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Some more Christian books

October 26, 2012

Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You; John Eldredge, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

This book I finished reading over the summer says that a boy/man needs to know from his father that he is a “beloved son” and most importantly, learn that he “has what it takes” as a man. When he doesn’t get this from his father, he seeks it in women.

Eldridge himself is known for what is called this “muscular Christianity”, which has a focus on manhood in the traditional sense, including the “ruggedness” associated with the American frontier.
His machismo is such that it apparently was inspiring to the Mexican criminal cartel La Familia Michoacana, which reportedly uses his earlier book Wild at Heart (Which Fathered by God is apparently a rewriting of). This, he has been criticized for.

Right off the bat, I see he uses the “Social Archetypes” a Jungian theorist had told me about: warrior, king, lover and sage, and tacking two more; “boy” and “cowboy” before them. Interesting.

I could see that a lot of problems youth faces, at least in urban street culture, is that most males today enter the “cowboy”, “warrior”, and “lover” phase at the same time, and are not ready for the latter two. (And for those in the drug and gang culture, “king” as well, basically).

I entered the cowboy phase pretty much on time (marked by solitary exploring of places, and he says the “cowboy” heart is wounded if no one takes you on the adventure), but felt judged by everyone for not becoming a warrior, and jealous and ultimately depressed that I couldn’t become a lover (and made to feel that it hinged on becoming a warrior first). My father interpreted my failures as being from not trying hard enough, or not listening to him years earlier when he tried to teach me the basic skills (grooming, etc). So he did try to answer “the Question” Eldredge highlights: “Do I have what it takes” by verbally affirming I did “have what it takes”, but contradicted this in his total dress-downs of me, and negative predictions of what I would become if I didn’t achieve.
(Think of the typical case of parents who tell you you’ll never amount to anything: the motivation is to prove them wrong by pushing and achieving all the more.
But with a father who breaks it all down to the rational detail of everything you’ve ever done wrong, and never amounting to anything is made conditional on “going the way you’re going”. This doesn’t motivate you to prove him wrong by succeeding, but instead the opposite, by going the way you’re going! (In addition to placing a tremendous amount of guilt).

The warrior phase for me was marked by my written debating in my 20’s down to the present. (Started to lose steam right as I entered 40’s). This is where he gets into the typical “God sends hardship to raise us as warriors” jargon, which I just don’t deal with anymore. Yet, he had said the warrior’s “wound” is doubled when the beating comes from the father, and starts too early.

Again, I really have a problem with saying all I have been through was God’s “training” or whatever, because it will short circuit any attempt to have God “heal” me by being the “Father” my real father never was. It just shows me Him putting a divine stamp on all the bad my father did.

Now at my age, I’m supposed to be lover, and moving to become king, but feel I have no kingdom (power; especially financial and career), and feel deprived of the teenage version of the lover stage, which has become burned in my psyche as the age it’s supposed to occur in.

I did have that “lover” sense of nature beginning in late teens, but had to experience it all by myself along with my cowboy adventuring. And I can see I’ve definitely been a “consumer” with my wife, moreso than a “lover” (p142); but feel I really couldn’t help it. I’m coming to tap into the lover side more, but this is what I associate with females in general rather than being a male “giver”.

I had never longed to be “the beloved son”, as far as I can consciously remember. My father was there, and all I remember of him around 4 was taking me on his bike. That was a fatherly thing to do, but at 6, when my Asperger’s became highly evident, but not explained, then he became rough and scary. As time went on, he showed me how to do things, but became critical when I didn’t get it. His attitude was more “learn to do for yourself”.
We didn’t have a car until I was 17, and he offered to take me out practicing driving, and I was enthusiastic about it, but after a couple of weeks, he never felt like doing it anymore.

So “beloved son” was never even in the equation. What I hoped most from him was not to be angered and lash out at me. I do have fond memories of his lifestyle, as I chronicled in my Father’s Day tribute to him. But I imagine those are mainly impersonal things, and have little to do with his love for me. But again, just staying out of his wrath was the pressing goal. This got harder as time went on, and I was not growing up the way he wished.

So it seems ironic that all the things I have been complaining of not getting, the one thing I never asked for, expected, or was even conscious of the need for, is being made the ultimate need, and the source of all the other wants.

I don’t really see any Biblical OR psychological evidence that “beloved son” is as much the key to man’s problems as he makes it out to be. He references God the Father addressing Jesus, and Paul addressing Timothy, and YHWH addressing Ephraim, and a few other examples, (and beyond that, it’s mainly citations of others, and his own experiences). But these do not assign the total psychological significance we see in the book. Of course, a son or other protégé will want to be beloved.
(For me, relationship with mother is very significant as well. She’s the one I was used to feeling love from, and then felt abandoned. The book ignores the anima and even the oedipal complex, though he might not believe in these concepts. It’s almost as the same concept as Jung– the man’s “soul” basically, but with the anima lying with the man’s father instead of mother).

But otherwise, it still seems like a nice hypothesis that does make a lot of sense and does seem to figure.

But it’s based on an overall premise of “Christian victory” by using this “love of the Father” as the power to find “healing” through keeping the [spiritually “magnified”] Law to the most rigorous extent. Even beyond mere “discipline”! (p. 151ff; And then he denies it’s “duty”).
The issue I have so much with this teaching; ever so prominent in the modern evangelical church, is (not that we shouldn’t strive for the holiness outlined by the Law, but) that it portrays this as a distinctly supernatural work of God, but it is defined purely in terms of our own rigorous effort: “giving” sinful longings “to Christ” (totally unbiblical language;* only loosely based on some scriptures like 1 Pet. 5:7 and Heb. 12:1), taking “some time, and many repetitions”, especially since “We’ve given it over to the woman so many times before, there is much recovering to be done. Again? Yes, again and again and again. That is how we are healed, made holy and strong”.

This is NOT describing anything God is doing, and exclusively for Christians; it is a normal psychological process, and one of SUPPRESSION. The fact that it is not really God taking anything away is evident from the need for repetition, to undo our habits. So it’s not God’s hand, but our imperfect efforts. (And one that one can boast of, from its toughness; and become works-righteousness. In the context of the rest of “Christian victory” teaching, it’s based on premise of pain and discomfort being God’s virtually primary means of working out His “good” for us. Anyone who ascribes to this, and appears to master it surely looks good and “strong”, and you can even sense the subtle bragodoccio in writers like this).
To me, this derails the whole premise that through this, we will find the healing from God that makes up for whatever we did not get from our fathers.

On both my “Abundant Life Gospel” and “Psychology” pages, I address this.
http://www.erictb.info/abundant.html
http://www.erictb.info/psychology.html
To recap the pertinent point with a quote I got online years ago, that is typical of this philosophy:

I have chronic pain from two failed back surgeries. There was a time in my life when massive doses of opioid pain medication would not relieve the pain. It was at that point in my life that I prayed that God would take my life. He did. He caused the old man to die and a new one to be born again. My life was never the same. I still have chronic pain. Now my pain reminds me of His sovereign grace and mercy. The pain that used to be the focal point in my life, is not the focal point anymore…. Jesus is. Jesus is so big in my life that pain is only a small part of it. Although the pain is still there, it is as if Jesus has become the pain reliever… as if He takes the pain for me. I am able to bear it. He has healed me.

I commented:
“This type of statement is prevalent in so many ‘testimonies’, for both physical and emotional pain. (Making it sound like a learned cliché more than thought-out actual reality). God ‘makes the pain not matter’; that is, if you have really ‘given Him your life’ as we see it defined here. The person’s desire to physically die to relieve the pain is turned into the standard pun of changing the meaning of ‘death’ from physical to spiritual (‘the old man’). This actually implies that the degree of wanting to escape from certain pain (i.e. dying in order to be relieved) is a quality of unregenerate nature, which is suddenly ‘cured’ by being born again (‘the new life’).
That’s how this “testimonial” approach usually goes. ‘I gave my {life, pain, anger, sorrow, loneliness, lust} to Christ, and, “it no longer controls my life’!

The crux of the paradox lies in the claim that Christ ‘takes‘ the pain from you, yet they’ll admit that yes, you still feel whatever is ailing you, and it is ‘an uphill battle for the rest of your life’, and, by ‘faith and not feelings’ that you believe you are healed, and then, ‘miraculously’, God ‘changes’ your attitude.

Yet, we here sensationalize this, making it sound as if Jesus really does take the pain away; as if you actually wouldn’t feel it anymore!
But then, when it doesn’t work like that, we say it is not about feelings. ‘God’s will for us is not the removal of pain’ anyway, but ‘becoming like Him’ (i.e. Christ, who suffered for us), many will add.
Since the “testimonies” talk about it no longer being the ‘focal point’, then it sounds dismissive of the pain. Like telling the person ‘aaahh, pain really doesn’t matter’.”

(And what’s alarming in the case of some in the Church, such as the old-line fundamentalists, who make wholesale criticism of all psychology; is that this ends up being their sole replacement/alternative for therapy! Yet it is logically consistent with the philosophy shared by all modern evangelicals!)

Continuing to think further on this, and why the teaching is so irritating to me, I also realize it’s about what they are calling “Surrender to God“. In popular teaching, this is “giving Him” all your emotions, and since He doesn’t actually “take” them AWAY, all you’re basically doing is changing your attitude by giving up assumed ‘rights’ to what you’re reacting to (whether through anger, lust, envy, despair, etc). This sounds familiar, and I’m sure I’ve heard this preached before. It’s similar to what is taught regarding forgiveness, and the two issues are somewhat related.

