The Real Reward of Persistence…

During dinner the other night I decided to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother. I’ve been cycling back through very slowly for the past year or so. If you haven’t yet watched through season 6, avert your eyes from this blog post until you do… unless you don’t mind spoilers, in which case, please keep reading.

It was a couple episodes after Marshall’s father passed away and Marshall was going through some serious self-reflections. He realized that his job wasn’t meaningful and he was upset that his dad never got to see “how he had turned out,” as Marshall put it. Marshall had wanted to become an environmental lawyer – something that had always made his father proud. But when his father passed away, he was just another corporate lawyer doing meaningless work for a decent amount of money. Marshall wasn’t okay with that.

While watching this episode, it sort of hit me: my grandpa has only seen me as the college or grad student, occasionally working a part-time job here and there to make ends meet. My grandpa will never get to see me realize the ambition of becoming a professor – something that I already know is a long shot in the field of biblical studies, but something I want nonetheless. After all, part of the decision to go to seminary in the effort of becoming a professor was to make my grandpa proud.

I think I felt quite like Marshall over this past summer. In between the end of summer semester and the beginning of fall, I started questioning the purpose of continuing on with more school, debt, and stress, especially if he wasn’t going to be there to see me achieve something. It felt like a waste of time to keep trying for something that has a slim chance of success anyhow, especially if my grandpa wouldn’t get to see it if I succeeded anyway.

Yet as the fall semester enters its third week, I’m beginning to realize that the real reason I had felt this way wasn’t because of my grandpa passing away; it was because of that little voice that tells me I have to earn acceptance, love, and value – things that my grandpa freely gave to me, even when he didn’t agree with the route I had chosen. Him not being able to see any future accomplishments is a huge bummer. But that doesn’t mean that he (or anybody else, really) had to be around to see it happen for it to have meaning. It doesn’t mean that the pursuit itself is worthless. And if I’m honest with myself, he wouldn’t want me to give up now, anyway (he didn’t want us to give up in anything we started, really).

Yesterday was spent doing nothing but Greek and Phoenician homework. While I was testing myself with the new vocab and memorizing all the consonants, I started to feel the sense of fulfillment I had in my first year. It wasn’t as intense, sure, but it was there. And I highly doubt that I’ll feel it every time I sit down to do homework, but to get a dose of it this early in the semester is a great feeling. At this point, all I can really do is keep going at it; keep checking off assignments one page at a time.

When it comes to achievements of really any kind, I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone. It’s there already. What I do have to do is prove that there are certain values my grandpa raised me with that I don’t want to let go of: doing all that I do to the best of my abilities, especially the things I enjoy. One of my favorite Proverbs carries a similar tone; “Do you see the one skillful in their work? They will stand before rulers; they will not stand before obscure ones.”[1]

My point here is not to work as hard and as well as you can in order to be rewarded, but to do so because the work itself is the reward. The things we take joy in, the things that require our time and energy – those are the things that shape us, in addition to hardships, losses of loved ones, and pain. To give up in any regard, to quit before you’re really tested, that is to cheat yourself out of an opportunity like no other to be developed in a certain way – a way that God may want you to be developed.

For Marshall, as I already know what happens, this means leaving his corporate job, but in order to do what he’s most passionate about: environmental law. For me, it means keep going with what I’m doing because, as I’m rapidly discovering again, this is what I’m most passionate about doing – even if I never become a biblical studies professor.

To make one more analogy, my favorite musicians aren’t the ones with the catchiest lyrics or the biggest fan bases; they’re the ones who lose themselves in their music – who cast aside all worry and just have fun with what they do. I can bet it’s hard work, sure. But I can also bet that it’s worth every bit of it.

The real reward of a joyful, ambitious persistence isn’t money, fame, or anything material.

It’s who you become in the process.

God bless.

[1] Prov. 22:29: Actual, literal translation of the Hebrew reads with the masculine pronoun, but the meaning is gender-neutral.

Thoughts From Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God…

I finally got around to begin reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and so far, it’s okay. Ehrman draws comparisons of Jesus to other god-man figures around the same time period of Jesus and essentially, as far as I can tell, makes the assertion (among other related assertions) that Jesus never believed himself to be God incarnate. And as ridiculous as this may sound, that actually doesn’t bother me.

