When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

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God And Those Who Haven’t Heard


Support for Rob Bell (Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived) and his brand of universalism seems to be fueled by a great concern for the “billions and billions” of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ — the same concern, I might add, that fuels much of the missionary movement.

Rather than prompting prayer for the unreached or evangelistic endeavor, however, this concern from Bell supporters turns into … Bell support as he “explores” the idea that all people get a mulligan, a do-over after we die, until we eventually get it right.

The problem, of course, is that this position is not Biblical. Many who disagree with Mr. Bell have said they themselves wish his view was true because the thought of people suffering for eternity is unthinkable. But the fact is, it isn’t their decision any more than it is mine or Mr. Bell’s. The decision is God’s.

Some bloggers, then, have postulated that what we believe about hell exposes what we believe about God. If we see Him as loving and kind, the thinking goes, we will lean toward universalism, whereas if we see Him as a harsh, vengeful taskmaster, we will embrace a “hell for eternity” view.

Again, I think this have very little to do with “my view” of God. The reality is, He has told us about Himself in the Bible and He’s given us His Spirit to guide us into all truth. Consequently, I see no reason why we shouldn’t search the Scriptures and see what God says about His role as judge and what Jesus says about coming judgment.

All that as background for the issue — what about those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus Christ? What does the Bible say about their eternal destiny?

First, what does the Bible say about anyone’s eternal destiny? Here’s one clear statement:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
– John 3:14-15

The reference is to the bronze serpent God used to save the lives of the Israelites dying of snake venom during their exodus from Egypt (see last month’s post “The Way Of Escape” for more details). The bronze serpent served as an intermediary between God and the dying Israelites. In the same way, Jesus is the intermediary between God and sinners dying spiritually.

In fact, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

But that still leaves the question on the table — what about all those who haven’t heard of Jesus?

Scripture has more to say about Salvation and this, I believe, answers the question.

In Romans 1 Paul builds the case that God has revealed Himself in what He made. So we can conclude that even people who don’t have the Bible can know God and are responsible for what they do with what they know. Here’s the key passage:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
– Rom 1:18-21

So here’s my conclusion. If someone suppresses the truth and does not honor God as God, then he has no interest in Jesus who is the way to God. Simply put, that person does not want a way to God. Consequently, by turning away from God, he is also turning away from Jesus (though he may not have heard of Jesus by name). And doesn’t that seem undeniably true, given the fact of the Trinity?

On the other hand, isn’t God capable of sending an Elizabeth Elliott or Hudson Taylor or William Cary or Cameron Townsend to a previously unreached people group whenever the time is right? Can we not trust Him, the Great Shepherd, to search for the one lost sheep? Of course we can, even as we can trust Him to one day separate the sheep from the goats.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm  Comments (6)  
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Deadly Lies


Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Maybe he’d always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Maybe he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever his reason, he decided one day to stand up against Jeremiah.

This quirky prophet enacted at God’s command a series of object lessons to bring a dire message to His people — because they had forsaken God, He was sending Babylon against them and they would go into captivity.

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

On this particular occasion, Jeremiah was walking around with a wooden yoke on his neck. Hananiah faced him down in the temple and said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” He went on to say that those who had already been taken captive and the valuables taken from the temple would be returned in two years.

I wish it was true, Jeremiah said, but it’s not. The prophets who came before me have prophesied that God will send judgment on His people. Besides, “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

At that, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.

I wonder what kind of a crowd they had by this time. Did some people turn away, muttering about how these crazy prophets hadn’t learned how to get along? After all, there was enough conflict with the Babylonians camped outside the walls. Why did they have to bring hate inside the city?

Or maybe there was another set cheering Hananiah on. After all, they’d had years of Jeremiah’s gloom and doom. It was about time someone stood up and gave a message of hope.

But God told Jeremiah how to respond. First he declared that Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke, but that would be replaced by one of iron, Furthermore

Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”
– Jeremiah 28:15 [emphasis mine]

As a result, Jeremiah continued, Hananiah would die because he counseled rebellion against the Lord. True to this word from God, the man died in July of that year.

Unfortunately, Hananiah wasn’t the only false prophet of the day. Lies in God’s name were prevalent and had a deadly effect. To the people who were already in exile, Jeremiah sent word saying

Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie;” therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants
– Jeremiah 29:31-32a [emphasis mine]

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

“And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied.”

And another time

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all;
They did not even know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time that I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:15

Today the issue isn’t whether or not a foreign power will invade and conquer, but whether or not God’s word means what it says — is God really going to punish people who do not name the name of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Universalists are crying peace, peace. “Good people,” or all people eventually, will have peace with God no matter what they believe about Jesus.

Because their claims contradict the Bible, we can know as surely as Jeremiah did that the message is false.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.
– Jeremiah 14:14

Sadly, the consequence for today’s lie is even more costly than the one the people faced in Jeremiah’s day.

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm  Comments Off on Deadly Lies  
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Does The Narrow Way Lead To A Big Tent?


Whether or not Rob Bell’s upcoming book Love Wins actually makes a case for universal salvation as the promotional video suggests, it has opened up the conversation about heaven, hell, and who will be saved. For this I am glad. Sadly, his is only one voice in what appears to be a growing number claiming to have discovered what the Bible actually says.

