Continuing Part 2 of Alice Spicer’s review of Raising Hell:
If you haven’t read (Part One) Book Review: Raising Hell, please do so now. This is the second part of the book review for Julie Ferwerda’s new book, Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire. I skipped over chapter 14 on purpose, because I wanted to camp out there at the beginning of this blog, however, I need to backtrack a bit further after reading a blog comment on part one, as follows:
“Regarding the presence of universalism in the early centuries of Christianity, it is far from certain whether the church fathers the author mentions, including Origen, embraced this doctrine, at least in the sense of believing that in the end all persons will be restored to God.”
The names Ferwerda mentions come with quotes. I’ll be brief here, because my aim is not to rewrite her book, and only mention a bit of what she writes. But keep in mind that she, also, is brief in her writing considering how much information is actually out there. Studying church history is something that takes time and effort. Readers can research for themselves to verify the accuracy of Ferwerda’s claims.
Clement of Alexandria (150-213 AD) “For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. But needful corrections… compel even those who have become more callous to repent… So he saves all…”
Origen of Alexandria (180-253 AD), responded to a challenge to Christianity, posed by Celsus on the basis that Christianity taught punishment by fire, by saying, “As therefore, God is a consuming fire, what is it that is to be consumed by Him? We say it is wickedness, and whatever proceeds from it… Our God is a consuming fire in this sense…”
Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 AD) wrote about the lake of fire saying apostates would be “baptized with fire”, and that it “eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice.”
Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) “…everything that was created by God shall have become such as it was at the beginning… this is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the Divine Life, penetrating all things shall absolutely destroy Death…”
Now, for chapter 14, which is probably the most important chapter in the book for the reader who wonders why Christian Universalists claim reconciliation for all when his or her Bible plainly states that unbelievers will experience “everlasting punishment” in hell. The Hebrew word “olam”, which means “behind the horizon” or “to conceal” is the equivalent of the Greek word “aion”, which contrary to popular belief, does NOT mean “everlasting” or “eternal.” Ferwerda says,
An eon or age, is defined as a period of time with a beginning and an end. Consider the myriad of ways this one word (with one meaning) has been translated in two of our more popular New Testament versions today:
Age or ages: NASB-26, KJV-2
Ancient time: NASB-1
Beginning of time: NASB-1
World or worlds: NASB-7, KJV-78
World without end: KJV-1
Eternal: NASB-2, KJV-2
Ever: NASB-2, KJV-71
Forever: NASB-27, KJV-30
Forever and ever: NASB-20, KJV-21
Long ago: NASB-1
Never: NASB-1, KJV-6
Ferwerda points out, “The use of the word ‘aion’ for such a variety of words, phrases, and concepts in and of itself should raise a major red flag.” This chapter is loaded with helpful information, including screen caps from online study sources. Ferwerda asks, “Can ‘aion’ ever mean eternity?” And uses both scholarly methods and common sense to answer that question. She suggests, “Try substituting ‘eternity’ for the age-related words above [here referring to Eph. 1:21, 2:7, Col. 1:26] and it’s easy to see why it shouldn’t be done.
Aion definitely pertains to the word age, but translators pick and choose how to translate it in certain passages, depending on the message they want to convey (or theological bias they are trying to preserve).” She also points out that if aionios means eternity, then theologians will have a hard time explaining how it is that scriptures, translated this way, talk about “before eternity.” What the heck is that supposed to mean? She names plenty of scriptures which make absolutely no sense, if aion means forever, and it is my hope that skeptics will take the time to look up each one and really consider the implications.
One thing that I really appreciate about this chapter is that Ferwerda doesn’t just say, “aion means age” and leave it at that. There is a world of wonder to discover, once one understands the true meaning of this word, including eonian themes in scripture such as life, salvation, redemption, covenant, kingdom, glory, consolation, fire, and many more. Many of these things have to do with here and now, and the believer who remains clueless is missing out on some amazing, inspirational concepts which make day-to-day living pure joy and peace, regardless of circumstances. This is not to say that those who “get it” don’t have bad days or never experience disappointment or sorrow, but knowing how thoroughly God’s sovereignty permeates in THIS AGE allows us to recognize His Kingdom being established through every event and circumstance, giving the believer confidence and hope for the future – a hope that does not fail!
The eonian theme smoothly transitions into chapters sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, The Purpose of the Ages, Two Major Covenants, and The Great Harvests. I believe that for someone who does not have eyes to see or ears to hear (that is, if they’ve actually picked up the book at all, let alone continued reading the book past the half-way mark) will consider these chapters to be almost nonsensical. If someone cannot believe that aion is an age, then concepts that come from that understanding will be disjointed and confusing. Nevertheless, Ferwerda continues for the sake of those who do see/hear. Here’s one section that struck me as very powerful and important…
Read the rest of this review at WhatGodDoes.com.
More about Alice’s blog:
Have you ever been to church or had a conversation with a religious person in which you asked honest, difficult questions, only to find yourself dissatisfied or disillusioned with the answers they provide? Perhaps you question the existence of God, what it really means to be a “Christian,” inconsistencies in scripture, the moral track record of religious institutions, the fear and terror related emotions induced by eternal torment and wrath-of-God doctrines, how religion’s insistence on tribal and mythological thinking has stumped human progress in science and learning, etc. You want to know how and why it is that a good God seems to have approved of slavery, the degradation of women, genocide, torture, the ill-treatment of homosexuals or people who are otherwise labeled “outcast,” etc.
If this is true of you, you are in good company – there are thousands of people all around with world who haven’t entirely given up on their own spirituality but are sick to death of the hypocrisy and hate which seems to inevitably accompany spiritual discussion. This blog is concerned with Who God is and what God does, without all the showy pretenses and quid pro quos imposed by the corrupt spiritual police of this world. The content of www.whatgoddoes.com will include regular criticism and analysis of church history; contrast/compare ideas in theology, popular opinion, science, and philosophy; review and even pick apart, when necessary, apologetic books, articles, blogs, and other media; as well as creative musings about current events, entertainment, and my personal experiences.