Saying that Jesus didn’t believe himself to be God isn’t the same as saying he wasn’t actually God – that is, simply because Jesus may not have believed himself to be God doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t. Jesus’ divinity need not have relied upon his self-awareness as God. John’s gospel would stand out as a little odd if Jesus didn’t actually believe himself to be God, but even so, he still could be God without believing it.

There are quite a few passages in the New Testament that instantly become more interesting with this understanding of Jesus’ self-understanding. When Jesus references the “Son of Man” or the “Human One” (as the CEB has it), who is Jesus talking about if he isn’t talking about himself?

One passage that comes to mind is Mark 8:27-33:

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’

They told him, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.’

He asked them, ‘And what about you? Who do you say that I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’ Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.’ He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.’

As I said, there are many others, but most of them seem related to this one: predictions of the “Son of Man’s” torture, death, and resurrection. Now I know that Peter calls Jesus “the Christ” and then Jesus goes into a mini-lecture about the “Human One” or “Son of Man,” but to my understanding these were hardly indistinguishable terms. To reference one is to reference the other. If this is the case and Jesus did not believe himself to be the “Human One,” then perhaps we are seeing a bit of Jesus’ humanity – much more than we anticipated or even wanted.

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, Ehrman’s book is one about Christology (the study of Christ). Under such a study is the question of the divinity of Jesus: Whether he was God incarnate or an ordinary man who was later deified (as is Ehrman’s contention in How Jesus Became God). And after reading the hundred-some pages of Ehrman’s book, I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t a mixture of the two; that perhaps Jesus believed himself to be an ordinary man, yet was God incarnate, dwelling “among us.”

In passages like the one above, we find what we thought was a confident God-man testing his disciples about their faith. Yet if Jesus is the ordinary God-man, then might this be a scene of Jesus discovering who he actually is? When he’s asking what others think of him and then what the disciples think of him, perhaps he’s seriously wondering if he might be the Christ? And with his teaching about what the Son of God/Human One must suffer immediately following his discussion with the disciples, might this be Jesus fully realizing his fate? “He said this plainly,” half terrified and yet half mesmerized as to what was unfolding.

Although mostly to keep up with what’s popular, I am eager to read the rest of Ehrman’s book as well as the response, How God Became Jesus, from Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling – an endeavor I wanted to take up months ago. But for now, I would love to hear what others think about the idea of Jesus not knowing he was God: Do you think it’s plausible or ridiculous? What does it mean for our faith in Christ if this were true – what changes and what stays the same?

Taken at a family wedding...

In Loving Memory of Duane Howard Cushman Jr….

On Saturday we held a celebration of life for my grandpa, Duane Howard Cushman Jr., who passed on April 11th of this year. In honor of him, we ate a Thanksgiving meal (turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, stuffing, fruit salad, etc., etc.) and simply enjoyed each other’s company – as my grandpa had done more often than not. I had written a few words to share with the group on Saturday, but when the time came I suddenly felt they were more appropriate for a later day and in a different format. Below are those words.

To many of us, my grandpa was a brother, a friend, and a grandfather. But to at least two of us (probably more), he was a father.

In many ways he was a father figure, but I’ve had several of those. They come and go depending on where I am, when I’m there, and what I’m doing: a baseball coach, a teacher, or simply a friend’s dad. When you grow up without ever knowing your own father, you tend to borrow father figures from pretty much anyone, anywhere. What makes my grandpa more than a father figure is that I didn’t choose him; he chose me.

Father figures can be helpful, instructive, and a wise guidance. But it is never expected of any of them to stick around when things get difficult – like when you’re scared in the middle of the night because of a bad dream, sad because your best friend just moved away, feeling homesick after being away at college a few weeks, or when you aren’t sure of what you want to do after graduation. Yes, in many ways my grandpa filled the void of an actual father despite knowing just how much it would cost him financially, emotionally, and physically – and, who knows, maybe even spiritually.

It is because of my grandpa that I know how to write a check and balance my checkbook; that I know how to drive a car; that I know how to keep working until the job gets done; that I know when and how to say “I’m sorry” when I’ve done something wrong and “Thank you” when someone (anyone) has helped me; that I know how to beat just about anyone – yes, Jamie and Aunt Linda, just about anyone – at cribbage; that I know how to be friendly and kind to people I might meet despite what they look like or how they vote; that I know putting aside my own agenda to help someone else is something I should do frequently; and that I know true family means sticking together when no one else will.

