Well, it finally happened. I signed up with Viral Ooze to receive books to review, the deal being I have to post a review (good, bad, or indifferent), but I get the book for free. Which is very cool, except when I have to write a bad review. I hate writing unfavorable reviews. And I can’t
This book, Who Really Goes to Hell? – The Gospel You’ve Never Heard: What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God’s work through Christ (A book for those in the church and those offended by it), is brilliantly bad. Ruder, a mathematician who publishes books on chess, is obviously very bright. And he is quite good at pointing out problems in much of evangelical theology. He’s not nearly so good at solving those problem — or realizing that he’s not the first to have walked these paths.
And he’s just not a very good writer. He’s not a terrible writer, but he struggles to clearly explain his solutions. He lays out his criticisms well enough, but the reader doesn’t easily follow him to his conclusion — if he ever gets to a conclusion. In fact, I was so frustrated, I skipped to the end, figuring that if I knew what his ultimate point is, I could better understand why he argues as he does.
Here’s his summary (p. 167) –
In Christ, God replays the Exodus story.
Before the Exodus, God shows power by the plagues visited on Egypt. In Jesus’ time God shows power by the resurrection of Christ. In the Exodus story, after the Israelites wandered for 50 days, God inaugerates a covenant with them, gives them requirements, and directs them to buid a tabernacle so the Almighty can dwell within their midst. In the apostles’ time, after the same 50 days, God gives the Holy Spirit, the sign of the new covenant, which itself instructs us in God’s requirements. Jesus’ blood acts to purify and strengthen our spirits so that the Holy Spirit can dwell in us, the temples of the new covenant, just as the Spirit dwelt in the tabernacle (the portable version of the temple) the Jews carried around in the desert.
Yes. He’s spot on. And he’s to be commended for his repeated emphasis on the role of the Spirit in the lives of Christians and for seeking to better ground evangelical Christianity in the Law and the Prophets. Excellent.
He ends, however, by saying,
Jesus’ merit saved the world from destruction, and the same merit allows Him to pray as High Priest for stumbling believers. His sacrificial death cleansed the temple of the new covenant and also cleansed the whole world so that any may enter that temple and receive this Holy Spirit, the seal of the new covenant.
This paradigm I suggest makes sense of passages that refer to the reconciling of the whole world, including all things in earth and in heaven. It also explains verses like 1st Timothy 4:10 more adequately than the modern gospel.
(both italics and bold in original). He makes several excellent points, only to leap to the conclusion that unbelievers are saved. Indeed, on page 175, he says,
The Bible proclaims the entire world and all people have been saved through Christ. If salvation is derived from forgiveness of individuals’ sins, such would imply that all have been forgiven of their sins, not just those who believe in Christ.
And on page 186 he says,
Judgment is seen as an evaluation of disposition with the totality of one’s actions, words, and thoughts considered. Believers are not dealt with any differently than non-believers.
So he’s either a universalist or a believer in works salvation. Or maybe he’s teaching the “available light” theory — but he doesn’t says anything about the available light point of view (God saves and damns based on the extent to which you’ve been taught his will), and so appears to be a universalist.
Many of the questions dealt with by Rudel are raised and much better dealt with by N. T. Wright in his series of books: The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God); Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2); and The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3).
Wright deals the importance of tying Christianity to its Jewish roots, with the alleged inconsistencies between the Gospels and Paul, and the emphasis so often found on judgment according to works — all issues raised by Rudel. Moreover, Wright agrees with Rudel that evangelical Christianity often ignores major themes of the New Testament, except Wright shows how they all fit together and build on each other. Rudel prefers to pull them apart and show contradictions that he concludes are resolved through his universalism.
But universalism has been taught, challenged, and defended by many people over the years — and Rudel never invites those who’ve gone before him into the conversation. Rather, he writes as though he’s the first person to ever venture down this path and so sees no need to confront the many arguments against that point of view.
In short, Rudel has studied, but not nearly enough to launch such a serious assault against orthodox Christianity. Don’t buy this book. Spend your money on Wright or James D. G. Dunn instead.