9/11 Commission Report

I had checked my bags, made it through security, then panicked.

My book–I’d left Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons in my check in bag. OK, I shouldn’t water down the language. This should not be called panic. Perhaps “productivity anxiety distress syndrome” triggered from the thought that I’d be doomed to read the in-flight magazine. I had wanted to finish the breathless suspense novel but now my prospects of suspense would be whether or not they were serving pretzels or peanuts.

So I acted quickly and bought (the price wasn’t actually that bad) a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report. It does not read like a report, though it was put together by hundreds of commission staff by interviews and millions of pages of documents.

The report reads instead like a narrative, opening as a novel with the scene of a clear blue September morning. What I like about the report is that it tells everything we know but nothing more than what could be verified about the flights and what happened in each flight, what happened at ground control, the FAA, NORAD, the administration. Then the movement of the story goes to the terrorist networks and back story then goes to the events on the ground in NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. including NYPD accounts of rescue and response, the horror and the heroism.

The report finishes with recommendations for world security and recommendations to the United States government. At several points in the story I caught my breath and had a lump in my throat. Read this account. It’s part of who we now are, a reflection of a shifting world view that we all participate with and continue to observe in one another and ourselves.

It’s likely you’re not stuck in an airport, so you can download the report free in parts or whole from the 9-11 Commission web site.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Joseph’s saving dreamworld

Ever think about how much dreams figure into the whole Joseph narrative? At least six times dreams are told and interpreted, and this satisfies some and makes others angry. Joseph dreams his brothers–even his father Jacob at one point–will bow down to him. Joseph the dreamer.

Or was it Joseph the dream intepreter. After he gets tossed into the dungeon with the king’s baker and taste tester, the two men both have dreams that Joseph divines for them. The taste tester’s head will be lifted up, he will be restored to his rightful place in the king’s court. The baker will also be lifted up . . . and hanged from the nearest tree. What could a baker have done to make a king so furious? One too many twists of the bread. Did he knead the bread too hard? Forget to wash his hands like Poppy in Seinfeld?

Then Pharaoh dreams of scrawny cows devouring fat ones. A second dream about grain, Joseph says, is really the same meaning and they both mean Egypt will get seven bumper crop years and seven years of famine. Joseph becomes a super star by this important skill in ancient eastern life–interpreting dreams. Don’t think he was the only one trying to do this at the time. Wizards of the king had tried and nothing satisfied him. What did those wizards say to him? Better guard those fat cows from the scrawny ones with the hungry eyes?

There is more, however, to the story of Joseph than dreams. Much more. Last night in my 5th and 6th grade class, we’re learning about God’s salvation. We’ve talked about God’s image in which he created us from the get go in Gen 2. I showed them a hand mirror and told them every time these adolescents see themselves in the mirror, they are looking at one made in the image of God. Self-image? Let’s teach our kids God-image. No they are not gods. But they are made in his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom 8:29). Then a few weeks ago we talked about the fall and illustrated with a cup representing humanity held in each of our hands that represent God and his care. The cup, after it fell, could not jump back up into our hand. God reached down. This particular illustration came from Karyn Henley. If you teach children, you must check out her material.

If it’s not already clear by implication, you may be able to see that I’m teaching the children about God’s saving work from the beginning. The focus is on God’s saving, not our response initially. Too many presentations of salvation are too quickly presented and focus on the response of the believer. God is working in the lives of these children and they are encouraged to see themselves as part of this incredible movement of God. So I used an old story book by William Neil called The Bible Story (good luck finding it but glad if you do . . . I’m not gonna troll the web looking for a link to this perhaps out of print book but let me know if you find a copy). After telling the whole Joseph narrative (and there’s a lot there), we focused on several statements Joseph made to his brothers, through his weeping.

Joseph’s brothers are literally scared speechless by the cat-and-mouse game Joseph is playing with them, particularly when he reveals himself to them. But behind that he tells them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:4-7). Later, after Jacob dies, the brothers get freaked out again that Joseph is going to seek retribution on them. They send a perhaps phony message to him saying Jacob had left it before he died and it said emphatically that he should forgive his brothers for treating him so badly. It was their way of saying sorry. It didn’t matter that they’d made it up. Joseph knew it was from them mostly. Joseph wept. Then he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

We shared stories in the class about things that started out bad then turned out good. Then I told them this is what God has done for us in Christ: what humanity intended for evil, God intended to save us.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Tsunami one month ago

My daughter, Ashley, mentioned that the Tsunami was one month ago today.