This lust for something new has been with us a long time. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day re-interpreted the Law according to their own traditions, and various groups ever since have done the same thing. Think of the Mormons, interpreting the Bible by the revelation Joseph Smith claimed, or the Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any number of cults.

More recently, the trend has seeped into Evangelical Christianity. Some time in the early twentieth century, a movement started away from all that “fire and brimstone preaching,” replacing it with the social gospel. Eventually the winds shifted again and evangelism surfaced emphasizing that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life unless you reject Him, in which case you’re not going to heaven.

Now decades later, there is yet again startling, good news, “better than we could ever imagine,” which could only be true if all these years no one has been reading the Bible and no preachers have been preaching from it.

If it’s any comfort, false teaching slipped into the Church right from the start. The Apostle Paul warned the young pastors he mentored about this desire to hear “easier” truth or “better” truth or “newer” truth, whatever was more pleasing:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
– 2 Timothy 4:3-4

So today, in the era of tolerance, some asserting to be part of the church have decided God should be tolerant too. He should set aside the claims that there is a requirement such as believing in Jesus for people to find their way into his presence. Which of course means he must also give up any claim as a righteous judge who will one day hold men accountable for their rebellion. These positions, they tell us, are actually in the Bible, and the Church has just misinterpreted them all these years, putting God in a box, limiting his capacity to love liberally and accept all his children, including those who

were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian
The Shack, p. 182

All this fits nicely with our culture. Inclusion seems to be the goal, bringing all “faith communities” into The Big Tent. On the surface it sounds so good, so loving.

Except it actually flies in the face of Truth — the very words of Jesus who out of His love for the people He would die for, warned them in no uncertain terms that there was a divide between sheep and goats, growing branches and ones cut off to be thrown into the fire, between wheat and weeds, grain and chaff, between houses built on sand and ones on rock, between faithful servants and unfaithful, between the wise who stayed alert and the foolish who fell asleep. At one point He spelled it out like this:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
– Matt 7:13-16a (emphasis mine)

If we take Jesus seriously, what’s the loving thing to do — tell people not to worry, that the Big Tent has plenty of room for them, too? Will this help them find the small gate and narrow way? Or will it deceive them into thinking the narrow way and the broad are going to the same destination?

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who Then Can Be Saved?


Jesus’s disciples asked this question of Him — then who can be saved? A man who stood before Christ declaring that he’d kept all the Law, went away grieving because Jesus asked one more thing of him — all he owned.

Jesus explained it was as hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Then the disciples’ question, essentially asking, Who can give what it takes?

Jesus responded by saying, No one. It really is impossible for you … but not for God.

Who in the world is saved?

In the twenty-first century the question of the day, spurred on by writers like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (the soon-to-be-released Love Wins) is this: since God can save, does He save all? The understood corollary is, If not, is he not an ogre? (And since we choose to believe he is not an ogre, then he must save all.)

I am not frightened by the questions. I think they’re valid, even fair. But questions about God should be answered by God, not by people imagining whatever they wish about Him. Consequently, we should look at what Scripture has to say about who can be saved.

First, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that everyone isn’t going to be saved. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. People not accepting Jesus will have no mediator.

Everlasting life is promised to those who believe on the name of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Forgiveness for sins comes from no other name. Those not believing on His name will have no forgiveness.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:18

In addition, Jesus spoke often of a divide — those who follow and obey Him separated from those who don’t. He said this divide would split families, that some would think they were on one side of the divide only to find out on the judgment day that they were on the other, that few would actually be on the road to salvation and many would be marching toward destruction. He told story after story that ended with disbelieving or disobedient people thrown into outer darkness or into a place of fire where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, is God an ogre? I mean, if ALL these people are doomed for eternity, and He has the power to save, then how can He be considered as anything but the cruel being atheists like Christopher Hitchens and emergents like Mike Morrell claim — if the God of the Old Testament existed (which neither of them believe).

Again, I say, that question, is God an ogre — a cruel, terrifying being — needs to be answered by going to the Bible. Within the pages of Scripture, I learn that what God created is good, His acts are good, His words are good, His plans are good, His gifts are good, His promises are good, His lovingkindness is good, His Spirit is good. In the end, Jesus states it outright:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
-Mark 10:18 (emphasis mine)

If those asking if God is an ogre say they believe Jesus, then they should take Him at His word, concluding that God is good, not cruel. [By the way, Jesus as God Incarnate, is also good. That He asked, Why do you call me good? served to show that the guy he was talking to didn’t really think Jesus was God, or good.]

We see from Scripture, then, that not everyone will be saved and that God is not an ogre. How can the two both be true? Don’t we have to believe either one or the other?

This seems to be Rob Bell’s approach, judging from his promotional video. I could stop right here and say, trust in God is accepting what He has revealed, even if I don’t understand how these apparently conflicting elements can both be true.

But in this case, we don’t have to stop because God has given us so much more upon which our faith can stand.

First God doesn’t hide the truth about sin. He stated from the beginning that rebellion against Him would lead to death.

