If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?

A few days ago a reader named Annie made this comment here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:

Virgin Mary and Child, by "Master with the Parrot"I am a Christian who loves Jesus and God. But what I don’t understand is that if Jesus is God, then who created people to come down to earth in Jesus’ time, if God wasn’t in heaven?

My ancestors aren’t from Israel, so as well as having no God in heaven to pray to, they would have had no Jesus to listen to. As God loves all, what must Jesus’ thoughts be on the fact that most people in his lifetime he would never meet, as Jesus was in a small space in the world, and most would have no link to God, including my European ancestors.

But if Jesus is the Son of God—a part of him but not actually him—then for me the whole idea that God has his one and only Son takes away from the belief that we are all God’s children, and he created all of us. I am a Christian who loves Jesus and God, but am confused.

(I have edited Annie’s comment for readability. You can read her original comment here, and my original response here. The rest of this post is an edited and expanded version of my response to Annie.)

These are all excellent questions! A good question is the beginning of understanding.

To understand God, and how Jesus was and is God, we must expand our mind beyond our usual limited, material human conceptions of things. For you personally to understand these things, you’ll need to stretch your mind to grasp concepts that you may not have thought of before. So if what I’m about to say sounds complicated at first, please bear with me, and at the end I’ll link you to some articles that explain it further, and provide some supporting Bible quotes as well.

Though understanding God is a challenge for us small-minded humans, it is not impossible. And as we gain an understanding of God, we gain an understanding of the meaning and purpose of our life here on earth as well, and everything starts to fall into place for us.

God is not limited by time and space

Consider that unlike our limited human nature, God has no limitations of space or time.

We humans can be in only one place at a time—or perhaps, in our minds, in several places at a time through imagination or communications technology.

However, God is present in all places and at all times simultaneously. This is not because God is stretched out in time and space like a material object. God is divine, not material. And we know from modern physics that time and space are properties of physical matter. So our usual conceptions of time and space simply don’t apply to God. God is present in all time and space from a divine state of being that is above and beyond space and time.

This means that when God came to earth in a particular time and place as Jesus Christ, God did not stop being present in all other times and places. Rather, God had a special presence in that one time and place while continuing to be God in heaven. So God was still running the universe and creating new people all over the earth while being present in Jesus Christ in ancient Palestine.

How was Jesus the Son of God?

Jesus was the Son of God, but not in the same way as our usual earthly conception of human fathers and sons.

According to the Gospels, Jesus had no earthly father, but he did have an earthly mother. The Bible says that Mary conceived through the presence of the Spirit of God. So Jesus was born on earth with God as his Father, but with an ordinary human being, Mary, as his mother. This means that when he was born, he had both an infinite, perfect divine side and a limited, fallible human side.

However, Jesus did not separate from God the way human children separate from their fathers. Rather, since Jesus’ Father was God, God remained in Jesus as his soul and as his higher self within his limited human side that came from Mary.

At birth, Jesus was not fully God

This means that at the time of his birth Jesus was not fully God. Rather, from his birth Jesus had two natures, or two parts of himself:

  1. He had an infinite and perfect divine nature within him that was God. This was his inward nature, or his spirit and soul.
  2. He had a finite, fallible nature from his human mother Mary. This was his outward earthly mind and physical nature

During his lifetime on earth, Jesus was sometimes more aware of and connected with his infinite divine nature, and sometimes more aware of and connected with his finite human nature. That’s why in the Gospels we sometimes see him praying to the Father as if to a different being, and other times saying that he and the Father are one.

Jesus went back and forth between these two states of awareness, one higher and one lower, throughout his entire lifetime on earth.

Jesus battled the Devil through his ordinary human nature

Also during his lifetime, Jesus was continually battling against hell, evil, and the Devil (these are really just different words for the same thing), which got access to him through the faulty, sin-prone human nature that he received from his mother Mary.

There is absolutely no basis in the Bible for the Catholic dogma that Mary was born without any inherited evil, or “original sin.” In fact, if she were born by an “immaculate conception” as held in Catholic doctrine, it would destroy God’s whole reason for coming to earth through a human mother. It would make it impossible for Jesus to accomplish his major task on earth of saving humanity from the power of the Devil. The very existence of this unbiblical doctrine shows that the Roman Catholic Church has no real knowledge or understanding of why God was born into our world as Jesus Christ. (Neither does Protestantism, for that matter.)

If Mary had been born without the usual human tendencies toward evil and sin, and therefore without the ability to pass these tendencies on to her firstborn son, Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection would all have been for nothing.

It was precisely so that God could confront and defeat the Devil on the Devil’s own turf that God was born on this earth of a human woman, complete with all of the tendencies toward evil and sin that every one of us inherits from our human parents.

The Devil cannot face and fight against God’s infinite divine nature directly. If the Devil attempted to do so, the Devil would be instantly destroyed by the infinite power of God. It would be like our trying to fight the sun by flying straight into it. We would be instantly vaporized.

However, through the ordinary, sin-prone nature that Jesus received from his human mother Mary, the Devil was able to approach God and fight against God in Jesus Christ. And God, in Jesus Christ, was able to confront and defeat the Devil, thus saving everyone on earth from the Devil’s mounting power.

It was by working through the ordinary, sin-prone human nature that he received from Mary that Jesus was able to save us from the power of evil without destroying us all in the process. Each of us has a piece of the Devil in us. That evil within us is a part of our natural character and life right from the time of our birth. It can be removed only through a lifelong process of repentance and spiritual rebirth accomplished by God’s power working within us.

If God vaporized the Devil, God would mortally wound us as well. And God wants to save us, not kill us.

God, in Jesus, saved us from the Devil’s power

Unlike us, Jesus never yielded to the human evil that he inherited from his mother. Unlike us, Jesus never sinned. Unlike us, he was always victorious in temptation. Unlike us, through the power of his inner divine nature he was able to fully defeat the Devil, not only for himself, but for all of humanity.

If Jesus had not done this, the Devil would have wreaked his full fury upon us. And unlike God, we are finite and weak. We would have succumbed to the Devil’s power. Every single one of us would have been dragged down to eternal hell.

But throughout his entire lifetime on earth Jesus stood between us and the Devil, taking all of the Devil’s furious attacks and blows so that they would not fall upon us, and fighting many battles for us against the Devil, always winning them through the power of his divine soul within, which the Bible calls “the Father.”

And because Jesus achieved a full victory over the Devil, Jesus is able to give us the power to defeat evil and the Devil within our own souls and in our own lives as well, if we turn to Jesus as Lord and accept that power into our heart, mind, and life.

Jesus is able to do the same for non-Christians also if they accept into their lives the power of God, as they understand God. That’s because whether people of the various religions realize it or not, Jesus truly is God. There is no other God.

During his life on earth Jesus’ became fully divine

If, as I said earlier, Jesus was not fully God at birth, how did Jesus become fully God?

Through his lifelong process of facing, battling, and always overcoming the Devil that had gained access to him through his finite human heredity, Jesus gradually set aside all of the finite, sin-prone human nature that he gotten from his mother Mary, and replaced it with an infinite, perfect divine human nature that was God.

This means that by the time Jesus rose from death after his crucifixion, there was no longer anything of Mary left in him. He was now fully God, and also fully and infinitely human. That’s why, after his death, Jesus did not recognize Mary as his mother, but instead gave her to his disciple John as his mother, and made John Mary’s spiritual son.

That is also why we on earth can now have a direct, personal relationship with God through his human presence as Jesus Christ. God is now not only fully divine, but also fully human. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we are coming to know the human presence of God.

In short, unlike during his lifetime on earth, Jesus Christ is now fully God, and fully present everywhere in the world, with every human being.

Jesus saves non-Christians also

It doesn’t matter whether a person is Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim or aboriginal or atheist. Jesus Christ is present with everyone on earth with the power to save them if they are willing to live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings as Jesus taught us to do.

For Jesus’ own teaching about who, from all the nations, is saved, see Matthew 25:31–46. In this key passage about salvation and eternal life Jesus says nothing at all about believing the right thing. Only about doing good deeds for one’s neighbor—which, he says, is the same as doing good deeds for him.

This also means that all people on earth are God’s children, though not in quite the same way that Jesus was God’s Son.

Jesus was conceived directly from God within Mary’s womb. The rest of us are conceived and born indirectly from God, through a human father and mother. So we are all God’s children, created by God, but unlike Jesus we are created by God through two human parents.

And we especially become God’s children if we believe in God—or at least in the good qualities that come from God, such as truth and justice and love for our fellow human beings—and live the way God teaches us to live.

  • For Christians, this means living according to the teachings that Jesus Christ gave us in the Gospels—especially the teaching that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • For people of other religions, it means living a good life as their religion teaches them to do. And every major religion on earth teaches its people that they must live good lives of love and service to their fellow human beings.
  • For atheists, it means living according to some higher principle of life, and seeking some greater good that goes beyond serving only their own interests. That higher principle and greater good is God within them.

Learning to know and love the Lord God Jesus Christ

I hope this begins to open your mind to some satisfying answers to your great questions. I realize that all this may seem complicated and daunting at first. But if you consider it and meditate on it, and continue to learn more, in time it will become a light in your mind and a flame in your heart, guiding you toward everything good.

So that you can continue to learn and grow in understanding, here are some further articles that explain different parts of this in more detail, and expand it into other areas of life as well:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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285 comments on “If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?
  1. Amanda says:

    I wonder if Christians ever consider the possibility that Mary lied about being a virgin in order to prevent being stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock? Seems a bit more plausible to me than a virgin conceiving but hey, what do I know.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      The possibility that Mary conceived by having sex out of wedlock is raised in the Matthew account of Jesus’ conception and birth:

      This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18–19, New International Version)

      Clearly, Joseph believed that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Although they were not yet married, Mary was pledged to be married to him. Having sex while pledged to someone else was considered equal to adultery. So yes, Mary could have been stoned for adultery. But Joseph didn’t want that to happen, nor did he want her publicly disgraced, so he intended to divorce her quietly (break off the relationship privately) in order to avoid public knowledge of what had happened.

      However, in the story it was not Mary, but an angel who told Joseph that that’s not what had happened:

      But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21, NIV)

      Though Mary would certainly have motive to lie if she had slept with another man, I don’t see what motive Joseph would have for lying about encountering an angel and being told that Mary had not slept with another man. Instead, he would have broken off the relationship as he had intended.

      Beyond that, if Mary were going to lie, claiming that God had impregnated her would have been a real whopper! Who would believe her? Most likely it would just make her a public laughingstock. The trick to telling a good lie is to make it believable. Most likely she would have claimed that she had been raped when she was out of earshot of the town. That would be far more believable. And though she would still be publicly humiliated, at least she would not be subject to the death penalty (see Deuteronomy 22:23–27).

      In short, the idea that Mary lied by saying that God had impregnated her is implausible at best. It just doesn’t make any sense.

      Of course, whether or not you believe the story of Jesus’ conception and birth as told in the Gospels depends upon your point of view. Obviously non-religious people won’t believe any of it, especially if they are materialistic in perspective. For the reason I do believe it, please see: “The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus.”

      • Amanda says:

        So your only argument for divine conception is that the bible says it happened? Because, frankly, the only evidence to support the bible’s validity exists within the bible.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          Did you read the article I linked for you?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          Thank you.

          So you know that my argument is not just that the Bible says it happened, but also that it is the sort of thing that a God of love would do. And that for a loving and omnipotent God, impregnating a virgin is not a problem if there is a very important reason to do so. (Obviously it’s not something God does every day.)

        • Amanda says:

          “that it is the sort of thing that a God of love would do.” – That is a subjective statement, and I do not agree that a creator with good intentions would do such a thing.

          So what convinces you (aside from the bible of course) that the creator (assuming for the sake of this conversation that there is one) is loving to begin with? Why do you assume the creator is inherently good or just, other than the bible stating so? Why do you think you owe the creator your worship just because they created your existence for whatever reasons they had? Do we not have the right to think for ourselves and reject the one who created us based on our own ideas and free thoughts about what should be and how it should be?

          Personally, I’m confident in saying that, if there is a creator, I personally have little respect for them and I would have expected a whole lot more than this existence out of an omnipotent creator. I just dont think, if there is a creator, that we owe them anything; and if we deserve to be sent to hell in a hypothetical afterlife for not agreeing with or worshiping the creator, why then would we want to be with such a sick and twisted creator to begin with? Shouldn’t we rather be as far from the creator as possible because they only give mercy to people who stroke their ego?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          It sounds like you’ve been influenced by some highly negative views of God. And that is not surprising. Much of traditional “Christianity” paints a picture of God that, if examined objectively and rationally, makes God out to be an insane tyrant who would torture the bulk of the world’s population eternally in hell just because they don’t believe in his son Jesus—even though most of them are not even born Christian, and would have no particular reason to believe in Jesus.

          To make a long story short, I reject that idea of God just as much as you do. I believe that people of all religions are saved if they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings as their religion teaches them to do. I believe that even atheists are saved if they live by some principle higher than their own self-interest. And being a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ saves all of these people, and not just Christians. Here are some articles that go into these things in more detail:

          As for God wanting our worship and praise, see: Why Does God Require our Love, Worship, and Praise? Is God Insecure?

          Yes, of course we have the ability and the right to reject God. If we didn’t, it would not be possible for us to do so. The very fact that hundreds of millions of people do not believe in God attests to the fact that we are perfectly capable of rejecting God, and that God (if there is a God) does not prevent us from doing so. In other words, from a theistic perspective, God gives us the freedom to accept or reject God.

          However, I think most atheists reject God because the idea of God that they have been exposed to is not worthy of belief. Most of them are good people who believe in truth, love, kindness, and all of the other attributes that I believe come from God, and are God. So they’re more intellectual atheists than functional atheists. Functional atheists as the Bible describes them are people who live selfish, greedy, evil, and destructive lives because they reject everything good and true that comes from God.

          This blog is all about presenting a God of love who is worthy of belief. And yes, I do believe that such a God exists. But going into all of the reasons for that would make this comment far too long. However, here are a couple more articles for you to peruse if you’re so inclined:

          I realize that’s a whole lot of reading. But your questions are big ones (and good ones!), and can’t be solidly answered in one brief little comment. Most of my answers to your questions are laid out in the linked articles. And there are plenty more where those came from!

        • Amanda says:

          Actually I spent most of my life as a Christian, and I dont necessarily have a negative view of a creator, I simply am indifferent; if one exists, it makes no difference to me because I worship no one. I have no reason to think they are good any more than to think they are bad, it simply doesn’t matter to me even if there is one because I look after my own well-being instead of trusting it to someone else.

          I also dont see anything to be “saved” from, despite spending years and years studying and devoting myself to doctrine and spirituality. Its all just spiritual idealism.

          There isn’t a shred of evidence for us having souls or for our consciousness existing after our brain is dead.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          You are, of course, free to believe and live as you wish.

          However, some of the things you said in your previous comment suggest that you do have a considerable amount of anger at the concept of God that you were taught, and believed in, when you were a Christian.

          And if you do, I, for one, don’t blame you.

          In my opinion, most of so-called “Christianity” is not even Christian. It rejects what is actually taught in the Bible in favor of horrendous beliefs made up by various “Christian” theologians many centuries after the Bible was written, which they falsely claim that the Bible teaches when the Bible never says any such thing. For some examples, see my article, “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the various articles linked from it. I suspect that when you were a Christian, what you were taught, and believed, was part of that “Christianity” that is Christian in name only, and not in substance and reality.

          But once again, you are free to believe and live as you wish. And as I say in some of the articles I linked for you previously, I believe that when you die, God will accept you into heaven if you have shown some reasonable level of love and concern for your fellow human beings during your lifetime here on earth.

          I do disagree with your statement, “There isn’t a shred of evidence for us having souls or for our consciousness existing after our brain is dead.” In fact, there is a massive amount of evidence for our survival of death, and for an afterlife, coming from all eras of human history. Once again, please see this article: Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

        • Amanda says:

          I couldn’t disagree more with everything stated in that “article”. The entire thing is written under the
          assumption that souls exist.

          Personally I am not angry with creationism, having emotions toward theism serves me no use. I simply denounce spirituality and the indoctrination of children into it. It isn’t a personal or emotional thing for me at all.

          I think its much more respectable and healthy to accept death as a permanent end of life & consciousness, instead of seeking child-like comfort in life after death.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          Once again, you are free to believe and live as you wish.

          However, your vehemence in rejecting and denouncing a belief in God and the afterlife, and the teaching of it to children, suggests that you are not at all indifferent, but that on the contrary, you do indeed have strong feelings and emotions on this subject. And those feelings and emotions must have come from somewhere.

          Further, it’s not wrong, but good to have strong feelings about issues that are of importance to us human beings. As you can probably tell from my previous comment, I myself have very strong feelings about people claiming to be “Christians” and teaching awful things that the Bible not only does not teach, but explicitly rejects, such as the idea that all non-Christians go to hell. The Bible teaches just the opposite: that all people of every religion who do good deeds for their fellow human beings according to their own conscience will go to heaven, not hell.

          You are also free to reject all of the evidence for the afterlife.

          But the fact of the matter is that not just thousands, but by now millions of people have reported first-hand experience of the afterlife, and that these experiences are the subject of a huge amount of literature going all the way back to the earliest times of recorded human history.

          If anything, the amount of evidence for an afterlife has hugely increased in recent decades. I myself have talked to quite a few people who briefly experienced the afterlife and came back to tell their story. And though you are, of course, free to reject their testimony as based on hallucinations of oxygen-deprived brains, they will simply say that you reject it because you have not (yet) experienced it for yourself, and that far from being a wispy hallucination, the spiritual world as they experienced it is much more real than what we experience in our everyday lives here on earth.

          So child-like or not, the widespread belief in the afterlife is based on a wealth of human experience. Rejecting that experience is not “scientific” or “objective.” It is simply a matter of what one wishes to believe and what one wishes to disbelieve.

        • Amanda says:

          It is not emotions, it is thinking; there is a big difference. All ideas that I consider to be bad, I denounce in the same way. Passion is not the same as a positive or negative emotion toward something. I see spirituality (particularly religion) as a sort of cancer of society, and I dont FEEL that, I THINK that.

          I’ve studied the bible more than most christians I’ve known, and I really dont think you want to get into what the bible says and doesn’t say, because that conversation will not help your case for Christianity. Im willing to go there, but I think that’s another conversation entirely.

          I also dont think anecdotes from spiritual people counts as evidence for spirituality. The brain dying is no doubt a psychedelic experience, and I think its a slap in the face of neuroscience to call that process spiritual. Its like saying that dreams are reality; we know they aren’t so why waste time seeking truth from a reaction of our brain that doesn’t exist in the true world but only in the brain?

          What we believe in has a huge impact on how we perceive our experiences; for example when an atheist looks at the clouds and sees a natural phenomenon, a spiritual person might look at the same clouds and see the image of an angel. The difference is context of preconceived notions; the atheist operates under the idea that science explains phenomenon and the spiritual person operates under the assumption of divine intervention.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          To take up your last statement first:

          Yes, atheists operate under the idea that science explains phenomena. And generally, under the idea that science can ultimately explain all phenomena. However, like the “assumption” that the spiritual person operates under, the atheist’s view is also an assumption, and not anything that can be objectively demonstrated.

          If you did indeed read the article, “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?” then you must be aware that there is really less “proof” or evidence, that the material universe exists than there is that our conscious awareness exists. After all, we have direct experience of our conscious awareness, but only indirect experience of physical, material things, through the medium of our senses and our brain—if, indeed, our physical brain exists, which is another thing that we must simply assume, since we have no direct evidence or experience of it.

          So the situation is very different than what you are presenting. You are operating from the assumption that physical reality, including our brain, is the ultimate and most solid reality we can be aware of, and on which solely we can base our estimation of reality. But that is simply not the case. Atheists and materialists are operating under every bit as non-demonstrable an assumption as are people who believe in spiritual reality—which, at least, we have definite and direct awareness of due to our awareness of our own conscious thoughts and feelings.

          This, to borrow your phrase, is not a mere matter of emotion. It is the cold, hard facts of the matter based on intellectual knowledge of what we know, and how we know it. Rene Descartes started his whole philosophy with what is perhaps the only thing we can know for sure: “I think, therefore I am.” And while I don’t necessarily accept all of the conclusions he drew from that fundamental reality, it is a more fundamentally knowable reality than the physical reality that atheists and materialists assume is the basis of our existence.

          In short, both you and I are making assumptions about the nature of reality. The difference is that my assumption is based on something I can actually know for sure: I exist because my consciousness exists. And so, consciousness, which is a non-material thing, is a more definite reality than the brain, in which materialists assume that consciousness exists. But they cannot actually know that for sure. They can only take it as a non-demonstrable axiom on which their philosophy and belief is based.

          So no, it’s not just a matter of emotion. It’s a matter of thinking and realizing that what looks to us so solid and real—namely, physical matter—is something we really can know only second-hand, whereas what looks wispy and ethereal—namely human consciousness—is the only thing we really can know is real beyond a shadow of a doubt.

          This analysis is not some new idea I came up with. Philosophical idealists have been making this argument from ancient times right up to the present.

          But it is an inconvenient one for materialists of all stripes. So they generally ridicule it without having any really cogent argument to counter it. And yet, hiding from reality is not the mark of someone who truly, objectively wants to know the nature of reality.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          Now about the Bible:

          It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you’ve studied the Bible more than most Christians.

          Most Christians, unfortunately, really don’t read the Bible all that much. Or if they do, they mostly read Paul’s letters over and over again, and don’t read much of the rest of the Bible—surprisingly, even including the Gospels, which is where the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself are recounted. But most Christians simply listen to their preachers and read various religious tracts that quote a few isolated verses from the Bible out of context, and completely misinterpret them.

          And when they do read the Bible, because their minds have been so filled with human-invented doctrines that are nowhere stated in the Bible, they literally cannot see or read what the Bible actually says. They are reading it through such thick lenses of human misinterpretation and fallacy that they cannot understand even its most basic statements. In particular, they completely misunderstand the writings of Paul, which they especially claim as the basis of their beliefs.

          I very much suspect that you have read the Bible through those lenses as well. In my experience, even after people quit Christianity and become atheists, they still can’t read the Bible objectively, and they still can’t see what it actually says, because their minds have been so filled with “Christian” fallacies that they still simply assume it says what was drilled into their head as “what the Bible says” when they were Christians. The only difference is that now they reject everything they were taught as “what the Bible says” instead of accepting it. But they’re still wrong about what the Bible says.

          And in my experience, it is extremely difficult to pierce that shell of non-Biblical “understanding” of the Bible even among atheists. I have had atheists get angry at me for saying, “The Bible doesn’t actually say that.”

          In short, most atheists still believe the same faulty things about the Bible that they did when they were Christians. But now they reject those faulty things instead of accepting them, while still thinking, wrongly, that “that’s what the Bible says.”

          So I would be very happy to engage you in discussion about what the Bible says and does not say. Just for starters, here are a few things the Bible does not say:

          • The Bible does not say that God is a Trinity of Persons.
          • The Bible does not say that Jesus made satisfaction for our sins.
          • The Bible does not say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
          • The Bible does not say that we are saved or justified by faith alone.
          • The Bible does not say that only Christians are saved, and all others go to hell.
          • The Bible does not say that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, literally true, etc., etc.

          All of these have become fundamental doctrine in various branches of the so-called “Christian” church. I have even been told numerous times that I am not a Christian because I do not believe these things. And yet, not one of them is ever stated in the Bible—which Christians generally claim as the basis and authority for their doctrine. Most of these things are, in fact, flatly denied and contradicted in the Bible in the plainest words possible. Those who believe in them have simply ignored and denied what the Bible actually does say. I have found that most “Christians” are simply ignorant about the Bible.

          So yes, I would very much like to “get into what the Bible says and doesn’t say,” because if I were a betting man I’d be willing to bet you a large stack of cash that it simply doesn’t say much of what you think it does, and that it does not say most of what you were taught it says when you were a Christian.

          Now, I recognize that the Bible is a complex book, and even that it contradicts itself in many of its statements. And yet, there is still a clear thread of teaching that runs consistently through the Bible, which Protestantism, especially, has consistently ignored and denied, to the point where nearly everything Protestant churches teach as “basic Christian doctrine” is diametrically opposed to the entire message of the Bible.

          If you are interested in engaging in this discussion, I can refer you to many articles here that back up what I am saying, based on the text of the Bible itself.

          Or we can look at particular doctrinal points or Bible passages that you would like to take up. Far from shying away from such a discussion in fear that “will not help my case for Christianity,” I would very much look forward to it in establishing what true Christianity is compared to the mockery and perversion of Christianity that has existed for many centuries in the traditional “Christian” church.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Amanda,

          And to take up just one more of your statements more briefly:

          Believe it or not, I agree with you that much of religion today is a cancer on society. That’s because much of religion has departed so far from real religion and spirituality that it is more of a destructive than a constructive force in society.

          I believe that today’s “Christianity” is, in fact, far more destructive of real Christianity than is atheism. In fact, I believe that the mockery and perversion of Christianity that exists in society today is the primary cause of atheism. And I believe that much of humanity will never have any real Christianity or even any real spirituality until the institution that has masqueraded as “Christianity” for so many centuries is utterly rejected, together with its horribly false teachings, and as the British say, is swept into the dustbin of history.

          For just one article here saying this in somewhat fuller form, see: Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

        • Rami says:

          Hi Amanda, Hi Lee,

          If I may, I’d like to maybe approach Amanda’s remarks through a somewhat different angle. It don’t think that you, Amanda, have necessarily been exposed to a negative idea of God inasmuch as you’ve simply been exposed to a more unsophisticated or even primitive one, and that your critical skepticism has just not been adequately addressed.

          In the first place, you ask how we can determine- outside of the Bible- that God is good, just, etc, and while I’m cautious around the kind of ‘analytical theology’ that pervades the institutions and discussions devoted to questions like this, I think the great Catholic theologian St. Anselm has it right when he posited, in his famous ‘ontological argument’, that God is ‘the greatest conceiveable being.’ That is, God is not *a* god, as in the kind of primitive deity you would find in an ancient pantheon of gods, who were just idols of human projection. Rather, God is the greatest being that can be conceived, or perhaps, as some philosophers might say, the ultimate reality.

          Since it is greater to love than it is to hate, God must be loving. Since it is greater to be truthful than it is to lie, God must be truthful. And so on. So I think when you look at the idea of God in the most basic theistic sense as a conception of ultimate greatness, you see how it is ontologically impossible for God to exist and *not* be the ultimately great.

          Regarding your questioning of why God would seek our worship, I think Lee does a fine job of covering that in the article he linked: God does not have ego problems, nor are we expected to grovel in praise. Rather, when we acknowledge God as the source of all love and life, and, as the Muslim might say, surrender ourselves, we allow ourselves to God’s life and love to flow through us in a consciously *relational* way. I say consciously because I believe that even atheists, who reject God’s existence and as such do not worship, actively involve themselves in that relationship when they place love of others above themselves.

          Again, I’m somewhat hesitant to argue from the perspective of ‘natural theology,’ which is the intellectual discipline linked with proving God’s basic existence, as I think it too often veers into making the concept of God as stale and narrow, but I there’s often great value in its ideas, and while I’m not using it to convince you that God exists, I do believe it demonstrates that your reasons for rejecting and being indifferent toward God’s existence simply aren’t good ones.

          You strike me as a strong and independently minded person, and those are among the best qualities we can cultivate for ourselves, but we need to cultivate them wisely, lest we fall prey to the one predator that all the great religious and wisdom traditions have warned us against since time immemorial: the all-destructive ego. The limited self identification that you are more than you are. All great spiritual traditions (which I know you reject) teach that despite your illusions of ego, nothing and no one is an independent being. The life that flows through you is not your own. Everything that exists is grounded in its source.

          The simple reality is that everyone- whether they accept it or not, whether they believe it or not, worships something. Your will ultimately bends to a dominant imperative. You just need to be sure that ‘something’ isn’t yourself!

  2. Yasmin says:

    I’m just really confused. So when God created Adam and Eve I thought because they had listened to the serpent and eaten the apple it was then that human sin began. So we were all deemed as sinful . Fast forward to the birth of jesus and you say that because he had an earthly mother that’s how he knew the two sides of sin. Whilst never sinning here in his time on earth. So if original sin started with God’s observation of that Adam and Eve had both sinned I don’t understand how you say it all began with Mary. I find this so confusing .

    • Lee says:

      Hi Yasmin,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Yes, Adam and Eve were the first humans to sin, so yes, that was when human sin began. However, we are not all deemed sinful because Adam and Eve sinned. We are only deemed sinful when we ourselves sin.

      Both the Catholic and Protestant versions of “original sin,” and their related teachings that we are damned to hell from birth, are false and contrary to the teachings of the Bible, as you can see in this article: “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 2: Original Sin?

      What we inherit from our parents, rather, is a tendency to sin, or evil inclinations. We become sinful only when we ourselves yield to those inclinations and actually sin ourselves.

      Also, I didn’t say that sin began with Mary. Rather, I said that Mary inherited (from her parents) the same human tendencies toward sin as everyone else (something the Catholic Church denies with its non-biblical doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary), and passed those tendencies to sin on to her son Jesus. However, unlike the rest of us ordinary humans, Jesus never yielded to those evil inclinations, and never actually sinned.

      Does this make it any clearer?

  3. Martin Heidegger says:

    Amanda,

    By what standard do you judge religion to be so evil? Sounds like you are judging Christianity by its own ethic. I suggest taking a look at Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ, who argues that real atheism doesn’t employ Christianity’s ethics (e.g. concern for victims, oppressed, etc., but rather transcends them in such a way that goes beyond good and evil — to operate within the binary of good and evil is to still employ Christianity and its world view. In other words, why is spirituality as a cancer “bad”? In a materialist universe, bad is a meta-physical category that is fictional.

  4. Martin Heidegger says:

    Dear Lee,

    Thank you for these extremely edifying posts. I’ve learned much from you. I’ve tried to read as many as I could before asking this question of clarification: Would you and Swedenborg say that Christ is thus only a necessity of the Divine Economy (Oikonomia) of traditional theology; that is, that the Son proceeds or is begotten only in God vis-a-vis God’s relationship with creation and not as God is in himself, since God is only one person and not three?

    Thank you!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad you’re finding some good food for thought here.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, your question is a fairly technical one. However, I’ll attempt to answer it as non-technically as possible. This means that some of the language I use in responding may not be as precisely and technically correct as it could be, but it will convey the lay of the land—and I hope answer your good question in a way that other readers can understand and appreciate as well.

      There are, in a sense, two “trinities” in God, neither of which involves multiple “persons” of God.

      The “original” trinity exists in the essential, timeless nature of God. It consists of:

      1. The divine love, which is the substance and force of God
      2. The divine wisdom, which is the form and direction of God
      3. The divine proceeding, which is the action and expressed power of God

      This would represent a trinity in God “as God is in himself,” to use your language, or distinct from any relationship with Creation in time and space. Although in fact, the Divine Proceeding does relate directly to Creation. And in reality, God cannot be properly conceived of without putting God in relationship with Creation, since the act of creating a universe outside God, and being in relationship with it, is something God will do as part of God’s essential nature. There is no “God before Creation” if that is thought of temporally and spatially. Only God causally prior to Creation.

      The “second” trinity is the more familiar one of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in which:

      1. The Father is the soul or unknowable essence of God.
      2. The Son is the body or knowable presence of God.
      3. The Holy Spirit is all of the words and actions of God.

      This “second” trinity in God is explicitly and necessarily one that is in relation to Creation, and to human beings in Creation. Traditional Christian doctrine to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no such thing as a “Son born from eternity.” Only a Son born in time, who is Jesus Christ. There is also no Holy Spirit from eternity in the New Testament sense of that word. Only a Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father through the Son who was born in time.

      However, the germ of truth in the fallacy of the traditional Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from eternity is that the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does map onto the “original” trinity thus:

      1. The Father is the love that is the core reality of God.
      2. The Son is the truth or expressed and knowable wisdom of God.
      3. The Holy Spirit is God’s love and wisdom proceeding into the world and into the lives of individual human beings.

      So the Son is especially an expression of the divine wisdom, and the Holy Spirit is especially an expression of the divine proceeding.

      This still means, though, that from a human, temporal and spatial perspective, there was a time when the Son and Holy Spirit did not exist, and even the Father was not the same as the Father that is in relation with the Son and Holy Spirit. For example, for the ancient Israelites, there was no Son and Holy Spirit. There was only God, who in toto was seen as a Father to the Jewish people, and ultimately as the Father of all humankind.

      Only with the birth and glorification of Christ was there a Son with whom humans and angels can have a direct, personal relationship, and a Holy Spirit that flows into people’s souls and fills them with that personal presence of God’s love and wisdom. Prior to the Incarnation, God related to human beings primarily by filling angels with the divine presence so that the angels served as an intermediary between God and human beings. This can be seen in the often fluid wording used to describe divine visitations in the Old Testament, where the being encountered is sometimes described as the Lord (YHVH), sometimes as an angel, and sometimes as a man.

      However, from a divine, eternal perspective, the Son and Holy Spirit are always present, because God is present in all time and space from an eternal divine state of being outside of time and space. This is why according to Swedenborg (and even traditional Christian theology, though not in as thorough and deep a way as in Swedenborg’s theology), the entire story of Jesus’ life—especially of his inner life—is told in the Old Testament, even though Jesus had not yet been born. For God, who is the ultimate divine author of the Scriptures, everything in Jesus’ life was already a present reality, even if it could not yet be manifested to humans on earth.

      And yet, despite the fact that we humans speak of a “Trinity” or “trinities” in God (a term that the Bible itself never uses), there is still only one God—and only one “person” of God, if we wish to use that language. The divine love, wisdom, and proceeding cannot be separated into “persons.” They are, instead, essential components or aspects of one God, who is one divine Person.

      Neither can the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be separated into “persons.” Although Jesus did have a dual nature while on earth (see “If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?”), such that during his lifetime on earth he had a finite human part from Mary that was not God, the risen and glorified Jesus Christ is, in ordinary terms, the human presence of God, not a separate “person” of God. Separating Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into three “Persons” of God is like separating our soul, body, and actions into three “persons” of a human being. The very existence of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons in traditional Christianity betrays a complete misunderstanding and ignorance of the real nature of God, and of Jesus Christ as God’s human presence with us.

      I hope this answers your question without being so technical that others who may not have much knowledge of traditional Christian theology cannot follow along. If I haven’t entirely answered your question, please feel free to take another shot at it.

      Meanwhile, for more on the trinity in God, please see these two articles:

      • Martin Heidegger says:

        Lee,

        Thank you! Yes. That completely answers my question. I laud your clarity on this matter (It’s rare for someone to answer questions so lucidly and straight forwardly as you have done; I take this as being an effect of your knowing so thoroughly what you believe and think). Thank you again, and I’m so please I’ve found your website. (My apologies for the technical language — I’m a philosophy professor and, thus, sort of an armchair theologian in my spare time).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Martin,

          You are most welcome. I don’t mind the technical language. But I strive to speak and write in a way that a general audience can understand. And truthfully, I myself tend to think more in pragmatic and concrete terms than in technical and abstract terms, so I feel more comfortable expressing even technical things in ordinary, concrete language.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Martin,

          I’ll add this:

          I suspect that when people respond to questions in non-lucid, non-straightforward ways, it is often because despite whatever letters they may have next to their name, they really don’t have a clear understanding of the things they are talking about. They know the words and expressions and language that is commonly used to talk about these things, but as for having any real idea in their mind of what it all actually means, that’s either a little or a lot fuzzy.

          This is another reason I strive to express even technical things in pragmatic and concrete terms. If I cannot do so, then I suspect myself of not really knowing and understanding what I am talking about, but of just stringing together abstract terminology in order to appear smart and right.

          This approach also ties in with an essential doctrine in Swedenborg’s theology: correspondences. Every divine and spiritual thing, Swedenborg says, has an earthly, material counterpart that expresses the nature of that higher thing through correspondences. So although divine reality in its own right goes beyond our ability to directly comprehend, we can gain an understanding of God through the way the nature of God is expressed in the levels of reality that we can grasp.

          For example, Genesis 1:26–27 says:

          Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

          So God created humankind in his image,
          in the image of God he created them;

          male and female he created them. (emphasis added)

          This should clue us in to understanding that God’s nature is expressed in our nature, even though our nature is at a discretely lower level of reality than God’s nature.

          And this means that if there is a trinity in God, there is also a trinity in human beings, who are created in God’s image and likeness. This, to me, makes the trinity in God so much more real and understandable. We can look at ourselves, and through understanding our own nature, we can understand on our finite intellectual level the nature of God, and of the trinity in God.

  5. Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

    I could not agree more! Academia is precisely like that. And yes, in my opinion, if someone cannot explain something clearly, they don’t quite understand it. Also, yes, the idea of the heavenly being reflected in the earthly/physical makes complete sense to me. Ya know, concerning the Trinity, one thing that always felt “off” to me was the way in which “God” was used in the Bible (namely as the person of God himself) vs. the way “God” is used when talking about the Trinity (namely as an “essence”), such that Trinitarians often inevitably speak like Tri-theists (there are three persons in one “God” as essence). In the Bible, God, as far as I know, is never used in such an abstract, philosophical way, but rather more concretely and pragmatically, if you will. Thank you again — Duane

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      That’s one of the reasons I’ve never had a lot of use for academia personally. I know it serves a purpose. But it could be so much more practical and useful!

      A decade or so ago I turned down an academic career in my denomination’s seminary because I believed I could be more useful, and reach more people, in a non-academic setting. Today this blog is averaging nearly 1,500 hits a day, and I’m fielding questions and comments from a wide variety of people almost every day. That, to me, is much more satisfying than moving in the halls of academia. I do understand, though, that a good professor can have a profoundly good influence on a student’s life. I just wish there were not so much “filler” in those halls and classrooms.

      On the other subject, conceptually and in all practical reality, trinitarians are polytheists. Tri-theism is just a limited version of polytheism.

      Swedenborg didn’t make a big deal of saying this, but in his later writings he stated it quite explicitly. See: “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?

      That article was originally posted on Christianity StackExchange—and the regulars there were not very enthusiastic about it, to say the least. I had to go through some gyrations to keep it from getting closed. In fact, it was closed for a brief period of time before I re-edited both the question and the answer in a way that was acceptable to the C.SE regulars. The general drift of the criticism, from my point of view, was that those closing it objected to the implication of the question that other Christian denominations besides Swedenborgians might view trinitarianism as polytheism. Let’s keep such wacky, heretical ideas confined to those crazy Swedenborgians! 😉

      In general, I think that Christianity’s early move into the pagan world, spearheaded by apostles such as Peter and Paul, was a good thing. If it had not done so, it would have remained a small sect of Judaism rather than becoming a world religion in its own right, and probably would have died out along with the Sadducees and Pharisees after the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

      However, the downside of Christianity’s move into the pagan world was that the influence went both ways. Yes, Christianity Christianized the pagan world. But the pagan world also paganized Christianity. And though dissenting Christian sects commonly point to the pagan origins of various Christian festivals as evidence, the primary example of the paganization of Christianity was the adoption of the Trinity of Persons, which is a limited version of pagan polytheism with a Christian veneer glued onto the surface.

      Saying “one God” with the lips does not erase the fact that trinitarians are picturing three gods in their minds, and that their doctrines of atonement and salvation hinge on the existence of three gods. For one example of this dependence of a widely held Christian (in this case, Protestant) doctrine depending upon a polytheistic conception of God, see: “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?

      The pagan nature and origin of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons will be the subject of a future blog post that I expect not to be very popular with any traditional Christians that happen to hit upon it.

      However, the encroachment of polytheism on Christianity has had such a profoundly damaging effect on Christian doctrine and practice that it must be clearly and publicly identified, and decisively repudiated, for Christianity to survive as a socially and spiritually relevant religion in an increasingly educated and thoughtful world.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      And yes, I agree with you that trinitarian theology makes God out to be far too abstract and philosophical to fit the God of the Bible. In the Bible, God is not an abstract essence, but a very personal, present being.

      It is telling that in order to define the Trinity of Persons, it was necessary to borrow language from Greek and Roman philosophy (such as the Latin word persona), because there is no vocabulary in the Bible itself that could serve as a solid basis for that doctrine.

  6. Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

    Absolutely, I agree with what you are saying. With regard to the “baptizing” of Paganism, you’ve hit an issue close to my heart (and close to my Academic research), if by Paganism you would include Greek metaphysics. I think the inclusion of Plato and Aristotle was in fact a great thing, but, as you’ve noted, was not without its drawbacks, in particular, the over-emphasizing of the essence of God at the expense of his person (as you’d said). But what’s also interesting is, if you look at the “dogmas” as they are defined at Nicea, Chalcedon, etc. they are, in my opinion(!), sufficiently vague enough to include what you would consider an orthodox picture of God (in a sense). The entire problem hangs on the vagueness of a Greek term — “hypostasis” (latin, persona), which didn’t quite mean what we mean by person today, and would certainly map on to what you described earlier as the three aspects of God (wisdom, love, procession), which you even see in Augustine (and later Aquinas) described in exactly those ways: intellect and will, and the begetting and procession. (Perhaps it wouldn’t be a perfect fit, but it would certainly be a far cry from the tri-theism/polytheism that we encounter today, which leads me to the question of whether its not the dogmas in themselves that are problematic, so much as it is their dissemination and popular understanding. However, at this point “person” (hypostasis, persona) is so equated with “subject” or “consciousness” that it might be impossible to ultimately reconcile Swedenborg and the traditional Trinity). Anyway, my point was that I think the “paganism” largely responsible was indeed Plato and Aristotle. (It’s also interesting to note Luther’s vehement attack on the Greeks, particularly Aristotle, which I see as the real impetus to his Reformation).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Swedenborg also loved Plato, and liked Aristotle, but took Greek philosophy in a whole different direction than did medieval Christianity.

      He also, however, saw Greek philosophy, and in fact all pre-Christian philosophy and theology, as not having a sufficiently human view of God. According to Swedenborg, conceiving of God as some sort of essence, or uncaused cause, or nous, or some other philosophical concept misses the nature of God because it makes God abstract rather than personal. From Swedenborg’s perspective, the Incarnation seals and completes the humanity of God in a way that no ancient Greek or Roman philosophical system can grasp or match.

      About Nicea and Chalcedon, yes, if the Nicene Creed is read carefully, it is, as you say, sufficiently vague that it could be interpreted in a way that is in accord with Swedenborg’s understanding of the Trinity. For example, the word “person” is not used, or applied to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, in that creed.

      However, it’s clear what direction Christianity was going with the Nicene Creed: toward tri-theism. And it’s pretty clear that the framers of that creed were thinking tri-theistically. In connection with this, see this question, and its answer, on Christianity StackExchange: “Are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit explicitly identified as “persons” in any writings directly associated with the Nicene Creed?

      This direction was sealed with the rather mysterious composition of the Athanasian Creed a century or two later, and its subsequent broad adoption in Christianity. Unlike the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed is clear and explicit about each of the Persons being distinct from one another, and not merely being varying aspects of God.

      And yet, Swedenborg himself wrote a commentary on the Athanasian Creed in which he said that it is in accord with sound Christian theology if only instead of a Trinity of Persons, its language were modified to speak of Trinity in one Person of God. So there actually is support in Swedenborg’s writings for your idea that early trinitarian formulations can be interpreted in a way that is in accord with the real nature of the trinity in the singular person of God.

      However, the fact of the matter is that that’s not the way Christianity went. From the Nicene Creed to the Athanasian Creed to the formulation and adoption of the satisfaction theory of atonement in its original Catholic and later Protestant versions, the progression was a steady one toward God being both conceptually and functionally three gods.

      So although Nicea and Chalcedon could have gone in Swedenborg’s direction, in point of historical fact that’s not the direction they were going. It was a steady progression away from one God and toward three gods.

      On your point about Luther, is there any support for that in the 95 theses or any of the key polemics by Luther against the Roman Catholic Church? My sense is that much of Luther’s ire was directed against the pure corruption of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy. But I am in no way a scholar of Luther.

  7. Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

    Oh indeed! Off the top of my head, Luther’s commentary on Romans (particularly ch.8) is a direct assault on Aristotelian metaphysics (Ch. 3 is more about the ethical problems with Aristotle). But it’s all over Luther; in fact, the term deconstruction has its origin in Luther, as Luther employed it to mean a disentangling of Christianity from Hellenism ( this later was secularized by Heidegger; I wrote a bit about this in a published book on Heidegger). Also yes, absolutely you are right that this is the direction it went in — my only point about “person” was that it wasn’t sufficiently clear what that term meant — hypostasis in Greek or persona even in Latin; e.g. Boethius’ definition of hypostasis is “an individual substance of a rational nature,” and moreover, hypostasis in Greek often means substance, or later “subsistence” (whatever that means). The Greek term for person — prosopon — maps more closely on per-sona, as both mean a kind of mask (this was helpful for the Sabellians). So my point: even using these words that translate into person, seemed to have been skirting around the issue of this term meaning a distinct “I” such that the Godhead now has, according to Trinitarians, three “I”s in itself. But as you brilliantly said above, all of this misses the distinct personal, Hebraic nature of God — I like that you said “human.” I really appreciate your engaging here with me and your quick replies. I am learning a lot from you! (Also, I appreciate the links to your previous stuff as I’m still trying to catch up). Oh! and I agree about the substitutionary atonement! That NEVER made sense to me (in fact no one can really explain it).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      This just happens to be my afternoon (and probably evening) of catching up on recent comments after a week spent with family over the New Year’s holiday.

      Your knowledge of Luther is clearly far greater than mine. And I do find your comments on that fascinating, even if realistically it’s unlikely that I will follow up on them much beyond this conversation.

      As is common with world-changing thinkers, I believe that Luther was far more complex and deep a well than his followers. My working theory is that present-day Lutheranism is probably based more upon Melanchthon’s re-formulation and systematization of Luther’s teachings than upon Luther himself.

      It’s not even clear to me that Luther subscribed to and taught penal substitution. Perhaps that came in with Melanchthon, or perhaps with Calvin, or perhaps with later Protestant theologians. The precise origins of penal substitution seem rather murky, and the Wikipedia article on penal substitution is not very helpful in that regard. I’ve asked a whole series of questions on Christianity StackExchange about the specific origins of the doctrine of penal substitution without getting any really clear and satisfying answers.

      Whatever its precise origin, the doctrine of penal substitution has decisively taken over in Protestantism, just as Aquinas’s modification of Anselm’s original satisfaction theory has decisively taken over in Catholicism. (And of course, penal substitution is simply the further devolution of satisfaction theory into an even more virulent strain of theological and doctrinal error.)

      As for Luther, he still made the fatal error of formulating the doctrine of justification by faith alone and making it into the centerpiece of his theology. That error and fallacy led inevitably to all of the further fallacies and errors of Protestant doctrine, including penal substitution, whether or not Luther himself actually taught those doctrines. So however much wonderful stuff there may be in Luther’s writings, I cannot absolve him of taking the critical wrong turn that led to the final destruction of Christian doctrine, and of Christianity in general as a real, spiritual church on earth.

      That doctrinal and ecclesiastical destruction had been rolling on for a long time—according to Swedenborg, from the time of the Council of Nicaea. But its roots go back even farther, as Swedenborg also hints. Tertullian is one of its earlier villains, as being probably the first to formulate a version of the Trinity of Persons. The doctrinal and ecclesiastical destruction of Christianity simply took another fourteen or fifteen centuries to run its full course. I think of Calvinism as the final death knell of Christian doctrine and faith within traditional Christianity. After that, it became necessary to dethrone the existing institution of Christianity in preparation for the new “church” or spiritual era that would in time replace it.

      Though we Swedenborgians like to give Swedenborg credit for that, in a broader sense it was the Age of Enlightenment that did a very efficient job of throwing Christianity down from the throne of conceptual and societal rulership of the West that it had occupied ever since 325 AD.

      On these things, see also: “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

      • Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

        Well I didnt mean to absolve Luther from endorsing that doctrine, as he certainly did, at least to my knowledge (since, as you pointed out, so much of justification by faith is contingent upon the forensic righteousness transferred from Christ and our sin transferred onto Jesus). Have you read any Rene Girard? He writes against the penal substitution model of atonement and shows, I think quite convincingly, why it arose in not only Judaism (with Kippor) but is in fact in the background of even the New Testament (albeit the New Testament is deconstructing it!); in short, Girard thinks sacrifice (blood sacrifice) is essential in primitive mythology and religion, and, he thinks Christianity is the complete inversion of that. I find Catholicism much more open to a transcending of this sacrificial model than protestantism, which as you rightly pointed out, is so tied to it. I think, too, getting back to the trinity, this model furthers the difference and distinction between God the Father and Jesus, as it is the Father who is torturing the Son so that we could be saved. This really never made sense to me. As I see it, both of these doctrinal problems are part of each other at this point.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Luther didn’t just endorse the doctrine of justification by faith alone; he originated it and formulated it. It was his signature doctrine, and the fundamental doctrinal point on which he based his separation—and the separation of all of Protestantism—from Rome.

          I have not read anything by Rene Girard. However, from the brief account you give, I think I would disagree with him about penal substitution. Not, of course, in opposing it, but rather in tracing its roots to ancient Judaism and later the New Testament.

          In fact, the Hebrew Bible decisively rejects the fundamental principle of penal substitution: that of exonerating a guilty person through the suffering of an innocent person. For specific quotes from the Hebrew Bible to that effect, see: “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?

          Further, Christian society has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the ancient Jewish sacrifices—and it sounds like Girard fell victim to that misunderstanding.

          Despite the horrendously bad translation of relevant sections of Leviticus in such translations as the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the Jewish sacrifices were not penalties for sin, nor were they seen that way by the ancient Jews. Rather, they were acts by which the Israelites, both individually and collectively, could bring themselves back into harmony with God’s will through faithfully following God’s commandments and requirements in relation to sin and guilt. The idea of sacrifices as payments for sin was foreign to their way of thinking.

