Book Review of ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (Julie Ferwerda, 2016)

As a lifelong Christian who has always critiqued and pondered deeply the core teachings of both Christianity and religions in general, David Sretenovic has a particular interest in the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell. In this blog he reviews a brilliant book by Julie Ferwerda, ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (2016, Vagabond Group).

Years after I read and was blessed by Raising Hell (2011) (the earlier edition to the subject of this review) I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with its author, Julie Ferwerda. This struck me about her: she loves and cares for people, and she is honest. And this is the wonderfully human sense you get as you read the book. In particular, the autobiographical elements show her internal, personal dialogue as she followed her conscience – prodded by the innocent questioning of her young daughter – into examining the way the traditional doctrine of ‘eternal hell’ seems incongruent with the heart of a loving Father God. The image of the Prodigal Son’s father frenziedly running to greet his returning vagabond is a refrain throughout Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version (2016) (Raising Hell (TSSV)) . This will capture your heart and intellect if you let it.

Any reader who opens their heart enough to feel the compassion behind the book will be blessed to encounter the rigour and logic which Ferwerda applies in deconstructing the centuries-old edifice of children-parents-and-friends-torturously-burning-in-hell-while-we-are-happily-coexisting-in-heaven-forever. Raising Hell (TSSV) is a welcome précis to the original book, yet its scope remains balanced and thorough. Ferwerda draws on robust scholarship, including the Jewish and Universalist traditions, and amply utilizes both classical and modern analogies, timeless quotes, poetry and biblical worldviews to unlock the paradigm. Much of the book is also dedicated to rebutting common pro-hell arguments, including the “What about Hitler?” quip!

Ferwerda scaffolds her thesis throughout by supplying the important questions which she, and any searching reader, need to ask to distill the truth on the matter. Questions such as: Doesn’t the New Testament mention hell more often than heaven? Is there a viable Christian theological position historically and scripturally that doesn’t teach a literal, eternal hell? How could millions of devout Christians and theologians over many centuries have been duped (and who am I to question authoritative scholarship)? Moreover, the author delves into the intricacies of Bible translation through the ages and interpretation. The chapters explore these well, and Bible study and discussion-starting scaffolding are also supplied (although fewer than in the first edition of the book).

The following quotes from Raising Hell (TSSV) are most illuminating for anyone who is warming to the idea of ‘raising hell’, and wanting to be shepherded towards a better hope, as the gospel suggests:

The notion of hell is suspiciously missing from the OT as the destiny for most of mankind, unless you read the KJV or TM (The Message), both of which include the word hell over thirty times. Do KJV and TM know something others don’t? Why the inconsistency?…Here’s the deal. KJV translates Sheol as hell whenever they want to convey it as the fearsome destination of the wicked (e.g. Ps. 55:15, 91:17…). However, when portraying the fate of the righteous, they translate it grave (e.g. Ps. 89:48, Job 14:13). Same exact Hebrew word in both cases!…

The word most often translated hell in the NT is the word Gehenna, found only twelve times – once in James and the rest occurring in the Gospels. Jesus warned about Gehenna on four unique occasions in Matthew. Mark and Luke only use it in one passage (repeating Matthew), and John doesn’t use it all. (Raising Hell (TSSV), p.26-27).

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

For more information and a link to a free download of the Hell Raising books, click on this link: http://www.raisinghellbook.com/#wrap . Follow the book and Julie Ferwerda on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RaisingHellBook/ .

Additional resources on the general topic of “hell” via my public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Hell-free-Christianity-203963783004656/

iVenerate – Jerry and the Cult

This blog takes a quizzical look at the concept of worship and veneration of a “god”. David Sretenovic urges the reader to be realistic about faith and miracles … and also empathetic. [Reader note: “M-rated” for language]

So I’ve got this mate, Jerry, who I went to high school with and I have a lot of respect for. He comes up to me and tells me about this dude they’ve been visiting weekly. The dude lives nearby and works locally… apparently he’s a great guy. But Jerry and his family go there and pray to him. They worship him. Like actually, worship him … bow down, give him their money and do what he says. Jerry is an intelligent guy whom I’ve known for years, but he’s completely given up all his life plans and is simply doing as this guy directs.

Seriously concerning stuff. Hearing all this, my mind just goes, “Cult. Weirdos. How could my mate get sucked into this stuff? They seriously need help. This guy’s pulling some scam.”

The fact is though, as a Christian, all of the above is pretty much how I treat Jesus Christ (God). So, what gives? [Oh, and the above scenario: yeah not real.]