Grandpa did more than I ever expected or asked of any father figure and it is because of him that I even had a fighting chance at a life well lived. Celebrating his life, to me, is celebrating the life of an adoptive father who just so happened to be my grandfather.

Thank you to everyone who could make the trip for coming to Saturday’s gathering; my Grandpa would appreciate and enjoy your presence… mostly the food’s presence, but yours as well. And to those who couldn’t make it, my Grandpa would have missed your presence… just like he missed the presence of the forgotten apple pie last Christmas Eve…

If anyone has any stories about my grandpa that they would like to share, send me a Facebook message or an email and I would be happy to read them.

Setting Aside a Sabbath…

Books for this upcoming fall semester have arrived – well, most of them anyway; still waiting on two of them. From the looks of things, this ought to be the most challenging semester of school I’ve ever had. Instead of taking the minimum 8 credits (minimum to receive financial aid), I’m taking 12: Church History & Theology (3), Intro to the New Testament (3), Intro to New Testament Greek (3), and an independent study of Phoenician (3). Hebrew gave me frequent headaches all throughout last year, so I expect this semester to literally fry my brain (okay, I mean that in the figurative sense).

To help prepare for the expansive workload, I started scheduling out study sessions for each of my classes – shooting for close to 9 hours a week for each class outside of class time. Am I mad? Yes. But what I also sought to schedule out was something I’ve never really tried before: a Sabbath rest.

I think the biggest reason I scheduled out the day for Sabbath rest is because I had just finished a presentation on Sabbath rest for my Creation Theology class. Ultimately my conclusion was that a Sabbath rest isn’t like a day off from work; it’s the purpose for why we work. We rest not just to renew our energies for the upcoming work week, but to celebrate life as it is – without changing our altering anything.

Envisioning how a Sabbath day might work, I have a hard time shaking the way I first learned about the Sabbath – that it was a day for church, maybe a barbecue, and certainly for football, which works for both Saturdays and Sundays. However, when I think of how God, on the seventh day, let creation be as it was – simply stepping back and enjoying everything as is – I don’t find how some of these former ways of thinking actually fit. Certainly these communal acts are constructive, but they don’t have the particular focus that I have in mind.

In her article “Christian Formation in and for Sabbath Rest,” Dorothy Bass writes:

“Sabbath observers practice stepping off the treadmill of working and spending. They develop the capacity to disengage from consumer culture and to coexist in gratitude with nature and other people within the plenty of God’s creation and anticipate the future God intends for the world.”

What I envision for my fall semester is breaking off from anything that has to do with producing something and enjoying the people and world around me. Now although watching TV isn’t necessarily producing anything, it is still placing one’s focus away from the people and world around them onto a commercial activity. No, instead, I see my Sabbath rests being spent away from TVs, computers, and, yes, even cell phones so that I may have a better chance at enjoying the people and world around me.

Of course, actually committing to a schedule of any kind might be my biggest challenge for next semester, but committing to a Sabbath of rest – of true, genuine rest – will be a close second. This all may sound funny because I’m not Jewish, but the truth is, I have never read anywhere in the New Testament where the Sabbath was to be done away with. If anything, Jesus corrects how one ought to approach the Sabbath (placing the focus on life rather than simply not doing work); “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27, CEB). Taking a Sabbath ought to still be a prominent part of the Christian life.

My quality of work may or may not benefit from taking this Sabbath. But, as has been pointed out, that cannot be my focus. Instead, I want to go for runs or hikes; I want to have long chats with friends and family members without our cell phones (or with, depending on how far away they are); and I want to sit back and enjoy the created world as is, just as God had done.

Reality is, if I can make time for Netflix, I can make time for a Sabbath.

God bless.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation,” – Genesis 2:3, CEB

“The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life… The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living,” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 14

Thoughts on Faith, Posture, and Academic Paths…

It’s weird not having blogged for a month. I mean, I have been busier than usual what with getting ready for and traveling to Oxford, England – where I’m writing from now. But I have had things to write about. However, in the beginning of writing those potential posts, I had realized they all required a bit more thought and care than I was giving them.

Why am I in Oxford, though? Several months back I was awarded an all-expenses-paid, two week trip over here to study manuscripts as well as work on a few. There are a little over 30 other students here with me, including a couple from my own school at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Thus far, it’s been quite the experience – for one thing, it was my first international trip and for another, it was my first flight in fourteen years.