          The Hebrew Bible doesn’t ever use the “penalty” language in connection with the law of sacrifice that some prominent Protestant translations have injected into it. That is a legalistic, transactional view of sacrifices that didn’t exist in the ancient world. In fact, it didn’t exist in Christianity either until Anselm laid its foundations when he decided that he could improve upon (really, replace) the Christus Victor and Ransom theories of atonement that had reigned in Christianity for a thousand years. Anselm’s “improvement” largely ignored the Bible, and drew instead upon logic (as he saw it) and upon medieval legal theory. See, for example, this question and its top answer on Christianity StackExchange: “What was Anselm’s biblical basis for his theory of atonement by satisfaction?

          Further, despite Protestant mistranslation and misinterpretation of the Bible, the New Testament, also, makes no mention whatsoever of any substitutionary payment of penalty by Jesus Christ for human sin. I have not only searched diligently for such passages myself, but have been challenging Protestants for many years to show me even a single verse in the New Testament (or by extension, in the entire Bible) that says that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. So far, no Protestant thus challenged has ever been able to do so. That’s because the simple fact of the matter is that the whole concept of penal substitution is utterly foreign to the ancient Hebrew mindset, even in its Greek- and Roman-influenced New Testament form, and is nowhere to be found anywhere in the Bible.

          So I believe Girard probably got waylaid and misled by Protestant misunderstanding and misinterpretation of both the Bible and ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture, and therefore based his commentary on penal substitution on fallacy rather than on sound scriptural and historical research.

          Penal substitution does not show up in religious history until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Even then, as I said earlier, its precise origins are a bit murky. However, it is a variation of Anselm’s new theory of atonement by satisfaction, which itself did not show up in religious history until Anselm. Attempting to back-date it and read it into earlier times is pure apologetics—and bad apologetics at that.

          Here is my perhaps overly simplistic summary of the three main satisfaction theories, in their historical order:

          • Anselm: Christ satisfied God’s honor for us.
          • Aquinas: Christ satisfied God’s justice for us.
          • Protestantism: Christ satisfied God’s wrath for us.

          All of them are terribly wrong and contrary to the plain teachings of Scripture. However, as with most “progressions” in the history of Christian doctrine, it is a progression from bad to worse. Anselm’s version was relatively mild. Aquinas’s version became harsher. And the Protestant version paints God as a vindictive madman who requires his pound of flesh, even if from the wrong person—in fact from a completely innocent person, who just happens to be God’s own son. I have a hard time thinking of anything more insane than that.

          In the pantheon of Christian doctrines (each of which are so many conceptual gods intellectually worshiped in place of the true divine wisdom of God), only Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination surpasses the general Protestant doctrine of penal substitution as a horrible and disgusting blasphemy against the infinite love, goodness, wisdom, and mercy of God.

          And once again, all of these false “Christian” doctrines are founded upon and go back to the original doctrinal error of a Trinity of Persons in God. That is the false foundation upon which the entire edifice of false “Christian” doctrine has been built. Destroy the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, and that entire terrible and false edifice comes crashing down to the ground.

          That is why Swedenborg expended so much energy assailing and destroying the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. Though truth be told, he probably spent even more time assailing and destroying Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, which was his special whipping boy.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      For some recreational reading about the “armies of heretical movements” that invaded the church from its earliest times onward, see Swedenborg’s True Christianity, #378.

      I think ol’ Swedenborg was having just a little too much fun with that one! 😀

  8. Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

    Sorry, I must have misrepresented Girard. I meant to say that he thinks Judaism and Christianity undo (deconstruct) that, and whatever may appear like “penal substitution” in the Old/New Testaments, is in fact its inversion. So yes, I see your point and entirely agree. Also, what i meant was in primitive religion, there is a notion of appeasing the wrath of the deity through blood sacrifice (now of course, the idea of transferring sin onto an innocent victim as a kind of substitute is a little different, but not unrelated, and certainly alluded to in Leviticus with the scapegoat driven out). There are times in the scriptures when sacrifices and burnt offerings are considered as acts that please God as a kind of fragrant offering — the idea that animal sacrifice would please God is kind of silly I think and the Hebrew prophets progressively move away from this, Jeremiah even goes so far as to say God never commanded sacrifices (e.g. Jer 7:21). I tend to see a bit of a looser connection in the Hebrew Bible, that is, that it isnt a composite work, but rather has human finger prints on it, but certainly inspired. You’re right, Luther certainly popularized “faith alone” so much so that it could be said he originated it, but there is some evidence that it existed in sects prior to him, e.g. James 2’s correction seems to have been aimed at a misunderstanding of Paul. Certainly Paul does talk about “justification by faith, and not by works of the law” and even Thomas Aquinas systematizes what this means, but Luther of course inserted the word “alone” there.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Okay, then I may have misunderstood what you were saying about Girard’s views.

      Yes, there certainly was the concept in ancient religions of appeasing an angry deity. But this was not seen as a penalty or payment for sin. Rather, it was seen as something God required them to do in order to turn away his wrath.

      The distinction may seem subtle, but it is, in fact, a major one. Penal substitution, as well as satisfaction theory in general, is a legal and transactional theory. Sacrifice in ancient cultures was not. Rather, it was a ritual one could perform in order to achieve a desired reaction from God, and to put oneself back into right relationship with God.

      A key part of this was that since the cultures in which animal sacrifice originated enjoyed cooking, smelling, and eating meat as the most sumptuous of fare (and to a lesser extent, the various plant products), they assumed that God must enjoy the smell of cooking meat, and find pleasure in it. Hence the common description in the Old Testament of sacrifices as “a sweet savour unto the Lord” (to use the KJV’s language).

      Rather than being in the nature of a penalty for sin, sacrifices in the ancient world were more in the nature of a meal shared with God, complete with all of the familial, community, or business connection and camaraderie that shared meals represented both then and now. Many of the sacrifices were in effect shared meals. Those offering the sacrifice, and the priests as well, ate parts of the animal, while burning other parts on the altar as God’s portion. (There were also some sacrifices that were burnt whole on the altar.)

      This general social significance of sacrifice is why, in the New Testament, Jesus could substitute the Holy Supper for all of the rituals of sacrifice prescribed and practiced in the Hebrew Bible. He, based on his Hebrew culture, saw and understood the significance of plant and animal sacrifices as meals shared with God. And he represented and transformed that significance in a meal shared between the Lord (Jesus himself) and his followers. The language he uses in sharing the bread and wine with his disciples is a clear reference to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. And the practice that Jesus instituted that day continues throughout the Christian world today, replacing the entire structure of sacrifice practiced in the Old Testament.

      So once again, the idea that there are shadows of penal substitution in the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament simply misses the point of those sacrifices, and misunderstands the cultures in which they were practiced, and their significance in those cultures.

      As for the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, it is true that the priest ritually transferred the sins of the people to the goat. But the goat was not then killed, or “punished.” Rather, it was sent out into the desert. Perhaps it would die there. Perhaps it would find sustenance and live. What happens to the goat is not a significant part of the ritual. Rather, the ritual is about, in modern psychological terminology, letting go of our sins and allowing them to “wander away” from us so that they are no longer a part of our psyche.

      Once again, this has absolutely nothing to do with substitutionary or satisfaction-style atonement. No innocent being is punished or pays the price for the sins of the guilty, nor even satisfies God’s honor or justice, as in the Catholic versions of satisfaction theory. Reading the events of the Day of Atonement in that way is a fine example of not even paying attention to what is actually going on as described in the text of the Hebrew Bible. It is a colossally wrong way of reading the ritual of the scapegoat.

      And yes, as you say, as time went by, the Hebrew people themselves began to see that animal sacrifices rather missed the point, and were not what God really wanted. Swedenborg points to those same passages in the Prophets to make that point.

      However, the Jews continued to practice animal sacrifice anyway up to the point where they could no longer do so. That occurred in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple, which had become the sole place on earth where sacrifices could be offered to the Lord (YHVH). Judaism then, ironically, went through an internal transformation that in some ways made it more “Christian” than Christianity, which quickly reverted back to the old Jewish priestly model even as the priests in Judaism itself lost almost all of their function in Jewish religion and society, and gradually receded into the background.

      Even today, when many Jews have returned to the Holy Land and control a significant part of it, they cannot re-establish the sacrifices because the site of the Temple is occupied by the sacred Muslim Dome of the Rock. Destroying it and rebuilding the temple would likely be the spark that ignited World War III, and the Israeli government knows it. Besides, being a quasi-secular state, they probably wouldn’t want the Temple rebuilt. If it were, some crazy fundamentalist Jewish sects would likely insist upon once again practicing animal sacrifice, and that would look barbaric and be very embarrassing to the State of Israel.

      • Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

        Beautifully put. But, how do you square this with all the emphasis on “blood” (“without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” etc.). There is even a strange passage in the Hebrew scriptures where the blood of the foreskin turns away the wrath of God. A Jesuit theologian named Raymund Schwager has a great text on the progressive revelation of the “wrath of God” in the Hebrew Bible (“Must There be Scapegoats”); here he discusses several developments of the term “wrath” beginning in an irrational wrath that is turned away with blood, up to wrath in Romans 1, where the deed falls back upon the doer. Girard’s seminal text “Violence and the Sacred” (and later “Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World”) argues that sacrificial rites actual arose from a founding murder (of a perceived guilty person, who was actually innocent) — it was only the Jews who realized victims were innocent. Again, I appreciate your time and am learning a great deal here. I apologize if this discussion has gotten off topic and moved into an academic nature, as I would hate to leave behind your readers.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          When conversations get this long, only those readers who are fascinated with such things will still be with us anyway. 🙂

          About blood, traditional Christian misinterpretation of such passages as “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews 9:22) seems to assume that God requires blood and gore to assuage his wrath and satisfy his justice.

          However, that is not at all what the shedding of blood in sacrifices meant.

          Unlike in our modern Western society, in which butchers slaughter animals safely out of sight of the general population, such that most ordinary people would find it quite shocking and gory to witness an animal being slaughtered, in ancient livestock-based societies such as Hebrew society, the butchering of animals was a common and even festive event that involved the whole clan, and was done right out in the open in plain view of everyone. It was an ordinary part of life, and not at all a shocking, bloody spectacle as people commonly think of it today.

          I personally have been present when a sheep was slaughtered. Though I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable, it was done on a farm, and the whole thing was quite matter-of-fact. I even carried the heart, liver, and some of the other internal organs back to the farm house in my bare hands so that they could be cooked up for dinner. (This was many years ago, when I was in my early 20s.)

          So as far as blood and gore, I don’t think the ancient Hebrews thought of it that way any more than family farmers today think of slaughtering the pig (if they still do it themselves) as some sort of bloody, gory spectacle full of pain and suffering.

          In short, the whole idea that God requires a bloody spectacle in order to satisfy his justice and wrath is, once again, completely wrongheaded and a complete misunderstanding of the experience of slaughtering animals, including animal sacrifice, in the life of early cultures such as the ancient Israelites.

          In fact, it was just the opposite of a shocking, bloody spectacle. It was an occasion for rejoicing and celebration. Most ancient people could not afford to eat meat very often. When they did, it was commonly when honored guests were visiting, or as part of a celebration within the family or clan.

          Looking deeper, blood, specifically, was seen in ancient society as the seat of life of the animal. In the Hebrew Bible, this goes all the way back to the earliest parts of narrative (see Genesis 9:4), and continues as a theme throughout the Old Testament.

          Because blood was seen as the life of both humans and animals, it was considered sacred to God, from whom that life came. It was therefore forbidden to Jews to consume blood. They were required to drain the blood out of an animal before eating it. And that practice continues in slaughterhouses around the world to this day, even if it has long since lost its religious significance in most of them.

          Symbolically, then, the shedding, or pouring out, of blood represented the attributing of all life to God, and the recognition that our very life is God’s, and not our own (hence the prohibition on consuming blood). Blood really isn’t a very efficient cleanser materially. In fact, it can cause nearly indelible stains. But it was considered cleansing because the act of sprinkling blood on something or someone was seen as an act of infusing that thing or person with life from God.

          In light of this, the statement in Hebrews 9:22 takes on a whole different meaning. It’s not about God requiring pain, suffering, and a bloody death to assuage his wrath and satisfy his justice. It’s about the symbolism of pouring out the blood as a recognition that the life of both animal and human comes from God, and that without God we have no life whatsoever.

          And salvation itself is inextricably linked with life. For the ancient Hebrews, the dominant meaning of salvation was the maintaining of literal, physical life. (See my answer to this question on Christianity StackExchange: “What did salvation mean to the Israelite people of the OT?”)

          For Christians, salvation was spiritualized into the concept of eternal life in God’s kingdom, or in heaven. And Jesus tied blood to salvation in a spiritual way when he told the disciples that the wine of the Last Supper was his blood poured out for them, for the remission of sins. There was no blood and gore here, and no pain, suffering, and punishment, despite its reference to his incipient painful and bloody death. Rather, it was a peaceful sharing of a cup of wine, which represented the life and hence salvation that Jesus would give to those who believed in him and followed his commandments.

          Of course, this is a huge subject, and I haven’t done it full justice here. But I hope this gives at least some sense of the function and symbolism of the shedding of blood both in the ancient Jewish sacrifices and in genuine Christian theology and practice.

        • Martin Heidegger (Duane) says:

          Lee,

          I agree with your conclusions, namely that God doesn’t need blood and that this idea is silly and misses the point about who God is. But then, how to interpret these famous verses: without at least assuming in the background the atoning or expiatory or propitiatory effect or the appeasing of wrath and “purification.” (“And according to the law, I may almost say, all things are purified with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.” or “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”)

          Oh absolutely you’re right, substitution is different. That is an important point.

          SO: my question would be: in what way does blood purify? or more simply, what could this passage mean from Romans 3:25 “whom God put forward as a propitiation (hilasterion) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

          Does my question(s) make sense???

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I’m running out of time tonight. So for now I’ll just link you to a relevant Q&A on Christianity StackExchange:

          How did Swedenborg interpret 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins”?

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Lee,
          Your article on “propitiation” is excellent. Thank you for sharing that with me. Everything makes much more sense. My only remaining question is: if kaphar or kippor or those variations mean to cover over rather than appease, in what sense does the blood cover, or rather, in particular, in what sense does Jesus death “cover over” and reconcile us? I’m guessing this connects with Swedenborg’s theory of the atonement as a kind of divinizing of humanity by conquering of sin?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Thank you. And you’re very welcome.

          As I think you’re realizing, answering these questions properly requires an entire shift of perspective from that of traditional Christianity. So please forgive me if this answer is both longer and more general than some of my other recent responses to your questions. I’ll attempt to get in the more specific answers along the way.

          First, to an extent that I think traditional Christians aren’t generally very aware, the spiritual level and outlook of the Old Testament is very different than that of the New Testament. Specifically, the NT spiritualizes many things that in the OT are entirely or almost entirely seen as physical things and events. Christians tend to back-read into the OT all of the spiritual reinterpretations of the OT that the NT engages in. But that is not a sound way of reading the OT if we want to understand how the practices and customs of the OT functioned in their own time period and cultural context.

          To understand the OT as it is in itself, it is necessary to peel away all of the spiritual reinterpretation that Jesus, Paul, and so on engage in in the NT, and read the OT strictly in light of itself and its own original cultural context.

          And it’s necessary to understand that the people of OT times really weren’t very spiritual at all. They were largely physical-minded and materialistic in their outlook, to the point where there was barely even any concept of a spirit or an afterlife. God was seen as rewarding the good and punishing the wicked in this life.

          Many Jews continue to see things in that way to this day. I happened to grow up in a largely Jewish town from the time I was ten years old. And some of my Jewish friends assured me that there is no afterlife, but that good people will be rewarded, and bad people punished, during their lifetime here on earth. As for an “afterlife,” that’s what children are for. We and our beliefs and values will continue to live, they said, through our children and grandchildren who will carry on for us after we die. That’s why it is so important to pass on our religion, our values, and our knowledge to our children.

          Applying this specifically to kaphar in the Hebrew Bible, there was no thought whatsoever in the mind of an ancient Israelite about God punishing the wicked with eternal torment in hell, or rewarding the good with eternal pleasure in heaven. Their concerns were strictly here-and-now. If they sinned against God, God would cause their crops to fail, their flocks to miscarry, their wives to be barren, and the rains to stop.

          Further, the people of ancient Israel were not philosophical thinkers. In fact, for the most part, they didn’t really think about their religion at all. Rather, they simply learned it. By that I mean they simply learned and absorbed what God expected of them, without inquiring much into the whys and wherefores.

          Another way of saying this is that their outlook on life, or spiritual level, was primarily one of obedience to authority, not one of understanding of and assent to sensible rules of life. For them, it was sufficient that their God commanded them to do something. It wasn’t their job to ask God why they were supposed to do it. The book of Job is an excellent illustration of this mindset. One of its main messages is, “You puny humans don’t have the standing or the right to challenge God as to why he does what he does. He’ll do what he wants, and you just have to suck it up.”

          So when God commanded the ancient Israelites to offer various sacrifices in various specific ways, they were very assiduous (if they were faithful) to learn exactly how they were to do each sacrifice, and to do them exactly according to the instructions, even if they hadn’t the faintest idea of why God was so particular about it. They just learned the procedure and did it according to the instructions when required to do so.

          This obedience, or faithfulness to God, they believed, would cause God to look upon them favorably, forgive their sins, and bless them with abundant crops, fecund herds, many sons, and plenty of rain. So for them, kaphar was very pragmatic: It was God no longer paying attention to the wrongs they had done, not punishing them for them, and blessing them instead. It was God being merciful to them even though they had failed to fully adhere to God’s law.

          And God would do this, they believed, if they repented of their stubborn ways and returned to faithfully following all of God’s commandments. This theme is repeated over and over again throughout the Old Testament, in both the narrative and prophetic sections, as well as in the Psalms.

          The sacrifices, to them, were a physical act indicating that they were now ready to return to that faithfulness. The very act of sacrifice was an act of being faithful to God, simply because they were doing something that God had commanded them to do, in exactly the way God commanded them to do it.

          This return to faithfulness, and of course, ongoing faithfulness, was what would cause God to be merciful (kaphar) to them, forgive their former sins, and bless them with fertility, wealth, and social status in their community.

          Once again, in their mind, it had nothing to do with paying some penalty for their sins, and thus satisfying God. It had to do with returning to faithfulness to God.

          And as I said in a previous comment, the whole ritual of sacrifice also recalled a feast shared with God.

          In addition to the occasions for feasts I mentioned before (honored guests, family and clan celebrations), another common occasion for a feast was when former enemies, or even just former stand-offish neighbors, made a pact of peace and mutual trade with one another. The deal would be sealed with a great shared feast, to which all of the important people on both sides were invited.

          The sacrifices, then, were also ritualized versions of a feast shared between the people and God to seal the deal of a new treaty of friendship and mutual trade and blessing in which the people served God faithfully and God blessed the people with abundance, victory over their enemies, and so on.

          This is the cultural context and meaning of kaphar in the Hebrew Bible. Just to beat that horse one more time, it had absolutely nothing to do with the people paying some penalty to appease God’s wrath. It had to do with their repenting from their sins and returning to a faithful relationship with God, whereupon God would no longer be angry with them, would forget (kaphar) all of their former sins, and would once again bless them with good things.

          For an especially clear recounting of this in the Hebrew prophets, see Ezekiel 18. (And see also my article based on Ezekiel 18, written for a contemporary audience: “Ezekiel 18: God’s Message of Hope . . . If You Think there’s No Hope for You.”)

          TL/DR: The God of the Old Testament did not require payment for sins in order to show mercy. Rather, the God of the Old Testament required repentance from sin and a return to faithfulness in order to show mercy. And kaphar was the mercy God showed in forgiving all his people’s former sins when they returned to faithfulness. They were then “covered over” so that they were no longer remembered, as expressed eloquently in Ezekiel 18:

          But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. (Ezekiel 18:21–22, emphasis added)

          This, then, provides the scriptural context for the more spiritual version of the same thing in the New Testament.

          The God of the New Testament is not a whole different God from the God of the Old Testament. Rather, the God of the New Testament is one that can show himself more fully to the people because the people have made some spiritual progress since Old Testament times.

          But God’s principles are still the same, and God still operates in the same basic way. God still does not require payment for sins; rather, God requires repentance from sins, and a return to faithfulness to God. (This is how “faith” in Paul’s letters should be read.)

          “Propitiation” (hilasmos) in the New Testament means the same thing as kaphar in the Old Testament, only raised to a higher level.

          The basic distinction and paradigm shift between the religion of the Old Testament and the religion of the New Testament is one of progressing from a religion based on simple behavioral obedience to God’s law to a religion based on understanding of and assent to the spiritual principles by which God governs our lives.

          This is the real underpinning of Paul’s distinction between being saved by the Law vs. being saved by faith. We were no longer to merely obey the Law behaviorally and thereby be blessed by God. Now our religion was to move inward, to the spirit: we would have faith in, and be faithful to, God from an internal understanding and acknowledgment of the reasons for God’s laws—of the justice, love, and mercy that is behind them—and from this position of understanding God’s truth, we would live a life of love for God and the neighbor, which is one of doing good deeds of love and service for our neighbor.

          Jesus expressed this paradigm shift succinctly when he said:

          I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15)

          Unlike ancient Judaism, Christianity was no longer to be a religion of blind obedience to a master without “knowing what the master is doing.” Rather, it would be a religion of friendship with God because now we understand God’s mind and willingly follow God’s ways based on that understanding.

          (This is not, however, the final and highest stage of spiritual development, which comes when we act not primarily from blind obedience, nor even primarily from faith and understanding, but from a warm and burning love in our heart for God and for our fellow human beings that prompts us to learn the truth and do every good thing we can for the people around us.)

          Back to “propitiation” (which really should not be used to translate either the Hebrew or the Greek word), the hilasmos of the New Testament has a dynamic similar to the kaphar of the Old Testament, only instead of God showing mercy when we repent on a merely behavioral level, returning to exactly following God’s Law given through Moses, God now shows us mercy when we repent from our sins based on an inner understanding of and assent to God’s ways (“faith”), and become reborn as new creatures who live from that inner faith, or faithfulness, to God, loving one another and doing good deeds for one another based on that inner light.

          So just as in the Old Testament, God’s “wrath” is turned away when we cease sinning and start living a good life instead. Then God is able to show us mercy instead of standing in opposition to us—as God must do when we are bent on evil ways of living.

          Where does the blood come in?

          As I said in my earlier reply on this subject, in the OT blood was seen as the seat of life in animals and in human beings, and therefore as sacred to God, who was the source of all life.

          Being sprinkled with blood, then, had the symbolism and sense for them of receiving “lifeblood” from God. In being sprinkled with blood, the altar, the new house, the people bringing the sacrifice, were ritually receiving life from God. And as I said earlier, for them that life was very concrete and practical: staying physically alive through God giving them food, drink, victory over enemies, health, wealth, and so on, instead of their opposites. Being sprinkled with the blood was a joyous occasion because to them it carried with it all of that meaning of being blessed by God with life coming from the steadfast love and mercy of God.

          In the New Testament, and in the times that followed it, the physical animal sacrifices came to an end. Ritually, they were replaced with the shared meal of the Holy Supper. But spiritually, they were replaced with the new, deeper, and more personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ that the faithful could now enjoy.

          Jesus did not get very explicit, doctrinal, or philosophical about the meaning of his blood that was poured out for many. But it is significant that he did not say that the wine represents his blood, but said that it is his blood, poured out for many. So yes, he was referring to his upcoming crucifixion. But he was also referring to the meal he was sharing with them, and to its deeper significance of giving them new spiritual life from the spirit of God.

          I could continue on here with a fuller explanation of that symbolic meaning, and of Jesus’ efforts to raise the minds of his followers to a less physical and more spiritual level. But I’ve already done so in this article:

          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

          Short version: The “blood” of Christ represents the new life of spiritual truth that Christ’s faithful followers would have when they listened to his teachings, paid attention to his example, and followed it in their own lives. This brings about God’s mercy (which was already present anyway) by bringing the faithful into alignment with God’s will and God’s truth so that God’s love, wisdom, and power can flow into them more fully and transform them into new, more spiritual people from the inside out.

          To answer the question of the blood more specifically, then:

          • In the OT, the blood of the sacrificed animals “cleansed” objects and people in that it represented life from God, which was associated with being cleansed from former sins that were now “covered over,” or forgiven and forgotten, as ritually represented in the making of the sin or guilt offering.
          • In the NT, the blood of Christ that cleansed people was the truth of his teaching and example, which cleanses people inwardly from sin and replaces it with a righteous life according to divine truth.

          I realize that’s a lot of words for a relatively short question. Even so, there’s a lot more that I didn’t cover here. In particular, I didn’t deal with Jesus’ death, which is a whole subject unto itself. However I hope this much at least gives you a sense of what the mistranslated “propitiation” of the New Testament really means, and what the role of the blood is in that pouring out of God’s mercy.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          About Jesus’ death, in Swedenborgian theology it is seen as the final battle between the Lord and the Devil (who is seen as a personification of the collective force of all human evil, or in short, as a representation of hell). Through that final battle, the Lord gained complete victory over the power of evil, and thereby took to himself the power to defeat the Devil’s power within individual human beings who turn to the Lord (or to God, for non-Christians), and allow God into their soul and life.

          The reconciliation takes place when we accept the Lord’s power into our life, and allow it to root out the evil and falsity within us and replace it with goodness and truth. According to Swedenborg, we must fight these battles against evil and falsity in our own life as if we were doing it by ourselves (otherwise we have no sense of agency or identity), but recognize that the power to do so is actually the Lord’s power in us, not our own.

          We are reconciled when we no longer stand in opposition to God through evil desires and actions, but become harmonized with God’s will by living according to it.

          A key point is that this is not a process of God being reconciled to us, as it is in satisfaction theory, in which God must change his mind about us through Jesus satisfying God’s honor or justice or wrath. Rather, it is a process of our being reconciled to God, just as Paul says:

          All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:18–19, emphasis added)

          The reconciliation, then, involves a change in us, not a change in God. We must be reconciled to God, and this can happen only by our no longer standing in opposition to God. The only way that can happen is for us to repent from our sins and be spiritually reborn. This happens for Christians when we accept Jesus Christ into our life and live according to his teachings and his example, which we can do only through the power of the Holy Spirit (which is the spirit and power of the Lord God Jesus Christ) working within us.

          Though the term “divinization” is used in some religious quarters, that is not a term that Swedenborg or Swedenborgians would normally use. Even though it is true that the divine is in a human being who has been reborn, or “regenerated,” to use the traditional Swedenborgian (and Christian) term, we maintain a clear distinction between the person, who is at most spiritual, and God, who is fully divine. Though God may fill us, we never become God, or become divine, but are instead a spiritual (and on earth, a physical) container for God, as I cover in this rather philosophical article: “Containers for God.”

          So in Swedenborgian terminology, the result of the conquering of sin in an individual’s life is not a “divinized” person, but rather a “regenerated” person. But as long as these distinctions are kept in mind, yes, it is the same general idea as what is sometimes expressed in other quarters as “a kind of divinizing of humanity.” Obviously it is not the same general idea as the Mormon concept of humans becoming gods.

          Tying all of this back in with the blood once again, in a general sense the blood (as well as the flesh) is the Lord’s presence being “internalized” in us (to use modern psychological terminology), as symbolized by drinking the wine of the Holy Supper and eating the bread. It is a concrete symbol of allowing the Lord into our life to transform us from the inside out.

          Swedenborgian theology, of course, gets more specific than this general view, holding that the blood represents accepting divine wisdom or truth into our lives, and the bread represents accepting divine love or goodness into our lives.

          The truth, especially, is what cleanses and regenerates us through purging falsity from our minds and evil from our desires and our lives, and replacing it with what is good and true. That, spiritually, is why the blood is said in the Bible to “cleanse” us. Obviously, literal blood has the opposite effect physically. But spiritually, the “blood of Christ,” or his truth and his teachings, are the primary cleansing agent in the process of being born again, or regenerated.

          This cleansing from sin in our hearts, minds, and lives is what “covers over” our sins and reconciles us to God. Our sins are “covered over” because once we are no longer committing them, they are no longer “remembered against us,” to use Ezekiel’s language. Not that God literally doesn’t remember them, but that since they are no longer a part of our active life, they no longer create a barrier between us and God. Hence the language, “no longer remembered against us.

          God, of course, always forgives us, and always wants a relationship with us, which is the embodiment of reconciliation. It is on our side that the forgiveness, reconciliation, and relationship are blocked, as expressed in Jesus’ poignant words when he was approaching Jerusalem for the final time:

          Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)

          Incidentally, Swedenborg disagrees with traditional Christianity’s view that in hell we are punished for our evil deeds here on earth, and that in heaven we are rewarded for our good deeds on earth. He says, in fact, that evil people in the afterlife are not punished for evil deeds here on earth; only for those they continue to commit in the spiritual world.

          This is also the reason why in the afterlife good people are never punished for their evil deeds on earth, nor is there any need for a Catholic-style purgatory to expiate our earthly sins. In accordance with the principles laid out in Ezekiel 18, those former evil deeds are no longer remembered, nor punished, because they are no longer being committed.

          Even the angels in heaven are not really being rewarded for their good deeds on earth. Rather, as Revelation says, “their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). In other words, since they have been reborn as new creations, with a new character, they continue to do good deeds, and in doing these, not based on anything they did on earth, they feel joy and blessedness, which is their “reward.”

          In short, heaven and hell are not a matter of “karma”: of reward for good deeds and punishment for evil deeds. They are, instead, an ongoing expression and reflection of the character we have built within ourselves through our good or evil choices and life here on earth, which character follows us into the spiritual world and becomes our permanent character (though we can still grow, or in the case of evil spirits, devolve, within that general character pattern).

          However, Swedenborg hastens to add that functionally it is the same whether or not we are punished or rewarded for our deeds on earth because evil people continue to do evil deeds, while good people continue to do good deeds—and to reap the consequences of those deeds. And the Bible does use the punishment and reward language because that is what the more complex reality resolves down into in the unsophisticated minds of ordinary folks here on earth. (See: “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”)

          If you are interested in looking further into atonement and regeneration, here are some articles that cover, first what Jesus did to save us, “cover over” our sins, and reconcile us to God, and then what the process is by which we can be regenerated, and thus reconciled to God through the Lord’s power working in us:

          In the first article, see especially the last few sections, starting with, “What is Redemption?”

          The second one is in the nature of my personal testimony as to why I believe Jesus Christ truly is God with us. Toward the end it offers a pragmatic, example-based view of how God saved us and reconciled us to himself.

          The third and fourth articles offer a general theory of rebirth, and then two different step-by-step versions of how it takes place, and how to go about doing it.

          I would also add that Swedenborg’s theory of atonement can be seen as a version and development of the Christus Victor theory that was one of the two reigning theories of atonement (along with ransom theory) for the first thousand years of Christianity.

          This means that despite common Catholic and Protestant charges that Swedenborg “invented new doctrines, not in accord with historical Christianity,” Swedenborg’s doctrine of atonement is actually far closer to the original, historical Christian doctrine of atonement than are the satisfaction-based theories now held to in the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. In other words, it is Catholicism and Protestantism, not Swedenborgianism, that have invented new doctrines and departed from historical Christian doctrine when it comes to their doctrines of atonement and salvation.

          As I understand it, Orthodox Christianity still holds to a version of Christus Victor as its primary theory of atonement. Satisfaction theory originated with Anselm within Catholicism soon after the Great Schism, and was never adopted in the Orthodox segment of Christianity.

          I hope this completes my only partial answer to your question that I offered in my last comment (which, by the way, I have edited and added to since I first posted it).

          However, as always, if there’s anything left over that I didn’t quite cover for you, please feel free to continue the conversation. I hardly believe that this will be your only remaining question! 😀

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      About faith alone, it is true that this is a theme that goes far back into human history. Swedenborg, in fact, sees faith alone as one of two major errors that all churches and religions fall into, the other being love of dominion, wealth, and power. So the concept of faith alone is not new to Luther. Though it is not strongly present in the text of the Bible explicitly, that one tantalizing explicit mention of it in James 2:24, where it is explicitly rejected, shows that it was indeed present as an idea and practice in earlier times.

      However, Luther did originate the specific formulation of it that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This particular doctrine is inextricably tied in with satisfaction and substitutionary atonement theories that did not exist earlier than Anselm in the eleventh century. It is a specific version of faith alone in which belief in Jesus confers justification, and thus salvation, through the imputation of Christ’s merit, and so on, and so forth. That is the version of faith alone that exists in Protestantism, and it is a recent phenomenon that started with Luther.

      Meanwhile, the general idea that we are saved primarily or solely by knowledge, understanding, enlightenment, faith, and so on does go back at least as far as human history, and probably farther. It is strongly represented in such disparate religious paradigms as Gnosticism, which is all about knowledge as the key to its version of “salvation,” and Hindu Vedic thought, which sees our successive reincarnations as a means to learn through experience, thus paving the way to nirvana—which occurs for us when we become fully enlightened and attain to infinite divine knowledge.

      In Swedenborg’s scriptural exegesis, he takes the Philistines as a symbol of the doctrine and practice of faith alone as it existed in ancient times. And even earlier, he sees Cain also as a symbol of faith alone, while Abel he interprets as a symbol of charity together with faith.

      So yes, I (and Swedenborg) agree with you that faith alone goes way back. But Luther’s specific formulation of it as justification by faith alone started with Luther, and became the key doctrine of Protestantism.

  9. escargo boi says:

    in heaven, will i get to do cute things with my gf & kitten forever? i mean FOREVER never tire, always a happy day with my best friends

    • Lee says:

      Hi escargo boi,

      Yes, you can do those things in heaven. But you won’t want to do them all the time. That would get pretty boring pretty quickly. Just as here on earth, people in heaven have jobs that challenge them and keep them focused on doing something for other people, and that bring about growth in knowledge and emotional maturity in themselves as well. See:

      Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?

      However, in your time off you can do whatever recreational activities you enjoy, including spending plenty of time with your kitten and your girlfriend—who will then be your wife, and you will be adults if you aren’t now.

      • escargo boi says:

        That is what I mean though, how can you get bored in heaven??

        T Y

        • Lee says:

          Hi escargo boi,

          In heaven you don’t become something completely different from what you are here. You’re still a human being, even if living in the spiritual world. And you still have all the same thoughts, feelings, habits, and character that you do here, only without a lot of the confusion and inner conflict that you have here. You are, basically, the best version of yourself.

          This means that in heaven, just as here, you can get bored if you keep doing the same things over and over again. And eternity is a very long time to repeat the same things over and over again. As human beings, we need to learn, grow, and engage in some sort of useful work to feel fulfilled. That’s just as true in heaven as it is here, if not more so.

          See: The Afterlife: It’s Not as Different as you Think!

        • escargo boi says:

          But Lee, isn’t boredom a flaw that wouldn’t happen in heaven? People grow up and get washed up, I don’t want this kind of maturing… For instance, males who are fun and expressive in youth and stoic and unmovable in old age – this is what I mean by “boredom”, are they many stoic angels?

        • Lee says:

          Hi escargo boi,

          I suppose there are probably a few stoic angels. But that’s not the general atmosphere of heaven.

          For one thing, everyone in heaven has the body of a young man or woman in the prime of life, no matter how old they were when they died. There are no physical ailments, no aching joints, no dentures, no chronic fatigue syndrome to make life annoying and uncomfortable. People can enjoy all of the active pursuits they did when young—and more besides, if they want to. So there’s not a lot of room for boredom.

          It’s just that as human beings, to have some sense of purpose, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life we need to be doing something useful and constructive, and not just playing all the time. So angels both work and play. And they love doing both.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Where does Swedenborg talk about what Heaven is like? And will we see “the Father” or will that be our seeing of Jesus since they are one and the same? Sorry to be a pain here, I will go exploring on this site as well, but if you have written on this….

          Thanks again. This is my favorite website by far.

          -Duane

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Thank you!

          And you’re in luck!

          Swedenborg’s most popular book by far just happens to be Heaven and Hell. In it, he provides a guided tour of the spiritual realms, including heaven, hell, and the intermediate “world of spirits” where most people live for a shorter or longer time immediately after they die while getting sorted out and prepared for their permanent home in either heaven or hell. The link is to my post on the book, which provides links to where you can buy it on Amazon in various formats, or buy or download it in electronic form directly from the publisher, the Swedenborg Foundation.

          For my own introductions to the three main realms of the spiritual world, please see these articles:

          1. What Happens To Us When We Die?
          2. Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?
          3. Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

          In answer to your specific question, though there are theological distinctions between the Father and the Son (Jesus), in reality they are just different “parts” or aspects of the same being, whom Swedenborg calls abstractly the Divine Humanity, and more concretely the Lord God Jesus Christ.

          We do not see the Father directly because that is God’s inner soul, which goes beyond our ability to directly approach or experience. If we were to attempt it, it would destroy us just as we would be destroyed if we tried to experience the sun by flying straight into it. (But God doesn’t let us do that anyway.) However, we can know the Father through the Son, who is not some separate “Person” of God as traditional Christianity holds, but the human, approachable presence of God.

          People in heaven do sometimes see the Lord, as Swedenborg most commonly calls Jesus, as a resplendent human being among them. More commonly though, they experience God as the sun of heaven, within which is God. From that sun comes a warmth that angels experience as divine love, and a light that angels experience as divine truth. Like our earth’s sun, it is what gives life to everyone in the spiritual world, except it is not mere physical life, but spiritual life.

          All of this is covered in Heaven and Hell, and in many other places in Swedenborg’s theological writings.

          And you are not being a pain. I enjoy answering questions about this wonderful faith. In fact, it is what I love to do most. So feel free to ask away as questions occur to you. If I have an article on it, I’ll link you to it. If not, I’ll answer your question directly.

  10. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    This is probably a good place to ask: does Swedenborg accept, or accept something to the effect of, Kenosis, as is understood as the ‘self-emptying’ of God’s Divine attributes when He chose to incarnate as the human Jesus?

    From my readings it appears as though he does, though I have some difficulty understanding the coherence of the doctrine, namely, how God could surrender His Divine attributes without ceasing to be God. This is understood in classical theism as God surrendering His attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, etc, but how could an essentially immutable God undergo an intrinsic change and remain God? And if He surrendered His moral perfection in order to be human, then how could He have defeated the powers of evil and win His battle against temptation?

    Swedenborg seems to be in agreement with most Christian theologies that assert Christ had two natures- truly human and truly Divine- but was the Divine nature minus Divine attributes (and if so, how could that remain a truly Divine nature)?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      Swedenborg does have a doctrine of Christ emptying himself out (exinanitio, in Swedenborg’s Latin), but as you might imagine, it’s not the same as the traditional Christian doctrine of kenosis, or emptying out. In Swedenborg’s version, it is the finite human side of Christ that is emptied out, not the infinite divine side.

      Traditional Christianity bases its doctrine on the (erroneous) doctrine of the Trinity of Persons in God. In that doctrine, it is only God the Son who “empties himself out” to become human, whereas God the Father does not empty himself out. This is possible because they are seen as two different “Persons” of God (or really, two distinct gods).

      In Swedenborg’s true Christian monotheism, such a thing is not possible. There is no distinct or separate “person” of the Son of God “born from eternity.” Rather, there is only God, who was incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ, while still remaining fully God in heaven.

      What happened in the Incarnation was not that God emptied out or surrendered his divine attributes, but rather that God took on an ordinary, finite human nature from Mary, becoming a flesh-and-blood human being just like other ordinary mortals, but having the Divine (God) as his inner soul.

      This means that no part of God lost any of the divine attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. Rather, Christ at birth had a dual nature and therefore a dual consciousness. One was an ordinary limited human nature, the other was an infinite divine nature. These were temporarily joined together so that God could do his saving work on earth, and take on a glorified humanity in which to have a direct relationship with humans on earth forever after.

      So it was not the infinite divine nature that was limited in Christ; it was the finite human nature from his human mother Mary. When Jesus was more present in that finite human nature, he had the limitations of knowledge and power that other people have. But when he was more present in his inner, infinite divine nature, he had access to the omniscience and omnipotence, and moral perfection, of God, whom he was inwardly.

      In the Gospels we can see Jesus going back and forth between these two natures throughout the course of his ministry, sometimes speaking to God as if to a separate being, and other times declaring his oneness with God. For more on this concept, see also, “If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?

      The emptying out that Christ experienced was not the emptying out of his infinite divine attributes. Rather, it was the emptying out of his finite human attributes from his human mother. This process happened by turns throughout his entire life, calibrated with his times of temptation and inner struggle. As his inner divine nature overcame and was victorious in each temptation, his finite human nature from Mary dropped away, or was emptied out, more and more, and was replaced with a divine human nature that did not have the limitations of the one he was emptying out of himself. In the article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?” I compare this to the process of petrifaction of wood, in which all of the original celluloid material of the wood is gradually replaced with mineral material, while still retaining the imprint of the original wood.

      So in Swedenborg’s theology, there is no emptying out of the divine nature. As you say, that would be impossible. God cannot become non-God (non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, morally imperfect, and and so on) and still be God. Rather, there is a step by step emptying out of the finite human nature, followed step by step with a filling of the humanity with the divine nature. And so when Jesus rose from death, and especially when he ascended to the Father, he no longer had any of the limitations he had had during his lifetime on earth due to his finite human nature from Mary. He was now fully both divine and human, and infinitely so as a Divine Humanity. Jesus was God, and so Swedenborg calls him the Lord God Jesus Christ, as well as the Divine Humanity.

      Traditional Christianity seems to miss most of this, and asserts a divine nature in Christ that is not simply God, but rather is the “second Person” of God, “born from eternity” (another unbiblical impossibility).

      And the human nature of traditional Christianity, Catholicism in particular, apparently comes from Mary, but (in yet another impossible and unbiblical dogma), had no taint of “original sin,” or tendencies toward evil, and was somehow fully divine from birth. All of this makes no sense whatsoever, besides being unbiblical, and it would also completely destroy the reason God took on a finite human nature in the first place. That was specifically to meet the Devil on his own turf, and to allow the Devil to attack him. For that it was necessary to have an ordinary, sin-prone human nature that the Devil could attack.

      Traditional Christian doctrine, based on the false doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, utterly destroys Christ, dividing him into two natures that are never fully unified, and destroys the Godhead as a whole by dividing God into three “persons,” which in ordinary language are three gods. It is a terribly false and destructive doctrine that does away with Christianity as taught in the New Testament and in the Bible as a whole. Traditional Christian doctrine is, quite simply, pagan polytheism dressed up in a Christian disguise.

      So no, there was no emptying out of the divine nature. Only the taking on of a finite human nature, which God used to fight against and be victorious over the Devil (all of human evil in a complex), and which, in the process, Christ emptied out of himself, replacing it with the full divinity so that God (not some “second Person” of God) is now fully both divine and human, and infinite in both divinity and humanity.

      In fact, according to Swedenborg, God is the only truly and fully human being, all of us created humans being limited and (by our assertion of own will against God’s) faulty expressions of the true humanity of God. So it’s not as though God was taking on a “nature” that wasn’t his. Rather, God was, for the only instance in all of creation, fully realizing and expressing the humanity that was always God, in whose image and likeness we were created.

  11. Duane Armitage says:

    Lee,

    Thank you for these insights, and for so promptly and thoroughly answering my questions! Have you posted anything on here or elsewhere about prayer??? Or can you point me to Swedenborg on prayer?

    Duane

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      You are most welcome.

      I haven’t posted a lot about prayer here on the blog, but for one little tidbit, see: “Pray to God, but Row Away from the Rocks.”

      Here is one of Swedenborg’s most focused statements about prayer, from Arcana Coelestia #2535:

      “He will pray for you” [in Genesis 20:7] means that it will thus be revealed. This is clear from the meaning of “praying.” Regarded in itself prayer is talking to God and at the same time some inner view of the things that are being prayed for. Answering to this there is something akin to an influx into the perception or thought of the person’s mind, which effects a certain opening of his internals towards God. But the experience varies according to the person’s state and according to the essence of whatever he is praying for. If his prayer springs from love and faith, and if they are wholly celestial and spiritual things about which and for which he prays, something like a revelation is present within his prayer which manifests itself in the affection of the one praying in the form of hope, comfort, or some inward joy. This is why ‘praying’ in the internal sense means to be revealed. Here such a meaning is all the greater since it is a prophet who, it is said, will pray, and “prophet” is used to mean the Lord, whose prayer was nothing else than an internal speaking to the Divine, and at the same time revelation.

  12. Duane says:

    Lee,

    I read the links you posted. They are fascinating. My only burning question now is: when I die, my deepest longing and desire is to finally see and be with Jesus. Will this not happen immediately? Paul talks about even wanting to die to be with Christ “which is far better” — I’ve always, in a way, empathized here with Paul. And of course Jesus himself says he will come and take us to himself. So my question then is : for those whose deepest desire is to be with Jesus, will they get to see/meet/be with him??

    Thanks again. Loving this site.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, if your deepest desire is to be with Jesus, you will see Jesus in heaven.

      Just be aware that our true deepest desire is never something theoretical in our mind, nor is it just a “feeling.” Our deepest desire is something that is embodied in our life. If our deepest desire is to be in a personal, face-to-face relationship with the Lord, then, as he said:

      If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14:15, 21)

      Among his commandments, the greatest are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor (your fellow human beings) as yourself. Those who put these two commandments at the center of their lives truly love Jesus, and will see Jesus in heaven.

      Here is an article that fleshes out what it means to love God:

      How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?

      If you wish to see Jesus, make his commandments, especially the two Great Commandments, the center and focus of your life, and as he himself said, he will love you and reveal himself to you.

      About that, please see also:

      How does Jesus Appear to Us? Can We See God Face to Face?

      • Duane says:

        Oh yes, I agree. I wasn’t implying that you just had to have fuzzy feelings or some intellectual assent. But I do believe that if one truly loves Jesus it WILL necessarily manifest in ones life (if you love me, you WILL keep my commands”). That is, who really thinks they deeply love Jesus and hates people? I would think if one truly loves him they will strives as much as they can and as much as possible to keep his commandments. I prefer to think of it the way 1st John talks about it, namely “he who says ‘i love God’ but hates his brother is a liar.” I mean I suppose there are people out there who are deceived, who really think they know Jesus and love him, but hate people. But, don’t you think, deep down, there is knowledge somehow? (Because otherwise, where is the joy(!) in the Christian life?! if we can’t love and long and hope to see Jesus).

        Thanks for these links, I will read them carefully as I always do. Again, I can’t say it enough how much I am enjoying these Blogs. Can’t get enough of them!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, I completely agree with you. People who say they love Jesus but treat their fellow human beings hatefully are deceiving themselves, or are outright liars. Believing in Jesus and loving Jesus involves a complete transformation of our soul and our life to become more like Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, so that may be children of our Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

          I’m so glad you’re enjoying and benefiting from the blog!

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          One interesting thing, along the same lines as being with Jesus, is that in these accounts of Heaven being very much like earth. Where is the fellowship with God? Jesus? If people have jobs and life is mainly like it is here, where does God/Jesus and eternity with Him fit? Is he just always around (I know Swedenborg talks about God as the Sun, but are you just always in constant communication with God then?).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          As we look around at human society around us and around the world, it becomes pretty clear that most people—including most good people—are far more focused on their relationships with other people than they are on their relationship with God. Even many churchgoing believers commonly think of church and God as a good part of their lives, but not as the main event. In other words, in biblical terms, most good people are focused on love for the neighbor (the second Great Commandment) rather than love for the Lord (the first Great Commandment).

          In the spiritual world, our character continues to be what it had grown into here on earth. So people who are more focused on loving and serving the neighbor than on loving and serving God continue to have other people as the primary focus of their lives in heaven, too.

          That’s why in most of the heavens Swedenborg describes, people are mostly just going about their business, working and engaging in social and recreational activities, without spending a lot of time thinking about God or wanting the Lord right there with them as they go about their day. Just as here, they do go to worship services (which seem to consist largely of a sermon) when the Sabbath rolls around, and they do of course believe in God and have a relationship with God. But their primary conscious relationship is with their spouse, their friends, their co-workers, and other people in the community, just as it is here on earth.

          According to Swedenborg these people whose relationship with God is somewhat cooler and more intellectual and faith-based don’t even see God as a sun in the sky; rather, they see God as a moon (which represents faith). This doesn’t mean they live in darkness, however. Since everything is so much brighter in heaven than it is here, the moon provides plenty of reflected light from the sun so that they live in what we would think of as daylight here on earth. This is another way of saying that even faith-based people (as compared to love-based people) have a far brighter faith in heaven than they do here on earth.

          The main point is that for the bulk of the population of the earth, God simply isn’t their primary focus. Therefore having God always present with them in person or in their conscious thoughts and experience is not something they aspire to or desire. They are more interested in engaging in their relationship with other people, while still believing in and reverencing God and living a good life according to the divine truth they receive from their preachers.

          Those in heaven who do have a continual, or near continual, sense of God’s presence are the ones who focused their life on the first Great Commandment, while living according to the second Great Commandment out of the love for the Lord that is central in their lives. These people are conscious of the Lord’s presence throughout the day as the sun of heaven shining down on them with divine love that is the warmth of their lives and divine truth that is the light of their lives. And at times, when they especially desire the personal presence of the Lord, and their hearts are in an especially pure state, he will appear to them, as Jesus said:

          Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Are you (or Swedenborg) implying that one can still “sin” in Heaven? (If your heart is not pure, what could that mean?) Also, I always understood people’s (even good people’s) lack of interest in God the direct result of God being “hidden” to us in this life. It would make more sense that, knowing with certainty that God exists, people would want to know him more, no? Also, are you (or Swedenborg) implying that people either go into one of two categories, lover of God or lover of neighbor, or, intellectual vs. lover of people? I find this dichotomy strange, since isn’t the “ideal” to love God AND neighbor ? (I tend to be both a “people person” but also an “intellectual” and always saw them as part of the same life in Christ).

          Once again, I know I’ve said it now probably 10x, but your blogging and your posts are simply fantastic and I can’t thank you enough for your website and your replying so fast and earnestly!

          -Duane

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          And thanks yet again for your kind words! I do appreciate it very much.

          No, I don’t think angels sin.