Like perhaps billions of my fellow dwellers on this earth, I’ve sought both stories of the disaster and rescue . . . to try and make sense of it all.

Without a doubt, this was the most violent and widespread natural disaster I’ve ever seen. So I had to ask someone from one of those countries if they had known anyone who was hurt or missing. Always when disasters like the Tsunami happen, people look to their faith to make sense of it.

I’ve investigated how the people in the path of the Tsunami are making sense of such destruction that killed more than one hundred and fifty thousand and left millions homeless and injured.

And I’ve searched my own faith in Christ and Scripture—the Bible—to understand why this happened.

First, I wanted to know how the predominant religion in one of the worst hit of the eleven countries enveloped by the Tsunami—Thailand—made sense of this violent earthquake and wave.

I spoke with Ptah, a Thai woman who had traveled to Puket, Thailand for holidays.

Ptah came dangerously close to death. She was at the water front on Christmas day. She had gone with six family members to the shore of the Indian Ocean for the holiday. They wanted to fly back Sunday night and had planned to stay through Sunday morning at a place in Puket where the Tsunami hit. But there were no flights, so she and her family left early.

“I’m very lucky,” Ptah says. I wondered why she said she was lucky. I told her perhaps God had rescued her, but she said a psychic had told her to stay away from the water, that many would die.

Ptah is a Buddhist, a widespread religion in Thailand. Perhaps she considers herself lucky because many Buddhists believe that impersonal gods of the sea caused the wave of disaster . . . and that destruction is not intended for individuals specifically. Instead, the Tsunami may be viewed as a random act of the gods on a land where offerings and prayers had been unworthy or not taken seriously.

But those who lost loved ones and even some who didn’t will think long years about this wave. When Buddhists try to make sense of this awesome wave they might look to the idea of Karma, says Donald Lopez, a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Michigan, quoted in NEWSWEEK.

They might “ask what they did individually or collectively that a tragedy like this happened.” Their concern, according to Lopez, is to transfer a positive force on the behalf of their loved ones who are deceased so they will benefit in the next lifetime.

There are so many stories of suffering, death, and even survival. So many Hindu, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians crying out to God or the name of their gods . . . like Malaysian Melawati, who clung to a floating palm tree for five days, surviving on fruit and bark from the tree and enduring bites from fish. She lost her husband. And she recently found out she is pregnant with his child. Perhaps she will be one symbol of hope and survival amid the rubble.

My Christian faith, I believe, does not hide the suffering of people or attribute it to God. It speaks of hope and comfort in suffering. What does my Christian faith and the Bible say about the Tsunami? Is there any better answer from Christ and the Old and New Testament Scriptures?

For this I have to be more personal. So I want you to hear some of my thoughts as I’ve tried to make sense of the Tsunami. In my Christian belief, we can converse with God. We talk directly to him through prayer, and we seek answers to our problems and the dilemmas of the universe and creation in God’s word, the Bible.

So I asked God, “Why did 150,000 fall in one day in eleven countries?” What I read in Scripture and could almost hear God saying was that he also knew each little one who was drowned. He knew the number of hairs on their head. Yet he seemed to ask me, “How do you know how long a lifetime is for each person? Do you expect that everyone on earth will simply grow old and die at a certain age?”

Yes, Lord, the world is governed by natural laws and people die at different ages, but why? Why so much suffering for millions of people so suddenly?

While the devastation is massive, there are millions of children dying every year from preventable malaria and water-born diseases. I felt the God of the universe ask me what I could do to help those children, what we as nations, as fellow humans can do to help one another.

But Lord, I asked, if you love so deeply and are so powerful, then why do so many suffer, whether by malaria or drowning?

But I’m reminded of the immense vision of God that I can’t begin to fathom, the vision of a creator who cares for as many suns in our galaxy alone as there are people on earth. I hear Isaiah quote this God of the universe saying, “My ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:7-8).

