw it they wondered. And then worshiped. “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat. . . . And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . [The disciples] were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:37-41).

Water obeyed Jesus in more ways than one. When he commanded, it became “solid” under his feet, and he walked on it. When the disciples saw this they “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33). Another time, he commanded water, and it became wine at the wedding of Cana. In response, John says, he “manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Wind and water do whatever the Lord Jesus tells them to do. Be still. Bear weight. Become wine. Natural laws were made by Christ and alter at his bidding.

The composition of all things was not only created by Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), but is also held in being moment by moment throughout the whole universe by his will. “He . . . upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus Christ defines reality in the beginning and gives it form every second.

Fatalities, fevers, fish, food, fig trees. Anywhere you turn, Christ is the absolute master over all material substance…

Now we have a choice. Worship or curse. . . . Will we worship or will we curse the One who rules the world? Shall sinners dictate who should live and who should die? Or shall we say with Hannah, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol [the grave] and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6)? And shall we, with ashes on our heads, worship with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)? Will we learn from James that there is good purpose in it all: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is com- passionate and merciful” (James 5:11)?

John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, pp. 45-47

Around the Interweb (12/19)

Bad News: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

John Piper:

In Other News

Culture: CNN on C.S. Lewis’ enduring popularity

Books: Check out a preview of Mike Wilkerson’s upcoming book, Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry (then preorder a copy):

[issuu layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Flight%2Flayout.xml showflipbtn=true documentid=101217161959-65c1d118dc5c495e939ee3d184c73f78 docname=redemption_issuu username=Crossway loadinginfotext=Redemption showhtmllink=true tag=relit width=420 height=325 unit=px]

The Road to Fame and Fortune:

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. (HT: Michael Krahn)

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

On Friday, I released a new e-book: Lessons from Nehemiah

Seeing the world through a biblical lens

Darrin Patrick on discerning the call to ministry

A review of J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett’s Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way

Christmas as the End of History

© Gareth Weeks

Creation out of nothing was an awesome event. Imagine what the angelic spirits must have felt when the universe, material reality of which they had never imagined, was brought forth out of nothing by the command of God. The fall was an awful event, shaking the entire creation. The exodus was an amazing display of God’s power and love. The giving of the law, the wilderness provisions, the conquering of Canaan, the prosperity of the monarchy—all these acts of God in redemptive history were very great and wonderful. Each one was a very significant bend in the river of redemptive history, bringing it ever and ever closer to the ocean of God’s final kingdom. But we trivialize Christmas, the incarnation, if we treat it as just another bend on the way to the end. It is the end of redemptive history.

And I think the analogy of the river helps us see how. Picture the river as redemptive history flowing toward the ocean which is the final kingdom of God, full of glory and righteousness and peace. At the end of the river the ocean presses up into the river with its salt water. Therefore, at the mouth of the river there is a mingling of fresh water and salt water. One might say that the kingdom of God has pressed its way back up into the river of time a short way. It has surprised the travelers and taken them off guard. They can smell the salt water. They can taste the salt water. The sea gulls circle the deck. The end has come upon them. Christmas is not another bend in the river. It is the arrival of the salt water of the kingdom of God which has backed up into the river of history. With the coming of Christmas, the ocean of the age to come has reached backward up the stream of history to welcome us, to wake us up to what is coming, to lure us on into the deep. Christmas is not another bend in the river of history. It is the end of the river. Let down your dipper and taste of Jesus Christ, his birth and life and death and resurrection. Taste and see if the age to come has not arrived, if the kingdom has not come upon us. Does it not make your eyes sparkle?

But scoffers will say—they have always said—2,000 years is a long river delta! Too long to believe in. Christmas was just another bend in the river. The salty taste in the water must have been done by some chemical plant nearby. Who can imagine living in the last days for 2,000 years? To such skeptics I say, with the apostle Peter, “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). As far as God is concerned the incarnation happened last Friday.

I want us to think of Christmas this year not as a great event in the flow of history, but as the arrival of the end of history which happened, as it were, but yesterday, and will be consummated very soon by the second appearing of Christ. Let me make one last effort to help you see it this way. Most of you probably know someone who is 90 years old or older—probably a woman. I want you to imagine 22 of these ladies standing here in front, side by side, facing you, each one still alert and able to remember her childhood and marriage and old age. And then instead of seeing them side by side as contemporaries, have them turn and face sideways so they form a queue, and imagine that each one lived just after the other. If the one on my far left were alive today, do you know when the one on my far right would have been born? At the same time Jesus was. Jesus was born just 22 ladies ago. That is not a very long time. Just 22 people between you and the incarnation. In comparison to the size of the ocean of the age to come, the mouth of the river of redemptive history is small. The delta is not long. It is short.