My problem with it is:
1) The way it’s buttered up as God giving you what sounds like some one time, instant relief. But in actuality, it’s really a long difficult “process”.
2) The problem of “faith”, and the cycle of “God will only seem real once you start doing this and keep trying”.
3) Context. This may sound like nice, spiritual teaching, but “submitting to God” in scripture is about giving up self-righteousness, not changing your attitude toward pain. (Some will tie these together by claiming our sinfulness is why we ‘deserve’ pain and privation in the first place, and resistance to pain therefore IS a form of self-righteousness).

If they were honest and admitted it was a natural process, then it wouldn’t be so irritating. But they have to force it into a supernatural act to maintain the guilt. There’s ‘no excuse’ not to tap into this “power” (as Michael Horton points out, many treat the Spirit as an energy source we “plug/tap into” like electricity), and if you aren’t, you’re perhaps not in communion with God.
And they tell you it’s so simple, and just a matter of “choice”, and to try it out, but in order to see any results, you have to DO it for a long while. If you feel you can’t do it, you have to just DO it, in order to learn how to do it. Then, it will prove itself through confirmation bias.
THAT IS, IF it’s successful. If not, then the person didn’t try hard or long enough, or with the right attitude, or whatever other disqualifier they can come up with. (Just like “faith healing”). Can’t prove it until you get it right. It should be obvious that this “relationship” with God is purely by works.

*“bringing the Cross between us and every woman we have ever had an emotional or sexual relationship with”(citing Gal. 6:14), for instance, and “inviting the blood of Christ to cleanse our every sin away” as something done after conversion. The Cross and Blood of Christ is the once and for all means by which forgiveness of these sins is procured through, not a magical talisman that “cleanses” each sin or their “power” over us on some individual basis.
The only thing we are to “give” to God, or that the Cross is to come between us and, is the GUILT of our sins; not the ACTS themselves. The teaching has it all backwards. We “give” the acts or feelings to Him, and are stuck with the guilt (not “healed”) until we do so.

The extent this is taken to is in his own experience, his not being able to get a horse to move a certain way was because “God was in this” (p85). This reminds me of teachers on TV, who use “someone cutting you off at the intersection” as an example of these “daily tests”.
(Of note, it contrasts Brand/Yancey: God is in you, the sufferer; not it, the suffering).
I wish a stubborn horse was all I had to worry about in my life!

He does mention on p119 that “day to day living, hassles, accidents, setbacks might simply be that and nothing more”, however, a problem in any “important event” (“redemptive” stuff like missions, but even joyous occasions like anniversaries) should be treated as “warfare”, for “the enemy is out to steal your joy more than anything else”.

This is the epitome of the sorts of things people like Horton have been criticizing modern evangelicalism over. It’s all about us, and our “joy”. That is what Satan is after. “more than anything else”; even!
But Satan is the “accuser”, and what he’s really out to steal is our faith in Christ’s atoning work as Horton points out. And this teaching I myself have experienced, as turning into possible judgment (of not having that faith), if people aren’t convinced you are accessing this “power”.

The supposed antidote is all about seeing God as the “beauty” we are seeing through women, including at the moment of temptation (he mentions “God and Satan doing battle over my heart” in one instance), in which we “give that part of our heart to Christ” (through a prayer) to gain “healing”. Still, it likewise suggests God leading us into temptation, which the scriptures say He does not do. (Like on p.150, “God will bring a woman across your path who speaks to your longings, and your wounds, your fears even, in order to raise the issue so that he might heal”).
And he doesn’t elaborate more on how an invisible God could be this “beauty”, other than through nature and other forms of beauty in life.

His teaching also involves the typical tactic of pitting reason against “the heart” as the key to experiencing God as “lover”; hiding the difficulty of “faith” in the unseen. It’s not one OR the other, but both in balance. I have had those lover/heart experiences, and while I tried to use them as evidences of God, they still did not necessarily prove Him.

I keep seeing/hearing a lot of “heart” over “head” rhetoric in Christian circles, but it’s my head that seems to find it easier to believe in God, while it’s been my heart that sometimes makes it feel that something doesn’t seem right! (all the pain in the world, etc. and it’s intellectual arguments of others that counter that– like it’s just “the Fall” and not the way God created it).
All the intellect does is weigh the evidence for and against, and does come up with arguments for, but this is not enough without the heart, so when the intellect gives the arguments against, it looks to everyone like the head is the problem, and the heart not even given a try, but that’s not true.
(Horton also criticizes this “heart over head” teaching).

I don’t believe in the spiritual warfare jargon, with its demons lurking behind every thought and emotion (among the biggest examples of contextualization, which trivializes the scriptural contexts they were torn from). Our personal lives are not that important for Satan and his minions to be coming after us in our mundane activities and even ministry; and our experiences (which are attributed to spiritual “battles”) are those common to man, not just Christians in the “warrior” phase of life.
If this stuff were really true, the world would look like a different place [like in scripture, when there was more direct supernatural activity]. Now, it’s all just a lot of big talk by [relatively] small groups of people.

This concept just creates confirmation bias when things get better, and we take it as self-evident proof; or it doesn’t work (don’t sense God or heal right away), and we have to conclude God is testing us so that we need to fight harder, or God is doing something “above our comprehension”.
All it appears to be, is a philosophy for ordering one’s life from the thoughts, but this is not exclusive to Christianity, and pretending it is only falsifies the supernatural claims of the Bible when other religions and nonreligious people are able to do similar things.

I think it’s based on the usual “christianeze” method of contextualization. It’s like because there is no longer any ongoing special revelation, we have to find something else for God to be doing with us.

P.32 “Most of the men I’ve counseled over the years understand that Christianity is an offer of forgiveness, made available to us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What they don’t seem to grasp, is that there is more”. As he continues, forgiveness is not the goal, it’s “coming home to the Father. The man who calls himself a Christian, attends church and has some hope of heaven when he dies has not received the lion’s share of what God intended him to receive through the work of Christ”, and has actually “not come into sonship”. (This is the sort of judgment I just warned about above, and they will usually deny questioning someone’s salvation, but they ignore the implications of such language. Anyone who is not a “son” is lost!)

But the reason why men were separated from the Father in the first place was because of the sin that we need forgiveness for in the first place. It sounds almost like forgiveness of sins is ‘not enough‘; we need “more“; so we must be pitched these other “blessings”; which is through this growth “process”.

All of this is justified with “God is a God of process” (p24). This is the typical boxing up of God into this formulaic generalization, and it’s all based on LAW. God uses this principle over here, so it’s His ruling pattern, so it must explain this other thing over there.
This basically denies all supernatural intervention (including Creation by fiat), and seeks to redefine supernaturalism according to our own experiences (where everything occurs by natural “process”).

He even mentions Christians asking the begged question “where’s the Bible in all this?” and suggests “we have lost a noble view of the earth and how God uses it to disciple us— meaning to train, develop and make holy” (p210).
(Essentially admitting his philosophy is extrabiblical).

We are told “don’t look at the seen” when things are bad, but the way to heal is to discover “God’s beauty” through what’s seen! There are so many things in the universe that seem to go against His existence, but then we counter that it’s “fallen” and not of Him).

Pantelism offers a more workable explanation as to why He might seem uninvolved.

In these teachings, it seems all we get is “processes” of suppression, that no one ever is even totally healed by. (Eldredge mentions still having to “give over” past female bonds; LaHaye’s “pushing a boulder uphill the rest of your life”, Joyce Myers’ daily struggles against self, etc.)

Processes are not guaranteed to work or go right or come to any fruition (evidenced by the lack of closure in the above examples). Though claiming it is a special work of God becomes the basis of a supposed “guarantee”.
If it were really just a simple “choice”, leading to an actual special work of God, then I could see it. But instead, it’s something you just have to KEEP doing before seeing any results.
Overall, the philosophy appears to not have a total intellectual honesty.

Spiritual “healing” in scripture is forgiveness of sins (which is instant; not a process), not emotional pain, any more than physical healing.

And actually, we DON’T “have what it takes” with God; the entire Gospel is that Christ was the only one who OF HIMSELF had what it takes. So I don’t see where God replaces that; I don’t even see it promised as such a replacement.

Overall, the book is good in giving a simpler framework to describes a lot of this stuff with. Perhaps the best read for understanding stuff I’m going through. Still don’t know how to get around the “faith”/divine healing problem, though.

On the heels of this, I read the Henry Cloud book on happiness The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (Howard Books, division of Simon & Schuster, 2011). This also is based on typical Christianeze platitudes, and there is a lot of wisdom I can acknowledge, but he too frames it into “laws” (“the Laws of Happiness”), and even the Law of God, and I believe stretches some scriptures to apply directly to them.
So it just comes off to me as formulaic.
But it’s not about “happiness” (the much clichéd thing we are told people want but can’t seem to find), it’s about a survival instinct gone wrong. “Happiness” in that sense is just a distraction from the toil of life.

In his book 12 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy: Relief from False Assumptions (Zondervan, 1994, 1995) “I just need to give it to the Lord” as one of the “crazy-makers” (assumption #5; complete with “let go and let God”), may seem to contradict the typical “Christianeze” philosophy he relays in the “faith” chapter of the Happiness book, but here he means simply giving things to God without doing our part, in these “processes” where we are “partners with God in cultivating [our] own growth”

The whole reason I’m irritated by that teaching is because it sounds both passive on our part, and also eliminating problems supernaturally, but in practice, it’s a lot of work and ongoing pain. He’s just highlighting that side of it. Most who parrot this philosophy don’t really believe no effort is required of us at all, as we see.

He also sounds rather Pelagian in his emphasis on our efforts at sanctification or even “completed” salvation. The scriptures and principles (Promised Land was secured, but they still had to “do their part” and fight to possess it, etc.) he cites on this are best understood (eliminating contradictions) in light of an overlap of covenents of Law (works) and Grace.