The call of the prophet to God’s people is the same as Jesus’ words to the disciples and Pharisees when they asked him (in Luke 13) about dilemmas of their day and why people died unnecessarily. Jesus said, seek the Lord first, and though you do not understand now, someday you will.

The promise of God is not fully comforting for this life, but it is a promise of hope beyond what we can see with our limited vision. We believe God is gracious and cares for each person who died and each family who lost loved ones, and we know that each soul he will judge fairly and rightly. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18 that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the future glory that will be revealed to us. This earth itself longs to be free of the corruption brought upon it by humanity and sin. One day it will be released from this bondage and “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

I suppose for many generations we will be trying to make sense of these events and ones to come soon, but the God I serve is one who knows our suffering, the suffering of the world, and he longs to carry souls of his children who seek him and accept his revelation in Christ and in the world home to live eternally with him.

I keep coming back to Psalm 62:11-12, which is the crux of the argument for those who use events like this to disbelieve in God. They reason that if God is all-strong and all-love then he could in his infinite strength and infinite compassion prevent something like this from happening. But that same strength and compassion and wisdom is beyond me and I can’t claim to understand it, so instead I cling to it. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving” (NIV).

More reading
John Mark Hicks, “Tsunami disaster: all askings of ‘why’ must lead to giving comfort to sufferers
(Christian Chronicle, Feb 05). In the article, Hicks lists two more articles: Larry James, “One way communities of faith can make a big difference” and Michael Learner’s article “Where was God in the Tsunami? And where has humanity been?

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Emergence is nothing if not new Life in Christ

Note: I wrote this in a recent Wineskins issue on Life in Christ in Emerging Culture. Here is text in case you are not a subscriber. See our home page for the recent issue on ethics.

Bridging the 20th and 21st Centuries

The emergent church movement is simply this: those who are dealing thoughtfully between the shift from the twentieth century to the twenty first century way of thinking and doing. They are people who are building a biblically rooted, historically informed, and culturally aware new witness to the twenty first century, says Robert E. Webber.

“The younger evangelical (emergent) wants to release the historic substance of faith from its twentieth-century enculturation in the Enlightenment (trust in modern science to gain all truth) and recontextualize it with the new cultural condition of the twenty first century,” says Webber. In his book The Younger Evangelicals, Webber does a virtuoso work of brushing broad and detailed strokes across the canvas of culture and the church to describe the emergent movement, and I would highly recommend that you pick up that book. Here, however, I will tell you what the emergent movement means to me and perhaps in this telling you will find a voice for what you feel and think yourself or observe in others.

God’s Word
The emergent movement means that I still believe in the authority of the Bible, that my appeal is to ancient faith of our forefathers, appropriated in new ways for today without straining them through the Enlightenment modernistic model that by necessity leaves little or no room for the Spirit, mystery, paradox, and positive ritual. Yet while I rest in the authoritative word of God as divine truth, I can begin to fathom how and why a Muslim is raised not to believe it so, and I can understand why a Methodist or Pentecostal or Catholic may view the Spirit or ritual or church government differently than I do without impugning their motives or believing them merely ignorant or them alone and not I fallible where we don’t agree.

The emergent movement means that I am on a journey with my Muslim friend, Nayil. I stop by his coffee shop at least once a week and we talk of atrocities in his country, Iraq. He tells me of his brother who was killed by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in 1995. He tells me he prays to Allah, and he makes a point to tell me that many Muslims pray to Ali or Muhammad but he believes he can pray straight to God. I tell him that I believe Jesus is the true Son of God, not just a son but Holy God himself in the flesh, that he is truly the one who gives us direct access to God. Nayil answers the phone and it’s another of his brothers calling from Jordan, wanting to talk about problems in Iraq with the Americans. He tells his brother he doesn’t want to hear it today. He gets back to our conversation. Seems on this day he has ears to hear what we are saying to one another, what I’m saying about Jesus. Someday, over my coffee and thirteen cents change I’ll tell him I’ve been praying for him behind his back that he will honor Jesus as the one God has sent to give him access to Him.