Every student here is working on a small project which is part of a much larger project conducted by the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). We’ve been given lectures and talks on being a member of the faith in the academic world, various methodologies in textual criticism, and even a few on Oxford’s history (including a talk on C.S. Lewis). This last Saturday we were led over to Winchester to tour the city as well as the famous Winchester Cathedral, which is incredibly large and stunningly beautiful. Walking around inside felt as though I had walked onto the set of a Lord of the Rings movie. Like I said, it has been quite an experience thus far (despite missing out on the opportunity to travel around London yesterday and a few lectures today due to a recent cold).

Inside the Winchester Cathedral.

Inside the Winchester Cathedral.

Coming near the end of my third semester at George Fox (yes, I’ve been in Summer Semester for about eight weeks now) and hearing these talks and lectures about being Christian scholars has caused me to think ahead of my own future and where I’ll be after Spring of 2016 (when I’m planning on finishing my Master’s). For now, the hope is to do well enough through my Master’s and on the GRE to get accepted into a fully funded (or at least partially funded) PhD program. I don’t think I’m questioning what I want to do, but I am questioning how I want to approach what I want to do.

During the first few nights of our time here, there were a couple talks given about life as a Christian scholar in a mostly non-Christian world. Such talks carried a strong theme of defending one’s beliefs – of the need for apologetics, which included, to no small degree, defending Scripture’s authority, reliability, and essential nature for the modern day Christian. Included in all of this was the emphasis on practicing thorough scholarship. Looking back on all this now, I see this as one potential approach to academia that many take. However, I do not find that this approach fits me.

Instead I find a strong need for quality scholarship in biblical and theological studies. I do not see the need for faith to be defended largely because I do not think God is so small that God would need our defense. I’m quite certain that should there be a mass falling out within Christianity and biblical scholarship that left nothing but non-Christians handling the biblical text, God would remain untouched. However, such a falling out I do not think is in God’s agenda.

Why do I feel this way? Why am I surrendering apologetic studies in favor of a more “secular” approach? Because I find agendas such as defending God’s existence or the validity of the Scriptural texts to be in the way of quality scholarship. I find that it skews one’s studies to input their own conclusions long before the evidence supporting such a conclusion ever gets drawn out (if it ever gets drawn out).

None of this is to demean those who choose to go the apologetic path; it is simply to say that it’s one I don’t think fits best for me. Instead, I think God wants me to go a different route that hasn’t been defined entirely. Yet I know that I must allow God to be God – to defend what God finds worthy of defense. And if we are paying attention to the Scriptures we (yes, myself included) deem authoritative, we should find that God seeks to protect those who cannot protect themselves (Prov. 31:8-9). Perhaps if we started there, then we may realize that this alone is enough of an apologetic for those who are willing to see, hear, and listen to the God we proclaim.

Such a path as the one I see before me requires a certain kind of posture – one of sincere humility, diligence, and discipline. Yet this posture is not exclusive only to the world of biblical scholarship nor even the larger umbrella of academia. It is a posture set forth by Christ himself for all who proclaim his name to follow. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to talk about the other areas this posture plays into (one that immediately comes to mind is the topic of gay marriage or homosexuality as a whole – I have been silent for too long on this and I am excited about taking it up).

As you wonder about where God is leading you or has led you, what kind of posture do you sense that you have or had? What is or was the impact of your posture? How do you think it could be improved upon?

God bless.

On Being a Seminarian: Enjoy the Process of Rejection…

Over last weekend I was privileged to attend a couple sessions for the West Coast Qumran Study Group, which felt like a miniature conference with scholars from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada gathered to share ideas, research, and give tips on utilizing Bible software. Or, at the very least, those were the topics of the sessions I was able to attend (the bulk of the study group was held on Saturday – the same day I had my eight hour class). After the final session on Sunday, we went to the Stickmen Brewery in Lake Oswego for lunch.

What was really cool for me was to see my former professor from U of O, Dr. Daniel Falk, talking with one of my new professors at George Fox – my advisor, in fact, Dr. Steve Delamarter. What I found even cooler, though, was having the opportunity to chat with Falk after everything was over. I had told him that I had just finished my first year of seminary and am hoping to continue on for a PhD thereafter. Somewhat to my surprise, he seemed excited and after sharing a couple tips here and there, we got to talking about how scholarship – that is, the advanced study of a particular subject in a particular field – works. He had told me that if I spent my time researching and presenting a topic that doesn’t get rejected, then I haven’t really done much for scholarship. However, if I were to find something – preferably something that hasn’t been tried before – that does get rejected by other scholars, then I actually have advanced – however minutely – scholarship. By ruling something out, one is actually moving the greater pursuit forward.