          In general, sinning means actually committing an evil act—especially one that is contrary to the Ten Commandments. I don’t think angels ever do that. Even sins “in the heart” are sins because if the person had the opportunity, or could make one, he or she would go ahead and commit the actual sin.

          In the spiritual world, people who are sinners in their heart but have restrained themselves from actually committing those sins here on earth for social or financial reasons will, before long, rush into committing those sins with abandon. In the world of spirits, those external restraints are gradually taken away. As this happens, people begin to express in action their true inner desires and motives no matter how deeply they had hidden them here on earth.

          Back to the main point, I don’t believe that angels have actual evil desires. Any remaining outright evil and false thoughts and desires are cleansed out of them during their initial stay in the world of spirits. However, they can and do have less that perfectly pure thoughts and feelings. No human being is ever perfect, nor is heaven itself perfect in the Lord’s sight, as the book of Job says:

          God puts no trust even in his holy ones,
          and the heavens are not clean in his sight. (Job 15:15)

          The difference is that whereas we on earth commonly do act upon our less than pure thoughts and desires, angels do not, or if they do, it falls short of actual sin, but comes out only in less than ideal words and actions. In other words, even angels can at times say and do stupid things, and learn from their mistakes.

          In short, nobody but God is perfect—not even the highest angels. And though angels do not, I believe, ever actually sin, they do still have continuing spiritual growth and perfecting of the spirit to engage in, to all eternity.

          About God being hidden in this life, I would say that the cause-and-effect relationship is the reverse: People don’t lack an interest in knowing God because God is hidden; rather, God is hidden because people lack an interest in knowing God.

          Consider that in Genesis 3:8 God is described as walking in the garden, whereas Adam and Eve are the ones who hide themselves from him. God was present in person right with them in the garden; yet they did not want that presence because they had sinned and turned away from God. Much of the rest of the Bible is all about God desiring a relationship of love and presence with people, but the people refusing and running away from that relationship.

          Even today, for people who truly desire a relationship with God, there is a vast wealth of written and oral material, not to mention millions of spiritual teachers and leaders, that can guide them to such a relationship. It’s not for lack of availability of God that so many people don’t have a living relationship with God; it’s because the bulk of the people simply aren’t seeking such a relationship. God is hidden from them because, like Adam and Eve, they are hiding themselves from God.

          This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are sinners. But at best it does mean that, as I said in my previous reply, their primary focus is on the neighbor rather than on God.

          And yes, Swedenborg lays out extensively the distinction between people who put love of the Lord first and people who put love of the neighbor first in their lives. This is the general distinction that he makes between “heavenly angels” (traditionally translated “celestial angels”) and “spiritual angels.” Heaven itself is organized into kingdoms and levels based on this distinction in the spiritual character of the angels who live there.

          And yes, this means that many people—really, most people—fall short of completing the full course of regeneration or spiritual rebirth that God has in mind for us. Some people, though basically good people, simply aren’t motivated to put that much effort into their spiritual life. And so, although they do find their final home in heaven because they are good people who love and serve their neighbor at their own level, their home in heaven is in one of the lower “spiritual” (faith/intellect-oriented) or “natural/earthly” (action/hands-oriented) heavens.

          Yes, of course God would prefer that we all run the full course. But God is loving and merciful, and accepts everyone into heaven if only they make some real effort to focus their lives on something other than their own personal pleasure, power, and possessions.

          And finally, yes, the higher levels of heaven, and the angels there, do encompass in their spiritual life everything that the angels of the lower heavens have. Heavenly angels, who are focused on love for the Lord, also have a deep knowledge, understanding, and wisdom about the divine truth—one that far surpasses that of the angels of the lower heavens. And they also live an active life of practical love and service to their fellow angels, to spirits in the world of spirits, and to people on earth, depending upon their particular calling and occupation. In fact, they are able to do very demanding work that would go beyond the abilities of lower angels precisely because their spiritual life is so much more deeply rooted in the direct presence of the Lord in their hearts.

          This, I think, is expressed in some of our greatest spiritual and moral leaders here on earth, who are able to stand up against the corrupt and worldly powers in a way that less spiritually developed people cannot because these great leaders do not look to the world or to other people for their affirmation, meaning, and guidance in life, but look first and foremost to God.

          Of course, the greatest example of this is Jesus Christ himself, compared to whom even our greatest human leaders are mere shadows.

        • Duane says:

          Ah, yes. That clarifies many things. And I absolutely see and agree with what you said about people hiding from God; but, I also meant that, despite even those who long for God, he is still not (except at rare times) accessible in a way that I, or Paul, would have liked, namely face to face! Ha! So in other words, he is, “veiled” in a way that makes freedom here possible.

          Now the thing about angels being human; I’ve read around here your various posts on that topic, which makes sense. However, are we to understand that there are NO other beings save human beings turned angels in the entire universe? That is, what about life on other planets or elsewhere in the universe? (I’m sure you’ve written on this before).

          And, I do agree that most people will have an infinite time to progress toward God, but I sincerely do wish to see Jesus asap(!) out of love. Indeed, I know many people who love and long for the Lord in this manner. Perhaps I can’t fathom the idea of being in heaven, knowing God exists, knowing Jesus is accessible, and being preoccupied with other things! Ha!

          Thanks again!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Longing for the Lord is good. But it is up to the Lord’s wisdom to determine what is best for us, and when and how to reveal himself to us. We do not always know why the Lord does what he does, or doesn’t do what he doesn’t do. Meanwhile, we can continue to long and strive for him, having faith that in time—in the afterlife if not here on earth—he will show himself to us more directly.

          About your question, first, Swedenborg did say that there are no separately created angels or demons; that all the inhabitants of the spiritual world were once born here in the material universe, lived out a lifetime, and moved on to the spiritual world at the time of their physical death.

          Swedenborg did also say that there are many other inhabited planets that contribute angels to heaven (and of course, evil spirits to hell as well). However, this has become a double-edged sword for people who accept Swedenborg’s theology.

          On the one hand, many scientists today believe that given the incredible vastness of the universe, and the huge number of galaxies, stars, and now planets in other solar systems that we know exist out there, there must be life on at least some of the other planets in the universe. In fact, many scientists and space enthusiasts are actively searching for such life. So the idea that there are other inhabited planets is no more strange today than it was in Swedenborg’s day, when many people believed that there were other inhabited planets.

          On the other hand, as was also commonly believed in previous centuries, Swedenborg believed that every planet and even every satellite (moon) must be inhabited. And in a book traditionally titled Earths in the Universe, he proceeded to recount his encounters in the spiritual world with spirits from all of the other then-known planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), plus Earth’s moon, and five inhabited planets from other solar systems.

          In the 18th century, planetary science was sufficiently rudimentary that this was perfectly plausible. Today we know that none of the other planets in our solar system are, or could be, inhabited by advanced, intelligent life forms. We now think that the best case scenario would usually be one or two inhabited planets per solar system, if any. And so Swedenborg’s book on the inhabitants of other planets has become rather an embarrassment to many rank and file Swedenborgians.

          For my own take on this, please see my article, “Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life.”

          Short version: I think Swedenborg misidentified the planets of origin of the alien cultures he met in the spiritual world due to his pre-existing belief that all planets must be inhabited. But it’s a complicated issue. But I do think he actually met in the spiritual world cultures from other planets in the universe.

          To me, aside from the fact that I find Earths in the Universe to be a fascinating read combining my great interests science, science fiction, aliens, and spirituality, the main point relevant to your question is that no, our earth would not be sufficient to provide a heaven large enough for the infinite God. God created a vast universe not just so that we puny humans here on earth could gaze out at it in increasing awe, but to provide a vast heaven of angels of all different kinds, from all different planets and cultures.

        • Duane says:

          Excellent. Makes sense. Even the part about our solar system.

          But, one thing: there does seem to be a supposition in the Bible that angels are sui generis from humans, and not simply humans who have evolved; e.g. why does Jesus say that humans in the afterlife will be “like” the angels or “equal” to the angels. Or even “what is man that you are mindful of him? for you made him a little less than the angels…” All of these seems at least to imply the difference in “essence” … But I’m not disputing, more interested in the explanation.

          I’m sure you know the traditional position, e.g. of Thomas Aquinas, that angels are distinct beings from humans, and, as immaterial beings are each their own unique species (since “matter” is what individuates things of the same genre or species).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          It’s after midnight here and I need to hit the hay. But before I do, here’s a quick link for you:

          What is the Biblical Basis for Humans becoming Angels after they Die?

  13. anonymous says:

    Do you think that mental illness disappear when you die? Like if the personality is effected by a brain disorder like ASD, or a low level of blood oxytocin (science article says that it helps people with ASD be more social, and more of it flowing in the blood makes people more friendly)

    I have a friend with ASD (or “aspergers”, a weaker form of autism, so they seem normal but really have autism symptoms like social ineptitude to a mild degree…) and he takes oxytocin and it really shows an improvement in socializing!

    • anonymous says:

      I guess this question applies to paranoid schizophrenia, everything…

    • Lee says:

      Hi anonymous,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments and question.

      When we go to the spiritual world, we leave our physical body behind, never to return to it. This means that we also leave behind any physical or mental illness that has physical causes, including chemical imbalances in the brain, faulty neurological development, and so on.

      Though there may be some lingering effects because that is the mental and bodily world the person has lived in for years, it is nothing that we can’t grow out of during the early part of our stay in the spiritual world. Before long, if not instantly, everyone who goes to the spiritual world gains full physical and mental health.

      • Physically, this means growing older or younger until we have the body of a young adult.
      • Mentally it means growing up if our mental development was not complete here on earth, and leaving behind any mental illnesses that affected us here on earth.

      The only way we can become “insane” in the spiritual world is if, as fully capable and self-responsible adults, we choose to live in insane ways instead of sane ways. But that is an entirely different subject, and doesn’t have much to do with most mental illness as we know it here on earth.

      In short, once your friend’s life here on earth is finished, and he moves on to the spiritual world, he will no longer have to deal with the effects of brain chemistry and neurological development issues that cause him not to be as fully functioning mentally or socially as he would like to be.

      The same applies to paranoid schizophrenics and others who suffer with various mental illnesses. Some of the more severe cases may require care by skilled angels when the person first arrives in the spiritual world. But that care will not be required for very long, and soon the person will be fully in his or her right mind and able to live like a normal human being.

      For an article that covers some of these things in a little more detail, please see: “Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?

  14. Amanda says:

    “Atheists and materialists are operating under every bit as non-demonstrable an assumption as are people who believe in spiritual reality—which, at least, we have definite and direct awareness of due to our awareness of our own conscious thoughts and feelings.”

    – I disagree entirely. Atheism is not an assumption, it is the rejection of an assumption. And I do not agree that we have awareness of spirituality just because some people have feelings of it, that is silly to even consider in philosophical conversations. Plenty of delusional people have thoughts and feelings that convince them of irrational things, should we accept that great aunt Sue’s house has been invaded with unicorns and fairies or should we come to terms with her delusion and get her help?

    “Rene Descartes started his whole philosophy with what is perhaps the only thing we can know for sure: “I think, therefore I am.” And while I don’t necessarily accept all of the conclusions he drew from that fundamental reality, it is a more fundamentally knowable reality than the physical reality that atheists and materialists assume is the basis of our existence.”

    – I disagree with the claim that we can only know for sure that we exist, this train of thought only serves to confuse and mystify physical science. Very ironic when a creationist attempts to make physical reality appear presumptuous.

    “In short, both you and I are making assumptions about the nature of reality. The difference is that my assumption is based on something I can actually know for sure: I exist because my consciousness exists. And so, consciousness, which is a non-material thing, is a more definite reality than the brain, in which materialists assume that consciousness exists. But they cannot actually know that for sure.”

    – You are making assumptions, and I’m denying the assumptions; but I have not made any assumptions. And I very much disagree with the idea that “I exist because my consciousness exists.” In fact it is the other way around, our consciousness exists because our body exists. I would definitely consider the consciousness a material thing, just as I would consider hunger, anxiety, and fright material things; because without the neurons sending and receiving information in our brain, we would not experience anything. Awareness is a byproduct of the brain functioning, and this is a very material process.

    • Duane says:

      Amanda,

      You haven’t responded to my post, but I think what you are missing in the reply above is Nietzsche’s point, namely that “truth” itself is an assumption, a Christian one even. So too with rationality, the very rationality by which you negate the theistic assumption as “false” and assume a materialist world as true. Nietzsche notes that IF Darwin is right (Darwin also saw this insight) then we would have no reason to trust our cognitive faculties to provide knowledge, but rather they were merely be adaptive for survival. Even the idea of Darwininism itself would be a survival adaptation, and its veracity would be questionable and ultimately unknowable. (There are plenty examples in the history of science which seems to confirm this, namely a multitude of theories that are completely “false” but nevertheless “work,” that is, they succeed in manipulating reality by way of a false paradigm.

      Anyway, Nietzsche argues that “truth” (what is) is itself a Christian theistic idea, and any “atheist” who still believes in truth is what he would call a “pale atheist,” one who is not courageous enough to recognize that the very “will to truth” has finally destroyed itself in modernity, bc now we know we are animals not looking for the truth, but for survival. Thus even the idea, to repeat, that “all truth is useful” is itself false, since nothing is true, and nothing consequently false.

      Finally, I’ll say that aside from your “faith” in reason and truth, I’m sure you believe in the Christian ethic of “victims” (as most atheists do). This is Christian insight, namely that we ought to care about the weak and oppressed and victimized. Nietzsche however argues that this is silly and that the weak should perish, since any “compassion” for them “thwarts the law of selection.” (Prior to Christianity, this ethic did not exist in the Western world).

      In short, my point would be to say I’d bet you were “assuming” two Christian theses as axioms: 1. rationality and 2. the ethic of concern for victims/compassion.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Duane,

        He was an annoying one, that Nietzsche! Always saying inconvenient things that people didn’t want to hear! 😀

        There isn’t any solid basis for an atheist morality except perhaps an existentialist one: we’ll have a morality because we want to create one. But as far as deriving it from reality as atheists generally conceive of reality—as including only physical reality, and no God or spiritual realm—no morality can be drawn from that except that the fit survive and the unfit do not, and that’s the way things must (and should) be.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Exactly! That’s right. I, along with Nietzsche, only wish atheism to be more consistent as a metaphysics, which means replacing truth with art and absurdity, as well as an existentialist ethic, as you said, where the creation of value is itself the highest act bc it is the only real one. In short, “there is no truth, only power.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I wouldn’t say materialism does away with truth (or falsity). It simply limits it to material reality. That, for us, means the results of observation and experimentation. Gravity works this way and not that way. The human brain works this way and not that way. The universe is about fourteen billion years old, not six thousand years old. And so on.

          What doesn’t exist in any real sense is good and evil, which is a prerequisite for morality. Things aren’t good or evil. They just are. If one species wipes out another species, that’s not good, nor is it evil. It’s just the way things are. If one person kills another person, that’s not good or evil. It’s just something that happened.

          If we decide we want to impose some sort of morality on humanity, we can certainly do that. But there’s no particular basis for that in the nature of (material) reality. It’s just something we have decided that we want to do. And that, too, is neither good nor evil. It’s just a phenomenon, like other phenomena, that has taken place.

          By the same token, if we wipe out all advanced life forms, including ourselves, on our planet through all-out nuclear war, that, too, is neither good nor evil. It’s just what happened on this particular tiny little planet in this particular minuscule segment of the universe.

          The universe itself will keep right on going as if nothing had happened.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Of course certain versions of materialism think they are compatible with “truth” and thus “science” and knowing (scientia). My point, following Nietzsche, is that this is ultimately an incoherent view, if one is “truly” a materialist, i.e. believes that only matter exists, and thus “intelligibility” would be a mere epiphenomenal construct of brute “stuff.” (Things like mathematics for example, which are universal and necessary, have to be mere subjective impositions, much like Procrustes’ Bed, to a blank and meaningless world — this is Nietzsche’s metaphor, not mine). This is a much more complex argument to run through than the morality one, but, I think it holds water. I’ve just recently written a book on this (I’d be happy to send you a copy? or we can parse the details out on here!); the key section for me is ch. 3 sec. 24 of Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morals” — here Nietzsche notes that if there is any truth, any intelligibility whatsoever that is left over, theism inevitably ensues (since intelligibility remains independent from materiality to the extent that it is knowable (and old Aristototelian idea is that what we know is not the matter but rather the “form” of a substance)). Moreover, in a great little essay published posthumously (“On Truth and Lie in the Extra Moral Sense”), Nietzsche’s argument is essentially thus: the will to truth has destroyed itself in modernity, with Darwin, since it has revealed itself to be not a will to truth, but a will to power. Thus there is no “truth” only power (what we thought was “truth” or “science” was merely our mind’s needing to dominate a chaotic existence; concepts, categories, and reason itself then are not uncovering any reality out there, but rather merely freeze framing a random flux. One might wonder “well, ok, but how does science ‘work’ then if it is just our mind dominating reality?” — Nietzsche’s answer is a kind of precursor to T. Kuhn (“Structures of Scientific Revolution”) where science really doesnt tell us anything about the world, it rather just gives us models (false models) to control the world. Knowledge is truly only about “power” and nothing else (Kuhn even gives examples, many in fact, of false models that yield results; Nietzsche merely extends that to everything and all models).

          I agree with what you said about morality !

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I suspect Nietzsche is being overly nihilistic about this. Materialists do generally see the universe as operating according to a certain intrinsic order. The results of scientific observation generally support this. And there’s no particular reason to believe that everything we observe is wrong, and that rather than being orderly and law-abiding, the universe is actually chaotic, with no real order.

        • Duane says:

          Right. I agree that materialists see this, but they are simply being inconsistent according to Nietzsche, with whom I agree, since a materialist cannot give an “account” for how they account without moving into a metaphysics that would consider intelligibility as mind independent. I take Kuhn’s point to be precisely that there is a great reason to believe that our minds are not “tracking reality,” but rather merely coming up with useful fictions to control things. Moreover, W. Heisenberg in his book “Philosophy and Physics” comes to a similar conclusion given the absurdities that seem to result when trying to “interpret” quantum mechanics — the prevailing interpretation then was Copenhagen, which now seems to have fallen out of favor only to be replaced with the ridiculous “many worlds” interpretation — let alone the reconciling of relativity and gravity with quantum mechanics.

          More and more scientists I talk to, in the academy, are moving toward a Nietzschean or what is commonly called an “instrumentalist” approach. They say things now like “well we don’t really know anything, we just know our models work; whether our models reveal anything about reality, we must remain skeptics.” This, for Nietzsche, is another effect of God’s death that he foresaw a century ago.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          “Instrumentalism” sounds like a variety of pragmatism: It works, so we’re going to go with it.

          And that’s not necessarily wrong. Truth is not a philosophical thing, but an embodied thing. It’s not just the way things are, but the way things work.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I would say, rather, that from a materialistic point of view, truth is blind. It is simply another word for what exists. There is no purpose or intelligence to it. It simply is.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Welcome back! I hope you had a good New Year’s.

      First, before actually responding to the substance of your comment, I notice that you’ve referred to “creationism” a couple of times in our conversations. You should be aware that this word does not refer generally to people who believe that God created the universe. Rather, it has become a technical term in Christianity for Christians who believe that God literally created the physical universe according to the description in the first few chapters of the book of Genesis.

      While I do believe that God created the universe, I do not believe that the first few chapters of Genesis (up to the later parts of Chapter 11) were ever meant to be taken literally, but are, rather, what we would today call “creation myths,” or metaphorical stories containing symbolism intended to say something about the human condition and our relationship with God. So I am not a creationist as that word is now commonly used. I don’t think God created the world in six days.

      Now to respond to the substance of your comment:

      You think you are not making assumptions, but in fact you are.

      Your objections to my statements mostly involve debating the question of what we know. And though that is important, more fundamental—and much more difficult—is the question of how we know what we know. This is an issue studied in the branch of philosophy known as epistemology.

      Your assumption is that we can know that the physical universe, including the physical brain, exists because our senses tell us it does. However, that is a secondary, mediated way of gaining knowledge.

      Even if I accept your assumption, everything we know about the nature of the physical world, and even the brain itself, comes to us by way of our physical senses, the network of nerves that connect them to the brain, and the brain’s perception of them. But the more we study perception, the more we realize that it is not simply a matter of visual, auditory, and other pictures of the outside world being projected on the brain as in a movie theater. Rather, the nervous system and the brain actively processes the physical stimuli that strike the various senses, and actively build it into a coherent picture that we perceive as “reality.”

      Whether that reality exists out there physically as we perceive it to exist is not something we can know for sure. We can only know that we perceive it that way, and then make the assumption that it actually exists out there objectively, apart from our perception of it.

      This, of course, means that we can’t even state with 100% certainty that the brain and nervous system exist. Even these we apparently perceive through our senses, but in fact perceive in our thinking, conscious mind.

      Descartes’ starting point is not, as you suggest, the idea that we can only know that we ourselves exist. That’s what’s known philosophically as solipsism. And quite frankly, it’s a tough position to refute philosophically.

      However, Descartes was not a solipsist. Rather, he said that the beginning of our knowledge that there is a reality is the fact that we think—that we have consciousness and awareness.

      In fact, that is the only thing we can know for 100% certain. Everything else we gain knowledge of through secondary processes. But we have direct knowledge of the fact that we think, and have a conscious mind.

      This, and not what particular conclusions we may draw from this, is the basis for my statement that both you and I are making assumptions, but at least I have direct experience of my basic assumption, whereas you have only indirect experience of your basic assumption.

      My basic philosophical assumption is that the world of human consciousness is a real one, because I have direct experience of it in my own consciousness.

      Your basic philosophical assumption is that everything consists of material reality. However, you have only indirect knowledge of said material reality, because everything you know about it is perceived in your thinking mind.

      You say that without the neurons sending and receiving information in our brain, we would not experience anything. However, that is an assumption based on the belief that what we perceive in our conscious mind to be physical reality actually exists out there objectively as physical reality, and is not simply something that our mind constructs, or perhaps a mental universe that in fact has no physical component at all.

      This is what I was talking about when I said earlier in the conversation that this fundamental problem of epistemology “is an inconvenient one for materialists of all stripes. So they generally ridicule it without having any really cogent argument to counter it.”

      The simple fact of the matter is that you and I have direct knowledge only of the existence of the conscious, thinking, mind, and only indirect knowledge of the existence of the physical universe, including the human brain and nervous system.

      All of this is covered in the article I linked for you early on in this conversation:
      Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

  15. Duane says:

    Lee

    a final thought: what IF someone in Hell were to “call on the name of the Lord”? (e.g. Jesus save me!). Or would someone in Hell not even desire to do that??

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Right. Someone in hell would have no desire to do that. People living in hell in the afterlife have already made their choice for evil and selfish self-indulgence over goodness and God. The last thing they want to do is call out to the Lord, because they are living in a state of opposition to everything that the Lord is, and represents, and they have no interest whatsoever in changing the way they have chosen to live.

  16. Duane says:

    P.S. Nietzsche agrees that “truth” and “isness” are co-dependent (truth = being), which is precisely why he argues that the very concept of “being” or “is” is precisely a fiction, for it implies a reality that “stands” still long enough to manipulate it. Is, from istere, means simply to stand, the very thing Nietzsche argues that our mind does. Moreover, ultimately this all comes down to what one thinks mathematics is (for this is the language of physics); if mathematics is real, and the world is mathematical, then mathematical truths are eternal (universal and necessary), since we know the universe has a beginning — even atheists like Lawrence Krauss at the end of his atheistic text “A Universe From Nothing” recognize that he cannot solve the problem of the laws of physics/mathematics existing in a Platonic realm prior to the big bang (This is also Alexander Vilenkin’s conclusion). Now, since these consistent Atheists/Agnostics end up Platonists, and since Nietzsche thinks Christianity is really “Platonism for the masses,” Nietzsche rejects the idea of intelligibility altogether, lest God come in through the back door via Plato.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Why does reality have to “stand still” for it to be real, and orderly? A moving reality is still a reality.

      Also, not all materialists believe that the universe had a beginning. Some believe that it has always existed, and that the big bang is just one event in a whole series. Others believe it is self-contained, and that the big bang is no more special than any other point in time and space. It’s simply one point on the surface of a universe that is curved through space and time. Stephen Hawking suggests this in A Brief History of Time.

      • Duane says:

        Alexander Vilenkin very recently has shown (borde guth vilenkin theorem) that the universe had to have a beginning. Hawking’s point depends on time being imaginary, which, as far as I understand it, cannot really translate into anything intelligible, which is why Vilenkin is preferred to even radical atheists like Krauss.

        My point about standing still was the connection between truth and “what is,” noting that “isness” itself etymologically implies something standing still or stability. If reality is continually moving then its not knowable, it thus has to stand still long enough to be known, and yet the features through which we grasp reality are eternal (universal and necessary) ones like math and logic; are these things — math and logic — real or just fictions? If the former, then we are into Platonism, if the latter then Nietzscheanism.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          And yet, many things we know only when they move.

          A deer will stand still to see if something that might be a predator moves. And when it moves, the deer knows what it is. Hunters, too, may not know if what they’re looking at is a deer, because it is camouflaged to its surroundings. But when it moves, they see what it is.

          Movement, it seems, is an intrinsic element of reality. And in seeing the way things move, we gain an understanding of their nature.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Modern physics is not my expertise. But my sense is that Hawking sees time not so much as an imaginary thing as it is a fourth dimension in which things exist. It is part of the substratum of existence. And if the universe is curved in time as well as space, then it has no beginning or end any more than the surface of the earth has a beginning or end.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          No no, I meant it had to be “i” (imaginary) in the mathematical formulas for it to work. Here’s a link by Bill Craig to what is meant by the use of imaginary time in this context: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/the-existence-of-god/the-ultimate-question-of-origins-god-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe/. I apologize for using a link if that is against the forum rules.

          Also, I am not saying that movement isnt part of the nature of something, it is rather essential, as Aristotle notes, yet movement needs to be grounded in causality for it to be intelligible and indicative of the essence of something. So reality must be both a combination of movement/rest, sameness/difference, etc. It cannot just be complete flux if we wish to understand it, and yet if we CAN understand it it has to be graspable but unchanging (what i meant by unmovable) principles that do not pass into their opposites, e.g. something is self-same and cannot both “be” and “not be” in the same way and respect.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Links in the discussion here are generally fine as long as they relate to the discussion and aren’t spam, objectionable material, and so on. As an extra precaution, comments with more than one link are held for moderation.

          I will read the linked article when my brain is a little less fatigued. However, in general, however, I would say that “imaginary” elements in science and math are probably seen as ways of representing things that we don’t yet fully understand. And in general, things we don’t understand yet, such as the integration of relativity and quantum mechanics, are not seen as invalidating science, but as things to be investigated and observed until they lead to greater understanding.

          There is a continue pitfall among theists of going for the “God of the gaps” where science has not yet figured something out about material reality. “Aha!” theists want to say. “That’s where God is!” However, God is not a material entity, and is not to be found in scientific study, including in the current gaps in scientific knowledge. God exists on an entirely different level of reality. And if (as I believe) God is present in material reality, it is in such a way that material reality is maintained perfectly as material reality, observing its own material-level laws. We are not to expect God to violate the laws of nature to show God’s presence because God is the one who established those laws, and God doesn’t break God’s own laws.

          About motion, just because something is in motion that doesn’t mean it doesn’t observe definite laws. The laws themselves, scientists generally believe, are unchanging, but the motion according to those laws is constant.

          Yes, the idea that there are constant laws is also an unprovable thing. But technically, in science, nothing is actually provable. We can only have greater and greater confidence that something is true. A single experiment could show it to be false. But the more experiments don’t disprove it, but confirm it, the more confidence we have that our theory, or hypothesis, about this particular aspect of (material) reality is correct.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          In this case then Hawking would be doing a “god of the gaps” theory here, only with atheism strangely, since all scientific evidence, and all of the science community agrees that the universe had a beginning. Rather than deal with the implications of that evidence (i.e. what caused that!), Hawking has to do “mathematical gymnastics” to avoid it, the likes of which are unintelligible.

          Also, yes, that was my point about the “laws” of motion, namely that motion is ultimately subsumed into a law or a stable, universal, condition that makes it intelligible.

          So the move now is to simply take what you said a step further, indeed this is what the scientific community seems to be doing. We don’t actually prove or even know anything we just come up with better models that yield better predictions.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Ever since the big bang theory first came out, various materialistic scientists have been trying to figure out ways to get around it because it looks too much like a Creation story, and they don’t want to let a Creator back into the world.

          Hawking’s view does seem to be another one in that series. Yet it does have some reason behind it, in that if the universe is actually a closed four-dimensional “sphere,” with time as the fourth dimension, then like the surface of the earth, the universe, too, has no beginning or end, and the big bang is perhaps just one of the poles demarcating something that the universe “revolves” around.

          As for science not actually proving or knowing anything, but only coming up with better models and predictions, isn’t that rather like what many mystics have been saying all along about the Ultimate Reality? We can’t know God in any ultimate sense. We can only move in the direction of God, and gain a greater and greater understanding of God’s nature within the limitations of our own finite minds.

          Swedenborg, in fact, says that this motion toward God, while never actually reaching the perfection of a perfect knowledge of God, is something that the angels continue to engage in throughout all eternity.

          This makes it hard for me, from a theistic perspective, to criticize scientists who have the humility to recognize that we never fully know the nature of reality. We only grow in knowledge, and come up with better and better models that yield better and better predictions.

          And yes, those models do feed into technology. But science and technology, though closely related, are not the same. One is theory; the other is practical application of theory.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          I think we are almost wholly in accord here.

          The only point I would add would be that science almost always includes philosophy, whether scientists want it to or not. That is, what we have been engaging in , in the past hour, was not science, but philosophy of science. Science itself, and by that I mean the practice you described of predictions based on models (usually mathematical), if it wishes to do more than simply “shut up and calculate,” almost always interprets the meaning and implications of its data — this is precisely what occurs when causation is concluded over mere correlation. Thus metaphysics (a theory of reality) is inevitable. It is impossible to not interpret the data. Hawking, Dennett, Harris, Krauss, Dawkins are all prime examples of interpreting the philosophic implications of the data.

          Now I think my above argument sounds almost exactly like your initial response to the Amanda, namely that it is impossible to have a pure objective world view without some axioms and assumptions.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Right. I think you and I basically think along the same lines.

          And though I’ll defend materialists’ right and ability to maintain their own version of reality, from my perspective they’re still spiritual beings in material clothing here on earth. And they still ask, and seek answers for, the sort of “ultimate meaning” questions that religion has always been the keeper of. They’re simply attempting to do this without invoking God. And yet, they’re still searching for the same thing religious people are searching for, only in a different guise. (See, for example, “The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative & the Spiritual Aspirations of Atheists and Agnostics.”)

          Further, I have a tremendous sympathy for atheists. To put it simply, if I’d been brought up with the ideas about God that most people today are brought up with, I’d probably be an atheist, too. Sometimes I think God had me born into a Swedenborgian ministerial household because God took one look and said, “Yeah, that one’s not going to be satisfied with junk religion.” 😉

          Because as Swedenborg said, though not in exactly these words, most of the Christianity, and religion in general, that we have these days is pure junk. His words would be more like, “entirely false, without a single truth left in it.” The things traditional Christianity teaches about God are not only utterly irrational (three Persons make one God?), but also horrendous and insane (God requires the bloody death of his only Son to placate his justice and wrath?).

          As a result, I generally think of most atheism today as a necessary stage in the rejection and destruction of the false shell of “Christianity” that has posed as Christianity for so many centuries. For many thinking people, rejecting God altogether is necessary to reject the horribly false teachings about God that Christianity, especially, has been teaching for so long.

          Unfortunately, for many individual atheists this will mean rejecting the existence and reality of God for their entire remaining lifetime here on earth. However, meanwhile they provide very useful critiques, not of God as God really is, or of the Bible as the Bible should really be understood, but of the false gods (I use the plural advisedly) of traditional Christianity, and the false reading of the Bible that exists in traditional Christianity.

          The more people who can be pulled away from those false gods and that false reading of the Bible, the better it will be in the long run. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of us Swedenborgians around to get the job done. So atheists do a lot of that job for us. 🙂

          Also unfortunately, many atheists have been so traumatized by the notion of God that they were brought up with, or that seeped into their minds from the overall religious culture if they were brought up atheist or religiously apathetic, that no matter how much people such as yours truly say, “That’s not who God really is!” they can’t hear it, because their gut is screaming, “God is a bastard!” So they will just have to work their way through that.

          But I still do what I can in my own limited sphere, seeking to break through the shell of false religion and false beliefs that have destroyed God in the minds of so many people. In the process, I find myself growing less and less patient with traditional Christianity and its doctrines, and more and more ready to make my own whip of cords and engage in a bit of messy theological housecleaning.

        • Duane says:

          Oh I absolutely maintain the right of anyone who wants to disagree with me and take any perspective they like. I value free speech and free dissent and all of that. This does not mean that I cannot criticize it, or even point to what I believe are the logical inconsistencies in one’s argument. My critique of an idea does not mean one is not entitled to it. You critique the Trinity, yet I’m sure you’d agree that people are entitled to that idea. (Although perhaps false ideas of God are perhaps worse than no idea about him; I can sympathize with that idea).

          You and I are much alike here. I too was fortunate to be raised with the idea of an absolutely loving Jesus, and often thought had I just had a typical upbringing in Catholicism I’d have become an atheist. I recall my mother telling me, e.g. before CCD classes “Ok they will tell you God hates you for missing Church; don’t believe them, Jesus loves you.”

          Well said!! “From my perspective, the very fact that some scientists engage in philosophical thinking about their own discipline demonstrates that something beyond material reality exists.” I completely agree.

          Once again Lee, this dialogue with you has been an absolute pleasure. I continue to read and study your blogs with eagerness. Have you compiled all of your blogs into a book anywhere?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          My wife is making serious efforts to get me to get serious about writing and publishing books based on, and extending onward from, the material on this blog. With any luck, it won’t be too long before she succeeds. 😀

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Oh, and with over 300 posts on this blog so far, by my calculations it would take 15 or 20 books to publish it all.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Another way of saying this, from a materialistic viewpoint, is that we humans can get too caught up in philosophy, when reality is not philosophical, but material. It exists, and we observe its existence and nature.

      • Duane says:

        Right, right. But the materialist who says that makes a philosophic claim (one that is self-referentially problematic of course). Moreover, we don’t just observe existence and its “nature” (nature here in the sense of essence, which is already a philosophical concept implying that something lies underneath or behind appearances), but we use mathematics and logic to assess and observe nature. So again the question becomes “what is the ontological status of math/logic?”

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          These are all fine philosophical questions. But a pragmatist would simply say: “It works. That’s good enough for me.”

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Exactly! And that’s all Nietzsche says science can do, it can’t tell us anything about the world, i.e. we can’t “know” anything. All we can do is control it. Science then becomes technology in the literal sense. But for one to form a worldview based upon that seems problematic, since the very idea that “truth is what works” would itself not be true, but rather only “useful.” So one would only be able to say “its useful to think truth is useful.” It cant actually be “true” since there is no such thing, only utility.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          But, once again, a pragmatist would say that what’s works is what’s true, and what’s true is what works. There is not some other layer of abstract “truth.” There is only embodied truth, which is reality.

          Also, science doesn’t claim to know the truth. Only to be capable of approaching it more and more closely. Theists want materialists to focus on the truth, but that’s not what materialists focus on. They focus on learning more and more about (material) reality, and thus gaining a greater and greater understanding of a truth that, in an absolute sense, is always just a bit beyond their grasp.

          Of course, a number of famous scientists, including Hawking himself, have made silly statements about how very soon, we’ll have the universe all figured out, and the rest will just be a mop-up operation. But they always turn out to be wrong, as new theories and observations overturn our previous “unified theories,” and show that the universe is much more complex than we had given it credit for.

          However discomfiting that may be to current scientists, though, it does not overturn scientific theory. It is simply a reminder that we’ve only been seriously engaging in this scientific endeavor for a few centuries now. And compared to the fourteen billion years we believe the universe has been in existence, that’s an awfully short time.

        • Duane says:

          “What works IS what is true” or “there is only embodied truth” cant by definition be true, but rather only useful. Since all truth claims have been subjected to utility. “Truth is useful” is not true, but useful; just as (by analogy!) “there is no truth” cant be “true.”

          In other words, all of those assertions you (the pragmatist) made about truth can’t be true but only useful.

          When “you” (not really you) say “science doesn’t claim to know the truth,” I find this to be misleading, since science doesn’t claim anything, but rather some scientists make some claims, others make different ones. There is no uniform “science.” When scientists or philosophers start saying what “science” in general does, its always an interpretation, usually an idealistic one vis-a-vis some kind of straw man in religion or philosophy.

          Btw, I hope you know I am not disagreeing with you, but rather with our opponents (Materialists) who you are trying to fairly represent. I think it is a good and noble task to give your opponents a fair shake. So I respect this dialogue and am pleased with it!

          I think it depends largely upon what science we are talking about (physics is very different from biology or neuroscience, and the philosophic claims one can draw from them are immensely different as well).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, it would be more accurate to say “the scientific community” instead of “science”—which, of course, doesn’t “know” anything, since it is not a conscious entity.

          And of course, the scientific community is not entirely unified and coherent, but is in constant flux and internal debate with itself.

          However, what binds it together as a community is a common belief in the utility of scientific method in investigating and discovering the nature and functioning of material reality (which the materialists in the scientific community see as encompassing all reality. All theories and conclusions are referred back to, and tested by, scientific method, which provides a unifying principle around which the community revolves.

          Further, though there is always uncertainty and even conflict on the boundaries of science, there are many scientific theories that have stood the test of time so well that they have taken on the nature of fact, or truth, even if technically they are ultimately unprovable. By now, for example, even though the exact functioning of evolution is still debated, the overall principle of evolution has become so fundamental to a number of the sciences that it’s hard to imagine it ever being overturned.

          And yes, we are having sort of a proxy debate here.

          However, one theological reason I resist efforts to show that materialism and scientific method are ultimately illogical and rationally unsustainable is that I believe human spiritual freedom, which is something God protects above all in us human beings, requires that we be able to believe something other than that God exists, and be able to sustain that belief with our rational minds.

          It’s the same reason I resist all “proofs of the existence of God” based on science, logic, reason, philosophy and so on. If we could prove that God exists beyond all reasonable doubt, such that any rational person must accept God’s existence, then, especially in this age of science and reason, we have lost our spiritual freedom, which must include the ability to rationally reject God.

          The most I attempt to show when atheists come wandering in here is that their (materialistic) view of reality is just as unprovable, and just as much of a belief about the nature of reality, as is my theistic view of reality. Few of them will accept this. But if they do, it may lay the foundations for them later on to realize that they don’t actually have to reject God in order to be a rational, scientific, thinking person.

        • Duane says:

          Whoa whoa!

          Just because I think that materialism is illogical as a complete metaphyiscs, does not mean that the scientific method is.

          Materialism as a metaphysic has absolutely nothing to do with science or its method. This is my point. I accept all the generally accepted theories of the scientific community, which include both evolution and the big bang.

          My point is simply that science cannot account for itself and thus materialism is an incomplete picture of what reality is, ipso facto, since science is not apart of that picture.

          I disagree slightly that “proofs” for God don’t prove anything; they certainly don’t prove anything empirically, but I guess that begs the question as to whether there is anything like a proof beyond the empirical. Of course we have logical and mathematical proofs, the former of which the proofs for God are (logical proofs). But one would have to accept the rules of logic, etc.

          Once again though: I am a proponent of science, coming from the Catholic tradition; I simply reject materialism as incoherent (which largely the philosophical community has as well; the scientific community, largely ignorant of recent philosophy, is about 50 years behind, but as I noted it’s catching up; popularizers of science are still behind though).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes. I think science, and the scientific method, is the best tool we have for studying the nature of material reality. And though I reserve judgment on some things (such as large segments of medical “science,” much of which is driven by giant profit-making pharmaceutical companies), I generally accept the conclusions of science about the nature of the physical universe with the same provisionality that the scientific community itself does. (I think, for example, that it’s a mistake for churches to seize on particular current science and say, “This is correct science, and agrees with what we’ve been saying about God all along!” Who knows when that particular science may be overturned, and those churches will look just a bit silly and out-of-date.)

          And of course, I also think that science is not sufficient to accomplish anything beyond studying and drawing conclusions about the nature of material reality. If some scientist comes along and says, “Science shows that there are no spirits, no angels, and no God,” that is a ridiculous statement. It goes beyond the domain of science, which, once again, is physical reality, whereas from my perspective anyway, spirits, angels, and God are non-physical entities. So they’re simply outside the purview of science.

          I also don’t expect science ever really to account for itself philosophically. Philosophy exists in the realm of the human mind, which, in my view, is the spiritual realm, and therefore also beyond the purview of science. From my perspective, the very fact that some scientists engage in philosophical thinking about their own discipline demonstrates that something beyond material reality exists. But don’t try to tell them that! 😛

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Another way of saying this is that for a materialist, reality is not philosophical, nor is philosophy the best way to determine what reality is, and how it works. Rather, for a materialist, reality is material. We can therefore observe it and perform experiments on it to see what it is, and how it works.

          If we need some tools such as math and logic and scientific method to do that observing and figuring out, that’s no different than using a wrench to pull out the spark plug and see why it isn’t firing. The wrench is not part of the engine nor part of its functioning. But we need it to service and fix the engine.

          Math, logic, and scientific method work. That, utility to a pragmatic materialist, is sufficient reason for employing them in scientific pursuits. We don’t have to know the chemical composition of the wrench to use it to take out the spark plug.

        • Duane says:

          2 Things, to repeat:

          1. A purely pragmatic view of truth is self-referentially contradictory, since “truth is what works” wouldnt be “true” but rather “what works,” and thus merely useful and thus it would be merely or only “useful” to think “truth is useful.” A kind of skepticism

          2. Yes, but considering math/logic as mere tools begs the question as to whether they tell us about reality or not; if they do, then reality must be “mathematical/logical,” if they don’t they they tell us nothing and are mere fictions to control what we can never know.

  17. Duane says:

    P.S. I of course see your concern. I am very much pro-science, so haven’t really considered what it would mean to believe in 6 day creation, or reject the theory of evolution, or something that radical in quite a long time. So I may be out of touch!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      And yet many scientific and atheistic types are still actively engaged in debates and political struggles with Christian fundamentalists who want to, at best, stop evolution from being taught in the schools, and at least get Creationism taught alongside it. So for many atheists, religious irrationality is still a very live and practical concern. (See: “Creation vs. Evolution: Can We All Just Calm Down, Please?”)

  18. Duane says:

    Lee,

    A question: what does Swedenborg think concerning the doctrine of “assurance” (of salvation). Can we “know” that we are saved? (I understand his nuanced interpretation — and thus rejection — of sola fide, but I’m wondering how this plays out).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      For people who believe in sola fide, salvation is a binary thing: you either are or you aren’t saved. So for them, “assurance” of salvation is a critical issue.

      But for Swedenborg, salvation is a process. We are on a path to salvation. So “assurance” isn’t really a thing. The critical issue is whether we are traveling the path of repentance, reformation, and regeneration (to use the traditional Christian terms). And since that is within our power and free will to determine for ourselves, we don’t have to seek some “signs” that we are or aren’t saved. We just have to commit ourselves to doing the work of salvation—recognizing, of course, that it is really God doing the work from within.

      Having said that, Swedenborg does say that we can tell whether we are regenerated by noticing what we derive joy and satisfaction from. If we derive joy and satisfaction from getting our own way and hurting or putting down other people, then we are in a hellish state. But if we derive joy and satisfaction from giving other people comfort, happiness, and joy, then we are in a heavenly state.

      One article here that does deal, somewhat lightly, with the Protestant fixation on “assurance” is:
      Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
      Incidentally, this article was originally one of the first sermons I preached when I became a pastor over 20 years ago. It was based on a tract that came through the church’s mail slot a week or so after I started at the church. Twenty years later, I think the sermon has stood the test of time. 🙂

      • Duane says:

        Ah yes, I liked that linked article very much. Thank you. I do think though that experientially “knowing” which way you are headed, self-reflection, etc. are very important to the spiritual life, so I can sympathize somewhat with the assurance question; moreover, knowing one is loved by God tends to be solidified if one knows, e.g. that “no one can snatch them out of my hand.” The New Testament does seem to speak the language of “saved” and “being saved” at times though, e.g. one analogy Jesus uses in John 3 — “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up and everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Here the analogy seems to suggest salvation is by faith, where faith is compared to “mere looking.” There are, as you know, countless other passages that do discuss faith as the means of salvation. What is the point, would you say, of Jesus speaking this way?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

          Yes, we naturally want to know which way we’re headed. But my view is that a bit of uncertainty about that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us from getting complacent.

          And yes, of course the New Testament talks about being “saved” and about “faith.” Just because salvation is not instantaneous, and just because it is not by faith alone, that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as salvation, nor does it mean that faith isn’t an important and even critical factor in salvation.

          Unfortunately, faith alone is both pervasive and insidious. In the heavily Protestant areas of the world, Protestants are not shy about pushing a faith alone agenda. They emit a continuous stream of assertions and apologetics in favor of it, including (mis)interpreting practically every passage in the Bible to conform to it. For many people this makes it difficult even to hear or read the Bible without thinking it’s talking about faith alone and instantaneous salvation.

          But the fact of the matter is that when the various books of the Bible were written, Martin Luther was many centuries in the future, and the Protestant doctrine of justification and salvation by faith alone didn’t exist. There was an analog of it, which is why James specifically rejects it, but it was not very strong in the biblical cultures. The biblical cultures were all about action, not about intellectual concepts such as “faith.”

          In the Old Testament, the very word for “faith” had to do with solidity, trustworthiness, and living by the things one believed. For more on this, and on the meaning of “faith” in the Bible in general, see:
          Faith Alone Is Not Faith

          Short version: faith is believing something simply because it is true, and not for any ulterior motives; and faith is the beliefs we live by.

          If we read the many discussions of faith in the New Testament with the real, biblical meaning of faith in mind, and banish from our mind the false, non-biblical dogma of faith alone, not to mention the faulty notion of faith as mere belief, then everything that the New Testament says about faith starts to make sense.

          It also becomes clear why faith is so important to salvation. Without faith, we will ignore and deny the truth, or accept it only when it is convenient to us. Without faith, we will feel free to live any way we please even if we see intellectually that we should live in a particular way.

          About John 3 and the serpent in the wilderness: Jesus wasn’t saying that “mere looking” would save a person. Even in the OT story of Moses lifting up the serpent, it took an act of trust to think that looking at a serpent would bring healing. Those who trusted what Moses, and God, told them would be healed. Those who laughed it off would not. So once again, it is a matter of acting upon what we have been told or commanded by God.

          Further, the rest of that section in John 3 makes it clear that the people who don’t believe are the ones who shun the light because their deeds are evil. Belief is not a mere intellectual thing. It follows our heart and our actions. For more on this, see:
          Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          I would say this: while you are correct of course that the doctrine of “sola fide” or “justification by faith” did not exist prior to Luther, this does not mean that the ideas/concepts that these doctrines express did not exist prior to Luther. There are many references in fact to justification by faith in the early Church fathers (Particularly those of the East, in the Philokalia). Now, of course this doesn’t mean the following: “just intellectually assent and then do whatever you want.” But it’s not as though Luther cooked this up out of thin air. As you know (as I read it in your articles) that Luther himself (or Calvin or whomever) did not think that faith could/would stand alone apart from love, but only that faith was the efficient cause of love (good works, sanctification, etc.), such that faith led to them almost mechanistically or necessarily (at least). I take this to be a clever solution to the problem of reconciling the faith and works dilemma in the NT, where it does indeed say many times that “faith saves” (e.g. “your faith has saved you,” “the work of God is to believe in the one whom God sent,” “whoever believes…,” “If you believe in your heart….”); I think it’s a little unfair to say that this means only a kind of enduring faithfulness (which of course it does) and not simply an immediate effect of regeneration in the person who comes to know Jesus.

          In other words, what I’m saying is something I’ve said before on these blogs, namely that I think it’s unfair to represent it as “Swedenborg was right and the rest of Christianity — the other 99.9% — is wrong.” Now I understand you are not saying simply because they are wrong they will go to Hell, nor am I saying that correct doctrine is irrelevant. What I am saying is that I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to teach Christians the Truth (1st John), and thus I think a lot of what you say, what Swedenborg says, what Luther says, etc. are not that dissimilar and are ultimately the same, in essence.

          I will disagree about the idea of uncertainty in salvation being somewhat of a good thing only because I think certainty of salvation is inextricably linked to the certainty that God loves me. This was Luther’s point, namely that if I think my salvation is in MY hands, I know that I will fumble the ball; but if I can trust Jesus to save me even when I fail, then, I can trust in his love. But I need to know that no matter what he will not leave me (barring my absolute refusal of him).

          So in other words, I don’t think “faith alone” is insidious, but rather aimed at a deeper point about the assurance we can have about God’s love — assuming, of course, that faith doesn’t mean mere “intellectual assent,” which it of course absolutely did not mean for Luther or Calvin, and which is why most protestants today speak of the difference between faith qua mere belief vs. saving faith, the faith that necessarily leads to love from a new nature.

          I realize you’re going to hate this post (I’m half joking!) but, in the spirit of open dialogue, I thought I’d share my thoughts. I also realize that you have addressed some of these issues, in different ways, in the links provided, which I have indeed read and only repeated some of my claims because I wanted to tie up loose ends, so to speak.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I think that the so-called “faith and works dilemma in the NT” was largely manufactured by Protestants, and is not a real thing in the New Testament itself.

          In the New Testament, there is no real tension between faith and works, because neither one is seen as a thing in itself. They are seen as two elements of salvation and spiritual life that necessarily go together.

          The fallacy that leads to the so-called “dilemma” is really a very simple misreading of what Paul means by “the works of the Law” and its short version, “works.” He simply isn’t talking about good works. He’s talking about being an observant Jew. Once that is understood (as it generally was prior to Luther), the so-called “faith vs. works dilemma” vanishes.