He does say good things regarding those (such as the more conservative “anti-counseling movement” addressed on my “Psychology” page) who take the teaching to the point that “all you need [to heal emotionally] is your position and security in Christ”.

The chapter on recovery makes a lot of good points, but he associates the general process of “recovery” with sanctification, through defining it as “taking back what we lost in the fall”, including “the image of God in ourselves”, tying this to 1 John 3:2.
But then, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere regarding this teaching, such “recovery” (which in the context is being looked at in terms of individual problems; not even a general unsanctified condition) is common to all men, not just saints (those who are being sanctified, which means turned into saints).
The scriptures used portray these “processes” as having a quick, soon end, not going on for the rest of a natural life. If that were really a special work of God as it is portrayed, then the critics of Christian psychology who teach these “crazymaker” doctrines would be right in that we would “only need God”.

“Process” sanctification philosophy is based primarily on fusing together 1Cor 15:31 “I die daily” with Eph 4:22 “That ye put off…the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man…”.
The former is one of the most egregious examples of tearing a phrase (not even a verse) from its context. Paul is talking about “stand[ing] in jeopardy every hour” (v30) for the cause of the Gospel (which included the doctrine of the resurrection, which was the main subject), and continuing in the following verse with having to fight beasts. It has nothing to do with any “growth process”.
But the latter passage is where we get the “change” from “old” to “new”. But it says nothing about any “process”. It’s the other passage that mentions “daily”, so there’s the “process” for you.

In Col.2 and Rom.6, the “new man” concept is associated with baptism (initially, the mark of conversion, and never a process).

With these teachings the saying are:
On sanctification: “Give God your best; He’ll do the rest”
In practice: “God gives the test; you do the rest”

8 Comments
  1. These issues regarding God can be described in terms of a matter of an internal or external reality. Many of us find “faith” difficult, because God no longer appears visibly to prove Himself. What’s left then is an internal belief, though many won’t admit it is only internal. They all seek some externalization in some way.

    •To the Catholics, the iconography and the lofty design of the cathedrals and sacraments are all described as a “sensory” experience; and the leadership (“Vicar of Christ”) would also go along with it.
    •To Charismatics, tongues (and supposed healings among many), is the external manifestation of God.
    •To the fundamentalists, it’s the rules, moralism, the “faith of our fathers”, nationalism, preaching, the text of scripture as a wrangling point of doctrine, and creationist interpretations of science.
    •Sects and cults use a similar approach to fundamentalism, only with some key doctrines changed, and usually tighter authority.
    •To new-evangelicals, it seems to be doing whatever it takes to keep their faith “relevant” to the modern world, leading to a combination of a lot of these things, defecting to one of the other groups, or ecumenicalism.
    •Reformed groups will vary in the above approaches

    All will generally agree on the philosophy I was describing above, of “process” sanctification, and God making us “grow” through trials. All internal concepts made by interpretations of external occurrences!

    Man so wants an external experience of God (especially when having to justify the “duty faith” interpretation of Rom. 1), and many of these groups will go as far as to put down an “internal” focus as “subjective”, and thus worship of man; yet faith is ultimately internal (since most will admit special revelation has ceased); however, their ways of trying to externalize their faith end up seeming contrived, mechanical or exaggerated, being based on bending certain passages of scripture where something they are basing their practice on is mentioned, or supposedly alluded to.

    So it’s just difficult wading through this religious sea, trying to find something tangible to hold onto as an acknowledgement from God.

  2. Interesting site on the four archetypes of “manliness” (“sage” becomes “magician”): http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/07/31/king-warrior-magician-lover-introduction

    Breaks them down to boyhood versions, and each of the eight resultant archetypes has an “active” and “passive” shadow. (For a total of 24!)

  3. I continue to struggle with faith, and still react to arguments for it that I see as “off” and perhaps causing more questions or problems than they resolve. Many Christians’ response to questioning of the faith are sets of often memorized answers that we think are strong refutations of the opposing belief systems, but many of them I had found (when given them myself when had questions, and especially life frustrations I sought help for) are note even totally true to scripture. They often try to extend certain statements directed to the original readers and extend them to us, today, for the sake of keeping it “relevant”. But rather than this working, it looks phony and shallow, and many of the detractors they are trying to reach just turn away and dismiss it, figuring it proves all the more that the faith isn’t real.

    So here’s a book I found, that seeks to defend the faith by making it seem more “rational” (as opposed to older forms of conservative religion that openly put down reason). I used to try this approach, but then found that not only was it not convincing to anyone, but I myself had trouble believing some of what I had learned to put forth as arguments, for, again, there seemed to be a “disconnect” between my experience and the scriptural situation being referenced.
    (You can tell he’s somewhat close to, or influenced by CRI’s Hank Hanegraaf [acknowledged in the book, and who writes one of the short reviews], as he uses multiple “backronyms” [or “Hankronyms”] as lists of points.

    Frank Turek Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God To Make Their Case (2014, Navpress)

    Upon seeing the title, the first thing people thought was it is about tithing. But the premise is that nature proves God, and so when atheists appeal to nature, they are actually “stealing” evidence for God and recasting it as evidence against Him.

    So like most treatments of the subject, the book focuses on “atheism”, when science’s official position regarding God is that it is UNKNOWN, because there isn’t enough TESTABLE evidence. This would more accurately be “agnosticism”, but while individual scientists (such as Dawkins, Dennett, etc.) may personally be “atheist”, the ideological focus on atheism is inaccurate. But it makes an easier target (straw man) for the “design” arguments.

    •Theistic arguments will always boil down to “presuppositions” on some level, and while he correctly points out that atheism and science does too, what we end up with is non-conclusive evidence. As he points out, BOTH sides have to ultimately have “faith”. But science means “knowledge”, which faith really isn’t (in the sense of “knowing” something is physically before you).

    •Also underlying the whole premise of teachings like this are assumptions of absolute “free will”, but even our choices are caused by something else (many things being unconscious). Whether it be an emotion in the moment, a memory, learned knowledge, the influence of someone or something else (including God, if you will), etc. all of these things together will shape why we make a particular choice.

    This is one reason why a true and complete grace is necessary. Under the Law, it didn’t matter why people did things. It either fit the commandments, or the person was condemned. No one could keep this and be saved by their will in it. Christ came and died to show that God was turning from that system, and then completely removed it nearly 40 years later.
    But most of the Church afterward continued to place salvation on man and his supposed “free will”, and when that idea went past a certain point (so that the fallen nature was effectively denied and a person could then save themselves by their works, which the Gospel clearly contradicted), then we got an opposing view, that focused on “election” by God. But the corollary of this is what whoever did not “choose” Christ must then have been “passed over” for grace. And those who did choose Christ had to “prove” it by their works, and so ironically, we were right back to where we started, with the necessity of “works” in salvation. The Protestant Church afterward developed, split between the two views, with the only thing agreed upon being Hell for the majority of man, who obviously aren’t doing the proper “faith” or “works”. So this book takes the “free will” position, which is used to build the case for “design”.

    •This leads us to a bad analogy: using physical artifacts as evidence for physical designer to prove physical elements as evidence of a non-physical designer. It’s true, what he says about the physical universe with a beginning having to have a non-physical source. But the comparison is bad, because you can know that the physical designers are like, but then have to speculate on what a nonphysical being is like.

    •“Bad design” (p70); Uses positive examples of nature as proof of design, but then criticizes objectors for demanding things to have been created “better”, “without knowing the intent of the designer”. But then this is a very selective appeal to nature. You use it only when it suits your argument, but then throw up your hands and say “oh well, I don’t know why it’s this way” when the inconsistency of this approach is shown.

    •“Saying God should have done it differently is a judgment for theology, not science”. But then you should be aware, that’s why they don’t want God taught in science. YOU’re the one approaching THEM with a theological argument, and saying parts of their science beliefs are wrong.

    •p.100f Does some mental gymnastics involving certain categories, such as “epistemology” and “ontology”, to disprove the “morality determined by ‘well-being’” argument, and then “morality by biology” as a “category mistake”.
    Those are his terms, not theirs.

    •The note for p108 (p241) where he almost gloats at the idea of making the atheist reader mad, goes into the political argument that “conservatives try to adjust their behavior to fit the facts of nature. Liberals try to adjust the facts of nature to fit their behavior”. This is actually the rationale of the far right, trying to justify policies oppressive to others (like why the rich should be allowed to drain the economy and we should just blame it on whatever assistance is being given to the poor, with any move toward equality then accused of “trying to make a river run upstream”). It’s the rationale of conquerors; slavedrivers, tyrants such as Hitler and the rest.

    And it’s a table-turning reversal, because the non-believers were the ones appealing to “nature”, to justify things like sexual freedom, where the Christians appeal to the “authority” of a God who must ultimately be believed in on “faith”. (If all these “facts” arguments really held, [on top of salvation being by our ‘free will’] then faith wouldn’t be necessary. But then, faith doesn’t really mean what we think; see below).

    •Physical survival isn’t highest moral virtue; sacrificing yourself to save another is. (p102)
    But then this is still about survival and well being! Not just oneself, but the others around you.

    Of course, this ties into what Jesus said, regarding the “Golden Rule” being the fulfillment of the Law. And this is what non-believers will often appeal to. But Christians have often dismissed this as too “relativistic”; i.e. not strict and specific enough. So when they speak of “morality”, they are speaking of the Law itself: the “unfulfilled” Law that must still be kept by man (in some form), in order for him to be “right with God” and escape eternal punishment (in some form).
    And from there, “maintaining society” is tacked on as the immediate (temporal), practical purpose of the Law and its threat of punishment. (And thus, its actual “final cause”). Again; the fact that all sorts of moral atrocities have been done in the name of religion and moral “law” should show that that doesn’t work. It confirms to the world that morality is “relative” and “subjective”, no matter how many of these moral argument they conjure up.

