This post is an excerpt from a book I'm writing for Sterling Publishers, scheduled for release in October 2014. working title: "A Visitor's Guide to Hell"

I don’t mean to be disparaging of anyone else’s favorite literature, but some tabloid magazines seem to go out of their way to invite ridicule. The best way to prove this is simply quote it.Satan's face - tabloid

PRUDHOE BAY, AK –  Something is emerging from Hell!

That is the horrifying warning of more than 60 eyewitnesses who have seen the monstrous shape roaring out of a mile-deep Alaskan oil well amid stinking clouds of sulfur.

“If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe it,” said John Merritt, a foreman with BP, which operates the oil field.

“The giant demon head of Satan has already escaped and his body has been slowly coming out for weeks.

“White-hot flames are billowing out of the well, the skies have been darkened by strange clouds and the area is full of an evil stench so oppressive and overpowering that most people can only stand to remain there for a few minutes.”

The oil field, about 400 miles north of Fairbanks, has been ordered shut down by the government and the area has been cordoned off. Only military and clergymen who have been called in by the oil company to aid in the crisis are admitted to the area, and Alaskan officials have slapped a tight lid of secrecy over the story.

Many are looking to politicians for a response; Alaska’s reserves have been a source of this year’s presidential debates over energy independence.

Alaskan Governor and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin immediately downplayed the incident, stating, “This is nothing to worry about! It’s just the Devil playing tricks on us! He wants to see our country run out of oil, just like the terrorists. We gotta stand up for ourselves and keep on drilling!”

Delaware Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden was far more concerned. “I have consistently voted against exploration in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, and this is the perfect example why. We don’t yet know the long-term environmental effects, let alone Biblical ones.”

As for the hole? “No one is allowed within 50 feet of the oil well,” said foreman Merritt. “We’re just waiting to see what happens next.”


http://weeklyworldnews.com/headlines/3060/oil-drill-opens-hole-into-hell/ (accessed 7 Jan 2014).

This far-fetched urban legend has been pin-balled around inboxes of the gullible since the 1990s. It first emerged as a story about “The Well to Hell” in which a deep borehole well was drilled in Russia. The crew apparently then lowered a super-heat-resistant microphone into the pit and recorded sounds of the damned souls screaming. Yup. Thankfully the farce has petered out somewhat and has been debunked.

So, do we dismiss every aspect of the report? Um, yes.

And yet, Russian boreholes not withstanding, the episode exhibits the concept many people insist on, that Hell is not merely a state of mind, but a real place. So is it?

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“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Those final two terms are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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The refrain: “in those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes” echoes through the book of Judges. But it also echoes through our culture today. It is a sure sign of our world’s wickedness that it has taken a biblical phrase that expresses a complete surrender to sin, and turned it on its head, as if it were somehow virtuous to try and be a good person by living according to your own standards.

mirage

An often-overlooked element of our culture’s sprint toward Sodom is the world view that people are capable judges of morality. In fact, if you were to ask your average American why they think they will go to heaven (assuming for the sake of argument that it exists), you would hear “because I am a good person.”

The follow up question has to immediately be, “why?” to which you will undoubtedly get the response: “because I try to do what is right,” or some variation therein. Maybe “because I always try to be a good person,” or “I help people,” or, “I live and let live.” But if you are really lucky, you may actually even hear them say, “Because I always do what is right in my own eyes.”

This phrase is, of course, drawn from the Bible. Its remarkable and more than a little bit ironic how today’s culture is quite familiar with this biblical statement. In fact, people borrow it liberally, failing to see that in the Bible, a culture is at its lowest when it views people as their source of morality. Continue Reading…

February 5, 2014

Judges Judging US

by Jesse Johnson

Judges-when wrong becomes rightLast week I wrote that the book of Judges has particular application to current popular culture, and that Christians today should familiarize themselves with it. Its likely that believers in every generation feel like theirs is the most wicked culture ever—but denying the serious speed at which ours is sliding toward Sodom would take note-worthy naiveté. In fact, it is a fair question: has any generation slid this far, this fast?

The answer, of course, is Yes, and the Bible has much to say about it. Now allow me to say this: I am not a fan of the Americanized reading and patriotic application of Scripture which is all too common. You should not read Revelation as if it described the phases of European history leading to the American Revolution. You should not read Joseph’s stock-piling of food as a sign for Americans to prepare for seven years of famine. And please, please, pretty please, don’t see Bartonesque Americana in Isaiah’s description of an eagle. Gag.

So the moral decline described in the book of Judges was not written as some sort of veiled prophetic description of the US. Yet at the same time, the delight in depravity displayed in those days certainly finds its parallel in our own world. And the Holy Spirit wants us to do more than just gawk at it: Judges is written for us to learn from it. Here are three lessons that I find particularly sobering (two for today, and one for tomorrow):   Continue Reading…

Adoniram_JudsonI have been profoundly impressed with the sacrifices made by Christian men and women throughout the centuries of church history. From martyrs to missionaries, these individuals have served their King with greatest intensity and courage, valiantly standing as examples for those who come behind them. They are individuals of whom “this world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38) because their eyes were not set on the worth of this world, but rather on the values of heaven.