          On this issue, it’s not that “Swedenborg was right and the rest of Christianity is wrong.” Only Protestants believe in justification and salvation by faith alone. All other Christians believe in salvation by faith and works working together. So on this particular issue, it’s a matter of, “Protestants are wrong and the rest of Christianity, including Swedenborg, is right.” And given that Protestantism is only a little over 1/3 of Christianity as a whole, justification by faith alone, and the so-called “faith vs. works dilemma,” is really a minority position within Christianity.

          I do agree that the idea that we are saved primarily, or solely, by faith is not actually new to Luther. The idea that knowing the truth gives one special status with God, and even brings about salvation, has been a common spiritual fallacy since time immemorial. In the Old Testament, Swedenborg commonly interprets the Philistines as representing faith without charity. So that falsity does have its antecedents. I think that Gnosticism as a whole is an example of believing in “salvation” by faith alone. In Gnosticism, it is attaining perfect knowledge that brings one to enlightenment and the Gnostic version of salvation.

          However, Luther and his followers developed it into a particular doctrine that did not exist previously. And no part of mainstream Christianity had previously adhered to any form of faith alone. (There may have been some small sects that did. I’m not enough of a Christian historian to say.) So as a mainstream Christian doctrine, Luther was the one who invented faith alone.

          References to being saved by faith in the New Testament and in Christian writers prior to Luther were not examples of faith alone. Faith was seen as, at most, an initiator that became complete when it resulted in good works and in the regeneration of the person’s soul. I’ve read various Protestant attempts to back-date sola fide all the way back to the Church Fathers. But when I actually read the supposed “faith alone” passages they quote from early Christian writers in context, that’s simply not what those passages are talking about.

          Really, there is no tension between faith and works unless we start thinking that one or the other of them is unnecessary for salvation. Then a false competition is set up between the two of them, but it is just a smoke screen for people not wanting to engage either their brain or their heart and hands, and thus doing only half the job of regeneration—which, in effect, means not doing it at all.

          When we read in the Gospels Jesus saying that someone’s faith has saved them, there is no implication that this does not involve good works as well. Some of the stories are such brief vignettes that we don’t know much about what the person did before or after. But usually even in the moment it involves some action on the part of the one whose faith has made them whole or saved them. Even the famous thief on the cross engaged in actions, even if at that point only verbal actions, that showed that it was not a case of either faith alone or instantaneous salvation. See:
          Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

          It is foreign to the whole spirit (and letter) of the scriptures, both Old Testament and New, to think that any of these healings or savings was purely a matter of faith, with no action involved on the part of the person healed or saved. Even the paralytic on the mat acted by getting up and walking when Jesus commanded him to.

          In short, there simply is no such thing as salvation by faith if that means by faith alone. Rather, faith is a key, and even leading, element in healing and salvation, but it never acts, saves, or heals alone.

          On the other subject, of course I agree that God always loves us, and that this is key to having confidence that we can be saved. Some people truly believe that God hates them and that there is no hope for them. And that is a terribly sad situation. The constancy of God’s love, and God’s constant intention to save us, is a critical part of true Christian belief.

          And yet, the very fact that God’s love and desire to save us is constant means that if we are not saved, that is because of us and not because of God. God’s love and desire to save us does not save us if we do not do our part, and actively accept that salvation. That’s where we need not to be complacent, and not to think that God will save us no matter what we do and no matter how we live. We must do our part, even if at a deeper level it’s really God acting, not us. Our part is to actively accept God’s salvation into our lives. And we must do this as if it were all up to us.

          This is perhaps the greatest (apparent) paradox in Swedenborg’s teachings: that we must act as if we are doing it by ourselves, while recognizing that it is really God doing it. And yet, that sense of self, though it is not the ultimate reality, is just as real as we are. We humans are a secondary reality. So nothing in us is going to be as real as the ultimate reality, which is God. As long as we recognize that our reality, including our sense of self, is a secondary reality, then it can be and is just as real as we are as created human beings.

          So our reality is that our salvation depends upon our doing the work of salvation. Any doctrine that removes that obligation from us by saying, for example, that it’s just a matter of believing that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, destroys salvation by destroying the reciprocity and mutual relationship that is fundamental to salvation because it is fundamental to our relationship with God.

          As far as your comment, it’s not that I hate it. It’s just that I think it gives weight to conflicts and tensions that don’t actually exist in the Bible itself. In the Bible there is no tension or conflict between faith and works. Every biblical writer states or at least illustrates that the two must go together. Paul has simply been misunderstood because his writings have been yanked out of their historical context, causing Protestant readers to think he was saying that we are saved by faith without good works when he was saying nothing of the sort.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          Thank you for that prompt and lengthy response. I hope you know how appreciative I am of your taking the time to dialogue with me. I am most grateful for that, and for always being edified by what you say!

          I wholly disagree with the “new perspectives on Paul” from which you are arguing — the idea that “works of law” means jewish ritual observance and has little to do with morality (this is certainly the context in Galatians 2, but not at all in Romans 1 and 2, where works of the law, being a law unto themselves (the Gentiles), is meant in entirely the moral sense). If this is your argument, it is radically unconvincing. Moreover, the Church fathers, Augustine et al, all speak of works of the law in the moral sense vis-a-vis justification by faith (see the later Augustine’s homilies and essays e.g.).

          Now, I will say this: I think this rests on an equivocation of “faith” and thus of course there is no real dilemma of “faith vs. works” — it is only an apparent dilemma. James is using faith in an equivocal sense from e.g. Paul and John. When Jesus says “whoever believes in me will never die” he does not mean it in the same sense as when James says “even the demons believe and shudder;” it’s obvious John is talking about what you are saying, namely a faith that “works through love” a faith that is, quite simply, trust. Demons dont trust god, but they “believe” he exists. In the end, its almost as if “saving faith” is love itself.

          So my point: I don’t disagree really with anything you say, and (!) I don’t think a good or honest “protestant” would either. That is, I agree the dilemma is “false” or a fallacy or whatever. I also agree about simply being presumptuous and resting in some violent atonement, of course.

          But(!), I do believe that if someone truly trusts and believes and loves Jesus, they are radically transformed — a “new creation” or “born again” — and their entire emotional structure/longings/desires are changed. No one who truly loves Jesus would behave in a presumptuous manner; this is John’s point about those people being “liars,” rather than believers who merely went astrat (“they were not of us, for if they were, they would have stayed”). So maybe we are begging the question here, but I think the distinction is important.

          Finally I will say that believing its all you when its really all God is a phenomenological observation that I’m not sure really works for everyone. For me personally, thinking its “all me” robs the entire joy of the Christian walk, and moreover, robs me of the very “power” to love, which is God himself. I just don’t understand what the joy of the good news would be if I have to behave as if I have to earn my place before God, rather than trusting in the love that God has for me (“and so we know and believe in the love that God has for us.”).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          The “New Perspective on Paul” is “new” only within Protestantism. Outside Protestantism, it’s generally a “ho hum, we knew that all along” sort of thing. Swedenborg had already stated the basics of the “New Perspective on Paul” several centuries before it came on the scene within Protestantism, as you can see this answer of mine to a question on Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange:
          What are the oldest known records of interpretation agreeing with New Perspective on Paul?

          Paul’s letters must be put in their historical context, the critical points of which are provided in the so-called “Council at Jerusalem” in Acts 15. Paul, Peter, and some of the other apostles who were evangelizing in Gentile lands were in a major debate with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem over whether Gentile converts must get circumcised and become observant Jews. The outcome of this debate would determine whether Christianity remained a small (and probably vanishing) sect of Judaism or became a religion in its own right.

          Paul, Peter, and their allies won the debate. And the rest, as they say, is history.

          Except that over the centuries Christians gradually forgot or ignored that history. Once the question was settled, it came to seem “obvious,” and the critical nature of the debate was forgotten. Eventually there came a time when a certain segment of Christianity could read Paul completely forgetting about or sidelining one of the main points he was making: that Gentile converts to “The Way” did not have to get circumcised and become observant Jews.

          He was also making a broader point, which I outline in a comment here (after the part about antinomianism).

          Unfortunately, Paul seems almost to delight in using “works” in multiple senses. This was part of his penchant for using fancy language that even his contemporaries found hard to understand (see 2 Peter 3:15–16). But if we understand his overall argument as outlined in the referenced comment, and read his words carefully in context, we can distinguish between his usages of the word “works,” which usually means “the works of the Law,” i.e., the Jewish ritual and ceremonial law, but which sometimes means “good works.” It also has a tertiary sense of “works done for boasting,” but that is closely aligned with the “works of the Law” meaning, since observant Jews commonly saw the strict keeping of the Law of Moses as a cause for “boasting,” or thinking themselves better than people who didn’t strictly obey the law. See, for example, The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9–14.

          But when Paul speaks of “the works of the Law,” yes, he is speaking specifically of being an observant Jew. He is not speaking of good works, morality, and so on. The only reason this gets obscured at all, and becomes confusing to Protestant readers especially, is that he is also making the broader point mentioned in the linked comment: that Christianity is not to be a religion of mere obedience to law, but a religion of inner assent to a deeper, love-based moral law that supersedes the type of harsh behavioral law laid out in the Law of Moses.

          I could go on to some of your other points related to this one, but if you misunderstand the entire thrust of Paul’s argument as Protestants commonly do, then we will never make it any farther on this, because Paul’s words will continue to mean something in your mind that is entirely alien to what he actually meant.

          I would urge you to read the linked comment, and then read Paul’s letters again making an effort to lay aside Protestant misunderstanding of Paul, and seeing Paul’s letters in the light and context of the arguments he was historically making against the segment of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who believed that it was still necessary to be circumcised and be an observant Jew even while following Jesus.

          I will stipulate that Augustine had some seriously messed up ideas, and that he planted many of the seeds that later blossomed into full-featured doctrinal error in Catholicism and especially in Protestantism.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Lee,

          I think you misunderstood my comment. I am not disagreeing that the “jewish question” was not a live one for the early Church. No one disagrees about that. What I am doubting is that that is the only meaning “works of the law” in Paul. You ignored my point about Romans, I’d would “urge” you then to reread those passages (1-2) with that in mind. Indeed the entire first and second chapters of Romans are about morality, and only secondarily about ritual observances (circumcision).

          You also ignored my points about the earliest of Church fathers, who also speak of “works” in that way. Not just Augustine, you’d have to reject as “messed up” most of the early Fathers (e.g. Clement and Jerome come to mind, and just about anyone who wrote a commentary on Romans or Galatians) including half the Eastern Fathers as well.

          To be clear: my point is that of course circumcision was a question, but it was not the only one and in fact there was a deeper, moral meaning of “works of the law.” To any Jew in the first century Works of the Law would have meant the entire 613 commands, including most importantly the Decalogue.

          Also, even in Romans 7, Paul talks about the law actually causing sin indirectly, by awakening in us the sinfulness that’s already there (this is in the context of the “law” against coveting). Here again “law” is used morally, namely as the prohibition itself. The 7th chapter concludes with the utter failure for human beings to fulfill the demands of the law, and rather the idea that the law reveals sin to be utterly sinful (this is also in Romans 2-3). “through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

          Also, from the earlier days of Christianity, even within the New Testament, you had Christians debating about the meaning of faith v. works; e.g. most scholars believe James wrote his epistle with Pauline misunderstandings in mind; certainly James uses the term “works” to mean moral works, from the examples he uses. Even Paul, in Romans 6, mentions in passing people who misunderstood the Gospel to be saying that we should sin so that more grace should come. I am not even going to mention the Gnostic heresy.

          Also, a little background, I have been studying the New Perspectives stuff for quite some time and believe they have a lot to add to the conversation. Please do not mistake me for some rigid, narrow-minded “protestant” who has never considered these questions before. I am saying simply its “both/and” with regard to the meaning of works (ergoi).

          Again, thank you for your time in replying to me and dialoguing. I am most grateful and am eager to learn from you.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I hope you did read the linked comment, and also the answer I linked for you on Hermeneutics StackExchange.

          I realize it’s fashionable to look to the early Church Fathers and give great weight to what they say. But quite frankly, the little reading of those early Fathers that I’ve done shows them, in my mind, to be largely unenlightened and with a very partial and faulty understanding of the Gospel message. Perhaps there are some good ones. But for the most part I haven’t even bothered studying them because the little study I have done has yielded very little real light.

          Swedenborg generally traces the downfall of Christianity to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, where the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons first made its way officially into Christian dogma. But it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have much use for even the earlier Christian theologians after the Apostles themselves. He sees Christianity as being attacked and ripped apart by heresies right from the earliest days—in fact, from Apostolic times themselves. See True Christianity #378.

          So it wouldn’t surprise me if all of the later errors of Christian doctrine have their seeds in the early Church Fathers. Unfortunately, these people simply weren’t very enlightened. And they led Christianity down a path to its own destruction.

          However, it took many centuries for that destruction to run its course. Although the early Church Fathers planted the seeds of the doctrinal and moral corruption of Christianity, it took many centuries for those seeds to sprout and grow into full-fledged doctrinal error.

          We can trace the history of that doctrinal destruction of Christianity.

          One of the major turning points was Anselm’s invention and initial development of the satisfaction theory of atonement. With the Catholic Church’s adoption of Aquinas’s version of Anselm’s basic theory, Catholicism abandoned its historical view of atonement, which at least had some truth to it, in favor of one that was completely false.

          Protestantism then took Aquinas’s theory and “developed” it further into penal substitution, which completed the destruction of Christian understanding of atonement, and of the nature of God.

          Finally, Calvinism completed the doctrinal and moral destruction of Christianity by attacking the very root of our humanity and of God’s love working in us: our free will.

          At this point, there was no truth left in Christianity. Every remaining truth had been distorted, falsified, and destroyed.

          That’s why it was necessary for God to call Swedenborg to provide the teachings to the world that would restore genuine Christian truth. Christianity as a church had reached its end because it had destroyed everything that was left of the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles.

          And if we can trace the seeds of this destruction of Christianity all the way back to the earliest Church Fathers, that would not be a surprise to me. I have often thought that I should just go ahead and read their writings. But I confess to having a very hard time reading the writings of people who mangle Christianity into a mockery of itself.

          Last year I agreed to read a couple of books by prominent Protestant theologians defending and explicating the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It was supposed to be a deal in which the person asking to do this would read equivalent amounts of Swedenborg’s works (something that, as far as I know, he never did). I gamely bought the Kindle versions of the two books and dug in.

          It was hell.

          Right from the start, I found the arguments so specious, so false, and so contrary to everything taught in the Bible that it was painful to read supposedly great contemporary theologians making such terribly false statements and arguments. I made it all the way through one book, and about 2/3 of the way through the second, when I just could not stand it anymore. It almost physically caused me to grind my teeth to keep forcing myself to read so much errant falsity posing as God’s own truth, and knowing how many hundreds of millions of people have been led into the darkness by this terrible falsity.

          I had to stop.

          And that’s why I resist reading the various theologians of Christian history. I know intellectually that I should just read them for my information, so that I can talk about them intelligently.

          But to me, falsity hurts. And it hurts badly.

          I see all of the lives damaged and wrecked by that terribly false theology washing up on the shores of Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life every week, and practically every day. I met the refugees from Catholicism and Protestantism floating as on the wreckage of rickety boats into my church back east when I was still serving as a Pastor. At times I literally weep to see these people rejected and spat out by traditional Christianity, and convinced that they are going to eternal torment in hell.

          For me, it is not just an intellectual thing. It is a matter of lives ruined by false doctrine. It is a matter of people wandering in confusion, some of them suicidal, because of the terrible messages they have been given by traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant.

          And I lay that at the feet of all those “Christian” theologians from the earliest times onward who progressively mangled and destroyed the beautiful teachings of Jesus Christ.

          This, to me, is not a theoretical, intellectual debate. It is a matter of millions of wrecked lives, and of a mounting atheism caused by the utter destruction of Christianity by its traditional institutions and theologians.

          But back to the specifics you mention:

          “The works of the Law” as “the Jewish question” does not just “add to the conversation.” When it comes to Paul’s statements about the works of the Law, it is the conversation. Treating it as if it were some interesting side issue is utterly missing Paul’s whole pragmatic argument. Yes, there is the broader issue that I covered briefly in the comment I referred you to. But the basic, practical thrust of Paul’s argument is that Christians no longer have to be observant Jews. Making this a sidelight is completely misreading Paul and missing his main point. And that’s precisely what Protestant theologians as a body have done.

          Paul was aware of the difference between the Ten Commandments and the ritual and ceremonial laws of Moses. He didn’t use precise theological language to define that difference. But it is ubiquitously present in his use of the words “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” in nearly every place where he substantively discusses “the works of the Law.” This shows that he was not in any way, shape, or form talking about the Ten Commandments in his usage of “the works of the Law,” or its short form of “works.” He was, plainly and simply, talking about being an observant Jew.

          Swedenborg does define theologically the different levels of meaning of “the Law” as used in the Bible. Once again, I hope you followed the link to my answer on Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange, which quotes a key passage from Swedenborg in which he fleshes out different meanings of “the Law” in the Bible. Without understanding that “the Law” is used in various ways in the Bible, it is simply not possible to understand Paul’s writings. Paul was a Pharisee. He was steeped in the Law. And he knew how to distinguish the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments from the ritual, ceremonial, and behavioral Law of Moses that was specifically meant for the Jews.

          I am not ignoring your references to other parts of Paul’s writings. Rather, I am attempting to give you the overall picture without having to get too far into the weeds. Honestly, even though I don’t really like Paul all that much (he was way too full of himself, and made his letters unnecessarily complicated as a result), I’ve considered writing my own commentary on Paul’s letters. That might be the only way to put to rest all of the Protestant (and Catholic) fallacy and misunderstanding of Paul, and as a result, of Christian theology and soteriology as a whole. Verse by verse, line by line, showing that the traditional understanding of Paul is utterly false and fallacious, and misses his most basic points. The fact that Protestant theologians are (dimly) aware of what Paul was really talking about is all the more damning of their errant misunderstanding and misinterpretation of his writings.

          Yes, in the first two chapters of Romans, Paul talks about the moral law. And he says that Jews, “Greeks” (pagan polytheists) and Gentiles in general are saved if they keep the moral law that is written on their heart and their conscience.

          It boggles my mind that Protestants can read Romans 2 and not realize that it completely destroys their doctrine.

          First, it says that Christ saves, not just Christians, but Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles. And Paul is specifically not talking about Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles who become converts to Christianity.

          Second, he says that non-Christians are saved by living according to their conscience. Not by faith in Jesus. These people don’t believe in Jesus. They are saved if they do good deeds according to their own conscience as developed based on their own beliefs—but which, really, Paul says, consists of God’s law written on their hearts.

          In fact, Romans 2 demonstrates what I just said above: that Paul was well aware of the distinction between the Ten Commandments (or the moral law in general) and the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses. And if you read through Paul’s letters, you will find him asserting in various ways that people must keep the Ten Commandments, even while asserting that people need not be circumcised and observe the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses that distinguishes Jews from Gentiles.

          So I’m not ignoring your references to other parts of Paul’s epistles and to passages in other parts of the Bible.

          To put it bluntly: I simply think you’re mistaken in your reading of them, because you have fallen prey to Protestant misunderstanding of Paul, and of the Bible as a whole.

          Protestants make all sorts of intelligent and abstruse sounding arguments to support their false doctrine.

          But it is all simply false.

          There is no real tension between faith and good works in the Bible. James and Paul had a difference in emphasis, but they both delivered essentially the same message, if we understand Paul’s message properly. If there was a debate between them in person (as there probably was), it did not cause what they actually said in their respective epistles to contradict one another. This, I believe, was probably not because of Paul and James themselves, but because Jesus Christ (aka God) was present in the writing of their letters, and prevented them from saying anything that was completely contrary to true Christian doctrine. (Having said that, their letters, like the entire Bible, were still adapted to the culture of their day, and still contain some things that are no longer in force because human culture has changed since then.)

          Reading Paul and James from a Swedenborgian perspective, I see a difference in emphasis, but no fundamental conflict between them. They both teach that in order to be saved, as Christians, we must believe in Jesus and follow Jesus’ commandments to love God and love the neighbor through actively doing good works.

          Large sections of Paul’s letters are all about the way we must live as Christians. Trivializing all of this by saying that it is a mere “result” or “fruit” of faith, as Protestants do, is both wrong and unbiblical. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that good works are the fruits of faith. It always puts faith and good works together as essential for salvation.

          Paul’s argument was not that we don’t need to do good works to be saved. Nor was it that good works don’t contribute to our salvation. That is pure Protestant fallacy, even if the seeds of that fallacy may have been planted much earlier.

          Paul’s argument is that we do not have to be observant Jews to be saved.

          And his broader argument is that we are no longer saved (and really, never were saved) on the basis of strict obedience to laws that we don’t necessarily understand; rather, we are saved by an inner “faith,” or faithfulness to God’s love and to the “law of faith” or the “law of love,” which is, basically, doing good deeds for other people and not doing evil deeds to other people. That is the basic message of the Ten Commandments, which is why Paul everywhere affirms the basic laws of the Ten Commandments while everywhere saying that being an observant Jew is no longer necessary.

          This is the message of Paul.

          There is no tension or conflict in Paul between faith and good works. In Paul’s writings as in all of the rest of the Protestant Bible faith and good works go together.

          Anyone who doesn’t understand this simply doesn’t understand Paul.

          Anyone who doesn’t understand this doesn’t understand the Bible.

          Anyone who doesn’t understand this doesn’t understand the Christian message.

          To put it plainly, the message that Protestants preach is not a Christian message. And the more you can root it out of your mind, the more you will be able to understand what Jesus Christ, Paul, and all the rest of the Apostles actually taught, and what it actually means to be a Christian.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          About Romans 7: This is a fine example of Paul making things much more complicated than they need to be due to his need to use fancy, convoluted language. Paul thought he was hot stuff. He thought he was greater than all of the other Apostles put together. And he thought he was so smart that he could argue circles around all of them.

          Unfortunately, that ego of his introduced an element of fanciness and double-talk into his letters that can be hard to sort out for those who don’t have a clear understanding of the Christian message.

          This is why we must give first priority, not to Paul, but to Jesus Christ. The heart of the Bible is not Paul’s letters, but the Gospels. And without a thorough grounding in the Gospels, Paul’s letters can lead us down false paths because Paul simply wasn’t as good a teacher as Jesus Christ. Paul had too much ego.

          Once again, without getting too deep into the weeds, the Law does not cause sin. Rather, it brings awareness of sin. That is one of its necessary functions.

          We humans are fallen beings. We naturally live a self-centered and self-indulgent life. The Law is meant to point that out, and to put us at war with ourselves.

          It’s not the Law that causes our nature to be sinful. It’s our sinful nature itself. It’s our inherited tendencies toward sin (not Original Sin, which is a Catholic fallacy adopted and hardened by Protestantism), and our acting upon those tendencies, that causes our nature to be sinful.

          The Law makes us aware of that sinfulness. And then the internal war that Paul talks about takes place.

          Quite frankly, I just don’t think Romans 7 is very well-written. I think Paul is slightly confused here. I think he’s allowing his own penchant for thinking he’s very smart to overcome his otherwise practical good sense.

          And I think Romans 7 is an example of why Swedenborg, and Swedenborgians, don’t include Paul in their canon of Scripture. The Acts and the Epistles are, as Swedenborg says, “good books for the church.” But they are more historical and intellectual books, and simply don’t contain the depth of wisdom that is in the Gospels and the book of Revelation.

          Still, Romans 7 can be salvaged if we realize that Paul is speaking rhetorically here. I don’t think Paul literally means that the law causes sin. I think he knows that what’s really happening is that the law causes awareness of sin. And so he adds, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not!” (Romans 7:7). And then, precisely what I’m saying he means: “Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” (Romans 7:8, emphasis added).

          But the confusion caused by his wording has led many theologians, especially Protestant ones, down faulty paths of thinking. It has caused them to say that the Law causes sin, when I don’t think that’s what Paul meant at all.

          In other words, we have to read Paul very carefully, and keep the big picture in our mind, and Jesus Christ’s own teachings in our mind, if we are not to fork off into wrong paths of thinking based on a misunderstanding of Paul’s rhetorical flourishes.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          My point is not to say “ah ha!” see it’s in the fathers, but rather to refute your point initially that these ideas began with Luther and the Reformation. This is historical inaccuracy on your part. You freely admit to not knowing really the Church Fathers, which is, by anyones estimation, the history of Christianity itself. So my point vis-a-vis the Fathers is simply that faith and works (works meaning moral works) did not begin ex nihilo with Luther, but its as early as the 2nd century.

          Fine, if you want to say that Christianity ended with the death of the last Apostle — you realize you cannot say it started to decline with Nicea, since the Fathers that I’ve mentioned (Ignatius, Jerome even, and the ones from the Philokalia) were before Nicea?

          This is all fine and well if you still reject it for personal reasons, which you’ve noticed, but your historical argument fails on simple fact.

          Secondly, you said that these “Protestant” notions are sinking into my mind, which makes no sense given that you just conceded that these are not Protestant, but rather historically Christian (albeit false in your mind). I think I’ve told you before that I am a Catholic? (Catholics never debated about justification by faith, nor that works of the law meant morality; the only disagreement was over the meaning of “faith” and “faith alone,” which I concur with you, with Paul, with Catholicism, and even with Luther, who never meant it to mean faith without love/works.

          You cannot make the argument though that this is “Protestant” since its in the earliest of the Church fathers.

          Everything else you said I agree with, about accepting salvation and loving. All of that is not in anyway anti-thetical to what you consider to be the “protestant” (now early Church Fathers/Catholic) heresy, but rather a “straw man” of it. You are comparing ignorant/bad practiced protestantism with informed Swedenborgianism. This is the essence of the straw man fallacy.

          I would “urge” you therefore to be more consistent in your arguments and read a bit of Church history before you base arguments on it.

          And by the way, if you are just going to throw out Paul’s epistles simply bc they don’t fit your theology, then, I’m afraid this conversation has ended. I wasn’t aware that Swedenborg had done this, but it doesn’t surprise me (Luther almost threw out James bc he didn’t like the tone of it). Paul’s epistles have been accepted, again, since the 2nd Century by the early Church, in all of the biblical cannons.

          Why accept the rest of the New Testament Cannon, compiled by the Church Fathers? This all makes no sense.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          What I have done is look up references to the Church Fathers whenever they appear in arguments for various Protestant articles of faith. And in every case, I have been unconvinced that those Church Fathers are actually saying what the Protestant writers and theologians are saying they said. In every case, it has seemed to me, rather, that Protestants are reading their own doctrines into the early Church Fathers, just as they read their own doctrines into Paul and into the rest of the Bible.

          If you wish to refer me to specific passages in particular Church Fathers in which they say what you say they’re saying, I would be happy to read them, and perhaps be edified. But so far, what I have read of the Church Fathers, mostly from references made by Protestant apologists, has left me unconvinced that they actually said anything like Luther’s doctrine of sola fide, or anything like the general Protestant doctrine of penal substitution. I am not even convinced that they said anything like Anselm’s general satisfaction theory of atonement.

          But the other generality is that when I’ve read the early Church Fathers, I just haven’t been all that impressed, for the most part, with their understanding of the Christian message. They seem to quickly devolve into distractions and minor issues while missing the big picture and the main commandments of Jesus Christ. They seem to have very quickly devolved into debating points of faith while missing the prime message of Jesus Christ, which was one of love.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          You can see a full listing of Swedenborg’s canon of scripture in my answer to this question on Christianity StackExchange:
          What writings are held as “biblical canon” by Swedenborgians?

          As I’m sure you are aware, there are many different canons of Scripture. Most of the variations are in the Old Testament, but there are a few variations in the New Testament as well.

          The fact that Swedenborg has a different (and smaller) biblical canon than either Catholicism or Protestantism does not in itself invalidate Swedenborg’s canon. After all, the canon was decided by human councils, not by any commandment or decree from God.

          The difference between Swedenborg’s exclusion of the Acts and the Epistles from his biblical canon and Luther’s attempt to exclude Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from the biblical canon is that Luther attempted to exclude those books on doctrinal grounds, whereas Swedenborg actually did not reject the books he excluded from the canon on doctrinal grounds. He considered them “good books of the church,” and encouraged people to read them and notice that they teach both faith and good works just as Jesus Christ does in the Gospels.

          Rather, Swedenborg’s reason for excluding them from his canon has to do with his view that what makes a book part of the Word of God is that it has a continuous, connected spiritual meaning that speaks both of the Lord’s process of glorification during his lifetime on earth and of our parallel (but much lower) process of regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, during our lifetime on earth.

          The Acts and the Epistles, he believed, did not have this sort of internal, spiritual meaning. Rather, he saw them as historical and doctrinal books intended to instruct and build up the nascent Christian Church. He even believed that they have a type of inspiration from the Holy Spirit. And he never contradicted anything they said. Rather, he said that these books had been misunderstood and misinterpreted by traditional Christianity, and especially by Protestant theologians.

          In other words, neither Swedenborg nor I reject the Acts and the Epistles. And when I am debating Protestants (or Catholics), even if they discover that my canon is smaller than theirs, and does not include the Acts and the Epistles, I regularly say that I am ready, willing, and able to engage in discussion and debate based on their canon. And that is precisely what I do. (Though honestly, I am nowhere near as familiar with the deuterocanonical books and book segments that are included in the Catholic canon as I am with the books of the Protestant canon.)

          In short, rejecting my arguments because I supposedly “reject” Paul is a red herring.

          Although as I’ve said, I’m not highly impressed with Paul’s writing style, and I think his teaching is far inferior to that of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, I still believe that Paul had a type of inspiration from Jesus Christ that caused him to teach many things that were essential to the nascent Christian Church, and that still hold true today. I simply think that his writings have been so badly misunderstood and mangled—partly because of the confusing way in which Paul often writes—that for the most part, traditional Christians, and especially Protestants, simply can’t read and understand what he actually said.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          If you are a Catholic, then I’m rather confused as to why you are insisting that Protestant doctrine can be found in the early Church Fathers. The Catholics I’ve encountered in the past have regularly denied this.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          I’m a Catholic in that that is my usual place where I attend worship. But I’ve also studied Church history, and written a book on Luther (partly). I regard all Christians and honest seeks (and everyone else really too!) as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I agree with you and Swedenborg on this issue (so does the RC Church incidentally).

          Once again, you’ve missed my point. I’m not insisting on history being “protestant.” I am saying that the question of justification by faith is in the Church fathers and Church history, and has been since the Church’s inception. No Catholic denies this, rather the disagreement with Lutherans pertained to the precise meaning of the term “faith” and its relation to works. I tend to see the dialogue as silly and both sides emphasizing diferent things — in fact, this has been confirmed in that about 15 years ago or so the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church issued a joint document saying they in fact “agree” on the basic meaning of justification by faith.

          I am not insisting history is any way; I am saying it is a fact that these ways of speaking about faith and works (of the law, in the moral sense) are in the history from the beginning. One cannot simply write them out of history.

          I think you have some misconceptions about protestants and Catholics, from what it seems to me?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Luther’s doctrine is not salvation by faith. It is salvation by faith alone.

          It is that “alone” that I have serious problems with.

          And though salvation by faith alone is a non-biblical formulation and wording, I have found that Protestants will give up that “alone” over their cold, dead bodies.

          Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The very fact that Protestants insist that salvation is not just by faith, but is by faith alone suggests that they have an idea that is different from salvation by faith as that is expressed in the Bible.

          So, are you defending salvation by faith alone, and saying that this was part of the early Church Fathers’ beliefs?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          About the last point you take up:

          We are supposed to act as if it’s all us, but believe that it is God working in us. This is the only way we can make it our own, and therefore be in relationship with God instead of being a mere extension of God.

          To be fair, though, this is a tricky and subtle concept if we attempt to dig into it philosophically. Swedenborg spilled much ink sussing it out.

          However, part of your problem with it, I think, is that you’re still infected with Protestant and Catholic fallacy about good works being a matter of “earning our place before God.” Protestants, especially, have a terribly difficult time thinking of good works as anything other than “meritorious.” And it doesn’t help that Catholicism had become a very mercenary religion that gave a strong message that people can earn their way into heaven by making certain payments to the Catholic Church. This, in fact, was one of the major issues upon which Luther broke from Catholicism. So it’s understandable that his concept of “good works” was skewed, causing him to come up with his own brand new *sola fide* heresy.

          To understand this issue, it’s necessary to throw out both Catholic and Protestant error on the subject of good works.

          In true Christian doctrine and theology, good works have nothing to do with earning our way into heaven, or earning our place before God. Doing good works does not build up any merit on our part. This is the thrust of one of Jesus’ lesser known and pithier parables, that of the “unworthy servant”:

          “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7–10)

          The reality is that when we do good works, that is no merit on our part. It’s simply what we’re supposed to do as human beings. The power to do them is not ours, and even the doing of them is ultimately not ours, so we can’t claim any credit for them. Jesus put it succinctly in John 15:5:

          I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

          So the idea that good works are inherently meritorious, or that they are a matter of “earning our place before God,” is a red herring based on a fundamental error about the meaning and purpose of good works.

          To keep this within bounds, though, there are three basic reasons we are to do good works that have absolutely nothing to do with “merit” or “earning” heaven or favor with God:

          1. Out of obedience to God’s commandments
          2. Out of understanding that it is the right thing to do
          3. Out of love for God and the neighbor

          None of these have anything to do with merit. All of them involve doing good works for their own sake, and for the sake of God, without any sense that we merit salvation or gain favor with God by doing them. Good works are simply what we are meant to do. If we don’t do them, we are figuratively picked up like dry branches and thrown into the fire to be burned (see John 15:6).

          So there is no need to think that in working on your salvation, you are somehow earning your place before God. God already loves us and wants to save us before you make the first effort toward regeneration—or in the Bible’s language, God loved us while we were yet sinners (see Romans 5:8).

          The issue is not whether God loves us. That is a constant and a given. There is absolutely no need for us to earn God’s love, or earn our place with God. That would be like saying we have to earn our position as biological children of our biological parents. We simply are God’s beloved children.

          The issue is whether we will accept and return God’s love. And love is not just a feeling or a sentiment. It is an active thing that results in our hands doing good deeds for the people God has created, whom God loves. This is the point of Jesus’ message on the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31–46. As much as we have done a good deed for the least of God’s human brothers and sisters, we have done it for God. That is what it means, practically, for us humans, to love God. (See also: “How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?”)

          So please banish from your mind any idea that you must earn your place with God. Nothing could be further from the truth. And thinking that way inevitably leads to all sorts of doctrinal error, as seen in both Catholicism, which embraced in practice, if not in theory, the idea that we can earn our way into heaven, and Protestantism, which devised a whole fallacious doctrine specifically to avoid that Catholic error, but in doing so jumped from the frying pan straight into the fire.

          Salvation is, in fact, a pure act of God’s love, or “grace.” The question is whether we will accept it. And the only way to accept it is to make that love a part of our life. And if that love is a part of our life, we will do good works of love and kindness for our neighbor. In many ways, “charity,” or kindness and love that prompts us to do deeds of love and kindness for our neighbor, is salvation, because it is the very presence of God within us.

          The whole idea that we can somehow be saved by faith alone is not only doctrinally false, but betrays a complete misunderstanding of what salvation is.

          Salvation by faith alone is based on the fundamental error of thinking that salvation is a legal pronouncement by which God declares us not guilty.

          But that’s not what salvation is.

          Rather, salvation is actually becoming not guilty because we are no longer engaging in sin, but are engaging in good works of love and kindness to our neighbor instead. Jesus came, not to take away the penalty of sin, but to take away the sin itself. And when we allow him to do that in our lives, and fill us with righteousness instead, then we are declared not guilty because we actually are not guilty. We are no longer sinners, but are righteous persons, or “saints” (holy ones), to use the biblical language.

          This points out another Protestant fallacy that must be rooted out of our minds. Protestants read the various passages about how we’ve all sinned and gone astray and come to the conclusion that we will always and eternally be sinners, and that righteousness is impossible for us.

          But if that’s the case, then the entire Christian message is for nothing.

          It is possible for us to repent and no longer be sinners. Not perfectly, of course. But it is possible for the primary content of our character to be changed from sinful to righteous. And that is precisely what Christ wants to do for us, if we are willing. That’s what “regeneration,” or being born again, is. And it is identical with salvation.

          Salvation is not a “positional” thing, in Protestant gobbledygook language. It is not a mere legal decision that God makes based on the imputation of Christ’s merit (which is a totally false concept).

          Rather, salvation is becoming a completely new creation in Christ. And though that is impossible for us to accomplish, with God, all things are possible.

          To be blunt, Duane, I see many Protestant fallacies still sinking their talons into your mind, attempting desperately to hold onto your thinking. I would urge you to purge your mind of these remaining Protestant fallacies. Until you do, you will never be able to fully and clearly understand Paul—or the rest of the Bible, for that matter. Those fallacies are indeed insidious. The more of a toehold we allow them in our thinking, the more they destroy a right understanding of the nature of God, salvation, atonement, and regeneration.

          These ideas, such as the meritorious nature of good works, our perpetual sinfulness, justification by faith alone, penal substitution, imputation of Christ’s merit, and so on, are simply and flatly false.

          They are not to be entertained and given an audience in our mind, nor are we to attempt to find some justification or saving grace in them. Though they do serve as “truth” for good Protestants who walk over them as over buried sepulchers, their essential nature is that of being false. And if we are ever to have a true understanding of Christianity, and of the message of Jesus Christ, Paul, and the other Apostles, we must root these falsities entirely out of our minds.

          We cannot hold both falsity and truth in our mind at the same time. The falsity, if not rejected, will inevitably corrupt the truth until we simply cannot see the truth, but our mind is filled with falsity.

          So I would urge you to continue the process of rooting false Protestant doctrine out of your mind. That’s the only way you will ever be able to see the truth as it really is, and as it is taught in the Bible.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee, Hi Duane,

        Maybe this is too simplistic of a perspective, but while both Protestants and Catholics hold the Church Fathers (of all periods) in great spiritual and intellectual esteem, they would naturally have two different perspectives on what they were saying, at least insofar as the issue of salvation is concerned, no? Adherents to Sola Fide will often point to the Church Fathers as at least prefiguring the doctrine that Luther formally codified(?) as salvation by faith alone, so in that sense, no, Protestants don’t see Luther as simply conjuring up this idea out of nowhere, and with no historical precedent.

        For Catholics who reject this doctrine, they would point to the Fathers as having never said, implied, or set into doctrinal nothing of the sort, so according to Catholics, Luther *did* indeed ultimately conclude this on his own (unless there was another historical figure who started what Luther finished).

        So it seems to me that whether or not Luther was building on the momentum of intellectual tradition or if he just took that tradition and codified a doctrine of his own comes down to your understanding of that tradition, and as far as I know that has been a long standing point of contention.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          On the issue of sola fide, that is my understanding as well. In fact, in my debates with traditional Christians on this subject, mostly in the chatrooms at Christianity StackExchange, the Protestants have regularly argued that the Church Fathers taught sola fide and penal substitution, while the Catholics have regularly disagreed with that and refuted the Protestants’ views that the Church Fathers ever taught or even implied these things.

          However, it is also true that the Protestant doctrine of atonement was developed out of the (post-Anselm) Catholic doctrine of atonement. Both are variations on Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement. The currently reigning Catholic theory, based on Aquinas’s development of Anselm’s theory, seems to focus on satisfying God’s justice, whereas the Protestant penal substitution version focuses on satisfying God’s wrath. But they are both simply variations on the same fundamentally flawed and non-biblical atonement doctrine.

          Protestant doctrine also depends integrally upon many other Catholic heresies, including of course the Trinity of Persons, but also the dogma of Original Sin, which Protestants took and developed into an even more virulent form.

          In general, Protestantism continued on the downward, destructive doctrinal arc that Catholicism had been on for well over 1,000 years before Protestantism came on the scene.

  19. Duane says:

    Also, I wanted to add something that we agreed on a few weeks ago about the faith v. works debate, namely that “if” someone claims to believe or love God or whatever, they are a liar. It’s not that they do believe but just are unwilling to love, but rather they dont really believe or love God.

    I take this to be an important distinction when considering the absolute necessity of love.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Was there something missing from this comment? I think I know what you mean, but the comment itself doesn’t seem complete in its thought.

    • Rami says:

      Hi Lee, Hi Duane,

      I’ve been following the basic thread of this conversation, and I appreciate both of your contributions.

      One of the very first things I posted to have addressed, Lee, was what I was seeing as a lack of distinction between justification by faith and justification by faith and works. Ultimately, when you break down what it really means to do works, they just appear to mean the same thing.

      One thing I’ve learned from Swedenborg- and I feel this is best represented in his emphasizing the transition into the afterlife as process of being unmasked to reveal who we truly are- is this: we *all* act according to our beliefs. There’s no escaping our beliefs, and our words attest to whatever beliefs we have. I think in an inclusive sense of spirituality- where even atheists can attain salvation- beliefs and faiths can be used interchangeably (and so I’ll do that here).

      Swedenborg and the Reformers would seem to agree on two basic points: beliefs (faith) *will* produce works, and works *attest* to our beliefs. They would also agree that works *add* nothing to our salvation. That seems to really de-emphasize the value of works as being functionally necessary for salvation, but more just an indicator of whether we have what *is* necessary for salvation: belief, or more specifically an embraced conviction.

      When you say that faith and works cannot act independently of one another, it seems as though it’s more than just someone choosing to do one without the other: they literally, mechanically *cannot* act independently of one another. You need some type of conviction to do some kind of work, and to do works you need some kind of conviction.

      If you believe something, you *will* act on it. If you act, it’s because you believe something. Since faith/belief is the seed from which works merely, inevitably flow, it seems then we are saved or camber according to our faith/belief. In other words, salvation by faith alone.

      So how are works necessary for salvation if all they do is flow from and attest to faith? Am I still missing something? Maybe you and/or Duane can further clarify this for me.

      • Duane says:

        Rami,

        I like what you said. I prefer to think of works as “love” (as apparently does Swedenborg). I see faith in the New Testament as ultimately being a “receiving” of God’s love (“to as many as received him…” “whoever comes to me, whoever believes in me” — John gives countless metaphors for faith which include eating, drinking, receiving, seeing, etc.) which then enables you, frees you, to love in return. Love, our love, is then a response to God’s. “we love because he first loved us.” It is a response to having been changed in your heart by Jesus, who loves in you (“apart from me you can do nothing….stay in my love” Jn 15).

        So while it is true to say you cannot be justified without works, I prefer to say, along with John, that if you do not have works (love) you don’t have faith, and in fact you are a liar, because whoever loves God ipso facto loves people. It’s not as though you could even have faith without love. They are a package deal. However, love is an EFFECT of faith (trust, reception) in the love of Christ, not the cause.

        My point is that this causal relationship is important. Btw, this causal relationship is historical Christianity (which includes both Eastern and Western Church Fathers, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as well as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc.).

        • Rami says:

          Hi Duane,

          I was under the impression that (and again the terminology might appear confusing because we’re trying to use them in more inclusive ways) that faith *is*, at the most basic level, love, and that works flow from love. I know you’re not a Swedenborgian (from what I can tell), but I thought it was on this model of believing in love as in effect, belief in God that non-theists and atheists could be saved.

          In fact now that I read your comments I’m reminded of the formulation of this doctrine to emphasize the lack of difference I was seeing between Swedenborg and Luther: salvation by love alone (since for Swedenborg, love is, in effect, faith).

          In any case, works still seem necessary only insofar as they attest to faith, so faith and works feels like a distinction without a difference.

        • Duane says:

          Rami

          That’s a good point and I agree, namely that faith is love, a love or Jesus, which of course is trust (faith, pistis). My point is that this “saving faith” is in fact none other than the reception and thus trust in the Love of Jesus, that itself is love for Jesus. So faith = trust = love, which in turn leads to love of others.

          I’m not a Swedenborgian, but I really like him. I’m just not comfortable saying the entire history of Christianity is false teaching. That sounds more like Mormonism and/or Jehovah’s Witnesses to me.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rami,

        Yes, you are still missing something. Swedenborg and the Protestant Reformers are not saying the same thing.

        Swedenborg never said, nor does the Bible ever say, that good works flow from faith. For some time now I’ve been challenging Protestants to show me any passage where the Bible says this, and so far they haven’t come up with any such passage in the Bible. See, for example, this question of mine on Christianity StackExchange:
        What is the biblical basis for the belief that good works are the fruits of faith?
        And my follow-up question:
        Where did the formula, “Good works are the fruits of faith,” originate?

        The whole idea that good works are the fruits of faith seems to be something that Protestants, especially, came up with in order to support their sola fide theology. Though it would not surprise me if the idea predates Protestantism as well.

        Good works are not the fruits of faith, nor are they the results of faith, nor do they flow from faith.

        Rather, good works flow from God, and specifically, from Jesus Christ:

        Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:5–5)

        Good works appear to flow from faith for two reasons:

        1. Faith is a matter of truth, and the human mind sees truth/falsity more clearly than love/evil—which is not an intellectual thing.
        2. We commonly experience faith first temporally, and assume that whatever we experience first is the source of everything that comes after it.

        The real flow is not from faith to love to actions, nor from faith to actions, but from love through faith to actions.

        On an abstract level, good works are the fruits of love not of faith. Faith serves as a conduit from love into action.

        But the primary Protestant fallacy that seems still to have its claws in you is that good works do not contribute to our salvation. The Bible simply doesn’t say this. In fact, it everywhere says the opposite. Please, once again, read Romans 2:1–16 and Matthew 25:31–46. I know I refer to and quote these passages all the time, but their message seems not to sink in to those who are still stuck in sola fide thinking. Whenever I quote them to Protestants, what I almost always get is . . . a deafening silence. These passages seem to make no impression whatsoever on minds that have been inscribed with sola fide error.

        The simple fact of the matter is that we are not judged for heaven or hell, for eternal life or eternal punishment, based on our faith. We are, rather, judged based on our deeds. The Bible says this so many times that I really shouldn’t have to quote them for anyone. Faith is only a means to salvation. We are, in fact, made righteous (justified) and saved by our good works, not by faith, and especially not by faith alone.

        What faith contributes is:

        1. It gets us turned toward Jesus Christ (or for non-Christians, toward God) so that we will listen to and follow the commandments of Jesus Christ / God.
        2. It causes us to do good works not for our own benefit or for any ulterior motives, but out of obedience to God, understanding of God’s commandments, and love for God and the neighbor.

        If anything, faith is an adjunct to good works in salvation, and not the other way around. Faith causes our good works to be actually good because we are doing them from God and not from ourselves. But it is still the good works that actually constitute salvation.

        In short, the idea that we are saved primarily or solely by our faith, and that good works are simply a result of salvation, is simply and plainly false and wrong.

        Salvation is always a matter of faith and good works together. Both together save us. Both together come from God, and are God in us. So faith and good works together are the divine truth and the divine love saving us.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          I think maybe I’m just trying to create spiritual analogues to human psychology. That is, everything we do (works) flows from something (belief). In that sense, people don’t, in effect, look at us in terms what we do, but in terms of what we believe, because we cannot help but act according to what we believe. Does that make sense?

          If that sounds like an uncomfortably deterministic way of thinking, I agree, it doesn’t sound right to me either, that’s why I asked if I was missing this type X-factor that sits somewhere in between the beliefs we embrace (not merely assent to) and the decisions we make. I think another problem is that all Christians would agree that salvation is not something that can be earned, but when we talk in terms of ‘contribute,’ then it sounds similar to the idea of having earned something, so it can be confusing.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I would say that in popular psychology it appears that everything we do flows from something we believe, but that the reality is that everything we believe flows from something we love, and our actions flow from the same source (what we love), through our beliefs.

          People today commonly like to believe that they arrive at their beliefs through rational processes by which they discern that this belief makes sense whereas that one does not.

          The reality is far more complex. In fact, people’s very perception of whether or not something is true or makes sense is heavily colored, if not entirely determined, by their loves and desires.

          For example, people who enjoy promiscuous sex and find monogamy to be confining and boring commonly believe that there is no difference whatsoever between sex within marriage and promiscuous and adulterous sex. If they feel comfortable speaking freely, they will, in fact, argue strenuously that there is no difference whatsoever.

          They have not arrived at this belief because of any rational arguments, even though they will make rational-sounding arguments to support it. In fact, they have arrived at this belief because they love promiscuous sex and dislike faithful, monogamous sex. So they truly don’t see any difference between one kind of sex and the other. In fact, they think promiscuous sex is in every way better than faithful, monogamous sex.

          Similarly, the various theologians of Christianity generally like to think that they have arrived at their belief through rational thought and objective study of the Word of God. But the history of Christianity shows that beliefs were rarely arrived at in this way. Instead, they were developed mostly in the context of internecine struggles within institutional Christianity over power, wealth, and other worldly concerns.

          As an example, the aforementioned Council of Nicaea, and the creed that came out of it, were developed in the context of a battle between Arius and his doctrinal opponents. And it was developed under the watchful eye of the Roman emperor Constantine, who wanted a creed under which he could unite his empire. In other words, it was anything but a dispassionate rational process of examining the Word of God and seeking the truth for its own sake. Its purpose was to suppress dissent, focus power in the hands of the bishops who assented to it, and turn Christianity into a state church.

          In general, “Christian” doctrine was not developed by some dispassionate, rational process of reading the Word of God and paying attention to what it says. Rather, it was developed in the context of fierce struggles over worldly wealth and power. If this seems overly negative, I would encourage you to read the history. And read the creeds. They are full of fulminations and anathemas consigning to hell everyone who disagrees in the slightest with everything written in the creed.

          So no, the reality is that we do not act from our beliefs. Rather, we act from our loves, and our beliefs follow along, support, and justify the things we love, and direct them into particular actions pursuant to the things we love.