Give me Jesus
One of Paul’s favorite phrases is “in Christ.” He says it literally more than 150 times in his letters. Whatever direction the church or culture moves in, let us emerge “in Christ.” In Christ we are new creations—the old is gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). The emergent movement means that I must speak of being “in Christ” as necessary not only for salvation but for transformation, and I will speak this unequivocally to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, or agnostic. I believe that Jesus is the Way, The Truth, and The Life (John 14:6) and that He is who I cling to in place of my rational powers or purity of doctrine. As Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz says, “Give me Jesus. Just…give me Jesus.” He is the first and the last, the Great I AM, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, the Son of God and truly God, not just a prophet but one who died for our sins and was raised on the third day. Just give me Jesus, him crucified and raised and let me walk that path with him. In the words of Paul and the words of the song I sang hundreds of times at Osage Christian camp in a corner of Oklahoma as a boy and what I preached over and again in the far corners of Uganda and what I am willing to say to a Barista in a coffee shop or shoe fitter in Nashville, “I want to know Christ and the power of his rising, share in his suffering, conform to his death. I want to pour out my life to be filled with his Spirit…Great Joy follows suffering and life follows death”(song paraphrases Phil. 3:10-11). Just give me Jesus.

The emergent culture has helped me to understand more fully that I do in fact believe in tradition, ritual, performative symbol. I believe in the power and essential nature of the rituals that symbolize and enact in us our story that culminates in Christ and is handed down to us through the worship of the church: serving, laying of hands and praying for one another both publicly and stealthily, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and calling all who fellowship back to the table for communion with our Lord Jesus and one another.

The emergent movement has encouraged me to nurture intergenerational participation in worship (not just those living but participating in the meditative piety of those long gone, including but not limited to biblical writers, church fathers, and Reformers). I believe it’s time the old men and women dream their dreams and cast their visions and the young men and women follow and serve and do the leg work for the gray-haired elders who have been around the block and to war and to the prisons and to the places we’ve never been nor can imagine. I believe it’s time my young generation becomes the servants and lets the elders raise their hands while we hold them up by the Gen X, Y, and Z energy that we have. The elder are the ones who’ve been doing much of the falling on their knees in their closets, and we’ve just begun to understand what that means, public or private. Let us fall with them and learn from them and learn to lead by first learning how they’ve fixed the church roof and repaired the plumbing and prayed and anointed the fallen through the past decades while we’ve been growing up.

The emergent movement means I question, therefore I am. I no longer have all the answers as I once did. Sometimes these questions are enough; the mysterious left mysterious is sometimes more than I can stand. My questions are a response to the modern notion that I can have all the answers for any question. For instance, I recently visited a family friend, a kind and evangelistic man. He found it inconceivable that I could question anything of the one hundred year-old dogma that he had come to believe was pure biblical truth. My appeal to look afresh at Scripture seemed odd, any mention of church fathers or the Apostle’s Creed was unconscionable, any fellowship with those outside the boundaries of our particular church except for reasons of evangelism, deplorable. Still, I told him I can take his torch and run with it but I will speak in ways he may not understand so that my culture can fathom God in new and ancient ways.

The emergent movement means that I am less confident in pre-fab evangelistic methods and wonder if the “targets” of our evangelism do not see much of what we do as contrived or inauthentic. Yes, for those who find it difficult to form words and ideas to speak, some tools are useful to aid the ongoing conversation about life, truth, and the Lord that we are called to have with our neighbors and nations. I like how Fred Peatross puts it in his bio in this issue: we are fellow explorers and sometime guides. We stand between the once more relevant cottage Bible study and potential postmodern indifference toward evangelism, but I am more excited than ever about the conversations and honest questioning and open proclamation that many Christians are having with one another and those on the journey of discovery of Christ.

The emergent movement also has helped me understand and embrace tensions, simultaneous and previously inconceivably both/and truths, and paradoxes. The modern view that truth is totally objective, that everything must be black and white, is a gray area for me. Yes, there is objective truth, God’s word is true and authoritative in my life, much more than anything I can say or do, and there is finality and bottomless power and Spiritual depth in Christ, in our Holy God. Yet, in the same Scripture that tells us the story of a God who is merciful, we find that God is awful and terrible in his punishments for the wicked, unrepentant, disobedient. He is to be cherished and loved but he is also to be revered and honored and respected above and light years beyond anything we can fathom. The God who controls the universe is the God who knows my name, the one who forgives by means of ritual sacrifice or imparts grace through baptism also forgives by a single word. Christ’s teachings are hard, demanding, yet his yoke is easy and his burden light. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, yet that faith is part of a free will that God has from the dawn of creation used to form relationships with humanity.