    •So, the ultimate issue is “morality and accountability” versus “maintaining your independence”, and thinking “doing whatever they want will make them happy” as opposed to “giv[ing] up their autonomy and submit[ting] their will to God”, with a focus on sexual morality; the section is called “Sleeping With Your Girlfriend” (p109ff)

    This is the clincher, and shows it’s all about control. (The Church has always projected its own obsession with sex onto the rest of the world. Sex is a powerful drive, but much of the the obsession that the Church thinks justifies their focus on it comes from their own suppression of it, and people naturally, eventually rebelling. Who should want their behavior controlled by human fear tactics, even in the name of God? And then, it turns out that many of the people controlling you in the name of morality have a problem with it themselves, and end up getting caught doing things even more heinous than what they condemned you for!
    But we really expect the world to give us a pass on this, because at least our “world view” says it’s wrong, and theirs doesn’t! (Shouldn’t this be more of a an onus on us, then?) I kind of hear “YOU who were born in sins try to reprove US?” John 9:34)

    So the entire Gospel and salvation is about man’s will and behavior, when it’s supposed to be Grace (God not counting our sins against us, because of Christ’s actions, not ours, and not about using fear to maintain order in society.
    And “do whatever they want” is also a grossly generalized myth. There are plenty of rules nonChristians follow in order to survive in the world. And when Christians run afoul of some of them, then THEY (the [conservative] Christians) are the ones talking about “freedoms” and against laws (“legislation”, as we see alluded to on p107).
    Author Franz Kiekeben, in the conclusion to his blog series responding to the book from an atheistic perspective, points out that: “atheists, like other people, subject themselves to authority on a regular basis. No one likes it all the time, but atheists, just as much as theists, submit to the rule of law and put up with regulations from their government rather than rebel. It doesn’t appear, then, that submitting to authority is the worst thing that can happen to an atheist.”

    •Uses “no true Scotsman” fallacy (p118ff) in saying that atrocities committed in the name of Christianity go against its true teachings (Ravi Zacharias, “the illogical outworking of Christianity” p120), but fit the philosophy of atheism. There’s a focus on brutal dictators Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. (whom the atheists say are immoral, and hence, “stealing morality from God”). But what the nonbelievers often point to, is the killing of the Canaanites, and other conquests (more on this below).

    When addressed (after establishing that God is real, and the highest authority and the source of morality, etc.) this is rationalized by many as being good because of man’s sin and God’s “holiness”. (Which then ties into the “Euthyphro dilemma” discussed on p103-4). But the thing is, he’s denied that such political brutality is true to Biblical Christianity, and the later Christian societies who did things like this not only used these scriptures, but also emphasized that this was in fact the true Biblical faith. God did command it, after all. They claimed THIS was “God’s standard” (not man’s, or any “higher” standard God could appeal to); the “objective faith” and not personal opinion.
    Now, we want to “split” this off onto some rogue errants of the past and then accuse detractors today of “stealing from God”, but fail to see how such double standard would look to the world. (Rom.2: 1, 21-24)

    But the result in PRACTICE always has been, we Christians can always condemn your behavior (and from that, your WHOLE belief system), but you nonbelievers can’t criticize ours. You can’t hold us up to the standard we hold you up to. The parameters are different, because we’re following the Author of morality.
    It’s the age-old “presuppositionalism”. (It ties into what this article: http://capturingchristianity.com/christianity-religious-disagreement-and-equal-weight-theory calls “epistemological symmetry”). Basically, what Jesus described as placing burdens on others you wouldn’t lift yourself.

    A basis of “morality” might be empathy; that I don’t want do something to someone that I don’t want done to me. Which is just the inverse language of the “Golden Rule” (Matt.7:12). Of course, “without God”, one could determine there’s “nothing wrong with” violating this when you think you’re safe from having it done back to you.
    But the point is, they believe this is an instinctual drive, and people who believe it comes from God still violate it themselves, so this is no real argument against atheism. As one meme points out, if the only reason you are doing good is to avoid Hell [as the arguments for the need for “morality” often go], then you are the one who is more immoral. If you think of it, you’re the one who would be more likely to find a “loophole” and do something evil (as religion had often done), which then makes you the one who’s less safe to be around. (So it comes back to the “wellness of being” premise he mentions, which is basically an “empathy” argument).

    When finally addressing the Canaanites, he comes up with the “STOP” acronym; “Situation”, “Type” (literal or not), “Object” (of the obliteration), “Prescription” (for OT, not NT).
    (The way this is thrown in here so suddenly makes it look like a distraction).

    In “Situation”, he appeals to the image of a parent waking up to see his child sacrificed on a brass bull, and that if we want God to eliminate evil in the world, this was exactly what He was doing. On my own defense of the faith (http://www.erictb.info/relativism.html), I tried desperately using these arguments. I even went as far to suggest the children were likely “damaged” mentally beyond repair seeing their siblings sacrificed like that, plus all the other ritual abuse (including sexual), and probably demon possessed, so on their part, it may have actually been mercy killing. But my conscience, even, said these arguments just weren’t quite cutting it!
    For one thing, if that was the case, God would have said it was mercy; if nothing else, in the NT. It was clearly portrayed in the frame of wrath and hatred!

    He also goes off on a red herring of extinguishing the entire nation (to argue the charge of “genocide”, and from there suggests it was not literal, [the “Type” argument] because if some people were left (to possibly influence Israel as they were warned), then it wasn’t genocide (and also that it wasn’t just those tribes, but the sinning Israelites as well; the “Object” point. So he calls this “sinocide“).
    But the extent of people killed is not the point. (He’s getting hung up on the term “genocide”. And for one thing, wasn’t the fact that some were left attributed to disobedience on their part for not killing all of them off?)

    Also simply throws back at the “atheists” how their world view causes more evil, (because “man is nothing but molecules”, p121) and logically justifies it, and they believe in killing babies before they were born. But he is still missing the point. What they are arguing for is CONSISTENCY; that WE [Christians] are the ones going to them, saying their views, lifestyles and even personal (intimate) business is wrong, and will be punished by a Being we have ‘faith’ in, and yet, they see inconsistencies we have not really explained well (and think we are now, but not as well as we think). Again, Paul warns the religious establishment of his time about this.

    Even if the Church’s “500 years of only 200,000 killings” is “not as bad” as the millions killed within a century by “atheists/nonbelievers”, the point is, Christians today are making moralistic arguments against the rest of the world, and so even those lesser atrocities stand out and makes us look like hypocrites. (This is the principle evident in Paul’s hyperbolic claim that the sins of the Corinthian Church were “not even named” among the Gentiles!) You might say we’re just imperfect and failing to live up to the ideal, but then the same grace isn’t bestowed on the rest of the world.

    The typical rationales for pain and suffering

    He concludes this chapter (on evil) on a justification of the allowance evil in the world, that God did not create us to be “happy all the time” (p131f) and live to be 80 (p128), but rather “His plans for eternity are the ultimate point of this life anyway”. So, as usual, dismissing our aversion to pain as just a desire for “happiness” (the big catch word in Christian teaching on suffering and problems), and then pointing to Heaven.
    (“His plans for eternity” are basically unknown, unlike the pains of today. Again, if this teaching is so, then why don’t they think this way when they complain of what they think nonbelievers are doing to them in this country; i.e taking their power and freedoms).

    But the issue there (re: the Canaanites) is not “when God decides to move us from this life to the next life; at two or eighty-two”, but rather telling men to kill other men (when He could do it Himself, and which included killing off the parents, but keeping the virgin daughters for themselves [completely omitted]), and the EXAMPLE this set; which was followed by segments of religion (and there’s many today who still think that way and simply lack the power to carry it out), and thus the implications of people being able to say God told them to kill others.
    (I’m at the point, where I must confess I don’t know how completely to defend these things, especially given the difficulty of faith in many other areas, but I did feel the need to point this out when skipped over by a treatise claiming to address the issue as raised by total objectors).

    Of course this leads to the “pain is good” premise, which has undergirded all of the Church’s teaching on pain and suffering. He has to posit a “reason” for God “allowing problems to interfere with our desires in this period of ‘testing’”. (p132)
    That’s of course another big catch word, culled from several scriptures encouraging the NT Church in the persecution for the faith they were suffering. This is usually extended to all Christians for all times, which as it is, was stretching it beyond its original intention (so that it now applies to someone losing their house, their health or their loved one —he has the typical anecdotal examples of this in the chapter, as the “right” way to feel), and they better have the right attitude and “trust God” in it, or else; and we’ll just pray for them, but not have any other help to offer.
    It suggests that everything we don’t like in life is some deliberate act of God (like in citing Heb.12:7), though if you put it like that, they tend to deny and put it on the Devil, the Fall, or just “human free will”.

    So this “purpose” that would be “frustrated” by having us “happy all the time” is “knowing Him” (this is the almost unanimous answer among all organized Christian groups). “In our fallen state, communing with God and becoming more like Jesus often requires pain”. Pain awakens us to God and then refines us for God”. (ibid.)

    Scriptures don’t actually say all of this, at least not on a broad, general fashion (though there are a couple mentioning some good results from it, but still, this has a particular context and is not necessarily for everyone, for all times). This is basically creating a specific definition of God, that is all tied up with PAIN. Why is that?