I got to thinking recently that if, hypothetically, I had lived in the city of Jerusalem where the Twelve Disciples were recruited, I would really struggle to do what they did. I seriously think that if I was told that my friends had become devotees of a local guy, claiming Him to be God and literally forsaking their past life for his agenda, I would write them off as fools. Take it further: is there any chance I would bow before some guy — just a local tradie (literally a carpenter)? I actually cannot see myself doing that. I simply see humans as humans, and no one deserves to be worshiped; I am equal, and there’s no way anyone can subordinate me in such a way.

Unless.

There is a genuine qualification I must discuss. If this “dude” proved himself to me. Then, and only then, could I possibly be convinced to elevate him in some special way. I wouldn’t lightly be convinced, but there are probably a few things, of the miraculous kind, which could pique my attention and begin to sway me. For example, if he told me things about my past which no one else knew, or read my mind, that would impress me. If he was able to materialize (like magic) certain things on demand, that would get me to think again. Hmmm, let’s say my friend was decapitated in a local skirmish, and I saw the dude bring him back to life by restoring his head — yeah, I’d be impressed with that. And if he healed my sick child, or if the dude himself was killed and then came back to life. There would come a point where I’d feel like I’m denying my own reality to consider this guy equal to me; I’d have to acknowledge he’s not a normal human at some point. So, apparently this happened to the Twelve Disciples — okay.

What also needs to be added to this picture is that the religion of the disciples, Judaism, had established, recorded prophecies which were being fulfilled before their very eyes. That would, for religious folk,  be an incredible confirmation of what they were witnessing. And these miracles continued throughout their lives, even after Christ departed. Therefore, if all of the above were true, I could not blame them for being convinced to the point of worship. Sure, if the Bible is fiction, then it’s fiction. But the logic remains. And I still need to make my point.

Unless I experienced the far-fetched, unearthly proofs I mentioned above, there is NO WAY I would come close to devoting myself to, let alone worshiping, a guy, just a local tradie.  Unless I saw and experienced some bloody impressive and mind-blowing miracles, I’m sure that I would make doubting Thomas look like a hero of faith. There is no way I could be moved to the point of worship without this context.

The punch-line to my blog is this: it would be completely out of my hands as to whether these miraculous proofs were displayed to me (either in historic Jerusalem or today). The booming corollary is this: my present faith in Jesus, and my subsequent worship of him, is completely dependent on the one with the supernatural power. God.

So I am in no position to blame or resent someone for not having faith. How f*!#-ed up that would be. Nowadays I simply enjoy my own faith, and do what I can to allow others to enjoy what I do. But the actual moment of faith, getting others to see what I have seen, and experience a paradigm-shifting miracle. Pfft! That’s His prerogative! Lol.

Blessings in Christ

David

Brian Zahnd — My personal promo and thoughts on “Mars”

David Sretenovic applauds Zahnd’s inspiring, incisive and eloquent book “Farewell to Mars” (2014). He also adds to the conversation with a few thoughts about our inner and outer dialogue in response to Zahnd’s thesis.

I highly recommend the book “A Farewell to Mars” (2014) by Brian Zahnd to everyone, but especially Americans, and especially Christians. Chapter eight is one of the best book chapters I’ve ever read, full stop. Ideally I’d love to give a full book review and include some of the choicest theological quotes I’ve yet seen, but for now I will just point to one segment, as a symbol of this book’s force in current theological and civic dialogue.

Chapter eight has the same title as the book “A Farewell to Mars”, and thrusts home Zahnd’s booming thesis, that the War-god Mars represents a polar opposite to the Peace-God Christ. When Cain killed Abel, he was serving the former God; when Jesus didn’t kill, he inaugurated a new Kingdom of anti-violence and anit-war. That is the context for this quote (emphasis is mine):

“…on August 6, 1945, the world crossed a threshold. Human capacity for killing is now totalized. We can kill the whole world if we want to. Will we continue to believe the lie that we have to kill the world in order to save it? This is the lie Cain told himself. In a mystical sense, Cain killed the world when he killed his brother. Then he built the city of human civilization upon the lie that we can do good by killing.”

Firstly, I zealously commend Zahnd’s inspiring, Christ-led and Christ-honouring heart and message – read the book, it’ll both inspire and confront you (with a fluid, witty and sage-like style)! Secondly, I’ll add these thoughts for pondering. When Zahnd says that “Cain killed the world” he is pointing to a pattern of life which is categorically damnable. But the truth is, it was God who was responsible for Cain being conceived and born in the first place. God was responsible for Adam and Eve being created. God was responsible for it all. So in a real sense, extrapolating on Zahnd’s statement, God killed the world when he started it.

There’s a thin line between those two assertions though, that of free-will. Did Cain have the freedom of will to not kill Abel?

