Book Review: Washed and Waiting

wwThis discussion needs to be had. I have corresponded with homosexuals, atheists and those who are marginalized in numerous ways– people in the UBF community. Do you know “they” are among you? Today I share the first of what will be several book reviews on topics pertaining to the margins of society. My first book review is of “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality” by Wesley Hill.

Celibacy as the only answer

Wesley begins his book by sharing various viewpoints regarding same-sex attractions. He present the idea that LGBT people who are not Christians can choose for themselves how to express their non-hetereosexual natures. He insists that his choice is to accept what he calls the Christian teaching that celibacy is the only answer for a homosexual person. He does all this cautiously, trying not to be offensive and trying to allow room for other people to make their own choices.

At times we are left to wonder however, just what Wesley believes. He is not persuaded by the traditional bible interpretations and church teachings. For example:

“At times, though, for me and many others, the weight of the biblical witness and the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice can seem rather unpersuasive. The list of Bible passages and the statements from the Vatican and other church leaders just don’t seem compelling enough to keep gay and lesbian people from looking for sexual fulfillment in homosexual relationships. In fact, not only are they not compelling; these biblical texts and Christian pronouncements appear out-dated, perhaps slightly cruel, and, in any case, not really workable or attainable.”  Page 56

Wesley’s premise is clear though:

“At the end of the day, the only “answer” I have to offer to the question of how to live well before God and with others as a homosexual Christian is the life I am trying to live by the power of the gospel.” Page 26

“For reasons I described in chapter 1, I do not think the option of same-sex, erotically expressive partnerships is open to the homosexual person who wants to remain faithful to the gospel. Which leaves the gay or lesbian Christian with few options, it seems.”  Page 108

Glimpses of the Hamster wheel gospel

As with any Christian book, I am highly sensitive to what kind of  gospel message is being taught. I was rather disheartened to hear the oft-repeated message that we Christians have to focus our energy on cleaning ourselves up. I call this the “hamster wheel gospel” because this belief makes you run in circles, entrapping you in a vicious cycle. This gospel attaches the concept of repentance to sin and views forgiveness as a constant struggle and search. Wesley writes:

“If we have failed in the past, we can receive grace—a clean slate, a fresh start. If we fail today or tomorrow in our struggle to be faithful to God’s commands, that, too, may be forgiven.”

Dark themes

This book was rather difficult for me to read. I felt depressed as I listened to the endless struggle, as if I was drowning and could not breathe. Wesley seemed to return to the “kamikaze” type thinking throughout the book:

“While taking a German class in college, I learned that in some old Teutonic and Scandinavian religions and mythologies there is an ideal of the “fated warrior.” This is the champion who heads into battle fully aware that doom awaits him at the end. “Defeat rather than victory is the mark of the true hero; the warrior goes out to meet his inevitable fate with open eyes.”  Page 71

“And yet we ache. The desire of God is sufficient to heal the ache, but still we pine, and wonder.”  Page 118

The other dark theme is what Wesley calls “a profound theology of brokenness”. I remember adopting this theology many years ago. But that theology proved to be only a transition into a wonderful new life when my theology of brokenness turned into the theology of transformation. As a young man in his 20’s, Wesley seems to be weaving a cocoon of brokenness around himself. I hope his journey continues and he emerges with the new life of a butterfly.

It is clear from reading this book that Wesley may have the gift of celibacy. But he presents celibacy sometimes as a gift and other times as a ball and chain. I appreciated listening in on his holy struggle.

Many quotes and poetry

Wesley shares many quotes from many people. He especially focuses on Henri Nouwen.

“For several years, all I knew about Nouwen was what I had read in these two books, The Return of the Prodigal Son and Adam: God’s Beloved. Then one afternoon, I was in the library at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and noticed a new biography of Nouwen. I picked it up and started to read, still standing in the lobby near the “new arrivals” shelf. I remember vividly the shock and ache I felt in my stomach, as if from acrophobia or a sudden lurch, when I discovered that Henri Nouwen had been a celibate homosexual and, as a result, had wrestled intensely with loneliness, persistent cravings for affection and attention, immobilizing fears of rejection, and a restless desire to find a home where he could feel safe and cared for.”  Page 88

Desire for companionship

In the end, Wesley asks the right questions and gives the reader a taste of what it must be like to live the LGBT experience.