    Pain is a neurological signal, that something is wrong, and needs to be changed. That’s whether directly physical (where the body may be in danger), or emotional (where our relationship with others has problems).
    This may seem to go along with “well, in our fallen state, sin is what’s ‘wrong’, and that’s what the pain is for”.
    If we were only speaking about guilt, shame, addictions and their results, unfulfilled overindulged desires, etc. you might have a point. But a lot of pain has nothing to do with [our own] sin (natural disasters, etc.), and even more that might not be the suffering person’s own sin. In those cases, pain, again, is the neurological signal that something is wrong in a circumstance, such as being physically or emotionally abused. It has nothing to do with the person’s own fallen state and need to be drawn to God. Christ Himself suffered and had neither condition.

    To suggest this, then comes close to Job’s friends and their accusations of “sin”. Suffering is for your sins (even if you generalize it to the whole “fallen” state of the world). God had said that those men “had not spoken of Me what is right” (Job 42:7,8) It is ultimately the accusation of the Devil!
    It also then suggests that people suffering more must have more sin and thus need more “character development”), and those with more success must have more “character”, that they don’t need the growth as much. (They’ve already “proven themselves”, apparently). No one says this now (at least not directly anymore), but it was the basis of the Puritan Calvinist view of the founding of the nation by conquest (which still bears influence in much of American evangelicalism. But most will be embarrassed by this, and deny it when spat back to them this way).

    The teaching that God uses pain for some good purpose (or, inflicts people with it for eternity because they didn’t make the right choices in this life) makes pain an end in itself. This clearly sounds like a human attempt at explaining what he can’t understand (and also quashing grieving and complaining we don’t want to hear, and thus CONTROLling people’s emotions and attitudes).

    And as we see, it takes many scriptures out of their original first century persecution context in trying to apply them to our pains today. So it turns us into cold “Job’s friends” who negate that we are all creatures with feelings that we teach our children matter when dealing with others (and especially when we feel we are not being treated right), and telling sufferers that on one hand, God “cares”, but in practice, He’s really more concerned with His supposed offense at your “bad attitude”, which then is taken as a virtual rejection of His redemption and love!

    (On p130, he does mention Job’s friends and offers a caution by Rick Warren from their example that it might be better to just be silent, else you could make things worse. The entire lesson of Job might be that we can’t rely on humans to comfort us, for all they really know is “do this to help yourself”, (and that if you still suffer, at least past a certain point, it’s all your own fault for not doing enough). This then ties right into our “fallen” need to claim good things in life by the merit of our efforts).

    But to step back for a minute, this “testing” he’s referring to is not even for Christians only; the subject was “evil” universally, including that ordered by God to be done to certain “godless” people (which really is itself a separate subject, that became pasted together with evil in general, to be covered by the common formulaic answer).
    That too would likely be put on “Trying to bring them to Himself” (though that was not what was being done with the Canaanites).

    The issue ultimately isn’t just “pain and suffering” or even “evil”, which is a bit oversimplistic, but is the first thing we can readily think of. It’s the utter, abject COLDness of the universe. He uses the rationale “evil is the lack of good“ (p117, which I also always thought), and since “good” must come from God, then evil actually proves God (and of course must disprove the moral relativism of atheism). But it seems, we call things “evil” based on how they impact our survival (including in an empathic sense; seeing someone else suffer, we can know how it feels; and from there, we get the “wellness of being” premise). That’s the “standard” evil is judged by, with “good” being whatever is beneficial for survival, rather than the primary standard or starting point itself, as that argument assumes.

    He cites “The heavens declare the glory of God”, naturally, (p157;
    158 Two books, the Bible and nature; 160-1 Natural science just one method of discovering truth, etc.) but when dealing with the problem of pain, spends so much time on the “pain is good” tome, he doesn’t even address how the utter violence and coldness of the universe might counteract it as evidence for a “good”, “loving” God, or even really try to blame it on the Fall as others do.
    In other words, we’re supposed to see God in the “design” evident in the laws and order of nature, but then if we keep looking there, we see an utter coldness that supposedly is counter to the God of the Bible (at least as revealed in Jesus, but is more in line with some portrayals of God in the OT). Even Philip Yancey admits “We live among clues and rumors, some of which argue against a powerful and loving God. We too must exercise faith without certainty.” (Disappointment With God p.241. Also, there’s a whole book entitled The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor).

    Basically, “survival of the fittest” is what’s observable fact (whether this is what actually shaped all of the extant species or not). “The strong survive”. Even in inanimate objects, like a larger planet flinging a smaller one out of the star system, or a massive black hole devouring other bodies, or the difference between a single strand of hemp fiber versus a thick entwined cable made of many strands.

    Christians themselves (the more “conservative”, the more likely) even resort to this sort of rationale, when delving into politics and economics! Life even rewards the ruthless and shrewd! Those who suffer rather than “pull themselves up” to climb to the top (which often includes stepping on others, lying or “bending the truth” about your qualifications or work history, etc). You can’t blame this all on the sin of man itself; he’s only reacting to what life (the cosmos) itself has set before him! (You then have to argue the “sin” is not going against the pull of nature, and that “sin” is the cause of the pull of nature going in that direction. But the former by itself without the rest of the Gospel premise leads to works-justification, and the latter is actually going a bit beyond scriptural revelation).

    Imagine then, with the typical Romans 1 “judgment” argument, them standing before God and condemning them for all of these actions that are considered “sin”, and telling them “YOU REALLY KNEW those things weren’t right! I SHOWED you!” Or, “when you were hurting and really felt you didn’t feel My presence, you KNEW I was really there, and you could sense (or cold have sensed) My presence, but you pretended you couldn’t so you could have an excuse to ‘hold onto your anger and bitterness’ or ‘do what you want’; or you just wanted ‘happiness’ and ‘comfort’ too much, and refused to develop the right ‘attitude’ toward the discomfort I determined was good for you”.
    The ruthless, are the ones with a stronger case that “God has shown” us what the proper course of life is, and they followed it and succeeded, and others did something else, and that’s why they failed. Christians actually support this whenever they appeal to political conservative philosophy and claim it “adjusts their behavior to fit the facts of nature, while liberals try to adjust the facts of nature to fit their behavior”. So why would God condemn anybody on this, if He really [apparently] supports it?

    At this point, the only thing else Christians can appeal to is “conscience”, but that is a small voice that is malleable and easily drowned out by our instinctual call for survival, and the rewards for success, along with numerous other “voices” in our head. At this point, they’ll claim some vigorous “spiritual” effort will help us “recognize which voice is His”, but every conservative teacher (whether “orthodox”, or “aberrant”) makes this same claim. If that were true, then there would still be one single spiritual Body in the world believing and teaching the same Gospel. Instead, the only thing most agree on is man is in trouble and must DO something to be “made right”, which usually includes aligning oneself with the body each particular teacher is aligned with, or at least one like it.

    p129 free will is the only way for us to love.
    This is not a scriptural statement, and is based more on an assumption of God creating us only to “give” Him back something (i.e. love. This is the de-facto way love is presented in these teachings).

    p131 n28 cites John 16:33, 15:20, 2Tim.3:12, 1Pet.4:16
    The second verse there is referring directly to the persecution Christ’s then-and-there disciples would face, over Him. The first verse, from its immediate context, is referring to the same thing:
    “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (16:32) The “trouble” was the events leading to the Crucifixion (and of course, could extend to the persecution the Church would continue to face after it). The same with the third verse, in Timothy. It was not to be extended to every Christian who would ever live, to the present. Tell, me, what “persecution” are writers like this facing (being that successful Christians teachers are generally well off in modern America, where their services are seen as “providing value”, just like any other enterprise in this capitalistic society)?

    The last verse can hold for Christians of any time who do still suffer for the faith; but most of us are not in that category; suffering for being a Christian (even if we do try to hold up the verbal, written, or even legislative pushback from atheists and others as “persecution”, which it really is not).

    He cites CS Lewis “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.
    By this point, it’s easy to forget, again, that the focus of this chapter is not just suffering for Christians, but for the entire world. This is supposed to be evidence for God against atheism, and not just the everyday “abundant life” message for Christians. This has gone off on a lot of speculation and hypothesis. But it’s seeking to answer the notion of the existence of evil (and by extension, pain) as proof of atheism. Atheists see pain as part of nature; and to suggest it’s really God trying to make us grow so we can enjoy Heaven better is making a lot of presuppositions.
    Why have we gone into throwing up these verses talking about suffering Christians only, and which still are not even referring to most of our mundane situations today? It looks like a desperate attempt at proof-texting something we really can’t admit we can’t answer.

    Rather than “develop character”, the “trials” of life are precisely what drive people the other way, to their base animal instincts of survivalism, leading to all the behaviors we call “sin”. Ask business or political leaders, tough secular “self-help” coaches, even hardened street criminals etc. why they’re so ruthless, and they will all appeal to the coldness of life, and that this is THE TRUTH, that is immediately provable, infallible, immutable and undeniable. (Some of the same sort of attributes usually given to God).
    I do not know how this is to be squared away with the so-called “general revelation” argument, except to try to blame the “Fall”, but again, this is not even attempted in this book, and is not really supported by scripture, but rather generalized from what God told Adam after he sinned.

    So to “develop character” then, you have to “go against” the pull of nature (as the holders of this position naturally teach), but it’s not the pain and suffering themselves that cause this, so to say God allows the universe to be painful to develop man’s character is not accurate. You already have to have some kind of “character” to go against the pull of nature, and yet what caused this? In the original Calvinist scheme, it was “unconditional election”, but the basis of this teaching today among Arminians is strictly “free will”.