One of those individuals is Adoniram Judson.

Though he grew up in a pastor’s home, Judson walked away from the truth as a young man, only to be recovered in a dramatic fashion. John Piper details this part of Judson’s life in his book Don’t Waste Your Life: Continue Reading…

AcquariThe sun was setting at about 7pm one balmy Summer day during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The stadium was emptying after a day of track and field events. The 20 mile marathon’s gold medal had been awarded about an hour earlier. Suddenly the sound police sirens caught everyone’s attention. They were clearing traffic for a lone figure to enter the stadium.

John Steven Acquari was the last runner in the marathon. Wearing the colors of Tanzania, he was grimacing in agony as he hobbled onto the track for the final 500 yards.

He had taken a serious fall in the race and had ripped a hamstring and badly grazed the skin off his legs. He was bleeding and cramping, but tenaciously shuffled around the field toward the finish line. The crowd quickly gathered to cheer him on. They were clapping and shouting encouragement to him as he finally collapsed over the finish line in sheer exhaustion and pain. After he had recovered somewhat a journalist asked him the question on everyone’s mind: “You were so seriously injured, why didn’t you just quit running?’

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In a twitter conversation, a friend mentioned to me that the prosperity gospel is simply ancient pagan fertility religion (namely Ba’al worship) in a modern garb…which got me thinking.  In thinking about the Biblical classification of the Prosperity Gospel, I would have to suggest that it is a system of very old false religion, but not necessarily Ba’al worship.

Now, it’s fairly easy to see that the “gospel” of the prosperity gospel isn’t the biblical gospel, regardless of how some try to soft pedal it.  The “good news” isn’t the death/resurrection/ascension of Christ resulting in restoration with God, it’s the death/resurrection of Christ resulting in the restoration of your credit rating.  It’s also fairly easy to get the whole “Balaam” and materialism connection (2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11), and it’s easy to recognize that those who push the prosperity gospel are false teachers since those who use God as a means to get financial gain are, on the basis of that one characteristic, labelled “false teachers” in the New Testament (1 Tim. 6:3-10; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11).  Nobody gets into ministry to get rich, and those who do aren’t actually “in ministry”.

HowPastorsGetRich_main Continue Reading…

SpiritFilledChurch advertisements can be interesting. I’ve seen things like, “Always an open door,” one that advertised a concealed weapons class, and “You have a friend request from Jesus: Accept? Ignore?” But one that confused me the first time I saw it was “Spirit-filled.” What does that mean? And are only some churches Spirit-filled? Or all of them? Or partially filled? What’s the difference between a Spirit-filled and non-Spirit-filled church?

Generally, the advertisement means that the Holy Spirit’s power and presence are observable in that local church. Praise God if that’s true. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with such advertising. But, assuming accurate advertising, what ought we expect from such a church? What will that look like?

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January 29, 2014

Judges for US

by Jesse Johnson

Every passing week makes it simply more obvious that the American culture is essentially one prolonged celebration of immorality. This is true at the popular level—gay marriage at the Grammys? Really?—as well as at the more erudite academic level, where it is a virtue to be critically authoritative with a healthy disdain for absolute truth.

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP--used under Fair Use

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP–used under Fair Use

While once we held to a Christian veneer, now sexual sin is  pushed as progressive, abortion is funded by tax dollars, and the fear of the Lord has been replaced with the celebration of self. Where people used to blush, they now boast. Having been been “liberated” from biblical ethics, our society has instead produced a culture of death. People define virtue not on God’s terms, but instead as doing what is right in their own eyes. Even in churches the gospel of grace is often replaced with a man-centered watered-down substitute, as if acceptability were the goal and compromise the means God has chosen to establish his church.

Has there ever been another culture that has slid this far, this fast?  Continue Reading…

Clement of RomeClick here to read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

The gospel of grace was both proclaimed and preserved in the earliest decades of church history. It was overwhelmingly affirmed by the apostles at the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15), such that Paul could later tell the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

Shortly after the Jerusalem Council, Paul wrote a letter to the churches he had planted on his first missionary journey. That letter, known as the book of Galatians, admonished its readers not to acquiesce to the works-righteousness of the Judaizers. To do so, Paul stated, would be to embrace another gospel—one which was not really good news at all (Gal. 1:6–9). The apostle went on to clearly explain that justification is not based on keeping the law, but is only granted by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:1–14). Given the theme of that epistle (justification by faith vs. justification by works), it is not surprising to learn that Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book of the New Testament, because in that text he found the gospel of grace so clearly revealed.

The New Testament emphasis (on a gospel of grace apart from works) became the foundation for the Protestant Reformation and its central tenet of sola fide. The biblical teaching on that issue remains the authoritative basis on which an evangelical understanding of the gospel is built. But while modern evangelicals rightly conclude that the doctrine of sola fide is founded in Scripture, many wrongly assume that there is relatively little support for that position in pre-Reformation church history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue Reading…