“All our lives we’re searching for someone who will take us seriously. That’s what it means to be human,” a friend of mine once mused. Whether heterosexual or homosexual, people are wired, it seems, to pursue relationships of love and commitment. Maybe it’s possible to be more specific: it seems that we long for the experience of mutual desire. We’re on a quest to find a relationship in which we can want someone wholeheartedly and be wanted with the same intensity, in which there is a contrapuntal enhancement of desire.”  Page 101

“Is there any legitimate way for homosexual Christians to fulfill their longing—a longing they share with virtually every other human person, both heterosexual and homosexual—the longing to be desired, to find themselves desirable, and to desire in return?”   Page 101

  • What are your thoughts, reactions, comments, questions, ideas about this book?
  • Have you read Henri Nouwen? What do you think of the discovery that he was gay?
  • How have you reacted to anyone around you who is homosexual?
  • How will you reach out and be a friend to the marginalized people in your UBF chapter?


  1. Joe Schafer

    Brian, thanks for writing this review. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these issues from various angles.

    As I mentioned earlier, I won’t make any strong statements about homosexuality or give any blanket advice to Christians who experience same-sex attraction. At this point, I’m trying to get a handle on the spiritual dimensions of sexuality, to understand what healthy heterosexuality looks like. Issues of homosexuality are very important to consider, and at some point we have to deal with those questions. But if we look at our society, it’s self evident that many or most (dare I say, all) people who experience *opposite*-sex attraction are seriously broken. Promiscuity, pornography and divorce are some of the symptoms. They are like the small part of the iceberg that is visible above the water line, indicating a huge mass of disorder below the surface.

    What I fear is this. Until we really understand what healthy heterosexuality means, we are going to give bad advice. I sense this is happening all around. Healthy heterosexuality can be expressed through a committed marriage. And it can be expressed through a committed life of celibacy. But there are many married people and celibate people whose sexuality is deeply disordered. Until we have reliable models and good instincts for healthy sexuality in both categories (married and celibate) we are operating in the dark. Those who give advice will just be projecting their own ignorance and weird issues and disorders onto the people whom they are advising.

    As Christians, we follow a Savior and Redeemer who was heterosexual and celibate. That counts for something. And his first miracle was to bless the (opposite sex) wedding at Cana. That counts for something.

    At this point, I will push back against the quote from Hill’s book on p. 88: “…Henri Nouwen had been a celibate homosexual and, as a result, had wrestled intensely with loneliness, persistent cravings for affection and attention, immobilizing fears of rejection, and a restless desire to find a home where he could feel safe and cared for…” The phrase “as a result” is misleading. I believe that Nouwen himself would say — and in fact he has said — that the loneliness, fears and desires that he experienced were not simply the result of same-sex attraction + celibacy. Those things may be experienced by anyone regardless of which sex they are attracted to, whether they are celibate or not. Those things are part of the fundamental core of every human being in this fallen world. Nouwen was an extremely sensitive and thoughtful individual who knew better than most people what was going on inside of him. His celibate life and his work at L’Arche provided the environment where he could meditate on what was happening inside of him and write about it so beautifully.

    The Bible begins with the marriage of a man and a woman which God declares to be very good. It ends with the marriage of Christ and his Bride. This tells me that sexuality is a wonderful and powerful sign in this world that points to a mystery beyond itself, something even more wonderful and powerful in the world to come. A unique and key feature of the Christian faith — taught especially by Jesus and Paul — is that sexuality has its nexus in eschatology. If we ignore the eschatological nature of sex — which is often done by conservatives and liberals alike — then our understanding of sex is fundamentally unChristian. Paul says flat out that this is a mystery. We can’t, we won’t, truly understand it as long as we live in our present bodies. Yet Paul, through faith and revelation, grasped a great deal about sexuality which we have not yet understood. In general, evangelicals (whether they are conservative or progressive) are not very comfortable or fluent in the language of mystery, so I think we really need to start listening to our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Another observation. Isn’t it interesting how we talk about “the gay community” or “the LGBT community.” There is a kind of solidarity among those who struggle with same-sex attraction, an understanding that, for better or worse, they are in it together. But the evangelical voices in this debate often focus on individuals and their lonely struggle against sin. There is a huge community dimension to this that cannot be overlooked. Many Christian celibates (e.g., monks and nuns) find their sexuality is fulfilled through a combination of personal communion with God and intimate fellowship in a loving Christian community. Is it possible that much the sexual dysfunction all around us, including that in the church, could be resolved through deeper friendships and healthier Christian communities?