    And then what actions would truly represent “character” in some instances? As I write this, I’m in two simultaneous tough situations at the job, where management is being tough; perhaps in an overboard way (forms of what amounts to “hypervigilance”, as if to make up for generations of total neglect), as most people on the job, or even most who hear about it, will acknowledge (and meanwhile, there continues to be many things not up to standards that are not being addressed), but really, they’re just following rules made up by different “boards” of people, and not some one individual or another making all the decisions and just being mean. (Individuals would be easier to direct blame toward and speak of “character” as opposed to “instinct”).
    God can punish all of them for their part in an unjust system (as with the “Mark of the Beast” judgment of scriptural prophecy), but even then, since they’re really following rules that themselves have good intentions (such as safety; one of these situations involves my blood sugar level), then what are they being judged for? Are they really supposed to go against a rule that is not leading to sin against God (such as with the Beast and other religious oppression) in order to “do unto [an]other as you would have them do unto you”? Are they really acting from a lack of “character” (that they need to “develop” by accepting the negative consequences of doing something different, themselves)?

    Christians long trashed the secular world’s appeal to “gray areas”, in favor of “black and white” morality, but then if you really want to be so “black and white” like that, then yeah; God can demand everyone sacrifice their own job and livelihood to show compassion to someone else, but then everyone will just end up going to Hell. (And so we see here also, that the common answer of “justice”; that we don’t know what God is doing through our suffering, but don’t worry, He’ll ‘fix’ everyone who did wrong in the end and make it worth it, just doesn’t fit).

    Meanwhile, even the “redeemed” are still affected by the natural tendencies and often go totally by them, with the exception of certain “sins” they have highlighted as particularly bad, such as lust and anything else sexual, as well as maybe anger, envy, etc. (But in reality, even those, some of them still fall into!)

    He then cites Heb.12:7 (p133) and appeals to parents and children. As I’ve showed in my treatment of this teaching: http://www.erictb.info/abundant.html The “chastisement” is to be “rebuked”, meaning conviction (see Greek). Even “scourge” allows a figurative meaning, so this is spiritual, not physical or emotional torment! This is illustrated in 2 Cor.7:7-12, where several virtues of the sort often said to come from physical “trials” are wrought by the “godly sorrow” brought about from Paul’s first epistle! (Beginning with “repentance”, and ending even with showing themselves “approved”. “Fear” would be “of God” (reverence); “indignation” would probably mean “indignation against sin”, and “revenge” means “punishment”, referring to church discipline).

    p135 cites CS Lewis is saying we want a “grandfather in Heaven” (a “senile benevolence who likes to see young people enjoying themselves”) rather than a “Father in Heaven” (who cares about “character” rather than “comfort”).
    This now is attributing pain to God, when they usually try to dissociate it from Him. (p139, he denies “the end justifies the means”, so that God is not doing the evil at all; we are). Of course, this is just a stripped down version of the original Calvinist “God ordains the sin and holds man responsible for it”. He even then says “God…is responsible for the fact of freedom, we free creatures are responsible for our acts of freedom”. This has only scaled down the Calvinist scheme to make God look less cruel than an absolute predestinationism, but the end result, as the Calvinists always point out regarding Arminianism, is “God can’t force free creatures to make free choices–that would be a contradiction.” (i.e. God has a limitation. But then, we’re left with a “nature” that drives us through strong instinct to most of our choices, and cite scriptures about how the “unregenerate”, or addicted, etc. are “slaves to sin”. So are we really “free”?).

    “Therefore, God allows us to do evil and allows natural laws to run their course, knowing that, although there will be pain along the way, good will come from it”. [emphasis added]
    This makes God totally passive in the playing out of life, and “natural laws running their course” is exactly what we see (and precisely why we have an evolutionary science that excludes God), yet we are supposed to be praying for Him to “intervene” in this “course”, and then interpret good things that happen as Him intervening (interrupting or changing this “course“), and bad things as either others’ “evil”, or Him trying to develop character in us.

    Nobody thinks of the implications of using these passages the way they do. I’ve mentioned elsewhere a notion of “growtons” (a comedic hypothetical quantification of the building elements of this “character” pain is supposed to make us “grow” towards), which would make sense given this teaching, yet would then lead to some sort of “class” system in Heaven where some have ‘earned’ more than others. —Even while they teach that we are instantly perfected at death/resurrection or the “rapture”. Where does “stronger character development” figure in that? (The other notion is it makes us better for “service” in this life, though as he’s pointing out here, longevity in the future is not promised).
    This basically follows the widespread belief that the “image of Christ” is strictly about behavior. Good behavior is to fulfill “do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself”. It’s not about proving we are “like Christ”.

    Rather than “develop character”, the difficulty of life is what pulls people to the animal instincts of survivalism, leading to all the behaviors we call “sin”.

    137f denies appeal to “mystery”, but then mentions that we are “recognizing our human limitations and extrapolating from the evidence we can see to the future we can’t see”.
    But the “human limitations”, which are basically the inability to see the future, are the “mystery”, so why is he denying appealing to that? He has just done a semantic loop. And the “extrapolating from the evidence” is basically interpreting it in light of our own anecdotal experience where we key our teachings, based on contextualizations of Biblical suffering, to ourselves.

    p.139 He cites former Notre Dame pastor “If God would concede me his omnipotence for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in the world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are”.

    This essentially puts a divine stamp on everything in the world; good and evil (and most of these leaders getting more of the “good”, being their position usually is well accommodated).

    If the unknown “Plan” is what’s most important to God, then it implies a part of Him smiling down on our suffering (even as this other part suffers “with” us). When He looks at us in our pain, and denies intervening, because He’s looking at the future “good” outcome, there must be some sense of happiness.

    Heaven and “relationship with God” itself as the answer to pain in this argument is itself a presupposition, creating a tautology. Pain in the universe doesn’t conflict with the notion of a good God, because “relationship with God” is more important. This of course requires “faith” in the God who gives us Heaven and an eternal relationship with Him, but the writer here is avoiding the need of “faith” and arguing from a premise of absolute, undeniable “fact”. But no one has seen Heaven. We do see a cold universe that causes pain, though.
    He also uses a very nebulous concept of “good” (coming out from pain), for its own sake.

    It’s more than just these blanket concepts of “pain” and “evil”. There is a COLDness in the universe and its principles of survival for living creatures. (And the reactions, of “your pain is good and apart of God’s will” go right along with this coldness). What does this tell us as a form of supposed “general revelation”? To say God didn’t do it, we did it with our “sin”, but no, it is God doing it to make us grow is forcefitting experience into this contrived meaning (and bending scripture in the process). God had told Adam because of his sin that his work in the field would become difficult, and Eve, that childbirth would become difficult, but nowhere do we see “promise” of a universe seeming so cold, where survival is of the fittest (which he tags as an “atheist” belief, but it is the way the physical universe is governed).

    Even if we took “the way we want things”, “comfort”, etc. out of the equation, (p212) then we’re still left with a cold universe that just “is what it is” (our sense of wants, comfort, pain, etc. only come from how our survival lines up with the universe, and much “counsel”, religious and secular, is telling us to make ourselves essentially “like” whatever is).
    And the thing that is most faith-shattering (for me) is not the presence of pain, or “not being happy, comfortable, getting what we want”, etc.; but rather the fact that people can’t help you, beyond cold advice.
    The world or universe says “your feelings don’t matter”. God seems to agree (according to those teaching in His name). God says that some inner worth (e.g. “faith that He loves you”. etc.) is more important. But the world has said the same thing.

    “A good God knows that comfort is temporary but character is eternal. As any parent knows, character growth is almost impossible in our fallen state without some pain and suffering. Certain virtues seem to require it. As the Scripture teach [Heb./James] and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, and faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful.” (p.134) This sounds almost like some sort of military training program!

    He denies that this is “the end justifies the means”, because we’re the ones doing evil, not God; “We’re the rebels”. (p.139)

    So God is actively “soul-making” through pain, but it’s really us doing it to ourselves.
    On one hand, they acknowledge that we can never become perfect in this life, and so teach that we are instantly perfected upon death, rapture or resurrection. Yet here it makes it sound like all of this heavenly perfection is created here, now through our suffering. (This also suggests some form of “merit” or “rank” in heaven, based on how much “character” we develop now. It’s thus still based on the “give and take” motif of the “knowledge of good and evil”. It also sounds like a dysfunctional human relationship).
    But really, when you think of it, what will all of this “courage”, “perseverance”, and “patience” be needed for in this perfect Heavenly bliss in the presence of God? It sounds more like some other world of suffering. (I often would ask to myself, “if we have to be ‘toughened up’ so, then what are we being prepared for; Heaven or Hell“?)

    In the original scriptural contexts, the early Church needed those things to help endure the suffering they were already going through, in the form of persecution for the faith. The persecution wasn’t sent to them to develop their “character“ for something else; it was all about the fulfillment of a particular calling they had, and its “testimony”.
    Many will then speculate that perhaps it is for some purpose in this life, but now you’ve become completely speculatory, as we don’t even know if we’ll have tomorrow. Plus, he (and everyone else who teaches this) emphasizes it’s for eternity: “discovering and accepting the ultimate happiness in knowing God” (p.141). This is now so vague. It brings us right back to the question of what developing courage through danger, perseverance through obstacles, etc. has to do with it.

