Big Shocker.

Now at the risk of more accusations that this blog is simply a Brad Jersak “hate site”, he is my local celebrity heretic. I have basically given up on following at all because he’s so far out in left field, but I’ve been asked about another book of his several times now, so here is a blog post with my 2 cents.

Brad Jersak is a cautious universalist.  Amazingly, a guy who abandons the truthfulness of scripture ends up going further away from orthodoxy the older he gets.

I’ve been asked about this book (apparently I’m way behind!):

I’m not going to review it or anything like that.  I’m already several books behind on my reviewing schedule.  But, I did peek through the amazon.ca preview though and was sadly not surprised.

– According to the first section of the book, anyone who takes any sort of dogmatic stance on hell and eternal punishment isn’t humble.  What a shock.  Jersak defines humility with himself as the baseline.  That’s really humble of him.

The default position of postmodern false teachers is one that says “I’m not going to say that my way is right, but if you disagree with me you’re arrogant (by default) and I win all debates (again be default) because you’re arrogant”.  This position is commonly referred to as being ‘hermeneutically humble”. This is the emergent/pomo corrective to the perceived arrogance of the “fundamentalism” (which usually is nothing close to actual historic fundamentalism) that many emergent/pomo thinkers think they emerge from.

– Jersak suggests that the Bible paints multiple pictures about hell and there’s a tension  in the text that cannot be resolved (that’s a fancy way of saying that the Bible contains contradictions regarding its teaching on Hell and is a blatant rejection of both inspiration and inerrancy).  I’ve heard this mangled trumpet before; scripture is not clear on things like the afterlife; heaven and hell.  Scripture is not clear on whether God is holy.  Scripture is not clear on whether or not God thinks his holiness is a joke.  I am always amazed at how poetic it is for people to try to make a case that God basically lacks the ability to communicate with clarity, but they write books about it and expect people to read their books and understand (with general clarity) what they are saying.  God has a speech impediment but they don’t.

Few things make me so utterly annoyed as pseudo-theologians trying to play the “The Bible isn’t clear” card on a topic it mentions all over the place.  I’m fine with someone telling me I’m wrong and completely don’t understand the scripture; at least we can interact with the scripture.  I respect honest and divergent opinions that suggest I’m wrong. I have no respect for someone who tries to tell me that God is such a drooling imbecile that he’s incompetent to reveal himself to mankind with basic clarity.  I also have no respect for people who play that card and claim that they’re still within the bounds of evangelicalism; people who deny the perspicuity of scripture have been, or are in the process of, leaving anything recognizable as “Evangelical Christianity” long behind.

– Jersak’s not even sure if hell does, or does not, exist.

Are you kidding me?

Some ideas are just so hard to take serious that a person doesn’t really know where to start.

Does God share Jersak’s confusion about Hell?

Would God dance around the truth of his holiness and wrath against sin, or whether sin is serious or not?

If Hell were what the scripture claims it is, would God drop the ball on making sure the revelation of Hell was clear?

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed…” – 2 Tim 3:12-14.

That about sums it up.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Stay away from Brad Jersak: he is one of the wolves that Jesus warned us about; he consistently attacks and condemns orthodox biblical Christianity in his writing and “ministry” and he openly associates with enemies of the gospel (like Marcus Borg) as if they are brothers.  That should be all you need to know.

If you go to a church that brings him in to speak, or uses his curriculum for instruction in things like prayer, consider that a strong indication that whoever is making those decisions has an alarming lack of biblical discernment.

Consider yourself warned.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “what does Peter say about people who distort and twist scripture?” Unger

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24 thoughts on “Big Shocker.

  1. It might interest you to know that your current place of employment had Mr. Jersak on its teaching staff for several years, perhaps evidence that it too has “an alarming lack of biblical discernment.”

    • You may have noticed that I don’t interact with any component of my current place of employment on this blog. I have no need to foolishly jeopardize my job and I do rejoice that Jersak no longer teaches there. I choose to interpret that as a presence of discernment but will do nothing to validate or invalidate my interpretation.

    • Not sure if you are aware but Brad Jersak has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I believe he attends an Antiochian (Lebanese) Orthodox Church in Abbotsford.