The emergent movement means that the power and will of the Spirit of God is alive and free in my life to move, prompt, and shape me without the constraints of science and modernism breathing down my neck. Yet I paradoxically am moored to the traditions, the meditations, forever rock-solid truths of the eternal word of God.

My prayer for us is that through calling upon the Lord the veil will drop from our eyes, that the Spirit will move in us and through us toward Him, toward our neighbors, toward an ever-enriching emergence of God’s glory through community, Spirit, evangelism, exploration together of His heart-ripping story. Just give us Jesus.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Hot Debate

I was talking today with a friend who is struggling with the notion of a God who can punish eternally. Most people of all religions believe one of three things: 1) all are saved and go to some form of heaven, 2) some are saved and some are not but those not are eternally punished with the earth that is destroyed by fire, 3) others believe creation will be restored and there will be a one-time punishment of the rebellious in the end times.

So I decided to offer this review and opinion of a helpful book, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue, by Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson (Intervarsity Press, 2000). The thorough and helpful book that anyone considering the end times ought to read is available through Edward’s web site: www.edwardfudge.com.

For two millennia Christians have credulously believed the Platonic idea of the immortality of the soul, says Edward Fudge, in Intervarsity’s new book, Two Views of Hell. Fudge says these Greek ideas have devastated the church’s doctrine of hell. He believes the Bible teaches that the wicked will be completely annihilated rather than consciously tormented forever.

The book is a debate between Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, who holds the traditional view, held since the time of Tertullian and Augustine, that unrepentant sinners will be tormented in hell without end. Where we come down on this issue, say the authors, shapes our views of God, sin, the end times, and evangelism. So the exchange between Fudge and Peterson is, like the subject matter, hot.

Fudge believes the traditional view is based more upon human philosophy than scripture, is not consistent with the nature of the merciful God revealed in Christ, and seriously affects the Christian witness. Peterson, on the other hand, says Fudge’s conditionalist view, also called the annihilationist view, represents a growing scholarly and popular trend to portray God as “gentler and kinder.” Peterson, however, believes this picture of God to be out of focus contradicting clear teaching in scripture. He believes the idea of conditional immortality does serious damage to evangelism and leads to watering down of key church doctrines.

The book is brief, and in its 228 pages–which includes endnotes, name index, and scriptural index–Fudge presents his case for conditionalism, and Peterson responds. Then Peterson presents his case for the traditionalism and Fudge responds.

The book opens by establishing doctrines upon which the authors agree. Both deny universalism, the idea that all will be saved and hell does not exist. Both reject post-mortem evangelism, “the idea that persons have an opportunity after death to believe the gospel of Christ.” This is not to be confused with the end times scenario portrayed in the wildly popular Left Behind book series. The plot begins at the beginning of the dispensational tribulation and portrays a second crack for living unbelievers to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. I asked Fudge and Peterson about Left Behind and both were quick to make a distinction between a second chance before death, as Left Behind portrays, and a second chance after death—they reject the latter, leaving the former, the Left Behind scenario, speculative. They agree that scripture teaches a future Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment, followed by terrible suffering for the lost.

The firestorm of debate, however, is over exactly how the lost are punished. Fudge says the wicked will be punished in hell, then completely wiped from existence. Peterson, on the other hand, holds that the wicked will be tormented without end. At the center of the debate is the word “eternal.” Both Fudge and Peterson say the meaning is plain in most texts—but they give plainly opposite interpretations of this word in Matthew 25:31-46. Peterson, who says this passage is the “single most important passage in the history of the doctrine of hell,” says the words “eternal fire” in v. 41 mean everlasting torment. He correlates this text with Revelation 20:10, where Satan is thrown into the “lake of burning sulfur” and “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Fudge, on the other hand, believes “eternal” in Matthew 25:41 refers to the finality of the punishment, that it will stand forever. Fudge says, “once destroyed, they (unrepentant sinners) will be gone forever.”