  3. Joe, I agree that the church needs to take a deeper look at all of sexuality.

    I reject the theology of brokenness however. “But if we look at our society, it’s self evident that many or most (dare I say, all) people who experience *opposite*-sex attraction are seriously broken.”

    No this is not self evident. My lifelong friend is happily married to his husband. He went through the “you are broken so you need therapy” phase. Now he is happy being himself. He is no more broken than anyone else.

    I contend that our theology of brokenness will eventually become a theology of transformation. What are “broken” gay people to do? Fix themselves? Destroy themselves so the world is a little less broken?

    Homosexuality is not caused by some family trauma or other brokenness. It is a natural part (a small part albeit) of this world.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, you correctly point out that the brokenness is not self evident. There are many who don’t see it as I do. For example, there are many who have absolutely no problem with pornography and think it is entirely normal. There is no unanimity about the brokenness of sexuality in this fallen world, especially in our western post-sexual-revolution context. But the more I practice spiritual disciplines of quiet prayer and contemplation and devotional reading, the more I try to comprehend the love of God and try to glimpse people and the world with his eyes (not that I succeed very much; I am truly a novice at this), the more I am convinced that we are all broken. Some more than others, of course. But broken sexuality is one of the first results of the Fall in Genesis 3, and I really do think it is pervasive, based on my observations of people and especially of myself. If we are relationally broken by sin, then we are sexually broken. The two go hand in hand. The degree and kind of redemption that we should expect through common grace and through the grace of Jesus Christ depends greatly on our understanding of the gospel.

    • I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying Joe, “The degree and kind of redemption that we should expect through common grace and through the grace of Jesus Christ depends greatly on our understanding of the gospel.”

      Redemption is “the act of making something better or more acceptable” or it can be “the act of exchanging something for money, an award”. We define this in Christianity as “the act of saving people from sin and evil”.

      It’s intriguing to me to ponder whether our “betterment” or “escape from evil” depends on our understanding. I agree about emphasizing the gospel Jesus preached, but I don’t understand the need to emphasize our understanding. I am more and more drawn to the idea that we become better through multiple types of interaction, involving our whole being (mind, body, soul, heart).

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, this is roughly what I meant.

      Many Christians will articulate redemption as you just did, as saving people from sin and evil. Sin and evil are negative terms that indicate something has gone wrong, that God’s designs have gone awry. Before talking about sin and evil, it behooves us to consider the more positive questions of why we (humans and creation itself) are here in the first place. The questions of what and where God really wants us to be. If we don’t see the positive vision first, then our understanding of sin and evil is likely to be off base. Interestingly, that’s what Jesus focused his teaching and ministry. He spent most of his time announcing and explaining the kingdom of God. Through stories, parables, miracles, acts of healing and mercy, etc. he helped people to envision the kingdom. In many cases he pointed people to himself, proclaiming that he embodies the kingdom in himself.

      When I said “this depends greatly on our understanding of the gospel,” I had in mind the fact that
      * Christians seem to have many different notions of what the kingdom entails, about what the reign of God actually looks like. Some hardly think about the kingdom at all. Many will confuse it with heaven, not knowing if or how the earth figures into it, if or how our physical bodies fit into it, and so on.
      * Christians have different ideas of how much we are supposed to experience the kingdom here and now, versus how much we are supposed to experience it after death, versus how much we are supposed to experience it after the resurrection.

      Those are basic questions about the gospel that inform our priorities, moral decisionmaking, and sexual ethic.

    • Joe Schafer

      Another central question about the kingdom:
      * Who enters it?