          This is why Jesus Christ, who was by far the greatest teacher ever, commonly side-steps faith altogether (not that he ignores it by any means), and in his key statements about the nature of Christian life, he focuses on love. For example:

          1. His two Great Commandments, on which, he says, the entirety of Scripture depends, are all about love.
          2. It is mutual love he says, that will distinguish people as his followers.
          3. And he says that when the people of all nations are gathered before the throne of the Son of Man at the time of the great Judgment, it will be based on their deeds of love, or lack thereof, that they are judged either for eternal life or eternal punishment.

          The Bible, and especially Paul, focus on faith in many places because that is what we first consciously experience. But faith is never actually the beginning of belief or of salvation. It is a means to salvation, not the primary determinant of salvation.

          People who come to a position of faith do so because something in their heart has begun to turn away from their old, evil and false ways. Their heart (really, God working in their heart) prompts them to reconsider their life, and prompts them toward faith.

          But we humans don’t see or understand our heart very well. Its workings are mostly beyond our conscious awareness. So the first thing we actually notice is that we are coming to a position of faith. We notice that we now believe differently than we used to. We notice, if we are being converted to Christianity, that we suddenly have faith in Jesus Christ and his saving power.

          So in our conscious awareness, faith comes first, and everything else seems to flow from it. But in fact, God’s love working in our heart comes first, and faith is simply the first emergence of that love coming into our conscious awareness.

          This is why even Paul, that great exponent of faith, places not faith, but love as the greatest Christian virtue. Though he everywhere emphasizes faith, even Paul recognized intuitively that love, not faith, is primary in our salvation. And the fact that Paul never actually says that good works flow from or are the fruits of faith suggests that he was also aware that our good works come, not from faith, but from love—and specifically from the love of Christ working within us.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          It is very true that salvation is not something that can be earned.

          In fact, the whole mindset that gets hung up on earning vs. not earning salvation is faulty, and marks the person having such a debate as one who has rather missed the whole point.

          The real point of salvation is entering into a relationship of love with God, and by extension, with our fellow human beings as well.

          Consider a human relationship: marriage. Is a real marriage based on earning our way into the other person’s heart? Do we have to do x number of good deeds to earn their affection? If so, that is not a marriage. It is a mere mercantile exchange.

          A real marriage is not based on earning esteem or love with one another by our good deeds. It is based on loving one another for who we are, and who we are to each other. In a real marriage we do good things for our partner, not to get in their good graces, but because we love them and want to make them happy.

          Anyone who thinks of marriage as earning one another’s love and affection can never have a real marriage.

          And anyone who thinks that salvation is about earning God’s love, affection, and approval can never have a real relationship of love with God.

          So no, we cannot earn our way to salvation. And the Bible tosses such ideas away almost as unworthy of its attention. It was later, unenlightened theologians who got all caught up with “earning” and “merit” and began building their atonement theories around it, or in reaction to it.

          But this only shows that they had already completely missed the point of atonement and salvation.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          In regard to that which we do ultimately flowing from our loves, doesn’t leave us with the same issue of our actions (works) still being the *fruits* of something else? This conversation has seen terms like faith, loves, beliefs, convictions, but the mechanism at work still seems the same, in which we have a seed, and the inevitable fruits of that seed. If our works flow from our loves, then aren’t we ultimately saved or condemned by our loves? And if that’s true, we have the spirit of Sola Fide, and one in which our works contribute nothing to our salvation. All works would do, in this case, is just attest to our loves, or as some might call in some abstract sense, faith.

          Earlier I pointed out how deterministic this type of thinking can be, and I think it’s even moreso evident here, for when you see all our works as inevitably flowing from something deeper, it essentially means that people cannot change. If everything you do naturally flows from your loves, then how can anyone choose a different love if there existing loves are destructive? You would simply make that choice in accordance with that which you love the most. And if that’s true, then it seems like we wind up with some kind of hard core Calvinism, no?

          So no, I’m not entirely sold on this idea that whatever we love inevitably, invariably produces its respective works, and I used the term ‘X-factor’ to refer to something that stands between our loves (beliefs, convictions, faith) and the decisions we makes, though even after having read what you said, I’m still stumped as to what that is.

          Oddly enough, I think proponents of Sola Fide might actually be able to add something to this, for the idea of inevitably doing good works as a fruit of faith would itself sound deterministic, so surely they would wish to defend that righteous works are still freely chosen. In that respect, my questions seem to mirror the fundamental problem on philosophy between free will and determinism.

        • Duane says:

          Rami,

          Just to concur with what you said about sola fide and determinism. I see your point– this precisely what Luther figured out even as early as 1515 (Comm. on Romans) where he is “more Calvinistic than Calvin” and totally eradicates the need for free-will precisely based on this kind of strange Augustinian-Platonism, where one can indeed “do whatever one wants” but cannot “want whatever one wants” since our wants (“loves”) are determined ultimately by God for Luther (by upbringing for Aristotle; by “not sure” for Plato! — education?).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Philosophy may have a problem with free will vs. determinism. But I don’t.

          Free will is something that God has made a fundamental part of our humanity. Without free will, we are not human.

          Calvinism, which is just a religious version of determinism, destroys our humanity by making us mere puppets of God. And a bastard of a God at that—one who would create billions of people for eternal torture, without any possibility that they could avoid it or choose anything else but eternal torture. The idea that God would do this is a scurrilous blasphemy against God. Calvinism is the ultimate falsification and corruption of Christianity. It is pure blasphemy.

          The reality is that we do have free will, and we can change our dominant love. In fact, that’s what the whole process of regeneration, or being born again spiritually, is all about. It’s about changing our dominant love from the default self-centered one that we’re born with to one that involves loving God and the neighbor. And this does not happen automatically. It happens only if we make a conscious decision to repent from our sins and our evil loves and desires, and do the work of replacing them with good loves, desires, and actions. If we didn’t have the ability to make that choice and make that change in our fundamental character, once again, we would not be human. We would at best be mere animals, and at worst mere robots.

          Yes, we are ultimately saved or condemned by our loves, and specifically, by our dominant love. But that love is something we choose, not something that’s determined beforehand and therefore inevitable.

          And yes, works are the “fruits” of something. Ultimately, they are the fruits of God, as Jesus tells us in John 15:5.

          But more immediately, they are the fruits of our loves, and especially of our dominant love. And they flow from our dominant love through our “faith,” or the truth that we understand and believe. This gives our good works a definite form and direction. It also ensures that they are not done for selfish or materialistic reasons, but are done from God. If we believe the truth—that everything good comes from God—we do not take any credit for our good works, nor do we do them for ulterior motives such as building up our own status, wealth, and reputation. Rather, we do them because that is what God wants us to do, and because doing them is accepting God into our life.

          All of this means that not only is faith alone utterly false, useless, and divorced from any actual reality, but good works alone and even love alone are equally unreal and impossible. All three are required for salvation because without any one of them, none of them is real, and none of them brings about oneness with God and with God’s will—which is salvation.

          • Love alone, without action flowing from it when action is possible, is not real love. If we don’t act on it when we have the opportunity, then our love is not real. It’s just an illusion that we fool ourselves with in order to think of ourselves as “good.” Our actual love always expresses itself in action when it can, and the action completes the love and makes it real.
          • Faith alone, without love behind it and action flowing through it, is nothing but a castle in the air. It is a theoretical theory that we have floating around in our head. If it is not connected to any good love, and does not direct our actions pursuant to that love, then it is nothing but a fleeting fancy that we will, in time, reject from our mind altogether. In the afterlife, that is exactly what happens to the “faith” of “Christians” who don’t live by what they supposedly believe.
          • Good works alone are impossible. If we have no motive, we do nothing. Good works always flow from some love, and they are always directed by some faith, or understanding of and belief in truth.

          In short, for anything in us to be real, it must consist of a love that is the motive, a “faith” or truth that provides the form and direction, and action that flows from that love, through that truth. Anything that doesn’t have all three of these together cannot exist any more than any physical object can exist without substance, form, and function. All three are essentials of anything that is real.

          And because the dominant love that both our faith and our actions flow from is not deterministic, but freely chosen, there is no problem with determinism. We humans are not spiritually determined, pre-programmed, or predestined. Any religion or philosophy that holds that our life and character is deterministic is saying that we are not human. But we are human, because God has created us with the free will to choose what our dominant love will be, and what the accompanying faith and good works will therefore be.

          So no, *sola fide* has nothing at all to contribute to anything but falsity, misunderstanding, and error. It is an utterly false and utterly useless doctrine. Nobody who actually lives by it is saved. Only people whose real faith is in love, faith, and good works together—regardless of the falsities and errors that misguided theologians and preachers have filled their heads with—are saved. In other words, the only people who are saved are those who do good works according to their faith, and do them from love for God and/or love for the neighbor.

          I strongly urge you to completely reject and repudiate both faith alone and determinism. Both of them destroy spiritual truth and a sound understanding for us to the extent that we entertain them in our minds. Faith alone is an illusion. Determinism would make us non-human. As long as your mind admits them as possibilities, you will never be able to see or understand the truth, which is, quite simply, reality. You will always be stuck in illusion and confusion.

          Why subject yourself to that? Why confuse your mind with ideas that can only lead to confusion, hopelessness, and insanity?

  20. Duane says:

    Lee,

    I think I figured out where and why we disagree. It is a matter of “Axioms.”

    You and I are beginning from different starting points and thus are criss-crossing a bit.

    I am not taking as axiomatic that Swedenborg is on the same level as the New Testament, but rather Swedenborg is a kind of testimony that belongs within the history of Christianity. I think rather you are subjecting the New Testament (Paul) to Swedenborg, whereas I am subjecting Swedenborg to the New Testament.

    Beginning with these different axioms, we are sure to come to some kind of disagreement.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I think, rather, that I am subjecting Paul to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      And I am reading Paul in the light of Acts 15 and the rest of the New Testament.

      And I am not accepting the Protestant add-ons to Paul that Paul did not actually say.

      Swedenborg is not necessary to see what I am saying to you. Helpful, but not necessary.

      The Protestant theologians who subscribe to the New Perspective on Paul do not read Swedenborg, and they certainly don’t see Swedenborg as an authority. And yet, simply by reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, and reading Paul in that light, they have come to realize that traditional Protestant understanding of Paul’s writings is incorrect. And they have come to essentially the same conclusion about Paul that Swedenborg did.

      I have not referred to Swedenborg as authority in this discussion, but only as information. And I could easily pursue the entire debate without ever mentioning Swedenborg at all.

      This is not a matter of Swedenborg vs. the New Testament. It is a matter of reading the New Testament in its own light, stripping away the accretions of false doctrine and interpretation that have been added to it over the centuries of institutionalized Christianity.

  21. Duane says:

    Rami,

    Catholics do not reject and never have rejected “justification by faith” — since it’s in the Fathers and Thomas Aquinas has a long bit about it in his Summa. It’s just the interpretation of what that means, which as I’ve noted, in the end, Lutherans have a different emphasis, but in abstracto its not that much different.

    Now, I think different spiritualities develop out of this…and that’s a different question.

  22. Duane says:

    Lee,

    Yes. I’m aware. But what you are referring to is his adding “alein” to the verse in Romans 3. But Luther spoke and wrote volumes on “justification by faith” and its not always “alone” because he absolutely argues that works need to accompany faith. Even in his earliest of essays and commentaries he marks an inextricable link between “justification” and “sanctification” (as any protestant does).

    I think what you are really disagreeing with Luther against is “antinomianism,” which is not Luther but a later problem.

    Or: what you disagree with is that Luther says faith leads to good works like a tree to a fruit. So its more the LINK between faith and works, that perhaps you’d find problematic, than the relation itself.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Are you really saying that the “alone” is not an important part of Luther’s doctrine?

      Why, then, has every Protestant I’ve debated with doggedly insisted that the alone is essential to the doctrine, and cannot be dropped?

      I’ve asked many Protestants why they can’t just drop the “alone,” and simply say, “Justification by faith.” But they have always rejected it, and insisted upon keeping the “alone.”

      And the two books by Protestant theologians that I read defending the doctrine—one by R.C. Sproul and the other by Thomas Schreiner, also strongly insisted on salvation by faith alone.

      If the “alone” doesn’t really matter, why do Protestants themselves doggedly defend that “alone” and insist that it must be present?

      Does that “alone” really have no meaning at all? Am I just confused? Are these Protestants, ordinary and trained theologians alike, just enamored of “alone”?

      Or does it actually have real meaning, and denote a specific doctrine distinct from one that could be termed “justification by faith”?

  23. Duane says:

    Lee again a misunderstanding

    I’m NOT saying in the ALL Church Fathers (Except Augustine and some of the Fathers from the East) that there are references to Luther’s “sola fide” but there ARE references to “justification by faith” apart from “works of the law” meant in the moral sense.

    If you recall you said that no one until Luther interpreted “works of the law” to be meant in any moral sense.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      If there is a difference of “axiom” between us, perhaps it’s that I don’t think it really matters what the early Church Fathers thought. I don’t give them any authority whatsoever. They are primarily of historical interest, as far as I’m concerned.

      What matters to me is what is said in the Word of God, and a proper understanding of its meaning.

      If an early Church Father contributes to that, it’s all good with me. And if an early Church Father detracts from that, then I will toss his words out just as quickly as I’ll toss out the words of the wild-haired guy preaching in the street.

      And so far, my admittedly limited experience with the Church Fathers just hasn’t been all that good or impressive. If there are one or two that you especially think I should read, feel free to link me to a trustworthy and accessible version of their works, and I’ll give it a whirl. But as for my giving any weight to their opinions, that’s fairly unlikely.

      And as for wading through the works of any of the major theologians of Christian history such as Augustine, Aquinas, or Luther, it’s unlikely that I’ll devote enough of my time to such a project to make it worthwhile. I simply doubt that the ideas of these supposedly “great” theologians will be worth the time it would take to master them.

      Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve been utterly spoiled for those other theologians by my exposure to Swedenborg.

      My mother used to say, “Once you’ve read Swedenborg, why would you want to read any of those other guys?”

      And my experience supports her rhetorical question. Every other theologian I’ve dug into at all seems shallow and unenlightened compared to Swedenborg. I’m aware that Swedenborg has his errors and imperfections. But the depth and power of what he got right—which is most of it—blows every other theologian I’ve encountered clean out of the water.

      Now, Swedenborg himself, of course, did not have Swedenborg to read. And I think he’d find it odd that there are “followers” of his that think particular doctrines are true because Swedenborg said so.

      Swedenborg himself had the Bible as his only textbook, and the Lord as his only guide. By the time he began writing the theological works that he actually published, he had thoroughly rejected the entire edifice of Christian theology that he had been inculcated with as a child. So he didn’t rely upon any human theologians. He relied upon the Word of God, and enlightenment from the Lord from within.

      And the longer I study his writings and realize that he was simply reading the Bible under divine inspiration, the more I realize that the basics of his theology are simply what the Bible says. And that the deeper parts of his theology are what the Bible says at a deeper level.

      Swedenborg himself continually pointed his readers to the Bible. He said that the truth lay there, and that everything he wrote came from his study of the Word of God as illuminated for him by the Lord.

      This is also why I feel no need to appeal to Swedenborg as authority. When I debate Protestants or Catholics, I, too, stick almost entirely to the Bible as my only source and authority. If I refer to Swedenborg, it’s because he has provided a particularly cogent explanation of what this or that passage in the Bible really means. And he did it without having Swedenborg to refer to.

      When I read other theologians, I simply don’t find that deep, incisive, spiritual understanding of what the Bible actually says, and what it means. That’s why I find them mostly boring and insipid at best, and at worst teeth-gratingly wrong and steeped in fallacy and falsity.

      Once again, perhaps there are some good ones out there. But my general experience is that it’s necessary to sort through an awful lot of dung to find those few nuggets of gold buried in it. And having spent so much time drawing on the incredible spiritual and theological treasures to be found packed into Swedenborg’s writings like a chest full of gold, silver, diamonds, and rubies, I simply don’t have the patience to waste my time sorting through all the chaff to get at the wheat in most of the other theologians that have made their mark on historical, traditional Christianity.

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        That’s not an axiom of mine either? I never said it was axiomatic that Church Father’s thought x. My point was to critique your historical arguments that “this was never taught until Luther [Anselm].” I don’t hold the Father’s as authoritative scripture

        Ha. I totally agree with you here! More and more I’ve been coming to that insight concerning the Bible.

        I too enjoy Swedenborg in a privileged position (not quite as high as inspiration), but he is a powerful person.

        I understand. My only concern was simply writing off the entire history of Christianity as “error” — honestly.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I still think this is mostly quibbles. But I’m willing to accept the quibbles, and not be quite so absolute in my statements.

          First, I think most of the early Church Fathers simply aren’t actually saying what later theologians are reading into them.

          Second, even if they do occasionally articulate errors that became full-blown theologies in the hands of later theologians, it wasn’t until those later theologians took the early seeds of error and ran with it that those errors had any major impact on the course of Christianity.

          And quite frankly, I do think that the history of Christian doctrine is a history of greater and greater error. Early seeds of error later grew into full-blown error. It’s still a history of increasing error.

          The fundamental error from which all the rest grew was the Trinity of Persons. It may have started out more innocently as a quasi-modalistic view of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (which is still, however, false). But as it matured into settled doctrine, it established pagan polytheism at the core of Christian doctrine, vitiating every other doctrine of the church.

          If you remove the core falsity of the Trinity of Persons, the entire edifice of false Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant doctrine falls to the ground.

          That is why, above all, the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons must be destroyed. As long as that root is still in place, all the branches of corrupted Christian doctrine will continue to flourish.

          Fortunately, the world is progressively rejecting that foundation and everything built upon it. In the end, I won’t have to destroy it. It will fail under the weight of its own falsity and irrationality.

        • Duane says:

          I think you make some great points here. I agree. I think Swedenborg gives much more wiggle room given his inclusivism than the “average” Evangelical (I’ve often wondered what happens to the native americans before 1492, given a radical exclusivist soteriology.

          My question would be, what do you think people had to rely on for truth prior to not just Swedenborg, but the printing press, when the Bible was largely inaccessible (which is why Catholicism is largely a religion that developed out of an illiterate culture, e.g. rosaries with visualizations etc. etc.).

          Oh also, what does Swedenborg think of techniques like the rosary or meditative/contemplative prayer (now that I’m on that topic).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          People had to rely on the church. And it was rather thin fare. But by the same token, most of the people were not educated, nor did they think deeply about things, so as long as they got a basic message of not breaking the Ten Commandments and loving their neighbor, that was generally enough to give them the basic moral and spiritual code they needed to live faithfully and find their way to heaven.

          I do believe that in all ages and cultures, God makes sure that there is at least some vehicle for at least some basic spiritual and moral truth that can lead good-hearted people to heaven.

          And when that vehicle ceases to do the job adequately, God raises up new ones to take the place of the old ones. That is the story of the successive “churches,” or spiritual eras, that have existed through human history—of which Swedenborg identifies five general ones, subdivided into variations and periods within those major eras.

          About the rosary, Swedenborg makes only one passing mention of it in a general panning of Catholic doctrine and practices, so needless to say, his mention of the rosary isn’t particularly positive. I suspect he would have seen the rosary in typical Protestant fashion as being an example of “vain repetitions.”

          Swedenborg himself had a strong prayer life. However, prayer is not one of the major themes in his theological writings. He focused much more on repentance from sin and doing good deeds of love and kindness for the neighbor.

  24. Duane says:

    Lee

    Also, I want to take a moment here to apologize for my curt tone, as I’ve been trying to keep up and fire back fast. I hope nothing I said offended you or seemed to challenge your intellectual “chops” so to speak. If so, again, I did not intend it and for that I apologize.

    I really enjoy, as you know, your website. Your blogs, writings, etc. are all wonderfully edifying and I’m gracious that you are dialoguing with me.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I am not offended. But I am a bulldog when it comes to attacking and smashing what I see as false doctrine. I give it no quarter, I don’t take prisoners, and I don’t apologize for my attacks upon it. I believe that the traditional institutions of Christianity have utterly destroyed the beautiful faith that Jesus Christ delivered to the world 2,000 years ago. And I see the refugees of that destruction floating up to my shores on its wreckage nearly every day.

      Though I can’t say that I’m entirely devoid of ego, I don’t really care about “intellectual chops.” I care about the truth. A decade or so ago I turned down a career in academia because I did not want to get sucked into that intellectual vortex. I’ve also largely turned my back even on my own church institution, throwing away any chance I might have at institutional glory.

      What I care about is spreading genuine Christian truth to ordinary people who are sorely in need of it. People who are hurting because of the terribly false messages they have received from traditional Christianity.

      And when it comes to you, specifically, of course I appreciate your appreciation of my work here on the blog. But that has meaning for me mainly because I rejoice when I can reach new people with genuine Christian truth.

      When you defend traditional Christian doctrine, it doesn’t offend me. But it does cause me some sadness, knowing that that accumulated weight of falsity still confuses the minds of so many people, and still stands in the way of people hearing the true message and feeling the true power of the Lord God Jesus Christ.

      Of course, you like everyone else, are free to believe as you wish. If my writings here help you to see things more clearly, that is a matter of joy and satisfaction for me. And if your mind continues to be clouded with the falsities of a corrupted Christianity, that is a matter of sadness to me.

      Yet what matters most is not what you intellectually believe, but how you live. And God has made it possible even for people who have had terribly false beliefs engraved on their minds to still live good, charitable, and loving lives. To me, a great part of the grace and mercy of God is negating and doing and end run around so much human error and falsity such that salvation is still available to everyone on earth, even the most doctrinally hardened Calvinist.

      And so, although it saddens me when I see people still caught up in the old falsities, I rejoice in knowing that salvation is available even in the darkest doctrinal corners of a corrupted and destroyed Christianity. God’s love and mercy is great.

      What Jesus said is true: By their fruits you will know them.

      Protestants are not saved or justified by faith alone, nor are Catholics saved or justified by faith as that is traditionally understood.

      But many, if not most of them are saved, because when it comes to the way they actually live, they live according to the doctrine that Swedenborg taught, which is really just the doctrine that Jesus taught, renewed and re-stated for the present age.

      No matter what traditional Christians say, and think, they believe, most of them actually believe in salvation through faith and good works working together. That’s the doctrine they actually live by. And that’s why, despite all the false doctrine they’ve been fed, God can bring them to heaven when their time here on earth is over.

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        I was trying to be polite, respectful, and kind to you. And I will continue to do so. I hope you receive that as such, as it is very much in the spirit of “deeds over creeds” that you and I agree upon.

        Though, it does seem like you think that only you and Swedenborgians are correct and that everyone else is believing in false doctrines. Would you say that’s a fair assessment? That is, are there any other Christians or Christian denominations that you think are not believing falsities?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I have yet to encounter a Christian denomination outside of Swedenborgianism whose doctrinal statements I can read and say, “Yes, that is correct.” In every case so far, my reaction to reading the basic catechism, or statement of beliefs, of the various denominations has been, “No, that’s not correct. There is fundamental falsity here.”

          So although I wish I could give you the politically correct answer and say that I find truth in all of the churches and religions, that’s simply not what I find. Yes, smidgens of truth here and there. It’s hard to be totally wrong. But on the major theological issues of the nature of God, atonement, and salvation, I’ve found the faith statements I’ve encountered so far in all non-Swedenborgian churches to be fundamentally false and non-biblical in their formulations.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Having said that, I do also find the core of genuine religions in most churches and religions around the world: that of loving God and loving the neighbor. And that is why those churches, despite their fundamentally false and flawed doctrinal statements, can still serve as part of God’s church on earth, and be the vehicle of that church for their adherents.

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        Here is the major problem I think you are faced with:

        You’ve said that any Christians teaching these “falsities” are very dangerous. The problem is that historical Christianity — not just Catholicism, Orthodoxy(eastern), and Protestantism, but the early Church Fathers as well — has since its inception taught these things that you consider wrong.

        You can’t work with the idea that (1) no one thought of substitutionary atonement before answer, or (2) “justification by faith” and “works of the law” being moral before Luther.

        So, are you really going to bite the bullet and say that every Christian but you (and Swedenborgians) is right?

        That seems like a grand claim! Since even the Apostle Paul is out!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I think your meaning may have gotten a little garbled here. At least, I’m scratching my head a bit about exactly what you mean to say.

          About Paul, as I’ve already said, I don’t think Paul was wrong on his major points. Yes, some of his specific views on specific human issues, such as marriage, are dated by his times. But that’s true of the entire Bible.

          Paul had a message to deliver, and he delivered it in the best way he knew how. The fundamentals of his message were not only correct, but critical if Christianity was not to be aborted at its very birth by remaining a sect of Judaism, which would inevitably have failed as a religion.

          I’ve already detailed what that message was, and how subsequent generations of Christians have misunderstood and misinterpreted it, and based all manner of false doctrines on that misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Paul, so I won’t repeat it here.

          Suffice it to say once again that I am not saying that Paul was wrong. He was right. But he has been heavily misunderstood.

          And once again, even if there were seeds and foreshadowings in the early church of some of the later doctrines developed by Anselm and Luther, those early statements were still only seeds. They weren’t full-blown doctrines. It remained for Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and so on to develop them into full-fledged doctrines and place them as major doctrinal fallacies within a significant segment of Christianity.

          And once again, yes, I think that Christianity began going off the rails almost from its inception. And the more I read of the Church Fathers, the more I realize why: there simply weren’t teachers that truly understood the message of Jesus Christ. And without good shepherds, the sheep were scattered.

  25. Duane says:

    Also, it’s not “just” that Swedenborg differs from Protestants and Catholics, but also Orthodox Christians (1054 Schism), as well as the Cannon from as early as the 2nd -3rd Century (Ireneus, e.g.).

    The Cannon wasn’t just compiled out of nowhere by the Catholic Church, that too has a history, and as early as the 2nd C, the first writings that were not from the New Testament, always contained Paul’s letters and references to them as “Scripture.”

    So Swedenborg is not just disagreeing with Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox (which are in effect the history of Christianity), but the entire history as well.

    This is all fine. But, I think a different more nuanced point.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I’m well aware that Swedenborg’s canon is unique, and excludes books that are in every other Christian canon that I’m aware of.

      And Swedenborg himself gave various reasons as to why the Acts and the Epistles were included in the Christian canon under God’s Providence.

      So it is not with closed eyes that either I, or Swedenborg, exclude those books from the canon.

      It is also not over doctrinal issues, because Swedenborg states that the doctrine in those books is good, even if he did think that Paul focused too much on faith.

      Really, Swedenborg’s canon does not give any less authority to the Acts and the Epistles than traditional Christianity does. Rather, it gives far greater depth and power to the books that are in Swedenborg’s canon than traditional Christianity ever has.

      This is why I am perfectly content to debate Protestants based on the Protestant canon. The simple fact of the matter, from my point of view, is that the Protestant canon does not support Protestant doctrine, nor does it support Catholic doctrine, but it does support Swedenborg’s doctrine, which I view simply as genuine Christian doctrine.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Of the three main branches of Christianity, I am least familiar with Orthodox doctrine.

      And that’s probably a pity. Because from what I’ve gleaned so far, Orthodox Christianity is closer to historical Christian views on atonement and salvation than either Catholicism (which abandoned its original atonement theory in favor of satisfaction theory post-Anselm) or Protestantism (which developed its own version of satisfaction theory based on the Anselm / Aquinas theory).

      The Great Schism occurred just before Anselm and the development of satisfaction theory, which took place on the Western (Catholic) side of the schism. So my understanding is that Orthodox Christianity never adopted satisfaction theory, but stuck with the original Christus Victor and Ransom theories that had been the reigning theory of atonement in all of mainstream Christianity for the first 1,000 years of its existence.

      Meanwhile, Swedenborg’s atonement theory can be seen as a variation on Christus Victor, making it also more in line with historical Christian doctrine on this subject than either the current Catholic or Protestant theories of atonement.

  26. Duane says:

    Lee

    I never said I rejected your arguments bc you reject Paul. I said that our different axioms were the source of our talking past one another, since we were in effect reasoning from different premises.

    I do not btw reject your arguments, I’m just digging a bit.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I don’t think those “different premises” make any practical difference in the debate.

      And I don’t mind the digging. But I also don’t pull my punches when it comes to doctrines that I believe are utterly false and unbiblical no matter how hoary with age they may be.

      • Duane says:

        Lee,

        I have neither said nor implied that you should pull your punches. Do you want me to pull mine? = )

        I think your argument for point 1 is largely conjecture. It’s hard to argue with the practical effects that you’ve experienced an idea to have, especially when I’ve experienced the opposite. But I imagine this was what John and Paul and James were all responding to in their epistles, namely people that claim to know God, to love God, but were “liars” because it wasnt evidenced in their life and love. That they were called “liars” is quite important, since it doesnt attack the idea of salvation by “reception” (faith) but just that those who claim to have received, in fact did not.

        Concerning point 2: “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” is also quite old in the Church, but the Catholic Church certainly has reinterpreted this doctrine to be inclusive, which undercuts the exclusivist/pluralist false dichotomy. You have to admit that Jesus quite often (aside from Mt 25) does speak exclusively, e.g. “whoever is not with me is against me” or “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” or “whoever does not obey the Son the wrath of God abides on.” This exclusivism isn’t just fabricated out of thin air.

        Now of course I don’t agree with it. But I’m saying I just reject this idea that there was the Apostles (excluding even Paul) and then Swedenborg and thus every other form of Christianity in history was in serious error. This sounds too much like Mormonism. I rather see tradition developing and better understanding its own doctrines.

        Point 3: It is true that Ransom and Christ the Victor theories were quite early, but they were always laced with the ideas from the New Testament which include references to Penal Substitution, e.g. Justin Martry, Clement. Here is a link to various formulations of it quite early in the Church: http://www.piratechristian.com/captains-log/2016/5/penal-substitution-in-the-writings-of-the-church-fathers

        To put it bluntly: I simply cannot accept the version of history you are describing, because it is factually inaccurate. Now, I agree with you at the end of the day about the nature of God and love and all that, but I disagree with your critiques about what you consider to be false doctrines due to the inaccurate historical accounting and therefore interpretation of them. I would say this is an an overly simplified notion of Christian history, e.g. the idea that “works of the law” had no moral connotation prior to Luther is absurd, along with this idea that “penal substitution” was original to Anselm or the Protestants. Anslem’s formulation was “new,” but he was working with the tradition.

        Now I of course think that it’s an outdated atonement theory, but nevertheless, you can’t reject Christendom because of it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Thanks for the link. I read through the various quotes. And they generally, but not entirely, confirm what I had already said before: that these early Church Fathers were not all that enlightened, and that they were not talking about penal substitution.

          Most of the quotes don’t say anything that I would interpret as penal substitution. They talk about Christ bearing punishment that was due to us, or on our behalf, but that is actually not necessarily penal substitution. If an innocent person wades into a fight between two mortal enemies and takes blows that were intended for someone else, that does not legally substitute for any penalties the two might have incurred vis a vis each other or God. Rather, the innocent person suffers in the course of preventing damage that the two intended to do to one another. If the case were to go to court, the intervenor’s actions, and suffering, would have no effect whatsoever on the assignment of guilt and punishment to the brawlers.

          In other words, I think penal substitution is being read into most of these quotes by people who already believe in it and see it everywhere—even where it doesn’t exist.

          A few of them, however, especially the one by John Chrysostom, do sound an awful lot like penal substitution. And perhaps they actually did have that concept. If so, it apparently didn’t make it into the accepted theology of the church.

          Beyond that, even if I’m wrong and these errors existed for many centuries before Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, they’re still errors.

          That is the most fundamental point. If Chrysostom believed in penal substitution, he was in error, just as modern Protestants are in error.

        • Duane says:

          Of course. Just to repeat. I am not arguing from the authority of the Fathers to some specific point, other than the history of Christianity is shot through with what you would consider false doctrines.

          So I return to my earlier question (which I am sure you are getting to but…): are there any versions of Christianity or Christian denominations that you’d accept as correct and devoid of dangerous beliefs other than Swedenborgians?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          So far, I haven’t found any.

          And honestly, even some of the Swedebnorgian statements of faith seem to me to have the wrong emphasis. But at least I agree with the doctrine behind them.

          Also, “dangerous” is a tricky word. It makes it sound like all sorts of people are going to eternal hell because of the falsity they are being taught by their churches.

          But for the most part, that’s not what’s happening. And it’s not happening precisely because salvation by “faith” is false doctrine. Nobody goes to heaven for believing the right thing, nor does anyone go to hell for believing the wrong thing.

          First, most laypeople barely know or understand the doctrines of their church. The preacher preaches something at them, and they hear, “I’ve got to stop doing bad things and start doing good things instead.” Even if that’s not actually what the preacher said.

          And even if they do understand the doctrine, most of them don’t actually live by it. They still live as if repentance from sin and doing good deeds of love and kindness are essential to their salvation, and not just secondary benefits of salvation.

          Where these beliefs become dangerous is when they confuse people’s minds and cause them to think God hates them and they’re inevitably damned to hell, and there’s probably nothing they can do about it.

          I get these people here at the blog all the time. It’s amazing to me how many refugees from traditional Christianity are convinced that they are going to hell, usually for something that isn’t even forbidden in the Bible, such as masturbation.

          The second most heavily visited article on this blog all time is:
          If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
          In the four years since I published it, that article alone has racked up over 100k hits.

          This, plus my experience in responding to comments and submitted questions, tells me that people are terrified of going to hell. And in my experience most of them have no good reason to be so terrified. They’re mostly ordinary, decent folks who have had the wits scared out of them by fundamentalist preachers who have drilled it into their heads that God is angry with them and hates them because of their sins. And accepting Christ doesn’t seem to be doing it for them. They’re still terrified of hell, because they’re still masturbating, or doing whatever rather trivial thing it is that they’ve been told is a horribly sinful thing such that God is so angry with them for that He is going to send them straight to hell when they die.

          This is the real danger of all of these false doctrines. It confuses people and causes them massive amounts of completely unnecessary fear, pain, and dread. And the intolerance of many so-called “Christian” churches drives many people not only to atheism, but in many cases to suicide.

          Just before my time as pastor of a Swedenborgian church back in Massachusetts, our sister Swedenborgian church in the next town over had accepted into membership most of an extended family that had formerly been staunchly Catholic.

          Why had this family come over?

          Because when one of the adult sons had committed suicide in the face of a persistent mental illness, the local Catholic priest had refused to do his funeral . . . because he had committed suicide.

          Now, I understand that the Catholic Church has doctrines about suicide. But the level of insensitivity and just plain horrible behavior involved in refusing to do a funeral for a family grieving the loss of their son is, to me, simply incomprehensible. It nearly did the young man’s mother in. And it was only when the local Swedenborgian pastor said, “Of course I’ll do a funeral for your son” that the family began to have some peace and comfort in that horribly painful situation.

          This is a concrete example of how dangerous and destructive false doctrine is in the lives of actual, ordinary people who are just trying to make their way through life and practice their religion with sincerity. And though that is a particularly egregious example, I could multiply such examples many times just from my own experience as a Pastor for a decade, and in my many contacts with people since then, especially through this blog. And the damage is being done both by Catholic and Protestant churches and their false dogmas.

          So as far as false doctrine causing people to go to hell, mostly I don’t think that’s a real danger. People go to heaven or to hell based on their own choices and the way they live their own lives, regardless of any false doctrine they’ve been taught.

          But false doctrine does do a great deal of damage to many, many people. I have seen those damaging effects, and I will not rest as long as traditional “Christianity” continues to adhere to false, damaging, and destructive beliefs.

          For a somewhat more calm and philosophical view of the whole mess, please see:
          Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          In short, even if my history of their origins may not be 100% accurate, that really doesn’t affect the truth or falsity of the doctrines themselves.

          But in a general sense, I think my history is correct. Even if there were some early antecedents to later false doctrines, it was the later developers of those seeds of falsity that truly developed the false doctrine and established it as a major plank of a significant branch of Christianity.

        • Duane says:

          Absolutely, history does not affect the truth or falsity of the doctrines. But you are then faced with the tough question that “only” you and Swedenborg are right, and every other Christian denomination and form of it has been wrong historically and “dangerous.”

          So if Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, Paul and the Church Fathers are out? Who is left?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          What’s left is that traditional Christianity has run its course, and is finished as the leading church on earth.

          Really, it has been ever since the Enlightenment.

          In Europe, which used to be the stronghold of Christianity, this is especially stark. Much of Europe is now secular. Most of the churches there are barely surviving, and many thousands of them have closed their doors for good.

          Christianity as it existed for 1,700 years or so is now finished. It’s just running on institutional and social inertia. But it will, I believe, continue to wane in influence and active membership.

          Yes, the churches are attempting to reform themselves. And that is keeping them from dying outright. But it is unlikely that any of the major Christian churches will repudiate the basic doctrines that have historically distinguished them as Christian institutions.

          And those doctrines are being progressively rejected by thinking people around the world. So although institutional and social momentum keeps the institution of the church alive, it’s just a matter of time before they go the way that Sears, Roebuck, and Co. is now going. It used to be a cutting edge company. But it failed to keep up with the times, and it is paying with its life. Many other large corporations have died, or are dying, because the people are no longer buying what they’re selling.

          That’s what’s going to happen to traditional Christianity, with its firmly and deeply entrenched false doctrine. It may take a few more centuries, but its ultimate death is inevitable.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I should add that the institutional Swedenborgian Church is not faring any better than traditional Christianity.

          The institutional Swedenborgian Church has not only failed to thrive, but in general is going through the same death throes as the traditional Christianity in whose image it built its own little institution. Except that since it is such a small institution, institutional Swedenborgianism doesn’t have anywhere near the fat to burn to keep itself alive that the big Christian denominations do.

          I myself am no longer much involved in the institutional Swedenborgian Church because I lost faith and patience in it, and no longer think it is an effective vehicle for the new church that Swedenborg spoke about in his writings.

          Whatever that new church is like, I don’t think it’s going to look anything like the institutions of traditional Christianity, Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.

        • Duane says:

          Man, I agree completely. That the problem with these doctrines is terrifying people of God/Hell, etc. That’s such a terrible story about the Catholic priest (I know that is not a doctrine of the Church, namely that people who take their own life ipso facto die forever; this priest was obviously very wrong).

          You are right too about the waning influence of Christianity in Europe.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          A few more thoughts on your question, “Who is left?

          Okay, a lot more thoughts! 😉

          As I said in my initial reply, I believe that institutional Christianity as it has existed up to the present is finished. The institutions will likely hang around for a few centuries longer, but they are increasingly becoming a sidelight and an echo from the past in present-day society.

          As I said in my article, “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!” I don’t think that institution was ever really Christian in the first place. It quickly abandoned the simple system of disciples, apostles, and community feast get-togethers that Jesus instituted, and reverted back to the priest-centered, sacrificial-style worship services of ancient Judaism (which was not, at that time, all that ancient to the people who reinstituted the priesthood).

          So in essence, we haven’t actually had a Christian Church starting from a time within a century or two of the time of Jesus’ life on earth.

          However, for the people that lived during those times, that stand-in for Christianity worked well enough to keep them on a spiritual path. The Church taught them all sorts of false things, but it also taught them the basics of keeping the Ten Commandments, loving God and the neighbor, and so on. And as long as that took care of people’s spiritual needs, institutional Christianity could continue to serve as God’s church on earth, even in its corrupted, non-Christian form. The vast bulk of the people were uneducated, illiterate, and unsophisticated. They didn’t have any particular reason to question the nutty things that the Church told them, such as that God consisted of three Persons. They just accepted it uncritically, because it didn’t conflict with anything they knew (which wasn’t much), nor did it make much difference in their lives.

          Today, the world is in a very different situation. Education has been steadily advancing. The bulk of the world’s population is no longer uneducated, illiterate, and unsophisticated. And in general, it is the most educated parts of the world that have most strongly rejected traditional Christianity. The U.S. is an odd anomaly in this respect. But even here, the people that go for the more hard core, throwback styles of Christianity tend to be the less educated ones. Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity is making its greatest strides in third world countries that haven’t yet brought their people up to speed educationally. And Catholicism is strongest in Latin third world countries that are not yet up to speed by European standards. Europe, which is arguably the most educated part of the world, is also the least Christian, and religious, part of the world.

          This suggests that the writing is already on the wall for traditional Christianity.

          Just in the past fifty-plus years, as third world nations have thrown off their colonial masters, gained independence, and gradually, often traumatically, worked their way out of their own dark ages, we have seen huge advances in education, health, and the economy in parts of the world that used to live in grinding poverty and severe lack of education and opportunity. Much of Asia and Africa is now making great strides forward educationally and economically, and South America is not far behind. It’s only a matter of time before the general educational and economic level of most of the world matches that of Europe. And then I believe that the institutional Christian Church will decline rapidly all around the world, in all of its branches, just as it already has in Europe.

          This will happen if for no other reason than that these institutions will not be able or willing to drop the irrational dogmas that have been the core of their identity for centuries, if not millennia.

          In the past, an uneducated populace uncritically accepted those irrational dogmas.

          That will no longer fly when the bulk of the world’s population has an education under its belt, and some training in critical thinking. The church will no longer be able to say, “This is the truth,” and have people say, “Yes, yes.” People will question the church, and the church will not have reasonable and satisfying answers—because in fact, their core doctrines are false and make no sense. As an increasingly educated population realizes this, they will continue to abandon the church, just as they are already abandoning it in droves in Europe, especially.

          Of course, it’s theoretically possible that the existing church institutions could fundamentally change their core beliefs. But the history of human institutions suggest that they won’t be able or willing to do that. Human institutions tend to get founded around certain principles and practices, flourish while those principles and practices are working, and die when society passes them by and moves on to new principles and practices. This has been the case in the rise and fall of empires and nations. And more recently, it has been in the case in the rise and fall of large corporations. The usual way of things is that the old institutions die out when their way of thinking and doing things no longer works. Then new, more current institutions take their place.

          So I believe that as the mindset and educational level of the feudal, peasant Middle Ages gradually slips into the past all around the world, the Christian institutions that grew up and flourished in that culture will die off and no longer be a significant presence in the world. The existing church institutions will not be able to make the transition. They will be able to change neither their core doctrines nor their dominant church culture. So they will wane and die as society passes them by.

          And though they could be replaced by new church institutions more appropriate to this new era of humanity, my current thought is that this probably won’t happen. People in general these days seem not to be interested in institutional religion. They seem to want to have their own direct version of spirituality, without the institutional middleman.

          One tantalizing biblical suggestion that the new church, which in the Bible is represented by the New Jerusalem, won’t be an institutional one is this brief verse:

          I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22)

          The fact that John so no temple in the New Jerusalem is huge! The Temple had been the center of religion of all sorts for centuries, if not millennia, both in Judaism and in pagan religion. And yes, the Temple in Jerusalem was probably destroyed by the time John saw and recorded his vision. But the general assumption was that the Temple would eventually be rebuilt. And yet, John says that in the New Jerusalem, which represents the halcyon human future after the second coming of Christ, there would be no temple!

          This is about as close as the Greek Bible could come to saying: There will be no church institution standing between the people and God, because all people will have a direct relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ—here named “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.”

          So I am inclined to think that the “spiritual but not religious” movement is here to stay, and will only gain strength as time goes on. Increasingly, people simply aren’t interested in church institutions and human figures (priests and ministers) standing between them and God. They want a direct relationship with God, unmediated by human beings and human institutions.

          What I think will rise out of the rubble of the crumbling old “Christian” institutions is the system of teachers, learners, and celebratory gatherings that Jesus instituted in the Gospels. People still need to learn about God, spirit, and living spiritually. They still need enlightened teachers who can show them the path. And they will still want to gather from time to time with others who are also traveling a spiritual path.

          Of course, these days much of that gathering happens in virtual space rather than physical space. And much of the teaching and learning does, too.

          At any rate, that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in attempting to see and conceptualize what will replace the failing institutions of traditional Christianity.

          I should add that having grown up in institutional Swedenborgian Christianity, I did make a major effort to work within that system. And I actually did manage to modestly build up the membership and attendance of my congregation back east during the decade I was there—contrary to what was happening in most of our local churches, which were and still are steadily losing members and dying off. (From what I hear, after my pastorate there was over the congregation I had served rapidly declined, until it was even smaller than when I had first started there in the mid to late 1990s.)

          In the end, all of my efforts to drag my particular branch of the institutional Swedenborgian Church out of the past into the present were a failure. Despite near herculean efforts for nearly a decade, it became clear to me that the existing Swedenborgian institution, like the existing traditional Christian institution, would die before it made any fundamental changes to its institutional culture.

          And so I walked away from it, and began trying to figure out: If the new church isn’t the institution I grew up in, what is it?

          And I’m still trying to figure that out.

        • Duane says:

          Lee,

          Thank you for those thoughts. I think they are spot on. I agree with you. Institutional Christianity is dying as did Christendom. A lot of factors here, some of which Nietzsche saw with the advent of modern science leading to atheism, but some also more positive namely education, etc. and the arising of the “spiritual, but not religious” movement. I tend to have less and less affiliation with Institutional Christianity myself and hope for the kind of picture you foresee. All Church attendance is down.

          I have a hard time with this because I long for a community, but can’t seem to find one that isn’t overly dogmatic. There has always been this problem within the Church, namely the need for community, but then community transforming into a kind of mob think. It’s fascinating that you note that passage from Revelation, which also reminds me that very little is mentioned about “going to Church” in the New Testament; it’s certainly not what modern preachers make it to be.

          So my question: what does one do in the meantime? does one still attend a church albeit reluctantly? or simply wait?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          That is the $64,000 question!

          Through this blog I have contact with people all around the country, and all around the world. Sometimes one of them will ask, “Where can I find a church for fellowship?” Occasionally I can refer them to a Swedenborgian congregation near them. But it’s without much enthusiasm, knowing the state of our church and the unlikelihood that the congregation will really serve their spiritual needs. Still, I make the referral.

          More often there’s no Swedenborgian congregation of any branch within hundreds of miles of where they live. And then about all I can say is, “Look for a more liberal-leaning, open-minded local Christian church that you can attend for the fellowship, even if you don’t agree with all of their preaching.” That isn’t a very good solution either. But I know of a number of Swedenborgians who do just that.

          The irony is that I am an ordained Swedenborgian minister, and Annette is a Swedenborgian minister’s spouse, and we don’t even have a spiritual community to belong to and find fellowship in. We do occasionally attend a small local AME church here in Cheyenne that Annette had contact with through her work. We enjoy the pastor and the people there, and find the message preached in the church to be a good, practical, and spiritual one. The pastor there is a bit of a maverick in his own denomination doctrinally. But in general, we are unchurched ourselves.

          For me, this blog is now my primary spiritual community.

          But in general, due to the failure, and the increasing lack of aptness to current society, of traditional Christianity, there is a vast, gaping hole where people’s spiritual community should be. Many people who desire spiritual community do attend a local congregation, without necessarily accepting their doctrine. Others find community online. And others are just spiritually lonely.

          It’s a sad situation. And it’s one for which I don’t have a good solution. Sometimes I think that perhaps I’m meant to start up some sort of spiritual network that would provide some of that missing spiritual fellowship and learning environment. But heck if I can figure out how to do that, and what it would look like. It’s a big world out there, with hundreds of millions of people who are looking for something.

          It’s possible that at some point Annette and I will start some sort of local reading and discussion group here in Cheyenne, or perhaps down in Fort Collins an hour away, where there is a larger population base. But that would at best serve a few dozen people, if it’s successful at all.

          I’ve also considered starting up online classes again, which I briefly engaged in five or ten years ago after my pastorate was over. That could provide an online fellowship and learning environment for a few interested people. (It is also a heckuva lot of work for me.)

          And at some point I do plan to get into regular YouTube and podcast style video delivery of spiritual insights and ideas for the large base of younger people, especially, who are more visual and video oriented than text-oriented.

          However, all of these seem very modest and inadequate to meet the huge need out there.

          I will say that I’ve come to greatly appreciate what the Swedenborg Foundation is doing with its offTheLeftEye YouTube channel and its Heaven and Hell Facebook page. I was skeptical at first, having seen other online Swedenborgian efforts over the years fail to thrive. But both of these efforts by the Swedenborg Foundation have turned out to be very popular and successful. Obviously they’re filling a real need. It’s about the only really successful Swedenborg-based online outreach that’s happening right now that I’m aware of. (Though this blog is currently averaging about 1,500 hits a day, which is not too shabby either.) And ironically, but perhaps tellingly, it’s not being run by any of the Swedenborgian church organizations.

          So . . . as of now I don’t have a good solution to the problem of the need for fellowship and a spiritual learning environment to replace the dying institutions of traditional Christianity.

          I can only say that it’s something I think about all the time, and on which I seek ideas and inspiration myself.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          It’s amazing how you just articulated precisely how I felt about this and the possible options of finding a church and spiritual community. I appreciate your candor and honesty; I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear this, since most ministers or spiritual gurus are always pushing Church (out of an obvious self-interest, since that’s how they make their living!).

          As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m a college professor at a Jesuit school. I am the moderator of a Bible study once a week where we get students from all walks (atheists, agnostics, evangelicals, Catholics). And this is a fun time. But other than that it is difficult.

          By the way, yes, I’ve seen “OfftheLeftEye” and that’s actually where I got more into Swedenborg, by way of an interview with a NDE’r named Howard Storm (out of all the NDEs, I think I’ve probably seen and studied everyone of his videos and I’ve read his books now for ten years; I’m a big fan. I’d noticed the way he spoke about God was close to Swedenborg).

  27. Duane says:

    Are you really saying that the “alone” is not an important part of Luther’s doctrine?

    – no, I’m saying that, again, Justification by faith “apart from works” wasn’t created ex nihilo out of Luther. And to just attack Luther for the “alone” is the red herring, since Luther does not believe that one is justified apart from works, but just not “by” works. It’s nuanced, but you cant say Luther is an antinomian since he believes in the inextricable link between justification and sanctification, or faith and works. In other words, there is no such thing for Luther (or Calvin) as a faith that saves that doesnt lead to good works.

    Why, then, has every Protestant I’ve debated with doggedly insisted that the alone is essential to the doctrine, and cannot be dropped?

    – I have no idea who you talked to — if they really insist on antinomianism they are uneducated. But this cant be the basis for an argument about what is taught in Luther.