  2. I was looking for a sermon by the same title as the book (I found it) and I noticed some interesting comments you made about the book.

    When you responded to “– Jersak’s not even sure if hell does, or does not, exist,” I think you made an interesting move in not responding to it – as though it was a given, an answer that could not be questioned. That is, the fact that Jersak even bothered to ask the question demonstrated that he is a heretic.

    I think this has something to do with the fact that many Christians feel that hellfire and damnation are closed topics – you don’t get to ask about them because they just ARE. Any argument to the contrary is automatically invalidated because it arrives at the answer that we already know is wrong.

    But what if we listened to his arguments, instead of assuming that he is wrong based simply on knowing how his story ends?

    I wrote a blog about this myself over at http://davidmschell.com/unauthorized-questions/, if you’re interested.

    • Well, you’re misreading the situation.

      I spend no short amount of time responding to, and thoroughly interacting with, any and all questions on here. I’ve done that with Jersak’s main book, “Can You Hear Me.” I’ve done that several times, in multiple forums.

      I wasn’t dismissing the question as settled and unworthy of discussion. I was dismissing Jersak’s efforts to portray himself as an innocent and humble questioner. Jersak is the one whose operating from an assumed theology that he has swallowed both blindly and arrogantly, and that’s one of proper academic liberalism; namely the active disbelief in the inspiration of Scripture. Because he doesn’t believe that Bible has a single and unified author, he doesn’t believe the Bible has a single and unified message. Because he doesn’t believe that the writing of Scripture was “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”, he doesn’t believe that the Scripture is free from error.

      Jersak and I have a history, and you’re poking your head into the interaction a long way in. It’s easy to read a single statement and come to the wrong conclusion. You may want to read some of the other stuff I’ve addressed at Jersak. You may want to read this, though I’d love your comments on this.

      Also, I would guess that you’re walking down the same path. If we do “know how the story ends”, meaning that we have a properly exegetical understanding of an issue, can we not have a framework of various answers to various questions that inescapably rules out the possibility of future hypothetical questions?

      If we are certain, for example, that mankind descended from an original and singular human pair named “Adam” and “Eve” (based on a proper exegetical treatment of passages like Genesis 1:26-27, 2:4-25, 5:1-5; 1 Chron. 1:1; Matt. 19:4-8; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:26, 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22, 42-49; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14), does that not rule out innumerable questions that operate from the assumption of Adam and Eve are metaphorical rather than historic persons?

      Nobody can reinvent the wheel, or interact meticulously with doubt, every time some guy comes along pretending to “just be asking questions”, and I would lay serious money on the fact that you don’t operate that way either.

      • I’ve encountered this sort of thing before as well. The “just asking questions” thing does tend to make people who have the answers assume that “Oh, this person is just a baby Christians” but then the folks with the answers realize that the questions are shaped in such a way as to make them reconsider their answers. That’s when I’ve noticed people start to get defensive.

        While some have argued that the “hypothetical questions” such as those asked by Brad Jersak and Rob Bell (I just brought him in) are like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, I think that’s a way to dismiss important critiques as just asking silly questions. The goal of the questions is to make readers think – particularly, to put the reader in a position where the reader has to deal with the untenability of their position and (hopefully) find a new framework for understanding reality.

        I don’t think Brad has “swallowed academic liberalism.” As someone who has changed his mind on many similar issues, I can assure you that “academic liberalism” is not something one swallows whole, nor one that is swallowed whole lightly. It’s incredibly difficult to do a 180 – or even a 90.

        • I’m definitely no assuming you’re a “baby Christian”.

          I try hard to not make assumptions about spiritual maturity or articulate understanding, frequently to my own detriment.

          I also don’t dismiss the questions from people like Bell or Jersak; I engage them head on and attempt to think back at them. The frequent response I get from their side of the fence is that they’re the ones who are working on assumptions and dismiss any response to their “questions” other than fawning agreement. I labor hard to engage people on biblical and exegetical grounds, but guys like Bell and Jersak simply don’t want to go there with any level of depth or intellectual rigor. They have an incredibly arrogant “been there, done that” attitude with historic Christian orthodoxy and wildly caricature and misrepresent the positions that they’re attacking…mostly because they never understood those positions in the first place (and admittedly abandoned them when they were young and ignorant).