John Piper, Christmas as the End of History © Desiring God

Government and Godliness

The closer we get to Dominion Theology the closer we get to living by the sword. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight.” This seems to mean that we are not moving toward a true understanding of the kingdom of God in this world as we move toward a greater and greater use of the sword to authorize kingdom values.

It is not the priests who are given the sword but the magistrates. And the magistrates rule not by virtue of their claim to revelation but by virtue of their claim to providential authorization. In some cultures this providential authorization has been through a line of kings, in other cultures through various contests, and in our own culture through a democratic representative process.

It seems that the theocratic ideal of Israel in the Old Testament was specifically abandoned in the New Testament as the Gospel ceased to be focused on an ethnic and political reality called Israel (Matt. 21:43) and became a multicultural, multiethnic worldwide movement without ethnic or political definition. It will be fitting, when Christ returns, that he be given the right to establish a kingdom of more specific political boundaries. But in the meantime we do well to exert our influence in ways that do not put the sword into the hands of the priests.

By John Piper © Desiring God

What Could Unravel the Gospel-Centered Movement?

A couple years back, Piper was asked, “what could unravel the gospel-centered movement?”

His answer was insightful: The disconnect between the majesty of God and the way we entertain ourselves.

“There’s an awakening to the majesty of God around the country, a filling of hearts with God-centered, Christ-exalted, Bible-saturated songs . . . a zeal for truth and biblical doctrine . . . and I’m concerned that there’s a disconnect between the big thoughts of God and how we live our daily lives.”

I’ve been thinking hard about this for the last few days. Am I inconsistent in how I entertain myself? Probably. Am I seeking to be more consistent? I hope so.

If anything is going to be offensive about how I live, I want it to be the gospel.

How about you?

HT: Justin Taylor

Book Review: Think by John Piper

Think by John Piper

R. C. Sproul once lamented that, “we live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.” Strong words, to be sure. But there’s something to them, isn’t there?

Consider, for a moment, how we determine our agreement with ideas and experiences. More often than not, it’s based on what we feel. If it feels good, we do it; and if it feels good, it must obviously be good for us, right?

This comes into play in how we develop (or don’t as the case may be) our doctrine as well; we chafe at the hard truths of the Christian faith—the exclusivity of Christ, the atonement, the authority of Scripture, and countless others—because they don’t feel good. So we don’t wrestle. We don’t engage. We don’t search the Scriptures.

We don’t think deeply.

And because we don’t think deeply, we rob ourselves of a deeper love for God.

In his latest book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, John Piper seeks to help readers understand how the heart and mind glorify God together and that “thinking is indispensible on the path to passion for God” (p. 27).

Taking its inspiration from Proverbs 2:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:7, Think has a very sermonic feel to it. It’s less an academic work than a practical and pastoral admonishment. As Piper examines the necessity of thinking to the Christian life, he makes it clear that thinking is not the end goal, love for God is.

“Thinking under the mighty hand of God, thinking soaked in prayer, thinking carried by the Holy Spirit, thinking tethered to the Bible, thinking in pursuit of more reasons to praise and proclaim the glories of God, thinking in the service of love—such thinking is indispensible in a life of fullest praise to God,” he writes (p. 27).

Piper’s writing in this book has a certain comfortableness about it that allows him to communicate some fairly complex subject matter in great ease. He writes simply, without being simplistic. This is especially apparent as he deals with the issue of relativism. About this, he writes:

When objective truth vanishes in the fog of relativism, the role of language changes dramatically. It’s no longer a humble servant for carrying precious truth. Now it throws off the yoke of servanthood and takes on a power of its own. It doesn’t submit to objective, external reality; it creates its own reality. It no longer serves to display truth. Now it seeks to obtain the preferences of the speaker. . . . The goal of language is no longer the communication of reality, but the manipulation of reality . . . function[ing] in the devious capacity of concealing defection from the truth. (p. 109)

Particularly insightful was Piper’s examination of the two texts that some consider the pillars of anti-intellectualism. In Luke 10:21, Jesus thanks the Father that He has hidden His truth from the wise and revealed it to little children and in 1 Cor. 1:20-24, Paul writes that God has confounded the wisdom of the world in the Cross.