As I ruminated on this while heading home, I realized there are a few things that I must focus on even as I pursue my Master’s. First of all, however studied one may be, one must never fall in love with their thesis or their particular methodology. Should this happen and that thesis become utterly rejected, then one will feel that they have failed – even though, as just discussed, one has done something for the field. Ultimately, then, my focus should be on being proven wrong; to do as much research as I can and as well as I can with the hope that it gets knocked down. It will not be for naught; it’ll be an opportunity to try something new.

Secondly, I must never carry myself as though I’m always right. In fact, I ought to do the opposite: invite my professors and fellow students to prove me wrong, even in the littlest of essays. Our culture, of which I am very much a part, has become so engrained and fixated against criticism that we’ve become blind to the benefits of criticism – of our work and ideas being out-rightly proven wrong, unsupported, or too steeped in presuppositions. My first paper for writing 121 in college received an ‘F.’ Had it not received such a low, demoralizing grade (with extensive commentary in the margins), I highly doubt that I’d be as motivated to try harder and rework the incorrect areas until they were right – or at least closer to being right.

Thirdly, I must lower whatever expectations I might have about being an influence in scholarship. As Dr. Falk told me on Sunday, nobody really sends waves throughout the rest of the scholarly world for nearly fifteen or twenty years later. There are the rare exceptions, sure, but they’re the geniuses of the scholarly world. I still ought to strive to change the world, but adjust the scope toward something very, very small with the major focus on being utterly rejected and sent back to the drawing board. This, of course, leads to the last thing I realized.

Enjoy the process. Studying more and more is less about acquiring knowledge and more about creating more questions and unraveling one’s knowledge. My experience in seminary has ultimately been a journey of epistemology – of learning and relearning how I know what I know, which requires unraveling one’s knowledge and asking more questions instead of giving more answers. Such a process seems hopeless, if not annoying. But perhaps, once again, this is because our culture has misled us into believing that success is in finding more answers than questions – in being right more than wrong.

Dr. Falk’s words could not have come at a better time. I just finished my first year, have already signed up for classes this fall, and have begun deciding where I’d like to explore for my Master’s thesis (or if I even want to write a thesis). Having my understanding of what defines successful scholarship flipped around allows me to see that the thirst for understanding thrives in an environment where things are proven wrong rather than right. Even as I head into more coursework and build ideas for a thesis, I am shifting my focus not onto proving my arguments right, but to boldly push small, new ideas to rule them out and keep trying. I mean, after all, it gives me an excuse to read more books.

Review: Rethinking Hell…

Not having studied hardly anything at all regarding hell or the end times, I was presented with an opportunity to read and write a review for Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. Although a morbid topic, it is nevertheless important. As this book draws attention to, Jesus thought it was important enough to warn unrepentant people of their fate that awaited them. It stands to reason, then, that we would also seek to understand what hell is and why it is something that one should want to avoid.

Part one acts as an introductory to the whole conversation of hell in general and conditionalism in particular. In Peter Grice’s chapter, he gives a diagram depicting the relationship of conditionalism with two other major views of hell or the end times – universalism and traditionalism. After this short chapter, Glenn Peoples takes things a little deeper by discussing, as the sections in his chapter are arranged; Immortality, A World Without Evil, Substitutionary Atonement, and Destruction. What this section seeks to do is to draw attention to one’s theology regarding hell (in a way, summed up in the term “eschatology,” study of the end times) and how much of one’s understanding might not actually be influenced from the text of Scripture.

Part two dives much more deeply into conditionalism mostly in relation to traditionalism since there are many more evangelicals who believe traditionalism without having weighed other ways of understanding. This section carries several of the key figures in conditionalism (Edward W. Fudge, John R. W. Stott, etc.) and focuses on particular aspects of conditionalism. With a greater number of writers in this section, I’ll only draw out a couple examples.