At this point, some might argue that it shouldn’t, that God doesn’t have the right to sentence people to death or that death is too harsh a punishment. Essentially those people are saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be the judge, another way of saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be God. Or they are again accusing Him of not being good. Ironically, what God has done about sin proves His goodness more than anything else.

At the start, God warned Adam about the consequences of doing what He told him not to do. When Adam sinned anyway, God illustrated the consequence right away by making an animal sacrifice. But He also kept His word, and eventually each person except Enoch faced physical death.

God’s work throughout history has been to save Mankind from the consequences of our sin, culminating in He Himself becoming the needed sacrifice. How is it that people miss this when accusing God of wrong-doing?

He died to satisfy the penalty His justice demanded. We don’t have three gods. Jesus is not at odds with His Father. God is not wrathful and Jesus loving.

The penalty for sin was one the triune God required and the triune God paid. The Father’s wrath was the Son’s wrath. The Son’s sacrifice was the Father’s sacrifice. We cannot split God and make Him out to be three individuals operating as if they were independent from one another.

The mystery of God, manifesting Himself as three yet being one, does not allow us to accuse Jesus of being less just or the Father of being less loving. God, in His mercy, went to the cross — the Father sending, the Son dying — to provide reconciliation with sinners.

But reconciliation is not a blanket pardon. God stipulated that those who believe will be saved.

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
– Rom. 10:9

In the end, the matter is simple. We can believe what God said or what some men have imagined.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Comments (11)  
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When The Roll Is Called


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 6


Business. The May CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award run-off poll will run for two more days. Be sure to vote.

– – –

A Christian Worldview? Am I beating a dead horse by continuing this discussion about The Shack, a novel by William P. Young? Well, nearly a hundred bloggers wrote about the book this past month, so it appears to remain a subject of interest. Besides, as I said when I started this series, this just might be the perfect book for this blog because it so clearly combines the two areas I focus on—fiction and a Christian worldview.

But is The Shack written from a Christian worldview? That’s a tough question. Some would rush to say yes. Mr. Young, after all, came from a Christian background and has done a fair amount of speaking in various churches. Plus, the work is about God!

To be from a Christian worldview, however, I think the work needs to tell the truth about God—not part truth and part lie.

God’s nature. In the last two posts, I’ve made a case for my belief that The Shack misrepresents the divinity of Jesus and trivializes God’s person. Equally troubling is a more subtle inaccurate portrayal of God’s nature.

I think I can say without the need to quote supportive passages that The Shack stresses God’s love. Apparently this aspect of the book is one that has attracted so many fans. I would be in the front line cheering if I felt that the story was drawing attention to God’s love as He revealed it in Scripture, but unfortunately, Mr. Young’s idea of love seems to rule out justice.

Interestingly, on Saturday The Whittenberg Door posted an article on this subject, Love vs. Justice, specifically dealing with The Shack. I agree with the conclusion the Door author reached: “The truth is, if you sacrifice justice for love, you have likewise sacrificed love—for love demands justice.”

Love according to The Shack, however, negates justice. In a discussion with Sophia, a person identified as the personification of God’s wisdom, Mack’s views of Hell are challenged, at first indirectly. Sophia asks him about his love for his children:

“But what about when they do not behave, or make choices other than those you would want them to make, or they are just belligerent and rude? What about when they embarrass you in front of others? How does that affect your love for them?”

Mack responded slowly and deliberately. “It doesn’t, really … I admit that it does affect me and sometimes I get embarrassed or angry, but even when they act badly, they are still my son or my daughter … what they do might affect my pride, but not my love for them.”

I find this stunning because there is no room in this discussion for correcting the children for their benefit. Apparently, only Mack’s pride is at stake. And judging his children would only be a result of his anger. This is not at all true of God, though Sophia later in the conversation goes on to make this analogy between God and Mack, clearly identifying all of mankind as God’s children, not just those who have come to Him through Jesus.

Let me see if I can outline the discussion. After Mack declares his love for his children, Sophia brings him to the judgment seat as the judge of God and the human race (p. 160). When Mack balks, she gets him to confess that he thinks there are people who deserve punishment, like the man who abused and killed his daughter.

She then asks if that man’s father who abused him should also be punished. Mack says yes. Sophia asks how far back Mack thinks this blame should go—to Adam? to God?

Mack admits he think God is to blame. Sophia then says Mack, because he is able to judge God, can judge the world. So he must choose two of his children to send to Hell. Mack balks and finally says he can’t do it, asking if he could go instead.

Her response:

“I am so proud of you!”

“But I haven’t judged anything,” Mack offered in confusion.

“Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves … And now you know Papa’s heart,” she added, “who loves all his children perfectly.” (p. 163)

The discussion then turns to the issue of suffering.

The point is clear—God loves perfectly and by implication, His love negates justice. This latter conclusion is stated another way towards the end of the book. Papa says, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” (p. 225) Then at the bottom of the page: “When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment …”

I think the conclusion is clear: the god of The Shack is a god who loves without judgment and consequently without punishment. I believe the theological term for this position is universal salvation.

Series continued in Part 7.