          I defined academic liberalism by one of its foundational assumptions:the active disbelief in the inspiration of Scripture.

          I wasn’t using “liberal” as some sort of synonym for “spiritual cooties”, but rather the application of naturalism to theology. The foundational application of naturalism to theology is in the approach to the Bible as any other ancient text; uninspired, evolved over time, and internally self-contradictory due to the plurality of authorship and history of redaction.

          As a Christian, I wholeheartedly reject naturalism as a worldview, including it’s inconsistent application by Christians to the realm of Scripture. The Bible has a singular divine author that brings unparalleled unity, infallibility, inerrancy and authority to the pages of Scripture. The Bible is utterly different, in every category imaginable, to all other ancient literature and should be treated accordingly. I believe that because the Holy Spirit has granted me the ability to believe the testimony of Scripture to itself and the clear and unambiguous testimony of Christ to the inscripturated word of God.

          You can assure me of whatever you want. The Bible is the rule of life and practice, not your highly limited and ultimately unreliable interpretation of your own experience.

      • There’s really not much to say. I just found the post quite rude and out of touch with Jersak’s actual sentiment and position. I find it hard to believe Jersak is “far left.” He’s a freaking orthodox. They haven’t changed in over a thousand years! (In fact, the orthodox would probably think you were far left.) So Jersak is further left than Karen Armstrong, Jürgen Moltmann, Marcion, or Friedrich Schleiermacher? Hardly. That suggestion is borderline ridiculous.

        Your concept of inerrancy seems pretty limited to me–as though the Bible can’t leave room for any unresolved tension whatsoever. How many Jews do you think were shocked at the idea that the Messiah of Daniel and the Psalms was the same person as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53? Both of them appeared together in an inerrant Bible, and would certainly have been seemingly contradictory. (How can the Messiah be a Suffering Servant? That’s the whole point of why the cross was a “scandal” to the Jews.) No Jew before Christ seems to have made the connection.

        But now, it’s obvious to us that they’re the same person. What if the same is true of hell and post-mortem salvation? The Bible seems unresolved in the tension; some parts teach the whole world is reconciled and propitiated; other parts imply that some will remain in unbelief to the bitter end. Which is right? Both. How? Don’t know. But we’ll find out.

        • Well, I can help you out a bit.

          I didn’t say he was “far left”, but rather “far out in left field.”

          You misread my words and made a strange assumption. I have never suggested that Jersak is to the theological left of someone like Karen Armstrong or John Shelby Spong. The suggestion would certainly be ridiculous, but I didn’t make it in the first place.

          I’m also not surprised that, like when you read me, you apparently have misread the words of Scripture as well. Your attempts to manufacture some sort of contradiction in the scripture are, well, unconvincing.

          The various teachings of the Messiah were misunderstood by the various Jewish sects and groups of Jesus’ day, but there’s no contradiction there.

          In Luke 24:25-27, Jesus rebuked his disciples for their confusion regarding their misunderstandings of the Messiah and said:

          ” ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

          There is no tension in the text. Confusion and misunderstanding come when we either misunderstand the text of Scripture or only believe selective parts.

          The same goes for the ideas about hell, and post-mortem salvation. The Bible has no tension; there are absolutely no parts of Scripture that teach that the entire world (meaning every single living person) is reconciled to God via the cross.

          Your confusion springs from objective exegetical error and disbelief. If you’d like to start tossing your proof-texts at me, I can show you your objective error.

        • Why do you think the Jews rejected Jesus as suffering messiah if they believed there was no tension between suffering on a cross and being the messiah? What do you think the point of 1 Corinthians 1-3 is, then?

          I do not believe in proof-texting. I believe that the message of the Bible and the heart of the crucified God should be explored holistically, and doctrinal should be made on the basis of the holistic witness.

          In the Bible, we learn that God is love (1 John 4:8). We learn that he is the father of everyone by the act of creation (Acts 17), although he is not everyone’s father in the sense of spiritual likeness yet. In the Bible, we learn that Christ died “for all” (2 Corinthians 5:15). We learn that God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness precisely because his love is revealed for the cosmos (John 3:16-17).