      Our understanding of the gospel — how we answer those questions — makes a huge difference in our notions of how we ought to be living now.

  4. Joe Schafer

    Just one more observation, if I may. Jean Vanier (the founder of L’Arche, where Nouwen lived) wrote extensively about the struggles with sex faced by people with severe intellectual disabilities. Most of these people will never marry. They lack the relational abilities that are necessary for marriage. Yet they desperately want and need to be loved. In L’Arche, they live together in community with their caregivers, who are often single. They often “fall in love” with the caregivers, who show them love and affection in a non-genital way. If a caregiver decides to get married, these people may feel deeply betrayed or abandoned. For this reason, some of the caregivers deliberately choose to remain celibate for many years or even permanently, to demonstrate love and solidarity toward the people they care for.

    Are there any heterosexual Christians out there who, because of their love for Christ and their fellow human beings, are willing to remain celibate to live in close fellowship with gay people, sharing their sufferings and bearing their infirmities? Until Jesus returns, the church is the body of Christ in this world. As Jesus bore our infirmities in his body on the cross, aren’t we called to share in the sufferings and bear the infirmities of others? Rather than standing at a distance and just telling gay people that they must remain celibate because the Bible says so, perhaps we (some of us heterosexuals) who want to “stand on the side of truth” ought to consider what it means to radically stand on the side of Calvary-love.

  5. This deserves a hearty amen, Joe,

    “Are there any heterosexual Christians out there who, because of their love for Christ and their fellow human beings, are willing to remain celibate to live in close fellowship with gay people, sharing their sufferings and bearing their infirmities? Until Jesus returns, the church is the body of Christ in this world.”

    Our recent discussion of the idea of “self” (mind, heart, body, soul) is highly relevant to what you say. Is our “self” something worth sacrificing? Or is our self something we try to keep pure? Or partly both? Is our mission to “keep ourselves pure” or is our mission something else, like befriending humanity? When Christ lives in us, we are pure in our souls and so we no longer need to be wrapped up in staying pure.

    So beyond the epic battle against sin, I see an epic surrender. Does our Lord call us to battle endlessly? Does not our Lord ask us and invite us to lay down our arms, give up the fight and surrender to grace, finding contentment, joy and life? I am aware of all the Pauline quotes that must be running through people’s minds right now. But stop and consider the context of those quotes, and you may understand what I’m trying to say.

    Instead of “keeping himself pure” Jesus touched lepers. Jesus hugged prostitutes. Jesus shook hands with tax collectors. He could do so because he had divine grace in his blood. Jesus was pure so he did not worry about becoming impure by such things. I see the same phenomena in Christ-followers. We will not be tainted and the world will not end when we embrace the marginalized.

    I find much I agree with in the Jamesian theory of self. William James, often called the father of American psychology, wrote this about “self”:

    “Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, “This is the real me,” and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”

    -William James (1842-1910) American Philosopher and Psychologist

    The LGBT conversation often reveals a flawed understanding of self that many American Christians have- that is we can never be our authentic self, but must always seek some caricature of our self that “God is molding me to be”. Instead of constantly asking Who is God making me into? I say we should be asking Who am I?

    Perhaps if we knew ourselves better, Christendom wouldn’t be so caustic toward the marginalized.

    • Joe Schafer

      William James sounds like an existentialist.

      I have been reading the book After You Believe by N.T. Wright, a book about Christian discipleship. He presents a very interesting analysis that seems pertinent here. He said that, in the last 200 years, contemporary western thought about virtue has been shaped by three movements. All three were a reaction against the stale rule-based formalism of the church. They are:

      1. Romanticism: Live spontaneously, imaginatively, and warmly.

      2. Exstentialism: Live authentically, in accordance with your inner being.

      3. Emotivism: Live according to your subjectively defined moral choices and personal values, recognizing that they are not universal.

      Wright contents that, in our present culture, all three of these influences swirl together. And people tend to assume that, whatever combination of these three that they happen to espouse, is basically the same as what Jesus taught. People mistake it for the gospel, thinking that the romantic or existentialist rejection of rules is the same thing as Paul’s “justification by faith” or the same thing as Jesus’ opposition to the law-bound Pharisees.