I’ll put it plainly: I don’t care what the answer to the question is right now. But what I am caring about here is this: blame. The beauty and power of Zahnd’s book is his ability to entwine history, literature, theology, modern civic discourse and ancient prophetic texts into a captivating Mona Lisa; he carves a delicate, exquisite sculpture with a chainsaw in a way that really convinces you that this is how it ought to be done! I’m inspired and in awe! But I am exploring where his ideas lead us individually in our own thoughts about blame. Where are we directing the blame as we live out our new paradigms: to God or to Cain … to our neighbour, or to ourselves?

Peace be with you! … “the first word of a new world” 😉

— David Sretenovic

September 2016

How good is radical, extremist religion!?

David Sretenovic looks at how the media are using the terms “extreme” and “radical” in relation to religion. There’s more to these terms than meets the eye, he explains. The flipside is the need for journalists to have the courage to nurture goodness in our upcoming generations.

What we really need in society is a lot more mediocrity. Luke-warm efforts. Kids and seniors alike just really need to attack their goals half-heartedly. Just imagine the difference.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But let’s consider religion as depicted in the media. You can hardly deny that the media are cautious of religion beyond that safe, moderate zone. Certainly “radical” and “extreme” religion is anathema. News outlets have kidnapped these terms and made them the posters for all that is contemptible and leprous. In reality though journalists haven’t been very precise with these terms, and have done us a disservice.

The media have turned “radical, extreme religion” into a pariah. I think journalists have thrown the baby out with the bath water in doing this, because there is a form of radicalism which inspires because of its extremely refreshing goodness – these radicals bless us in a uniquely wild way. As a Christian, it is natural for me to argue this line: if Christianity is indeed true, good and life-giving, then radical and extreme Christianity is the ultimate, optimal and perfect form of it. Now, if only there was a historical figure who modelled such radical, extreme Christianity… oh, just a second, there was this pretty extreme guy at the beginning of it all.

So, what am I saying? Well, let me break it down, using our most precious entity: our children. Do we wish for them to be doing extremely caring and loving acts? Of course. And do we wish for our children to have the mettle to be radical if necessary – to be a voice for the marginalised, to champion lost causes, and advocate for compassion in a dog-eat-dog world? I think we do. As parents, we understand the need to sometimes swim upstream – that is the essence of being radical. Rosa Parks; Mahatma Ghandi; Mother Teresa – extremists and radicals in terms of doing what’s right. So long as you find a good cause which you believe in, radical and extreme efforts are exactly what we need. Naturally, this goes hand-in-hand with being true to ourselves.

In one sense, it is those with the greatest integrity who live the most extreme versions of our religions: they actually live out what they believe. It is rare, but it is honest, genuine and uninhibited. Urban wisdom tells us to “be yourself” and “don’t hide your true colours”. Young people especially need to be encouraged to follow their hearts: if you believe something is good and right, have the courage to live it out! This moral truism is undermined if there is a fear of being labelled an extremist radical for doing so. But there is a further social dimension to living with integrity to your religious beliefs: you can be challenged by the manifested reality of your beliefs.

Instead of labelling adherents of religion as “extremists”, if journalists and thought-leaders increasingly nurtured the ability for citizens to have the courage of their convictions, what will follow is a generation of young people who walk the talk, as opposed to a closeted generation who fearfully hide what they believe and feel. For those outside a religion, as well as those being raised within it, this is the only way for the value and fruits of a religion to be objectively observed and challenged publically: when it is lived out in full-blown truth and integrity.

Let me give an example. There are two particular religious movements (which I won’t name) on the rise in Australia which share a common law, that of “disfellowshipping” on the basis of transgression. There are strict and draconian laws and punishments in place, and extend to forbidding even greeting a disfellowshipped individual in the street. Threats of additional punishment, including violence and death remain in place to deter the faithful. The media tend to label such actions as extremist, but if the religion teaches it then those who follow through are simply being true to their faith – having integrity. Moreover, those who do have integrity do society the favour of showing the religion for what it really is; would-be converts ought to have this reality on the table. Integrity to follow one’s religion should not be discouraged, but unfortunately the media is lumping such behaviour together with the term “extreme radical”, and it leaves no room for someone to be admired for being true to themselves. I must add here though, I don’t believe that encouraging extreme integrity equates to encouraging violence. No, it is the courage to have integrity that gives people the ability to say no to bad ideas. Again, integrity goes hand-in-hand with the freedom to assess the value of a religion for oneself; there are some religious laws – such as these draconian laws, for my part – which are simply destructive and should be discouraged for the benefit of society.

So I don’t think journalists have actually intended to label “extreme religion” as the enemy; there is too much goodness in extreme religion. What journalists have meant to target is “bad religion”: those elements within a religion which strike at the good foundations of society. But that takes courage, and candour in making judgements, so it’s no wonder that not many journalists take this line. But deep down inside, I think every journalist wants to promote radical and extreme goodness; it’s just not comfortable to nurture it in religion at the moment.