Two Views of Hell is not simply a word study book on the terms “hell,” “eternity,” and “punishment.” The authors also draw from church history and attempt both scriptural exposition and theological reflection. Yet without consciously referring in the book to their different approaches, the two come to the topic not only with different views of hell but also with different theological methods. Fortunately, as Peterson points out, it’s not these methods or approaches that, in the end, make a view right or wrong.

Peterson uses systematic theology by discussing New Testament texts, church tradition, and the doctrines of man, Christ, and end times that support the traditional view of hell. While most texts were not written specifically so we could fully understand hell, Peterson seems to acknowledge this by setting up each passage in its context before drawing his conclusions.

Where Peterson builds on church tradition, Fudge employs historical theology to critique the way doctrines have come to us through church history. Fudge looks at how the doctrine of hell has been influenced by the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul, an idea Fudge believes to be unbiblical. Fudge says this leaves us with a view of eternal torment which came down to us through ideas foreign to scripture, church politics, and personal vendettas. “If we ever begin to suppose that ecclesiastical tradition outweighs scriptural teaching in authority,” says Fudge, “Protestants ought all to line up and apologize to the pope of Rome.” Nevertheless, Fudge and Peterson both claim to draw their conclusions based upon sola scriptura as Martin Luther claimed.

Fudge, for example, nearly a dozen times says we ought to let scripture interpret itself. The caveat of this, however, is that scripture does not interpret itself. Humans interpret scripture. And we interpret it imperfectly. So we do our imperfect best to be faithful to scripture while drawing on what others have legitimately believed in the past. Which is exactly why Peterson is right to build on church tradition, but Fudge is also right to critique the process through which we received the doctrine of hell. The church tradition, which Peterson highlights in support of his argument for eternal torment, has some weight, but scripture, rather than tradition, is our sole final authority. While giving respect to those who have lived for and died for their beliefs, we ought to continually come to old doctrines with fresh study and insight.

While much of what we know from scripture about the end times is unclear, many build their end times analogies and theories upon a dozen scripture references. C.S. Lewis approaches the simultaneous existence of a joyous heaven and a tormenting hell by taking a philosophical approach to good and evil. In his famously hosted omnibus trip to hell, Lewis compares the tiny influence of hell upon the fortitude of heaven with a drop of ink in the Pacific Ocean. Even awful torment of the wicked cannot touch those filled with joy in heaven.

Ironically, in Seinfeld, the television sitcom that defined humor in the 90s, Puddy (Patrick Warburton) is not ambivalent about the ferocity of hell, and he tells Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) plainly what hell is going to be like. “It’s gonna be rough,” Puddy says with a matter of fact deadpan.

Two Views of Hell has once again opened the debate over the nature of God’s punishment in hell. Is God’s punishment eternal in the sense that the wicked are tormented consciously without end or in the sense that the torment will be done once and for all and will be an eternally lasting destruction? Can we know precisely how the wicked will be punished in hell any more than we can envision exactly how we will live forever in heaven?

Does the side of the fence where we stand on this issue necessarily shape, as Fudge and Peterson say it does, our view of God and Christ? Perhaps the foundation of our view of God is not in knowing exactly how the wicked will be punished and how the saved will live eternally but in the fact that He will graciously save undeserving sinners who repent and punish the unrepentant sinners. Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz and author of Theology for the Community of God says, “the debate raised by annihilationists reminds us of the difficulties that arise whenever we attempt to pinpoint the eternal situation of the lost.”

The debate can do some good, Grenz adds, “if it leads us to realize that we ought never to speak about the fate of the lost without tears in our eyes.”

While writing this review, I decided to put the scriptures used by both authors to the test of the plain reading that they both confidently say is possible. I gave each scripture one of three categories: traditional-leaning, conditional-leaning, and neutral or inconclusive. I looked at the following scriptures: Isaiah 66:22-24; Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 18:6-9, 25:31-46; Mark 9:42-48; II Thessalonians 1:5-10; Jude 7, 13; Revelation 14:9-11, 20:11-13. Both authors chose various other scriptures to support their argument, so I included Matthew 13:30-43; 16:19-31; Isaiah 33:10-24; Revelation 19:11-16; John 5:28-29; II Corinthians 5:6-8. I found that what Peterson calls “plainly biblical” (179) and Fudge repeatedly refers to as “the natural and obvious” (63) or “ordinary” (29) meaning is not quite as clear as the nose on your face. The majority of the passages, in my opinion, come up neutral.

