The Story of Christianity Told As Good News For All – Patheos

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The following article is a guest contribution from retired philosophy professor, Ric Machuga, and in it, he summarizes his brand new book, The Story of Christianity Told as Good News for All, available now from Quoir Publishing.
I believe in the God who can and will save everyone. My belief is grounded in a literal reading of St. Paul: “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Romans 5:18). The same goes for St. John: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).  While all will be “salted with fire” (Mark 9:49), one day the Spirit’s refining fire will complete its work (Isaiah 48:10). On that day, the risen Christ will smash the gates of hell; they will be flung open; and as St. Peter proclaimed, the “time of universal restoration that God announced long ago” will begin (Acts 3:20). Then, and forever more, God the Father will be the “all in all” (I Cor. 15:28). That in a nutshell is the Christian story told as good news for all.
Of course, not all Christians tell their story like this. The God of many Christians is one who creates a universe which ends with good news for some, but almost unbelievable bad news for many–unending pain and suffering because their God either can’t or won’t save everyone.
Let’s not be too coy about the second sort of God. This is the God who intentionally creates some human beings for the purpose of torturing them forever. Why? To bring glory to himself and pleasure to those in heaven observing the fate of the damned. I doubt that any readers of this column believe in such a God. And I am certain that those who tell the story like this will one day repent of their error only to join me in heaven after the Refiner’s fire has burnt away my own “wood, hay, and stubble.”
But the primary point of this column is the first sort of God, that is, a God who wants to save everyone, but can’t. Why? Because even an omnipotent God, say these Christians, can’t override humans’ free will without turning us into puppets on a string.
The error here isn’t moral; it’s philosophical. It began with Isaac Newton. He described God as a supernatural Craftsman “very skilled in geometry and mechanics.” Though intended as praise, it’s really belittling. The transcendent Creator of space and time has been reduced to its biggest, most powerful and best member. This God’s relation to creation is  zero-sum–as God’s power increases, human power decreases. The only way for humans to retain their freedom was for God to “reign in” his power, even though this meant an unending hell for many.
But the ancient Church had already considered and rejected this modern metaphor of a supernatural Craftsman in response to its first theological challenge: How is it possible to worship Jesus as God while remaining faithful to the claim that there is only one God? The answer was the doctrine of the Trinity. A direct corollary was the insistence that God created the universe with space and time, not as Newton implied, in space and time. The Church’s tag line became: God is non aliud . This translates into English asGod is not another person or thing.” In addition to making sense of the Trinity (a topic for elsewhere), it also makes sense of our free will.
A God who is the biggest, best, and most powerful being in the universe is like water in an opaque bottle. While the water may not now be visible, simply opening the bottle and pouring some out makes it visible to all. Finding an “empirically detectable” God like Newton’s takes more sophisticated scientific instruments, but in principle there is no difference.
Now contrast this with the way meaning is in a word. While the meaning of words is real–else wise you couldn’t read my words–its reality is not a part of the material world. Meaning and the material medium in which it is embodied both “exist”, but they exist at different levels and in distinct ways. The meaning of a word doesn’t compete with the physical medium in which it is embodied. No one thinks that as a word’s meaning increases, it becomes less physical. That would be as silly as thinking that when football referees better enforce the rules of the game, the players are less free to play well. Just as it would be silly for someone making a list of the characters in Hamlet–Ophelia, Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz, etc.–to wonder whether they should include Shakespeare in the list. No, everyone understands that the author, important as he is, is not another person (non aliud) in the cast of characters.
The ink in a word and its meaning; the players on a field and the referees; the characters in a play and their author all “exist” at distinct “levels of reality.” It is not just that they don’t compete with each other; they can’t compete with each other. Far from being an obstacle to human freedom, God’s omnipotence is the guarantor of human freedom.
Until the Son makes us free; until the Hound of Heaven finally catches his prey; until the Christ on the Cross drags us to himself, we will never flourish as the free creatures we were meant to be. The really good news of the gospel is that this is precisely what Jesus promised. “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:28).
It is this God–not the God of Enlightenment rationalism–who revealed himself in the man Jesus. And it is this Jesus who was raised by the Father. And it is this God’s Spirit who ensures the ”restoration of all things” and all will know the truth that makes us free indeed!
One final comment. I suspect most of my readers consider themselves “progressive Christians.” So do I. But when thinking about God’s power and our free will, the most progressive approach is to conserve the pre-modern, traditional, utterly transcendent understanding of God, as opposed to Newton’s divine Craftsman “very skilled in geometry and mechanics.”
Also, if you’ve been digging my work on here, and want to see me be able to continue writing as close to full-time as humanly possible, please take a look at my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/mjdistefano. Even $1 a month helps bigly!


Written by: Christianity Today

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