    “Thus, God allows evil to respect our free choices, to bring people to Himself, and to refine and grow people so they may enjoy Him more fully. As Peter Kreeft put it, ‘Sin has made us stupid, so that we can only learn the hard way’. This world isn’t a good resort, but it’s a great gymnasium”.
    (This here sounds like the typical basis for abusive parenting or leadership; just be brutally tough as possible, to force the bad child or stupid sheep to do what’s right. Instead, what we are doing is projecting our dysfunctional parenting skills onto God, assuming the way we raise children is the way he raises us. And it can never be repeated too often that this “growth through pain” concept is not exclusive to born again Christians! That will probably be taken as another example of something “stolen from God”, but in light of the “nature running its course” statement, it seems nothing was actually “stolen” from Him, but rather He has basically “conceded” all of it, in this view! But then how about another possibility, that maybe institutional religion is the one doing the stealing; from the “world”, to try to explain things it can’t? That’s certainly happened before! Meanwhile, the true meaning of the Hebrews 12 passage this is derived from, was mentioned above).

    So what we continue to see here is this tangled web of pain as punishment for sin, God is doing it for good, to perfect us, but He’s not really doing it, it’s just nature and free will being allowed to run its course, but this really proves God, etc.
    (It begs the question, of when people suffer less, are they simply already more perfected than others, or are they people God has “washed His hands on”, as I’ve also seen suggested when explaining the prosperity of the “wicked”. In actuality, who suffers more or less is basically the process of nature running its course, but here it’s turned into a potential judgment).
    And worse than anything else, it provides a quick answer people (usually suffering less, and thus not able to relate) shoot at the suffering, rather than showing the compassion and patience pain was supposed to teach us, according to part of the common teaching. Instead, it has the opposite effect, as we demand “good attitude”, and then begin judging the poor suffering person on this.

    When Christians explain all the evil in the world as “God wants to let man have his ‘free will’”, they are basically confessing God is NOT running the world (after telling someone complaining “you think you can run the world better than God”)

    142 few people ask why God doesn’t stop pleasure.
    This is true, and I now wonder why we don’t have something like an inborn “shock therapy”, if God was really aiming to maintain good behavior from us. They of course would probably appeal to “free will”; God “respecting their choices”; can’t force their choice, etc. but again, we do have the instinctual nature pulling us the other way, so if “free will” were really that all-important, then why the imbalance?

    One may notice, that more than half of the chapter, is on these rationalizations for pain in general (and using scriptures wrested from their original subject of first century Christians persecution)!

    [cont’d]

  4. [cont’d]

    Other points in rest of book

    149 empirical/operation vs forensic/origin science
    Sounds like a device to split off the need for testability as a basis for “knowledge” (i.e. “science”). So there are some forms of science which must be testable, but anything which “investigates historical questions” and “involves historical events that cannot be repeated” is a totally different category. The example is criminal cases, such as OJ Simpson, where the beliefs about it are drawn neatly, largely along racial lines based on people’s own emotional biases. I myself don’t know what to believe on that one; it really does look like he did it, but then, you can’t really rule out something like some sort of frame-up, which also seemed to make some sense.
    The thing is, what one believes about this case is of no real importance. What one believes about God however, is supposed to determine our eternal destiny. While the whole case of OJ Simpson is based on “forensic science”, there is still a “for” and “against”, and one of those sides cannot then claim it is infallible truth despite not being able to repeat the event. You would ultimately have to pick a side based on “faith”. That’s why religious faith is meeting such resistance from science.

    151 Surprised to see him arguing from the premise of “uniformitarianism“ (and claiming it’s atheism that denies it), when I had remembered more strict “Young Earth” Creationists condemning it, as it was the basis of evolutionism. (Like here,
    https://www.icr.org/article/uniformitarianism/ ICR ties it with 2 Peter 3:3,4)

    153 rightly points out “Atheists…defined the rules of science in such a way that the only possible answer is a materialistic theory like Darwinism”.

    155 “common sense” assumed; (i.e. what Dawkins and others are “going against”)

    162 mathematical truths cannot be proven by science (Craig)

    Not sure what he means by “science” here. (Is it the “empirical” vs “forensic” category). Math is considered a science. To prove 1+1=2, just take one object, add another to it, and you have two. (Then, it’s just a matter of how we represent this in writing; i.e. integers and operators, etc). But math is instantly provable.

    163 Constancy of light is assumed in order to hold the theory, but can’t be strictly proven (Craig)

    It has been proven, using atomic clocks, which slowed down based on velocity. This Craig person is showing a serious ignorance of science.

    181-2, perspective; judging (true this can all be turned back on the scientists and other nonbelievers)

    Again, it’s true that nonChristians often try to ague these things, not realizing they too have a perspective, and are making judgments on it.

    Atheists do speak very absolutely while denying “absolutes”, but it seems the determinant of what is absolute is what’s immediately testable. Like they’ll say “the only absolute is life and death”.

    LET's BE HONEST hypothesis=idea opinion or hunch; scientific theory=evidenced truth; truth=fact
    An admission that “fact” as determined by man [.e. “science”] is not absolute

    182f Jesus is “commanding” us to take the speck out of our brother’s eye;
    Jesus was harsh

    Jesus was not commanding taking the speck out of someone’e eye; He was granting that this is what they (we) naturally do, but instead, should focus on ourselves. We’re the only ones we can change, not others; this is where the problem often starts in religion.
    (This is similar to them taking the Golden Rule as a command to “love yourself”, before you can even love others, thus jibing perfectly with modern secular self-help. Again, He is granting that people naturally “love themselves”, and that in a more selfish way; not the positive, psychological way people today think of).

    So it should also be pointed out that Jesus was only “harsh” to those were were doing the judging, in God’s name, and actually under the “authority” of God’s institution of the Israelite religious system, but who had gone corrupt, and not learning the lesson the Law they were using on others, was supposed to teach them, too. The Church has often flipped this around, where preachers get “harsh” with “sinners”, but then go easy on themselves, (to the point, that some of them end up “falling” into various sins, themselves), believing they have done the right thing, to gain “grace”.

    He throughout the book acknowledges evidence for “design” doesn’t prove that the Designer is the God of the Bible, and promises to address that, but what apparently takes that role is his combination of a list of attributes of God (p185-6), miracles (p188f), and a ‘seven “E”s testimony’ list (p191-208: Early, Eyewitness, Elaborate, Embarrassing, Excruciating, Expected, Extrabiblical).
    Some of these I have used; namely “elaborate” (too many details to be fabricated), “embarrassing” (who else includes bad info about themselves, such as their cowardice, etc.?), “excruciating” (who would be willing to die for a fabrication?) and “expected” (fulfills OT prophecy). The others are fairly weak, and require some amount of presupposition. He says none alone are decisive, “but together they comprise a powerful cumulative case that the New Testament writers were telling the truth.”

    It doesn’t really deal with the question of who were the actual writers, which is often what’s questioned. (Such as the Flavian/Vespasian hypothesis, which is not mentioned at all, yet could easily wipe all seven “E”s out). Even the “early dates” given were decades later, and thus don’t sound like “eyewitnesses”. The “elaborateness” of the narrative details is what’s supposed to cover that (and I believe it’s about the strongest argument). But other writers could still include elaborate details, and would obviously have no problem including embarrassing ones as well! (After all, it’s not about them!)
    As for “expected”, Jewish scholars of course see the prophecies differently. (Like “almah” is supposed to really mean “young girl” rather than necessarily a literal “virgin”. This would remove the physical “miracle” aspect of it, but they would probably say a necessarily physical miracle wasn’t the point. Even a young married girl conceiving might still be taken as a kind of “sign”.
    So then, it becomes a “back and forth” of “he said; they said” between the different religious scholarship, and I can then choose in favor of Christ, but it is based more on assumption of a not totally resolved conflict, than it is “I’m accepting the ‘clear truth’ and they’re rejecting it”. This is why “faith” is so difficult, especially when it comes to presenting it to others).

    “Faith”=“trust” (p216-8) This is to dissociate “faith” from “belief without evidence”. “Belief” then is really based strictly on “reason and evidence”, so then “faith” is then something else, “not of the head or mind, but of the heart or will”. We get the distinction between “belief that Jesus is Savior” (which of course is shared by demons, according to James) and “belief in Jesus as savior”, compared to believing his then girlfriend would be a good wife, and “taking the step of faith” of asking her to be his wife.
    Of course, the “faith as action” premise. “Likewise, believing that Jesus is the Savior is only the first step. It doesn’t go far enough. God isn’t interested in mere mental assent any more than a girlfriend is interested in merely being told she’d make a great wife. God seeks a love relationship from us and won’t force Himself on us. [again on p.223] If we intellectually know that He exists, but never trust in Him, we’ll never receive the benefit of being His” (Here we see the “steps” of the whole “process” concept, leading to the so-called “relationship”, which is not here defined, but in practice is about our daily choices; hence “will” being synonymous with the “heart”. It’s also a throwback to Eldredge’s “but there’s more”, in the OP, where forgiveness of sins is what’s “not enough”, but rather a separate state, of becoming a “son” to the Father, through these self-willed “processes” by our daily “choices”. Clearly, these are all additions to the Gospel!)

    It’s basically, all about “works” (behavior change or order), even as they profess “Grace”.
    The more I read, the more clear it becomes that this whole “relationship” concept is actually “bad news” (and not the Good News” it’s supposed to be). For it’s the very lynchpin of condemnation (especially among those who believe Christ covered all sin, and so condemnation now is only for “not having a relationship with Him”). The biggest problem is how this “relationship” concept is copied from human relationships, where we “must spend time with each other, and do things for each other, or the relationship will die” (of course, naturally loaded with tons of anecdotal examples). Forgotten is that our relationships are so, because of our fallen nature. (And you can throw in, “His ways are not our ways”). We end up projecting this onto God. Even if you say that our imperfection is what makes a relationship with God to be the same way, that then is negating God’s surpassing our limitations, and that salvation and sanctification are all of Him; not Him “helping” us (or us helping Him).
    So this ends up being the ultimate proof salvation (or at least “sanctification”) is about our “choices”. We have to “cultivate” this “relationship”. (Which is not even based on someone we can see, hear and touch, like the human relationships we compare it to). The more purer Arminians who don’t believe in “eternal security” will even warn or at least imply that salvation can be lost if this relationship is allowed to “die”. Also, of course, all of the guilt and shame at our “sins”, which also “harm” the “relationship”, as He constantly looks down at us and gets disappointed (again, just like a human parent, spouse, boss, etc. and also of course taken from OT scriptures on sin “separating” us from Him, which is really under the Law and the whole purpose “Grace” was needed in the first place). Salvation is by “grace”, but the necessity of this “relationship” forces us to keep our own “choices”, “will” and “efforts” in the mix!