I can’t understand the plain texts well enough to have anything but a neutral view on this issue (between the two views promoted in the book), but I lean toward believing because of God’s nature that he will redeem, restore, and punish, though I am not confident that the punishment for evil will be ongoing for eternity.

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Special
George W. Bush:
Politics of the Golden Rule
by Kasey Pipes

When Red &
Blue Meet in the

by Beverly Choate Dowdy

These are two excellent writers I’ve been working with over the last five weeks to prepare today’s offering on Wineskins. Kasey was a speechwriter for President Bush, an Abilene Christian University grad. Beverly teaches political science at Greater Atlanta Christian. She has a blog that’s worth reading. She doesn’t just pop off but thinks through each post and what she posts is always worthwhile. Bev’s Blog

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

God’s Command and Christian Ethics

Christian Ethics is not merely believing morally right things but the act of putting those beliefs into practice. In Scripture ethics is explained in terms of what God expects of us. One perfect example is the prophet Micah’s hearing God tell him what God desires in 6:1f, quoted here from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

Our Wineskins ethics issue began Monday and will continue through January and February with an in-depth and incredibly helpful slate of articles coming, one by one each day. One particularly helpful article–an excerpt from a book called simply, Christian Ethics (Parma, 2004) is up today and you won’t want to miss this one. It’s by Ron Highfield and called, “God’s Command and Christian Ethics: A Theology of Christian Life.”


By Greg Taylor Posted in General

MLK, Jr. Day – listen to speeches

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 17) Photo courtesy of Wineskins Magazine and used by permission.

If you’re like me, for many years growing up, you remember this day as one where the only mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. was a one minute segment on the news where they’d play the “I have a dream” portion of MLK’s “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” speech. It has become popularly called the “I have a dream” speech, but there is so much power and content in that speech when you listen to the whole thing.

Here is the link to hear it all: I have a dream – MLK

Text of the speech and site for many of the other great speeches and writings of MLK (Letter from a Birmingham Jail is particularly powerful and moving) Text of speech and site for other speeches and writings

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Mike Cope’s son, Christopher

From Mike Cope:

6:12 pm 1/16/05
I stop only long enough to plead for prayers. My son and some friends were being driven back from Winterfest this afternoon in a Suburban that flipped. Chris has been intubated and is about to be flown to a children’s hospital in the metroplex. My little boy was beaten black and blue. They’re saying he’s stable. CT scans showed no head injuries inside. The boy next to him died. I grieve horribly for the family. But I’m off. Diane is flying with Chris. I only pause because I beg you to pray for my son.

Please see Mike’s blog for updates: http://mikecope.blogspot.com

Last week, before this happened, Mike and I prepared the first article–a tribute to MLK, Jr.–of the NEW WINESKINS Jan – Feb 05 issue, “Ethics: The Drama Continues.” We decided to begin the issue on MLK, Jr. Day because of his ethic of love, non-violence, and impact on the world. See Wineskins.org for a new article each day. Bookmark the site or make it your home page.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Eating Crow

One day at an early morning ZOE meeting, Jeff Walling was eating a plate full of bacon and sausage. Asked what’s with the bacon, he replied, “I’m on Atkins.”

“Atkins,” I said incredulously. “Eating that much fat is supposed to be good for you?” Jeff was kind and didn’t treat me like the jerk I was being.

Another time, I was sitting at a meal with two doctors and I assumed they’d scoff at Atkins along with me. I said, “Atkins is crazy. How can that be healthy?”

The oldest doctor, a cardiologist, said, “I’ve been on Atkins for nearly a year now.”

I nearly crawled under the table. I don’t remember if it was the doctor or Jeff who said something that led me to finally pick up an Atkins book. I was associating the whole diet with what is known as the “induction” phase. I had seen the way people were eating seemingly all the fat they wanted and thought that was all there was to the diet. Plus, it seemed someone was getting rich off selling low-carb candy bars that I’ve heard give you gas.