      Wright contends that, while each of these three movements correctly criticizes a rule-based formalism, none of them stands up to scrutiny as a real basis for human virtue. Instead, he claims that the New Testament puts forth a very different vision for the genuinely good human life as “a life of character formed by God’s promised future,” i.e. an eschatological vision of the future reality that, since the resurrection of Christ, is now pouring into the present reality. He claims that this is the proper way to understand Christian ethics as set out, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount. Basically, we have to grasp the nature of the coming kingdom and, by the power of the cross and resurrection, begin to live as citizens of that coming kingdom here and now.

      I’m less than halfway through the book, but it’s really good. It’s helping me to see how shallow my understanding of the gospel has been.

  6. This may be off the main topic, but I love the thought of brokenness. When I was a “straight, by the book, in the box, playing by the rules, never questioning anything” UBF man, I never really felt broken. I felt confident and sure of what I was doing. I never realized just how much I allowed the “system of UBF” to artificially fix my brokenness.

    Today, I know and am very comfortable with just how broken I am…broken by laziness, a lack of discipline, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, desire to eat good food!, striving for significance and achievement and accomplishment, etc, etc. I know I should and to some degree am totally and fully content with Christ alone. Yet, I am not fully content with Christ alone. But I am OK with that because I know my Redeemer lives and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

    Most of all I know that there is One who was broken for me, though He was never ever broken. Yet He became the most broken One, so that I, who is irreparably broken, can become whole.

    I know and love that I am broken, incomplete, unfulfilled, even though I know I am whole, complete and fulfilled because of the One who was completely broken for me.

    Again, I apologize for my random, rambling, ruminating reflection.

  7. @Joe: I like what I hear from NT Wright. Mr. Wright is almost always right. I’m not concerned though. I am an universalist, existentialist humanist, which makes me a heretic. But I am a happy heretic who is following Jesus.

    @Ben: In contrast to you, when I was a “straight, by the book, in the box, playing by the rules, never questioning anything” UBF man, I *always* felt broken. It was only after shedding the ubf junk that I began to be healed and felt whole again.

  8. Thanks for clarifying Joe, I appreciate your thoughts and discussion here.

    Your question is the very question I’ve been pondering off and on for a while now:

    “Another central question about the kingdom:
    * Who enters it?”

    I will share my thoughts on two popular portions of Scripture used to answer this question, why I see the popular exclusionary interpretations of these two “kingdom entrance lists” is self-condemning and wrong.

    1 Corinthians 6:7-11 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Revelation 21:6-8 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

    • If we interpret these lists without context or thought, we will likely imply some pretty stupid conclusions.

      For example, we might conclude that people who practice magic arts can enter the kingdom of God but later they will be thrown into the lake of fire and not be in heaven.

      Or we might conclude that thieves cannot enter the kingdom of God but they will escape the lake of fire and be in heaven.

      Such nonsensical implications are a big part of the reason why there are so many “nones” these days.

    • BK, my two cents is that neither list is exhaustive; perhaps they are tailored to the particular audience at the time (I really don’t know though). However, idolaters are found in both lists. Luther pointed out that all sin, or a departure from the Triune God, has its root in idolatry; that is, we exalt and worship something other than God, even ourselves or own philosophy. If one breaks the first commandment, which is essentially committing idolatry, then the other nine are broken quite easily; they are just different manifestations of idolatry.

    • Good point David. I see no intention of the authors to make a list of people barred from God’s kingdom. The intent seem more along the lines of the kind of behavior that won’t be characteristic of God’s kingdom.

      When we treat these lists as excluding people who have committed those acts, we exclude ourselves and stray from the message of the kingdom we see Jesus describing.

      It’s not clear to me if we are talking about 2 kingdoms: one here on earth and on in heaven. I tend to think there is only 1 kingdom, but if so, then that kingdom dramatically changes in heaven.

      Once again I am really impressed with the way The Message captures the thoughts being communicate here. For example the main message here is related to the words abuse and justice (and has nothing to say about same-sex marriage).

      5-6 I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you’re doing. Is it possible that there isn’t one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don’t believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice?

      7-8 These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.