          In 1 Peter 3:18-21 and 4:6, we learn that death does not mark the end of God’s ability to redeem. “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15, quoting from Isaiah 26 I believe). In Colossians 1:15-20 and 2 Corinthians 5:19, we learn that Christ’s death was meant to reconcile “all things” and “the world” to himself. In 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 18:14, we learn that Jesus is “wishing that none should perish, but that all might reach repentance.”

          Yes. The Bible teaches hell and judgment. But more than either of those things, it teaches the victory of God over all of sin and for all of the world (John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2).

          Before you start using aionios to “prove” that hell is “eternal,” note that the way the Bible uses aionios is not always meant eternally (particularly Romans 16:25-26; also 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2). Something can be “aionios” without being “eternal.” Aionios is an insufficient semantic and theological case for “eternal hell.”

          Before you start arguing with 1 Peter’s texts, note that profound theologians favor a post-mortem salvation reading. One cannot presume without other (sufficient) grounds that a post-morgen conversion reading is impossible.

          At the end of the day, I believe God desires to save all people (see the parable of the lost sheep. ;If he doesn’t, is he really love to them?) I also believe that God can save all, and that in Christ God has already in some sense reconciled “all things” to himself (Colossians 1:20). If you disagree, I accept that as your theological decision given your context and understanding of the text. But you will have to provide an overwhelming (non-rhetorical) case against it in order to be compelling to me.

  3. True; there is no explicit statement that all will be saved. (That would be a dramatic anachronism.) But there is also no explicit statement that any will in eternity be left unsaved. We must instead dialogue with the available data and ideas. My belief is that those ideas–particularly the christological ones–lead directly to universal salvation. If you disagree, I would be more than happy to see a case for it. (I have read many cases against universal salvation. I don’t think that any of them are particularly compelling.)

    • Uh, what?

      “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” – Dan. 12:2

      “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8

      “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46

      “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” – John 3:36

      “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24

      “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” – 2 Thessalonians 2:9

      “…and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” – Hebrews 6:2.

      “…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever…And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” – Revelation 20:10, 15.

      There is no shortage of direct statements in Scripture about the nature and duration of Hell. The question is whether you face the nouns and verbs of Scripture or simply overthrow them on the basis of theological trajectories or other systematic constructs that wrongfully claim to be derived from the Scripture.

      • The word aionios–like the word olam in Daniel 11:2–technically mean “long ages.” They do not intrinsically mean “eternal” or “everlasting.” (See Romans 16:25-26, 2 Tim. 1:9, and Titus 1:2.) The eternality of hell cannot be established on the basis of that word.

        Yes. Our English Bibles–and many of our Lexicons–contain this bias. So in their original languages, these important (and beautiful) verses you have quoted cannot prove that hell is eternal. That would be a semantic twist, one that I don’t think you are qualified to make.

        I tried to answer this objection in advance by mentioning aionios. Perhaps you aren’t familiar with Greek much?

        I recommend digging into the original languages of the Bible. It’s very helpful in discerning doctrine.

        • Daniel 12:2 – “וְרַבִּים מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת־עָפָר יָקִיצוּ אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עֹולָם וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפֹות לְדִרְאֹון עֹולָֽם”

          Technically? Well, let’s get technical!

          Technically, you’re in the wrong language, making elementary lexicographical errors (the meaning of any term in a sentence is fenced in by, but not determined by, its pool of semantic range. The meaning of all terms is determined by their contextual usage), and committing what’s know as a “False semantic isolation” fallacy.

          Show me.

          Aionios isn’t in Daniel. The supposed meaning of a Greek translation of a Hebrew word is as relevant as learning to ski backwards.

          Let’s see if you know Hebrew, or even how exegesis works.

          Explain to me how “L’Hayeh Olam” or “L’Dir’own Olam” mean anything other that “everlasting life” or “everlasting contempt” in the context of Daniel 12. That means, show me how it’s possible to understand those two Hebrew phrases, given the inescapable language and thrust of the surrounding pericope, as anything other than “everlasting”. That means you need to walk through Daniel 12:1 to whatever relevant verse is required and show, via exegetical work and the flow of the pericope, that your translation is hypothetically possible.

          I say it’s blatantly not, and it’s obvious in the Hebrew. Let’s see if you have the ability to discover why.