So, now I’m eating crow, which someone once told me is “low fat.” I bought an Atkins book, read it and started a week ago.

At first Atkins does encourage you to eat meat, butter, mayo. It’s crazy, counter intuitive. Doctor Atkins says we need less carbs and to stop freaking out about fats. We’ve had low-fat and fat free drilled into us for so long that we’re eating way too many carbs and sugar that substitutes for fat in many foods that are called “fat free” or “reduced fat.” Something displaces the fat and it’s usually sugar in some form.

Conventional wisdom for us has been “don’t eat fat!” so when Atkins tells us to eat fat it feels like . . .

  • Driving a nail with the claw end of a hammer
  • Sanding a board across the grain
  • Speaking pig latin (which my wife just walked up to me and spoke so kids wouldn’t understand something she said)
  • Putting water in our gas tank
  • Driving in reverse

But all that said, the whole plan seems to make sense and work. I’ll report back to you in a few months on my results. The main problem with most of these plans, which in the end are pretty balanced and teach you to eat right eventually, is user error.

So Jeff and doctors, I’m eating a balanced diet today: eggs, spinach, and crow.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

“It’s hard to believe in God when a baby gets buried”–Laura Ramirez, sister-in-law of Jimmie Wallet who lost his wife and 3 daughters in mudslide

Jimmie Wallet lost everything in the mudslide. He had gone out to get ice cream, and when he came back he found the house covered in the mudslide and collapsed, his wife and three daughters inside.

Yesterday rescuers found their lifeless bodies, confirming what he had been distraught about for 36 hours. He was so frantic that police had to restrain him from attempting to dig in the rubble, fearing he would get hurt. Told by rescuers he may get hurt, he responded, “I don’t care if I die.”

“It’s hard to believe in God when a baby gets buried,” said Jimmie Wallet’s sister-in-law, Laura Ramirez. She said the family is Roman Catholic.

Search ends in grief

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Psalm 62

Today I’m reflecting on two mysteries of God that David spoke of in Psalm 62:

God is loving.
God is strong.

Those are the two sides of the vise that often squeeze our faith in events such as the Tsunami. How much more those in the path of the destruction?

Some might say these two sides of the vise are where our problems begin and continue as we try to reconcile an all-loving God and an all-powerful God. Still, as Augustine said, we’re talking about God here. As God tells Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways.”

I keep coming back to his unfathomable power that created and sustains more suns than there are humans on earth and his tender love that would reach down to us in Christ while in our rebellion and turn us back toward his face. He knows every Thai and Malaysian and Indonesian and Indian and Kenyan and Acehian name who died, who lost loved ones. He who made the universe and more galaxies than we can count, loves us. He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. Does he not also know and suffer with us when 150,000 fall?

As many of the faithful to God in Southeast Asia have said after the Tsunami, may we be able to say, “God is powerful. God is loving” when we lose loved ones, one by one or all at once.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Topanga Canyon Road in Malibu

If you’ve ever driven on Topanga Canyon Road in Malibu, California, close to Pepperdine, you need to see this photo. Even if you haven’t driven it, I think you’ll still be amazed.

Lord, grant wisdom to residents to evacuate in time for mudslides not to harm them, give strength to rescuers, and help the people in California by blowing a wind to stop the rain. And we’re continuing to think about the people in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Kenya, India, Sumatra island, who are in dire need. You know them, Father, every one. Comfort your people, Lord. Please guide the ships, the airlifts, the rescuers by the hundreds of thousands cooperating to get relief in and the complicated matrix it must be.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

The Hard Side of Epiphany

The world has experienced Epiphany in a unique way this year, sending a wave of relief to try and comfort a wave of disaster.

Epiphany, January 6, the liturgical 12th day after Christmas, has a hard side that Fred Craddock so eloquently, if not more boldly and authentically, tells in his article, “The Hard Side of Epiphany.”

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Winged Migration

Jill’s 93-year-old grandmother, who we affectionately call “Ma,” introduced us to an incredible film during the holidays: Winged Migration.

If you love birds and–like me–ever dreamed you could fly with your arms like a bird, then watch this film. It’s full of scenes of some of the most beautiful places in the world with birds soaring over head.

Review of Winged Migration

By Greg Taylor Posted in General