      9-11 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

  9. Joe Schafer

    Brian, I totally agree with you here; if you try to understand who is in or out of the kingdom based on straightforward readings of those passages, you end up with nonsense. Those passages were written by apostles within the context of the first century church. They assume the readers have thorough familiarity with the OT, the gospel and the teachings of Jesus, and therefore they must be understood within that framework.

    In fact, if I take those passages in isolation and believe them as literally true with no qualification, then I cannot be a Christian. As a Christian, I believe that I bound for glory, not for eternal destruction. But those verses say that I am eternally doomed, because I fall into many of those categories.

    I am in a season of life where I must avoid making strong statements about judgment and hell, what hell entails, how long it lasts, who goes to hell, and so on. I think about these questions a lot. I read about them when I can. And I am aware that there are and historically always have been many different strands of thought. Despite what many evangelicals will claim, the Bible’s answers to these questions are not so clear cut.

    Here’s a thoughtful piece on judgment and hell that appeared yesterday:

    My present thinking on this subject starts with the premise that God is love, and that eternal life is to be in an everlasting loving communion with the Triune God. I cannot be a universalist, because I believe that love requires freedom, and universalism denies human freedom. A loving God will not, cannot force people to be in loving communion with him forever if they don’t want it. And as far as I can tell, there are at least some people who don’t want it. How many fall into that category, I do not know. How long they will persist in that category, I do not know.

    • Great thoughts Joe. I am finding there is no universal meaning of universalism :) Where I’m at is a strong leaning toward “universal reconciliation” theology. So I see these labels applying rather well to my thinking right now: I am a universal reconciliational existentialistic humanist following Jesus. Which probably is just short for “anti-Christ”. I blame the gays.

  10. Joe, you somehow have a way of articulating almost what I am perceiving myself, especially regarding heaven and hell!

    Last month when I met my agnostic older brother he sensed that I am quite different in that I am a lot more open, welcoming, embracing and happy, compared to the past when I was critical, judgmental and dichotomous in my fixed and rigid expression of Christianity. He smiled and said to me that when I first became a Christian a few decades ago I said to him, “I am sorry that because you are not a Christian, I will not see you or mom in heaven.” I did not remember saying that I had said that, though it was surely in keeping with the way I had thought before.

    I would say that I am neither a universalist nor an annihilationist. I would also say that trying to speculate or evaluate or assess or judge who is going to heaven or hell is the most irrelevant and the most useless of activities as a Christian, because God never called me to do the job of judging others, since that is his job alone and no one else’s.

    God calls me to love Him and my neighbor as Jesus did by healing the sick and preaching the good news, and ultimately by his death and resurrection. Since God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45), shouldn’t I be doing the same (even if I fail in countless ways to do so daily)?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, thanks for your kind words. Like you, I believe that we must not be in the business of categorizing the people we meet as hellbound sinners or heavenbound saints. Jesus deliberately taught that we shouldn’t do that. We simply don’t know where individuals are headed.

      Having said that, I don’t want to avoid the general issues of judgment, heaven and hell. Many people are asking questions about this. If Christians give poorly informed, thoughtless, insensitive and bad answers to these questions, we become a stumbling block, making it hard for people to come to faith. Eventually I need to articulate my beliefs on this. But for now, I am in a season of learning and contemplation.

      Many of the modern apologists whom I respect — C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller — take similar stances on this issues. (And, for what it’s worth, their positions aren’t entirely different from what Rob Bell has said. Yes, Bell takes some different turns here and there. But there are lots of similarities too.) These videos by Tim Keller are a good start.

  11. Joe, together with the apologists you mentioned, you could probably include Fr. Robert Barron, Fr. Richard Rohr, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson (The Message), Richard Mouw (President of Fuller), Brennan Manning (Ragamuffin Gospel), Wm. Paul Young (The Shack), George MacDonald, etc.

    I resonate with this quote from your link:

    “In the view of both (Tim) Keller and (C.S.) Lewis, hell is the result of God giving people up to their own desires, including their desire for freedom from God himself. It is a self chosen eternal consequence of failure to follow God. Because we are created by God, and for God, life without God is devastating … because it is without God. The person in hell is locked in the prison of their own self-centeredness forever into infinity. (Keller) quotes Lewis from the Great Divorce and the Problem of Pain.