    In actuality, the “faith” or “trust” we are to have is that our “relationship” with God is not about what we DO, and hence, this despite our not doing the right things. This is what we can’t prove by anything other than the Bible’s promises (properly understood in the context of the whole redemptive framework).

    From there, “Christianity is rational response to the evidence”. So, salvation then is based on a rational response, and a “faith” that is really the efforts of our “will” (connected with the “heart”).

    221 God gives us moral restraints for our benefit, not His; our ultimate goal in life

    Here we see it’s all about “restraints” (behavior), even though he’s insisting “Christianity is not about being good. It’s about being redeemed”. But it’s still connected with being good, as “Morality doesn’t save us, but it can lead to a saving knowledge of the One who can save us”. Meaning, knowing you’ve broken the law lets you know you need a savior, and in this way, “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal.3:24).
    What that passage actually means, is that the Law, under the OT where it was in effect, led to Christ [“UNTIL Christ CAME”], and so “Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (v25). What many have done is essentially turn this “faith” into a new “law”, under the premise of things such as “relationship”, or “showing you are saved”, etc.

    225f He takes the now standard, “new-evangelical” passive view of Hell, not as somewhere God “sends” anyone, but somewhere people go because they don’t want God, and will just suffer “the trajectory of the soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever” (quoting a Tim Keller). He then answers the following objections:

    “God tortures people in hell”.
    He says Hell is not “torture”, but “torment”, which is “the anguish of one experiences being separated from God”. Where really does this interpretation come from (other than the modern teaching)? “Those in hell have made their decision and do not ask to get out” [emph. added], citing the Rich Man, who only wants Lazarus to “relieve his agony”.
    I’ve never heard this interpretation of that passage before. Of course, evangelicalism rejects the notion that it is a “parable”. Groups that deny the immortality of the soul, such as sabbatarian groups like Armstrongism, will interpret the details other ways. Armstrong said that he’s about to be annihilated in the lake of fire, and wants the water on the tongue because it was so dry, out of terror, or something like that, which I found very weak.

    Under a covenental framework, it’s obvious the Rich Man represented the carnal Israelites (who trusted in their “inheritance”), and Lazarus was those rejected under their paradigm. They end up in “Abraham’s bosom” (as his “children”), while “the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness” (Matt.8:12). This was finalized in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, three decades later (when some of them standing there were still alive to see it; 16:28). So I’m not sure what the water on the tongue really represents, but this is not about everyone in the world (Jew or Gentile, and for all times in history) going to Hell, because they didn’t “believe on Christ”.

    It doesn’t make sense that people are “suffering” so much, yet want to be there. It’s so bad, we try to scare them from going there, but it’s really what they want. (Which would seem to almost fit the assumption of many people, that Hell is a good place where they will be with all their friends and party forever; as frowned on by much of the Church in this life, and embodied in the Twilight Zone episode “A Nice Place To Visit”, where the guy gets tired of all these pleasures that “don’t fulfill”, but is now trapped there in “the other place”, forever. Even he would then want to get out!)

    “Will God send me to hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus?”
    No, it’s because of your sins; but notice now, it’s about “He cannot allow sin to go unpunished”. So it’s not simply about them “wanting to be there”; it is somewhere He sends them, out of “retribution” (basically, out of offense/anger at their behavior) after all! But then, he says “not everyone wants to be forgiven”, but that is a ridiculous assertion. Most people who reject the Gospel don’t believe they need forgiveness; either because they don’t believe in the scriptural revelation altogether, or (for “theistic” religious groups) thy believe we are saved by our own works. If they believed they were guilty of sin, they would of course want forgiveness, as they want forgiveness for any offenses or crimes against other people they commit in this world.
    Kiekeben, leading up to the earlier point about atheists and authority: “But if it is so bad for everyone who is there [Hell], then how can they also prefer it to the alternative? The only way for that to make sense is if our desire for rebellion is so great that we would rather put up with almost any pain rather than live under someone else’s authority.”

    This is pretty much precisely what most evangelical Christians believe, under the banner of the common understanding of “total depravity” (which started out as the foundation of the Augustinian-Calvinist view that we could not even choose to come to God without a special “election” that not everyone is granted. The Arminians, believing in “free will”, softened it down by eliminating the particular election so that anyone would hypothetically have a “chance”, but still retain the rest of the concepts, such as man wanting torment more than submitting to God).
    By now, we’ve gotten so far from actual scriptural revelation into total assumption. As the Calvinists ask them, “what causes [the people who come to Christ] to differ?” (1 Cor.4:7). The Arminians (including myself when holding to evangelical “duty-faith”) always stumbled on this one. It’s like some are just able to “get their hearts right”, and then make the move toward God, and then he responds by “saving” them from Hell, and others are just more rebellious or something, and refuse to give God His due, so they lose out. —Or now, add to the mix; they are too stupid to accept all the “facts” or “reason”. But it of course is their greater sinfulness that makes them that way. (Notice, how it’s all “give and take”, like a human business transaction).

    “Eternal punishment is too severe for temporal sins”
    Uses the “Crimes against the infinite, eternal Being are the most severe, and may demand eternal punishment” argument.
    Of course, both of these points deny Grace (which is placed on “wanting” God, and thus being willing to “do” something for Him, anyway). That according to his belief, many will go “unpunished” (including himself), because “Jesus paid for everyone’s sins”, so this is no argument against the opposition to eternal punishment; the issue is how one gets forgiven, either by grace, or by our own wants and actions.

    “God should annihilate people rather than punish them”
    He shouldn’t do that, as we shouldn’t kill our children if they decide they never want to see us again! Does he really not see that these two things do not line up at all? This, again, is falling back into the totally passive view of Hell, rather than “punishment” for their sin. People (in other religious groups) argue annihilation based on a “merciful” standpoint; that non-existence is better than the classic eternal torture that the Church had always taught. Of course, the problem is that this has now been softened down to this “passive” concept, but it still retains its “eternal discomfort” (of whatever form), and even the “punishment” aspect still slips out in the middle of it.
    The argument made, is that the people are still “made in His image”, and so annihilating them would be an “attack on Himself”. Where is all of this in scripture? So they are just “quarantined in hell so they may not hurt others”. But this is called “eternal death“, and what good are these souls, banished in this other place, in total rebellion against Him (and hated by Him, in return), forever? (Are they really then still, “in His image”? What does it mean that so much of “His image” is banished in this place of evil? Why isn’t tormenting so many people made in His image also an “attack on himself”? [—by Himself; which should show the incoherence of these arguments]).
    All of this is really not thought out well!

    “God is unjust for punishing everyone the same in hell”
    This of course uses the “degrees of punishment” premise, based on a single verse, Luke 12:46-48. In the standard view of Hell, it doesn’t make much sense. Will the fires be different temperatures? Or in this toned down version, where it may not be literal fire, will the “torment” of the unfulfilled passions be felt less? It gets into total speculation. However, in the original prophetic view (where “judgment” was all about what was to befall Israel, “soon”, still in the physical world), it would make sense, as it was something that would occur right here on this earth.

    •He also, along the way, cites the likes of radical right pundits Dinesh D’Souza (p110, on disproving Hitler was Christian, because his persecution of Jews was ethnic, not religious) and even Dennis Prager (p218) on the common “dog whistle” kind of talking point of feeling safer with in a bad part of the city at night if the ten men approaching you were Christians coming from a Bible class. This argument essentially aims to “prove” Christianity by its better behavior, which is encouraged for the same reason, of “witness”, but here it is being made the point of the Gospel. (And it ignores Jesus’ “whited sepulchre” analogy, where even those societies that do look good on the outside, such as white Christian America, can still have even worse sins, of a different nature. Robbing people on a dark street is not any more sin than stuff like white collar crime; yet people really don’t seem aware of that. Conservative Christians show at every turn that they think just like those Israelites Jesus was dealing with!)

    Prager, it should be mentioned, often has people teaching on his online videos and articles that blacks were better off under Jim Crow (often making sure to have a black person as the one saying this).
    One of the rear cover promoters of the book is David Limbaugh, brother of Rush. I just find it alarming how the book appeals to far right political figures on these points. This again shows that the issue is more political than theological. And this ends up being the biggest proof against God to others, of all.

    Conclusion:
    So much of the book is about turning the tables on atheism and returning the claims they make at Christianity back to them. This tactic is really weak at this point, and just passes over (and is in turn passed over by) those it aims to convince.
    Addendum: he frequently criticizes “multiverse” theory as an attempt to explain creation without a Creator, though the multiverse is often connected with superstring theory, which I’ve always noted points toward something beyond the material world by positing a matrix-like “primeval realm” that the strings making up spacetime are embedded in. So here’s this, from leading string theorist Michio Kaku:

    World-Famous Scientist: God Created the Universe
    ‘The final resolution could be that God is a mathematician.’

    https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/world-famous-scientist-god-created-universe

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