Drawing attention to where many eschatological terms in the NT find their origin in the OT (or Hebrew Bible), Fudge then unpacks their meaning and where he believes traditionalism gets it wrong. If traditionalism is the belief that hell is a place for those suffering eternal conscious torment, then how is sense made of Rev. 14:11 with the “smoke [that] rises for ever and ever”? Fudge highlights that “The visible smoke is a certification of accomplished destruction,” (37, emphasis mine). How are we to believe that the torment of the condemned continues on if the signals one receives indicate they’ve been finished?

Stephen H. Travis states how one can make sense of the “eternal punishment” language and imagery; “‘Eternal’ may signify the permanence of the result of judgment rather than the continuation of the act of punishment itself,” (46). John W. Wenham says something which I find is my own biggest peeve with traditionalism; “My problem is not that God punishes, but that the punishment traditionally ascribed to God seems neither to square with Scripture nor to be just,” (90). One’s eschatology says a lot about one’s God. If God punishes finite humans with infinite, conscious torment, then, echoing Wenham’s words, how is this God just?

Part three focuses on biblical support for conditionalism. Drawing a comparison Rev. 14:11 with Rev. 6:12-17 as the backdrop, Ralph G. Bowles says, “The clause ‘they have no rest day or night’ is a description of the moment or process of divine judgment, one among the many found in the Revelation to John; it is not a description of the eternal state of the judged,” (148). Citing Matt. 10:28, Harold E. Guillebaud says, “[T]he life of any living thing is necessarily ended by fire, unless God supernaturally provides otherwise: therefore, where fire is in question, the verb ‘destroy’ is not ambiguous at all, but definitely implies the ending of life,” (163). If one once assumed that conditionalism had no basis within the text of Scripture, this section debunks that assumption entirely. There is an abundance of support.

Part four moves into the philosophical support for conditionalism. As I hinted at above, one of the main questions in this section is how could God punish infinitely that which is finite? Embedded within questions like this are other questions regarding the immortality of the soul, God’s justice, punishment of the wicked, etc. If one is to believe the condemned suffer eternally, then how is this balanced with Rev. 21:4, which reads “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (emphasis mine)? It can’t, says Philip E. Hughes; “The conception of the endlessness of the suffering of torment and of the endurance of ‘living’ death in hell stands in contradiction to this teaching… It means that suffering and death will never be totally abolished from the scene.”

Part five considers historical support for conditionalism. In Kim G. Papaioannou’s chapter, he looks at how “Gehenna” is used in various other texts, arguing that “Gehenna” was not a real wasteland for Jerusalem’s garbage “because there is no documentary evidence earlier than the thirteenth century testifying to [its] existence…” (256). He concludes with the gospels, saying, “Gehenna is nowhere in the Synoptics presented as a place of torment. Rather it is a place of destruction,” (258). LeRoy E. Froom evaluates conditionalism’s tenets within the early church and how it’s not a new concept. Suffice it to say that conditionalism has a legitimate foundation (biblically, historically, philosophically, etc.) as a way of understanding hell.

Finally, part six brings in traditionalists who, although not convinced by conditionalism, engage it on its merits. Ben Witherington III, in the final chapter of the book, brings an element within the finite sinners/infinite suffering dilemma that I hadn’t considered before. He asks, “Is that actually fair and just? The OT law of lex talionis, which says only a hand for a hand, only a foot for a foot, only a life for a life, suggests a principle of justice that involves proportional and appropriate response depending on the sin committed,” (298). We often remind ourselves that Jesus was above “eye for an eye,” but have we brought that in comparison with our own eschatologies? Again, Witherington doesn’t hold to conditionalism, but he, alongside other traditionalists, takes it seriously.

I don’t spend too much time considering hell and who goes there and what it’ll be like, but I enjoyed the well-reasoned, well-researched, and not-so-new perspective offered within this book and from all the contributors. I would recommend this book to anyone who closed-fistedly holds to eternal conscious torment as the “correct” view of hell. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in what the tenets of conditionalism are and where they come from. With a great balance between the texts of Scripture, the contexts from which they arose, and an understanding of who God is and what God’s characteristics are, Rethinking Hell has caused me to do just that: rethink what I’ve assumed, what’s actually in the text, and what I believe God would actually do with impenitent people. If you’re like me, this book seems to be a great way to begin that journey of rethinking.

For those interested in purchasing the book or attending their conference in July, here is their website. Should anyone read it, I would love feedback on what I’ve drawn out here as well as a discussion of what you found to be strong and/or weak points of the book.