    I’ve asked many Protestants why they can’t just drop the “alone,” and simply say, “Justification by faith.” But they have always rejected it, and insisted upon keeping the “alone.”

    And the two books by Protestant theologians that I read defending the doctrine—one by R.C. Sproul and the other by Thomas Schreiner, also strongly insisted on salvation by faith alone.

    — I am well familiar with Sproul; he never says faith does not lead to works even if he uses the terminology of alone, which of course is often used, but doesnt mean what you are saying it means.

    If the “alone” doesn’t really matter, why do Protestants themselves doggedly defend that “alone” and insist that it must be present?

    — Again I don’t know why “protestants” do this. I can only speak for having studied Luther and his successors. The reason they “would perhaps” insist on “alone” is that a matter of justification, but since justification never occurs apart from sanctification or works, the point is moot.

    Does that “alone” really have no meaning at all? Am I just confused? Are these Protestants, ordinary and trained theologians alike, just enamored of “alone”?

    – HA! This is a great point! and I’ve always had a hunch that this COULD BE!

    Or does it actually have real meaning, and denote a specific doctrine distinct from one that could be termed “justification by faith”?

    –I think you are onto something here, and now we are beginning to meet! That is, IF one is justified by “faith alone” BUT(!) this “faith alone” MUST lead to good works….THen?!?! (Isn’t this just a matter of emphasis! and or at least CAUSALITY).?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I don’t reject only antinomianism. That is simply an inevitable effect of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which Protestant theologians from Luther onward have had to constantly battle. It is one of the snakes of the Pandora’s Box that Luther opened when he tacked “alone” onto “faith.”

      I reject the whole concept that justification is primarily, or only, by faith, and that good works are merely the result of salvation.

      And I think that salvation by faith alone has no meaning if it doesn’t exclude good works from the means of salvation.

      I categorically reject the exclusion of good works from the means of salvation. I believe this is a complete misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings.

      I believe that salvation is by both faith and good works.

      I reject the idea that good works flow from faith or are a result of faith.

      I believe, in fact, that good works are a greater part of our justification and our salvation than faith.

      Of course, ultimately it is God’s love that saves us. Faith is a mere means. Good works are also a mere means.

      But when salvation actually enters into our life, both faith and good works are together essential parts of it.

      So once again, I don’t just reject antinomianism.

      I reject the very concept that faith is primary in salvation, and good works are secondary.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      If justification by faith, or by faith alone, were just some theoretical, stand-alone doctrine, then all of this would be mere debates about how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin. There would be no real-world relevance to it all.

      But:

      1. Justification by faith, and especially justification by faith alone, cannot be divorced from antinomianism in the popular mind. And faulty doctrine lends itself to “misunderstanding” and faulty living.
      2. Justification by faith, and especially justification by faith alone, is exclusive and non-biblical in excluding non-Christians from salvation as an essential part of the doctrine, despite recent attempts to soften it.
      3. Justification by faith, and especially justification by faith alone, is inextricably linked with other false, non-biblical doctrines that destroy the essence and foundations of Christianity and are blasphemies against the Christian God.

      On Point 1:

      No matter how many times Protestant theologians from Luther onward insist that we must do good works or our faith isn’t real and saving, your average theologically unsophisticated Protestant will reason in this way:

      “They say I’m not supposed to sin and I’m supposed to do good works. But they also say that this doesn’t save me. Only believing that Jesus died for my sins save me. And if that’s so, is it really that important for me not to sin, and to do good works? After all, the preacher says over and over again that it’s only my faith that saves me.”

      So even if rank and file Protestants sort of know they’re not supposed to sin and they’re supposed to do good works, the general feeling is that that’s all distinctly secondary. So if they feel like sinning today, well, it’s not going to put their salvation in jeopardy because Jesus already paid the penalty for my sins.

      So the overall practical effect of the doctrine is to make people think that what they believe is much more critical than how they live.

      And in this way it flies in the face of the entire force of the Bible’s teaching, from Genesis through Revelation, which is overwhelmingly about repenting from sin and living a good life of love and service to the neighbor instead.

      The power just went out here, so I’m going to have to shut down and get back to this when the power comes back.

    • Lee says:

      The power seems to be back on for good now (knock on wood), so I’ll continue where I left off.

      On Point 2:

      In general, justification by faith, including justification by faith alone, implies justification by faith in Jesus Christ.

      There are variations on this. But the general idea is that it specifically faith in Christ that saves us.

      This has meant historically that those churches who accept some version of justification by faith believe that salvation is exclusive to Christians. Because non-Christians don’t have faith in Christ, they are all going to hell.

      More recently, when this harsh, exclusive doctrine has become widely unpopular, various churches that care about what people think of them have come up with addendums and codicils in an attempt to soften this historical stance, and find a way to include non-Christians in the possibility of salvation.

      But the historical meaning and thrust of salvation by faith, including salvation by faith alone, has been that salvation is available only to Christians, and that all non-Christians—which are the bulk of the world’s population—will go to hell simply because they are not Christian.

      This flies in the face of the direct teaching of the Bible on this subject, most clearly in Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 2:1–16, which make it clear that salvation is available to people of all nations, including Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles.

      So a second general reason to reject salvation by faith is that it contradicts the Bible’s plain teachings about the availability of salvation to people of all religions.

      On Point 3:

      Historically, the dominant theories of atonement in the first millennium of Christianity were Christus Victor and Ransom theory. To my knowledge, Orthodox Christianity still adheres to these atonement theories in one form or another.

      Catholicism and Protestantism, however, have both abandoned the historical atonement theories of Christianity in favor of developments of Anselmian Satisfaction Theory.

      Satisfaction theory is not based on Jesus’ victory over the Devil as in Ransom and Christus Victor theory. It is based instead on Jesus “making satisfaction” for sinful human beings with God the Father. It is also substitutionary in that a righteous Jesus is substituted for unrighteous humans in making that satisfaction with God the Father.

      My general sense of the three main varieties of Satisfaction Theory are:

      • In the original Anselmian satisfaction theory Christ satisfied the Father’s violated honor.
      • In the Aquinian version of satisfaction theory, Christ satisfied the father’s violated justice.
      • In the Protestant version of satisfaction theory, Christ satisfied, or assuaged, God’s wrath at human sin.

      In every case, faith is necessary in order to have the satisfaction, or substitution, assigned to the human sinner. The idea is that when the human being, through faith, accepts that Jesus died to satisfy God’s honor, or justice, or wrath, Christ’s merit—gained by living a sinless life and perfectly fulfilling God’s law in a way that fallen, sinful humans are incapable of—is then imputed to the human sinner through that faith, so that when God looks at that human being, instead of seeing the human’s sinfulness, God sees Christ’s merit and righteousness clothing the human sinner and thus “atoning” for the sin.

      And once again, as in Point 2, the necessary faith is specifically faith in Christ. Without that, there is no atonement, and the sinner remains condemned by God regardless of how much repentance s/he may have engaged in and regardless of whether s/he has lived a good and loving life.

      This doctrine has so many problems that I could easily expand this comment to book length just detailing them all. And I have written a number of articles here saying just how wrong it is. Here is a listing of some of its more egregious errors:

      1. It paints God as intolerant and petty, needing to be assuaged and “satisfied” in order to forgive humans. It is thus a blasphemy against the infinite love and mercy of God.
      2. It states and implies that God must be reconciled to us rather than our being reconciled to God, which is what the Bible says happens.
      3. It excludes all non-Christians from salvation.
      4. It deals with symptoms rather than causes. I.e. it does not actually deal with sin. Only with the appearance of sin.
      5. It therefore intrinsically brings about no change in the human being. The human being remains a sinner ever after being saved.
      6. It is taught nowhere in the Bible, but in fact, violates many principles stated in the Bible.

      Expanding upon all these would, as I say, turn this comment into book length. But these are some of the reasons why justification by faith as traditionally understood is both false and wrong, both in its Catholic and in its Protestant versions.

      So you see, I don’t reject justification by faith in its Catholic and Protestant versions merely based on antinomianism. I believe that it is fundamentally flawed and that the inevitable antinomianism it leads to in the popular mind is only a symptom of a far deeper, and in fact deadly, malaise in the doctrine.

  28. Duane says:

    Also, I just reread your writing on why correct doctrine matters. I couldn’t agree more, and I think that is what I was getting at with the sola fide bit, that it contained in it what you really pulled out to be the gem, namely the idea that a personal relationship with Jesus can empower you. But I agree with the way you put that vis-a-vis sola fide, showing the latter’s problems.

    I think you are also right that seeing Jesus as only part of God or one of three beings really confuses and confounds a spiritual relationship with God.

  29. Duane says:

    Lee

    Also, question: I’ve read through all of these articles and some from other sites (which you also had written) about the Swedenborgian view of the atonement. Am i getting this right? Jesus conquers “sin” or “hell” in the flesh (the cross being the final “test” so to speak) so that humans can now do it? Is that right?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, those are some of the basics.

      Atonement does not involve any change in God’s attitude toward humans. Rather, it involves a change in humans’ attitude toward, and relationship with, God. Atonement is becoming of one mind. And it’s not God’s mind, but ours, that must change for this to happen.

      Unfortunately, we humans had strayed so far from God’s mind, into being dominated by evil desires for personal power, wealth, pleasure, and so on that even our ability to turn around and get into alignment with God’s mind and God’s will was in danger of being lost. Another way of saying this is that evil was overwhelming humanity, and our freedom to choose the good, which is God, was in jeopardy.

      At that point, only God in person could defeat the mounting power of evil, turn the tide of human spiritual history, and restore human freedom and our path to God. The story is told prophetically (i.e. metaphorically) in Isaiah 59 and 63, where we are told that justice and truth had failed, and there was no human being to do the job that needed to be done, so God’s own arm brought salvation.

      That “arm” was the Incarnation, or the Divine Humanity—namely, God become human as Jesus Christ. During his lifetime on earth he personally fought against the Devil, hell, or the combined power of human evil (these are all simply different words meaning the same thing), which got access to him through the finite, fallible, sin-prone humanity that he took on from his human mother Mary. But unlike us finite humans, from the divine nature that was his soul and his inner being, he was always victorious in those battles with evil, to the point where he achieved complete victory over the power of evil, so that he is the ruler not only of heaven, but also of hell, and can arrange and balance them at will to provide for the freedom and ability to be regenerated of all humans on earth (not only Christians).

      If you ask why God didn’t just overwhelm the Devil with direct divine power, the answer is that this would have destroyed the Devil completely. The Devil cannot stand the direct presence of God’s divine nature. And the Devil is not some separately created being or fallen angel, but a composite being consisting of all human beings who have chosen evil, and all of the evil that humans have chosen and done. To destroy the Devil would have been to snuff out all of those human beings, whom God created to live eternally. So that was not an option.

      Previous to the Incarnation, God had kept evil in check by working through angelic and human intermediaries. But when evil had become so powerful that no angelic or human intermediary was sufficient to turn back the tide of evil, then God came to earth in person and fought and defeated the Devil on its own turf, granting evil spirits and evil people continued life in the way they had chosen, but reducing them to subjection under divine rule once again. And through the Lord’s Glorified Divine Humanity, whom we know as Jesus Christ, God has the power to keep the Devil and hell under control to eternity, without any further need of human intermediaries.

      At the same time God defeated the power of evil, God also reduced the spiritual world to order, and thereby restored the balance of good and evil influences coming from the spiritual world and flowing into human beings on earth. After centuries of corruption in Christianity, another judgment in the spiritual world was required at the time of the Second Coming, during Swedenborg’s lifetime, to once again restore balance and the flow of genuine spiritual good and truth to humanity. That is why we on earth experienced the blossoming of the Enlightenment and a new intellectual and moral freedom that had been suppressed by the Church for so many centuries.

      Back to the atonement, as I said, atonement can occur only when humans’ minds come into harmony with God’s mind. And that requires humans to change from being in opposition to God to being in harmony with God. This cannot happen by a mere judicial pronouncement and by some magical sleight-of-hand of imputing Christ’s merit to us so that we appear righteous to God even though we are actually sinners. God is not blind, and God would not be fooled by such an obvious ruse. Rather, it involves an actual change in the heart, mind, and soul of human beings, one soul a time. In other words, it requires us to be reborn in spirit, just as Jesus explained to Nicodemus. Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, not to plaster it over with “imputed righteousness.”

      So yes, “humans can do it now.” Not, of course, by our own power. Rather, we can do it when we turn to God—and for Christians, when we turn to Jesus Christ (who is the very same being)—and accept the power that the Lord God Jesus Christ has taken to himself to defeat evil and falsity and replace it with good and truth. So yes, humans can do it now, not by our own power, but by the Lord’s power working in us when we believe in God and love God and allow God into our lives.

      This requires us to do the hard work of repenting from our evils and sins and living a new life of goodness and love instead. That is the work of being born again that we must do here on earth. And though it often feels as if we’re on our own, in fact when we are doing that hard work the Lord is very close to us, and is fighting our battles for us even though it feels like we’re fighting them all by ourselves.

      And when, through the Lord’s power and the Lord’s truth working in us, we set aside our evil desires and false thoughts, and begin living from good desires and a clear understanding of the truth, then, and only then, does atonement occur. Because then our mind and life has been brought into harmony with God’s mind and life.

      There is no other way that we humans can be reconciled to God. (And there was never any need for God to be reconciled to us.)

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        Thank you for that reply.

        Isn’t the risk now though, with that kind of Soteriology, namely that we can indeed “do it” now, that we run the risk of moral perfectionism. That is, do we have to be sinless(?!) especially if its full well within our power to be/do (It certainly doesn’t feel like that).

        Also, did you imply that there was a Second Coming already?

        Also, I still don’t quite understand how Jesus defeating the evil powers restored order?

        Sorry for the continued onslaught of questions, but this is truly the BEST explanation of the atonement I’ve ever heard, so I want to make sure I’ve got it (I read pretty much everything on this site I could find with a search too).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I don’t see anything in the Bible saying that God requires perfection, and that if we are not perfect, God will send us to hell. If God had wanted us to be perfect, God would have created us to be perfect.

          As it is, perfection (which is God) is something that we can continually aspire to, and that will always give us further to go. Angels, according to Swedenborg, never reach a point at which they can say, “I am now perfect.” Rather, they are always traveling a path toward perfection. And since perfection (God) is infinite, for finite beings such as ourselves this means we will always have farther to go, more to learn, and more ways to grow spiritually. It also means that life will never get boring; it will always be an adventure.

          About the Second Coming: Yes. See:
          Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

          Swedenborg’s understanding of the Fall, and of redemption, hinges on seeing human history as sort of an upside-down bell curve spiritually. We started at a high point at our first creation, when we were in harmony with God, and then progressively fell to lower and lower spiritual states as we moved away from God. The time of the Incarnation was the spiritual low point of human history. So much of humanity had moved toward evil that even those who wanted to choose the good were beginning to lose that ability.

          Here on earth, that was a factor of corrupt institutions, including religious institutions, that no longer were teaching the way to heaven.

          In the spiritual world, it was a factor of evil spirits growing in power and influence, and choking off the flow of love, goodness, and truth to human beings on earth.

          You see, we are not islands unto ourselves, nor are we only embedded in an earthly social environment. We are also embedded in a spiritual environment. That is where all of our thoughts, feelings, desires, motives, aspirations, and other psychological and spiritual experiences and influences come from.

          This means that when the flow of love and truth from the spiritual world gets cut off, our spiritual life gets cut off with it.

          Prior to the Incarnation, there was no Divine Humanity. In traditional Christian terms, there was no “Son born from eternity.” That is a fiction. Instead, the flow of love and truth went from God through angels and spirits to humans on earth. And that avenue of flow does still happen.

          However, at the low point of human spiritual history, that flow of love and wisdom from God through the spiritual world had become very attenuated, and was in danger of being cut off. Evil human beings and evil spirits had gained so much power and influence that they were beginning to overwhelm not only the world of spirits (the intermediate state between heaven and hell with which people on earth have their most direct spiritual connection) but also the lower heavens. This was cutting off the flow of spiritual lifeblood from God to humanity on earth.

          And there were no human beings left through whom God could work with sufficient power to overcome that mounting, imbalanced power of human evil choking off the flow of divine love and wisdom to people on earth. It was precisely the failure of good and truth among humans that required direct action by God.

          That’s why God had to come personally to defeat the power of evil and restore balance to the spiritual world and to human society on earth through his own divine human presence. There simply wasn’t enough strength of goodness left within humanity itself to accomplish that defeat and rebalancing in any other way. And so, as it says poetically in Psalm 18:9:

          He parted the heavens and came down.

  30. Duane says:

    SO Jesus by becoming human tipped the scales forever in our favor?

    Also, I am indeed persuaded by the “realized” eschatology of the 4th Gospel, where the Second Coming and the Spirit and the Resurrection all seem to be the same event where the prince of this world is cast out. is this what you mean?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, or more precisely, God by becoming human balanced the scales, and now the Lord God Jesus Christ keeps them perpetually balanced, so that our spiritual freedom will never again be in danger.

      About your other point, it helps to know that Jesus and his followers were living in an “end-times” period. The ancient Jewish church, with its sacrificial worship system, which had been God’s representative church on earth up to that time, was coming to an end. Its final end came with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD—an event that Jesus predicted both literally and figuratively in the Gospels.

      The changes to the Jewish religion and people brought about by the destruction of the Temple and the ensuing diaspora from the Holy Land were nothing short of a cultural and spiritual cataclysm. This is what Jesus was talking about when he predicted various cataclysms that would take place “before this generation passes.” All of those things did take place spiritually, even if most of them didn’t take place literally.

      It is only because Christians and skeptics alike commonly insist upon taking Jesus’ words literally that it is commonly said that Jesus was mistaken in his prophecy. His prophecies came true; most of them were simply never meant to be taken literally. Even the stones of the temple all being thrown down, though it actually was literally fulfilled, has metaphorical and spiritual meaning as well relating to the destruction of the sacrificial worship system that the Jews (and pagans also) had been practicing for many centuries.

      So yes, Jesus’ eschatology as expressed in all four Gospels, including the Gospel of John, was “realized” within a generation of his end-time prophecies.

      However, you and I are also living in an end-times period. This time, instead of the reign of ancient Judaism as God’s representative church on earth coming to an end, it is the reign of Christianity as it has existed throughout almost its entire lifespan, since within a century or two of its founding, that is coming to an end.

      This means that prophecies of the end times made in the Gospels and the book of Revelation are once again being fulfilled.

      However, once again, contrary to the expectations of the literalists, they are not being literally fulfilled, nor will they ever be literally fulfilled. The sun will not go dark and the moon will not cease to give its light and the stars will not fall from the sky. The earth will not be destroyed, and the skies will not roll up like a scroll, to be replaced by Earth and Sky 2.0. That’s not going to happen, nor was it ever going to happen. That’s simply not what the prophecies of a future Apocalypse are about.

      Rather, they are, once again, about the spiritual and social cataclysms that would take place when, in due course, a long-corrupted Christian Church came to its end, just as the corrupted ancient Jewish religion came to its end within the lifetimes of Jesus’ followers.

      In short, the end-time prophecies of the New Testament were fulfilled within the lifetime of that generation of early followers of Christ and they are also now being fulfilled once again as the (first) Christian era comes to an end all around us. Here’s another article that also takes up this theme:
      The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!

      And yes, the prince of this world being cast out, and Jesus overcoming the world, are key passages supporting Swedenborg’s version of Christus Victor atonement theory.

  31. Duane says:

    Lee,

    All of that makes perfect sense. I am still astounded that as I continue to ask questions and explore this website how common sensical some of these answers are, that is how intuitive and how reasonable you make spirituality. For that I am grateful as it is a rarity as I’m sure you know in most religious circles.

    Permit me to ask two more questions (I have the feeling I’m nagging here, but I cannot help it):
    1. I noticed you tend to always call Jesus The Lord God, which makes sense given the critique of the traditional Trinity. Who then is addressed in prayer? is it Jesus? The Father? Does it not matter given they are one (and the same — interesting to note this “one and the same” is often said by many failing to realize that saying “and the same” is in a very real sense a critique of the three persons business)? I know that in the Farewell Discourses in John’s Gospel Jesus tends to say prayer is addressed to him and at other times the Father. They sort of blend where it’s impossible to distinguish, given the unity of person).

    2. I have come to see your point about the afterlife not being all that different from this world in terms of what people’s interests are — I recall asking you with some perplexity “why” people were not more interested in “hanging out with God” in the afterlife, and your response was something along the lines “well, how many people are interested in that now?” So my question is, for those who are interested in God, are they in a sort of “higher” realm than the ones who just want to live happy peaceful lives in the afterlife?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Thank you for your kind words. I do believe that religion should (and does) make just as much sense as any other area of human knowledge, even if some parts of religion may stretch our brains more than some areas of human knowledge.

      And don’t worry about “nagging.” As long as you have questions to ask about religion, I am happy to answer them as best I can.

      About prayer, God accepts prayers no matter how the person praying conceives of God or addresses the prayers. Since God is both one and infinite, God encompasses every positive conception of God that we humans may have. And assuming it is from innocence and not from malice or contempt, God even accepts prayers made by people who have false and negative views of God. God looks first and foremost at the heart from which the prayer comes. God also understands that many prayers come from a state of bitterness and pain. As long as the prayer is sincere, God hears and responds, though not necessarily in the way we would want God to respond.

      Having said that, my belief is that it is best to picture God as human when we pray to God. For Christians, praying to Jesus Christ works just fine, because that is God’s human presence with us. But I believe that God also accepts and is happy with prayers from people who picture God as a wise woman or as a capricious clown (a la “Jesus Christ Superstar”) or as an infant in a manger or in any other way that is meaningful to the person who is praying. Thinking of God as a human being, with human characteristics, helps us to have a real, personal relationship with God as compared to thinking of God as some blind force or abstract entity.

      Personally, having grown up Christian with the usual imagery and artwork of Jesus Christ, I most commonly address my prayers to Jesus Christ, picturing him as he is usually portrayed. That is what’s meaningful to me, and what makes my prayers feel like a conversation with God.

      About your second question, it’s not so much those who are interested in God as those whose lives focus on love for God who find themselves in a higher heaven in the afterlife than those who are more focused on other people or on just doing the work that’s in front of them. However, “loving God” is not some theoretical, cloistered thing that you do in a monastery. People who “focus on God” in that way commonly have a lot of self in their “devotion to God” because they’re focused on developing their own spirituality rather than actually showing God’s love in their lives. The people whose lives focus on love for the Lord and who live in the higher heavens are the ones who, from that love for God, devote their lives to serving the people around them as if they were serving God every time they do even the slightest thing for another person. Because in fact, that is the love and service that God is most pleased with.

      All of this fits in with Jesus’ teaching that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are not those who take the best seats and build themselves up, but the ones who make themselves into servants. And the angels in the highest heaven are also the humblest angels. They dislike having people fawn over them or attribute anything good to them. Instead, they attribute it all to God, and consider themselves “unworthy servants, who are only doing their duty.”

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        It’s so strange — I don’t know if you commonly hear this or not — but every time you speak about these spiritual things it either instantly resonates with me or it’s something that I’ve always done or felt; in particular the prayer to Jesus: religion, spirituality, God, whatever only ever made sense to me vis-a-vis Jesus. I am so glad you said that as it confirms how I’ve always felt and prayed, namely to picture Jesus; and more, I agree that it’s the best way to have a personal relationship with God.

        Ah! what you say now about the higher heavens make sense. Yet, I do think that this is in some ways the highest insight on earth, namely to serve our brothers and sisters out of a deep love for Christ.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          When I was still a pastor, it was a fairly common experience for me and my fellow ministers to hear people new to the church say, “This is what I’ve always believed; I just didn’t know there was a church that teaches it!”

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee, Hi Duane,

          Both of you have said and detailed far more than I could contribute to a conversation like this, but I wanted to say, per Duane’s enthusiasm for much of what he’s read here, that the specific *type* of enthusiasm you express very much mirrors my own upon having read Swedenborg.

          It’s one thing to simply ‘understand’ an idea, or to relate to an idea such that it ‘makes sense’ to you. Sometimes it comes together fairly quickly, and other times getting a proper grip on an idea can involve a lengthy process (and even then your grasp may not be a very tight one).

          But reading Swedenborg’s basic ideas often lends itself to a very intuitive kind of understanding, where everything seems both excitingly new, and yet something just clicks as obviously true. It doesn’t involve or is born out of the intellectual wrangling that’s required in order to comprehend other philosophical ideas, but feels more akin to understanding something by way of simply seeing it laid before you.

          That’s not so say I don’t have a plethora of follow up questions to these ideas, some of which admittedly struggle with whether some of his ideas are actually tenable (and I’m sure Lee could vouch for all of this), and I suppose a part of me is still undecided on whether he did indeed experience authentic visions of the afterlife, but I still ultimately find a great sense of wisdom in much of what he has to say.

          My own intense desire to accept Swedenborg as a true visionary, and my multi-reasoned caution around doing so (because he’s not the first person to come along with a restorationist version of Christianity) reminds me of a piece I read titled “The Dharma of Emanual Swedenborg: A Buddhist Perpsective”, which (as I’m sure you could guess) analyzes Swedenborg through a Buddhist perspective. The author details both key similarities and some differences, but concludes in a way that in many ways reflects my current perspective on him:

          “Not having visited heaven or hell, I can only hope that if they exist they function in the way Swedenborg has described. After one studies his remarkably detailed yet well-structured eschatology, others begin to lose their credibility. This response is itself a remarkable fact, pointing to the utter plausibility of this grandest of narratives. If the universe doesn’t function in the way Swedenborg explained, well, it should.”

        • Duane says:

          Rami

          It’s funny that last quote really resonates. My thoughts are since “God is love” it has to function the way Swedenborg says, otherwise there are just too many missing steps (e.g. how a loving God could willing send someone to an eternal torture chamber who didnt want to go and even desire to go).

          But yes, it even “should” be that way. It’s akin to Platonic/Socratic “recollection” where whenever you learn a deep truth about reality it feels like you simply “remember” it.

  32. Duane says:

    Lee,

    I’ve taken to commenting on this article because its the one the conversation has been going continually on. I hope that’s ok?

    I have a question concerning the Afterlife: You (and Swedenborg) note that eventually our outer self is stripped away and what we really feel and think is revealed — our true heart. My concern is, but, how often do we not “feel” like doing “good” or being “kind” but do it anyway because we know it’s right, and our duty as Christ commanded — often eventually finding joy in the deed. But in other words kindness doesn’t always just flow spontaneously, but rather sometimes we have to “push” a little. In the Afterlife, are you no longer able to “try” via will or effort?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, it’s fine to continue the conversation here.

      First, some background and a response to your implied question:

      Though I may loosely speak of “what we really feel and think,” what that’s really pointing to is our “ruling love” or “dominant love”—i.e., the key love and motivation that drives us. This dominant love is the underlying, determining factor in our character. Everything we think and feel revolves around it, including many secondary loves and motivations that are also factors in who we are and what we do. Those other loves and motivations are like servants to our dominant love, carrying out its bidding often in ways that don’t obviously conform to our dominant love, but that are in fact accomplishing its purposes in sometimes roundabout ways.

      This dominant love is something we choose, as embodied in our life and actions here on earth, and it is what determines whether we will make our final home in heaven or in hell—and where exactly in heaven or hell we will be.

      However, during a significant part of our life on earth our character is not fully settled. There are various loves and motives vying to become our dominant love. For example, we may want to put God first in our life, but we also want just to enjoy life for our own pleasure; and these two loves commonly conflict with one another as we pursue our life, career, and leisure activities. Even if we are ultimately choosing some particular variety love for the Lord as our dominant love, there will be many conflicting parts of our native psychological “equipment” that will conflict with that love, and that we must overcome through acts of will and choice.

      When we are exercising that will and choice, we feel the resistance to being kind and good that you allude to. And when we compel ourselves to be kind and good anyway, though it may feel forced and unnatural to us at first, in reality that is precisely when we are most free spiritually. That is when we are exercising our uniquely human ability to choose and determine who we will be and what our life will be like. So in fact, in the very act of compelling ourselves to think, feel, and act according to what we want our life to be, we are at our most human, and our life is most real. (Compared to when we just drift along in life, carried by whatever desires happen to come to the fore in our mind at the time.)

      So in answer to your implied question, even if it may feel as if being good and loving doesn’t just flow naturally, but is something we have to push ourselves to do, that doesn’t mean it’s not really us. It is, rather, what we are making to be really us. And as you say, over time we will come to find joy in it. That joy is the intrinsic joy of love and goodness, which we experience once we have overcome the resistance of our ego, our old desires, and our old self. The person that we make ourselves into by conscious acts of choice and will is especially the person we bring with us into the spiritual world, which determines our final home in the spiritual world. Other things that we just sort of fall into “naturally” tend to fall away compared to what we make our own through conscious acts of will and choice.

      Now in answer to your explicit question:

      If we choose hell, we do not continue to develop spiritually, of course, because we have rejected God and spirit. We simply abandon ourselves to the evil loves and motives we have chosen, engage in them as much as we are able, and also take the painful consequences of those actions. At best, those consequences merely restrain us from plunging into even more evil behavior, and temper our actions over time as we discover that pain inevitably follows our pleasures. And yet, we still engage in them because they are so intensely pleasurable to us.

      If we choose heaven, we do continue to develop and grow spiritually to eternity, in the direction of the dominant love we have chosen through our lifetime here on earth. There is no possibility of our “falling off the wagon” and heading in a negative direction. Our dominant love, which determines our character and direction, becomes set at death, and can never change.

      However, that doesn’t mean we can no longer engage in acts of will. Rather, it means that our acts of will and our choices will be ones that move us past remaining bits of resistance in our character, and that also move us farther and higher along our spiritual path in the direction we have chosen.

      To use an earthly analogy, if we love mountain climbing, there will always be higher and more challenging mountains to climb. And climbing those higher and more challenging mountains will require learning and developing new skills, techniques, and strength to conquer obstacles that we have not encountered or mastered previously.

      In other words, though our general course and direction in heaven are already determined by the dominant love we chose during our lifetime on earth, that doesn’t mean there are no more challenges or obstacles, and that our life in heaven will just be an easy, effortless coast. We’re still human beings, we still challenge ourselves, and we still continue to learn and grow by efforts of will and by facing and overcoming greater challenges than we have faced and overcome before. This is how we continue to develop and perfect ourselves to eternity. And if we sometimes encounter setbacks along the way, that only gives us greater motive to do the hard work of developing ourselves further as human beings.

      And yet, it will not feel like “work” in the laborious, unpleasant sense. Rather, it will be like an athlete pushing through resistance and achieving a flow state in which achievements that had previously seemed impossible become possible, and there is a sense of joy and aliveness even as we push ourselves hard to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

  33. Rami says:

    HI Lee,

    You said something later in your exchange your Duane that caught my attention, and that I’m hoping you could say a little more about. You said that Christianity began going off the rails almost from its inception. If that’s the case, wouldn’t that somewhat skew Swedenborg’s essentially restorationist vision of Christianity, since he’s not returning us back to what you often say is what the Church has always taught, but rather to the original *teachings* of The Bible (which may seem like a subtle distinction, but an important one, I think)? As Duane pointed out, even the Christus Victor model of atonement- which is or at least among the oldest models- is laced with some of the penal and satisfactory themes that Swedenborg is intending to undermine in the spirit of restoration, so it doesn’t seem like there’s virtually no point in Christian history that would meet Swedenborg’s criteria for something that’s ‘authentically’ Christian. In that respect, Duane is correct that Swedenborg is not merely disagreeing with Luther, Anselm, Calvin, etc, but with the whole of Christian history. That’s a pretty heavy claim.

    Also, and more philosophically: one of the theological criticisms advanced by some critics of Islam is its historical idea of Revelation. According to orthodox Islam, all peoples of the Earth have been sent prophets who were given the Word of God, but those messages had become corrupt over time, and so new Revelations were sent to correct them, ultimately culminating with the perfectly pure and untainted Revelation of Islam. Other religious traditions are, therefore, partial truths. One criticism of this idea is the implication that God simply ‘couldn’t get it right’ the first time. That it took this process of Revelation, corruption, and Revelation again before we could have a truly uncorrupted one.

    Now I’m not sure if this is a valid criticism, as there may be something to be said for the progressiveness of Revelation, depending upon your perspective, but do you see a similar criticism with the idea that Christianity began going off the rails almost from day one? That the truth of Christianity simply couldn’t be safeguarded and succumbed to the misguided intellectualizations of human beings, and Swedenborg was required in order to restore it?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      Though God had to come to earth as Jesus Christ when he did, the reason God had to incarnate at that time was that humanity was at its lowest ebb spiritually. So although God accomplished what needed to be accomplished, defeating the Devil and glorifying his humanity, unfortunately, the people on this earth, being at such a low spiritual ebb, were not ready and able to sustain a genuine Christianity of the type that Jesus taught and exemplified. People in general were just too materialistic and unregenerate to sustain such a pure and spiritual religion. That’s why it started going off the rails almost immediately.

      This was not because the revelation God gave was corrupted. The Bible we have, both Old Testament and New, is the Word of God, preserved and protected from any significant corruption. Despite some likely changes and additions along the way, the Bible we have is as perfect as it could be for speaking to humanity and carrying a deeper meaning that tells us of our own regeneration process and the Lord’s glorification while he was on earth.

      In short, it was not the revelation (the Word of God) that was corrupted, but the people who were corrupted, such that they could not rise to the spiritual level that Jesus taught in the Gospels.

      I’m aware of Islam’s view that the prior revelations were corrupted. But if that means that the text of those revelations was corrupted, I disagree. The only way the Bible is “corrupted” is that Christians (and Jews, also) have misunderstood and misinterpreted it in various ways, causing it to be corrupted for them even though the text itself is not corrupted.

      About Swedenborg, I don’t believe he aimed to be a “restorationist” if that means restoring Christianity to any previous state in its history. Even the Lord’s disciples were quite obtuse when it came to grasping what Jesus was teaching them, such that they were always misunderstanding and getting things wrong, and Jesus was continually upbraiding them for their lack of faith and understanding, and correcting their mistakes. They did a pretty good job spreading the word after Jesus’ death, but I doubt that any of them truly understood the depths of what Jesus had taught them.

      Swedenborg, rather, was tasked by the Lord with opening up the spiritual meaning of the Bible and delivering to the world a truly Christian theology based on the Bible. Though his atonement theory is closer to the original Christus Victor and Ransom theories than either Catholic or Protestant atonement theory, it is not the same as either one of those earlier atonement theories. In general, it goes with the germ of the Christus Victor theory, in that the atonement takes place through Christ defeating the Devil and the powers of evil. But from there, Swedenborg’s theory departs considerably from classic Christus Victor theory.

      I would also add that I don’t think satisfaction theory and penal substitution were any significant part of the reigning atonement theories in the first 1,000 years of Christian history. Just because there may be some seeds an foreshadowings of those theories in earlier Christian theologians, that doesn’t mean those seeds and foreshadowings were actually developed and made a part of Christus Victor and Ransom theory. This, I believe, is more wishful thinking on the part of Catholic and Protestant theologians than it is a reality of Christian doctrinal history. In fact, the very paucity of any clear references to satisfaction and penal substitution theories in the early Church Fathers suggests that these theories were not any significant part of early Christian thought. Catholics and especially Protestants have scoured those early writings with a fine-toothed comb looking for confirmation for their dogmas; and they’ve come up almost empty. That, to me, speaks volumes.

      Is Swedenborg’s claim a “heavy” one? It certainly is” He believed he was delivering to the world the doctrines for the New Jerusalem, which would be the last and greatest spiritual era in human history.

      Nothing small about that.

      Of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind whether Swedenborg’s big claims are sound and justified.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        So to what extent was the task of dispelling Christianity from that Swedenborg saw as falsehoods a priority behind his mission? He believed Christianity to be operating from a variety of doctrinal errors, but would this act of opening the interior truths of Revelation have happened anyway? And really, are false beliefs necessarily harmful?

        There are multiple- sometimes vast- doctrinal differences within and among the various denominations of Christianity, differences that the other would see as a false belief. But very rarely do theologians and lay people of these denominations see them as beliefs that would place one outside the pale of Christendom. As long as a Christian affirms the central tenets of faith that long pre-date the Reformation and the Great Schism, they can disagree on issues like Atonement and all consider each other to be members of the larger Christian family, even if Protestants would, say, see Orthodox members as adhering to a *false* belief of The Atonement. So how big of a deal is it?

        Also, are you saying that the various doctrines that Swedenborg regards in error are the products of human corruption? I might be content to say that the developers of these doctrines may have been mistaken, or misguided, but corrupted? Couldn’t it be more to the point of sincere, well meaning human beings drawing upon their intellects and their experiences in order to properly interpret something that is far greater than them?

        A few years ago I was considering the idea of converting to Catholicism. I had told the priest I had met with that I admittedly couldn’t help but feel that Catholics just seemed to have it ‘all figured out,’ and took (for better or worse) a certain comfort in that. His reply was an especially humble and thoughtful one: “we’re *still figuring* it out.” Couldn’t the development of doctrine, then, just be the *process* (which Swedenborg himself emphasizes as the key in the way life turns) of humans just trying to figure it out?

        In any case, I think this ultimately still alludes to Duane’s point, which I just wanted to emphasize in this conversation: Swedenborg believes that Christianity was not only ‘wrong’ in his time, but has never been right. That’s why I described his essential contention as a ‘heavy’ one, because, according to him, the religion began stumbling right out the gate. Is that correct?

        • Rami says:

          I think I may have misread when you referred to ‘corruption’ in your last post. I thought you were attributing it to the hearts of theologians who developed or planted the seeds of some of the doctrines you reject, but I can see that you’re referring to something else, so my mistake.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          About whether false beliefs are harmful, please see:
          Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
          Short version: Though false beliefs don’t send people to hell in and of themselves, they do cause harm by misleading people and causing much unnecessary pain and suffering.

          On your other questions, it might be helpful to stand back and take a look at the big picture.

          According to Swedenborg, in the sweep of human history so far there have been four major “churches,” or spiritual eras, and a fifth one is now beginning. Within those major churches or spiritual eras, there have been various sub-churches either one after another or overlapping in different regions and among different cultures. (A “church” in Swedenborg’s parlance is not necessarily a particular church institution, but rather a distinct cohesive pattern of spiritual belief, ritual, and practice among a particular group of people, either small or large.)

          The general pattern of every church, Swedenborg says, is to progress from dawn through noonday to afternoon and finally ending in night, or from spring through summer and fall, ending in winter. Without going into detail, each church starts with love, truth, and charity, or goodwill in action, builds up to a peak, then starts declining as either a love of power or a neglect of love and charity in favor of “correct beliefs” takes over in the leadership of the church especially, which also affects and infects the laity.

          In saying that the Christian Church became corrupt, then, Swedenborg is essentially saying that it followed the same trajectory as every church or religion in human history has followed. It’s just that he thought Christianity had a particularly short morning and noon, and rather rapidly began a long, slow decline, so that by his era, meaning in secular terms by the time of the Enlightenment, it had reached its nighttime and therefore its end as a spiritually effective church.

          Whenever a church or religion reaches its nighttime, Swedenborg says, God then sets up a new one to replace it. The previous such paradigm shift was when ancient Judaism, with its sacrificial system, gave way to Christianity as the leading religion on earth. And Swedenborg said that in his time Christianity as it had existed was giving way to the new church represented by the New Jerusalem—which, of course, would also be Christian, such that Swedenborgians commonly speak of “the first Christian Church” and “the second Christian Church,” although those are not terms that Swedenborg himself used.

          In short, in Swedenborg’s day, the Christian Church as it had existed up to that time had reached its “end times.” Swedenborg’s task was to provide the Bible interpretation and the doctrines for the nascent new church, which he generally referred to as “the New Jerusalem.”

          So yes, it was part of his job to correct the errors of the previous church. But mainly, it was his job to provide a new doctrinal and biblical foundation for the new church represented by the New Jerusalem. When people grasped and accepted that new doctrinal foundation, the falsities of the corrupted old church would fall away as a result, just as the darkness of night recedes when the sun rises, and the cold of winter gives way to warmth when springtime arrives.

          Of course, the actual foundation of Christianity is and always has been Jesus Christ himself. And Swedenborg believed that he was delivering these doctrines for the New Jerusalem straight from Jesus Christ as delivered to Swedenborg’s mind by the Lord while Swedenborg was reading the Bible. He believed that this new revelation of genuine Christian truth from the Lord, and its acceptance among people on earth, was part and parcel of the Lord’s promised Second Coming. See True Christianity #779.

          As for the corruption of Christianity, I would hesitate to say that each Christian theologian throughout history who contributed to the progressive doctrinal and moral falsification and corruption of Christianity had a corrupt heart. Some of them probably did. Others probably did not.

          The corruption of Christianity certainly stemmed from many of its members going for wealth, power, and personal pleasure instead of following the Great Commandments. This much is fairly obvious just from looking at church history, and seeing how the church set itself up as a worldly power—and a very wealthy and self-indulgent one, at that. And the doctrines that were invented tended to establish the power and wealth of the leadership of the church. So yes, I do believe corruption in the human heart was the driving factor behind the downfall of Christianity.

          However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every Christian theologian who invented or developed doctrinal error had a corrupt heart. Some of them were probably good people who were sincerely trying to reform and develop Christianity for the good of the people. If so, however, they still got caught up in the general decline of Christianity, and their minds were waylaid into false paths even if their heart may have been good. And so, instead of reforming and developing Christianity as they intended, they only contributed to its gradual demise.

          For example, Luther, I’m sure, genuinely wanted to reform the Church. But his development of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and his placing that doctrine as the foundational doctrine of the Church, only contributed to the church’s ongoing downfall, such that within two or three centuries it was necessary for God to replace the existing Christianity with a new church.

          As for Calvin, that guy just seems messed up. How could anyone with a reasonably humanitarian heart say that God created millions of people for inevitable eternal torture? Only a seriously warped mind could come up with such a horrible doctrine. Whether that means he had a corrupt heart, I can’t say. But there were definitely some screws loose in his head, whether it was his own fault or just bad influences twisting his thinking into a horrible form.

          Still, I don’t think we can avoid concluding that many Christian leaders did have evil hearts, and were simply using religion as a means to gain power, wealth, and pleasure for themselves. It’s fairly well documented that there were many atheists among the Catholic clergy during the darker centuries of its existence. One of them, whose name escapes me at the moment, actually wrote an atheist manifesto that was discovered and published only after his death.

          I also think you’re being a wee bit optimistic about traditional Christians accepting one another as Christians despite the differing beliefs among them. After the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics regularly accused each other of not being Christian, and each considered the members of the other to be destined for hell.

          That was nothing new with the schism that occurred at the time of the Reformation. If you read many of the early creeds, at the end you’ll find “anathemas” that consign to hell everyone who doesn’t fully accept what is written in the creed. This, to me, shows a spirit of intolerance and hatred for anyone who disagreed with the doctrines of the makers of those creeds. There have been internecine battles within Christianity almost from the start, in which each accused the other of apostasy, and each considered the other to be traveling on the broad way to destruction.

          The Catholic Church, in particular, proclaimed throughout most of it existence that there was no salvation outside the Church—by which it meant specifically the Catholic Church. Their official doctrine was that all non-Catholics would go to hell. That definitely included Protestants. It’s only been fairly recently that the Catholic Church has begun to soften that stance in response to a lot of pressure, together with a certain amount of broad-mindedness that has lately begun to seep into the Catholic Church from the broader society.

          In this regard, then, Swedenborg really isn’t an outlier. If anything, his condemnation of the existing branches and institutions of Christianity was quite mild compared to the vitriol and hatred that was par for the course between different groups of Christians throughout much of Christian history. He confined himself largely to pointing out the error and falsity of the doctrines he rejected.

          Keep in mind that both Catholics and Protestants used to burn heretics at the stake. And a “heretic” was defined as “anyone who publicly disagrees with our doctrines.” Both Catholics and Protestants also engaged in various other tortures and murders of heretics, as exemplified by the Inquisition, whose horrible crimes are a matter of history.

          Torturing and killing one another over doctrinal disagreements does not come from uncorrupted hearts.

          No truly loving, compassionate, and Christian person could stand by and watch people screaming in agony as their bodies are beaten, ripped up, torn apart, and burned alive. Still less could an uncorrupt heart order people to be stripped, whipped, beaten, tortured, and killed in horrible pain, often right out in the public squares for the entire town to watch. This public humiliation, torturing, and killing of their opponents was meant not only to punish and destroy their doctrinal enemies, but also to scare the people into submission and ensure the assent and obedience of the masses.

          These are not the actions of Christians. They are the acts of depraved criminals who delight in inflicting terrible degradation, pain, and agony on anyone who disagrees with them and stands in their way. They are the acts of people whose supreme desire is for their own power, wealth, and twisted pleasure at the pain of others. There is no reasonable excuse for such actions.

          And what does it say about the general populace of Christians that people packed the public squares, and even brought their children, to watch the public humiliation, torture, and death of their fellow citizens? No decent, compassionate society could allow such horrible crimes to be committed even in private, still less cheer them on as they are carried out in public. Yes, these public tortures and killings were meant to scare the people into submission to the doctrines and the power of the church. But they also served as public entertainment in a terribly corrupt and depraved culture.

          These days we cluck-cluck at so-called “professional wrestling,” bullfighting, cock fighting, and similar staged and real spectacles that people flock to see. Such scenes are a sad commentary on the lack of spiritual maturity of a large segment of our current society. But they are nothing compared to the spectacles and scenes of public and private humiliation, torture, and murder of both men and women that used to be a regular occurrence during the corrupt reign of the so-called “Christian Church,” before its power was broken and it was thrown down from its position as de facto ruler of the Western world. Christianity never reformed itself. It had to be stopped by external forces.

          In short, the very actions of a corrupted Christianity and its corrupted people tells a story of corrupted hearts.

          So yes, Christianity did turn out to be not just harmful, but bloodthirsty and criminal. And its reign of terror had to be brought to an end.

          Swedenborg, by contrast, condemned the doctrines of traditional Christianity as utterly false, but said that people who hold to those doctrines can go to heaven if only they live a good life of repenting from their sins and actively loving God and the neighbor through deeds of unselfish service to the neighbor. Swedenborg did not consign anyone to hell based solely on false belief, as was the order of the day among the various Christian sects throughout much of Christian history.

          And needless to say, Swedenborg did not engage in any efforts to humiliate, torture, and destroy those who attacked his doctrines. He responded with fervor, yes. But it was a fervor to correct the wrong and false charges that were leveled against him and his doctrines, and to set the record straight. He had no desire to destroy his enemies; only to teach and establish the truth against all falsity and misrepresentation.

          So for those people who bridle at the strong language Swedenborg commonly uses to attack the doctrines of traditional Christianity, and who consider him hubristic to claim that all of traditional Christianity had become corrupt and had strayed very far from the truth, I would suggest that they look at the actions of the people whose doctrines Swedenborg was condemning as false and corrupt. You will know them by their fruits.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          Just a few things: I think you are being too kind to Luther. Luther was more Calvinistic than Calvin even. He thought God destined people to Hell– he gets this partly from Augustine, but partly from his own ideas about salvation (sola fide); Calvin was just following Luther. As I noted earlier this is evident in as early as 1515 (two years before the 95 theses). So it’s hard to say Luther was sincere by your standards.

          Also, how do you explain the growing number of Christians since the time of Swedenborg? What may seem like a decline and secularization, is in fact in a sense the opposite, given that there are 7-8x the amount of people (Christians too) that were in the 1700s. In 1800 the world’s population finally reached 1 billion, now its almost 8 billion? So in effect, there are billions more Christians in all of the denominations more than there were. Percentage wise though, I’m not sure.

          Also, isn’t it hard to say what the average Christian may have thought years ago, given that the only records we have are rom the literate and scholars, whereas most of the people were illiterate — one can see how Catholicism really did develop out of an illiterate culture, and that the printing press is probably one of the most essential elements to the reformation.

          Either way, I don’t think any of this changes the truth of Swedenborg’s claims obviously.

          Concerning the Father and the Son: Would Swedenborg say that the post-resurrected but pre-ascended Christ in John 20, who says “I have no yet ascended to the Father…to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” is somehow different after this and thus Thomas rightly calls him “my God” after the ascension (In John it’s interesting that the Ascension seems to happen in between his appearance to Mary Mags and then his disciples, so too the “sending of the spirit” happens at the resurrection!).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          About Luther and Calvin, you’re probably right. Clearly you’ve delved into their writings a lot more than I have. (Did I mention that I find it painful to slog through so much falsity?) If so, then Calvin simply took the worst of Luther’s beliefs and made it a central plank of his theology.

          Luther is known primarily for his doctrine of justification by faith alone, which he made the central plank of his theology. Calvin is known primarily for his doctrine of predestination. So even if Calvin did get predestination from Luther, Calvin is the one that gave it prominence.

          It all fits into the pattern of a continuing degeneration of Christian doctrine. Calvin, it seems, finished the job.

          Augustine, I think, was another seriously messed up dude.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, as you say, in absolute numbers Christianity is as large as it’s ever been, if only because the population of the Earth has mushroomed in the past century or two. However, in intellectual and political influence, it has fallen far away from where it was a few centuries ago. The general public, and the various governments of the world, commonly thumb their nose at the church and ignore its prescriptions and pronouncements. A few hundred years ago that would have been a death sentence.

          Even Swedenborg said that the institution of the church would continue as it had before even after the Last Judgment on Christianity had taken place. For Swedenborg’s startling prediction that to all appearances, things will stay pretty much the same after the Last Judgment, see the last two sections of his book The Last Judgment, #73 and #74.

          The main difference, he said, would be that the people would have more freedom of thought now that balance and order have been restored to the spiritual world.

          The course of events in the last 250 years or so seems to bear out his prediction. The church has continued outwardly quite similarly to what it was before, though it’s had to moderate many of its harsher stances and practices since Swedenborg’s time. However, Christians feel much more free to think for themselves, leave one church for another, and generally believe what they want to believe even if it’s not what the church teaches.