        • Actually, I was using precisely the right language for the New Testament passages which I was discussing primarily. I did mentioned olam, though, which is of course the word here in Daniel 12:2.

          Far from skiing backwards or committing “elementary lexicographical errors,” I’ve demonstrated a familiarity with the linguistic and textual issues of these verses that ought to merit some admiration. At any rate, aionios *is* in Daniel 12:2–the Septuagint (LXX) version of it. (Aionios is the very word used to translate Daniel 12:2’s two instances of the word olam.)

          Of course a word’s context (in its original language) illuminates its meaning. I have not denied that; I rather asserted that as a general rule, it is properly basic to the New Testament Greek that the word aionios does not necessarily mean “eternal,” contrary to the late convention according to which the English translations and lexicons typically follow. I offered three specific verses as evidence of my assertion. (As you say, the contextual usage of a word must be invoked. Nothing in the contexts in which the word is typically translated “eternal”–particularly for damnation texts–provide overwhelming evidence that “ages” would not be a better translation.)

          The case is similar for olam. Olam need not mean eternal; does it mean eternal in Exodus 21:6 of a slave’s relatively short life, or 1 Samuel 1:22, referring to the lifetime of Samuel? Of course not. According to a theologically informed understanding of Daniel 12:2’s “olam shame”, it is questionable–perhaps incredibly unlikely–that olam means “everlasting” there, either.

          In terms of an exegesis, the second half of Daniel is (obviously) an apocalyptic vision. Here, Daniel learns of the coming Son of Man and observes the cosmic war between good and evil that God’s kingdom–like a great falling rock–will bring to an end.

          In our lovely verse Daniel 12:2, it is promised that the enduring (olam) result of God’s justice will be olam shame for the wicked and a olam life for the righteous, in which they will “shine” like the stars.

          Contextually, I think it best to leave Daniel 12:2 there. (Technically, leaving it here would not in itself over any confirmation for “eternality” of shame or life. But for the sake of argument: The life of the righteous is olam; is it everlasting? Yes, and more; for the life of God is everlasting. It must be, as Christ reasoned in Luke’s Gospel, for He is God “of the living.”

          Now, the shame of the wicked is also called “olam.” Is it “everlasting,” that is, as enduring as the life of the righteous?

          No. I contend, on the basis of God’s holy justice, that the shame of the wicked is not everlasting. In the case of Leah and Rachel, God graciously takes away their shame by giving them children. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, following his seven years of shame as a beast, God takes away his shame out of sheer loving-kindness. Psalm 30:5 says that God’s “anger is for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.”

          Theologically, God’s only goal–being loving, holy, and just–is life from the dead (Roman 11:15). In Daniel, the resurrected righteous “shine like the stars.” Lights shine for the benefit of those in darkness; perhaps here in Daniel, we are taught that the light of the righteous will outlast and even heal the shame of the wicked. This would accord with the frequent description of God’s mercy as enduring “olam.” Can the shame of the wicked outlast God’s mercy? Would not such a suggestion, without impressive warrant, be quite the impious proposal, rendering vacuous the language of God’s mercy, and that merely to preserve an insipid (and morally incomprehensible) idea of permanent shame in the presence of a God whose mercy is said to be olam? Again: will shame outlast God’s mercy? And if so, on what incredible grounds, good sir?

          I would honestly be curious to hear what profoundly compelling exegetical grounds you might have to render it as you have, particularly given your agreement that the meaning of words need to be discerned by their contexts. As I have contended, olam cannot be simply assumed to mean “eternal,” but must be demonstrated to be so using the reasoning of Bible itself (as I have tried to do). If you would like to do so, I look forward to reading your response.

        • Hey there. I haven’t forgot to respond here, but it’s been on the backburner for a while. Other things have been far more pressing. I’ll come back sometime soon and respond.

          Prov. 27:2.

      • I see you did not defend your understanding of aionios in the context of hell with anymore than what you have called “blowing smoke.” What grand contextual evidence can you provide that the contexts of the hell passages do mean “eternal?” It’s easy to accuse the alternative party of “fallacy” when they clearly outmatch out; harder still is to defend one’s own preferred reading. Are you prepared to do that as I have tried to do with Daniel 12:2, with more than “blowing smoke?”

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