So do these texts encourage an anti-intellectual attitude? Not at all, says Piper. What they point to is the issue of pride. There are those who pursue wisdom arrogantly—to know for the sake of knowing. There are those who pursue a lack of knowledge with equal arrogance. “The warnings that Jesus and Paul have sounded . . . are not warnings against careful, faithful, rigorous, coherent, thinking in the pursuit of God,” he writes (p. 154). Instead, they are warnings against pride. “Pride is no respecter of persons—the serious thinkers may be humble. And the careless mystics may be arrogant” (ibid).

This insight is extraordinarily helpful, especially as one who errs on the side of pride in human intellect. The proper response for one such as me is not to give up intellectual pursuit, but instead pursue right thinking—thinking that is marked by a love for God and love for people.

All branches of learning exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God and loving man through Jesus . . . it is profoundly right to say all thinking, all learning, all education and all research is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. (p. 175)

This is what a biblical attitude toward intellectual pursuit looks like. Piper’s vision is captivating in its scope and application. Thinking and feeling aren’t opposed. Knowledge isn’t the enemy of experience. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.

Read Think and be encouraged to love God with all your mind, and letting that fuel your passion for God in all your life.


Title: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Beware the Self-Absorbed Preacher

A strong warning from John Piper:

Here’s the transcript:

We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.

Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen.

This is really important for me to keep in mind as I am developing sermons (and blog posts). The challenge with illustrations is that sometimes the easiest place to find them (in our own lives) is exactly the place that leads us to (sometimes inadvertently) spend too much time talking about ourselves.

Why Memorize Scripture?

In the above video, John Piper recites Psalm 1, Psalm 16, Psalm 103 and Romans 5:1-8 in their entirety.

From memory.

There’s something powerful about seeing someone live out the command that we should abide in God’s Word (cf. John 8:31, 15:7). Yet, it seems that memorizing Scripture is one of the most difficult things to do, and one of the most neglected disciplines.

Why should we do it, then?

In the following video, Piper gives eight reasons from his own experience why memorizing Scripture is so valuable:

  1. Memorizing Scripture makes meditation possible at times when I can’t be reading the Bible, and meditation is the pathway of deeper understanding.
  2. Memorizing Scripture strengthens my faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, and that happens when I am hearing the word in my head.
  3. Memorizing Scripture shapes the way I view the world by conforming my mind to God’s viewpoint.
  4. Memorizing Scripture makes God’s word more readily accessible for overcoming temptation to sin, because God’s warnings and promises are the way we conquer the deceitful promises of sin.
  5. Memorizing Scripture guards my mind by making it easier to detect error—and the world is filled with error, since the god of this world is a liar.
  6. Memorizing Scripture enables me to hit the devil in the face with a force he cannot resist, and so protect myself and my family from his assaults.
  7. Memorizing Scripture provides the strongest and sweetest words for ministering to others in need.
  8. Memorizing Scripture provides the matrix for fellowship with Jesus because he talks to me through his word, and I talk to him in prayer.

I’ve been slowly working on memorizing some Scripture for a couple of years now; it’s been difficult to keep up with, but it’s been helpful for me. If you’re looking for a helpful resource for training yourself to memorize Scripture, check out the Topical Memory System from Nav Press.

Are you trying to memorize Scripture? If so, what have you found helpful in doing so?

Around the Interweb (11/07)

Don’t Use Email for Correction

C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald discuss why email isn’t the best way to offer correction to a brother or sister:

HT: The Gospel Coalition Blog

In Other News

Prayer request: I’m preaching tonight as part of Harvest Bible Chapel London’s first service night at the Men’s Mission in town. Please pray for gospel fruit.

Health: Justin Taylor interviews Matt Chandler about how life has changed in the year since he learned he has cancer.

New Websites: The new Crossway.org and ESV.org have launched; go check them out.

Audio: This month’s free audio book at ChristianAudio.com is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

Free Book: Grace to You is offering John MacArthur’s next book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, free in exchange for a bit of info. Here’s the book trailer:

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of John Sowers’ Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story.

The fear of man vs. the fear of God (vide0)

On Christians using the f-word (fundamentalist, that is).

Think Biblically: J. Gresham Machen on pragmatism and the (post) modern preacher