          In other words, in terms of raw numbers, traditional Christianity is bigger than it’s ever been. But in terms of power and influence in the world and over people’s minds, its status has been hugely reduced.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          There is sort of an interim period between the Lord’s Resurrection and his Ascension in which the union with the Father seems not to be fully completed. At the time of his death he put off the last of the finite humanity that came from Mary. But it seems not to be until the Ascension that all distinction between Jesus and God is erased. The very symbolism of ascending to the Father suggests that this was when the process of full union with the Father was completed.

          The time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension was, however, a relatively short one, lasting apparently only about forty days (Acts 1:3). In general, things don’t happen instantaneously. The Lord’s glorification, like everything else, was a process that unfolded over time. And that process seems to have gone through its final stage between the Resurrection and the Ascension.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          That makes sense, you are right about the political influence and spiritual influence as well. People are much freer now to believe what they want and approach it more rationally. The doctrine of Hell the way it is customarily taught, along with the atonement and the Trinity (as they are customarily taught) simply no longer make sense to people.

          What do you make though of the different “timeline” in John — clearly the ascension seems to take place about a day after the resurrection (He says to Mary “Don’t touch me because I haven’t yet ascended” — then when appearing to the disciples he asks Thomas to touch him). It is then that his union with God is complete as Thomas’ proclaimation confirms “my Lord and My God.” Moreover the timeline of “Pentecost” or when the disciples receive the spirit is off too. Since in John 20 he breathes on them and gives them the spirit right there at the resurrection. Does Swedenborg ever comment on the weird Johannine timeline (even for the Passion, which is apparently a day earlier in John)?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          A memorable occurrence from early in my pastorate back east:

          I quickly became friends with the fairly new Pastor the local Methodist church that was just few doors down from my church. She was curious about our beliefs, so I gave her a thumbnail sketch, including our rejection of the Trinity of Persons. She surprised me by replying, “Yeah, I never could go for that Trinity stuff.” And so the pastor of a mainline Christian church just casually tossed away the central dogma of historical Christianity!

          Times, they are a’changin’.

          The Gospel of John certainly does have a whole different timeline than the Synoptics. However, Swedenborg doesn’t make a big deal about that. His main focus is on the spiritual lessons conveyed by the Gospel accounts. And that, I think, is what the original authors were focused on too, rather than on some sort of scholarly historical or biographical consistency.

          But to your question:

          Though John mentions the ascension in John 20:17, it doesn’t actually say when this is going to happen. I think the general presumption is that this is something that’s going to happen soon, but that Jesus’ various meetings with his followers took place before it happened. So on this particular point, it’s not clear that John’s timeline is different from that of the Synoptics.

          About his words to Mary, the connotation of the Greek word traditionally translated “touch” there is more “to hold onto, to attach oneself to.” I think he was telling her not to cling to him, because the way she was seeing him now would be a temporary situation, and she needed to let go of it. My sense is that she was hanging onto him, and he was giving her more of a psychological message than a physical one.

          In the incident with Thomas, the intent is to demonstrate that he is real and solid, and not a wispy ghost or spirit. That story doesn’t actually use the word “touch,” though the intent is clear. So the two stories have both different wordings and different intentions.

        • Duane says:

          Right Ok, that makes sense. I was assuming since he distanced himself from God (“my God and your God”) and now accepts the title God (“ha theos”) that the ascension took place between the two events — also given that the sending of the spirit happens for John then “If I don’t go, then I can’t send the spirit” kind of deal. I know some scholars I like (e.g. Bultmann) see the ascension as implied in between — but you’re right John doesn’t say so for sure.

          Another thing about sola fide in a positive light. The way I’ve always read it (and surely there are other less positive interpretations) is that “faith” does lead to what you would call a heart chance, that’s precisely what faith is — a birth of the heart or as Jesus calls “the tree” — “make the tree good and the fruits will be good.”

          To be clear: I understand people do not always understand it this way, but, understanding it this way, seems to be in line with Swedenborg, no?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Though theologians pick through the Gospels in support of various doctrines, the Evangelists were not theologians. Rather, their job was to spread the good news. They wrote, not to establish a theology, but to convey the meaning and power of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ultimately, ascension, and its ability to radically change people’s lives. So although it is good to have a basis for our theology in the Bible, the Bible’s real purpose is to lead us to repent from our sins and live a good life based on a belief in God, and in the New Testament, in Jesus Christ as God. Our belief is a conduit for repentance and new spiritual life. Any theology that isn’t focused on this is not focused on what the Bible is focused on.

          So although it may be interesting to sleuth out these specifics, and sometimes it is important to understand them in the right way, I just don’t think John was all that concerned with precisely when Jesus’ ascension took place. If he had been, he would have been more specific about it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Your question about sola fide reminds me of this old joke:

          Q: If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does the dog have?

          A: Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

          Protestants will go to almost any lengths to support and justify Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. One of those lengths is to define “faith” as “everything that saves us.” When they take this tack, they’ll include love and good works in the definition of faith. Basically, everything becomes “faith.”

          But saying that faith is love (“a birth of the heart” in your example) or that faith is good works does not make faith love and good works. Faith has an actual meaning. And though faith does not exist where there isn’t love and good works, that doesn’t mean faith is or includes love and good works any more than saying that there can be no form without substance and function means that form is or includes substance and function.

          The ludicrousness of this whole enterprise came through to me toward the end of a lengthy debate I had many years ago when I was a Pastor, with a young fundamentalist who came to my church to try to save my eternal soul. When I insisted that the Bible never says that we are saved by faith alone, and that the Bible does say that we’re saved based on charity, and that I would therefore never say that we are saved by faith alone, his response was, “Well, would you at least be willing to say that we’re saved by faith alone plus charity?”

          It’s as if “faith alone” becomes a mantra that must be said in order to achieve salvation, even if saying it requires us to engage in errant contradictions and irrationalities. The “faith alone” mantra seems to eclipse all normal, rational thinking under the necessity of affirming it on pain of eternal death.

          My general question is: Why even bother attempting to support faith alone and find redeeming qualities in it?

          It’s not as though the ever Bible says, “I tell you that a person is justified by faith alone.” So why is there any need whatsoever for a Christian to defend it, given that the Bible never actually states it?

          It’s very much like Catholic doctrine insisting that Mary remained a virgin her entire life when the Bible never says any such thing, and strongly implies, if not actually states outright, that her marriage with Joseph was consummated after Jesus’ birth, and that she had other children. Why should Christians even defend such a doctrine when it is no part of the Bible’s teaching?

          How did a doctrine (sola fide) that is never stated anywhere in the Bible become fundamental to Christian belief among Protestants?

          All of the supposed “virtues” of faith alone arise from fundamental misunderstandings not only of the Bible, but of the nature of human beings and our relationship with God.

          For example, proponents of faith alone commonly say that good works can’t be any part of salvation because that would involve buying or meriting our own way into heaven, and that faith alone solves this problem and ensures that we give the credit for our salvation to Jesus Christ.

          But the idea that good works are necessarily meritorious idea betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what good works are, and why we do them. Good works are not “ours” any more than faith is. The very power to do them comes, not from us, but from God. They’re simply what we’re designed to do.

          Thinking we can merit or buy our way into heaven through good works is like thinking that a car is especially virtuous if, when you push down the gas pedal, it drives down the road. No. That’s simply what the car is designed to do. If it doesn’t do it, and persists in not doing it it’s fit only for the junkyard.

          We do good works that actually are good works spiritually, not to buy or merit anything, but because that’s what God commands us to do, because that’s the right thing to do, and because that’s the loving thing to do.

          The only possible virtue of justification or salvation by faith alone is to provide a work-around for people who have false and confused ideas of very basic concepts such as good works.

          But it would be far better to correct those basic errors in thinking.

          If a car’s brakes aren’t working, you don’t install a heavy, hinged floor in the driver compartment so that the driver can push it down onto the asphalt to slow down and stop the car. Instead, you fix the brakes.

          Martin Luther developed and asserted his doctrine of justification by faith alone, it seems, as a work-around to deal with basic errors in Catholic doctrine and practice, especially that of thinking that people can buy their way into heaven through indulgences, penances, and so on. And though faith alone did do away with those things in Protestantism, it did so without actually correcting the errors of Catholic doctrine and practice, adding a whole new layer of doctrinal error of its own in the process.

          So no, if you define faith alone as faith together with love, it doesn’t make it more in line with Swedenborg’s theology. Rather, it twists words beyond their meanings and introduces confusion and error into the mind of those engaging in such casuistry, without correcting the actual errors that need to be corrected.

          A dog’s tail is not a leg, and faith is not love.

          Faith alone does not need to be salvaged. It needs to be junked.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          Haha! I appreciate the humor. I want to make clear that we are in agreement and accord here, and that it is just a matter of whether or not to salvage or find the truth in these doctrines. The reason I’d like to salvage it is because the NT does speak of faith as essential to salvation.

          My point is that the way people (Luther and even Calvin et al) understand faith and its relation to good works is precisely identical with waht you are saying. I just think when you say “you need both faith and charity” you take something away from the Gospel: “whoever believes in me shall never die”– or “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” or “the work of God is to believe in the one whom he sent” or “just as Moses lifted up the snake, so too anyone who believes will have eternal life” — it’s hard to say that the bible does not teach salvation by faith; it simply does, but that faith includes love, there is no such thing as faith without love.

          James clearly equivocates “faith” to mean mere intellectual assent — the kind the demons have, the demons dont have the saving faith that is inextricably wedded to charity, namely “trust” ….faith qua trust is trust in the love of God which opens you up to love other people since it opens you to the very life of God himself living in you.

          Seems simple! but, we agree!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Sorry to be a stickler, but none of these passages, which are commonly quoted by Protestants to support “justification by faith,” (i.e., justification by faith alone, or in Catholicism, justification primarily by faith) actually says that we are saved by faith and nothing else. Nor do any of them say that faith is the most important or the exclusive means of salvation. All of them are stated in contexts that make it clear that the faith and the profession of belief are key parts of the process of salvation, but are not the exclusive means of salvation. And the general teaching of the Bible makes it clear that faith is not even primary in salvation. It is a means to salvation, not the all-in-all of salvation. A wrench doesn’t fix a car. A mechanic uses a wrench to fix a car.

          James does not “equivocate.” He states clearly that we are justified by our good works, and not by faith alone. He is not rejecting faith. He says that faith must work together with love and good works. Just as Paul does in many places.

          When Paul says that we are saved by faith without the works of the Law, or by faith without “works,” he simply doesn’t mean “good works.” He means being an observant Jew.

          Paul and James may have a difference in emphasis, but there is no disagreement in what they actually write. Only a difference in emphasis, Paul putting greater emphasis on faith, and James putting more emphasis on good works.

          Paul was intent to smash the idea that salvation requires being an observant Jew and is based on strict behavioral adherence to a written law.

          James was intent to establish that good works are required for salvation.

          Neither one of them “equivocates.” Applying that sort of wording to James suggests remaining shreds of solfidian thinking still clinging to your mind. We don’t really want to diminish James, do we? Is this an enterprise in which Paul must increase, but James must decrease?

          Further, Catholic doctrine on salvation by faith is also mistaken.

          Both of these doctrines are simply wrong. And it’s best to eradicate any remaining vestiges of them from your mind.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          ah ha! I know I agree, which is why I never saved by faith alone, but rather “Saved by Faith,” which i think is something very different.

          James does equivocate bc he says demons have “faith” and “shudder” — this is not the kind of faith — trust — that Jesus demands and saves. Demons believe Jesus is God, but they don’t trust him, i.e. they dont believe “in” him.

          My point is that I think you are being a stickler unnecessarily here, as “justification by faith” is not ipso facto opposed to works/love, i.e. to what you are saying, especially the Catholic version (e.g. Trent’s formulation is almost exactly what you say).

          My worry: the New Testament is really emphatic about the necessity of faith, and it would be a loss I think to de-emphasize it. no?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          The Catholic doctrine of justification by faith is based on satisfaction theory. And satisfaction theory is both unbiblical and wrong.

          By this time, “salvation by faith” has such strong connections to satisfaction theory, and in Protestantism, to its penal substitution variety, that I doubt that this formulation can be salvaged. I think it’s better just to drop it. It implies that salvation is exclusive to Christians who have faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s how it is commonly conceptualized by Christians, both Catholics and Protestants.

          Perhaps at some time in the distant future, when Catholic and Protestant atonement theory has been long since swept into the dustbin of history, people will be able to talk about “salvation by faith” without error and falsity inevitably clinging to their thinking. But not now. It’s meaning has been too thoroughly destroyed by the false doctrine attached to it.

          And James does not equivocate. Rather, he identifies and destroys a common misunderstanding of “faith” that just happens to be rife within Protestantism, and prevalent in Catholicism as well, many centuries later. If anything, he was prescient that this misinterpretation of “faith” would, in time, destroy Christian doctrine, faith, and life.

          James was well aware that faith does not mean mere intellectual belief, or that if it is, it is not actually faith. But he saw the trend in that direction even in his own times. And he made his best attempt to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, that error went on to flourish in the church anyway, and bore massive quantities of bitter fruit, ultimately entirely destroying the church.

          Protestants insist that faith is not mere intellectual belief. But then they treat it as if it were—as if believing that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins is the essential act of salvation. So it is Protestants, not James, who equivocate.

          Catholics do the same thing, only their version of “salvation by faith” is somewhat milder than the Protestant version because the error that was established in the church by Anselm and Aquinas had not yet run its full course. That happened only with the Protestant Reformation, and especially with Calvin.

          Dropping “salvation by faith” doesn’t de-emphasize faith, except to the extent that faith has been heavily over-emphasized in traditional Christianity. Why do we need to set up faith as some sort of pinnacle of salvation. Why can’t we say, “Salvation by love, faith, and good works”? Does that “diminish” faith? Does it make faith lesser to put it together with its proper partners of love and good works? No. It actually makes faith greater, because it makes it real faith, which is always together with love and good works.

          Further, faith simply is not the leader. It only appears to be the leader, because it’s commonly the first thing we become consciously aware of in our salvation process. But the real leader, the greatest Christian virtue, is not faith, but love. Paul himself, the supposed exponent of faith alone, says so.

  34. Duane Armitage says:

    But again, Lee, I concede your point — I’m just being a tad more charitable, because I worry that faith becomes ultimately unnecessary.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Putting faith in its proper place among the means of salvation will never cause it to become unnecessary. It will only cause it to take its proper place in our minds, so that we can understand both faith and salvation correctly, and live accordingly.

      If some philosopher of art asserts that perspective is everything in a painting, but a painter points out that color, tone, texture, and other aspects of a painting are also important, that doesn’t cause perspective to become “ultimately unnecessary.” It just puts it in its proper place as one among a number of essential characteristics of a fine painting.

      So it is with faith.

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Ok Ok. So once and for all: what is the role of faith and is it essential? Why not just “love”?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          For the full answer, I would suggest reading Swedenborg’s two main treatises on faith.

          The first is his small book The Doctrine of Faith. It is available for sequential reading and searching online starting here. Or you can download or purchase it direct from the Swedenborg Foundation here.

          The second is his chapter on faith in True Christianity, which is available for sequential reading online starting here, and in volume 1 of True Christianity available direct from the publisher here.

          Yes, faith is essential to salvation. Love by itself doesn’t accomplish anything, and good works by themselves can be hypocritical and self-serving.

          Faith serves as the conduit and guide in expressing our love in action in ways that are truly good and constructive. Without faith, love is blind, amorphous, and ineffective.

          Faith—if it is genuine faith—also ensures that the good works we do are done from the Lord and based on the Lord’s commandments and teaching rather than being done for our own glory and self-aggrandizement—in which case even if they may benefit the people we do them for, they are of no benefit to us spiritually because they are done for selfish and worldly reasons. True faith informs us that the good works we do are not ours, but the Lord’s in us. And when we do good works with that knowledge and belief, and guided by true doctrines of faith, then our good works are truly good not only for their recipients, but also for our own soul.

          Faith—if it is genuine faith—also leads us toward salvation by making a connection between our mind and the Lord. True faith is always in the Lord, or in God for non-Christians. It tells us that truth comes from God, not from ourselves, and that we are to believe and live by the truth simply because it is true and comes from God, and not for ulterior motives such as gaining a reputation for honesty and sincerity so that we can sell more used cars for a higher price to trusting and unsuspecting buyers.

          Faith is not the source of our good works. Our good works come from love, and ultimately from God. But faith does lead us to do good works because it leads us to live from the Lord instead of from self.

          In humanity’s fallen state, love is not sufficient to bring us to salvation because our natural inborn loves are self-centered and worldly. It is faith accepted in our rational mind that leads us to choose good and truth over evil and falsity, which means choosing love for the Lord and the neighbor over love of self and worldly things. (Not that we completely reject love of self and worldly things, but they become secondary, and servants to love for the Lord and the neighbor, compared to their former primary position in our lives.)

          The choice is still made in our heart, but our rational mind and our faith lay out the alternatives for us so that we can have a clear view of what our choices are and what are the likely results of each choice, and on that basis decide which way we want to go. Without the guidance of faith (which is really just an inward recognition of the truth), we would just continue in our natural selfish and worldly loves, which would, if they continued into our adult lives and became confirmed in us, bar us from heaven. Faith ensures that we have the ability to see and choose good and truth over evil and falsity.

          So yes, faith is essential to salvation. It’s just that faith by itself does not accomplish our salvation. Only faith together with love and good works.

          Even atheists must have a type of faith in order to be saved. They must have a belief in some principle higher than their own advantage and pleasure, and live by that principle. If they do, that higher principle serves as faith for them. In choosing to live according to it rather than solely for their own advantage and pleasure, they can be saved through that faith together with love and concern for their fellow human beings in their hearts, and actual deeds done from that love and pursuant to their version of faith.

          People of other religions besides Christianity also must have some sort of faith that teaches them about God, or at least about some higher principles of living (as in philosophical Buddhism), which they live by from a good heart, doing good deeds for their fellow human beings based on their faith, and from their good heart.

          In other words, even if the particulars of people’s faith may vary widely, there is no salvation without faith.

          It’s just that there is also no salvation without love, and there is no salvation without good works. All three must work together for salvation to occur. Abstractly, they are the substance (love), form (faith/truth), and function/action of salvation. Without all three together, none of them has any real existence, meaning that without all three together, there is no salvation.

          In short:

          1. Yes, faith is essential to salvation, along with love and good works, which are also essential to salvation.
          2. No, faith by itself, or faith alone, has no ability to save anyone, nor is it even a real thing. It is a mere theological illusion.
          3. Faith guides us to salvation, but does not itself save us. It is the Lord who saves us, and that salvation consists of love in our hearts, faith in our minds, and good deeds done with our hands, all of which come from the Lord.
  35. Duane says:

    Lee

    Beautifully put. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. I assure you they are extremely edifying to me and I’ve learned a great deal here since I’ve “met” you. I cannot thank you enough.

    I will certainly check out those Swedenborg texts — I purchased recently the “Swedenborg Reader,” but I might as well just read those texts as well.

    I guess for me it “feels” truly difficult to have felt the presence of Jesus Christ and his love and not want to try to please him by loving others afterwards. It’s like he says “if you love me, you’ll keep my commands.” This seems like an obvious truth to someone who loves him, no matter how hard we fail at it. In other words, it seems hard to imagine having genuine trust in Jesus Christ and not loving.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      You are most welcome. It is truly my pleasure.

      I agree with you about loving others if we love Jesus Christ and feel his love. How can you not, if you truly feel Jesus’ love?

      However, that does depend upon having a right concept of God—specifically, a concept of God as infinitely loving, wise, compassionate, and benevolent. We then set it as our ideal to follow in God’s footsteps, and be that way ourselves as much as we can. Plus, of course, we feel that love, wisdom, compassion, and benevolence flowing into us from Jesus Christ when we have a relationship with him, and that inspires us and fills us with a desire to be that way toward our fellow human beings as well.

      For those who have an idea of God as angry, exacting, punishing, and intolerant of the least fault or error in human beings, it is quite different. For them, it might feel right to act in that same way toward others, because they think that’s what God is like, so that’s what they should be like as well. Their negative and false belief about God blocks them from feeling God’s love, or causes them to think that it is very difficult to get on God’s good side and be loved by God. For such people, the default is not love, but anger, rejection, and punishment if we don’t believe exactly the right thing or live in exactly the right way to be pleasing to a very capricious and finicky God.

      This is another way in which true faith is essential to our spiritual life. Without a true idea of God, our entire spiritual life suffers, and our attitudes and actions toward ourselves and our fellow human beings along with it. Traditional Christianity has built up a very false picture of God, which, yes, includes love, but also includes all sorts of negative attributes such as anger and a desire to punish people who believe or live in the wrong way. And of course, traditional Christianity has split God into three individuals (“Persons”), which, as I’ve said elsewhere, is a form of polytheism, and is very confusing and disorienting to the minds of believers. That wrong idea of God has trickled down into all of the wrongs that traditional Christianity has done to its own people, and especially to its doctrinal opponents within and outside of Christianity.

      For more on the importance of a right idea of God, written almost entirely from the positive side of the question, please see:
      God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World

  36. Duane says:

    Lee,

    In the same vein then: How essential is a personal relationship — friendship — with Jesus then to salvation? What is the benefit of this? It seems to me this friendship makes all the difference in the world and indeed “saves” us insofar as it fills us with the love that allows us to love one another. Your thoughts?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      From my perspective, the ability to have a personal, human-to-human relationship with God in Jesus Christ is the crown jewel of the (true) Christian religion, and what especially sets it apart from and above the other religions of the world.

      Not that the other religions aren’t good. But most of them have an impersonal God. In philosophical and theological language, most of them believe in a transcendent God, but not in an immanent God. God is conceived of as being far beyond the realm of human thoughts and human affairs, and unapproachable except perhaps through priests and rituals that serve as intermediaries between the people and God.

      Not so in Christianity. In Christianity, every Christian can have a direct, personal relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ, without the need for any human or ritualistic intermediaries. In Christianity, we can once again “walk with God in the garden,” as the early humans represented by Adam and Eve could do (though when Genesis actually mentions that possibility, it says that Adam and Eve hid from God). The direct, personal relationship with God that has been lost ever since the Fall of Humankind is now restored in Christianity—and is even greater, because God is now human and directly present with us.

      At least, that direct, personal relationship with God is restored in true Christianity. Traditional Christianity theoretically had access to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but quickly replaced it with a reversion to the priestly, ritual-centered model of ancient Judaism, only without actual animal sacrifices. See:
      Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

      To everything I’ve been saying to you about the progressive corruption of Christianity, reaching its nadir in Calvinism, I should add this:

      Though Protestantism leaped from the frying pan into the fire doctrinally, it did also provide several corrections to the then-existing corruption of Christianity that were necessary as precursors to the Lord’s second coming. Primary among these were:

      1. Abolishing the representative priesthood (more or less) and restoring the people to a direct relationship with Jesus Christ.
      2. Bringing the Word of God directly to the people, so that everyone had access to it and was encouraged to read it, or at least listen to it read in their own language, so that they could be taught directly by the Lord from the Word of God.

      Catholicism had long since reinserted a representative priesthood between the people and God, violating the greatest advance of Christianity over all previous religions: a direct, non-mediated relationship with God.

      It had also heavily discouraged the people from reading and hearing the Word of God for themselves, placing various restrictions and language barriers between the people and the Bible, and inserting the priesthood and the church hierarchy between the people and the Bible, claiming a near-exclusive right of its clergy to read and interpret the Bible for the people.

      Since the Second Coming of the Lord would happen especially through a revelation of new understanding of the divine truth in the Bible, and its depth and power, it was necessary for the people to have the Bible before the Lord could make his Second Coming.

      It was also necessary for the intermediary power of the priesthood to be broken, so that when the Second Coming happened, the people to whom it came would seek a direct relationship with Jesus Christ in their hearts and through the pages of the Bible, rather than looking to a corrupted representative clergy who would steer them away from both the Bible and a direct relationship with God because that would diminish the clergy’s own power and influence. Swedenborg’s primary critique of Catholicism was that its hierarchy had been corrupted by a desire for worldly power and wealth, and had therefore arrogated to itself powers and de facto worship that belong only to Jesus Christ.

      So even though the Protestant Reformation introduced many new doctrinal errors, and completed the doctrinal destruction of Christianity that had been going on almost from its beginning, it also introduced some key practical reforms into Christianity that were necessary preparations for the Lord’s Second Coming and the establishment of true Christianity in the place of the old, false and corrupted Christianity.

      In short, even as Protestantism sowed the seeds of its own destruction, and of the final destruction of Christianity as a whole, it also set the stage for the new Christianity that would, in time, replace it.

      This is why, for all of his vitriol against Protestantism for its utterly false doctrines centering around justification by faith alone, Swedenborg still viewed the Protestant branch of Christianity as representing the last existing vestiges of Christianity. Catholicism he viewed as not really Christian because it kept the Word from the people and interposed priests and saints between the people and the Lord, intercepting the people’s worship of and relationship with Jesus Christ—which is the heart and essence of true Christianity.

      It would be interesting to know more of what Swedenborg thought of Eastern Christianity, about which he says very little. However, he lived and moved in northern and western Europe, and therefore had contact primarily with Protestantism and Catholicism, which is what he focuses on in his theological writings when he discusses the existing Christian Church.

      But back to your comment and question:

      True Christianity, I believe, gives people the closest and most direct access to salvation because it gives people the closest and most direct access to God in human form. Swedenborg calls this abstractly the Divine Humanity, and concretely Jesus Christ. In providing a direct, personal relationship with God as Jesus Christ, Christianity allows people to directly experience God’s love, wisdom, and power in a way that is either much attenuated and divided (as in Hinduism, which does have a concept of divine incarnations, but believes there are multiple such incarnations), or largely absent, as in the religions that worship a transcendent, unknowable, impersonal God.

      By teaching that God came to humanity in person, in human form, uniquely in Jesus Christ, Christianity provides a personal focus on and relationship with the Lord that other religions cannot match. In bringing the Lord’s teachings to the people directly in the Gospels, it provides a place where everyone who can read, or at least listen to the Gospel being read, can learn of Jesus’ love and Jesus’ teachings and commandments, and accept that love and those teachings and commandments into their hearts, minds, and lives.

      And at its core, salvation is a mutual, loving relationship with God.

      Christianity provides access to the closest and most loving and personal relationship with God that is possible for human beings to have.

      All of this is why, although I believe that there is salvation in all religions, I myself remain firmly a Christian. If I believed that any other religion could bring me closer to God and provide a clearer understanding of the path of spiritual rebirth, I would join that religion. But having surveyed the other religions and learned something of their beliefs and practices, none of them, in my mind, can hold a candle to genuine Christianity with its direct, personal, undivided and undiluted relationship with the Lord, and with its clear, compelling teachings, found especially in the Gospels coming from the Lord’s own lips, about what we must do to attain eternal life.

      (Traditional Christianity focuses far more on Paul than it does on the Gospels. Protestants, especially, generally believe, either explicitly or implicitly, that Jesus’ teachings were aimed at the Jews, and were still part of the old covenant, whereas Paul’s teachings are aimed at Christians, and are the true beginning of the new covenant. As an example of what I’m talking about, see this question on Christianity StackExchange: “What is the basis for the belief among some Protestants that Christ’s teachings do not apply to us today?” What a travesty and blasphemy against the Lord to say that Paul taught purer and newer truth than the Lord himself, from whom Paul said he had received his Gospel! But I have found in practice that if I quote to a Protestant Jesus’ own words, such as his clearest and most direct teaching about who is and isn’t saved in Matthew 25:31–46, the Protestant will just ignore it and brush it aside, and return to quoting—and butchering—Paul’s words instead. I can’t remember a single time when a Protestant has actually engaged me on Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and the goats, even though I’ve quoted it to them dozens, if not hundreds, of times. It’s as if I had said nothing at all, and as if the Gospels and Jesus’ teaching in them simply don’t exist in their minds. In their minds, the Gospels have been totally eclipsed by Paul. It is a strange and baffling phenomenon. It is very frustrating to find that the Lord’s own words carry no weight whatsoever in the minds of people who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ. In true Christianity, the Gospels, not Paul’s letters, are the heart, soul, and clearest truth of the Word of God. That is where the Lord himself teaches us the truth. Paul must be read in the light of the Gospels, and not the other way around.)

      And so, I remain a Christian. And I remain devoted both to the Lord God Jesus Christ and to the truths of the Christian religion as found especially in the Gospels, but also in the entire Bible, and as clarified from the previous errors of a corrupted “Christianity” in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg through his own direct, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and based on his own intensive reading of the Bible as guided and enlightened by the Lord, who was with him, and whose servant he said he was. (If nothing else, Swedenborg had a very intense, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.)

      A few more articles that I’m sure I’ve already referred you to, but that give my views on some of these things in fuller form:

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        Sounds indeed like I understand ourselves to be on the same page.

        Where does Swedenborg talk about his relationship with Jesus?

        Also, how do you share this relationship with others, when it seems others are not interested in Jesus, or may not have a desire to know him?? Is it simply “preaching with actions” then?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Being an 18th century intellectual, Swedenborg did not gush about his relationship with Jesus in his published writings. He makes general statements that the Lord guided him, protected him, and so on. But no real description of what this involved.

          However, Swedenborg briefly kept a dream journal in part of the years 1743 and 1744, which was during the time he was making the transition from being a scientist and philosopher to being a theologian. In that journal, which was clearly never meant for publication, he recounts and sometimes interprets various dreams. But just after Easter in 1744, he describes an encounter with Jesus Christ that seems to have been quite a turning point for him. His recounting of that experience in his personal dream journal is the clearest indication of just how personal his relationship with Jesus Christ was.

          And about sharing a relationship with Jesus with others, I don’t make any particular attempt to do so. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” If people want a relationship with Jesus, they will seek it out and find it. I focus on teaching people who Jesus is, so that if they want a relationship with Jesus, they can know something about him.

      • Duane says:

        Also, how does one explain the idea of Jesus dying for his friends, laying down his life or them. How did he do this within the context of your atonement theory? I’m thinking of John 15– “great love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends;” and 1 John 3:16: “by this we know love: he laid down his life for us”

        It seems like here Jesus’ death is a “sacrifice” for us on our behalf. How did he die for us? How is his blood poured out “so that” sins may be forgiven?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Jesus did lay his life down for his friends. But it wasn’t to satisfy an injured or angry God. It was to defend his friends (i.e., all of humanity) from the deadly attacks of the Devil.

          The most common instance in which people lay down their lives for friends is in defending their friends from attack, injury, and death. People take the bullet for someone they love so that their loved one can live, even if it means they themselves may, or will, die. That is what Jesus was talking about when he said that no one has greater love than to lay their own life down for a friend. And that is precisely what Jesus himself did, for everyone, thus demonstrating God’s great love for us.

          About the blood, of course it was a reference to the Jewish sacrifices. But the sacrifices themselves were mere symbols of devoting one’s life to God, including ridding oneself of all of the evil and falsity that stands in the way of devoting one’s life to God.

          That, specifically, is what the sin and guilt offerings were all about. They were not a payment of penalty, despite the horribly bad translation of Leviticus by some modern translations/revisions of the Bible such as the NIV and NRSV. The Hebrew word does not mean “penalty for sin,” but “sin offering.” It’s a fine example of false doctrine corrupting a translation.

          The sacrifices were not payments or penalties. That’s not how the people thought of them. Rather, the sin and guilt offerings were representative of the people recognizing and repenting from their sin and guilt, and re-dedicating themselves to living according to God’s law. In the very act of making the required offering prescribed in the Law of Moses, they were showing their willingness to live according to God’s law. But it meant nothing if they didn’t carry out in actuality what the sin offering represented: repentance from sin and doing good deeds instead.

          So the real meaning of the sin and guilt offerings and the yearly Day of Atonement ritual (the scapegoat was not actually sacrificed) was repentance from sin and dedication to living by the law of the Lord—which, of course, meant not only not doing the thinks prohibited by the Law, but also doing the good things that are their opposite. Instead of stealing, be fair in your dealings. Instead of committing adultery, be faithful in your marital and sexual relations. Instead of killing, love and do good things for your neighbor. Instead of bearing false witness, be honest in your testimony. And so on.

          This is what Jesus’ sacrifice pointed to, not some penalty for sin, or even satisfaction for sin. It was a representative of our need to repent from our sins and do good deeds instead—which is precisely what John the Baptist, the Apostles, and the Lord himself all preached to the people.

          What Jesus did on the Cross, and through his entire life of fighting against and being victorious over the Devil, was to make it possible for us to repent from sin and live a new life of righteousness instead. Before, the Devil was overwhelming humanity to the point where our freedom to shun evil and choose good was in jeopardy. Now, with the scales between good and evil rebalanced, everyone has freedom to shun the evil and choose the good. And that’s exactly what the Gospels and the entire Bible tell us to do. Our very relationship with Jesus means nothing if we do not obey his commandment to repent from our sins and love God and the neighbor through active service to them.

          About the shedding of blood specifically, that would have been seen as a symbol of laying down his life for us. The blood was considered to be the seat of life in an animal or a human being. So shedding his blood for us has the same meaning in that culture as laying down his life for us. It’s not about satisfying some need for blood on God’s part. It’s about giving his very lifeblood for us.

          At a deeper, trans-cultural level, the symbolism of eating the Lord’s flesh and drinking his blood is accepting into ourselves the Lord’s love and wisdom, or goodness and truth. The blood represents the truth and wisdom of the Lord, and the flesh represents the goodness and love of the Lord. When we accept these into our lives and make them a part of us (represented by eating and drinking the bread and wine, which then become part of the substance of our body), we experience the salvation that is, in essence, a loving, mutual relationship with the Lord. This is covered in my article:
          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

        • Duane says:

          So he is taking the bullet, so to speak, fired, not from God, but from the Devil? Why would the Devil — an unconscious force or personification of sin and evil desire — fire at him in that way??

          I feel like what you are saying makes the most sense of anything I’ve read so far, I’m just trying to tie it all together now.

          What of this: Yes, perhaps the Biblical sacrificial system is not about appeasing a blood lusting Deity; however, it does come out of that context, or at least from those surroundings, in that just about every Deity other than Yahweh would have asked for blood to appease him/it. So there’s a sense in which perhaps the Levitical codes are a response to that?

          For example, in Exodus 4, there is a sense in which the blood turns God away from his wrath: “At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.”

          Let me be clear: I agree with you that God needing the blood of his Son to fix things is absurd and even worse: it makes God evil. I’m just trying to understand how to reread all this.

          I think it would be hard to say that the people thought of these as merely symbolic and that there wasn’t some “power” for primitive people in blood that could literally “fix” the sin problem.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          The Devil is not actually an unconscious force or personification of sin. Rather, the Devil is a personification of hell, which is an entity made up of all human beings who have chosen evil over good. So the Devil actually is a conscious being, even if it is a collective consciousness rather than an individual consciousness. And hell is an amalgam of conscious beings who are all attempting to wreak damage of one sort or another not just on one another, but also on people on earth, spirits in the spiritual world, angels, and even God.

          Satan, or the Devil, knew who Jesus was. This is clear from the story of the Gadarene demoniac in Matthew 8:28–34, Mark 5:1–20, and Luke 8:26–39.

          When the Devil realized that God had become subject to attack in the person of Jesus Christ, who at that time still had a finite human side through which the Devil could attack him, the Devil wreaked his full fury on Jesus. It is like an enemy general realizing where the commander-in-chief of the opposing army is, and unleashing every weapon he has on that location in an attempt to chop off the enemy’s head and scatter and disorient the enemy army to assure victory.

          In other words, Jesus bore the full force of a very conscious Devil that consisted of the sum total of all evil human beings, most of them in hell in the spiritual world. They knew that if they could not defeat him, they themselves would be defeated and would lose most of the power that they had built up over simple, innocent people and good spirits, and even over some of the angels of the lower heavens. So they fired “the whole nine yards” at Jesus in an effort to defeat him.

          That is the “bullet” that Jesus took for us. The entire force and fury of all evil concentrated on him.

          If he had not taken that bullet, that force of evil would have been directed at humanity instead, and humanity would not have been able to defeat or overcome it, but would have been swept down into hell.

        • Duane says:

          Ah ha! That makes sense now! Ok Ok, so are we to believe then that those in Hell, or at least most of those in Hell, know they are in Hell consciously and consciously hate God? I was thinking of Swedenborg’s Hell as a Hell where people really were ignorant and didn’t know they were in Hell and didn’t really care or believe in God. But if Hell knew of God on earth and tried to take him out consciously, then…

          This is very helpful by the way, thank you!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Even the evil spirits in hell are still human, and therefore still have a rational capability, even if they misuse it. They are aware of many things, but choose to ignore them or twist them to suit their own purposes. For an example of this, see True Christianity #570, and scroll down to subsection [7] at the end. In it, three evil spirits who rise up from hell to speak with Swedenborg and a newly arrived spirit are able to describe their own situation quite rationally and dispassionately. In other places Swedenborg talks about evil spirits who were formerly famous theologians still engaging in writing works of theology supporting their false doctrines.

          The “irrationality” of evil spirits is not so much complete disabling insanity as we think of it today, but the fact that they have bent their rational minds to supporting and justifying their evil desires and actions and their accompanying false beliefs.

          Of course, there is a huge variety among evil spirits. Some of them are just plain stupid, just as there are people on this earth who are just plain stupid. (Excuse me for saying so, but it’s true!) But evil spirits who were intelligent and even brilliant on earth retain something of that intelligence and brilliance, and continue putting it into the service of their selfish and evil desires.

          And of course there are evil spirits who deny they are in hell. Which reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

          A Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and a New Age practitioner were all burning in hell together. They asked each other what they’d done to be sent to hell.

          The Catholic priest said, “They called me a whisky priest. I just couldn’t lay off the booze! And that’s why I’m in hell.”

          The Jewish rabbi said, “What can I say? I love my bacon! And that’s why I’m in hell.”

          The New Age practitioner said, “This isn’t hell. And I’m not the least bit hot!”

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          About your other question, two things:

          1. Perhaps there was a sense of a blood-lusting deity attached to the sacrifices. But I think that is not as great a factor as is being read into ancient religion by satisfaction theory adherents. Rather, there was a sense that everything belonged to God, and that God required a portion of it for himself—including a portion not just of plants and animals, but of humans.
          2. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was an accommodation to a low-level human culture that had lost all spiritual awareness and had made religion into a purely materialistic affair. God took that sacrificial system and made the best of it among the Israelites, also using it to tell a correspondential story that symbolized real, spiritual religion even while it itself was totally physical-minded and materialistic.

          On the first point:

          When the sacrificial system is presented in the Old Testament, it is not presented in the context of an angry deity requiring blood. Rather, it is presented in the context of a deity who owns everything on earth, but requires only a portion of it from human beings. The sacrifices, then, were sort of like a tithe paid to a feudal lord; the lord owned the land and everything on it, and required a certain percentage from the serfs who lived on and worked the land. (This type of system is exemplified in Joseph as second-in-command in Egypt collecting and storing a portion of all the people’s crops during the seven years of plenty. When the years of famine came, he didn’t just give it back to them. It was seen as Pharaoh’s portion, and it therefore belonged to Pharaoh, not to the people. So Joseph sold it to the people, ultimately gaining possession of their lands and their own persons for Pharaoh.)

          For the surrounding nations, the percentage owed to God included a percentage of human beings. In general, the firstborn of any human or animal was considered to belong to God. Many surrounding nations sacrificed their firstborn children to their gods. But the Israelites were commanded to redeem their firstborn sons by sacrificing an animal instead.

          The sense of the sacrifice, then, was not that God required blood in a bloodthirsty sense. Rather, as I said before, the blood was considered to be the seat of life in an animal or human being, and God required that life because that life belonged to God. Sacrificing an animal or human in the fire was seen as “giving” that animal or human to God as the smoke of the sacrifice rose up to God, who was seen as living in “heaven,” or more accurately in the mind of ancient humans, above their heads in the sky. (The word for “sky” and “heaven” is the same both in Hebrew and in Greek, not to mention in Latin.)

          So for ancient people, sacrifices were quite literally an act of giving an animal or human being to their gods, who owned them anyway, but mercifully only required some of the animals and humans to be given to them, not all.

          Although there might also have been some sense of bloodthirsty deities, I suspect that much of that has been back-read into early sacrificial practices by Christians who subscribe to the various forms of satisfaction theory—which, once again, simply isn’t stated anywhere in the Bible, but was a later human-developed idea. The Bible itself only faintly supports the idea of bloodthirsty gods, if it supports that idea at all.

          About the story of Moses and Zipporah in Exodus 4:24–26, the problem there was that Moses’ god required males to be circumcised, and Moses’ son by Zipporah had not been circumcised. Presumably circumcision was not required by the gods of Zipporah’s culture (she was not an Israelite). To her, this circumcision thing looked like a bloody affair, and Moses’ god was a bloody god—and Moses along with him. Incidentally, when it says that Zipporah cut off her son’s foreskin and touched [Moses’] feet with it, “feet” is probably a euphemism for his genitals. This would be more appropriate to the general sense of circumcising the genitals of all males.

          On the second point:

          It’s quite clear from several passages in the Prophets that God never required or desired animal sacrifices. Rather, animal sacrifices were already well-established in the broader culture of that time period and region, which was a very physical-minded, materialistic culture that required strikingly physical rituals to keep it on some sort of track of honoring God.

          God, in sizing up the culture and mindset of the ancient Israelites, knew that it would not be possible to abolish the sacrificial system. So instead, God moderated it by ending human sacrifice, and used what remained not only to keep the physical-minded Israelites on track, but also to symbolize deeper things about spiritual life that were beyond what the Israelites themselves knew about or could comprehend.

          When the sacrificial system was finally abolished within a few decades of the Incarnation, this did not “do away with the Law” in the sense of making it irrelevant. Rather, it abolished a system of human-originated rituals whose only biblical purpose was to symbolize deeper realities of God and spirit for the people of later eras who had developed sufficient spiritual awareness to see those deeper meanings in the rituals and sacrifices recorded and commanded in the Old Testament.

          Jesus began the process of raising the meaning of those rituals to a higher level while replacing the rituals themselves with two simple rituals of baptism and the holy supper. But as I’ve said in previous comments, the people of that era were still largely physical-minded and materialistic, and were not spiritually ready (i.e., sufficiently spiritually developed) to grasp much of what Jesus wanted to teach them. That’s why he said that he had many more things to say to them, but they could not bear them now (John 16:12).

          Today, Christians who remain physical-minded and materialistic get stuck on a false notion of what the sacrifices were, and what they meant. Not only do they anachronistically read later legal theories into the sacrificial system (which is what satisfaction theory does), but they think there was something about the sacrifices themselves that God wanted. But what God actually wanted was what was represented by the sacrifices. This is told poetically in various places in the Prophets, and also in Psalm 51, which includes these words:

          For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:
          thou delightest not in burnt offering.
          The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
          a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)

          (I am linking to and quoting the KJV on this one, because many other translations routinely mistranslate verse 5 to say that the Psalmist was born guilty and sinful, when that’s not actually what the Hebrew says. See: “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 2: Original Sin?”)

          In other words, what God wanted was not the sacrifices themselves, still less rivers of blood, but the “broken spirit” and “broken and contrite heart” that was induced upon ancient, physical-minded people when they offered sacrifices to their gods. In other words, God wanted humility and a heartfelt willingness to follow God’s righteous ways instead of their own sinful ways. That was the true spirit and meaning of the sacrifices, even for the ancient people who practiced them literally with only a dim awareness of their deeper meaning and effect.

  37. Duane says:

    Also, COULD Hell have beaten God in Jesus? (I guess if they got Jesus to sin, perhaps?)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      No, hell could not have beaten God. But Jesus didn’t always know that at the time. After all, he did have a finite human part of himself from his human mother, and his conscious awareness was often in that finite human part instead of in his infinite divine part. So for him, the struggle was real, and very soul-wrenching, as we can see especially in the story of his struggle in Gethsemane before the crucifixion. He was not just going through the motions and easily batting off the Devil’s ferocious attacks like a bored Neo in The Matrix.

      • Duane says:

        Ah, that’s so helpful ! You’re absolutely right about God never wanting sacrifice — Jeremiah even says that in 7:22 — “I never commanded your fathers about sacrifice” !

        Ok so then was Hell consciously trying to kill Jesus — I guess the really conscious malice ones down there?? They must knowingly and maliciously and fully hate God then?

        Also, why would Jesus interpret Peter to be “Satan” when Peter asks Jesus not to go to the cross? is it because he wanted Jesus to cowardly escape and thus sin out of fear?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes. Evil spirits hate God above all. Especially the worst ones, in the lowest hells. If they could kill God, they would. God is everything they’re opposed to—and infinitely so.

          About Jesus’ words to Peter: Satan did everything possible to try to stop Jesus from completing his task, which involved both defeating Satan and glorifying Jesus’ humanity, which would have that same power over Satan forever. When Peter urged Jesus not to go to the cross, that was yet another one of Satan’s devious attempts to stop the Lord from finishing what he had come to earth to do.

          When Jesus was on the cross, he had to fight that battle alone. According to Swedenborg, even the angels, who had earlier helped Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil in the desert, could not help him when he was on the cross. They, too, “took pity” on him and didn’t want him to go through with it. This aloneness of Jesus as he approached the cross was represented by Peter trying to stop him, by the disciples falling asleep on him when he was praying in Gethsemane, and by the OT prophecies of God treading the winepress alone, and similar prophecies.

          It is true that in the Gospel of John, John and Jesus’ earthly mother Mary, plus a few other of his female followers, did stick with him at the cross. But they couldn’t do anything to help him. And in the Synoptics they all desert him and flee, and Peter denies and disowns him.

          However, I don’t think Jesus was actually calling Peter “Satan.” Rather, he was saying that Peter’s words were Satan in him. In the same way, I don’t think Jesus told Peter that he was going to build his church on Peter and give the keys to the kingdom to Peter, as the Catholic Church believes, saying that this gives the church those powers by extension. Rather, I think Jesus was referring to the “rock” of faith that Peter had enunciated: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

        • Duane says:

          Right that makes sense. Also, yes about Peter and Satan and the Rock. Makes sense to me.

          But, does this also just show the disorganized nature of Hell? Since in John, “Satan enters into Judas” to betray Jesus to be crucified, while Satan in Peter’s words is forbidding it.

          Incidentally, Lee, I’ve been reading Karl Rahner’s book on the Trinity, and he strangely agrees that there are not three “persons” by any stretch of the sense in which we mean “person” now, e.g. as three consciousnesses or three subjectivities, each with different intellects and wills. He come remarkably close to what you have said.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, Satan is a rather disorganized being. Evil and falsity fights not only against good and truth, but also against competing evil and falsity. Good and truth, though, are unified and work together coherently.

          I’ve heard the name Karl Rahner, but don’t know anything about him. Does he explicitly reject the Trinity of Persons, or simply reinterpret it to be less stark?

        • Duane says:

          Karl Rahner is one of the most famous Catholic theologians of the 20th C. He shows that the term “hypostasis” later translated as “persona” does not mean or have anyhting to do with the modern notion of “person” as a free, dignified, subjective consciousness, but rather means a kind of subsistence. It’s quite close to Swedenborg’s terms so I wouldn’t call it “simply” reinterpreting.

          Also, a follow up on Jesus: would you say it is possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus and still go to hell?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I suppose it would be possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus based on hating Jesus. Some people do have relationships of hate with one another. But I don’t think that’s what Christians generally mean when they speak of having a personal relationship with Jesus. 🙂

        • Duane says:

          Right, so then, I think most evangelical protestants would simply say that faith is the way to a personal relationship with Jesus, which saves. So in that sense then “sola fide” qua “personal relationship to Jesus. If this is in fact what is meant by “sola fide,” or its inner truth, then would you have a problem with THAT interpretation (yes yes, I’m sure there are a large minority who do not mean it that way).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Dictionary.com defines alone (adj.) as:

          1. separate, apart, or isolated from others:
          I want to be alone.
          2. to the exclusion of all others or all else:
          One cannot live by bread alone.
          3. unique; unequaled; unexcelled:
          He is alone among his peers in devotion to duty.

          Once again, if you call a dog’s tail a leg . . . .

          You can’t say “faith alone,” and then add all sorts of other things to it. That means it is not “alone.”

          “Faith alone” is not faith. Faith alone does not exist. There is no such thing as “faith alone,” except in the fevered imaginations of Protestant clergy and laypeople.

        • Lee says:

          All the “alones” of Protestantism are like saying:

          “I painted this portrait with blue alone, using red alone, based on green alone, with some purple alone, and of course, some flesh color alone.”

        • Duane says:

          Well to be fair, when dealing with theological matters, as we’ve discussed, its often best to go to the source — e.g. Luther, Calvin, etc., — especially on academic matters, and not dictionary.com. So I do think I have some authority on what they though, having written on them. But fair enough if its just a matter of definitions, rather than concepts.

          I’d say the way you are understanding faith alone is a straw man to Luther, to Calvin, and even to modern day preachers such as Sproul, Piper, etc.

          By faith alone, they mean a trust that leads to a personal relationship with Jesus.

          But again, it’s not really super important to me to defend evangelicals; however, I know many who are very serious about their faith and simply dont believe in “faith alone” in the sense that you are critiquing it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          You’re not the first one who has charged me with making a straw man argument against Luther, Calvin, & Co. But by now I’ve read most of two books by contemporary Protestant theologians on sola fide, and it didn’t change my mind about the actuality of faith alone as compared to the ratiocinations and apologetics of Protestants in support of it. In fact, if anything, reading those books convinced me even more that it is a doctrine with absolutely no biblical basis, absolutely no rationality, and absolutely no truth.

          What “truth” there is to it is just pulling in everything under the sun and saying, “this is what faith alone means.” And once again, Protestants don’t get to invent their own meanings of words.

          I don’t get to say, “The modern automobile is powered by an external combustion engine.” Even if I explain that the “external” is external to the head of the piston, because the fuel/air mixture explodes outside the piston, in the cylinder, I still don’t get to say, “The modern automobile is powered by an external combustion engine.” That’s simply not how the English language works. It’s an internal combustion engine, not an external combustion engine.