    There are only two kinds of people – those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. (p. 79, Reason for God.)

    What Keller has to say about hell has certainly gotten flack from a number of different quarters. This isn’t a denial of the idea of hell. And it certainly isn’t universalism in any form. But it also doesn’t reflect the idea of sinners in the hands of an angry God desiring to send all into eternal conscious torment for the ancient sin of Adam.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, the additional names you mentioned are important and influential voices.

      Has Tim Keller taken a lot of flack for these views? From whom?

      As appealing as his explanations are — and I do find them appealing — they do not come directly out of the Bible in a simple or straightforward way. Just as the doctrines of the Trinity do not come directly out of the Bible in a simple and straightforward way. I believe they are faithful to Scripture. But you won’t come to them by proof texting.

  12. In regard to hell, I live as if every person I meet will be in heaven. It’s not my place to decide this, so I believe everyone will be there. I believe the promise that God will forgive his enemies. And furthermore I believe God will answer Jesus’ last prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them.”

    Hell is an “escalator problem” mostly. How will Judgment Day play out? I don’t know and I no longer care.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, I’m confused. You wrote: “It’s not my place to decide this, so I believe everyone will be there.” That seems like a contradiction. Believing that everyone will be there sounds like you’re deciding.

    • Correct Joe, I am making a decision. What I’m saying is my decision doesn’t matter in regard to “final judgment”. Whatever we decide about all these things will be overruled by God.

      So philosophically yes indeed we all must make a decision and making no decision is a decision in fact.

      What are our choices?

      1. Choose to believe all people will be in hell (anihilism?)
      2. Choose to believe some people will be in hell (selectivisim?)
      3. Choose to believe no one will be in hell (universalism?)

      I choose #3 because I have no idea what the criteria for being in hell forever would be. I think the bible speaks of a “personal hell” that exists now and that we are set free from now through the gospel.

    • Probably, I chose to believe that who is going to heaven or hell is basically none of my business. But the good news is that through Christ everyone, without exception, is invited.

    • So if I comprehend what John Piper taught about free will/God’s will, I am probably more of a Calvinist in regard to final judgment, because I believe God has the final say. So this means a mix of #2 and #3, similar to what Ben just wrote “everyone is invited, it’s up to God to decide”. Just trying to work this out.

    • forestsfailyou

      I have no idea what heaven will be like. But I am certain of a few things, there will be some people who I never thought should be there, and many I think should be there but are not. Cs Lewis takes a very non traditional view. He says that we do not know that Christianity is exclusive in the sense that we must know the human name “Jesus” and make a human confession “He is the messiah.”

      I recall a story by a youth pastor (who has had much more of an impact on me that I could have ever imagined…) He told me a missionary visited a remote mountain village to evangelize. The missionary explained the story of the gospel to an older woman. The woman began crying “I always knew who he was but I never knew his name.”

      This is the situation that the second Vatican council said would have not damned the woman should she have died without hearing the word Jesus. The second Vatican Council is contentious today.

      Is the name “Jesus” really a prerequisite to God? Early theologians were divided. They were unsure that salvation could only come through the church. Over the centuries the church came to the conclusion (I believe mostly by St. Augustine’s opinion) that outside the church there was no salvation.

    • Well said, Forests. You’ve touched on something that is at the core of who I am right now. I aim to be someone “outside the gates”, who lives on the margins of society. In fact, I am on a grand experiment based on this question: Do we need church? If I could become a black, transgender, old, Jewish woman with AIDS who never heard of Jesus but who knows love, I would do so. If I could break down every barrier Christendom has put up, I would.

      I got this idea from reading Hebrews, esp. Hebrews 13:11-13. Rather surprisingly, I found the greatest joy, peace and hope in my life. Jesus really is outside the camp.

  13. Joe, Here’s a website dedicated to “slamming” Tim Keller and all the well known Calvinists and Reformed Theologians: I probably don’t recommend that you waste your time reading it.

    Here’s a book (I have not read) by some theologians that attempt to respectfully correct or refute some of the things Keller says: