Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | December 6, 2007

Neo-Reformation

Reformation includes both recovery of the past and a new way of thinking about that past. For example: when Martin Luther said salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, he was recovering something apostolic and patristic. Yet he was also thinking in a new way, expressing a deeper understanding of Jesus than almost all of those who had gone before him.

Reformation is both return and revolution. The Reformers of every generation stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before them and thus see a little farther than them.

The Neo-Reformation that is beginning in Western Christianity will be both return and revolution. Barth, the Torrances, Kruger, and many others are recovering the past and saying something new. We stand on the shoulders of giants (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, Karl Barth) and we are blessed to see in some measure farther than they did.

Here’s just a little bit of what is being recovered:

The incarnational nature of the atonement. From the Church Fathers we are recovering the knowledge that humanity is healed by the Son of God’s entrance into our nature. We are re-discovering that his death is his triumph over sin and death (Col. 2:15) and not the punishment of an angry Father.

To say “Jesus” is to say “Trinity” and “Humanity.” Any understanding of Jesus that does not see him in inseparable communion with the Father and the Spirit while also forever incarnate and thus in inseparable communion with humanity is not biblical or orthodox. (Col. 1:16-20, John 14:10-11)

Jesus is the Word of God. It is fascinating that the Nicene Creed contains no statement on the inspiration of scripture yet thousands of modern denominations and para-church ministries will fight to death on the subject. The Word is not a book, it is a person, the second person of the Trinity, the God/Man Jesus (John 1:1-14). We understand what the bible means because we first understand who Jesus is and what he has done to unite the Triune God with the human race (Eph. 2:1-16).

Here’s just a little bit of how our thinking is being renewed:

All humanity is saved. The Holy Spirit is giving us the grace to see more clearly than the generations before us that what the incarnate Son did with humanity means the salvation of the human race. St. Paul saw it (Rom. 5:18 ) and so did Athanasius, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, and a host of others. But there is something fresh and unexpected happening in the way we are coming to believe the full implications of all that Jesus’ union with the human condition implies (2 Cor. 5:21). Obviously, we know that hell is still a real possibility, but we see now more clearly than ever that even those who are in hell are just as saved as those in heaven (Rom. 5:18). As C.S. Lewis said, the door to hell is locked by those inside it, not by their Father who loves them and has redeemed them in his Son (Co. 1:19-20).

Our works have nothing to do with our status before God. Most Christians who went before us were obsessed with morality and legalism, even as they affirmed the truth of the redemption of the world by grace in Christ. At last the church is awakening to the reality that the gospel is not a message of morality, it is a message of our adoption into the Triune Life of God (Rom. 10:4, Eph. 1:1-5).

God’s plan for us is Adoption. Again, St. Paul (Eph. 1:1-5) and many others saw it and spoke of it. But the obsession with morality and legalism has led to 2,000 years of characterizing God’s plan as a plan to save us from sin. Now, at last, we are awakening to the fullness of what adoption means. It means that the Father sent the Son into the world to complete the adoption of humanity. In accomplishing this mission he had to deal with our sin, but dealing with our sin is not the mission or plan itself. It is just one component of the plan.

We’re only scratching the surface in these six ideas, but they point, I think, to the larger picture. The Holy Spirit is reforming the church again and, as before, it will change not only the faithful but the whole direction of human history!

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Responses

  1. Interesting stuff! I tend to conceptualize the need for a neoreformation in slightly different terms, but I think the basic thrust–a liberation of the Holy Spirit from a calcified and legalistic orthodoxy–remains the same.

  2. Thanks for the comments! Just read your post on inerrancy and enjoyed it – spot on!

  3. I’m a big fan of CS Lewis…and it never occurred to me to extrapolate from his views of Hell “that even those who are in hell are just as saved as those in heaven”.

    What a bizarre thing to say!

    Surely being in Hell is the most fundamental identifying characteristic of an unsaved person that there is following the return of Jesus.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I’m actually not extrapolating from Lewis when I make that statement, I’m extrapolating from the bible. I merely quoted Lewis’ regarding hell to illustrate the point.

    It’s the bible that says:

    “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” Rom 5:18, NLT

    And

    “through Christ God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” Col. 1:20, NIV

    If Christ brings a right relationship with God, new life, reconciliation, and peace for everyone and everything then it means that everyone in hell is in a right relationship with God, with new life, reconciled to God and at peace with him.

    The problem of hell is not that people are un-saved it is that they don’t believe that Christ has reconciled them and believing a lie brings suffering.

  5. hmm…

    So, does this mean that the punishment of hell is POTENTIALLY temporary because those in hell can stop disbelieving “that Christ has reconciled them” and start believing it thereby leaving hell and going to heaven?

    How does this fit with what Paul says to the Thessalonians about Jesus punishing those who “don’t know God and do not obey the gospel” with “everlasting destruction”? Is it only everlasting because the damned never choose otherwise?

  6. Yes, I would say hell is potentially temporary. Others have believed this throughout Christian history. Gregory of Nyssa, for example. (See his work “On the Soul and the Resurrection.” )

    I believe hell is the suffering that results from being connected to Christ and not being happy about it. Therefore it is a self-inflicted state of existence. The Father doesn’t inflict the torments of hell on us, we inflict them on ourselves by denying the truth about who we are and who God is.

    Here’s an example: if I twist my arm around behind my back until I’m in excruciating pain the reason my arm hurts is because it is connected to my body and it is being twisted the wrong direction. If my arm were disconnected from my body I would experience no pain.

    In the same way we are all connected to Christ. When we don’t believe that truth then we twist our lives in all the wrong directions and experience the pain that comes from believing and acting as though we’re disconnected when the truth is that we are connected.

    Whenever we stop believing and acting as though we’re disconnected the pain will stop.

  7. What about the “everlasting destruction”?

  8. I believe that whenever we interpret scripture we have to do so in the context of the Word of God in the flesh, i.e. Jesus. He is the Word of the Father and no interpretation of scripture can contradict who he is.

    As the Word in the flesh, Jesus is the one in whom everything exists and through whom everything is sustained in its existence (John 1:3, Acts 17:28, Col. 1:17, Eph. 1:10; 4:10; Heb. 1:3).

    Therefore, whatever everlasting destruction is it can’t be something outside of or separate from Jesus. In fact, one of the most famous passages on eternal punishment (Rev. 14:10) says that it takes place “in the presence of the Lamb.”

    The Lamb, the Word in the flesh, reveals his Father to us as our Daddy who loves us. So if we refuse to trust in that relationship and experience the suffering that comes from twisting that relationship we will suffer, but Jesus joins us in our suffering – our eternal destruction takes place in his presence and with him.

    Why would the Lamb of God be present unless it was to continue pleading with us to trust the relationship and end the suffering?

    If we persist forever in not trusting that our Father loves us then we will be in a state of destruction (or, more literally in the Greek, a state of “ruin” or “disaster” ) forever.

    If, however, we stop trusting in what we think we know about God and start believing the truth about the Father as revealed to us by his Word in the flesh then our state of ruin can come to an end.

  9. As reasonable as your position sounds, I just don’t see anything in the explicit teaching on Hell found in the Bible that leads me to believe that Hell is temporary. Personally, I would really be happy if that is the case, but as far as I can tell, it isn’t.

    Reasoning that exiting Hell is simply a matter of believing in Jesus post-mortem seems to ignore the meaning of words like “eternal” and “everlasting”. Maybe those words don’t quite capture the original meaning of the original languages. I don’t know. Perhaps never ending torment is reserved only for Satan and his angels (Rev.20:10), those who worship the beast (Rev.14:11) and the “dreamers” found in Jude 1:3-12. Maybe those whose names are not found in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:14-15) are annihilated…and maybe they aren’t. Whatever the case is, I don’t see anywhere in Scripture the idea that Hell is temporary.

    As to why the Lamb of God is present at the torment of the those who worshipped the beast; the Bible doesn’t tell why. He’s there. That’s all we know. The idea that he is pleading with them to give up their unbelief is simply not found in the Bible. I suspect that it was/is not uncommon for the Judge to be present at the execution of those found guilty. And when the Judge is present, it isn’t (usually) to offer clemency. But that too is conjecture on my part.

    Thanks for an interesting conversation.

  10. Thanks for reading and commenting, amtog. Looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree 🙂

    I’ll make two last comments:

    I think the reason you’d be very happy to find that hell can be temporary is because the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to your soul about the passionate and never ending love the Father has for us as his children. I believe the Spirit is speaking to us at our deepest soul level to convince us of the truth about who God is and who we are in him.

    And that truth is that the Son of the Father, while being our judge, is – more importantly – our brother (Heb. 2:17). Whatever judgment he exercises or however he evaluates us he always does so as one flesh and one blood with humanity, loving us as his younger brothers and sisters and as the adopted children of his Dad in heaven.

  11. I really liked what Pastor Jonathan had to say. I still have alot of questions and was wondering if Pastor Jonathan would mind sending me some material about hell possibly being temporary and maybe some scriptures about hell as a final destination. I am hungry to learn more. The love of God flows from your words. Thank you for sharing a beautiful picture of the God I’ve come to know as Abba.

  12. Hi Danny,
    Glad you found this blog and were helped by what I’ve written.
    A few weeks back I merged this blog with one written by my friend and fellow Pastor, Tim Brassell. We now write together on the new blog. It’s called Trinity and Humanity and you can find it here: http://www.trinityandhumanity.wordpress.com
    You can also read our writing and listen to sermons and bible studies we’ve done at The Adopted Life:
    http://www.theadoptedlife.org
    You’ll find a lot of articles, sermons, and bible studies relating to the subject of hell at The Adopted Life.


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