          What I found in those books was not only a complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Bible, but chapter after chapter of specious arguments attempting to define the entirety of salvation, and all of its elements and means, as “faith alone.”

          So do I get to say, “A farm is a barn, because I’m going to define everything in the farm as a barn”?

          “What about the cows”?

          “They’re a part of the barn. After all, they spent a lot of their time in the barn.”

          “What about the farmhouse?”

          “Well, the farmhouse is really just a barn for people, isn’t it?”

          “What about the tractors?”

          “Once again, tractors are commonly parked in barns, so the barn also includes the tractors.”

          “What about the farmland?”

          “Really, the farmland is just there for the barn. After all, the barn is where the crops get stored.”

          “Don’t the crops get stored in the silo?”

          “Silos are really just extensions of the barn. Clearly, the entire farm is a barn.”

          The whole thing is just so outlandishly ridiculous that it boggles my mind that supposedly intelligent people can seriously, with a straight face, make the sort of arguments they’re making to try to support Luther’s doctrine.

          And the simple fact of the matter remains: Not once does the Bible ever say we are saved by faith alone, or through grace alone, or any of the “alones” that Protestants use. The simple fact remains that there is one, and only one, passage in the entire Protestant Bible that mentions faith alone, and that one passage specifically rejects it:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          So yes, it’s possible to make all sorts of arguments in favor of faith alone. And if you crane your neck at just the right angle while looking into a funhouse mirror, it sorta looks like faith alone is true.

          But it’s false.

          Completely false.

          Everything about it is false.

          It’s based on a false concept of God, and a false concept of atonement—concepts of God and atonement that are also taught nowhere in the Bible.

          Oh, how much I wish I had a silver spike that I could put in the heart of faith alone, and dispatch it for good!

          But Luther made a big mistake, and hundreds of millions of people have been misled by Luther’s big mistake ever since.

          It’s a pity. Because the Bible actually does teach definite things about love, faith, and works, all of which get eclipsed in the minds of Protestants by that big fat moon of “faith alone” continually sitting right in front of the sun in their eyes.

  38. Duane says:

    Ah I read the section about the three devils you linked me to. A thought and question:

    For some protestant thinkers the “new birth” that occurs by grace via faith effectually changes one’s fundamental delights and thus one’s love. That is, prior to faith, so they argue, one loved the world and the things in the world, but post-faith one no longer takes delight in such, but rather in the Lord and in pleasing the Lord. Does it make sense to consider faith as a radical reorientation of loves/delights?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      The fallacy is thinking that we are instantly cleansed by faith. That is impossible. We cannot change all at once. And many Protestants have terrible guilt and doubt because they expect to instantly be cleansed of all their sins, and at first it almost seems as if they are, but that’s not sustainable, and they fall back into various sins. Then they fear that they’ve lost their salvation, or that they were never saved in the first place.

      The truth is that sin can be rooted out of us only by a lifelong process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. That is why Paul says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). If we were instantly purified from sin, why would Paul tell us to “work out our salvation?” And yet, as he says, it is God at work in us, purifying us from our sins and filling us with goodness as we repent from our sins through the Lord’s power working in us.

      Protestant soteriology, like Protestant atonement theory, simply doesn’t square with reality. And it causes many newly “saved” people all sorts of consternation when things don’t work out for them the way they’re “supposed to.” They have to pretend to be cleansed by faith, and everyone else is pretending too, because otherwise they fear that they won’t be seen as “saved,” and will look like faux Christians, so they’re all fooling both themselves and one another. Nobody is radically changed in an instant. That’s simply not possible.

      What does happen is that people have a conversion experience, which simply means they have now turned around, and instead of walking the pathway toward hell, they are now walking the pathway toward heaven. And sometimes in the power of that moment they are able to throw off some of their wrong behaviors and start living better. But they’re still fallible, faulty human beings, and it’s not long before they realize that they’re not sin-free after all. And then they have a crisis that Protestant theology about instant salvation doesn’t prepare them for.

  39. Duane says:

    Funny you mention that! I was just reading that in Swedenborg, about the difference between forgiveness and destroying evil completely in you.

    But, I do believe — have experienced — an almost “instantaneous” falling in love with Jesus Christ — which did radically change me, overnight. Now it did not fix all of my sin problems, not even close!! But(!) it did change ultimately what I really loved and really cared about, worldly things still had an allure, but there was a distance. In other words, there was an effect that happened. But you’re right, as I look back at my life, I sometimes can’t believe I’m still falling for the same old sins, as it were.

    Also, what do you make of those who say “I want to believe it, I wish I could, I just can’t believe in Jesus.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, the moment of conversion is life-changing and transformative. I don’t want to diminish that. It’s just that as wonderful as it is, it doesn’t instantly transform a sinner into a saint. There are some “early wins,” so to speak, but then the real work begins. Fortunately, that work is done with the companionship and love of Jesus Christ, giving us the strength to do what we could not do by ourselves.

      About people who say they wish they could believe in Jesus:

      On the negative side, some of them are just blowing smoke. They have no particular intention of changing the way they live, and they know that believing in Jesus would require them to change.

      Others, though, have not been shown the real Jesus, nor have they been taught the real nature of God, the Trinity, the atonement, salvation, and so on. Because they have been given faulty notions about who Jesus is, what he did, and what he represents, their thinking minds will not allow them to accept Jesus because it would require them to accept things that either make no sense or are contrary to their sense of morality and rightness.

      It is for these latter people that I think it’s so important to correct the vast errors of traditional Christianity, and spread the good news of who Jesus really is.

  40. Duane says:

    So then, would you say, if one cannot go to Hell and have a “positive” loving personal relationship with Jesus, then a personal loving relationship with Jesus is how to get to Heaven, and thus what “saves” you, since it includes faith and charity?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      In general, yes. It’s just good to keep in mind that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that doesn’t include loving and serving the neighbor is not a personal relationship with Jesus. As he said (and you quoted the same earlier), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

      And of course, non-Christians can get into heaven without a conscious personal relationship with Jesus as long as they live a good life according to what their religion teaches them, and believe in God as their religion teaches them to believe. It is my belief that they actually do have a relationship with Jesus, since there is no other God with whom to have a relationship. But as far as they’re concerned, they don’t.

  41. Duane says:

    It’s impossible though to settle this argument, it seems, since you are purporting to know what “most protestants” mean, whereas I am saying, well, 1) that’s impossible to know, ultimately, so rather 2) we can only go to the source of these doctrines, e.g. Luther, Calvin, and then other major theological players. (E.g. I recently gave a paper at Calvin College to a host of evangelicals, not just Calvinists, on this very understanding of “Sola Fide” and everyone agreed — no one there would have equated sola fide with antinomianism.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Once again, I do not object to sola fide only on the basis of the antinomianism that inevitably follows in its wake. I reject the entire concept of God and the entire concept of atonement that solfidian theology is embedded in. The whole theology is wrong from the foundation up. “Faith alone” is just the icing on the cake.

      Further, Protestants don’t get to define “alone” however they want to. That was my point in quoting the definition at dictionary.com. You can’t just say, “Well, everyone else calls the most common color of a barn ‘red,’ but I’m going to call it ‘blue’ instead.” Language doesn’t work that way. Unless you make up your own brand new word, you have to use words as they’re actually used in the English language (or whatever language you’re speaking).

      In ordinary English, “alone” means some variation “without anything else.” You simply can’t say “faith alone” and then add other things to it. It violates the very meaning and definition of the words used.

      Besides, once again, the whole concept and theology is simply wrong. And the fact that it is necessary to butcher the language and assign meanings to common words that nobody else assigns to those words shows just how wrong it is.

      Protestants simply don’t get to re-make the language and redefine words however they want to in order to give an illogical, nonsensical, and unbiblical doctrine a veneer of actually making sense.

  42. Duane says:

    Lee

    I disagree completely. Words are not always univocal but rather, as Aristotle points out, equivocal, and have different meanings depending on context. Your analogy fails because you are comparing spiritual realities (that are supersaturated with meaning) to modern machine mechanics, which do need to have singular meanings for them to function in those contexts.

    The term “faith” has different meanings depending on context, even in English, the term can mean, belief, faithfulness, or trust, depending on context, even intellectual assent. So too with the biblical term “pistis” which for James means something different in that context that the way John or Paul uses it. When James says “even demons believe,” he means intellectually assent to the truth, he does not mean trust or fidelity (faithfulness). Whereas, when John says “whoever believes in me will never die” or “whosoever believes in him shall not perish…” or compares pistis to merely looking at the snake on a poll, he means “trust” and not mere intellectual assent. So too with Paul in Romans and Galatians, e.g. Paul speaks of “believing in the heart.” The Bible says 3 different times that “whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be saved;”

    It does not get much clearer than this (Romans 10:)
    ““The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

    (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because[b] if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

    Clearly “pistis” (Faith) is being used in an equivocal fashion from James 2. This is believing with the heart and therefore justifying you.

    If you refuse to believe in the polyvalency of language and the impossibility of equivocation, then and only then does your point stand. Language is contextual to a larger extent (not completely of course), but words have different meanings and slip, especially ones that point to spiritual realities. (Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle deal with the various predications — analogical, univocal, and equivocal).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      If you want to figure out a way to believe in “faith alone,” and define words and concepts in various ways to make it work, I’m not going to argue with you about it. You can, of course, believe whatever you wish. It’s entirely up to you.

      I’m well aware of the contextual nature of language. I work on translations every day. It’s what I do professionally.

      But in no context anywhere in the Bible is justification or salvation ever said to be by faith alone.

      And that’s good enough for me.

      In no context anywhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

      And that’s good enough for me.

      In no context anywhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus made satisfaction for our sins.

      And that’s good enough for me.

      In no context anywhere in the Bible does it say that God had to be reconciled to sinners.

      And that’s good enough for me.

      I don’t need to read all of those fancy theologians making their fancy arguments for their fancy doctrines that fly straight in the face of the plain, simple, direct teachings of the Bible.

      But if you want to be “nice” to Protestants and try to make their false doctrines true from some angle, I applaud your charity, but question the clarity of your thinking. People can be wrong. Even very smart people. And it’s better just to recognize that they’re wrong than to try to figure out how they’re actually somehow right. All that leads to is confusion and “halting between two opinions.”

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Lee

        I find your reply unusually emotionally charged — I say unusual because you did not seem in our prior discussions to be taking things I’d said personally or offensively. If you are I apologize and do not wish to offend you any longer. I am not trying to be disagreeable or offend, just get at the truth. Also, if you are questioning the clarity of my thinking, be specific.

        That you work on translations everyday is irrelevant here, but is rather an argument from authority — I’ve tried to use such an argument (namely that I’ve published on Luther and presented at protestant colleges), and you dismissed it.

        You have now changed the subject to the atonement theory and thus shifted the debate from “faith.” While indeed faith and the atonement are somewhat related, that are two different and distinct issues, such that one can believe in salvation by faith and not depend upon a particular atonement theory.

        You do not of course need to read various theologians in order to interpret the Bible. I have neither said nor implied that. What I did say is that you DO need to read “fancy theologians” ( I fear I am being mocked?) if you purport to comment on what they think. Otherwise that is simply intellectually dishonest.

        I have offered several arguments concerning the equivocation of pistis in John and Paul vs. James. You simply do not acknowledge the various bible passages I’ve quoted based on faith, salvation by faith. Again, it “depends on what you mean by faith.” The NT as I’ve shown uses “faith” in many different senses, some of those assume it is salvific in itself, since it includes the heart and charity, etc. (Romans 10:9, John 3:16, etc.).

        The Reformed formula is “we are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” That is, true justification always results in the process of sanctification. It is simply that one is not justified by one’s sanctification. I think making subtle distinctions like this are important. I think what you are doing is comparing bad practiced protestantism to Swedenborgianism; It is to be expected that some minority of the faithful will misunderstand doctrines.

        RC Sproul puts it this way:

        Works = Justification FALSE
        Faith + Works = Justification FALSE
        Fatih = Justification – Works FALSE

        Faith = Justification + Works TRUE

        Let me conclude: we are merely disagreeing about what “protestants” writ large believe and not disagreeing about the nature of salvation since we both believe that it is via a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is efficacious leading to love (good works, love of neighbor, etc.). All of those things you say are indeed “good enough for me.” I am merely disagreeing with you about those with whom you think you disagree and saying I don’t think you really do!

        Perhaps we are merely quibbling at this point, but I remain steadfast.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I have also been told before that I really don’t disagree with Protestant theology; I just think I do, but really, I agree with it.

          Forgive me for being blunt, but that is offensive.

          I have now read most of two books by well-known and well-respected Protestant theologians recommended to me by a Protestant who believes in sola fide, and I found both books to be teeth-grindingly false in almost everything they said. It was so unpleasant to read them that I finally just had to stop, because I couldn’t stand mucking through so much concentrated falsity. It’s not just antinomianism. It’s the entire edifice of faith alone thinking and faith alone theology.

          I do not agree with Protestants on the nature of faith, justification, salvation, or much of anything else. And every time a Protestant gives me something to read explaining faith alone, or quotes some explanation of faith alone, my response upon reading it is, “That’s false, and I not only completely disagree with it, but I absolutely abhor it and find it execrable and blasphemous.”

          So please don’t tell me that really, underneath it all I actually agree with the Protestants.

          And if I get emotional about it, I’ll admit it’s because I feel a great deal of anger at people twisting and destroying the Bible and the Lord’s words so badly, and misleading so many people into false doctrines that harm rather than help their spiritual life. If Protestants are saved, it’s not because of the doctrine their leaders teach them, but despite that doctrine.

          As far as my work on translations, I simply want you to know that I am well aware of the contextual nature of language. My own father wrote an article many years ago that was quite controversial among Swedenborgians at the time, titled “Swedenborg’s Use of Language.” In that article, among other things, he argued that Swedenborg is a contextualist, not a terminologist. No part of my argument is that words can have one and only one meaning.

          However, words do have meaning. They can’t mean just any old thing people want them to mean. Even if they have a range of meaning, that range has boundaries. You simply can’t define “faith” or “faith alone” as whatever you want it to mean, use it that way, and expect your writing to make any sense to general English readers. And I do think that Protestants have defined words in their own way, then tried to pretend that they’re using them the way everyone uses them, leading to great confusion. And I think that confusion is not only in the minds of outsiders trying to comprehend their theology, but in their own minds as well.

          Apparently, nobody outside of Protestantism can understand what “faith alone” really is. At least, that’s the impression I got of what those two Protestant theologians thought whose books I read. They had to put in enormous effort trying to explain what faith alone really means. And yet, to my outside eyes, all of their fancy explanations were still riddled with contradictions and outright falsity.

          All of this suggests to me that the doctrine simply doesn’t make sense, but its proponents are desperately trying to make it make sense because their Great Founder, Martin Luther, placed it as the foundation stone of the Church, and they therefore must make sense of it and defend it.

          If it made sense, people other than Protestants would be able to understand it when it is explained to them. But apparently, non-Protestants almost always get it wrong. And of course, if non-Protestants disagree with it, then they must not understand it. I’ve heard this baloney so many times that yes, now I just ignore it when I hear it.

          As far as how R.C. Sproul puts it, not only does it appear to me to have nothing to do with anything the Bible says, but almost all of his formulations are just plain wrong.

          James says explicitly that we are justified by works.

          In numerous places in the Bible, faith, works, and faith and works together are presented as justifying a person.

          Perhaps he’s right that faith does not equal justification minus works. But the only possible people who would say that are antinomian Protestants, so that’s really an internal debate within his own branch of Christianity.

          And faith simply does not equal justification plus works. Works are not faith. Justification is not faith. Justification plus works is not faith.

          So on the one equation he makes that I don’t disagree with, he’s really just disagreeing with certain of his own people. Nobody else is even saying that. And on the rest, as far as I’m concerned, he’s just plain wrong, and doesn’t even understand what these words mean.

          It doesn’t help that theologians tend to use big words when a diminutive one would suffice. “Justification” is just a fancy Latinate word for “becoming righteous.” And a righteous person is one who is righteous. Meaning a person who does good things instead of bad ones. That’s really all James was talking about when he said that we’re justified by our works. It’s really a tautology. Being “just” or “righteous” means doing good works.

          But that gets all confused and eclipsed when theologians use fancy words like “justification,” which they then feel they can define in all sorts of fancy ways that obscure what the original words actually mean.

          Further, you can’t divorce faith alone from the theology in which it is embedded. You can’t just take away the Trinity, satisfaction theory, penal substitution, and so on, and speak of “faith” as if it were some lonely, unmoored planet wandering through the theological universe with a meaning all its own.

          The fact of the matter is that the “faith alone” that Protestants believe in has specific content. And that specific content relates to their views on the wrath of God the Father that cannot stand to look at the slightest bit of sin, and the atoning death of Jesus Christ that paid the penalty for that sin, and the righteousness of the sinless, sacrificed Jesus Christ that is imputed to sinners so that God no longer sees the sinners’ sin, but only Christ’s righteousness, when God looks at the sinner.

          These are all part of the content of “justification by faith” as Protestants use that term. If you attempt to yank justification by faith away from that theology, it has no meaning whatsoever. It is the theology in which it is embedded that gives justification by faith its meaning and power (in the minds of Protestants).

          Catholic ideas of “justification by faith” are similarly moored to and embedded in trinitarian theology and satisfaction atonement theory. Neither can the Catholic version of justification by faith be unmoored from their specific theology, and retain any meaning.

          I haven’t ignored the Bible passages you’ve quoted. I’ve responded on some of them, and not on others. If there are specific ones you don’t think I’ve adequately responded on, feel free to quote them for me again.

          But once again, “faith” can’t mean just any old thing we want it to mean. And even in the New Testament, with its somewhat more abstract Greek-derived word meanings, the words used are heavily influenced by their meaning in the Hebrew Bible as translated into Greek in the Septuagint. That is a much greater determinant of their meaning in the New Testament than classical Greek usage. The Apostles were all Jews, and likely all Greek-speaking Jews. They read the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek. They were steeped in the Septuagint. It was their Scriptures. It was the sun around which their thinking and living revolved.

          The Greek of the LXX is omnipresent in the New Testament, especially in the Epistles. So words such as “faith” and “atonement” gain their meaning primarily from the Hebrew Bible via the LXX and only distantly, secondarily from the secular and philosophical Greek of the day. Not understanding this has caused much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Paul, especially, and of the entire New Testament. The New Testament can’t even be translated properly without understanding the intimate connection of its language with the Septuagint.

          And in the Hebrew Bible, the words for “faith” are much more concrete than the native Greek pistis. So pistis in the New Testament has to be read with its Hebrew connotations, not with pure Greek connotations. And the Hebrew connotations are especially, faithfulness, steadfastness, reliability in following God’s commandments and doing one’s duty in every matter. In the Hebrew meaning of “faith,” “faith without works” would be a contradiction in terms. It simply wasn’t possible to have faith without good works. And trying to pick one of them (faith) out, and say this, and not the other, is what makes us righteous, would sound utterly ridiculous to Hebrew ears.

          But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “Faith includes good works” on the one hand, and then on the other hand say, “we are justified by faith apart from all works.” That, too, is a complete, nonsensical contradiction.

          Paul must be read with the Hebrew-oriented meaning of pistis in mind. Otherwise his letters make no sense, and lead to all sorts of false doctrine, as happened both in Catholicism and in Protestantism with their notions of “justification by faith.” Paul is not talking about “faith” as “belief.” He’s talking about “faith” as faithfulness to Jesus. And without doing good works as Jesus commanded, “faith” has no meaning. It would be like claiming to be obedient to one’s father while not doing what one’s father tells one to do. It’s a flat-out contradiction.

          As for the Protestant slogan, “We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone,” that just underlines the head-scratchingly ridiculous and contradictory nature of their doctrine. They’re trying to have it both ways. They’re trying to say that we’re justified by faith alone, but not really by faith alone. Sure, you can say fancy things that make it sound like it makes sense. But at base level, it’s simply a contradiction. It’s like saying, “The barn is totally red, but it’s not totally red.”

          It’s all just a lot of playing with words without any real understanding of anything they’re talking about, because the proponents of faith alone don’t understand even the most basic meaning of the most basic statements in the Bible generally, and in Paul particularly.

          They don’t even know the basic meaning of “justification.” They think it’s a legal pronouncement by the Father based on the merit of the Son. But that’s not what “justification” is. God doesn’t pronounce someone just unless they actually are just. God does not make false judgments. So if God says that a person is just, it’s because that person actually is just. In other words, it’s because that person is not a sinner (in the main), but is a righteous person. Or in even more simple language, it’s because that person is doing good works—good deeds of love and service to the neighbor—instead of doing evil deeds, or failing to do good deeds.

          So the whole idea that we are justified by faith apart from all works is astoundingly ignorant of what “justification” actually is. It is a complete impossibility.

          The whole enterprise of apologetics for faith alone shows an astounding ignorance of the most basic teachings of the Bible. It shows an astounding ignorance of what even the most common words in the Bible mean. It is a complete and utter misunderstanding and falsification of every single teaching of the Bible.

          So no, I do not really, underneath it all, agree with Protestants. I completely and utterly disagree with them. I think they are wrong in just about everything they say. I don’t think they understand even the most basic teachings of the Bible, or even the most basic words in the Bible. They have so completely falsified the Word of God that in their theology, not a single uncorrupted truth is left.

          It’s a good thing that most Protestants don’t actually try to live by that theology.

          Most ordinary Protestants believe in Jesus, listen to his commandment to repent for the forgiveness of sins, and do their best to actually repent, stop sinning, and instead live a good life of love, good works, and service to their neighbor, as Jesus commanded. That’s why they are saved. All of the fancy solfidian theology preached at them from the pulpit is irrelevant to their salvation. They are saved because the believe in Jesus and live by his commandments.

          In other words, they are saved because they live in the way that Jesus taught, and that Swedenborg affirmed, regardless of the mind-numbingly complicated and false doctrines of their theologians and preachers.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          Emotions and emotional attacks have no place in a rational debate. This has nothing to do with me or you — my arguments are not aimed at you but upon what you say conceptually.

          This argument is just going in circles and I cannot talk rationally with you until you calm down.

          However, I will say that nothing you said excludes what the reformers said, again(!), which is why this is going in circles.

          I agree with you about grounding the Greek in the Hebrew and all that. Of course. I am merely trying to be charitable to protestants and not say they are fools. This apparently enrages you.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I am not enraged. But I am serious. And I completely reject Protestant doctrine.

          If you can’t accept that, and want to insist that I really agree with the Reformers, I just don’t know it, then you are having a conversation with yourself, not with me. I’ve had that circular “conversation” with many Protestants. The circle is that they’re having a conversation in their own head with themselves that doesn’t really involve me, even though they’re putatively talking to me. They can’t accept that I actually do not agree with their doctrine, so they talk to their own concept of what I must “really” believe instead of talking to me.

          If you want to continue the conversation, I am quite happy to do so. But I would ask you not to tell me what I think, including especially not telling me that what I believe really isn’t all that different than what the Reformers believe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

          You tell me what you think, I’ll tell you what I think, and then we can have a rational conversation.

          If you’d rather just chalk me up as “emotional” and avoid a rational conversation in that way, then that, too, is your choice.

        • Lee says:

          About Protestants, I never called them fools. But I did call them ignorant. And I stand by that statement. They are ignorant because their doctrine makes it impossible for them to read what the Bible actually says, so they actually don’t know what the Bible says. And that, when it comes to the Bible, is the definition of “ignorant.” It is “not knowing.”

          Protestants are continually saying to me, “The Bible says this, the Bible says that.” But when I look it up in the Bible, I find that the Bible does not say this, and the Bible does not say that. And what the Bible actually does say, they deny or ignore.

          That’s ignorance, together with falsity and error.

    • Rami says:

      Hi Lee, Hi Duane,

      Duane, you coming from a Catholic background, what differences do you see in Justification as formulated in Catholic doctrine and according to those who believe in Sola Fide? Am I correct in thinking that the way you’ve described ‘faith’ in the context of this discussion ultimately bridges the two? And if so, what notion of ‘faith alone’ would you disagree with (because Catholics and Protestants still stand apart on this issue)?

      I recall having a similar discussion with Lee some time ago, when I came to him with the impression that if you look at faith and works as akin to a seed and fruits of that seed, then Luther and Swedenborg are essentially saying the same thing- it’s just that Swedenborg has a much broader, much more inclusive idea of what it means to have faith (and correct me if I’m wrong) but broad enough to include even atheists!

      I think I’ve taken that discussion up again here, when I referred to some kind of ‘x-factor’ that sits between faith and works, such that works contribute to our salvation.

      • Rami says:

        Also, and more generally: what are the implications if either of you is correct (a word I use hesitantly because you both seem to essentially agree)? Lee rejects the idea of faith alone as vehemently as Swedenborg, but are you saying, Duane, that Swedenborg has misunderstood Sola Fide, such that he has unknowingly crafted his own version of it?

      • Duane says:

        Rami

        Thanks for your questions and your kindness in interpreting my thoughts.

        I think Swedenborg is speaking to abuses of the doctrine of “sola fide,” which I of course agree with. I think James too spoke to abuses (to those who equivocate faith to “mere belief” the kind even demons can have; demons cannot have trust, faithfulness — saving faith).

        The implications of my argument are simple: not all protestants (or Catholics) are heretics, as many of them (Luther included) do understand faith to mean a personal relationship with Jesus that is effectual.

        I come from both a Catholic and evangelical background, and have published on Luther and Catholicism. You are exactly right that I’m trying to merely build bridges here, while at the same time accepting that Swedenborg is indeed correct. I’m essentially saying that the doctrines of protestants and Catholics have a lot of wiggle room such that they fit quite nicely with Swedenborg’s thinking. Now if one reads them very literally, they of course wouldn’t, but only technically, by the letter, and not by the spirit, so to speak.

        The only version of “faith alone” that I’d disagree with would be the same as James, namely faith qua mere intellectual assent. Merely saying “Jesus is Lord” but not really trusting Jesus is not the kind of faith that saves. However, I’d argue that someone really doesn’t even believe “Jesus is Lord” if someone doesn’t trust him. In other words, I think salvation is quite simple — “it’s near, on your lips and in your heart, that if you confess Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you’ll be saved.” I think it’s that simple — whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Or it’s like simply looking at the snake on the pole in the wilderness. So I am “pro faith alone” because I think Jesus is so transforming — it’s kind of like when Jesus says “all you need is faith as tiny as a mustard seed.”

        • Rami says:

          Hi Duane, thanks for that.

          I know we’re discussing the idea of whether there is some common ground between Catholics, Protestants, and Swedenborg, but I think it bears on that same issue to ask: why such a deep, historic rift between Catholics and Protestants on the issue of Justification if the bridge between them can be built with a more open minded understanding of ‘faith’ to include a much greater emphasis on ‘trust’? Is there still some kind of irreconcilable divide when it comes to the question of ‘works’ as they relate to faith?

        • Duane says:

          Rami

          Oh man, I don’t know that I could ever answer that completely. But, I’d say what Luther was responding to were indeed abuses by the Catholic Church at the time. Then, what largely happened with Trent and following was that Catholics continued to define themselves in opposition to protestants and protestants in opposition to Catholics. For example, the emphasis and deemphasis on Icons is a great example. Protestant Churches have almost no pictures in them, whereas Catholics tend to overdo it. Same with the Virgin Mary.

          I don’t think the divide is irreconcilable and the proof of that is the joint declaration I posted above. Protestants and Catholics are coming closer and closer as the world becomes more hostile to Christianity.

          Personally, I think the key is emphasis on Jesus. I think Lee would agree. And Lee and I did indeed agree that a “friendship with Jesus” is salvific.

        • Rami says:

          One last thing, Duane,

          Coming from both a Catholic *and* Evangelical background I don’t necessarily expect your theology to neatly conform to one or the other, but the Catholic Church has allowed for the possibility that non-Christians could be saved, and I’m wondering if your understanding of ‘faith alone’ also allows for that.

        • Duane says:

          Rami

          That’s a great point. I think that’s why I’d prefer to say “Jesus saves” rather than “faith saves” since I do agree that non-Christians can and are saved. I would interpret it exactly as Swedenborg there, and agree that a person who is responding to love, unaware of Jesus, is somehow in a relationship to him, to his spirit.

          I’m not really sure how that works. But you’re right to note the limit of the sola fide language.

          I’d add too that by faith I mean simply a “response” to Jesus, who is love.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          You say:

          I’m essentially saying that the doctrines of protestants and Catholics have a lot of wiggle room such that they fit quite nicely with Swedenborg’s thinking.

          It is this sort of statement that makes me wonder whether you are taking any doctrine seriously at all. Swedenborg’s doctrine is poles apart from both Catholic and Protestant doctrine on almost every important doctrinal point. The nature of God, faith, salvation, atonement, justification, imputation. On doctrine after doctrine, Swedenborg rejects the positions of the Catholic and Protestant churches, and lays out starkly different doctrines.

          And yet, you say that Catholic and Protestant doctrines “fit quite nicely with Swedenborg’s thinking.” Honestly, it boggles my mind. It leaves me thinking that no rational conversation is possible, because doctrines that are utterly opposed to one another are said to “fit together quite nicely.” When encounter someone saying, in effect, “black is the same as white,” then I start to think that a reasonable conversation will likely be impossible.

          I understand the desire for us all just to get along. But that cannot happen based on pretending that there are no real differences among us.

          Unless Catholicism and Protestantism have come to accept Swedenborg’s doctrine on the trinity and all of those other subjects, it’s simply not true that their doctrines “fit quite nicely” with Swedenborg’s. And I think that if you were to hand any Catholic or Protestant theologian or clergyperson a copy of True Christianity, induce them to read it, and then ask them whether they agreed with it, their answer would be a resounding “NO!” Because in fact, True Christianity destroys the very doctrinal foundations of Catholicism and Protestantism. That’s why the leaders of those churches consider Swedenborg to be a heretic.

          I don’t know how many different ways I can say, whenever you place some Catholic or Protestant doctrine in front of me, “No, this is false, wrong, unbiblical, and I completely disagree with it and so does Swedenborg.” To then have you come back and say that they’re in basic agreement with me is what I find offensive. It’s as if I have said nothing, and don’t even know my own mind or my own doctrines, and am incapable of reading and understanding what Catholics and Protestants say in their doctrinal statements and comparing it to what I believe.

          And quite frankly, your continued statements along these lines (that they’re basically the same) makes me wonder whether you really understand either Swedenborg’s doctrine or Catholic and Protestant doctrine. I am sorry if you find this offensive, but your whole enterprise of trying to erase any real differences between Swedenborg’s doctrine and traditional Christian doctrine leaves me scratching my head, and I’m having a hard time finding any other reasonable explanation for it.

  43. Duane says:

    Rami

    P.S.
    There’s also this link to the joint declaration by the Catholic Church and the Lutherans on Justification by faith:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      I’m glad that the Catholic and Lutheran churches are getting along together now. But their common view of justification as articulated in the linked document is still fundamentally flawed and false.

      For example, the word “repentance” appears nowhere in the document (though it does appear once in the appending material). And yet, that was the first and primary thing that Jesus and his disciples preached to the people: repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The fact that Catholics and Lutherans could write an entire document on justification without a single mention of repentance shows that they do not understand justification, nor the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      Further, neither church understands Paul’s teachings about being saved by faith without the works of the Law. They confuse the Law with good works, when that’s not what Paul meant by “the works of the Law” or the short version, “works.” Paul never says that we are not saved or justified by good works. Neither church understands the most basic meaning of Paul’s statements on justification by faith without the works of the Law.

      Also, their belief that people are justified while still sinners shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the word justification. Justification means being righteous. A person who is a sinner (as to his or her overall character) is, by definition, not justified, because not righteous.

      And one more for now: According to the document, both Catholics and Lutherans believe that good works are the fruits of faith. This is simply incorrect. And the Bible nowhere says this.

      So for all the fancy wording of the document about justification, it misses the most basic meaning of the word, and shows a complete lack of understanding of what justification is, and how it happens. Saying that it comes from Jesus Christ is a no-brainer. The question is how it comes from Jesus Christ, and how it brings about justification of sinners. And based on their joint statement in this document, both churches are utterly about how justification actually works.

      This is not some “abuse of the doctrine of faith.” This is their stated doctrine on the subject. And it is fundamentally flawed and false, because it both omits critical elements of justification as taught in the Bible, and misunderstands the most basic nature of justification as that word is used in the Bible.

      So as nice as it is that Catholics and Lutherans are getting along together better now, it is a rapprochement based on fundamental error and falsity on both sides of the divide. And this rapprochement is based on the fact that both Catholics and Lutherans adhere to the overall satisfaction theory of atonement—which is also fundamentally false, but which means that at their core these two churches are united in the general nature of the false doctrine that they adhere to.

      • Duane says:

        Lee

        The document does not attempt to be a robust summary of the entire teaching on justification, but rather find points of commonality and agreement so as to build a bridge. So it’s not a full statement, by either side on the matter.

        It’s true that in a sense the document misses the point in that it fails to address “being” vs. “imputed” righteousness. Catholics argue the former, protestants the latter. But, the results are the same in that both argue for the necessity of good works, just in different manners.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          But it is still incorrect in many, if not most of its statements on the subject of justification. And the omissions are indeed telling. I don’t see how any document could be written about justification with not a single mention of repentance. That, to me, shows a shocking lack of understanding of what justification is.

          I didn’t even get into imputation because the document doesn’t clearly articulate that doctrine. But it is an utterly wrong and false doctrine, based on a false concept of God and a false concept of atonement, plus a psychologically and spiritually impossible mechanism.

  44. Duane says:

    Lee

    I’m not telling you what you think. I am disagreeing with what you think about a concept. We are disagreeing about the meaning of a term (sola fide, justification by faith, etc.). I am aware of what you think about x; I am saying the meaning of x is not what you think it is. I would not purport to tell you what you think.

    Again, I sense anger though. I’ve apologized for whatever I did to cause that anger.

    • Rami says:

      HI Duane,

      Maybe you haven’t been around this blog long enough to know, but it’s been in my experience that Lee doesn’t really get angry at people inasmuch as he is just deeply repelled by some of the doctrines that you two have been discussing, almost as as much as he is passionately committed to the doctrines he believes to be true. As you can see he’s certainly unwavering, and as he said he doesn’t pull punches, but I’ve never known Lee to direct those punches at anyone else, or to feel flustered toward someone else.

      I don’t presume to speak for Lee, and I certainly don’t presume to think for you: you see things as you do, and that’s valid but I’m simply adding my perspective from having regularly interacted with Lee in the hopes it may add something helpful.

      • Duane says:

        Rami

        I understand that this is Lee’s BLOG and you want to defend him, but have you read the messages I was responding to?

        There is a politeness and courtesy and tone one uses in online debates, as you yourself are using toward me and I towards you. I noticed that that tone changed significantly.

        If one is to be passionate, unwavering, and all that, without appearing angry, then one needs to offer olive branches, as I have. For example, when critical, I try to remind that I am very grateful for the conversation, that I find the insights the other person is saying compelling (when I do), that I am edified etc. These are social conventions to online discussion and to helpful discussion in general that tend to temper the possible misunderstandings that can and do arise from disagreement. For example, Lee told me something I said was offensive, even in the context of my continually thanking him, etc. Imagine if I had not included by courtesies?

        • Rami says:

          Hi Duane,

          This is the kind of discussion I’m somewhat hesitant to have *at length* because it feels as though I’m talking about someone else as though they’re not standing right next to me, not to mention acting as a defender that Lee never asked for (and he certainly doesn’t need me). My my intent was to just open up my experiences with the man to someone who may not have as much of it.

          But to your points, I was responding more specifically to the idea that Lee was attacking you or expressing anger toward you. That’s not to say he doesn’t get angry. If you really want to irk Lee just tell him that the Bible explicitly condemns masturbation. 😉

          But I also completely agree, those kinds of edification olive branches are always helpful in conversations like this, as it connects you to someone else as a partner in pursuit of truth rather than some kind of adversary (and let’s face it, egos can butt their way into theological conversations even for the best and well intentioned of us).

        • Duane says:

          Rami

          I agree. It is a strange conversation! And I though I don’t know Lee, I’m quite fond of him and his blog (Lee: Love you, man!)

          I appreciate, honestly, your intent and your jumping in.

          Rami, what tradition are you coming from btw?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          If one person can’t tell another person something they said is offensive, then “politeness” has overcome truth in the conversation.

          Jesus was not very “polite” in his commentary on the Jewish leaders of the day. In fact, compared to his scathing attacks on the Scribes and the Pharisees, everything I have said here is emotionally tepid.

          Rational discourse is a fine thing. But when there are not only falsities being bandied about, but abuses and destruction of people’s lives by the church, then it is time to get angry, and not to apologize for it.

          The Catholic and Protestant churches have not just taught false doctrine. They have destroyed the lives of many thousands of people. They have outright murdered thousands of people in the past, when they had worldly power. And I have no doubt that they would continue to murder people to this day if they were once again to be granted a position of worldly power. So they must never be allowed to regain the power that they formerly had.

          But they still destroy people’s lives through sexual abuse, bigotry and hatred of those whom they consider “sinners,” and so on. The suicide rates among non-straight teenagers, for example, is far higher than the suicide rate among straight teenagers, and this is primarily due to the atmosphere of intolerance brought about by Catholicism and Protestantism within their respective domains. Both when I was a Pastor and here at the blog I receive some small percentage of the people who have had their lives hurt and even shredded by the false teachings and intolerant attitudes of traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant.

          Jesus did not engage in polite, rational debate with the Scribes and Pharisees when he saw how they were destroying people’s lives. He rebuked them with scathing attacks, including condemning their character and saying all sorts of other politically incorrect and impolite things to and about them.

          So it’s all well and good to say that we should remain dispassionate, rational, and certainly not get emotional. But that is not the example that Jesus Christ sets for us. He sets an example of confronting, attacking, and destroying falsity, hypocrisy, and the destruction of lives by the religious leaders.

          I therefore do not apologize for my strong words, because I believe that the Christian Church of today is doing the very same things that Jesus condemned in the Jewish religion of his day. And I will not hold my peace, nor will I be “polite” while their errant falsity, hypocrisy, and injustice is still damaging not just thousands, but millions, if not hundreds of millions of people.

        • Duane says:

          Lee

          The irony here is that you are the one who is telling people what they believe — protestants and Catholics writ large. This is offensive by your own standards.

          Are you comparing me to a scribe or a pharisee? I am a fellow brother in Christ and in accord with what you say. So i think that’s simply a falsehood.

          Love is patient and kind and not rude. I only speak of politeness in that context. If I were spouting false doctrine and encouraging others, then sure you can treat me like a pharisee.

          But this is two fellow Christians having an intellectual debate. I argue that kindness and patience should rule. After all Paul says “let your reasonableness/gentleness be known.”

          How often is our anger used to justify “justice,” yet “man’s anger does not accomplish God’s justice.”

          Let me repeat so we are clear: I am not endorsing false doctrine. If I am which? “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. If not why do you strike me?”

          Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted you to be leveling this critique at me?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          It is unclear to me what you personally believe or what doctrines you are endorsing. Given your attempt to amalgamate Swedenborg and traditional Christianity, I’m simply left scratching my head.

          I do want to be clear, though, that I am not angry at you.

          If anything, I’m angry at traditional Christianity for inculcating false doctrine into your mind such that you seem to be having a hard time letting go of it, but want to hold both false and true doctrine in you mind at the same time. This seems to be due to your strong desire for everyone to be nice and get along with one another, and your desire not to say that anyone is wrong and believes false things.

          As for what Catholics and Protestants believe, I keep reading their own statements on the subject, and I keep saying that those statements are wrong and false in specific ways. So I don’t see how I’m “telling them what they believe.” I’m reading their own statements, and disagreeing with them.

          Swedenborg also gets accused by Protestants and Catholics of not understanding, and misrepresenting, their doctrines. And yet, in various places in his theological writings he directly quotes from their own doctrinal and creedal formulas as a preface to his refutation of them. So either their own statements of their doctrines are faulty, or Swedenborg is incapable of reading and comprehending them. If the latter, it is certainly not for lack of trying. He studied their creedal materials intensively, and he is considered to have had one of the highest I.Q.s of all time. So if he was incapable of understanding them, then the fault most likely lies in the doctrinal statements, not in Swedenborg’s reading comprehension.

          Similarly, I think I’m a reasonably intelligent person, and can understand what I’m reading when I read a Catholic or Protestant statement of faith. So assuming that those statements accurately reflect what they believe, and are stated in comprehensible English, then I don’t really see how I could be “getting it wrong” when I’m reading it straight out of their own statements of the fundamental tenets of their faith.

          And the fact is that when I read those doctrinal statements, I find almost everything in them to be false from my perspective. So when you tell me that they basically agree with me, the cognitive dissonance is extreme. You’re telling me they agree with me, and by implication, that I agree with them. Yet every time I read one of their statements, I disagree with almost everything in it.

          Can you explain this to me?

  45. Duane says:

    Lee

    It’s not true that I have a desire to say no one is wrong. I disagree with people all the time. This conversation, I’d think, should attest to my “disagreeability” !

    I do not believe or hold false doctrines. If I do, what are they?

    I am, you are right, attempting “as far as possible, to be at peace with everyone” which I see as my duty as a Christian. Now I am NOT or would not sacrifice truth for peace.

    I’m not sure which documents you are reading or what you’re referring to? The joint declaration would not be a thorough document for either side, but an attempt to build a bridge.

    But I will say this: if my saying to you, honestly and sincerely, that I love Jesus with all my heart, and try to the best of my ability to love my neighbors, those who are near, and that I believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is what life is all about. How can you not be sure what I believe?

    I’m saying IF protestants mean by sola fide a personal relationship with Jesus, then how could I disagree? IF they mean that one is saved by mere intellectual assent, then that’s too far and we disagree. But protestantism is a mixed bag.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Once again, IF you call a dog’s tail a leg . . .

      And once again, Protestants can’t say, “We are justified by faith alone,” and then define “faith alone” however they want, as if the words “faith” and “alone” don’t have any meaning until Protestants give them a meaning.

      IF by “faith alone” Protestants mean a personal relationship with Jesus, then they are using bad and misleading terminology, and they should change their terminology to accurately describe what they mean—which “faith alone” does not.

      But as I said before, I’ve had extensive conversations with Protestants in which I attempted to get them to drop the unscriptural “alone,” and they were simply unwilling to do it.

      The fact of the matter is that “faith alone” does not mean a personal relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus is at best one of the desirable concomitants and results of justification by faith alone in Protestant doctrine.

      According to Protestant faith alone theology, we are justified by having faith that Jesus Christ died instead of us and thereby paid the penalty for our sins. That faith causes Jesus Christ’s merit to be imputed to us, covering over our (still) sinful nature so that when God the Father looks at us, instead of seeing our sin, God the Father sees Christ’s merit covering our sins. This makes it possible for God the Father not to be wrathful with us and send us to hell, because God the Father’s purity, justice, and wrath makes it impossible for God the Father to look upon sin, and when God the Father sees sin in a person, God the Father is so angry and wrathful with that person that God the Father condemns that person to eternal punishment in hell. But when God the Father sees God the Son’s righteousness and merit covering over the sins of the person who has faith in Jesus, God’s wrath is turned away, and God the Father “justifies” the person, meaning God the Father issues a legal decision that that person can now go to eternal life in heaven instead of to eternal punishment in hell.

      There are, of course, some variations on this across Protestant denominations. And it’s still unclear to me whether Luther himself taught penal substitution, or whether that was brought into Lutheran doctrine by Melanchthon or some other, later Protestant theologian. (I have several unanswered or inadequately answered questions on Christianity StackExchange seeking answers on the precise origin of the doctrine of penal substitution within Protestantism.) Nevertheless, the above is the basic outline of how, according to Protestant doctrine, we are justified and saved by faith alone.

      Everything else is an add-on. Yes, good works are supposed to be the fruits of faith. But Protestants are adamant that good works are no part of our justification or salvation. They only demonstrate that the faith, and therefore the salvation, is genuine. It is faith alone that actually justifies and saves us. And it justifies and saves us in the manner I have described above. This is not just what Swedenborg says that doctrine is. It is what I have read in the books on faith alone by Sproul and Schreiner, and also in various Protestant creeds and doctrinal statements.

      So when I hear you saying, “IF Protestants mean by sola fide a personal relationship with Jesus . . .” I am confused.

      And when I describe the specific content and doctrinal context of the doctrine of justification by faith alone based on how it is defined by Protestant theologians themselves, and you seem to be saying to me all of that definition and context of the doctrine is irrelevant and not an essential part of justification by faith, I am confused.

      I really don’t know what you believe on this subject.

      You seem to want to accept and believe in justification by faith alone as defined to be something that is not the core of the doctrine, but rather as something that is a beneficial side effect considered by Protestants to flow from the core mechanism of justification by faith alone. You seem to want to define “faith alone” as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a life of charity and good works, when that is not actually what faith alone is.

      In Protestant doctrine, we are not justified or saved by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Salvation is not a personal relationship with Jesus. We are justified by God the Father making a legal pronouncement of innocence in our case based on Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, our accepting by faith alone that Jesus did so, and the Father, when looking at us, seeing Christ’s merit imputed to us instead of seeing our actual sinful nature.

      So I am confused as to why you, and many Protestants themselves, want to define “faith alone” as something that it is not.

      I am confused as to why you and many Protestants want to define “faith alone” as various things that are, according to that doctrine, actually the results of justification by faith alone, and are not themselves faith alone.

      I am confused by why Protestants and apologists for Protestant doctrine work so hard to hide the actual definition and nature of justification by faith alone.

      Why, if justification by faith alone is the article on which the Church stands or falls, as Luther says, do Protestants work so hard to cover it over with all sorts of secondary results and “fruits” of justification by faith rather than clearly articulating the actual doctrine itself?

      Have they become aware that if they were to clearly articulate the actual doctrine of justification by faith alone, it would be roundly rejected by most thinking, caring people because it is an outrageous, irrational doctrine that paints God as an insane tyrant who would kill his own Son in a bloody and excruciatingly painful manner in order to satisfy his wrath at human sin?

      I think you dearly want justification by faith alone to be that thing you experience as salvation in a personal relationship with Jesus. And it therefore seems to me that you are not paying attention to what justification by faith alone actually is according to Protestant doctrine. It appears to me that you are being waylaid by the common Protestant practice of focusing on the supposed results of justification by faith alone rather than on what justification by faith alone itself is.

      I do believe that it is under God’s Providence that Protestant theologians have, as secondary results, brought into their doctrine the most important elements of actual justification and salvation taught in the Bible, such as repentance from sin, doing good works, and having a personal relationship with Jesus. Because they have done this, even though the doctrine itself is utterly false and contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible, its supposed spin-offs enable Protestants to be saved—not by faith alone, but by what the Bible actually teaches, which is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

      In other words, Protestants, like everyone else, are justified and saved by love, faith, and good works together, all of them from Jesus Christ, transforming them from sinners to righteous persons through a lifelong process of spiritual rebirth.

      But that’s simply not what the doctrine of justification by faith alone says, no matter how much you or anyone else might want it to say that.

      In point of fact, that doctrine specifically denies that love and good works are any part of what justifies and saves us. That doctrine teaches, rather, that love and good works, as well as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, are simply results of our justification and salvation. Faith alone itself is an explicitly legal process, and not a process of transformation of the person from sinful to righteous—which is believed to happen after we are justified and saved by faith alone. (I believe it was Sproul’s book, but it might have been Schreiner’s, that emphasized over and over again that justification is a judicial—i.e., legal—process.)

      Now, when the rubber hits the road, it doesn’t really matter what people believe about how they are saved. It matters whether they are saved, by the actual process of salvation, whatever that process may be.

      So in a sense, it doesn’t matter what you or various Protestants believe sola fide means. As long as you (and they) actually live as if we are justified and saved by love, faith, and good works together, you (and they) will be saved. And being Christians, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will be an essential part of that process of salvation by love, faith, and good works, because all of these things come from Jesus Christ and are the justification and salvation that comes to us from Jesus Christ.

      Unfortunately, false doctrines such as justification by faith alone do have deleterious effects even for those who believe them innocently and actually live according to the Bible’s (and Swedenborg’s) teaching about how we are saved. But I have already covered many of those deleterious effects in my article, “Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?” So I will simply refer you to that article again rather than repeating it all here.

      Really, Duane, despite the appearance of anger and rage on my part, what I really feel is concern for you and your spiritual health and life.

      You are very drawn to the doctrines that I teach here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life—none of which are my own doctrines, but all of which I believe are the doctrines of true Christianity as taught in the Bible.

      On the other hand, you still seem strongly attached to Protestant doctrines such as sola fide. You are so reluctant to repudiate them that you are willing to define them as something that agrees with your beliefs, my beliefs, and Swedenborg’s beliefs in order to avoid jettisoning them.

      This causes me concern for the stability and permanence of your spiritual state.

      It is not possible to fully accept and embrace the truth until falsity has been rooted out of our mind. As long as there are still elements of major falsity still resident in our mind, that falsity will inevitably corrupt and falsify any truth that we see and accept, until that truth, too, has become falsity.

      My anger is not against you. My anger and zeal is against false doctrines that are attempting to retain, or gain, a foothold in your mind. If they do, they pose a danger of destroying the truth that you are seeing, and have experienced—the truth that can lead you to a clear, free, saving, and liberating relationship with Jesus Christ and a life of heaven and salvation that flows from that relationship. I fear that because you are not at this point willing to repudiate justification by faith alone, but are tenaciously seeking to find a way that it can still have a place in your mind, your understanding of the truth, and that clear path to heaven, salvation, and eternal life with Jesus Christ, is in jeopardy.

      That is why I speak strongly to you on this issue. That is why I am doing my best to smash and destroy those remaining tentacles of faith alone thinking that are still clinging to your mind, and still seeking to retain a foothold against the truth of genuine Christianity that you are now learning and discovering.

      I have seen others snatched away back into false and misleading doctrines just as their minds were seeing the light. That is a painful thing to watch. I would find it immensely sad if it happened to you.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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