Bound up in the recent controversy over Rob Bell’s popularization of universal reconciliation is the New Testament term, apokatastasis. This word is found in Acts 3:21:
whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastasis) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:21 ESV).
Orthodoxy defines this term in accordance with the context of the word in its passage, its book, and the broader context of the Bible’s history of the redemptive work of God. The ESV Study Bible, therefore, illuminates this usage of the word in the following way:
the time for restoring all the things looks forward to when Christ will return and his kingdom will be established on earth, and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall (see note on Rom. 8:20–21).
Universalists like Origen and those who buy into his notion of universal reconciliation, however, prefer to read ancient Hellenistic philosophy into the term in order to wrest it from its biblical context. In Quodlibet Journal, an apparent proponent of Origen’s view, Edward Moore, writes in “Origen of Alexandria and apokatastasis: Some Notes on the Development of a Noble Notion“,
This term occurs in only a single New Testament passage; its provenance is not intrinsically Christian or even Jewish, but Hellenistic, and bound up with the cosmology and anthropology of the era–a system of belief which Origen, in his day, was obliged to undermine in the interest of Christian teaching.
In my humble opinion, Origen wasn’t terribly successful at undermining the Hellenistic associations of the word. It would be more accurate to conclude that what he actually did was reconcile the Bible’s usage with its prior usage by pagan Greek philosophers (that went on a lot in the ancient church, with greater and lesser degrees of success). Origen basically (and I do mean basic) believed in the pre-existence of absolutely free souls as springing originally from God, freely falling into our current state of relative goodness or its antithesis (see Moore’s article), being guided by the instructive providence of God to relearn how to embrace “the Good,” even if this means some time in hell under God’s pedagogical judgment until such a time in the distant future, in which that free soul ultimately embraces the Good and is finally reconciled, or returned to the deified state from which he fell. As I read the many reviews of Rob Bell’s book (here’s Kevin DeYoung’s review, for example) that are now all over the interwebs, I couldn’t help but recognize some of these themes as being reflected in their citations of Bell’s teaching. It was kind of creepy.
I wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of Origen’s views regarding apokatastasis to be released by HarperOne under Bell’s name.
Remember, students, “Rob Bellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”
Here is Lane Chaplin’s video interview of Dr. Michael Horton on his new book, The Gospel Commission (2011, Baker Book House)–part three of a series starting with Christless Christianity, followed by The Gospel-Driven Life. I’d also like to direct you to the Riddleblog, where Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has provided a nice launch pad to read all seven parts of Dr. Horton’s lengthy and informative review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
Michael Card‘s latest album, Luke: A World Turned Upside Down, features a song called “The Bridge,” based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, demonstrating just what kind of misadventure mere head knowledge of the Word of God can be. I just heard last night that he’ll be conducting his current Biblical Imagination Conference an hour away from my home, down at Waxahachie Bible Church on April 8-9. Don’t know if I can make Friday, don’t know if I can make the conference all day Saturday, but some of us may attend the concert Saturday night. I’ll keep you posted if it does happen. Anyway, I wanted to share this song with you, since it’s so consistent with the theme of this blog. But first, the passage from God’s Word which inspired the song:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-37 ESV)
THE BRIDGE (click here to listen to song)
There was a legal-minded man
But the facts just seemed to pile up
And fester in his mind
So he asked a twisted question
“What am I supposed to do?”
His heart said he should love
But his mind still wondered, “who?”
From the head to the heart
From the heart to the mind
The Truth must make a journey
If we ever hope to find
You can see it as a bridge
Or as a narrow, winding road
The fact is Truth must travel
If it ever will be told
Then the answer came concealed
In the story Jesus told
Of a lonely, outcast traveler
Upon a dangerous road
When men with all the answers
Left the wounded man to die
While the lonely clueless stranger
Refused to pass him by
The answer’s not an answer
If it’s for the mind alone
It’s the orchard in the apple seed
It’s the seed that must be sown
It has to do with loving
And giving all you have to give
But only those who cross the bridge
Can ever hope to live.
2010 Covenant Artists ASCAP
piano, Vance Taylor
bass, Norbert Putnam
drums, Chester Thompson
vocals, Scott Roley, Michael Card
percussion, Ken Lewis
The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).
II. The MANNER in which these subjects are exhibited in the Scriptures is evidently divine; –wise, condescending, and yet majestic. The discoveries have been gradual, as men stood in need of them or were in a proper condition to receive them (Gen. 3,9,12,17 & c.; Heb. 1:1). The principal points; as of God’s new-covenant grant of himself to sinful men; his full satisfaction in and with Christ as our Mediator; and the law of the ten commandments; were declared from heaven with uncommon solemnity (Mat. 3:17; 17:5; Ex. 20:1-18, &c.). And, while these and other similar truths are announced in a style the most plain and simple, there appears therein something astonishingly sublime and majestic. While the dictates are authorized with a THUS SAITH THE LORD, the very style, particularly in Scripture songs, Job, Psalms, Lamentations, and Isaiah, and in our Saviour’s discourses, &c., is at once surprisingly suited to the dignity of the Author, the nature of the subject, and the condition of the persons addressed.
III. The manifest SCOPE of the Scriptures is to render sin loathsome and hated, and to promote holiness and virtue; to humble men, and reform them from their beloved lusts and sinful practices, and to exalt and glorify God to the highest. No good angel or man could dare to personate God in the manner of the Scriptures; nor could bad angels or men publish, and so warmly inculcate, what is so remarkably contrary to their own vicious inclinations and honour. It therefore remains that God alone must be the author and inditer of them.
IV. Notwithstanding the dictates of Scripture are so extremely contrary to the natural inclinations of mankind, and were published without any concert by various persons, of very different conditions, and in different ages and places, yet such is the marvellous HARMONY of all the parts, in their whole matter and scope, as irrefragably demonstrates that these penmen must all have been directed by the same Spirit of God. One part of our Bible is so connected with, and tends to the establishment of another, that we cannot reasonably receive any part without receiving the whole. In the New Testament we have the historical narrative of the fulfillment of the typical and verbal predictions of the Old. In both Testaments the subsequent books, or subsequent parts of a book, are connected with that which went before, as a narrative of the execution of a scheme begun, or of the fulfillment of a prophecy declared. If we receive the history, we must also receive the prediction. If we admit the prediction, we must believe the history. To a diligent searcher of the Scriptures, it cannot fail to occasion a most pleasant astonishment, to find everywhere the same facts supposed, related or prepared for; the same doctrines of a gracious redemption through Jesus Christ exhibited, or supposed to be true; the same rules or exemplifications of piety and virtue, and motives thereto; the same promises of mercy, or threatenings of just misery, to persons, societies, or nations, exhibited without a single contradiction. When there is an appearance of contradiction, it will be found that the different passages do not respect the same thing or person, in the same respect, and in the same circumstances of time, place, or manner; and so there is no contradiction at all.
The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.
The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.
In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”
Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.
This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.
Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.
The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.
In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.